Saturday, May 28, 2011

Grow Your Own


No, that isn't a hoard of aliens come to attack my camera. They're the sprouting potatoes I found at the very back of my 'root cellar'. They're still perfectly edible, and I will get around to it in time. But they are also just right for popping in the ground. 

Now I know, if you are an experienced gardener you are probably cringing at the thought of planting grocery store sprouted spuds. I've read in countless books and magazines that only certified seed potatoes should ever get planted. I am sure that holds true for anyone who is serious about their potato harvest, but as much as I love my tubers, I am not an avid potato grower. I neither have the space to grow lots, nor have I ever had much success with them. In fact, my best harvests have been from peelings that sprouted in the compost bin, or sprouters I threw in a pot.


So if you have a few alien spuds, just throw them in a bit of soil. You don't even need a garden, a pot on a windowsill will do. You might not a bumper crop, but you will get a few spuds, at least enough for a meal or two. You will get a kick out of seeing where your food comes from, and those spuds will be saved from the compost heap (or worse, from the garbage dump)! The flowers are quite pretty too, and much appreciated by bees. It's all win-win.

The best part of it is that you don't even need to have green thumbs: given enough love, some water, and a few hours of sunlight, potatoes are pretty much self-sufficient. Some gardeners swear by planting their sprouters in re-purposed garbage bins and other deep receptacles; again, I've never had great success with these. It just might mean that I am not fit to become a potato farmer, but I usually contend myself with a deep planter or a 6 gallon plastic pot (the kind of pot large perennial plants are sold in.)



Happy gardening, and bon app'!




Glitz and Glam


Doesn't that just look scrumptious? Admit it: right now, you wish you were sitting at my kitchen table, facing this beauty. Well, there's no need for you to come all the way here, because you can make it yourself. This dessert is bit more complicated than the recipes I usually post, but it is well worth the fuss. Actually, it really isn't fussy, or complicated, it's just that there are a few steps to follow before you can get the end result. On the bright side, each element in the dessert is a gem in its own merit, and can be used for any other dessert you may wish to create yourself.


For the rhubarb mille-feuilles, you will need: a sheet of puff pastry (store-bought, frozen or fresh, is perfectly acceptable); enough poached rhubarb to feed everyone; and some crème légère. Despite its name -it literally means 'light cream'- crème légère is far from light, calorie-wise. However, it does have a most heavenly texture, all light and airy, and silky-smooth. It will turn any dessert into a billowy creation. Crème légère is one of the many variations on custard cream (crème pâtissière), a basic filling one absolutely needs to master. Classic French pâtisserie relies on pastry cream as a filling for fruit tarts, but come summer, custard just feels too stodgy: on the other hand, fill a pastry shell with crème légère, top with fresh berries, and you would think you were in heaven.


Crème Légère
Yields about 625mL/ 2½cups

125mL/ 1cup milk
2 egg yolks
70g/ 1/3 cup (minus 2 tsp) sugar
17g/ 5tsp corn starch
125mL/ 1cup whipping or double cream

Pour cold water in a thick bottom pan, swirl around and discard. Pour the milk in the wet saucepan, and scald.*
In the meantime, whisk together yolks, sugar and corn starch.
When the milk comes up to the boil, remove from heat, and pour half over the yolks, whisking vigorously as you go: this is called 'tempering', and will prevent the yolks from becoming scrambled eggs.
Return milk to the stove, adding the yolk mixture.
Keep whisking until the custard thickens and starts bubbling.
Remove from heat, and pour custard into a bowl.
Cover with cling film, making sure that the plastic is in direct contact with the custard: this will prevent steam from condensing onto the cream's surface. 
Refrigerate the custard, and leave to cool down completely.
Meanwhile, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Refrigerate.
When the pastry cream is completely chilled, loosen it up by beating it, then gently fold in the whipped cream.
Use as needed.

Hang on to those egg whites! They can be frozen for later use, or they will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days, just in case you're thinking of making an egg white omelette or meringues. I've just noticed that the package of puff pastry I usually buy has no instructions whatsoever as to how it should be baked. If your puff pastry doesn't come with instructions either, here is how I prefer to bake puff pastry destined for dessert grandeur:


Sweet Puff Pastry
Yields 1 sheet

1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed if frozen
Granulated or coarse sugar
Flour

Heat oven to 220'C/ 425'F.
Lightly flour your work surface, and unroll the puff pastry.
Dust the dough's surface with flour, and roll out until the pastry is about 5mm/ ¼" thick.
Pick up the pastry by rolling it onto your pin, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Sprinkle with sugar, and gently press it into the dough.
Cover with another sheet of parchment paper, and place another baking sheet on top.
Refrigerate for about 10 minutes, or place in the freezer for 5.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove the top sheet and paper, and continue baking for another 5 minutes.
Leave to cool completely, before trimming with a serrated knife.
Will keep in an airtight container for about 5 days.


Now we are ready to assemble the mille-feuilles. You can build a whole sheet of mille-feuilles, but it will be easiest to assemble individual portions. Cut the puff pastry into rectangles, counting at least two per person. Using a butter knife (or you can go all Martha, and use a pastry bag), smear a dollop of cream on a piece of pastry. Layer with a few spears of poached rhubarb, and top with another rectangle of puff pastry. If you have enough, you can add another tier. Finish off with a light dusting of powdered sugar if you want.


Bon app'!




*From the Department of Gadgets You Never Knew You Needed:
It's not actually a gadget, and you most likely already have it in your kitchen: it's cold water. It would seem that a thin layer of water at the bottom of a pot will form a steam barrier between the hot metal and the milk, thus preventing it from sticking to the pot. It sounds far-fetched, but this trick actually works (most of the time)!


Friday, May 27, 2011

Spring Fling


Back in the early days of this blog, I briefly wrote about a personal spring harbinger: rice and peas. When I first started blogging, my intention was merely to serve as a seasonal reminder of what was available, just so that we reconnect with real food. The recipes were afterthoughts I added to spark interest in the treat of the moment. I didn't really delve into the story behind the recipe, until it occurred to me that my favourite blogs were the most personal ones: the tales piqued my curiosity, made me want to try a new recipe. So, here's the story:


I cannot say it enough: I love fresh peas (I haven't counted, but I think I might have mentioned this fact six times since the beginning of April!) So much so, that I often make rice and peas several times in the year, substituting frozen peas for fresh the rest of the year. But when I was a child, rice and peas were strictly a spring thing. (I keep calling it rice and peas, forgetting that this moniker may cause confusion: the rice and peas I eat is nothing like the West Indian dish of the same name; my rice and peas is only ever made with green peas.) From late April to early June, my father would come home from the market with bushels of fresh peas. The family would sit around the kitchen table, and shell the peas. Then my mum would make rice and peas.


I'm sure that my parents made other things with the fresh peas, but I only remember rice and peas, or mame gohan, as my mum calls it. It's a Japanese thing: each season has its own rice dish. Spring is particularly replete with several variations -fresh peas; fresh lima beans; broad beans; tsukushi (horsetail); fiddleheads; morels and other spring mushrooms; and so on, and so forth. Basically, just about any vegetable that is available locally is added to a pot of rice, and celebrated as a seasonal treat. The peas of my childhood were most likely not local -and neither are they at this precise moment in Quebec- but they signified the definite arrival of spring.


It's easier than making risotto (although, risotti are really not all that complicated to make), and the ingredients used are more readily found in the average pantry. Any vegetable will do, you need not limit yourself to peas, but it should be something that does not require a long cooking time, as it needs to be ready when the rice is done. 


Harbinger Rice
Serves 4 as a main dish, or 6 as a side dish

2 cups Japanese, Thai or Basmati rice
1-2 cup vegetables
2 Tbs butter
½ tsp salt

Thoroughly wash the rice: swirl the grains in potful of cold water, changing the water several times until it is almost clear. (Theis water has little gastronomical value, but it is great for plants: collect in a watering can, and use to quench your garden's thirst.)
Strain off the rice, and shake out as much water as possible. 
Pour rice into a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, add 500ml/ 2cups cold water, the vegetables, butter, and water, cover pot, and let sit for 20 to 30 minutes.
Once the rice has soaked, turn on heat to high, and bring to a boil.
When steam starts escaping the pot, turn the burner down to low/simmer, and leave to cook for 15 minutes.
Turn off heat, and leave to rest another 15 minutes.
Lift lid, and gently stir in the vegetables so that they are evenly distributed in the rice.
Serve immediately.

Interestingly, delicate vegetables such as peas and asparagus do not overcook this way, despite being in a hot pot for half an hour. Any vegetable that crosses your mind, or your kitchen counter, can be used. Usually, only one vegetable is featured, and the rice becomes a main dish, with little side dishes complementing the star. However, certain wild vegetables need to be pre-cooked before being added to the rice. Morels can be cooked down with the butter and a few drops of water, before being added to the pot of uncooked rice. Fiddleheads are probably best boiled completely in abundant water, cooled down, and added to the pot of resting rice (use 1 tablespoon of soy sauce instead of the salt), otherwise it might get over-cooked. (In a blind fit of hunger, I added almost every single vegetable I brought back from the market in the pot. It was good. So really, anything goes.) If you leave out the vegetables, butter and salt, you have the Asian method of cooking rice. I did not include a weight measure for the rice, because the rule of thumb for rice is 1:1 by volume -so if you only have a drinking glass to measure with, you only need a drinking glassful of water to cook the rice.

I've been always told that cooked rice should not be kept in the refrigerator: it dries out, and becomes tough. Although adding a few drops of water to the rice before re-heating usually does the trick, green vegetables become drab and unappetizing. One way of avoiding  the gun-metal green peas is to do as the Japanese do: keep the cooked rice at room temperature, and eat the rice cold. As long as your kitchen is not overly warm (under 22'C/ 72'F), the rice should keep for 3 days at room temperature.



Bon app'!



Thursday, May 26, 2011

Putting on the Ritz


Most of us are familiar with rhubarb compote. The saucy, sometimes stringy, and somewhat mushy concoction is pleasantly sweet-tart, occasionally spiked with a spice (vanilla is common, but star anise is a startling match), and rather ubiquitous from late spring to early autumn. I love rhubarb in all its guises, but I can see how some people get turned off by the pink mess that is cooked rhubarb.


If you have an aversion to anything baby food-like, you have to try poached rhubarb. It might just change your opinion of the stalwart vegetable. Poaching rhubarb in a light syrup tenderises the flesh, but allows the stalks to keep their integrity. The results is nothing short of marvellous for those of us who like to sink our teeth into our food. It's the trick pastry chefs rely on to elevate a humble food to a higher plane. Need something fancy to impress? Poached stalks of rhubarb can be used in just about any dessert calling for stewed rhubarb -with the exception of rhubarb fools. They would be lovely in a rhubarb shortcake, or any other fruity pudding.


Although I am usually a staunch opponent to peeling those lovely magenta stems, this is the one time I will concede to the necessity of removing that colourful cloak: rhubarb peel can be rather fibrous, especially that of stout stalks or late season spears. Unfortunately, the gentle cooking that is poaching does not soften the peel. Left unpeeled, the stalks would best serve as dental floss instead of pudding. To compensate for the loss of colour provided by the peel, the shavings are added to the poaching syrup, to which it imparts a lovely hue. The cooked rhubarb will not be intensely coloured, however, depending on how brightly hued it was to begin with, it will be a far cry from the washed up shade of green it would otherwise be.


Poached Rhubarb 

1 kg/ ±2 lbs rhubarb, trimmed of leaves
1 L/ 4 cups water
2 cups sugar
3 star anise, optional

Peel the rhubarb by nicking one end with a knife and pulling the skin away along the whole length of the stalk. Trim the stalks to the desired length, set aside.
In a large saucepan, bring the water, sugar, rhubarb peelings and star anise up to a boil.
Gently simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Strain the syrup, and return to the saucepan. Bring up to a boil.
Add the rhubarb, turn down heat so that the syrup is brought to a slow simmer.
Top with a small plate to keep the stalks submerged.
Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove pot from the heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.
Serve warm, or chill until ready to use.
Will keep in the refrigerator for about a week, as long as the rhubarb is kept in the syrup.


Bon app'!



Finally...


I went 'round to the market today, just to see what was to be has. The warm weather has been so long in coming that a lot of local tidbits have been delayed, others are hanging around a little longer than usual. West Coast morels are still available, the season having been extended by the cool and wet, and Quebec fungi are just beginning to come into their own. I hear that there are morels to be found in Montreal... Those are long gone.


I've left my garden asparagus to stretch out a while back, so I've been itching to chomp into a bunch of the local harvest: it's finally arrived. Just in time for the morels and fiddleheads! Pasta primavera, risotto, here I come! Lobsters from Nova Scotia have been available since the beginning of the month, and now those from the Magdalene Islands are also coming to shore. Isn't it swell how things that go well together are in season together?

While I am perfectly content eating the same seasonal dishes each and every year, I suppose it would make for a rather monotonous food blog if only the same recipes were ever posted. So I've been racking my brains to come up with something new. While I await for inspiration, here is a quick starter to stave off the hunger pangs.


Grilled Asparagus and Eggs
Serves 4

2 bunches of asparagus, about 750g/ 1½ lbs
2 cloves garlic
olive oil
salt and pepper
4 cooked eggs

Fire up the barbecue or the oven grill.
Wash and trim the asparagus. Place in a deep dish, and drizzle generously with olive oil.
Peel and thinly sliver the garlic cloves. Sprinkle over the asparagus.
Season with salt and pepper.
Grill until little bits begin to char, about 5-7 minutes. If using the bbq, keep a close eye on the garlic to avoid burning it. In the oven, you can hide the garlic beneath the asparagus, so that it roasts gently.
Divide the asparagus amongst 4 plates, and top with an egg. 
Serve immediately.


Make sure you have a good amount of bread to sop up the olive oil and egg yolk. The eggs can be cooked any which way you like, but the yolk should remain runny so that it can double as a sauce. Fried eggs are quick and easy, but soft boiled (4 to 6 minutes from the time the water comes to the boil) are really pretty, if a little fussy to peel. Poached eggs are tops. Having spent a couple of years poaching several dozens of eggs every morning, I've avoided them for a time. But it's been a while since I last worked the breakfast shift, and I've noticed that I've been thinking about them lately.




Bon app'!



P.S. I've just been listening to a Splendid Table podcast, and heard about this similar recipe. The egg is baked over the asparagus after they've been grilled. One less step means you get fed a little earlier!


Friday, May 20, 2011

A Little Warmth in the Tummy


The unseasonal chill seems to be finally lifting from Southern Quebec, however the wet weather is still sticking around for a while. I know I shouldn't be complaining: I live neither in a flood zone nor near a rabid wild fire. Although I doubt I will be able to do much gardening this week-end, despite it being the official cut-off date for frost in the region, it's not like I depend on my crop for survival: my thoughts go out to the farmers and growers who cannot sow for the wet, and the bee keepers whose hives are on 'strike' due to the cold. Despite predictions of a hot summer, I think we need to brace ourselves for a hard season ahead.


I suppose I've got it good - my only worry is nursing this nagging cold. As I've mentioned before, when sick, I turn to tried and tested comfort foods. It's unfortunate that one cannot live on pudding alone: one occasionally needs actual nourishment. Gruel is an awful sounding word, but when done right, gruel can be the perfect, cockles warming comfort food. In its plainest form, it will convey easily digested nutrients, but a few embellishments turns into a complete meal. Best of all, gruel makes good use of left-overs and mystery vegetables found at the bottom of the fridge.


Almost every culture has some form of porridge -the oatmeal of Anglo-Saxons; kasha in Eastern Europe; and various other hot cereals we consume for breakfast. Just about every Asian country uses rice as a base. In Japan, there are two types of rice gruel: okayu starts out with raw rice, whereas ojiya makes good use of left-over cooked rice. In fact, I am sure that you can make something similar with any left-over cooked grain. There are no hard and fast rules to making rice porridge, although I am sure that my mum would disagree... I use plain water, she always uses dashi, the Japanese stock made with bonito and kombu. I rely on the added vegetables to contribute lots of flavour to the gruel.


At this time of the year, my obvious choice of vegetables are the 'wild' greens I find in my garden. Namely, mitsuba (also called Japanese parsley, even though its flavour is nothing like parsley); wild roquette (a perennial that is unrelated to arugula, but tastes similar); baby kale leaves; wild garlic; and radish greens. Of course, anything you happen to have on hand will contribute to the porridge, whether it is the lone carrot at the bottom of the crisper drawer, or the sprouting potatoes in the pantry, or even the wilting green onions that were forgotten on the kitchen counter (I am, of course, merely observing the desolate scene that is my kitchen at the moment...)

Fiddleheads are currently in season, and are a scrumptious addition once they've been parboiled. Do not keep the fiddleheads' blanching water -it will turn a dark purpley-black, and tastes awful; instead pour it over your houseplants when cool. Fiddlehead (ostrich) ferns are endemic to North-Eastern North America, but the Japanese do eat other varieties of ferns, so the twirly vegetables will not be out of place in a bowl of ojiya. (By the way, never having been out West in the spring, I am completely clueless as to the wild foods available at this time of the year. Any ideas?) Another wild food abundant right now are dandelion greens: by now, they will have attained a size and bitterness that renders them difficult for eating raw, but they will be lovely cooked.


There is one last ingredient I like t include in ojiya: miso. Miso has practically become common knowledge nowadays, especially if you happen to have vegetarians or eco-hippies in your circle of friends. For those who are still unfamiliar with this Japanese condiment, miso is a paste of fermented soybeans, malted rice, and occasionally, another grain. It tastes slightly alcoholic, but its main contributing factor is the savoury saltiness it imparts to foods. It is a great base for soups and vegetarian stews. I also like to use it as a dip for cucumbers. Miso can be found in most Asian grocery and health food stores. If you are new to miso, I recommend you begin with white (shiro) miso, as it is the mildest and slightly sweet. Red (aka) miso is second in line, and what is most often used. The darker the paste, the stronger the flavour, so use in consequence. One last, yet very important, point on miso: never cook the paste. It should be added at the very end of the cooking process, and never  brought to a boil, as it alters the flavour.


Ojiya
For one

120g/ ±1cup cooked rice
125ml/ 1cup water
1 heaping Tbs miso paste, optional
1 heaping cup chopped, mixed vegetables

Bring the water up to the boil, and cook the vegetables: any greens should be added at the end.
When the vegetables are tender, add the rice, and simmer until the grains swell up and are warmed through.
Add any greens, and turn the heat down to low.
In a bowl, thin out the miso paste with some of the gruel, until it is quite runny. Add to the pot.
Consume immediately. 
Feel better.

Eventually, the weather will warm up, and there will be a less pressing need for hot porridge, but one never knows... One can get chilled with all the rampant air-conditioning. I would omit the miso when using summer vegetables, such as tomatoes (a few sprigs of basil or shiso would be lovely.) When autumn returns, squashes and sweet potatoes will have place of honour, but lets not think that far ahead. You can also add proteins if you like: fish and seafood are obvious choices, added at the end, just before the miso, so that it just barely cooked. However, any other left-over meat or even a poached egg are likely to be scrumptious, just leave out the miso.


Bon app'!



Saturday, May 14, 2011

Foolhardy


Well. My attempt at blanching rhubarb was a bit of a bust. I guess I just don't have the right variety of rhubarb for blanching. Just in case you were wondering about my fascination with blanched rhubarb, here's the story: blanching (growing in an environment devoid of light) plants inhibits the formation of chlorophyll, whereby allowing underlying pigments to shine through; also, the missing green pigment sometimes results in a milder flavour. In the case of endives, the green leaves give way to creamy ribs and pale yellow frills. Cauliflowers turn into those pale curds we are all so familiar with. And the right kind of rhubarb turns into a vibrant, almost neon, pinky-red.


Unfortunately, the anonymous rhubarb I had dug out of a friend's garden eons ago is not as intensely pigmented as I had hoped. It is also possible that the garbage bin I used was letting in a little light, because blanched rhubarb usually has hungry-looking yellow leaves. No matter, it will taste scrumptious all the same in a fool. For those of you who are unfamiliar with fools as foodstuff, you are in for a treat!


The fool is a mainstay in the extensive English repertoire of spring/summer puddings ('dessert' in Brit speak). Say what you want about British food (all mostly false and misguided, really: British food has come a loooong way), their sweets are untouchable! They really know how to snare a sweet tooth, and reel 'em in! Spring and summer puddings are the epitome of delightful simplicity: take a seasonal fruit, add a bit of sugar, some cream, and voilà! Your hankering for sugar is fulfilled.

Last year, Tara at Seven Spoons wrote about this rhubarb syrup, and I wrote about roasted rhubarb. Both are a good starting point for a luscious rhubarb fool. If you choose to go the syrup route, just cook the rhubarb until it starts to fall apart once you've strained off the juice.


 

Rhubarb Fool
Serves 4

500g/ 1lb rhubarb, cooked, smashed and chilled
250ml/ 1 cup heavy cream

Whip cream to soft peak stage.
Gently fold in rhubarb.
Chill for at least one hour, or until ready to serve.

Rhubarb fools are beautiful when served in glassware, but would be just as lovely plopped into a bowl to be scooped out with a biscuit. You can also serve this billowy cloud of a dessert atop a meringue, in pavlova fashion, or as a side way wink to the Eton Mess. As the season moves along, switch up the fruits for variety. If using berries, you won't even need to cook them: just crush with a bit of sugar, and add to the whipped cream. This dessert is so easy to make that you can whip it up in a flash if ever you have unexpected guests for dinner. You can even freeze fools to make a lush ice-cream-like treat: if you can manage to stretch out dinner over an hour or so, it'll even be set enough to surprise the aforementioned unexpected guests...




Bon app'!



Monday, May 9, 2011

Spring Fever


I've been sick. Again. In fact, I haven't been this ill, this often, since I was a kid. When I'm sick, I often wish my mum would bring over the foods she used to make when I was young. Custard, pudding, porridge... Something sweet to sustain me until I am well enough to eat normally again. Of course, my mum doesn't usually bring me food, since I rarely even tell her I am ill. So I've only myself to make those childhood comfort foods.


I've been craving pudding. Not the rich, eggy, custard-based puddings my mum makes (because I don't think I can stomach the richness at the moment), but the artificially flavoured, powdered stuff I would have at my friends' homes. Most specifically, butterscotch pudding. Unfortunately, I was too feverish to drag my sorry behind to the store for a box of pudding. So from scratch it is.


While I would advise against cooking when delirious with fever, if getting someone to cook for you  is not an option, pudding is certainly easy enough to attempt. Just make sure you don't go and burn yourself...

Butterscotch Pudding
Yields about 3 cups, or 6 portions

160g/ ¾ cup sugar
60g/ 2 Tbs butter, optional
20g/ 2 Tbs cornstarch
1 egg
500ml/ 2 cups milk

Sift cornstarch into a small bowl, add half of the milk, and stir. 
Whisk in the egg, and beat until completely blended.
In a dry pan, pour sugar and a spoonful of water.
Place over medium-high heat, and leave to caramelise without fiddling.
Swirl the pan every now and then, to burn the sugar evenly.
Do not let the caramel get too dark, otherwise the pudding will be too bitter: as soon as you smell hints of burn, remove from heat, and add the butter, and swirl the pan vigorously.
Turn down the heat to medium.
Whisk in the milk and the cornstarch mix. Return pan to heat, and stir constantly.
When the pudding starts bubbling again, remove from heat, but keep stirring for another minute or so.
Pour out the pudding into a bowl, cover, and leave to cool down to room temperature or in the fridge.


Pudding is really easy to make. You can forgo caramelising the sugar, and make a vanilla pudding by adding vanilla extract instead. You can also add chocolate at the very end to obtain a rich chocolate pudding (cut the sugar down to about ½ cup or less). You can use any thickener instead of the cornstarch (wheat flour, tapioca flour, quinoa flour... you may need to increase it to 3Tbs) if you do not have any in your pantry: the resulting texture will be a little different, but it will be tasty nonetheless. Finally, if you tummy isn't suffering, you can replace half the milk with cream to make an extra rich pudding.





Bon app'!



Monday, May 2, 2011

May I have This Dance?


Oh May! May is indeed a glorious month. When I take over the world and become the Universal Overlord, I will declare May the first month of the year... It never quite made sense to me that New Year's day should be celebrated in the dead of winter... Ooops! Did I write that out loud? Anyhoo, don't mind me. I don't actually fantasize about ruling the world. I've got enough on my plate with keeping my home under control.

At the risk of sounding terribly northern-hemisphere-centric, May feels like the beginning of everything. I know that there are lucky folks who have gotten a head start on the whole spring awakening thing, but for the rest of us, May is when things really begin to get a blooming! May is when I wake up with a tingling sensation, and wish I can putter about in the yard instead of having to go to work...May is when my internal clock gets re-set, and I become an early-bird-night-owl (which really cuts into my sleeping time, but I usually catch it up come winter.)

Of course Mother Nature is not all sweetness and light in the month of May. Many regions in Canada and in the US are currently being assaulted by terrible climactic disasters. Just last week, Saskatchewan got a huge dumping of snow, because they didn't have enough problems with flooding... violent storms in the Atlantic halted the shrimping boats, delaying the season's opening. But  despite the storms, gale force winds, and the floods there are still things to look forward to in May. For one: the spring thaw will abate, rivers will crest. Others things to look for in May:

Asparagus
Oh!!!! I can smell it in the air! The asparagus are coming! The ones in my garden are pushing along quite steadily. They are not the ones I had originally planted, as those seem to have succumbed to mice during the mild winter of 2009.
The farmers' markets have opened up in Montreal, and they are bustling. Just about every stall has stacks of New Jersey asparagus -just last week, they were still stocking Mexican spears- so Quebec asparagus should not be far behind.


Peas
Perhaps not so much in Quebec, but anywhere else within gardening zone 6 or higher will be seeing the pea pods and shoots arriving any minute now. However, local pea shoots just might be hitting market shelves in abundance this year, as they are gaining in popularity.


Lettuces and Other Salad Greens
If your area has not seen frost over the last couple of weeks, then you will soon have the first leaves of lettuce and other sundries fit for the salad bowl. It is still a little early for head lettuce, as they require milder temperatures and a bit of coddling, whereas cut-and-come-again leaves are almost weed-like. In any case, if the cultivated stuff hasn't made it to the market, you can always go and pick wild greens.

Morels
Morels from the West Coast have already arrived at the market. If Spring on the East Coast is mild and rainy, our own spring fungi should not be far away.


Other Wild Treats
Wild garlic; horse tails; trout lilies... Oh my! There are so many wild tidbits to be had, if you have no experience in foraging, there are people willing to do it for you, and they often keep a stand at the farmers' market.
Fddleheads have begun poking their way out of the moist under-wood ground. They are relatively easy to identify if you are familiar with the food. Honestly, their fronds are quite different from other ferns growing in the Northeast, so mistaken identities are rare. Of course, if in doubt, you can always purchase them from a reliable source.

Wild Strawberries
Yes, you read right: wild strawberries. In May. I have vivid memories of picking tiny fraises des bois in the midst of black fly season, which ends the first week of June. So if you happen to be in wild strawberry land (also know as bear country) at the end of May, you might be able to snatch a handful of tiny berries. The season does extend into June, so if you do not feel up to confronting a swarm of blackflies, the strawberries just might wait around for you. And if you do not live anywhere near a patch of fraises des bois, you need only wait a wee bit loner for the first field berries...


Rhubarb
Just in time for those cute fraises des bois... Although technically a vegetable, rhubarb is the quintessential spring dessert food. I'm letting my own stand of rhubarb grow for a few more days, but it'll be chop time very soon!


The buds on my maple tree have burst. The narcissi and daffodils are in full bloom. Spring is here.



Bon app'!



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