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”

Nova Gorica and Gorizia Revisited or the Fragrant Bourbons

After last year’s visit to the magnificent Bourbon tomb in Franciscan Monastery in Kostanjevica I was promised another visit to see the glorious Bourbon rose garden next door. Yes, the last (Bourbon) king of France is buried in a tiny monastery above Nova Gorica and Gorizia on the Slovenian side of the Slovenian Italian border. I’ve written about it here. This last weekend we went to see them, the fragrant Bourbon roses. As always with my man, the trip included a delicious lunch and also a nice walk, this time through another garden. Another new discovery. More on it below.

Lunch at Rosenbar in Gorizia. This time I resisted (the usual) alici and opted for insalata di polpo e sepia. A wonderfully fresh and delicious starter.
This time I resisted (the usual) alici and opted for insalata di polpo e sepia. A wonderfully fresh and delicious starter.

I’m no expert on roses, or gardening for that matter, Continue reading “Nova Gorica and Gorizia Revisited or the Fragrant Bourbons”

Ketmer by Honey & Co. Recipe

Ready-to-serve ketmer with baked pistachio on the side
Ready-to-serve ketmer with baked pistachio on the side

Now that both my proof-eaters approved I can self-confidently announce I mastered the ketmer in the first go. Big thanks to Honey & Co. for their easy-to-follow recipe and demonstrative instagram tutorial. The only downside of this recipe is it wasn’t published in the printed version of the FT Weekend as its recipes have always been. Hopefully not everything is moving online. Shoot me, I’m an obvious dinosaur, but I still prefer my newspaper on, well, yes, paper. Continue reading “Ketmer by Honey & Co. Recipe”

London, United Kingdom

72 hours of sheer joy it was, wasn’t it, our London break last week. London has always represented the top of the world for me, so yes, I’m biased. Guilty as charged. First time post Brexit, so far all is still good, buzzing, polished and polishing, metropolitan, cosmopolitan, huge, diverse, expensive, welcoming. However, it’s gonna be choppy ahead. For the United Kingdom, for London, for the rest of Europe, for everyone.

View of The Shard, London, UK
Something old, something new, something blue …

The reason, the cause, the motivator for this last trip to London was this magnificent David Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain that I just couldn’t allow us to miss. Continue reading “London, United Kingdom”

Asparagus the Middle-Eastern Way

According to popular notion asparagus has some kind of cleansing effect on the human body, as is the case with many a springtime produce: dandelion, radicchio, artichokes – to name only the most obvious suspects. In terms of taste, the cultivated (garden) asparagus is not on the bitter side as opposed to wild asparagus, which is also thinner, but has a distinguished, typical flavour. And a particular smell too, which is manifested afterwards in the loo.

 

Market produce in April

Somehow, I have always perceived asparagus as an exclusively Mediterranean vegetable possibly stretching a bit beyond but not too much. It struck me by surprise then to have stumbled upon a recipe Continue reading “Asparagus the Middle-Eastern Way”

Aperitivo Time

On everyday occasions, which family lunch or early dinner certainly are, I, not unlike many working women and men, tend to resort to staple dishes that can be whizzed through with no recipe, quickly and without an extra trip to the store. Every home cook has a selection of fail safe dishes up their sleeve that can save the day and feed the exhausted and famished loved ones.

Sage thoughts

Continue reading “Aperitivo Time”

The Reading List

We are nearing the summer solstice, which means we’re getting close to the end of the first half of the year. I don’t know about you but for me the first six months of 2016 flew by in a flash. It might be the right time to write down a selection of the books I particularly liked that I read within the past few months.

One of my safe choices when it comes to cookbooks
One of my safe choices when it comes to cookbooks: Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray

1.) The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee

I believe it’s more than obvious that I’m enchanted with that book. Because of it I urged the purchase of a pot grown lemon tree, a small one, a special variety, the kind that can be kept indoors through the colder months. When we brought it home it started to blossom and the whole flat was filled with a wonderfully seductive zagara. It went on for weeks. Now, it’s happily found its place on the balcony and I can see it’s started to form flower buds anew so I think it’s really happy with us. I hope it remains so. As for the book, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

2.) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Looking back on this book I can’t classify it by any subject it covers. Mostly, I found it to be a deterministic writing about race, about being black in the USA, about life in Nigeria, about (legal and) illegal migration to the UK, about being smart and young. I recommend it to everybody who is scared by current influx of migrants to Europe. But most of all, it is a valuable insight into the way of life of the modern young and educated. Very pleasurable read. To gain a wider appreciation of Nigeria (the land itself is unknown to me as is its history) I can propose the acclaimed Half of a Yellow Sun by the same author. Beware, it might open new horizons for you.

3.) Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

A tender and contemplative narrative about the meaning of believing and the strength of prejudice. I read the original (English) and I must admit I struggled because the language is quite complex and the ideas about religion are not my strongest subjects (although I know a thing or two about Catholic guilt). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book very much as it oozes deep wisdom and hope. During the progress I felt more and more liberated by the warming sense that the problems I think are problems are in fact only minor obstacles. I hope I’m not sounding condescending but if I were to recommend a book to someone who is considering finding a bigger meaning of life, this one would be it. The storytelling is exceptional.

The book I’m saving for summer holidays? I’m almost decided it to be Venice by Jan Morris. I’ll report.

A Bowl of Cherries

Finally, it’s the cherries season!

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I have this thing with cherries. You know how there are cat people vs. dog people? In my opinion there are also strawberry people vs. cherry people. I’m a cherry person myself, no doubt about it, and it’s the one segregation I don’t object to.

The best way to eat them is directly off the tree of course. Regrettably, this is a fairly rare indulgence.

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It’s not only the fruit that satisfies my appetite, I love to see a cherry tree in every guise. I love to watch the cherry tree’s transformation through the seasons: first, in the dead of winter, there are black trunk and branches with wonderfully patterned bark and nothing more. Then, in the spring the branches get covered in white fragrant blossoms, which look like quilted down sleeves. Next, it turns elegant dark green with ruby red fruits hanging in couples or triplets resembling the most precious earrings. Finally, in autumn, its leaves steadily become a sunset’s mirror as they turn the warm spectacular red before they fall off.

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I was growing up in a concrete neighbourhood of apartment buildings bordering on one side a highway and on the other a large area of detached houses. The houses typically had their cute little backyards, flowerbeds, kitchen gardens and at least one fruit-growing tree (if I were to inspect the area today I’d notice most of the front lawns transformed into parking lots since every household now has more cars than the side road can accommodate).

Needless to say, we, the kids from the boring urban community, shamelessly raided the cherry trees every June when they were laden with fruit. Some people didn’t really mind our self-invitation to their garden as long as no damage was done, but the great majority of them weren’t all too happy with sharing their fortune with us. Those trees were particularly attractive because by some unwritten rule they bore the sweetest, the reddest, the best fruit. Usually a group of four or five of us sneaked on the fence and snatched as much cherries as possible off the branches and straight into our mouths, continuing until we were discovered and made to run away as fast as we could. The cherry raids we called them, our expeditions. On a good day we had a chance to raid several trees in a row so in the end we would feel pleasantly full (and our mothers wondered how come we’re not hungry after a whole afternoon out).

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Also, my both grandparents, who lived in the countryside, had had a cherry tree each, so when I stayed with them in cherry season I could stuff myself dead with cherries until my stomach neared an explosion.

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Nowadays, I normally buy them from the farmers at the local market. I’m known to consume a kilo in one go all by myself. Day in day out. Yes, cherries are by far my most favourite fruit. Not only do I adore eating them fresh I also like to have them in desserts: clafoutis, cherry strudel, cherry and apricot gallette to only name a few. I might just poach them with a few slices of ginger and a strip of lemon zest. I might even buy a jar of those candied cocktail decoration stuff when I crave cherries out of season. I even used to freeze them – they freeze well. I never bother to pit them before using them.

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I simply love clafoutis but it’s probably been years since I attempted to make it myself. It’s not that difficult, it’s just that quite often I wasn’t really happy with the result. The best clafoutis I had was the one in  London at Le Cafe Anglais. To my deep regret the restaurant has been permanently closed but fortunately the chef’s Mr Rowley Leigh’s columns for the Financial Times are still running (too seldom though). I must admit it amused me to read his confession about the common disappointments in this classic French dish.

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Today I followed his recipe (yes, I separated the eggs) but I didn’t pre-cook the cherries. I don’t find it neccessary since I prefer the cherries firm. When I arranged them in the dish I tossed some little pieces of butter over them, sprinkled them with a spoon or two of sugar and a spoon of cointreau (in place of kirsch which I don’t stock). The rest by the book recipe (follwo the above link for it). It turned out remarkably well. Delicious too. Very much so, indeed.

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Cycling in Nockberge, Austria or What a Difference a Week Makes

It’s been a bit more than a week since our trip to Istria but we’ve managed to change the scenery completely the last weekend. We ended up in the warm embrace of the Austrian Alps.

It was unseasonably hot throughout the last week (thanks God, we needed it) and even in the Alps it was fantasticly warm.

We went on a cycling trip, this year’s first, and it was wonderful. Although, were I asked the next day, I’d have some other words rolling off of my tongue as I could feel very well the difficulties and aches of sitting down.

A view over the mountains and pasture in Nockberge region in Austria

The Nockberge region is obviously meant to be known for sweeping curvy roads and painfully steep ascents. It is also a home to delicious meat, especially beef, and the Zirbe trees. The essential oils of their wood exude characteristic smell that is famed for its (scientifically proven, no less) health benefits, above all improving one’s sleep. Last but not least, there’s also the intoxicating brandy made with Zirbe cones to be tried.

The houses that we passed are proverbially well taken care of. The Austrians, like their neighbours the Germans and the Swiss, take caring for their property very seriously indeed. The lawns are all manicured (I can happily report the modernisation has found its way to the remotest of valleys: we saw two lawns being mowed by a robot!) and blossoming plants of all colours and shapes are boxed onto balconies, decorating the terraces and the garden borders.

There was no one in sight, although the day was very fine. It seemed as if everybody had lunch indoors at the same time but once we reached Ebene Reichenau it was as clear as day: there was a Dorffest going on.

A village fest in Nockberge, Austria

The countryside is typically Alpine, of course. Lots of greenery and dense woodland. Lots of water too: many streams heading downhill in a bouncing rhythm over the rocks provided a noisy companion during our laborious progress upwards.

Refreshing sight of a sream rushing down Nockberge, Austria

We saw the busy bees on the way. Check the neatly piled stacks of wood behind the beehives: the winters are cold and long around here.

Everything is neat and tidy in Austria

We met some cows lazying in the grass …

Cow resting in the meadow in Nockberge, Austria

… and a horse now and then.

We reached our peak in good time.

A romantic view of a church atop Nockberge, Austria

Within 15 minutes, after we returned to the valley and rested over coffee before considering a late lunch, the clouds locked out the blue sky and it started to rain. Really good timing, I said.

Pizza treat in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria

Some Italians run a pizzeria by the main road in Bad Kleinkirchheim. I can’t remember when I ate the whole pizza all by myself. No leftovers this time.

The Weekend of Doing Nothing

I’ve finally warmed up this weekend. Up until Friday I was constantly cold partly because of the weather that stubornly refused to bring the warmth (at least this is a natural fact, something that can’t be controlled, so what the hack, right?) partly because of the office air-conditioning already turned on ignoring the actual outdoor conditions (simply bloody too much). So, a sunny and warm weekend at last delivered the long desired comfort.

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I enjoyed it very much. Contrary to everybody else who’ll be going on and on about what they’d been up to this weekend my reply to the eminent question of What did you do over the weekend? will be simply Nothing.

We drove to the Croatian coast for the weekend, true. Left the town pretty early on Friday, a rare indulgence, true again. We had a lovely late lunch of fresh fish on the way just on the edge of Karst. The nearer we got to the coast the warmer it was getting. The early evening was the colour of antique gold. We had a glass of amaro before we called it a night.

On Saturday we slept late, later than usual at least, and had coffee in bed. We drove to Umag, the nearest town, for breakfast …

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… and shopped at the local market. There are all kinds of vegetables and fruits in season right now, some of them our favourites: fresh cherries, crisp peas, sweetest carrots, young soft cabbage heads, fragrant strawberries, the not-yet-too-bitter radicchio verde, fantastic lettuce and whatnot. After that, we took a short stroll through the old town.

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We stocked up with a stack of magazines and newspapers at the newsagent’s and grabbed a fresh loaf of white bread at the baker’s. The one that we always crave for back home.

Then, we did some work around the house but nothing too exhausting. We enjoyed the sun and the warmth and the calmness of the day. We took a really long walk along the coast and admired the macchia and pine trees and the sweet up-coming smell of the summer.

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Before we turned in we had a glass of local pelinkovac, a remarkable wormwood liquor. One would assume we’re heavy on the alcohol but rest assured the quantities we had were purely medicinal.

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On Sunday, I went for a morning run and when I returned my man had already laid out a sumptuous breakfast. Afterwards, we read. And we read. We lounged in the sun and read. I podded the peas and then read some more. We were delighted by the birdsong and a tender breeze.

We cooked risotto primavera (simplified but nonetheless delicious) for late lunch and watched the tranquility pass us by.

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During our drive back home I watched the moon moving slowly over the sky of dying light. It was huge and deep yellow.

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Come to think of it it was no nothing at all.

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 Simplest Tastes

We knew what lay ahead so we actually planned that meal the day before. We had bought the ingredients and before we went to bed I fixed the marinade and he prepared the meat. We had bought the already boned chicken thighs so only the skins had got to be removed. No hard work. The marinade ingredients were mixed together before everything was put into a glass container with a tight lid and stored in the refrigerator.

So, the following afternoon, after the whole day of fixing, tidying, clearing and cleaning, both indoors and outdoors, he made the fire and manned the grill while I prepared the crisp spring green salad to go with the meat. We were lucky to get our hands on Gernika peppers, so they were grilled alongside the meat.

I’m happy to report that in true David Lebovitz spirit we didn’t fuss about the authenticity of the recipe. Genuinely Korean or not, this dish was fantastic. Tasty, spicy, tender. I omitted the sesame seeds for the simple reason I stock none and added a tablespoon of concentrated tomato paste to the marinade. To me, to us, it was the perfect inaugural adventure in Korean food.

Chicken bulgogi, ladies and gentlemen:

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And the green accompaniments:

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The day was rounded off with an easy and delightful walk by the beach. Everything around us turned pink and seemed to glow in warmth although it was quite chilly.

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Man, the sun setting was a pure joy to watch.

For the recipe please go to Chicken Bulgogi by David Lebovitz. His photos and descriptions are marvelous.

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.

Jump!

I felt a last minute sensation the second I caught a glimpse of the almond tree in its final blossoming stage. At the same time I felt grateful for that occasion. It was rather late in the season, after all.

Blossoming almond tree

But the rewards on our trip to the coast were great nevertheless. There were blossoming peach trees galore and glorious magnolias of different shapes, colours and sizes aplenty. Wisterias have already woken up from their hibernation and proudly displayed their fat buds, which were just about to explode in fragrant bloom.

The day itself was as fresh as a daisy, bright and colourful just as the market day before Palm Sunday. A splash of colour all around.

A colourful market stall before Palm Sunday

The air was dense and heavy with sea salt, a little bit hazy but quite warm: neither coat needed nor the gloves.

Early spring mist over the sunset

The hedgerows and garden trees have already been trimmed, all ready for the Easter time show-off. The land work must have already started too although the fields even now, in the first days of spring, looked abandoned and cast-aside. I guess the soil needs more sun and its warmth to be ready for a serious makeover.

The birds were happy to perform for whoever wanted to listen, a brisk vivace at one moment and a joyful allegro at the next. It was a good day, breaking out of the ordinary for a while. Can’t wait for spring to jump out of the closet!

The tree top in early spring full of chirping birds