Books · food · Linky

Love Your Cookbooks: Nigella Lawson’s Tarragon Chicken

This post was inspired by the lovely Elizabeth over at Life on Hushabye Farm whose blog I adore.  She has been running a cookbook linky (a linky to the uninitiated is where bloggers write posts on a theme and link them up), called Love Your Cookbooks.  Like Elizabeth I am a demon for buying cookbooks, well books in general really, but I’m not always great at then actually cooking anything from them.  So the idea was that anyone who wanted to take part would choose a recipe from one of their cookbooks, cook it and report back.  So here goes.

Nigella's book on my kitchen table
Nigella’s book on my kitchen table

I chose Tarragon Chicken from Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen.  I love Nigella’s books and have been known to sit and read them like others would a novel.  But I can’t watch her on TV she drives me mad.  I’ve cooked quite a lot from Feast which is probably my favourite of hers, and also from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, but until yesterday hadn’t tried anything from Kitchen.  We eat chicken more than any other meat in this house, and this recipe seemed quick and easy.   And after a long few days with our little girl unwell, that was my primary consideration!

Tarragon chicken recipe

This was just for the two of us, although herself is on the mend her appetite is not back yet.  It was so easy!  There is very little prep, just chopping some scallions and tarragon (both from our garden says the smug gardener), cooking the chicken, making the sauce, which to be honest really made itself, I just poured stuff into the pan and let it bubble away.  I served it with basmati rice, mangetout and green beans.  The mangetout were quite stringy so I’ve thrown the rest of them in the compost but everything else was lovely.  The main difference between my attempt and Nigella’s is that she uses vermouth but I used wine.  Oh and I neglected to sear the chicken breasts so they looked a bit bland but trust me they tasted great!  The finished tarragon chicken

The sauce is made from scallions, tarragon, white wine, salt and double cream.  I thought it might be a little heavy but it wasn’t, just very flavoursome.  The aniseed type flavour of the tarragon matched so well with the wine.  This was a definite hit here and I will make it again.  But I will also continue to try out new recipes from the cookbook shelves!  Thanks Elizabeth for a great idea and bon appetit everyone!

 

A Year of Living Seasonally · Living the Good Life · Parenting

What is seasonal food?

As some of you may have read here before, I have been undertaking a project which I’m calling A Year of Living Seasonally. It occurs to me typing this that I haven’t written much on it in the last couple of months – is that possibly something to do with the quietness and hibernation-type elements of winter? Maybe. Living seasonally – for me anyway – means being more aware of the seasons , more aware of the changes that each new season brings and one element of that which interests me is food. I love to cook and to try out new recipes, I love to eat, and I will happily read a good cookbook in the same way that I would read a novel. Or any half decent book come to that.

But back to food. Food, glorious food! I do most of the cooking and food shopping in our house and try to ensure we eat a range of different foods. We also grow vegetables and fruit and this year I am determined to plan our eating more around what we can grow for ourselves. We don’t have any animals (yet!). I am fairly choosy about the food I buy on the whole – 90% of the meat we eat comes from our local butcher’s shop who not only sell meat, they also have their own abattoir and as they are also farmers, produce some of the meat themselves. I buy very little heavily processed food, yes on occasion we do have takeaways, and yes on the odd occasion we eat with our daughter in fast food outlets (I cannot bring myself to term them restaurants), but overall we try at the very least to be aware of what we are eating. I am hoping to get hold of Joanna Blythman’s new book Swallow This, soon which may well be an eye opener for me.

So tying all of this into my Year of Living Seasonally project, I began to wonder what is seasonal food anyway? I would understand it to be food that is naturally ready for eating at any specific time. In terms of fruit and vegetables, it is those which have finished growing and are ready for harvesting. With regard to meat it is that which has grown to the stage at which those people who eat meat consider it ready to eat. Pulses, nuts, legumes, same as fruit and veg I would have thought. I have a feeling this year of living seasonally might change my understanding of what is seasonal food and might see me trying out some new foods.

I’ve been doing a bit of a declutter of late and I realised I have stacks of cookery magazines, many of which I’ve never even read. So this morning I decided to start looking at them. I started with Country Kitchen, a British based magazine. I freely admit I was seduced by the title and the tagline which reads “Cooking with traditional, seasonal and fresh food.” It’s interesting to realise that I’ve been thinking along these lines for years but have never done anything much about it. Country Kitchen magazine (I’m not sure if it is still in publication) listed the foods that were in season (presumably in Britain) every month. As I live in Ireland, the seasons are much the same as those in Britain so I’m going to take these as a starting point. I compiled this into a list of my own. (I love lists) Some of it was quite fascinating. To take this month – March – as an example, they say the meat currently in season is rabbit, spring lamb and venison. You won’t get rabbit or venison in any shop in my town (a small town I grant you) and round here unless you shoot or know someone who does, you’ll be hard pushed to get them. On to fish. Wild salmon, oysters, mussels, sea trout, razor clams, scallops and elvers. How easy are these to get hold of for most people? With the exception of the sea trout they are not easy for me that’s for sure. Fruit? They say apples, pears, forced rhubarb are all seasonal. Yes, I’d agree on the rhubarb, although I’d question if forced rhubarb is really adhering to having in its natural season. We have rhubarb in the garden and this year’s new leaves are just beginning to emerge. We don’t force it, never have. Apples and pears? Well if they are stored well from last year then I suppose they could be called seasonal. And what vegetables are supposed to be seasonal this month according to the magazine? Beetroot, purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, chicory, endive, garlic, kale, leek, lettuce, nettle, onion, scallion (spring onion), parsnip, potato, radish, seakale, sorrel, spinach,squash, turnip. Hmmm. I might not be thinking about seasonality the right way. We have grown many of these in our garden and none would be harvested around now. Garlic and onions yes we have had our own supply of those harvested the previous autumn and still using in spring (not this year though, last year’s onions and garlic didn’t do so well)

So is something considered seasonal if is still available from storage? That I am not sure about. I just discovered a lovely website Eat the Seasons which looks at all of this in more detail, and gives recipes too. While I am clearly still learning about what exactly constitutes seasonal food, I can make sure that I buy food produced and grown as locally as possible. I will not be buying strawberries in March, or asparagus in April, not unless the Irish seasons change dramatically!

A Year of Living Seasonally · food · Ritual food

Imbolc – the coming of spring

Today is 1st February, and traditionally in Ireland this was considered to be the first day of Spring. It falls midway between the winter solstice (21st Dec) and the spring equinox (21st Mar). It marks the turning of the season and is the feast day of Brigid, whether you see her as a goddess, an aspect of the Mother Goddess or the Christian saint. There is a lot I could – and will – write about Imbolc and what it means to me, but that’s for another post.

Imbolc and the arrival of spring signal renewal, rejuvenation, a fresh start. I love watching for the first spring flowers. The spring bulbs are peeping through all over the garden, such vibrant shades of green spring bulbs at imbolc

I haven’t heard of any ritual foods or dishes associated with Imbolc, but Brigid in her Christian form is the patroness of sheep, and an alternative name for the day, Óimelc, is thought to denote the time of ewes coming into milk. The new lambs are always a welcome and lively sight in spring too. This feels like a cleansing time of year – hence the spring clean? – and when thinking about Imbolc this morning I decided to make some lemon curd. Lemon is one of my favourite flavours and scents and the clean tang of lemon appealed to me in keeping with freshness. So after a couple of hours in the kitchen I came up with some lemon and some orange curd. You can see the lemon here. The orange didn’t set quite so well but still tasted great! I made an orange sponge cake filled with it. lemon curd

For dinner I settled on a Darina Allen recipe, Winter Beef Stew – well having a winter meal and a spring inspired dessert seemed as good a way as any other to mark this turning of the season. There is still some snow on the ground, and the gritter went by earlier, but it is spring. Its time to move out of the reflective, restorative period of winter and move into the renewal, rebirth of spring.

A Year of Living Seasonally

Finally the season changed!

As part of my Year of Living Seasonally, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to changes in the weather and the impact of that on our garden and surroundings. Well November so far has been quite mild and very wet at times and there hasn’t been a whole lot to observe. I am sure you would all get bored with me writing about getting wet in the rain again! But this morning – finally – there was a real sense that winter is here. We woke to the first real frost of the winter and I had a very strong sense of change in the air. The air was beautifully clean and crisp, not so cold as to take my breath away but sharp enough to feel invigorating. The sky was a perfect canvas of blue and the grass crunched as I walked over it. Finally winter is here! I’ve always liked clean cold winter days and today was just a perfect example.IMG_1426 [640x480]IMG_1429IMG_1427 [640x480]

A Year of Living Seasonally

A few things I wasn’t expecting to see today

leaves changing colours in autumnAs part of my Year of Living Seasonally project, I am going to try and spend more time outside observing the seasons and their impact on my surroundings. All too often I spend time outside rushing from one place to the next, or working at something but not really BEING outside. So around noon today I spent about 45 minutes in my garden, just looking, listening. Much of what I saw I expected to see, falling leaves with such a glorious spectrum of colours from green to gold to copper to every shade of brown and finally to black before they decay completely. The last few vivid yellow berries on the rowan tree in the middle of the lower garden, a contrast to the vibrant blue sky. The starkness of branches no longer clothed in leaves but standing naked in the November garden.
Autumn leaves falling Yellow rowan tree berries against blue sky

However I also saw a few things I wasn’t expecting to see: a buttercup in flower, a dandelion holding on to its last few seeds, rose buds on my daughter’s rose bush. Today is November 3rd, Samhain has passed, according to the Celtic calendar we are now in the season of winter. But how much can we take the changing of the seasons for what they used to be? Last week (the last week of October) was incredibly mild, both here in Ireland and in parts of England. I saw a news report from the Tower of London with people in tshirts and shorts. It was 24 degrees!!! It wasn’t that warm here, but average temperatures here last week were around 16 or 17 degrees. Yes, while people were commenting on this, no one seemed terribly surprised. Our climate is most certainly changing. What will living seasonally mean in thirty years time?

A Year of Living Seasonally

A year of living seasonally

I’m not sure exactly when or why the idea of living seasonally took hold with me but I’ve been thinking about it for the last few weeks. It occurs to me that for all that I live in a rural part of the world, and grow vegetables and fruit and mark certain calendar occasions, I am a bit distanced from actually LIVING seasonally. So what do I mean by living seasonally? If you Google the term ‘living seasonally’ a lot of sites come up, many of them to do with food – cooking seasonal produce and not using food that has been shipped halfway around the world just so we can have strawberries and asparagus all year round. Other sites focus on the natural cycles of night and day, of the moon and of the seasons and how they can impact on our health and wellbeing. I found Mountain Spring Herbals very interesting on this front. There are a number of sites which look at the idea of living seasonally from a homesteading/simpler life perspective. One I like is Little House in the Suburbs, escaping from the Rat Race has long appealed to me and its no surprise that The Good Life has long been one of my favourite TV programmes.

But back to living seasonally. How many times do you find yourself saying “I don’t know where this year has gone” or “How can it be [insert relevant month here] already?” My beloved and much-missed Granny always said that time – and by this she meant the years – passed more quickly as you got older. At 43 I now understand what she meant. I am frequently running to catch up with myself, always jumping from one project to the next, never taking time to really stop. Anyone reading this who knows me well is well aware of this! But I’m getting tired of that and I need to change things a bit. So for the next year I’m going to live seasonally as much as I can. You could call it living in the moment either I suppose. As someone who is fascinated by history, by myth and legend my head spends a fair amount of time in the past. On the other hand my involvement in my community and interest in politics keeps my head looking to the future a lot. None of which leaves a whole lot of time for the here and now.

My version of living seasonally – and this is just what suits me, its not a prescription for anyone else to follow – is to spend more time aware of the seasons, of the changes. Over the next year I will try to spend some time outside every day. I will explore ways of marking certain calendar dates and rituals that appeal to me, without strictly adhering to any one belief system. I will try and eat more seasonally (and hopefully better). Cooking is no hardship for me, I love trying out new recipes and new ingredients. I will observe the physical changes each season brings to my little piece of the planet. And I will come on here and share it all with you!

I’ve titled this post a Year of Living Seasonally which implies this will finish in a year – 365 days, 12 months, 4 seasons whatever way you like to mark the passage of time. That is my plan. I’m starting this project in 2 days time – this is just a little taster – when here in Ireland and in other countries too – it will be Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve. But it is also the festival – or cross quarter day – of Samhain, which for many marks the start of the Celtic New Year. Many of the Pagan or Wiccan persuasions also mark this festival as the start of the year.

Now I could here get into a whole big long discussion about how we mark the passing of time and how dates and calendars are somewhat artificial but I won’t (I might come back to that in the future though). Suffice it to say that I like this time of year – the start of the darker half of the year, the approach of winter, the end of the harvest season and I like to mark it as the start of a new year. (I mark the more usual New Year in January too). Its a time to reflect, to rest, to ponder the quietness and the darkness that winter ushers in. That’s what I need to do right now. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it.

the wheel of the year the cycle of the year
A Celtic Calendar

Books · Living the Good Life

The good life – and books good and well, less good

Ever read a book you were immensely looking forward to and ended up disappointed?  It happened to me recently.  I’ve been interested in self-sufficiency, the good life, living outside of the system, whatever you want to call it, for years now. While I’m not in a position to adopt that kind of lifestyle at present (and maybe never will be) it doesn’t stop me daydreaming and thinking about it.  In the last couple of years I’ve been reading accounts by and about people who have done this – or similar things.  And some of them have been fascinating – Carol Drinkwater’s series of books about her olive farm in the south of France enthralled me and I’d recommend them to anyone.  Some I stumbled across and didn’t expect to enjoy; Rosie Boycott’s Spotted Pigs and Green Tomatoes was one such. Review of it here (originally published as Our Farm).  As well as a highly enjoyable account of how she and her husband set up a smallholding near Ilminster in Somerset, it is a passionate call for people to realise the impact of supermarkets on small towns and communities and for us to think more about where our food actually comes from.  Rosie Boycott isn’t the first to write about such issues of course, but her book is so well written that it is easy to engage with the arguments she makes and you get completely swept up in Ilminster’s battle that the book becomes something of a pageturner.  So that was one book I loved although I wasn’t expecting to.

In much of my reading about self-sufficiency I came across many references to Scott and Helen Nearing, considered by many (and rightly so IMHO) to be the pioneers of the concept of ‘The Good Life’ The Good Life Center.  Intrigued by the story of this couple who built their own houses by hand, who gardened, who lived out of the system to a large extent, I ordered their books and looked forward greatly to reading them.  Now, my life being what it is, I waited for a time when I could read the books properly, not having to rush through them and read them bit by bit when other commitments permitted.  So I finally got round to them over the last couple of weeks.

Imagine then my disappointment when I read them and didn’t enjoy them.  Don’t get me wrong, they are quite interesting and full (sometimes too full) of useful detail and information for anyone who wants to live that life.  But oh my word the books are so dry and so puritanical.  You never get a sense of how they FELT to be living this way, what they thought, whether they had any struggles.  The life they describe comes across (to me anyway) as humourless and austere.  The word ‘dour’ (especially when said in a Scottish accent) sums it up perfectly.  Don’t misunderstand me, I admire what the Nearings did and I can see how and why they have inspired so many to try something similar.  But oh did life have to be so devoid of fun????

I read ‘Living the Good Life’, ‘Continuing the Good Life’ and ‘Loving and Leaving the Good Life’.  And they’ve all gone to the charity shop…… I hope someone else enjoys them. I really wanted to and I didn’t.  Ah well.

food

Experiments and discoveries

I love food.  I love eating it, reading about it, shopping for it…. you get the general idea 🙂  I like to think of myself as a foodie although I would be the first to admit I am not hugely knowledgeable about the subject.  I read cookbooks for the sheer pleasure of imagining myself in a beautiful big kitchen with all the utensils and equipment I could want and lots of space to prepare the food described in them.  And a big pantry where I could store all the preserves, pickles, jams, chutneys, dried beans etc etc etc from my own garden …… well that’s the fantasy anyway.

Well a couple of years ago I joined a Food Club on one of my favourite websites (www.magicmum.com).  The idea was that different posters would post a recipe each week and the rest of the club would try it out, and report back (with pictures of the result if they wanted to).  I liked the idea of trying new dishes so I signed up.  The food club is now in its 3rd year and I can truthfully say I have cooked  – and eaten – dishes I would never have tried if I had seen them in a cookbook.  Not all of them have been a huge success, some we just didn’t like, others tasted good but my presentation left a lot to be desired.  Favourites that stand out for us and that I have made over and again: crab cakes, Jambalaya (heavenly!!), sausage and rasher pasta (sounds odd but is divine), beetroot and feta salad (and that was only a starter), pork loin in fig sauce….. getting hungry now??

It has enabled – or cajoled! – me to attempt things I always thought were beyond my capabilities – gnocchi stands out here, also cannelloni, guacamole (I thought I hated avocado), and it has introduced me to food from various parts of the world that I hadn’t considered previously.  I fell seriouly behind for a few months so I’m playing catch up.  Among the recipes I have still to make are Ecuadorian Pork Leg, Caribbean Platter, and a 4th of July feast 🙂

So a huge thanks to everyone who has taken part in the MMFC – my palate is vastly enriched because of you.

Uncategorized

A new spring…… maybe?

Our garden is beginning to show the first tentative signs of spring.  The snowdrops are shyly peeping out from underneath their green hoods, the resilient daffodils are pushing their way through the cold sodden earth,  the seasons are on the change again with Spring starting to wake up and assert itself over the land.

The garden is still very much a wilderness in a lot of ways but I am hoping  – like Spring – to assert my authority over this patch of the planet I call home.  (But I’m aiming for a benevolent dictatorship :))Daffodil bulbs rejuvenating in our front garden

Spring bulbs have always inspired me, given me hope and stopped me in my tracks to admire and just be.  Not something I do often enough.

But this spring – and its still officially winter in Ireland anyway but more of that another time 😉  – I feel more invigorated by the emergence of the spring bulbs than ever.  Maybe its to do with turning 40 in April (yes, I’m a spring baby :)or maybe its to do with the long overdue announcement yesterday by what passes for our government that we are to have the general election on March 11.  AT LAST! It feels as if maybe, just maybe, Ireland will begin to emerge from the years of Fianna Fáil misrule, from the years of parish-pump politics and gombeenism, and finally, finally become a happier, healthier, better place to be.  Like the spring bulbs, we are surrounded by dead wood, by overgrowth and by decay.  But we are still alive and we are emerging again.