Friday, April 23, 2010

A Sunny Disposition

Everywhere there are spangles of daffodils and electric explosions of forsythia, and golden flames of spirea. April in the garden is mostly about yellow, but many people are not fond of this primary color with its negative associations: when something 'yellows' like old paper, or teeth, and of course jaundice and cowardice, some associate it with madness. I happen to like it, all hues and shades, egg yolks, chicks, butter and cream, old-fashioned primulas. I probably wouldn't wear a yellow dress or sweater, yellow's a difficult color for most people to wear close to the face, but a pair of pants, or shoes or boots, ooooh, yes. I have a pale primrose bag which comes out of the closet at the first sign of spring, along with a canary yellow pair of cordouroys (not worn at the same time though). 

The witch hazel flowered in January and is still blooming in April, it sighs into spring with its spidery blooms and whispers that warmer days are ahead and then the forsythia positivley yells that Summer is coming! I must admit that the screaming yellow of forsythia for me, has to be at a distance in the garden, I don't want it standing too close to me whilst talking loudly. I like forcing some branches to have inside, it is more elegantly restrained in a vase. I do like what my neighbor does with his; they are trimmed into perfectly round balls and sit on the lawn like gigantic pom poms about to roll off down the hill. Then there are the daffodils, giggling, gaggles, of them nodding their little bonnets, still looking cheery when the wind howls, and bites your face.

Note: When I wrote this just the 'yellows' were out in the garden - before I was able to post this my computer was stolen - I purchased another computer (groan) a week has passed, or more, and there is much more activity in the garden......the beautiful delicate green chenille catkins of Harry Lauder's walking stick, and the epimediums I adore the tiny flowers on this spring flowering perennial, they are the faeries at the bottom of the garden. Spring is such an exciting time in the garden, some things are eager to push through the dirt, others take a more leisurely approach, as a gardener I am watching everything and wondering if 'this or that' made it through - my obsession this spring? my beautiful apricot foxgloves, I spy one making it's return, but I had hoped for a big gathering.....early days yet.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Homemade Brown Sauce

As I was flicking through my cookbooks on a Saturday evening (just by way of a change) I came across a recipe in Fleur's cookbook, Fleur's Place is an internationally renowned restaurant on the north Otago coast of NZ - it was cod with a homemade brown sauce - I had some cod, store bought this time, but Montauk fresh, and I was excited about making the tangy sauce, I love making sauces and this is a great one to have on hand, it's similar to the much loved breakfast sauce from across the across the pond, the one with the Houses of Parliament on the label. We had it with soft-boiled eggs for breakfast the next day before a hard days work in the garden. 

There was a great deal of pruning, some light, but some seriously heavy lopping off of old privet limbs, which I have recycled and used as a rustic sculptural tomato frame, it does have a use - the ubiquitous privet. Much attention was given to the tomato bed; last year was such a wash-out I think I harvested three tomatoes. We prepared and manured, I intend to have an abundance this summer, a bunch of ruby red, big, bursting, big girl, super boy, super steaky, beefy mortgage lifting tomatoes at the table every night! (actually we prefer big beef) oooooh those tomatoes, they make me fuss and worry in that corner of the garden all summer long! 

I soaked the label off an empty HP bottle and funneled my sauce into it, such an elegant bottle, I am sure it's the same design they've been using since 1896. The bottle takes me back to a gritty Brick Lane (before gentrification) sitting in a really smokey caff with the barrow boys, early in the morning, having taken the short ride on the tube from Hackney to go to the flea market, eating baked beans, fried bread, fried eggs (there was no 'how do you want your eggs' they were just cooked according the to the way the cook cooked them) drinking tea in heavy off-white chipped mugs, only tea, if you asked for coffee they gave you a 'look'. I'm not sure if I did ever shake, shake, shake some more, some of the sauce on my deeply fried breakfast, I was always a bit wary of sauces in caffs, but I do remember the good times in the East End of London, and somehow that bottle reminds me of a certain time and place. I doubt if the greasy spoon caffs are still there, probably been replaced by Costa Coffee or Starbucks. I wonder if there is anything 'Dickensian' left in London anymore, and do the kids know what we mean when we say that?

Homemade Brown Sauce
Adapted from Fleur's recipe
Makes about a cup and a half

2 cups tomatoes chopped
half a cup of cider vinegar
half a cup of malt vinegar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cup brown sugar
half a cup of sultanas
1 cup peeled and chopped apples
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 large chopped onion
3 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon five spice powder
1 cup of prunes pitted
3 tablespoons molasses

In a large pan place all the ingredients and bring to the boil while stirring.
Simmer gently for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours until think, adding a little water if needed.

Fleur's recipe instructs you to pass the mixture through a moulis, I put mine in the blender, which worked out just fine.

This sauce is great with fish, eggs of course, sausages are bereft without it, and it goes wonderfully with preceding recipe too.