In defiance of birds: kitchen alchemy
Updated: Aug 6
Today began with a jalapeño lentil loaf (soaked green lentils blended with coconut flour, garlic, jalapeños and some liquid) filling the Shala with delicious smells as it baked. No stale leftovers on the menu for brunch today.
Once the lentil loaf had cooled, I savoured thick slices topped with a medley of pickles from the pantry stash. fresh kitchen counter grown bean sprouts and a dollop of goat milk yoghurt to cool the heat of the jalapeño. We grow them hot here.
The late great chef, explorer of world cuisines, lover of street food noodles, devourer of the icky unspeakable bits of dead animals and author, Anthony Bourdain, was famously disdainful about brunch calling it nothing but a "horrible, cynical way of unloading leftovers and charging three times as much as you ordinarily charge for breakfast".
Of course his was a restaurant menu perspective. When I'm home doing stuff all day, my first meal of the day is often late morning, so I get to call it brunch and celebrate both the breaking of an overnight fast plus a midday meal and seldom do any leftovers feature. In these dog days of summer, my meal is usually something cold.
My lentil loaf and pickles brunch plate (not to be confused with the Hawaiian pā mea ʻai or plate lunch) was followed by a few figs eaten straight off the tree, right there in the garden. As I went out to empty the compost, I noticed that the birds are discovering the figs.
I need to pay more attention. Last week the black grapes were magnificent: swelling, sweetening and so full of promise, hanging in heavy bunches.
This week there are just bare stalks and a few shriveled skins. In the space of a few days a whole conference of birds devoured the entire black grape harvest all while I dithered, intending to move the net from the plum tree, where it, incidentally, failed to protect even one single plum from these ravenous fruitarian roommates of mine.
The next bird buffet seems likely to be the green grapes and figs.
Seeing the sad skeletal stalk remains on the black grape vine this morning roused me to action.
Seven pounds of beautiful sweet seedless green grapes later I had hardly brought in a third of the fruit hanging on the vines but it is a start of my claiming some share of the outback abundance.
After a bit of internet research I settled on pickled grapes as a thing to do with this bounty. I prefer savory and spicy pickles and chutneys to the sweetness of jams or jellies which were my other options. Apparently pickled grapes are all the rage on the best charcuterie boards. Take that Chef Anthony. I'm making mine barefoot in an adobe kitchen in the hottest summer of my life.
It took a hours to destem the little grapes, but I had a good audiobook* and finally it was done. Like everything I attempt in the kitchen, I did a little (Ayurvedicly informed) improv with the aromatics in the apple cider vinegar pickle brine: fresh minced ginger, cinnamon, home grown coriander, star anise, mustard seed, a smidgen of coconut sugar. Eleven pint jars of pickled grapes are cooling on the counter.
Fingers crossed that, after a few weeks maturing, these unusual pickles taste good. If my avian roommates allow it, I might consider dehydrating some raisins with more of this grape crop. I might have to move quickly though and who wants to move quickly when it's 110 degrees in the shade?
No one goes alone is author Erik Larson's first fictional work. This ghost story is only available in audiobook, because the author feels ghost stories should always be heard, not read.
I was sceptical since I'm not a fan of paranormal or horror fiction, but I really admire Erik Larson's non fiction works. I took a chance. I discovered he has created an attention holding story to listen to while doing the tedious work of preparing grapes for pickling. Who would have guessed? Kitchen alchemy and a classic genre style mystery/ghost story set on an island off the coast of Corwall in the early 1900s. Life is full of surprises.
Thank the birds for that thing to do with a life that I did today.
And I hardly left the kitchen.
If we allow it.