Sunday, January 27, 2008

inspiration or makeover?

Fellow blogger Gardener of La Mancha posted some photos of the Northern California coastline where he's living these days. He made the connection between the rocky coast and a classic, Japanese dry garden, and that reminded me of the sharply jutting rocks I loved on the northern coast of Okinawa.

Then there are the tent rocks here, in northern New Mexico.

All of this has got me thinking about finding inspiration in nature and my garden philosophy (thanks Sara and G of La M).

I attended a lecture two weeks ago. The speaker was extremely accomplished, but I didn't enjoy his work. Rather than complement or acknowledge the surrounding geography, he creates massive replicas of features (water, stone) that seem out of place.

Perhaps this is a knee-jerk reaction to the enormous sums of money I know it costs to build a cliff where there isn't one, or to install a 3 acre lake in the middle of a field. Regardless of the cost, I prefer to work with the natural landscape rather than imagine I can drastically improve its shape and composition.

I'm all for drawing inspiration from nature. In fact, I use upright stones in my own garden. But there's a difference between inspiration and a complete makeover, don't you think? For excellent examples of how local landscapes can inspire gardeners in a way that works with nature (not against it), see two books by Scott Calhoun: Yard Full of Sun and Chasing Wildflowers. I recommend them both.

Monday, January 21, 2008


In case anyone (besides Oliver) is trying to figure out what this is, here's a better pic. Sara? Any ideas?

Fruit & Seeds

This morning, after a hearty breakfast composed entirely of whole foods, I wandered out into the winter garden.

The light is fierce in Santa Fe, and I made a mental note to check back at dawn or dusk, when the sun will be less glaring.

But despite the intensity of the light, I found much that was beautiful.

Most of it I recognize, but this I don't.

Any ideas? Check out the exfoliating bark as well as the hairy seed pods. (G of La M, I'm thinking you might know.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

In Defense of Food

Read this book. Please.

Yesterday was a travel day for me; lots of time on planes and in airport lounges to read In Defense of Food, Michael Pollen’s latest. It’s an excellent read; well-written, provocative, and satisfying on many levels.

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’re already familiar with my philosophy of food and eating. No surprise, then, that I thrilled to read this sentence: “For most people for most of history, gathering and preparing food has been an occupation at the very heart of daily life.” (p. 145)

I sometimes feel guilty that my day revolves around food, thinking about it, finding it, preparing it. Michael Pollan absolves me of this guilt, and in fact, confirms that this is actually a healthy impulse. He encourages us to think more about the source of our food, to shorten our food chains, to cook for ourselves. Here’s another sentence that totally gets me: “To reclaim this much control over one’s food, to take it back from industry and science, is no small thing; indeed, in our time cooking from scratch and growing any of your own food qualify as subversive acts.” (p. 200). Yeah, baby!

I’m here in Santa Fe to give a gardening lecture and spend time working (without the distractions of everyday life) on my next book. This morning I sat down to work on a chapter, but found that first I had to write this entry. I think that’s an acceptable distraction, since it’s relatively brief and also related to the topic at hand. (My book is a food memoir.) I feel newly energized and inspired to approach my own writing about foraging for and growing edible plants. Thanks Michael Pollan.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Where are you?

Tomorrow morning I leave for Santa Fe, NM. Saturday afternoon (@ 2pm) I'll be speaking at Santa Fe Greenhouses, one of my favorite greenhouses and a most excellent mail-order nursery. I'll be in town till 1/28, so if anyone reading this is in the area and wants to say hello, please come by or post a comment so we can connect.

I'll be travelling a lot in the next few months and I'd love to hear from friends in the blogosphere if I'm coming your way. And if you have any tips on good gardens or greenhouses, please share. Nothing makes me feel at home in a strange city like visiting a well-stocked garden center.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Molly tagged me.

Molly tagged me today. She's done this once before and I ignored it (which I felt kind of bad about). So this time, because I love Molly, I'm playing the game. I'm surprised by how uncomfortable it makes me. I've always considered myself an up front, spill your heart to anyone, give it all away kind of gal...yet I hesitate. Do people really want to know these things?

Generally, tagging is when you post 6 things about yourself that people (most people) don't know. This time it's more specific. Here are the questions Molly tagged me with:

1. What's the story behind the name of your blog?
2. Why did you start blogging in the first place?

I'm lumping these two together because I can't answer one without answering the other. My blog is named after Down & Dirty, my third book; I'm very proud of it. It's full of projects for beginning (and not-so-beginning) gardeners. I've included some family gardening projects, a few tasty recipes, and a lot of my heart.

The book came out in February, 2007 and the PR people at my Storey Publishing thought blogging about the book would generate buzz. I was surprised by how quickly a business effort became entirely personal.

I was unsure how to start; I'd never been much of a journal-keeper. But writing in short, independent bits feels natural to me and I loved blogging almost immediately.

3. What has been your best blogging experience? What about the worst?

No worst experience so far (knock on wood), although when I was cut off from the internet in Hijiori-onsen I felt a few pangs of blog withdrawal. The best thing about blogging has been the way it connects me to friends, family, and people I don't even know.

4. What do you think will happen to your blog in 2008?

I hope what happens is that as I travel around the country in the next few months I'll meet some of you. If I'm travelling where you'll be (click on additional appearances), please let me know. Looking forward...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

It's Clean out the Freezer Day!

Can you guess what this is?

How about now?

If you said puree of Eleagnus angustifolia, you'd be right! Some people call it autumn olive, others call it silverberry. Either way, it's considered a noxious, weedy shrub in many parts of the country. I admit it's invasive, but it's also delicious. The fruit is about blueberry size, oval, and pinky-silver. A large-ish seed makes it a poor choice for a trail-side snack, but the taste is tart and fresh. I usually juice it for jelly or make silverberry wine, but this year I wanted to try the flesh in some kind of dessert. I thawed the berries yesterday (picked on the NJ side of the Delaware this September) and ran them through a food mill. The puree was a lovely color and had the consistency of applesauce. On tapioca pudding last night it was ledicious (not a typo).

I've been pondering different things to do with my frozen fruit; way too much jam and jelly in the pantry already. First I thought I'd use the silverberry flesh in a compote but it looked so pretty and tasted so good on its own that I decided to can it to use on top of ice cream, pudding, pound cake, or just solo. Overnight it solidified into a jiggly solid with a fascinating, globby-glossiness. I couldn't resist poking it to watch it shake. I canned it this morning, which may have been a mistake, since the heat transformed the shiny mass into a liquid suspension, not nearly as pretty. Still, it's the taste that we'll see.

Also coming out of the freezer today were blueberries (picked in the swamp) and rhubarb (CSA), which I sweetened with honey to make a thick compote.

Next I stewed CSA peaches with Amelanchier (aka juneberry) picked 17 floors above Central Park West: another combination of foraged and locally grown fruit. This didn't need any extra sweetener.

I'm hoping these will be viable dessert alternatives to a late night snack of Edy's French Silk ice cream. Or maybe they'll liven up some Stoneyfield plain yogurt in the a.m. At the very least there's now a little more room in my freezer!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

I need to lie down.

The Romans had the right idea...lie down to eat. Or at least immediately afterwards.

As promised, Leda took the bus out to PA this afternoon, carrying CSA chicken, dulce de leche, and a few bottles of wine. After a quick stop at the grocery store (yes, occasionally I shop at the Grand Union), we came home to cook.

First step: marinate the chicken. The recipe is from Leda's yiayia. (Yiayia is the Greek word for grand- mother; Leda and I are both Greek.) It's called Peloponnese chicken with orange. I cannot in good conscience give the recipe here because it isn't mine to give. You'll all just have to wait and buy Leda's book when it comes out next year. Suffice it to say that the orange gives the chicken a distinct tang without being overly sweet. Garlic, rosemary, and tomatoes are also essential.

Dessert was another recipe from Leda's book: coconut- banana rice pudding. It's a sweet, creamy concoction with caramel overtones (thanks to the dulce de leche); Leda came up with it on an island off the coast of Brazil where she was forced to work with an unusual collection of grocery items. As usual, I get carried away with the end, I need to stretch out on the couch and groan softly to myself.

How wonderful to have someone come to your home and cook for you. Even better when you get to pitch in. Now I have to go lie down.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Intimacy in the Kitchen

Think about the people you cook with.

Cooking is an intimate activity; I wouldn't do it with just anyone. You not only need to share similar appetites, but also a common approach to putting it all together. Imagine, for instance, that you, a free-wheeling, inventive chef are making dinner with a foodie chained to his recipe books. (Ok, ok, I know you can tell which side I'm on.) Or perhaps you're a seasonal/local eater and your kitchen companion insists on using hothouse tomatoes in February. Conflict in the kitchen can break up a relationship pretty fast.

I'm lucky to have so many cooking friends. First and foremost is Michael. If you can share a tiny, NYC kitchen w/someone for 20+ years and not kill each other, you're definitely onto something. And he's responsible for the fabulous blowtorch action on our New Year's Eve pumpkin creme brulee (recipe courtesy of Kitchen Gardeners International).

Cooking w/Cayce was a significant part of my recent Japanese expedition. Like me, Cayce likes to experiment, and we pulled off a rich and succulent steamed persimmon pudding on a coin-operated gas burner. We also made basket cheese without a basket. (Yes, I brought rennet with me to Japan. Doesn't everyone?)

Mark and I have cooked together since we were on the road w/Les Miz many moons ago. At the North Carolina Wild Foods Conference we conspired to rescue succulent milkweed spears from drowning in cheese sauce. I love cheese as much as the next person, but there's a time and a place.

Saturday Leda is coming to PA so we can test recipes for her upcoming book. I'm not sure what will be on the menu, but it ought to be a tasty weekend.