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sprig to twig » 2010 » November

Archive for November, 2010

thank you

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Little did I know, when I began blogging, that a world of cyberfriends awaited. I appreciate each and every one of you for you own interesting blogs, your helpful, funny and insightful comments and the feeling of connection to a larger world I get every time I log on. Here’s a little piece I wrote for for the Ventura County Reporter when my daughter was editor. It is a little snide, based upon an antipathy for turkey…but I hope it will give you a chuckle without detracting from your appreciation for the bird.

 

A Turkey by Any Other Name

 

I cried the first time it fell to me to prepare a Thanksgiving feast. My distress had nothing to do with feelings of culinary inadequacy. It was the naked vulnerability of the bird, stripped of its plumage, shivering in my sink. How could I possibly further assault the poor fowl by stuffing its cavities with however delectable a mixture of bread cubes, herbs, etc., augmented by a fine dice of its own organs? Worse than that, my recipe called for inserting a puree of other tasty ingredients beneath its skin. It would require a couple of glasses of sherry to stiffen my resolve. Even then, it was only the prospect of a house full of people expecting traditional fare and a festive mood that spurred me to action. The occasion, by all accounts, was a success, right down to my children dressed as pilgrims. Fortunately, it was a large gathering. In the spirit of reciprocity, it would be years before I need face a repeat of the ordeal.

Now, with the burgeoning of specialty groceries and deli’s, a squeamish cook has options undreamed of even a few years ago. Tofurkey has been around for some time, but its appeal is more to the politically motivated menu planners amongst us. I don’t care for the real thing all that much, even when it is served up pre-carved with a side of cranberry relish. Still, the holiday spirit seems ill served by a fake bird fashioned from soybean curd.

Goose conjures up images of Ingmar Bergman in his nostalgically extravagant phase. The romance of the idea of goose as a main course quickly fades as the subject shrinks before your eyes, while the roasting pan fills with grease (more Eraserhead than Franny and Alexander). Only Babbette could pull off this Feast. But wait. Here is where the new-age markets come in. Staffed by Babbette Wannabe’s, they have cooked up all kinds of exotic alternatives to the same old meal. What kind of magic they work behind the scenes remains a mystery, but somehow the goose is picture-perfect.

Or you might opt for quail: de-boned, stuffed and rearranged into a tidy little package with a sprig of sage for garnish. It will take two of them, even with all the side dishes from the family archives, to satisfy a normal appetite. Capons might be a better choice for hearty eaters…or even game hens.

The heights of gourmet inventiveness are scaled with the advent of the “turducken” (careful how you parse that word). It sounds like a feat of genetic engineering, but instead owes its creation to the splicing skills of the meat department’s own Dr Frankenstein. What, exactly, is it?  Here again, a lot of de-boning is involved: first a chicken is placed inside a duck, inside a turkey. The turkey is allowed to keep its legs and wings, so the final product looks pretty much like the real McCoy. Since there are no bones to contend with, you needn’t have a skilled carver in the crowd. Just slice crossways, and each serving yields a cross section of all three meats. To be sure that all meat involved is organic and free-range, you can order one from Whole Foods. Cajun versions with cornbread or seafood jambalaya stuffing are available over the Internet for $78.

Be forewarned that the cooking time for such a concoction is about 8 hours. I am told that the typical turducken will serve 12 to 14 people, but that is allowing each diner a one to one and a half pound portion. I don’t personally know anyone who can down that much protein in a sitting, but the meat coordinator at Whole Foods (yes, there really is such a person) apparently travels in heftier circles. If you are committed to the do-it-yourself approach and are skilled at wielding a hammer (Paul Prudhomme’s recipe on the web required the use of this unusual kitchen tool for the de-boning process) you can log on and pull up recipes. Hats off to you for your courage and dedication.

But what is the fascination with winged creatures? Give me a nice crown roast any day. It makes a perfect crater to fill with stuffing (isn’t that what the Thanksgiving meal is all about?). Once you pull it from the oven and trim it with those frilly little paper cuffs, what could be more celebratory? What I like best about it is its complete lack of resemblance to the beast from which it came, sparing the need for endless glasses of sherry if I happen to be the cook.

are you ready for winter?

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Better say “yes”, because here it comes…ready or not.

winter scene

This was the scene that greeted us this morning. It was 17 degrees (on the porch, mind you). In 2008 we had a nice insulating blanket of snow before the temperature plunged. We lost some things, but not so many as last year, when the hard freeze came on bare ground. This mere dusting of snow will probably do us very little good.

carpenteria californica

Hence my recent decision to ignore the common advice about fall being the ideal time to plant. The things I put in the ground in early spring have more than doubled in size, so my hope is that they will have a bit of an edge against the blast of cold. This Carpenteria Californica ‘Elizabeth’ is marginally hardy here.

‘Elizabeth’ wrapped

So she got some special treatment: a winter coat of poly wrapped around a tomato cage.

Rhododendron sinograde

While we were at it, a frame got built around Rhododendron sinograde. It, too, was then wrapped in plastic, but before we put the lid on, we stuffed it with leaves. Fingers crossed: I would really hate to lose this beauty.

ceanothus x ‘Blue Jeans’

But the Ceanothus x ‘Blue Jeans’ that replaced C. impressus ‘Vandehburg’ after Van bit the dust will just have to man up and rely on a summer’s worth of root system to see it through.

phygelius et al

Forewarned, a few days ago we moved all of the pots onto the deck. They are grouped as close as possible to the house to take advantage of any escaping heat, but that 17 degree reading is not encouraging.

other pots

Even if we lose some plants, the pots will escape the damage that comes from repeated icing up and thawing. Too many terra cotta pots have been reduced to shards of their former selves by such treatment.

ilex

Meanwhile, what better excuse to cozy up with a fire and a good book? I met a friend at Ristretto and she brought me a bouquet of these berried branches. I stopped by Ink & Peat next door to see if they could be identified. Ilex, she said…but that hardly narrows it down enough for the likes of us. Deciduous, obviously, but what about those sherbet-colored berries? If you have any ideas, please tell. Anyhow,
while at I&P I bought the little Swedish wooden sparrow ornament to hang in the branches. It is helping me get in the mood for winter.

butternut squash

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

butternut squash

The local one-stop shopping center has big bins of squash of all kinds for 79 cents each. R bought one squash plant in the spring for $2.50. Early on, the deer nipped off the blossoms as they came along. Exactly two escaped, one of which got drilled by slugs. This is the one squash to reach maturity, making it a very expensive specimen. Wendy has a great recipe for butternut squash soup on her Garden to Table Challenge post this week, but since I am charged with bringing two pumpkin pies to Thanksgiving dinner, this guy will get blended with the pumpkin pulp to that end.

Having experimented with a number of pumpkin pie recipes over the years, here is the one that wins out:

  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 1T golden brown sugar
  • 1T cornstarch
  • 2t cinnamon
  • 1t ginger (I use fresh grated)
  • 1/4t salt
  • 1/4t allspice

combine above ingredients and whisk to remove lumps, then blend in:

  • 16 oz pumpkin
  • 3/4C whipping cream
  • 1/2C sour cream
  • 3 lg eggs

glaze the bottom of a 9″ pie crust with melted currant or apricot jelly
bake in 350 degree oven for about 55 minutes.

Guess I will have to hit the Farmers’ Market to try that soup.

foliage follow-up

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Oxydendrum arboreum

Oxydendrum arboreum, Lily-of-the-Valley Tree, Sourwood…call it what you will, this tree deserves a place of honor.

Sedum ‘Angelina’

When there is much ground to cover, a vigorous spreader like the sedum ‘Angelina’ is much appreciated. I love the way she weaves her way through other foliage and catches the light.

Ricinus communis

The new leaves as they emerge on the Castor Bean are bright red and shiny. As they mature, they deepen to burgundy wine, but keep their sheen. I adore this plant.

Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’

The most recent addition to my growing collection of Euphorbias is ‘Ascot Rainbow’. Like ‘Helena’s Blush’, which I lost last winter, it is the foliage that puts on the real show on this plant.

Visit Pam for a feast of foliage and links to even more leaves.

sparse blooms in november

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

pineapple sage

Pineapple sage is one of the very few flowers just coming on at this late date.

tropaeolum

The nasturtiums went through a ratty phase, but seem to be reenergized by the cold and damp (unlike most of the gardeners I know).

hydrangea quercifolia

The oakleaf hydrangea is slow to turn color this year, and has sent forth a few late season blossoms that are flat, unlike the conical trusses of summer.

Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’

Once all its leaves have fallen, the Callicarpa’s berries earn the common name: beautyberry. Other than a few Verbena bonariensis and some dahlias, that’s about it for flower power in my garden this month, but visit May Dreams Gardens to find links to other parts of the world where the show still goes on.

r&r art sale party

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Have I told you that R is a painter? Well, he is. We decided that the house in town should have a last hurrah before it passes into new hands and becomes something else. So, for those of you who live around here…maybe you can drop by and we can put faces to all the words that have passed between us. To far-flung friends: there are website links in the following invitation. We will have to continue to exist in each others’ imaginations.

 

rites of spring

Richard White invites you to view new work:
paintings and furniture

2107 NW 22nd Avenue at the corner of 22nd and Wilson
3-7pm Sunday, November 14, 2010
wine and nibbles provided

If you can’t make it to the event, please visit the website or call Richard at  503 248 9670  to set up an appointment for a private showing.

I will also be showing my collection of handmade designer pillows.

‘bubbles’ pillow

hope to see you there,

everything will be for sale, including the house and garden

ree-bob-a-rubarb

Friday, November 5th, 2010

rhubarb

I always think of rhubarb as a spring thing, but ours is still looking mighty fine (if you ignore that one dead looking stalk in the center), so I combined it with apples, a little crystalized ginger, a tablespoon of instant tapioca stirred into a heaping half-cup of sugar and some dry-roasted slivered almonds baked into a pie. It was yummy. The fun thing about Wendy’s Garden to Table Challenge is the way it brings together like-minded gardeners finding creative ways to use the bounty. I’ve found some new blogs to love and some tips for producing unique dishes with produce. Plus, it is always a treat to check in with Wendy. I highly recommend it. It happens every Saturday.

my daily walk

Friday, November 5th, 2010

I try to take this walk every day (with the emphasis on “try”…sometimes life, or pure laziness, intervenes) and I thought you might like to come along.

Morgan Rd going down

The picture I took going down the hill was taken shooting directly into the sunlight. I knew it was bad practice, but the atmosphere it captures is pleasing to me.

Morgan Road coming up

When I turned around to come back up the hill the sun was at my back, so when I got to roughly the same spot, I took another photo for the sake of comparison. I would love it if you would tell me what you think.

Morgan Road sky

This was yesterday, and it looks to be the last sunny day for a while. How about that sky? The transitional period when the clouds are beginning to gather is so much more interesting, visually, than vast expanses of blue.

Jack ‘O Lantern

Pardon me for dragging out the Halloween theme, but this guy was too good to pass by. Neighbors plow up a field each spring and plant a humungous type of squash. This year the crop was punier than usual, and I never could get a good shot of them growing in the field, obscured by foliage. That’s a five-gallon bucket, dwarfed by Mr Jack, but he is about half the size of Jacks past.

No matter how many times we walk this hill, there always seems to be something new to notice. This time of year the road is littered with those furry black and orange caterpillars, which we scoop up and throw back into the woods for their own protection (anyone know what they become?). On Tuesday, we spied a nice big clump of Shaggy Mane mushrooms. The ID book claimed that they are considered by many connoisseurs to be the most flavorful of all. When I took a taste of it raw, it was pure texture at first but then it began to bloom in my mouth into a subtle, haunting woodsiness. Gently sauteing these gems in butter robbed them of that ghostly quality and rendered them nearly tasteless. There must be a larger lesson in there somewhere, but I have yet to puzzle it out.

the dry berm then and now

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

ready for planting

This berm is actually quite far along in the above shot. I’ll spare you the mounding of divots and debris leading up to the mulching with newspapers, etc., to get it ready for planting. The two lonely little plants failed to survive. Since then, I have learned to dig deep holes and supplement the soil with sand and gravel. Results are much better…guess one really does make his/her own luck.

planted and graveled

Here is how it looks today, planted with sedums, yucca, opuntia, hesperaloe, horn poppy, orostachys, sempervivum and agave, and mulched with gravel. That beam sticking out at an angle is a device R came up with to prop up the eucalyptus tree, which was tilting at an alarming rate. It still has a lot of filling in to do, but the ‘Bright Edge’ yucca has already produced several offshoots, and the sedums are beginning to spill over the rock edging, just as they were intended to do.

Agave neomexicana

Speaking of offshoots, the Agave neomexicana that I got from Joy Creek in June was originally placed in a deep pot. Before very long, I noticed that it was already making babies. I consulted Loree, the Agave Queen. She advised that the best time to separate babes from mother plant was when they were small. When I unpotted it, I was amazed at the root growth that had taken place in a very short time, and decided that it was time to liberate it from the confines of a pot. If you look very closely, you may be able to see that it has already produced a new baby some distance away (the spike pointing downward is pointing right at it).

A neomexicana in pot

My insurance policy in case A neomexicana fails to live up to its billing as fully hardy, is this newbie potted up in a dish garden that will come inside for the winter. Unless the winter to come dashes my hopes, I may need to start up another dry berm come spring. The kinds of plants in there tend to be habit-forming.

keeping track

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

It took me a long time to come up with a system that works for me. For the longest time, I just planted willy nilly, with no concern for names of plants, their locations or performance. Then I joined HPSO and the focus shifted. My first attempt at following what was happening in the garden was to make notations on one of those big calendars with lots of room for each day. It soon became obvious that knowing the year-to-year shifts would be nice. By changing the color of the ink in the marker, the calendar could be stretched to cover about three years. That seemed like a lot at the time. Silly me. Hadn’t I noticed that once the gardening bug bit one soon began thinking in decades?

card & picture file

Those were the days before digital cameras, so I had already started a file for prints from the point and shoot, organized by year. In front of that, I placed alphabetized index cards where a card with pertinent info on each new plant purchased could find a home. It soon became apparent that some names were (for me) impossible to remember, so at the front of each lettered index card goes a list of common names with the Latin equivalent. All plant cards are filed under botanical names. When a plant turns up its toes, its card gets pulled and transferred to the dead plant section, with comments on what did it in. I also have extra lists of trees, grasses, succulents, ground covers and anything else that becomes an obvious category. If something was ordered from a catalog, the picture goes on the card. I also cannibalize catalogs for pictures of plants purchased elsewhere. Since the digital camera has taken over, the picture file has thinned out, but I still keep a yearly file and throw all my receipts, etc. in there.

hanging files

The problem of tracking changes from year to year remained unsolved, until the hanging files came along. The green files in front are filed by categories. Magazine articles or newspaper clippings on subjects of interest can go in there. Have you ever tried to go through old magazines to refind an article? Any luck? Me neither. The “plant” file has alphabetized sub-folders. The next bank of files, the yellow ones, are sorted by month. Wandering around the garden (an almost daily event) a clipboard intermittently comes along, to make note of when things bloom, conditions in the garden, etc. I include lists of plants purchased or moved and where they are located. Most of the time, everything that happens in the garden in the span of one month fits on a single sheet of notebook paper. I find it both satisfying and informative to pull out the pertinent file at the beginning of each month to compare notes from years past. This year I failed to follow this plan, depending on computer files from Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-up to provide the data. I guess I am just a paper person. Wonderful as those two events are, they just do not give me the scope of information I seek. From now on I will go back to the methods outlined here and enjoy the new-fangled stuff for the visual feast that it is.

How about you? Do you have a system? A journal? What works for you?