FREEZER ENGLISH CUCUMBER PICKLES . . . QUICK AND SIMPLE TO MAKE

Slender, delicate, refreshing English cucumbers. Beloved in cucumber sandwiches. Adored in Salads. Admired in pickles. English cucumbers piled in glorious green pyramids at the vegetable markets. I fill my shopping basket with them. Cucumbers to nibble on now. Cucumbers to enjoy in the winter months ahead.

English cucumbers are so reasonably priced in the summer. The thrifty minded will stock up. This recipe is incredibly simple. The first time I tasted these cucumber pickles I swooned over them. I couldn’t believe they were freezer pickles. The recipe is courtesy a pickling aficionado friend of mine. Her pickles and chutneys are legendary. Before I tuck the pickles into the freezer I will label then JEAN’S PICKLES.

Slice the cucumbers, onion, and green, red or yellow peppers very thin. In a large bowl mix vinegar, sugar, salt and celery seed, Toss in your vegetables and stir well. Cover and pop into your refrigerator for three days. Give the mixture a quick stir every day. Then pack into freezer containers or canning jars and freeze. Thaw before serving.

Freezer English cucumber pickles will keep in your refrigerator at least eight weeks or your freezer at least a year. They are delicious served just as they are or use them generously in sandwiches, topping a burger or in a salad.

(A cautionary word. If you are using a French mandoline for the first time BE VERY CAREFUL. It does a beautiful job of slicing but it is extremely sharp).

The recipe for FREEZER CUCUMBER PICKLES awaits you in MRS.BUTTERFINGERS. http://mrsbutterfingers.com

DECADENT DOUBLE CHOCOLATE FLEUR DE SEL COOKIES . . . a rich, dark, salty and sweet treat.

French bakers have always known a whisper of salt brings out the very best in dark, rich chocolate.

This decadent little cookie is a riff on the fleur de sel double chocolate cookies created by my favourite bakery in Toronto – Bobbette and Belle.

It has a quiet, unassuming almost old-fashioned appearance that ends with the first delicious, crumbly addictive bit. This is not your mother’s chocolate cookie. It rather reminds one of a rich shortbread cookie. The first nibble of double layers of chocolate and the exquisite drift of sea salt takes you to the moon and back.

This superb cookie benefits from baking a day or so in advance of serving. The chocolate flavour intensifies as it rests quietly in the cookie jar. Its unique salt sweet flavour is the perfect ending for any dinner party especially when you add a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The recipe and and some baking tips for DOUBLE CHOCOLATE FLEUR DE SEL COOKIE awaits you in my kitchen. MRS.BUTTERFINGERS.

THE VERY VERY BEST TOMATO SAUCE . . . and just three ingredients – thank you Marcella Hazan

Early morning. I’ve walked out to the garden to harvest tomatoes. My farmer neighbour is cutting hay in the field near by. The swaths lay in military straight rows. The air is filled with the perfume of the freshly cut hay. The sun catching diamonds of dew suspended in delicate cobwebs in grass around the garden.

Like glowing rubies tomatoes hang suspended from vines. A tomato house protects them from low night river fog that growls and prowls our gardens and blight the tomatoes. It’s not an elegant structure. A wooden frame and heavy plastic curtains open for sun then close at night. It gives an extra month or so of growing time and generously increases our crop of tomatoes.

I’ve picked a heavy basket of tomatoes; irresistibly sweet, juicy, rich and bursting with flavours. Tomatoes you eat over the sink, sprinkled with a little Malden salt. Juice running down your arms and a beatific smile on your face. Now is the time to practice tomato alchemy and turn these tomatoes into sauce.

Start this sauce by melting butter and onions.

Then add your chopped tomatoes.
Simmer the sauce crushing the tomatoes (not the onions).

To me this recipe is the simplest, most elegant and finest of all sauces. Chopped tomatoes, butter, onion and salt. Five minutes preparation time. Forty-five minutes cooking time and the occasional stir. Serve it over linguine generously anointed with parmigiana cheese. Toss it with gnocchi. Or simply stand at the stove and eat a spoonful or too. After all, one simply must taste to check salt seasoning.

The recipe is from Marcella Hazan’s book Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1992). A much used, food spattered, absolutely adored book. I share the recipe in my kitchen MRS.BUTTERFINGERS.

Dear friends, “bel cibo”.

THE JEWELLED FRUIT TARTS OF PARIS . . . CARAMELIZED PLUM TART

It is at this time of year when the days shorten and dusk creeps quietly into our lives.  When we put away the warm whispers of summer.  When we scuff through fallen leaves removing the silver dust of Paris.  This is my favourite season in the city of light.

 It is at this time of year my thoughts return to my little house in Paris to pack away the summer memories.  To take down the linen  curtains that dance at my windows and replace them with  enveloping rich, dark green velvet.  To cover the worn stone pavers of my kitchen floor with a faded and warm carpet.

And it is this time of year, market basket under my arm, I raise very early and head for the markets.   I am abroad even before the street cleaners.  Searching for the last stoned fruit of the season to make just one last plum tart.

The Paris pastry shops beguile us with dazzling displays of fruit tarts.  They are perfectly imperfect with simply arranged seasonal fresh fruits made even more irresistible with sugar-studded , heavily caramelized, crunchy rims.   This is pie perfection!  Honest pies that promise you everything and deliver.   My alter ego happily shares her dreams of Paris and her recipes with you.  Bon Appetit, dear friends.   The recipe for plum tart awaits you at MRS BUTTERFINGERS

(a reposting – plums are so abundant at this time of a year )

THE MOST GLORIOUS OF GARDENS . . . CONTAINERS IN THE GARDEN

The fragrance of flamboyant lilies hang heavy in the garden. It drifts though my windows. Their exotic perfume so compelling, so exotic. These majestic flowers grow beautifully in containers. The secret to spectacular container gardening. It’s all about single plant species.
The lilies have just begun to bloom. They will put on a show for several weeks. The cosmos are shyly putting out early flowers. This short variety of easy to grow cosmos were started indoors. They are planted densely for the biggest flower show. With regular dead heading they will bloom to late fall.
Outrageously showy! Cracker Jack saucer sized dahlias slip into place behind the cosmos. Hot summer colours for a spectacular show. Dahlias ask for only two things water and rich soil and they will reward your wildest gardening dreams.
When lilies fade their slender spikey stalks are the perfect background for late summer dahlias. The row of orangery red dahlias will bloom until the first touch of frost. Cosmos are full glorious bloom. Monet’s garden always features bright spots of white flowers. All flowers look all the richer for this artistic accent.
A romantic David Austin rose (Lady of Shallot). Her perfume with lingering notes of vanilla anchors one end of this front of the house flower show. This rose blooms lavishly all summer long right into the cool days of autumn.
A long drift of deep pink impatience warms the river stone facade. The The Wave petunias are accents colours. They dream in the sun close to the umbrella sitting area. The old fashion fragrance of the petunias a childhood memory.

There’s a coolness in the air. Twilight and in that half way time flocks of geese honk their way through the sky above our home. The geese are gathering for their epic journey south. The single planting of hydrangeas are changing colour. Sapphire blues bruising to rich purples and violet.
The front door herbs. To be shared. Planted in containers they welcome you to our home.
Run you fingers through delicate thyme. Stroke the velvet sage leaves. Nibble on a basil or a mint leaf. Then gather a bouquet of rosemary for remembrance.

COUNTRY WEDDING FLOWERS

There is going to be a country wedding on Home Farm. In our gardens and on Home Farm we are growing these flamboyant beauties to grace the tables. Planning started as far back as December. The bride, the darling of the farm, chose Cafe au Lait, to be the centrepiece. A bit of a chameleon she blooms a delicate pink. Then petals start to fade to white tinged with just a touch of coffee brown.

I started the wedding dahlias indoors in early March. Several different shades of burgundy wine, apricot and pink.
Shaggy white cactus and pompoms in shades of bronze. Colours chosen to compliment the bride’s Cafe au Lait dahlias.
A few years ago we sowed half of our vegetable garden with wild flowers. We’ve always chosen to grown more vegetables then we need. We’ve taken the surplus to the library in our Village of Ladner to share with others. With Covid we were unable to do that. Now most of our garden is flowers for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

I cut my flowers early in the morning when they are still filled with moisture. Dahlias are demanding darlings. They need to be put into water immediately. I use a deep bucket to support the tall stems of the heavier flowers.

I cut the sweet peas daily. Their heavy fragrance fills the garden and butterflies are in their glory. Sweet peas will not share a bouquet with any other flower. The presence of sweet peas wilt other blossoms. I take a basket filled with several small containers of water out to the garden. Each exquisite colour of sweet peas goes into these separate containers. The stems of sweet peas are a bit fragile and this segregation of colours makes flower arrangements easier.

I love our gardens. I love the doing of them. Digging the soil. Planting. watering, weeding. And if at the end of all this we have vegetables. Or flowers. That is an added bonus. It is the doing that is important. This season we had the thrill of growing new flowers for the wedding. Anxiously awaiting the blooming, for dahlias sometimes are not as pictured on the package. In a couple of weeks we will harvest the flowers. Their ephemeral beauty will continue next year to be known as “our wedding dahlias”.

THEN FOLLOWED THAT BEAUTIFUL SEASON….SUMMER IN TRINITY BELLWOODS PARK

“Then followed that beautiful season . . . summer.

  Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light;

and the landscape lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.”  (Henry Wardsworth Longfellow.)

 

 

 

“Summer afternoon,   summer afternoon;  

to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”   (Henry James)

 

Summer and the perfect time to become a flaneur and wander the streets in this old Toronto neighborhood.   The gardens of stately  homes heavy with the fragrance of old  fashion flowers.

 

 

 

The lovely lupine … a graceful wand of colour.

 A whisper of lavender …  the soul, the scent of Provence.

Graceful irises like pieces of the deep, blu sky flung into the garden.

A slender rope suspended between sheltering trees.  To walk barefoot in the park on air.  Summer is a glorious time in Trinity Bellwoods Park

SUMMER AFTERNOON … THE TWO MOST BEAUTIFUL WORDS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

RHUBARB CRUMB CAKE WITH SUMAC CRUMBLE happiness in a cake

“Happiness . . .

not in another place but this place,

not for another hour

but this hour.”

I walk to the garden past hedges heavy with fragrant with wild roses and awash with cow parsley. Blackbirds, wrens, robins and song thrushes fill the air with glorious song. The early morning sun catches glittering drops of dew suspended in fragile spiderwebs turning grass into a field of diamonds. A walk of happiness to the garden to gather rhubarb.

This Rhubarb cake is one you make with pleasurable ease. The tactile pleasure of combining the crumble by hand. The lemony perfume of adding the sumac. The sharp tang of grating the lemon into brown sugar then rubbing the zest through the sugar with your finger tips. A whip of eggs. An easy pour of melted butter. A gently folding of flour and a delicate hand with the rhubarb. All is happiness in this hour.

This is a cake that sits often under a glass dome in my kitchen. As the season changes the cake takes on a different persona. Sometimes chopped pears with a dash of almond flavouring. The stone fruit comes into season I add peaches, apricots or deep purple plums and serve the cake with whipped cream. Apples and cinnamon cake generously presented with a wedge of crumbly wedge of old cheddar cheese; the flavour of autumn.

“Happiness . . . not in another place, but this place, not for another hour, but this hour.” (Walt Whitman)

The printable recipe resides in the kitchen of MRS.BUTTERFINGERS.

Bon Appetit my dear friends.

CHOCOLATEY CHOCOLATE CAKE . . . WITH FLUFFY BUTTERCREAM CHOCOLATE FROSTING

This rich,dense, spectacularly chocolate cake is my absolute favourite of all cakes.    It has a delicate moist crumb and the dream-like chocolate buttercream frosting stays light and fluffy to the very last slice .   This is the cake I make for any and every occasion. 

  For every day snacking I make it as a one layer cake or loaf cake.    You can double the recipe for a two layer cake or a sheet cake.   I have made a magnificent three layer birthday cake using this recipe.  Baking is a science and one can not always double a recipe successfully.    This sweetheart of a cake does allow you to double the ingredients ( but no further).  For a three layer cake I bake a double cake and then the single cake.  All this belies that fact that it is incredibly easy to make. 

This most chocolate of cakes uses unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder in the cake and the frosting. It has a smoother, more mellow flavour than cocoa but you can use either.  Buttermilk adds a suggestion of tangy flavour and a small amount of coffee brings a deeper note of richness to the cake.  If you don’t have a mixer you a generous sized whip will do the trick.   The icing does require a mixer so the chocolate glaze would be the answer.

The recipe for my favourite chocolate cake, fluffy icing and chocolate glaze can be found in the kitchen of

MRS.BUTTERFINGERS.  Bon Appetit dear friends.

(this recipe adapted from Snacking Cakes Yossy Arefi)

 

 

ZEN AND THE ART OF GROWING SWEET PEAS

This is how a dream begins. Pouring over a seed catalogue on a gray and dismal winter day I discovered a variety of sweet peas called “Cuthbertson Blend”. My grandfather was an avid gardener. He imported his seeds from Cuthbertson in England. His sweet peas regularly took first prize at the Prince Albert Horticulture Show, and in recognition it was named for him. The Fred Henderson Sweet Pea Cup.

I have been rather casual about planting sweet peas. I plant the seeds directly into the garden a week or so after the last frost. It is a bit of a hit and miss affair. Some seeds don’t germinate and others suffer an early death as insects and birds enjoy their oh so tender leaves. I thought of my Grandfather and how he would start has plants indoors. He didn’t have a lot of space and spring in Northern Saskatchewan is one of bitter cold and frequently snow. Growing plants indoors was a challenge.

I bought the Cuthbertson sweet peas. They promised me heavenly fragrance and flowers the colours of dreams. I nicked the hard coating of the seeds. All 68 of them. I mixed the potting soil. I planted the seeds and calmly, quietly and patiently I waited for them to sprout. The first sight of a tiny green shoot was pure joy. I was following my grandfather’s footsteps.

I remembered my Grandfather always planted two seeds. The weaker seed to be nipped off. It was difficult for me to do this. I had been nurturing these sweet things and I left a few pots to see how these double plants would grow. I counted the leaves on the stem of the sweet pea and when the fourth one made an appearance I nipped part of it off. The plant would slow its spindly growth and spout side leaves. I planted the seeds March 6th. It is April 26th. The lack of sun shine is evident in these spindly plants. They are growing in south and west windows but it is clearly not enough. Here on the West Coast of British Columbia I do not have the brilliant clear skies and endless days of sunshine of Northern Saskatchewan. This is the zen of gardening. A learning experience. Patience. Understanding. Acceptance.

In a few weeks these plants, tenderly cared for, will be ready to set out in the garden. They will climb towards the sky filling the air with their fragrance. I will continue to care for them. Rising early in the morning to water, weed, and dead head flowers. Then to cut glorious bouquets to fill my home with their beauty.

This is the zen of garden. It is not always perfect but these past two years have required one to remain calm and take the happiness each day as it is given.