Christmas day is a low-key affair at our house. We work like mad up through Christmas eve, preparing food, baking cookies, getting caught up on all the weeding, harvesting and processing of vegetables. Then Christmas day, there is nothing to do but enjoy the fruits of our labours.
To that end, I made a vegetable dip for our Christmas dinner, which will be a Mediterranean feast—bread, cheeses, olives, salad, and fresh vegetables.
Inspired by a variety of recipes, and by the lovely herbs in the garden, I made the dip up as I went. Taste testers declared it delicious, and we’re looking forward to enjoying it tomorrow with carrots, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, and broccoli from the garden.
1 (8oz/225g) pkg cream cheese, softened
2 small spring onions
small handful fresh flat leaf parsley
2 small stalks cutting celery (or ½ celery stick)
small sprig fresh savoury
½ tsp paprika
juice of 1 lemon
Beat cream cheese until fluffy. Chop herbs and onion very fine and stir into the cheese along with the paprika. Add enough lemon juice to make a dipping consistency.
Okay, one more cookie recipe, then I’ll be done for the year…maybe.
These are one of my all-time favourite cookies–big soft cookies that taste like raisin pie. Mom made them every Christmas when I was growing up (at least that’s how I remember it…), and she wrote down the recipe for me when I left home. The index card is stained and bent, but carefully guarded in a little wooden recipe box.
Like many handed-down recipes, this one is incomplete—little more than a list of ingredients. You have to know what to do to turn them into cookie dough. I’ve added more instructions below.
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup shortening (I use softened butter)
½ cup milk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups flour (I usually need about 1 cup more)
Mix baking soda into milk and set aside to thicken. Cream brown sugar and shortening together until fluffy. Beat in eggs, then milk and vanilla. Gradually add flour, mixing until you have a stiff dough.
Refrigerate dough at least 2 hours.
While the dough is chilling, make filling. Place in a medium saucepan and boil until thick:
2 cups chopped raisins
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 Tbsp flour
Allow to cool to room temperature.
Roll the dough thin and cut out 2-inch circles. To form the cookies, place a circle on a greased baking sheet, put a scant tablespoon of filling in the centre of the circle, and top with another circle. Press the edges firmly together (a fork does a nice job and leaves a pretty edge). Bake at 190°C (375°F) for about 10 minutes.
I picked peas today.
That was all.
Well, yes, I did a few other things, like laundry and cooking dinner and whatnot, but my day was pretty much given over to picking and processing peas.
Tomorrow I will do the same with currants and raspberries.
The next day we will pick cabbages and make saurkraut.
And it will be time to pick peas again.
When George Gershwin wrote the lyric, “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” he obviously wasn’t thinking like a gardener. Oh, food is plentiful—more than plentiful—but getting that food to the table or stored away for leaner times doesn’t make for easy living.
When the question is not, “What is there to eat?”
But, “What needs to be eaten?”
When bringing in the day’s vegetables takes all morning.
And doing something with them takes the rest of the day.
When you worry, not about what to eat,
But how to eat it all.
When you begin to think that life is nothing
But picking and processing vegetables.
When you know
You will appreciate all this work
In the dead of winter
When you are still eating
Peas, corn, cherries, strawberries, green beans…
All you want
Is to sit
For five minutes
While all you denizens of the northern hemisphere are baking Christmas cookies, we’re down here trying to figure out how to eat an overabundance of early summer fruits.
This week, we had a delicious confluence—too many cherries and too much ricotta cheese. There’s only one thing to do with that situation—make ricotta cheesecake and smother it in cherry pie filling!
The ricotta cheesecake—essentially a sweet soufflé—puffed twice the height of the pan in the oven, then fell most unattractively when it cooled. But it left a perfect rim for holding cherries.
I’ve had a hankering for figs lately—must be the holidays—so I made fig cookies. They taste like a cross between fig newtons and walnut crescents.
This recipe is adapted from a recipe in The Gourmet Cookie Book (Have I mentioned before that this book is the most beautiful book ever made? It is a lesson in effective graphic design, and has lots of good recipes, too. If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, you must buy this for someone. If you have finished your Christmas shopping, you need to buy it for yourself. Aw, never mind—just buy it for yourself, regardless.)
Anyway, these cookies take most of their sweetness from the figs. If you wanted a slightly sweeter cookie, I think they’d be fabulous dredged in powdered sugar!
1 cup butter
¼ cup sugar
1 cup walnuts, ground*
1 cup dried figs, ground*
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
Cream butter. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Stir in ground walnuts and figs, and vanilla. Stir in flour, mixing until all incorporated.
Use a scant tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Form into small finger shapes about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 300°F (150°C) for 25-30 minutes. Do not let them brown. Cool completely before eating—they crisp nicely as they cool.
*I grind the figs and walnuts together in a food processor—the walnuts keep the figs from sticking together in a big clump.
In a drought, I can’t not blog about mulch at least once. Even in a normal summer, I don’t think I could grow vegetables without mulch—it’s just too dry and the sun is too intense.
We mulch with grass clippings, and the mulch serves a number of purposes. First, it disposes of the grass clippings, which would otherwise end up sitting clumped on the lawn, or fill up the already overflowing compost bins.
But the mulch is more than that. It holds moisture in the soil, so I don’t need to water as frequently. It also suppresses weeds, which is absolutely essential for my sanity—without it, I’d be spending every waking moment just weeding from September to April.
Grass clippings are particularly nice because they aren’t as attractive to slugs as the alternatives (pea straw or barley straw), they have a fine texture that can be gently nestled around even small plants, and they don’t blow away like other mulches do.
The only problem lies in getting enough for all our needs in early summer. It takes a lot of mowing to mulch all our garden beds!