Monday, September 30, 2013

Vanilla Time

A box arrived today, smelling of vanilla and promising delicious things to come.  It's from Beanilla, my new addiction.

It's not the first time I've made vanilla (check out my old blog post for the recipe).  I was inspired by my dear friend Desiree whose vanilla will change your life.   Beans, alcohol - she knows everything about making The Best Vanilla.  And yes, it makes a huge difference when you're baking.  Or making candy.
And if you want to have it for gift-giving season, it's time to get started.  So if you're lucky (and nice!) you'll be getting some little brown bottles full of deliciousness from me at Holiday time.  And I will be here for the next few months shaking the bottles and smelling the elixer.  Right now my kitchen smells like Christmas and love, my hands are speckled with seeds, and the garbage looks like some stone cold alkies live here.  It's just the vanilla....

Monday, September 23, 2013


At a most warm and wonderful garden wedding this weekend (yes it rained Saturday - but not on this wedding!) the bride read a poem to her mother.  Funny, touching, grab-you-in-the-gut wonderful.  Here it is. By Billy Collins.  Now go dig out some old poetry and read it.  With our short attention spans, video games and digital bombardment, we don't read enough poetry.  Think of it as printed yoga.

Or better yet, go to a poetry slam!  I've only ever heard them on the radio, but it's not your grandmother's poetry, and it's on my bucket list.  And mommy, I'm sorry I never made you a lanyard.  But I did make you a lot of weirdly colored ash trays...

The Lanyard - Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Included in  The Trouble with Poetry. Purchase from your local bookstore.  Like Rakestraw in Danville

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sweet Pea!

A timely reminder from Orchard Nursery in Lafayette - it's Sweet Pea planting time!!!

"Colorful, fragrant Sweet Peas make magnificent cut flowers for the vase - in large, long lasting quantities. They are a hardy, winter - spring annual vine to about 10' tall. Provide a trellis, string, or wire, as plants need support as soon as the tendrils form. They are ideal as a temporary screen.
Sweet Peas like sun or light shade; rich, moist, well - drained soil high in organic matter and regular deep watering."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Where There's Smoke...

On the way home from The French Laundry:
(anniversary lunch.  Yes it was fabulous - thanks for asking) where we had out favorites, Oysters and Pearls with cauliflower panna cotta...
...and Salmon cones with creme fraiche...
...we saw the mushroom cloud.  Smoke, being hot, rises 'til it hits cooler air, then it spreads.  We are becoming experts (albeit unwilling) in identifying the mushroom clouds that go with fires.

"How far away do you think that fire is?"  Wally asked.

"Thirty miles" I replied, and rolled over on the car seat and went back to sleep.

Nearly home, the smell of smoke woke me.  When the sun went down the sky looked angry, clouds of smoke glowed red and orange.

We sat by the pool and watched the fire grow.  By this morning the flames were lapping over the ridge.  Creepy.  Scary.
Grace called in a panic - should we grab the dogs and run?  Leslie stopped in the street.  Her kids were freaked out.  Friends from London and New York called.  The big question: "Are you alright?"

"Yes"  I replied.  "There are lots of very expensive houses between us and the fire.  They're not going to let all that pricey real estate burn."  And if it does?   We are more than the sum of our possessions.  As long as we have the dog and each other, the rest is unimportant.  Yup, even the jewelry.  And the books.

Late this morning when I took Mommy out for lunch we could barely breathe.  When we went to get in the car after lunch it was coated with ash.  Thought I would have to turn on the windshield wipers.

About 2 in the afternoon the Borate bombers arrived.  By 5 the smoke had cleared.  We had dinner in the garden under a blue sky.  And we are off to sleep under the stars.

It's one of the hazards of living in California, where it does not rain from April to October, sometimes later.  If you didn't grow up here it seems weird.  If you grew up here fire, heat, dry - it's all a part of the seasons, like snow in New England.   Which is rare here - when it does snow, about once every 20 years, we all run outside and act like little kids.  

What do you live with that freaks other people out?  Earthquakes, tornadoes?  Hurricanes?  Monsoons?  

Monday, September 9, 2013

To Do In The Garden

And while we're on the subject of year, here is the list of what needs doing in the garden at this time of year, courtesy of Sloat Garden Center.  Shop Local!  

This month in the garden at Sloat Garden Center: September

sep 2013

  • Watch for the arrival of all our spring bulbs. Shop early for the best selection.
  • Plan landscaping projects now. Think about walkways and flower/vegetable beds, as well as focal point shrubs and trees. Need guidance? Call Sloat’s Garden Design Department for expert advice.
  • Choose fall blooming pansies and other autumn color.
  • Plant fall vegetables such as kale, collard, spinach, arugula and lettuces.
  • Apply lawn fertilizer monthly with Nature’s Green Lawn Food.
  • Aerate compacted soil.
  • Containers, summer annuals and cool season annuals will enjoy monthly feeding at this time of year with Maxsea all-purpose fertilizer.
  • Keep the garden clean. Pick up fallen fruit to avoid pests and disease next year. Clean out plant debris. Prepare soil with Loam Builder for fall vegetable beds.
  • Mulch with Greenall Micro Bark to inhibit weeds and conserve moisture.
Now go out and plant something.  Preferably something from Sloat. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How To Get Sweeter Oranges

This tip just came from Orchard Nursery in Lafayette - a World Class Nursery.  Incredibly knowledgable staff, great selection of basics and really unusual plants (check out the 4 inch section for the most mouth-watering perennials!) with great displays to inspire new plant combinations and new cravings.  Come with your car empty - it will be full when you leave.  And! they have great classes.  A petting zoo in fall, a winter wonderland during the holidays.  What more could you ask for?

For Sweeter Oranges:

Fertilize in late summer, fall and winter with Master Nursery Master Bloom or Garden Elements Ultra Bloom. These fertilizers are formulated without nitrogen to aid in the development of flowers and fruits, and they also help plants resist disease and cold weather damage. High potassium is very important in increasing sugar levels in citrus (especially oranges and tangerines) and studies have shown that high potassium levels in the soil improve yield, color, size and quality of the fruit. Apply once a month from late summer to spring and taste the difference in your next crop.

Postcard From The Hedge: September 2013

The Garden Club Year

Over lunch today we were talking about a garden club we used to enjoy that has become boring and bitchy.  Not sure which is worse.   And the discussion morphed into a list of Programs That Never Were.  Here are a few of our funnier ideas:

January:  Bitch Slapping 101.  Bring your attitude! Guaranteed to be fun for all...well, about half, actually.  Ibuprofin will be provided.

February:   How To Lead a Horticulture, But Not Make Her Think (think about it.  say it out loud.  then thank Dorothy Parker, and hope you grow up to be just like her.)

March:  Drivel, Or  How To Say Absolutely Nothing  In Three and a Half Pages.  A must for newsletter editors and contributors.

April:  The Bored Meeting (no, there's no mis-spelling here)  Deviled Eggs Will Be Served.  And Eaten.  

May:  Flower Arranging To Intimidate

June: Custom Cocktails For Fundraisers:  Get Hammered Tax-Deductibly and on Someone Else's Insurance.  A must for all future fund-raising chairpersons.  There will be an optional twelve-step program beginning immediately after the fund raiser.

July: Workshop:  Making Your By-Laws More Obscure and Confusing.  Fun for all!

August:  Paralyzing Your Club Thru By-Laws (this is a continuation of the July Program)

September:  Wresting Control From The Electorate Via Shadowing, or How To Neuter The Nominating Committee

October:  The D.I.Y. Herbal Colonoscopy:  How To Find Your Head

November:  How To Be Treasurer and Never Balance (or even open!) a Checkbook.  Or a Computer.  No experience required - in fact no experience is preferred!

December:  Entertaining To Intimidate.  This will be a continuation of our May program.  You must have successfully completed Flower Arranging To Intimidate in order to attend.  

And a bonus workshop for you over-achievers:  Making Sarin Gas From Scratch.   For those times when nothing else is working, and you really need a fresh start.  You must have attended Castor Bean 101 to take this advanced workshop.

It should be an interesting year!  Jane Doe, President For Life.