Drivers in Morocco aren’t quite like drivers here in California. Our driver on the 3 hour drive from Tangier to Chefchaouen drove in the middle of the road the majority of the way, swerving into the right lane at the last minute for oncoming traffic. He stopped at a Mosque to pray for 20 minutes, and pulled over again, half an hour later, to hack up a lung and spit it onto the shoulder. When the road turned steeply up into the mountains, the old diesel engine slowed to little over 15mph, and we chugged higher and higher, while cars whizzed by too close for comfort. And then the driver coughed for a minute, pointed up ahead and said, through a toothless smile, ‘Chaouen’.
(in which I get woo-woo, and eat a lot of potatoes)
As I type this, the afternoon winter sunlight is streaming in through the front windows. Cat is, of course, asleep in a patch of it. I sit with one hand clasped around a mug of chai-spiced and chaga-infused lapsang souchang tea, its spicy warmth diffusing through both hands and stomach to the rest of my cold body. We’ve been back a week, I’ve sorted through photos, processed the seaweeds, the redwood branches and the wood sorrel, finished laundry, put it all away, and only now am I here to tell you this: if you’re ever in California, rent a car and drive to Big Sur and sleep in your car if you have to but go. That’s it: my edict for February.
We jumped in an icy cold river. You would have too, if you’d just been on a 5 hour drive and got to your cabin and realised that the river down below was Icelandic blue and had a sandy bottom. You would have too had you been giddy on the quiet, and the woods and the smells and the sounds. I managed five seconds; Jam slightly longer. It was cold.
Walking on beaches at sunset, scrambling over sharp rocks to get out to the edges, where the sirens dwell, where the magic lies. And sea spray, and cold winds, and orange light and mist amongst the redwoods at dawn. And wandering around, coffee in hand, Victorian nightie and elf cape on, watching the light change, watching the violets and wood sorrel and the falcon swoop from tree to tree (obviously confused by this addition to its habitat so early in the morning).
A blur of a couple of weeks. And at the end of it, some redwood, hand-gathered seaweed, cold toes.
Since getting back, we’ve eaten oven roasted duck fat fries exactly six times. Apart from the fact that they’re the best ‘fries’ we’ve ever had, I have another reason: smothered in my locally wildcrafted herb blend, I feel like its helping me to return my gaze to where I am. Its really easy (especially for me: eternal road-traveller) to fall in love with places– places that have everything you could possibly want: stormy seas? Big old trees? Carpets of violets and wood sorrel? Dramatic landscapes that remind you you’re miniscule? Craggy rocks and mountains and mists?. Harder to return to a smoggy city. Harder to return to every day life of doing laundry and paying bills and navigating the meanest drivers in the world.
When its your job to remind people of the earth under their feet, it doesn’t do to be simultaneously wishing one were elsewhere. For that matter, it doesn’t do any of us any good at all to wish we were anywhere (or anyone) other than where (or who) we are for the perfectly good reason that its just pouring energy into something that doesn’t exist. (Disclaimer: this is my metaphysical woo-woo for the week) I feel like, in a way, the things we ingest become a part of us and we them. If we ingest apples from Chile then we have bits of Chile in us, and if we ingest bits of where we live then we have where we live in us. I think it helps, in our ungrounded, on the go, too busy to stop, gotta have it now world. That being rooted where we are does something intangible to the spirit. I can’t tell you what it is, I can only tell you when I see it in people and how nice it feels to be around them. It was partly for this reason that I started using local herbs to flavour foods in the first place; we’re not devoid of interesting flavours here anyway. My favourite blend is California bay, white sage, black sage, wild rose, sumac, and then a pinch of bee balm which is in the garden (also known as Herbes De Californie, which will likely be ready to go on sale again in about a month). Sometimes I add California sagebrush if what I’m making can handle the bitter. Sometimes I add more of one, less of another, but that’s my general blend. Add that to the most grounding of things- the starchy root, yanked out of the dirty earth not far from where we live, and peeled and chopped within a couple of days, its a recipe for not just grounding, but grounding where you are. Which I think is an important distinction to make, especially when ones gaze is about a five hour drive north.
So it took a while. And a lot of potatoes and plant matter. But I’m back. And while it might not be the wildest, stormiest, sea-spray-est, most beautiful place in the entire world, its home. And that’s what matters the most.
An especially rooting local-herb-flavoured oven-roast-French fry recipe for anybody who needs to re-feel the ground under their feet.
1 large russet potato per person
1 tb herb blend (I encourage you to get outside and find a local blend that tastes good to you but in a pinch you can always use Herbes De Provence which is available at most grocery stores)
2 tb butter per potato
3 tb duck fat per potato (or olive oil)
salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 375.
Get a big pot of water going on the stove, and add a good amount of salt- about 1/4 cup per gallon.
Peel the potatoes, then chop them into thirds lengthwise (I’m assuming this is one of those gigantic russets- so you’re basically making three big flat bits). Then chop each of those big flat bits into 1/2-inch long pieces. If super long, cut them in half again. Once the water is at a rolling boil, pop in all the chopped potatoes and set a timer for 8 minutes. This part is important because there’s a delicate process here: the potatoes must cook to the point of being almost soft, but they must not break apart. So, when the 8 minute mark nears, start watching the water. If there are tiny bits of potato flying about in the boil, strain them immediately, if not then wait for that to happen; it should be around 8. Once strained, put them out on a baking sheet. Lay them out so that they have at least an inch in between all of them- this is for air circulation, so that they roast and don’t steam. Dollop the fats on top, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and your herb blend. Remember they’ll be quite salty from the water already so it doesn’t need a lot. You might need more than one baking tray.
Place in the oven and leave them alone for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, check them; they should be starting to sizzle on the bottom. Flip them all over and put in for another 20. Check them again at this point- they should be golden brown all over. If so, they’re done. If not, keep checking back every 5 minutes until they’re perfect.
Two wonderful things happened in the last month, and they both occurred over the same weekend. The first was the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference. I’m sure if you’re up to date with my ramblings on Facebook you got sick of reading about it. A 3-day weekend gathering of Herbalists from all over the country (and beyond) in the mountains of Arizona. You might be picturing a bunch of long flowy-tie dye dresses and long hugs, but let me tell you folks, herbalists really know how to party. After days of classes, plant walks, interesting conversation, night descends and the bands roll in and the dancing starts. Herbalists, so used to being looked at strangely anyway (really, who else would stop and pet a tree in the middle of a city?), often lack the inhibitory function that prevents people from trying to embarrass themselves in public. In other words, when it comes to dancing, we just do it however we want to. Which turns out to be really fun, especially when people are handing around their home made infused concoctions. We danced late into the night, then woke up early for more classes. Classes on things like the Greek system, on Seizure disorders, on drug-herb interactions, on the chakra-endocrine link, on specific medicines, on aphrodesiacs.
There was a marketplace where those of us vending set up our wares, where I met a bunch of really amazing people doing truly original things: Mountain Rose Herbs (which, if you don’t know about, you really should as their prices and quality are amazing); Learning Herbs (which, if you want to learn about herbalism this is surely the place to go. And also, I *may* have been interviewed for Herb Mentor Radio next month in the first ever interview done over a drink.); Blue Turtle Botanicals (which, if you don’t know Darcey and her fine creations then you are surely missing out); Super Salve Co (I may have spent a small fortune on face creams and masks); Winter Sun Trading Co (Turquoise earrings, juniper beads, magical Arizona herbalist who’s been in practice forEVER). I was hawking my wares- some hand made incense blends, some local flower elixirs and pine pitch salves and various things that are Southwest-ish. I may have sold out of almost everything within 24 hours (A few things back up in my Poppyswap shop HERE). It was wonderful to get to hang out with friends (like Rosalee, and Holly and Stephany and Kiva and Renee), learn as much as one can stuff in a rusty brain as possible, and dance, and dance, and dance…
The second good thing that happened to me was Lisa Rose Starner and her answering of a ‘hawthorn’ cry that went out on the interwebs. She lives in Grand Rapids, MI, and gathered a coupla bags of hawthorn berries for me before she flew out. Friends, when you’re as obsessed with these little faerie plants as I am, and someone you don’t get to hang out with nearly often enough brings you a bag of them, you might get a little teary. I’m not saying its, like, a requirement, but am warning you that it could happen.
And when it does happen (because, come on, we all get overwhelmed with joy about some things), the best thing to do is to sit and stare at them for hours, trying to decide what to do with them. And then upon realising that if you don’t use them they’ll just dry up and become like all the other hawthorn berries you have, you’ll leap into action, becoming a whir of flailing arms and cinnamon dust and droplets of spiced rum.
And when you’re done, and the smoke clears and the limbs settle, you’ll be left with this. Which, when it comes down to it, is as pretty darn perfect as a summer-fall syrup can get. Spicy, from the rum, sweet from the sugar and the hawthorn, tangy from the rosehips and lemon. As for what to do with it: drizzle it over pound cake, or add it to sparkling water with a dollop of cream (what I was drinking all day yesterday), over late-season peaches, or in a heart-healthy cocktail. In a cup of hot tea for a crying friend, or in your mouth directly for a broken heart. And what it does? Oh you guys… there are a million things one could say about hawthorn. Check out those links, and let it suffice for me to say right now that, when I describe it to clients, I describe it as a strong hand at the back of your ribcage, right behind where your heart sits in your chest cavity. Physically, it strengthens the heart and circulation, but emotionally, it provides that strength that one needs to face the world open-eyed, open-hearted and a little more awe-struck than usual.
Hawthorn-rose spiced syrup.
2 cups hawthorn berries
1/2 cup rosehips
4 cups water
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 cups sugar
1 cup spiced rum
juice of one lemon
Put everything but the rum, lemon and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for an hour, then leave to stand for another 2 hours. Remove from the heat, strain out all the plant bits, stir in the sugar and lemon. You might need to heat it again to dissolve it- that’s ok. Taste. It should be sweet, slightly tangy, a bit thick. Stir in the rum. Bottle and label (seriously- label it, otherwise in a month you’ll be like ‘what the hell is this again?’ and it’ll never get used).
PS. For another great write up of the conference, check out Stephany’s blog here.
Today marks the shortest day of the year, where the sun, our source of warmth and light, is furthest from us. Living in a city, in the modern world, with electricity and lights and all kinds of noises blocking out the silence, it’s easy to forget that we still live in bodies that have cycles, on a planet that has cycles. Years ago, before all of that stuff existed, as the nights grew longer, and the cold grew deeper, imagine what a blessing that marker would have been: a turning point! The beginning of winter!! I imagine how, even though the coldest months are still to come, that little bit of light that’s growing in the sky is not just a marker of the passing of time but a beacon urging us forward when the darkness and cold might cause us to despair.
Winter is a time for nourishment. For relaxing and sleeping and taking care of yourself. For walks in the cold with a hot drink in our hands and for the smells of things baking to fill our houses. Winter is time to get back to our roots. Literally. To feel our feet on the earth and follow them underground and maybe even curl up for a nap, right there, wherever we are.
This morning I went for a walk before dawn. The poplar trees across the street are shedding their leaves- every minute one does its little death dance, falling to the concrete. I pressed my face against their bark, and inhaled a deep breath, and felt like I was being pulled into the earth by their roots, and the falling of leaves. It was intensely nourishing, like my body was drinking in the earth, and by the time I was ready to leave, the sun had emerged, casting orange light over the world around me. I wandered back inside and made myself a coffee, then leafed through cook books for a while, trying to decide what to make today.
Which brings me to fir. Kiva had sent me some of her white fir needles, and I had a bunch of Douglas fir branches sitting around being lovely and delicious, and I was desperate to bake something with the two combined. Since today is the most dense day of the year, and marks the first day of winter, I figured something dense and coniferous tasting would be perfect. A sweet stodgy elf bread that one could wrap up and take on a long hike if needed. I’m happy to say that it turned out just as I’d hoped. Dense, not too sweet, with a coniferous flavour that isn’t entirely overpowering, but is most definitely pronounced.
Where can you get your own fir needles? Look around you. Check on the internet to see what grows in your area. If you don’t have white and Douglas fir, try spruce (also delicious!) or pine. Taste the needles: each tree has a different flavour, and this flavour varies throughout the year too. Not only that, but if you gather extra, you can grind them up to make tea, which is one of my favourite things to sip on all winter. It’s really high in vitamin C, as bright and beautiful as (and even better tasting than) green tea, and each citrusy sip connects you to a forest out there. With each sip, you’re drinking in the nourishment that you get from resting your weary bones against a tree for a while, or curling up against a big gnarled root to take a nap. With each sip, and each deep breath, you’re connecting to a cycle that is older than we can possibly fathom. The darkest of days can be lit by the brightness in each cup. And that, to me (and you?), is a comforting thought to take into my wintery slumber.
Adapted from Home Made
4 tb butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups flour
1/4 cup really super finely chopped conifers (I dry them first, then give em a whiz in the blender or coffee grinder)
1 1/2 cups strong black tea
1 1/2 cups dried fruit (I used half sultanas, and half candied citrus peel)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/8 cup finely chopped conifer needles
1/4 cup water
In a saucepan, heat up the black tea. Add the dried fruit, and half of the chopped conifers. Simmer on the stove until most of the tea is absorbed, and the fruit is nice and plump (about 1 hour). Remove from the heat, strain the raisins, and set aside the tea.
Preheat the oven to 350.
In a bowl, beat the butter, then add the sugar, then the egg, plus about 1/4 cup of the remaining cooking liquid. Stir in the raisins, then add the rest of the chopped conifers, the baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Then add the flour. It should be quite a thick batter.
Pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake for 1 1/4 hours, until a knife inserted comes out clean.
While the loaf is cooling, prepare the drizzle. Mix the ingredients together in a saucepan, and heat until the sugar is melted. Remove from heat, and allow to cool for a few minutes, then, using a spoon, drizzle it over the cake.
Can be served slightly warm, in slices, with a pat of butter. Can also be wrapped up and taken on long winter walks, to be eaten under a tree.
(a trip to San Francisco in which I cook for my brother and his roommates)
I drove up to San Francisco last week. I’d never actually been for more than a few hours, passing through, so I was excited to spend some time exploring. And luckily, there’s a Twitter-verse, in which you can do things like say ‘hey folks, where should I go in San Fran” and folks will reply with things like ‘Tartine, you fool!” or “Incanto” or “GO TO THE HEATH CERAMICS SALE” and you will do these things (except Incanto which was closed) and be grateful that you didn’t end up somewhere less than perfect…
It’s the perfect city for wandering. After I got home from yoga in the mornings (I was there to visit one of my favourite people who is teaching here until December), I’d set off on exploration adventures. I went to the Haight, and walked through the park (Golden Gate park is bigger than Central Park!), and explored the Sunset area, and went to little cafes, and had the best chocolate ice cream with smoked sea salt, and wandered around Bi-Rite grocery store wishing that all grocery stores in my area were like this (I mean it’s a canola-free establishment and they have a massive cheese collection. Hellooooo.), and went to Tartine 2 times even though there’s not actually a single thing I can eat on the menu (and the owner’s wife is gluten intolerant!)*.
I also drove over the Golden Gate bridge. Twice. And it’s huge, and orange, and very very exciting. I actually screamed and bounced up and down the entire drive over. The way back was less exciting, I didn’t bounce around as much, though I did squeal a couple of times… and on the other side of that big orange (not gold) bridge was the Heath Ceramics sale and my friend Gina (and her son Bennet who has the biggest bluest eyes I’ve ever seen). We drank hot chocolate and looked at pretty ceramics and I bought the most perfect coffee mugs which I swear make my coffee taste better just by the power of looks alone…
(Check out ma new coffee mug! And the cat and Ganesha, viciously guarding it…)
Later, I went for a walk in the park, and gathered some herbs along the way: redwood leaves, juniper leaves, lavender blossoms, black sage leaves. By the time I got back to Alex’s house, I had taught five hippies (who were trying to sell me pot) how to ID juniper, and had a pocket full of plant matter. I made this roast lamb recipe, using the herbs I’d gathered and a quarter bottle of rose that I found in their fridge (Alex, if you’re wondering where the wine went, you ate it on lamb). All atop some cheesy polenta.
I don’t know why people get freaked out about polenta. I’m a careless cook. I never use double boilers (I hate having extra things to clean), and get so distracted that I forget about things (sometimes the kitchen sink overflows and floods downstairs because I forget I’m filling it with water), and yet I can make polenta. Believe me, if I can do it, then you can too.
And I make a lot. Because having leftover cheesy polenta is a true joy. You can have it for breakfast with poached eggs on top. You can slice it into squares and stick it under the grill and make it go all crispy on the outside and cheesy-polenta-y in the middle. And you can have it by the spoonful out of the fridge, just like a savoury corn and cheese flavoured ice cream. Ok, nobody else really seems into the latter like I am…
By the way, can anybody tell me what the difference is between polenta and grits? I had grits for the first time when I was in Tulsa earlier this year, and it was just like polenta. What’s the difference?
6 cups water
2 cups polenta
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups mixed cheeses (I used parmesan, fontina, asiago)
1 stick butter
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a heavy bottomed pan. Throw in the polenta and stir until all clumps are gone. Turn down to a simmer, and simmer, stirring every 5-10 minutes, for 35 minutes**. If it gets too dry, add more water. For some reason sometimes it seems way thirstier than others… Then after 35 mins, taste for consistency and salt (you might need more). Are there hard grains still? Cook a bit longer. Is it all soft and lovely? Then remove from the heat, stir in the butter, cheese and pepper. You can make it in advance then heat it up later (just add a bit more water). Voila. Easy cheesy.
(Shoes, waiting patiently for feet.)
*Note, if you find yourself meeting someone there and can’t have gluten either, there are 3 options: 1. muesli which contains spelt but no wheat- it’s still gluten but depending on why you can’t eat it it might be ok. 2. A sandwich without the sandwich. Not available until 11am. 3. Go next door to Bi-Rite and get crackers and cheese and an apple.
** You might get a crust on the pan. It’s worth it to me to not have to stand over it constantly. For said crusty pan, I cannot recommend Barkeeper’s Helper enough. It’s one of those things that I won’t even look at the ingredients for because I can’t imagine how I’d live without it and seeing how toxic it all is would make me feel like I should give it up…
When I started to write this post, I was sitting in Butter’s kitchen, with the smell of wild plums and sugar infusing the air. I was visiting her as part of a road trip that led me through New Mexico, to the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, then up to Northern Colorado for some mountain and foraging time, then back across the mountains and the desert to Los Angeles. 2355 miles in ten days or so. A zillion plants. Some of the most wonderful people I’ve had the opportunity to meet.
Driving through the Southwest is no great chore to me. I remember, a few years ago, when a Costa Rican friend came to visit and we went to Joshua Tree national park, and she was horrified. She said that everything looked so dead. That life, to her, is green and brightly coloured, and that the starkness of the desert made her feel funny. And quite honestly, after doing the drive from Utah to Vegas in late summer, I’d be inclined to agree if I didn’t have such a love of all places stark and craggy. I think about putting myself in the jungle and it makes me crazy. Like Rochester when he got to the Caribbean*. All that green, all that moisture, all that colour. I start slapping my arms imagining ghost insects and (not to be melodramatic or anything) I am pretty sure I’d die of some kind of exotic fever if I weren’t allowed to leave.
The conference was at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. A state described as the ‘Land of Enchantment’. It’s a good name for it. The second you cross the border from Arizona the scenery starts to change. Big dramatic mesas intersected by moody rivers rise up into startling blue skies. Then the late summer storms cut in, and what was bright blue five minutes before can be heaving with pent up energy. I drove through one storm that scared the crap out of me. The rain was coming down so hard, and the lightning striking so often that if I hadn’t been on a freeway with lots of other moving cars I’d have stopped right where I was to wait it out. But I couldn’t see the shoulder and couldn’t be sure that nobody would hit me (because they couldn’t see either) so I kept my eyes focused on the barest outline of the white stripe to my left and kept going.
I passed the continental divide. Which kind of blew my mind a little bit. Things like that often do. I stood there staring at the sign for a minute trying to figure out why there are no waterways that start East of there that flow to the Pacific but it was all too much for me so I ate some chocolate instead**.
I got to Ghost Ranch after dark. Made the mistake of trying to read for five minutes (*cough* I’m reading the Twilight series. This is embarrassing. What is more embarrassing is that I stomped around the house yesterday in a bad mood because Edward had the audacity to leave Bella and kept glaring at Jam like he’d done something seriously wrong.), finished my book, and then slept for 12 hours.
Ghost Ranch is stunningly beautiful. Crazy beautiful. Even more stunning than the scenery are the herb conference attendees. There’s something really nice about being surrounded by people who think absolutely nothing of you stopping to look at every shrub or munch things as you pick them off trees. About being around a group of people who, for better or worse, are following their calling (because, let’s face it, nobody gets into herbalism for the money). Some people are trying to make the world a better place, some are trying to help people, and some are (as Matt Wood so eloquently put it last year) ‘just in it for the plants’. It’s a non-pretentious group too. I can’t imagine many big conferences of any profession where the bigshot presenters are just as humble as the newbie learner. I think some of that has to do with the way it’s organised- Kiva and Wolf (the directors) made a choice to not let anyone put any letters after their names. They aren’t even allowed to use powerpoint. Not to devalue their experience, but to show that experience is what counts, not letters, or degrees or social status. And that’s the thing I like the most about it. Some of the teachers are licenced in some form or another, and some are proudly unlicensed. Some have been practicing for 30 odd years with no license at all. Taking away all the extraneous stuff makes the lectures more about experience and information, and it’s, in my opinion, a really great idea.
My favourite lecture turned out to be by Paul Bergner, on Herbs for the Spiritual Heart. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to like it. I hate the word ‘spiritual’ and any reference to it. But in talking about formulas to enlighten the heart, to protect it, to centre it, Paul passed around formulas that we all tried. And I tell ya, looking at the 50-odd people in that classroom change a bit after taking each formula made me want to cry a little bit. I left that class feeling like I loved everyone and everything. Luckily it only lasted an hour.
Other great classes that I attended were 7song teaching how to put together a good formula. CoreyPine Shane on herbs for pain (GREAT class!). Ryan Drum went over some case studies from his 30 odd years as the sole healthcare practitioner on his little island. Case studies make me happy; they’re never boring and there’s always something interesting and new to learn from another person’s experience.
But there were so many other classes I wish I’d gone to. Kiva Rose taught on Southwest folk herbalism. Lisa Ganora taught on plant constituents. Linda Garcia did first aid courses for herbalists. Sean Donahue taught on asthma. Todd Caldecott (who has an excellent new book out) taught on ayurveda. I’d list them all but I fear I already lost most of you about four paragraphs ago so let it suffice to say that if you’re remotely interested in herbalism- not just as a clinical herbalist but as a person with a kitchen who wants to be able to help out friends and family when they come down with something- check out the TWHC website***.
I left with a heavy heart. It didn’t help that (I can’t believe I didn’t know this) one half of Colorado is flat, and that’s the half I was driving up. Did I ever mention that flat places scare me? They do. They make me panic right in the middle of my belly, it’s horrible. Take away the big craggy rocks and mountains and my palms start to itch and sweat and I keep looking for an exit that isn’t there. Anyway, going to stay with Butter was a really nice way to wind down. We spent every day out foraging. Picking wild plums and apples and black walnuts and more herbs than I can list in one paragraph. We went to Rocky National Park and listened to the elks bugle while a storm rolled in. We ate at one of the restaurants that she forages for and were treated like royalty. We had a cheesy picnic up on top of a mountain in what quickly became a snow storm. The rockies are stunning. Heartbreakingly so. And they smell of clean air and ponderosa pine.
And we made wine. Wild plums grow everywhere around where Butter lives, and we had gathered enough to fill a couple of boxes. I’ve been really into making boozy things lately- from liqueurs to beers (complete failure), but had never tried wine. But plum wine sounded good. And really, it’s not complicated. It sounds complicated because thinking of wine people with their bouquets and fancy meters reading levels of things and all kinds of chemical processes are just scary. But wine for home consumption isn’t scary at all.
1 quart plums
1 1/2 cups sugar
yeast (if the plums aren’t covered in that white wild yeasty stuff)
Put the plums in a big bowl, and using your hands, start to squish the hell out of them. Think nice thoughts. When making boozes you can’t ever go wrong with fermenting nice thoughts. When thoroughly squished, add the sugar, then pour the lot into a jar that would be left half empty. Fill up the other half with filtered water.
Cover with a cloth and rubber band and allow to ferment in a dark corner for 22 days. Then strain, bottle, and leave it for a year, after which it’ll be ready to drink.
By the way, if you’ve made it this far, do you guys get like that about places? Some places that you love and feel great in and some places repel you like two magnets held the wrong way? I’m curious- what kind of places do you love?
ps. I put more photos on facebook
*Have you read Wide Sargasso Sea? Jean Rhys wrote it in response to Jane Eyre- it’s a fascinating character study and makes you see a whole lot more about Bertha than originally meets the eye. And I much prefer it to gothic romance :).
**Really, I don’t get it. Does this go all the way to the equator? South of the equator to Tierra Del Fuego? Is this why the waves down there are so scary to sail in? Is there not a single stream that goes the other way? If I pour a big bucket of water down at the divide will half of it go one way and half another (I should’ve tried that)?
***I didn’t even mention the music: 3 fantastic bands. We danced all night on Saturday. See, it’s a weight loss conference too.
I do not sleep well at anchor. En route to Alicante, we sailed into a little cove- a magic cove really- that Jam has named “cala de torre solamente” (lonely tower cove). He spotted it from a mile out, and insisted we sail in to explore it. Some people would call it luck, but I say it takes great talent to pick out the perfect spot from a mile away. A turquoise-bottomed cove, with a lonely old tower standing look out on top of a hill, protected from the wind, with a lovely rocky beach. I called it a Moorish tower, but Jam said that is NOT what a Moorish tower looks like, and then I kept calling it a Moorish tower because it sounds much cooler that way. We dropped anchor and went for a swim, then Jam rowed us ashore and wandered around while I took photos of plants and picked grape leaves. Back on the boat, I made dinner as the sun was going down, and we sat in the cockpit eating as it got dark. A crescent moon rose above the tower, the waves lapped gently against the hull, and all was well in the world until it came time to go to sleep.
Did you ever see that Donald Duck cartoon with the dripping water? When he had insomnia and the water was making him crazy? With every gust of wind, and every tug of the boat, I’d go running up onto the deck to make sure we were staying in place. It doesn’t really make sense- anchors are built to hold a boat in place, and in light winds, it would be no problem. But fear counters all logic. I lay in bed terrified until around 230, when I decided that I’d just go up on deck to sleep so that I could start the engine when the anchor failed. Lying on the deck, the tower looked ominous. The winds sounded like they were taunting me. And all of a sudden the quaint little houses on the hill looked like something out of Deliverance and not a quaint little Mediterranean village at all. In fact I was sure that I could see locals on the shore getting ready to swim out and board the boat and attack us. With the big evil tower looming overhead. I crept back below deck and climbed back into bed. The boat gave a big jerk and I whimpered, which woke Jamie up. He then valiantly offered to go and stand watch on deck so that I could sleep. I gratefully accepted and passed out within seconds of him leaving. That he actually went back to sleep instead of standing guard as suggested was of no concern to me- my mind had been put to ease and that was all that mattered.
But let’s go back to those grape leaves for a second- because that’s the Wild Thing for the month of August. I’ve been terribly remiss in my Wild Things recipes , so I was really happy, when wandering around the mainland, to find grape leaves. They’re everywhere. Which was really handy for two reasons:
1. As a host, it’s kinda good if I have at least one recipe for the round up, and
2. They’re cooling and delicious- perfect for the 100 degree + days we were facing in Spain.
I made a sauce for meat, which we drizzled over baked chicken. When I got home, I refined the recipe a bit, using a blender, marinading the chicken, and grilling it, before serving with the sauce. I much prefer method #2, though in a pinch, without a grill or a blender, #1 works quite well too.
Grilled chicken with grape leaf salsa verde
4 bone-in skin-on chicken parts
2 cups fresh grape leaves, chopped roughly
5 cloves garlic
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cilantro
1/4 cup parsley
salt and pepper (about 1/4 tsp each)
Place everything except the chicken in a blender, and blend for about 15 seconds- until the greens and garlic are all chopped into little pieces. Take half the sauce and pour over the chicken in a big bowl, making sure each piece is coated. Cover the rest and set it aside in the fridge.
Marinade the chicken for up to 24 hours, then get the grill going, and grill 15 minutes on each side, or until it’s cooked.
Serve with the remainder of the sauce.
I forgot about how nice some things are at home.
Like clean sheets and a comfy bed that is so big you can stretch out in your sleep and still not know there’s someone else there. And like having a bathroom that you don’t share with a hundred other people in the marina. And good coffee.
Jamie and I jumped ship in Alicante. Gatablanca and I had a tearful goodbye. That is, I shed tears, and she sat there in the water looking beautiful as always. And just like that, it was over.
We drove West, into Andalucia. The second you cross the border from Valencia, the landscape changes. Becomes more wild, more beautiful. With craggy mountains and fields of olive trees. This was the last Moorish outpost in Spain. We stayed in a little hotel under the Alahambra, in the Alcaiceria- the old Arabic quarter. The streets are cobbled and narrow and lined with little cafes and markets selling Moroccan goods and Indian imports*.
And after a couple of days in Granada, we drove to Madrid to catch our flight home. By the way, if you have a choice, don’t rent a car and drive to Madrid. A 4 hour drive became a 7 hour drive due to the confusion of Spanish google maps directions, and streets that have 3 different names, and iphones running out of batteries, and Spanish road maps that don’t have freeway names on the freeways, and then a convergence of Catholic youth from all over the world upon central Madrid where the Pope (el Papa) was due to arrive by plane around the time ours was due to take off. As we taxied to the runway, the pilot came on the intercom to point out his plane, which had just landed**.
And then, just like that, we were home. I am not entirely sure how I feel about this. My consolation is that Gatablanca is right where we left her and will be there when I go back next year.
I’ll tell you more about the trip over the next couple of weeks or so- about the lonely tower cove that we found, and about the tres idiotas that we rescued. About the food we ate and the liqueurs we drank and the sunsets that we watched. But for now, I’m going to curl up on my couch with a blanket, a book and a mug of coffee, so a Tortilla Espanola recipe will have to do until then.
Tortilla is ubiquitous in Spain. Every time I’d visit dad I’d drag him to tapas bars and force him to eat them; I’m pretty sure that after I left he didn’t want to look at another egg for months. You can buy them pre-packaged in the grocery stores there, and they’re delicious, even though they’re pre-packaged. We had them for dinner almost every night on board, with salad and a plate of delicious jamon and bread and cheese. It’s perfect for having around in the fridge for snacking on. If people come over unannounced you can put it out and make it look like you’re the type of person who is used to having people over all the time because you’re prepared with fancy Spanish food. And if it’s too hot and you can’t be bothered cooking you can cut off a slice and eat it right there off the plate with the fridge door still open with no mess and no evidence except dirty fingers (which you can either lick off or wipe on a towel and voila- the perfect crime). And if it’s dinner time and you forgot to make anything then you can put it on a plate with a nice salad and make a glass of tinto de verano and in five minutes you have a Spanish meal. Quite impressive, si?
3 tb heavy cream
1 large onion, diced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 tb butter
3 tb olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Preheat oven to 350.
Boil a big pot of water and throw the potatoes in. Boil for 8 minutes- until you can pierce them with a fork but they won’t quite drop off quickly. Strain.
Meanwhile, in a cast iron pan, heat the butter and oil, and sautee the onions for about ten minutes, until they start to brown slightly.
Add the potatoes, and then the seasonings. Cook for another couple of minutes, meanwhile beat together the eggs and cream. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, and cook (don’t stir it) for a minute. Remove from heat and stick it in the oven. Cook for 15 minutes, until the centre is set.
If you have a broiler, then stick it under the broiler for a minute or so to brown the top. If not, it’s no bother. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes, then invert onto a plate. You can eat it warm, but it’s really best after a couple of hours cooling. And it’ll last in the fridge for 3 days.
*I stopped to look at a skirt, balked at the price, and told the man that I could have bought that for 200 rupees. He shrugged, in typical Spanish fashion, and I stormed off in a huff.
**I’d have assumed that the Pope had a private jet but no, he flies on AlItalia. How the Swiss guardsmen get their funny hats and spears on board is beyond me.
As I write this, big fluffy cumulus clouds are forming on the horizon, and my brother, Alex, is checking the weather reports to make sure we won’t run into a storm later this afternoon.
We’re in Spain. Torrevieja, to be exact: a small resort town on the East coast. We’re on a boat. Gatablanca, to be exact: a beautiful white catamaran with a blue stripe down the side. And we’re preparing for a voyage. A relatively short voyage, but a voyage none the less.
The boat was our dad’s. He sailed her down here about 20 years ago. When he couldn’t be on his boat he’d like to be near the sea. I know this because when I’d visit him in England, we’d often drive to the waters edge and walk for hours. He had a girlfriend once who convinced him to rent an apartment with her here in Spain. He’d wake up in the morning and march stubbornly right back to the marina, where he’d sit on the boat eating oranges and polishing things until it was time to go home. She, for the record, was fired.
And then he died. It wasn’t sudden like an accident. It was sudden like a cancer diagnosis that shouldn’t go from start to finish in a couple of months. You shouldn’t have a phonecall with somebody one day, during which you refuse to talk about all the stuff that was unsaid and unsorted between you because you’ve still got time, and then a week later get a phonecall about them having slipped into a coma. It’s not fair or right. I am still angry at the universe for this.
After he died, Alex and I decided to keep his boat.
We’re here for 3 weeks. To scrub, sand, clean, stitch and polish. But also to go to some of the places we used to visit together. To have croissants and cafe con leche for breakfast, and bocarones a la plancha for dinner. To drink sangria while watching the sun go down from little anchorages. And to sail.
Last night we went to a little restaurant where I had a drink called tinto de verano. Which is basically sangria for folks who don’t drink too much, ie. me. It’s super easy. And if you want to pretend you’re in Spain right now all you need to do is the following:
Tinto de verano
1 tb sugar
1/2 bottle red wine
1/2 bottle soda water
Chop the orange up into 8 pieces, same with the lemon. Put them in a jug with the sugar and mash it up a bit. Add the ice, pour in the wine and soda and stir. To be drunk somewhere warm, in the haze of the early evening when it’s still light out. Preferably with the smell of meat grilling somewhere and people speaking Spanish in the background. But seriously, a front stoop would work.
This afternoon we set sail for Tabarca Island, where we’ll drop anchor and snorkle for a few hours. It’s a marine reserve, with lots of little pretty fish, and an old Moorish castle sitting on a cliff. Jamie keeps jumping up and down going “PIRATE ISLAND!”. I have been to the market to stock up on the freshest juiciest figs and green plums that explode in your mouth in little bursts of flavour. And bread. And cheese. And jamon Iberico that seems to be what prosciutto always wanted to be but could never quite achieve.
After a friend lost her father recently I found myself writing her a letter telling her a few things: That it doesn’t get better. That you’ll miss him forever. And that the pain feels like a never-ending hole in your heart that you forget about sometimes and then remember. But also that every now and then you’ll find yourself doing something that they would do, or making a face that they would make, and you’ll smile because even though people do die, parts of them carry on. It’s the beauty of human genetics. And being here, surrounded by my dad and the things that made him happy, stumbling upon little things that he left lying around (like entries in the ship log that say “sailed to Moraira to find WiFi signal”, with my brother who shares the same genes, and my husband who shares our love of the sea, and an old high school friend of Alex’s, I feel more at peace than I have over the last 6 years since he died.
So here we are, aboard the good ship Gatablanca. I’ll write as often as I can, with tales of sea adventures and delicious things that I find along the way. And in the meantime, try a glass of tinto de verano.
I am standing in my own kitchen. After a month of not having access to a kitchen. Or at Pushpa’s, having a kitchen but absolutely no permission to do anything except watch and/ or chop onions), I am back.
A month of bookmarking things that I want to try and jotting down notes. A month of trying things that are delicious (home made butterscotch ice cream at Guy’s in the Merchant City in Glasgow) and things that are absolutely disgusting (pre-cooked poached eggs on mashed potatoes with ceps at Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Airport Food’ in terminal 5 at Heathrow). Of trips to Marks and Spencer’s Simply food and complete obsession with their crayfish and mango salad (yes please) and an even bigger obsession with their lemon curd yogurt (if somebody offers to ship me some I will gladly accept and maybe even offer payment in return), I get home and all I want is Indian food.
So much so that on a Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, still riddled with jetlag, I braved the traffic to drive across town to the Indian grocery store to pick up fenugreek seeds and white lentils. And upon walking into that tiny little corner of India in Los Angeles, I got so nostalgic, with all those smells and the colours that I was really convinced that I was back. And being so convinced that I was back I popped next door for a dosa and some coconut chutney. Of course it cost me $8 instead of $0.30, and the coconut chutney was not Pushpa’s, and it wasn’t drizzled with ghee like the ones I loved were. I ate it with my hands, and I wobbled my head at the waitress, who gave me a funny smile and then charged me $8 (700 Rupees) for a mediocre dosa. I held back my tears and then drove back across town.
My favourite breakfast in India was idli with coconut chutney, drizzled with ghee. I could have it every morning. Not only were the idli stodgy and delicious, the chutney was the perfect blend of flavours, and the ghee was fatty and sweet and it was all perfect together. Pushpa would watch in shock as I’d put away about 8 of them (and then retreat to my room to lie in bed groaning for an hour). They’re not difficult to make, though the whole soaking and blending process is done over the course of 24 hours or so, so you need to plan in advance. Another annoying thing is that you need an idli pan to make them, and I’m trying to think of a substitute (if you can think of something let me know or post it in the comments), but the GOOD news is that you can use idli batter to make dosa. You cannot use dosa batter to make idli (Pushpa was very specific about this), but idli batter is flexible and can be used for both.
2 parts rice
1 part white lentils
pinch baking soda
In the morning, soak rice and lentils separately in about 4 times as much water. Around 7pm, drain them and blend REALLY well, until it’s a paste. Mix both together, add some more water (we’re talking a very wet hummus consistency), add salt, a pinch of baking soda, and a pinch of sugar, and leave out overnight.
In the morning you can either cook it like a dosa (you might need to add a tiny bit more water) or a crepe, or, if you can find some kind of steamer mold, you can make dumplings. Oil and fill the mold, and steam for 10 minutes. Remove and drizzle with ghee before serving.
The meat of 1 fresh brown coconut (alternatively use 1 cup of rehydrated coconut)
1/2 cup coriander leaf
4-5 curry leaves (I used basil as I couldn’t find curry)
1 inch piece ginger
2 green chilis
small handful white lentils
1/2 cup water
Put all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Serve with idli or dosa.