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/

Furnishing your Home in Malta

Finding the perfect home to buy or rent in Malta is not a piece of cake, yet it is only the first part of the hurdle. After one’s accommodation is chosen, the next step is to furnish the place to one’s own liking (if it isn’t furnished already of course). In this respect, one’s own personal tastes and preferences obviously take precedence, however there are also a number of general guidelines which hold true for every new home-owner.

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CUSTOM-MADE VS OFF-THE-SHELF

The first thing to decide when thinking about which furniture to purchase, is whether you prefer custom-made furnishings to ready-made ones. A bedroom which is made specifically to your own tastes will obviously be more to your liking, not to mention fit in perfectly with the size and measurements of the room itself, however one must keep in mind that carpenters usually already have other work in tow, which therefore means that they could take a long time to start, not to mention finish, working on your order. On the other hand, purchasing off-the-shelf furnishings still does not mean that these will be available at the flick of a finger, especially if, as is the case with many furniture retailers in Malta, they have to be ordered and imported from Italy or Sicily. Think carefully before you decide and ask the carpenters/stores/retailers you talk to for some timelines.

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BUDGET VS DEADLINES

This is, of course, one of the main cruxes of the matter. If you have the luxury of waiting until you move into your new place, you have the time to peruse different stores and choices at your leisure, in order to be sure you actually do purchase value for money furnishings. If on the other hand, you cannot wait for the sales, and need to move in as soon as possible, choices become much more limited, as you end up either settling for temporary and cheap alternatives (if on a tight budget) or splashing money around just as long as you get what you want quickly (if money is not a problem). It is always better to take some time when tackling a big decision such as buying furniture, since it is much better to buy a good solid dresser or sofa at the first try, rather than a ramshackle one which you know will have to be changed at a later date.

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PRIORITIZE. PRIORITIZE. PRIORITIZE.

A home is not made in a day. Be it the budget, the carpenter, the retailer’s deadlines, or even trouble in getting some time-off from work to let the joiners in, it will be impossible to complete furnishing the whole house/apartment all at the same time. Probably only two or three rooms will actually be fully furnished when you do move in (that is, if you haven’t bought/rented the place already fully furnished of course, in which case this article is null and void). The important thing is to make sure that those appliances and furnishings which actually make somewhere liveable are obviously there. I am referring to the bathroom of course, not to mention a bed, and maybe some sort of kitchen. This could even be a make-shift kitchenette to be used until you are waiting for your custom-made masterpiece. The same is true for your bedroom. As long as you have a mattress, you can put it on the floor if you want to move in immediately without waiting for your finely-finished bedroom furniture to arrive from Italy.

Be sure however to have the basics ready. Electricity, water, tiles, and painted walls. Don’t make the mistake of trucking in your pristine new furniture before having finished painting the walls, attaching the kitchen tiles or fixing the parquet flooring, because believe me, speaking from personal experience, you will regret it.

 

This article was written by me and published on the website LivinginMalta.com – to access the original, please click here.

Ghent by Night

Ghent by night is a magical place. We arrived from Brussels Airport by train at around 8pm, then took a tram which left us very near our B&B. Actually, the tram left us right in front of the Gravensteen, which is a medieval castle right at the heart of the tiny cobbled city. The Gravensteen, originally built in 1180, had served as the seat for the Counts of Flanders until the 14th century, and was brought to life again in 1885 by the City of Ghent, which renovated it.

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Needless to be said, the sight of those historic ramparts glimmering like a fairytale at 9.30pm, was a real sight for sore eyes, especially after a journey consisting of a tiring 3.5hr flight, 1hr train, and the 10min tram.

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We were travelling with only our hand-luggage, since we were staying for a romantic long weekend in Belgium, however we were so tired, that these actually seemed to weigh much more than they did.

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Hubby was hungry and I really needed to sit down (and admire Ghent-by-night). As we walked slowly down the main cobbled streets around the Gravensteen, young people and tourists thronged the many small bars and cafes dotting the landscape. Most of these, I was overjoyed to note, sported windows full of a myriad of different types of beers and ciders! What can I say – I simply had to stop for a drink! My other half took the opportunity to buy a cone of the famous Belgian chips, which, placed in (yes) a cone of rolled-up newspaper, seriously rivalled those of Britain… and the sauce! Omg!

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Thirst and hunger appeased, we walked on towards our cozy bed and breakfast. Actually, at that point I did not actually know what to expect from our accomodation. The trip had been a Valentine’s pressie by the hubby, who had arranged everything himself. As we rang the doorbell and waited in the nippy chill (it WAS around 11pm by this time), a sweet eccentric lady opened the glass door for us, while a black and white cat bumped jocosely around her feet. The Lady, we were to learn later, was a live-at-home artist whose Asian-inspired paintings belied the fact that she was a spiritualist and a Buddhist (she was Belgian, but had travelled extensively to Asia). Honestly, I wish I had had the time to strike up a real friendship with her, but we were there to explore Belgium and enjoy the weekend togather after all, not spend the time with our landlady hehe.

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The b&b was simply charming. There were only two rooms to let, and I admit, my love had once again shown he really knew me by choosing the one I would have picked out myself. It was called ‘The Peacock Room’, and it was decorated in a vintage chick style. The color was, of course, peacock blue, and the walls had been painted with a couple of interesting murals by the landlady herself. The double canopy bed was adorned with Chinese lanterns and wind-chimes. There was also an ensuite bathroom and a tiny kitchenette with a well-stocked fridge, and complete with a small collection of quirky teapots!! Cute!

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We were really exhausted at this point, so after a quick shower and some minor unpacking, we went to bed, obviously looking forward to the first day of our stay (as well as the home-made breakfast which the landlady promised to leave outside our door the following morning)!

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… more to come in another post

P.S The photos, of course, are originals and were all taken by me on site.

PERSONAL – December Ups and Downs

This has been one roller-coaster of a month. Plenty of highs and lows. So, in a nutshell:

During the first week of December, me and my boyfriend went to Sicily for a short 4-day break. You can read the first part of how that went here, but I’ve still got to continue writing about the rest of the trip. You might ask yourself – why is she taking this long to write about a mere 4-day long trip? The point is, I love travelling – I am simply enchanted by the plethora of emotions, new thoughts and ways of perceiving the world which open up whenever I set foot in a country different from my own, with ‘exotic’ mentalities, colors, history and trends, SO I actually don’t find it that easy to describe it all when I come back, because there is just SO MUCH TO SAY! In fact, if you look through my past posts, you’ll realize that I’ve never actually sat down and documented each and every one of the places I’ve traveled to – simply because there are so many of them. However I told myself I’d make an attempt with this 4-day Sicily trip just to see how it would go. Anyhow, there you have it, still to be continued. And don’t worry, it WILL be, all in its own good time.

Got sidetracked there. Sorry.

On our last day in Sicily, I woke up suffering from some serious back-pain. Sciatica to be precise. The pain extended down to my left leg and I could hardly walk. Needless to be said, the last day was the climax of our trip, as we had planned on going for a jeep-trip up Mount Etna… you think I flunked that? AS IF! I still went. Hopping and wincing and dragging my sorry carcass up the whole mountain. And boy, was I glad I did!

More of that in future posts relating to the actual holiday.

We came back on the 12th. Tuesday 13th was a local Public Holiday so I didn’t have to go to work, and spent the whole day in bed resting and hoping my back would get better. It didn’t. On Wednesday, I went to the doctors’ who gave me pills, painkillers, and the advice to get MORE rest. So, that was the second week of December – which I spent in bed sleeping off my pills.

Luckily for me, the pain retreated, and I was okeyish for the weekend. This was important since my birthday was on Saturday 17th, and I knew that my boyfriend had planned the whole weekend with events for me. That is what we do – I plan stuff for his birthday and he plans stuff for mine. We spent some days meeting friends and family, and I really enjoyed that. Kudos luv! Not to mention that one of the pressies I received is a nice voucher from Ryanair to be redeemed by November 2017! Yay!

On Monday I felt a bit better and so went back to work, taking a large cake with me for my colleagues in celebration of my birthday. The cake was in fact so large, that we are still eating from it (we are a small department). And today is the 27th! During the third week of December we also had our ‘official’ Xmas party at work. The food, I admit, wasn’t anything spectacular, HOWEVER I did make up for it with alcohol consumption… enough said. Unfortunately this also meant that I was too tipsy and suffering from a hangover to actually do my Yule ritual. Ah well, I’m sure the Gods didn’t mind all that much since I celebrated with libation anyways.

On the 24th I cooked and slaved the whole day to prepare an enormous family dinner. Family members came late, and I was quite angry about that, but it was ok in the end and the food was a huge success. We still have our fridge packed with delicious left-overs. On the 25th we ate an enormous Indian buffet, after which Aunt Flo came to visit, and actually floored me. I had to stay home and rest to cope with that, so I missed another family gathering in the evening.

I’m so so tired of eating… AND YES my weight has gone up again! Frankly after noticing the first 3 kilos, I stayed away altogether from the bathroom scales… they scare me.

January will come soon enough, and then it will be time to face the music all right!

 

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!

Dreaming and House-hunting

Today my bf and me started that big and overwhelming adventure that is – HOUSE-HUNTING.

Ever since I’ve been small, I’ve dreamt about having my own place. A hole in the wall where to hide away from the rest of the uncaring world, a palace to design and buy things for whenever it suited my fancy, a tree-house where to store all my favorite things in the world.

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Although I’m aware that the house/maisonette/apartment/whatever we buy in the end will not be perfect, and will definitely not have ALL the features I desire it to have, I’m also aware that some things are achievable with time. For example, if there is no fireplace, one could be installed, if there is no parquet flooring, I could save up for it and install it as well. Budgeting here is the key. I think the important thing is to buy somewhere spacious which has the POTENTIAL of being all that one wishes… and then move on from there.

Saving up and changing color schemes or knocking down walls. creating windows or apertures or shift bathrooms around… that will come later.

Here’s a short list of all I’m looking for in a house. Some of these things will have to be there before I buy it, some of them are do-able later. I hope, in time, to get them all. The sky is the limit ;p

1. A cozy study where to enjoy all my books and obviously, write
2. One of those awesome writers’ desks in mahogany with a lot of little shelves and pigeon holes

desk3. A fireplace or stove

fire4. Parquet floors
4. A big kitchen
5. A combined affair of little shelves, tailor-made, to put all my herbs in
6. A window seat in the main bedroom (preferably)

window7. A 62 inch T.V
8. A big veranda or yard for my yet-to-be-bought owl and bbq set ;p
9. An old style rocking chair

rock10. Wrought Iron Chandeliers
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Success! When expectations are fulfilled.

Yesterday’s recipe was a real success. Instead of carrots, which I didn’t have after all, I used mushrooms. And instead of oregano, I sprinkled loads of rosemary, sage and thyme, and it was all delicious.

Here’s a pic of the dish before I put in the potatoes, and after.

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And a photo of what it actually looked like after it came out of the over (and before we started to dig in!)


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mmmm nom nom nom

Oven Potatoes with Chicken Thighs

I don’t usually write down recipes, I follow my nose, not to mention that in my hectic day-to-day life, I really don’t have the time to cook elaborate stuff. HOWEVER finally tomorrow, I’m going to try cooking something I have never cooked before. So, pathetic as it may sound to some, I’m feeling a bit excited about it.

I’m going to prepare a traditional Maltese dish, only instead of using pork or the red meat which usually accompanies it, I’m using boned chicken thighs. I’m going to describe the process I will be following here, not bothering with quantities since I mostly consider that while I’m cooking.

Oven Potatoes with Chicken Thighs

Ingredients:

Chicken Thighs
Potatoes
Onions
Garlic
Olive Oil
Oregano
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
Curry Powder
Water
Carrots
Peas

Method:

Wash and peal the potatoes. Slice them thickly. Slice the onions and garlic and put these at the bottom of a big oven dish. Place the chicken thighs over them and semi-cover them with water and olive oil. Three parts water to one part olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper. Put the carrots and peas on the chicken thighs. Lastly, place the sliced potatoes over everything and at the sides, kind of like a blanket. Sprinkle the oregano, curry powder, salt and pepper over everything.

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Leave in the oven for around an hour.

When done, the chicken should be crispy and tasty, and the potatoes should be crunchy and full of flavor. Of course, one can vary the spices too 🙂

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Hope it comes out well tomorrow!! If it does, will post pics :0)

P.S I was in a quandary whether to place the potatoes at the bottom or at the top, since different people told me to do it differently, that’s why I’m so nervous about it perhaps.