Summertime’s simple pleasures….

June 30th, 2014

When the days are long and light, the windows swing open all morning as breezes sweep in…warm, sweet air.  A wonderful sense of liberation from the kitchen sets in:  eat the freshest, cook as little as possible. The season’s salads are clearly simple,  dressed in an array of vinaigrettes made with favorite fixings.  Begin with raspberry or sherry vinegar, a touch of mustard with a good dose of olive oil  swirled into the mix, snipped chives from the windowbox tossed over a bowl of little gem lettuce leaves.  If some strips of chicken, porkchops or grilled turkey steaks are on hand, good; or a few chunks of salmon – even better.  Is this lunch for one, or supper for three or four? Add a basket of bread and a board of local cheeses……keep it simple:  it’s summertime!

Springtime Journeys…

May 31st, 2014

Over hill, over dale

Through bush, through briar

Over park, over pale,

Through flood,  through fire

I do wander everywhere …….*

There’s a good reason (at least one!)  to travel afar this month:   May’s weather in the Périgord was so grey, damp and cool.  So, the vagabond hit the airlanes  to see family and friends, first stop:  San Francisco.   Then on to Minneapolis. moving through a reverse passage of springtimes, from blousy, fragrant roses in Marin county to winding up on Mississippi River Boulevard, where  trees were popping out in their first, acid-green leaf  canopy.  Reversing  spring wasn’t actually in my plan, but zooming from the zone 9a and 9b sunny days in San Rafael, California to zone 4a in the Twin Cities was a revelation.   And it was wise to have packed an extra warm cardigan.  It was a late season – two weeks late in fact, so my hopes to go morel hunting were scuttled – with the wild flowers delayed but showing promise.

My sister’s closest market, the Marin Market on Thursday morning, was a wonderland of edibles both fresh (gorgeous blueberries from Fresno) and prepared (savory Lucky Dog hot sauce found a place in my gift-carrier for the next stop).   A week later in St. Paul’s bustling and diverse Saturday market, my good friend was intent on supplying her herb garden.  I assisted with relish. Although too early to plant out the basil (the first half of  May, frost potential still holds), her large collection was in the ground within a warmish day.  And we DID enjoy a plate of morels (dried, from their 2013 foraging) in a luscious, creamy sauce, the day of my departure….enough to prompt plans to return next May – a little later to allow for weather, wandering, and more time to hunt for mushrooms….the ever-elusive morels.

*words inspired me, from Midsummer Night’s Dream (2.1.2-15) by Wm. Shakespeare

USDA Garden zones count 11 zones for winter- hardiness guides.  For more info on this useful system, see:  www. plantmaps.com or for Europe:  gardenweb.com/zones/Europe

Happy May Day !

April 30th, 2014

How are you preparing for spring’s celebrations….or the string of festive days that in fact began with April’s late Easter this year?  Now we’ll have  Muguet, Lily of the Valley in delicate tribute  sprigs for May Day – sold in village squares (some, still!) across France.   But is this the tradition in Germany, Italy or Spain?  In Scotland or Denmark?  While I wonder about these customs and chill a sparkling wine for a May Day lunch, my wishes for you all are simple:

Have a festive May Day, and….. Hauskaa Vappua*!

As the *Finns are already celebrating May Day this evening – as is their custom.

 

When garlic bites back

March 31st, 2014

Take heart, all my friends in north and snowy places:  spring is just around the corner!  Signs are in the air – and in the market…. early rosy radishes, a few bundles of white asparagus, and little sprouts shooting out of onions and garlic.  It’s still too soon for aillet – the first long-bladed thinnings of the new garlic crop – with a much more mild, tender flavor than the sprouting cloves of March.  So, what to do while awaiting aillet?  Tipping out the green sprout with a knife-tip doesn’t take all of the bite out of a garlic clove.   An immediate stinging hits the edges of one’s tongue when biting into a salad with fresh garlic chopped into the vinaigrette.  Clearly, March isn’t the best time to whip up a pesto when garlic bites back!
But garlic is still in the vagabond’s basket, ready to bake with a roast chicken or to stir into a savory ragu.  It’s a part of the waiting game.  Soon the milder, white aillet will delight all garlic afficianados, followed in June  by juicy bulbs to be  savored before their dried sheathing forms. But for now, maybe just rubbing a cut clove inside the wooden bowl will be the closest we can get to a whisper of garlic in a spring supper salad.

February and Pomegranates

February 28th, 2014

While the last hours of a short and festive month slip away, the vagabond would like to thank friends both near and far away for making it a most memorable month.   And as the winter pomegranate – my favorite fruit – season is drawing to a  close,  I wish you all:  Santé!

Photos and fruity tips to follow….

 

Where have all the flowers gone ?

January 30th, 2014

Long time passing……in fact, it seems a couple of light years ago that I first heard these plaintive lyrics.   Still, the message holds true, as does his legacy of music -  ever-inspiring:

R.I.P.      Pete Seeger

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Adieu 2013…..

December 31st, 2013

Open the festive bubbly – brut!  Have a fresh blini or six (another story about making heaps of blini is in order) and say farewell to the old year, with a new and more promising line-up of twelve months just around the corner…

                        Happy New Year from the Vagabond!

Grateful!

November 30th, 2013

An English friend asked me to enlighten her about the feast of Thanksgiving. This national day of Gratitude  remembers the Pilgrim Fathers’ first harvest feast.  As families and friends gather round a festive table laden with traditional dishes, we pause to give thanks.  And yet there is latitude in its interpretation….every family has its own variation on the roast bird – a turkey is often basted for hours, or I recall a pheasant or wild duck if hunting was good.  Variations on stuffings and side dishes tell more about the region and family preferences, south to north and east to west.  Will you have oysters in your stuffing?  If you live on a coast,  quite likely…or is it corn bread with a hint of sage, as is often served in the middle west.  In fact corn usually shows up in many ways:  in corn bread, as a side dish simply slathered in butter, in a bubbly casserole of scalloped corn or possibly in the southwest in tamales. Or as succotash.  What a strange word, you say?  Oh, succotash!

Tradition decrees that a mix of corn and shelled beans (but not with bear fat as in the Pilgrim’s first feast !) is served alongside the roast fowl, since this combination – and the word itself, msickquatash, meaning boiled corn – was of Narragansett indian origins. Beyond these basics, succotash may include chopped onions, red or green bell peppers in chunks or strips, all mixed with glistening butter or lard.  When times were tough, it was a simple but nourishing one-dish meal. And served up in the best set of dishes, succotash takes pride of place on the Thanksgiving table.

In this rich season, recollections of flavors tumble through the vagabond’s memory, olfactory memories of aromas (and samples) in the family kitchen. This is just the beginning of a stream of culinary recollections…with illustrations…to follow.

 

…the Vagabond hits the road!

October 1st, 2013

At the end of a “spin cycle” month of September, the Vagabond is on the road, exploring the Vosges and points north…..discoveries to follow on berries, plums and mountain pleasures.

Gone fishin’? nope….gone picklin’

August 31st, 2013

The glut of cucumbers, pears and melons (a combo to watch), even the courgettes and apples take their turn in the pickling pot!  Watch this space for the vagabond’s chutneys, pickles and inspired condiments.

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