Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Welcoming Home Begins in the Garden ~ The Joy of Living Like Peasants

"Eating, and hospitality in general, is a communion, and any meal worth attending by yourself is improved by the multitudes of those with whom it is shared."
~Jesse Browner*

See the hovering hummingbird- when an object is as useful as it is beautiful, the sum is more than its parts. 

A hummingbird feeder is just a lonely objet d'art unless these littlest of angels beat their little wings 79 times per second to refuel for their life's mission as fairy-sized acrobats.  

The blown glass feeder used to have a bent tube hanging down from it. Fill it,  within a day, it dripped dry. Good for clothes: not for feeders. 

To turn it into a communion station for hummers, the first issue to address was dripping- out. Armstrong's Garden Center sold replacement parts such as the stopper- style reservoir shown in the picture above. It was a bit larger than the fitting: but a little shaving of the rubber-like substance with a very sharp pocket knife - the retrofit perfectly tailored the pieces. 

 Meyer Lemon is a fort to migrating hummingbirds

Only problem, the hummingbirds still weren't tempted.  My goal is to have them gather around the garden like the multitudes coming to hear Jesus deliver The Sermon on the Mount. 

'Sermon on the Mount' on the north wall of the Sistine Chapel by Cossimo Rosselli, 
That was the day 5,000 were fed from 5 barley loaves and a couple little fishies. 

I believe in miracles. But I am not Jesus. The feeder needed better advertising. 

I have read that these little territorial birds who zip through the sky like Tinkerbell  aren't attracted to scent. 

Kumquat and tabebuia 
Yet, recorded in years of observation: when the side yard is redolent with the scents of citrus fruits and flowers- you hear hummingbirds chattering within the branches. They sound like they are as crowded as crows in a certain Alfred Hitchcock movie

Product Details

What would happen if I dropped in a bit of rose extract? 

The answer: Magic. 

The recipe - you won't need to write it down. It is simply

1/4 to/2 cup Baker's Sugar**

2 Cups Water 
A few drops Rose Extract 

Stir. Pour. Stand Back.  Enjoy. 

(l-r) Reno and Tahoe, faithful companions to us and each other 
But man cannot live for birds alone. We are nicer people now that we we are ruled by our dogs.

Our forever puppies live for company coming. It means they'll  be our early warning system, heralding the arrival of anyone or anything as close as the sidewalk across the street. Then they'll protect us if those entering are foes, not friends. Then they'll get to show off all their nifty tricks in exchange for treats. 

If wine is served before a meal, cheeses and salami soften the impact of wine before the meal
Not the human kind. 

The platter was to share with Bill. A visitor from out of state.  Someone who had once been an important part of my husband's daily work life. 

The menu was planned to match the weather and what is left in the neglected wine stock. Perhaps hardest was keeping to ingredients available without leaving Diamond Bar: no one moves to Diamond Bar for the shopping.

  A decade had past since the three of us had broken bread together. It was like yesterday. 

 The moment the door was opened when our guest arrived, the bounty of Ina Garten's Beef Bourguinon  announced itself. This was the first time for this version of a main dish perfect for a rare chilly evening in Southern California. I was a bit concerned that a whole bottle of Pinot Noir and a half cup of cognac might be too rich. I needn't have been.

Dinner was served.

Warm Country bread was pulled from the oven, fresh butter spooned into little side bowls such as used for condiments.  

To perform as counterpoint to the richness of the main course, a bed of butter lettuce was piled  high with dried cherries, glazed pecans, pieces of pear and shavings of Parmesan cheese. Balsamic dressing drizzled sparkling sweetness to the tongue. 

Mounded on each person's main plate was a hill of potatoes whipped with real butter and rich cream. As ladles turning over the contents from the pot to the plates indented and flowed over the potatoes, it was  easy to be thankful.  

A vintage Singer Sewing cabinet makes self-serve effortlessly glamorous.
Once upon a time, this meal was derided as peasant food. Nowadays,  a meal such as this is a sign of love. 

As we are commanded by our Lord, in John 13:34 "To love one another." we should make time to live more like peasants. Gardening, cooking and eating together. 

Until we meet again, Thank YOU for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful!

Jesse Browner is an American author. The quote is courtesy of

**Baker's sugar is recommended  because it dissolves quicker and stays clear longer- but regular granulated sugar is also fine. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy Saint Patrick's Day ~ Braised Corned Beef

 As you slide down the banister of life, 
may the splinters never point in the wrong direction.

~ An Irish Blessing *

Don't blame the Irish for boiled corned beef.

In Celtic Ireland, beef of any sort was a luxury. Cows were kept for milking until the British took over the countryside. The Anglo taste for beef changed up the diet, but not for the poor Irish peasant.

It wasn't until the potato famine forced our ancestors to America, where the salted meat was an inexpensive delicacy, that my family likely ate. Today on the Emerald Isle : that most "Irish" of dishes, corned beef- it is made more often for tourists than the natives. 

34.5 million Americans claim Irish descent in the United States- which is about the number of variations on the boiled one-pot dish which escaped  New England. 

My version turned my husband from a corned beef avoid-er to corned beef lover.  
Bay Laurel Tree grown by Monrovia

There are 3 secrets. The first is to make a bed of celery for the meat to rest on while it cooks. The second is to braise the corned brisket as slowly as your schedule allows. The Holy Grail is for the meat to be lifted to the serving plate when the meat thermometer stuck in its heart reads between 190-210°.   The third is to double glaze with spicy-sweet glaze of apricots and mustard.  Since you can't follow me around the kitchen, here are my notes: 

In a large heavy covered roasting pan, one with a tight sealing lid, make a bed of celery and onion for the meat to lie above the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the spice package over the top, throwing in an extra bay leaf or so from the garden. Slide the pan, lid on, into a slow oven.

When enough heat releases the aroma of  'eau de  Saint Patrick's Day' perfumes the kitchen -  surround the island of meat with red potatoes, quartered sweet onions and chunks of carrots. Put the lid on the meat and go away. Read some Irish poetry. Divine a poem. 

About an hour before serving, lift the lid, dumping wedges of cabbage on the very top of the vegetables.

Paint the top of the meat with a generous slurry of equal parts apricot jam and Dijon mustard- reserving half the mixture for the end.  Raise the oven temp to  a moderate 350°F and plop that lid down one last time. 
 Sur la Table carries first class   Staub roasters.

In about half an hour, the cabbage leaves will have wilted, signalling time to check on how deeply a fork stabs the other vegetables.  They can stay longer with the beef or come out with the cabbage. 

The meat needs to go in one more time to get rid of any palor.  Spread the rest of the sweet slurry on top. Turn the oven up to 400° for just 15 minutes longer- keeping an alert nose for anything headed towards becoming a burnt offering. 

What you want is a roast at that magic temperature mentioned back towards the beginning of this post. 190° F is when the connective tissues soften. Much past 210, and you are headed  from gourmet into the land of cardboard.

Tender, salty meat. Sweet Glaze. Creamy potatoes. Colorful vegetables. Corned beef done well is a ritual worth repeating more than just on Saint Patrick's Day

Until we meet again, Thank YOU for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful.

* Selected from Irish Blessings are posted at food and wine.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Santa Barbara GWA Tour 5- Seaside Gardens~ Carpinteria ~What Love and Gardens have in common

Gardens and love have this in common. In the beginning, there is a basic concept of what is wanted, but only with patience (including trial and error) is there the possibility of creating something breathtaking. 

Because our wants evolve through experience- that something may not look anything like our original vision. 

We followed the direction the sheep pointed from the parking lot
Following  the curve of the ocean south towards Ventura lies  the incorporated town of Carpinteria. This would be our last stop before home. Rounding that last turn off the freeway, rain pounded the car's roof with jackhammer ferocity.

We were so thankful that on Super Bowl Sunday in the pouring rain, the gates were kept open for our merry band of writers. 

When the Spaniards explored this coastal town, they named it for the carpenter shop. The industrious Chumash tribe took advantage of local tar deposits, mixing with pine pitch to construct sea-worthy canoes. 

Gerry listens to Sam's accent- he was born not far from where she went to college in the UK
 Greeting us with cookies and hot beverages where an overhang gave us a shot of staying momentarily dry , Sam Mayberry explained how the retail area is surrounded by 12 demonstration gardens. Each vignette is designed to show what a little plant will look in maturity; how it will relate to the landscape as a whole. 

Umbrellas up, we fanned out across 3 walkable acres of shops, nooks and gardens. Ideas everywhere. 

A patchwork of succulents sleeping under lath. 

Books to educate and inspire (some of these authors I've met at GWA events- how cool is that!) 

A gift shop chock full of garden and garden-them accouterments.  A cricket for the hearth- stained glass stepping stones for outside- a carved stone own as at home with contemporary and craftsman settings. 

This is what Seaside Gardens is famous for. Breathtaking moments more commonly associated with arboretums and botanical gardens than retail nurseries.  The white blossom-laden bush in the foreground- meet Michelia doltstopa. An evergreen cousin to magnolias- to discover its fragrance alone was worth the trip. 

I loved this spot where visual texture in juxtaposed paving materials added interest to a simply planted pathway. 

If you have loved ones slow to understand the high-color potential of a low water landscape-  share these pictures- 

Hot pink dwarf euphorbia 

Cast metal salmon- time and temp artfully told.
Darkness was now descending faster than the rain. My notes and camera were tucked under my jacket for protection. We have a list- of wishes from Seaside and measurements from our garden.  We're planning to return north with an empty truck and full wallets.

I never knew my grandparents. My vision of  Eden was what I thought the garden of a grandmother I never knew  have been. The purpose of the vision- a grandmother's garden- this never changed, but how it is articulated is authentic to the people we grew to be, not of people only imagined. 

Until we meet again, Thank YOU for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful.  

 Lydia E Plunk

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Part 4 ~ Santa Barbara GWA Tour ` Casa del Herrero "House of the Blacksmith" in Montecito

"Use well thy time
Fast fly my hours
Good work lives on
The night brings rest."

 ~George Fox Steedman, motto inscribed on sides of  Sundial 

No detail escaped attention. Not even the carving on the sundial pedestal. 

On Armistice Day, 1918, his fortune established, industrialist George Fox Steedman retired. He discovered Santa Barbara while he and his wife visited his brother being treated there by a foremost diabetes specialist, Dr David Sansum. 

The climate. The geography. The potential for a country estate.   An obsession was born. His dream was not to create an extravagant stage set to excess, such as the perpetually under-construction Hearst Castle up the coast, was considered by some to be.

Solandra Maxima (cup of gold vine) breaks the expanse of white stucco wall between the loggia and sleeping porch 
A Harvard- educated engineer, Steedman's vision was to shape a timeless country home. He was throughout, along with his wife, an active participant in the creation of a 7,000 square foot family home.

Steedman bought 8 acres in Montecito, adding 3 more acres later. The couple hired the architect most associated with Spanish Colonial Revival, George Washington Smith and landscape architect  Ralph Stevens, adding to his team of collaborators as what was to be a vacation home turned into a full-time residence.   

There were shopping sprees to Spain accompanied by antiquarians Arthur and Mildred Stapley Byne. Old World. New World. What all the purchases and details have in common is quality craftsmanship articulated in even the smallest details. 

Landscape. Architecture. Decorative Elements.What sets this home apart is how none is subservient to the others. 

This early history of the house are the days fictionalized in the lives of where the last season of Downton Abbey left off. An ocean and far side of the American Continent away,  if Julian Fellows wanted the old-money Crowleys to venture to our California central coast- I can envision Casa del Herrero cast as a destination.

State Street in Santa Barbara, June 29, 1925 
June 29, 1925.  Up the road in Santa Barbara, as the earth was shaking the downtown to the ground, industrialist  George Fox Steedman and his wife, Carrie, were moving into their  home.  When Santa Barbara rose again- it was reshaped with consistent architectural identity which is now iconic to the region. 

 The Spanish Colonial Revival style of Casa del Herrero- "The House of the Blacksmith " 

As God is in the details,   

Oh, to be able to send you the scent of jasmine spilling over a wall.

long view from sleeping porch.
 Or the scent of freshly mown  grass as a rare storm muscles into our drought-stricken state.

What I can show you is how decorative accents in cobalt blue lights up the landscape. 

Show you how attractive trumpet vine is as an outdoor roof-covering. Imagine your heart fluttering as hummingbirds hover in their collection of nectar.

Meet George Steedman. A man so meticulous he hired an architect to design his workshop- Floyd Brewster.

A dog friendly- workshop.

With lots of windows to let in the views of the surrounding gardens..

Not just for his endless hobbies, but with a bright space for his wife to collect floral supplies and display her ribbons.

 His tools were abundant. To keep so many and know where they are...

The space planning. The careful labeling. Good work lives on in the house that George built.  

A National Historic Landmark, a visit belongs on anyone's list who is interested in California's cultural, architectural or landscape history, Casa del Herero is a must visit. Entrance is by reservation only- which you can find out about here

While you are waiting , satisfy your cravings for the beauty of the place by checking out Nikkipolani's blog.  The sleeping porch... I've been figuring out how many stories I need to sell to add one here):- 

Until we meet again- Thank YOU for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful.

*State Street view post earthquake scanned from Bulletin of Seismological Society of America, v.15. December 1925

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Part 3 ~ GWA Santa Barbara Tour ~ Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens.

"Time Keeps on  slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future." 
~Steve Miller, lyrics from  "Fly like an Eagle"  

In 2012, the 1 million-plus readers of Birds and Blooms voted the 1976 rock anthem by Steve Miller the best song about birds. Ever.  

Okay. So the bird my lens followed was a seagull instead of an eagle. It was still on a mission. The same as we. To get fed before moving on. Overhead, the clouds pregnant with life-giving rain were about ready to sweetly drench the earth~ but if we didn't hurry, also soak the gourmet sandwiches and salads. 

At Billy Goodnick's suggestion, we gathered at the stone wall at the top of the Erythrina mound, overlooking the pond.   

We had 2 more stops: soon there would be raindrops dancing on our heads.  Nan Sterman and helpers quickly laid out the casual gourmet spread  from nearby Panino

It was rather humbling to realize that two guests flew from the farthest side of this continent to join us. Former American Horticulture Society President Arabella Dane and her husband, Nat- what a treat to our tour garnered that level of interest.   

Billy poured the history of this place into our minds. 

Filling a full city block, it once served as the grand estate of Albert Herter's mother. Surrounded by gardens, her mansion was a repository of artwork of his, including lamps designed for Tiffany, artwork by his wife Adele McGinnis, and furniture designed by Herter Brothers, a major New York design firm, also a family enterprise.  

After the  matriarch died, Albert Herter evolved into a hotelier, remodeling the home, adding bungalows and reopening the property as the El Mirasol Hotel. Until it was damaged by  twin fires in the mid- 1960's, the hotel was a long-favored spot to vacation at by those who expected the finest accommodations. 

It's heyday as a hotel past,  there were attempts to revolutionize the property's character with high-rise development. However, the local citizens prevailed in creating property's highest and best use not in commercial usage- but as a place of where plants are largely the guardians of public  peace and serenity . 

During her lifetime, Alice Keck Park, daughter of oilman and philanthropist W.M Keck, never took credit for providing the funds to purchase the property for public preservation. Not until after her death was the benefactor's name disclosed.  

How Alice's name was incorporated in honorarium took some consideration. Alice Keck Park Park - how words sound together is important.

Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens. Time slipped away from the days where on this spot stood a fine family home. Slipped past the days as a hotel. Slipped to where the influence of this place is even greater now, when trees  surpass architecture in prominence. 

Such is life. Dreams change. What you didn't even imagine possible when you began your journey through time may not be your greatest accomplishment. 

Until we meet again, Thank YOU for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful.