Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Primary Colors

My garden is looking shabby, especially the vegetable garden; wilted tomato vines, shiso gone to seed, brown stalks where there used to be summer savory, a very unkempt plot of land, I am behind in my Fall clean-up - all those straggly, sticky, stalks, the untidiness is unbearable, there's no order out there anymore, it's a garden gone wild, a feral child with long thick, matted hair! Well, OK, I just need to get out there in my wellies and get 'stuck in' instead of just staring at the sloppy display.

Pockets of colorful life do exist in other corners of my garden; the Nicotiana (I stole the seeds from The Getty Museum) is still flowering a lovely chartreuse and my Emilia Javanica (NYBG) is still offering up a tiny orange firework display. I am not in the habit of sneeking seeds out of gardens, but I had been looking for Nicotiana Langsdorfii for the longest time and the Tassle Flower for longer......the first time I set eyes on the diminutive tassle was at Longwood Gardens, we lived for a few years in a 1920's house built for the orchid gardener at Longwood, right off Route 1, just before Kennet Square, a beautiful development of about 10 houses, just a few yards from the gardens. This is where I had my first American garden, my gardening experience at that point had been in temperate England, and now I had extreme temperatures, I learned a lot about gardening in my new and barren garden (the orchid gardener clearly didn't bring his work home) by visiting Longwood on a regular basis. I saw fireflies for the first time while living in Pennsylvania, a memorable balmy night sitting on our porch, the sound of ice chinking in our gin and tonics as we gazed across the fields and watched the magic show.

There's a duo in my garden right now making an outstandingly eye catching performance; Cerastotigma Plumbaginoides (leadwort) and Imperata (japanese blood grass), red and blue, one of my favoroite color combinations (header for blog) my NZ friend also loves it, she says that for her the two colors represent the Pohutukawa and the Pacific Ocean, for me it's the memory of a blue dress and shiny patent red shoes (yum) and the fish and chip shop sign, or was it those patriotic roundabout flower beds?

Monday, October 19, 2009


The smoker has been smoking overtime lately, bluefish mainly, now we are excited when we catch one, we used to be mildly despondent.... "oh no, another bluefish", but the greedy fighting fish smokes perfectly, and I discovered it works very well in one of my all time favorite breakfast dishes; kedgeree. The dish apparently originated in Scotland when the Scottish troops took their hearty breakfast with them to India during the British Raj, there it was made more exotic with the help of some curry powder, it then became a wildly popular breakfast dish in the United Kingdom during the Vicorian era.
Back in the 70's at my secondary school in England the domestic science class was not one of my favorites, it was the science part, all that exact measuring, also there was too much icing involved, and the making of sponges, like the victoria sandwich....not a happy day for me in the classroom; a ghastly creation of untidy jam and cream oozing out of overcooked sponges. But I was very proud of my kedgeree and was very excited to show my fish loving not fond of sweets and puddings either parents, but I tripped on the stairs on my way to the school bus, much laughter from pubescent children as I attempted to gather my rice and fish from the stairs that were mopped daily with disinfectant, that unforgettable school perfume. I do have happier memories of kedgeree; holidays in Scotland, old fashioned cosy hotels.....big old sideboards groaning under the weight of porridge, scotch pancakes, crumpets, homemade thick cut marmalade, Arbroath smokies and kedgeree, (I feel a very Scottish post brewing). Finnan Haddie (smoked haddock), is traditionally used but my bluefish was just grand, and you can use smoked salmon, you can probably use just about any smoked fish.
I have many kedgeree recipes including one from The Cook's Scrapbook a delightfully old-fashioned cookbook that my mother gave me, it has recipes like pickled samphire, hedgerow pie, grilled mackerel with gooseberry sauce........eyes are watering, sniff, now these are the things that make me feel homesick, well to be honest, Inspector Lewis and Rosemary and Thyme and Christmas Carols can do it too. This book is out of print now, if you ever spot one in a thrift store, grab it, it will warm the cockles of your heart.
 I like this recipe, it's simple, and it represents all of my recipes combined, but I am always (the contrary cook) experimenting, sometimes adding tomatoes, celery, using brown rice or basmati, sometimes curry powder sometimes garam masala.
Not many folks here in the US have heard of kedgeree, unless you're an expat of course, although there are gastro-pubs cropping up all over New York, I suspect it's on some of their menus, which reminds me; must go to the Spotted Pig next trip, I hope they are still doing a pint of cockles. I used to sit on the quay during the summer months in my quaint river-side town, with my father and eat cockles, sometimes whelks (only the brave) out of a paper cone, lots of vinegar and pepper to season, now I am weeping.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Twice Picked

We went looking for concord grapes near the lighthouse, and after some traipsing around we found bunches hanging high up on the vines, the deer must have eaten them or else some other picker got there before us, thankfully my long limbed picking companion could reach the very top bunches, if not for her my harvest would've been paltry. It was my second time this year picking grapes, the first time was in New Zealand in April, harvest time at our vineyard in Martinborough. Picking grapes on the vineyard is back breaking stuff, hunched over for hours on end, making sure that the tips of your fingers aren't part of the harvest, the snips (secateurs) are very sharp, but after a few hours I find I get into the 'picking zone' filling up the bins with those perfect bunches, glistening in the late autumn New Zealand sun.

We have 20 acres, it's small, we make Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.  In 2003 we planted the vines on what used to be farmland, on the edge of an old river bed, and in 2006 our first vintage was produced. The most frequently asked question is 'how can you run a vineyard in New Zealand, from Montauk?' There's surprisingly quite a lot we can do; weather can be monitored constantly, we can check the level of the water pump daily, and of course there are many phone calls on a regular basis at strange hours. We couldn't have embarked on this adventure without the help of two very tenacious parents who should've been relaxing with their feet up watching the telly (there's no such thing as a retired farmer). Over the past 7 years they have endured all the trials and tribulations that come with managing a vineyard, their story is an epic one, in a Robert Redford, river kind of way.

A passion for New Zealand, Martinborough, food and wine led us down this Dry River road, if we knew then....what we know now, but oh, what a thrill to be sitting in a New York restaurant and to see a bottle of our wine on the table......if they only knew about the frosts, the rain, the bottles that went missing on bottling day, the sheep that got in the vineyard. When we do our 'tastings' in the stores that carry our wine, people really do want to know the story behind that bottle of wine, and so, for example, my father-in-law at age 83 still drives the tractor up and down the vines, and my mother-in-law single handedly moved tons of rocks (greywacke) to create a spectacular entrance to the vineyard. Our vineyard is a real family vineyard, each family member plays a role, we don't have a rep, we make the sales calls, it really does qualify as 'boutique', wait, somebody pass me the soapbox....I read this somewhere 'a boutique wine is a quality wine made in limited quantity, under 5,000 cases a year' (we produce 2,000 cases) ok you can take the soapbox away (for the moment). We are proud of our wine and we are deeply connected to the land where our grapes grow, we intend to stay small and intensely focused on quality not quantity.

Anyway back here in Montauk, my jam is delicious, I used a simple recipe of sugar and grapes and lemon juice, sorry, didn't measure anything, just did it by taste, and then put the mixture through a sieve, wow, what an extraordinary flavor, I get......mmmmm, candy, bubblegum, strawberry, mmmmmmm, musty, barnyard, ok that's enough.

Two harvests in one year, does seem a bit greedy doesn't it?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ladies, A Plate

I have never met a New Zealander who didn't have a sweet tooth, and my mate is no exception; jam and honey plastered on toast, afternoon tea with biscuits, a must, tarts and pies with lashings of cream. I don't have a sweet tooth, and I don't really enjoy the making of desserts as much as I enjoy creating the savory part of the meal. A hot steamy pudding though.....hmmm, yes, I do like to make a good pudding, bread and butter, rhubarb and ginger, plum and cardamom, cold climate puddings. In New Zealand the meal is not complete without a dessert, and when we visit friends, there is always something baking in the oven, there is nothing more welcoming than a home cooked biscuit or cake straight out of the oven and a cup of tea, made in a teapot, more often than not the teapot has a handmade tea cosy. Everyone bakes; our friends, our friends' children, and their children, (ooh that's scary) it's a nation of bakers, thank goodness somewhere in the world children are spending 'quality' time in the kitchen, baking the same sugary delights as their grandmothers before them. We brought Ladies, A Plate back with us from NZ (thanks again to the wonderful Miss W) and have been working our way through it. It is a collection of traditional NZ home baking recipes; Lamingtons, Afghans, Neenish Tarts......and so on. The NZ'er has done most of the baking, so far he has made; Bacon and Egg Pie, Gingernuts, Ginger Kisses, (the photo at top of page) Pikelets, and Apricot Shortcake, (Photo below) lucky for me eh? to have such a sweet natured partner in the kitchen, he makes a mean Pavlova too, which of course we all know was created in New Zealand.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I want to show that I am a blogger of my word.....the pork tenderloin? I said I was going to make it, well I did and twice in one week! I made a marinade of olive oil, sage and garlic and after about 4 hours it was grilled on the BBQ and served with the plum sauce, mashed yams and chunks of iceberg with a grainy mustard and sherry vinegar dressing. When I start cooking with sage it really feels as though fall has arrived and we should start collecting kindling in the yard and load up the wood pile, I will be using the robust herb until the frost takes it, but thankfully it is one of the last to go. I have quite a few sage bushes in the garden, too many really, sage has such an intense flavor that a light hand is required for most dishes, however with the tenderloin I almost wrap it in a coat of sage. This summer a lone tassle flower popped up in between the silvery foliage and made a striking orange display, I plan to plant more emilia javanica with the salvia officinalis, it was one of the most exciting color combinations in my garden this summer. 
The other night I made dinner for a lovely bunch of friends and made the pork tenderloin again, in the same way, but this time the menu looked like this;
grilled pork tenderloin with sage and garlic
cauliflower and apple mash
a medley of mushrooms (cooked with thyme, garlic and marsala) with orzo and parmiggiano
green beans with lemon zest
pan fried scallops with a tomato, celery, red pepper sauce (sort of like a provencal)
a plum clafoutis with cardamom cream
There are no photos of this dinner, I was really itching to take some, but while I think it's OK to make the NZ'er sit around, hungry, food getting cold, as I stand on stools and fiddle about with lamps, I just couldn't do it to my pals, so you'll have to take me at my word.
I have a very good stimulating tonic recipe made with sage leaves.......after an enjoyable dinner with great friends and wine, this comes in handy (for some of us) the next morning.
bunch of sage leaves
lemon juice
hot water
The latin name for sage, salvia, means "to heal".