Eat many salads?
We do in warm weather, and in summer almost daily. But I am not talking about those boring big soft lettuces or worse, those pre-bagged salad mixes locked inside plastic. Well, ok maybe sometimes we eat big soft lettuces…but plastic salad-in-a bag? Jamais.
When warm weather hits, when we think of salad we first look outside and see what’s growing wild. Wild arugula, dandelion, red clover and purslane are abundant here, and I bet if you take a look, you may have a few wild greens growing in your own backyard, too. Wild greens are much more nutritionally dense than cultivated greens, and pack much more flavor.
Dandelion greens help flush toxins from the liver, which is a huge plus for bottle-of-wine -a -day people like yours truly. They contain higher levels of vitamins A and K than almost all other greens, can help dissolve kidney stones, balance your digestive system, and clear your skin. And these are just a few of their health benefits.
Yet, sadly, in the States I remember that many people tend to poison them so they won’t crop up on their freshly manicured lawns. Then they go out and pay for inferior greens. In France, however, dandelions, (pissenlits), are valued as a superior green, and the yellow flowers are also widely eaten, often battered and fried as fritters.
Dandelion greens are quite bitter raw, so a dressing of olive oil with apple cider vinegar and a hefty portion of lardons or bacon and parmesan cheese is a perfect match. (if you are a calorie counter, please keep in mind that bacon may seem fattening, but animal fat is a good source of vital nutrients, and greens without any fat at all cannot be absorbed by the body. I have studied nutrition daily for six years so you should listen to me.)
You could substitute avocodo or egg instead of the meat, if you are vegetarian, but olive or walnut oil is essential!
Blanched, rinsed in cold water and then sauteed is how I prepare dandelion greens hot, and cooked this way they lose almost all of their bitter component, and make a nice stand-in for spinach, but with more depth. And get this – they are FREE.
So I advise you to forget the grocery store and just walk outside instead. If you don’t know what to look for, ask me anything in the comments section and I will answer your question faster than you can toss a salad in a bowl. Or within 24 hours.
It appears that Spring has arrived. I say “it appears” because from my experience, it always seems to have arrived when in fact it hasn’t. You hear birds chirping in the air and see cherry blossoms and buttercups everywhere, you have to pay the gardener to come around, and it’s time to put seeds in the ground.
But, just when you think you can relax into warmer weather and store your winter coat in the back of the closet, it turns cold again and the heating system reluctantly chokes back up and burns the dust that has already settled there. You have to get the duvet out again and look for your gloves, and basically, the whole thing is thoroughly disappointing.
I guess what I mean to say, is that I just don’t like to get my hopes up. Mother Nature always likes to blast us with cold air in early Spring, and this time I refuse to be lulled into the false belief that all this sunshine and frost-free bliss is here to stay. I know it’s just a tease. My sweaters will stay in easy reach until May this year, because I’m tired of being duped.
I’m not the most positive person really. But I did make a very Spring-like tart the other day, and even though I know I’m pushing my luck, I even bought a bottle of rosé and planted the strawberry plants (which may have been ill-advised). The rosé was just ok, but the tart was delicious.
I consider this recipe an East meets West fusion recipe, using a classic French dish as a foundation for Middle Eastern flavor. The slightly sweet and nutty crust embraces the savory flavors of tahina and garlic, and the addition of fresh Spring baby lettuces and herbs gives you the feeling that even if they aren’t right now, everything will be coming up roses very soon.
It is gluten-free (sans gluten) but you can make a glutinous version if you want using plain wheat flour. It won’t be as good, of course.
To make the crust:
Combine equal parts chestnut (or almond) flour and quinoa (can substitute amaranth) with 1/3 part arrowroot (or tapioca), a few pinches of salt, and about a palm size portion of lard or butter. Work into a crumbly consistency, add some olive oil and a small amount of water and hand mix until pliable but not sticky. Press into a tart tin.
To make the filling:
Mix 1/2 cup of sesame butter with 1/4 cup of kefir, 1 grated garlic clove and a big squeeze of fresh lemon. The consistency should be relatively thin but not soupy, similar to the texture of natural almond butter. Add sea salt to taste, and spread the mixture evenly onto the crust.
Slice 3-4 medium-sized squash (zucchini, Italian squash, yellow, etc as you wish) into thin slices and lay crisscrossed on the tart (thin rounds are also ok). Sprinkle on a little each of salt and pepper, more grated garlic (optional of course) and bake at 185 C or 350 F for 20-30 minutes. Toss on fresh baby greens of your choice just before serving, and add a touch of olive oil.
My latest article for the Olive Oil Times here: http://www.oliveoiltimes.com/whats-cooking-with-olive-oil/recipes/butter-and-olive-oil/14095# includes a recipe for Hummus bil Lahmeh and you are going to want to make it tonight!
It’s hard to believe winter is finally drawing to a close. The first day of Spring is only a little over a week away, and we are well into the season of Lent now.
Well, actually it isn’t that hard to believe. I don’t know why I said that. Everyone always does…everyone seems to be perpetually suprised. When the seasons change, which they do every year, people invariably express surprise.
“I can’t believe this heat” is a favorite quote, along with “another snow!” Mon Dieu! People also tend to be shocked by consecutive days of rain, and strong wind.
Did you know that sheep are genuinely surprised each time the sun rises?
But enough about you.
March is the month of planting, and I didn’t come here to talk about the weather, but to let you know that we broke ground on this year’s vegetable garden today. Our goal is to be able to produce at least half, but hopefully much more, of our own food. So many of the images and recipes I will share will hopefully have been made right from my own back yard. Maybe I can even share some gardening tips if you want to try starting your own garden. If you’ve even entertained the idea, I encourage you to go for it, because if I can do it, and I am no green-thumb, anyone can.
(disclaimer: by me doing it, that means choosing the seeds, a bit of watering, some weeding, and directing. Oh yeah, and cooking and eating. My husband does most of the manual labor including tilling the soil, killing pests, composting, and fertilizing.
disclaimer part two: sometimes when I say “if I can do it you can too” it sometimes turns out that person couldn’t do that thing at all… )
Anyway, if you don’t already have a garden and want to start one, now may be the time to begin, depending on where you live. In northern France it is time to get the soil ready with plenty of compost and fertilizer (we use horse manure and sea algae) and plant carrots, leeks, beans, and lettuces. Check your farmer’s almanac or an online gardening site for details of when to plant in your area. If you have any questions, please drop me a line or leave a comment. I like garden talk.
The reward of growing your own vegetables far outweighs the work, especially if you start small. It’s comforting to know where your food came from and how it was handled, and the money you will save is more than marginal. And you know that old saying, a nickel saved is a nickel more to spend on wine. Well it’s true.
Believe it or not, there are warm sunny days ahead of us, so put your gardening gloves on and profitez-en!
I’m just going to say it. I have always found people with food intolerances and allergies (especially more than one) to be…how should I say it mildly…..really f**@ annoying. Maybe because I perceive them as weak. Like, if a glass of milk can take you down, what else is going to make you crumble? And I can’t handle that. It makes me uneasy.
But perhaps I judged too harshly. I am human.
Besides, those with real allergies are not the same as those truly annoying people who avoid foods just to be trendy, to follow the latest food fashion craze…(or to lose weight, prevent cancer, blah blah blah).
And I don’t want to be one of those people because the fact is I love food, in all shapes and sizes, and I would never dream of judging innocent plates of food the way I judge other people, who deserve it.
I have a serious relationship with food. And that’s why, even though it’s going to hurt, and even if I feel a little bit ashamed….I have to come out.
I can’t eat gluten anymore. I can’t eat wheat, wheat products, rye, barley, barley malt, spelt, kamut, and probably not oats either. This means I must avoid pastas, bread, cereals, beer, (INSERT FROWN AND A TEAR HERE) and packaged foods that may possibly have gluten hidden away. And to make matters worse, ALL grains, for the most part, need to be avoided – at least for a while.
So what does this mean to you? Nothing. That’s why I’m letting it be known here on my blog, which is a food blog and a food blog it shall remain. I’m not going to turn all hyper-sensitive and only post recipes about gluten free. There’s already a blog for that, a very good one, and she does a terrific job.
I’m still me, is what I’m trying to say, despite my intestinal preferences. I am not going to stop posting recipes for tarts, for example, but from now on I will also include a gluten-free version too, or provide a link to one. Because I know there are more of you like me, too afraid to face the issue, or too afraid to face yourselves.
So, now I have shared this part of myself with all of you. And I hope it won’t change the way you feel about me. I hope it only changes the contents of my pantry. My new wheat-free pantry, which I have cleared, and now I have come out of it, no worse for the wear. And unfortunately, so have my Belgian ales.
But it’s not all bad news. When it comes to Burgundy and Bordeaux…I swing both ways.
We are in the middle of another French holiday here, known as the “winter sports” holiday. This is the break between Christmas and Spring vacation where the French family piles into their car to drive to a ski resort or to their rented gite so that they can ski, or pretend to ski, or watch skiing, or pretend to watch skiing while lying around drinking wine and making fondue.
Despite the fact that the government has taken due measurements to ensure traffic flow by dividing the city into zones, thus breaking up the weeks of vacation time between districts, it only slightly curbs the flow of vehicles around the city of lights. So, for winter vacation, we spend our two weeks at home. Not necessarily because of the traffic, although that is an important factor seeing as how my husband is a red-headed artist prone to road rage, but also because:
A. Neither of us have any interest in skiing or any other sport,
B. I already spend much of my time indoors drinking wine and melting cheese, so why bother?
C. We can’t really afford to get away right now.
So instead, I took a completely unnecessary break from blogging, which I prefer to call a break from myself. Which IS necessary from time to time. I took a lot of salt baths, caught up on some reading, and reevaluated the general state of things, namely what foods I have been cooking, what I’ve learned, and what I have yet to learn. Ok so maybe it wasn’t a break from myself. I don’t know how to do that. It was pretty much all about me.
The point is, I just took a break from Julia Child and three page recipes for a little while, and was surprised to learn that when I really need to step back from my approach to cooking and look for inspiration, I don’t turn to the top master chefs of the world. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect their skills, because I most definitely do. But for me it is about remembering my roots, which are just the basics.
Alice Waters, my first real inspiration, always emphasizes the raw ingredients themselves, like a perfect peach in peak season, a delicate pear that is bursting with sweetness, a bright head of swiss chard with its precious young veins, luminous under sunlight.
In thinking this way about my food, I consider the onion. A simple onion, seemingly plain, yet so pungent and complex in its many layers. People often falsely perceive the onion to be ordinary because it isn’t an expensive ingredient, is widely available, and is considered a staple. But the onion is anything but ordinary. It may come cheap, and it may be small, but it can bring you to tears. It is also loaded with antioxidants, and may even prevent cellulite. It has the ability to soak up flavor as well as provide it, and it can be cooked in countless ways, or eaten raw. Onions have been around since at least 3500 BC, and were once worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, who sculpted them from pure gold. Now who’s ordinary?
In the tradition of cooking in a pure and simple way, I sliced (ok had my husband slice) six elegant white spheres in half cross-wise, and arranged them side by side in a baking dish. I then added beef broth, enough to reach almost halfway up the sides of the onions, and placed a single slice of raw tomme cheese over each. With the addition of a little salt, pepper, and rosemary, the onions were rich and meaty and needless of side items (maybe a few chickpea biscuits to soak up their juices, a recipe for a nother time…) and you can’t get any more budget friendly.
Other than choosing Alice Water-worthy onions, I had little to do to prepare, which leaves me with plenty of time to spend winter break seeking out other unordinary vegetables, drinking wine, and making fondue.