...from the archives...
Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is one of my favorite herbs you have never heard of. The herb's lack of public recognition always seems odd to me. It's a versatile herb with a palate-friendly flavor a lot like celery, yet more complex and nuanced. Fresh, young leaves are mellow enough to use whole in a salad, but it also stands up to long cooking in soups and stews.
The obvious presenting flavor of lovage is celery, but the flavor is more complex than that. Along with the concentrated celery is a large dose of the bright green flavor of parsley and a hint of something sweetly earthy. I use it as a celery substitute whenever it is available and find it slightly sweeter and stronger than celery, something that I really like.
The hollow stem, a section of which can be up to a foot or more in length and an inch in diameter, makes an excellent straw for drinks, such as a Bloody Mary, where a celery flavor is desired. Lovage stems can be candied, like angelica, as an unusual sweet treat.
Excuse me a moment of excitement, but I just discovered a new trick for lovage stems: sliced lengthwise and put in ice water, they curl like the ridged curling ribbon they make for wrapping presents! This offers all sorts of possibilities from the sublime (make a brush for putting melted butter on corn on the cob) to the ridiculous (edible icons of the Flying Spaghetti Monster). Curlicue garnishes. Hair for Halloween monsters. This could be fun.
Lovage is also a beautiful addition to your herb garden. Unfurling from asparagus tip-like bundles in early spring, lovage quickly becomes a hip-high bush of soft green foliage.Midsummer sees flower spikes shooting to eye level before opening golden umbels that slowly mature into marvelously tasty seeds, something the birds know as well as I. Come fall, the birds and I vie for the mature seeds, with my winnings finding their way into stews and breads over the winter.
Gardeners appreciate lovage because it is easy to grow, tolerating most soil condition and even a bit less water and sun than large, leafy herbs. (It is easy to tell when lovage is thirsty; mine, which is in direct sunlight, droops noticeably on hot days. Fortunately, it revives just as quickly with a bit of water.)A perennial that, like tarragon, requires a period of cold dormancy, lovage is often grown as an annual in warm climates. If you have to do this, you can save your own seeds, stored in an airtight jar in the refrigerator, over the winter for spring planting.
On a personal note, I'd like to thank you for sticking around while I have been absent of late. Let's just say that there have been years when everyone around me was healthier than at the moment and I'd really like to go back to one of them. I hope to be back to more regular writing soon...really soon.
from the archives... [updates in italics and brackets]
Once upon a time, the kitchenMage had the herb garden of her dreams. Wisteria draped the entrance arbor, opening onto a herringbone path interplanted with thyme and moss and edged with lavender and a plethora of mints. Herbs, both common and rare, filled this garden and new finds were constantly finding their way there. Rare thymes and more mints than she could name filled the beds, and the air, with intoxicating scents. A few choice trees also lived there: the prized sweet bay, a pink dogwood bent near horizontal from its attempts to survive its old home, and the maples (no two the same) that defined the border.
Oh, I'm sorry! I was daydreaming there for a minute.
While I would love to have that herb garden again (and it is worth a look, though I apologize for the old, not so great photos) the sad fact is that I don't. Worse, I won't have anything like it for a few more years to come. [It has been about four years and the garden is still sparse in spots. While I finally have established thyme, my tarragon has never lived beyond its second year. Establishing a garden in a place that gets 10 feet of rain a year is not easy.] A few summers [ha ha ha] from now, I expect to once again walk through a garden like that, although not too much like that.
I have a new house and a new "yard" — if one can call nine acres a yard — but after two years, the new garden remains unplanted. [The herb garden is still confined to the beds around the house, while some trees have made it into the yard. So, yeah, still mostly unplanted.] When we arrived, the little beds around the house's foundation looked like builders had done the planting: some unkempt low junipers and dozens of pansies, in a stunning array of magenta and white--one shade of each. Boring! (When the foxglove and daisies that had been hidden in winter, when we bought the place, first emerged, it seemed fitting somehow that they were also white and purple.)
the only thing to recommend the gardened areas was the blueberry patch.
The untended space, mostly Douglas firs (originally planted for timber
harvest) with fern-laden undergrowth edged up against wild fog forest,
has more to recommend it, including the wildlife. At least most of the
time.[In what I consider a major victory, the blueberries have been fenced and we get the bounty now while birds screech at us from nearby trees.]
The Thump-thump-giggle-gigglers stopped by for the day recently and when I mentioned that dinner was "DIY Pizza" there was (literally) dancing in the seats. I guess that means your very own, very special, just for you and nobody else pizza with EXACTLY what you want and plenty of it is a hit with kids of all ages.
Pizza dough and sauce were both made the day before and kept in the refrigerator overnight. Meat that needed precooking, like sausage, was also prepared ahead of time.
This time around, one of the kids was drafted to wash the vegetables and then they all sat around the table and cut them. This got competitive which made all that slicing and chopping go by pretty darned fast.
For each pizza, cut a piece of parchment paper. Roll and stretch the piece of dough into the desire size/thickness. Each person prepped their own crust, allowing for variations in thickness. Then the fun begins... (bunch of photos after the jump)
...and if you never see me again it is because that freaky looking cloud really was the aliens...
with apologies to Kahlil Gibran
Your recipes are not your recipes.
They are the signs and sigils of Food's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your tweaks but not your goals,
For they have their own goals.
You may house their results but not their ingredients,
For their ingredients dwell in the house of others,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to perfect them,
but seek not to make them your own.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with crediting.
You are the bows from which your recipes
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and she bends you with her might
that your recipes may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as she loves the cook that creates,
so she loves also the cook at every table.
from the archives ...being the true story of a Christmas Miracle, for Megan and other foodies at the 'rents for the holidays, with apologies to everyone else...
Come on over and sit with me Megan. Let me tell you a story. Now this is a true story, though some folks doubt it. But I was there that Christmas Eve and it happened just like this...
Way back when your mama was just a wee thing, there was a great storm. You can find mention of it in the history books, things like this:
"On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1945, 20 hours of continuous snowfall blocked roads and required snowplow operators to work the holiday in southern Minnesota."
But they don't tell the true story. Not the whole story.
They don't tell you about The Thing that happened on a dark road, way out of town...
Picture it. A small town in southern Minnesota, Christmas Eve, 1945. It wasn't like now, where you can order everything under the sun with just a click of your mouse. No, in 1945 if you wanted something you had to go to a store, so near everyone in town was out that fateful day.
The war was finally over and the troops were starting to come home to their families. After the last few holidays which, as you can imagine, were not festive affairs, it seemed that the entire town was having a party...
I have written a dozen intros to this and don't like any of my explanations. Let's just say that a Friday during the official buying holiday season is not a good time to watch what passes for conversation online. Every other photo on my twitter timeline is a free thing someone was given (without disclosing the free part) and there's a constant stream of giveaways and gift guides that consist of things the blogger got gratis to review.
Then someone said they missed Oprah's favorite things and my inner cynic grabbed the keyboard from my better angels and started typing furiously...when you sing along in your head (and you will) pick a blogger or two to imagine singing it. I know I do.
A Few of a Blogger's Favorite Things (with apologies to pretty much everyone)
Readers who love me in comments that leghump,
Tweets from a big blog that gives traffic a bump,
Videos proving I really can't sing,
These are a few of my favorite things.
Junkets and coupons and samples from brands,
Posting a photo I made with my hands,
Hanging with people who think I'm a king,
These are a few of my favorite things.
When the twit snarks,
When the troll strikes,
When my traffic's sad,
I simply republish my favorite things,
Then I don't whine so bad.
disclaimer: This isn't about anyone in particular. Really. If you think it's about a blogger you love, discuss their bad behavior with them, not me. If you think it's about you, trust me, it's not.
Once upon a time a small person who was having a rough time came to stay at our place — her self-designated Happy Place — to get a break from the hot mess difficult times at home. Early one morning, while the world was barely awake and nearly silent the girl gazed out over the small lake next to the house, sighed a sigh as big as her whole body, and solemnly said, "It's very beautiful out there."
We looked, seeing it through her eyes. We looked at the purple and rose fuschias leaning over the edge of the lake; the fractal-flock of birds swooping and dipping until it seemed their wingtips must be wet; the splashes of cloud poufs reflected in the still water.
Mostly, we looked at the wee one's quietly shining face and one of the first few smiles she had shown that visit.
She was right. It is very beautiful out there.
The house by the lake (sadly, a rental) is long gone and the small one is happily grown. My morning color is less dramatic here, being mostly hidden in mist that rises from the creeks that run amok on the valley floor but the sunsets...oh my, the sunsets.
They are very beautiful indeed.
Download a larger, slightly different, version of this picture scaled (1600x900) to use for your desktop image.
Those of you who have read a few posts here may know that I am a huge fan of slow, cold-fermentation. The long, slow rise allows the flavor of the grain to fully develop without the yeast eating all the tasty sugars and enzymes. The ability to bake bread on your schedule, rather than the dough's, is also extremely useful.
Most recipes can be made using this method, just start with cold ingredients, keep the dough cold while rising (use your refrigerator) and.reduce the yeast a bit — quite a bit it turns out. Therein lies the rub, or the knead. How much do you reduce the yeast? What is 'a bit' anyway?
While wandering the tubes of the internet, a comment at The Fresh Loaf caught my eye. It contained, in theory, an actual formula for calculating the amount of yeast when adapting a recipe to slow fermentation. Since cold fermentation is, by definition, very slow, this seemed like a great starting place.
Curious about the accuracy of the math, I tried it on a handful of recipes that I am familiar with and it worked. This is kind of exciting because it means most bread recipes can be made tastier and more easily. Seems like a win-win to me.