Cheery chives and coleslaw

This favourite is often only used as green garnish scattered over potato salad or egg mayonnaise and what a trick is being missed! One of my lockdown pastimes has been revisiting some of my old recipe books and then trying to be creative making meals of out of all the store cupboard oddments.  Some have been a great success –  others have not been quite so popular (beetroot and marigold pilau rice was a low point in some people’s view – I quite liked it).

Chive leaves are usually added at the end of cooking to give a mild onion flavour – over cook and their flavour will disappear.  In French cuisine chives are a consitutent part of fines herbes (finely chopped parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil) which is used to add a delicate flavour to savory dishes at the end of cooking. Chives can be chopped into soft cheese or sour cream as a dressing.

But in my view one of the best uses of chives is the freshly opened flowers.  Picked before fully open they provide a peppery addition to salads as well as looking stunning against the green of lettuce. 

In my lockdown experimental mode I was making coleslaw and didn’t want to deplete the dwindling onion stocks so wondered how to add some life to a pretty bland cabbage concoction? My cheery chives came to mind –  I picked a barely open flower and removed all the petals from the head and scattered them into the coleslaw.  It gave a wonderful oniony, peppery flavour and I wonder why I never thought about it before and so much quicker than peeling and chopping an onion .

A few random chive facts…

Chives  allium schoenoprasum are unusual in that they grow wild in northern Europe and North America and Australia.  Found throughout Asia it is thought that Marco Polo was responsible for bringing them to Europe where they have been cultivated since the Sixteenth Century.

The clump forming plant will tolerate most conditions and looks attractive when used as an edging plant in the herb or vegetable garden.  Chives are said to repel insects and a wash made from their leaves and water is used to prevent mildew and apple scab. 

Keep removing the flower heads and stems as througout the summer to ensure a continuous supply. Do not eat the flowering stems or flowers that have been open for a day or two as they are tough and unpalatable.

Chive flowers with bees collecting nectar

Chives are often used in companion planting as most insects do not like its smell but its cheery purple flowers are beloved by bees. A recent survey of pollinating plants placed chives among the top 10 nectar producing plants in the UK. 
So even if you don’t care for this herb make sure to grow some in your garden for the bees.

More recipe ideas can be found herehave look and experiment!

C-19 time to blog again

Like many people the enforced ‘time out’ caused by the coronavirus pandemic has given me a chance to stop, think and reflect.  The total cessation of all my planned workshops, talks and events took a bit of adjusting to.

Back in 2013 I was fortunate to visit Nepal, a trip that had a profound effect on me and was the catalyst for fundamental changes in my life including starting More than Willow.

This man epitomised my visit to Nepal. In a remote tea house in Langtang he produced the most delicious vegetable fried rice cooked on a clay stove using a few locally grown and freshly picked ingredients but prepared with care and served with a smile. It made me think about the need to produce rather than consume, to be content rather than strive.

Shortly after my return home I started to write a blog to share my thoughts on food, plants and life in general and so the free ranging blog was born. For the next three years I shared my random thoughts until More than Willow got established.

This covid-19 enforced isolation has given me once again the opportunity to think about what is really important  to me – contentment, valuing and taking joy in our natural world and treading with as light a footprint as I can as I journey through life.

So I thought it is perhaps time to share a few of my old free ranging thoughts and some new ones too.  It may be of interest to some or it may just be good for me to write but I hope  others will enjoy this random collection too..

Clarity of light and the beauty of winter colours

I am not sure whether the light this year has really been any different to previous years or whether I have just been more aware of it but one thing is for sure is that today was stunning.  The day started with a crisp clear sunrise with the sheep in the back field standing Christmas card like to welcome the new day.

As the sun rose in the sky became a wonderful clear blue a perfect backdrop for winter trees and the recent frost shave heightened and deepened the colour of so many trees and shrubs.  The frost gives seed heads from summer flowers a magical outline and spiders’ webs glisten in the early morning light.

I spent the morning cutting willow of many colours. My labours were interrupted frequently as I was distracted by the sheer beauty of the day and of nature.  The delicate spindle berries with their orange seed cased in a delicate pink fruit which looks like it should be in an exotic garden rather than a Shropshire hedgerow.  The long tailed tits with their pink tinged feathers flitting and twittering in the dark willow – their delicate colours complementing the emerging pussy willows.  Flocks of Redwing passed to and fro stopping to feast in the ancient field hedges with their fine array of different fruits and seeds – spindle, rosehip, haw, alder buckthorn and sloe.

Rose hips and willow in the winter sunshine  20161201_132259

 

 

 

 

 

As I reluctantly decided to head homeward y three swans flew over – the bright sunlight behind them meant that I couldn’t tell whether they were Whooper or Bewick but I like to think they were Whooper.

How lucky I a20161201_175102m to have spent a morning enjoying  the beauty of nature and to spend the afternoon working with the freshly cut willow.

 

Lovely lemon verbena

I have growing lemon verbena for years, have read numerous recipes but never quite got round to using it until by chance I came across Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for Verbena Lemonade made with crushed leaves of lemon verbena infused in hot water with a couple of tablespoons of sugar. I gave it a go and it has quickly become a favourite – really quick and easy to make and delicious to drink.  Once made it can be stored in the fridge for about a week or you could freeze it to bring a taste of summer to mid winter.

To drink squeeze lemon or lime juice and add to lemon verbena infusion – I find 2 lemons or limes add the right level of zing for a litre. Not being contented with drinking it  I have also used it to make lovely light summery jellies  served with a skim of pouring cream on the top, a few berries on the side and some shortbread. If you are feeling really organised adding  lemon or lime zest to the shortbread complements the jellies.

And the final use of this easy to make drink is to add a dash of gin for a summer evening tipple or for a sparkling version  pour a little lemon verbena infusion (without the lemon or lime juice) into a glass and top up with prosecco – enjoy!