Monday, June 28, 2010

Slammed Into Summer

From "Brrr, I need a jacket" to "It's too hot to breathe!" in one day. Not going into the garden - I am wilted, I can only imagine the poor plants drooping and panting (yes plants breathe - a mature oak can respire 50 gallons of water on a hot day. And you thought you sweated. Trot out this fact next time you find yourself too popular at a cocktail party.)

So! shoe time! These are my favorites for summer...

Air Bria and summer nubuck. All are from Cole Haan, squishy soft and comfortable - from wonderful Tony in the San Francisco store. 

He will find you the last pair on earth, he will find thing you didn't know you needed, he will never shove you into something you know isn't right for you. He has shoe ESP. Go - they are having a sale! and it's too hot to do anything else. 

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Farmers and Favas

Ah, the fava. The intimidating confusing mysterious delicious fava. Having prepared them several times over the last few weeks I am prepared to pay any amount for fresh favas - in a restaurant. I know how much work they are. How they blacken your thumbnails and steam up the kitchen. But I also know how delicious they are...

The farmer's market had piles of fresh fava beans. Intimidating if you haven't tackled them before, and the quantity you have to buy to have more than just a nibble is astonishing. Add a short season and it's time to talk favas. This is what you start with, this big heap of pods. Using your thumbs, pry the pods open and push out the beans. Like this...

You can see the pod to bean ratio and it's in favor of the pods. By a mile.

 Pods go on the compost heap. Beans go in a dish or colander. 

Now bring a big pot of salted water to the boil. The salt is to keep the flavor in the beans not in the water. Osmosis - remember high school science? Don't skip the salt. 

When the water is boiling briskly dump in the beans and boil for three minutes. Exactly. No cheating.

Drain the beans back into the colander and submerge beans and colander in a big bowl of ice water. The colander means you won't have to pick out lumps of half-melted ice from the beans. Smart move.

Nope, we're not there yet. Now drain the beans, and squeeze each one - you heard me, each and every one. Like this:

They will slip out of their tough skins and you will be left with a modest portion of favas and a big heap for your compost pile - 

Now toss the fava beans in a hot skillet for about 30 seconds with a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil.  Slide them into a bowl, toss on some fresh mint you have cut into thin strips - about a teaspoon depending on how much you like mint. A sprinkle of sea salt, and perhaps just a bit more oilve oil, and yum! 

Hurry - the season is short and almost over. And this fall maybe you'll want to plant some fava beans in your garden. I'm looking for a nice sunny spot. So far no luck but I'll keep looking. Maybe when something dies I will see it as a future fava spot not a failure. Maybe.

Ahead of the Times..

So a week ago I blogged about Commis in Oakland CA and posted photographs (look below, look below!) And today (actually tomorrow) in the NY Times - the same restaurant, almost the same photo. Am I ahead of the Times? If you don't get the pun you're not paying attention...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's Summer!

The umbrellas are up...

...the cushions are ready for lazing or reading...

...and the pool is warm and inviting. 

The hydrangea are as blue as the sky (thanks to True Blue), and...

...even the baby birds are blue. These are right outside the kitchen door (okay, we all know blue jays are not the brightest bulbs in the tanning bed) but mom and babies seem not to mind our trips past them to get to the pool, the compost, the entire back yard...I think they need a new real estate agent. Wally thinks they need voice lessons (they do have an annoying screech) and the harried parents think they need to grow up and learn to find their own damned dinner.

It is gloriously emphatically summer - finally!

Monday, June 21, 2010


Had a fantabuolous dinner at Michelin one star Commis on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland - our friends Charlotte and Bruce invited us - we began with:

a farm egg in an onion cream. Yum.  Look what happened - 

then on to salad of blistered zucchini and asparagus...

...grilled scallops...

...and monkfish with borage...

followed by chilled cream of white peach with lemon verbena, boysonberry and champagne snow...

...and a lovely cheese course. If you're not calling for a reservation you're not paying attention. GO! It is tiny and sweet and fantastic. Commis. Check out the current menu. Get a babysitter and a reservation. And have a lovely evening.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Breakfast in Tuscany

Sigh. I am dreaming of being in Tuscany.
We rented a house a few years ago, near Sarteano. The view from the top story was just like this. And being south of Sienna, few tourists ventured there. Most stay on the well-traveled route between Florence and Sienna. But we had been to Locanda dell Amorosa ...

...on our fabulous Butterfield and Robinson biking trip in Tuscany, and had been captivated by the quiet, the small lanes, the sleepy towns full of Tuscans not tourists. Finding those quiet lanes and towns is a B&R specialty. Finding a house to rent and friends to share it was a stroke of luck.

There is a hotel, Sette Querce nearby, Restaurante Daniela (too small and simple to have a website, but oh that food!) is just a few steps up the hill from the hotel, and a world-class restaurant, Mondo X  in a former 12th century monastery is within driving distance. Take your GPS and go! Mondo X is worth any amount of trouble. Charming, quirky, whimsical, delightful - check out the sinks in the women's room (can't you just see the nuns washing up there?) and the passageway to the dining room.  And the meal was unexpected, unusual, delightful delicious...I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

I am going off to fix breakfast and eat in my garden. But I am dreaming of breakfast in Tuscany.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The good, the bad and the ugly

There is a concrete wall in my garden. Right next to the pool, of course. I have thought about painting it French blue to match the trim on my house. I thought about tiling, letting the kids paint it with handprints. Frank Lloyd Wright said, "Doctors can bury their mistakes; architects can only advise their clients to plant vines." So I have planted.
Vinca 'Illumination' trails down the wall, and I have high hopes for the salmon sweet pea next to the ball finial. I also find something architectural can distract you from the uglies - this finial is from Haddonstone. Expensive and worth every penny. Check them out.

Because my garden is on a hillside I have lots of stairs. My favorites are made of stone, built by Manny and Huber...

They build the most wonderful dry stack walls too. I complain about not having a level garden in my book, Postcards From The Hedge, but I have a view, and my friends who visit envy the change in terrain. And the stairs are lovely...and they look good no matter what the plants are doing.  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dividing bulbs in the green

It's sad but true - if it's blooming and beautiful in someone else's garden it's probably too late to plant it in your garden. Like these sweet peas I cut this morning...

They are filling my house with the sweet smell of early summer. I have a small bunch by my bed, and when I wake up at 3 a.m. their soft sweet fragrance lulls me back to sleep. They will give up in the mid-summer heat, but right now they are fabulous.  I plant them in the fall as our winters are mild. They pout all winter, I have to protect them from snails and slugs and birds. They look awful. And them one day they zoom up to the top of their wire cages and fling great out armfulls of gorgeous scented flowers. 

Speaking of planting, bulb catalogues have been arriving. Have you noticed they come earlier every year? My favorites are John Scheepers and Van Engelen. Same company, different quantities. And as last year's daffodils in pots on the back steps have not died down yet, I am dividing in the green.

First dump the bulbs out - I use a big plastic tub so the potting soil doesn't get everywhere.

Then pull the bulbs apart, being careful not to rip off the roots or the still green tops.

When you're done each bulb should look something like this:

Now plant them in a sunny spot. The rule of thumb for planting bulbs is that they should be three times as deep as the diameter of the bulb. No one seems to know whether the top or the bottom of the bulb should be three times as deep. After all these years of gardening I'm not sure it makes a lot of difference - they seem to grow no mater what I do to them. Oh, roots down and leaves up please. And wait for the leaves to wither completely before you remove them - they should come off with a gentle tug. If they don't, wait. Those green leaves are feeding the bulb so it can bloom next year.

When you're done, reward yourself by cutting some roses. Put them where you'll see them as you dash around during the day. And smell them. It only takes a few minutes to cut some flowers, and it's a lot more fun than unloading the dishwasher. Or changing the laundry. Those will be there later, the flowers may not. Treat yourself - you deserve it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets

This is the time of year I really need a bigger business end in my garden. It's one of the dirty little secrets of gardening. There are old plastic pots to go back to the nursery...

There are the pots that held bulbs in the spring and will hold bulbs in the fall. And they all need a good scrub. It will have to wait.

The big beautiful gardens you go visit - Filoli and all those fabulous English gardens like Great Dixter and Hidcote and Sissinghurst all have one. A messy working business end tucked out of sight.

There are bright spots in my garden too - the Lychnis coronaria is seeding its damn fool head off. I let it. It's easy to pull from unwanted spots, it's pretty carefree, and everyone who sees it wants some. Plus it's a perfect match for my current favorite pelargonium...

and for those who think this is a geranium...
...this is a geranium. A species geranium. It's Johnson's Blue, altho Rozanne is just as beautiful.

Latin may seem confusing and pretentious, I thought so too, until I met a woman who spoke no English and walked thru her garden with her. I couldn't ask if I could use the restroom, but we could talk about the plants because we had a common language. I can walk into a nursery or seed store in any part of the world and know what plants I'm buying. So even tho it seems silly it does come in handy. 

Check out the selection of species geraniums at Orchard Nursery in Lafayette. Or at your local nursery. Sloat's in Danville, or Navlet's anywhere. But don't expect to find these treasures at the big box retailers. If you want there to be a local nursery then you have to shop there. Get your purse, I'll wait. And I'll be here when you get back.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Roy Scott

The artist's name is Roy Scott, and he is part of the Open Studios in Berkeley this weekend.  I found his art at Pam's and had to have one...still life speaks to me. And then it looked so lonely I got it some friends. Now all 3 hang happily in my kitchen. Check out his website, and check out the open studios this weekend. Who knows what you will find?