Using Herbs – Sage

Wild sage (Salvia Selvaġġa in Maltese) is an indigenous plant, originating in the Maltese islands before man. It is to be found frequently in garigues rich in soil, rocky places, roadsides and valley-sides. It flowers between October and June and may reach a height of 60 centimeters and a spread of 45 centimeters. Sage has a very pleasant scent and is easily recognizable from its light grey-green, velvety leaves.

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Sage is a perennial evergreen sub-shrub of the mint family. Its flowers are white, blue or purple and it has a long history of medicinal and culinary use in the Mediterranean region. The flowers and leaves can be dried for herbal uses, although the leaves are most commonly used. The light peppery flavor of sage is the perfect foil for meats such as pork, turkey and chicken. Sage also pairs well with cheese. Sprinkling roughly chopped sage leaves near the end of cooking caramelizing onions or mushrooms, egg bakes, omelettes, and even tea are other delicious ways to use this herb. It can be used both fresh or dried. Dried sage tends to loose its flavor after a year or so and its best stored in a cool, dark place, in a glass jar with a tightly fitted lid.

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Common sage is also distilled and used to make essential oils, as well as ceremonial incense.

In traditional medicine, especially during the middle ages, sage leaves were made into a poultice and used externally to treat sprains, swelling, ulcers and bleeding. It was also commonly used to make teas in order to treat sore throats and was considered to be a good herb to alleviate coughs, as well as in the treatment of menopausal ‘hot flashes’. When made into a tea, sage is said to further ease anxiety and fight off depression.

Sage contains high percentages of Vitamin K, and is also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin A, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and B vitamins such as folic acid, as well as Vitamin E and copper. Although it has not been officially verified, said is also said to have the power to enhance memory and cognitive recall.

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Salvia Officinalis has also been clinically shown to contain anti-fungal properties, therefore making it beneficial for people suffering from certain conditions, such as candida, eczema, and influenza. Sage helps reduce excessive perspiration and salivation. It may also support liver and pancreatic function and it does appear to have a mild calming effect as well.

Old wives’ tales maintain it can also be used dissolved in water and applied over an aching tooth to relieve pain, as well as placed into bath water to darken hair.

Sage is very easy to grow in plant containers. It is better to place such a container in partial shade and to use dry soil. Be careful not to over-water it. Pests such as slugs and garden mites may be an issue with this plant, as well as mildew and root rot, which may be a problem. It is important not to harvest sage during the cold winter months, as this may damage the plant. It should be harvested in spring or summer. Further plants may be propagated through cuttings or seeds.

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This article was written by me and originally published in the online magazine LivingInMalta. It can be found here.

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Herbs for Cooking and Healing – Rosemary!

Would Maltese food taste as good, if we didn’t add herbs to it? Many Maltese recipes would lose their special taste if we left out certain key herbs and spices. Rosemary (klin in Maltese), a herb which is native to our shores, is one of these. Being indigenous and pertaining to the mint family, this herb tends to grow on rocky outcrops and valley sides. Its habitat and also growth is similar to that of wild thyme, and these plants are often found growing side by side on our cliffs. It does not need a lot of water and grows well even when left to fend for itself.

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Rosemary is a very useful herb. Often called names such as ‘Dew of the Sea’, or ‘Old Man’, it was mostly well-known in folk medicine for boosting memory and improving one’s mood. A study conducted in 2016 by Northumbria University aimed at proving how the scent of rosemary oil could titillate cognitive emotions and researchers in fact found that a percentage of the test subjects exposed to the aroma of rosemary oil could in fact, perform better in feats of memory. It is no wonder that in ancient Greece, students would wear rosemary garlands during their exams!

This perennial evergreen plant has needle-like leaves and small purple, white or blue flowers. Apart from being used as a fragrant essential oil, it is also frequently burnt as an incense and used in cleaning and beauty products. Extracts from its flowers and leaves are also used to treat a variety of disorders, since it contains antibacterial and antioxidant rosmarinic acid. Its oil extracts also contain anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties. Rosemary contains a significant amounts of Vitamin A, which is mostly renowned for providing vision protection, healthy skin and mucus membranes, as well as containing Vitamin C, which synthesizes collagen, the protein required for optimal blood vessels, organs, skin, and bones. It also contains manganese, iron, potassium, fibre and copper, among other beneficial properties.

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It is worthwhile to note that when dried, rosemary is more concentrated. Fresh rosemary on the other hand, can be used to make flavored olive oil, as well as for a number of tasty recipes. A good idea would be to mix fresh rosemary with softened butter or Greek yoghurt to create a delicious sandwich spread. Some well-known traditional Maltese recipes which use rosemary as one of the main ingredients include rabbit in gravy with rosemary and bay leaves, lamb stew, lamb rack with rosemary sauce, and poultry marinated in rosemary and olive oil. Another succulent dish consists of fresh lampuki, or any other kind of fish, baked after being marinated in lemon juice and rosemary.

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Rosemary, both fresh and dried, can be bought from any farmer, spice shop, or apothecary in Malta and Gozo, however if you prefer to grow your own, rosemary plant care is pretty easy. It is better to start the new plant off from another plant’s cutting, rather than the seeds. Rosemary needs well-drained, sandy soil and at least six to eight daily hours of sunlight. Rosemary plants prefer to be dry, so be careful not to water them too much.

This article was written by me and originally published on http://livinginmalta.com/miscellaneuos/maltese-herbs-rosemary/

Herbs – Fennel

If you love Maltese food, you’ve surely already sampled the famous ‘patata l-forn’, that is, Maltese baked potatoes. This dish, served as an accompaniment to a number of meat recipes, such as Maltese rabbit or baked poultry, has one particular ingredient without which it wouldn’t really have that wonderful taste we all know and love. That ingredient is fennel (bużbież).

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Fennel is an indigenous herb from the carrot family, which is very common in the Maltese islands. It flowers between the months of May and October and featured so much in the lives of the Mediterranean people, that they even used it in their legends and myths. It was for example, thanks to a stalk of fennel that, according to Greek mythology, the hero Prometheus was victorious in stealing a bit of fire from Mount Olympus and the Greek gods. The ancient Romans used fennel as an eye-wash to treat visual problems, as well as a mouth wash to sweeten the breath, while Russian folk healers used fennel to treat colic.

Fennel, which is most abundant during spring and summer in Malta, sports pretty yellow flowers and is a resplendent plant which can reach up to three meters in height. Both the leaves and the seeds of the plant can be used to garnish or flavor meat, fish or cheese, however the traditional tasty touch which is given to certain particular recipes, such as Maltese roast potatoes or pork, can only be derived from the seeds.

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Fennel is even used in certain cocktails or alcoholic drinks. It is, for example, one of the main ingredients in the fermentation of the notorious 19th century green Absinthe.

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Fennel seeds can act as a laxative and so aid digestion, as well as prevent flatulence and treat constipation. This herb contains iron and histidine, an amino acid which can be helpful in the treatment of anemia. Since fennel also contains high contents of fibre, it can also be helpful in maintaining optimal levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Fennel is also rich in potassium, which is vital for a number of important body processes and functions, such as reducing blood pressure, as well as increasing electrical conduction throughout the body, leading to an increase in brain function and cognitive abilities.

Maltese Herbs: Fennel

According to a number of health and medical sources, fennel can also be used to treat hormonal related issues, such as the female menstrual cycle, which can be a sensitive and painful time. Since fennel is anti-spasmodic, it can be a remedy for uterine cramps. It can also regulate out of control menstrual cycles since it contains an essential hormonal substance called ‘emmenagogue’, which stimulates the blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus, and can therefore aid in re-starting irregular period flows.

Preparations made from fennel seeds are also known to be used in cleansing milks to treat oily skin as well as eczema. Leaves can be used fresh, or prepared in an infusion with oil or vinegar. The seeds may also be ground and drunk with boiling water, as well as chewed as a good breath freshener.

This article was written by me and published on LivingInMalta. To access the original version directly, please go here.

Mini-break in Sicily – Day 4 – Mount Etna!

My short mini-break ended with a bang – in more ways than one.

First of all, we had planned this day to be the climax of the trip. We had booked a Jeep ride up Mount Etna, and were very fortunate in that, even though generally such a tour caters for 6-8 people, since it was December there wasn’t a high demand at this time of year, and the private tour was just that – private, meaning that we were to be the only two people with the guide!

That was very fortunate considering the fact that in the middle of the night, I had woken up suffering from sciatica. My back was really killing me and I had seriously thought about not going up Mount Etna at all. My condition was so chronic that my whole left side, starting from my lower back down to my left leg, was totally frozen and very painful. I could hardly walk. Which is why being alone with the guide helped a lot, as he could keep a slower pace, while also helping my boyfriend aid me walk.

As you’ve probably realized, even though I was feeling awful, I still went up the mountain! I couldn’t miss such an opportunity which might never come again!

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After we met our guide and explained my situation, we started driving up the mountain while we joked, talked, and learned about it’s history and volcanic formation. There have been various eruptions and lava flows, which created a multitude of craters, caves and rock formations over the years all around Mount Etna. In fact, on the way we stopped to admire just such a crater. The red soil, which once had been lava, was truly beautiful. The colors deepened and changed depending on how many years had gone by since the eruption. I did not know this, but the guide told us that even though during the first few years, the earth where lava flowed was arid, afterwards it actually became more fertile than normal and it led to the cultivation of certain plants and trees, which were very special. If, for example, one was to plant fruit trees, these would produce fruits much redder in color than usual, and with a particularly strong flavor and taste. There was quite a market for this kind of produce.

Afterwards, we continued our journey up Mount Etna. I could actually see the fuming craters even from far off, and I was so excited as they kept getting closer and closer! The weather was quite warm and the sun was shining, it was all so amazing and I was really glad I hadn’t cancelled the trip, even though my pain did not abate during it.

At last, we arrived at the visitor’s center which is almost at the top of the Mountain. We stopped and walked around, that is, I tried to walk while leaning on my boyfriend. The panoramic views were more than worth the pain!! I found out that our guide was also quite a spiritual person, in that he believed in the pull of the earth and that certain points of the land are special, which I do too. Mother Earth is truly a force to be reckoned with.

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We also went down into a cave which had been naturally formed and excavated with the passage of the lava-flow. There are many like it around the volcano.

Lastly, the guide took us for a short walk on the other side of the mountain, through a dense and beautiful forest that had sprung up in the wake of the oldest eruption. We had to climb up some rough terrain, which was not easy for me without the use of my left leg, however I had the help of two strong burly men (my bf and the guide), so I managed wonderfully. Again, the panoramic views of the other side of the mountain, and the small villages and towns of Sicily which one could admire in the distance, were more than worth it.

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In the evening, we went to eat at, I admit, one of the tastier and most delicious places I’ve been to in my life. This was an agritourism – a farm where they served very fresh, traditional and typical food of the region, all of it produced and cultivated by the family who took care of the restaurant themselves!

I am just so in love with Sicilian food! In my opinion it is the best cuisine in the world! And the portions… phew!!!

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P.S My sciatica did not get any better by the way. When we got back home, I had to take a week off sick from work and stay in bed for days before I could walk without wincing.

Recipe for a Tasty Maltese Lunch!

FINALLY the weekend is over. I seriously never thought I’d say that. Usually people look forward to the weekend – however this time by Saturday afternoon, I was already looking forward to this particular weekend’s ending. Not gonna go into details – suffice it to say that it is true that bad things come in threes, except that, for me, this time they came in fours… lol

The most I can say for this weekend is that I watched a couple of good horror movies with my bf, and that I cooked some tasty food. So, instead of glossing and agonizing over the details of my unfortunate series of events, I’m going to focus on what I cooked for Sunday lunch.

This is a ‘torta tal-irkotta‘ in Maltese, that is, a Ricotta Pie. I just love ricotta, and hadn’t cooked such a pie in a while.

Here’s my own personal recipe:

Ingredients

1.5kgs fresh ricotta
dough (this can be either home-made or ready-made)
bacon
peas
2/3 eggs
grated cheese
garlic granules
margarine
salt

Method

As you can see, I’m going to omit the making of the pie-crust and just focus on the making of the pie itself.

1. Take the margarine and cook it in a small pan. When it’s done cook the bacon.

2. With the rest of the margarine, smear the borders and all crevices of a large round pie-pan. Open half the dough and place it to form the lower part of the pie-crust.

3. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, cooked bacon, eggs, grated cheese, garlic and salt to taste. Make sure to mix them thoroughly.

4. Pour the mixture into the open pie-crust and place the other half on top making sure to cover all the mixture.

5. IMPORTANT – Use a fork to puncture the pie-crust in order for the mixture to breathe. This will prevent the dough from inflating due to the eggs.

6. Leave in an oven at medium to high temperature. It will take approximately an hour for the pie to bake to a lovely golden brown.

Enjoy!

The Kitchen Witch – Samhain/Halloween Recipe

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Being kind of stressed and busy cause of the new house and stuff (still unpacking slowly), I did not buy a pumpkin for Samhain this year (SHAME), ergo I couldn’t prepare any pumpkin-based recipes for the occasion. However knowing that another very important food for Samhain were oranges, I cooked an orange-based meal instead.

I was very lucky in that a book I had bought only 4 days before, arrived by post just the day before Halloween, so I could also break-in my kitchen for its first Halloween by using it. The book is called ‘Kitchen Witchery’ by Soraya, and I simply love it. It’s just what I need. I’m so tired of these ‘beginners’ books’ with their ‘ways of celebrating the Sabbats’ and tables of correspondences! I don’t need them and at this point I’m definitely NOT a beginner anymore. Haven’t been that for ten years lol. Anyways, the book has a brief introduction by Soraya, and that’s it – then you have all these delicious RECIPES, togather with some info about essences, oils and incense.

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The actual recipe I prepared for Samhain was not exactly found in the book, but it was inspired by it. I took Soraya’s own recipe and changed it, making it my own. After all – that’s the fun of cooking! So – here it is!

Chicken Thighs with Oranges 

Ingredients:
6 Chicken thighs
2 large onions
500g baby carrots
3 large oranges
1ltr orange juice
sunflower oil
water
Thyme
Mint
Whole cloves
Garlic powder
Salt

Method:

Dice the onions and disperse in a large baking pan. Put in the carrots and the defrosted chicken thighs. Sprinkle garlic powder to taste. Submerge the chicken in 2/3 orange juice to 1/3 water. Drizzle the sunflower oil at the top. Sprinkle the thyme, mint and salt. Start pre-heating the oven. Take the oranges and peel them. Take the rind of one orange, chop very finely and sprinkle around the pan. Do the same with the whole cloves. Divide the oranges into slices and position them between the chicken thighs. Put the pan in the oven and leave for around an hour and a half or until the chicken is crisped.

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I also prepared mashed potatoes with milk and butter to be eaten with the chicken.

Enjoy!

Dear Maltese Local Councils, why are you so Ridiculous?

Yesterday, I wrote a post relating my participation to Medieval Mdina last weekend https://ddmoonsong.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/medieval-mdina-2015-fun-vs-stress-2/

What I did not mention, was that while in Mdina, the Medieval Festival was taking place, two other localities in Malta were ‘competing’ with the Mdina Local Council in attracting the crowd by offering two other ‘festivals’. Mgarr was celebrating ‘Festa Frawli‘, which basically promotes strawberries as a local produce. In a couple of weeks there will also be ‘Festa Mqaret‘ – mqaret are a kind of Maltese sweet fried biscuit.

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Also last weekend Hal Qormi were hosting ‘Festa Nutella‘, which, on the other hand, is most notably NOT a local produce, since in fact it is produced in Italy.

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I get it – every product imaginable is an excuse to invent some kind of ‘festival’ or ‘festa’ (in Maltese) to promote it and make money, but sometimes too much is TOO MUCH.

This morning I saw another local council, this time ‘Festa Bruschetta‘ was being promoted. Seriously? We all know and love the so-called ‘kisra hobz biz zejt‘ which is totally Maltese (this consists basically of freshly baked Maltese bread with tomato paste, olive oil, tomatoes, capers, pepper, salt, and spices to taste), however as such the ‘bruschetta’ can be found almost anywhere in Europe, so what is all the hype about?

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Throughout the year, I remember also the Festa tal-Qargha Hamra (Pumpkin Festival), Casal Fornaro (Bread Festival), and the chocolate festival (ok we definitely did not ‘invent’ chocolate… or did we?)

Seriously WE GET IT. MALTESE PEOPLE LIKE TO EAT!

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However while I am one of those persons who love to say that any excuse is good to party, I must also admit that at this point, local councils are just showing how desperate they are to make a little bit of extra money. What next? A Peanut butter revival? (Peanut butter is most definitely not a Maltese product, in fact most Maltese never even tasted it). A Treacle Pudding Feast? (this is a British dessert) A ‘Minestrone alla Genovese‘ Festa (this is obviously Italian, but then again, so is Nutella).

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Please dear Local Councils, why don’t you stick to original Maltese products and food instead of trying to make up new ways of lining your pockets? Ways which actually, don’t even make any sense! If the idea is to promote Malta, its traditional way of life and its traditions STICK TO MALTA! Don’t steal other countries’ products and try to pass them off as yours! So Nutella was ‘invented’ in Qormi? Sure it was! Pft!

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A Health Diet which works! Finally!

Almost four weeks ago, I started dieting. It is a healthy diet, unlike the fads I followed when I was younger. What’s more, it genuinely seems to be working, since I lost 4kgs in almost 4 weeks.

Yay me!

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To be honest, I’ve never been so chubby in my whole life. A little bit over two years ago, I finally rented a place of my own, and it was then that I started to get sloppy. I watched my bf eat huge quantities of food, and that sparked on my own appetite… and here we are. Two years and almost 10 kilos later, I was totally FED UP with myself. And I just decided to stop.

Stop eating shit, stop ‘comforting’ myself with food through spells of bad moods (of which I have many), stop giving myself treats, stop eating big portions. Right now, I’m following a fairly simple regime. I eat 100g of proteins (either fish or chicken breast) togather with some carbohydrates, like a wrap or pitta bread, every three hours. The portions are VERY small. I do not eat bread, salami, dairy-food or pasta. I do not eat sweets or snacks. I do not eat any carbs after 6pm (mostly I have a solo piece of chicken or some soup after 6).

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It’s tough. I am very hungry at night, and I’m sleeping earlier to try and forget that. Most of all, I’m getting really sick of chicken breast. And I mean literally sick. To my stomach. Even the smell makes me wants to throw up.

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But here’s the rub – it’s working! 4kgs gone, 6kgs more to go. If I can keep this up for another month and a half, I’ll be right back where I want to be… oh la Dolce Vita – I’ll be able to really enjoy Summer lolling at the beach and strolling half naked everywhere – that is, if I manage to regain my figure.

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So, fingers crossed and teeth clenched! Let’s diet!

Recipe – Baked Rice with Bacon and Sweet Paprika

Being currently on a diet (which is working by the way), I was trying to cook some filling and nutritious food which would last a couple of days, since my new regime is to eat small portions, every three or four hours. So, yesterday I did this recipe, which I had never done before, though I had a previous idea on how to prepare. It is quite simple really, and the results are quite good too! I was not going to post anything online, this not being that kind of blog, however some friends saw the result yesterday and urged me to share it – so here it is 🙂

P.S As you can see from the pic, the ingredients produce a very big dish, which serves at least 8 people.

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Ingredients

700g rice
1.5 ltr tomato sauce
500g minced beef
250g bacon
100g baby carrots
1 small onion
sweet paprika to taste
salt
baking paper
water
3/4 eggs

Method

Boil the water and add the rice. Leave until cooked and then filter the water.

Chop and cook the onion slowly in a large saucepan, then add the mince beef and bacon. Stir well until they are semi-well-done, Add the tomato sauce and the carrots (diced) and leave it cooking slowly on a small flame, while stirring on and off for five to ten minutes. Add the sweet paprika and some salt and leave it for another five minutes.

Pre-heat the oven at medium heat.

Pour half of the cooked rice back into the pan where you had boiled it (minus the water of course), and beat three or four eggs and mix them in with the rice. Start adding the sauce while mixing it thoroughly. When half the mixture is evenly mixed, add the other half of the rice on top, and mix it with the remainder of the sauce.

Line a large baking dish with baking paper and pour in the mixture of rice + sauce. Spread it evenly. Put in oven and leave it until it has a nice brown-golden color.

Enjoy!! 😀

Another Joke presented by… THE MALTESE GOVERNMENT!! *sigh*

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This is hilarious, seriously, the Maltese government, no matter which political party is manning the post, is a total joke. I admit, they have their good moments, like finally opening up their eyes and realizing we now live in the 21st century and finally bring us to step with the rest of the world by ‘introducing’ divorce (yes divorce in Malta only became legal a couple of years ago), making same-sex marriages legal (last year), and providing a choice for children who wish to take another subject at school instead of one which promotes only the Christian religion, under the misleading title ‘religion’ (this is still in process).

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However, every silver lining is to be found in the middle of a very dense and smokey cloud… metaphorically speaking.

The latest joke is this – apparently a certain study showed that more of half of the over-70s in Malta are suffering from high blood pressure (most old people do – unfortunately it’s one of the ‘perks’ of getting old). One of the reasons for high-blood pressure is also a salty diet, that is, eating salty food.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150303/local/health-authorities-to-discuss-salt-content-reduction-in-maltese-bread.558236

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Since the problem is that middle-aged and senior citizens seem to disregard the fact that due to body changes which happen later in life, one’s physical synapses and metabolism change, and that therefore one cannot continue to eat the same foods one ate during one’s youth with impunity, the obvious solution here would be to educate the masses. Maybe provide free classes or other information in order to make people aware of the importance of a balanced diet.

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BUT NO – The Maltese government, in a funny twist of mind-numbing and mind-bending trapeze-scrambling, has decided that since old people eat a lot of bread, and this is ‘salty’, new laws stating that the percentage of salt used in dough should be written, in order for the bread one buys in shops to be ‘more healthy’… seriously… WTF?

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I love Maltese bread. It’s fresh and crunchy and really different from the bread I bought while I was in other countries lik Britain, Ireland, France and even Italy. There is no bread like Maltese bread – PLEASE LEAVE IT AS IT IS! THIS IS PURE STUPIDITY!!

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What’s wrong with you people??

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