TAMING THE PRECOCIOUS AND RELUCTANT PEONY

 

They flounce in the garden.   Their ball gowns worn  with great aplomb.   Their glorious heads sway and dance to the slightest breeze.   They are the voluptuous, sumptuous darlings of the garden.

Peonies  beguile us with tiny, tight buds and  seduce us unfurling paper thin petals after petals to burst into blooms of staggering beauty.

 

Peonies are rather precocious and sometimes rather petulant when it comes to flower arrangements.  They like to be coaxed  and pampered to flaunt their full blown beauty.  The trick to encouraging these reluctant  little darlings to open faster is to cut their stems a little shorter.  Every time you snip the stem, a peony will open further.    But peonies, having a mind of their own, will also change their shape and colour each time you shorten them.  For example the deep pink may fade to a lighter shade.

So as that delicate light  of twilight  creeps into your home, the intoxicating perfume of peonies  surround you.  Their perfume whispers of romantic waltzes  and  past loves.  It spins a web that connects you to these treasured memories  from the past.    You smile.  You cup the fragrant blossoms in you hand and hold the most wondrous of thoughts close to your heart.

The most precocious of peonies with behave with decorum if you follow a few tips for a longer vase life.  Pick your flowers in the early morning and let them wile a way a few hours in a dark place deeply immersed in a bucket of warm water.

Make your own “plant food” .  To a quart of water add 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 3-4 drops household bleach.  Stir the water throughly before adding the flower.  The bleach and vinegar reduce the chance of bacteria multiplying.  Bacteria cause stems to become slimy and turn the water cloudy.  The sugar acts as food for the flowers.

P.S.

And when a few petals drift down to adorn your table – let them linger.  Perfection can be foring.

Advertisements

THE GREAT LOVER . . . and all the dear names men use, to cheat despair. Rupert Brooke 1887 – 1915

IMG_1453

These I have loved:

White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,

Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;

rooftops

Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light;

crusty-italian-bread31

The strong crust of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;

rainbow-blue-sky-nature

Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;

IMG_0002

And radiant raindrop couching in cool flowers;

And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,

Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;

simple white linen sheets l Gardenista

Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon

Smooth away trouble;

silk-blanket

And the rough male kiss of blankets ;

grainy wood;

life hair that is shining and free;

blue-massing clouds;

the keen unpassioned beauty of a great machine;

the benison of hot water;

furs to touch;

the good smell of old clothes; and other such.

I have been so great a love: filled my days

So proudly with the splendour of love’s praise,

The pain, the calm, and the astonishment,

Desire illimitable, and still content,

And all dear names men use, to cheat despair.

These exquisite lines are from the poem THE GREAT LOVER by Rupert Brooke.   Rupert Brooke was a handsome, charming and talented English poet known for his idealistic war sonnets written during the First World War.   He was only 28 years old when he died.

 

I have been so great a lover: filled my days
So proudly with the splendour of Love’s praise,
The pain, the calm, and the astonishment,
Desire illimitable, and still content,
And all dear names men use, to cheat despair,
For the perplexed and viewless streams that bear
Our hearts at random down the dark of life.
Now, ere the unthinking silence on that strife
Steals down, I would cheat drowsy Death so far,
My night shall be remembered for a star
That outshone all the suns of all men’s days.
Shall I not crown them with immortal praise
Whom I have loved, who have given me, dared with me
High secrets, and in darkness knelt to see
The inenarrable godhead of delight?
Love is a flame:--we have beaconed the world’s night.
A city:--and we have built it, these and I.
An emperor:--we have taught the world to die.
So, for their sakes I loved, ere I go hence,
And the high cause of Love’s magnificence,
And to keep loyalties young, I’ll write those names
Golden for ever, eagles, crying flames,
And set them as a banner, that men may know,
To dare the generations, burn, and blow
Out on the wind of Time, shining and streaming . . . .

These I have loved:
		White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;
And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;
And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,
Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;
Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss
Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is
Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen
Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;
The benison of hot water; furs to touch;
The good smell of old clothes; and other such-- 
The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,
Hair’s fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers
About dead leaves and last year’s ferns. . . .
					                  Dear names,
And thousand other throng to me! Royal flames;
Sweet water’s dimpling laugh from tap or spring;
Holes in the ground; and voices that do sing;
Voices in laughter, too; and body’s pain,
Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train;
Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam
That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home;
And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold
Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould;
Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew;
And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new;
And new-peeled sticks; and shining pools on grass;-- 
All these have been my loves. And these shall pass,
Whatever passes not, in the great hour,
Nor all my passion, all my prayers, have power
To hold them with me through the gate of Death.
They’ll play deserter, turn with the traitor breath,
Break the high bond we made, and sell Love’s trust
And sacramented covenant to the dust.
----Oh, never a doubt but, somewhere, I shall wake,
And give what’s left of love again, and make
New friends, now strangers. . . . 
			            But the best I’ve known
Stays here, and changes, breaks, grows old, is blown
About the winds of the world, and fades from brains
Of living men, and dies.
			            Nothing remains.

O dear my loves, O faithless, once again
This one last gift I give: that after men
Shall know, and later lovers, far-removed,
Praise you, ‘All these were lovely’; say, ‘He loved.'

PURE ALCHEMY! MAKE YOUR OWN PURE VANILLA EXTRACT

A vicious cyclone hit Madagascar in March 2017. Cyclone Enawo brought bakers to their knees .  Vanilla  prices sky-rocked.  Merchants held their supply of vanilla under lock and key.  Vanilla beans were trading higher than silver.   Desperate bakers rediscovered alternatives. Lemon juice and zest.  Pure almond extract.  Rose water.  But nothing could replace the flavour of pure vanilla.

It is possible to make your own pure vanilla extract.  It’s very simple and you may discover you prefer your own bottled vanilla.  It is alchemy this creation of vanilla extract.    There is something wonderful , almost mystical, bottling your own vanilla.

All that is required is a glass bottle or jar.  Vanilla Beans and vodka (70 proof 35% alcohol).  Use one bean for every two ounces of alcohol (bourbon, rum, brandy or vodka).  One can find vanilla beans reasonably priced on line.

I used 1 1/2 cups (12 oz .375 ml) vodka and 6 beans.  Split the pods  leaving a small bit at one end still attached.

Tuck the beans in a clean jar or bottle.  If they are too long you can cut them to fit.   Pour the vodka over the beans making sure the beans are submerged.  Shake the bottle once or twice a week.  At 8 weeks(and up to 3-6 months)  you can start sampling for flavour.   It is your palate that will decide when your vanilla is ready.     After using all your vanilla extract you can replace the bottle with more vodka.  The same pods will continue to flavour the vodka for about a year.

Don’t discard your vodka soaked vanilla pods.  Pop them into your sugar container.  They give your sugar a delicate vanilla fragrance and seem to last for ever.

Store your precious personally made vanilla extract at room temperature and out of direct sunshine.

Small bottles of your own vanilla extract would make the “bees knees” gifts.  Search dollar stores and thrift shops for unusual containers.  Use corks to safely seal the bottles.

Bon Appetit and happy baking, dear friends.

THE CAPTURE AND CARE OF THE FABULOUS FOXGLOVE

They grow wild here on our West Coast.   Flinging themselves with outrageous abandon along side country roads and busy highways.  They cover hillsides with their brilliant colours.   Magnificent  spires of unbelievable beauty.  The fabulous.  The fantastic.   The outrageous too-good-to-be-true   Foxglove.

They grow tame in my garden.  No wild adventure for these towering, glorious foxgloves.  Imperiously they rule my spring garden.   High and haughty  above cornflowers and poppies.  Ignoring purple irises and  pansies.  Tall and slender they weave back and forth waltzing to the slightest breeze.

It’s early morning.  The dew caught like diamonds in spider webs woven across the lawn.  I have a deep bucket filled with warm water.   I cut  and strip the lower leave from the foxgloves,  and immediately dunk them in the bucket.    I let the foxgloves drowse away the morning hours in the cool, dark boot room.  The plants are slightly toxic so I wash my hands after handling them.

A  stunning  bouquet of foxgloves.   A spectacular statement of our connection to all things green and growing   This bringing the outdoors into your home is a simple pleasure.      Isn’t that what life should be about?

DIGITALIS PURPUREA (aka foxgloves)  have a vase life of up to 2 weeks.   Florists supply you with a sachet of plant food.  It is easy to make up your own plant food.

1 quart of water, 2 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar and three or four drops of bleach.  Give it a stir before adding the flowers.  The bleach and vinegar reduce the chance of bacteria multiplying.  Bacteria cause stems to be become slimy and turn the water cloudy.   The sugar acts food for the flowers.

 

 

HOW TO PEEL THE PERFECT HARD-COOKED EGG . . . a.k.a. HOW TO COOK A WOLF

Eggs in blue bowl wm

This is one of those Ah-Ha moments.  We’ve all encountered the recalcitrant egg that absolutely refuses to come clean from its shell.   But, do I really need to be told “how to peel an egg”?   This sounds suspiciously like an excerpt  from M.F.K.Fisher’s book HOW TO COOK A WOLF.     This simple recipe bears repeating.   It’s  a simple trick we sometimes forget, go back to hard boiling eggs the old way and  end up dealing with a frustrating mess of egg shells and pock-market eggs

I strolled down the road to Home Farm to pick up eggs early  this morning.  Now I am peeling the shell off perfect, alabaster hard-cooked eggs.  The whites must be flawless smooth to make “deviled eggs” .

In the fields outside my kitchen window my neighbor is laying down heavy, thick swaths of hay.  The air is fragrant with the sweet perfume of the cut grass.  It is one of those perfect mornings when all is right with the world.  And,  my very fresh hard-cooked eggs are perfection themselves.  This  sounds like an oxymoran for fresh eggs have a well-earned reputation for being famously difficult to peel.

Instead of boiling eggs the traditional way steam your eggs in a steamer basket suspended over boiling water.  If you don’t have a steamer basket use a colander that fits your saucepan.   Bring water to the boil.  Put your eggs in basket or colander and put a lid on the pan.  Cook for 15 to 16 minutes then pop into very cold water or an ice bath for another five or ten minutes. The shells slip right off.

Now isn’t that easier than cooking a wolf?  Bon Appetit dear friends.

LUSCIOUS LEMON BUNDT CAKE . . . A stunning cake with three layers of lucious lemon

If dreams were make of cake it would be this stunning  LEMON BUNDT CAKE.   I love any dessert made with lemon  – tarts, bars, loaves, cookies.   This cake is at the very top of my list of favorites.  This recipe (with a tweak or two) is from a favorite source of no-fail family recipes – Canadian Living.    This heavenly creation has three layers of fragrant lemon.  The tender delicate cake. The lemon glaze.  And the lemon icing.    Indeed,  an unforgettable citrus-infused show stopper of cake.     It’s spectacular in its simplicity and generous size.  It is the cake to serve at a big family gathering.  It cuts beautifully into twelve generous slices.   For a beautiful presentation one could add fresh berries in season.  And to really put the icing on this cake a great dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream.

You can make this cake a day or two ahead.   Store the glazed and iced cake in an airtight container.  The lemon glaze and icing help keep the cake fresh and moist.

MRS.BUTTERFINGERS has the recipe.  Bon Appetit.

 

APRIL BIRTHDAY IN PARIS

It was  early when I returned from shopping the market at the end of my street.  My basket was filled with two day old eggs (the best for baking), cream, chocolate and flowers.  Purple irises with deep golden throats.  The colours of spring.
The note was hanging from a red ribbon fastened to the door of my little house in Paris.
Place Émile-Goudeau,  11:59 p.m.  April 10th.  Bring cake.   (The Tin Man)

Tinny knows I spend April in Paris.  And that on April l0th I will be in my kitchen baking layers of delicate almond meringue in the La Cornue stove.    Filling the layers with espresso flavoured custard and topping the creation with chocolate ganache and pillows of whipped cream.

This creation  – this Dacquoise cake  must be started early in the day.   I whip the egg whites and sugar into shiny peaks then gently, every so gently fold in the crushed almonds.    While the layers are baking I make the  custard cream and tuck it into the refrigerator to thicken.  I will spread the custard cream carefully on the delicate meringue  layers . Next the ganache.   I chop dark chocolate into fine pieces and stir in the boiling cream.    It will rest, too.  It must be just the right thickness to enrobe the cake in all its magnificent glory.      The cake will rest  – until midnight.

Place Émile-Goudeau.  Trust The Tin Man to plan a birthday celebration in this unusual setting.   On Theadora’s favorite park bench. With her favorite cake,  and of course with our favorite tipple –  champagne.

Happy Birthday  darling Theadora.