Saturday, June 30, 2007

too beautiful to eat? no

These are quail's eggs. Until today I'd never eaten them. Until today I'd never seen them. But now I have, and I fear I may become addicted.
The farmers' market in Barryville, NY (along the Delaware River) has 4 food booths, a wood carver, Sam the Blacksmith, and $5 pony rides. In other words, it's s-m-a-l-l. But the vendors get to know you, which comes in handy when they have something special, like QUAIL'S EGGS! I was struck by their beauty as soon as I saw them; they look like jewelry or sculpture to me. But being a carnivore (with a healthy appetite) I decided to try a carton ($1.75 for 10 eggs). A quick web search told me that boiling for five minutes would give me hard boiled quail's eggs, which I added to my lunch salad. They are petite (5 quail's eggs = 1 chicken egg), and very fluffy. Seriously, the yolks taste like they're whipped...that's how light they are. They're a little harder to shell than regular eggs, but if you roll them on a cutting board, the cracked shell will peel right off.
I almost feel bad, eating something so small and pretty. Almost.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Love the Amalanchier, Eat the Amalanchier!

I hesitate to tout the virtues of Amalanchier fruit, since that may leave less in the world for me, but I can't in good conscience keep such a fabulous taste to myself. Amalanchier (aka juneberry, serviceberry, saskatoon) is an amazing plant. It has fabulous white flowers early early in spring, pretty, plump berries that ripen from red to purple, and great yellow/orange fall color. It grows well in the ground and in containers, in full to part sun.
But here's the important part! Those berries are delicious. Earlier this week I made Amalanchier-Rhubarb jam (killer) and last night my friend Sara and I made Amalanchier sorbet. We substituted frozen sumac juice for the water in the recipe and the result was an intense, not too sweet, deep purple, taste explosion. (I recommend straining the fruit mixture before putting it in the ice cream maker, but it's not necessary. The seeds are about the same size as raspberry seeds.)

Amalanchier fruit ripens between now and the end of July (depending on where you live), so keep your eyes open and never travel without a zip lock bag to collect the harvest. You'll find Amalanchier in city parks, back yard gardens, and country roads. Better yet, plant one of your own. And email me if you want that sorbet recipe.

Friday, June 22, 2007

hook 'em while they're young

These are my nephews, Solon and Nathan. They visit me in Pennsylvania a few times a year and because their mother and I agree that outdoor time is quality time, we always take at least one hike when they come. This time we went to Raymondskill Falls, not far from beautiful downtown Milford.
Truth is, I have an ulterior motive on these walks. My goal is to get these two boys to eat one thing I pick from the trail. (If this doesn't sound like a challenge to you, try getting a 7-year old to switch from yellow to white American cheese, then get back to me.) Berries are the easiest because they're sweet and familiar. But this time the boys were brave enough to try some wild lettuce. I picked a few of the inner, tender leaves and passed them around, expecting full scale rebellion. In fact, they grudgingly admitted it didn't taste bad. Of course I know they were humoring me, but that's a sign of affection, right?
I believe that if you start 'em young, there's a chance kids will remember the fun they had walking in the woods, picking berries, eating wild lettuce. Maybe some day, years from now, Solon or Nathan will be walking in the woods and say to his companion, "Hey, we can eat that!" THAT would make their Aunt Ellen very happy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Aren't they pretty?

I love my window boxes.
Technically they're not mine, but I designed them, I planted them, and I care for them. Need I say more?
A newly planted container looks a little bit like a new hair cut. The general shape might be good, but it's a little awkward, a little small/short, and you have to understand how it will grow in. Clients can't always see potential. They don't know how big the plants will get, how they'll knit together, how the colors will compliment each other, how the shapes will contrast. But I do. This year when I put the plants together I literally did a little dance of happiness (think quarterback in the end zone); the colors were gorgeous and I just knew they'd be fabulous in a few weeks. Still, things can happen: someone forgets to water, it rains too much, aphids find the impatiens, slugs find the begonias.
This year, so far, all is well (knock on wood) and both the sunny window boxes and the shady backyard planters look amazing. My client finally sees what I saw weeks ago.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

courtesy of Central Park

In case you don't already know, I'm way into foraging. Sometimes it's on a client's terrace, sometimes it's in the PA woods, sometimes on Central Park West.
I had supper with my friend Leda (fellow forager) on Monday and she served a dessert of seasonal berries: amalanchier, white mulberry, currents, and strawberries, with honey and cream. Delicious, juicy, not to mention red, white, and blue. Mulberry is tough to gather in the city because you can only pick them when they're super ripe. If they don't fall off the branch at the touch of your hand, they're not ready to eat. The best way to gather is to lay a tarp under a mulberry tree and wait for the berries to fall.
Tuesday morning Leda texted me about a white Mulberry tree on Central Park West. It was just a block from my last client of the day, so I stopped by on my way home. I couldn't exactly spread a tarp on the sidewalk, so I stood on a bench and gathered about a half cup of white berries, bursting with sweet juice. And New York being New York, no one stopped to ask what I was doing or why. I stood on that bench for 15 minutes, focussed on the berries, as the busses, taxis, and pedestrians passed me by. It's amazing what's out there if you know where to look. Amazing and delicious.

Friday, June 15, 2007

soft and scented

Can you believe I once disdained the noble peony? What was I thinking? When we moved into our house in PA there were four peonies planted in a straight line along the southern wall. The deer nibbled them constantly so I never saw them flower; eventually I dug them up and gave them to my mother. For years I told myself it was no great loss, that I didn't care for them anyway. Can you spell DENIAL?! Two years ago I was given a bare peony root by a fellow Master Gardener and I left it in the bag so long it started to grow there. I finally planted it, and last year it put out a few leaves. But this year...glorious, huge, ruffled, fragrant, flowers! Let me also go on record here as someone who doesn't do much with cut flowers; I leave flowers on the plants (where they belong!). But since my nephew Willy just made me this swell vase, and since the flowers were so heavy they'd snap off in a strong rain I thought why not? Now I have two perfect pink peony flowers (say that ten times fast) on my table and I couldn't be happier. Those deer better not come nosing around my peony patch; I never want to be without these voluptuous beauties again.

Monday, June 4, 2007

They lined up to get Down & Dirty!

BEA stands for BookExpo America and it's huge. The show rotates yearly among several cities, and this weekend the Javits center (in NYC) was full of publishers, packagers, distributors, and store owners...all books all the time! After my tiny turnout at the bookstore on Saturday, I was afraid no one would show up for to get Down & Dirty at my BEA signing on Sunday. But no. The line was long, the readers were enthusiastic, and we ran out of books before we ran out of people who wanted them. It was exciting to talk with so many interesting, interested readers; thanks to everyone who stopped by, I had a great time.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

prehistoric planting

It was a beautiful, sunny, Saturday morning in a picturesque Connecticut town and I was crabby and feeling sorry for myself. I came to Madison to sign copies of my new book: Down & Dirty and to plant a kids' dinosaur garden at R.J. Julia (a kick-ass, independent bookstore) but no one signed up to come play with me! I can't say I blame them; if I were 9 years old, I'd want to be at the beach, too. But just as I was ready to pack up the potting soil and go home, two teachers from a local elementary school showed up, ready to get Down & Dirty. We planted a swell dinosaur container garden, and they took it back to school for the kids to play with. And I left town with an adjusted attitude: a few good people can really turn your day around. Not to mention a few good dinosaurs.