Monday, October 31, 2011

Confetti Mashed Potatoes

Lately, I’ve had several requests for my Confetti Mashed Potatoes recipe.  So… here it is.  I hope it lives up to everyone’s expectations!  I created this very simple recipe from several more complicated dishes.  It’s basically mashed potatoes with some healthy bits, and you can make as much or as little as you want.

You need equal amounts of potatoes and sweet potatoes and a little less than half their amount in carrots.  Usually I start with about 3 lbs each of potatoes and sweet potatoes and 1¼ lbs carrots for 6-8 large servings.  Peel the sweet potatoes and carrots but not the potatoes.  I like red-skinned potatoes for extra color.  But Walter’s sister brought us these beautiful “German Butterball” potatoes from her and her husband’s garden up in northern Minnesota.  They have golden yellow flesh and hardly any skin.  And they look really lovely in the mix.

Cut all the root vegetables into somewhat equal pieces.  They can be big chunks.  I only use the fat ends of the carrots and save the skinny ends for another meal.

Put all the vegetables in a large stockpot, salt and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer until the vegetables are just tender.


I usually return the vegetables to the stockpot to mash in batches.  I prefer chunky potatoes, so I mash by hand.  If you like whipped potatoes, then use an electric mixer after you have mashed by hand.

Add 1 tablespoon of butter per pound of vegetables.  Salt and pepper to taste.  I add cream-style horseradish to taste as well.  But you could use fresh horseradish, fresh ginger, roasted garlic, fresh chives, apple or orange pulp, crumbled bacon or even dried cranberries to taste… whatever you like to flavor your potatoes.

You can also use buttermilk in place of the butter.  This size recipe – 7¼ - 8 lbs of vegetables – would need about ¾ cup of buttermilk.  I suppose the buttermilk is less fatty than butter.  The only downside: the buttermilk often separates later, so refrigerated leftovers look watery.  No problem.  Just stir everything together and reheat.

That’s it.  Yummy comfort food.  Last night I served Confetti Mashed Potatoes with leftover salmon fillet and steamed broccoli.  Very pretty and pretty healthy.

This is still a starchy dish, but potatoes, especially with their skins, are high in potassium, vitamin C and fiber.  Both sweet potatoes and carrots are high in vitamin A, beta-carotene and fiber.  Plus sweet potatoes have a good amount of vitamins B5 and B6, and cooked carrots have potassium and vitamin K.  So you don’t have to feel as guilty when you have a heaping serving!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Google Garden Calendar

Some gardeners are excellent journal keepers.  I am not.  And I know my garden suffers because of it.  I’ve tried different techniques over the years.

In 1999, and probably a couple years since, I just made notes on a free calendar I devoted to the yard.  March 1999 reads as follows:

March 3: Hail!;  March 5: Planted pansies;  March 5 and 6: Cleaned daylily bed and composted.  On March 6, it also rained “(two heavy storms) and temperatures really dropped”.

March 7: In the 20s at night and 30s in day;  March 9 and 10: Couple inches of snow;  March 11 and 12: Windy and chilly.

March 13 and 14: Couple inches of snow and heavy rain!;  March 15: Mid-40s, lots of melt;  March 17: Pruned jasmine;  March 17 and 18: Very warm, in the 70s.  On March 18, I also “prepped entrance to rose garden, ordered New Dawn, Carefree Wonder and Johann Strauss” roses.  March 19: Moved magenta rose.  Met with landscape designer at 5:30.  I remember the designer had a lot to say about how much we had already done… incorrectly in his opinion.  He was then very skittish when Walter arrived home, which made me uneasy.  We didn’t take his advice.

March 21: First day of spring;  March 23: Laid gravel entrance path;  March 24: First daffodil blooms, lots of peonies coming up;  March 26: Cool in the 50s.  Planted 2 Carefree Wonders and Johann Strauss.  I double checked.  The New Dawn was delayed and we didn’t plant it until early April.

March 29-31: Very warm, 60s-70s.  Daffodils in full bloom.  Astilbes and bleeding hearts coming up.

It’s a rather charming narrative, especially since the garden was only two years old.  And it certainly confirms the temperamental nature of Virginia weather.  But it’s not especially helpful… unless I reread it annually.

For many, many years after, I kept a large three-ring binder with tags from every plant that ended up in the garden.  Dicentra eximia, Carex elata ‘Aurea’, Rosa ‘De Meaux’, Tricyrtis sinonome, Scabiosa ochroleuca.  It’s rather disheartening how many plants haven’t survived the years!  Itea ‘Little Henry’, Cyclamen persicum, Hosta x fortunei ‘Albo-picta’, Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Spotti’, Angelica gigas and Claytonia virginica.  The tags are useful because they often provide a picture and written description of the plant, plus light, soil and water requirements, and sometimes grower, seller and price.  But then I didn’t usually keep records of the actual care provided each plant, or the yard in general, to correspond with the plant tag collection.  It was far from a perfect system.
So in February, I added the garden to my Google calendars.  I had already been using Google calendar for personal appointments, important events at work and family and friend birthdays, so it was an easy addition.  The garden calendar is in a cheerful, bright lime green, and it’s a great way to jot down short notes on the garden’s progress:

February 2: Planted lettuce seeds in Wheelbarrow Man;
March 20: Moved nandina, daylilies and red hot poker;
April 3: Planted Sunshine Blue blueberries;
April 4: Planted Bountiful Blue blueberries;
May 29: Cut back daffodils;
June 12: Found dead squirrel near maple;
June 29: Cut back columbines and feverfew;
July 18: Someone drove into bushel planter near driveway;
August 19: Noticed significant dieback on Lo and Behold;
September 4 and 5: Weeded pink garden and cut pink garden lawn.
I also track rainfall and unusual weather.  I don’t worry about actual appointment times… like when I worked from 8 am until noon moving a small trellis.  Anything in the garden is listed as an “all-day” event, so it shows at the top of the day’s listings.  What’s really wonderful is that Google allows me to search my calendar for related events.  Say, I want to review what and when I fertilized.  And of course, I could potentially share my calendar with other people.

I want to be better about adding everything I do to the calendar, especially weeding and pruning.  It helps to know, year to year.  And I may want to track bloom times, lawn mowing and animal sightings, which I haven’t really been doing regularly.  But the goal is to keep it as short and simple, as well as informative, as possible.

I still keep every tag and seed packet from what I purchased this year for more in-depth plant information.  I’m just storing them in a big envelope and will create a new envelope for 2012.

To be honest, the garden calendar as worked so well, I think I will start one for the house.  We definitely used to be more diligent about recording home maintenance and, dare I say (?!), home disasters.  The information can get overwhelming:

When did we service the furnace last?;
When did we update the fire extinguishers?;
What about vacuuming around the refrigerator?; or cleaning out the dryer vent?
When did we flip the mattresses?

And the front exterior light bulbs are blown again, when were they last replaced?

It would be extremely beneficial to have a central location for all this information.  And we could include more major repairs like, replaced siding on two front dormers and unclogged air conditioner hose, and keep abreast of problems in the making: noticed crack in small hallway ceiling after earthquake and plaster disintegration in southwest corner of basement.

A little depressing I know.  But knowledge is power, right?  Especially when you’re trying to maintain an older house and hundreds of plants!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chrysanthemums in Bloom

My chrysanthemum from Milmont Greenhouses and Garden Center is in full bloom now.  From a distance it literally radiates color, something between ripe cantaloupe and pure pumpkin.  But up close you can see that it is actually many colors: deep sunshine yellow tinged with corally-pink-rose and clusters of a burnt almost-copper.

Chrysanthemums are from the aster family and are native to Asia and northeastern Europe.  They were originally cultivated in China and have been a part of Chinese horticulture, art and legend for thousands of years.  But it was in Japan where chrysanthemums became hugely popular and came to represent the Imperial family and Japan itself.

Chrysanthemums’ meanings are as varied as their blooms.  We use them to celebrate November birthdays, as homecoming corsages and for decoration at harvest festivals.  They are signs of remembrance at funerals and gravesites.  Chrysanthemums can symbolize abundance, wealth and optimism as well as sorrow and sympathy.  In Japan, they are an integral part of the Festival of Happiness, and I think they are incredibly happy plants.  I wore this kimono when I was a very little girl.  Although the chrysanthemums, fans and paper cranes are a rather faded now, it’s hard not to smile at this sweetly-designed fabric.

Chrysanthemum blooms have an incredibly graphic quality and are beautifully decorative in home furnishings.  This wallpaper is Coco in Yellow from Thibaut’s Chelsea Collection:

Cut Paper, in Blue on White, is from their Tea House Collection.  Both wallpapers have coordinating fabrics in a cotton viscose blend and 100% cotton respectively.

One of the latest and most striking chrysanthemum patterns is Manuel Canovas’ Penelope fabric, which is available in grey/turquoise, shown here upholstered to walls:


And rose/yellow:

It’s a little hard to see in the grey/turquoise version, but these stunning blossoms bloom atop a kind of Chinese Chippendale trellis pattern.

Chrysanthemums are lovely adornment for ceramics.  This pair of Japanese vases, from the late 19th or very early 20th century, is stunning.  They are almost 2’ tall!  They are available at Paul Marra Design in Los Angeles.

This is a close-up from another lovely vase, from about the same time period, usually called the Meiji Period.

The Meiji Period lasted from 1868 until 1912 and marks significant changes in Japanese society and political and economic structure.  During this time, the capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo.  The very strict segregation between classes relaxed as greater democratic and religious freedoms were introduced and Japan strove to become a modern industrial and military force.  This vase is available at Florian Papp, Inc. in New York City.

You can still sometimes find vintage Marbro Lamp Company lamps with hand-painted chrysanthemums.  Here is a detail of a pretty blue one from Assemblage Ltd in Chicago.

Marbro Lamp Company, based in Los Angeles, was active from the 1950s until 1990.  They created high-quality lamps from unique objects... Japanese ceramics, Italian marble, Indian brass… and assembled them by hand, usually adding solid brass mechanics, beautiful finials and interesting lacquered or gilt bases.

And finally, I think the most gorgeous chrysanthemum item I have seen lately is this Japanese writing box or suzuribako from Erik Thomsen Asian Art.  It is essentially a portable writing kit, like a desk set, and is exquisite on the outside…

And the inside…

Even the removable ink well is inspired by a chrysanthemum!

Erik Thomsen is based in New York City and is exhibiting at the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show this week at the Park Avenue Armory.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Glen Burnie Gardens

I rely a lot on perennial foliage for texture and pots, arbors and fences for height and structure in my garden.  So this time of year can be funny.  Everything gets a little fuzzy around the edges as it dies back.  The greens are muddier but won’t change to red, yellow or orange for several weeks.  There are a few blossoms still, but most have become seed heads and cones.  And even the shrubs have lost their perkiness.  Shapes are less defined, and plants kind of muddle together.

But now is an excellent time to consider texture in the garden, and Glen Burnie Historic House and Gardens in Winchester, Virginia, is a great place to find inspiration.

A lot of gardening books talk about the “bones” of the garden, meaning the hardscape and the buildings and plants that provide form and direction. Glen Burnie has great “bones”.  But today, I’m really thinking about texture and contrast in the garden… soft foliage next to pavement, bright color among dark ones, the movement of water in a static landscape… even light can create texture.

Glen Burnie is such a fine example for regular folks like us because 1) it is very beautiful and 2) it’s not overly grand.  The property was surveyed and settled by James Wood, an English immigrant, and his wife Mary, in the late 1730s, when the northern Shenandoah Valley was still the western frontier for most Europeans.  James was instrumental in the establishment of Winchester and a friend and colleague of the much younger George Washington.

The placement of the original Glen Burnie house is unknown.  Mary outlived James by decades, and their youngest son Robert only inherited the property in its entirety after her death.  He built the central portion of the existing house in the 1790s, and there is evidence of ornamental gardens as early as 1820.  In 1832, Catherine Wood, Robert’s daughter, married Thomas Glass, the grandson of Scots-Irish immigrants Samuel and Mary Glass, thereby linking two of the most prominent families in northwestern Virginia (and yes, creating the peculiar Wood Glass name).  Wood and Glass descendents have been active community leaders throughout Virginia’s history, but Glen Burnie basically remained a family farm, even as the family shrank.  In fact, by the time Julian Wood Glass, Jr. acquired it in 1955, the house had been vacant for decades.  Julian’s father had left Virginia in the early 20th century for Oklahoma.  His success in land and oil speculation enabled Julian, Jr. to transform the house, gather important family antiques and related art and create the Glen Burnie gardens.

The gardens are a rather modest six acres.  They are not replicas or even reinterpretations of 19th century gardens but are very livable, enjoyable modern spaces that compliment the historic house and showcase Julian’s collection of sculpture.  R. Lee Taylor assisted in the actual design and maintenance of the gardens.

Glen Burnie demonstrates really innovative uses of texture through plants, paths, sculpture, walls (including gates), structures, furniture and water.

Boxwoods are planted throughout the garden.  Some are allowed to become billowy clouds, some are sheared into tall hedges and some are clipped into pet-able parterres.  In all three cases, it is about creating visual and tactile interest.  Roses and dahlias are the two main blooming plants grown in the garden.  Obviously their colors provide a lot of contrast, but so does the complex layering of their petals.  They really stand out in the sea of green.  And finally, ornamental grasses provide softness and movement as well as different tones of green.

The Glen Burnie gardens were created for enjoyment, so there are paths everywhere!  Most are constructed out of brick from demolished Winchester buildings.  But there are also paths and steps out of rough-cut stone and concrete and bridges and walkways in wood.
These materials are very practical and we’re used to seeing them in gardens.  But the way they transition… one to another… makes everything more exciting.  You’re walking along and you think, “Oh, there’s a change here, I wonder what will happen next?”  Consider this pretty allĂ©e, which is essentially a giant path: it starts with a small stage of bluestone, then has a long stretch of lawn and as it reaches the house, stops at the brick path near the sun dial.

Julian compiled a wonderful collection of sculptures and really enjoyed viewing them in the garden.  Some are displayed in prominent, sun-filled locations.
Some are hidden away in grottoes and alcoves.
Some seem to be secondary to the surrounding gardens.
And some are placed for maximum appreciation of the art.
Even the planters are sculptural.
Obviously, these statutes are full of intrigue because of their shapes – most are in human or animal forms – craftsmanship and the little stories they bring to the garden.

Walls are another big part of Glen Burnie.  Some include gates like this red-painted Moon Gate in the Chinese Garden.
Or this iron gate that provides a glimpse of the family cemetery and another stone wall beyond.
Boxwoods, ornamental trees and pleached shrubs form tunnels and wall-like hedges throughout the garden.  Julian and Lee often “borrowed” walls from structures to create dramatic backdrops for sculptures or to transition from one garden to the next.  These walls provide contrast, color, height and definition.  Perhaps their most important asset is how they direct sunlight and shadows.

Glen Burnie includes several “folly” buildings, including a garage, pagoda, pink pavilion and colonnaded squirrel feeders.  They are great reminders that we always need protected spaces in the garden to rest, store things and entertain and that decoration and humor are vital additions to any part of our lives!  Plus these little houses become focal points in the garden.

Perhaps some of the furniture at Glen Burnie is more identifiable with the 1950s and 60s than the 1790s.  But I love the mixture of materials and styles.  Look at this bright white, vintage iron stool surrounded by mismatched antique bricks.

James Wood chose the Glen Burnie site because of its natural spring, and water continues to be a major element in the gardens.  Water features include this formal but intimate fountain, a picturesque pond and rills in the Chinese Garden.  Water provides an abundance of texture through its ability to reflect and illuminate.  Its movement creates sound and comfort.  And it attracts wildlife, which perpetuates more movement and sound.

These final pictures really demonstrate Julian and Lee’s talent for constantly layering plants, paths, sculpture, walls, structures, furniture and water and their skill in composing charming tableaux.  Here in the Water Garden:
in the Pink Pavilion’s Sunken Courtyard:
and from the Vegetable Garden, looking through the Courtyard to a small garden and the farmland beyond:
there are lots of inspired ideas we can use in our own gardens.

Glen Burnie Historic House and Gardens are usually open April through October, so there is still time to visit this year.  The gardens will definitely reopen in spring 2012, but the historic house will be undergoing restoration for the next several years.  Both are part of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, which is open year round.