Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Potager Awakens...and a few quick recipes

Since I am spending time outside pruning and digging beds, that is, when the plentiful rains and nippy winds ease a bit, hot, easy, and fast meals are what I want. One such satisfying repast is made by stirring instant polenta into boiling water (one part polenta to four parts water) along with minced garlic and rosemary fresh from our potager. It's simmered while being stirred for a minute or two, piled unceremoniously into a bowl, and topped with grated cheese and butter. If I remember to sprinkle fleur de sel, I do.

Sunshine in a bowl! That's grated Parmesan scattered amidst the butter rivulets

White beans are luscious nuggets of tasty nutrition made even more delicious by sauteing minced garlic and onions in olive oil and adding some tomato paste, an ice cube or two of my concentrated, homemade chicken broth (water or veggie broth, packaged or homemade, can be substituted), a good quality paprika, smoked or not, along with some well rinsed, drained, canned white beans. Simmer for about five minutes. Line a bowl with French bread 'fingers' (one-inch slices cut in half) and fill with the bean mixture.

I been known to use the bread pieces as a fork/spoon substitute. Finger-licking good for sure!

Since my frying technique has measurably improved, I could just eat fritters day after day. For the latest batch, I mixed together some well seasoned, left-over mashed potatoes, flour, grated Edam cheese, chili powder, a large pinch of baking powder, and an egg. An inch of fresh sunflower oil along with a teaspoon of used oil in a skillet was heated until it passed the wooden spoon test (I had to tip the pan to conduct the test). Tablespoons of the batter were fried on each side for a total of about eight minutes. Drizzle some soy sauce on them. À table!

These fritters were exemplary in both their crispness and moist centres

But the real mainstay has been hot cocoa which is often served in big bowls for breakfast here in France.  The bigger the bowl, the better it seconds as a hands warmer. Viennoiseries like brioche and croissants are delicious on their own of course, but they also lend themselves to a thorough dunking into the warm, aromatic dark liquid.

Unsweetened cocoa is not only low in fat and calories, it packs a potent dosage of energy-boosting, nerve-calming magnesium. So after living here for almost two decades, I am getting with the program, no matter how belatedly. Put on the kettle. A heaping tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa goes into a small cup along with a dash of maple syrup (Why? Because there was some in the fridge and I adore the stuff!), some milk, and a smidgen of cream.

I like half milk, half hot water

Whisk til smooth.

The water should be boiling by now. Hot water meet smooth cocoa paste. Voilà! I am so happy that I forget momentarily about the difficult-to-work, sodden soil.

In the potager, the rhubarb continues to leaf out. Before their growth gets too luxuriant as they love cool weather, it's time to scratch in a balanced fertiliser around each plant.

Carpets of sweet violets along with a few brave blue irises are blooming, but at a personal price as they are being lashed by the wind and rain into soggy taters. Botanical tulips and daffodils are putting out foliage and buds, and so far are retaining their 'cool'.

Cuttings I took last spring from the Vinca minor growing around the camellia are flourishing under the pergola and are beginning to bloom.

Common name: periwinkle

In the potting room, sowing has gotten off to a good start: red bell peppers, Thunbergia alata, and piment doux des Landes are being coddled in the incubator.

Instead of loose Thunbergia seeds, my plant nursery sent four seed discs, each containing about 10 seeds

This is the first time I have used a biodegradable seed disc which is placed in a pot almost completely filled with potting mix. Then it is lightly watered to help the disc adhere to the soil. Finally, it is covered with an inch of mix, kept moist, and put in an incubator or on a heating pad. It was much easier to handle than individual seeds.

This is how the black-eyed Susan vines looked last year, simultaneously acting as a ground cover and a vine covering an unsightly fence. Its lush foliage and cheery flowers last from June to nearly November.

Lovage (a fantastic, perennial celery substitute), parsley, chives, and lettuce are snug in their little, cold 'greenhouse'.

A recycled meat tray filled with sowing mix and seeds is placed inside a plastic bag

All three varieties of potatoes are nestled into their recycled egg cartons, quietly chitting in the cold sunlight. Sprouts that are coloured brown, red, yellow develop in seed potatoes exposed to sunlight, unlike the long, brittle, white ones that happen in the dark. Though not essential especially for primeurs (May/June harvest), this practice does give a head start while the danger of frost is waited out.

From early to late: Dolwen, Jeannette, and Desiree

The peas, garlic, and onions are waiting to be planted outdoors. 

The garlic is stock from our own harvest from last summer

Before I know it, it will be time to plant spinach, carrots, and beets outdoors and sow indoors zinnias, tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, and butternut squash. Where's that hot cocoa?

À la prochaine!


How to sow indoors
In defense of fried foods