Letter to Lina

English garden

Dear Lina,

Hello, my name is A. and I live in your house. Your former house, which is now our house, that is. We bought it off your family after you – well, there is no easy way to say this – passed away. I hope you don’t mind me disturbing your rest.

The neighbours have told me about you. How you liked to cook and entertain well into your 80s. That’s impressive. I want to have the same energy and spirit when I’m that age. And if I’m very lucky, that sort of friends, too, that would come to share the food and the laughter with me. I hope there will always be plenty of both.

I wonder what you cooked in this kitchen. What your favourite breakfast was. What kind of parties you had. Who knows, maybe we’re kindred kitchen souls.

I’ve learnt how to make curries, marmalade and bread from this kitchen. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with ingredients, learning about other cuisines. It will be tough to leave it one day, as I’m sure it was for you when you moved. My favourite breakfasts are many. Warm banana bread with peanut butter and espresso, which I take at the breakfast bar, looking outside as the morning unfolds in our tiny triangular garden outside. But I also love toast with butter and the afore-mentioned marmalade, and espresso with milk. We enjoy full English breakfasts. And many more things. Breakfasts are brilliant, aren’t they? But I wouldn’t knock down dinner or lunch either. We like to cook (a lot), and have friends around. Just like you did, I am told.

We’ve made a fair few changes to the house, especially the kitchen. I wonder if you would approve. We removed the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, making it open-plan, and put a peninsula which is our breakfast bar and a cooking station. You couldn’t not like the high double oven, and you may like the wipe-clean super speedy induction hob. I don’t know, some people prefer real fire, but I don’t miss it. I certainly don’t miss cleaning the gas hob. No disrespect to your old gas hob, of course. There’s red in the kitchen, very red, and two greens in the dining and living rooms. We do like a bit of colour in this (mini) family.

I wanted to thank you for a few of your kitchen things that made it to us. I love the nested stainless steel mixing bowls, endlessly useful they are. And the cast iron yellow Dutch casserole is a joy, though a touch rusty. It does not matter though. I love how well it has lasted.

Anyhow, it’s getting dark here in the garden, and I shall soon have to go back inside. And we will probably be leaving this place soon, too. Which breaks my heart a little bit. It may be for the better, and it probably will be, but there’s nothing quite like your first home, the one you made truly your own, shaped by your tastes and life. It will always stay special.

Warmly,

A.

 

Ps. Hope you like the flowers from our garden above. The rose is yours, and the lavender mine.

Rain and lunch in Harringay, London

It is raining on Harringay Green Lanes High Street. I am waiting for my sogan kebab: minced lamb chargrilled with shallots and served with a pomegranate sauce and a delicious thin flatbread which they don’t even mention on the menu, but the flatbread deserves both mention and praise as it is delicious, if I remember correctly from last time.

Rain in Harringay

The rain is falling and jumping high off the pavement and off the asphalt, in this little bit of Turkey carved out of the London soil. I am facing the street. Resting, peaceful. Enjoying myself for the first time today. I am liking being with my own thoughts and not even the unlovely music can disturb this.

Across the street, Hot Nuts. You’ve got to love a shop called hot nuts. I’m sure that’s exactly what they sell and what they are,  but I also wonder whether the owner appreciates the connotations the name carries in English. I appreciate it, and giggle.

Ayran

I take a sip of ayran, and again I get a sense that all is well with the world. The salty yoghurt drink is excellent, and very refreshing.

Bread and salad

A bite of salad: refreshing tomato and peppery Turkish rocket.

The kebab is as good as I remember. Smokey, sour and delicious. There’s a bit of heat riding at the end of the sour note. I see Urfa and pul biber in the sauce tasting of lamb juice and pomegranate molasses.

It’s brightening up, and so have I. One more tea, and I’m on my way. Relishing its bitter sweet taste on my tongue.

Tea time in Harringay

 

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Previously: Food Adventures in London: Turkish food in Harringay Green Lanes

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Wild food: garlic mustard

Garlic mustard

I have a craving for greens. Coming out of winter as we are, they’ve never felt more welcome: fresh, herby, with a slight mineral and metallic tang. I’m also feeling adventurous, wishing to explore the wild bounty around us. So I’ve started foraging, to satisfy an additional craving, that of new discoveries. 

Armed with a couple of books, Hedgrow by John Wrigt from the wonderful River Cottage Handbook series and Food for Free by Richard Mabey, I began to explore my surroundings. I had been planning a foraging trip this weekend, when the forecast of rain (and two hangovers, to be honest) made me alter my plans. A long trip was out of the question, but foraging wasn’t! In preparation for my expedition, I had been reading up on wild plants, and as a result, started simply scanning my surrounds. I discovered a delicious green right on my doorstep, give or take a few 100 m, and in the city: garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

Incidentally, it was this very plant that stars in the oldest evidence of humans cooking with spices! About 6000 years ago, the ancient Europeans flavoured their fish and meat with the peppery seeds from a garlic mustard plants.

Garlic mustard plant

What it looks like

Garlic mustard can grow over 1 m tall. It has triangular, some say heart-shaped leaves, with distinct veins running down them; the upper leaves have jagged edges, while the lower leaves appear more rounded. At the top, there is now a cluster of pretty 4-petal white flowers. Sometimes there is more than one little stalk topped with the flower cluster coming of the top. When crushed, the plant, and especially the leaves, smell strongly of garlic. Interestingly, according to John Wright the plant only tastes of garlic and mustard when crushed, result of certain chemical reactions occurring during the crushing.

At a superficial glance (of which I had been guilty, too), the garlic mustard looks a bit like a nettle plant, with its white flowers and jagged leaves. But on closer inspection, they are totally different! The nettle flowers are narrower, and a little hairy, and the flowers are below the top of the leaves, rather than on top like the garlic mustard’s.

According to my reference books, there are no poisonous look-alikes and all parts of the plant are edible.

In Britain, garlic mustard is also known as Jack-by-the-hedge. Other common names include Garlic Root, Hedge Garlic, Sauce-alone, Jack-in-the-bush, Penny Hedge and Poor Man’s Mustard.

Garlic mustard plants

Where to find it

Garlic mustard grows in shady hedges and forests. I found mine on the side of the hill in an urban area. Wright says the season is from March to May. Mabey says it’s common throughout Europe. In the US and Canada, sadly, it is an invasive species with no natural enemies. Originally brought over by in the 19th century by the Europeans as a culinary herbs, it displaced many native plants.

How to eat wild garlic mustard

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers, stalks, roots, and seeds. The crushed plant tastes of garlic and mustard, otherwise it has a pleasantly herby taste. After all, mustard plants are brassicae, and related to cabbage. I loved the flavours. Here’s how to use garlic mustard:

  • In salads. I used the leaves, as well as the flower and soft stalks to add variety. We had it simply anointed with some good balsamic vinegar, and accompanying Cornish yarg cheese and Dalmatian šokol (smoked and cured neck of pork).
  • In sandwiches. I used it with pork and beef. Ham would be delicious, too.
  • Pesto!
  • In the past,  it was commonly used with mint in a sauce to accompany lamb.
  • Use as you would spinach or another tender green.
  • See more recipes at the 3 Foragers.

garlic mustard flowers

I am sending this to Ingrid who is hosting Ajme koliko nas je for edible wild plants.