I’ve got my zest(er) back

I’m in Italy, in a tiny house with a tiny garden, in the middle of a tiny village, surrounded by stunning countryside, friendly people and delicisousness in the bushes and in the shops (when we are allowed to go to them)!!!

I’ve started replacing all the wonderful things I had, one thing that I was very upset about was the loss of my microplane, I know it’s easy to replace, but it wasn’t just about replacing things and filling my life up again

I had been fundamentally changed by the fire, so I didn’t really want to cook much anymore, I did kind of get into it last autumn, when we arrived in Italy and spent days foraging and making sloe cheese, quince everything and figgy stuff

which I loved, but then I lost the desire again with the breakdown of my marriage and the subsequent, sudden death of my husband…….

I’ve been in Italy since lockdown, organising what has fondly become known as “Italy death bollox” and whilst I was appreciating being here, in a remote and beautiful country, I still had no desire to cook much. let alone forage………

It’s been a long time since I lived anywhere where there were any hedgerows, and it’s a wonderful thing, there’s so much diversity here, you don’t even have to look very hard, you just have to have the right eyes in, a bit like mushroom hunting, once you tune into your environment a multitude of abundance reveals itself…..

What’s nice about foraging is the chance to just stop and admire what is growing out there, the countryside is rife with life, identifying it and making it into something is therapeutic not to mention practical, what’s even better is that when you crack open a jar of something, from whatever season it came from, you are instantly reminded of that time, the picking of it, the light, the sounds, the winding down of the days, the changing of the seasons, this is one of the most evocative things about growing, preserving and making, it’s a reminder that the simple things are the best, it’s the time that you were most calm and happy and grateful, to just be with nature and give thanks by turning her gifts into a culinary delight, elderflower cordial heralds the beginning of a new season for me, a season of abundance, after the quiet time of winter in the hedgerows, it’s a new start, a fresh start with a fresh drink to whet the appetite and forge ahead with a new strength and vigour and determination……..here we go again!!!

Lidl breakdowns

Since the fire, I have obviously been grieving but also trying to get on with all the paperwork, logistical stuff, organising the dogs, sorting ourselves out, just on a basic level, with clothing etc..this has preoccupied me, in a good way…..now the ash has settled, life is returning, we are trying to take better care of ourselves, take time out together and apart, do some physical work, exercise, relax, laugh and spend time with friends

Sometimes I wake after only a few minutes of sleeping and weep as I’ve remembered something else that I will never see or touch again…..little things….the things that made up my life, the things I’d spent a life-time collecting or momentoes I’d kept, because of who’d given them to me or some special significance they had……..the things that told my story, treasures

I know on a philosophical level, those things don’t make me who I am, it’s besides the point, they were my things and now I don’t have them, I will never have them again, I know I can collect new things that will also have meaning and tell another story, but not that one…..that story has ended, the memories I will still have (until that fails me too)…….so now we have to build a new life with all the little bits and that is what I am finding hard to do

Every time I try to go food shopping, I go with a basic list, I come out with what I went in there for, but I always have a breakdown, I find myself staring at something on a shelf and crying…….today it was vanilla pods, they were available, and they were about €2 for one pod, it wasn’t the price or that they had never had them in Lidl before, it was that I have lost so much more than just the things that went towards making our life….I have lost the desire to cook…..this has never really happened to me before..

Those that know me or have followed the blog, will know that I love my food, I love growing it, I love cooking it, I love eating it and I love sharing it……I don’t love any of it now

I have spent my entire adult life collecting the perfect utensils

the hard to find spices, the most beautiful crockery, antique Georgian glasses, gorgeous tea towels, brilliant cookery books, handed down recipes


the list is endless, and everyday I remember something else….we can build a new home and we are starting our new story, the things will come when the time is right but that time is not now

 

cherries

black cherries

it’s been a fantastic year for cherries here, the big tree next to the house doesn’t seem to have suffered for having half it’s roots severed by the foundations going in, some if it is a bit tricky to pick some we can pick from a couple of the windows (very romantic), friends have been to help and we’ve made cherry and cardamom ice-cream

ice cream

pie fillings for the freezer and endless tarts

pie

cherry juice

cherry juice

and am now in the process (10 days) of making glacé cherries, i would have dried some but don’t have the space or intact racks and i would have made jam but have noticed that the jam in my stores is not getting eaten………

chutneys

 I’ve got one tiny jar of chilli jam left in the savory department of my store cupboard but have had to wait for crops to be ready and for my neighbours to off-load their unwanted fruit in my direction before I could make anymore chutneys……typically everything is ready all at once, so, it’s been a busy few days with lots of chopping and pitting, the cupboard is replenished.

plum chutney1

If you want the recipes, please go to the recipe section of the blog along the top of the home page and choose “chutneys”, you should find everything there…..

beetroot

Beetroot for my delicious beetroot relish

plum chutney

ingredients for richly spiced plum chutney

peach chutney spices

ingredients for spicy peach chutney

going crackers

we are constantly trying to spend less and make more, it goes with the territory of a) living in the middle of nowhere and b) not having any money.  Always trying to improve the way in which we do things, maximising efficiency and being more and more organised.
Sunday’s has become the baking day, and wanting to make use of the bread oven being fired up I decided to try and make some crackers, wanting to leave the white flour for bread making, I found a recipe for crackers made with gram flour, very easy to make and quick to bake, a tasty snack and relatively healthy

crackers

Not sure deviating from original recipe worked but we have to try these things, these ones had fennel, caraway and pumpkin seeds but husband said they reminded him of a toothpaste I used to buy…nice, I don’t care I like them, so I’ll eat them all. Here’s the recipe:
150g gram flour
2 tbsp ground flaxseed or other seeds ( I have a mixed load I made with sunflower/pumpkin and flax)
1/8 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp thyme
2 cloves garlic, crushed
60ml water (or more, as needed)

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until a dough forms. Add a bit more water or chickpea flour as needed to get a workable dough. Sandwich the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out – try to get them as thin as possible, about 1/8-1/4 inch thick. Cut into 1″x1″ squares, poking holes in each cracker to prevent them from puffing. Bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes, until the edges are starting to brown and the crackers are firm.

focThe focaccia is a meal in itself, top it off with whatever you like, slice in two and fill with cheese, or not depending on what you have, it’s like pizza, only fluffier and traditionally square not round, but who cares about that…
husband also made some naan bread to go with our vegetable curries last night, all very delicious

naan
we may not have much money but we’ll never go hungry and for that we are eternally grateful

curry

Middle Eastern broad bean dip

As per usual, I’ve grown far too many broad beans, it’s fine, we still have a freezer and I save a large amount for seed next year, I have enough in the freezer now so I used a far amount making this dip for a picnic on Saturday, we are still having rissotto’s with them and the asparagus, but probably not for much longer, the beans are getting mealy and the asparagus needs to rest

beans
1kg fresh broad beans in their pods
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp lemon juice
2-3 tbsp olive oil + more to finish
paprika
handful coriander leaves, chopped

Pod the beans and blanch for 2-3 mins until tender. Run under cold water then pop the inner beans out of their grey skins by making a small tear and squeezing gently (this isn’t essential for small beans, but for larger beans it makes the dish a brighter green as well as improving the taste and texture).

beans2

Place beans, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, olive oil and coriander in a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine, but keep the texture slightly chunky. You can use a potato masher if you prefer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn out onto a serving plate, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika

broad bean dip

pudding of the summer

summer pud850g mixed raspberries and currants
7-8 slices firm, good quality white bread
3 tbsps white sugar
3 tbsps water
cream to serve

Put all the fruit (once cleaned, or defrosted in my case) in a stainless-steel saucepan over a low heat. Taste the fruit for sweetness and add sugar accordingly. For normal, sweet raspberries and slightly tart currants, I add 3 tablespoons or so of sugar, bear in mind that the finished pudding should have a bit of sharpness to it.

The currants will start to burst and give out their juice. They need no longer than three or four minutes at a cautious simmer.

Slice the bread thickly. Each slice should be about as thick as your little finger. (Thinner if you are making several smaller puddings in individual moulds or you have giant fingers!!.) Cut the crusts off the bread. Set one piece aside, then cut the rest into ‘soldiers’, that is, each slice of bread into three long fingers. Cut a disc of bread from the reserved slice and push it into the bottom of the pudding basin.

I always quickly rinse the pudding basin with water before lining it with the bread, it helps when getting the pudding out of the basin later.

Line the inside of the basin with the strips of bread, pushing them together snugly so that no fruit can escape, and keeping a few strips for the top. Fill the bread-lined basin with the fruit and some juice, keep some of the juice back for pouring over the pudding once it’s been turned out – it should come almost to the rim. Lay the remaining bread on top of the fruit, tearing and patching where necessary, so no fruit is showing.

Put the basin in a shallow dish or bowl to catch any juice, then lay a flat plate or small tray on top with a heavy weight to squash the fruit down. Some juice may escape, but most will soak into the bread. Leave overnight in the fridge.

inside pud

Remove the weights, slide a palette knife around the edge, pushing carefully down between bread and basin so as not to tear the bread. Put a plate on top, and then, holding the plate in place, turn quickly upside down and shake firmly to dislodge the pud. It should slide out and sit proud. Serves 6-8.

cream

 
 

strawberry jam

strawberry jam
Makes 4 x 200ml jars
2kg small ripe strawberries
1.7kg jam sugar
Juice of 2 lemons

Hull the strawberries and discard any rotten ones. Set aside about 10 of the smallest berries, and then mash the rest up into a rough pulp. Put into a wide, thick-bottomed pan, add the sugar and the lemon juice, and bring to the boil. Add the remaining strawberries to the pan, and put a saucer in the freezer.
Boil the jam for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly checking the setting point every minute or so during
the last 5 minutes. To do this, take the cold saucer out of the freezer, put a little jam on it, and put it back in to cool for a minute. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, then it’s done. Strawberry jam is unlikely to set very solid though, so don’t expect the same results as you would with a marmalade.
Take off the heat and skim off the pink scum. Pour into sterilised jars and cover with a disc of waxed paper, seal and store

 

drink up

elderflowers

yup am still making drinks, the weather has been  quite hot, so as fast as i make them they are being drunk. I made some more lemon and orange squash and also the usual elderflower cordial, both are freezable, which I have done along with bottles in the fridge for now…..

steeping

About 25 elderflower heads
Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150ml in total)
1kg sugar
Inspect the elderflower heads carefully and remove any insects (or just shake them, thats what I do). Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the orange and lemon zest.
Bring 1.5 litres water to the boil and pour over the elderflowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave overnight to infuse.
Strain the liquid through a jelly bag or piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice.
Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.
Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks. I usually bag some of it and freeze it too.