Tag Archives: Local

Flower Sour

elderflowers

Sweet Little Flowers

Well the elders are in bloom again, and hedgerows all over froth and foam with the delicate white unbrels, almost like the spring tides coming in. This year is a bit later than ususal, due to the length of the Northern hemisphere winter, but now the sunshine has returned, and naure is more than making up for her long sleep.

I love this time of the year, and stock up on elderflowers for cordialsugar, and champagne. All of it delicious, and making the most of the best of the season’s forage.

Elder is really abundant where I live, so there is always plenty to go around during the flowering and fruiting seasons; for us foragers and for the birds.

Elderflowers are not just for the sweet things in life, they are also great in salads, and I have heard of sauces to go with meat. An elderflower sauce is on my list of Things I Want To Experiment With. Like most food bloggers, I guess, I have several such lists – electronically, on paper and in my head. A colleague of mine recently found them in some notes I had taken as part of a work trip, and seemed surprised that I would also be making lists of flavours in between meetings.

As well as the flavours that exist on my lists, or go around in my head, I have a number of different or unusual flavours in my kitchen. For example, I am never without vinegars of all kinds of flavours – raspberry, blackberry, tarragon, rosemary; I even have coconut vinegar since a Filipina friend introduced me to it when she kindly gave me her adobo recipe.

For me, then, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to think that elderflower vinegar would be a great way to keep hold of the elderflower season for just a little bit longer, but without all the sugar.

Try to pick elderflowers on a dry day, in the morning. There will be more pollen and nectar in them, which makes the flavour more intense.

This vinegar is good with salads. I am currently embarking on the 5:2 regimen, because my need to develop great food for this blog was beginning to have a toll on my waistline. I have found that the addition of a few herbs to some of this vinegar is a good way to dress a slad without the need for oil.

You can make marinades with it, and even a couple of drops in some water gives a nice flavour, that is not too sweet.

Elderflower Vinegar

Not So Sweet Little Flowers

Recipe: Elderflower Vinegar

Ingredients

40 g elderflowers

500 ml white wine vinegar

Method

Try to pick the flowers in the morning after a dry spell, in order to maximise the pollen and the flavour.

Remove the elderflowers from the stalks by pulling a fork through the stalks in the diretion of the flowers. You don’t have to be too fussy, as long as you have removed the largest stalks.

Steep the elderflowers in the vinegar, in a non-metallic container or bowl. Cover with a tea towel, and set aside for a few days.

Whenever you remember, give the flowers a stir.

After three days to a week, your vinegar should have reached the strength of flavour that you want.

Bottle up into sterilised bottles. This vinegar will keep well in a cupboard. I cannot resist this fragrant flavour, so the trouble is making it last!

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A Spoonful of Elderflower Sugar

Preparing to infuse sugar

This Will Help the Medicine Go Down

I have been frantically trying to preserve a lot of elderflowers. Last weekend, the Big Guy and I went out picking elderflowers and rose petals.

I greedily decided to try a second champagne recipe, and went off picking without really reading how much I would need. The recipe I chose to use required far less than I had imagined, so I had a lot leftover.  Of course, not being one to waste them, I have lots of recipes to share in the next few days. I’m waiting for some of them to finish brewing.

However, if you are going to be able to take advantage of these this year, you can still find some flower bracts now, but we are definitely coming towards the end of their display, at least here in the Netherlands. Go out and get some, and keep them in the fridge for some of the elderflower recipes to follow.

The simplest thing to do to preserve the flavour of these short-lived but beautiful flowers is to infuse sugar with them, in a similar way to the vanilla sugar that makes the use of high quality vanilla beans worthwhile.

The elderflower sugar keeps well and is a lovely reminder of the early summer when the flowers are in full bloom. You can use it in cakes, biscuits and many other things, and I will be experimenting with some baking in the coming weeks. If you only have enough elderflowers for one more thing, this is the stepping-stone recipe you should probably make.

And this is how you do it:

Get a large glass jar with a lid. The amount of flower bracts that you will need will be determined by the size of the jar.

Pick through elderflower heads, and remove any brown flowers or bits. Remove the flowers from their stalks. This is easily done, by gripping the stalk between your thumb and forefinger, and pushing them down to the flowers. They will pop off with very little pressure.

You need to keep as much of the pollen as possible, because that is where the flavour is, so try to get the blooms in the jar as you strip them from the stalks.

Keep going until you have filled about a quarter of the jar. Top up the rest with the sugar, give it a stir and leave it to infuse for at least 3-4 days.

Sieve out the flowers before use.

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Bulgarian(ish) Lamb

Bulgarianish Lamb

Lovely Lamb to End Lent

Lamb is traditional for Easter dinner in many cultures.

My American friend was already bringing a ham, that she baked according to a cherished recipe from her grandmother, to our international feast. It was delicious, and really well cooked, in a delicious sauce, some of which is sitting in my fridge, waiting for me to come up with a way to use it.

A baked ham for Easter is traditional in both the US and in Sweden.

However, I have a tendency to continue to invite people to dinners, and I would be horrified if people were to go away hungry (often resulting in us eating a lot of leftovers, but that is really no trouble). True to form, I had invited more people than I had told my friend about, and I wanted to make sure that we all had enough to eat. So I fell back on some more traditions and made a lamb dish.

A few years ago, the Big Guy and I had the pleasure of a trip to Plovdiv in Bulgaria. A friend of a friend had recommended the Puldin restaurant, and we had eaten an excellent meal there. My memory was that it was also pretty reasonably priced, despite what the Lonely Planet says, but I can’t really say for sure anymore. Either way, if you go to the beautiful, historic town of Plovdiv, I recommend this restaurant. The settings are gorgeous, and the series of rooms are both sumptuous and adorned with lovely art, frescoes and even a Roman wall in the room where we ate.

For some reason, my memory of this meal was stirred by trying to think of a different way to serve lamb, so that it would not overpower the ham. My memory is that I had a lamb dish that may (or may not) have been called St George’s Lamb. I may not remember the exact name, but I certainly remember the dish. The meat was meltingly tender, and came cooked with carrots and peas. Interestingly, it had been cooked in white wine, which really cut through the fatty richness of the meat. The vegetables had been added near the end of cooking, so they still retained a nice crunch. It was a truly remarkable dish.

Unfortunately, the Puldin does not seem to have a website (or at least not using our alphabet – they use the cyrillic alphabet in Bulgaria), so I have been unable to check if they still carry the dish to see if I got the name right , or go from a description on a menu. But that memory of a dish was the perfect thing to go on a plate that will star a baked ham, for a hungry person, so I decided to have a go at an approximation anyway.

There are a few Bulgarian lamb dishes on the web, but none really seemed to resemble the dish I had eaten in Puldin. I was pretty much on my own, so I decided to dive in and do my best in any case. I did find these two recipes, which I used as inspiration.

This is what I came up with

Recipe: Bulgarianish Lamb

Ingredients

1.5 kg leg of lamb, bone in – I found some lovely organic Texel lamb,

For the Marinade:

1 l water

400 ml white wine. I used an Auxerrois from Limburg, so it was local, and fruity enough to balance the lamb.

½ unwaxed lemon, sliced

50 ml tarragon or white wine vinegar

3 dried or 5 fresh bay leaves

2 tsp dried oregano

Freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

Salt

4 tbsp oil

4-5 cloves garlic

3 carrots

150 g cherry tomatoes

3 medium potatoes

4 sticks celery

1 small onion

1 tbsp tomato puree

Little cold water to make a thin paste

1 tbsp plain flour

Method

Pour the marinade ingredients over the lamb, and allow to marinate overnight. If the lamb is large, turn the meat regularly in the marinade.

Dry the lamb on kitchen paper, keeping the marinade aside for later.

Cook the whole garlic cloves in the oil. Remove them when they start to colour, and set aside. Be really careful not to allow the garlic to burn, you want a nice brown colour, but no black. Burnt garlic is bitter, and you do not want it in the sauce.

Salt the meat and brown the meat well on all sides. Be careful, it will spit, even if you have dried it well.

Soften the vegetables in the same oil, including the garlic used earlier. Meanwhile, remove the peel from the slices of lemon from the marinade, and make a thinner paste with the tomato puree and cold water.

Add the flour, and the tomato paste to the vegetables, and cook through for a couple of minutes. Don’t be tempted to skip this step, or the sauce will taste of raw flour. Add the lemon pulp to the pan, you can leave it on top of the vegetables, no need to stir it in.

Return the leg of lamb onto the top of the vegetables, and pour over the retained marinade. Bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that forms. Simmer on a low heat for up to three hours. You want the meat to be really tender and falling off the bone, but not overcooked, which will dry it out, despite being cooked in liquid.

Once it is done, allow the meat to rest in a warm place.

Pass the vegetables and the cooking liquid through a food mill (or you can blend them) to make the sauce. Remove the bay leaves before you pass them through the food mill, you don’t want to grind them, it will render your sauce inedible.

There will be quite a lot of sauce. Put it back on the hob in a clean pan, and reduce it by about a third. Taste at this point, and season with salt, pepper and some lemon juice, if required. The sauce should have a bit of a citrus kick to cut through the richness of the lamb.

Serve slices of the lamb, along with whatever veg you like, and allow your guests to pour the sauce over, as they choose.

You will have quite a lot of sauce left, and the bone of course, as well as some of the meat. Make stock with the bone, to be used on future lamb dishes (it is particularly distinctive, so may not be suitable for multiple meats, as is chicken and beef stock.

Don’t throw out the rest of the leftovers, I have a great recipe that will help you use them all up (of course!).

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Roots and Permaculture

Varzea da Gonçala

Where I Have Been Lately

Hello! I am back from a little sojourn in the Portuguese countryside, where I have been on a fantastic Permaculture Design Course.  I intended to get a load of posts done to be posted over the time that I was away, but as usual, I was behind, and doing them on the journey. I got to the venue to discover that there was no frivolous internet access (due to the tariff system in rural Portugal) and no mobile reception, so things didn’t work out as I had planned (and not planned, in many ways). I am not sorry, it was glorious to be away from it all, and was incredibly good for the soul.

Fig tree at the Varzea, Late March 2012

The View From the Classroom

I will post those other posts over the coming days, along with a few Easter posts, which should probably come first,  but I really want to tell you all about the course and what I got up to first. Partly by way of explanation for the absence, but also because I really want to recommend a permaculture course. This was a birthday present from the Big Guy, so I knew little about it before then. Lucky me!

Me & Permanent Varzea Residents

Me & Permanent Varzea Residents

The course itself was run at Varzea da Gonçala, a lovely small holding just outside Aljezur in the Algarve, and set in a valley (hence the lack of phone reception), not too far from the Atlantic. The Varzea operates on permaculture principles, producing its own fruit, vegetables, and eggs, and they have chickens and pigs to help work and feed the land. It is important to the people who  live and work there to demonstrate that permaculture is effective for everyone, and that it really works. It is why they have called their website ‘I Can Feed Myself’, to underline the point. Chris and Kris, who run it, along with the people who work with them, are excellent hosts and teachers. We also had  amazing food for our stay.

Feast Fit for a King at the Varzea

Feast Fit for a King (Our Last Night)

We ate like kings, with everything from jacket potatoes, to lasagne, to beautiful fresh salads of rocket, mustards, chard, lettuces, fresh herbs, nasturtium leaves and flowers, borage, peppers, you name it. I may not have sown these seeds, but I definitely got my hands dirty to tend to them, so these will form part of the 52 week salad challenge for me, and I don’t feel like it is cheating. The food was fantastic, prepared with love, and was so fresh.

Peter Cow Giving a Lecture

Teacher!

Our main tutor was Peter Cow, who runs Living in Circles, and there were sessions from other permaculturalists, including the people who live on the Varzea.

The Big Guy really couldn’t have chosen a better course. We learned about the principles of permaculture, and the design method, as well as putting it to practical use. I got to play with the compost and do some gardening, and I have learned some valuable skills. Peter is also keen on applying permaculture to the wider world, as well as the personal one. I will admit that I was not really looking forward to this, but I actually found it immensely useful. I have been able to get a different perspective on a couple of things, which have been holding me back in many ways.

The group of people I was on the course with were also brilliant. I have never worked with a group that was so on track, and with no little fighting and falling out, despite being such vastly different people.  Each of them brought a lot of different knowledge to the course, and it was so great to share this with everyone. One guy also lives in the same town as me, so I hope that we can continue to meet and maybe do some digging together!

Making a Wooden Spoon

Spooning!

We even practiced some new skills – both on the course, and in the breaks. As well as learning about swale construction, and building a stackwall. I got an insight into perspective in drawing, which has inspired me to give sketching a go – something I never felt equipped to do before. I helped to teach others how to make pasta. I even know how to make a wooden spoon. I’m just putting the finishing touches to one, albeit that it was produced with a little help from my friends. I really feel like I came away a craftswoman.

Constructing a Stackwall from Cordwood

Constructing a Stackwall from Cordwood

In fact, I have been so inspired by the course, I am trying to expand my use of permaculture and permaculture design. I have some plans for friends’ balconies – and before any of those said friends start to panic, don’t worry, permaculture has a lot to do with water catchment and no-dig, so you won’t become slaves to your pot plants. I am planning to implement my own polyveg system in my own garden, and I will be blogging about it here. I had intended to start a new blog for the gardening stuff (and had a great name lined up…) but the idea of permaculture is that you should take advantage of and increase beneficial relationships, and to me there is no better relationship than that between food and food production. So I am going to capture it here, and try to expand the communities of interest that could talk to each other. I am even going to try and design myself into a new career and direction, but I need a bit more work on that.

Finished Stackwall

Look What We Made!

Peter runs and collaborates on a number of permaculture courses, all of the details of which are available on his website. He is also really in tune with group dynamics and very skilled at getting very different people to work together and gel. You might like to go along to a course, or ask him to teach at one of yours.

Drying Homemade Pasta (No Pasta Machine)

Look What Else We Made!

The Varzea also offer a range of courses, as well as holiday accommodation and camping, for groups, individuals or families. You can get hands-on experience and teaching in permaculture practice. As well as having access to delicious, organic food from the land that they work. An ideal get away from the petrochemical farming and urban landscapes we have come to know, I really cannot recommend this place enough, not to mention the hospitality and the welcome you will enjoy here.

I hope that you will also come to share my enthusiasm for permaculture, and share the fruits of my labour (and the recipes that they inspire). Thanks for coming this far.

Contacts for Varzea da Gonçala

Contacts for Peter Cow

NB: I do not represent, nor am I being paid to blog about the permaculture course,or the Varzea.  I am just so enthused by the experience, and the people I met that I wanted to blog about it.

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Local Inspiration

Amsterdam Neighbourfood Market

A Room of Inspiration

I was alerted to the brand new Neighbourfood Market by a friend on facebook. The first market took place yesterday, and we went along, albeit a bit later in the afternoon. I may have missed a couple of stalls and a fair bit of the produce as a result. But I was quite excited by what I did see.

Local restaurants  Frenzi and Radijs were there, as well as the street food vans from De EspressoBus and Waffels op Wielen

Then there were the stalls from caterers and market regulars (there are a number of daily and weekly markets in and around Amsterdam), which included Pieman, The Soup Sisters, Olivity, and  Bocca Coffee.

There were also smaller producers – a man who sold his own honey; the Amsterdam Cupcake Company; and, I think, another, there was definitely a stall that had sold out of its goods and was packing away when I got there.

The decor and, it has to be said, much of the ambience comes from the vintage stylings of Found (who also provide flights of lovely organic wines at very reasonable prices), Chatoui (who had a really nice stall with pretty remade items on it), and Kringloop de Lokatie. there were long trestle tables for sharing food experiences and discussion with friends and strangers, and there were gezellig little nooks with sofas and standard lamps for the more intimate discussions.

Chatoui stall

Recycled Chic at Chatoui

So far, so regular market, I hear you say. But the idea is that you come and hang out with friends, have brunch or lunch, and talk to local producers, so in that respect it is a little more like a café, but you are not limited to one proprietor. They also have an eye to reducing their waste (which will always win points with me!) and encouraged people to bring their own plates, cutlery and cups. This was well advertised on the website and in the marketing beforehand, and it seemed as though a lot of people did do this, judging by how busy the washing up area was.

The crowd was fairly young, and hip, but it was busy, which was great for the first ever market. And this is where the inspiration came in. This was full of people who were real enthusiasts for food, and living lightly. People who couldn’t find the right niche for themselves, so they went out and made one, and brought a load of enthusiastic people with them. There was a real buzz about the place, and I heard loads of snatched conversations about food, and the produce, and what people were making themselves.

It felt like I was at the start of something exciting. And it made me realise something. I want to be a part of it. I have spent too long in Holland not looking for the kind of things that interest and excite me. If it hadn’t been for an alert from my friend, then I probably would not have found out about this market. If I don’t get involved with other people who are trying something, and try a few things for myself, then how do I know if I can cut it? What’s more, what do I have to lose? Even if my interest in food goes no further than having had a market stall once, I am bound to meet interesting people, and be able to talk with them about our shared passions – food, sustainability, waste reduction. I can find other people with a higher geek tolerance for food things than the Big Guy. I may even find some good people to collaborate with on a few ideas that I have that are too big for me to do alone. So, I am going to find out how I can be a part of this, and give it a go, and put myself out there.

I may not be able to make the next market in a month, because I have no idea how one goes about equipping oneself, and all the other things one might need to sell food to the public, but I am going to fire off an e-mail to the Neighbourfood crew and find out. It would be nice if any friends are interested for company and moral support, and I will reach out to one or two that might like to have a go with me,  but it will still be fun if I do it on my own.

I would love to do A Little of What You Fancy, so I can bring homemade products, and a loose title like this could be the way to go, so I can bring things that I have made or found, or that excite me that month, instead of having a regular speciality.

And you know, they do say a little of what you fancy does you good. I wonder if that will translate into Dutch?

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The Farm Café, Melbourne

The Farm Café, Melbourne

Lovely Outdoor Eating

The Farm Café is located at the Collingwood Children’s Farm, on the banks of the Yarra river. It is a beautiful spot, whether or not you have children. The cafe is situated to one end of the farm, and it does not overlook the main area where the larger animals are, so you don’t have to come into direct contact with them if that is not your thing.

It is actually very close to the city, although we reached it via the Yarra Trail on bikes. The trail feels like you are out in the countryside, as does the cafe and the farm itself. You get a lovely view of the Yarra river, and the surrounding trees as you eat impeccably sourced, mostly very local, organic, homemade food. The staff are very friendly, and the atmosphere relaxed. It goes without saying that the café is family friendly, but there are also enough smaller tables for two to catch those who may not have children.

They try to make everything at the café, even the chai tea, from what I can make out. I had two pots, which were beautifully spiced with cinnamon, but also citrus peel, and fennel seeds. I am going to be playing about with a mixture of my own, to try to recreate this lovely blend. If I can get it right, I will share it here.

Anyway, onto the food. It was a tough choice, as there were very many items on the menu that I would have quite happily eaten, especially after the two hour cycle that had preceded it.

Farmer's Breakfast at the Farm Café

Farmer's Breakfast

The Big Guy ordered the Farmer’s Breakfast, which is a take on the Full English (Or Full Aussie, I guess), with homemade beef sausages, a  tomato chutney, and a herby potato cake as the point of difference. The eggs were well poached – still soft, but not too runny. The sausages were really good – meaty and balanced, just very small. The potato cake was tasty, but was bound with egg, which did make the texture a little pappy. The real star was the chutney, well spiced, yet subtle, and the tomato really sang in it. A great version of the all day breakfast classic.

Grass Is Greener at Farm Café

The Grass Is Greener

I chose a dish that really was called The Grass is Greener, and as you can see, there was no grass, but the plate was several shades of green. Seasonal asparagus is one of my favourites. The Black Russian tomatoes were not too sweet, and a good heirloom variety. Unfortunately, being in a place where they can grow avocados and pick them ripe has ruined the European versions for me forever. There was a delicate herb salad of dill, parsley and chervil, dressed with good quality sunflower oil that was just perfect. The mayonnaise was pistachio, homemade and really, really good. The dish is not complicated, but it uses quality ingredients, doesn’t muck about with them, and just lets their natural flavour really sing.

We couldn’t resist desserts either.

Chocolate Brownie at Farm Café

Obvious Choice for the Big Guy

The Big Guy will always go for the chocolate choice on any dessert menu, so of course, he had the brownie. Chocolate and Hazelnut. He said it was nice, but he is not really a man of many superlatives, so we can assume that is a good thing. He would definitely have been quick to judge faults.

Salted Caramel Peanut Slice at Farm Café

An interesting choice for me

I had the salted caramel peanut slice.  The shortbread on it was lovely. I could probably have done with slightly fewer peanuts and slightly more caramel, but it was very good, and well-balanced between salt and sweet, which I like a lot. It was also a great accompaniment to that second pot of chai.

Reasonably priced, very well sourced,  well made food and in a lovely location. The Farm Café is well worth seeking out if you are in Melbourne, the locals shouldn’t be able to keep this to themselves!

The Farm Café

18 St Heliers Street

Abbotsford VIC 3067

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