finding golden gems

Patones de Arriba, Spain
Patones de Arriba, Spain

Mr. Eric,

As I sit and type this, I wonder what type of spring weather you are having at the moment. From here, it seems that the East Coast of the U.S. has been buried under many snow storms this winter, something I don’t get to experience living here in Madrid, and to be honest, I do miss it.  The only snow I see is the view of the snow capped mountains from the terrace, which is a wonderful sight but is not enough for me.  So, with arrival of spring here already, a group of friends and I decided to seek wildflowers in those same mountains, near a very small village called Patones de Arriba, just a short drive outside of Madrid.

IMG_4575 IMG_4572The almond trees are the first to flower here and from afar they seemed to be the only plants in bloom, lighting up the rocky hillsides.  The olive groves we passed through were sometimes the perfect backdrop to the white blossoms, a picturesque scene of the beginning of a Mediterranean spring.

IMG_4669Trudging further up the loose and stony paths, higher up into the mountain, the flora changed from open grassy areas to a shrubby layer of Cistus and large areas of the faint blue blooms of Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis. It’s a funny sight when when you see your herbs all grown up. For a short while there was a light snowstorm which felt like I was in a dream, similar to when Dorothy was in the field of red poppies in the Wizard of Oz. It was a beautifully surreal moment.  IMG_4658 Then there was a glimpse of gold, near the base of a Rosemary shrub. I was shocked at finding Narcissus and it was in bloom!!  This is my first time I have seen Narcissus in the wild.  Since hunting for wildflowers in Israel, when I found my first wild tulip, it has always been a goal to find Narcissus but never succeeded.  Either it was too late or I only found the remaining greens swollen with seed. So this was an exciting moment for me, another wildflower off the list.  These Narcissus were Narcissus pallidulus and were usually were found in small groups here and there, never in large swathes,  only a cluster 1-3 plants in an area.  After that moment of discovering them, I saw them growing near the Rosemary seen throughout the hillside.  Now I hope to find more types of Narcissus throughout other parts of Spain. Seeing these in there natural state makes their more common showy cultivars currently growing on my terrace, seem so brash and vulgar now. IMG_4702  I look forward to more plant excursions like this in the future and will keep you updated on any new finds. Hope this finds you well and with spring at your doorstep, finally…  Speak soon my friend- James

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Black Olive Rosemary

 

Groves of Olive Trees near Tel Aviv, Israel, 2009

 

Food brings back nostalgic thoughts for all of us, returning often to favorite recipes as a way to relive good times gone by.  When living in Jerusalem, a very beautiful friend made delicious bread for me one time. She made it look so easy, whipping everything together without the aid of a recipe and done only by memory. The smell of it baking will make you salivate, but just wait til you taste it…..      This was in 2009, and it is the only bread I make to this day, and never ever have I seen someone try it and stop at only one piece. It is easy to make, but plan ahead, because it can take a few hours to rise (something that has had me serving dinner to my guests late more than once). My recipe is written in an old notebook that has its fair share of ingredient smudges all over Einav’s Black Olive and Rosemary Bread. Still warm, dipped in  olive oil, sprinkled with a little bit of sea salt, and washed down with a glass of white wine is a good start to a nice meal with friends.

 

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The flavors are typical to the Mediterranean diet, pepper, garlic, rosemary and olive oil.  In an effort to share it the same way I received it, I have written it exactly as it was told to me that first night I tried it.  Enjoy. – JamesEinavBread

 

Einav’s Bread– Jerusalem, Israel, 2009

-1-2 teaspoons of yeast (warm water/bit of sugar)

-1 ½ cups of milk (maybe a little less), warm but don’t boil

-In a bowl, mix: – ¼ of a cup of olive oil

-2 tablespoons of sugar

– ½ or 1 tablespoon of salt

– black pepper

(add any spices you would like at this time, Zatar, thyme, etc.)

-Mix warm milk in to the bowl and stir

-Cut up one clove of garlic and add to bowl

-Let yeast mixture rise and once grown add to mixture

-Add 2 cups of flour

-Mix flour and yeast together little by little to get the right consistency

* This is when you add your olives and rosemary (or anything else like nuts, etc.)

-Mix dough in bowl with hands while adding more flour if necessary as you go

-Transfer to a large clean bowl and let sit for one hour (to rise)

-After 1 hour and risen, punch the dough and knead a bit

-Let rise 1 more hour

-Do this 3x

-Arrange on try, let sit one hour (this is the 3rd time)

-Put on toppings (extra rosemary, etc.)

-Preheat oven to 150-170 degrees and cook for 15 minutes

(lower heat= better baked)

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Winter Flower Arrangement

Cut stems of rosemary have been carefully aligned and glued to the vase, concealing the maze of stems inside.
Cut stems of rosemary have been carefully aligned and glued to the vase, concealing the maze of stems inside.

This winter floral arrangement is essentially a natural potpourri of scented flowers that are wonderful together, as well as falling within similar colors (white, green, and pink). It incorporates the following plants:

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (Harry Lauder’s walking stick, contorted hazelnut)

Daphne odora (daphne)

Eucalyptus (eucalyptus)

Hedera rhombea ‘Creme de Menthe’ (variegated Japanese ivy)

Helleborus x hybridus (hellebore)

Jasminum polyanthum (pink jasmine)

Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary)

Viburnum tinus (laurestine)

Note: The hellebore flowers will not last more than a day and will need to be replaced – if a substitute is desired, ranunculus will work well.

The rosemary stems are first affixed to the sides of the vase before the main arrangement. Inside the vase, Hedera rhombea ‘Creme de Menthe’ and eucalyptus form a foliar scaffolding through which Viburnum tinus and Helleborus x hybridus are woven. Lastly, the jasmine and contorted filbert are gingerly tucked in, spilling out of the vase.

~Eric

Close-up detail: The twisted branches of Corylus avellana 'Contorta' mirror the twining flowers of Jasminum polyanthum, adding movement to the arrangement.
Close-up detail: The twisted branches of Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ mirror the twining flowers of Jasminum polyanthum, adding movement to the arrangement.
The unopened buds of Jasminum polyanthum are a rich red violet, the same hue as Helleborus x hybridus, fading to pale pink, picked up by Daphne odora and Viburnum tinus. The variegated leaves of Hedera rhombea 'Creme de Menthe' breaks up the solid greens of the arrangement - 'the cream' that floats to the surface.
The unopened buds of Jasminum polyanthum are a rich red violet, the same hue as Helleborus x hybridus, fading to pale pink, picked up by Daphne odora and Viburnum tinus. The variegated leaves of Hedera rhombea ‘Creme de Menthe’ breaks up the solid greens of the arrangement – ‘the cream’ that floats to the surface.
Allowing the jasmine and contorted filbert to spill out from the confines of the arrangement prevents the look from being too stiff.
Allowing the jasmine and contorted filbert to spill out from the confines of the arrangement prevents the look from being too stiff.
Placed in the airy bathroom, the floral arrangement is a potpourii of winter fragrances.
Placed in the airy bathroom, the floral arrangement is a potpourii of winter fragrances.