It all began with the potager. Jardin Potager is French for vegetable garden...but not just an ordinary veggie patch. A potager is a vegetable garden showcase.
Originating in France in the 1500's, it was designed with vegetables, herbs and flower accents. Thanks to Marie Antoinette and Versailles, potager evolved so much further. So genius of the French...to create a beautiful and practical garden. Flowers are intermingled with vegetables plants for aesthetics and to attract pollination.
The tradition of potager continues today and these gardens are characterized as ornamental and artistic. The planting and arrangements are structured and follow geometric patterns. The gardens are made even more functional, beautiful and interesting with trellises, raised beds and gnomes. Kidding...just making sure you're paying attention....gnomes are in German gardens. My boyfriend hates gnomes!
A recent trip to France inspired me to develop my balcony farm into a balcony potager.
Not too long ago, I travelled to shop, eat and to attend concerts. Now, I've expanded my itinerary to include farm tours and cooking courses. I try to learn and take in as much as I can. I can't wait to get home to re-create the dishes in my own kitchen, with all my new appliances and cookware. These trips have kept me busy.
I was very Irish-lucky to have visited Ireland twice this year. This holiday, I was in Galway, the west coast of Ireland. I met many farmers, food artisans and professional chefs. I learned about smoked salmon, the seaweed industry (Ireland is a big producer and exporter...bigger than Japan!), raising goats and chocolate making. I hauled many cookbooks back. I found the culinary scene in Ireland distinctive and well-suited to me. It is about traditional dishes and ingredients and updating them through plating and presentation.
Apart from the eating, seeing the Cliffs of Moher was the highlight of the trip. It was breathtaking.
This was an all-culinary holiday. The pictures say it all. I learned that carnaroli rice is better for risotto (from our one-Michelin-starred chef), olives must be pressed within 4 hours of harvest, cheese and salami plating can be an art form and there's nothing better than homemade crackers. I will be busy recreating the meals I enjoyed. Pictures to be posted, of course. I will post in a future blog.
I saw alot of herb gardens in Italy. Basil and mint growing everywhere. On the streets of Rome, there were street vendors selling packets of vegetable seeds, as souvenirs. I have never seen that anywhere else in the world.
This was my first trip and certainly not my last. I made it to Chez Panisse, THE original Farm to Table and to Zuni Cafe. The food was so good. It lived up to beyond my expectations. I've had these cookbooks for years. Now I know how their signature dishes are supposed to taste.
The local produce was so fresh and pure. I could have spent the entire vacation at grocery stores (upscale or not). The tomatoes, figs, watermelon and raspberries were the best I ever tasted. Wish I had more time to eat everything else!
I was lucky to see some of Napa Valley. The vineyards are so vast and there are so many wineries. I could not drink it all nor could I bring much back.
I made it there! B2T at the original F2T.
I just returned from an inspiring holiday... although all my holidays are inspiring! No other place have I been where the city gardening culture is as strong and prevalent as in London and Dublin. The streets and skyline are lined with immaculate and beautiful balconies and rooftop gardens. Every city property has a window box, balcony and/or rooftop patio filled with flowers, shrubs and vegetation. Even my hotel room had a Juliet balcony.
This makes the city visually interesting, tidy and picturesque. It is part of the culture.
I was inspired. These are individual city properties…not the English country-side.
A few years ago, I attended my first formal cooking class. It was at the Eckington Manor in Pershore, U.K., a 2 hour drive from London. Yes, a great first. Pershore is just past the Cotswolds, in the English countryside. I was told Liz Hurley owns an organic farm / estate in the Cotswolds (she has since sold...no, I was not stalking her).
Eckington Manor is a beautiful 260 acre property with cattle, sheep and pigs. They have fruit orchards, vegetable gardens and greenhouses. It’s the ultimate “garden fork to table fork”. The cookery school was very professional and I learned alot.
I made bread, brisket, roasted vegetables, crepes and most memorably, I learned it all using an Aga stove, my dream range. Not practical for my lifestyle now but hopefully, one day, a reality.
The most lasting impression I have was how delicious the vegetables were. I tell everyone travelling there to take time to go to a grocery store and buy a bag of carrots and a head of lettuce to start. The pure taste surpass the vegetables of California. I have no idea why. Next trip, I'll dedicate more research. I wonder if I can buy seeds from Australia. It may also be the soil.
I enjoyed the beef pies and the kangaroo burgers too. Pies, especially hand-held pies, are very popular there. Came back and bought two electric pie makers. I loved the culinary scene. My best culinary influencer, she who started my love of collecting cookery books and all things kitchen, lives in Sydney. I miss her here. She is an amazing cook. I enjoyed the Vietnamese chicken salad I had in her home.
While in Sydney, I stayed with my childhood friend...longest and dearest. Her signature dish is a chicken and broccoli casserole. In Sydney, it tasted even better.
After signing several disclaimers, I walked the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Oprah did it. Bill Gates and Keith Urban too (he did twice, according to my guide). Of course, I did it twice too. First time was on a cloudy, rainy day and the second was a sunny day. It was alittle unnerving but worth it.
This was my biggest weight-gain holiday, ever. This is the land of sushi, and of ramen and udon.