The Ides of March

DSC_0268My southern husband is not a fan of snow, sleet, freezing rain or wind. Unfortunately, it is winter here. He keeps our home at a temperature similar to a balmy day in the Bahamas. As we awaited a recent blizzard, I hoped to avoid waking up with a snowbound gloomy husband. In that spirit, I suggested a challenge…more of a bribe really. I would make his favorite lunch, if he’d stay upbeat throughout the storm.

While he pondered the ramifications of this, I decided to up the ante. “Remember when you were courting me, and you made me a lemon meringue pie? If you keep smiling at me all day, while maintaining a buoyant attitude, and make me a lemon meringue pie, I will make your very favorite chicken pot pie.”

He gave me a skeptical smile.

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Lunch was on the horizon, so I went to work, holding up my end of the bargain. I’ve tried every brand of chicken pot pie on the market, both fresh and frozen. How can it be that they all taste so artificial?
Of course, there’s no love mixed in. Love is a key ingredient.
I put together the crust using Ina Garten’s reliable recipe from Barefoot Contessa Family Style, then I turned to The Pioneer Woman Cooks for her chicken pot pie recipe. Oh my- there is a lot of love in this simple dish-
and just a crust on the top, making room for more good stuff beneath.
Chicken Pot Pie
3 celery stalks
3 medium carrots, peeled
1 large yellow onion
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock
1 chicken bouillon cube (I didn’t use)
1/4 cup white wine, optional
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup heavy cream
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed
Black pepper
2 cups or more cooked chicken
 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Begin by finely dicing the vegetables. Slice the celery stalks into narrow strips, then slice in the other direction to create a fine dice. Repeat this process with the carrots, and the onion.

Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery. Saute until the vegetables start to turn translucent, a couple of minutes.

Add 2 cups of the shredded chicken and stir to combine. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the vegetables and chicken, and stir to combine. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring gently.

Pour in the chicken broth, stirring constantly. Stir in the bouillon cube and wine if using. The flour will combine with the chicken to create a delicious gravy. Next, add the peas.

Pour in the cream and stir. Allow the mixture to cook over low heat, thickening gradually, about 4 minutes. Season with the thyme, salt and pepper, and remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.

Pour the chicken mixture into a deep pie pan or small casserole dish.

Roll out the pastry so that it’s 1 inch larger than the pan. Place the crust on top of the chicken mixture and cut small slits in the top. Press the crust gently into the sides of the dish to seal.

Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly, about 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

DSC_0275This was a divine lunch, well deserved after a morning of shoveling, and a smile or two.

“Honey, when is my Lemon Meringue Pie going to be ready?? Honey???”

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Winter Dream

Winter is a trial for me. Days are short, dark and really cold. I recognize the romance in a roaring fire and twinkling lights around our front door, but my spirit flags halfway through the season. I miss the warmth of the sun. I miss my garden.

Recently though, on a balmy winter day, my survival instinct kicked in and I began dreaming of spring, and a new garden.

It started innocently enough, with a photo I admired on Gardenista.com. This garden had an uncanny similarity to the terrace off our kitchen, assuming you mixed in a whole lot of imagination. The photo was of a sumptuous garden, framing a perfect putting green piece of turf. plants-between-pavers-eve-everdell-2
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Our flagstone terrace is busy with pots of annuals in fair weather, a way station for firewood in the winter, and a thoroughfare to prettier parts of the yard.

Yet, when I imagined the magical Gardinista garden, transposed onto our dull terrace space…voila!….. things got very exciting.

And that’s what we did.

My husband is a saint. He saw this coming one day, as he found me in the yard with a measuring tape and stakes. He knows I’m a restless dreamer, but restless dreaming comes at a price.

Though the flagstones were not set on a concrete pad, a lot of work had to be done lifting out the stones, bringing in topsoil, laying brick borders for the flower beds, knocking down a wall and leveling out the second portion of the garden beyond the old terrace.

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Fast forward, and add in the ‘at a price’ part, and here we are. Maybe we should tee it up and launch a few into the trees, where mine always end up anyway.

I have lots of plans flickering through my mind for the flower beds- sea thistle and blue fescue, lavender and geranium, canterbury bells and poppies…. and roses! I’m musing over color palettes and imagining this space alive with butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

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Then suddenly, with a new fallen snow, I was reminded that winter always hangs on longer than we would like. But in the waiting, hope becomes real, and dreams feel possible.

Spring.

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It’s All About Bob

IMG_2627I’d like to introduce to my new friend, Bob. He weighs about 150 pounds, has a sleek fiberglass body, and will let you ride on his back at speeds of near 12 mph, while introducing you to the world under the sea, with little effort on your part. Welcome to the twenty-first century.IMG_2630Bob is sleek but solid, and you will need help toting this date to the water.

Once in his element, Bob invites you to lay on his back, squeeze the accelerator and hold on. You can zoom straight out to sea to tempt the sharks, or stay inshore, making figure eights, and torment the bathers.

Bob is like a personal submarine that follows your orders….. or a motorcycle that is seaworthy.When you point Bob’s nose down, he soars beneath the surface, where for a while you feel like a starlet in a Jacques Cousteau film. Bob took me on a tour of an undersea garden, brilliantly colored fish, yellow tail snapper with golden yellow sides, electric Blue Tang and angelfish. Magical.

Bob is a expensive date, but I can’t wait to hook up again the next time I’m in the islands.

 

 

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A Few Good Fish


Turks And Caicos Nature Areas

Turks and Caicos is home to the third largest reef in the world; The Great Barrier Reef is the largest, followed by the Belize. The water along the island drops off to more than 10,000 feet and is home to thousands upon thousands of fish, drawing visitors from all over the world, eager to dive and snorkel.

This is wonderful news if you’re a diver. In this case, however, my beloved husband had anticipated a vacation filled with hours roaming the flats, catching bonefish, but we have unexpectedly found ourselves on an island almost completely protected by a Nature and Marine Park. No fishing allowed.

Ordinarily I would applaud this achievement, and be heartened the island officials had the wisdom to protect what makes it special, but a husband toting a fly rod to an island where he can’t fish, unless he hires a very expensive guide to take him miles away, does not a happy vacationing husband make.

Alas, Jim hired a man who boated us through choppy seas, to the mangroves of a small island some seven miles away .  As the small skiff slapped each wave and concurrently my rear end, I wistfully, and with considerable confusion, admired all the desirable fishing spots we passed on our relentless trek to the happy hunting grounds.

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The flats where the bonefish hide are no more than a couple feet deep. This is where the guide polls us silently along, as we stalk the very elusive, and nearly invisible bonefish. Jim tells me this is his favorite part. This is good, as I’ve witnessed how challenging they are to actually catch…assuming you see one.  Nothing my husband likes to do is easy….. why is that?IMG_2576 The wind whipped us around while the guide barked orders at Jim to throw his line out this way and that, as he scouted the fish from a pedestal at the stern of his skiff. In powerful wind, Jim tried to throw his fly here and then there, similar to throwing a feather into the wind. It’s difficult, and after an hour, exasperating…and after more barked unrequested advice, unkind thoughts surely crossed his mind.IMG_2584This is a bonefish. Not a delicacy…. hence its name.

Carrying large rocks across the ocean floor yesterday, and trying to throw a feathery fly into the wind today…. this is what some suspiciously call vacation.

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Turks Sonata

Far from home, I gaze out at turquoise waters, within arms reach.
Amazingly, a humpback whale and her calf skim the surface of the water, feeding on the riches of the Caribbean Sea. Where we’re staying on Turks And Caicos is nestled in a State protected nature preserve, and has retained its wildness and untainted beauty. Our resort lies five miles off the main road, on a meandering path of lumpy coral bedrock that is a long and bruising ride in our rental car.

There is no signage indicating there is anything at the end of this journey; but just when you think you are totally lost, the road rewards you with gentle paving, leading into a Zen- infused, modern, tropical oasis, where smiling faces and open arms assure you have come to the right place.DSC_0203

Our annual winter migration always leads us back to the soothing waters of the Caribbean, where our worn and frazzled edges are gently smoothed by the waves of the ocean melting into the shore, while the warm breezes bring comfort and peace.DSC_0209

Bicycles are the default transport here. Far from luxurious or high-tech, these are old fashioned, fat-tired, no-geared vehicles, that take you from your wonderfully secluded villa to meals and activities. No cars…nice. We pedal lanes and byways through thick jungle-like shrubs, resetting our hearts to a leisurely pace. Our spirits are rekindled by the breeze that messes our hair, and a path that leads to unknown adventure.

We sleep like babies, content with this newfound simplicity, gentility, and a pure horizon line. Adding to this fantasy are masseuses and wine stewards, and a staff eager to help us regain our playfulness.DSC_0215

Yesterday we signed up for an innocent sounding class called ‘Water Aerobics.’ A handsome, bronzed South African named Trayl, (pronounced ‘trail’), met us at the pool to test our ability to hold our breath for increasingly longer periods of time…the ultimate goal to swim the entire length of the very long pool underwater. Once we had progressed to his satisfaction, we headed to the ocean. We soon arrived at ‘The Rock Garden,’ a protected pool of the sea close to shore. The powerful, never-ending ocean waves have carved out pits filled with smooth tumbled rocks and coral. We began our challenge by simply diving down to reach a hole on the sea floor. My naturally buoyant body, apparently a female attribute related to shapeliness, curves and such, made me pop to the surface despite my frantic flailing to dive deep. My svelte husband surpassed me as usual and progressed to the next step- diving down, selecting a stone and passing it on to me. Eventually he completed class one, by running along the sandy bottom toting his mighty rock – this is ‘Water Aerobics,’ fun and games, island style.

A sun-kissed day, packed with rock toting, pummeled by massage and cleansed with wine, made for the sweet sleep of babes.

Tomorrow is only in our dreams.

 

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Creep

My brother, Peter, lives in a bucolic farming community outside Washington, DC, where the unpaved roads are best driven in pickup trucks, and red fox are commonplace. When the bird feeders aren’t locked up at day’s end, a bear is likely to saunter down from the hills at night, and go through the birdseed like cocktail peanuts. Animals dominant this area of Virginia.

dsc_0970Meadow and pastures, corralled by stone walls and cattle fence, line the dusty roads. All is quiet except for the occasional vehicle stirring up a trail of dust that settles on the wildflowers luffing in the sudden gust along the lane.

He bought his small tract of land ten years ago and is, in his own way reforesting it, fevered by his passion for collecting and growing trees. You would be hard pressed to think of a tree he hasn’t planted yet. Some of his successes began as minuscule whippets that The Arbor Day Foundation sent out free with membership. He nurtures them along in his vegetable garden until they’re robust enough to move into his ‘arboretum.’ He harvests baskets full of apples, peaches and quince (which he has yet to figure out what to do with), as well as black walnuts with nearly impenetrable shells.

Solar panels soak up the power from the sun to fuel his home, while a wood stove with a copper flue, like an old-time radiator, keeps the place toasty on a winter day. The TV is in a small cabin nearby – just far enough away that he is able to avoid the monotony of the CNN newsfeed.

Mice and other rodents are a prolific part of the farming community. A couple years ago, he had to call a garage to come and repair his car. Mice had made a cozy home near its engine and chewed through the wiring harness. After paying the garage a steep fee to replace the wire, he called the Humane Society to adopt a cat. Now he has three feral cats culling the varmint herd He keeps the cats beholden to him by rewarding them with gourmet cat food from Trader Joe’s.

Nick, my brother from California, recently visited to put the finishing touches on a small cabin he built next door to Peter’s. When we were growing up, my Dad had the hope that we would each build a home for our families on land surrounding our childhood home in Vermont. When Dad came into hard times years later, he sold our place, which was a disappointment for all of us.  Now, in a way, Peter is making good on Dad’s plan, at least for Nick.

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Vineyards and hops farms seem to be Virginia’s new generation dairy farmers.  They are a popular destination for city dwellers to soak up the country vibe while mellowing out with a local brew. Many discover the simple appeal of grass beneath their feet, and the charm of a cow mooing from a nearby meadow.

Recently, I’ve noticed the quaint little town, with barely a traffic light, has begun to spread out a bit. A field is sold and becomes a new neighborhood, and then spawns more building, and then schools and grocery stores; and eventually the city of DC is spending billions of dollars on a new mass transit system to alleviate the congestion on the arteries ferrying commuters into the city from the suburbs.

The towns are creeping closer to one another while creeping closer to my brother’s bucolic homestead and personal arboretum. Bucolic could be in trouble.

He and his kin are feisty environmentalists who will fight to keep this area protected from development. 9781631490828_198 Thomas Friedman, in his Op-Ed piece in the New York Times September 7th, mentions E.O. Wilson’s new book, Half- Earth, in which Wilson argues the necessity of committing half of our planet to nature, in order to protect the health of the planet, and ourselves.

We need another president like Teddy Roosevelt with a passion and commitment to preserving our open land.

We all need to find a place of peace and quiet to maintain our health in this uncertain, conflict-driven world.

 

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Garden Favs 2016

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Hot. Really hot. Really really hot. Working in the garden has been inconceivable these last few weeks. The humidity and heat were a relentless tag team. I hid in the air conditioned chill of our home, but an annoying voice sent me warnings. Indeed. The plants became a classroom of hooligans as the teacher steps out to use the loo.

DSC_0803The squash, displeased with its spacious plot, hiked the garden fence and draped itself over the boxwood. I thought I’d planted zucchini, but surprise! I have a pumpkin patch.

And then the crazy heat produced crazy storms. Niagara-like rain pounded my statuesque phlox and anemones, until everything collapsed.

But enough drama. Let’s talk about the beautiful and well-behaved.

These are the cream of the crop this year, Swiss Chard ‘Ruby Lights’, withstanding heat and downpours.

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Have you ever seen such a pretty vegetable in your life? This plant is edible joy.

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Mandevilla: This vine is refreshing change from the pink variety. It flowers are big, bright and cheerful. I wish I’d given it a taller teepee to climb. In the south they call it the ‘mailbox plant.’

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Salvia ‘Black and Blue’: This salvia is a hummingbird favorite. It ‘s underneath our kitchen window, where it’s like Grand Central Station with hummers imbibing all the live long day.

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Allium ‘Millenium’ : This allium is like the Jackie Kennedy of the plant kingdom: quiet, sophisticated, demure, never mussed up, always just-so.

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Passiflora ‘Amethyst’: Exotic, always fascinating, a work of art only God could have conceived.

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Shirley Poppy: As a child, didn’t you make flowers like these out of crepe paper?  The petals are delicate as tissue and translucent. Perfection.

Honeybees love them.

These plants are Greenbriar approved! What plants are your favorites this summer?

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Stop and Smell The Roses

 

9e1db2c5-6907-443a-aabf-046a3ff9535e caa6cd1b-819a-4ab9-a82a-34ba2bfc01479c45ea97-e572-4053-a066-6ad7e4fb6be2074f1d8e-c818-41fb-bc78-c85d21e7e20c 64e97729-f5e0-42ca-a235-ca27fbbb773cd4954fbe-8545-4d28-9640-0a0e525c7ae72c8f756e-d6b1-46bf-bfed-e4be5d58f20557cc8314-1cea-426d-b747-2d43eec64072Poppy Pup v2 SmallThis photo is of Poppy, (now almost eleven), who from the beginning, has been my faithful gardening companion.  When she feels I’ve worked hard enough, she lays her ball at my feet and reminds me it’s time to play, (and smell the flowers.)

The other photos have been buzzing around the internet. Some patient, talented soul caught these amazing moments with animals, but sadly, the photos are unattributed.

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Blueberry Muffins

It’s almost apple picking time, but our local summer fruits are in their glory. Before they disappear, please whip up a batch of these muffins, using the freshest, plumpest, tastiest fruit you can find.

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My favorite recipe comes from a cookbook called Muffins, written in 1985 by Elizabeth Alston. There are rare times when you can stop searching or tweaking a recipe, because you found the best! This is one of those times.

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The recipe originated in a Boston-based department store called Jordon Marsh and they had a bakery that sold muffins. The store closed in 1996, but their blueberry muffin recipe is worth passing down to the next generation.
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups  unbleached all-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh preferred
1/4 cup sugar, for topping

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin; or line the tin with papers, and grease the papers.
In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined.
Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl and beating well after each addition.
Beat in the baking powder, salt, and vanilla.
Add the flour alternately with the milk, beating gently just to combine. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.
Mash 1/2 cup of the blueberries. Add the mashed and whole berries to the batter, stirring just to combine and distribute.
Scoop the batter by the heaping 1/4-cupful into the prepared muffin pan; a muffin scoop works well here.
Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon granulated sugar atop each muffin, if desired. It’s traditional — go for it!
Bake the muffins for about 30 minutes, until they’re light golden brown on top, and a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean.
Remove the muffins from the oven, loosen their edges from the pan, and after about 5 minutes transfer them to a rack to cool.
Yield: 12 muffins.

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My cookbook recommends adding 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg to one tablespoon of sugar that is sprinkled over the muffins before they are baked. I also used the large muffin tin, so you can relish a bigger crunchy top and a bigger delicate center.

This is muffin nirvana.

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Orchids

I have windowsills filled with orchids. I’ve collected them over many years, some inherited from my Mom.

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They summer on the windowsills, basking in the heat and humidity akin to their native land.  When their planting medium grows dry-ish to the touch, they take their turn in the sink, for a long cool drink.

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Once in a great while, I line them up outside, and lavish them with an orchid fertilizer, spilled liberally over their leaves, and drenching the pots.  As long as their home is above 60 degrees and they’re watered only when thirsty, (and only in the morning), they will flower with abandon for months.

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This one began blooming before Easter and is still going strong with new buds yet to open. Notice the lips are lilac-pink and stick out like a proboscis. The column leading into the inner sanctum where the reproductive parts are, is pale orange. In combination with the angel wing white of the petals, it is a voluptuous beauty in a two inch pot!

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I used to let my orchids outside for the summer, inspired by southerners who suspend them like ornaments from the trees. If afternoon thunderstorms didn’t water them, I’d pretend to be a passing shower and drench them with a hose. By the end of the summer, I’d discover their leaves had been a food source for slugs and snails, and aphids were multiplying amongst the leaf axils.

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Now, they sit on a windowsill where they benefit from the tropical summer weather, but screened from pests. This way the collection remains healthy.

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Having a tea party? Ask everyone to bring an old forgotten heirloom, and send them home with a full cup.

 

 

 

 

 

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