Vagabond Gourmand Mon, 31 Mar 2014 21:14:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 When garlic bites back Mon, 31 Mar 2014 20:55:05 +0000 Take heart, all my friends in north and snowy places:  spring is just around the corner!  Signs are in the air – and in the market…. early rosy radishes, a few bundles of white asparagus, and little sprouts shooting out of onions and garlic.  It’s still too soon for aillet – the first long-bladed thinnings of the new garlic crop – with a much more mild, tender flavor than the sprouting cloves of March.  So, what to do while awaiting aillet?  Tipping out the green sprout with a knife-tip doesn’t take all of the bite out of a garlic clove.   An immediate stinging hits the edges of one’s tongue when biting into a salad with fresh garlic chopped into the vinaigrette.  Clearly, March isn’t the best time to whip up a pesto when garlic bites back!
But garlic is still in the vagabond’s basket, ready to bake with a roast chicken or to stir into a savory ragu.  It’s a part of the waiting game.  Soon the milder, white aillet will delight all garlic afficianados, followed in June  by juicy bulbs to be  savored before their dried sheathing forms. But for now, maybe just rubbing a cut clove inside the wooden bowl will be the closest we can get to a whisper of garlic in a spring supper salad.

]]> 0
February and Pomegranates Fri, 28 Feb 2014 21:26:00 +0000 While the last hours of a short and festive month slip away, the vagabond would like to thank friends both near and far away for making it a most memorable month.   And as the winter pomegranate – my favorite fruit – season is drawing to a  close,  I wish you all:  Santé!

Photos and fruity tips to follow….


]]> 0
Where have all the flowers gone ? Thu, 30 Jan 2014 13:59:14 +0000 Long time passing……in fact, it seems a couple of light years ago that I first heard these plaintive lyrics.   Still, the message holds true, as does his legacy of music -  ever-inspiring:

R.I.P.      Pete Seeger


]]> 0
Adieu 2013….. Tue, 31 Dec 2013 17:06:33 +0000 Open the festive bubbly – brut!  Have a fresh blini or six (another story about making heaps of blini is in order) and say farewell to the old year, with a new and more promising line-up of twelve months just around the corner…

                        Happy New Year from the Vagabond!

]]> 0
Grateful! Sat, 30 Nov 2013 20:57:50 +0000 An English friend asked me to enlighten her about the feast of Thanksgiving. This national day of Gratitude  remembers the Pilgrim Fathers’ first harvest feast.  As families and friends gather round a festive table laden with traditional dishes, we pause to give thanks.  And yet there is latitude in its interpretation….every family has its own variation on the roast bird – a turkey is often basted for hours, or I recall a pheasant or wild duck if hunting was good.  Variations on stuffings and side dishes tell more about the region and family preferences, south to north and east to west.  Will you have oysters in your stuffing?  If you live on a coast,  quite likely…or is it corn bread with a hint of sage, as is often served in the middle west.  In fact corn usually shows up in many ways:  in corn bread, as a side dish simply slathered in butter, in a bubbly casserole of scalloped corn or possibly in the southwest in tamales. Or as succotash.  What a strange word, you say?  Oh, succotash!

Tradition decrees that a mix of corn and shelled beans (but not with bear fat as in the Pilgrim’s first feast !) is served alongside the roast fowl, since this combination – and the word itself, msickquatash, meaning boiled corn – was of Narragansett indian origins. Beyond these basics, succotash may include chopped onions, red or green bell peppers in chunks or strips, all mixed with glistening butter or lard.  When times were tough, it was a simple but nourishing one-dish meal. And served up in the best set of dishes, succotash takes pride of place on the Thanksgiving table.

In this rich season, recollections of flavors tumble through the vagabond’s memory, olfactory memories of aromas (and samples) in the family kitchen. This is just the beginning of a stream of culinary recollections…with illustrations…to follow.


]]> 0
…the Vagabond hits the road! Tue, 01 Oct 2013 09:47:52 +0000 At the end of a “spin cycle” month of September, the Vagabond is on the road, exploring the Vosges and points north…..discoveries to follow on berries, plums and mountain pleasures.

]]> 0
Gone fishin’? nope….gone picklin’ Sat, 31 Aug 2013 21:05:26 +0000 The glut of cucumbers, pears and melons (a combo to watch), even the courgettes and apples take their turn in the pickling pot!  Watch this space for the vagabond’s chutneys, pickles and inspired condiments.

]]> 0
For heat-loving Basil, ’tis the season! Wed, 31 Jul 2013 18:54:42 +0000 DSC_0052

With a long “canicule” heat wave hanging over us, the moment for basil is clearly here.  The glossy green leaves of occimum basilicum are at their pungent best on long summer days – ready to pinch off and scatter over any plate of tomatoes at hand.  The ancient Greeks called this member of the mint family basilikon phuton:  a royal or magnificent herb.  Sweet basil, the large leafed bushy herb is happiest -  its essential oils are most active – in well drained soil, whether in the ground or a large pot in the sun.  But basil’s distinctive fragrance diminishes and lower leaves begin to yellow if it is parched, so a daily dose of water at the base and a little mulch keeps it happily producing more leaves for salads and sauces.  Pinch off  flower buds to use as a seasoning in sauces or as decoration (they are edible!) – to keep the leaves coming.  The basil variety on my window sill, a peppery genovese, has small leaves and a very compact,  round form.


Of the 150 basils available  around the globe, we are tempted by cinnamon or lemon basil, and the purple or dark opal basils that lend their unique tint to vinegars.  In spite of its strong character, basil loses flavor if cooked very long; it is best added in the last five or ten minutes to a sauce or soup as a terminal addition. To boost flavors in a marinade or lend a dressing more punch, tear – don’t chop – basil to avoid blackened edges.  This Mediterannean herb marries flavors with thyme, marjoram, oregano and rocket as companions,  but any combo with dill or tarragon is best avoided.  It has surprised me in recent years to find experiments with drying basil to be a waste of time (if dried it loses oils and essential flavor), so use it fresh….now and ’til the first chilly winds of autumn blow, basil has its time in the sun!

]]> 0
Chervil: quickly savor this delicate herb Sun, 30 Jun 2013 14:37:15 +0000 chervil's delicate flavor warms the palate...

Chervil’s delicate flavor warms the palate…

Is there enough time – even with longer days – to savor all that this grab-it-while-in-season offers?  Of the fresh herbs that are in abundance now, the vagabond’s attention has turned to feathery green fronds of chervil.  One good thing about our long, cool springtime has been an extended flourishing of chervil: normally, it has bolted and gone to seed as hot weather arrives.  But what is so special about this ancient plant?  Anthriscus cerefolium, known to us as “sweet cicely” or chervil, was long a symbol of new life and sincerity.  Myrrhis, its ancient name, reflects the similarity of its essential oils to the scent of myrrh.  It was long thought to aid digestion (as many herbs do) as well as sharpening the wit and making the old feel younger.  Chervil warms the palate, and in a decoction it can soothe tired eyes.  Not only does the plant itself cringe and bolt in the heat, but the leaves themselves lose flavor when heated, so are best chopped and stirred into sauces or soups just before serving.

Now is the time to season new potatoes with chervil butter or mince the delicate fronds to fold  into an omelette.  A classic Béarnaise sauce has a distinctive hint of anise with its essential teaspoon of finely chopped chervil stirred in before serving – and a velvety Ravigote sauce for fish is improved with chervil.  In fact, why not tuck chervil into trout before poaching them breifly in white wine?  Mix it with soft cheeses to spread on toast for lunch or snip chervil into dips for crudités with an apéro.  Whenever I toss a salad of pasta or greens, adding chervil is a delicate touch of this evolving green season.

July:  more savory herbs to follow….the best of Basil, and Rosemary

]]> 0
May markets reflect a delayed, chilly season Thu, 30 May 2013 19:48:07 +0000 “What if we had an entire week of sunny days?”  My neighbor grumbled today as we selected new potatoes from a market stall….”everything is late this year!”   By now, the first crisp, green asparagus have come and gone, followed by delicate white ones, and new carrots are bright with their tops still on.  But the veg family that evolves most rapidly, with new developments each week – worth following every step of the way – is  garlic!

bulging with garlic juice

bulging with garlic juice

The pencil thin sprouts in late April could easily be mistaken for young green onions, before their gradual bulbing as the days pass to yield stiff, elongated stems and bulging heads this week.  It is a more nuanced and juicy seasoner than the dried heads with their bitter inner sprouts,  still left from 2012′s harvest.  A few ways to use this mild and juicy stage of the ancient seasoner run from simply peeling off the outer layer and mincing the buds (soon to become cloves) and mashing them with a pinch of sea salt and lemon juice as a base for vinaigrettes, to smear on or inside fish before it is sautéed or baked, and to enhance the earliest steamed broad beans.  How easy is that?  And there will be more on fresh garlic as the season progresses!

]]> 1