Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It May Be Winter Outside

But I have cumquats inside. I still don't have enough for marmalade, in October I had eight diminutive ripe orange balls, it's now January and I still have just the eight, I have many miniscule green balls but they are taking so long to ripen, marmalade's on hold. I'm not really a fan of 'indoor' plants, they always seem to require too much attention and get mold and mealy bugs etc, this has been my experience anyway.....the needy 'indoor' plant, maybe it's the memory of spider plants hanging in baskets, and the maudlin mother-in-laws tongue in hallways, and let's not forget the dreaded Ficus sitting glumly in a foyer.

I prefer to have my plants outside in the garden doing what comes naturally, and if they don't make it through a Montauk winter, well too bad, they probably shouldn't have been there in the first place. But such is the nature of a gardener (this one, at least) to desire plants that don't really belong. Euphorbia characias 'Wulfenii' grows abundantly in my riverside hometown in England, it is bold and majestic, big clumps of blue-green foliage and chartreuse blooms that look like hundreds of tiny trumpets. It has never made it through the winter here, I have given up planting it and try to be content with its more subdued relatives.

Then there's the lavender and the rosemary which always struggle, one year a sad sprig did survive on a rosemary plant that had been frozen and battered by frigid Montauk winds, it made it through to summer but we didn't dare take anything off the poor wretched plant. Last fall I dug up the two plants I had in the herb garden and potted them, they now have a comfy spot in the kitchen window, but are starting to look leggy. 

My friend Ms J in Wellington has a rosemary bush that is as brazenly tall as her house, when we are there we hack off large limbs to stuff the lamb, I have serious herb envy when I am in NZ, no, make that herb, fruit tree and vegetable envy, my friend Ms W has a lemon tree an orange tree and a fig tree. A fig tree in the garden would be my idea of paradise. 

There are other plants that need to be brought in from the cold; A Tasmanian tree fern which takes up residence in our bedroom for the winter, sometimes we forget that the giant hairy Dicksonia antartica is in the room with us.........there have been some interesting journeys made in the middle of the night. There's the two Feijoa trees, and the Rose Geranium and the Lemongrass. We seem to have accumulated quite a collection of needy potted friends.

I embrace our winters and I adore winter gardens, especially with a glittery blanket of snow, and luckily every winter we get heaps of it. There's a section of our garden that would be perfect with some large red-berried trees, and plush velvety evergreens, (yews grow well here but they are like fast food for deer) and dramatic winter barks. I have started planning for the spring, it's going to be a 'native' winter garden, everything will be at home out there braving the elements, only the robust and the hardy.

But those little orange cumquats on a cold January day, do bring a smile to a wind-chapped face.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Spongy Gingerbread

My gingerbread is spongy and pudding like, and spicy, maybe too spicy for someone with a sweet tooth, but you can do what the NZ'er does and put multiple dollops of ice-cream, or cardamom cream on top. We like to serve it with poached fruit too. I have mentioned on many occasions my preference for savory foods, here is another example where I have made a dessert, well, savory. 

It's fun to make and exciting for the olfactory system as well as the gustatory, and mixing the wet ingredients with the dry is a very delicious stirring experience, hubble, bubble, toil and trouble...............

Dry ingredients
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon expresso coffee
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
a pinch of ground cloves
a pinch of five spice powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced

Wet ingredients
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup applesauce
8 ounces plain nonfat yogurt
1/3 cup of olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons grated ginger

Preheat oven to 325f, line the bottom of a 2 inch deep x 9 inch square baking pan (you can also make it in a regular loaf pan) with parchment paper and spray it with non stick cooking spray, and lightly flour it.

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Whisk together the wet ingredients until smooth, add this mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until blended.

Pour the batter in to the prepared pan and bake for 60 to 70 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Brunch Two Oh One Oh

A relaxed Sunday brunch was a great way to kick off the New Year and to catch up with the friends that we didn't get to see over the hols. After reading the latest issue of Cuisine magazine I was as always inspired and made the Christmas caponata with red peppers, zucchini and caper berries to accompany my ham, each year I make this ham with some tweeks to the recipe, this time I used cardamom and mustard. Our antipodean guests made an outstanding bacon and egg pie, it arrived still warm from their oven and we devoured it along with clams (local) casino, I used a recipe from the Long Island Seafood Cook Book a little gem of a book.

When a new Cuisine arrives in the mail I rip off the plastic cover and do a quick flipping, the serious reading is reserved for a Saturday or Sunday morning in bed with tea. As a child I experienced the same excitement eagerly waiting for my Jackie and Beano to come flying through the letter box on a Saturday morning and plopping on to the cold, hard 70's black and white vinyl flooring. I have some very old dog-eared Cuisine magazines and I still use them, there's a large pile in the kitchen and I have a simple system, at the start of our fall/winter I put all of the spring/summer issues to the top of the pile so I am seasonally in sync, and then come our spring/summer......well you get the picture.

It was all white and blustery outside, but we were all nice and toasty inside, with apples and spices and hot ham and potatoes, and New Zealand Pinot Noir. I made a variation on my favorite - Jansson's Temptation adding apple and celeriac, and I made a spicy applejack sauce to go with the ham. We had gingerbread for dessert with a rhubarb and ginger compote. I am very fond of gingerbread as my mother used to make it, and she would always win first prize at the local village fair. One time we were late for the fair, my mother was driving really fast, she made a screechy turn and the spongy, dark, molasses loaded loaf bounced off the car seat on to the floor, we giggled as we tried to dust off dried leaves and unknown car floor fibers, and we giggled even more when she won first place, again.

My gingerbread recipe has a long list of ingredients, but it's so easy to make and most of the stuff can usually be found lurking in the cupboards. I have been making it for so long now that I don't recall the original source of the recipe, there's definitely some Martha in there, and more than a dolloping of my mother. Gingerbread recipe to appear in next really needs that much room! and this feels like a lengthy post.

We had a rather special dessert wine, the bottle had no label, but our grapes were in there, in 2008 we gave our botrytised grapes to a neighboring vineyard in Martinborough and they made an exceptionally fine wine, and it was wonderful to be able to share it with our friends, who brought a generous helping of stories and good cheer to the brunch table. Happy New Year!