Last call for dill pollen

September 24th, 2010

Dill's last re-seeded crop is up

Fresher morning air, cooler evenings with dusk falling so quickly that  twilight time, entre chien et loup, now  drives us inside by eight o’clock:  autumn is definitely here.  While September’s gloriously sunny days are warm, it is the chilly nights that slow down the herb patch.  Other than a burst of chive spears poking through and promising shoots in the sorrel clump, the basil is tired, the coriander umbrels droop with new seeds.  But the stalwart of the patch is dill that re-seeded in a corner of the potager. The flavor of dill’s fringey leaves seems fuller now that long weeks of heat are past. Last spring I was inspired by a grilled scallop finished with lime juice and dill…(?), and planted more in June.  It was in Minneapolis that I watched a young chef at the Guthrie Theatre restaurant’s oyster bar produce this revelation:  plating a grill-blackened scallop (still raw inside), he dressed it with lime juice and something yellow with the complex fragrance of dill.  What could this yellow dust be?  His whispered response to my question was: dill pollen.  The amount to use is a matter of supply and taste; a seasoning for two is about all of the golden dusting available in any one day.  Wondering where I could get more – thinking ahead to an entrée for four or six, I found both fennel and dill pollen to order from  Prices reflect the products’ delicacy, dill pollen going for $9.75 per half ounce. Their wild fennel pollen runs $10.50 per ounce. A scattering on delicate fish or seafood (or even on new potatoes, beet salad, salmon soup…) so accents the flavors, your taste buds will thank you.  Somehow, a pinch of dill keeps summer on our plates… just a little longer.

Last hours of summer's glory

A heritage of fine wines

September 21st, 2010

September's glorious grapes

Château de Tiregand, a seventeenth century vineyard and château rising above the town of Creysse on the north bank of the Dordogne river, swings open its château doors just once a year. The vagabond joined the crowds swarming around historic sites during the weekend, the Days of our Heritage/Journees du Patrimoine, to venture inside.  Since the Count de la Panouse bought the property in 1827, members of the Panouse and (through marriage) the Saint Exupéry family have added or subtracted from the extensive quarters (over fifty bedrooms at last count), to suit their taste and the times. No longer inhabited by the family, only parts of the vast interior are in good repair.  We stood in the shade, listening to the intriguing story, from the first structure on the site built by Edward Tyrgan (a natural son of England’s King Edward III in the 13th century) to the state of this Monument Historique today.

South facing rooms with a view of the Dordogne valley

Washed in September sunlight, the formal château entry stands apart from wings running perpendicular to the long, south side shown above.

A grand formal entry, seldom used today

Once inside, a dark circular stairway dominates the space, and lures visitors up – until the guide motions:  non, s’il vous plait!

Jours de Patrimoine visitors...tempted by stairways

As our guide, Francois-Xavier de Saint-Exupéry, told the story of his family and their vineyards, it was clear that they shared set-backs of blight and weather with the region’s many vintners.  The phylloxéra infestation of the late nineteenth century, and a devastating early spring frost in the nineteen-fifties hit all of the Pécharmant vineyards equally hard.  Vine stock, replanted and thriving for decades after the blight, was frozen just at the time when the spring pruning was on the 1956 calendar. Now the vineyards occupy forty-three hectares of the four hundred sixty hectares of the Tiregand domaine.  Red wines in the Pécharmant appelation are their primary focus, with 54% merlot vines, cabernet sauvignon 23%, cabernet franc 18%, and just 5% malbec to blend into these well-balanced wines.  For their Bergerac dry white wines, they have 1.2 hectares planted in white grapes. During the upcoming vendange, seven hectares will be harvested manually, while the remainder will be mechanically harvested before being spread on tables for sorting by hand. Only one of the reds, Cuvée Grand Millésime will spend twelve to eighteen months in French oak barrels.  Tiregand’s red wines are best after about four years, so their Gold medal (at the Maçon wine awards) 2007 Grand Millésime is ready now.  In the Pécharmant tradition of well-structured red wines, this lightly tannic cuvée is a good value at less than ten euros a bottle.  Consider the terroir, the vintners’ persistent efforts to make each millésime better – and add the element of heritage for these wines, of the place, of the people – when tasting in Tiregand’s spacious chais and tasting room.

As a civet de lapin simmers on the back burner, I lift my glass to the Saint-Exupéry family in thanks for opening the château and grounds to us all, for taking a weekend every year to welcome both locals and visitors from afar.  Santé!

The Tiregand chais and tasting room is open year round

All across France, historic sites and certain private properties are open to the public during mid-September every year.  It is worth planning travel to a region of interest to visit, listen and taste during Les Journees du Patrimoine.

Out and about in Helsinki’s markets

September 5th, 2010

Shopping fun for all ages

When it comes to markets, late summer in Helsinki is always a delight, a revelation.  Last week the vagabond relished revisiting favorite open markets and two of Helsinki’s three market halls.  Days were still warm, breezes kept the air fresh in the broad, central Kauppatori market, bursting with colors of the season.  Sunflowers by the bucketful, just-picked blueberries and chantarelle mushrooms tempted shoppers toting birch baskets and large canvas satchels. All this with a back drop of yachts, ferries and cruise ships moored in this sea-side city’s many marinas.  Look around, for if you have no basket or bag, there are plenty to choose from in vendor’s stalls.

Brooms, baskets and brushes....

The orange tents of the harbor market draw crowds of both local and visiting shoppers, but the vagabond’s favorite hall is Hakaniemihalli in the Kallio district. Hop on a tram #6 at the central train station or take the Metro, which brings you to the center of the open marketplace.

New potatoes, ripe tomatoes and heaps of dill

Every morning until about 13:00/1 o’clock, vendors tend their open or sheltered stalls loaded with everything from potatoes to pastries. In fact, a pulla (a round or cinnamon swirl bun) and coffee is a treat at one of the temporary coffee stalls on a sunny day. But a pause outside is just one option, as there are six places for coffee or lunch inside the brick hall.

A light lunch of shrimp sandwich loaf?

Since 1914, Hakaniemihalli has drawn shoppers from beyond this working class neighborhood to shops on two floors. Thirty-eight food vendors on the first floor range from fresh meats, cheeses, fish and spices to organic vegetables and specialty coffees and teas.  One little niche in this hall is a detour near the east door, harboring only bread and pastry stalls – the perfect place to orient oneself to Finnish breads, both traditional variations on rye and today’s trends to herb, oil and seed-flavored breads.

Round rye, oval wheat loaves - buy bread by the chunk

If you can only choose one pastry, early September is the time for anything dripping with delectable blueberries.

Too large? Small tarts are an option if you are in a rush

Upstairs, twenty-eight shops offer wooden tools, second hand books, table-top collectibles, fabrics and yarns.

Yarns for sox, knitwear to go

Merimekko’s space tempts shoppers with shirts, hats, pillows – both classic and current styles.

Classic Finnish design, fresh prints

What else can we add to our shopping bag…some fungus from the forest?  Finnish kantarelli/chantarelle mushrooms are not as abundant this year after an unusually hot summer, so some vendors bring in mushrooms from other countries such as Estonia.  To be assured of  “local” mushrooms, look for the tag:  Suomalainen to be sure.  For the simplest pleasures on a summer evening, fresh chantarelles sautéed in Finnish butter on a slab of salmon from the Finnish Gulf – well, from the vagabond’s point of view from a balcony overlooking a harbor – life on Nordic shores doesn’t get much better than this.

Kantarelli, a universal favorite

Chef’s Suggestions:  Note in the September 11/12 Weekend Financial Times, page 4, Hans Välimäki (chef at Chez Dominique, with 2 Michelin stars) agrees with the vagabond that the Hakaniemi Market is “Helsinki’s best food market”.

For more on markets and market halls in Helsinki, see: