Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Garden

Every garden needs a place to work, to stack pots and bags of fertilizer (organic please, you will see a difference) and yet most gardens - even those designed by the pros - are missing just that. Or it is sooooo ugly! This is the business end of my garden, a long walkway between the house and a retaining wall - the only thing that's keeping the garden from invading the kitchen.

I try things out here, and if they are beautiful or fragrant or tug at my heart, I will find places for them in the garden.

The long bare wall is covered with Boston ivy - from one 1 gallon pot I planted seven years ago. It has grown around the corner and covers one garage, it is creeping slowly across the shady back side of the house too. It roots occasionally where it touches the ground, but it does not invade the path like clematis and morning glory and other vines that throw their arms out. It is actually quite well behaved.

It was eating the chimney so I topped it and pulled off the fat stems trying to catch the smoke. It doesn't seem to be able to make the u-turn under the eaves and crawl out onto the roof - good news there. I have to cut it off the tops of the downspouts once a year to keep it off the roof. It clings by tiny suckers like a tree frog, and it does not damage the stucco. Don't plant it on a wood house, it will damage that. But here it cloaks a bare wall, gives shelter to the finches and warblers, and makes the business end of the garden more beautiful.

There is a birdbath in this garden too, surrounded by white impatiens, a hosta the snails have not yet discovered and devoured, some heucheras and the fabulous Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa  'All Gold'. I love it for the way it livens up the shade, for its punctuation marks. I have planted a lot of this in the shady spots in the rest of the garden, and I'm worried I may have overdone it. Oh well. That's gardening.

There is also a fabulous sculpture by the artist Marcia Donohue. Her garden is amazing and open some Sundays. Outside my kitchen window, this is the first thing I see as I am filling the tea kettle and feeding the birds, and the last thing I see as I turn off the lights and head for bed.

Some Campanula porscharskyana (no I don't make these names up and yes I agree some of them are quite silly) has decided to climb into the privet hedge and around the corner. The blue and white pot used to have goldfish, but in a bowl that size it was a sushi bar for the raccoons. So now the bowl is empty. The raccoons will have to find their own food, and clean up their own messes.

 And when I turned over a loose step to see if I could fix it, I found a teeny friend. 

You can see how small he is by comparing him to his friend Jiminy Cricket. I hope he grows up and develops a taste for gophers. 

girls getaway

Went to Cathy's in Carmel...

(no, that's not her house, it's the Carmel Mission, silly.)

(this is her house)

 ...with some amazing women...
...and since it was raining and everyone but me is a whiz at puzzles, we spent some time preventing Alzheimer's.

Joanne is the most amazing spatial thinker. Melody has a gift for making you feel so proud of the smallest accomplishments. Ellen has the most incredible perspective on the world, and such a comfortable way of moving through it - you smile just being near to her. And Cathy is the most gracious hostess and has so many fun ideas. I had never been away with the girls before; I could have stayed for years. We hiked, we did yoga in the parking lot at Spyglass and entertained the golfers, we cooked and laughed and sat by the fire and drank champagne and told stories. And made memories. Good friends are a gift.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I made the most fabulous scalloped potatoes - the only good thing I got out of my first marriage - other than my freedom - and of COURSE I forgot to take pictures. But here is what passes for a recipe:

1 clove garlic, split lengthwise
4 very large russet potatoes
2 to 3 cups cream
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
additional milk just in case

You will need a mandoline ...

(fancy French slicing machine) or the thinnest slicing blade on your Cuisinart.

Hand slicing yields so-so results. You will also need a big heat-proof pan. I use a copper dutch oven, but if it's a fancy dinner I use a yellow Le Creuset pan. Oh wait - I have pictures of these!

Preheat oven to 350, or 375 if you're in a hurry.

Peel one potato - I peel them as I need them for slicing so they do not discolor, and as you will need all the starch don't submerge them in water.

Using your mandoline slice the potato about 1/8 inch or slightly thinner. Rub the inside of your Dutch oven with the cut side of the garlic, then throw the garlic away.

Fan the potato slices in the pan, working from the outside in, and making concentric circles. (look it up)
Fill the center with the little bits from the end of the potato, then dot butter over the slices and pour on some cream - you want the cream to just cover the slices when you press down.

Peel and slice another potato, fan as above, dot with butter and pour on the cream. Repeat until you're done with the potatoes and the cream - if you run out of cream use some milk. Be sure when you're done that the potatoes are submerged when pressed.

If you are a cheese hound you can sprinkle on some gruyere, parmigiano (only the real Reggiano stuff no cheap imitations allowed!) Sprinkle with salt and place pan on stove over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, then smack the pan in the oven and bake until potatoes are easily pierced with a paring knife. This usually takes about an hour. If the potatoes are getting too brown, cover them, then remove the cover to crisp them for the last 10 minutes or so.

Let rest about 10 minutes, then eat.  You can use more potatoes and more cream to serve more people - I figure about a potato per person but my friends tend to be big eaters.

As you become more comfortable with this recipe you can layer in some cheese. use half potato and half fennel, use some celery root in place of some of the potatoes...I'm sure you will find lots of variations. Maybe even some broccoli. Perish the thought.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's good to get out...

Went to Water Bar in San Francisco for dinner and were astounded by how beautiful this place we call home is...we travel, come home and say "Gee, that was almost as beautiful as here." There are a plethora of other reasons to travel, all of them good, and there are as many reasons to be glad we live here. Lucky us. All of us.

Everyone is complaining about the European weather - cool and cloudy with just the occasional teasing glimpse of the sun. Yeah, but remember these lovely days - you will feel differently when you are baking in the 100+ August heat and you garden is crisp...

The roses are fresh, not bleached by the sun...

...even Sally Holmes who lives - and blooms her head off - in the shade. And does not get diseased, at least not here. And I found the coolest hose... Target of all places. It matches the Japanese Forest grass...

...the one called 'All Gold'. So when I don't roll up the hose because I am trying to sneak in the house and into the shower as our dinner guests are coming out the back door with glasses of wine in their hands...well, I can just pretend the hose is artfully matched to the grass and is meant to be there. Not much I can do about being late to my own party, though. Oh well. Have another glass of wine. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Reading and Signing at Rakestraw Books

As you can see I had a great time at my book launch party - and unless everyone was lying so did lots of other people. About 75 people came, we sold out of books, drank champagne (always a good idea no matter what the event), laughed and told stories. Loved making them laugh. And no they weren't laughing because I look funny. They were laughing because I am funny. Funny ha-ha, not funny peculiar, and thanks for asking. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Pigeon problems

My adored nephew has been in Venice, and I still think pigeons are rats with feathers. Squirrels are rats with good PR. Deer are just locusts. 

Hope he showers before he comes home...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

In the news...

My book, Postcards From The Hedge just got reviewed - check it out. And come to my book signing at Rakestraw Books in Danville Friday at 7 p.m. I am so happy!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I'm a bestseller!

I just found out my book is a bestseller on Amazon - I would say I am speechless but if you know me you know that's not possible. But I am so excited! Happy to think my stories are bringing smiles, being shared...I have not been able to stop smiling all day. Looking forward to my book signing on Friday at Rakestraw Books in Danville. Come! I promise it will be entertaining.  And thank you New Year Publishing. I know I'm not your usual author - thanks for taking a chance on me. And wow.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Butterfield and Robinson Triathalon - eating, drinking and biking.

We are training for a Butterfield &Robinson triathalon - lots of fabulous food, fantastic wines, and the best cycling you've ever had. You've heard of the Tin man trithalon, right? Bowling, poker and beer. This is soooooooo much better. Luxury hotels, Michelin starred restaurants and tiny gems of restaurants hidden in little towns. The best wines you've never heard of. And I can't tell you how many times I've picked up a travel magazine, looked at its latest discovery, and said "Oh that - we've already been there with B&R."

Most B&R trips are on tiny back roads, but we are doing the Tour de France trip, and we will be riding the race route before the pros get there. Good thing, they'd suck us up and spit us out. Oh, and we're not riding the whole day's route, just the last 30 to 50 miles. That's enough! We are not twenty something skinny spandex clad bike Gods, (as you can no doubt see). But we are looking forward to the craziness that is the tour, the finish in Paris, and of course the fabulous hotels and the amazing food and wine. And being spoiled rotten. 

And yes that is a B&R wine I'm holding... as soon as I can find a corkscrew I am off to sit by the pool with my feet up and a glass of wine in my hand. That's training!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

In The Garden

Unfortunate name - Anvil of Darkness. I'm calling it Navy. It's almost black, it's available at Sloat's in Danville - at lest it will be until I get out of my jammies and head down there for some more. Isn't it yummy? Also check out the peony (accent on the first syllable please) called Kopperkettle. Yum. 
The Dr Seuss plant, we call it. It's an echium. From Annie's Annuals. No, I don't know its last name. Go hunting on Annie's website, then you can feel smug and superior. Lucky you. She has the most fabulous stuff! If you've seen a plant in someone else's garden that prompted thoughts of larceny, of late night visits with a shovel, it probably came from Annie. 

It is growing through a tomato cage. I've had it with ugly flimsy tomato cages, I grow tomatoes in the front garden (more larceny but this time by the little people) and I insist on attractive supports. Sort of like sexy lingere for tomatoes. Check this out:

There is a tiny tomato snuggled under the dressmaker's dummy, among the geranium and next to the iris.  Isn't this better looking than those nasty flimsy things most nurseries pass off as tomato cages? At Sloat's, at Orchard. Go get some. They last for ever.  

And I have tons of tomatoes in need of support...

I grew these from seeds. Mike, the lovely Greek waiter at Forli's Italian Restaurant in Alamo gave me the seeds - from his brother in Greece, dried on a paper towel, still stuck to the rolled-up paper towel. I tore the towel into little bits and started them on heat mats. Finally, a seed starting success story! Can't wait to taste them - I don't even know if they're big or small, but judging from the stocky plants I'm guessing the plant at least will be a sturdy monster. Good thing they will have strong support.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Thinning Peaches

Ian's peach tree set a bumper crop, and in past years I have had broken branches and peaches elbowing each other out of the way, and so this year I thinned.

The peaches were mostly the size of cherries, although some were the size of peas. I tried to leave about one peach every six inches, and to favor the already large peaches over the pea-sized ones clinging tenuously to the branches, but like all things garden-ish there was not always a peach in the right spot, and I am not a ruthless gardener, so it's not entirely by the book, but here is the before:

...and here is the after:

Why thin peaches - or apples? So they don't touch each other and make homes for bugs to lay eggs So their snuggling shoulders do not leave a place where moisture can accumulate and cause rot. So I will have fewer but larger peaches (and more flavorful I hope). So the weight of the fruit does not break the branches. So the crop does not stress the tree. And (dirty little secret) because in our part of the world it is the custom and a sign of a well-tended orchard. Even though this is an orchard of one.

This is Ian's peach- you can read about it - and him - in my book, Postcards From The Hedge. It will make you laugh, it may make you cry. If you garden please feel free to be smug - I have done so many things wrong! and I hope it will make you smile, and look at your garden with a new appreciation. 

I am hoping this climbing rose is one that plays well with others - I have seen roses take down their hosts. There is a rose in England at Kiftsgate that has grown over 50 feet - in every direction. That rose could smother you while you were sleeping, or prevent your leaving in the morning. Feed me or else!

Hopefully this rose will grow into the peach tree without smothering it, and the peach tree will hold the rose up. A peach colored rose in a peach tree - I didn't plan it. Like most of the best things in the garden it was an accident. Like most of the worst things too, but that's for a morose rainy day not a sunny crisp spring day, when I am looking forward to peach juice running down my chin, and peach pie...

You are welcome to peaches if you're around when they ripen. I have a great recipe for Pickled Peaches I will post in peach season. And for peach jam  -- yum!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Golden Grass

Carex elata 'Aurea' or "Bowles Golden' (after E.A. Bowles and aren't you glad you asked?)

 It likes moisture and part shade here in the land of the scorching summers -  it is deciduous but then the sun lights it up and I forgive it everything. Nice to have something looking fantastic now that the dogwoods are browning...altho they hung on thru our party!
We had a party for the Yosemite Fund (join! it is a most worthy cause and a source of endless wonder) and my dear friend Mrs M sent me buckets of roses - I cooked for three days and all people talked about were the huge fragrant fabulous roses. !!! Mrs M says the first cutting is the best - and she is so right. There are roses on every flat surface in my house, by my bed, in the kitchen, even in the laundry room, and the fragrance follows me as I dash from one end of the hall to the other. It reminds me to slow down, to take time, to remember those who love me - and those whom I love. Mrs. M are you listening?  There are rare people who leave you feeling better about yourself and better about the world. She is one of those rare people. She is a joy and  blessing, and I have a house full of roses - spectacular fragrant gorgeous roses - to remind me to take time and treasure my friends. Especially her.

Have a party. Treasure your friends. Take time to listen - really listen - to what a child has to say. Go outside - smell the sunset. Sleep outside and wake to the dawn. Listen to the sounds of the night. Tell your friends how much they mean to you. Sleep in - get up early. Listen to the owls, the frogs and the crickets. Do what makes you happy. Whose life is it, anyway?