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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cooking for a change

After what seems like a long hiatus, I'm back in the kitchen again. The markets are starting to offer tempting summertime bounty, and I've learned that it's best to tackle it all as soon as possible. You don't want to find yourself staring at a raw cauliflower at dinnertime. But a cauliflower that's been roasted in olive oil earlier in the day and stored in the fridge turns itself into a lovely and nearly instant pasta dish (add some fresh rosemary, chives, and parmesan, in this case.) The peppers and squash, similarly, are ready to eat now, or to be the basis of a spur-of-the moment meal.

Have I mentioned the extravagant Christmas present I got from H&D? It's a Cuisinart ice cream maker - the electric countertop kind. No rock salt or ice needed, and no prechilling of the canister. Just dump the cold ingredient mix in, turn on the switch and let it do its thing. The best thing is that you can make several kinds in rapid succession. Here we have strawberry, peach, and blueberry frozen yogurts. David Lebovitz' fabulous new book, The Perfect Scoop, is my current inspiration.

This old cast iron cherry pitter is fun to use! I don't know if it's any more efficient than modern ones - but it does two at a time!

These are apriums - new to me (I knew about pluots). It's a plum/apricot hybrid of some kind - but they seemed mostly like apricots to me, and, like fresh apricots, I felt they would benefit from being cooked. One of my all-time favorite summer desserts is Deborah Madison's Apricot/Cherry Crisp (from "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone", one of the worst-named best cookbooks on my shelf ). But it's hard to justify the rich crisp topping when I'm the sole eater, and besides- isn't the fruit the best part? So I do a quick stove-top number and have a nice compote on hand.

Summer? I'm ready! Bring it on!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bamboo and privet on tour

Every year in early June the Van Vleck House Foundation sponsors a garden tour of private homes. It usually runs the gamut from the professionally designed zillionaire spread to much more modest and often much more charming do-it-yourself endeavors.
One of the grandest houses was situated on the upper side of a substantial hill, so the garden had to be conceived on multiple levels.
It was at the very top (third) level that I was startled to see that the "shrub border" consisted entirely of the same wildly invasive bamboo that is trying to take over my own garden. The stuff grows about a foot a day (no exaggeration!) and spreads by underground runners. What is going on here? Did they just give up? Surely they didn't actually plant this awful stuff!

The bamboo screen. It doesn't look half bad, does it?

This is the second level. You can just barely see the bamboo at the top.

Another garden - quite a charming one - has evolved over forty or so years under the same owner-designer, and incorporates a large number of container-grown plants - including many shrubs and small trees. There was one plant that I couldn't immediately identify, and I asked the owner about it. She announced that it was a specialty lilac of some kind, which didn't seem quite right to me. Suddenly another tour-goer, overhearing the conversation, chimed in.

It's common privet, he said. Of course! And then the familiar fragrance (hated by some) kicked in. We don't often see privet in full bloom like this, since it's usually tightly clipped. It was really quite lovely, and I'm tempted to borrow the idea. Isn't that why we go on these tours?

Thursday, June 14, 2007


My primary reason for being in Boston was to be a stand-in soccer mom while G and B made a quick trip to Chicago. But Friday was a school day, so I made time for a quick visit to Fairsted, the Frederick Law Olmsted home and office in Brookline.

As it turned out, the site is officially closed for renovations, but the grounds - an oversized suburban yard, really - were open and available for exploration. The stately elm (a rare sight nowadays) was an Olmsted "signature" - on display, like a piece of sculpture.

That soft and pleasant-looking groundcover is Bishop's Weed - Aegopodium podograria. Otherwise known as goutweed. I have heard that it is terribly invasive, to be avoided at all costs, especially the non-variegated kind which is said to be most rampant, and was surprised to see it here. But perhaps updating the plantings is part of the planned renovation?

I'll look forward to a return visit after 2010 when the work is scheduled for completion and the interior will be open.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


On Monday I was in Boston, and I went to see the Edward Hopper exhibit at the Boston MFA. It was simply and elegantly put together - very much, I thought, in keeping with the character of the artist. Quite a number of the paintings were familiar old friends - borrowed from NY collections: the Met, the MOMA, and the Whitney. Even the one from the Montclair Art Museum (noticeably absent from its usual spot during Art in Bloom) was there. But there were plenty of works from private collections and smaller museums that were new to me. Hopper kept meticulous records, including dates and sale prices (less 1/3 commission), and his ledgers (sample page pictured) were on display and fun to see. I also enjoyed seeing contemporary photographs of some of the buildings he painted, taken from the same vantage points. Highly recommended, but if it's not possible to get to Boston before August 19, the museum's interactive website is well worth exploring.

I also checked out a small show of contemporary jewelry by studio artists from the Daphne Farago Collection. One of my favorite pieces was a bangle bracelet that looked exactly like a sharpened Number 2 pencil, except that it was made entirely of precious metals and stone (the yellow, for example, was 18K gold).

Art in Bloom

I guess you can tell I'm feeling a little guilty about not having posted for a while. And I know it's not proper to blog about things you did days or weeks ago. But what of it? It's my blog!

Art in Bloom is an event that takes place every other year at the Montclair Art Museum. Garden club members from all over the state are invited to create floral arrangements that in some way "interpret" or comment on paintings or objects in the museum's collection. I actually participated in this in 2005, but nearly went crazy in the process. For one thing, they get you to agree to it months ahead - before you have time to realize that it will take place during the busiest time of year in the garden. And, for another, it goes on for a week, and you're responsible for keeping your arrangement fresh and perfect for the whole time, meaning that there are daily (at least!) visits to check for drooping, wilting blooms and the need for fresh replacements at the ready. This year I was happy to be a mere spectator and tag along with a friend who invited me to the opening night party.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Van Vleck Sale

I think I mentioned the Maplewood plant sale in passing. The Van Vleck House in Montclair also has a spectacular one day sale.

This is the sale to attend if you're looking for something rare and unusual. No marigolds or petunias here!


When I talk about "gardening", it's not always about time spent digging in the dirt. There are the obligatory expeditions to nurseries, tours of other people's gardens, and perusal of garden books and catalogs. In addition, I'm extremely fortunate to be within easy driving distance of any number of fine botanical gardens and arboretums. Today was spent at the beautiful Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Whippany, NJ.

This path leads to the fenced potager at the rear, left - one of my favorite areas.

Here's the knot garden. Everything here is meticulously maintained.

Does this look like your typical "county park"?

Does it even look like New Jersey?

Here's the inside of the potager. A designer's eye is evident throughout; foliage and color contrasts are brilliantly conceived. Those are apple and pear trees trained as columns on the four corners. Edges are pansies, parsley and germander.

More foliage contrasts: alchemilla, cypress, lily pads. I took over 120 photos, but you get the idea....
On my way home I stumbled upon a spectacular nursery that was entirely new to me: The Farm at Green Village. It's just beyond Chatham - not far from here at all. Have a feeling I'll be returning there.
A good gardening day.