When my gorgeous sister-in-law Hayli and her delightful husband Tristan got married in France a couple of summers ago, Matt and I spent a week at a gîte (french farmhouse) with his family and a mad gaggle of their international friends. It was a delightful mixture of cultures, languages and food with English, French, Belgian, Irish (and one slightly befuddled American).
Each night of the week, different groups of people would cook for the whole gîte (seriously, I think there were about 40 people in all). On our night, Matt and I along with a few co-cooks made baked pastas. I think one was a creamy wild-mushroom rigatoni and the other was a cheesy tomato penne type of thing. Not fancy but cooking for 40 people in a strange kitchen is HARD. I think between shopping, prepping and baking it took about 15 hours (okay, I may be exaggerating a teeny bit but it was seriously exhausting).
In the process of clearing out my Nan’s house this year, we dug out these vintage kitchen items. On the left, a pair of butter paddles. On the right, stamps/presses for stamping either shortbread or butter. There’s a shamrock, a thistle and a dragon, so I wonder if there was once a fourth “rose” stamp to complete the British theme.
It’s been … er, a while (a SEASON) since I posted about our garden. We’ve had mixed success: the raised bed went in in early April, along with a good deal of mixed potting soil, top soil and compost in a ratio governed only by general internet advice. The vegetables from White Flower Farm started arriving soon afterwards, and in early April I planted garlic and shallots. I dug a separate patch for potatoes, and planted carrot seeds alongside them. Finally, in May, leeks, squash and cucumber all arrived. Other than the carrots (seeds from a packet), all the produce was sourced from White Flower Farm and planted in whole vegetable form. In other words, the farm essentially sent us a bag of potatoes, a bag of garlic bulbs, some baby leeks, and so on. Before we left on our spring trip to the UK, the garlic and shallots were looking great, and the potato shoots were just starting to appear.
Quick, what’s a SCOBY?
If you answered, “Matt, surely it’s an international criminal ring dedicated to evil and fought against by MI5 and James Bond”, well done, you’re almost correct. Go and do a Google Image search for “SCOBY”, and then, if you’re not convinced that the evil criminal masterminds have already won, read on.
I’m writing this while sitting at our dining-room table. At one end are two jars, filled with a light brown liquid, with slices of mold at the top and bottom: that’s kombucha. At the other, another jar filled with string beans, dill and garlic – “dilly beans”. All the jars are covered with pieces of old dishcloth tied with string. I can smell them both quite distinctly. The beans have an earthy, herby smell, faintly sweet. The kombucha is more yeasty, like fresh, live dough or home-made wine.
Last month we stepped into the world of cheese making for the second time.
The first time was a few years ago, back in Brooklyn. The aim was “fromage blanc” which is a very lightly developed, soft cheese, like ricotta. All cheese needs some kind of culture to start the process of acidification, and you can certainly buy them from specialist sellers, but for this recipe we used buttermilk. (We ordered rennet from Ricky Carroll’s rather goofy but comprehensive New England Cheesemaking site.) We had so much difficulty (in Brooklyn!) finding good butttermilk that we ended up, for the first batch, using the dried variety, which is supposed to still contain live cultures. So essentially you warm the milk, add the culture and rennet, wait for the curds to develop, and drain them in cloth (we hung it from the showerhead, like the gonzo rapscallions we are). Anyway, this first batch didn’t so much curd, as curdle. The instructions mentioned a consistency like greek yogurt, and that didn’t happen. It looked more like cottage cheese. Still, we dutifully hung it up and drained it for a day, and carefully tasted it, and decided that we were probably going to do ourselves some harm if we ate it in any quantity, so we tried again. The next batch used fresh buttermilk, and was the correct consistency on curding, and we flavored it with salt, pepper and olive oil and declared that it was good.