Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fusilli with Sweet Red Peppers, Garlic, and Capers...and Dirac the kitten

Late summer is when pepper harvesting begins as it takes a long time for green peppers to blush deeply and to develop the mellow flavour I prefer.  Piments doux très long des Landesour southwest region is known for this varietyare mildly piquant if green but sweet when crimson. Their two-in-oneness allows staggered picking: I leave half on the plants to mature and resort to freezing if there is a surplus of either kind.

Straight from our potager

While the pasta is cooking, cut rinsed peppers in half and remove seeds. Slice thinly. Mince a clove or two of garlic. Drain a tablespoon or so of capers. Heat up a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and gently saute the peppers for a few minutes or until nearly tender. Add the garlic along with the capers and cook for a minute or so longer.  Keep aside a few tablespoons of cooking water when draining the pastathis little trick works so well to smooth out the oil or butter I always regret when I forget to do it. Add the reserved water and pasta into the skillet with the peppers. Simmer while stirring for a minute or until the water has evaporated. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

This easy-to-do meal was exceedingly satisfying and delicious!

Don't be shy with the freshly grated Parmesan!

What to do with ripened-on-the-vine tomatoes direct from your garden?  Not much. 

Burpee Delicious did well in our potager this season

Sprinkling sourdough rye with olive oil and thyme, then layering on tomato slices topped with some more thyme is all that is needed to envelop me in bliss. The juices are easily absorbed by the bread making such eating not only a tasty affair but also a neat one.

Fleur de sel would not be amiss either.

Blueberries, raspberries, and to a lesser degree, strawberries, continue to be harvested.

Again, with homegrown produce, simple preparation goes a long way.

Sugared and creamed!

In the freezer, there was a remaining bag of strawberries harvested from the previous season.

Coffee ice cream smothered in syrupy strawberries topped with crème chantilly

A colleague of The Calm One brought us some of his mother's Gâteau Basque, a 'dry cake' originating in the region from where his maternal family hails. Usually filled with either pastry cream or cherry jam, this one had frangipane. Its deeply carmelised crust, dense, heavy but moist crumb, and fragrant almondy goodness was almost more pleasure than I could take but with courage on my side I bravely finished it all and in record time too!

The Calm One in his capacity as the butler chez nous answered the doorbell when it rang one sunny day a couple of weeks agoEnough time passed to make me curious necessitating a furtive peek which revealed The Calm One holding a frisky kitten. He also was holding an animated conversation with a teenaged girl standing behind the front gate. How silly, I thought, she is trying to convince him to take the mewling one. As if we could have said no.

Looking at that visage automatically removes the word no from one's vocabulary

Dirac, named after the legendary scientist* when a professional opinion of our kitten's correct gender made my first choice of Daphne a no-go, did type his name at the keyboard like his much beloved predecessor, Dayo, had done. However, it remains unknown as he cleverly used a password data field. This mysterious name is way longer than the one I chose! Often I find myself vocalising the first syllable Dir but following it with ee, that is, Dearie.

A kitten and his keyboard

After some research I identified his magnificent coat as being a full tabby of the blue mackerel persuasion. If that beauty was not enough, Dirac's eyes has gone the hazel route. His preferred toys are garlic cloves which he noisily bats one by one around the house. When the clove gets lodged behind some unsurmountable barrier, he jumps onto the kitchen counter and fetches fresh prey from the basket where I put them after he gleefully has separated a whole head or two or three.

A forlorn clove

Telling him to be sparing because this season's harvest has been meagre is to no avail.

Some representatives from our abundant onion but small garlic harvests along with sour dough rye bread

Meanwhile, our place being booby trapped with countless, odouriferous nodules makes the vacuum cleaner tremble.

That couldn't be a garlic clove between his paws, now could it?

As much as we can discern, he was abandoned causing him to become way too bony and infested with fleas. He is filling out nicely and is now free of bloodsuckers thanks to the excellent care given by his vet who has concluded that our three-month-old garlic player will grow up into a large, undoubtedly male, and needless to say, beautiful cat.

His demi-doppelgänger is Sliver, a plush dolphin

His becoming so robust is a bit hard to accept right now, but his sizable ears and paws along with the length of his skinny legs indicates that well may be his destiny. Additionally, family visiting from Britain all said that he was awfully big for a kitten his age. We'll see. But we all agree that he is super soft to the touch.

His pale golden glow is referred to as the patina of the blue mackerel tabby

In the garden, my success at weeding has much to be desired because with still plentiful rain, as soon as I pull some, their replacements already are popping up.

Peeking through tilted shutters while watching the garden getting drenched

The wild area is flourishing as its various critters with all this moisture.

That is most likely a moth caterpillar scrambling on some brambles

I was careful not to let my skin brush against it as orange, black, and white stripey colouring could indicate contact toxicity.

It's about four inches long and has what are called crochets to hook itself on the leaf!

Once Dirac gets snipped and vaccinated, the garden will become part of his territory.

À la prochaine!


Green piments des Landes can be used in Piperade
Green piments des Landes go well in smashed potatoes
Thaumetopoea pityocampa


Freezing peppers
Wikipedia article on caterpillars
Aposematism: warning colouration
The Gateau Basque Museum

*Paul Dirac though considered to have been problematically taciturnhis Cambridge colleagues with great amusement defined a unit of a dirac as being one word per hourwas able to express himself with such finesse and clarity that the end product was gracious wit: Another story told of Dirac is that when he first met the young Richard Feynman at a conference, he said after a long silence, "I have an equation. Do you have one too?" Now if that is not playing nice I don't know what is.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Gone Swimming!

Les grandes vacances are here, and we are travelling, hosting guests, and most importantly, goofing around.

How to make this plaque? Go here

Here's wishing for a high level of goofiness chez vous also. Souped-up Garden will be back before the end of summer, bien sûr!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Parfait Breakfast/Brunch: Layered Maple Cinnamon Granola, Yogurt & Blackberries

Figuring out what to do with our potager's largesse of plump, juicy, and zingy blackberries had me momentarily stumped. I first chose a colour scheme based on what is available and what would go together taste/texture-wise: a delectable brown=cocoa yogurt, a scrumptious gold=maple cinnamon oat granola, a passionate purple=blackberry coulis, a dramatic black=blackberries, and an alluring pink=yogurt mixed with a few drops of coulis. Then I mused about what kind of container? A fancy, tall dessert dish, replete with pedestal or a sturdy, hard-working canning jar which could easily keep its lid on if needed? The latter won, spoons down!

Our hibiscus bushes are in full bloom!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/177 degrees C. For one large serving -- I used a 200 ml jar -- mix several large handfuls of oat flakes with about 1/2 tsp of cinnamon.

Add about 90 ml/3 fluid ounces of maple syrup. Adjust to taste -- aim for moderate sweetness, a definite tang of spice, and an uniform light moisture.

Spread mixture on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake about fifteen minutes or until nicely toasted, stirring with a large wooden spoon or with a spatula every five minutes. Let cool and pour into a storage jar.

Wash several handfuls of blackberries. Reserve one third for the parfait, saving the best one for a garnish, and the remaining two-thirds for the coulis.

To make the coulis, roughly puree the reserved amount either in a blender/processor or with a hand-held mixer. Work the puree in a fine-meshed sieve placed over a bowl until the berries are more dry than wet. Discard the sieved material and reserve the coulis. Sweeten to taste with confectioner's/icing sugar.

If you just have regular yogurt, and not Greek-styled, then drain about 250 ml in a fine-meshed sieve placed over a bowl, cover, keep in the fridge for least a few hours and if possible overnight for the best results.

Divide it in two equal portions. Flavour one with unsweetened cocoa powder. Though it could be sweetened with confectioners sugar, be careful not to go overboard as the coulis and granola are already fairly sweet additions.

This tasted like pudding!

Tint the other with a bit of the coulis until pink and sweeten with icing sugar if so desired.

Assemble together all ingredients and jar(s).

When layering, make sure it touches well the inside of the jar without any air pockets so it can be seen from the outside. Start with the cocoa yogurt (keep aside a heaping tsp for garnishing).

Then comes a sprinkling of granola, berries which are pressed against the sides of the jar so as to be visible from the outside, and another scattering of granola. Drench it all with a good deal of coulis. If a more creamy texture is preferred, then use less granola.

Next comes the pink yogurt.

Repeat with the cereal, berries, and coulis. Top with a dollop of the cocoa yogurt and a nice fat berry on its side.

The parfait's pleasing combo of tastes is accompanied with a nice contrast in texture.

I ate just one vertical half, and the rest got lidded and put in the fridge. By next morning, the granola had softened and absorbed more of the flavouring. It was a delight!

À la prochaine!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Fresh Fruit/Veggie Pastry Rounds

The small ball comprised of pastry scraps in our freezer caught my eye. It would not be enough for a full-sized tart, but it could make several smaller ones. In the potager, there are berries, herbs, tomatoes, garlic, and mild hot peppers to be harvested. So a visual image begins...something crumbly, creamy, fresh, vibrant, and not lacking in the looks department so you are compelled to pop one or two or three in the mouth. These are versatile and can be served as appetizers/desserts or at a buffet or an informal gathering/party whether indoors or outdoors or in my case, lunch, well actually a second lunch.

1) First come the pastry rounds. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F/232 degrees C. Roll out about one-eighth-inch thick either scraps gathered into the size of a golf ball (made three 2-inch, three 3-inch, and two 4-inch rounds) or some made just for this occasion. Store-bought can be subbed. I used cookie cutters to make various diameters. 

Prick each round all over. Bake about ten to fifteen minutes or until bottom and edges are nicely browned. The smaller ones will get done faster unless you live in a different universe than I do and then all bets are off. Let cool with space between each pastry on a wire rack (I used an old oven rack).

2) The creamy foundation is next in line. Greek yogurt supplies both tang and body. You only have regular yogurt in the fridge like I did? Pour it into a fine wire mesh sieve held over a bowl, cover, and let it drain in the fridge for an hour. It's best if done overnight.

Since I was making both savoury and sweet rounds, I divided the amount into two, and flavoured one with a drop or so of vanilla extract and the other with finely and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

3) The toppings! Gather what fresh and prepared ingredients you have on hand and what you think will work together.

Strawberries, red & black currants, raspberries, blackberries, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, thyme & lavender

Don't worry if you can't use all the chosen ingredients or if you at the last minute realise, hey, I got this thing that would work just perfectly with blackberries, in my case, blackcurrant syrup (concentrated fruit syrups are very popular in France for making cold drinks among other things).

Green peppercorns, sherry vinegar, capers, raspberry & maple syrup, vanilla extract

Voilà! Raspberries beg to be filled if not with other fruit, then with chocolate chips, either dark or white, and butterscotch ones.

Blueberry-stuffed raspberry drenched in raspberry syrup

Strawberry half and well drizzled maple syrup

Blackberry half and rivulets of blackcurrant syrup

Plate garnished with black and red currant strigs

And the savoury...

Capers, fresh thyme, garlic sliver, half of a tomato slice, a drizzle of olive oil & sherry vinegar

The larger rounds lend themselves more to the veggie garnishes. All of them, however, were wonderful -- tasty, refreshing, and satisfying! The smaller ones easily could be eaten at one go, the others crumbled a bit, but nothing a napkin/plate held under them couldn't solve.

Tomato slice, pepper sliver, garlic, green peppercorns, thyme, fleur de sel, olive oil & sherry vinegar

In the potager, the blackberries are in full fragrance, ripeness, and toothsomeness.

Guide for ripeness: each drupelet needs to be plump and the berry comes off with a slight tug

This is the first season I am using fresh, uncured garlic. It has a lighter taste and when thinly sliced, has perked up many a sandwich.

Individual cloves, yes, papery outer covering, no.

The rain remains abundant.

The day lilies continue to delight.

Purple blur in background is lavender

The plentiful moisture perks up the weeds too! Weeding therefore is the main task at hand presently along with harvesting. The Abelia is flourishing, and the bees are showing their appreciation with much buzzing. There usually are around ten of them working this bush anytime I glance at it.

Early and mid season taters are now dug up and in storage!

À la prochaine!


Marla Spivak's excellent TED talk on why the bees are dying (one reason: less flowers!)