Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Asparagus & Bresse Bleu Grilled Sourdough Rye Sandwich

Since asparagus season started, I been known to create a recipe just before falling asleep in case the next day gives us some spears from our patch. Basic grilled cheese is a staple chez nous so before entering dreamland one night, I conjured up an image of tender asparagus and creamy Bresse Bleu encased in buttery, grilled sourdough rye. Served piping hot from the skillet, it is a vrai régal for when I sit down to lunch after a morning potager session.

Bresse Bleu was created in the 1950s as a competitive response to Gorgonzola because that venerable Italian cheese which has been made since the 11th century was becoming popular in France.  Though similar to Brie, not only does Bresse Bleu have delectable blue veins but contains less fat because it is made from skim milk.

This gorgeous, creamy mound contains 15% fat versus 22% of regular Brie

In general follow instructions for my basic grilled cheese which are here. Instead of using grated cheese, place slivers of Bresse Bleu on a slice of bread then top with spears. For thick asparagus, halve them vertically. Cook the spears first by covering them with a small amount of water in a skillet.


There are about two more weeks left for harvesting as our young bed needs limited picking so it can sustain a full harvest next season which will be eight weeks.

Brave, emerging spears

By then there will be rhubarb to harvest!

The double daffodils have taken over from the earlier blooming trumpets.

Species tulips are just beginning to flower.

Since Dirac the kitten loves to hoover our not-always-pristine kitchen floor for scraps, he often licks his nose to extend his culinary pleasure.

À la prochaine!


Bresse Bleu is one of the many cheeses mentioned in Monty Python's famous cheese shop sketch
Best way to store asparagus

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Asparagus Harvest Begins!

Since I am spending as much time as possible in the garden, our well stocked freezer continues to nourish us. Today its offering is borscht with beef and onion dumplings.

The Polish version of borscht consists of a clear, ruby broth

This outstanding recipe was given to me by The Calm One's mother and can be found hereOur family tradition calls for making large, and I do mean large, dumplings!

That's a sliver of porcini mushroom on the lower left

Harvesting the asparagus was dutifully delayed for the last two seasons, because that time was needed to strengthen the plants which will allow abundant production for up to twenty years. However, the present picking will be limited to four weeks. Next spring it will go on for the full eight. Once simmered tender in a small amount of water in a skillet, the spears are sliced into pieces and added to scrambled eggs and pasta or just eaten by themselves with some help from butter and lemon juice. Their fresh taste is incomparable.

The emergence of the first seedlings is a major, smile-producing event for me. The tomato seeds sowed indoors about a week ago are now on that vigourous path that annual veggies embrace, going from a tiny seed to a plant producing its own seeds for the next generation.

Don't tell the chitted, early-season seed potatoes that their garden bed is not yet prepared!

Coloured sprouts occur in sunlight and are the ones required for producing more potatoes

Dirac the Kitten is eschewing, and therefore also not chewing, his favourite grey fleece blanket in lieu of one more attuned, colour-wise, to spring. 

He looks smashing next to pink and violet!

À la prochaine!


How to plant asparagus


Five ways to cook Asparagus
Wikipedia: It is believed most people produce the odorous compounds after eating asparagus, but only about 22% of the population have the autosomal genes required to smell them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Springing Into Action...

Gorgeous Gaia! I got a load of gardening to do within a relatively small window of opportunity. As I can not be in the garden and the kitchen simultaneously, our pal, the freezer, offered up homemade chicken pot pie which we gladly devoured. My recipe is here.

The first batch of sowing is now in the incubator: four varieties of tomatoes and two of peppers.

Recycled food trays and containers!

Pruning continues at a brisk pace.

The Calm One did some major Box Elder pruning

After pruning the plum and peach tree, both of which I keep to a manageable height of about seven feet, I sprayed a diluted, super-fine horticultural oil to combat the mites that love both trees. A repeat treatment will most likely be needed once the young leaves appear. Windless days are best for such treatment or else you will receive an unwanted facial. Ivy also appreciates a thorough clipping back.

If I can, I leave some berries like those on the lower left for the birds

While trimming the robust aucuba hedge, I found some large, cherry-like berries. Since this species is dioecious, that is, there are separate male and female plants, it's official that both sexes are present in our garden. I had given up hope because there has been no fruiting since our arrival here five years ago.

There are a few bearded irises here and there, a harbinger of the profusion of blue and purple blooms expected at the end of April which is around when Dirac the kitten will be allowed into the garden.

Dirac the kitten to The Calm One:  I did not know we have a gardener!

Dirac: Oh, it is just my other mother, the large, glabrous one, dashing about and wielding her secateurs all over the place. 

À la prochaine!


Indoors sowing using heat
Basics of pruning, especially the importance of apical dominance

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Early Spring in the Charente!

It's starting. Spring, that is. At least in the southwest of France. The daffodils say so...

As do the sweet violets and their unmistakable fragrance...

Getting close to these beauties is like inhaling spring.

...and the English daisies, including a brave one blooming in a crack halfway down the main paved path...

... not to mention the periwinkle.

With the nursery order newly arrived, my schedule just got very busy!

A few packets. Just a few. Some garlic heads and onion sets too!

The early and late season potato varieties are beginning to chit.

Some of the forty-eight seed potatoes

Dirac the kitten is approaching the age of ten months, and his beauty knows no bounds. Within a month or so, following his vaccinations and being electronically chipped, he will get to know the garden for the first time. We can't wait!

À la prochaine!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Souped-up Garden is slowly shifting back into gear...

Though The Calm One is almost over the dreadful flu that a couple of weeks ago descended like a stultifying, gloomy cloud upon our once actively functioning household, I am still struggling with sporadic bouts of low-energy and a hacking cough. Homemade food from our freezer has been much appreciated by us, and today it is pizza:

My recipe is here.

Toulouse sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, mozzarella, and Parmesan, if you please. So good!

My plant nursery order will arrive tomorrow which means I soon will be starting heat-loving seeds in an incubator, that is, various peppers, black-eyed Susan vine, and then later basil, tomatoes, squash, and melons. Outdoor sowing includes parsley, chives, dill, garlic, marjoram, onions, potatoes, peas, carrots, parsnips, lettuce, leeks, spinach, and then later, green beans, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Meanwhile, the permanent asparagus and rhubarb plantings need to be kept free of weeds and fertilised, ditto with the strawberry beds which are productive for about four years.

A welcomed sight: first the big pink 'egg' and then the unfurling of rhubarb leaves

Since most of our fruit and landscape trees/bushes are already presenting tight, little buds, we need to get their pruning done within a week. I have duly made the necessary appointment with The Calm One for his valued assistance. This year, the grapevines won't need trimming because the sauvage area reserved for small wildlife in a back corner has become so tall that not much sunlight reaches the nearby vines, significantly stunting their growth. Therefore no grapes for the birds, but there are tons of blackberry brambles festooning the back-to-nature section so it all works out.

Our short winter is coming to a close, but persistent rains are preventing the weeding of and incorporation of compost into, the many beds, each measuring four feet by twelve feet and which at present are muddy. Digging soggy soil is injurious to its structure whose healthy state is paramount for flourishing plants. But gardening is one of my great loves, so it will be a work of joy and any challenge will be taken into stride, frequently with smiles and laughs. It's true that the real focus of gardening is to grow the soil, but I suspect gardening also grows your sense of humour. Then again, life in general provides many opportunities to have various guffaws/giggles at your expense and at many absurdities encountered.


Since starting our potager about five years ago, I have noted what did and didn't work during the previous season. My present epiphany is that without healthy seedlings, everything else is made harder. The solution is to use very fresh seeds, that is, saving only the excess that does not degrade rapidly even if it means a little more expense, provide adequate light as soon as they emerge, transplant only the strongest and most robust despite the waste, gradually hardening them out in the sunlight/wind, and transferring them to the soil while they still have room to grow in their pots.

Annual vegetables have a strenuous growth cycle beginning with a sprouting seed and culminating in a mature plant setting its own seeds. Hence they do not bear well any obstacle stunting that rapid process which usually lasts under six months. Yes, that means weeding, fertilising, watering, and mulching matters. Note to self: cultivate only the amount I can properly handle.

For those beginners who would like a doable start to growing some edibles, pop a few potted veggie plants into your cart if your supermarket has such a section. For example, if you have a sunny spot on a sill or a small patio/balcony, dwarf cherry tomatoes would appreciate spending time there along with various herbs. Keep them in a place where you will note their existence daily so you won't forget to water them!

Dirac the kitten has been taking it easy also...

Chewing on his favourite blankie

...and taking advantage that in our attempt to hydrate ourselves, there are glasses of water partout.

À la prochaine!


How to sow indoors to get an early start
Sowing leeks
Sowing spinach
Sowing peas
Sowing onion sets
Sowing carrots
Sowing garlic
Sowing potatoes
Basic principle underlying pruning: apical dominance

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

No Bon Appétit Chez Nous!

The Calm One and I have been cloué au lit (nailed to the bed) with a respiratory illness for the last several days. The absolute fatigue coupled with a hacking cough is bad. But the worst aspect is that demonic thingie destroyed our sense of smell and therefore our appetite. Fasting is fine, but when it is enforced, I draw the line!

We are slowly on the mend and there most likely will be a regular post this coming Wednesday. If you can, don't get the flu, especially the rude kind that robs you the desire for food. If you do, rest, keep warm, and drink lots of fluids.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Date Walnut Cream Cheese Sandwich

After doing a frantic shopping round for clothes in New York City, my childhood best friend and I would race to a Chock Full o'Nuts. Sighing with relief, we eased our weary, teenaged selves onto counter stools. Juggling shopping bags as stuffed as our bellies were not, I usually ordered a dreamy, cream cheese sandwich studded with luscious walnuts and the most moist of all delectable dates; while she often asked for a whole-wheat donut which was coloured a dark chocolate and adorned with a crunchy lattice texture due to sufficient deep-fryer time. These cooks sure knew their way around umami and the Mallard reaction.

I adored that sandwich! Though the bread most likely was steamed instead of baked, I decided to go half way by putting the hot-from-the-oven loaf in a heat-resistant ziploc bag so a little baking, a little steaming...

makes a loaf approx 10 cm/4 inches by 26 cm/10 inches
  • Dates, pitted, 355 ml/12 fluid oz
  • Sugar, white, 130 gms/4 fluid oz
  • Maple syrup, 1.5 tsp
  • Egg, large, lightly beaten, 1
  • Lard, 3 T, melted
  • vanilla extract, 1 tsp
  • Flour, white, all-purpose, 270 gms/16 fluid oz
  • Salt, 1 tsp
  • Baking soda, 1/2 tsp
  • Baking powder, 1.5 tsp
  • Walnuts, coarsely chopped, 50 gms/4 fluid oz
  • Spread: 90 gms/3 fluid oz cream cheese & 25 gms/2 fluid oz finely chopped walnuts

Slice the dates into thin strips and then finely chop. Put in a large mixing bowl and pour boiling water to barely cover. Let cool.

Preheat oven to 177 degrees C/350 degrees F. Add the egg, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and lard to the dates.

Beat lightly.

Mix the the flour, baking powder/soda, and salt in a smaller bowl. Blend the dry ingredients via several batches into the wet. Stir in the walnuts.

Spoon the batter into a well buttered, floured loaf pan. Level out the surface with the back of a wet, metal tablespoon.

Bake for about fifty minutes. Since moist is the name of the game, when testing by pressing the top of the loaf, it's OK if it doesn't spring back completely. Meanwhile, mix the cream cheese and walnuts together.

The loaf could be cooled on a wire rack if a crustier one is desired, or it can be popped into a ziploc bag to get a moister bread. The longer you wait, the easier slicing will be.

Spread the nutty cheese on a slice and top with another.

Not quite like the original, especially the texture, but gooey with dates and packed with the wallop of walnut, it is its own brand of goodness.

Dirac the kitten continues to do well. Ever since his first day with us, about six months ago, he often throws his front paws over his head in a playful effort of dislodging our hands when we try to pet his head.

À la prochaine!