Citrus Garden

For someone who has been living gladly and happily in urbanized environment for my whole life I find myself surprisingly very much interested in gardens in recent years. Truth be told, I lived in a proper house in a proper village for a relatively short period of time when my parents bought a house as their long-lived dream of having a home in the country, but I couldn’t have left it faster once I moved away to live on my own. Back to town, that was.

My personal life-long habitat therefore is an apartment. Continue reading “Citrus Garden”

Summer Barbecue Food

Come summer I start rooting for barbecue. We both love any kind of barbecued food from delicious meat in Sarajevo to wild-caught fish in Istria  where we have our summer retreat.

We’re not known to be early birds so we might come to fishmongers’ too late to be offered a vast selection of daily catch. When there’s no fish (or squid or prawns or scampi) to choose from we turn to butchers’ instead. Continue reading “Summer Barbecue Food”

Citrus and Booze Slush

Homemade frozen delight for adults only

How come I never heard about it before? Slush, as bizarre as a food name can be, is my summer favourite if I ever had one. Made of freshly squeezed citrus juice, a little bit of sugar and some liquor, it has summer written all over it.

Pink grapefruit slush in a glass - a perfect summer refreshment
Nothing beats a glass of frozen delight a.k.a. citrus slush on a hot summer’s day (or night)

This slush is made of very staple ingredients so with a little luck you’re all set to give it a go. As a matter of fact, recently, with a leftover ½ litre of pink grapefruit juice in my fridge, I sat down in front of my computer to check David Lebovitz’s site for a recipe how to use it up, and guess what? Continue reading “Citrus and Booze Slush”

Just Another Autumn

Autumn may righteously be the season of harvest and filling up the granaries. It may be a synonym for plenty but just as much it is foreplay to an unfruitfulness of winter. Besides, it’s an overture to the bleak season of cold and also, more and more, a playground on which the Mad Men are planting the seedlings of spending, climaxing in the actual end-of-the-year festive craze. Practically, if you pay attention to detail, the so-called Christmas season starts in September (the glossies start their jewellery editorials back then and home&garden sections of supermarkets start to display rather casually the first shiny decorations for sale). Do you comply?

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I don’t. I prefer to stick to the bright colours reminiscent of summer albeit in autumn the sun doesn’t shine often enough and when it does it’s regretfully for a couple of hours only. So, when it does come out you better grab the opportunity and plan something nice outdoors. A simple walk does the trick. It lifts up the spirits like a charm.

Reinventing summer colours when knee-deep in autumn can be easy even if you don’t feel like going out and just want to stay at home (like one of my dearest friends who can’t have enough of staying at home with the crazy work schedule of hers) and watch the sunset from the cosiness of your residence. It’s absolutely fine. Tune in!

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First, you can start with a glass of something cold and sparkling.

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Start cooking! The peppers are still on offer at the farmers’ market (however, less and less, it’s getting too cold for them at our latitude) and they’re the ultimate summer vegetable (or is it fruit?). Their opulent shades of orange and red are invigorating.

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What you see in the photo above is a bed of peppers (when exactly did the word bed get to be involved in food vocabulary?) that was in the next step topped with a few cuts of chicken and roasted in the oven. It’s based on Thomasina Miers’ lovely last summer’s recipe for Marseille-style roast chicken. What made me save that recipe were the peppers because I usually roast my chicken with lemon halves and potatoes but every household needs a diversion now and then from one fail-safe dish to another. I did add the lemon halves to this one too.

Do not let the title of this post mislead you. Actually, I don’t mind autumn at all. Not at all, when it’s this gorgeous.

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It Rains Cats and Dogs

Woohoo, Ice Saints, you brought it on all right! It’s been raining for the past few days like crazy. In this part of the world, the 11th, 12th and 13th of May are presided over by the three saints, St. Boniface, St. Pancras and St. Servatius that bring us what are most-likely the last cold days of the season (typically, bad weather and cold are the norm of these days). For tomorrow a significant drop in temperature is forecast, so, folks, St. Sophia might be kept busy as well. After that, it’s all roses, right?

Apropos the rain, here’s a funny thing I noticed in Gioia magazine:

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I checked the web and I can report that, yes, a Raindrop Cake is a real thing. It seems it’s turning into something quite popular. I find it rather strange though. But who am I to judge? Let people eat whatever they want, I’ll have a slice of my rhubarb pie as soon as it cools down a bit. Wanna see?

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This is a great dessert! The ingredients are a no-nonsense and what people usually stock at home. Thus, it’s doable even on the rainiest of days when the last thing you’d want is a run to the store. It’s basically down to butter, sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder and lemon zest plus topping. I use a recipe from this entry by The Wednesday Chef with some tweaks. That recipe never really worked for me as a crostata because for some reason the dough doesn’t get firm enough but I tweak it into a pie that is just marvellous. My version of that recipe would read like this (I hope The Wednesday Chef doesn’t mind):

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Mix together 150 grams of sugar with 150 grams of softened butter. To this add 2 eggs, the grated peel of a lemon, 200 grams of flour (depending, you might need up to 50 grams more) and half a packet of baking powder. Pat the dough out in a buttered spring-form pan and cover the dough with jam of your choice (we sometimes thin the jam with a glug of brandy over low heat before spreading it on the dough). Bake until golden-brown and the jam is bubbling, 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature before eating.

Sometimes, like today, I use fresh fruit instead of jam. Although I was planning to use up the bergamot jam (yes, I’m still in the citrus compulsive-obsessive period) I decided to employ the pretty rhubarb stalks before they withered.

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I usually poach the fruit quickly before arranging it on the dough. I tried it several times with either apples, peaches or quinces to a great avail. There’s lots of room for playing with the fruit if you’re willing: you can add vanilla, rose water or spice it up with brandy or cointreau while poaching it). But using jam is plainly and straightforwardly rewarding too.

I couldn’t care less if it rained for another whole day. With a slice of this pie on my plate (and a number of them to follow) I’m on the safe side.

The Spring Delights

It’s odd how we all wait rather impatiently for springtime year in, year out although, when it finally arrives, it’s not as pleasant a time as it seems when we’re knee deep in bleakness and greyness and darkness of autumn and winter that seem to last forever.

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First, you’re hit by summer time. Over night, you’re left bereft of one whole hour of sleep.

Then, there’s the spring fever that translates into unexpected loss of energy. Everything around you bursts to life again, revived and all, whereas you couldn’t feel more oxymoronic about it.

And, if you’re lucky, there’s more: a seasonal allergy. (I refuse to refer to it as hay fever: it’s months to the stage of hay.) It’s been a real pain in the arse – for the lack of a more illustrative word, and it’s been my first one, too, so I can’t really imagine how other people cope with it for a lifetime. There’s no other way, I know, but to endure.

In spite of all that, I force myself to go running. Thankfully, I’m grown up enough to appreciate the fact that once I’m out there it’s all good, it’s just the initial push that makes it so hard.

I drag my legs behind me as if they were made of stone. I’m as slow as a snail but I do carry on with it. Kilometre after kilometre. As much as I’m looking forward to finish it off, truth be told, it’s not only torturous. I tend to look out for nice things along the way too. I’m in utter awe, for example, at Mrs Nature’s and her daughter Miss Flora’s capabilities to provide wonders day by day.

I stop to smell this beauty. Pure essence of spring. Makes me feel a tad bit more energetic.

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When I return home I make myself a nice nourishing bowl of yoghurt to replenish. It is not only good for me, my body, it’s a delight for the eye as well.

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This little meal is all I need after a run and it’s easy to prepare. Basically, I add a couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt to a couple of spoonfuls of ricotta and top it up with a spoonful of homemade preserved cranberries. I always have a jar of preserved wild cranberries at hand. I simply love them. I guess it’s a combination of sweet and sour and a hint of tart that makes the preserve special. Apart from the fact that I make it myself. I buy them fresh in late summer when they’re available at our local market. Some are cooked to a preserve immediately, some are frozen and used up throughout the winter and spring when needed.

Depending on the mood (and the amount of hunger) I might add some rolled oats and/or linseed. Since I’m crazy about lemons right now  I add a couple of strings of lemon zest. More colour and more aroma. Yum.

After this I just might feel more in favour of spring.

The Land Where Lemons Grow

I read some very good books in the past few months but the first prize, so far, goes to The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee. The way by which I was pulled into its contents is to put it mildly empowering.

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Using the TV analogy, it’s the grandest documentary on such a prosaic subject as citrus growing. Well, as prosaic as a book on growing anything might be, actually, to a person not deeply connected with soil and its produce but only (or at least) caring about the simple facts of life: one has to drink, one has to eat, one has to sleep.

It’s much more than this; it is a monument to citrus and to Italy and what it represents. It is about the long and hard travels of the fruit, its holistic meaning through the eras of wealth and despair on every leg of the journey and how valuable it’s been to people.

There are thousands of different varieties of citrus but they all evolved out of three respectable ancestors. A few of the varieties have had a very special place within culturally and economically diverse parts of Italy and they still do. Citrus is an essential part of Italy, now I’m certain of it. Some of the most magical places in Italy are home to a child of a citrus family: Amalfi coast, Liguria, Sicily, Calabria, Garda, Tuscany. To every true lover of Italy this book is a must-read.

A book cover of The Land Where Lemons Grow

In practically every bar in Italy you can have a spremuta d’arancia, a freshly squeezed orange juice. There’s no doubt Italians have a very special relationship with them. Citrus rulz.

The writing is very gentle and well-balanced. The reader immerses in jaw-droppingly interesting stories about the Arabs, the Normans, the Jews, the Mafia, the Austrians and the Medici among others, and about the actual people of now, living their hard working lives surrounded by fabulous smell of zagara and delicious food. The book is also very informative: there are many historical and scientific facts along with the tender details about the food (rare ice-cream find in Turin or pasta with Amalfi lemons) and the landscape – it is certainly not your typical food book.

I will never again take poor old lemons or blood oranges & co. for granted. Before, I never really truly thought about them, consider them, you know. They’re simply always there at your disposal, omnipresent. But now I find myself even looking at them at the greengrocers’ with an attitude. I wonder about their provenance, the smell of their pre-fruit blossom, the vivid colours of their bumpy skins.

I’m a faithful reader of books: I never go on a trip without one and there is always more than one on my bedside cabinet. I cannot imagine going to sleep without reading at least half a page (I’m being joked about my waning reading stamina before turning in), I suppose reading is a sleeping pill to me, in a good sense, it makes my dreams more colourful. This book was a very pleasant companion and it takes a special place on the shelf.

 

More Sunshine Please

A plate of delicious spaghetti and a bowl of green salad

It’s been a typical winter day, the kind that one tends to forget all about even before it’s over. Half light half grey, not too cold but humid, anticipating the deterioration and turning to rain before the night creeps in. Not complaining at all, it’s pitch-perfect for my favourite pastime: reading.

We did manage to do a couple of rounds on the slopes though and filled our lungs with fresh pine tree smelling air for a pleasant aromatherapy momentum. On our last ascent on the chairlift we already contemplated the bookworms’ evening. We had to take care of more prosaic necessities first. The lunch.

And what a great lunch it was! Simple yet fragrant and full of sun and d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. It’s as simple as your ABC can be, as is the case with so many Italian dishes but it’s the execution that requires attentiveness.

Boil a lot of water in your pasta pentola. While the pot is warming up, skin the lemon off its zest with a potato peeler and cut it, the zest, into thin hair-like stripes. (Save the lemon in the refrigerator and use it the next morning before breakfast squeezed in a glass of tepid water.) Marvel at the fabulous fragrance for a second or two. (The recipe requires a grater, which I didn’t have at hand but cutting it up is just fine. Especially if someone more diligent and patient is willing to help.) Then chop up a handful of parsley (in the same thin stripes fashion as the zest) and take chilli/peperoncini container out of your pantry. Get the man of the house pour you a glass of some fine preferably Italian red. (Although whatever you might prefer will do. Just keep in mind that cooking your meal is a matter of enjoyment not torture.) Warm up some olive oil in the pan over low heat and add to it a smashed clove of garlic and a smashed chilli/peperocino (If using dried version. Otherwise chop a fresh one up). Low temperature is key. Stir occasionally. By this time the water must be boiling already, add a couple of spoons of salt to it, stir and add spaghetti. Don’t forget to set a timer according to the required cooking time. Half way through add the lemon zest and parsley to the garlic-chilli pan, stir now and then, all still at low temperature. Just a minute before the spaghetti are done, fork them out to the pan with garlic-chilli-zest-parsley mixture, fold it gently, add some cooking liquid, turn the temperature to high for a minute and stir in a knob of butter in the end. Done. Serve with a bowl of fresh leaf salad that was prepared beforehand (and preferably by the same helpful person that chopped the zest and took care of the wine).

It felt as if sunshine had stepped in our dining room for a moment in now already bleak winter afternoon: simple, fulfilling and delicious.

After that it was couch only. With a book of course.

 

I happen to check some food blogs on more or less regular basis because I quite like to cook but need a bit more than the regular fact-stating recipe. I like the eloquence of a handful of authors/bloggers I like to check up on. One of them, and the more recent addition to my lot, is an English/Roman/Sicilian rose Rachel Roddy (https://racheleats.wordpress.com) that I check on The Guardian occasionally as well. The recipe that brightened our day is by her. Thank you.