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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What's with the Meyer Lemon? Discoveries

We have two Meyer lemon trees, and still never have enough lemons to meet the demand. We use them as salad dressing for our favorite salad with Feta cheese. Just a sprinkle of juice over the top and the salad is dressed. Another constant demand in the household  is for Meyer lemon in any drink-water, vodka, gin and  tonic, lemonade, and our local mild mannered aperitif:  The M and V 
In a large wine glass (16 oz.) put in 6 ice cubes. Add enough vermouth russo  to almost cover the ice cubes, and some  sparkling water --more than a dash, but -- don't drown it! Cut a Meyer lemon in 4 equal quarters, lengthwise. Squeeze 2 quarters into the drink, and toss the juiced quarters into the drink. Stir vigorously. Add more lemon  if you like. 
What makes a Meyer lemon so special? Its breeding! It's a hybrid between a lemon and a mandarin ( or sweet orange). Mandarin oranges are special--- the Chinese herbalists use the dried skin to improve your chi'i .The scent of a Meyer lemon skin  is something of an anti-depressant.

 As you can see from the picture ( it's quite like a tangerine, but not exactly. Mandarin oranges were grown commercially in N. Florida before WWII --there was even a town named for them--and were considered the best of the best by aficionados.  Apparently the mandarin orange passed its' beneficial characteristics on to the Meyer lemon--including the ability to improve your chi'i.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Patterned gardens -precursors of walled and knot gardens

This medieval chess garden is arranged like a chess board with 16 raised beds. As you can see the owner is very pleased with his creation. Chess came back from the Crusades along with Persian rugs, spices, the lute, the caftan and a more sophisticated kind of garden.

Notice the tools. A twine for setting up straight  lines, a rake, a pick axe and a curved cutting tool for the twine. (These wonderful woodcuts are from Edward Hyams "A History of Gardens and Gardening" It is a treasure.)These raised beds are apparently  part of a potager - mixed flowers  ----that's a lily in the bottom center bed and vegetables. (That is most certainly a lettuce bottom left) A contemporary potager looks exactly the same   ( . It's a bit daunting to see how little gardens have changed in 600 years.....

Or 3000 years. Well, maybe a few differences. I could never get my monkeys to do anything useful. Impressive, but the one at the top is cheating. Primates are incorrigible thieves.  Actually these are  baboons

(See the sidebar for a contemporary photo---baboons also have seemingly changed very little in 3000 years--- though perhaps less co-operative. Egyptian magic? Or the  modern baboons have a union. )

 These gardens are the ancestors of a  school of English gardening  that includes walled gardens, knot gardens, and topiary gardens. Strangely enough, despite being labor intensive--if the labor is available a formal garden is easier to keep upHuh? Formal patterns require no initiative, just clipping, digging, setting up plants in the right bed. No less an authority than Rosemary Verey points this out. Never thought of it. But-she's right. Now if I could just get some baboons interested in helping out....

Friday, March 12, 2010

An unexpected Bromeliad

This is a bromeliad Ananas nanus (nanus means small or dwarf) . Yes, that is a pineapple, quite edible! It's been growing in the house in a south facing room with lots of windows. It would have been fine outside in our SoCal climate like most bromeliads. It's so appealing it got to star in the dining room
It got ripe, then it got harvested.
And that means... cannibalism! (We've gotten to be such friends.)  All is not lost. The parent plant is flourishing, and perhaps the cut-off top will also survive and make another plant. Spes alit agricolam

The sturdy and adaptable Ananas family was toted to Europe from its native South America by the the Spanish ( C. Columbus)  and Portuguese explorers( F. Magellan). The pineapple  was an instant hit. Grown as a crop in the New World, then imported, the pineapple became a symbol of wealth and hospitality --- to grow it, you had a have a hothouse.

Serving pineapple was the equivalent of draping yourself in bling. Successful hostesses did both. If you were an aspiring but financially strapped hostess--you could rent a pineapple for the evening to act as a centerpiece. ( And all the time you thought we were the sub-prime  innovators.)

The pineapples in the grocery store are Ananas comosus. They contain, besides  good taste enzymes that act as meat tenderizers.

 Capt. Cook took the fruit to Hawaii in 1770.  Pineapple was a favorite fruit of George Washington   who ate it in Bermuda and found it absolutely topping.( Had to have been before 1776, right?) By then pineapples were being grown in Florida, Bermuda and Scotland.

The  whole 18th century was mad about pineapples.
.... Sculpted pineapples appeared as gateposts, weather vanes, and door lintels. ...stencilled on walls, woven into tablecloths, napkins, carpets and curtains, and painted onto the backs of chairs and tops of chests. ... the use of the pineapple motif in architecture reached its climax in the colossal stone 'Pineapple' structure at Dunmore Park, near Airth in Stirlingshire, Scotland." 

In the 19th c the pineapple was not  yet exhausted  as a symbol of hospitality. It  became a motif in  the Arts and Crafts movement and appears on a set of  Eastlake dining room chairs. Today the pineapple appears on the Internet in plaques

".... Show off your sense of warmth and hospitality with this symbol of welcoming"                Bling anyone?
 Here is King Charles the Second receiving a pineapple
He appears  low in " warmth and hospitality" but---- he hasn't yet eaten his present.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The "English" Succulent Garden

Working on the English Garden effect:, concentrating on low water planting . (Yes, this  is a little like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time.)

A beautiful succulent garden like Pamela Volante's amazing garden in Westwood, ( blog 2/10/10)   or the garden Robert Dean ( blog 12/16/09) designed for the Shaefer's in Rancho Santa Fe, is both inspiring  and
depressing  for plant- a- holics. .

The greatest difficulty involved is design. Design requires a certain restraint--- repetition of the same themes (shapes, colors) makes it work. See how Volante’s design is controlled to a few shapes?
Here's the garden ( see Debra Lee Baldwin)  Robert Dean  designed for the Shaefer's in Rancho Santa Fe. And  doesn't he make it look easy!

We have a 5' x 6 'sloping space that's trying to become  the English  Succulent Garden. It's somewhere between what Debra Lee calls a "tapestry" garden and a classic perennial border

Tapestry probably suits it better—the medieval horror vacuii seems to be the governing principal. Trouble is--- the nursery. How to resist that plant you don't have? 12 steps anyone?

It's worst than viewing adoptable kittens at Paws.

There are about nine different  plants in this space. The K. blossfeldiana comes into the Big Box stores and grocery stores at this time of year. They are  wonderful  plants for creating painterly swatches of color---as   in the enticing pinks of  the kalanchoes and E. Lipstick.

Too many different kinds of plants? Probably. But by golly, Miss  Dolly, it's lush!

A future blog will be about the design  of an English Garden and why on earth  you might want to attempt  one.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Succulent Companions: blood oranges, granita and a sparkling sorbet

Two blood orange trees on the place- one bears frugally and is very sweet. The oranges above are from the second tree,Trocatta . This orange bears profusely  very tart oranges (why am I not surprised?)  Marmalade springs to mind, but I've got an unused sorbet maker, sounds easy to use--why not do that. (..."when will they ever ev-errrr learn....")
Find a recipe, juice the oranges, acquire 2 cups of juice. Then the fun begins .... It turns out the sorbet maker bowl has to be chilled in the freezer for 22 hours before it'll work. (Helps to read the directions, but oh well....)
Never mind, can't serve it at the dinner party as planned--give ' em coffee ice cream instead, no problem.

Granita---that's the thing to do with the blood orange juice:
. Combine 2 c. of juice with a pinch of salt, sugar, or honey, or corn syrup (if you are that decadent, don't tell .)  It's hard to be accurate about the amount of sweetener to use. Are you making this to "cleanse the palate" between courses, or to have as dessert? The first batch was "cleanse the palate". Really tart despite quite a lot of honey from the bees that lived in the wall and had to be re-located to a nearby organic farm---but that's another story.
 The granita was frozen, then beaten with an emulsifier beater twice. A little sparkling water added on the advice of friend Suzie, who is a fantastic cook.
 This batch was too tart for the taste of my focus group ( i.e. anyone who wandered into the kitchen)

Sorbet. Next day the sorbet maker was operational. Here's the recipe Focus group (below) all approved.
2 c. blood orange juice
sugar syrup to taste (organic sugar w water, melted in the microwave)
a pinch of salt
1 c. Asti Spumante sparkling wine
(more or less to taste)
Process according to your sorbet maker's directions.

Considered the last ingredient, the Asti, to be a brilliant stroke--it was sweet (too sweet to drink in my book, had a bottle languishing in the fridge) and was fizzy enough to make the sorbet light. It worked.                                        

Focus Group

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sunday in the City

My favorite urban gardener had a garden party last Sunday with city slackers and hot chicks.

Everyone got inspired.They uprooted ferocious and stubborn dead stumps so they could plant new vegetables.                                         
They made places for the new seed beds where they planted lettuce, chard, broccoli and leeks
They played Led Zepplin, and ate a lot of good things people brought to the party. A girl came with a hula hoop.There were jugglers. People stopped their cars, hung out of their windows and got inspired to go home and replace their boring water gobbling lawn with FOOD.