Signs of Spring

By | Spring | No Comments
Since I’ve been complaining about winter, I want to tell you that spring is coming, well at least in my hallway. You can see my fig tree has leaves and several figs, it is responding to the longer days.
I work hard to keep my small 1.5 metre high fig tree happy. It is in a big heavy pot, which we drag inside and down the stairs every autumn so it can stay cold and relatively dark on the staircase landing. It is an ugly plant without leaves and it is awkward to get around, but with no basement we don’t have a choice. This weekend it began to show signs of life so now we hauled  it back up the stairs and put it outside during the days so that its leaves develop and strengthen. This week it looks like the temperature will just about make the double digits, but the evenings will still be cool, perhaps even below 0C. So we may be dragging it back into the kitchen at night. This is just the first of many trials, late in the summer it will be the battle with squirrels.
Why do I bother? My tree rewards all this work by producing a large number of figs for its size. Last year there were about 30. I was discussing my fig tree with my mum and she asked me what kind of flowers it had. It doesn’t have flowers, I replied, well how does it have fruit she asked. A good question, and one I’d never considered. Just how figs reproduce is fascinating, here is an explanation.  Luckily in North American most fig trees are self-pollinating so I don’t have to rely on wasps. The embryonic figs that are beginning to swell on my tree were formed at the end of last summer.
I do like this marking of the seasons. Growing up in Australia it was summer, then not summer,  while spring and autumn didn’t amount to much. I first arrived in Canada in late September, the weather was glorious, warm sunny days, cool nights and spectacular colours on the trees. I left in December and didn’t return until late April, needless to say my first winter was a shock. As much as I hate winter it does make you appreciate spring. My small yard is slowly springing to life too,  the chives are turning green, the gooseberry is beginning to bud and I am eagerly awaiting the first signs of the sorrel. My only quibble – I just wish spring arrived in February.

Paris in the spring

By | Paris, Spring | 4 Comments

The spring has started wet and cool here. Although the weather isn’t spring-like, the produce in the markets screams spring. The main reason we come to Paris at this time of the year is to eat white asparagus. These beauties were displayed with a bulb of new garlic.

White asparagus must be peeled and trimmed before cooking, and if they are thin there is nothing left, so we always buy big, fat ones. My husband has become an expert at peeling them, leaving no coarse strings behind. White asparagus must also be cooked until tender, not crunchy, and this takes time, depending on their thickness and age it can take 20 minutes or more. Simmer them in salted water with a pinch of sugar.  Test the asparagus at the thick end, I often insert a cake tester from the cut end, the whole length of the spear, if there is no resistance, I know they are ready. Drain them on a towel before serving.  For our first meal we devoured them with hollandaise and slice country ham.

Next on the menu will be white asparagus with a maltaise sauce, using the blood oranges, which are still in the market.  The other sign of spring is the bunches of peonies, one of my favourite flowers, everywhere. Here is a before and after photo of them.

The tight buds open up to reveal lighter coloured flowers that become paler as they age. I am not sure why, but peonies always make me joyful. So even as the rain falls, and the temperature barely edges into double digits I’m smiling.

Pork, Pork and more Pork

By | Berkshire Pork, Blackberry Farm, Kidneys, Lamb, Sauerkraut, Spring, Suckling pig | No Comments

As I like to complain about the weather I must tell you all how wonderful the weather has been for the last week – warm and sunny. It was warm enough to have our family Easter lunch on the deck, now that’s a first for Toronto.  It was wonderful to sit outside and the suckling pig was delicious.

I didn’t bother with an appetizer. Instead I sliced up some of the wonderful dried sausages that the folks at Blackberry Farm sent me. What I like about their sausages, apart from the great flavour and all the fat they have is their texture – its dry and chewy. By dry I don’t want you to think the sausage tastes dry, it doesn’t, it’s the texture on the tongue, perhaps aged is a better word. It’s hard to find sausages like it outside of France, on this side of the pond dried sausages always taste too fresh.

Pork sausage, suckling pig, Berkshire pork chops and sauerkraut, there has been a lot of pig in my life over the last week. I love pork but I am taking a break. Spring is the season for lamb and I have a whole lamb neck and kidneys in my refrigerator and I’m hoping to get some lamb tripe. If this weather continues I’ll grill those kidneys outside.

Watch for the title of my next post to be lamb, lamb and more lamb.

Summer time and summer dreams

By | Figs, snow, Spring, Squirrels, Summer time | 2 Comments

Yes I know it’s not officially spring yet, but we have switched to summer time and the weather here is glorious. It’s warm, 15 C and everyone has emerged onto the streets. Neighbours are cleaning up their gardens and we’ve even hauled our plants outside to give them some fresh air. The fig tree has woken up to the longer hours of sunlight and is sprouting leaves. It is still cool at night but if it stays above freezing we’ll leave it, the bay trees, the olive and the lemon out on the deck. The forecast for the rest of the week is good, so all of us who are stuck in Toronto are not complaining. We’re happy we didn’t spend the money to fly to south for spring break.

The fig tree is happy too. There are already a couple of figs swelling, so if I can fight off that pesky squirrel I might be in for a good harvest this year.

Alas there is a blip on the horizon – snow flurries are predicted for next week.

Trying to Believe in Spring

By | Pavlova, Recipes, Rhubarb, Spring, Taxes | One Comment

Saturday was beautiful, warm, well 12C, and sunny. I spent a lot of the day outside, repotting plants and cleaning up the garden. I moved all my plants out onto the deck yet one more time. There was even pale pink hothouse rhubarb in the market – spring was here.
I made two desserts, a pavlova with poached rhubarb and a recipe that Mary, a writer from Ireland, sent me – an upside down cake made with a scone dough, both were simple and delicious.

Today winter is back, no sun and a bitter wind. Worse still it is going below zero tonight so I’ll be hauling all those plants back inside. I know it is only March but this winter has been so long I really want spring to arrive.
I am slowly catching up after 5 days in New York, more about that trip soon. First I have to finish my taxes – now that is a harbinger of spring.