Almost ready

Recently I have been stalked in the kitchen by a little guy. His name is Laszlo, our new Vizsla puppy. Frankly, I have never tolerated well having others around when I cook. My kitchen is my castle! And now, in busy August of all months, when a constant flow of produce from my garden lands in my kitchen waiting to be processed, I have a puppy bouncing around, nibbling on my feet, exploring every inch of the kitchen, trying to open the refrigerator with his tiny paws and mouth.

Up until Laszlo’s arrival to our home two weeks ago, Woody, our 14-year-old Vizsla, has been my shadow – in the kitchen, in the garden, and everywhere else. While I am writing this, he is snuggled up next to me on the couch, sleeping. It took me more than two years to accept that with Woody getting older, it was a good idea to bring a puppy into the family. Woody and I have our established routine. As I am whirling around in the kitchen, he usually dozes on his cushion in the open pantry, or quietly watches me.

With Laszlo’s arrival and frenetic energy, Woody spends much less time with me in the kitchen. Instead, he seeks peace and quiet in other rooms.

These hours spent with Laszlo in the kitchen every day are important. Kitchen time is socialization and bonding time for the puppy and me. He is getting used to lots of cooking noises, smells, steam, heat, and my occasional outbursts when something goes wrong.

Yesterday afternoon I harvested green beans (Blue Lake pole beans) for pickling. I took Laszlo down to the garden for the first time. He was quite entertained, taking everything in and munching on a few beans.


Checking things out


Checking this out some more

Stealing a bean

The recipes I tried last year were so good that I wanted to make them again: Dilly Beans from Food in Jars and Emeril Lagasse’s Lemon Rosemary Pickled Beans (without the Bloody Mary; if I had one of those during the day, I would have to lie down right away for a nap with Laszlo on his cushion). I also tried a third, new recipe, Tarragon Beans from Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling . Because I like to leave the beans uncut at their full length, I put them in quart jars instead of the pint jars used in the recipes.

By the time I poured the boiling vinegar mix over the jarred beans – a smell that made my husband gasp when he popped into the kitchen to check on us – Laszlo was soundly asleep in his crate. He did not even open his eyes.

A few days ago I still wondered how in the world I would deal with the intruder in my kitchen. Looking at the line-up of jars from yesterday I feel more confident that I can handle cooking with Laszlo.

And harvest season has just begun. Stay tuned.

Guarding the jars

Photos by Ted Rosen

Herbes de ProvenceThe French dried herb mix, Herbes de Provence, was ubiquitous in my mother’s cooking when I grew up. She added it to the simple tomato sauce she made often, and always from scratch, or rubbed roasts with it. When I smell Herbes de Provence, I immediately think of our kitchen in Frankfurt, Germany, with its ornate grapeleaf wallpaper.

For years I have made my own Herbes de Provence mix from herbs from my garden. I have never followed a recipe. Prompted by a recent blog post by my friend Linda Ziedrich about lavender being added to Herbes de Provence sometimes, I looked at the authentic formula for Herbes de Provence.

I do love lavender but I have never added it to Herbes de Provence. I find that it is best used in jams, jellies and desserts (check out Hope Hill Lavender Farm, which has featured some of my lavender recipes on its website).

The famous Label Rouge for Herbes de Provence includes only five herbs, and in precise amounts: summer savory (26%), rosemary (26%), thyme (19%), oregano (26%), and basil (3%). Because my scale only weighs in five-gram increments, I rounded off the amounts but got pretty close this time.

Drying Herbes de Provences is easy. The only thing that is time-consuming is stripping the leaves off the thyme sprigs and removing all of the sprigs, which get hard and spiky when dried. I am especially cautious about this because as a teenager I had once stuck one of those tiny spikes in the back of my throat and, after lots and lots of water did not help, had to go to an otolaryngologist to get it removed. The doc wondered what on earth my mother had fed me and he just gave me a puzzled look when I told him, Herbes de Provence.

We got a 2-month-old vizsla puppy a week ago, which means we spend extended periods of time in safe areas such as the kitchen or on the patio with him. While watching him explore the potted lavender and rosemary, and trying to teach him not to eat them, I had plenty of time to patiently strip the thyme leaves off the sprigs.

We both had a good time, and I got a tray of Herbes de Provence out of the afternoon.

Laszlo herbs1

Laszlo herbs2

Garlic scapes for freezing

Yesterday I cut off all the scapes from the garlic plants in my garden. This is done so the plants put their entire energy into the bulbs.

Garlic scapes are delicious but I can use only that many at a time. No reason to discard the rest, though! The chopped scapes are a great addition to soups, stir fries and other dishes so I freeze them.

I chop the stalks in the food processor (only briefly, otherwise it becomes a pulp), pack them into ice-cube trays, and put them in the freezer. Once they are solidly frozen, I carefully remove them from the ice-cube trays and put them in freezer bags. I double-bag them so the garlicky cubes don’t give off their smell to the other freezer contents. If the scapes are already very long and advanced, I also cut off the hard, fibrous ends. The part of the stalk that breaks easily in two is tender enough to eat.

As for cooking with fresh scapes, see my recipes here.

Mock orange bloom

June 15, 2014

Mock orange3

These days I do not only go down to my garden to check on things. I go there to take in the scent of the mock orange next to the garden. When it is not blooming, it is an unspectacular sight but its blossoms with their intoxicating fragrance make mock orange one of my favorite shrubs.

When I smell mock orange, I feel transported back to my Tunisian grandmother’s elevated courtyard garden, which had a couple of orange trees. My grandmother died thirty years ago yet when I stand under the blooming shrub I remember it as clearly as ever.

Mock Orange 2To let the lovely fragrance linger for longer, when I walk back to the house I usually stick a twig with blossoms behind my ear, like the jasmine vendors do in Tunisia. And, of course, I cut a few twigs to put in a vase or to float in a bowl of water.

Mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) is easy to grow. I started mine from a root sucker taken from a friend’s huge bush that must be 50 years old. It needs space though, it can grow up to 10 feet high and wide and once established, it grows quickly. Mock orange is native to the Western US.

I cannot grow oranges in my garden but I can have a mock orange. And in the winter, I often make Tunisian Orange Cake, dreaming of the time when the mock orange will bloom again.

Mock orange1





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