Monday, February 19, 2007

Hmmm, a family visit thwarted the good intentions to do some gardening this weekend. So I had to be content with some seedling work. I used a cut off plastic bottle as a support tray (a 5 litre bottle) that I lined with a bit of newspaper. I couldn't get the hang of these fancy seedling pots so I made some very simple ones just by rolling the paper into cannelini-type rolls and filling them with potting mix. As they are all crammed in together, they hold each other up. By the time the seedlings have developed, I am hoping that their root systems will let me transfer them easily into the ground. I planted a tray full of Marmande tomatoes and some early peas ( I think I have bought a Petit Provencal variety which apparently produces nice sweet peas). I also have some mangetout peas but I think I will plant those peas straight in the ground in a couple of weeks time. I am guessing that I will be able to plant out the peas in a couple of weeks, and the tomatoes much later of course.
I think I will be able to get another bottle this week (I scrounge them from work) so then I will be able to try some lettuce seedlings (I have a few different lettuce seeds tucked away, some lovely butterhead "laitue" called a "fat lazy" variety and some green cut-and-come-back, although I think I might be tempted by a few plants from the garden centre as the summer comes on, it's much easier that way and you can get some unusual varieties, like the lovely red lettuces they eat in France). How anyone can possibly think it is nice to eat an iceberg lettuce is beyond me, I didn't realize what real lettuce was like until I came to France! So many varieties, a salad can be so adaptable, a bitter "frisée" (a curly endive, I think?), red oak leaf that is a little strong on flavour but such tender leaves! and of course the sweet and tender French "laitue", curled up in a ball with the young tender yellow leaves hiding inside. Yum yum yum. Here's quite a good article about salad greens.
Mmmm, maybe you want some recipes for salad sauce? Could be a good idea.

Of course there is the standard French dressing, that you can make as long as you can get Dijon mustard!!
1 heaped teas Dijon mustard, mixed with 3 tabs vinegar (red wine, white wine or cider), salt and pepper. Mix this well together. Then whisk in 3 tabs of olive oil until quite thick then 3-4 tabs of another lighter oil (otherwise I find it is too strong), sunflower or colza or grapeseed. Taste it, if it is too acidic, a bit more oil. This is good dressing for a few salads - tender leaf lettuce with grapefruit pieces and olives (use red wine vinegar), or a tomato, feta, cucumber salad.
I also make this type of sauce with white wine vinegar that is flavoured with walnuts. It's cheaper than walnut oil! Although walnut oil is good for your heart... That is a delicious sauce for a salad made of a more bitter lettuce with nuts and roquefort (blue) cheese.

In the winter I like endives (chicory?), those white pointy vegetables, cut up raw in a salad they are divine. Good with orange slices! And they love a spicy dressing, like whisking some curry powder with a little honey then adding a white wine vinegar and a light oil.

I have some mache (lamb's lettuce) seeds leftover from an earlier time, I might have a go at planting those under plastic this week, if I can get to the garden early enough. I know that it is quite long to mature, but it might be a good filler until I get the late things like tomatoes in the ground. As the days are getting longer, being able to do a few little jobs after work is sounding feasible.

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