recipes

Primrose Flower Scones with Redbud Butter

 

It’s finally warm enough to enjoy tea in the garden, and what better to accompany a cuppa than a warm scone topped with a pool of melting homemade sweet butter? Tinged with pink, of course, the hue of love, tenderness and nurturing.

The flower stars align for a week in spring, when the redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are in full flower and the primroses (family Primulaceae) spring from fluorescent green leaves. Our bog is ideal for Candelabra primroses, which grow about three feet high with five to seven whorls per stem. A gift of pink primroses to someone means you cannot live without them, so here’s a treat for my husband, son, and a crumb for Hunter.

Homemade butter is easy enough with one ingredient: the freshest organic cream you can source.

Cream can be whipped in a mixer, as I did above, or run through a food processor, or even shaken in a closed jar. As the cream becomes butter, luscious buttermilk remains at the bottom of the bowl, an essential  fateful ingredient for our scones, as though these two recipes were made for each other. It is important to rinse the butter with cold water after the buttermilk is set aside, to guarantee freshness for several days. I added about 2 tablespoons of buds to the butter from one litre of cream.

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Redbud flowers taste like very young sweet peas, with a gentle crunch. Simply fold the flowers into the freshly made butter with a spatula, and form the butter into a log in plastic wrap before refrigerating.

Gently wash the primrose flowers and let them dry prior to making the scones. So stunningly beautiful, I was sad to coarsely chop them before adding them to the flour mixture. (Any favorite scone recipe will do, as long as it calls for buttermilk.)

It’s best not to over-handle the dough, even when it’s this pretty!

Bake, and then back into the fragrant garden with some tea…enjoy!

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Perhaps followed with a walk to show gratitude to spring.

Alex's garden

 

gingko nut harvest

 

There are two ways to know you’ve met a gingko tree: you’ve experienced the most elegant leaves in the plant world (no wonder they are used as bookmarks in Japan) or you’ve experienced an incredibly vile odour because you stepped on the fruit. It’s a tree of opposites. And a tree with history. Gingkos are often called living fossils because they’ve been around for millions years and they are not related to any other plant species—they are their own species.

Gingkos have been cultivated in China for about a thousand years and the nuts are considered to have medicinal properties. In the west, leaf extracts are used to make the Gingko biloba that we purchase in health food stores, most often to help memory.

They are planted in cities along streets and in parks simply because they are resilient as well as gorgeous. Cities will often plant male trees because only female trees drop the smelly fruit. But where the fruit is, the pickers are, throughout November and December, hoping to get a fix of memory, history and beauty.

There are two female gingko trees in front of our house that create a yellow rain of leaves this time of year. I treasure them, and although it’s a little bit of work, it’s exciting to collect the fruit. If you are so inclined, it’s best to prepare in advance by gathering your materials:

  • Pail
  • garbage bag
  • lots of disposable gloves
  • disposable plastic take-out food containers
  • colander
  • fry pan with lid

Pick up the fruit, always wearing your gloves. There are properties to the fruit that are similar to poison ivy, so protect yourself throughout out the process. I put the fruit into a pail lined with a garbage bag.

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Let the gingko fruit soak in cold water for a few hours and the pulpy flesh will slide off easily. Discard the few on which it doesn’t. I use disposable take-out containers and put them in the recycling bin when I’m done.

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Still wearing gloves, scrub the nuts in a colander by rubbing them in your hands. They look very similar to pistachio nuts.

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Some people prefer to bake them in the oven on lined cookie sheets. I dry roast them in a pot with a lid (because some of them will pop as they heat up) for about 10 minutes.

Once they are toasted, they are easy to crack. Tap gently with a hammer on a cutting board covered with parchment or waxed paper. There is a thin skin under the shell that should come off easily. It’s important to remove this skin because it may cause allergies in some people. A few may be hard to clean; just discard them.

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What to do with them? They are best enjoyed as a rare and special salty appetizer, especially when found in Central Park:

Read this New York Times Article about how the restaurant Masa serves them.

Prepared this way, they are delicious. They taste like a cross between edamame and chestnut, with a little something strange and undefinable thrown in.

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I’ve read you’re not supposed to eat more than 10 per day because there may be a mild toxicity to the meat of the nuts. A small portion of people may have an allergic reaction. If this is your case, enjoy the beauty from afar or press some leaves—but tread carefully!

sumac lemonade

 

The stag horn sumac is stunning this time of year and I use the branches in floral urns and to make a recyclable Christmas tree (I’ll post how in December).

Until then, I wanted to share a quick recipe for sumac lemonade. We’re only talking about edible sumac here (Rhus glabra or Rhus typhina), the one with fuzzy red upright cones of berries. It’s called lemonade because of its tart citrus-meets-cranberry flavour and the Vitamin C content is high, too.

Avoid poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix); you’ll recognize it because the clusters of hard white berries grow downwards. The good news is that birds and squirrels can eat them without problems.

Pick the cones on a dry sunny day. Much of the flavour comes from a sticky substance on the berries that is washed away in the rain. Purists say not to wash the berries for the same reason—I prefer to shake them out well and give them a rinse under cold water, but it’s up to you.

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I usually place the berries in a clear pitcher so I can enjoy their beauty. Add one litre of cold water per four cones and let the mixture sit for a few hours. Don’t stir or squeeze the berries because this releases extra tannins and results in a more sour drink. Gently shaking the jar will release the flavour; leaving the jar in the sun may speed up the process.

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Strain the lemonade through a colander to remove the berries, and then through a coffee filter to remove the fine hairs that cover the berries. You can sweeten  with honey or maple syrup, but I prefer the tart refreshing lemonade as is, or over ice. This lemonade is a different colour every time I make it, ranging from light yellow to a deep pinkish amber, but the flavour is always delicious.

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GIFT IDEA: If you want to give a friend a gift of foraged tea, arrange some sumac and evergreen leaves (see earlier post on Evergreen Tisane) in a vase with the recipes. It’s a heart-warming way to bring the outdoors in.

weeds: if you can’t beat them, eat them! (make pesto)

 

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata):

We’ve got a lot of it. Too much of it, really, so this year I’m enjoying it in as many ways as possible.

Garlic Mustard is found in forests and forest edges. Pick the leaves when they are young from the base of the plant. Or pull the entire root out of the soil and pick off the most tender leaves to control regrowth. Savour the garlic fragrance when you rub a leaf between your fingers!

Garlic Mustard is often considered invasive and undesirable in North America because it interferes with soil health, and we apparently lack the plant-eating insects that control it in Europe. However, in the UK, it is a culinary herb.

My friend Robin was in town before the plants went to flower, so we spent the weekend picking and using the leaves everywhere we could.

The heart-shaped leaves look gorgeous with chives in a frittata.

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For dinner, we grilled fresh fish stuffed with lemon, garlic, fennel leaves and garlic mustard.

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For pesto, I use a standard basil pesto recipe and simply substitute the basil with half mustard garlic leaves and half Italian parsley leaves. There are as many pesto recipes as there are chefs, so feel free to adapt your own. Over the years, this one has become my tried-and-true favourite and it freezes well, too.

Toasting the pine nuts makes a huge difference; toast for about two minutes in a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat, stirring often. Caution: they can quickly go from brown to burnt.

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Garlic Mustard (or Basil) Pesto

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry OR (1 cup each of garlic mustard leaves and flat-leafed parsley leaves)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or a combination of Parmesan and Romano)
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • salt and pepper to taste

Put leaves, garlic and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor. Combine at low speed, and with motor running, pour in olive oil in a steady stream.

Pour into a bowl and stir in grated Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Best used immediately. (on pasta, on grilled chicken, whisked into scrambled eggs, on pizza…)

Pesto can be frozen in an air-tight container for up to 3 months, but make sure to drizzle a little olive oil over the top to prevent freezer burn. I freeze it in small 1-serving glass containers for easy access throughout the year, although ice cube containers work equally well.

Books I Love: 

Foraged Flavor, Tama Matsuoka Wong with Eddy Leroux

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easy, scrumptious maple granola

 

I promise this is my last post about (my obsession with) maple syrup. It’s just that the past winter was relentless, and the cold snowy days had me craving for comfort food. If you want to transport yourself to a cozy Bed and Breakfast in Vermont, here’s how—make this Maple Syrup Granola. The fragrance in your kitchen will take you right there. It won’t last long though, because it’s so delicious, it will disappear, just like the melting snow, into the promise of spring.

I use my favourite ingredients, but change the nuts and seeds to suit you. Just a warning, this recipe has a high proportion of nuts because I love it that way. The oats aren’t the star here!

There are several ways to remove skins from hazelnuts. Most often they are lightly toasted so the skins can be rubbed off, but for this granola recipe, because they will be toasted again with the oats, this method isn’t ideal. A better and easy option is to simply boil 4 cups of water, add 4 tablespoons of baking soda (it will fizz), and boil the hazelnuts for about 4 minutes. Drain them in a colander and rinse with cold water, the skins will literally pop off in your fingers.

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The key to the sweetness is of course, real maple syrup and brown or golden sugar.

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For a special treat, grate your own cinnamon. It is a richer, stronger flavour than the pre-ground stuff. I use my beloved microplane. If you don’t have one, it’s well worth buying. Freshly grated cinnamon on anything, from buttered toast to bananas and yoghurt, will make your day just a little more decadent. And healthy. It’s believed to reduce inflammation and be an anti-oxidant.

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Enjoy, eat healthy, and happy spring!

 

Easy, Scrumptious Maple Granola

  • 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 cup blanched hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup raisins or dried fruit (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300˚F (150˚C). Cover two large cookie sheets (with sides) with parchment paper or foil.
Mix together maple syrup, vegetable oil, vanilla extract and salt in small bowl.
Mix the rest of the ingredients (except raisins or dried fruit) together in large bowl and stir in the liquid mixture.
Spread on sheets and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Stir in raisins or dried fruit.
Store in airtight container for up to two weeks.

the best maple syrup dressing ever

 

I was going to wait until we could pick some young dandelion greens to share this dressing recipe, but I’ve received numerous requests. This recipe comes from a dear family friend, let’s call him G. He left us too soon due to cancer. G shared this recipe during a period when healthy eating was paramount, and he was consuming greens by the bucket. The dressing is perfect coming from him—he was the ideal blend of sweet and savoury. His sense of humour, quick wit and intelligence were irresistible. And the touch of Dijon honours his French roots.

The dressing is excellent with any mixed greens or salad, but don’t stop there. The complex layers of flavour highlight fruit and cheese plates, too. It’s beautiful dotted around figs and persimmons on a cheese and fruit dessert plate.

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A must-have, these inexpensive plastic squeeze bottles allow you to apply the dressing creatively. They come in many sizes and are a dollar or two each—well worth it to allow your plate to become a canvas. If you buy the less expensive ones without caps, like the smaller ones below, simply unscrew the lid, cover the bottle with a piece of plastic wrap, and screw the lid back on before you store in the fridge. By the way, if you want your kids to have fun decorating their pancakes, keep some pure maple syrup in a bottle like this, too.

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G’s jokes and stories keep us laughing today—we remember them all. And his kindness of spirit still touches us. He loved being in the country, surrounded by trees, and I’m pretty sure many of the trees near his cottage were maples; I think he’d be happy that this dressing will be part of many family meals and gatherings. So after the spring tapping, save some maple syrup for it. Until then, store bought syrup will do fine.

Hunter loves cheese plate, witnessed by his Shameless Begging. (Miles is nowhere to be seen; he prefers chocolate cake.)

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The Best Maple Syrup Dressing Ever

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk together until emulsified. Refrigerate.

evergreen tisane

 

It’s pretty cold outside and the snow is crusted with ice, so Hunter (the rescued dog) isn’t excited about leaving the best chair in the house. Lucky we don’t have far to go.

Hunter

It’s a perfect day to forage in the garden and pick some spruce needles for a nourishing cup of tisane. Most people call it tea, but unless it has real tea plant leaves, the proper term is tisane, so I’m stickin’ with it. High in Vitamin A and C, who would have guessed? I’ve read that a cup of spruce tea tisane has five times more Vitamin C than the same amount of orange juice, but I like it because it’s like Christmas in a cup.The branches are still covered with ice; it seems the needles  must be fresh. Wear some cotton gloves to pick the needles.

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The needles are a little hard to chop, but as long as you muddle them a bit with the side of the knife and chop lightly, the flavour will come through.

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Instead of a pot, I steep the tisane in a lovely glass teapot a friend gave me for Christmas. The needles start bright green and floating, and then turn slightly brown as they fall to the bottom. Ten minutes is strong enough for me to get the light minty outdoor flavour, and it seems like maple syrup is just the right sweetener.

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Hunter has gone back to sleep, and I’m about to pick up Miles at school. If he doesn’t want his cup of brew, I’m going to throw it my bath. Good for a nice aromatic soak after a work out.

evergreen tea
[Note: Don’t pick toxic greens. The following can be poisonous: Yews ((Taxus), Norfolk Island Pine (Araucana heterophylla) and Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)]

1/2 cup fresh spruce or pine needles
3 cups water
Maple syrup or honey to taste

1. Collect the needles choosing the greenest and freshest.
2. Sort out brown or dry needles, measure half a cup, and rinse well. Chop into smaller pieces.
3. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add needles, remove from heat , and let steep for 10-20 minutes. Needles will sink to bottom of pot.
4. Strain, and add maple syrup or honey to sweeten, if desired.