February 28, 2014

Starting A Garden Library

I am a self-taught gardener...as undoubtedly many of you are. Graduates of the School of Trial and Error with a major in Horticultural Hard Knocks. Consequently, I've had to do a LOT of gardening research...my head in gardening books whilst my hands and clogs were in the dirt.

And do I have a library... As a gardening newbie way back when, I discovered that books on plants were as hard to resist as the plants themselves. I am actually to the point where I am starting to weed out many of them...for better air circulation, if you will.

If you are just starting a Gardening Reference Library and would like some pointers, join me and Linda Cavanaugh today at 4:30 on 4 YOUR GARDEN for some recommendations.

Do make sure to order a copy of Oklahoma gardener Dee Nash's new garden primer:  The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff.  Find it here.  A terrific resource for fledgling gardeners! 

February 27, 2014

Boden USA Stripes and Dots

I have always been a girl who prefers her fall and winter wardrobe over spring and summer. But this never-ending infernal cold is taking its toll on my predilections as well as my internal thermostat.

I find myself lusting after warm weather fashion; in particular these charming slingback flats from BODEN USA. Find them here (and on sale now). I'll probably end up with the black and white combo,

but I must admit these coral-y red ones are charming...

as are the polka dots in graphic B&W or sunny yellow. Too cute and classically whimsical.

 Less pricey, but also fun are comparable looks from Payless Shoesource.

And last, but not least, Land's End Lucy Slingbacks in a narrower stripe. Also cute, but not as appealing as the broader selections, me thinks.

In this charming floral, though?  Spring at last.

February 25, 2014

Penne with Five Cheeses

Last night, Husband and I had roasted Brussel sprouts, salad and yogurt with blueberries for dinner. We were still making recompense for indulging in the pasta I served for Valentine's Day...an unhealthy but ever so delicious recipe I got from BAREFOOT CONTESSA Family Style (find it here).

I've made it a couple of times...on both occasions for a crowd...because it is amazingly easy to prepare (and serve family style) for a large gathering AND because the fat, cream, and carbs in its ingredients list definitely relegate it to the special occasion category. It freezes well, a fact my college son appreciates since he took home the remains of said occasion this weekend. I made no substitutions in the recipe, but did bake it in a large serving dish rather than individual gratins.  BTW, a good many of the recipes in this book lend themselves to entertaining.  Easy and surefire delicious food, but  in my mind...mostly too unhealthy to feed the family (despite the cookbook's title) on a regular basis.


Kosher salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup crushed tomatoes in thick puree
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romana
1/2 cup shredded imported Italian fontina
1/4 cup crumbled Italian Gorgonzola
2 Tbs.ricotta cheese
1/4 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 pound imported penne rigate pasta
4 Tbs. unsalted butter

(It doubles beautifully...I added a LOT more basil and some Italian parsley)

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Bring 5 quarts salted water to a boil in stockpot.

Combine all the ingredients except the pens and butter in a large mixing bowl and mix well.

Drop penne into water and parboil for 4 minutes (don't overcook!). Drain well and add to the ingredients in the mixing bow., tossing to combine.

Divide past mixture among 6 shallow ceramic gratin dishes.  Dot with butter and bake until bubbly and brown on top 7-10 minutes.

I served it with breadsticks, salad...and red wine of course.
Oh....and my friend's red velvet cupcakes for dessert.  If you're being naughty, might as well go all the way.  

February 21, 2014

The Modern Kitchen Garden

Advance and retreat; advance and retreat. Such is the nature of our faux spring...guerre de jardin.

This week we had wind gusts up to 60 mph, so retreat to the calm of my gardening library was definitely the strategy to pursue. My friend Bubba sent me a wonderful book he knew would speak to me, The MODERN KITCHEN GARDEN (here).

I have a habit of tucking notes and cards and correspondence that is precious to me into books I know I will refer to frequently. Each time I come upon one
I am so pleasantly surprised...anew. At the thoughtfulness of the gesture, and as is the case here, the charm of the illustrations and the notes themselves.

I have a number of family members and good friends who will send me books for no other reason or occasion than that they know I will love them...or find special significance and joy in a mutual topic we both share. (Amazon, particularly Amazon used and new makes this so easy for those far away.)

This is my second read-through of this book...this go round I'm foraging specifically for small, petite ideas. Wattle and tags and tuteurs and gravel and containers...the stuff of garden staging. As much fun, if not more, than gardening itself. 

Case in point....these darling plant tags. My smile du jour.

February 20, 2014

My Son...Letters From India to America

I love these pictures of my son. They capture his gusto...his 'take a bite out of life' attitude.

Yes, that is Monticello in the background. If you read this blog you know he attended the University of Virginia.

He graduated in May. Walking down the University's famous Lawn...lining up
in front of Jefferson's majestic Rotunda. My son, graduating from his, and my, dream school. And now, it does seem like it was a dream...four years that came and went...in that proverbial heartbeat. 

I miss our visits to those storied Grounds.

More than that, I miss our visits to Monticello.

The night before graduation, a reception was held there for graduating students. A magical evening with a rare chance to see...


Monticello at night.

Monticello in the moon light.

Strolling and exploring at day's end...

almost as if Jefferson himself were walking beside us.  (I was clearly impressed by him, as you can tell from the goofy expression on my face...)

We had special visiting rights to spaces and areas of the historic home otherwise inaccessible to the public. A behind the scenes glimpse of home life at Monticello...bringing it to life in such a way...well, you know. sigh.

Now my inquisitive, adventurous, cerebral son is in India studying Hindi and India's literature, past and present. 

Which finally, dear Reader, brings me to this:

I want to give you another introduction to his wonderful blog 

 Letters From India to America

If this looks like flagrant promotional advertising for readership, it is. He has some writing opportunities within his areas of expertise that would be bolstered by increased readership. It is fascinating, sometimes esoteric, stuff...

but important stuff for many reasons, not least of which... is that it gives a window into the minds...and global perspective...and insights of this young, incredibly educated, bright generation. The future, as it were. 

As it will be.

I miss my kid terribly right now. He is so very far away...living out his dreams and fantasies...on the currency of his hard work and curiosity.

I am, of course, happy for him. This summer, I hope to travel to India and see him with my own mother-want eyes

and because I now know... that to fully understand him,

I must, on some level, understand his world.

February 18, 2014

Bare Root Bulbs and Perennials

Just a hint of spring...a few days of glorious sunshine...and we gardeners are
out like a pack of rabid dogs...in the garden...and in garden centers. Container plants are still understandably in short supply,

but bare root bulbs and perennials are shouting at us to BUY ME!!!  until something better comes along. We are tempted by the gorgeous photos (like the dahlias above) on the labels. All that potential in what looks like just a humble bag of peat.

But do we heed their beckoning? Are they worth even the modest investment?

In my experience, bare root perennials can be a pocketbook-friendly way to get started on your spring gardening...planting them in early spring while they are still in dormancy, so they can 'wake up' in your garden beds.

Here are some tips to get your money's worth:

 * BUY FRESH: Check the plants or tubers for moisture content and weight. The heavier (but not soggy), the better). The longer they are out on the shelf, the drier and less viable they  become.

* LOOK AT THE ROOTS: Light, plump, fleshy and firm is what you're looking for. Mushiness or crispiness is a no-go, though a little mold is not a problem generally.

 * LOOK FOR DORMANT PLANTS AND BULBS:  A hint of green may tempt you, but a fully dormant plant is generally more reliable.

* PLANT ASAP; IF NOT STORE PROPERLY: Plant or heel in your purchase as soon as possible...with the same care and attention as you would provide any container grown specimen. If that's not possible, store in a cool, dark, dry location until you, and your back...and garden are ready.

As you may have gleaned from my pictures, I have had wonderful luck with dahlias that started out as bare root wannabes. True joys of my 2013 late summer and fall garden. For more recommendations, tips, and cautionary information,

watch last week's 4 YOUR GARDEN episode on Bare root Perennials and Bulbs. 

February 17, 2014

Valentine's Day Dinner Party

I do LOVE a dinner party. Not just a buffet, but a real sit down, arrange the flowers--assign the seating-- fold the cloth napkin--use your crystal-- light the candles dinner party.

 Valentine's Day seemed to be just the occasion to throw one.

Husband and I have a wonderful group of friends that love to entertain. Now that I think about it, each of us has our own entertaining specialties: Game Day parties and Boys' or Girls' Night Out...or Pool and Grill...Dinner and a Movie or Happy Hour.

I fall, rather decidedly, into the Garden Party, Dinner Party category.

Flowers mandatory....always. More important than the cuisine in my book. In the living room...

On the table and, often, at each place setting.

  This holiday, tiny bouquets atop small boxes of dark chocolates...for the ladies.

It has become routine with us now...that the hostess prepares the main dish (more if he or she is ambitious), and the guests provide the sides...usually
specified by the hosting household.

Lovely reasons to get together, laugh, tell the same stories over and over,

 Eat too much of wonderful food. And...

 flowers....always, always

the flowers.