Saturday, October 8, 2016

M.F.K Fisher: Home Ground ~ Loving the California Landscape ~ Paula Panich at the LA Arboretum

A quilt for a tablecloth makes for a country formal picnic 
“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.
M.F.K. Fisher
'Mary Frances'

The landscape where the lecture took place- The LA County Arboretum and Garden - from their Facebook Page.

Landscape. A two syllable word which opens endless linkage to the context of our lives. 
Brea Canyon painting, by John Anderson . Photograph by Gene Sasse captures my neighborhood.
We are products of the landscapes which envelop our lives. Doyenne of modern American writing and founder of the Napa Valley Wine Library, Mary Frances loved California, her descriptives of one place, frequently redolent with memories of other times, other locations. Best known as the originator of the genre of passionate renderings of home craft we enjoy now. Her “cookbooks”  reach beyond the making of food, but commemorate values learned communing with land, community and each other.   

Dijon France Mustard Field, from Pinterest, Steven Block
Born in Quaker Whittier, she lived most of her life in cities up and across California, including Laguna Beach, Hemet, Napa and Sonoma.  She lived in Europe. First in France, during an ill-fated first marriage. 

Dillwyn Parrish with Mary Frances in Hemet Image by Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, California

Then Switzerland, with her second and most passionate companion, artist Dillwyn Parrish. They started as Laguna Beach neighbors , whose respective marriages failed. He was very encouraging with Mary Frances’s writing. And complicating her life as only one deeply loved can. 

In 1938, the couple married, and she wrote of the Swiss mountainside where they inhabited as being where large trees leaned, pushed by wind.  The sudden onset of a circulatory disease required her husband’s leg be amputated. In 1939 there was no escaping war was coming to Europe. The couple stocked up on a pain medication not available in the US, fleeing back to the US. They set up home keeping in a modest cabin on 90 acres in the hamlet which Hemet was at the time. They proceeded to fit it to their needs, which meant including a studio for her husband to paint in. Forebodingly, his best known works from this time were dominated by images of the angels of death.  

Wyoming rainbowm image by Trevor Plunk
With Dillwyn devastatingly ill, his sister largely supported them on the land overlooking groves of apricots and acres of roses. Mary Francis painted with words grounded with grace, scenes such as watching a rainbow grow and die.  The property itself: a visitor once described as being full of “red rocks and rattlesnakes.”

In 1942, facing further amputations due to incurable Buerger’s disease and unable to procure the only pain medication which gave him relief, 47 year old Dillwyn walked a short distance from his home into the countryside. He chose a bullet to end his pain.

Paula Panich began reading M.F. K. Fisher 40 years ago. She was living in San Francisco, the epicenter of the food revolution which she good-humoredly describes as having grown into something of a “splinter religion” where food is the great metaphor for nourishment and shelter.

How does one read the same author for so long, and still eagerly return? Because Mary Francis’s unique writing style braids food, travel and memoir is accessibly authoritative. Great writers, as our own lives are expanded as experience become, we can return to the pages to mine ever deeper layers of intoxicating language. In the words of the poet Rilke,” The world is large, but in us, it is as deep as the sea.”

Author/ Teacher/ Speaker Paula Panich with  Mitchel Bishop, Arboretum Associate Curator of History and Photographer Ilana Panich-Linsman 
An east coast transplant, Paula found retreat from LA life by keeping a writing shack in Hemet. Here she followed her muse, so far as to imitate an archaeologist, mini-excavating on the late writer's land, turning up wine bottles, which now set on a shelf of Paula’s Los Angeles home, near the collection of immortal words brought into existence by the woman known as M.F.K. Fisher. 

Arboretum Librarian Susan Eubank told the capacity crowd, that she intends today to be the inaugural edition of lectures at the Los Angeles Arboretum and Garden.

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


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

September- Behind my Garden Gate. Mint, bees and Country Gardens Magazine

September. It began with a phone call asking "Do you have mint?"

Yes. Mint with bees and mint without.  

Stalks of mint flopping through seasonal asters in  a mass of perfect imperfection.

Mint weaving over the roses and through the steps, up into the vegetable lined path. 

 I took my gloves off to pull the sweet smelling stalks of mint out from beneath the  Brandywine tomato. Trained up, the vine has climbed a full-story high.

My uphill neighbor, Sandy, leaned over our shared fence. We chatted about roses, the exceptional holiday weather, good bugs and bad bugs. Promising to get together soon, I gathered a couple ripened veggies and armloads of mint enough to make mojitos for all the wanna-be Cubans in California. 

"Accidental" clippings with the hillside mirrored in my study window
On occasion, I splurge on bottles of  Broguiere's Farm Fresh Dairy  milk, as much for the smiles when the charming containers are passed along  to friends as vases. Like the one who will soon be enjoying rooted slips of mint and spearmint.  

Now to enjoy my garden. To observe.  The slender ruby hummingbird feeder hanging from the brugmansia (angel's trumpet) is a bird magnet. Hummingbirds and orioles. But like our "mighty" Southern California rivers, it too frequently runs dry. 

These come to me in my garden: a thought. Plumbers tape stops leak on threaded hose bibs, why not on threaded necks on nectar reservoirs? YES. Oh happy birds. 

Garlic chives. The whole of this wonderful wildflower can be used for cooking. Or left to reseed and come again next summer. 

Carrots. Like people, come in many colors.

Just in case our friends do not understand how obsessive my garden- passion is... Wouldn't it be fun to serve purple carrots in the garden near where the Rose of Sharon blooms? Match food to flower, like shoes to a dress.

In the dining room, dappled light shines on the cover of the newest edition of one of my favorite magazines, Country Gardens.  If circumstance should ever remove me from this beloved plot of land, I should still love this magazine, for as much as any other, it plays the strings of my heart in a happy melody.

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

To Be Happy at Home ~ Worthy Ambition

"To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour ends." 

~Samuel Johnson 
The Rambler, November 10, 1750 

Fresh butter's natural yellow
Real butter is a miracle of homekeeping.  3 minutes in the Breville Food Processor turns cream to culinary gold. The buttermilk squeezed out- good enough to serve company- and have them toast you for the discovery.  

Whipping up the latest batch, I thought of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). An Englishman, he was born in a time when the middle class was rising on both sides of the Atlantic. Suffering from ill-health the length of his life, he was acutely aware of the foolishness of wasting time.  His essays on the moral imperative to join profit and delight are beacons worth searching out.

Wisdom wears well. Johnson's quote at the top are still relevant and worthy  over 200 years after posted in a two-penny rag. 

Fast forward to today. It is flummoxing to ponder  why people aren't profoundly chastened by what they post on social media. All the rants and insults... thanks to technology, could outlive this generation. This generation may be remembered for contemptuous ill-manners, unrighteous indignation and no patience for either spelling or grammar. Can we share a group shudder?  

Which is why I write. In hopes to point even a few souls (including my own) to the gratitude for one more day. 

Fried Okra, Lydia-Style

 Okra was not in my Puerto Rican mother's cooking repertoire. Think she made it once, for I have vague memories of something akin to algae-colored slugs pretending to be a vegetable. 

Thank God this California girl married into a family with roots deep in states with long summers.  Oklahoma, Arkansas and Arizona.

They introduced me to one of the gifts of summer, fried Okra. The family- version was a bit gritty with cornmeal, so I changed it up a bit. In my version, pieces of the vegetable are tossed in a pancake-like batter before rolling in cornmeal. 

When the devil is in me, the battered bits to into a batch of hot bacon fat with chopped onion and chunks of ham. Otherwise, olive or other oil does suffice. At the very end,  freshly grated Parmesan cheese melts atop the hot mountain of Southern Hospitality. 

Poached eggs, Apple wood Smoked Bacon and a homemade turnover topped with whipped cream. 
I confess. I am guilty of binge watching the  The Great British Baking Show and swallowing whole Laura Bolton's delicious blog Fork Knife Swoon,

It struck this summer, this Epiphany. In this Age of Air Conditioning, it's okay to unleash worship from taste buds at the heart of the home, the kitchen range. The Sabbath brunch is nearly a service of celebration. The raspberry- lemon filled turnover, topped with freshly whipped cream was worth every calorie. Which certainly were gloriously ad infinitum.

Where we live is not just a house. It is a deeply personal retreat. We cocoon there, cuddling amongst reminders of what makes us happy. A bed so high, we sleep easily from oxygen deprivation; clinging to each other for fear if we fall off the edge, we'll break a hip. If we want to fight, we don't need to use fists- for there are lots of pillows.

As the bedroom is the first and last memory of the day, I think it the most important. I may dream of raising the ceiling, adding a balcony and improving the bathroom to more modern en-suite proportions. Still, there are elements I would keep if we were suddenly billionaires. No amount of money could ever change my heart. I was born a lover of country and romance. 

That means that we are slow to throw things out. It is better to rethink the purpose than to trash an object with cherished elements.

This nightstand was my passed- along childhood desk. My darling re-imagined it as his nightstand. On my side of the bed, is a similar desk from his childhood. Simply refinished, it serves double duty. First as my vanity- and bridge for the puppies to get in and out of bed on their own. 

Creativity solves waste. 
Inconveniences are opportunities disguised as problems. The downstairs bathroom light bar has been giving us fits. A shade broke. The fixture professionally rewired- but the bulbs kept pulling apart faster than my hair was falling out. Our best guess is that the modern light bulbs were ever so slightly different- causing the bulbs to overheat and sockets to pull apart.

Finding shades that matched both budget and taste wasn't happening when the great ah ha struck again. There were shades I bought on close-out for an outdoor project which never made it to the top of the list. Doggone if they weren't a perfect solution.  

Taking kitchen scraps out to the compost heap, my heart leaped. For in the compost heap, a salvia emerged. Just like in life. Expect, embrace surprise. Love the life you decided to live. 

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


Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Garden Autobiography of What Really Matters ~ Dedicated to Allison Grace

There is a power to place when you allow where you live to embrace you.

'Amistad' Salvia, part of the Sunset Garden Collection, established in less than a season 
It is not so telling from whence forebears arrived. The framed certificates of recognition and diploma in my study are not nearly so important as that the plot of land my husband fell in love with because the surrounding chaparral  "smells like vacation."  The house was nearly incidental, except that it came with a 3 car garage. 

This place we live, sculpted the meaning of my existence. 

This geranium, one of several purchased from Greenwood  Daylily Gardens is a prolific horticultural 'brood mare'
Mine is not a designer's garden. It is a family garden which evolved, only partly by plan. It is an authentic reflection of who we were, and are ever becoming.  

Along the way, we learned mortal plans are held back by conscious thoughts.  What brought me to cherish this place was not the execution of plans. Deep connection was wrought from the vision and effort required to merge our personal visions of Eden, and make them real. 

There is a compelling collected energy born of hearts joining  hands with possibility.  Man is not inherently the enemy of the natural world. Fight or accept this- people are as much a part of nature as a smile is on a child's face.

A happy mistake- The orange tecoma- I didn't know it would grow to the size of the crepe myrtle- but our neighbors above prefer this view to our trash cans. 
The side yard which holds the line of  trash barrels is a happy place. It isn't just the color WOW of pink and orange- within the blossoms is a choir of birds cheerfully filling the morning airwaves until the sun leads them to siesta. The ambiance bids me to eagerly take out the trash. Really. 

My garden is not filled with things, so much as it overflows with loving memories. 

When my mother could no longer maintain her ode to the childhood jungle she crafted, her soul needed something of the garden to have with her in assisted living.  She never had a garden arch- so we re purposed this Charleston-style gateway into her headboard.  This made her happy.  

Early mornings,  as the inky-sky lightens behind the silhouette of dove, I feel her presence. Death did not separate her gardening heart from those she inspired. It lives on in the clippings, rhizomes and plants she passed on. 

I don't know that I have ever known a day here without bees.  This week they decided that  the signature abundant variety of  hospitality means they are welcome to raid this hummingbird feeder. 

Milkweed = Monarchs
Butterflies are the inner-child of the garden. Their calling, to pollinate the garden, is subliminal, subservient to joyful gymnastics. They dance. Flirt, Rest. Cocoon. Then reemerge to inspire us to carry on with our duties. With lightness, beauty and grace.

This post is dedicated to Allison Grace. My niece's life here was too brief. But while she was here, she taught everyone who knew her about making love THE priority.  

Linking to May Dreams Gardens GBBD (Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

Until we meet again, 


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

In Praise of Lawns, Bumper Crops and Notes from a Happy Summer

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time."
~ John Lubbock

A fave portrait of Reno
I believe politics should end at the lawn's edge. There are too many "thou shalt not" and not enough stirs of creativity. A lawn is not a necessity. It is a luxury. One we are willing to pay dearly for because it supports mental well-being in the way gravel never will. 

A real lawn lowers the ambient temperature. Something your toes know right away as they guide your path on a hot summer day to green over pavement. The bunnies hop on-up from the parched canyon to eat their greens (aka our lawn). The hummingbirds hover inches above the grass to grab protein snacks. 

This  is not to say gravel doesn't have its place: but I'm sure glad when our sons were learning to golf, the through-motion divots were carved through grass, not gravel. 

Newly planted Red Carpet Roses
Anthony Tesselaar Plants kindly sent some carpet roses to field test. What's hotter than a hell-strip? An elevated hell-strip, like in the hanging clay pots hung from the same post as our freshly-repainted mailbox. Not even succulents like summers in this location. Mother nature cranked up the temp into the devil- wants- his- climate- back range- and these freshly planted slips just said "bring it on."

While some people are aghast at women wearing fur coats, I'm more likely to be angered at the cost of furry- freeloaders who disagree that their "fair share" of crops should be capped at around 30%.  

With topography more similar to where mountain goats climb than an Iowa field, the space appropriate for a food-garden is constrained. With the goal to load baskets with more ripened crops for our kitchen, the math requires the production per plant to climb like a jet fighter off a flight deck. Enter the fine folks at Greenview Lawn and Garden Products, purveyors of Natural Start Tomato, Vegetable and Herb Plant food.  As a member of GWA- The Association for Garden Communicators- the Pennsylvania company querried for interest to sample. 

Yahoo! Squash. Cucumber. An assortment of tomatoes and peppers. Enough abundance to  not just share with the local critters, my gasoline bill is significantly reduced because fresh produce is a quick walk out the back door. 

In our neck of the chaparral, Armstrong Garden Centers carries Greenview products. While the fertilizer can also be ordered off the Internet- I do enjoy the temptation and inspiration which comes from visiting a real nursery, don't you? 

At the end of the day, Tahoe and Reno somehow fit into the blanket- basket. Inspire us to put our feet up. Count our blessings. 

Does this cabinet look familiar? Back in the 1980's, when a television's girth matched a refrigerator's, there was a hole where there are now two extra drawers. Honey did a GREAT job remodeling the furniture to current needs. Matching the wood color of the new drawers to originals- I am in awe of my husband's endless talents. Now the television screen floats above the cabinet, making it less likely for one of us to block the view of an important play.

One morning, guess who appeared floating on the screen above the cabinet? Kenny. Our youngest son was in a fishing tournament covered by Angler Chronicals. He's shaken up the market with Bass Knuckles Clothing.  Every item that can be made in the USA, is. The story of the company's birth and success is a story for another day. 

Tahoe and Reno say good night. 

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


Friday, July 8, 2016

A Time to Grieve ~Thoughts in the Aftermath of Dallas Sniper Attack

There are two races of men in this world- the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.' 

~Victor Frankel

The 5 stages of grief are suffered through  in no particular order. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Overnight, I've skipped through most steps, clung to others. Acceptance is the booger of the group. I don't know how to accept  this nation's self-segregating on webs of weaponized words. 

Cream cheese pie topped with glazed strawberries.
It was a fortuitous night to have on hand all the ingredients for the creamiest cheese pie in the world. Lots of cinnamon in the Graham cracker crust. The basic stove-top vanilla pudding filling- the milk  is replaced with 2/3 half and half, 1/3 cream and a cube of softened cream cheese. But that such divinity would be enough. Strawberries under a lemony glaze.... It won't cure what is wrong- but lovingly prepared food filled with happy memory associations is a balm on wounds. 

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze. Painted in a different era of climate change 
I foresee much suffering before our nation- ship turns around.  I couldn't go to sleep last night until I heard sanity.... 

"United we Stand. Divided we Fall." President Lincoln would not be happy with politics today.
Dallas Mayor Rawlings spoke of the heartbreak in losing the peace officers. “To say that our police officers put their lives on the line every day is no hyperbole, it is a reality.... We as a city, we as a country, must come together, lock arms and heal the wounds that we all feel from time to time. Words matter. Leadership matters.”

“They would step in harm’s way for each other,” Rawlings told CNN, speaking of the police officers. “The one man who was shot in the leg, he was so distressed, not for his wound but because he saw some of his squad go down around him.” If that doesn't break your heart- it was already gone from your body.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's statement.  “In times like these we must remember ― and emphasize ― the importance of uniting as Americans. ”

The Tower of Babel by Peter Bruegel, the Elder
God split up the Babylonians. Took away the common language which bound them as one people. It seems that work is being done now without consulting His direction.

It is not healthy to be in a perpetual state of hurt of anger. Not for people. Not for nations. May these sad days speedily turn to compost that some good crops may come from withering sadness.

Thank you for your time. Take some time this weekend to do something to make the world more beautiful. 


Thursday, June 16, 2016

After Orlando ~ Savor Life ~ with Village Nurseries and in the Kitchen

"LIFE is a mosaic of pleasure and pain- grief an interval between two moments of joy. Peace is the interlude between two wars. You have no rose without a thorn; the diligent picker will avoid the pricks and gather the flower. There is no bee without the sting: cleverness consists in gathering the honey nevertheless." 
~ Sri Sathya Sai Baba

 Caryopteris Blue Balloon® is a bee magnet

After Orlando.  Two words overflowing with the 5 stages of grief.  Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.  Emotions wildly swinging for attention. A clash of who is where in the healing process. A thunderous clash between those with an agenda to use events to promote colliding agendas.
The choice is to heal of not.
Choose to savor life. 
Default to gracious outreach.

If only intense tragedies could be sailed over, with the grace of fine horses leaping over over hurdles in a single direction laid across a course certain. Instead,we push through sloggy ground, hoping to arrive on the side where there is healing, the cracks in our broken hearts expanded because tragedy was used to grow greater love.
Bee visiting African Blue Basil in my garden
 Bees took me awhile to appreciate. When I was a wee child, my favorite Uncle Frank got stung while riding a motorcycle. He nearly died. But he didn't. Then there was when the preschool age  son scrambled into the kikitchen, tears streaming down his face, proclaiming. "All I did was pet it. And the bee bit me." He didn't die, either. (But he did stop petting bees).


Strolling through the Pollinator Passageway at the Village Nurseries Miramar Horticultural Encounter,  I was drawn to  experience a garden scene that was anything but a still life. Bees, birds and butterflies danced about, largely ignoring  the people from the land of giants (which must be how they see us). They were happy. For they were in a garden. Surrounded by beauty. All their needs provided. 

It was the blue flower( pictured at top) that caught my attention. It was a plant dedicated to bees wanting to go out clubbing. Nicholas Staddon, Pantsman extraordinaire, favors us with information "The plant the bee is dining on is on is Caryopteris Blue Balloon®. The common name is Blue  Mist Spiraea. She is part of the Monrovia exclusive collection with Village Nurseries.Without doubt, its a winning plant for every pollinator in the garden."                                                                                                          

Village Nurseries doesn't just sell plants. Their mantra might be "Seek. Create. Share." Which is what they did, not only on Encounter Days, but by posting illustrated plant lists online

While I am drawn to high color and untamed flowers, all beauty is worthy. While the highly architectural and monochromatic vignette might not be my cup of tea- I have no beef with those who prefer its serenity. 

All gardens are worthy of respect. May we learn to grow what we love, and be less hateful to those who choose to walk in gardens that are not authentic to us- if they  soothe the souls of the keepers of the garden, we should shout halleluja to live when diversity is celebrated. 

The kitchen hearth is a place where comfort is created.Where love-offerings are served from carefully crafted meals.  

Francis Ford Coppola's Directors Cabernet Sauvignon  awakened dormant taste buds. My notes read:  'Color- Inky garnet. Good legs. Flavors- spicy, dried cherries, pepper and clove... Satisfaction in a glass.' 

We're not big drinkers. The first time we enjoyed this varietelle, after dinner the bottle was corked and set aside. 6 weeks later we had the most luscious red wine vinegar.  I can't wait to pour in a capful the next time caramelized onions are served. Such is the power of good ingredients- it propels the imagination with anticipation of of creative use. 

Bless the people of Orlando. Even as you suffer, an act of war committed within the city boasting one of the happiest places on Earth, you show us your nobility. We owe it to you to learn the only purpose of tragedy is to face the fragility of life. The end can come swiftly. Without warning. Without fairness. Until then, we should savor every moment. 

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