A few years back, my man and I moved ourselves to the city of Qingdao in eastern China to teach in an international school. I taught first grade which was a bit of a stretch for me, having worked mostly with upper elementary students, but it certainly offered ample opportunities for growth! I had a smallish class with students from all over the world. When it was someone's birthday, we would sing to them in at least five different languages.
When we weren't at school, we spent our time exploring both near and far from our apartment. We found peaceful temples with gardens that allowed us to reconnect with nature and find a respite from city life. We took the 45 minute bus ride to the old part of the city to soak in the old architecture and markets, and to sample street food. Weirdly, Qingdao didn't have a lot of street food, but in the old city we found more - roasted chestnuts, grilled corn on the cob, tons of barbecued meats (including squid!), steamed buns, and our favorite, roasted sweet potatoes.
Cooked in metal drums, they may not appear to be the most appetizing treat, but trust me, they are delicious and comforting and nourishing to the soul. Handed to you wrapped simply in a piece of paper, they come completely unadorned. The reason: they are perfect on their own. The skin is crisp and charred in places, and when you break it open, the inside is steaming and fragrant. Soft, sweet and rich, eating a roasted sweet potato will warm you even on the coldest of days in China.
When we moved back home we would sometimes reminisce about those tubers, wishing we could walk around the corner and buy one like we used to. That's when we came up with the idea of grilling them. To save time and fuel, we cut our sweet potatoes into long thick wedges, brushed them lightly with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper, and threw them on the grill. They took a bit of time to cook through and attain that super soft goodness, but with patience and a few turns to evenly cook all sides, we had ourselves a fine approximation of those street snacks we loved.
Now we eat grilled sweet potatoes year round. I learned that in China they are considered a longevity food, and being nutrient rich, perhaps they are. The way I see it, if they do help me to live a longer life, that's just more time to enjoy grilled sweet potatoes. What are your favorite things to grill?
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Friday, June 21, 2013
Here it is, the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer! Outside my window is a calm, grey day with a brightness that holds promise for some sunshine later. I'm looking forward to spending summer on the island this year, getting out in my kayak, gardening, grilling dinners on the deck and having lots of campfires on the beach. Last year we left for most of July and when we came home it felt like two blinks and summer had passed. I've got a long list of projects I'd like to tackle, but will be happy for any that get done. I'll also be making plenty of this honey lemonade, because there's nothing more refreshing on a warm summer afternoon.
1/2 cup local honey
1 cup water
3/4 - 1 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best)
3 cups water
Heat the honey and 1 cup water in a saucepan until honey dissolves. Mix the dissolved honey and lemon juice in a pitcher or large mason jar. Add additional 3 cups water and chill, or pour over ice to enjoy immediately.
Happy Summer Solstice, everyone. Here's to the long, lingering summer days ahead!
(This lemonade recipe comes from Stephanie over at 3191 Miles Apart. Find her original post here.)
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.
This past week left me feeling world weary. A funeral for an old friend, a loved one in the hospital, a cat rushed to the vet. Everyone is fine now, but it left me feeling exhausted. Thank goodness for the peonies, and the bumblebees, and that crazy gorgeous purple-veined kale. Stepping into the garden gives me that instant sense of calm, that knowing that it can all be as simple as soil, seeds, sunshine and water.
We've been enjoying our first garden fresh salads. The spinach is so juicy and succulent when it's freshly picked. Our second planting of lettuce is finally sizing up after having done battle with an army of slugs, the garlic is looking amazing, and the hard-necked varieties are developing their scapes. Yes, I think everything is going to be just fine. In fact, better than fine.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
The wild roses are blooming and blooming. Sweet, spicy, musky, floral; I am smitten with their exotic but familiar scent. The other day I spent about an hour wandering around the periphery of our yard gathering the soft petals. Then I made my way down the beach and gathered up some more. (A pretty dreamy activity, I must say.) I had two ideas in mind for these lovely petals, the first was to make a batch of rose water, the second to make rose infused oil.
To make the rose water, I simply placed the fresh petals in a pot, covered them with pure water, and simmered them gently until the color had left them and the water had taken on the rosy tint. (This took about 15 minutes.) After straining the petals, rose water can be stored in the refrigerator for a month or more. I love to use it as a facial toner before bed, or put it in a bottle with a mister top to hydrate and refresh your face anytime.
For the infused oil, I let the petals dry for several days until most of the moisture was gone. (Too much moisture can cause the oil to go rancid and cloudy.) The petals are still so fragrant, even after drying.
Next, I packed the dry petals into a clean jar and poured oil over them until they were completely covered. I used a blend of sunflower and jojoba oil as both are light and have a long shelf life. I chose a jar with a wire bail lid that seals tightly with a rubber gasket.
Now I will let the sun do its work by simply placing the jar in direct sunlight. Each day I'll shake it around a bit, and if I notice the petals have soaked up the oil, I'll add more to be sure they remain fully covered. After 4 to 6 weeks of solar infusion, I'll strain away the petals and be left with beautiful rose infused oil. It's perfect to use as a nourishing and uplifting body oil, or as a base to blend with other essential oils to make your own custom massage oil. If I have time I'm going to make another batch in hopes of bottling some up for a limited edition in the shop! I'll also be making calendula infused oil this summer. Has anyone else experimented with solar infused oils? If so, what did you make?
A nerdy side note for those interested: I have three different types of wild roses blooming in my yard and at the beach, dwarf wild rose (rosa gymnocarpa), clustered wild rose (rosa pisocarpa), and the larger blossomed Nootka rose (rosa nutkana). The petals I gathered are a blend of all three, but mostly from the prolific Nootka.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Monday, June 10, 2013
We took a walk up the mountain to our favorite west-facing bluff this weekend. The air felt so warm and balmy and summery that I couldn't resist a short nap in the grass. The view from up there always helps put things in perspective for me. A good reminder to step back and see the bigger picture once in a while.
Friday, June 7, 2013
I am kind of a late bloomer when it comes to canning. It was always one of those things that sounded like a great idea, but somehow I never had the gumption to do. I think there was also a healthy fear of poisoning myself or my loved ones in the mix, but eventually I took the leap. Now my problem is that I cannot stop myself from canning! One glimpse of perfectly ripe figs and I'm making jam. Too many of last year's blackberries in the freezer? Jam. I've managed to slide through the asparagus season this year without pickling any, but it's not over yet.
One thing I did not want to miss out on this year was apricots. The simple recipe for apricot jam with honey from Tart and Sweet looked just about right, so earlier this week I made up a small batch. Delicious. It not only looks like sunshine in a jar, it tastes like it too.
Fresh on the shelves of refugium are some sweet old-fashioned quilted jelly jars, you can find them here.