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




The Salt Cod and the Olive Press


Throughout the sweltering summer months, olives are slowly ripening in the fields around Tavira.. Also, during these months, it is time to harvest our local Tavira sea salt. Later in the year, it will be used in the preservation of foods.


Autumn is the season for olive picking and growers begin to arrive at the local olive press to extract the oil from their olives. Though the varietal composition of our local olives groves is unique, the most popular olive grown locally is the “Manzanilha Algarvia”.


My local press usually runs 24 hours a day at this time of year. Manzanilha Algarvia is a dual purpose variety used for table olives, green or black, and olive oil. Its current status is at risk of disappearing as the majority of the trees are old and receive little care.


The olives are weighed, de-stemmed, washed and sent to the crusher.


It not as romantic as one might imagine. The process is highly mechanised. This mash is spun rapidly. Centrifugal force separates the oil from the pulp as well as any water content.


And out pours this seasons extra virgin olive oil, ready to be purchased and brought home to be used as soon as possible.


The extraction process is very transparent. I was able to walk around and shoot photographs without getting yelled at. I paid 20 Euros for this container.


The day is also a social occasion with the local olive growers discussing the seasons events from the weather to the quality of the crop, whose olives are of better quality or what varietals of olive were grown. If you play your cards right, someone might ask you to taste their homemade Medronho or moonshine.


Bacalhau a Lagareiro is a traditional Portuguese dish from the Beira region of northern Portugal. However, the dish is popular on restaurant menus in the Algarve. Bacalhau is salted cod. “Lagar” translates as olive press and a “lagareiro” is the operator of the olive press. This dish is attributed to that particular owner or employee. In it’s most basic form, it is a simple dish of potatoes, onions and salt cod. Instead of using the more traditional accompaniment of smashed “Batatas a Moura”, I had leftover boiled potatoes that I sliced thinly to line the bottom of an earthernware casserole dish. Next, I spread sauteed onions and garlic, flavoured with bay and thyme, over those potatoes. I added a handful of olive oil marinated olives to further honour the olive mill worker. Throughout, I used my freshly pressed olive oil liberally. I moistened the dish with some white wine. Lastly, I shingled lemon slices over the salt cod to protect the onions from the heat of the high oven. I added a little salt to those lemon slices to help ‘bleed’ some juice of the lemon onto the fish as it cooked.


It can be a substantial dish, befitting it’s roots of feeding hungry olive mill workers. The olives and garlic become roasted, robust flavours for a robust fish. I did not eat the lemon slices. They were discarded as they had performed their function in protecting the melt in your mouth onions from being charred. The parsley, perhaps my most favourite herb, was used to brighten up the plate. Eat like a peasant.













The Callous Dhow Boy Ashore in Asir


Asir translates as “rough country”. Asir is located in Saudi Arabia on the south-western coast of the peninsula. The rough country begins offshore with dangerous currents. Fishing dhows making their way to land at seasonal fishing stations also have to be wary of the coral reef that extends along the Asir coastline. The breaking waves are a give-away to the location of the reef. The immediate change in the color of the water, deep water beside the shallow water of the reef, also reminds you
of the dangers that you cannot see. Ironically, the rough country of Asir is also the most agriculturally fertile region of the peninsula.


This is Triggerfish. It is a tropical fish that migrates in the warmer currents of summer to New England. It is also one of the most widely abundant fish in the ocean, with over 40 different varieties. They are also a reef dweller and one of the more spectacularly  colored fishes in the sea. There is plenty of this fish species and are definitely worth tasting. Try it before our oceans acidify and it is priced out of the water. Credit for this fish goes to Jason Tucker of RedsBest Seafood at Government Centre Farmers Market. The freshest fish in Boston.



Kabsa is the national seasoning of Saudi Arabia. Traditionally, it was or is used to season chicken, or sheep, or camel. The inland town of Khamis Mushayt is a center of trading along the spice route in this region. Fedayeen or peasant fish cooks, in this case, blend their own bag of sunshine to cook fish. Kabsa includes turmeric, coriander seed, black peppercorns, ginger and cardamom pods. However, each dhow or fishing station will make their own blend based on what is available to them. Asir has always been a player in the spice trade historically and serious cooks do not give their measurements away easily, always holding onto one last secret ingredient or source of supply in order to show who is the best cook.


Even though triggerfish is a smaller fish, it is naturally territorial in the reef. Indeed, I have heard of divers being attacked after disturbing their nests. They are well equipped with teeth and they will draw blood, not a good thing in a reef full of barracuda and shark. There is also stonefish in the shallow wading waters.
These filets are about 4-5 ounces each, which means that they will cook quickly. I rubbed them over with olive oil and kabsa seasoning, then added thyme, minced onion and preserverved lemon.


Kabsa spiced fried eggplant for triggerfish. As a defensive posture, the fish can raise a dorsal fin which is locked into place by a smaller secondary fin. This second fin must be “unlocked” before the larger fin can be reset. And they will attack you, if disturbed.


It was the Arabs that introduced cauliflower to Europe. I cooked the cherry tomatos so that they would go pop, and release their juice. I want the cherry tomato juice to be the main body or vehicle to carry the spice nuances. Kabsa is warm but you can add heat. A touch of honey can also work to smoothen out the rough edges of the spice.


Think local, act globally. Saudi Kabsa with Massachussets fish.


Sun setting on Asir. The mountains are forty miles from the coastline. They range as far as the eye can see from the beach and extend up to 7,000 tall and even though it is humid at the coast, the wind brings scents of mountain herbs like thyme, arugala blossom and rosemary. Full of lure and intrigue for an off loaded fisherman. A caravan will pass through this area in a day or so en route to Khamis Mushayt, located in the mountains. It is time to prepare for desert travel and cooking on the ship of the desert.


Translated, the Arabic reads as “produce of Saudi Arabia”. The blackseed in question is Nigella. I know it colloquially as “Love in a Mist”. It is black cumin seed and the finest honey in the peninsula comes from Najran, right on the edge of the Empty Quarter, the Rub’al Khali. Or the desert of classical icons. There is no such thing as sugar in that region. It is all about the honey. Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

Fishermans Blues.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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.

My Big Fat Celtic Lughnasadh


Lugh is the ancient Celtic god of light in Ireland. His holiday, Lughnasadh, is usually celebrated around this time. August 3rd is the halfway point between Summer solstice and Autumn equinox. Lughnasadh is the beginning of the Harvest season according to their calendar.


This guy was the real deal. He was built like a Huey helicopter. He has those furry shoulders with the black spot. And those bug eyes. He was the biggest bumble bee that I have seen this summer. Thanks to him and his friends I have something to eat.


Eggplant or aubergine always grows slow for me. I see baskets of it on sale at the markets. But mine are still at the flower stage. They did suffer a setback with an attack of flea beetle but I think i got them all. So hopefully I will have some classic black eggplant one of these days.


This cauliflower will be ready in a few days…….or sooner. I was’nt expecting the purple colorization but I like it.


This is the mystery squash that re-seeded itself. It was suggested to me that it was an acorn squash. I’m not so sure. I am hoping that it is going to be one of those beautiful Cinderella pumpkins with that brilliant flash of orange. If you ask the universe……I will be happy with whatever I get.


This is one of the potentially good stories of the year for me. These are fava bean flowers and they look good with no scars or blemishes or evidence of insect attack. I have planted them before in the Spring with not great success. This year I tried for a Fall crop. If I get to pick fava beans then the tinkering will have been worth it. This is their last chance to deliver in this garden. Fingers crossed for fava beans.


The secret life of rutabaga. This is a new vegetable for me to grow. I am told that they are easy to grow in New England and they are also able to overwinter in the garden for Spring digging. This is exactly what I want. It will help me, I hope, to achieve one of my gardening aspirations. That is, having a productive micro garden 365 days of the year.


A baby zucchini or courgette, blossom still attached. This is another re-seed. This is good enough reason to love a compost heap. You just never know what you are going to get as a surprise. And if you get nothing, well, that’s the surprise too.


This is what a brussel sprout plant looks like in August……morning condensation on miniature sprouts. This is a long-haul plant for me. Brussels sprouts grow slowly but it is worth the wait. They are an exercise in patience. These will not be picked until Christmas.


………Buzz-kill! Nobody wants to see this. This wasp just folded, rolled over and that was it. An apian snuff-shot. Whatever is destroying the honey bees is also impacting wasps, hornets, and bumblebees. I have never seen this before in my garden.


This is another exercise in patience. It is August and I still have asparagus going snap, crackle and pop. Though it is their fourth year in my garden I picked very lightly. And I think I did the right thing by them, given their location. They will thank me next Spring with abundance.


This is the rest of the asparagus. All those little pods look like other worlds suspended in the asparagus belt. Asparagus is a fern. Ferns like woodland. Woodland suggests shade. The trick with asparagus is to have it go snap, crackle and pop before the leaves on the trees come out.


Traditional to Lughnasadh is the grain harvest and the baking of bread. Subliminal in the photograph is the image of the Cross. The notion or concept of The Cross  can be traced back into antiquity. Bread symbolized the sun and fertility.


Garden supported simple cooking. Leeks, fennel, garlic, small tomatoes cooked in their own juices with olive oil. Yes, that is a black tomato, not an olive. Roasted monk fish medallions with just picked parsley and basil. Add lemon zest.


I found the last dandelion. It looks like fireworks but I guess it must be a trick of the light by Lugh. If I am lucky I can forage for dandelions next Spring.Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

How to go Organic.


I imagine my little kitchen garden. And I work with nature. I want lots of bees smothered in pollen, drunk on it. Yee-haw!


How to go organic…….there are lot of ways……….start with compost and earthworms. And thank busy soil organisms hard at work for you in your space.


Take care of your seed. Bless it when you sow. Observe the weather. Keep a garden journal. Know the cycles of the moon.


Weed early and often. Enjoy the gifts of the season. Save your seeds.


And while you are doing all of that and more besides, try to learn how to make polenta. Four Star Farms are on my blogroll. Give them a turn.


Polenta is the widow-maker of northern Italian cooking. Organically speaking, who feels it, knows it.


Most of all, going organic is the right thing to do. And everything that you grow always tastes better anyway


And everything you make and cook will taste better.


From my little space…….cauliflower, pole beans and garlic.


Going organic means celebrating the seasons. I love striped bass caught in New England. For me, it is the best of summer with lots of vegetables. Credit to RedsBest Seafood at Dewey Square Farmers Market in Boston for this immaculate striped bass. I braised the fish in a version of Ratattouille with Poblano peppers and ate it with lots of basil from my garden. Eat like a peasant.

Grill Interupted.


Who does’nt like grilled potatoes?


I have never grilled cauliflower before but I like the look of it already. I tossed it with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. After finishing grilling, I will pour more olive oil over it.


This piece of bread dough weighs one pound. I’ve stretched it out to about a 10-inch round. My little grill is only so big and I do not want to smother the flame. Let’s throw this on the fire.


I enjoy grilling because the technique is so elemental. But it is a skill that requires attention. This grill has no bells or whistles, no knobs or temperature gauges. You are on your own. All it needs is a match and some paper to get the lump charcoal lit. Fire and air to keep it going. The attention to detail is really what matters, from getting the bread onto the grill to not burning it.


The bread is beginning to bubble. That’s good. There is some heat underneath. The zen balance is the size of your grill, your fire and your bread. I own a small grill which means I build a smaller fire. With a smaller grill, the bread is going to be closer to the fire. The temperature of the heat is important. You do not want to incinerate the bread. And last but not least, don’t be screwing around taking photographs. I can smell the bread burning.


That was close. Maybe a hair on the dark side but still looking good. And now the underside.


This looks good enough.


Spiedini di gamberi marinato alle erbe. Shrimp skewers marinated with garden herbs. I used parsley and rosemary. Garlic and lemon too.


Shrimps over fire. Thanks for reading and looking. Eat like a peasant.

A Spring Garden


A little bit goes a long way. Just when I thought asparagus season was over. It has not been the easiest spring seeding. Blame the weather, blame the seed, blame my compost, whatever. And bugs too. Ants, slugs, beetles, snails and on the wing as well. Horseflies too, I got bitten by one. Hopefully, I’ll have some lettuces this spring. The astute eye will note the reseeded miniature wild fennel as well as the newly formed squash/pumpkin plant.


But there is no shortage of wild arugula no matter what the conditions. It is indestructible and tastes great too. Now is the best time with the new tender leaves. It looks a little “holey” but that is the nature of organic gardening. A little imperfection without chemical interferene.The darker leaf is mustard and also rejuvenates itself against all odds every year. Everything else in my little space needs time, kale, peas, fennel, leeks, onions and garlic. Later this month, again weather pending, I will plant pole beans, spinach, carrots, beets and turnips. Tomatoes even later again. The nights are still cold here, 43F here tonight in New England. It will be nipping at zero or freezing point elsewhere in New England. That’s a real buzz kill in terms of wanting to go out and actually plant something. So my romaine lettuce did’nt make the cut but the kale did and thats the zen beauty of organic gardening right there. Nature fills a vacuum. I’ll try planting romaine lettuce again and see what happens but in a small garden it has to compete for space with other plants that are doing fine.


One of the cool things about having a garden and there are many. But, for me, it has to be the authenticity it adds to the flavors of your cooking. Pure, clean and simple. Such that you can understand how certain dishes became classics in the first place. This is asparagus risotto shown above. It has taken me a long time to get to this point to be able to understand such a simple, elegant dish and, more importantly, grow the asparagus. Maybe next year, I could grow the freaking rice. Hmmm, food for thought……..paddy grown rice. The irony!


According to the UN, we all should be eating insects and bugs already. Locusts, wasps you name it. Grasshoppers too. I myself have not got to that point yet but understand the reasons. The concept of vegetarianism is not so alien after all. A healthful choice of animal protein derived from local artisenally reared organic USDA approved insects or a plate of local organic, sustainable carrots grown in rabbit or chicken manure. It’s all good.
This local insect, which hovered nearby like a Huey helicopter, was not for dinner to-night. He was busy pollinating. I run my local, sustainable, bio-dynamic and organic garden on the Blackwater, USA model or a soccer team. I contract out all my gardening jobs to insects. The good ones, that is. In fact, I have my own little air-force……..lady-bugs, preditary wasps, honey-bees. As well as a clandestine wing of spiders and a thriving underground of earthworms. If you use no chemicals, they will find their way to your garden and populate it. Eat like a peasant.

More Ass Than A Toilet Seat……..the garden.


I have been eating chives for weeks here in New England. Soon, these chives will flower and I will eat them too. You can see where they will burst open, those little brown pointy things at the top. These yield tasty chive blossoms. Chives are low maintenance and come back every year………..no matter what!


Desiring a kitchen garden is one thing, putting it together is another. I have a small space and my goal is to have something growing in all seasons, even in the tough New England winter. I planted this garlic back in late November. They look good so far but I won’t see a garlic scape until June. These lived under a weight of snow for months.


Now this is what I am talking about…….90% of what I grow in my little space are heirloom seeds and plants. This is the original radicchio. Obviously, it is going to taste different from what you would experience in it’s original turf, but it is grown in my back yard with the best intentions and spirit. And it looks very pretty too. The best thing is that it is a perennial. I love low maintenance.


The low maintenance gardening theme continues with mustard which re-seeds itself somehow every year. I don’t plan for it but it all becomes part of my garden foraged salad mix in the spring. I have lots of free wild edible plants in my back yard from dandelion to chickweed to purslane.


What spring garden is not complete without radishes. In amongst them are re-seeded wild mountain fennel from Sicily.


This is an Italian variety of lettuce called “Regina di Maggio” or Queen of May. I’m thinking good luck, see you in June. It has been a cold spring here, a dry spring here but usually around this time I expect to see bigger baby lettuces. Cue to me….more weeding and thinning of plants. I have some Romaine lettuce someplace else but not today. These need to be thinned out.


Blueberry blossoms………the race is on between me and the local squirrel population.


Rhubarb…….another perennial and low maintenance too. This is heirloom rhubarb too. Good stuff!


I have struggled with peas this year or peas have given me a hard time. Either way there is a 3 week difference between the good looking one with pea tendrils and the line of peas emerging behind it. Give peas a chance. They are one of the first things I plant in the spring. This heirloom pea is called “Telefono” and Italian in origin.


Strawberries…….more perennials and more low maintenance. These are Alpine strawberries. The squirrels can eat these but not the blueberries.


Black raspberries………old growth and new growth.


Parsley……my favorite kitchen herb. These are transplants but I know I threw down some parsley seed somewhere……a whole bag scattered…………ferns in the background………..no fiddleheads.


Preserved lemon. No, I did not grow the lemon but it is a handy kitchen pantry item. But I did make these from scratch.


After a gruelling day in the garden, I want something to ease the muscle ache, tease the brain and taste good. This is a blend of chopped unsalted pistachios, salted capers, preserved lemon and chile flakes. This is down home Sicilian Arab cooking. Baby, I love you so.


Baked cod with lots of stuff not from the garden………..it takes time to grow the food. In New England, it can still get down to 40 degrees at night. Thats too cold for tomatoes yet. Three more weeks, fingers crossed. Maybe next time, I can show you leeks, kale, brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Way to soon for any mention of tomatoes.

Nice Ass


I know. When all else fails, asparagus attracts an audience. I planted asparagus crowns four years ago. This is the first year I was able to pick anything meaningful. Despite the snowy winter, despite the colder, dryer spring, my little micro climate in my little kitchen garden delivered for me. And then it was over. See ya….gone…..done. This is asparagus with braised fish, preserved tomatoes and olives.


Pasta and asparagus, a spring classic. One permutation of Pasta Primavera. I added baby arugula from my garden to pad it out.


Asparagus soup……pureed and finished with extra virgin olive oil and garden chives.


Grilled asparagus. No more asparagus until next year. I have to wait on garden asparagus risotto. Maybe I should try to expand the asparagus plot. Another three or four years in the making. In the meantime and the be here now, I am picking arugula, radicchio and mustard greens everyday for spring salads. It does not sound like much but it sure beats buying salad mix. I saw it being priced at $4.49 for 5 ounces up the street in the local supermarket. I like my flavor better. Better my garden bugs and insects than their Salmonella and t’ing. Eat like a peasant.