A Cooks Garden

iDSC_0561Everything comes full circle and at the start of 2016, after many years of living and working abroad as a chef, I found myself back living in Ireland next door to where I had been raised. DSC_0565Growing up here, most people had a little back yard plot and my family was no exception. My grandmother lived up the street and that was where my first experiences in tending a garden began. And everywhere I have lived since, I have tried to maintain a garden. IMG_20160217_082815 I remember the gentleman who owned this house and garden. He was quite prolific and meticulous. Had he been here now to see its current state, he would have been very upset to see the neglect. As you can see, its a jungle and over the years people had used the space as a dumping ground for domestic waste. Beer cans, broken bottles, rusty nails, plastic bags, plastic containers, carpeting, bones leftover from someones many dinners, bottle caps and the list goes on. IMG_20160217_082740 I decided to clean it all up and try to restore the garden to its former glory. It was an enormous undertaking and one that would eventually take me over two months of work.IMG_20160308_171422 It certainly seemed daunting and it was difficult to figure out where to begin because it was so overgrown with small trees, shrubs, brambles, ivy and weeds.DSC_0624 During the process of clearing out the space, I accumulated all of this debris and garden waste. There was more than just one of these piles and it all had to go. IMG_20160316_181621These steps were excavated. I had forgotten about them but here they were, unwalked on for decades. The garden path, so to speak.IMG_20160313_164009 I wanted a blank canvas for myself before I could even think of planting anything. Thus far, the only tools I had available to me were an axe, a saw, a pair of secateurs and gardening gloves. At this point, I was very encouraged. I knew that after years of neglect, I had the next best thing to virgin soil. But nothing is that easy.IMG_20160417_164932 As above, so below. Once the work above the ground was completed, the next task was to begin digging to see what the soil actually looked like. Be careful what you wish for, in this case, because I noticed all of these roots. It is a weed that spreads underground and if left unchecked can take over a garden. Which it did. It sends up a shoot that grows by binding itself around another plant and basically chokes it. They are very prolific and can grow fast. I declared war on it. IMG_20160321_183220I dug up kilometers of this chokeweed by hand using a shovel only. No chemical sprays were used as I believe in the principles of organic gardening. One thing that I noticed as I was digging the garden was that there were no earthworms. That would have to be rectified and I placed that idea on my priority list as well as a composting bin.IMG_20160723_190742 The organic gardening principles and philosophy that I adhere are simple. In addition to to composting and allowing earthworms perform their magic, I also use a four year crop rotation plan, heirloom or antique seeds, save seeds, companion plant, and employ a basic approach to bio-dynamic and lunar gardening aspects. The goals are to have a simple kitchen garden to supplement my cooking ideas, a garden that is sustainable and one that welcomes pollinators.  IMG_20160608_163455 The four year crop rotation plan includes legumes, alliums, roots and brassicas with room to plant a little extra for self satisfaction as well as the herbs I enjoy using in the kitchen. For the year round cool weather climate that is experienced in Ireland, there is plenty of scope to grow. And eat. Eat like a peasant.IMG_20160716_171806.jpg

 

 

 

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Raw State

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I decided to leave Portugal behind me late in 2015 and in December, I returned to Ireland to my hometown. After relocating, I found myself living in a house with a garden that had been neglected for many years. Once upon a time it had been a thriving garden. I had a connection for this particular “terra” and early in February (Spring, according to the ancient Irish calendar), I felt that this garden space needed a little bit of attention.

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It was a daunting task. It was unclear how to proceed because of the state of the space was so far gone. When I started blogging the initial premise of thewayofthecook was the theme of from seed to table. I thought that I could use this space to continue that theme. But there was a lot of hard, grunt work ahead of me. All the gardens that I have worked in were always ready to plant. Not so, in this case. So I began to clear it. Inch by inch, square foot by square foot. 

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It took me six weeks to get this far and this is just above the ground. The space measures about 1,100 square feet but I am only going to use about 800. And everything had to go, rocks, bottles, domestic refuse and that was only above the ground. 

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And this is how the kitchen garden looks three months later. May 1st is tomorrow. The list of flowers to attract pollinators includes bluebells, aquilegia, honeysuckle, lavendar, roses, sunflowers, foxgloves, borage and morning glorys. The list of herbs and leaves includes parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, chives, tarragon, bay, wild fennel, arugala, mesclun and red oak leaf lettuce. The list of fruits includes cherry tomatoes, gooseberries, strawberries and rhubarb. There is also peas, fava beans, cabbage, brussels sprouts, potatoes, scallions, shallots and red onions. Later I hope to put in beans, swiss chard, beets, turnips, radishes and celery root. If space permits. All has been done with organic and bio-dynamic methods. I hope to return to blogging with the seed to table theme. Eat like a peasant.

My Way With The Thrill Grill Cult.

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For any earnest cook, intent on cooking what the sea has to offer, Al-Garvean fish markets are a sight to behold. Every time I go, I am stunned by what is on offer. I have had to re-invent my perception of the classification of fish and seafood. I have also had to learn the Portuguese translations for all these various fishes. The upper class of fish available includes (not all) the likes of the European seabass, mullets, drumfish, John Dory and monkfish. Another class involves all the various sea bream including gilthead or dourada, porgy, white sea bream, sharpsnout sea bream, two-banded sea bream and blackspot sea bream. Then there are the sardines, various mackerel and anchovies. The list continues with swordfish, needlefish and scabbardfish. Let’s not forget all kinds of tuna either. Then there are the cartilagenous fishes like dogfish, various rays and skates. Various eels and various flatfish. The classification continues with octopus, cuttlefish and squid. Then there are all the assorted and sundry crustaceans like shrimps and crabs. Last but not least are shellfish like clams and oysters. I really hope that you, dear reader, get the idea of what the expression “bewildering display’ means. (painting by Pedro Fernandes)

 

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This hibachi grill will have to suffice for a bit longer. It is not going to last and I need something far more sturdy and durable for my actions with fire and a grill.

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Now….this is a grill.

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This is a steak cut from a species of fish known as Corvina. The other corvina that I know of is a grape varietal cultivated in the Veneto region of northern Italy. It is used in the production of Valpolicella and Bardolino wines. But corvina, the fish, is a member of the drumfish family. Some people might refer to it as sea-sheep, or shade-fish . It is usually sold “a posta”, in other words, cut into steaks.

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Al-Garve cooks take the idea of simple to another level. I marinated this corvina in extra virgin olive oil. Before it went on the grill, I seasoned the fish steak with local sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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Fish is served as is. There is never any sauce. People think that there must be something wrong with the fish if there is a sauce. For me personally, once the grilled fish is plated I like extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. The Al-Garve is awash in some of the best olive oil around and there are no shortage of lemon trees.

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Quinta Shanti is an organic vegetable farm located in Conceicao de Tavira. This is where I buy my vegetables. This composition included wheat berries, golden beets, mustard greens, mizuna and red leaf lettuce. Eat like a peasant. Thanks for reading.

Gastropunk meets Alternative Algarve

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Fish swimming in shoals in the sea brings to mind the Chaos Theory. It also reminds me of the frenetic energy involved in busy, fast-paced kitchens. There is always method and reason.

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I am also reminded of the Portuguese soccer coach, Jose Mourinho. He tells his players that they will play and subscribe to a particular style of footballing philosophy. This idea is also true with food. I prefer to cook in a particular style and with a certain attitude. Bees 3 versus Monsanto Corporation 0.

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Instinctive and fundamental to my culinary beliefs are the ideas of eating local foods, seasonally and organically. This means you inherently support your local farmers, growers and the good people that bring you your food. I am lucky to have found an organic farm near where I am located.

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Quinta Shanti is 90% self sufficient. In addition to grapes, olives are grown. Plus figs, apples, pears, peaches, oranges, lemons and apricots. I have not even begun to list the vegetables.

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I have an agreement with the farmer to buy vegetables from them once a week. This is great news on a number of different fronts. It introduces me to the rhythms of the Algarve growing season which is very different from what I left behind in New England. Even though there is a municipal market in my new town, Tavira, it is still largely supplied by the industrial food chain. You have to careful, observant and disciplined with your purchasing decisions. It is good to be able to recognise an industrially grown tomato or to be able to see what garlic was grown out in the back of the vendor’s garden.

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The Portuguese love their dried beans in all of their various shapes, colours and texture. This chick pea salad has the addition of fresh coriander. I have never eaten as much coriander in my life. I can’t find basil anywhere but coriander is used abundantly and then some, everywhere.

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I only have eyes for you. Say hello to piri-piri peppers. These little peppers pack some serious heat. Whilst the shrimps have never seen the inside of a freezer, their flavour is enhanced by generous amounts of garlic. And yes, it is necessary to have all that delicious olive oil on the plate.

 

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Algarve wines have come a long way in the past 3,000 years. Phoenicians, Romans and Moors all had a hand in this history. Nowadays, some of the better wines available have achieved D.O.P. status and that’s good news for me and you.

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Algarve style fish baked in a pot. I arranged the 1/4 ” sliced potatoes in the dish, shingled so as to be reminiscent of fish scales. I filled the cavity of the fish with rosemary and lemon. I seasoned the fish with Tavira D.O.P. flower of sea salt and sliced garlic. I moistened the dish with white wine, tomato juice and D.O.P. quality olive oil. Serves one.

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I’m still hungry. All that ocean and salt air! This eat out of your hand snack includes local fresh goat’s milk cheese, cherries and pistachios on home made whole wheat bread. Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

From my Secret Laboratory.

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At this early stage of spring, my Headiterranean Mediterranean garden is already gearing up. This is Radicchio di Treviso in all it’s splendour.

 

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Little French Breakfast radishes all lined up for spring duties.

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The garlic was well mulched and covered in snow all winter long.

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No spring garden is complete without chives.

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Alpine Strawberries sunning themselves in the afternoon sunshine.

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My backyard Asparagus is making an early run.

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Wild arugula and wild fennel at play together.

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The raw materials for tonight’s supper includes radicchio, arugula and chives.

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I wonder…….

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First of the season Asparagus Frittata.

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The days are bright and its good to be outside but the nights are chilly once the sun sets. That’s my excuse for turning on the oven. I roasted the codfish with my garden thyme and rested it upon the salad leaves. I’m hungry so I made potato-fennel gratin and roasted rutabagas to accompany. More than enough to satisfy my soul.

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Loaves and fishes or fish with potatoes. Eat like a peasant. Thanks for reading.

Cooking For Kelpies, Syrens and Samhain.

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As above, so below……..and on my Halloween or Samhain kitchen altar, it is mostly root vegetables, leaves and herbs picked from my little kitchen garden. Halloween is the Celtic New Year. And when you live by the hook, you have to reel or creel some kind of fresh fish in for the table. This is the time of year to celebrate. And be mindful of the thin line between the living and the dead. On the wild Atlantic coast of Ireland, each fishing village will have its tradition and history. Though the weather is not as guaranteed as other parts of the planet, I still like to call the west coast of Ireland the Riviera of the North Atlantic.

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Seaweed has been a traditional fixture in the Irish coastal peasant kitchen for centuries. It has also been used as fertilizing material for kitchen gardens. Kelp grows extensively in Irish waters and it is literally there for the picking. Another reason to fight for cleaner oceans. Apart from being a seal, a kelpy was a maritime mirage of a beautiful woman luring fisher people onto hard rocks. But I want to make a sea weed stock with the kelp to fortify my fish cooking efforts. This is good because it is also vegetarian. And seaweed is an excellent source of micronutrients.

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In my seaweed stock, I braised my kitchen garden garlic, onion, leek, carrot and turnip with some thyme. They were immersed in the hot stock. They will be needed for more cooking later. Sirens and syrens.

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My traditional Irish brown soda bread will be on the Samhain table, best served warm with real butter.

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There was a time when we did not eat potatoes. They came much later. But here they are. My twist on the old favorite was to simply smash the potatoes lightly with a little bit of milk and butter. This way the potatoes retain some texture and character. i folded in garlicky, sauteed swiss chard, parsley and raw scallion. I used what I had from my garden to celebrate this Samhain. But, as far as I am concerned, you have to have potatoes with fish, somehow. My tradition. My potato dish is a version of the classic Colcannon.

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Dillisk, or dulse, is another seaweed found in Irish waters. And also found just north of Boston in Maine. Shop local when you can.

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I just broke up the dulse as chunks and threw it in. It has to be my favourite seaweed. Now we are ready to cook our seafood surprise for the Samhain syrens who live under the sea. Halloween with a mermaid.

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Goddess of the sea, keep us safe while taking your fishes. Eat like a peasant. Oiche Shamhna shona dhaoibh.

Trattoria Sardegnese by the sea

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Fresh seafood. Indeed. Everybody has it to sell but it is not always up to scratch. It pays to develop a relationship with a good fish-monger. Mine is Jason from RedsBest in Boston. It may not be the widest selection. And that’s okay because what is for sale is only the freshest fish. And it is all caught by small Massachussets fishing-boats. The quality of this fish may best be described as super premium. Take it from one who knows.

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This is a whole monkfish, courtesy of Jason from Red’sBest. Truthfully, I have never broken down a whole monkfish. It’s a scary looking fish especially with those intimidating teeth. Jaws! or how to cut your teeth with monkfish.

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From my kitchen garden plot…….the end of the orange “Valencia” heirloom tomatoes. This is their swan-song. Kiss them good-bye until next year.

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“Carta di Musica” is a traditional, unleavened parchment bread from Sardinia. This cracker bread is rolled out as thin as a sheet of music paper. Breads of this nature are almost always made with white flour. I add a very generous percentage of whole wheat flour to effect a more rustic texture.

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My favorite way to eat the parchment bread is part of a “salad” antipasto. Cherry tomatoes, basil and thyme are from my garden. I did not make the goats cheese shown but it sits in a quick marinade to “butter” over the cracker bread.

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The classic pasta from Sardinia is fregola. It is Sardinian cous-cous. The Arabs ruled over Sardinia at one point and certainly made their mark in the kitchen. I like fregola because it is not machine-made. Also, the pasta picks up extra flavor because it has been dry-roasted. This action increases the nutty, wheaty flavour I love. I want to cook the fregola like a risotto.

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Monkfish…….trimmed up. Ready for roasting.

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I cooked the fregola with garlic,carrots and red peppers, adding a measure of saffron and herbs. The fregola has absorbed the color of the saffron. And I want to make fregola patties to pan fry.

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I roasted the monkfish tail on the bone for more flavour. I dressed the fish with the orange “Valancia” tomato from which I made a roasted tomato vinaigrette. I went heavy on the salad. All those fisherman away at sea crave their greens and vitamin C when ashore. Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

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Adagio per Andante.

Crescent Moon, Red Sea

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Night fishing in the Red Sea comes with its own unique set of circumstances. Not only are the currents, tides and reefs but there are also some of the fastest and hungriest of sharks to compete with. This rhythm of living is not for everyone.

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This is tilefish. The warm water currents pushing up from south bring this fish to Massachussets waters. It gets to live in these currents just off of the continental shelf. Local small boats race out the distance, about 100 miles, fill their holds and race back to shore. This tilefish is brought to me by Red’s Best Seafood in Boston. And on a personal note, thank you Jason Tucker, for bringing Boston the freshest fish.

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I can only imagine the conditions aboard a dhow, especially from a cook’s perspective. On small boats, it was a shared responsibility. Nonetheless, you are cooking off the grid, astride a moving body of water and hoping you are not the one to set this craft afire. I can only imagine the arduous conditions in which to feed people.

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Hawaj is a blend of spices from Yemen. Traditionally, it was used to flavour sheep, goat, or even, camel on the desert caravans. Hawaj is a melange of turmeric, black pepper, cumin, clove and cardamom. Its flavour profile is tart peppery.

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I dry rubbed the tilefish with the Hawaj seasoning and let it sit while the fire came to temperature and the  grilled the fish. I grilled garlicky pole beans to offset the warm spiced nuances of my Hawaj.

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I seasoned pototoes from my garden with Hawaj. I was not disappointed.

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My Hawaj relied on the princinciples of dhow cooking……no pork, no alcohol…..and limited humble resources……..but plenty of fire.

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My Hawaj is conspicuous by its lack of broth and a dhow. I used a base of tomato juice and rested the seasoned, in this case, cod in the plate with thyme, preserved lemon and Aleppo pepper from Syria. I crossed my fingers and hoped I would not be tossed overboard.

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Every peasant gets this idea of having a flat bread to clean up your plate with. I have rubbed my flat bread with a simple rosemary brush in order to spread the oil around. I have only grapeseed oil.

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Rosemary and coarse sea salt flat bread or hearth bread.

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My interpretation of Hawaj…..with the sea. As the fish cooks, fissures appear. you can see where the juices and olive oil meet. Hawaj can be prepared to your degree or level of heat. I suggest going mild. Let your fish speak with an Arab flavour, insh’allah.

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Yemani coffee is a dying species. For coffee afficionados, this is too bad and that is another story for another night. Haul in those nets. Thanks for reading and eat like a peasant.

Hookah, Line and Sinker.

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The latest buzz is that my little garden reaches its peak around this time with the arrival of dozens of honey bees. They are attracted to the yellow blossoms of wild arugala. It is still just a little early but when it happens, it is a phenomenon because all you can hear is the low drone of many bees at work. It can be a bit unnerving if you are not used to it. I have learned not to wear dark clothes because the bees think that I am a bear looking for trouble. If I wear a yellow t-shirt, everyone gets along. Anyway, this experience has convinced me enough to take a bee-keeping class next Spring. Let’s see what’s for supper to-night. Guess whose coming to dinner?

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The answer to the question is easy. Natty dreadlocks is coming for dinner……This pizzette or fully loaded flat-bread is topped with roasted peppers, Taggiasca olives and a creamy goat/sheep’s milk feta cheese. I like to make this hearth bread with 50% whole wheat flour for a more rustic, peasant style. It is definitely earthy, crunchy at a whole other level. This bread starter that I use dates back to last January.

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This is going to be the back bone of supper to-night. Tomato, in Italian, translates as “Pomodoro” or literally, apple of gold. These heirloom tomatoes are called Orange Valencia. They are, in my opinion, a sauce tomato rather than a slicing tomato. I will trim, blanch, shock, de-seed and prep the tomatoes so as to proceed with supper. I’m in the mood for Middle Eastern. Let’s see what else the garden has to give.

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Hello, cauliflower. Earlier this year, at which time it seemed like a good idea, I bought a flat of six cauliflower seedlings. Of the original six, three survived. The variety is called called “Snowcrown”, a commercial strain you might see in a supermarket. My snowcrown came with a purplish tint. Thats not what it looks like in the catalogues. I think my little visitor was as surprised as me. Cauliflower was introduced into Europe by the Arabs. Middle Eastern enough, so far, so good. I am not repulsed by the sight of a live snail on my cauliflower. Snails like them. But, in this day where chemicals are everywhere, I am happy to think that I have a …..fresh garden.

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This zucchini squash is a Middle Eastern heirloom named “Cousa”. It might even be Syrian. It looks like it has adapted to its shady, woodland location here in my New England back-yard. This was a re-seed from my compost heap.

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Garden centric grain salad composed of farro, heirloom carrots and pole beans, garlic, tomato and herbs. Farro, a relative of wheat, also has its origins traced back to the Middle East.

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I made a mild curry style stew with my tomatoes, garlic,cauliflower, zucchini and herbs. I decided to double starch and imagined this with either simple boiled potatoes or brown basmati rice. I’m a sucker for fish and potatoes any day, anyhow.

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But this callous dhow boy is in the mood for fish too. I marinated swordfish in extra virgin olive oil, light curry spices, garlic, lemon zest and herbs for about thirty minutes. Then seared the swordfish in a hot skillet. I transferred the still rare sword fish to the cauldron and completed its cooking. Minutes later. The swordfish is cooked. It has absorbed mild spice flavor and is meltingly moist. This is how I like my seafood stews. Sometimes, the spice can seem a little coarse or rough. I like like to smooth out those rough edges with a little honey. Honey is the main sweetener in this kitchen, honey! You do not need a lot.

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10 foot sunflower plant. Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

Fishermans Blues.

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Bluefish is an under-rated fish. In its favor is its abundance and relatively low retail price. It lends itself to a variety of cooking techniques. I like it either roasted, grilled or smoked. It is an oily fish but does not have the same glam or mass appeal that salmon has. Besides, they still have’nt figured out how to farm bluefish. That’s good for you and me. Now we need to clean up our oceans. In the meantime, sustainable and transparent fishing practises need to be encouraged and supported by rules, science and technology, as well as giving a meaningful voice to the people who fish.

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And now for something completely different…….a tale of two eggplants. How do you tell the sex of an eggplant or aubergine. This is good to know if you enjoy eating eating eggplant. The eggplant on the left is a Sicilian heirloom eggplant called Rosa Bianca and it’s a girl. The girl eggplant has an elongated mark, indentation or slash. As a cook, you do not want the girl eggplant. There are too many seeds. The spot marking on the boy eggplant is “markedly’ smaller and is more desirable. This is a white eggplant. Looks like a duck egg, hence eggplant. These identifying blotches are located at the base of the eggplant, so, like everything else, you must hold them up to be able to see.

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Caponata is a classical Sicilian vegetarian antipasto or appetizer composed of eggplant, celery, olive, caper, onion, garlic and parsley at its most elemental. If the eggplant or celery is not a clue to it’s Arab origins, sometimes caponata’s inclusion of saffron might give it away.

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A small plate in the style of Sicily. Caponata with grilled tuna dressed with mountain fennel seed vinaigrette with grated lemon zest. Sometimes it is the small items which get your attention. The fennel seed came from my little kitchen garden. I used locally caught albacore tuna from my friends at RedsBest seafood.

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Next day caponata doubles over on top of flatbread with goat/sheep’s milk feta. This would never fly traditionally but it tastes great when you are in a hurry and hungry. I always have a home made pizza dough in the fridge for emergency’s and this is a good example.

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I roasted the bluefish. I started it on top of the stove by searing it and finished it in the oven. I ate the fish with pole beans along with a grape tomato, shallot rings and basil leaf salad from my little garden. Olive oil and lemon juice over all.

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This bean has a beautiful flower. I’m not sure of their name but the beans grow to a slender 18-24 inches long. The name might be something like “Serpentina Rampicante”……….a long snake-like pole bean. I hope I get some beans because they have struggled for me. This flower reminds me of Sweet-Pea which reminds me I should really plant some next year. Thanks for looking at my blog. Eat like a peasant.