Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel
It is one of those moments of lush greenery, over-abundant grass, buds on all the rose bushes. The ground has taken in the recent rains (which were plentiful and intense, I'm still cleaning up the leaks around the house), and fed the plants, pushing them high into the bursting sunshine. Except for the fact that I'm more than a bit daunted to get out my light-weight and slightly rusted lawn mower (will it work? will it konk out from the effort? and do I really want to behead those lovely daisies?), I feel a bit like Eve lost in a Garden of Eden. I'm wavering between living with a field out back, or choosing to trim it down to a yard.
All my plants are growing by leaps and bounds, as hackneyed as the phrase may be. Along the back fence behind the pool are two climbing rose bushes liberally splattered in yellow flowers. On the Eastern facade, the jasmin is weaving into the red rose bush, densely covering the wall beside my door. The butterfly trees, small bushes just last year put in along the little fence keeping wee ones out of the pool, are towering above me. All is at its most abundant, excepting my fig tree. It is not looking happy, which has me worried. I'll keep my fingers crossed that it didn't die this winter. However, as I took a walk out my door -- once the repeated thunderstorms had finally ceased -- I saw that many another fig tree is fully in leaf now. Oh it will be sad if I can't have my twice yearly yield of wonderful figs for tarts, jams, sorbets and more!
A happy Fig Tree
It took rather awhile for my day to unfold -- my jet lag still has me a bit woozy. I managed the morning routine, even getting up just a bit earlier to shower and get things on the table for my brood. I got them all off to school, under the dark clouds of the night's storm and the day's rains to come. Then off for a bit of shopping. My kids are ok switching to unsweetened Dutch cocoa with my organic sugar rather than their traditional highly processed Banania brand, so one less item on the list. But, with 6 of us, the need for shampoo drove me to buy the cheap large family size brand (and me, so proud of my glorious mane!) Ah well, there's no hiding away chic shampoo from my kids, ditto for my favorite black currant and blackberry jams. Once they get ahold of them, poof! they disappear. At least no one is borrowing my clothes or jewelry, though my hair brush has gone missing more than once.
I sprang for a guinea hen to test out another recipe from Sophie the beekeeper. The recipe actually calls for duck, but I'm in the mood to test a trick on the dryer guinea hen. This recipe uses Isabelle's (the goat cheese lady) trick of putting a fresh cheese in the cavity of the bird before roasting it. She promises me that this is a great way to keep it moist as it roasts. We shall see hm? Two birds with one stone eh?
I confess to crashing for a serious early afternoon nap. Awakening to blue skies (what could be nicer?) I went for a walk with Filou to drive the dust from my brain, clear some passages (after sticking the bread in the oven... it wasn't a long walk). In every direction: green. It is rather overwhelming. Yesterday I was inspired to weed my garden (yes, a weekly event), and to liberally fill my salad bowl with my collection. Even though so many texts say that dandelion greens are better young when they're just in their crown stage, I happily clipped and rinsed them and added them to our salad with some red leaf, toasted sunflower seeds, freshly sprouted grains, olive oil from the winery, a touch of soy sauce and a squirt of lemon. Delicious!
I also served my first asparagus of the season. I'd waited till the price was under 6E/kilo, and picked the slender green stalks rather than the more work-intensive fat white ones. I chopped and snipped them into 2 inch lengths, and then tossed them with olive oil, a touch of water to let them cook till tender, then minced garlic and a squirt of lemon juice. All but Jonas just dug right in. I'm amazed and relieved that Leo's little boy snookiness about food has now evolved to an age of trying everything. The evolution of a child's palate. One has to have hope and a certain blasé attitude. N'est-ce pas?
Here's Sophie's recipe as I noted it. However, the proportions are approximations of her memory of what she did. She never writes anything down, and she never does a recipe twice. It is only when I'm in her house and at her table that I can ask her about the meal she has just cooked, and thus hope to get at least the full list of ingredients from her. Quantities must then be worked out till they work just right.
Enjoy, and if you try it, please do give me your feed back and/or suggestions!
Duck with Orange and Chestnut (or wildflower) Honey
For the duck:
A farm raised duck if possible
2 mild 20% fat fromage blanc (plain yogurt will work for this, about 1/2 a cup)
a large pinch or two of Herbes de Provence
the juice of 1/2 an orange
One orange peeled and cut into eighths
Olive oil for drizzling
For the Sauce
The juice of 3 oranges
A large pinch of Herbes de Provence
1/4-1/3 teaspoon cumin grains
4 Tablespoons honey vinegar (or cider vinegar)
4 Tablespoons chestnut or a richly flavored wildflower honey
A sauce for the giblets and liver
3 large shallots sliced to form a 3/4 cup
olive oil for sautéing
The giblets and liver minced
1 tablespoon honey vinegar (or cider vinegar)
1 glass white wine (about a half cup)
1 cup of chicken bouillon/stock
Preheat oven to 400F/200C
Take your duck and remove the giblets and liver, put aside. Pour the yogurt and the herbes inside and spread them around the inside of the duck.* Pour in the juice of 1/2 an orange and fill with the orange slices. Pour olive oil on the bottom of a baking dish, place the duck in it, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in the oven. Baste with the first sauce above after it begins to brown (20 minutes). Continue basting till the sauce has been all used.
* This is a trick that our goat cheese lady Isabelle uses as well – for duck and guinea hen, she always puts a fresh cheese or yogurt in the cavity when roasting. This helps keep the otherwise tough bird moist.
Make the first sauce by simply mixing together the ingredients in a small bowl. After the duck has browned a bit, start using this sauce to baste the duck – the presence of the honey will develop a caramel crust on the skin of the duck. Depending on the size of your duck, it will be cooked in an hour and a half or simply in an hour.