There is something to the austerity of winter that makes the bounty of spring feel indulgent. With its relentless cold dark days, heavy wet snow and endless parade of root vegetables, those first few bright green things of spring seem positively fanciful. Vivid colors abound, curls, tendrils, feathery tips, sweet delicate flavors spring, unsurprisingly, is very bewitching indeed.
We put the screens in the windows and doors at the farm the other day. A simple gesture, albeit not a simple task, signaling a time of year when days are spent with the windows flung open and the cool (often still downright chilly) clean air rushes through the house; working its way into all the corners and blowing out the last cobwebs of winter. continue reading
I still remember where I was, the meal I was having when I first came across fiddlehead ferns. In the tiny raw-wood panelled dining room of Kitchen Table Bistro in Vermont on one of those balmy spring evenings, just as it is now sitting at my desk writing this. The windows were opened, just a crack, and the new season breeze gently puffed at the beeswax candles on the tables. I watched as candlelight flickered over the wine blushed cheeks of the other guests. We ordered a bottle of sweet minerally white which was on our table sweating slightly in the warmth of the dining room – little beads of water running to the bottom of the bottle and pooling in a damp ring on the tablecloth. We sat and sipped, drinking it all in – the wine, the atmosphere; all of it.
And out came a taste from the kitchen; a tiny homemade brioche toasts with spring pea pure and the most delicate slice of house smoked trout caught from the river further down the road. I remember loving the buttery richness of the toast and the way the smoke from the trout stayed on my tongue until I washed it down with a cool sip of wine.
We had asked the server to bring us what he thought was the nicest of the first courses that evening. Each choice had sounded as wonderful as the next and we were indecisive and caught up in the romance of the evening, too giddy to make the decision ourselves. A perfectly elegant plate of fritto misto arrived. Not a mound of fried things but rather an incredible considered plate of fine spring vegetables accented by a verdant herb sauce strategically painted in swaths on the plate. There were flowers too, bright yellow and purple, sprinkled about the vegetables and they looked beautiful against the green. And so we began to sip again on our minerally wine and nibble at the vegetables wrapped in golden lighter than air batter. So light in fact that instead of weighing down the tiny spring parsnip, mushroom or ramp it somehow brought out the succulent flavor of each. And on that plate were also a few perfect fiddle heads – tasting of fresh spring earth, bright and citrus like asparagus but deeply earthy like spinach. I was elated and intrigued having tasted something I hadn’t known before and queried the server about them. He graciously gave me the explanation of their origins, young unfurled fern fronds foraged from the Vermont woods. His own affection for these rather unusual spring vegetables pronounced in his wide grin and excited tone. Since this meal I often though of our server that night as I too excitedly awaited the arrival of fiddleheads each spring. They have become something of a harbinger of spring and feel like a great reward after winter’s limited produce. I regularly find myself overcome with a feeling of elation and excitement when standing in front of a stall at the farmers market and seeing fiddleheads for the first time in spring.
The key to this recipe is to use the freshest and most delicious ingredients possible. As with all simple things, it is the quality which makes this humble omelet extraordinary. Try and find the freshest eggs and the most plump green fiddleheads you can. Of course this omelet is wonderful for breakfast but I think of it more as a meal or lunch or dinner. It is especially lovely served with a simple mescaline salad and a cold glass of white wine.
I noticed this morning that the dogwood has flowered. Tiny dark, muddy pink flowers, more hull than petal. And in another week or so the tree will be a swath of most delicate light pink across a greening background. The lilac is starting too. A few more warm afternoons and they should be ready for cutting. I cant wait to fill the house with vessels full. I am caught up in the tactile world of spring. Each day the landscape shifts perceptibly before me as leaves burst forth and flowers spring open. One day seems to bleed into the next with no clear end or beginning. Just a continuous unfurling the days vacillating between blissfully warmth and raw wetness and nights which are still decidedly cool, cold even.But, gone is the fierceness of winter. The tempestuous winds have died away and the acuminous cold no longer strikes you when you step outside. On morning walks over the fields and through city streets alike, it is still chilly. The dark coldness of night having settled in the wee hours and continuing to lingers into the mornings. Admittedly thought this hasn’t stopped me from opening the windows before going to bed. There is something peaceful about drifting off to sleep wrapped up in heavy layers of blankets with the cold on my cheeks and a symphony of peepers call out over the night. It is something I relish with childlike delight.
In the mornings I make my way to the kitchen wrapped in woolen jumper, toes tucked warmly into slippers. I fill the kettle and place it on the stove, light the burner, watching as its great blue flame leaps up against the shivery morning. I often wrap myself in an additional shawl while waiting for the kettle, knowing these layers will be shed before afternoons arrival. But still, the added layers and warmth of hot tea are a necessity. So to is a warming breakfast. But, it feels to late in the season for hearty bowls of squash porridge and to early for light sweet fruit. Not that any is readily available just yet anyway.
I often eat a bowl of miso soup for breakfast this time of year. I love its earthy salty broth and the addition of a few cubes are tofu make for a wholesome beginning. But there are days I crave something equally as satisfying with a bit less broth and a little hint of sweet. For those days, I have been making up big batches of pistachio granola and topping it with spicy poached pears.Alone, or with a dollop of thick natural yogurt beneath, this breakfast seems to straddle the gap of cold mornings and warmer days just perfectly. The granola gets a richness from the olive oil and the most delightful crunchy clusters form around the pistachios as it bakes. The baking of the oats and honey have a magic of their own. They perfume the mornings wrapping the house in a kind of warm spell and chasing away the last of the nights chill.
Pistachio Granola with Honey Poached Pears
for the granola
- 1 cup oats
- 1/2 cups oat bran
- 1/3 raw shelled pistachios
- 1/4 hemp seeds
- 1/4 sesame seeds
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp sweet extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp garam marsala
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- pinch of salt
- preheat oven to 410 degrees
- spread all the dry ingredients on a large parchment lined baking sheet.
- Drizzled with the honey and olive oil and toss well to combine
- spread in a thin even covering on the baking sheet and bake for 10/12 minutes or until golden – being carefull not to burn.
- remove from the oven and let it cool so the granola becomes crunchy
for the pears
- 1 bosc pear- pealed, cored and cut in half
- 2 cup water
- 1/2 tsp whole cloves
- 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
- 1.5 tbs honey
- add spices, honey and water to a small sauce pan
- bring liquid to a boil
- drop in pear halves, reduce to rapid simmer, cover & cook about 15 min or until pears are tender.
- at this point remove the pears – continue to reduce the poaching liquid until it becomes a syrup like consistency if desired or simply discard. this may take up to 30 mins. The syrup is lovely drizzled over the granola and pear but not necessary
spoon a small amount of natural yogurt into a bowl and place warm pear on top. Then sprinkle generously with granola
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention and in the case of this recipe, that is exactly what happened.
This invention was born on one of those days of one of those weeks. A white rabbit sort of a week. The kind where you spend the whole week rushing around never knowing quite what day it is and perpetually shouting, either into the phone or just in your own head, “im late! im late”
And then comes Friday, and all you want to do is sigh a great sigh of relief and relax, perhaps pour a little glass of red wine and have something which feels very decent and indulgent on the table.
The first signs of spring are pushing their way into the world. Tiny green shoots among the previous years grasses, delicate snow drops dot the gardens and the old magnolia tree is heavy with buds. Some days I find myself lighting a fire in the fire-place but other days, I have the windows thrown open, perhaps prematurely as I end up wrapped in layers, but the heady smell of the new season is powerful and irresistible; anything seems possible.
There is something thrilling about the first days of any new season but particularly I think to spring. Storms blow through often and with unmatched ferocity. Frost creeps in when you don’t expect and the occasional few inches of snow are still falling. These early days ask us to, rather consistently in fact, embrace the unexpected. As temperatures flip-flop and time changes come to pass, plunging us into darkness where there had been light and lifting the shadow of dark winter afternoons, we must wait patiently for what we know is coming. I, somewhat happily, awoke the other morning to find spring banished altogether and in its place, a wintery blanket of snow. Confused and delighted, I pulled on my boots and trudged out into the white world knowing full well that it wouldn’t last into the afternoon. I think it a bit remarkable that even after being away from this place for so long, I still understand its basic pulse. I feel pleased that the childhood memories of this land, not the film strip type of memory but the ones embedded and entwined in the land, endure after so much time away.