Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Not Quite Somnolent January Garden

Stroll around a garden. Yes, during January. Just dress warmly. Keep those eyes sharp and many wondrous sights will await such as the belated holiday gift of festive red and green leaves unfurling on a rugosa rose.

Pink tubular bells cover Erica darleyensis which tolerates neutral to slightly alkaline soil unlike most acid-loving heathers.

Dainty English daisies are starting to dot the lawn.

A cluster of tiny, downy flower buds on the bay laurel is turning rosy.

Lime and rust coloured lichens (a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi in a symbiotic relationship) are at home on the slowly decaying cherry plum tree.

Plump berries adorn a gold dust plant (Japanese aucuba).

The yucca fans out in shades of green, from light to dark.

Moss. Dots of it here. Larger patches there. And some the size of a throw rug making a well-weathered, low cement wall cosy in the frigid air.

Besides these encouraging signs of life, it is also inspirational to see plant parts usually hidden from view during spring and summer like a silver-spotted-with-gold rugosa thorn brightening up an otherwise gloomy corner . . .

. . . or spotting the remnants of summery largesse as in a rose of Sharon's overwintered, burst seed pod resembling a golden crown filled with ebony treasure.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Winter Break!

Winter Solstice is coming around the bend which means it is that time of the year when Souped-up Garden takes a break. Our seasonal book ordering is going at a great clip with a book arriving almost every day. 

A well-cushioned stack with the kitchen timer close by so there will be no meal burning while I am immersed in reading a book

Those comfy cushions are waiting for Dirac The Cat to vacate my reading chair.

The Calm One and I wish you and yours wonderful holidays. See you next year!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Book Review / Florike Egmond's An Eye For Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500–1630

In 2003, while browsing through images of sixteenth century naturalia housed in Amsterdam University Library, Ms Egmond came across a collection of non-attributed drawings and watercolours. It was only ten years later that the collectors were identified as Conrad Gessner* and Felix Plater. Though other images from that period are featured also in Eye For Detail, it is this treasure trove** brought back into the light after languishing in a forgotten state which casts a sparkle over her exacting scholarship, that is, once the reader catches the few lines near the book's end that matter-a-factly and without hubris divulges this intriguing nugget of information. The graceful relationship the author has with her own painstaking research reflects a similar though more tenuous one that several naturalists of the sixteenth century based in a geographical area spanning Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy shared with each other.

The author's thesis which is put together layer by intricate layer is that the embracing of science did not cause a rupture from the style, scope, and use of images already established before its blossoming. The visual handle did not erupt fully formed just because science had such tools like the microscope. However, since so much more information eventually supplied by advanced technological methodology was lacking, it is that century's grasp of concepts such as regeneration which can be justifiably perceived as being disjointed.

Egmond's account is a carefully wrought one, rich in details with each point expanding into generously broader territory thereby ensuring stimulation and satisfaction of intellectual curiosity. As a passionate lover of plantsmy first love was a morning glory, the second was a lilac, and by the time my next crush revealed itself to be a pansy, I realised this serial monogamy meant I adored all that is within their kingdom—I found her ability to weave together the challenging tapestry of art and science as fascinating as those members of that remarkable club with which I am smitten. Though scholarly, her writing never loses its passion.

  *Gessner was a Renaissance polymath and is regarded as the father of botany, zoology, and bibliography. Anna Pavord, the gardening writer, aptly puts it: He was an one-man search engine, a 16th-century Google with the added bonus of critical evaluation.
**Some of the wonderful animal images re-discovered by Egmond are in this Guardian article


Publisher of Eye For Detail

Thursday, November 30, 2017

French Cheese: Reblochon

Reblochon in French means to pinch a cow's udder again. Centuries ago, the French Alpine tenant dairy farmers were taxed on the yield of milk provided by their cows. Since they did not fully milk at first go, the landowner's cut was based on that incomplete amount. The farmer then finished the milking second time around which was kept for making cheese. In this way the landowner was milked, not only in quantity but also quality, as the second milking provided richer milk. However, it was only much later, around the 1980s that tartiflette came into being as a dish to showcase this raw milk AOC cheese. This dish is unforgettable because of the tremendous meltability of Reblochon allowing it to become an instant sauce in which onions, potatoes, and bacon are braised though the bloomy rind coloured with a flush of orange-red remains in the form of an intensely flavoured, honeycombed crisp. I first made this Savoie dish during our ten-year sojourn in Grenoble. This time around, I substituted lean minced beef for bacon because I was aiming for something a little less rich.

The potatoes are from our potager

I love that reblochon comes with its own little cutting board.

makes 6 copious servings
An oven dish holding at least 2 L is required

  • Reblochon, 450 g round (because of it being made from raw milk, it is no longer available in America, but a pasturised version is, called Delice de Jura.)
  • Potatoes, all purpose, 1 kg
  • Bacon (chopped) or lean minced beef, 200 g
  • Onions, yellow, medium, 2 (around 200 g)
  • White wine or broth or cream (which is what I used), 10 cl
  • Oil (if not using bacon), 2-3 T (I used sunflower)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Nutmeg, if desired (freshly ground), to taste

Peel potatoes and cut into chunks roughly the size of unshelled walnuts: big enough to know it's a potato, small enough so it will become tender.

You will need a large fry pan, preferably non-stick. Thinly slice the peeled onions. You can halve them first, then slice. If using bacon, render it first for a minute or two and then add onions. If using beef, brown in a separate pan in a little oil, set aside, and add onions to the large fry pan well slicked with oil. Saute onions over medium-low heat for several minutes until translucent and a little soft.

Add potatoes and cook gently for about twenty minutes, stirring from time to time.

When they are fork tender, though not completely cooked, splash in the wine or broth or cream. Stirring more frequently, simmer for another five minutes.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Meanwhile, cut the round of cheese in half, then slice crosswise each half to get 4 thin sections.

Chop coarsely two sections of cheese and add them along with the potato mixture into an oven dish. If substituting beef, add that. Mix well. Season to taste. Place the two remaining sections of cheese (with the rind side facing up) on top.

The wonderful oval ceramic dish gotten from a flea market cost just a few euros

Bake for around 20 minutes until the potatoes are fully tender, the cheese is oozing and bubbling like there is no tomorrow, and the rind is golden and crisp. Let cool for a little while for the ocean of cheese to thicken a bit.

Tartiflette most likely is derived from the Arpitan word for potato

Serve with green salad and white wine. If you chose beef instead of bacon, light red wines like Sancerre and Beaujolais are possibilities. And thank your lucky stars those Alpine dairy farmers were smarter then their landowners.

À la prochaine!


French Cheese: Cantal
French Cheese: Maroilles
French Cheese: Bleu d'Auvergne
French Cheese: Bresse Bleu

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving to our American Readers!

Once Dirac the Cat was informed that La Grand Fête Americaine (the Great American Party) is approaching, he promptly exclaimed, bon appétit, tout le monde!

The Calm One says, gobble, gobble, gobble. And I say, yeah baby, cook up a storm. 

For all the harried and hurried cooks out there, the team at Food 52 is here for you:

And if anything goes awry in the countdown from now until Thanksgiving dinner, the Food52 Hotline will be humming, and we’re making sure you get answers in 10 minutes or less. You’ll get a response from either the cooks in the Food52 community or from me, Amanda, Merrill, or another Food52 editor or recipe tester. We’re all on call—come one, come all, even if your turkey is purple. It’ll be okay!

À la prochaine!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Swing Low, Sweet Sun

On this cloudless day, the sun sits heavily in the sky, that is, when I am gardening behind the house. That's not the case in the front garden as the house blocks it out making working there a chilly endeavour. But in the larger back area, it is all warmly and softly coloured, suffused with mellow sunlight.

The mahogany sepals of the abelia in front, with golden foliage of edible asparagus in background

Asparagus is not only worth growing because those brave spears breaking through stark soil in late winter have such sublime flavour but also because the unpicked stalks grow into a graceful tangle of gold festooned with red berries (just on the females plants).

Pillars of the pergola are well covered in ivy

The ivy growing along a perimeter fence is being formed into what I hope to become a rectangle-shaped opening framing the distant golf course and public forest. Once ivy reaches the end of vertical support (in this case, fence posts), it becomes a robust bush about 1.2 meters (4 feet) tall and wide. There are now two bushes, left and right being clipped to encourage fullness. Once the right one catches up in height, I will let them meet at the top, creating a window with a view.

In the foreground, raspberry foliage colouring before leaf drop

My peeking around the atelier (studio) of our neighbour seems to reveal a precocious Sapin de Noël (Christmas tree) all gussied up in gold garlands.

Stepping back a bit, we get the true picture. Gorgeous in any case.

In the front garden, all is cool, shady, and restful.

Gold-speckled aucuba and ivy growing up a cherry plum tree

Green plants are essential to keep a wintry garden lush and inviting.

Calla lily, Italian arum, and sweet violet foliage.

Tulipmania reigns supreme chez nous. After getting acquainted with using a small amount of tulips as annual bedding plants last season, this time around I got way more, about 250 bulbs! Learning from my previous experience, I purchased them much sooner so as to get the ones I want before they sold out. An earlier purchase however meant storage as temperatures are cold enough just now for actual planting. So the babies began sprouting while waiting in the garage. Because such perkiness disrupts their normal cycle, into the small, cold, stone-floored cellier they went to keep the dusty bottles of wine company until . . .

. . . their home in the soil is ready for them.

Earth is spaded, compost forked in, and let settled for a few days.

Ernest the Sous-Sol Cat enjoys moulding himself into a pliable shape defined by one of the patio lounge chairs. It's been a year now since he first sauntered into the back of our garden; he was patient to wait for food, but skittish bordering on abject fear if I came too close. Nowadays, his facial expression is one of calm trust. Brushing him, and does he ever need grooming, remains challenging. I am allowed to do his back, but when I ease the brush along his flanks closer to his belly, forget about it. Being an older cat, most likely with arthritis, cleaning himself is not easy, not to mention he was besmirched by a constant deluge of dirt when he roamed wild. But as the months progress, he gets cleaner and cleaner, with less areas of matted fur. He also is grooming himself more as he now has help, is better fed, less stressed, and he wants to make a good impression with us. He's a lovely boy.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Bialy That Wanted To Be A Topknot Roll

Most of us wish at one time or another to be somebody else. Who would have thought that a bialy, normally known for its adorable, deliciously filled pocket, would attempt such desirous heights of the imagination by trying to pass itself off as a topknot roll.

Though it didn't fool me, it still gets A+ for effort

I, armed with a spoon, gently but firmly put an end to this ardent masquerade by levelling their exuberant expansion while whispering, you are softly chewy but also airy, blessed throughout your floury sublimity with the kiss of kosher salt, anointed with poppy seed, onion, olive oil, and bread crumbs, and possessing the thinnest, crackly crust of all crusts, I say, strut your stuff and let the world know you are a bialy, the best one this native New Yorker ever tasted.

My, what big pockets you have. Better to hold delicious filling, my dear

makes twelve 13 cm/5 inch bialys
taken from Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook

  • Water, lukewarm, 320 g (1 1/3 cups)
  • Bread flour, (I use French type 65), 465 g/3.5 cups, plus more for kneading/shaping
  • Pâte fermentée, 150 g (1/2 cup plus 2 T, deflating it first), cut into walnut size pieces (see below for ingredients and instructions)
  • Yeast, active dry, 3/4
  • Salt, kosher, 1 T*
  • Cornmeal for the parchment paper to prevent sticking
  • Olive oil, extra-virgin, 3 T
  • Onions, yellow, medium, finely diced
  • Bread crumbs, dried, fine, 8 T
  • Poppy seeds, 1.5 T
  • Salt, kosher, 1/2 tsp

I prefer to make bread by hand (how to knead vid), but if you like using a machine, just substitute that for manual labour. The night before, make the pâte fermentée:  put 8 T plus 1 tsp of lukewarm water and 2/3 tsp of active dry yeast in a bowl.  Add 180 g (1 1/3 cups + 1 T) of bread flour. Mix with a wooden spoon for several minutes to get a shaggy dough. Cover the bowl and let stand for 30 minutes. Refrigerate it at least overnight. When ready to start making bialys, put the water and flour in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon for about five minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes. Add the pâte fermentée, yeast, and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until the dry ingredients are completely combined. Turn out the dough onto a steady, floured surface like a glass/wooden board/silicone mat/smooth counter top (tuck a teacloth under the board to keep it from sliding around). Knead until smooth which took me about ten minutes. Add flour to keep your hands and dough from sticking. Scrape off any dried bits from the board and wash your hands of any dried dough as you knead. Getting it smooth is the goal here. To ensure that enough elasticity (development of gluten) has developed, do the windowpane test by breaking off a piece the size of a golf ball. Flour it if sticky. Using your hands, stretch it on all sides. Hold the thinned patch up to the light; it needs to show some transparency without tearing, like a windowpane. If not, knead some more. If so, then it is ready to be risen.

Dust a bowl lightly with flour. Place the dough in the bowl and cover.

I used a large ziplock plastic bag, but a moistened teacloth or a plate would work also

Let stand at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the filling. Finely mince the onions and saute in the olive oil over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes or until moderately browned. Stir occasionally. Put them in a bowl. Add bread crumbs, poppy seeds, and salt. Cool.

Put the dough on a lightly floured surface. Divide it into 12 mostly equal pieces. To form into buns with excellent surface tension so as to effect a good oven rise, flatten the pieces into rough rectangles. Bring each of the four corners to the centre, pinching them.

Then bring the remaining four corners to the centre, pinching them also.

Place them with the pinched side down. Let rest for five minutes. Flatten out each ball with the heel of your hand to get 10 cm/4 inches diameter discs. Line the backs of rimmed baking sheets or in my case lay out two sheets of parchment to be later slid onto baking sheets preheating in the oven via a glass cutting board. Sprinkle cornmeal on the paper. Transfer the rolls. Loosely cover (I used moist, wrung-out dish towels). Let rise until the rolls are very soft and hold an indentation when touched lightly, about 1 hour to 1.5 hours. While the bialys are rising, preheat the oven to 260 degrees C/500 degrees F, a very hot oven indeed so be careful when handling the trays. If you have a baking stone, or in my case, baking sheets, make sure that it (them) is (are) in the oven. Uncover the bialys, and with the pads of your index and middle fingers, make a fairly wide and deep depression in each roll. 

Per Deb Perelman from Smitten Kitchen, insufficiently risen dough is the reason why I got the topknot response even though I did check its state by lightly indenting the dough with a finger. Since the indentation held then the dough should have been ready. She suggests to be on the safe side a hole can be made in the crater before placing the filling. You could also do a test bake for just one bialy since they bake quickly. Put about 2 T of filling in each crater, spreading it out to cover the depression. (Any surplus filling along with Parmesan can be mixed into pasta.) Pull out an oven shelf and hold the parchment paper with the bialys placed on a glass board or on the back of a rimmed sheet pan directly over the heated baking pan/stone. Gradually slide off the parchment paper along with the bialys by pulling the emptying board/sheet closer and closer to you while giving it a few shakes. Bake until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack for a few minutes, sans the paper.

I love, love, love these. In fact, my love is so encompassing, my constant desire for Kaiser rolls (when living and working in  Manhattan decades ago, my go-to, take-out breakfast was a buttered Kaiser carefully wrapped in butcher paper and accompanied with a coffee in an Anthora cup) is gone. Though if a later edition of Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook has a recipe for the real McCoy, that is, a crust so thin, it shatters, with insides sufficiently fluffy it just has to be buttered to have substance, and encrusted with poppy seeds, I would make them. I just would have to.

If you want to savour a bialy in all its wonderful crustiness, they are best served after a few minutes of cooling.

That glorious crumb, that superb crust, that tremendous flavour!

Hot Bread Kitchen cookbook advises keeping leftovers in a sealed plastic bag at room temperature for two days which I did. They lost that fantastic crust, but they were still so good, nicely chewy all-over their scrumptious selves. They also freeze well.

À la prochaine!

* Kosher salt is not in itself kosher, but instead, is what is used to make meat kosher by leaching (koshering) out blood. Any coarse salt (excluding fleur de sel whose taste punch would be lost in baking) would substitute.


My book review for Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook