Fleur-de-Faith

April Patch It happens as the tail end of winter slowly creeps into spring.

I wake in the middle of the night, as the snow starts to recede and before birdsong lights the morning, with a haunting question: Did the garlic make it through the winter?

Oh ye of little faith.

The final pile of sanded, salted, and cindered snow melted last week in Centre County. It was time to trudge down to my garlic patch to check on my babies. Whew, every row was highlighted in evenly spaced green sprouts of garlic leaves pushing up through the mulch of straw and oak leaves. One young garlic plant actually skewered a brown leaf, piercing through its center.

As the soil heats up, I will gently pull the mulch back from the plants, allowing spring rains to enter freely, piling the mulch between each row, suffocating any weed seeds itching to germinate.

I Skype with Marina and breathe with relief. “My garlic’s up. It made it through the winter.”

“My garlic’s been up for months,” she reports from the land of Ghent, where nary a snowflake settled on the ground.

“We had such a brutal winter…I was afraid it might not make it,” I whisper, with the regularity of Punxsutawney Phil.

Oh ye of little faith.

What it might come down to is garden guilt.  You see, I was reading the Penn State Vegetable Guide and it recommended side-dressing garlic in March with a quarter pound of ammonium sulfate for every100 feet of row. The plants, PSU seems to say, need a St. Patrick’s Day nitrogen fix.

I don’t know about you, but in March I was planted on the couch under an alpaca blanket, hibernating with yet another Catherine Coulter FBI-shoot-‘em-up-non-suspense (the good guys/gals never die) library book. Venturing out to the frozen, snow-covered garlic patch with a bag of fertilizer is not my cup of Earl Grey.

Then I was sorting through my piles of papers, ruminating on the winter of tragic accidents, close calls, near misses, and yes, even loss. I found a clipping from The New York Times. A garlic grower was boasting about growing garlic bulbs the size of baseballs. Mine are closer to golf balls. Comparison breeds gnawing doubt.

I’ve been nurturing my garlic, up to a dozen or so varieties, for more than a quarter of a century. I grew garlic in the limey soil of the cement belt in Coplay, in the shale soil of Maxatawny Township, now in the clumpy clay of Happy Valley. Forget bulb envy, golf-ball size is good enough.Sprouted Garlic

My winter garlic supply in the unheated garage is dwindling. It’s time for dinner. I reach for a bulb I moved to the kitchen and forgot about. There it is, in all of its glory, cloves full of spirit and sprout. It wasn’t planted and mulched with care, fertilized or coddled. No garden PhD coached those cloves, yet here they are, sprouting new green leaves, stretching out to capture the sun, and air, and life itself.

Oh me of garlic faith. Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

– John Muir

Fleur-de-WhiteonWhite

White RosesI really don’t mind the snow. It’s the chopping, scraping, salting, sliding, slipping, crusting, spinning and skidding of ice that puts me in a frosty mood.

The antidote arrived purely by accident.

We often buy a $3.99 mixed bouquet at Trader Joe’s featuring colors of red, barest pink, lavender, coral, or crimson. But one day, I chose white.

Winter white, I thought, so boring and plain. I was so wrong. While the snows piled up against the sliding door, freezing it in its track, I watched those white roses slowly unfurl.

Elegance. Structure. Simplicity. Delicate folds of white on white, white in white, gently opening to greet my winter-weary stare. The edges curl, the petal tips brown, enhancing the beauty of each bloom. A week passes, then two. Soon, it’s time for another white rose bouquet, calm, graceful, slowly opening a path to spring. Laurie Lynch

Fleur-de-Fantabulous

Goodnight Moon

Goodnight Moon

The New Year is off to a fine start in my neck of the woods. JoePa (and Penn State football players) have their wins back and our dear friend Joyce Turley published “Brownie Points: Bite-Size Life Lessons,” available on Amazon.com

Now, I must confess, the book is dedicated to “the women who have always supported my wild dreams” and my mother, Marie Fedon, is one of seven women named. I’m hardly an unbiased reader…but, OK, I’ll say it, you’ve got to read this book.

“Trig,” as my mom knows her from their days at Penn State, has filled her 86 years with adventure, networking, and going for the gusto. And oh, what a storyteller she is.

Just settle into the sofa and read her vignettes that circle the globe, from a tiny town in Pennsylvania to the oil fields of Texas to professional tennis matches in Oklahoma and escapades in San Francisco. Off she goes to England, Hong Kong, Nepal, Cuba, and both Poles. Her lessons and crumbs of wisdom follow her everywhere, and they’ll make your journey through life all the better. When you are done reading, bake a batch of her brownies and share the wealth.

Belgian Babe: The highlight of our holidays was spending them with my granddaughter Lais, and her parents Sabine and Richard. There is no better gift than a smile from a 6-month-old cutie pie. Unless it is watching her blow raspberries, roll over for the first time, or scrunch up her face like a demented pug. Or perhaps holding her on my lap so she can shake her arms and legs, imitating her singing and dancing great-grandmother.

I gave the family a gift of lessons in infant massage. Since Richard and Sabine couldn’t attend the series of five group classes, a young woman certified by Infant Massage USA came to the house and gave them private instruction. Sabine learned with Lais, while Richard and Nancy, the instructor, had demonstration dolls to practice a variety of massages—Swedish milking and Indian milking techniques for the arms and legs, and Richard’s favorite, the I Love You massage for the torso. An added bonus, Nancy went to McGill University and spoke to Sabine in French when she didn’t understand an English phrase.

Frittata Rave: In the year since I saw Richard, he’s become quite the accomplished cook. He and Sabine made Mahi-Mahi, pork roast, and steak dinners, treating Nonna and me like queens at a royal banquet. Breakfasts were even more amazing.

Richard can make a mean frittata. One morning his eggs were spiked with saffron and chopped mushrooms. Another morning, it was sautéed onions, red and orange peppers, and goat cheese. Heck, the way he was going through eggs, I needed a hen house. I guess that’s what happens when kids grown up with Easter peeps.

The piece d’resistance was created on their last morning in State College before driving to Philadelphia International for a flight to Brussels. Richard started sautéing red onions, and then added takeout Asian vegetables and rice noodles, and leftover asparagus. He poured over whisked eggs, topped the goo with alternating wedges of blue and cheddar cheese, and a sprinkling of Romano. Richard cooked the whole shebang in a giant pan on the stove and then broiled it in the oven. The result was a fantabulous frittata.

The frittata was so good I said, “We have to name it.”

So, we played name-that-frittata.

“Samurai,” Richard suggested, in honor of the Asian vegetables. “Stinky Pee Samurai,” he continued.

What is it with men and asparagus? They’re the only ones I’ve ever heard mention the distinctive fragrance that urine takes on after asparagus consumption. When eaten, asparagusic acid (only found in asparagus) is converted to sulfur-containing chemicals. Those chemicals, to put it bluntly, stink—or are aromatic—depending on your perspective. Marcel Proust is said to have written that asparagus “transforms my chamber pot into a flask of perfume.” Enough.

Well, Mom-the-Editor got the last word. I decided the frittata would officially be called “Stinky Samurai (minus the P-word).”

Nonna took a long, sweet swallow of Richard’s frittata accompaniment—a smoothie (Greek yogurt, orange juice, frozen tropical fruits, and fresh and frozen bananas.)

“Maybe we should play name-that-smoothie,” I said.

“Name that movie?” my mother asked. “Are we going to a movie?” Ah, life goes on. Laurie Lynch

The Eyes Have It: I’m now reading “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter. It’s the 2015 selection for Centre County Reads, part of the One Community Reading One Book program. As I was reading one night, all I could think of was that somehow Walter had peered into my granddaughter’s eyes.

“He had never been able to read her lovely brown eyes, beneath their black brows. They were so fluid, so naturally teary that even when she was angry—which was often—her eyes always seemed ready to forgive.” –Jess Walter

Fleur-de-Pickled

I was being a good little shopper, reading labels.

A bottle declaring “Pickle Perfect” by Heinz, a Pittsburgh PA company, got my buy-local radar buzzing. I turned it around to look at the INGREDIENTS: MADE FROM SELECT SUN-RIPENED CORN…Chopped

Corn? Corn? It has to be a typo. I stood there, stunned in the supermarket aisle. I picked up another brand. Same thing. Another. “Sun-ripened grain.” Corn is grain. What’s going on? I thought vinegar was made from wine, and wine, from sun-ripened GRAPES.

Sure, I’ve bought and enjoy rice wine for certain recipes, especially one of Richard’s favorites, Chinese Chicken with Peanut Sauce. But never did I ever suspect that those gallons and gallons of distilled white vinegar that I use for everything from making herbal vinegars to unclogging sink drains to spraying on weeds were made from corn.

I got home and grabbed my laptop. Whew, I’m not crazy. The French words “vin aigre” literally mean “sour wine,” and, squished together, two words became one, “vinegar,” in the English language. Grapes=Wine=Vinegar, my narrow mind told me.

The Vinegar Institute website explains that vinegar is made from the fermentation of natural sugars into alcohol. That alcohol then goes through a secondary fermentation to become vinegar. The Bunsen burner in my brain started flaming. Dandelion wine. Elderberry wine. Plum wine. Vinegar, it turns out, can be made from fermenting molasses, dates, coconut, pineapple, potatoes, beets, even kiwi. And yes, corn, apples, grapes…

Well, I bought a bottle the Heinz Pickle Perfect and two spice bottles; one of whole coriander seeds and one of celery seed, and got to work. A couple weekends ago my mother and I took a Spring Creek Homesteading course on Root Vegetables. I wanted to get a few ideas beyond roasting. I got hooked on pickled vegetables, as in kohlrabi, carrots, celery root, jicama, beets.

Our instructor, Laura, has restaurant kitchen experience, and while working at a local CSA, spent much of her time explaining to customers how to use their weekly vegetable shares. She loves to make pickled root vegetables which she serves with hummus and pita bread. You can make a mini hummus and vegetable sandwich or just pick and dip. I love taking a small container of the pickled vegetable sticks for a mid-morning snack at work.

Laura’s Basic Pickle Vegetable RecipeBefore Beets

1 cup water

1 cup vinegar (distilled white vinegar)

1 Tablespoon salt (sea or kosher)

2 Tablespoons sugar

½ Tablespoon coriander seeds

½ Tablespoon celery seeds

2 cloves garlic, chopped

Bring all of the above to a boil, stirring until salt and sugar dissolve, then turn the heat down so the mixture simmers. In the meantime, cut a selection of raw roots into sticks, all approximately the same size. Place carrot sticks in a large bowl. Pour hot brine on carrots, let sit for a few minutes. Then add other vegetables, making sure all stay below the brine. Let cool, then refrigerate in brine. You can serve in an hour or so, or keep for several weeks.

Laura says the carrots need the hottest brine to infuse the flavor, which is why she puts them in first. If you don’t want everything to turn pink and purple, pickle beets separately. You can also experiment with a variety of herbs and spices and combinations—dill seed, fennel seed, mustard seed, peppercorns—or try toasting them for different flavors. Laurie Lynch

Thank Heavens for this mild Sun-day: In sweatshirt weather I mulched the strawberries, picked the kale, gathered the last of the leaves, hauled the hoses into the barn, and stashed the deck furniture cushions in the basement.

Parsley, Sage and Pickled Vegetables

Leaf and Learn: With the fierce winds and frigid temperatures we had earlier this month, I checked out my leaf-mulched garlic beds. Several rows were bare and a few patches on several other rows were mulch-less—blown away. That has never happened with straw mulch. Needless to say, I sprinkled straw on the denuded rows, tucking in my garlic babies one more time.

As Thanksgiving Approaches: Thank you all for reading, following, commenting, and emailing over the year. I love being able to share my experiences in the garden, kitchen and life with all of you.

Written on Slate: “On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.”—Thomas Jefferson

Fleur-de-String

Squirrels and floodwaters have wreaked havoc on my “temporary” storage area in my mom’s barn. Many of my treasures were packed in plastic tubs, but my budget for plastic tubs only went so far, and I resorted to State Store boxes.Fly Away

My fall project is rescuing all of the damaged boxes (it’s been three years, after all) to save what is packed away inside.

So far; so good. One broken wine glass, and I won’t blame that on squirrels or heavy rains. But it is slow going; too many distractions.

I found my copy of the Marcon Family Cookbook, First (and last) Edition, August 25, 1990, and started flipping through the pages.

The cookbook was printed for the Marcon Family Reunion in Bethlehem, where I was introducing my new husband and new baby to the far reaches of the Marcon clan. I submitted Paul’s Green Bean Salad and our “Honeymoonwich” (smoked turkey, sprouts, walnuts and mayonnaise on pumpernickel), as well as Nene’s Polenta, to honor my late grandmother:

1 ½ quarts water

2 tsp. salt

1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal

In a heavy 3-4 quart saucepan, bring water and salt to boil. Pour cornmeal slowly into boiling water, making sure the boiling never stops and stir constantly (to avoid making lumps). Reduce heat and simmer, stirring, 20-30 minutes until it is so thick that a wooden spoon will stand up unsupported in the pan.

Below that entry was a similar polenta recipe submitted by my grandmother’s older sister, Mary. The ending caught my attention and jogged a memory. “Turn (polenta) out onto a cloth-covered board (large napkin or clean dish towel). Turn ends over polenta and let rest a few minutes. Slice with cord string and serve with chicken gravy or any meat sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.”

For the life of me, I can’t remember if I ever saw Nene cut polenta with a string, or if she just told me that was how they did it “in the Old Country.” Martha Stewart updated the Italian tradition by suggesting plain dental floss, of all things. All of the times I’ve made polenta, I’ve just scooped it with a big spoon, or sliced it with a knife. So I emailed my cousin Luca, who talked to his father Settimio in Treviso asking about the string and polenta. (Actually, Settiimio is related to my grandfather (a Fedon) not my Marcon grandmother, but heck, the Fedons and the Marcons were all from Northern Italy, just a couple villages apart.)

The habit of cutting polenta with a string was probably born back in the old days, when Italians didn’t have that many knives in the kitchen during or after The War, Luca reports. But, he adds, the string method continues because it is actually a better way to cut polenta. “When using a knife, the polenta tends to stick on it, while the string cuts right through.” I may just give it a try! Laurie Lynch

SunsetA Third Variation of an Italian Proverb: In my Oct. 10 blog I mentioned an Italian saying about pears and cheese. Then, Laura commented with her rhyming (in Italian) version. Now, I have come across a third on a fascinating site: http://italyrevisited.org

“Al contadino non far sapere quanto e buono il formaggio con le pere.” It is translated as: Don’t let the peasant know how good cheese is with pears…but according to the site, the meaning behind the saying is “Don’t let the poor know how good it is to be rich.” So much for social justice—I thought it was a simple statement about a good food pairing.

Tortellini Report: When I last heard from my Chef-phew Wille, he was in Bologna “learning from grandmothers, literally,” he wrote. He, another fellow, and nine women are churning out 70 kilos (154 pounds) of hand-rolled tortellini a day in a “pasta laboratory” to prepare for the Christmas rush. Looking forward to a lesson from the pro.

Musical Interlude: Last night my mom and I went to see Brother Sun as part of the Acoustic Brew series in Lemont. She just loves the audience participation, singing choruses or clapping along. If you want a good laugh on a quiet Sunday, check out Brother Sun’s “Fox News” on YouTube.

Written on Slate: “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connected.”—Chief Seattle, 1854

Fleur-de-TwelfthLight

Kousa Berries

Kousa Berries

It’s been years since the day I took down the yellow and blue signs at Fleur-de-Lys Farm Market for the last time. You remember the ones, Peeps4Rent, Beans, Range Eggs, Pumpkins, Honey, Asian Pears, Garlic, Tomatoes.

But the beauty of realizing your dream, even for a short time, is that you keep harvesting—memories, stories, experiences, friendships.

I heard from Destiny the other day. While she was a student at Kutztown, she wrote a story on Fleur-de-Lys for a class. Later, she stopped by and I showed her how to make pesto.  When she got married, one of our Written on Slate slates made it into the garden of her new home.

We’ve kept in touch via my blog—and now, we’ll keep in touch via her blog. She has combined her English teaching career with her love of vintage-style decorating and you can read all about it at Twelfth Light.

I think you’ll like it. I feel like a proud mother hen. Laurie Lynch

Fleur-de-LazyDay

You’ve had those days. You feel like a homebody, nesting, cocooning. They’re the treasures of fall, when it is too gray to go outside and nothing pressing to do inside. Yes, a couch and a good book may call, especially if there is a cold to nurse, but you’ve got to keep that twinge of Puritan work ethic guilt at bay.Autumn

Seed Saving: Collect a few of this season’s tomatoes, heirlooms from your garden or the farmers market. Before you get ready to make a sauce, squeeze the seeds from the prettiest tomato into an old jelly jar. Add a little water to the seeds, and set on your kitchen counter, uncovered. I put a sticky note labeling the type (San Marzano) on the jar lid and place it nearby.

A few days later, you may notice some mold growing on the seed sludge. This is a good sign. At this point, pour the seeds and water through a strainer, rinsing with water from the spigot. Tap excess water off the strainer, place a paper towel on the counter, flip the strainer upside down and dump the seeds onto the paper towel. On the bottom of the paper towel, write San Marzano. Put another paper towel on top and let the seeds air dry. At your leisure, pick off the dried seeds off the towel, place in an envelope, label and place in a jar in the refrigerator. If you have those desiccant packets that come in vitamin bottles or shoeboxes, place one in the jar and close the lid.

Crème Fraiche: Years ago, I was given a book about Kate Hill who has a sort of B&B on a canal boat in France, A Culinary Journey in Gascony: Recipes and Stories from My French Canal Boat. It is packed away in a box somewhere, much to my regret, because it is the type of book that is fun to revisit. I remember Kate made crème fraiche on the boat, and served it with fresh berries she’d find at each market where she moored. I ran across directions for crème fraiche once again in a review about a new book I’d love to read, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila.

You simply buy a pint of heavy cream, pour it into a clean jar, and then stir in your culture, which could be 3 tablespoons of either active culture yogurt, buttermilk or your last batch of crème fraiche. Your choice of bacterial culture sours the cream. Cover with cheesecloth. Sit it on a kitchen counter to ferment and thicken for 12-24 hours. When it is firm, put it in the refrigerator where it will keep for two weeks (but you will use it faster than that, I promise.) It is like making yogurt, only easier because heating isn’t necessary.

I can buy 8 oz. (a half pint) of fresh heavy cream at a local dairy for 70 cents—that, a little culture, and 24 hours, and I have homemade crème fraiche—and I don’t have to drive across town to buy ready-made crème fraiche, $5.99 for an 8-ounce tub.

To me, crème fraiche is less sour and more velvety than sour cream. Because the fat content is more than 30 percent, it doesn’t curdle with high heat when added to soup, nor does it separate when mixed with wine or vinegar for a dressing or sauce. (When substituting it for cream in your favorite soup, use half the amount called for.) You can add chopped herbs to dress up seafood or poultry, or use it in a burrito or taco. It is perfect to top a bowl of fresh berries and one night this week I may mix maple syrup with a dollop of crème fraiche and drizzle it on sautéed Asian pears.

This whole crème fraiche business came about several weeks ago. One of my MG friends, Katie, made Caramelized Garlic Tart for a presentation I gave on Growing Garlic. The tart and the aroma of roasted garlic wafting through the October air sure made the presentation a hit. (Katie found the recipe in Yotamv Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty.) The other night, we had a Potluck Postmortem for the Lemont Farmers Market. As the market’s Garlic Lady, I brought the tart.

Caramelized Garlic Tart

13 oz. puff pastry

3 medium heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled

1 T. olive oil

1 T. balsamic vinegar

1 cup water

¾ T. sugar

1 tsp. chopped rosemary

1 tsp. chopped thyme

4.5 oz. soft, creamy goat cheese

4.5 oz. hard, mature goat cheese

2 eggs

6.5 T. heavy cream

6.5 T. crème fraiche

Salt & pepper

  1. Have ready a shallow, loose-bottomed 11-inch tart pan.
  2. Roll out puff pastry into a circle that will line the bottom and sides of a tart pan. Line pan with pastry. Place a large circle of wax paper on the bottom and fill with baking beans/weights. Leave to rest in refrigerator for 20 minutes. (The puff pastry I bought came in a 17.3 oz. package. I rolled it all out and had enough for a large tart pan and a small pie plate (for home sampling).
  3. Blind bake tart for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove weights and paper, and bake 10-15 minutes more. Set aside.
  4. Put garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer and blanch for 3 minutes. Drain well. Dry saucepan, return cloves to it and add olive oil. Fry on high heat—2 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and water. Bring to a boil—simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add sugar, rosemary, chopped thyme and ¼ tsp. salt. Continue simmering on medium heat for 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a dark. caramel syrup. Set aside. (And take time to enjoy the fragrance of this heady combination.)
  5. Assemble the tart. Break both types of goat cheese into pieces and scatter in the tart shell. Spoon the garlic cloves and syrup evenly over the tart. Whisk together eggs, cream, cream fraiche, ½ tsp. salt and some black pepper. Pour custard over the tart filling to fill gaps, making sure you can still see the garlic and cheese.
  6. Reduce oven to 325 degrees and bake 35-45 minutes until the filling has set and the top is golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool a little.
  8. Take out of pan and lay a few sprigs of thyme on top for garnish. Serve.

Peeling Garlic: Pure relaxation and an aroma to send a cold scampering. So, to end my lazy day, I peel all of the single garlic cloves left from planting, blanch and freeze them so they will keep for December. Then I will welcome Richard, Sabine, and Lais with lots of garlic hugs and kisses and tarts. Laurie Lynch

Written On Slate: “Garlick maketh a man wynke, drynke, and stynke.”—Thomas Nash, 16th century poet

“Three nickels will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat.”—New York saying

“There are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and garlic.”—Louis Diat

“There is no such thing as a little garlic.”—Arthur Baer