Birthday flowers

Lo Jardinièr’s blog, An entangled bank, celebrates its first birthday today. Do go over and see what he’s doing, and I think their are some party presents too. Lo Jardinièr is the wild flower expert so I thought I’d give him a bunch of flowers from the garden, cultivated rather than wild, today:

rose banksiae-1

climbing Banksiae rose

rosebudanother climbing rose nearby on the shelter where we eat in the garden

salviaa Salvia that’s almost too bright for the camera

californian poppyCalifornian poppy

coronellaCoronella

geranium

Geranium

cistus

Cistus

and a wild one on the path to the garden, a flower that was open for just a few hours,

wild salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius

salsify

Many happy returns to the entangled bank!

Happy bees and wet olive trees

Somehow a whole week has passed since I last posted on this blog, and it’s been a typical spring week – a mix of warm sunny days, on one of which we ate lunch outside a café by the sea, feeling hot in the sun, and grey, gloomy days like today.

First, a happy bee, one of many buzzing around a wild Coronilla shrub at the edge of the village:

bee-1

bee-2

And then the olive trees – unfortunately the rain had to fall on the day fixed for an olive pruning demonstration organised by the Moulin de Casso in the village and the local branch l’Association Française Interprofessionnelle de l’Olive. We’d been told that if it rained we would be treated to a slide show in the salle des fetes – I wasn’t surprised because here in the Midi hardly any one goes out if it rains. But I was surprised to find that we did after all go to the olive grove and watch the real thing – much better than slides, of course.

olives-1

 

olives-2

 

In spite of the cold and the rain we were given a good idea of how to get the best out of olive trees – in our case only two small ones, but the course is aimed at all olive growers, from large-scale professionals to people like us who have a few trees in their gardens. And readers of this blog, and anyone who knows anything about the Midi, won’t be surprised to know that the morning ended with apéritifs accompanied by tapenade made from last year’s crop from these trees, followed by a very good lunch of charcuterie, cassoulet, cheese and apple pie, with white and red wine and muscat de Rivesaltes with the dessert… and a lot of Occitan joia e convivença (happiness and conviviality).

June landscapes

At this time of year as the temperatures rise and the land dries wild flowers and grasses produce seed heads and then die back, waiting for autumn rains to bring them back to life in a ‘second spring’.

Only the vines, with their deep roots searching for water between the rocks, are green.

Jachère

Jachère means fallow land in French, but it is also the name given to a mix of annual wild flowers that are sown on the land while it is unused, to encourage bees or to improve the fertility of the ground when it is ploughed in later.  I won’t say much more about this as Lo Jardinièr plans to post about it soon on his blog, http://anentangledbank.wordpress.com/.  So these photos I took today, on land near our garden, are a trailer for his forthcoming post, maybe sometime next week:

Peynirli börek – Turkish cheese pastries

These pastries are made in many shapes and sizes in Turkey – sometimes baked in the oven in a large dish and then cut into portions like a pie, sometimes they are cigar-shaped rolls, and often they are these little triangular delights.  They are usually  made with filo pastry, filled with sheep’s or goats’ cheese and herbs.  It’s quite difficult to fold them tidily when you have a huge sheet of pastry, as they were sold in Istanbul when I was young.  When my mother wanted to serve böreks for a party she used to ask a Turkish helper to make them for her.  I’ve found an easier way to make the folded pastries here in France because I can buy Moroccan brick pastry which is sold in circular sheets about 30 cm in diameter.  This pastry looks different to filo pastry, but the finished result once cooked tastes the same to me as I remember from Turkey.

Today I used ricotta cheese, but usually I use a fresh sheep’s cheese called brousse, and you can use any soft, creamy cheese. They’re nice made with chopped sweet onion and oregano, but I didn’t have these today so I added some chopped thyme, a couple of finely chopped cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt and half a teaspoon of ground piment d’Espelette (paprika) to 250 grams of ricotta.  Then I began to fold the böreks using a method I found described once on a packet of brick pastry:

IMGP3133

I cut all the circles of pastry in half and then take one at a time and fold down the rounded side over the straight side.

IMGP3134

I put a spoonful of the cheese mixture at one end of the pastry, leaving enough to fold over at the end.

IMGP3135

I fold the flap over and then carry on folding over the triangle until I reach the other end.

IMGP3136

For the last turnover I brush some water onto the pastry so that it holds together.

IMGP3139

When they’re all ready they can be fried in olive oil – you need to use quite a lot of oil as they burn if they are too dry.

IMGP3143

The böreks should be served hot, on their own as a first course or with other mezes or tapas.

Just before I made these at lunch time today I saw this wonderful field of poppies next to a vineyard near Pézenas.

IMGP3121

May day in the hills

I spent a beautiful couple of hours this morning on a round trip through the hills near Vailhan.  The wildflowers were all out, making a colourful carpet of the garrigue between the limestone outcrops.  In the distance I could see the Pyrenees, too far away and too hazy to photograph, but covered in snow which seemed hard to believe when it was so warm here in the sun – up to 22 C.  This terracing wall seemed to have been newly rebuilt, with what looked like an oven or fireplace built into it:

terracing

The trunk of an ash tree nearby had been twisted into interesting shapes:

ash trunk

and someone had been working there recently, leaving this wheelbarrow:

wheelbarrow

A little further along the road, this piece of machinery looked as though it had been abandoned for much longer:

old machinery

The Spanish broom was flowering.  The dried long stalks of this plant were used to make brooms at one time.

spanish broom

The sunlight was filtering through the evergreen holm oak woods:

holm oaks

and on the fig trees I could see that the figues fleurs (fruit formed last autumn and overwintered on the tree) had survived the cold weather in February:

figues fleurs

figues fleurs 2

and then back to the village….

village

It was a beautiful May morning to be out in the hills.

Invention, inspiration, influence

artichokes

I bought another bouquet of small artichauts violets in the market and Lo Jardinièr asked me to do them ‘as I usually do them’.  Well, he should know that I rarely do exactly what I’m asked to do and I couldn’t resist trying something new with these, something very simple that may have been done by someone before me, but it was a first for me.  I cut the ends of the leaves, trimming down to the heart, peeled off the outer leaves and removed what little choke there was, all the time covering the cut edges with lemon juice to stop them browning.  I mixed a couple of tablespoons of stoned green olives, 3 cloves of garlic and a piece of stale bread in the liquidiser until they made a stuffing which I put into the hearts of the artichokes.  I then put them, stems pointing upwards, in a good layer of olive oil in a cast iron pan and added a glass of white wine and some salt and pepper, brought it all to the boil and simmered gently for about an hour until the artichokes were cooked.  Some of the stuffing escaped but that just seemed to add flavour to the oil and wine sauce.  Served cold with a slice of lemon they were delicious and luckily Lo Jardinièr agreed.

I was interested by a recent post by Cooking in Sens and the comments that followed about whether or not chefs ‘invent’ recipes.  As she says, ‘In cooking, there is really nothing new under the sun.’  But recipes do not always have to come from books or television programmes, or even the Internet.  I love cookery books and books about food and I have shelves of them – by Elizabeth David, Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Giorgio Locatelli, the Moro couple, and many many more – but I rarely follow a recipe.  I use the books as inspiration, added to the knowledge I’ve amassed over more than forty years of cooking, from my mother, from talking to friends, especially here in the Languedoc (where no one I know uses cookery books at all), and from my own experience and experimentation.  I think if you have a grounding in cooking, from any of these sources, and a knowledge of which ingredients go well with which others, you can be inspired, influenced and then invent.  The salad that Lo Jardinièr made for lunch, which he described as a Mediterranean salad, for its colour and flavour, is another example of this:

IMGP2461

Local goats’ cheese, chorizo, lettuce, wild rocket (picked in the garden this morning), pickled yellow peppers (from the garden last summer)….and garlic, of course.

In the garden today we planted out the corn plants, a Greek variety resistant to drought, grown from seed we saved last year – we had 44 very healthy looking plants.  I also saw what I think is a Wall butterfly, looking slightly battered:

IMGP2414

the Lucque olive tree about to flower:

IMGP2431

a snail enjoying a good meal of rosemary – we have plenty, we can spare some!

IMGP2427

and some tiny wild violets:

IMGP2425

Because they won’t last

When I was a small child in Libya I thought asphodel flowers were quite magical because they were as tall as I was.  I soon grew taller than them, of course, but I still love to see them at this time of year.  They’ll last only until next week maybe, so yesterday when I saw large areas of the hillside above Neffiès where there were wands of stars standing out above a carpet of flowering wild thyme I had to take a lot of photographs.

asphodel 1

asphodel 2

asphodel 3

asphodel 4