Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mid-Spring Garden & Potager 2018

Getting into the heart of spring, the garden is showing red and pink all over. In the front garden an Étoile de Hollande climbing rose greets us as we open the front door as it is entwined on the balcony railing. On a sunny day, its potent damask fragrance becomes an olfactory cloud upon which I descend down the stairs.

Taking a beauty bath in the rain makes the enormous blooms droop even more than they already do.

Below it is a weigela which finally got fertilised after many a year and is so happy. It is flushed, laden, festooned . . .

. . . but hardly burdened with tons of luscious deep-pink blooms. Though I fantasise about making the entrance steps all spiffy with tiles, I adore the pleasingly mottled design that moss and lichens have made on the cement. We inherited the heavy, bronze-coloured clay pot long ago when a neighbour in Grenoble hastily had to empty his apartment and said, Here. Have this. So I took it and eventually carted it to Angouleme. Besides being visually arrestingwe refer to it as The Bell Jarit has also helped to force rhubarb in the dark.

Rounding the east side of the house, leaving behind mini-gladioli, spikey iris foliage, and dusty-blue flowering sage, I can glimpse a part of the back garden with its wall of ivy, David Austin Flagstaff rose, wild area, raspberries, and lusty rhubarb.

Making a sharp turn around the house's corner, I come to the patio with its tubs of blueberries and bougainvillea. Calla lilies are thriving in a patio cut-out while mini-gladioli, Iris foliage, and abelia are just off the patio.

These smaller version of gladioli, unlike their larger brethren, need no staking, naturalise wherever their pink hearts desire, and are cold-hardy so digging up their bulbs for the winter and replanting in spring is not necessary.

Spring planting continues. Two green pea beds, one potato, one beet, and one carrot have been done.

Striped with white, the hybrid perpetual Ferninand Pichard has many blooms on one branch, is fragrant, and flourishes close to the patio.

Strawberry harvest has begun. The Strawberry Eater chez nous, aka The Calm One, has already polished off  two bowls of just picked, sliced, sugared berries, one topped with whipped cream and the other with coffee ice cream. He says they are GOOD, sweet and full of flavour.

À la prochaine!


How to transplant strawberries
How to make strawberry jam
Strawberry heart scones
Individual Top-Crust Strawberry Pies With Dark Chocolate Ganache & Candied Violets
Eton mess
Strawberry shortcake
Strawberry cobbler

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Cantal Asparagus Tart with Creme Fraiche

Asparagus harvest chez nous just finished with a flourish of numerous spears, enough for a succulent tart.

Recipe taken from Felicity Cloake's Guardian Article
makes a 22cm round giving four to six servings

For the pastry (or use 250g ready-made shortcrust pastry)
  • 120g cold butter, plus extra to grease
  • 225g plain flour, plus extra to dust
  • 1 medium egg yolk
For the filling
  • 300g asparagus, trimmed
  • 284ml double cream (I substituted crème fraîche)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 50g gruyère, or nutty cheddar, finely grated (I substituted Cantal Entre Deux Laitier)

To make the pastry, grate the butter (I first dredged the butter in the flour to prevent sticking, cut it into small cubes, then using my fingers worked it into small bits) into the flour and rub in roughly with your fingertips to coat (or use a food processor). Stir in the egg yolk and a pinch of salt and, if necessary, a drop of cold water (I needed to use several tablespoons of water) to bring it together into a dough. Form into a thick disc, wrap and chill for 20 minutes. 
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F/gas mark 4) and grease a 22cm round tart tin. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and use to line the tin, pressing it into the sides with a small ball of excess dough (this was fun!). Prick the base with a fork, line with baking paper and baking beans or pulses/rice and bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Remove the beans and paper and put back into the oven for five minutes. 
Meanwhile, steam the asparagus for about four minutes, until al dente. Chop into short lengths, and put about half of the stalks into a food processor (keep all the tops). Puree. Pour the double cream into a jug and add the eggs. Beat together, then stir in the puree and the grated cheese. Season well.
Arrange the remaining asparagus pieces on the bottom of the tart, and then pour in the cream mixture. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until jiggly but set, and golden on top, and allow to cool slightly before serving.
This is the first time I made pastry crust with an egg yolk. How lovely it is! With the leftover pastry, I baked several three-inch rounds which resembled the flakiest flat bread ever.

Blind baking a tart crust may seem not worth the bother, but it does keep the crust nicely crisp, whether it is served cold or warm, even when it had been frozen and defrosted. Therefore this tart can be made in advance. The crust may shrink a bit regardless when pre-baking, so if there is excess of filling, pour it into a baking dish and bake along with the tart.

I used a mixture of white and brown rice to weigh down the parchment paper placed over the pastry. A silicone tart 'tin' was chosen so it could be easily removed for a snazzy presentation.

I am going to miss seeing these little green soldiers pertly poking up in their patch. Since their planting several years ago, this was the first continuous harvest that lasted the recommended full six weeks. Till next spring! Asparagus may take awhile to achieve abundant picking, but once they do, they will keep going for a couple of decades.

Par-boiled asparagus pieces were scattered over the pre-baked crust and the filling poured on.

Because of yellow eggs and green asparagus, its fashion colour sense showed up as delectable chartreuse.

It relied on the Maillard Reaction not only to intensify the flavour but also to round out the colour with a classy brown edginess.

The crust was not only fantastic in taste and texture, but also was sturdy enough to stand on it own.

Delicious aspects abound and one of the most is its consistency which is more like a dense savoury pudding than custard which I suspect is due to blending some of the asparagus.

À la prochaine!


How to make crème fraîche at home


French cheeses: Cantal Apple Clafoutis
How to plant asparagus

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Tulip Season Draws to a Close

Tulip bulbs planted in the front garden last autumn were done in a frenzy because chilly winds had begun a routine of frosting the morning soil. They now are entering another stage, not of potential, but of senescence. Some late bloomers like lovely Viridiflora Chinatown, decked out in cream, pink, and green flounces postpone the moment when there will be no tulips playing in the breeze.

I agree with Dorothea Lange that The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. After taking numerous photographs the last six years for this blog, I more readily spot intriguing textures, as in the Viridiflora petals resembling embossed and striated satin.

Blue Parrot is closer to a blend of mauve and lavender, but still a stunner.

. . . and quite statuesque, towering over Apricot Parrots.

Sky High Scarlet cottage tulips glow in their corner of the lavender hedge.

In the back garden, ruffled Bearded Irises and elegant calla lilies provide a pleasing combination.

That's one of two green pea beds in the centre of the photo

Hairlike structures on the falls (3 lower drooping petals) constitute the beard which guides pollinators to the flower's reproductive parts.

A calla lily bud just beginning to unfurl freshens the evening mist like a slice of lime does water.

The setting sun splashes gold on bushes and lawn which is a beloved sight when my gardening day ends.

The pile of 'hay' is comprised of dried grass clippings and will be put on the pea beds for mulching.

Note asparagus spears in the lower right corner!

À la prochaine!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Tulips Keep Coming . . .

The plethora of tulips planted in the front garden last autumn are about three-quarters into their season. Pieter de Leur, a lily-flowered variety, present their glossy, huge, crimson blooms in front of still-in-bud, late-season, Sky High Scarlet cottage tulips.

Surrounding lavender bushes are putting out new green growth

This single Pieter de Leur looks as if it's floating in green ether.

Nearby, Apricot Parrot tulips dazzle with their flamboyant form and colour.

Some Pieter de Leur and Apricot Parrot along with pink Miss Elegance and Daydream (starts out yellow then blends into apricot) wind up in a flower brick.

Viridiflora tulip, China Town may be demure, but also unforgettable, with its shell pink streaked with vibrant green.

The entrance path separates the plum tree, abelia, and tulips from some purple bearded irises.

Varigated Lamium galeobdolon loves the shade, self propagates readily, and its foliage and yellow flowers look wonderful against grey rocks.

Dirac the Cat opened an eye to let me know that he is safely tucked within the candytuft away from rambunctious Eli the kitten. I warned him not to let down his guard so soon . . .

. . . as he has left a telltail.

In the back garden, the potager is being prepared for some more sowing. Potatoes and peas are in, and soon carrots, kale, and beets will take their turn. Tomato seedlings are sitting pretty in their mini-greenhouse. Rhubarb has had its first harvest and the asparagus bed is sprouting about a kilogram of spears weekly.

That's the wild area of mostly brambles in background for hedgehogs, lizards,  birds, and insects

À la prochaine!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Tulips, Irises & Sweet Violets

The many tulips planted last November continue to dazzle. Species and Darwin hybrids are just about finished blooming. The lily-flowered variety are at their peak, especially the gorgeous Purple Dream.

The petals are sheltering what could be an extraterrestial forest

Van Eijk tulips graciously wait for the changing of the bloom guard . . .

. . .  and are not disappointed by their replacement.

Often found in early spring gardens, is the intriguing contrast between still bare branches, in this case, a beauty bush, and lush flowers. Van Eijk has fragrant, large, and long-lasting, hot-pink, splashed-with-coral blooms with cherry-red insides.

Daydream, a fragrant Darwin hybrid (its perfume is similar to freesias) starts out yellow and then becomes flushed apricot. Colour-wise, it complements Purple Dream nicely.

Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is a wonderful, evergreen ground cover that is commonly grown around spring bulbs as to hide the muddy earth and eventual dying foliage (which feeds next season's blooms). A few shell-pink, double lily-flowered Miss Elegance of the many which were planted for last spring's display managed to rebloom. Unlike daffodils, most tulips don't return.

Bearded irises when they open fully and splashed with rain lend a bit of the exotic to the garden. In the lower left corner of the below photo, you can see the tufted, yellow and white 'beard'.

On the entrance steps, some potted white heather and echeveria with its crimson-edged foliage, cheered us up during the winter. The latter is upping that cheer presently with its yellow flowers.

Sweet violets spread wherever they find shade and a bit of earth. These are doing their thing along the length of our driveway.

Though there are problems having a refrigerator depot as a neighbour, there are benefits as its spacious entrance driveway is beautifully landscaped with a pair of enormous spruce trees and an ornamental cherry tree which presently resembles a soft, pink cloud. That amazing billowing that it does sometimes eludes my camera, as it lasts usually just a day, but this season, it got captured nicely.

This is the view from our living/dining room!

À la prochaine!