This is the season that I have been preparing for since early summer. How is that for slow living, or a ‘slow project’, because living, well, has been anything but slow recently. I started by sowing pink and white strawflowers this year in my container garden. I managed to harvest only a handful, some of them very tiny, because they disappeared among the ever overbearing purple basil. Then, I dismantled every farmers’ market bouquet I had bought this year, and meticulously separated the strawflowers to dry. They are not making appearance at this table, as I am keeping all the orange hues ones for another occasion. I have also picked every seed pod from wild growing tulipa silvestris in my community garden plot, instead of sending them to compost bin. They dried perfectly, although they do make unnerving rattlesnake noise when shaken…I have made the makeshift napkin holders from strips of random leather piece, cut and threaded through for a bow like appearance.
Other than that, there were few bunches of grasses picked at the same time we went to pick strawberries on a farm, also dried upside down in the kitchen, almost forgotten. The natural materials color scheme that can be reinvented with different plate setting and different linen is my absolutely favorite, not just for Thanksgiving gathering.
Then, there is the star of the season, pumpkin, which I only came to appreciate recently after making the soup for the first time. It is absolutely fool proof and easy recipe.
To serve 4 people: Use 1 butternut pumpkin, cut into 1 inch thick pieces, 1 white onion cut into wedges, 3 cups of broth, 2 inch piece of ginger peeled and finely chopped, table spoon of curry, cumin, and ground coriander each, pinch of red pepper flakes. I like using a cast iron Le Creuset pot to cook it. I lightly cook the onion in 1 table spoon of olive oil, add chili and ginger and give it a minute to sizzle, before adding the pumpkin and broth and cooking over med-low heat for 30 minutes, covered. I puree it when it is just slightly cooled. The color alone is gorgeous, but love the ginger bite in it!
The end of gardening season is almost here. Sure, there is still baby spinach and red mustard that may or may not bring harvest before the frost, and a lone Tuscan kale plant, that I am half heartedly guarding against the critters…The days are short, shadows are long, and there is only enough warmth and direct sunshine to sustain less than an hour of sitting in a garden with a good read.
Before the backyard disappears into a soggy and eventually a frosty, entangled mess, here is a reflection of what did well, and what was only a tease in our city backyard this year. I now strongly believe that documenting is the only way for growth and progress, and it has certain, almost soul nurturing, quality. Teaches patience, and makes the home grown food, when it eventually reaches the table, feel so special. Also, and that is a huge part of why we grow food in containers and even the tiniest of city plots, makes it almost impossible to let the food go to waste. After so much wait and effort (watering by hand with rain water) would you really allow it to spoil? The garden also feels like an extension of our home, generously lending space to alfresco meals, (for us and the neighborhood bees) and offering what is seems like an attractive stopover to occasional dragonfly. Which happens to be my favorite insect of all times!
Winners this year:
- – Pepper Bianca
- – Eggplant Fairy Tale
- – Japanese cucumbers
- – Tomatoes: Sungold, Sweet 100, Black Cherry
- – Garlic German Red
- – Basil Genovese and Thai that were, and still are in late October, an absolute delight
- – Cilantro: both as a fresh plant and dried seeds it produced.
Only a tease category:
- Any large heirloom tomato, maybe with exception of Green Zebra
- Zucchini that only produced gorgeous flowers
Beyond my, now well documented, love of Lisbon there is a little secret. The countryside outside of Lisbon, all within less than 2 hour drive. Looking deeper, past the veneer of maybe little too perfect home renovations, there are still captivating stories to be told, with colorful local characters, oblivious to the demands of instagrammable perfect shots. Moments that unfold into stories, and only take time and curiosity to develop. Enter the village of Ericeira, on the Atlantic cost. While my traveling companions went into the cave looking for elusive sea urchins (elusive mostly because they were not in season!), I opted for the above ground vantage point, mesmerized by the waves. This is how I spotted a local fishermen in the churning and terrifyingly crashing waves. Sometime later, he was happy to tell me his story of the day, but only in a very animated Portuguese! Through little research I figured out that he was harvesting a local delicacy, gooseneck barnacles.
Meandering through the countryside on the back to Lisbon we stopped at Veronica’s farm. The table was set for a casual feast of clams cooked in a simple garlicky broth, bites of cheese, rustic bread and, of course, sardines. The conversation was just like the food, honest, unassuming, and wholesome. Challenges of leaving a steady job in Lisbon to focus on restoring the farmhouse and the small farmland, some successes, some failures, struggling orange trees, dreams and hopes. The every essence of gathering around food outdoors is that you can turn your gaze to the patch of garden where the strawberries on the table came from, or run your hand through the thyme perfuming the clam broth. The connection is made, the homage to the land and the human cultivating and foraging it is paid. Watching the golden light setting on nearby hills feels almost like a frivolous bonus by then.
It is late June as I write this, but it happened to be the same moist, lush green and heavy on a drizzle day as month ago when I set off to photograph the Raspberry Cordial and Rhubarb Cake afternoon treat. You would think that only children get restless when it rains for 48 hours non-stop…Think twice. On day two of the rain deluge in the southeastern Poland, a town tucked away at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, in the region called Beskid Niski, I opened wide my parents’ garage door, set up my trusty prop table stored there just for the occasion, and set up an afternoon tea. At least that was the idea, but why not sneak in a little of homemade raspberry cordial, just to warm things up. A quick rummage through the cellar produced a vintage carafe, and the last two unbroken glasses from the set that was given to my parents as a wedding gift. Inevitably, we went down memory lane, reminiscing of long gone neighbors. Objects with rich stories.
Earlier in the day we visited an old family friend, and as it is custom with such visits there, left with a care package of the leftover cake, perfect for my impromptu photo shoot. It was one of those “everyday” cakes, as the host somewhat apologetically explained. No recipe, still warm from the over, made with whatever fruit is in the season. These are my absolute favorites!
I will simply call it ‘Easter state of mind’. Going back, it was truly the holiday that evoked Narnia-like world of ephemeral flowers awaking to the warm rays of sun, and everything that was delicate and wonderful and bound to disappear any moment. Wildflowers were at arms’ reach, when I was growing up, all you needed to do was to go to the end of the fields to a magical stream and cove called “debrza“, and pick to you heart’s content.
Then, there were larch trees growing at the property, planted by my grandfather. By the time I was in college, most of them had fallen in a particularly powerful storm (they have shallow roots). The Easter would not be complete though without an arrangement of daffodils and larch branches that have a captivating lemon-like scent. Some still grow to this day, and there is a whole new generation of them in debrza, planted by my father, to ensure that our Easter decorations in Poland carry on a tradition.
What do you do if you live in a city though…No larch trees in Cambridge that I can find, to forage. But, there are weeping birches hanging over the sidewalks, and their wispy branches make a lovely whimsical addition to any bouquet. I am also partial to vinca, or Creeping Myrtle (not telling where I foraged mine!), that make charming decorations for any cake (leaves are bit waxy and stay fresh for a long time) and is traditionally used for Easter basket decor in Poland.
Technically speaking, the winter was supposed to be over right now. Still when the snow fell, I did not hesitate to head outside to photograph the cloud-fluffy meringue in, well, white fluffy snow. Even my flowers matched, a random bunch of white carnations, as if they anticipated the snow… Pavlova stands up to all seasons, but is sure lovely in winter when the fruit can make up for the lack of flowers in all its prettiness… The recipes are countless. I like the one from Cal Peternell. The reality check version, as I call it.
I highly recommend caramelizing blood orange slices. I followed the technique described in this this recipe by Our Food Stories. The bonus is lovely syrup you can use on french toast or pancakes.
Wishing everyone magical celebrations tonight, however small and cosy, in rain or in snow, at the heart of a party, or lost in a novel…
October in Poland had been really good to me for the past few years. Sun on the face that feels warm, but never overbearing, evenings still warm enough, at least occasionally, to have a bonfire and grill goat cheese and yes, foraged mushrooms. This year was a year of walnuts. We would start every day by rushing into the garden to play a game who can fill the basket first. Never mind we needed gloves to fend off the morning frost, on some mornings…And then, there was a constant shuffle of our bounty for the last of the sun rays to dry. The days were shorter, for sure, but there lies the magic of the moody light…
The soul of the Carpathian Mountains casts a spell on you, oh so quickly…The nature is at arms’ reach. Every year, and this year was no different, I style a scene at my parents, which is also my childhood home, that feels like a pure joy to create. This year the theme was set, by accident as always, by the tablecloth I intuitively picked up at H&M heading to a bus station in Krakow. I always loved mustard yellow, and this linen tablecloth is a perfection! An apple cake from Our Food Stories recipe was a delight to make, even though it caused initially some raised eyebrows with my parents! They loved it though, and nothing screams more like family bonding than baking in my childhood kitchen. I raised the bar though, I insisted on picking my apples on an abandoned, semi wild orchard, and they never tasted better! I also discovered miniature, but very sweet tasting pears. Narnia comes to life…
The unassuming and humble materials for the table decor are all around us, even in the city. The sidewalk, the frozen over container vegetable garden, community garden, few supermarket chrysanthemums, usually dismissed in favor of flashier roses. This year, having just returned from the trip to the southern Poland, my inspiration was hiding in the photos.
Dried basil branches are standing in for the dreamy grasses, but bring the same earthiness and whimsy to the table, and the fragrance is just a bonus. I like the tone-on-tone assembly of linen tablecloth and napkins made from the same batch of fabric. This is just a quick afternoon project, that really pays off, visually. Color orange still makes the appearance, but as a subtle detail and reminds me of my favorite Polish woodland find in October – mushrooms called rydze.
The Thanksgiving table setting will be evolving until the last minute this year, because this is my favorite kind of storytelling…
Every year around third week of August the reality of summer ending soon seems to arrive with a bit of anxiety. How many times did we go camping this year? How many times did we go to the beach? While I can let the beach go, camping – not so much. For the single fact that I find no good substitute for an old fashioned campfire. In New England, we head north to the White Mountains National Forest. I hesitated to give away our favorite spot, but here it is: Russell Pond. Over years, and through experience, we made a decision to stay only in National Forest campgrounds, and not private, commercial campgrounds. This year, on a last weekend of August (even though the temperatures were positively screaming fall with 46F degrees at night), we headed north with barely any preparations. It was a mad dash out of town on a Friday afternoon, by the time we finished to stake the tent, it was dark. And there were stars everywhere, and 3 bundles of wood…
The next day’s hike was carefully tailored to the fact that I wanted maximum time cooking at the campsite. So off we hiked to Lonesome Lake, thinking we were in just for the views, but it turned out to be a ‘culinary experience’, too. Lonesome Lake hut is a stop on Appalachian Trail, staffed by AMC volunteers and served a fantastic fare for a modest price. Hence two bowls of the best spicy lentil soup for us. We circled around the bakery table, but resisted.
Back at the campground, it was time to soak the corn, dice the tomatoes we brought in from our own backyard, and the basil. This simple pasta dish lends itself perfectly to cooking by the campfire. We always carry camping stove to boil the water quickly for pasta or coffee, but the rest of the magic happens over the wood fire. Yes, I brought my own parmesan cheese, too. Suddenly, we were glamping…Some of us were even heating up Chinese takeout spicy fish and rice, but that will remain a secret.