22 April, 2011

They're back, just as I'm leaving.

I'm readying for a family trip as it is now spring break here in the south;  just a matter now of finding the time to throw the right clothes in a suitcase, to water all the potted plants--and not just most, to give away the eggs, to close the heavy shutters...(I'll be back in the second week of May). 

With still no rain in sight, they're raising the low water-table alarm on the radio but somehow the more seasoned plants aren't yet the worse for it.
This climbing rose's buds are smaller than the nail of my pinkie. In bloom, they open to the size of my thumbnail. The blossoming has begun, but once in full swing it becomes a delicate, slightly fluttery curtain.
The first irises of the season in my garden are these lushly purple ones, who colonized this valley well before we came along...
Even the shiny knoblets of baby figs have emerged, swaying in the fiercely un-spring light. The growth season is accelerating, and the sage in particular has the pedal to the medal. The bush below is already well in bloom, and I've clipped some of the blossoms and tossed them in our salads. I try to trim some herbs before they flower, to keep the plant focused on leaf growth and maximum flavor, espcially those that have bolting tendencies, like cilantro and basil. But that's later.  Right now it's the sage and thyme.  And what to do with all the cuttings?
I've hung lemon sage from the ceiling to dry, and the thyme is spread in a baking pan. Both can be used in hot winter infusions, with a dollop of honey, to soothe a sore throat. Some herb is set aside for cooking, of course, but a lot is given away. 
Flavored oils are another way to make use of that first garden bounty. The oil is warmed (not too hot, or the oil can lose it's extra-virgin awesomeness, get cloudy and have a kind of cooked taste). The herbs are bruised with a mortar and pestle, and the two get to know one another over a week or two at room temperature in a sunny window. This time I added cracked coriander seeds to the thyme oil, and white peppercorns to the sage, but the herb alone can develop deeply and satisfyingly intense perfume. The oil can be used to flavor pastas, soups, as a marinade for meat or vegetables, even a few drops in the salad dressings can make a salad a touch more special. I make more than I can use, and exchange it with neighbors, who drop by with overflowing baskets of vegetables come summer. To make your own, ensure your herbs and seeds are bone-dry before adding to the bottle; this could mean rinsing them in the early morning after picking them, then bottling the oil only in the late afternoon, for example. It's best to keep these oils in the refrigerator if you have the space (because those herbs still contain potentially mold-promoting moisture).  Ideally, you finish your oils within three or four months, before the flavors have faded.
We're a hop and a skip closer to summer: the swallows have returned. I know this because while I was bending over some savory sage shortbread today, two of them hurtled into the kitchen. Look at the long tail on this little fellow.
I'm still planning to freeze some walnut-sage pesto, but in the meantime, a Pélardon and sage shortbread cookie is just the thing to partner with a cool glass of white wine. And maybe sitting on the terrace will lure those rainclouds this way...
Biscuits apéro à la sauge (Savory Sage Shortbread)

Makes about 30 small cookies.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup freshly, finely grated oldish goat cheese, like  Pélardon (I used my Microplane)
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh sage leaves or 3 teaspoons dried sage (I've only ever used lemon sage, which is milder than regular sage)
1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch-thick pieces, room temperature
salt for garnish (fleur de sel or coarse salt)

Combine all ingredients but the butter in a food processor.  Add chopped butter; using on/off turns, process until dough comes together. Mix as little as possible; over-mixing will result in too-crumbly shortbread. Divide the dough in half. Shape each dough piece into log, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm enough to slice, about an hour. Cover one of the logs with aluminum foil and pop in the freezer, for when last minute guests arrive.

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Slice the remaining dough log into 1/2 cm-thick rounds; place on sheet, sprinkle sparingly with salt. Bake until cookies are golden, with just-browned edges, about 25 minutes. Cool on racks.


  1. Tammy, your photos are just lovely.Love the swallow on the window sill. He's beautiful. Where are you going on vacation? And thanks for the recipe. I've been looking for something just like that and since it's one of those unusual rainy days, it's time to do a little work in the kitchen. Have fun on your trip.

  2. Simon hoed half our self-seeded coriander (cilantro) yesterday, thinking they were weeds (sigh). Your rose is the lovely, delicately scented, thornless Lady Banks I think - one of my favourites.

  3. Once again a very enjoyable read. Feels like I am there with you with each word and image. Lovely. Bon voyage!

  4. Have fun wherever you are Tammy! (Have you ever been to Borne-les-mimosas?).

  5. Toujours autant de plaisir à te lire. A ton retour fais moi signe.

  6. I envy the amount of vacation Europeans get. I month off during the holidays and several weeks off during the spring. While, we get our measly two weeks, if that. Hope you're having fun!

  7. Hi Delana,
    Yes, he's gorgeous, but also a little stunned from bumping his head on the window...Hope you saw that HEALTHY salad recipe I posted a while back. Yup, healthy.

    Hello Susan,
    That's a terrible accident! I just made a curry tonight using our cilantro/coriander. Hope your remaining half is growing well. I know the rose is a Banksia, and so you're probably right. Past its bloom now, though.

    Hi Charles,

    Hello Nadege,
    No, I've never been to Borne-les-mimosas. This trip was more Born-in-the-USA...(baddap bap!).

    Merci mimibricoles!

    Hello WC,
    You're spot on, I read that the AVERAGE annual leave for Americans is indeed 2 weeks. How can people recharge their batteries and spend time with their far-flung family on that little time--or less?


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