The last threats of snow have passed us in my sleepy little town, with the onset of shy whispers of colour beginning to emerge in this season’s palette. Tiny pink freckles of a hopeful Spring begin to bud vivaciously on the bare trees, with the narcissi and crocus covering the grounds like a purple, cream and buttery yellow carpet. The delicate appearance of such blossoms, I have once been told, remain a symbolic reminder of the fragility and fleetingness of life. Many mornings still find themselves draped in a thick pale veil, as the morning sun begins to melt the frosty ground. The winds still remain forceful and determined, but nights are beginning to emulate a peaceful surrender to their previous wintery endeavours.
Somehow, the year has already flown by, and yet, it remaining progressively slow. It has often be said that time is but an illusion, shifting itself, like a meandering river, flowing through calm waters and raging rapids, eagerly egged on by our emotions with interludes of the idle and intrusive, the subjective and the elusive. It has been almost three days since Djamo has taken leave to Uganda, which, naturally, prompted fairly low spirits and tear stained cheeks. Nevertheless, this period of solitude, left me with ample opportunity to ponder, reflect and even to meditate on my currently unfolding journey through life. In many ways, a moment to stop and admire the daffodils.
Like quite a number of people, I have often wondered where I would venture after university, and more importantly, what I would be doing with myself. My father has always told me that opportunity always presents itself in one way or another; it is just a matter of patience, hard work and commitment. Such characteristics my parents, I like to believe, have passed on to me. On most days, I accept this view, however, some days, the planner in me seems to recoil in anguish. Sometimes I feel like I require more hints or clues as to what the future holds, more assurance. I am fortunate to have such a supportive family, whose words of wisdom resonate deeply inside me, where I acknowledge and accept their truths: there is no real sense in worrying about the chapters of my life to come, just appreciate the journey that has brought me here, and allow the rest to flow with the current.
But enough of this solemn tone and more about taking life a little slower. I have been thinking about the kinds of recipes I wish to share on this blog, specifically for the Spring season and, almost instantaneously, I begin to feel more alive, more excited. So many wonderful dishes to explore and to make, so many flavours, textures, colours to captivate and to gain inspiration from. Indeed, I sometimes feel, when I am truly lost, that tasks within the kitchen, can often hold important messages that can be reflected in life itself. For this post, the making of extracts takes a few minutes to prepare, but needs time to develop, mature and grow into its own flavours, sort of like each of us. It is about taking the time to create something and watch it grow, like a seed to a flower. No rushing, no beating the current, just a slow, calm knowing that if you provide the right conditions, everything will be just so. No question about it; time is precious, however, slowing down, even for a little, and making the time, can give us so much opportunity to find ourselves, know ourselves, strengthen ourselves both spirituality, mindfully, and physically.
I decided to concentrate on making three particular extracts for this post: almond, sakura and toasted oak in order to cater for all palates. I have been meaning to find some almond extract for sometime, but once I found out how fairly simple and straightforward it was to make vanilla and almond extracts, the possibilities of flavours suddenly became limitless. Whilst Djamo’s sister and her little family are currently visiting relatives in Japan, I began to recollect the flavours of spring, namely the cherry blossoms and the smell of firewood on the chilliest nights. I searched high and low on how to make sakura extract from scratch, but this effort was rather fruitless. So, understanding the delicate flavours found in sakura tea, and the knowledge I gained from making the almond extract, I began to experiment. Again, this notion of the unknown, trusting in it, and relishing in the gifts that time has to offer.
Homemade Almond Extract
Cooking time: 10 mins + 8-10 weeks to mature
18 Almonds, blanched
1 cup vodka
Take the blanched almonds and place in a pan on medium to high heat. Toss occasionally until the almonds begin to turn a golden colour, making sure they do not burn. Take off the heat and roughly crush, before pouring into a sealable jar with the vodka. Store in a dark place for 8-10 weeks, or more if desired, to allow the flavours to develop. Shake or stir 1-3 times a week to ensure that flavour are equally spread. When ready, strain the almonds from the sealable jar.
Homemade Sakura Extract
Makes: Approx. 75ml
Cooking time: 10 minutes + 8-1o weeks to mature
This extract was more of an experiment than anything else. Sakura extract is readily available online, however I really wanted to attempt to capture the flavour without the necessary additives and artificial flavourings.
There are three rules you have to follow for this extract, namely: (1) the sakura needs to be pickled; (2) the sakura needs to come from ornamental trees rather than the fruiting trees (for example: Prunus Serrulata); (3) The leaves, which also must be pickled, should be used as they contain a lot, if not most, of the flavour.
Our friend, Shotaro, brought us a small box of pickled sakura last year from Japan, and, unsure what special treats I wanted to use them for, apart from Sakura tea, I bided my time to contemplate. Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) are, at least to me, extremely elusive and fragile in flavour: floral with the slightest notes of plum fruit, almond and the sea breeze, they truly are a breath of fresh spring air. To capture them, in a bottle, would definitely be the highlight of my year. I have already made plans for when the cherry blossoms finally reach my mother’s garden: I will try my hand at pickling and sharing this excursion on the blog for those of you interested in preserving these delicacies (see: Almond Wood Smoked Cherry Blossom Ice-Cream).
200g pickled sakura
6 pickled sakura leaves
1/2 cup vodka
1 tbsp caster sugar
Soak the blossoms and leaves in cool water (this is to remove the excess salt) and squeeze any excess water from the flowers (gently) before placing them in a sealable jar with the vodka and sugar. Leave in a dark place for 8-10 weeks, to allow the flavours to develop. Shake or stir 1-3 times a week to ensure flavours are equally spread. When ready, strain the solids from the jar.
Homemade Toasted Oak Extract
Cooking time: 15 mins + 8-10 weeks to mature
If there is one thing you learn from this blog, it will definitely (hopefully) be that I love to experiment with flavours. I love the idea and aromas of smokey food so I will definitely be trying this extract out in creams, ice-creams, caramels and an array of other dishes- the possibilities are endless. Oak, itself, provides very strong smokey notes, however, other woods can provide completely different flavours, such as apple or cherry, which lends sweeter, milder notes.
1/4 cup oak chips (or any wood chips you desire)
1/2 cup vodka
1 vanilla pod
Pour the chips into a pan and place on high heat. Toss until the chips turn brown and begin to smoke. Take off the heat. Pour the vodka into a sealable jar with the vanilla pod. Pour the oak chips into the jar and leave in the dark place for 8-10 weeks, or until desired flavour is achieved. Stirring occasionally 1-3 times a week to ensure that flavours are well dispersed. When ready, strain out the oak chips and vanilla pod (tip: the vanilla pod, if left whole, can be reused).
Thank you for reading.