I’ve been enjoying that in-between feeling where the last blossoms of spring are falling and the snorts of hot air are pushing the new plantings towards the sky. Nights are sometimes still cool here and the unpredictable New England climate makes my mind wander into centuries past when creativity here was necessity to thrive. It’s a good reminder for me to stay in that creative place and it settles my modern-day angst.
The vegetable garden is planted. Four types of tomatoes, 6 types of peppers, eggplant, artichoke, cardoon, celery, 2 types of summer squash, 2 types of cucumbers, tomatillos, celery, more greens, dry beans and fresh beans, winter squash, potatoes…In the raised beds, the kale and spinach and broccoli are telling me that they wish to go to sleep now—“it’s too hot mom”—so I will let them go soon and plant again for fall when the cooler temperatures make them happier. The garlic looks good and soon I will cut their curling blossom shoots (called scapes) so they do not flower and the bulbs will continue to grow until fall when I pull them for winter.
I have already harvested and dried my herbs for the season. Their flavor and aroma is best in early to mid-spring before the heat of summer has changed their constitution by concentrating their more acrid resinous oils. Its still not too late; before they blossom, cut them first thing in the morning before the sun has hit them and dry them very slowly by hanging or laying in a basket in a warm room or attic. I will use some for cooking, some for sachets and some for tinctures in the facials I give and skincare products I make.
My annual window boxes have been planted for long over a month now. I decided to go with a fairly muted palette this year inspired by the local grower’s petunias and a new crazy colored coleus paired with that purple potato vine; inky purple, burgundy-brown, acid yellow with a hit of red, a split-complimentary color scheme.
I always love an American flag in the summer and this year I designed a quilted interpretation for the front door that ties together plant colors. Since commercial fabrics fade in the sunlight I instead painted my flag on a solid piece of fabric with textile paint which, after setting with heat, will not fade. I use colorless Jacquard brand paint that I custom mix with Createx brand tints.
I’ve been reading “Summer” from Stillmeadow Sampler again, a gift from my mother-in-law years ago. Written by Gladys Taber in 1950, it chronicles her life by seasons living in her 1690’s home in Connecticut. There was a colonial revival in the 1940’s and 50’s when many New York based writers retreated to old farmsteads in New England. Living in such old dwellings and utilizing the historic land was quite a departure in the era of TV dinners. There is a lot of creativity expressed in those pages and the name of her home, Stillmeadow, expresses the non-static approach to living a creative life which I strive for.
Last week-end my son helped me build a woven fence to contain my blue thistle. It is of the wild variety and was given to me from the Shaker Village gardens here in Canterbury from their original plantings. It is sentimental but given it natural habit, it falls forward. The fence should help. We had just trimmed our trees so the fresh green branches we used just bent into shape held by tension around the stakes. The color of the stakes will mellow with time and it will all blend right into the landscape.
I hope this post has given you some inspiration to put your own ideas to use this summer.
Please stop by my OPEN STUDIO this summer on Saturday July 30th from 12-5. I will have some of my latest artwork on view PLUS my studio is open to former students to come have a day of practice with my tools. Read more about it here…
Also visit the Canterbury Fair that day from 9-5!!
The last of the dishes are washed, my guests are gone and I am still reveling in the scent of green. Today I held a Cooking with Herbs class celebrating the multi-cultural traditions of eating the first herbs of spring and it was s o m u c h f u n!
When living from nature, herbs are the first green food of spring. For centuries all cultures have used them in various ways to tone and flush the body after a long winter of eating stored foods that were nutritionally depleted. While each herb has its own culinary and nutritional value, the compound that makes plants green−chlorophyll−is exceptionally beneficial to the body. It cleanses the blood and reduces cholesterol & triglycerides. It balances the gut by killing bad bacterial and microbes and is full of tissue regenerating vitamins A, C, E and K along with iron, potassium, calcium and fatty acids. Eating green helps the spleen!
Because eating bitter helps the body purge itself we made a salad of dandelion greens, lemon balm leaves and horseradish leaves. We dressed it with a vinaigrette we made with tarragon and chives. Vinegar helps extract the essence of the herbs.
I think our favorite flavor profile was from the Montpellier butter we compounded with chives, garlic scapes, marjoram and loveage. We spooned it over baked eggs. Download recipe here…
We ended our meal with a scoop of rhubarb mint sorbet which I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of. It was a gorgeous coral-y red, not too sweet, pleasantly astringent and fruity. A morning of fun and the comments were that LOTS was learned about growing and harvesting herbs, new cooking and knife skills were learned, good team work, it was delicious and loads of fun. Thumbs up on this one; I think I will do it again.
The week before last was a week of good-byes for me, so a feast was called for. My daughter went back home after a nice long stay, my husband & I enjoyed our last stay at our Portsmouth Pied-a-terre, winter had melted away in our yard AND it was the final episode of Downton Abbey – too much to not mark the moment in time with a feast!
On my vegetarian daughter’s last afternoon with me we watched the final episode of Downton Abbey. To celebrate these farewells we prepared a variety of produce-based dishes to feast on while we watched. Vegetarian cooking is something my daughter and I have shared through the years, prepping together to find new ways to tickle our taste buds with technique and spices while trying to adhere to the principles of good health. We find our process opens up the world of flavors to us where traditional American vegetarian recipes we grew up with were always a bit bland.
I would say that this round of cooking has a little inspiration from the Mediterranean region with an influence from the indigenous America’s. Let me share them with you so you can enjoy them with your own feast; perhaps to celebrate the arrival of spring or add to your Easter celebration!
Stuffed Roasted Red Peppers; stuffed with a quinoa pilaf and real parmesano reggiano topped with a cashew gravy, their flavor is nutty and sumptously sweet.
Prepare the peppers.
- Roast 4 red bell peppers then steam off their peels. METHOD: place on a vegetable steamer over a gas flame or under a broiler in the oven, char all sides of the peppers until they are blackened. immediately place inside of a covered bowl or in a paper bag and let “steam” for 10 minutes after which time the peels will pull right off.
- When cool, peel then slice open the peppers on one side and remove the seeds.
Make the pilaf.
- In 2 T clarified butter [called ghee; butter with the fats removed] plus 2 T olive oil, saute on low heat one red bell pepper diced and half of an onion diced. After 10 minutes add 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds and cook stirring for another 5 minutes until the seeds just start to brown.
- Add to pan: 1 cup raw quinoa, 2 cups vegetable broth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer for about 20 minutes until the quinoa is tender.
- Toss into cooled simmered mixture: 1/2 cup drained canned cannellini beans and 1/2 cup coarsely grated parmesano reggiano cheese.
- Fill the peppers with the pilaf mixture and place them cut side down in a baking pan that has been oiled with a little olive oil.
- Cover the peppers with cashew gravy. Soak 3/4 cup of raw cashews in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes. Meanwhile saute 2 shallots finely chopped in 2T olive oil. Add 2T nutritional yeast plus 2T corn starch. Mix well then add the cashews and water stirring & heating gently until thickened.
- Add some herbed sauce to the center of the peppers. To make: In a sauce pan, heat up 1 tsp of olive oil and turn off heat. Add 1T dried/crushed tarragon leaves plus 1/4 tsp cinnamon and let them “marry” into the warm oil by sitting for a few minutes. (NOTE: to release the volatile flavor oils in herbs, they must be heated in oil) To this add one 8oz can of tomato sauce and heat through; add salt and pepper to taste.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through and slightly browned on top.
Pureed root soup; using the last of our stored winter roots we created a flavorful puree that went down like silk.
- Clean and slice 2 leeks discarding the tough green ends. In a large soup pot saute these in 1T olive oil until soft but not browned.
- Peel and cut into chunks one celeriac (celery root) and three small potatoes (or two medium potatoes). Add to soup pot.
- Add one box of vegetable stock to pot, put on the lid and simmer about 45 minutes until the vegetables are very soft.
- Use a stick blender to emulsify the vegetables until they are smooth and creamy. Add salt and white pepper to taste plus 2 pinches of nutmeg. NOTE: if you do not have a stick blender, let the mixture cool then process in a food processor. Alternatively using a potato masher can work although it will not be as smooth.
Shaved fennel salad; a simple and nutritious fare, fennel helps the body digest fats and provides a good foil to the taste buds against the creamy textures of the other dishes.
- Simply shave one fennel bulb, discarding the stems, on a mandoline or in a food processor or by hand taking care to keep the slices a thin a possible.
- Drizzle the fennel with pomegranate molasses and a small bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with poppy seeds and sea salt.
I hope you enjoy these recipes and a little taste of my home! If you are interested in learning more about the culinary use of herbs, I am offering a workshop on Saturday May 14th that you might find interesting, Cooking with Herbs; spring flush. I still have room for 1 or 2 more people. This is my first time to do this class offered by special request! See it here…