Elderflowers & Bicycles

Homemade Elderflower Cordial

Homemade Elderflower Cordial

 

I think it is fair to say that I am not good at taking compliments.  I don’t think I am very different from most women, but I do seem to have a particular knack of brushing them off, belittling or ignoring them.  When your confidence has taken a bash or two, it is hard to remember that the things you are good at, never really leave you.  You are still the person that did the things that you used to, you just haven’t done them for a while.  But blogging is not a bicycle.  You can’t just jump on again. Can you?

Three years have gone by since I made my last confession. A lot has happened. To start with, we no longer live in Seattle, but in London. We have moved continents, countries, homes and schools at least once over the last several months and the toll of starting afresh has weighed us down.  We said goodbye to people and places we loved.  I kissed farewell to my teaching kitchen and business, and we moved back ‘home’ to a place that felt very different to the one we left almost a decade ago. Finding our feet in a furiously busy city made us realise how accustomed to sedate Seattle life we had become. Living on top of each other in a teensy rental with one bathroom for 18 months would be a test of the best of marriages. Ours only just scraped by, thanks to a husband with a sense of humour that is particularly tickled by all things toilet.

 

Freshly Picked Elderflowers and Sorrento Lemons

Freshly Picked Elderflowers and Sorrento Lemons

 

We built a house in Kensal Rise, that took two years to nearly complete (we still have a list of ‘to do’ items).  And I got sick. My family had to muddle through while I tried to get better, and then I got sick again.  It has been a long road, but I am finally able to say that I will be well again.  I know it in my bones, even though my head does not always feel it.  Meningitis is jealous guest, refusing to share its host with others, and never entirely leaving.  The ‘hangover’ as I have taken to refer to it, waxes and wanes to its own rythm.  An unrelenting fog that occasionally lifts enough to give me a glimpse of what is around the corner, but more often than not, it settles in for weeks at a time. The anxious vulnerability that comes with an illness that leaves you distrusting your fickle memory and vacillating strength can become crippling. It becomes impossible to make plans, when you don’t trust that the good days will stay. Anyone familiar with a migraine will wince at the memory of what I am hinting at.

I don’t like to talk about it though, because I feel that to do so, gives it oxygen.  It has taken up enough of my families’ time over the last year and a half, and any additional discussion simply gives it further attention, that is wholly undeserved. My undivided efforts are to be better. To stay better. And to finally get back to what I do best.  To what I love. To cook.

The journey has been a winding one, with much to learn along the way.  Foods that harm and foods that heal are a constant topic of thought and discussion.  Getting back to basics, to old ways, and simpler things has always been what Heirlooms & Wooden Spoons was about.  Sharing learning, skills and my kitchen have always brought me joy. I may be a little bruised, but I know more today than I ever did, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will teach me. With the unrelenting support of my husband and little family, I intend to gently build back up my fledgeling enterprise. Starting here.

The fragile and fleeting Elderflower seemed an appropriate topic for my first post in a while. In the most surprising corners of this throbbing city, tiny delicate white flowers can be found bursting into the sunshine.  Each head lasts little more than a day and must be picked and cooked when it has just flowered. The heady aroma as it steeps in syrup fills my kitchen with the scent of a promise of things to come.

Perhaps, one day, a Teaching Kitchen in London? Hmmm …  Cooking Classes in Kensal Rise anyone?

Elderflower Cordial

2 litres water

2.5 kg organic sugar

250g elderflowers; rinsed, shaken out, stalks removed (approx 25 heads)

3 lemons; remove zest with peeler in strips. Remove pith and use only flesh and zest

85g citric acid

 

Summer in a Bottle

Summer in a Bottle

 

Bring sugar and water to the boil, stirring occasionally to stop it from catching. once boiling, turn it off and throw in elderflowers, lemon and acid. Cover and leave to cool for 48 hours, then bottle. Quintessential England, in a bottle.

It can be kept it in the fridge for about five weeks, you can freeze it or jar it and use a water bath ‘canning’ method to store it at ambient temperature for longer.

Use in cakes, over icecreams, in cocktails or simply serve with sparkling water on a hot day.

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Filed under Everything!, Spring Recipes, Summer, Sweet

Carciofini, and other stories

carciofi in pot

Life is busy at the moment.  The Teaching Kitchen is alive with chatter, chopping, questions, learning and eating. Heirlooms & Wooden Spoons is no longer just a sporadic blog, but a living, breathing cooking school in the heart of Seattle.

IMG_8309The last few months have included cheese making with kids, knife skills for the nervous, chocolate making, recreating favourite recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, and dinners.  Lots and lots of dinners. Demonstrating the art of Tagine making in the Atrium Kitchen in Pike Place Market last week was a highlight. The electricity created by the hustle and bustle of the Market is infectious.  Showcasing produce from my favourite suppliers, my favourite season, in my favourite Seattle spot, surrounded by old friends and new was magic.  Just magic.  Having my son help hand around Harissa filled me with pride.  It is official – H&WS is a family business.

But this is about Carciofi.  Or carciofini to be precise.

My husband despairs of me at times, and when I come home with a large grin and an armful of tiny artichokes his eyes roll into the back of his head just a little more than usual.  For me, these gorgeous little gems signify that summer really is coming.  In fact, that somewhere (namely Italy) it has already warmed up enough to produce these spiky little edible flowers. My husband is known for many things. Patience is not one of them.

It is true that this is not a dish you can whip up for a quick and easy supper, in fact, it will take you a lot longer to make than it will to eat. And so, I savour every moment of preparation, knowing that every second spent handling these precious purple flowers will be worth it the moment I pop it into my mouth.

Years ago, working at La Fromagerie, I would spend literally hours happily turning, trimming and packing them, as the hustle and steam of the kitchen simmered around me.  Once prepped and on the stove, the terror of over cooking, crisping, undercooking or, God help me – burning them – was palpable.  Not just the cost of the raw ingredients (a crate or two of baby carciofi, a couple of litres of Olive Oil) but also the time it had taken were at stake. I still feel the fear in the pit of my stomach.  A fear only quenched by filling it with the end result. Artichoke confit is something I look forward to making every year. Go on. I dare you.

Not really a Recipe…

Take as many artichokes as you can carry/afford. carefully cut off a little of the bottom and peel the excess tougher outer petals off.  Trim the tip of the petals and place in a heavy bottomed pot or oven proof dish bottom up.  Pack them in tightly but don’t totally crush them.  Pack half of a lemon, whole garlic cloves, a few bay leaves, a couple of chillies and plenty of fresh mint in and around them.  Scatter a few peppercorns and sea salt and then pour over good olive oil until the are virtually submerged.  Cook stove top very gently until soft, or in the oven, not too hot, again until just soft.  Squeeze the cooked lemon and soft garlic over the artichokes, add more fresh torn mint, and salt to taste. Eat straight out of the pot once cooled down a little with a cold glass of dry white.  Ideally with the sun on your face.

leaves of carciofini

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Filed under Everything!, Spring Recipes