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Transitions. (and a giveaway)

(Autumn)

I’d like to say that Autumn happens just like that. That one day it’s summer and then one day it’s not. But it doesn’t work like that in Southern California, I don’t think. Three days ago I had to put the heating on for ten minutes when I woke up because my fingers wouldn’t work properly because it was so cold. Yesterday it was 95 degrees and I sat around [attractively] in my underwear drinking lemon water and whining [attractively].

It’s really easy to get a chill and get sick at this time of year, when it’s hot one day and cold the next, and there’s a breeze threatening to let its cold fingers creep down the back of your neck. The area at the bottom of your neck is an area where a whole bunch of acupuncture channels meet, and if a cold wind hits that spot, you can end up with a chill, or the flu, or EBOLA VIRUS. Just kidding about ebola.

Wearing a scarf helps you not get sick (and, in my opinion, looks kinda jaunty). As does having some kind of elderberry preparation at hand. Which brings me to the whole giveaway thing:

You might have noticed things changing a bit around here- new headers slipping in, new tabs up there, and a change in my ‘about me’ page. I’ve started an online business, where I sell my tinctures and salves and other little things that I make. Since it’s flu season, I’m giving away a flu kit, containing one elder elixir and one diaphoretic tea blend, in a nice little box with a bow on it.

To read more about them both, click HERE.

To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment below telling me what your favourite herb is (cooking, medicinal, whatever. In China they even use flying squirrel feces as a herb, so my requirements are pretty lax.).

Any extras aren’t necessary- I really hate giveaways where you have to sign up for a bunch of stuff- but since my business is little, I’d sure be grateful for the extra publicity.  So if you guys want to do any of the following, just leave extra comments for each one that you do:

 

1. Like Kings Road Apothecary on facebook.

2. Follow Kings Road Apothecary on twitter.

3. Sign up to follow the Kings Road Apothecary monthly (or so) newsletter.

4. Tell a friend, or post a link to the giveaway.

 

I’ll pick a winner at random on Monday at 5pm. 

Update: ERIN is the winner. Yay Erin!

I’m sharing this post at Fight Back Friday. 

 

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Aioli

It was my lovely brother Alex who pointed out that you cannot find good aioli in America. He pointed this out while filling our grocery cart with aioli, which is sold in little tubs for about a Euro apiece. I wondered how he’d ever go through it all, but it turns out that I underestimated the culinary genius of my little brother.

Which I should never do. This is the boy who, at age 8, demanded that mum pick up some Grand Marnier because he wanted to make crepes suzette for breakfast. Who at 9 made the best tiramisu north of Hadrian’s wall (and quite possibly south of it all the way until the Italian border). I’d just forgotten about this, ever since I visited him in college and he made me ‘pasta a la Alex’: a bowl full of fussili, drenched in canned marinara. You see why I forgot…

And it was only mid-way to Ibiza, when Alex disappeared below deck and re-appeared with a plate full of sandwiches that I started to realise that the whole ‘pasta a la Alex’ thing must have been a joke. A not-funny-to-anyone-but-him joke. An Altman joke. The kind of joke my dad would play when he’d cook us dinner, and we’d only realise halfway through eating it that he wasn’t eating any, and we’d get suspicious and look in the soup pot and find a sock and a banana peel floating there innocently… or like how I had friends over for a dinner party and only told them afterwards that they’d just eaten buffalo heart. Yep, pasta a la Alex was an Alex-ism. And boy, can my little brother cook.

Sandwich a la Alex is simple. You need good aioli. You need a nice crusty loaf of bread. Some nice prosciutto. And August tomatoes- August tomatoes are key because any other month of the year they’re just ok. It’s only in August that you (I?) wonder why people don’t write songs to the tomato, and start to compose your own while you’re (I’m?) doing the dishes. And that’s it. Four ingredients. Which brings me back to the grocery store, and aioli. It’s hard to find good aioli in America. The easiest way to find it is to make your own. And it’s really surprisingly simple. All you need is a blender or a mechanical whisk or some kind. Or if you’re brave and strong, a hand whisk, or even a fork. For the recipe, I turned to Elizabeth David, who always knows what to do when I don’t.


Aioli

From Elizabeth David. Serves, well, quite a lot. 

 

4 cloves garlic (fresh, not old and nasty and bitter)

juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cup olive oil

2 egg yolks.

 

If you have a blender, use it. If not then an electric whisk of some kind would do after mashing the garlic up really well. If not then I hope you have strong arms…

 

In a blender:

Throw in the garlic, lemon and salt. Blend until it’s completely pulverised, then add the egg yolks one at a time. Blend until it starts to thicken- this might be a couple of minutes, and you might have to scrape it down a lot- then start to add the olive oil, in a very thin stream. Keep stopping and scraping it down if you have to, and add oil until it won’t incorporate itself anymore (thin stream helps so you can stop it immediately after). Taste. Add more lemon juice or salt if you need to.

 

With a whisk or strong hand:

Make sure the garlic is completely pulverised then proceed as above. If you’re doing it by hand it might take quite a while to thicken. I’ve done this with whipping cream by gathering a group of unsuspecting people and handing it off for a few minutes at a time. If they get tired then insult their manhood and they’ll keep going…

 

Traditionally aioli is served with vegetables and bread for dipping. You can also use it to make an unconventional and seriously delicious tuna salad (you don’t need anything except tuna and aioli).


Sandwich a la Alex

1 chunk french bread

aioli

prosciutto

1 lovely ripe tomato

 

Cut the bread in half lengthways. Spread both sides thickly with aioli. On one side lay slices of tomatoes, and on the other lay a layer of prosciutto. Slap the two together and enjoy!

 

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Mequite biscotti

It was a hot desert summer day- the kind of day where you really don’t want to go outside between 9am and 5pm. The kind of day where having a regular day job in an air conditioned building doesn’t sound so bad after all. We were in Palm Springs, at Jam’s parents’ house, and it was late in the day so I decided to drive to a nearby trail that I hadn’t explored in years.


When I arrived, a lady was pacing back and forwards in front of her car. She looked worried. I asked her if she was ok, and she said that she was waiting for the police helicopter- her husband had fallen and hurt his leg up the trail. He had dragged himself for as far as he could but now he was out of water and couldn’t go any further. She had good reason to be worried, by the way- being stuck out in the desert with no water is no joke. Dehydration and heat exhaustion can happen so quickly you don’t even know it’s hit you, and if he wasn’t found soon he could possibly die. I thought for a minute then asked how far up he was: it would be dark in under 2 hours, and then it’d be impossible to see him from a helicopter. She said that he wasn’t very far up, so I grabbed an extra water bottle and set off at a jog.

Jogging up a mountain when it’s 100 degrees out is no joke. After a couple of miles I stopped for a rest and looked around me. The area was completely deserted. The light was pink and there were long shadows cast over the red rocks. The stark beauty of the desert really struck me in comparison to the direness of the situation: nature doesn’t give a damn, and it’s never more apparent than when somebody’s life is in danger. In a way it’s that cold beauty that draws me to it. It’s not nurturing in a loving way- not in the way a mother is to a child. No, it’s nurturing in a primal way, in that the earth feeds us and we feed the earth whether we feel it or not, or whether we understand it or not. Something about that rhythm that carries on regardless makes me happy. It’s the freedom of not mattering one bit that I like so much. Because in not mattering, there is nothing to weigh you down. No potential and no guilt, no past and no future, just this big impersonal moving organism that marches forwards, constantly evolving. In its chaos, it’s constant.

I heard a helicopter in the distance, getting closer, and I sat down on a big rock to watch. It looped back and forth, going further and further along the trail, and after about 20 minutes of circling, a loudspeaker said “we see you there sir”. I watched (which was SO COOL) as they lowered a someone down with a stretcher, and lifted the man to safety. And then I lay back on the rock and said “thank you”. To who or what, I don’t know. I just know that I was so relieved that he had been found and was safe.


I gathered some creosote and then set off down the mountain. As I walked back to the car, the worried woman stopped as she was driving off. He was ok. Seriously dehydrated and his leg was badly injured, but he’d be fine, and was on his way to the hospital. Then she looked at me strangely and said “Thank you. You didn’t need to do that.” And I said something about how I really didn’t do anything- I mean, I didn’t, as he would have been found and safe whether I was there or not. But as I got into the car to drive away I thought “Why was she surprised? How could I not have made an effort?” I mean, there was a man out there who could have died, and what if the police hadn’t arrived in time, or if they hadn’t found him? I don’t think it would have been possible for me to drive off not knowing if he was ok.


As I drove back towards the main road, I saw something out of the corner of my eye and slammed my foot on the brakes. Fancy cars don’t like it when you do this in the desert but I didn’t care. I was surrounded by mesquite bushes, and they were covered in pods. How I didn’t notice them on the way in is beyond me, but then if I’d noticed I might never have made it to the trail, and I wouldn’t have got to witness an air lift happen from super close and I wouldn’t have decided that I’d like to join search and rescue when I am able. In the twilight, I gathered as many pods as I could fit into my bag, and then went back to Jam’s parents’ house to take a shower.


Mesquite reminds me of the desert, with its nutty, sweet, malty taste. You can nibble on the pods alone, or grind them up to make flour. And for those of you who don’t live in the desert areas, you can buy mesquite flour at health food stores thanks to it being a favourite of raw foodists. I highly recommend it. You can replace up to 40% of the regular flour with mesquite, and it makes such a gorgeous difference, adding a complexity to baked goods that is really just, well, worth it. Worth the expense if you don’t have access to the trees, and worth the agony of running up a hill if you do.

 

A few notes:

If you’re making mesquite flour, depending on how sugary and resinous the pods are, you might have to grind them up a bit, then dehydrate the ground bits. I put them in the oven on its lowest setting for a couple of hours, then ground them some more. You can use a really good blender, or a grain mill, and I think Kitchen Aid has an attachment, though I have no idea how good it is because my blender doesn’t leave me wanting for anything. Then, just run it through a sieve to separate out the husky parts.

The pods themselves will keep for months in a big jar. The flour will keep for months too, though try and use it fresh because the flavour is richer.

It’s a useful thing to have on hand anyway, as it’s antimicrobial and astringent- great as an eye wash or for a damaged GI tract or for washing wounds- just make a strong tea with the powder.

 

Mesquite Biscotti

Adapted slightly from Dorie Greenspan’s almond biscotti recipe

 

1 cup flour (spelt is lovely, if you can tolerate the gluten in it)

1/2 cup mesquite flour

1/2 cup cornmeal

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 stick butter

2 eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces

3/4 cup sugar

 

Preheat oven to 350.

 

Mix together the dry ingredients- flours, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla, and beat until smooth. Add the sugar, combine, and then the flour in 3 parts. Then stir in the chocolate.

 

Roll out into two log-shapes and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes (this step is important!). Then slice into biscotti shapes (about 3/4 inch thick) and stand up on the baking sheet. Bake at 350 for another 20 minutes, until golden brown.

 

Store in an airtight container. They’re good for about 5 days, if they last that long.

 

 

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Wild Things in September: Black Walnut

 

Wear gloves. If there’s any advice I could give another human being faced with a big bag of black walnuts it is, my god, wear gloves.

I don’t know if it’s because I was excited, or because I was too lazy to go and buy gloves, or because I had a momentary lack of judgement (as in: oh, I know it didn’t come out last year, but maybe it will THIS year). Or maybe it all happened for some big cosmic reason, like so that I could take photos and show you… but my hands are brown, my fingertips are black, and my fingernails look kinda gangrenous. Like the kind of thing you’d see in a zombie movie. Even sadder is that I painted my fingernails for the first time in about 2 years. They were red. Uniformly so. It looked quite nice. Now I have zombie hands. Oh the horror of it all…

And then, on top of that is the opening: you have to put them in a cloth sack and bash them with something (I used a cast-iron pan) until the hulls break because no nut cracker is going to suffice for such a tough nut.

I know, you’re probably sitting there thinking “why in the hell would somebody risk zombie hands and shoulder muscles for *refer to the top of the page again* walnuts?

Well, I thought you’d never ask.

I hate walnuts. Passionately despise the damn things. Most nuts in general actually- as they just make me feel sick. In times of starvation between lunch and dinner when I’m stuck in traffic I’ll occasionally nibble on some almonds that I keep in my car for such emergencies, but really, nuts just don’t do it for me. But black walnuts do. Black walnuts are to regular old nuts what Green and Black’s chocolate is to Hershey’s. They render all other nuts a sad imitation of what a nut can truly be.  And if you’re going to go through the hassle of getting your own (it’s worth it for the taste- really truly), you’ll be glad to know that they’re really useful for all kinds of gastro-intestinal issues, so you can pull all the hulls off, and save them to make medicine with, or gather the leaves while you gather the nuts and dry them for teas.

 

For information about identification and other interesting tidbits, please look at Butter’s intro HERE. And if you don’t know what the Wild Things Roundup is, then you can read about it HERE.

 

Juglans nigra: Black Walnut

Taste: bitter, astringent, aromatic

Most people have heard of black walnuts because they’re used in ‘parasite cleanses’. You know, you go to a health food store and mention that you’ve got some kind of GI distress and the solution is almost always a parasite cleanse… and I think it’s important to point out that while it’s really trendy in the natural health business to assume that everybody has some sort of parasite and should do a cleanse, this is stupid. Parasitic infections can cause horriffic symptoms, and if one is suspected then a stool test is in order. Randomly dosing the body with herbs because you suspect that something is wrong is a waste of good herbs.

And black walnut is good for so much more than parasite cleanses! It is bitter and astringent, both stimulating and toning lax, leaky tissues, as well as an antifungal.

 

GI tonic

Black walnut is used for atonicity of the colon. This lack of tone causes trouble with absorbing nutrients- either too much is crossing the gut wall (leaky gut) or too little (not assimilating nutrients), or really, it’s a combination of the two. This can manifest in a number of ways, including trouble digesting fat; constipation alternating with diarrhea; leaky gut syndrome; acne on  the buttocks or large cystic acne on the face and neck. Black walnut astringes the intestine, stops a leaky gut from reabsorbing toxins, and improves absorption in the mucus membranes in general.

It’s also useful in acute conditions like food poisoning or stomach flu.

 

Parasites

Like I mentioned before, black walnuts most famous use is for parasites. After picking up dysentery, pinworms and giardia in Mexico City last year, I made myself black walnut, wormwood and creosote decoctions. The thing was that they tasted so foul that by the fourth day I couldn’t bring myself to drink them, so I switched to a pill. However black walnut is reportedly highly effective for parasites. During a recent discussion on facebook, Thomas Easley mentioned that he’s used it for tapeworm to great effect, and that the key is to restrict diet and keep the dosage constant.

For it’s usefulness with parasites and for disorders of the GI tract, a tincture with black walnut and wormwood has so many uses, and is a really useful to keep on hand when travelling.

 

Thyroid 

I’ve never had a chance to verify this myself, but black walnut (blackened hull) is a traditional appalachian remedy for hypothyroidism. Herbalist Phyllis Light has used it extensively for goiter, and notes that ‘bad blood’ (which I’ve described a little bit HERE) is often caused by an underactive thyroid. By remedying the thyroid disorder, the bad blood is then remedied too. Similarly, it’s use for rheumatism and arthritis can be connected to this use, as the two are common symptoms of having ‘bad blood’, and also common for those with hypothyroidism.

 

Fungus

Either the fresh green hulls, or a salve made of the hulls and leaves is great for skin fungus. Tommie Bass would recommend rubbing a fresh green hull on ringworm. I’d warn that you do end up with a black mark on your skin which isn’t always the best thing, but a tincture or salve works too. A salve rubbed on foot fungus every night will kill the fungus and resore feet to their former glory.

It works for internal fungus too- for candida overgrowth in the large intestine, and also for oral thrush. For candida overgrowth, I combine with chilopsis.

 

Mouth

For oral thrush, canker sores and mouth ulcers, you can either chew on the fresh leaves (they can be pretty spicy!) or make a strong decoction and use is as a mouthwash.

 

Miscellaneous

According to herbalist Ananda Wilson, black walnut leaves can be used as a mosquito repellent- just rub them all over yourself. Luckily the leaves smell quite nice…

And according to Butter, it’s great topically for shingles outbreaks.

 

Preparation and Dosage

Leaf, bark, twig and hull can all be used medicinally. For the thyroid, use the black hulls. For all other maladies, all parts can be used. I much prefer the taste of the leaves or black hulls, but everyone’s different.

Tincture: Fresh leaves, recently dried twigs and bark, and fresh or dried hulls. Use 50% alcohol or higher.

Oil: Soak hulls or leaves in a carrier oil- lard, tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, you name it- on a double boiler for at least an hour. Strain and bottle. You can add beeswax to solidify it into a salve.

Dried for teas or decoctions: Dry flat and store in a cool, dry place.

 

 

Cautions and Contraindications

I’ve read in places not to use the fresh bark unless you want an emetic. I’ve also heard from others that it’s fine, so it’s up to you…

If you think you have a parasite or something like dysentery- it would be worth going to the doctor and getting a stool test so you know what you’re dealing with.

 

 

Sources: 

Michael Moore- Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West

Matthew Wood- The Earthwise Herbal

Discussions with the lovely herbalist community on facebook, namely Kiva Rose, Ananda Wilson, Thomas Easley, Traci Picard, and Susan Marynowski. 

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Lonely tower cove

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.

To read more about grape leaves, check out Butter’s post on it HERE. And to read more about the Wild Things roundup that we put on once a month (to which you are all invited!) click HERE.

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.

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Tortilla Espanola

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?

Tortilla Espanola

6 eggs

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.

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Blue water

When I was young I’d draw like a madwoman. My favourite thing to draw was the sea with a full moon, and that nice triangle of light shimmering its way down the page. It was, to me, the most beautiful thing ever. On board my dad’s old boat, Easy Action, when I was 3 or so, he’d often come and retrieve me late at night, slip a life jacket over my head and lift me out of the hatch window above my bed. We’d lie on the deck looking at stars and at the moon. Once, at anchor off the south coast of England, he picked me up to drop me back into my bed, and I looked over and the moon was casting its light on the sea.

We left the marina early this morning. I made some cold infusion coffee for the boys the night before because they were doing the early shift. Jam’s alarm went off at 4 and I half woke up to listen to them pull out of the marina. As soon as we were under way I fell back asleep. I woke up again at 6, and padded up onto the deck. It was still cold, in that “it’s going to be a really hot day today” kind of cold thaty ou get in the summer. We could still see the Spanish mainland behind us, but it was already hazy. I brewed some more coffee (hot this time) and returned to deck to watch the sun rise. We’re heading to Espalmador- a small island near Ibiza. To a little cove called Cala Boch which, as it turns out, isn’t its real name. Alex and I had no idea until a couple of days ago when we consulted the Pilots book- before that it had always been Cala Boch. Dad had a habit of naming things, and we just assumed that was the way to say it. Like ensign. Turns out it’s pronounced “En-sin” not “En-sine” like dad always said it. Something I found out most embarrasingly in a sailing class.

 

Cala Boch is a small cove with a shallow entrance. Which makes it difficult to access for most boats. Our boat, being extremely shallow, is one of the only ones that can get in there, which makes for lovely isolated anchorage and swimming. On Espalmador is a mud bath. It smells disgusting and it’s kind of freaky getting into it, but then you get covered in mud and dip into the warm ocean to get it all off and it’s really fun, plus it makes me think there’s some kind of health benefit because it’s muddy and smelly and comes from the earth.

 

One of the things that I like about sailing is the immediacy of the action you need to take. For example when the alternator belt broke yesterday when we were preparing to motor in between the shore (a cliff) and a big rock. We had plenty of room, but the bolts weren’t loosening, after years of rust, and someone had obviously tried to undo them before because the edges were just worn away completely. It took four hours, in total, to figure out how to get the bolt off, to get the alternator belt on, all the while we drifted, with less than 1 knot of wind. Things like this happen constantly. Two days ago it was the battery, and a lose wire. One cannot be under the impression that one is remotely special when you’re subject to the elements like this. The wind and the sea rule, and if you’re lucky things don’t break too often or cost too much to replace. There’s always something. You learn very quickly that there’s no such thing as “why me?” or “why does this happen?”. It happens because it happens. And you act on it and move on. You prepare as best you can and then throw away any plans because to hold on to ideas of what should happen could very easily get you killed. I wonder sometimes why my dad, who was so tightly in control of his environment, enjoyed this so much. When it’s so scary, when you can’t be in control of anything except maybe how tidy everything is. And then I think that maybe he knew that it was good for him, and that’s why. Or maybe it just made him happy.

Navigation is necessary- after a while you lose sight of land. This is bluewater sailing, where the depth sounder doesn’t work anymore. Before the sun comes up, you navigate by the stars and the compass. And then it bursts through the clouds, all fiery and red, and it casts its rays across the ocean in front of us- they ripple out like a pathway. The wind is a steady South-Easterly, and we’re headed due East. Somehow this makes me happy- the due East thing- like somewhere out there, maybe at the end of this pathway, is some kind of redemption, or some kind of answer. Or maybe it’s not, and I’ll never find an answer, and I’ll spend my life heading due East, searching. But quite honestly, with the wind in my face and kicking up a trail of water at my heels, that doesn’t sound so bad either.

Cold infusion coffee

Serves 4

4 tb really nice coffee

4 cups water

Heavy cream (about 4 tb)

 

 

The night before you want to drink it, place the coffee and water in a french press or something similar. Put it in the fridge till morning. Remove from fridge, strain and add the cream. Serve in glasses on one of those mornings that feels like it’s going to be a really hot day. Watch out because cold infusion has way more caffeine and you might get a loooot of work done….

 

Ps. I’m posting albums of my trip on Facebook

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The good ship.

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 orange

1 lemon

1 tb sugar

ice

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.

Wild things July roundup: Wild Rose

By this time in Southern California there are only a couple of straggling roses remaining. I saw some lovely big red rose hips already last week. With a couple of big jars of rose elixir brewing, and some lovely dried petals and fragrant leaves, I think I have enough to last the rest of the year… hopefully.

Though most of these recipes call for fresh rose petals, I’d try them with dried too. Just to hold onto the season for a little longer.

And I won’t keep you any longer- here are some gorgeous rose recipes:

 

 

A fantastic write up and recipe for Rose Baklava from the wild woman Kiva Rose.

Wild Rose Petal Mead from Rosalee de la Foret of Methow Valley Herbs.

Beautiful rose petal jam from Emiko Davies

 

The lovely Ananda Wilson of Plant Journeys made a decadent rosey snack:

Rose Macarons from Pink Velvet Sparkles

Rose petal flan at Simply Recipes

Butter Powered Bike made a gorgeous Rosy Lemonade. 

And she also made a Strawberry and Wild Rose Shrub  that looks and sounds yummilicious (that’s a technical term).

Rose and Cardamom mava cakes from Cauldrons and Crockpots.

Rose Passion Tea from Cauldrons and Crockpots.

Moroccan Kefta tagine (dried rose petals in the spice mix) again from Cauldrons and Crockpots.