Showing posts with label COCKTAILS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label COCKTAILS. Show all posts

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening: August/September

Born in Hampshire, England, my smart (brainy) and smart (elegant) friend James Clay is an artist and sculptor who settled down (somewhat) in St. Remy close to 20 years ago. Over the years, he created a gorgeous one-hectare garden, filled with fruit, palm, pine, and olive trees (he has 60 olive trees, all of them transplanted), plus many varieties of bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs. James knows pretty much everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. Plus, he likes to write. So each month here on ProvencePost.com, James serves up essential gardening secrets with appropriate seasonal drink suggestions. Here’s what sprang from his fertile mind this month.

The 'dog days of summer'…what should one do in the heat of the afternoons? Find the coolest, shadiest place you know and take a book…

It’s been an incredibly hot August and holding more than one thought in my head has been rather more difficult than usual. I’ve been trying to multi-task (don't you just love American English? It can be so handy!), which would include entertaining guests, running to the airport, shopping five times a week, and generally doing far too much plate shuffling and waiting table.


Strangely--and probably unlike most people--I find gardening totally relaxing and a huge relief from the aforementioned chores. A long day spent in the garden picks me up, as opposed to a two-hour trip to a 'grande surface' or hypermarket, which leaves me asking myself if, in fact, I need counseling and a course of anti-depressants.


Early August was when I sharpened my shears and attacked the lavender beds. By that time they weren’t looking their best and, rather like us, when a haircut is overdue they begin to look rather messy. The idea is to cut down the spears and take the plant back to its original dome form. Once you've clipped one or two you’ll easily get the hang of it. This year, I’ve pulled up most of the lavender as it has 'passed its sell-by date. Six to eight years is as much as one can expect lavender to look good; after that it becomes woody and thin, which then attracts nesting wasps and, believe me, those are not pleasant surprises to come across when you’re clipping away!


I shall replant lavender in October or November. Being an impatient soul, I tend to buy year-old plants but you can buy lavender 'pied nu'--young plants without soil sold in bundles in the markets. 


I read somewhere that the Romans used lavender in their baths so one year I tried it too. The result was fantastic, really relaxing, but don't do what I did and simply throw the lavender heads directly into to the bath as you’ll find that they block up the entire plumbing system. And the unblocking of drains is not at all relaxing.


Speaking of drains, that reminds me of my brother-in-law who, one August, kindly volunteered to check out some dreadful odor emanating from one of the bathrooms. My sister and I left him to it, he in full-length rubber gloves, and headed off to the local shop to pick up some cranberry juice.


This month’s cocktail is in fact named in honor of my brother-in-law for his courage in dealing with that incident! So here's “A Brother-in-Law.” Don't worry, this months recipe is simple (not unlike my brother-in-law), as it’s been far too hot lately to spend much time in the kitchen. You’ll need a large bottle of chilled vodka, loads of cranberry juice and eight to ten limes. Take a tall tumbler and fill with ice; pour over it a generous amount of vodka; top up with cranberry juice then add the juice of half a lime and mix well. Not complicated but truly delicious on a warm evening in early Autumn.


Pip Pip!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening: March

Born in Hampshire, England, James Clay is an artist and sculptor who settled down in St. Remy 20 years ago. Over the years, he lovingly created a gorgeous one-hectare garden, filled with fruit, palm, pine and olive trees (he has 60 olive trees, all of them transplanted), plus many varieties of bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs. James knows pretty much everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. Plus, he likes to write. So each month here on ProvencePost.com, James serves up some essential gardening secrets...with seasonal drink suggestions. Today James is musing on Mad Hatters, jumping hares, his new riding mower, sisterly advice, the origin of the word cocktail and more.

I was thinking about Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter the other day and wondering if I would have enjoyed taking tea with them. It seems March is the month that hares, in fact, do go a little mad or at least do some really dumb things like leaping directly up in the air. After the winter we've had, I feel I could go join them quite easily. We've even had the 'in like a lion, out like a lamb' start to the month, with yet another heavy snow fall where I found myself bashing the olive trees with a rake to stop the snow accumulating and breaking off yet more branches. I did ask myself, as I made my way back to the house in the dark, with my fingers and feet frozen, just what on earth is happening in the world that we are getting so much snow here in Provence?

I was very relieved that it only lay a few days and that the sun came back to warm us all up again. I love the Provencal people who go in to deep decline if they don't see the sun after three days or so. How they'd cope in Northern Europe heaven only knows. I know I myself can't bear it anymore. After a month or two of grey skies I too tend to lose my smile.

So here we are--March 21st just passed and we are officially in Spring.
I'm a very happy man as I have just splashed out and bought a new tractor lawnmower. Forget iPhones, iPods and the like--give me a power mower any day. I was even sentimental about seeing the old one go, having ridden it every season for the past 12 years (sounds like a race horse); it had become a part of my life and when one considers all the musing one does as one toddles round, I think it's understandable. I suppose I could have driven it to Paris and back in all the time I've had it. (Now there's a thought, like that movie The Straight Story.)
Now we have milder, warmer weather and I've been able to get out and prune some of the olive trees. I'm determined to get them down to a reasonable height so it's easier to pick the olives. I work with a bonfire going so I can burn the cuttings as I go. I learnt years ago that if you get the fire hot enough, the olive branches will burn cut straight from the trees. I've always enjoyed pruning. There was a fashion in this region some years back to 'crew cut' the olive trees so they appeared to have a flat top; a rather strange fad I thought. I like the traditional form of the doughnut! Open in the middle and rounded: better for the tree and a better harvest.
Some years ago I planted a thousand or so daffodil bulbs around the base of some olive trees closest to the house. For me they represent spring and I'm so glad I went ahead and did it. They come up earlier here and don't quite last as long as in the north but if you like 'a host of golden daffodils' then get to it this autumn and go crazy! They will surely gladden your heart next year.
One of my sisters called the other week and we were chatting away, mainly about gardening, and she reminded me not to 'overdo it'--and I'm passing that advice on to you. This is not an age thing, as my new 22-year-old gardener overdid it and cut himself very badly (tired and not paying attention) so he's not around for the next six weeks. I shall heed my sister's advice again this spring and knock off at a decent hour so I can enjoy a drink before dinner. This reminds me that I did some research into where the word cocktail originated. The earliest known printed use of the word ‘cocktail’ was in The Farmer’s Cabinet, April 28, 1803:
“Drank a glass of cocktail — excellent for the head . . . Call’d at the Doct’s. found Burnham — he looked very wise — drank another glass of cocktail. It renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head."
Moreover, and this I love as one can always trust the French not to be left out: "Coquetel, a mixed drink from the wine growing district of the Gironde" (quoted from Brewer's Dictionary).
And here's a quotation from the man himself, the inimitable Dickens: “He could...chew more tobacco, smoke more tobacco, drink more rum-toddy mint-julep, gin-sling and cock-tail, than any private gentleman of his acquaintance.” (Martin Chuzzlewit, 1844).
I think I should like that as my epitaph.
Great to know our forefathers were as bad as us! Here, for historical research purposes only, is how to make a quick rum-toddy.
2 oz. rum
1 tsp sugar
5 1/2 oz. boiling water
Place a sugar cube or equivalent into an Irish coffee cup or mug. Fill 2/3 full with boiling water. Add rum and stir. Garnish with a slice of lemon, dust with nutmeg and serve. This is per person.
Pip pip!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening: December

Born in Hampshire, England, James Clay is an artist and sculptor who settled down (somewhat) in St. Remy close to 20 years ago. Over time, he lovingly created a gorgeous one-hectare garden filled with fruit, palm, pine and olive trees (he has 60 olive trees, all of them transplanted), plus many varieities of bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs. James knows everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. So he combines both of his passions in this monthly column. It's a great idea, no? This month, the third installment, James suggests some great holiday gifts to delight the gardener in your life...and a classic cold-weather drink to go with. To read James' previous columns, click on his name in the labels at the very bottom of this post. Enjoy!

December: Manure and Mulled Wine

I don't know about you but I love both--and this is the season to enjoy them! Not only is it party time and I get to tell my "Joke of the Year" (as often as I can), but I get to spread manure too! I don't see why you should be spared my joke so here we go.

"What did the inflatable headmaster of the inflatable school say to the inflatable schoolboy who brought a pin to school?"

"You've let me down, you've let the school down and, furthermore, you've let yourself down."

I wonder why I like this joke so much? Probably because it sums up my educational background. School was such a letdown.

If you're a gardener then you already know why I love manure. If you're not, but your partner or friends are, then I have some original ideas for Christmas presents. Go along to your local nursery or garden centre and check out the manure they have in plastic sacks. Horse manure is the Rolls Royce of manures and is always generally available; if you prefer to make the grand gesture and can find a horse riding school, a small truck load of horse manure delivered to your loved one will thrill a true gardener to his or her core.

You'll be amazed by what we gardeners consider fantastic Christmas gifts...and here are a few more ideas. No gardener is complete without a good pair of secateurs; you can make up a basket of small gifts including seed packets, balls of string (I'm always delighted to receive string!), plant labels, bulbs, flower pots, etc. Don't forget the hyacinths, daffodils and narcissi that are already potted up and almost in flower.

We are lucky here in Provence to have great weather later in the year so we can still be outside enjoying the garden. My potted citrus trees have all been taken indoors by now to protect them from the frost. I water them very infrequently at this time of year but they still need a little now and again. It is worth cutting out any dead wood and then spraying them for red spider mite, which love citrus trees.

Like many French gardeners, I am totally won over by Bouille Bordelaise (copper sulphate). I'm sure you've noticed it everywhere in the region and afar. Years ago, I always wondered why some house fronts had a blue hue to them, not realizing that in fact the owners had sprayed their vines with "bouille" as it is commonly called and, by late winter, all the leaves had gone and exposed the stained walls. My first experience with spraying bouille was unfortunate as the wind changed direction and I found myself covered from head to foot in a heavy shower of blue.

At least I had the satisfaction of knowing I was safe from getting mildew. My gardener has taught me so much over the last 13 years and one of those things is that Bouille Bordelaise is indispensable, so add that to your Christmas shopping list!

Now that the subject of manure is out of the way, then let us turn to something that smells sweeter: mulled wine. This recipe is by the bottle of wine so just add more bottles to cater for as many people as you invite over.

Ingredients:

3 cups of water
1 cup of sugar
12 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 lemon peel
1 bottle of red wine
1/4 cup of brandy

Bring water, sugar, cinnamon and lemon peel to a boil in a stainless steel pot, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the wine; now bring back to a drinking temperature BUT DO NOT BOIL. Then add brandy.

Season's Greetings!

Photo by Karen Trinko. To see and purchase her work, click here or go here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/62982325@N00/

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening #1


Born in Hampshire, England, my smart (brainy) and smart (elegant) friend James Clay is an artist and sculptor who settled down (somewhat) in St. Remy close to 20 years ago. Over the years, he lovingly created a gorgeous one-hectare garden, filled with fruit, palm, pine, and olive trees (he has 60 olive trees, all of them transplanted), plus many varieties of bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs.
James knows everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. And he likes to write. So in this new monthly column, he'll serve up essential month-by-month garden tips... with drinks. It's so obvious, no?
If this all seems familiar to you, it's because you read something similar (by which I mean identical) on AlpillesNews.com, where it first appeared. Without further ado, here's James' thoughts on September.
Column #1: Laws of the Lawn
I always breathe a sigh of relief come September. The major heat of the summer is past and, with luck, I've managed to get to this point without losing the lawn; I don't mean in the sense of having misplaced it, rather that it hasn't died on me. Whether you water by a sprinkler system or by irrigation flooding (the ancient and better way), it's always nerve wracking when you lose patches (and it’s ugly to boot).
It's common sense to water your lawn either late at night or very early in the morning. With the intense heat, the grass, if watered during the daytime, is liable to burn and of course the water tends to evaporate very quickly. I often think how crazy it is to water during a mistral with blasting temperatures--something one does see here in Provence, which constitutes the equivalent of burning money!
I wonder if you’ve noticed what I think of here as a second spring? By mid month, we enjoy a milder heat and what with the abundant water system installed by the Romans, there is a period of growth which is quite surprising. (To quote from the Monty Python film The Life of Brian: "What did the Romans ever do for us?" to which a character replies: "Wine, aqueducts, under-floor heating, roads"...the list is almost endless!)
Lawns in Provence are high maintenance and quite expensive to keep up so I always advise people (if they are determined to have one) to keep them as small as possible. Another tip during the hotter months is not to cut the grass too close but to let it grow longer than you would do, say, in the spring.

I’ve finally progressed to a tractor mower (my pride and joy) and they’ve become far less expensive over the last few years. I find mowing quite therapeutic and it gives me time to survey the garden as I trundle round.

Again, it is best to mow later in the day as the heat declines. The other great thing about mowing is that you can anticipate the coming evening and perhaps reflect on what might be delicious to serve your friends who are coming over to enjoy the cool of the evening on the terrace with you.

Cousin Neil and his delightfully witty wife Becky came to stay last month. Her stunning impression of Skippy the Kangaroo (remember the Australian children's TV show from the early ‘70's?) had people in tears of laughter; she managed to hold herself back when it came to the jumping element natural to that species! On seeing yours truly alight from his orange (YES orange) tractor calling for a drink, this funny lady suggested making a ‘Lawn Boy.' So here’s the recipe for this thirst-quenching cocktail.

Put three handfuls of ice and six shots of vodka in the blender, toss in a handful of fresh mint, blend until smooth, adding sugar to taste; fill with lemonade. Add more vodka if you like! Pour into a pitcher, serve in tall glasses--et voila! As your guests are chattering away, take a second or two to admire your freshly mown lawn (always a satisfying moment). My darling Ma would always say, "Keep the lawn cut and the paths weed free and the garden will always pass as well kept."

How right she was...Have a cool September! Cheers.

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