The Quince, Sea Beans, and a Black Oregon Truffle

Standard
Since it’s almost Christmas, it’s time for me to post what’s been waiting in my hopper. (These past few weeks have been a blur.)

Between cooking for folks here at home, ghostblogging about food for someone else, and cooking food for clients I’ve been working for as a caregiver, I’m feeling fairly proficient in the kitchen nowadays.

Our Thanksgiving Quinces as Still-life.

Last month we purchased some quince from a local co-op. We’d gone there to look for raw goat milk for making cheese and whey. When we got home, John set about making quince paste. It was a fun process and quite different than I’d imagined. Both culinary projects went well and they tasted so good. The quince paste was served with some wild boar charcuterie at Thanksgiving alongside some Spanish cheeses.

Oh! That seems like ages ago to me right now.

There are so many vegetables to give thanks for this time of year.
Sausage, Potato and Savoy Cabbage Soup is a comfort food of mine.

We’ve pickled a few beets during the last few weeks and just last week I prepared my favorite cabbage soup when we had a large family of friends over for dinner. My best friend from college and his wife have adopted a baby and I get to be an auntie again. With his whole family in town, of course I had to invite them all over for dinner too.

Know your Italian chicories: Radicchio and Treviso.

Last month there was a tasty salad I made with some radicchio too. It was raw radicchio—not grilled—so I was weary at first. Somehow serving it with crispy red onions and a citrus vinaigrette did something magical to its bitterness. It was another great success I hope to serve again soon.

Wild foraged Sea Beans.

I’d always wanted to try these so last month I purchased some samphire at the Portland Farmers Market. I was pleasantly surprised by how salty they were when I popped one into my mouth.

Sea Beans with Rice Vinegar and Furikake.

Days later I put this little salad together at home. I recommend sea beans highly if you’re into salt. They are very crunchy too. Somewhere in my office I have seeds for them. I am really curious now to see how they’ll taste when grown in my home garden.

Copper Beech in front of the Millar Library at PSU.

While at PSU attending the Portland Farmer’s Market, I enjoyed looking around. The market takes place in the park blocks and there are so many beautiful trees to look at while people watching and shopping.

For many years it was a painful place for me to visit because my health had been very poor while I was a student there. Now that I’m much better, I can reflect on those years. We all need to process our past and move forward stronger and more aware. Being surrounded by the market makes that process kind of fun for me now. My love of food and my knowledge of plants has given me some much needed strength over the past few years.

After one of the trips to the market I went thrift store shopping. I was looking for a new ikebana vase when I found this old 1980s mauve piece. When I saw the sticker it made me smile. This shop is no longer in business and had belonged to my niece’s grandmother on her mother’s side of the family. While driving home, the poor thing broke, but my niece was happy I’d at least thought to pick it up for her.
Wild Foraged Chanterelles.

I made these into an omelette. What do you like to make with yours? Just curious.

Oregon Black Truffle.

We bought truffles too and John made a delicious risotto for us. (Risotto is common in the region of Italy he hails from and he was raised eating it.) The Oregon truffle was a fun twist on our usual recipe for both of us. Yes, the domestic truffle is not as tasty as European truffles, but they are more affordable. I’ll take that tradeoff. Truffles just make me happy too. I smell them and they make me smile. When they are near me, I am content.

Seriously. I love truffles.

Lastly, for Thanksgiving we also had some flowers. It began with this simple arrangement but then I expanded from there. This year I also made sure to buy American-grown flowers. I’m dedicated to buying them more often now and I can assure you that you’ll be hearing more and more about this topic during the coming months.

Goodbye for now.
PS: Hope your holidays are going well!

Fête de la Saint-Fiacre—and a prayer too

Standard
This past weekend our gardening friends and counterparts in Ireland and France celebrated the Feast Day of St. Fiacre—the Patron Saint of gardening. Although celebrated by other Catholics in other countries, St. Fiacre was born in Ireland and lived his life in France so these two countries venerate him more than others.
I was quite tickled (to be completely honest) when a long drawn out conversation about the Saint appeared in my Facebook feed early on August 31st. Started by a French plant breeder, talk almost immediately centered on how everyone celebrated the feast (with food of course), and why the date of this feast has been shifting. Although the official day is now set on August 11th, those in Ireland and France still apparently celebrate it either on August 30 (France) or September 1 (Ireland).
St Fiacre with his shovel.
Yes, I have a statue of the Saint in my garden. I am rather fond of this guy.

I think he’s appeared here on the blog before, but I thought I’d write a little ode to him again now that it looks like I’ll be staying here for several more years. I didn’t pray to him to help me, but I guess I can quietly thank him. Time in the garden can be so lonely. It’s good to have friends.

No, I am not an active Catholic, but I am very much Catholic by culture. I enjoy having a few statues of Saints around me when I’m in the garden. When they are not there, it honestly doesn’t feel quite right to me.

St. Fiacre was a healer and worked with herbs. As I’m considering building my first herb garden, he’s a good friend to meditate upon. I also like to believe that he was a good and gentle soul determined to help others. We need people like that in our lives. I am all for healing and think about it often.

In his right hand he holds a rose.

In his left hand, he holds a shovel.

Heirloom Costoluto Genovese tomatoes from my future mother-in-law’s garden.

St. Fiacre is also the Patron Saint of Vegetable Gardeners, but that’s of course not what this prayer is about:

Prayer to St. Fiacre
O good St. Fiacre to whom God has given the power to heal
the bodies of men affected by ugly evils of all kinds,
deign to intercede for us with the Almighty Creator,
so that our body restored to health,
can attain eternal glory.
Amen.
As a good Catholic-educated woman I think that 12 years in their educational network allows me to finally write a prayer of my own. Let’s leave it as ann-onymous though since we all know that woman were not yet created as equals according to “the Church”.
Prayer to St Fiacre 
By Ann-onymous aka Amateur Bot-ann-ist
St Fiacre, I know you were good,
and you gardened, and grew herbs.
Today we celebrate you and your abilities to heal,
but I celebrate your blessings and I pray for my organic solutions.
I pray to an end to man messing with my foods.
I pray for the bees and the birds
—and that’s not just because I’m a naughty Catholic school girl and it is fun to write that now.
I pray that we can live in a world where the female is as respected as the male—because infertility can come from either side, and you’re the Patron Saint of that too.
Next year please bless our tomatoes, keep powdery mildew at bay, and try to protect our gardens from deep freezes and a Snowpocalypse.
Lastly, God bless the florists too and thank you for protecting them.
Stay fabulous St. Fiacre—eternally.
Thank you and God bless.

The Fruits of my Garden: Figs, Apples, Pomegranates, Asparagus and Berries

Standard
The second fig crop is still ripening on my Ficus  ‘Petite Negra’.
Days are shortening and nighttime temperatures are cooling down. Yesterday was our first dreary and wet reminder that our days are numbered. It misted and rained. Clouds hung in the air all day—as did the smell of PNW dampness. The city of Portland felt autumn as the season sauntered just a little bit nearer.
Columnar Northpole apple (Malus) produced more fruit than ever! It tasted sweet, tart and crisp.

This was not much of a harvest year for me in terms of edible crops. I like to grow ornamental plants for their seeds so that I can harvest them for my online garden shop. I do harvest something, but it’s not what most people think of when they think of harvests. I’m a seed farmer, but I grow a few things to eat too.

Dwarf pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Nana’.

My dwarf pomegranate was grown from seed and I collect seeds from it each year. Since the shrubs are young, each year they produce more and more fruit. This year is by far their best so far and I expect to have more ripe fruit than ever.

Flower on the dwarf pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Nana’.
Ripening fruit on the dwarf pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Nana’.

There has also been a growing herb collection around the house. I’ve been cooking more recently and it’s something John and I very much enjoy doing together. This winter I intend to plan the garden better for these activities since we find ourselves buying so many herbs all of the time. Limiting salt in my diet due to my swelling disease has really made me appreciate the taste of herbs so much more. We barely use any salt now. If you cook your food right, paying close attention to flavors, it’s amazing how far herbs can go to replace sodium.

The overgrown asparagus bed. These were grown from seed.

When I originally planted edibles in the garden I wanted to plant things that were either difficult to find or else ornamental and unusual. The asparagus was neither. It reminded me of the fresh asparagus grown by Italian-American farmers in the PNW. Even though I can still buy it at the store, I really enjoy my own plants more. What’s nice is that even though they’ve been neglected, they’re still very productive.

Evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum.

My native evergreen huckleberries are also wonders to behold this time of year. Usually they are packed full of fruit but I guess mine aren’t going to be this time around. Since last year I had an amazing crop I don’t mind at all. These are amazing ornamentals for shady corners so it’s simply a bonus if they produce for me too.

The image of edible gardening shame—an unused and overgrown raised bed.

This year I was hoping to use the raised bed for a large basil planting. I never quite made it but next year I’ll make it happen. Now that there’s a pesto- and polenta-loving Northern Italian in the family I can get past my Southern Italian culinary preferences. I always loved basil (and polenta) too. Next year will be the summer of basilico around here. (I can already smell it on the horizon.)

The first 2013 crop of figs.

I recently took an online poll of my fig-loving friends for recipe ideas. Since I was raised to just eat them fresh I thought it was time to do something different. (Besides, I can only eat so many with goat cheese and pistachios before I begin feeling a bit piglet-ish so I wanted to find something healthier.) A Parisian friend recommended Honey Roasted Figs and Rosemary (Figues rôties au miel au romarin) and I am so glad that he did. The figs tasted fantastic!

Honey Roasted Figs with Rosemary
• about 1 dozen fresh figs
• 1/3 cup honey (fresh and local if possible)
• 1 large sprig of rosemary broken into 4 pieces
• freshly cracked pepper
Heat oven to 375F. Wash and dry figs. Cut in half. Arrange open side up in a baking dish. Drizzle figs with honey. Arrange the pieces of rosemary between the figs. (If you want the rosemary taste to be stronger, I suggest adding more.) Crack pepper over the figs. Place in oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until the honey begins to caramelize. Let cool. Can be served with a nice mild—yet tangy—goat cheese.
 
C’est magnifigue!

(The Grow Write Guild is a creative writing club for people who garden. It’s a series of bi-weekly writing prompts created by garden author and blogger Gayla Trail. I’m starting out late with the series but hope to catch up soon. It’s just what this blogger needed for some summer fun.)