Tag archive for spring

Take it outside

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Not all picnics are created equal, and that’s a good thing. My personal philosophy around picnics is that anything not eaten around the primary table in my house classifies as a picnic. This means that winters are filled with couch picnics and the summer with patio picnics.

I am totally and completely into picnics. The change of scenery offers such a retreat from the everyday. Picnics allow you to slow down, enjoy your dinner and the company you are with. And thus they need to be celebrated. Over the next few weeks here at The Albrecht we are going to share with you all that we know about picnics and today I’m going to start with the patio picnic.
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Patio picnics could be called deck picnics, yard picnics or garden picnics, whatever you like and they are held anywhere outside of the four walls that you call home. Because I have no yard, my only option is my patio, unless you would like to count the front steps, which I have actually picnicked on before as well. When you are arranging a patio picnic comfort is king. Don’t get held up on the notion that you need to eat at a table. Throw down a blanket, or a couple of pillows and you’re set. Our patio only has a coffee table so l like to lay out a few fluffy pillows for people to sit or kneel on. A cozy throw can also be the difference between rushing through dinner to get back inside to warm up (since we really aren’t even in summer yet) and an evening spent enjoying the sunset. The other delightful thing about a patio picnic is that you can put a little more thought and attention into the mood. Bring out a few lanterns, candles or even a string or two of white Christmas lights.
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With the close proximity to your kitchen you don’t have to rely on traditional picnic food or serving dishes for that matter. That isn’t to say that I would say no to having baguette, wine and cheese at my patio picnics, it just means that I might go to a little more trouble for one or two items. Maybe try a warm dish or maybe something cooked on the grill. If you are looking for a little inspiration try these Artichokes Basted with Anchovy Butter. You will thank me! Now get out there and eat dinner outside tonight.
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Green grows the garden

It’s early evening in the garden. The sun is low on the horizon and the warmth of the day is beginning to fade. For some reason, this is the time of day when dozens of dragonflies make an appearance in the sky about my yard. I see them here every year in the summer. They dip and zoom through the air as they search for food, or whatever it is they are swarming over. This is about the time I turn on my new garden lights.

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There are a couple of new additions to the garden this year, plantings of zucchini, cucumber, nasturtium and cheery overhead lights. I’ve devised a plan to hang strands of lights, zigzagging back and forth across the garden on the same stakes I put up for the plants. Since we are often our relaxing in the garden in the dusky evening, I think the lights are going to be a great addition to our enjoyment of the space.

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My garden seems to be doing a very good job at reflecting life this year. Parts of it are planned and organized with neat straight rows and even spacing. I’ve been working towards the best way to create green “walls” around the garden with pole beans, towering tomatoes and colorful dahlias. It’s taken a few years, but I think I’m getting this figured out! Other plants are randomly taking over the pathways, like the lettuce stalk that went to seed last summer, tossing hundreds of seeds out amongst the gravel. Turns out that I am getting some really lovely heads of lettuce from this random seed placement. Same story with the arugula that has been growing so rapidly that I’ve resorted to sharing bags of it with friends to keep up with its growth.

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The lettuce and arugula have been a wonderful start to the season. Along with those volunteer crops, I have been tending to an early salad garden with generous plantings of kale, mizuna, pretty speckled lettuces and my favorite French breakfast radishes. My salad bowl is a pretty delicious place this time of year.

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I am also giving the English peas another shot this year. I swore I wasn’t going to waste precious garden space on them again after last year’s dismal showing. The plants came up only to fall to some terrible pea pestilence before any pods reached maturity. But it’s funny what a winter’s worth of grey will do to my resolve. So with a new variety of seeds and a little crop rotation, my fingers are crossed for a better outcome this year.

Where ever you are this season, I hope a little spot of green – farmer’s market, community garden, herb pot in the window or acres of vegetables – crosses your path this summer.

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Radish salad with spring greens

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A few weeks back, I mentioned my radish craze. Each season, I feel like I cannot get enough of the spring-fresh roots, so I plant them all throughout the garden. Staggering the plantings across several weeks, I am always hoping for a steady supply of radishes until the summer heat gets the better of them. As luck would have it, my first planting of radishes grew out of control this year.

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Radishes are one of those garden crops that are fast. Twenty two days from planting until harvest, boasts my seed packet. It may not be quite true, but I didn’t bother counting. In the early stages of spring, 22 days sounds like another season. But there they came, those hardy first seedlings pushed out of the ground with determination and haven’t looked back. So when I came back from another weekend away, more than 22 days later, my ombre french breakfast radishes were a little bigger than desirable. I felt some dedication to the radishes, my first harvest of the season. So I carefully pulled them up, left their leafy foliage in the garden and scrubbed away the last bits of dirt that clung to the roots.

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If you have ever seen a radish grow past it’s prime, you’ll know what I mean when I say they can get a little spongy inside. But I was still determined to get to use the radishes. So I put together a salad recipe that I hoped would save them. And even though we’ve eaten our way through the giant radishes, we’re still enjoying variations of this salad with the more appropriately sized roots!

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I have also been using a recent addition to my pantry in this salad. Browsing the vinegar section of a local grocery store, (I know, who goes searching out vinegar for fun!) I found a store brand bottle of rosé vinegar. Being a bit of a rosé enthusiast, I couldn’t pass it up. Deliciously pink, the vinegar has a bit of a sweet hint. It adds a lovely flavor to the radish quick pickle, but if you can’t find any, I can’t help but think a champagne or similarly mild vinegar would work out just fine.

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Radish and spring green salad

Serves 2

Radishes, about 8, thinly sliced and cut into matchsticks
1 tablespoon rosé vinegar
Sprinkle of salt
2 cups mixed greens, baby arugula, pea shoots, fresh herbs, etc.
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 chunks of feta cheese

Combine radishes, vinegar and salt in a small bowl and let sit for at least 10 minutes. Toss radishes with salad greens and olive oil and arrange on two plates. Season to taste. Top with the feta cheese and serve.

 

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Breakfast is for champions

P1060655Breakfast is a meal that I can’t live without. I am starving when I wake up in the morning and even after a good breakfast I am ready to eat again before noon rolls around. On weekdays I keep things fairly straight forward, steel cut oats with cinnamon and fruit, the weekend is a different story, I like to leave things open for meals that are a bit more exciting. After last weeks rhubarb blitz I have been feeling ready to embrace the flavours and bounties of spring. Asparagus is another seasonal veggie that I often forget to enjoy when it is actually fresh and local. Usually by the time I remember that it is asparagus season, the best of the spears have long since be snatched up by other foodies like Ginger, who must have some sort of alarm system set up in their smartphones reminding them which items are currently in season! At any rate, the grocery store was full of local asparagus this past weekend and I greedily snatched up a bag full with the hopes of turning it into a weekend breakfast delight.P1060665
The internet seems to be teeming with spring asparagus ideas, here are a few that I have been excited about trying out:
Asparagus, Zucchini and Ricotta Tart
Asparagus Leek Flatbread 
Spring Breakfast Tart
Asparagus with Fried Eggs

I decided to start with The Jewels of New York’s Spring Breakfast Tart, mainly because the photographs looked so lovely. Yes, I am a sucker for a good looking photograph, and if there are no photos with a recipe, well it is like the recipe didn’t even exist. Keep that in mind if you are trying to get me to make one of your recipes :). With cheese, eggs, bacon and asparagus (I had to ditch the arugula flowers because my local grocery isn’t cool enough to carry them) this tart is sure to impress any breakfast guest!

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Très tragique

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We have all had a few tragedies in our day I’m sure, but some of us have had a few more than others. The word tragedy is perhaps a little strong as it conjures up more serious events, I however am talking about “tragedies”. Those events that were so totally devastating at the time but now, in hindsight, are actually pretty amusing and are the stories we often share and laugh about. I have had my fair share of these sort of tragedies. For me, tragedy started striking early. There was the time that I fell down a flight of concrete stairs with my arms zipped inside my jacket, the time I decided to draw a raggedy ann doll face on my own face with markers, then there was the time that I ran over our dog Max while racing down a hill on my bike, and the time I was biking so fast that I missed my corner and hit a telephone pole… the list goes on.

But aside from the physical tragedies, kitchen tragedies also started early too. There was the cornstarch and powdered sugar debacle (which I may have mentioned before), the time I sneezed into the cookie dough and of course the time Ginger and I did an extra thorough cleaning job on my grandma’s cast iron pan. As I’m sure you can see, I didn’t have a smooth start in the kitchen.

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While I may not be the most graceful person around town, I have gotten things a little more under control. It has been so long since my last kitchen tragedy that I really couldn’t even tell you about it. Now instead of kitchen tragedies, more often you will see what I like to call “kitchen disaster bombs” around my house. The disaster bomb differs from the tragedy as it isn’t rooted in failure, but rather it refers to the beautiful mess left by a cooking project. This delicious, tart and sweet rhubarb crumble was a total kitchen disaster bomb! The remains of which can still be found sprawling across my kitchen.

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One of my favourite and regularly under used spring time treats in rhubarb. This vegetable, as it turns out, is often times just a conduit for strawberries. Strawberry rhubarb this and strawberry rhubarb that, what about just rhubarb? Last spring, a favourite dessert to come out of my kitchen, was a plain old rhubarb pie. Calling it both plain and old really isn’t fair, because it was nothing of the sort, but it’s simplicity was delightful. This spring I am hoping to make a few more rhubarb-centric kitchen disaster bombs, starting of course with this Rhubarb Crumble, which was inspired by a crumble over at Local Kitchen.

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Rhubarb Crumble

Filling
½ brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1¼ lbs rhubarb,  trimmed and sliced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
pinch of fleur de sel

Topping
¾ cup flour
⅔ cup almonds, toasted and chopped
½ cup old fashioned rolled oats
⅓ cup brown sugar
½ tsp fleur de sel
⅓ cup butter, melted
pinch of fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Make filling: In a medium bowl mix together sugar and cornstarch. Add the rhubarb, lemon juice and zest, and salt. Mix well to incorporate all the ingredients. Set aside.

Make topping: Combine in a large bowl flour, oats, almonds, sugar, salt and pepper. Using a fork blend in the melted butter.

Make crumble: Transfer rhubarb and all its juices to a 9-inch baking dish. Using your hands press the crumble into large chunks and place it on top of the rhubarb sprinkle with remaining smaller bits of the topping. You can use your hands to even out the crumble so that all the rhubarb is covered.

Place baking dish in the oven on a rimmed baking sheet, in case of drips. Bake until golden brown and the juices are bubbling, about 40 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature and always topped with ice cream!

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Forcing the issue

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I am starting to get a little antsy for spring. We’ve had a few days of invitingly warm weather with all of the trimmings of spring—lovely temperatures and blue skies filled with drifting white clouds. The trees are beginning to send out anxious green leaves and the tulips are exploding with color. It seems like the season is taunting us though, because just when we set up the patio, the temperatures take a dive and we hurry back inside to warm up. I don’t really mean to complain, but this year I am really looking forward to the warmer months ahead.

Since the weather is not consistently cooperating yet, I’ve begun to force the issue at the table with our menu choices. The comforting and filling soups of winter are gone, saved for another season. My roasting pan is taking a bit of a break from cauliflower and cabbage. Instead, I’ve been looking to vegetable combinations in crunchy salads to make our meals feel a little lighter. I pulled my mandolin out of the pantry and I’ve been thinly slicing everything from radishes to fennel and endive. For some reason, the paper-thin slices of these vegetables evoke spring, even though they have been in my salad rotation for months now.

Our unusually warm winter may have had a hand in it, but I have a row of arugula from last year that is coming on in full force right now. It is a wild variety with leaves shaped like that of a small dandelion. Tufts of dark green foliage are sprouting up in the garden and growing at a surprising rate. While there are not enough greens to fill the salad bowl, I know I’d better keep them trimmed before they get ahead of our salad habit.

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So when I found a salad recipe that plays the tongue-tingling pepper bite of arugula off of salty halloumi cheese and tart cherries, I was excited to give it a try. Around here, halloumi is known as “barbecue cheese” by my son. During the warm summer months, I like to throw a couple of slices onto the grill, pairing it with just-cooked vegetables or fresh salads. In this recipe, the cheese is cooked on the stove, which works well even if your patio is not quite ready for spring!

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Spring greens and halloumi salad
Serves 4

Adapted from Sunset magazine

Dressing

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Salad
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 cups salad greens
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
1 package halloumi cheese, drained and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
4 small sprigs of oregano

To make the dressing, combine the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

To make the salad, toss the sliced fennel with the lemon juice in a bowl. Combine the salad greens and dried cherries on a platter.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat, add halloumi slices and oregano sprigs. Cook, turning once, until the cheese turns golden brown. The cheese will give off some brine as it cooks. Once the brine dries, it will be time to turn the cheese. Cooking time will be about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and discard the oregano.

Toss the greens and cherries with just enough dressing to coat, then toss in the fennel. Arrange the halloumi slices on top of the salad and drizzle with any remaining dressing. Serve immediately.

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Link Love

The Sound of Music may have had a significant role in my childhood, but I am not going to break out into song as I tell you about the lovely green hills out my back door. Every spring, I have this crazy wish to go drive through the countryside and soak in the green. The fresh color is fleeting and soon turns to golden yellow, then stubble. I do love the transition, but I think the spring green has to be my favorite.

Anyway, a week or two back, I convinced the powers that be to join me for a little picnic and country drive. I know, it is hard to argue with a picnic! And after a busy weekend of yard work and shrub planting, a little time away from the house was not a bad idea. We drove through some of the more quiet cycling routes around the valley. So beautiful!

Since I’ve been digging around in the yard and staying out of the kitchen, I thought I’d share a few links with you instead of a recipe this time. I hope you enjoy!

Round out your taco bar with one of these.

Drawing inspiration.

Speaking of inspiration, you can’t miss these images.

Walla Walla Sweet onions are in season and I’ve been dying to try this.

I’ve already planted a few maple trees this week, but I wouldn’t mind adding one of these.

This salad is becoming a regular at our house.

Pondering life and rhubarb.

Oh, you have a sweet tooth, too? Check this out!

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Sunny days


Coming off of basically two weeks of delightful weather, today was a little lack luster to say the least. So instead of dwelling on the present let’s focus on the past! The preceding sunny days have been a welcome introduction to summer, filled with evening walks, bike rides, fresh spring greens and summery drinks. These sort of days are meant to be taken advantage of.
Virtually every evening included a walk home over the bridge in the evening sun and a quick stop by the store for a few fresh dinner supplies.


Last years parsley plant, which has gone to seed, proved useful in casting beautiful shadows and a few spring greens made some of the best dinners.
And as always Stanley Park didn’t fail to impress. If these last few weeks have been any indication of the months to come I must say that I really can’t wait for summer. I can only hope that the little rituals of sunday walks, bike rides and evening treks over the bridge and to the beach will become summer time habits.

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Spring vacation

We’re gearing up for some big excitement next week – Tina and I are running our first half marathon together. We’ve been training for 12 weeks or so and I’m looking forward to seeing our efforts put to the test! So, while I’m skipping the country for the next week, I thought I’d leave you with a few images of spring in my corner of the world.

These happy tulips line the driveway at our house. They never seem to last long – some crazy spring storm or another comes whipping through town and they are done for. But in those sunny spring days when the flowers are blooming, I’m always appreciative of my mom. When we moved into our house, there were some bulbs in the front flower beds, but I wanted to add more. So, I trotted off to the store and bought a crazy amount of bulbs – bags and bags of them. But then I got home to my one-month-old baby and promptly lost all energy for planting.

Somewhere round about then, my mom showed up, shovel in hand. Now this flower bed is not easy digging – filled to the brim with rocks. She set to work on those bags of bulbs and managed to plant them all. In subsequent digging efforts, I’ve often admired her determination in planting all of those bulbs. I sure do enjoy them every spring – thanks, Mom!

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Unpredictability

There’s a magical little lane around the corner from me. It’s narrow and winds slightly from side to side. It crosses a couple of lazy streams and is lined with endless blackberry bramble. It’s mostly bramble now, but I’m counting on all of that changing in a few months. Then it will all be blackberry deliciousness!

But back to the lane – one of my other favorite features are the wild plum trees that sit along one side of the road. Back in this woodsy section of road, those plum trees are the first ones to start showing signs of spring by bursting into confetti-like blooms. The trees alternate colors between pale white and the softest pink. And after a short showing, the petals shower down and drift across the roadway. By then, the lilacs and maple will be showing promise of their first leaves. Spring really is lovely in my little corner of the world.

And this morning, in the middle of all of the plum blooming frenzy, it snowed. Turns out that I woke up early this morning. It was one of those one-eye-open type of mornings when I knew I should be up and running because some of us are trying to be dedicated. But there is not much training to be done in the middle of a March snow storm.

Instead, I got out my camera to share a couple of pictures with you. That counts as some kind of dedication, right? Happy spring!

 

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