It is time for nature. For long walks. For the garden. Double digging and planting. For pruning and sowing. And for observing. After a hard winter, nature is on the verge of exploding into its exuberant spring plumage. To harmonize with the new growth and hope springing up all around, I wanted something green. Petits pois came to mind with its vibrant green . I call it a dip, but it is a spread, a paté, a guacamole, a tapenade too… I added Maroccan mint, some freshly sprouted seeds, soft goats cheese; it is early spring on a bruschetta. Nothing more can be said.
- In a next post, we’ll talk a little about sprouting seeds, which is something we all should be doing at our homes!
- Instead of serving the dip on bread, it can be served in individual small glasses or bowls and eaten with a spoon as a starter and some bread on the side.
- Or serve as a little salad on a bed of young spinach leaves.
- Add some dried currants for a little sweetness.
- Use other vegetables like fava beans or a mixture of the two.
- Consider also crushed steamed broccoli or steamed courgettes.
- Don’t skimp on the mint.
- Some mayonnaise or cream can be added to the mixture to give it more of a dip texture. Serve with carrot and celery sticks.
- Serve with toasted bread slices or fresh crusty baguette slices.
Let’s put winter with its deep conversation and full bodied Cabernets and hypnotic fireplaces behind for a while. Let’s move outside to the stories of nature. To the optimistic nesting of the gulls on the Loire islands. To the plunging flights of the swallows. The fearless circling of the eagles. Let’s focus on the delicate entrance of the apple blossom. The almond blossom. Let’s admire the elegance of the magnolia and not shy away from the shameless flirtation of the sweeping wildflowers.
From the beginning of time, man had been entranced by nature. Living by it, dying by it. Cursing by it, loving by it. We live by it force every day.
…it is only when you start to garden, probably after 50 – that you realize something important happens every day – Geoffrey B Charlesworth…
I can’t pass by a book on garden stories. Some day I’ll share one of my own stories from my garden journal. But for now, I’d like to share four of my favorite garden story books. (The lovely bookmarks you see in the following images, was a gift from la belle Monique)
…A growing gardener by Abbie Zabar. Delightful sketches about her garden on the rooftop, with delightful accompanying drawings, a feast for the eye and an enrichment for the soul!…
…Les affranchis jardiniers by Annick Bertrand-Gillen…..a couple living the simple way, providing for themselves from nature, doing it all the biological way. I adore this book.We experience a bit of their life with them, their garden and home and it gives us envy to follow in their footsteps. A beautiful life. A beautiful garden, open to the public in summer….
…Simple pleasures of the garden by Susannah Seton…...a collection of stories and recipes, quotes and tips for every season. This is a book to be read outside in the shade of the walnut, or curled up by the fireplace, or in the splendor of autumn by the riverside, it makes you love every season.
…True nature by Barbara Bash…..a writer/illustrator taking solitary retreats, living close to nature with only her thoughts and art and her journal. I received this as a gift from a good friend an fellow artist, the very creative Lindsay who sent it to me when I was not in the best of places. It was wonderful food for my thoughts then and still is!
… welcoming spring…
And last but not least…have a spring inspired look at Jain’s day inthe country!
Don’t throw outt the water you’ve used to boil your eggs in. They are rich in mineral salts…use it to water your plants with.
When a cup breaks, or we empty the orange juice bottle, or scrape out the last sardine, the first thing we do, is decide in which recycling bin it has to go into; paper, glass, cartons or the normal trash. There is a fifth option . The “creative recycling basket.
A mackerel pate, made from either fresh or smoked or canned mackerel and served in a recycled sardine can, makes for fun summer entertaining.
- Use any other fish of your choice; salmon, tuna, sardines…
- Add the creme fraiche/sour cream/thick cream little by little until you are happy with the consistency. You don’t want too much cream and no fish.
- For a slight tang, you can add some chopped green chili or some piment d’espelette.
- Capers can be chopped and added.
- Take care not to mix to an unrecognizable horrible pulp without any texture. Always mix lightly with a fork.
- Lime zest can be used instead of lemon zest.
Don’t we tend to be a bit more frivolous and playful in summer? Using empty food cans can be different and interesting outside on the patio, for teenagers parties, or simply just to lose the seriousness and have fun. Use them for serving food in as starters or appetizers, for serving olives with your white wine or tapenade with bread, or fill them colourful sands and tealights, prop a small container(recycled) into the sand and add a cute flower or two – perfect for some interest on the table or in corners of the garden or even the kitchen. It is nothing but fun.
The most magical recycling comes from glass containers and here in France, we get the cutest yoghurt and petit dessert glass bottles, not to mention the confiture bottles, and whatever else bottles. I recycle them all, meaning I reuse a lot of them. They serve in my atelier for my paints, for flower vases all over the garden, for holders of all sort. Use some wire and string them together to make “fairy lights”, using tealights. Or use some wire and make a hanging little vase for your windows and door knobs.
Fill them with small pebbles and hang like small lanterns in the garden on hooks stuck in the ground. Use them en masse to achieve the best effect. Fill them with moss and stick flowers in, fill with sea shells, coloured sand. Use them for starters or appetizers. And when they get too “used up”, dump them into the glass recycle bin and start recycling into your creative recycle basket again. No guilt about breakage or expensive losses.
Unless you have a huge garden, few of us can afford masses of beautiful fresh flowers throughout the house. And even a tiny vase costs more than it is worth. Why spend money when you can find something quirky and differ3nt in your creative recycling basket? A chipped cup or teapot or glass is perfect to brighten corners right throughout the house, from the bedroom to the guest bathroom to the kitchen to the laundry. It can carry a flower or a leaf or a fern or the dead endings you do on your shrubs, or the daffodil you “pick” on your daily walks… Nothing gives so much pleasure and lifts a room like something fresh from nature, however small it may be.
Instead of throwing away the broken cup, save the pieces of porcelain and use them to mosaic a small table that has lost some life, or a vase or a pot or simply display in a bowl outside in the garden. Use a cup, or teapot, or bowl that isn’t completely broken and plant a small flower or sow a seed or two for colour in a corner somewhere – on the windowsill, on a small table, on your bed table, next to the bath by the toothbrush, on a weathered chair in the corner, on a big stone, by the fish pond, on an old tree stump…
Don’t forget about sturdy small boxes which can be covered in colourful fabric or paper and used as gift boxes or storage boxes, especially shoe boxes. Fill with shredded paper and add chocolates, or homebakes cookies, or an assortment of jams, or seedlings for the summer garden, or a pretty old chipped cup planted with a pansy… Recycle the balsa wooden holders from your cheeses,the baskets from the strawberries, fruit; line them with a napkin, use as a bread and biscuit basket, or to serve your silverware for a barbeque. I use my camembert holders in my atelier for all my art things…pen nibs, sharpeners, erasers, one serves as a little table bin, another holds a lemon scented candle, another holds stamps…
In the kitchen, I use a recycled maple syrup bottle for my washing liquid by the sink. I added an oil spout and it works beautifully. I recyle other nice bottles for oils and use some for candles…fill with sand and stick a long “dripping” candle in. The wax that melts down the bottle makes for lovely “sculptures”.
If you don’t have a creative recyling basket or cupbard yet, consider it. It is cheap and creative, interesting and different, not to mention environmentally friendly.
I thought I was in love with Helsinki, but Oslo swept me off my feet! Norway is breathtaking and Oslo is as stunning. I still feel in harmony with the Norwegian culture and living and can’t stop enjoying salmon. An easy and quick way to serve it…with créme fraîche, chopped dill and mint, lemon juice and a touch of honey.
…sitron-og urtebakt laks …
Adapted from a recipe found in Mat & Vin – Norges største matmagasin.
- Don’t bake salmon too long, or it will be dry. When the flesh is white when coked, it is overcooked. It still needs to be pink.
- Use individual baking dishes and bake each person’s portion in its own dish…serve directly from oven to table.
- Serve the salmon with some steamed or oven baked courgettes.
- I love dill with salmon, but try coriander(cilantro) or chervil, instead of dill.
- Use sour cream, or cream or thick cream if you can’t find créme fraîche.
This first encounter with Norway made me realize once again how beautiful our world is and how different the continents and cultures are and just how exciting those differences are. I found Oslo beautiful, different and exciting.
The ocean forms a big part of everyday life with ferries coming and going, fresh fish and seafood sold from the boats, shopping centers overlooking the ocean and eateries to pick and choose from on the quai. Lovely architectures hide among the now bare trees, parks with benches and people eating lunch and abundant bird life.. Walking, skiing, cross country skiing… the ski slopes are just on the edge of town, people are equipped with skis in the metro and buses – part of everyday life. So much I can say and express, but sometimes it is better to enjoy without words and discover for oneself…
My next stop…Grønland!!
…the titles can be read by scrolling over the image…
I am leaving for Oslo, Norway tomorrow. I decided to put up an old post before I leave which I had on Africantapestry two years ago. A little story. A sketch.
To accompany the ongoing saga of the soon-in-bloom-tulip, as well as the gardening folie that has me firmly in its hystyerical grip, I made a strawberry soup with the very first strawberries of the season. Not yet tasting of summer and sun though…! But who cares…! Using them in a summer/spring soup with added balsamic vinegar and handsfull of mint and pepper and rose water, is a great way to satisfy that ferocious desire for summer fruits.
Flinging soil and seedlings around in the garden (here in the northern hemisphere!) and serving early strawberries on our plates and sometimes even catching a warm glimpse of the sun…what more can we wish for?
- Add red berries like raspberries, blackberries, blueberries…
- Serve with a sprinkling of freshly milled black pepper.
- Use a handmixer instead of fork to break up the strawberries.
- Use Maroccan mint if you can find, which have a stronger flavour than ordinary garden mint.
- Or use some lemon verbena instead in high summer.
- Serve chilled on hot summer days, but at room temperature early in the season.
- Serve along with a slice of lemon poppyseed cake as accompaniment, or a herbed shortbread.
- Don’t be afraid to use a lot of mint!
- Use stevia, which is a herb sweetener, instead of sugar or honey.
…the red tulip…
“Like last year, this single red tulip once again made its appearance in my all white and blue garden. And like last year, I accept it and welcome it. It has become quite a game and I’m amused by the tulip’s proudness and dedication to defeat me. It reminds me of a guy I once knew at university who wouldn’t give up either.
He was madly in love with me, completely, head over heels..and yes, he was sort of cute too, I thought at that stage. I was staying in a hostel for girls on campus, fourth floor out of six, overlooking beautifully tended campus gardens. And he was staying in a hostel for boys, way off, on the other side of the campus. That’s how it was those days. No men allowed in the girls’ hostels and vice versa, which made for very exciting experiences! Except of course, for visiting hours in the lounge downstairs.
Very regularly, he would show up at my hostel, long after visiting hours, on nights when the moon was showing off in the sky and the stars were sparkling impatiently with anticipation. With his guitar and a red rose and his best friend, I would be charmed with unashamedly beautiful love songs from the garden under my window. Their strong, deep melodious voices, trained from years of singing, had every girl hanging out their windows along with me, losing ourselves in the charm and romance of “old world courting” from down below. Beautiful beautiful brown eyes, would always be on the list of songs and their voices would fade away in the distance with Goodnight ladies. My red rose, always stolen from an overflowing garden somewhere, would be left on the windowsill downstairs at the front door, for the hostel had already firmly been locked up for the night.
And so it happened that he got caught one night while stealing my red rose. He unfortunately chose the garden of the Professor of engineering, with whom he was very well acquainted…! He was allowed the rose, but had to work the Professor’s compost heap for two weekends. For a while, it was slow on the rose-serenading-scene and we all missed it..all the ladies, that is. Then one night there he was again, with a stolen red rose and guitar and his best friend. The cute guy I once knew. And who I still know. He is my husband.
Sometimes things can be so beautiful, they become without purpose. Their beauty makes them too fragile, too precious. Think of a Fabergé egg. Beautiful, obscenely expensive and without any purpose. Empty…. Oïe..I’m busy shooting myself in the foot here…being an aritist and optimistically hoping my art would be “beautiful” enough to offer nothing else but the sole purpose of bringing pleasure to the world…!
- Use a green sweet pepper instead of the green chili for a milder taste, or use strondger chilis for more bite.
- Peeled tomato can be added.
- Replace the scallops with mussels or shrimp for variety.
- To eat as a starter, use the bigger bay scallops.
- Dry the scallops thoroughly and sauté very quick over high heat to prevent them from becoming rubbery.
- the preparations can be done earlier and kept covered and cool until just before serving.
- Assemble just before serving and serve at room temperature or slightly warmer if preferred.
- Finish off with dry raosted nuts or seeds like sunflower or pine nuts or pistachios.
Cloches(bells) don’t fall in this aesthetically pleasing but useless category. They are gorgeous in their appearance as well as in their use. They can bring an enchantment to a simple corner, and they add the same magic to a dinner table. Food under a cloche draws you in, makes you bend down and peek closer, stare around and beyond the reflections, wondering about the smell and taste, wanting to touch what is inside the glass cage.
Showing up in trendy styles ands shapes , we can have our cloches throughout the year. In spring, while taking a break from planting herbs, we can unveil an array of cheese and charcuterie(cold meats) olives, tomatoes, whatever you feel like, and sit out, seeking out the shy sun.
Or maybe on a summers day, stretch out in the shade of the old oak tree, hiding from the mischievous sun and indulge in what hides under a rattan cloche; fruit, juices, a sorbet… And winters find our cloches surrounded by romantic candlelight..
In the garden, cloches have been around forever. They bestow the garden with interest and old worlde charm while at the same time fulfilling its obligation in protecting young seedlings from the elements.
Small cloches for small still lives in small corners, not forgetting a wire cloche, which can travel from the kitchen to the sitting room to the garden.
A cake cloche, awaiting a platter of sweetness accompanying teatime, a gouter, as we so aptly call it in french, but in the meantime it is showing off its company of old plates on an old dresser. Hopefully, the gouter might find its place on the weekend…
Use small cloches to serve an amuse bouche at the dinner table, all ready and greeting your guests as they arrive at the table. It is something I always do. A small amuse bouche on each plate. When the guests seat themselves, their eyes are fixed on the little “gift” in front of them. It heightens the expectation and starts off the dinner on an exciting note.
You don’t need expensive or antique silver cloches to bring a note of style and festivity to your table. Just by looking around your house, you will find many things which can serve as a little cloche.
Little glass bowls, fish bowls, empty yoghurt glass container, wide rimmed glasses turned upside down, flower pots, vases, candle holders… turn them upside down and place a fake “knob” on the top, using a cherry tomato, nuts, fave bean, broccoli flower, radish, crab apple, strawberry, flowers, empty snail shells, sea shells, decorative sugars, sugar cubes, pebbles(with each guest’s name on), steal your son’s marbles for the day… Play around with some self made cloches and bring a bit of fun and tongue-in-cheek elegance to your table!
To clean your inside plant leaves, especially the smooth and shiny ones which accumulate dust and grime easily, use a cloth soaked in beer to give them shine.