Sunday, May 15, 2011

Viva Printemps!!

Spring is here and my herbs are bursting out of their containers for the most part. The first lavender blossom showed up last week and the rest are not far behind.  I planted five or six lavender plants all of which I brought as slips from my Mill Valley garden when we moved here. They are so easy to propagate, just break off a little stem and shave the bark off the bottom and stick it in the ground.  I have the "grosso" varietal which produces large oily fragrant flowers.  Each summer I make lavender wands to use in my linen closet, drawers and to give away to friends.  I used to stick one under my pillow as it is said to help you sleep better but the sticks kept poking me so I relegated it to the nightstand. It smells so clean and fresh and makes me happy. 

As a matter of fact all herbs make me happy.  I gave up growing vegetables as my "garden" is a steep hillside full of rocks.  A few half wine barrels is all I have room for and I'd rather fill them with herbs which grow  year round here.  Rosemary tumbles over the retaining wall, one wine barrel is dedicated to French sorrel from which I make a fabulous Sorrel Soup from the "Silver Palate" cookbook as well as use it in salads or stew it up and mix it into baked potatoes for a lemony kick. Another half wine barrel is filled with thyme and sometimes basil, yet another is brimming with oregano and chives.  There are pots of mint, epazote and Mexican marigold, that tastes just like tarragon.  I can't grow French tarragon here as it doesn't like the wind or salt air I guess so one of my Farmer's Market vendors suggested the marigold.  It comes back every year and has a pretty yellow flower. Epazote is another Mexican herb that I love but like mint you have to control it or it takes over the universe. It is commonly used in black beans but I also like it chopped up in summer vegetable stir fries and in quesadillas with mushrooms and corn.
There is this out of control purple sage bush that is still in it's original gallon clay pot that I haven't seen in years. I just stick the watering can in the center of the plant and somehow it gets watered and thrives. Since it doesn't bloom it doesn't die back. This I use when I do skewers of vegetables and/or chicken. Just string a few leaves in between the vegetables or chicken on skewers and grill. Of course in the fall it is the "Thanksgiving dinner go to herb". It dries well but what the heck I have it fresh year round.
 Each year I replant Italian parsley and the aforementioned basil. Chives make their annual appearance with the beauty purple blossoms. I never seem to use them however. This year I am making a concerted effort to use more chives.  Other than a newly acquired rose geranium and the wild fennel that I let grow in one spot, these are all I have room for.  Herbs are every bit as attractive as flowers especially when they flower themselves.  I keep sprigs in water on the counter top  like a bouquet of flowers and I can just chop them up as needed.
Barrels and pots of herbs
Purple sage and thyme

French Sorrel

Another of my favorite spring foods is rhubarb.  That is one plant that eludes my green thumb. I think it is too warm for it to thrive out here. One of the women who's blog I follow, Shae at Hitchhiking to Heaven had the same problem and she also lives in California. Our other blog mates from the East coast are picking wheelbarrows full of it and we can't even get a few stalks!  Oh well at least I can find it in my local supermarket.

I just roasted up this bunch and put it in a jar in the refrigerator to use in smoothies, over ice cream or to add to my Sunday brunch fruit. Rhubarb crisp is on my list of things to bake and I hope to get in a batch of rhubarb marmalade this year.
Roasted Rhubarb
To roast rhubarb, cut it up into small dice to equal 6 cups. Toss it with 3/4 c. sugar and 2 Tbsp. orange juice. Place in a baking dish and cover with foil and bake at 350 for 25 min. Remove cover and bake another 10 min. It should be soft but not mushy like when you boil it. This is the method from Alice Waters' "Chez Panisse Fruit" book.  She uses freshly squeezed Valencia oranges and the zest too. I didn't have any but did zest a Meyer lemon with good results.

Green garlic and  spring onions are showing up at the Farmer's Market too. These are so yummy added to the grilled vegetable medley we do whenever we can.
Grilling spring veges
Just cut up a variety of vegetables, steam or blanch hard ones like carrots, fennel and broccoli. Toss them all in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper, a few red pepper flakes, rosemary and thyme sprigs. Transfer to a grill pan and grill them over medium heat for 20-25 min.  You can spritz them with balsamic vinegar when they are done.  I used red and gold bell peppers, mushrooms, spring onions, green garlic, broccoli, baby red and orange carrots, fennel bulb cut up and a leftover tomato cut into wedges.
These are good warm or at room temperature as part of an antipasto platter (nowadays I chop them up into soups for Steve).

That my friends is my ode to Spring!