Sunday, October 22, 2017

Parmesan potatoes, Messy book, Puerto Rico update, just a sampling of the day

So today was another day in the neighborhood.  

Did a bit of desultory gardening, clipping off spent Montauk daisy heads, noticing yet another yellow rose, when I thought they were over, trimming back dead bits of both rose plants.

 

Needed to pick up a thing or two at the grocery, vaguely wondering what for dinner, already had wine and cheese on the list, vital supplies.  And bumped into Yukon Gold potatoes. Usually outside of my budget, but I thought to myself, self, if not for you, for whom, if not this evening, when?  And I bought a few.

Because I had noticed a great recipe for Parmesan Crisp Potatoes.  I love roast vegetables, especially roast potatoes, and this seemed like a good thing.  Several great cook friends tried it and approved. I added in grated Parmesan to the list, and made it out of there.

Once home, neighbor stops in to see if I have any drinking straws, emergency.  His little granddaughter is there the weekend, mouth sore, can't drink, unhappy baby.  So I went up and found the supply in the studio (no, perfectly unused), and went to deliver them. 

And found our mutual friend, Jackie, a current refugee from Puerto Rico, got in last night, was there, and I hugged her, and told her how good it was she was safe, etc.  She indicated that it was an ongoing nightmare.  She'll go back if and when they get power, because she loves it.  And hates our winters. 

Meanwhile, she has a place to stay next door.  I bet the cooking improves dramatically while she's there!  she was food shopping this afternoon.  She's a plant expert, so I reminded Gary that she's his first port of call with plant queries.  Didn't stop him from bringing a sad looking croton over to see what's what.

I have a large plant arrangement that I've been caring for for years for her.  It was part of her son's funeral offerings from friends, and she couldn't take it to PR, so it ended up with me.  She plans to come visit it.  Gary has sent pix now and then to keep her updated. It's about ten times the size it was originally, and looking okay.

On more cheerful topics, I found a great book, here



which vindicates all my lifelong beliefs in when in doubt, do everything!  everything you do feeds the next thing you do.  Don't do one thing at a time, have a lot going on.  I've had jobs where I was running up to 25 projects at once, and loved it.  

And in art I move from form to form as needed.  More about that in Beautiful Metaphor, probably.  Anyway, he's a lot of fun to read, and makes tons of sense.   And is a great defense against those people who say why don't you pick on something and do just that?  because that's not how some of us are built, that's why!

Accompanying this reading was a nice tea on the patio, warm weather still, we are now officially Zone 7 according to the USDA, climate change.  Anyway, tea with slices of the Biblical cake, which went down a treat.  Seemed so appropriate on a Sunday, too.

After that it was time to fire up the stove for the potatoes.  The recipe is here 

I had to sub a bit as usual. Didn't have garlic powder, so used other interesting flavors, Italian seasoning, turmeric, cayenne pepper, black pepper, mixed with the shredded cheese. You're supposed to use cheese grated to sand-like consistency, but I didn't have that, either.  No harm done. I actually did this a few hours ahead, thinking probably the mixture would blend if given time.

And here's the doings, awaiting their turn



And here's the final product, which, if I may say so, is well worth the prep, and totally worth getting Yukon Golds for.  Note to self: next year's container potatoes might as well be these



This was enough for two meals for me.  Next time HS is over, I think this will be on the menu. In the directions, they tell you to use a spatula to separate the potatoes, but I found my trusty pizza wheel did a better job. And the tip to use a glass pan was spot on.  Easy to lift the cheesy crust off without losing half of it.

Just a normal Sunday around here, really.  Other things happened too, but this is enough to stuff into this post for now.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

To think it is to do it, lifelong hardwiring, Biblical Scripture Cake

So, having been given the recipe for a Biblical cake, complete with scriptural references, and having visited a Biblical garden with the herb group this week, I figured I would get cracking, literally, it takes six eggs, and try this at home.  It was served at our symposium lunch, but by dessert I was not up to one more bite, lovely as it looked. So I had to make it to try it.

So today, having got in the extra eggs, I set to work.  And realized after a bit that this is the functional equivalent of making the Christmas cake, except I didn't have to blanch the almonds.  That was my job as a little kid, failsafe task for a youngster, no knives, no heat involved.  No citron nor angelica, here, though, nor cherries.











It did involve separating eggs, grating nutmeg, grinding cinnamon, measuring many other ingredients, many bowls involved.  Cutting up figs and dates, too, sticky. A lot of fun in fact, and amazingly, no neighbor came barging in to chat while I was busy doing it, even though it's Saturday.

As usual, it featured substitutions, this being me, no tube pan, so I used a regular ten inch cake pan, parchment in bottom, buttered sides.  Worked just fine.

And I hadn't enough raisins, couldn't track them down in the store, so I added in dates.  The total inclusions, almonds, raisins, figs, came to four cups, so that was an easy sub, just made it up to the right volume using dates. 

It did feel biblical, measuring milk and honey, and all those spices.  I thought two tablespoons of cinnamon was a bit much, but went ahead, and in fact it's just right.  Don't cut that back.  This makes a lot of cake.

At this point, after I sampled a hearty wedge with a glass of milk, and pronounced it good, the rest of it is sliced, wrapped in parchment paper and in the freezer.  Many afternoon teas and visits from HS will be catered from this supply. 

The oven is set at 300F, so that told me that a center rack was probably the best place, to get it baked but not scorched, and that proved to be a good idea.  Not mentioned in recipe, but I would suggest it. Long slow baking. 

Maybe I'd better put in the recipe here, again, too


 

This is probably a good cake to make on a snow day when there's no hurry to go anywhere. And you will have a slice of cake with your afternoon tea.  I have so much in the freezer that there might be some left by the first snow day, come to think of it.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Update on the buckeye slip

After the recent blogpost on the herb symposium, I got a lovely email from a former member, now far away, identifying my butterflies better.  He pointed out that I had labeled a painted lady as a buckeye, which is true.  Uploading problems, and I deleted the wrong pic, ended up with the painted lady instead of what I spozed to put.  So here's the actual image you were supposed to get



and a nice Golden Books entry about it



and I'm glad to have the slip pointed out.  It got right by me in the annoyance of all kinds of computer shenanigans. There were several of them flying about, butterflies, not shenanigans, along with painted ladies, a couple of red admirals, a sulfur or two, and various skippers.  Very popular flowerbed.  And bees and other insects galore.

He also identified the mystery butterfly/moth, as a form of skipper, kind of halfway between butterfly and moth kingdoms.  This is terrific.  I love informative readers.  And this was an expert taking the time to write. Thank you, Don.

So I can end Friday on a virtuous note! 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Field and Fen out and about with the herb gardeners

Today was the herb workshop, at Windrows, of the Delaware Valley Unit of the Herb Society of America.  It's a national organization of friendly people interested in growing and studying herbs, and if you want to know more, go here

Meanwhile, this group had a wonderful day, with lectures on Salt, history and use with herbs, and Liqueurs, how to make and enjoy them.  Both lecturers shared generously, and we came away with recipes, samples, and a lot more more knowledge than we started with!

Here you see them setting up





and after a morning's learning and sampling, we had a great lunch which featured not only herbs mentioned in the morning's doings, but a special dessert, recipe from the organizer's mother, from long ago, which the chef obligingly made for us!  



And I enclose the recipe, in the spirit of sharing.  It's complete with Biblical references, too.  The lunches at Windrows events are legendary, and I'm always sorry I don't have a bigger appetite..desserts included a lemon cake, cannoli, petit fours, fresh fruit, as well as the Biblical cake.

After lunch we repaired, since it was a wonderful sunny day, to the community garden, to see both the medicinal herb garden, and the Biblical herb garden. 








 Helen, the lady whose mother made the cake, organized and got people to help design and plant this garden, with herbs mentioned in the Bible, labeled, and flourishing.  She's posed by popular demand, in the middle of the Biblical garden, her chef d'oeuvre.


The medicinals are an ancient use of herbs, good to see them growing dramatically.  

The gardening residents at Windrows, some of whom are in the herb society, count retired botanists and professional plantsmen in their numbers, so these gardens are in good hands. You'll notice the high fence, since this is deer country, and there would not be a lot to look at if the gate were left open.  And the greenhouse is for the winter use of residents with pot plants which can't survive the winter out of doors.

This was the group I presented the drawing workshop to last year, so it was a reunion, too, great fun to see them again.

Then home, instant nap, and afterwards a walk to balance the lunch, and I saw crowds of butterflies out.  


Buckeyes, which I usually have to go to the Preserve to see, right there on the street.  




And this mysterious double winged one, maybe moth, maybe butterfly, if anyone can identify, please do.  I have not been able to.

Speaking of identification, the herb enthusiasts are great at sharing mystery pictures and getting them id'd.  At my lunch table was one of the young professionals from the rose garden at a famous local park, who knows a lot more than roses, though she was interesting on that point.  She identified a mystery flower another member had on her phone and has been carrying around to find out more.  

She's from Minneapolis, where she sadly left her garden, but since her job is keeping her so busy, she's not missing it too much yet. Good day, with old friends, new friends.  Kindred spirits!

Home with the information, recipes, interesting materials from the day.  






And my name tag had a live little herb flower on it!  this sums up the herb group so well.  Love of herbs, attention to detail, nothing overlooked.



Saturday, October 14, 2017

Friday dinner with Handsome Son, before inroads

Last evening was dinner with HS, and the first soup of the season.  Pumpkin with yellow split peas.  And I cooked it with chicken bones, from the freezer, for a couple of hours, removed the bones before serving.


This is really hearty, as they say in the fancy recipes, and with the addition of water from carrot pesto and yogurt whey, was a Good Thing.  The reason for carrot as opposed to any of my herbal pestos, is that it's a good color for this soup.  Appetizing.  Likewise choosing the yellow split peas instead of green.

You know when you make pesto in the blender, there's always some that won't come out, around the blades?  I add back a couple of cups of water, run the blender, which cleans the blades and saves the precious pesto, which after all has your best olive oil in it, and freeze the water.  It's great in soup.  And the yogurt whey is the liquid part from making yogurt cheese, very tangy and good in soup, too.

I have two freezers, the small one on top of the fridge, where I keep bits of sauces and condiments also my grains and pestos and whole herbs, and the chest one where I keep, aside from art materials, ahem, cooked food ready to haul out, and raw chicken and fish. And bread, soup, etc. This slightly loopy way of organizing things makes it easier to find those bits you kept and can't find if they're in a chest freezer, while the food in the big freezer is big enough to see. 


So we had roast chicken breasts, which I'd had a lovely time hitting with a mallet, then rolled in flour, baharat and seasalt, and left for a few hours in the fridge, then put in a 400F oven for about 25 minutes.  With brown jasmine rice, cooked with turmeric, golden raisins and sunflower seeds.  The chicken and rice are both bland on their own, but will take any amount of seasoning, and be interesting.  Plum sauce to go with, in fact plum and ginger, ginger powder added in, with a little bit of sugar, and some lemon juice.  It's tart enough to be really good with this meal.  Nice Italian red wine.


Dessert was the rest of the plum torte, notice a theme here..and a big pot of English breakfast tea.  Son texted this am to say nice evening, tx for food!  and I must say it went over well enough that I have barely enough for one meal to go at.  But I did freeze quite a bit of soup,before HS arrived, leaving plenty for us last night. HS always has at least two bowls of soup, very gratifying for the cook.

I love to have soup in the freezer for when I get home and just don't feel like cooking right now, thanks.  Especially if it's cold and wet. 

Now that plums are in, I must look out for damson plums at the Asian market. They get them at great prices, and I can stock up.   

Next week I'm at an all day herb workshop, about herbal liqueurs or something, so no doubt I'll learn a lot to add to my repertoire of alcohol, which is pretty small.  And it includes a chef prepared lunch involving a lot of the herbs mentioned in the workshops. I will definitely report back on this. Nothing like having a menu created by a real expert.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Baharat, plum toms and tarts

Rainy cool weather is great for messing about in the kitchen, catching up on making things.

I mentioned that it was time to make more baharat, the Middle Eastern spice mix, from Ottolenghi.  I think baharat probably only means mixture, like masala, and there are millions of recipes for it.  But the one I use is Ottolenghi's, from his Jerusalem book, and it's great.  As is the book, an adventure in cultures and history as well as food.  Go here for the recipe and a bit of the book


I helps that I have all the spices in the list in the kitchen anyway. And here you see most of the cast of characters, the black peppercorns not having been unearthed at this point, but they did show up for the performance. 

You'll notice that I use the real cinnamon, which is not the stuff you get in the supermarket. That's not the actual plant, but it is related to it.  The real stuff is much more delicate in scent and in handling -- you can break a stick in your hands, so you have the amount you want. It's also a lot more expensive, but you're worth it.



This really is a great entertainment.  You sniff at each spice as you dole it out into the bowl, and it's a sensory trip.  Then into the coffee grinder, which I use to grind spices and flours, but actually not coffee.


Then once ground, another trip as you spoon it into the jar.  I keep it in a tightly lidded glass jar inside a cabinet as far from the stove as you can get in this kitchen. You'll see the recipe doesn't make a lot.  That way you always have fresh flavor. You can always make more when you run out.


It will come into play in a lot of recipes, since the combo is lovely for many sorts of dishes, chicken, fish, fruit, green vegetables, very varied in itself, so it adapts.




Then onward to the Roma plum tomatoes, a bunch from the farmstand, washed, cut into about thirds, these were quite big ones, and then frozen exactly like that. 


I will use them later in tomato sauce or any place I want tomatoes with not much juice.


Keeping with the plum motif, there were the first black plums in the  store so I got a couple of pounds, washed, halved and pitted them, and made a Plum Tart, according to Marian Burros, which I think is really a torte, but it's very good anyway. I have the cook's privilege of sucking on the pits, to get all of the fruit. No picture of that process.




To get the original recipe, where it's called a torte, see I toldya, go here


She talks about using a dozen halved plums, but I never have room for that many. I just stud it with as many as fit, and save the rest for a sauce next time I do chicken or fish.


 
And here, in my trusty castiron pan, is the lovely result.  You're supposed to use a springform pan, but until they invent a castiron one, I'm going with this pan.

The topping is lemon juice, a sprinkling of sugar, and cinnamon, but I was a bit heavy on this last, hand sort of slipped.  Still tastes fine, though.  The plums were wonderful, must be a good year.

Had one warm slice with tea, managing to burn the side of my hand on the pan, forgot it was still hot, quick application of aloe juice, from kitchen plant, fixed that, then I froze the rest of the tart or torte for future use.  If I just refrigerate, I'll feel I have to finish the slices faster before they go stale, and that would never do.. 

Next time Handsome Son comes calling, I think he's in for pumpkin soup, roast chicken, probably seasoned with baharat,  with plum sauce and brown jasmine rice, and plum tart. All the best establishments have echoes in their food.. at least that'll be my story.

Friday, October 6, 2017

last rose, maybe, Thanksgiving and indoor gardening rescues

Indoor gardening today, houseplants ready for a drink, and a bit of pruning.
  


The succulent garden has been overhauled, all three of the baby plants now in one pot, rather inexpertly transferred, but I was surprised at the root system on these tiny plants, so I'm hopeful. I didn't separate them from the original leaves yet, though one had shriveled nicely.  But I'm rethinking the use of coco fiber for this purpose.  Maybe mixed with potting soil will be better, the mix I used to transplant.

The parent plants will be wintering over with me, currently outside next door and doing wonderfully. But I'll swipe a few more leaves to propagate, as rent for taking care of them for six months!

The other two pots in the succulent garden are occupied by some hen and chickens which the dratted squirrel had dug out about ten times from the strawberry pot outside on the deck.  

He seems to think this is the perfect place for his acorns, and I've found the small plants from the top of the planter tossed on the deck repeatedly.  Says something for their hardiness that they still try to grow.  The plants growing from the side openings of the pot are doing fine, many new chicks appearing. So the lack of action on the top is clearly squirrel antics.

The Boston fern that hangs from the kitchen ceiling suddenly sprouted a little oak tree, proving that these squirrels get everywhere.  There was probably an acorn buried in the potting soil I used when I repotted the fern.  I fervently hope a squirrel didn't come indoors to bury it.. just a joke.  If you'd ever seen the devastation that can be wrought by a squirrel loose in a house, you would definitely know if one had got in.

The ancient begonia, which I grew from a slip these last twenty or so years, was in need of a bit of a crutch.  So I figured the sedum didn't need propping up any longer, and found I had to wait my turn. 

A dragonfly was sunning himself on top of the cane, so I politely waited till he left before I brought it indoors.  A bit hard to see, he's on the cane nearer the foreground.



And while I was waiting I noticed yet another lovely yellow rose.  Maybe this really will be the last of the year.  Every time I think that, another couple appear.  And they can continue till frost, so maybe some more will appear.  Picture, just in case this is really the last this year.

And we're coming to Indigenous People's Day weekend, no reason to celebrate that other guy who couldn't even sail straight.  But we owe a lot to the indigenous people. Many traces of the Lenni Lenape right where I live, clay lamps, arrowheads, before they were driven from their own lands. My gardening and general care of people is in part my attempt at some restitution.  I take care of the bit of earth I can.

And it's Thanksgiving in Canada, nice and remote from Christmas, much better timing than the US, I always think.  Anyway, Canadian blogistas, enjoy your holiday weekend and all that that entails..really dates me, that Goon Show reference.
 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Peened bar, therapy dogs, and daisies

I was wondering the same thing, what's peened?  turns out it means hammered, as in ballpeen hammer, one of my favorite art tools, as it happens.  And the bar in question is a safety grab bar, the peening making it a bit more skidproof for your wet hand in the bathtub.

I have various safety features installed in the house, dating from when Handsome Partner was still able to sort of walk, and they enabled him to get around.  I left them all in place, figuring why not, and nowadays I find I use them now and then, too.

 

Here's the staircase, bars installed right and top, and I carpet the stairs and hallways, though all the other floors are laminate.  Better if a fall happens to be carpeted. Two bars on right rather than one long one, so HP could reach for a horizontal grip on his way up.

I have two full bathrooms, one I use to shower, etc, the other to take a bath.  It's just a kind of change of scenery.  But the shower one was all set up, off the master bedroom, for HP to be able to get around, sit on a shower stool, lever himself to his feet, then with a bit of help, step out.  


He tested where to put the bar on the back wall, so that as he sat on the stool he could reach nicely. This is the advantage of positioning this stuff to fit your own size, rather than the one size fits all of institutional design.
 
I switched out all the towel rails for grab bars, after he took a nasty fall, grabbed the rail on the way down, rail came out of the wall, he ended up being hit on the head with the rail as well as falling...not good.   
 
But the other bathroom, my tub one, I didn't adapt since he didn't use it.  I did install a handhold, after HP was no longer able to use it in his bathroom. At this point, I think it's a good idea to install a grab bar in the tub to help me be sure I can get out again, before I find I wish I had.  It arrived today, and my handyman contractor neighbor will be installing it.  This is a job for someone who knows what he's doing, and Michael does.  He installed all the others for me, and got quite interested in safety items in the process.


The bar is 24 inches, and is waiting for its eventual location.
I have to first test out sitting in the tub and figuring out where to install the bar to help me up, whether it should be vertical, or on an angle.  If I can stop laughing long enough, I'll test this. Seriously, it's  a really good thing to install safety things before you think you need to bother.

On my walk out today, I bumped into an old friend with a additional dog in her life, a friendly lovely lab type, black, name of Raven, who has been training for therapy dog.  However, in the final test she was spooked by walkers and wheelchairs, so she didn't make it to the certification status.  

I offered to lend them a transport wheelchair, if they wanted to just leave it around the house, sit in it now and then, let her get used to it as a piece of furniture, and they might.  They have a walker already, and they're showing it to her now.  So we'll see if she can take another go at the therapy test. Her temperament is lovely, friendly, eager, but quiet, no barking. This seems to be my assisted living day!

And, since life is not all dull old safety, I installed a couple of beautiful white linen curtains in two of the bathrooms.  I got the fabric from Dharma Trading, lovely people to work with, beautiful fabric to handle and hang. 

I took the cabinet doors off years ago, partly because of cats, partly because doors that swing out into a tiny space are a pain.  I had crocheted curtains hung, but they were a bit awkward, partly kitty claws, partly they're slippery. So I decided to replace them.

Here's the downstairs one (just cut and pinned, tension rods, no elaborate stuff here) with a felted soap above it.



And here's the upstairs one, the bathtub one,  behind which all the dry cat food is stored. 






Up one flight to defeat ants, which can't make it up there.  Duncan was wildly interested, getting in the way while I fitted it, then sniffing suspiciously.  This smells new, do I like it?





Then he decided it was okay, because his food was safe behind it. I'm Duncan, and I approved this curtain.  And considering I only guessed at the yardage when I ordered, the little sliver left from the piece once done was pretty good estimating.

And my new whistling kettle arrived, to replace the old electric that gave up.  This is low tech.  Even if the whistle gives up, the kettle will work.


Outdoors, the Montauk daisies are busting out all over, and the neighbors are so impressed at this new burst of color along with the Russian sage, when they thought things were winding down. 



Going to sit a while now...cup of tea, made using new kettle,  tiny apple pie, mystery story. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Roast vegggies, raspberries and respite

As you know, I don't make a lot of references in here to current tragedies, because this blog is meant to be a little respite from the crushingly terrible things happening out there.  I do a good number of active efforts to improve things, very aware of needing to do my part. But in here, it's okay to breathe, enjoy a little something now and then.


And today the respite is roasted vegetables.  I did a large amount of roasted sweet potatoes, fresh from the farm, apples, likewise, and frying peppers, from neighbor's garden, he grows them, asks me to take care of eating them.

This time, along with a dash of molasses and a sprinkling of cornstarch, the flavorings were fennel seed, Old Bay Seasoning, a red, spicy, peppery mix good with fish, seafood and poultry, and seasalt.  I tossed all the ingredients in with the seasonings and let them sit a few minutes while the oven heated up to 400F.  Twenty minutes roasting, and all's done.

One thing to bear in mind when you cook for one as I do often, but make full size recipes, with several dinners in mind, is to note which flavorings hold up the second time around.  And fennel seed does this to a faretheewell.   Really good the second time you have a dish of this mixture.   All the seasonings sort of matured and blended and it was, if anything, better than the first night I had it.




The recipe this time made for three full dinners.  If I'd been using it as a side dish probably more like six dinners. Or if Handsome Son were in the party, I'd be lucky to have leftovers at all.


And dessert is a dish of fresh raspberries, from the farm, they're still harvesting them, with a spoonful of plain yogurt, and a pitterpatter of sliced almonds.  See I can write twee with the best of them!  

Do you remember that movie about the bookstore,something Charing Cross Road, where Anne Bancroft is getting help from New York English neighbors in picking out interesting foods to send to the bookstore staff in wartime England after she realized they were nearly starving?  

One thing she lit on in her catalog was raspberries.  Her neighbor being a cut glass English Southerner, called them rahzbriz.  And she bursts out laughing saying, imagine a whole island full of people saying rahzbriz!  Well, no, only some Londoners, but nemmind. Real people call them rassbrees.  Either way, they are lovely, especially now that I don't have a place to grow my own.  You can't get them in shops, because rassbrees don't ship well, too fragile. Rahzbriz too, for that matter.
  
This dinner will cheer you up any time.  And a nice glass of Merlot to go with, too. Shopping for this was  a Fall event, now that pumpkins are out and more varieties of apples are coming in. 

I did get a little sugar pumpkin for soup.  Maybe in the next couple of days. Probably with carrots and ginger.  Carrots don't grow well in this region at all, never get them at the farmer's market or farmstands.  So those are storebought, from some other state. I try to hold down the distance between farm and my table, but have to cede now and then.  A lot of my food is grown about a mile away.

 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Self care, aka daily luxury touches a la francais

Just found a young writer, Jennifer Scott, never came across her before, initially because she ran a brief book group on youtube on the Lucia series by EF Benson.  Very cool to hear someone else's take on these favorites, since they're all in my own head usually. Some of the flavor of it is over her head, but it's still interesting to hear.

Then found out she spent time in Paris as a young student, on an exchange program, and I found her writings on Madame Chic, the name she gives her French hostess.  She learned a good deal about the French way of life in her few months in Paris, largely from a wealthy family in the 16e arrondissement, ie posh neighborhood.  Listening to Lessons from Madame Chic right now on Hoopla.  This is so reminiscent for me, I'm plunging through it.

I was an au pair, also in Paris, also in the 16e arrondissement, only nineteen, few years younger than she, and actually working in the family, and long ago, but I learned a lot of the same things about how people lived.  A lot of what I learned doesn't actually require inherited wealth and posh houses.  It's about a kind of elegant attitude as much as anything.

My French hostess, or employer, used to buy from the best couturiers but also liked sweaters from Marks and Spencer, which she wore with the same air.  She was a great cook, and was horrified at the massive french fries I cut!  she described them as planks of wood, because her method was what I'd call shoestring fries, very thin, cooked to crisp.  I was used to the bigger britstyle chips, crisp outside but with plenty of inside, too.  

I learned to enjoy yogurt then, unheard of in the UK, and to tolerate bitter dark chocolate, eaten at four o clock with chunks of bread, with her little boy.  This was supposed to be for children, the gouter, but I was unable to go from noon to nine pm without eating, French style.  They laughed at me, but I needed that little bite, so Bruno and I both had our gouter. He liked the company, actually!

Her daughter, a teen who was oil and water to me, nonetheless was a great source of education. While I was wrangling the two year old I was au pairing, I observed her with her friends, and her attitudes.  A partygirl more than a student, she was a tall slim blonde, tres chic et soignee!  And very socially sophisticated, far beyond me.

But surprisingly, the family were always sighing in envy of my curly black hair, and how I looked fresh as soon as I got up in the mornings.  Both of these surprised me a lot, because Parisiens are not polite for its own sake! Ah, la belle peau anglaise! Les beaux cheveux frises!

Anyway, Jennifer recounts the Parisian touches she tried to keep in her life forever.  Such as eating with enjoyment, real food, at a table.  Not snacking, not even buying packaged food.  Or being active, walking, using stairs, not the elevator, just generally moving more than a lifelong car owner might.

I like the food thoughts, since I do like good food, don't need a lot of it, but like to make as much as I can from scratch.  Buy good ingredients.  All that. And I definitely learned that from living in a French household where food was important, and ingredients always fresh, and often expensive, but there were no budget worries.  But I like more variety than my French hosts did.

She also noted how few clothes French people had. Now, from the viewpoint of a young affluent American girl, I can see this. However from my own viewpoint, a postwar stonybroke student, I found the French wardrobe positively huge!  Heck, they would buy more than one sweater at a time..but nowadays I observe that I keep on having to slim down my own wardrobe, no need for a lot of these items.  I maintain a steady weight, so I don't have to have a couple of different size ranges, so there's no excuse there.

I can't say I was sorry at the end of my stint in France, spent in Paris, then Brittany then the High Pyrenees, to leave the somewhat proper and rulebound way of life, but I learned a lot, as Jennifer did, from that, too.  

And I probably knew France better than England by the time I came home, bundled hastily onto a plane a couple of weeks early.  This was because of the return of de Gaulle, and the real possibility of civil war, and my hosts didn't want an alien on their hands if I became marooned with them.  Also I had to get back to start my uni career.




Not learned from French hosts, but similar in attitudes to daily life,  I like to use essential oils, a great addition to your life and mood.  At least mine.  Seen here, not great focus, bathroom lighting a bit dim.

I've used them for many years, lavender for relaxation, and I  grow it.  Rosemary for alertness and a general feeling of wellbeing.  Rose geranium because it's nostalgic of a gift I got as a teen from someone I admired.  Just walking among growing herbs, pinching and sniffing, is a great lift to your spirits.

A recent addition to this oil wardrobe is the lemon essential oil, a waker up of aroma, couple of drops on the back of the bathtub before I turn on the shower releases it in the air. 

It also deters Duncan, a downside, really.  Cats hate citrus, and he no longer joins me in the shower.  Thanks to Stefi from this suggestion, passed on from her physio. Not about deterring Duncan, just about using lemon essential oil.

I use the other oils in the bathtub, also a thwip of almond oil, wonderful for your skin and hair, and you do make sure to get your hair wet, at least I do, still having untamable curly hair, to render it wearable.  

Once in a while, often a Sunday morning thing, I take a warm bath.  This is becoming logistically tricky, getting in is fine, and I always hope I can manage to get back out again.  I'm pretty nimble, but you never know.  

Planning on getting another grab bar installed.  In fact this morning I tested where I would want to grab it and I'll mark the spot and get my tame handyman to install it.  He can be relied on to do it right, did all the other grab bars in the house for Handsome Partner.  He actually researched the required ADA way of doing it.

So this morning, it was a nice mix of lemon and rosemary.  I probably smell like a nicely done roast chicken.



Friday, September 29, 2017

Snowdrops and cauliflowers

The snowdrop bulbs arrived this morning, as hoped.  And, as usual in this tiny realm of mine, the first order of business before planting is to remove enough pachysandra to make room.

I love pachysandra, hate seeing bare earth stretching out between plants, much better to me to have plants pushing up with a sea of green around them.  But it is aggressive.



So here's the lovely Dutch bulbs, awaiting my planting, complete with a gift card sort of thing with a stamp closing, all very civilized.
And here's the bucket of pachysandra removed from the future snowdrop bed, and wet down to wait next door 




for friend to plant them in this space



He already put dibs on any pachysandra I pull out.


And the snowdrops, planted, covered with some good organic stuff, watered in.  Watch this space next spring!  it's where my current six bulbs are, but not disturbing them.  I hope that removing the pachysandra will encourage them, too.  Maybe the competition from the new arrivals will spur on a bit of proliferation, too.

Meanwhile, back at the stove, Handsome Son will be coming for dinner, so the menu is all about cheese cauliflower, roast chicken breasts, with tiny pies for dessert.

The chicken breasts I pounded with a mixture of flour, seasalt, pepper, and Old Bay Seasoning.  Thinking about Washington is good for happy pounding, I find.  Hitting something is timely.  So they're in the fridge, and will be started on top of the oven in the castiron pan, then finished in the oven along with the cheese cauliflower.



I made the cheese sauce, using half and half sharp cheddar and shredded Parmigian,  and steamed the cauli.  This steamer was a wedding gift from my MIL.  That was in 1963, and it must have been used daily since then.  Definitely proved itself.  There's a tight fitting lid, which I removed to show you the contents.



Then added one, the sauce to t'other, the steamed cauliflower, and the dish is in the fridge, ready to be warmed through this evening.   

 
Dash of red pepper and shredded cheese over the top after it cooled. 

This afternoon a bit of study of Chinese art, and calligraphy and a spot of practice, too, if I'm up for it.  It's all go!