Apr 30, 2010

organic green lawns

the sweet smell of spring. flowers. trees. grasses. pollen grains. it's all happening. some of it grand, some of it not. our yard is coming out of dormancy and is lush and green. lovely. however, there are also a lot of surprising specimens growing in our lawn this year, things we didn't plant, or planted elsewhere, which are not grass. in short, all manner of weeds and clovers and mosses. some quite beautiful in their own right, but most certainly not as originally intended.

for the last couple of years we have been considering and then working on a transition to organic lawn care. which means we have also been learning to appreciate the beauty and variety that is an organic lawn. like anyone, i like the look of a gorgeous green expanse of well-tended lawn. cool, refreshing, inviting, primal grassland. and like most, i deplore the idea of all the chemicals usually required to keep that happening year after year, especially when i think about all that eventually draining into the water supply and oceans and the devastating compound effects.

in a classic match-up, man versus (human) nature, we will be battling all summer long. which is to say we will be battling our urge to throw nasty chemicals on our lawn to make it look more homogenous and pretty like we used to. but that would be an easy fix that would not take us in the right direction.

there is some terrific information on how to go about organic lawn care here, here, here, and here. great strides have been made in this area in recent years. good soil, corn gluten, corn meal and compost tea are some of the secret ingredients. a vinegar and soap mixture for weeds. though initial costs may be higher, apparently it is actually easier and more cost effective over time if you take a long term view and garden organically. of course, a long term view requires patience. ethically, for the good of the group, it is the right thing to do. will let you know how it goes, er grows.

beautiful summer weather expected over here this weekend. hope you all have a marvelous one. and happy arbor day. xo, g

Apr 26, 2010

woodland primavera, a walk and a recipe

there is something really lovely about rain soaked trees.

as you mostly know, i live in a wood. this has its pluses and minuses like everyplace. pluses like incredible overnight transformation from gray to leafy green every spring (what a show!). and minuses like more spiders and bugs as well as lots and lots of crazy (really crazy) squirrels. but living in a wood can sometimes be inspirational and lead me to create a new recipe for dinner. i was walking around after a recent rain and stumbled on some lovely ferns just emerging. remembering the fiddleheads i'd seen at whole foods market the day before, a recipe popped into my head. a rustic woodland-inspired pasta primavera. with shiitake mushrooms and sliced asparagus. pasta primavera is an italian-american dish (inspired by italian cuisine, yet cooked in america) which means spring pasta. usually it is a cream sauce with lots of vegetables tucked here and there, like carrots, peas and broccoli, in the 80s and 90s it was on nearly every menu at italian restaurants in new york. it was all the rage and written up by craig claiborne in the ny times as a brilliant innovation. i ordered it a lot back then and it included a slightly different mix of vegetables each time.

anyway, i rarely see it now, maybe because i no longer have a generous expense account as at my former employers in nyc, or maybe because it has fallen out of favor, pushed aside by fresh combinations.

but now it is back, at my house anyway, and with an earthy woodland twist. the whole wheat fettucini is rustic and a nice complement to this dish.

woodland pasta primavera
17 oz fresh whole wheat pasta (bought mine at whole foods)
1/4 cup organic heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 lb fresh fiddleheads
1/2 lb asparagus stalks, sliced into 2 inch lengths
4 large shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, slice
2 stalks parsley (optional)
1 TBSP salt

2 TBSP chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, for garnish

set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. set another medium size pot of water to boil for the vegetables. i find it works best if you blanch the vegetables in salted water before tossing with the pasta. wash and trim the vegetables. if using, place the parsley in the medium pot to flavor the vegetables slightly. adds a nice fresh taste. add 1 TBSP salt to the medium pot.

start with the fiddleheads. once the water comes to a boil. blanch the fiddleheads for about 2 or 3 minutes until they are just tender. remove with a slotted spoon. set in a bowl. next add the sliced shiitake mushrooms. remove after 1 to 2 minutes. and add to the same bowl as the fiddleheads. next add the asparagus. blanch for 2 - 5 minutes based on stalk thickness, this time i used fairly chubby stalks, so i blanched them for 4 minutes. drain and remove.

okay. pasta water should be ready now. add a glug of olive oil to the pasta water. salt too. cook the fresh whole wheat fettuccine for 4 - 5 minutes. until just cooked through. drain pasta. set the pan back on the heat. add the cream and the cheese and then the vegetables. stir around to coat and let it bubble briefly. add in the pasta. reduce heat to medium and toss and cook so the flavors all mesh together for a minute or two. serve at once. sprinkle with chopped parsley and additional freshly grated parmesan cheese. serve at once.

p.s. my kids loved this. so much that i was a little disappointed. disappointed that i didn't get more of the fiddleheads for myself. they were so fresh and tender and bright. i was so sure they would eye them suspiciously and refuse them. instead they thought they were cool. next time i will buy more. one thing i can count on is not being able to predict their whims in advance. lesson learned.

Apr 22, 2010

take a nap for earth day

thomas edison napping, maira kalman 2009

my unintentional art-buying spree* continues apace. i bought a painting this week. and i am so excited about it i can hardly stand it. but i didn't mean to. it was just that i couldn't not buy it, once faced with the opportunity. anyway, it is the piece pictured above. the one of thomas edison napping. in gouache by the incredible-amazing maira kalman. it's a dream come true to own her work. the exhibit, further illuminations, at the julie saul gallery, comprises images from maira's "pursuit of happiness" blog published 2009 in the ny times and will be included in a new book she has by the same name coming out in the fall. the exhibit is showing until may 1 at the saul gallery on 22nd street. or you can view it in the archives of the ny times here. i think i will cancel all my plans for the rest of the year and just fix my eyes on its dreamy wonderfulness. really. not really.

but you should know that i am a big proponent of napping. and thomas edison was too. he is sometimes credited with inventing the nap, or at least popularizing the power nap. he felt short naps were a great way to access the creative genius part of our brains. the part in the subconscious, the part you arrive in before you get to deep sleep. as a hard-driving creative genius who was just about always inventing something (like for example the stock ticker, the first electronic information broadcast, which made him quite wealthy and also some other things like the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the light bulb). he also built the first power station, to manufacture power for large swaths of people. he built it in manhattan. and, he didn't sleep more than 5 hours a night. so he was busy creative problem solving all day long and so he napped with ball bearings in his hand to insure that his nap was short and that he could directly access that creative genius part of his brain. the dreamy subconscious. well, we certainly can't argue with his results. he transformed modern society on the whole planet.

i could easily give you 1500 more reasons why i love this painting. but i will stop now and save us all from that. you should know that it mostly has to do with maira's brilliance as an artist and writer and creative genius and that the thomas edison and the nap part are just the icing on the cake. but anyway it being earth day, that now quite commercial enterprise, i think it would be awfully nice if everyone took a nap instead of buying some new, manufactured, green product we-can't-live-without, with an earth day discount of course, or buying up at an earth day sale or attending a formal earth day fair sponsored by some corporation or other.

a nap for mother earth. doing less is clearly best for her. we would all use less energy, less fossil fuel, spew less carbon into the atmosphere, and less water would be spent. plus we might all wake up refreshed and happy. ready to tackle any creative problem that comes our way. like how to solve all those pesky global problems we are confronted with here on earth. earth day dreaming. maybe best done while napping.

*note: the other week i bought the iron sphere. see here.

Apr 21, 2010

Apr 19, 2010


loving blue this week. inspired, at least in part by the muscari, or grape hyacinths, looking so brilliant in my garden this morning. the eames molded chairs with the newly available dowel base that have just arrived. love them so. and on the subject of this morning, these sunny sunny skies, with perfect little clouds. clouds that clearly are there to remind us just how brilliantly blue the sky is.

Apr 14, 2010

on rustic spheres

so much depends upon the  iron sphere at the edge of the wood in the long shadows of the afternoon

or whereupon i make a case for and buy a rusting iron wire sphere. now, we can all agree: no one really needs a giant wire sphere in their yard. but you can't carry practicality too far. lest life would be an endless stream of uninteresting tasks and responsibilities injected with no imagination or verve whatsoever. no art, no passion. where would we be then?

no this nonessential sphere is important, nay, essential. a symbolic reminder of the state of cultural decay of world society, or civilized manners, or maybe worn and eroding physical networks, old technology soon to be replaced by newer virtual electronic ones. or maybe it's symbolic of life in the universe on the atomic level, spinning atoms, electrons, protons, or no, perhaps it's all future and sub atomic hypothetical higgs boson particles and hadron super colliders.

or maybe its just totally spherical. and beautiful.

anyway, whatever you do, don't take a lovely drive up to the all-too charming hamlet of kent, connecticut, one brilliant afternoon and have a look around at all the treasures of r.t. facts or you might come home with one too. or maybe you'll have some heady rationalizing to do.

Apr 10, 2010

baby lettuce

baby lettuces growing in my kitchen windows in little white pots from ikea. fresh and green, inexpensive (pennies!) and completely edible. a kitchen garden actually in the kitchen. not a new idea of course, but i find them very pleasing all the same. because, of course, i am never more pleased than when form, function and frugality all intersect. that is where i always want to be.

Apr 9, 2010

"you can't rise above your ingredients"

recently, my husband, r, was on what my children call a work vacation (more commonly known as a business trip) and sweetly brought me back some wonderful food gifts from the san francisco ferry terminal. that old haunt of mine, the one filled with marvelous food stuffs of all kinds like: broken rice from the slanted door (we are crazy for broken rice), french lentils, anson mills polenta and boulette's larder specially ground spice blend. this man obviously knows the direct route to my heart. through food finds.

which makes me think of my dear cooking school instructor, no longer with us, the wonderful peter kump. peter was founder of the james beard foundation and the cooking school that is now known as the institute of culinary education.  peter was also known for repeating this mantra "you can't rise above your ingredients," over and over to his students. often he would tell us a personal story, like the one about an impromptu dinner party at his manhattan apartment, how he ran out to buy a chicken to roast, accidently bought an old hen, only good for stewing, tried to roast it, failed. ordered chinese food had a lovely meal with his guests anyway. illustrating that even the great peter kump had his share of kitchen mishaps when the ingredients did not succeed despite his expertise. buy the best ingredients, he insisted, you won't be sorry. if all else fails, order out and above all, enjoy your evening, no matter what.

so this weekend i am loving having these special ingredients to work with in order to try to conjure up some food magic. i don't know what i'll make yet, but that will be the fun of it. have a great weekend. xo, g

Apr 6, 2010

fresh color

fresh color, lots of it, on my table and in the grocery store this week. the produce section is coming alive again. will roast these charming multi-colored carrots tonight and serve with risotto and garden salad. a cook's palette becomes more playful and interesting as the growing season progresses.

Apr 1, 2010

green tea latte

yes, i am still thinking about the color green. thank you for asking. and my love of green tea is well known. so naturally it follows that one of my favorite breakfasts these days is a green tea latte. similar to one i had at le pain quotidien recently. i love that chain. do you have one near you, yet? if you don't, i am confident you will soon. they are taking the world by storm. each one seems like a handmade charming wholesome european coffee/tea/pastry/sandwich shop. you would never guess it was a chain until you look around and notice all the branded products, teas, honey, jams, mustard, etc. they are originally out of belgium and make the very best brownies (shaped like a little round chocolate tart) i have ever tasted in my (increasingly long) life. we have two near us in connecticut for example. having also sampled their wares in belgium, france, and new york, i can tell you they were all consistently charming to be in and delicious.

back to the green tea latte. the color is incredible. so green. very photogenic. i could photograph it all day. this green tea latte is made with organic soy milk. i like it best this way. it is the fastest breakfast i know how to make. plenty of protein. a good start to my day. i usually just nibble on a little fresh fruit as i heat and stir. takes about 3 minutes which includes getting things out of the refrigerator and gathering the needed accessories. like spoons and cups.

i make it with ito en matcha green tea powder. a very special finely ground green tea. you can find various brands available from numerous japanese sources. it is often kept in the freezer and has a short shelf life. matcha is very handy in that it can easily be whisked into a foam when mixed with hot water, or as you see here, warmed soy milk. whisked just as they do in the beautiful ritual that is the japanese tea ceremony. (which starts with making your own ceramic tea cup out of clay). i bought my tea cup. but maybe one day i will get back to kyoto and enroll in just such a tea class.

i had never thought of making a green tea latte at home until i saw one on one of my favorite reads, lovely blog out of the uk, quaint living. really great photography, food, travel, that sort of thing.

green tea latte
i use a heaping teaspoon of matcha to one and a half to two cups of soy milk. i heat over the stove or in the microwave. good results with both. whisk while hot. serve immediately. brilliantly simple, fast and delicious.