Summer is served…warm & bright with long days of sunshine!

This quaint vignette, from a garden in France, can be found on a blog I follow by Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day. She placed this vintage kitchen chair in her yard and Voila’… cherry tomatoes quickly began to scramble over it!  Just the bit of whimsy I love to find in a cottage garden. For years I have placed many different types of chairs in both my gardens and landscape designs for clients…some for vines, some for roses and some in the potager for little cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and small French melons…and even some for just a bit of rest. I tend to use whatever I can find to add that tiny bit of unexpected delight to my garden…So, be creative, find that special something that makes you smile and put it in just the right spot in your garden.

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A vintage teak deck chair here is a  nice spot to rest, relax and enjoy the fragrance of old garden roses…

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Below, this old red “motel” chair adds some color contrast to the yellow Black-eyed Susans blooming throughout the garden..while offering a spot to set a few garden essentials, clippers and a weed/trim bucket.IMG_3047

Along with chairs…

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Through a garden gate…especially one that lures you in…offering a hint of what you might find once you enter…just another bit of whimsy to add to your summer garden. A gate is what you typically see when you approach a garden, and it instantly makes a statement. Framing a gate with an arch makes a gate even more distinctive…

 

 

Are you among those who can remember…the smell of fresh cut grass and the whirring sound of an old rotary mower…the churning, cranking sound of a wood slatted ice cream maker packed with ice and cream and fruit from the garden…the twinkling of fireflies in the yard at just about dark…the feel of a gentle breeze just before a gentle cooling rain shower…the taste of juicy watermelons, peaches and ripe blackberries just picked fresh from the vine and warmed by the sun…thankfully, if so, those wonderful old summer memories offer timeless values in a world often moving too fast.

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Ah, those summer memories…as a kid spending my summers on the family farm, work was hard, the days filled with lessons learned and exciting adventures! After a full week of working the fields of cotton and tobacco, alongside all the folks who were PAID, my hands were stained from picking tobacco leaves and my legs wobbly from dragging heavy burlap bags filled with just-picked cotton boles to the mule sleds. Cotton can get heavy, a pound is a pound and most of the bags held about 30-40 pounds depending on the picker.

I was also responsible for helping my grandmother with the vegetable garden and the chickens and the cows. All this daily activity made me greatly appreciate the once a month reward for, “not paid help”, of a trip to the beach. Nags Head, North Carolina was our favorite destination! Early Saturday morning we put hay bales in the back of  the old pickup…looking very much like the above picture…and laid quilts over the bales to keep the hay from making us itch. In the kitchen, while chicken was frying in an iron skillet, we laid out fresh sliced bread on the table, slathered mayonnaise on each slice, sprinkled pepper & salt and then added huge, thick slices of tomatoes I had picked from the garden. Along with the chicken, tomato sandwiches, bowls of potato salad and deviled eggs, jars of sweet tea and a chocolate cake were packed into large metal “coolers”  layered with hunks of ice from the chest freezer in the wash house. About 6:00AM, we all…my cousins and I… climbed in the back of the truck and the adults in the front cab, and grandpa headed down the long dirt drive that led to the highway traveling east for a day at the beach. All the way there we sang and told stories and laughed, read the Burma Shave signs and watched the farms and fields of corn and peanuts and all the other crops roll by. Our excitement grew as we passed all the road signs telling us we were almost there! We spotted the giant sand dunes and screamed…”Finally we’re here”, even though it only took 2 hours to get there. Grandpa parked the truck along the “beach” road, we all scrambled out of the back, unloaded the quilts, coolers and beach chairs and walked onto the warm sand. All day we would swim and ride the waves and run with the dogs and build sand castles, and bury each other under buckets of wet sand. Finally, happily exhausted our stomachs grumbling and anticipation high, we sat down on the quilts to enjoy our beach feast…Later, on the road headed home, we all fell asleep…our hearts filled with joy over such a simple day of fun at the beach.

Our picnic spot did not look quite so lovely as the picture below, but NOW as I remember the days, I imagine how a vintage spot might have been in anther place, far away…

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A taste of the good life…Years ago, Grandmother would say, “If you go find and pick a quart or two of blackberries and a basket of peaches, I’ll make my special cobbler…” Well, I took off running down the path to where I knew there were loads of berries and picked and ate until I had enough. The peaches were more of a challenge, I had to climb up the tree, ignoring the bees, and fill a basket with ripe sweet fruit. Back in the kitchen, I helped grandmother prepare the fruit mixture and watched as she made the special cobbler crust. Many years later [the 80’s] while living in California, I would make this special cobbler for friends and clients…They loved it and I even had one celebrity client make an offer of marriage if I would make the cobbler for him every week…’course he was joking!! But it’s that GOOD!

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Blackberry and Peach Cobbler…Ingredients for the filling: Mix together  2 quarts of blackberries, 2 quarts of peeled peaches, 2 cups of raw sugar, 1/2 cup of flour, some cinnamon and a pinch of salt…I do squeeze juice from a fresh lemon juice over the mixture, but it is optional. Let it sit while you make crust.

For the crust: Mix/cream together 2 sticks of soft butter, 1/2 cup raw sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar. In a seperate bowl, sift together 3 1/2 cups flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, pinch of salt…Add butter mixture to dry ingredients and then add 1 cup chopped pecans…mixture will look a bit like cookie dough. Put the fruit in a 4 quart baking dish and then drop spoons of dough on top of the mixture to make a cover. Bake at 350′ for about an hour…check several times to be sure the crust doesn’t get too brown. Filling should be bubbly around the edges. [I put foil under the rack to catch any possible spills.] Serve with FRESH whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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From Holly, after a cooling bath, and me…make some great summer memories!

Suddenly it’s mid-summer…

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I woke up very early this morning, made my coffee and poured a cup, put a pan of biscuits in the oven, went to the back door and pulled on my flowered boots and out I went with Holly to wander through the garden while throwing out feed for the chickens in their favorite spot under the trees. I turned on the hose and set the whirling sprinkler  on the roses and then decided I would pick a few blackberries to go with my cantaloupe. Amazingly I found a handful of ripe and juicy and deep purpley-blackberries that the birds and deer hadn’t absconded with…but, my real treat this morning will be the biscuits and homemade jam. I really don’t do this biscuit baking very often for obvious reasons but having just looked through my BOUCHON BAKERY book last night and, well, THOMAS KELLER’S biscuit recipe was right there, I just couldn’t resist…Justifying with the thought that Holly would get one, I would have two, save some for dinner and then the chicks would get the rest…or maybe I’ll freeze a few for later in the week! And after all, I did have some buttermilk in the fridge…dscn4435.jpg

Summer’s perfect moments and memories…Now that mid-summer is here, I find myself thinking back to all the summers I spent on my grandparents’ farm during July and August. What joy I had with grandmother when she would put a pound cake in the oven of the old wood stove and say …”We’ve got plenty of time while it’s baking, let’s go pick some berries and make a pie later….”SO, we would go berry picking after chores were done. Whether it was strawberries, blackberries or blueberries in season, I always managed to fill my little straw basket that I had decorated with scraps of ribbon Grandmother had saved from birthday gifts and sewing projects. Back in the kitchen she would have me gather all the ingredients, put them on the huge wooden table covered in blue and white checked oilcloth. We used this table, made from an old walnut tree that had fallen after a violent rain and wind storm years earlier, to prepare foods, roll biscuits, mix batter and eat meals on together…she even used it to set a big wash tub on and bathe my new baby brother… She would show me how to blend the cold, fresh-churned butter into the flour with my fingers and then how to roll it out gently…”You can’t overwork the dough…” she would caution. Oh, the aroma of a fresh fruit pie baking in the oven…

Later in the season, she would always let me climb up into the peach trees to pick enough for a fresh peach pie. This was such a wonderful time which led to many precious memories…the adventure of seeking and picking fresh fruits of the season and the rewards of learning how to make jams, preserves, pies and cobblers…and time spent with my precious white-haired Grandmother.

A favorite find…I always loved cooking on Grandmother’s huge black iron wood stove and years ago when I told Carl how I would love to put one in the kitchen he looked at me and wandered off to the workbench to tie some flies, all the while shaking his head and muttering. So I soon found a beautiful substitute…a French make…Le Cornue!

d28abc6b9baa86231753d6aa80a222b8One of the best stoves in the world…and a bargain at close to $16,000…luxury doesn’t come cheap! The cream de la crème of cooking! No need to describe his reaction and comment on my stove choice, needless to say I settled on a new gas drop-in with a much more acceptable price tag.

SUMMER is SERVED…As to cooking, here are a few summer ideas...Crab filled lettuce eaves, baby spinach salad with cucumber spirals and coconut shrimp, and a new favorite…chunks of grilled chicken and vegetables served in pita bread with a creamy lemon dressing…oh, I could eat these several times a week!!

Well, it wouldn’t be summer without home-made ice cream…On those long summer days on the farm, we often made ice cream. After a trip into town, sitting in the old International Harvester pick up truck, to get ice from the ICE HOUSE, we gathered under the shade of huge pecan and walnut trees where we would pack the old wood ice cream maker with ice and rock salt and watch excitedly as grandmother poured the cream and egg and fruit mixture into the metal cylinder…then came the work! Taking turns, we would turn the crank for what seemed like hours but in reality about a half hour total was spent churning. Nothing can compare to opening the top of the freezing container and pulling out the paddle for the first licks of the lucious mixture inside. Nothing artificial, just cream from our cows, eggs from our chickens and fruit from the garden!   For good health sake try an alternative, fresh made FROZEN YOGURT. A refreshing lime yogurt is simple: I mix a 32 ounce container of organic plain Greek yogurt, 3/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice, and for more lime flavor add zest from 2 organic limes. Pour into the churn container that sits in the freezer just waiting to be used and follow directions on your model. I have a simple Cuisinart ice cream maker that takes a little less than 20 minutes to churn this mixture into frozen yogurt. Refreshing as a summer rain shower!

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Great Garden Idea…This canvas cover, simple to make, can provide a bit of shelter from the hot afternoon sun…get creative!

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Take a break! We all need a break from our daily routines…not necessarily a full-blown holiday…but a day or a place for settling thoughts and calming mind & heart. Of course, my friends, you all know my heart’s desire would be to sit in the lavender fields in Provence…a scented scent of purple!

861096cdd183bc5a7f5186cf67b2df03…but since that won’t be happening any time soon, I’ll just have to be creative here at home in my own heavenly hideaway! I can spend an afternoon in my own garden relaxing under a canvas shelter or beach umbrella…or on terribly hot days, spend time inside working on creative projects. It just becomes a matter of choice at the moment!

Watching dusk fall over the garden, I smell the honeysuckle’s evening scent as I walk out to close up the chicken pen and coop for the evening. Time for brushing Holly and another glass of wine…

The Flowers and the Glory…

Creating their own canvas…every gardener is an artist with plant choices instead of brushes and paint…years ago I carved out the flower beds and pathways, enlarging and improving each every year, creating my own tiny seclusion.

As summer arrives, the garden is bursting with blooms…an explosion of color. Hydrangeas, phlox, coneflowers, roses, hollyhocks, daylillies, Black-eyed Susan, butterfly bush and such take center stage. All plants that offer a good mix of textures, shapes and sizes…many hydrangeas help to form the backbone of my cottage-style garden. They create enduring leafy green beauty and a delightful color range…and, their striking,  showy, billowy blooms epitomize the carefree summer season.

Hollyhocks, Batchelor-buttons and cosmos add structure and height to the mixed border…

Fragrance is a key ingredient of any garden…pinks, with their delicious clove scent, butterfly-bush, lavender and one of the greatest of all…roses in abundance…provide a variety of scents as the sun warms each blossom.

Mother Nature provides a variety of fragrant herbs to use for cooking as well as offering great medicinal uses…While walking through my garden I have the habit of brushing against and rubbing my hand over the herbs planted along the paths. I can never resist stopping to break off a few stems of lavender and as I rub my fingers together over the stems of and breathe in the aroma, it is happiness itself and I slow down and relax for a moment.

The sweet, hay-like fragrance of Chamomile smells like summer. The tiny daisy flowers and lacy foliage have been used to make teas and poultices for centuries. The tea settles an upset tummy and if you’re stressed or anxious…a warm cup of chamomile tea is calming, especially before bedtime. The anti-inflammatory effects of chamomile are also very helpful with relief from headaches.

Comfrey is a great herb that medicinally can used for treating sprains, broken bones and bruises and it works. As an inflammatory, I’ve used it to help heal an ankle sprain and treat serious bruising after a recent bad fall. Aside from being magical in my garden, the foliage is pecked and loved by my chickens and helps provide them with additional protein and nutrients. Mulching with comfrey around the base of plants will help retain moisture and protect beneficial organisms while acting as a slow-release fertilizer. I also toss comfrey leaves into the compost pile to boost nutrients. This great herb has a deep root system and as a dynamic accumulator plant, provides nutrients to surrounding plants.

Wooly Lamb’s Ear has been used for centuries as a wound dressing on battlefields. The soft, fuzzy leaves absorb blood and help it to clot more quickly. They also contain antibacterial and antiseptic properties…I always reach for a leaf when I get a rose thorn scratch or knife cut while working in the garden. For landscaping, I have used this plant as an edging along the entrance to my driveway…at night it offers a silvery brightness in the dark.

Lavender plants and oils are the most versatile of all herbs…they have medicinal, cosmetic, and culinary uses. Most commonly known for its relaxing and calming effects on the body, a good lavender lotion is very therapeutic for your skin. Lavender encourages a good night’s sleep and relieves severe tension headaches when the oil is rubbed into your temples and neck. The oil may also be used to cleanse cuts as well as soothe bruises, burns and skin irritations…and so much more! There are also a multitude of culinary uses.

images-12  A bucket of MY rich compost…I am vigorously in control of my garden…except when the chickens are scratching and pecking at the dirt…not the other way round…and, I’m not so good sitting about and contemplating my garden for very long. However, when I do ever so briefly, I always spot something that needs doing…a bit of extra compost spread around the roses, a trim here or there, missing mulch…I love it and the joy it brings me. As I work the soil, I feel the possibilities in my hands.

Last time I wrote about making tea lights using mason jars…Now, I have found this lovely idea in an old magazine from the ’90s…TEACUP candle holders for the patio. Using fine flexible garden wire, simply make a wire cage similar to those that surround a champagne cork and add hangers on each side to balance the cup. Put a tea light in each cup and hang from low tree branches or clothes line strung around the porch.

452292d4307aaec9cd21e582618bd955Make the most of summer’s simple pleasures…Outside, beneath the spreading trees, on patios, and porchestake a moment to celebrate the season. Enjoy a ritual common throughout the Mediterranean region, woven into everyday life, is a time set aside to share a refreshing drink and socialize before the evening meal. While sipping an iced tea or glass of wine, a few salty snacks such as nuts, olives, saucisse son, cheese, and crispy gougeres …this wonderful time will pique your appetite and help you take time to take time.

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Awaken your senses on sunny days or sultry nights with Lillet and a bit of lemon squeeze and rind in the glass…or fresh peach slice. Delightful.

 

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Holly suggests a cold shower on the porch to cool off after a long walk…

Ground rules…connected to the land.

Summer arrives in full force…June is a wonderfully colorful month with flowers blooming everywhere in the garden…a medley of old-fashioned flowers in shades of pink, blue, lavender and white here is punctuated by plantings of flamboyant foliage and a blast of bright yellow accent. Flowers always bring a smile!

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Growing with the season…sunshine, blue skies, and a few rain storms bring out the tastes and blossoms of early summer!

Sweet, tiny Alpine strawberries ready for picking daily…stately garden phlox offer a fragrant welcome to visitors and beneficial insects. In their own order, many other fruits and vegetables and flowers make their appearance creating an abundance once again to be picked, tasted and enjoyed.

Companions and Easy Edibles…Planted together, herbs and flowers are great companions in a vegetable garden and help to yield a greater harvest. Organic gardeners are much more willing to use time-honored, environmentally safe methods of growing. We all know that companion planting principles help protect and produce greater crops.

As good organic gardeners we must try to understand as much as possible how plants can effectively improve and help each other thrive. All those old-fashioned cottage gardens that were and are a riotous quilt of flowers, herbs and vegetables, jumbled together prove what we now know about companion planting…it works!

If you don’t have enough space for a large garden…create a mix of crops and herbs with a few flowers in containers. The large galvanized troughs are perfect for many food crops, especially tomatoes, peppers, basil and such. The 3-tiered hanging garden is a great idea for herbs and salad greens for a limited space area. Be creative and remember almost anything can hold plants and almost any vegetable can be grown in a container. Be sure to provide blooming marigolds and sweet alyssum to attract pollinators…a must for tomatoes…IMG_1427

Tomatoes, essential for summer home gardens. I only grow heirloom varieties. A few of my favorites are…Brandywine, Black Cherry, Yellow Pear, Rose Gold and Green Zebra.

Some simple things to try: Heirloom Tomato Salad with herb vinaigrette…

1/4 c. avocado oil, 3 Tblsp red wine vinegar, 1Tblsp. Dijon mustard, 1 Tblsp. lemon juice, 1 Tblsp honey…fresh thyme, chopped basil leaves, parsley and salt & ground pepper. Whisk or make in a jar and shake. Makes enough for just a small salad…increase amounts as needed. I will add feta or goat cheese to salad depending on what I have on hand.

Heirloom Tomato Tart, an elegant and delicious showstopper for a summertime meal.

You’ll need a tart crust so make your own or buy prepared pie crust. PREBAKE the crust. For the filling: Combine 2 cups ricotta cheese, 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, 1 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes sliced for top of tart, salt and pepper for seasoning and fresh basil leaves for finishing. Spread cheese mixture on cooled tart crust, Top with plenty of sliced tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and basil. Serve immediately and enjoy!!

Create a magical atmosphere on summer evenings…

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Create tea lights using recycled jam jars, or…buy new Mason/ Ball canning jars, wrap wire around the top to hang them from tree branches or an arbor.

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Bonne idée…I love Bonne Maman jams and always save the empty jars. Once the delicious jam is eaten, the jars can be re-used for a variety of purposes. I use for herb bouquets, storing dried rose petals and lavender buds and garden seeds, making salad dressings and much more. I especially love their distinctive gingham tops.

 

 

A walk on the “wild side” needs a path…a collection of scrambling, tumbling plants fill the areas along these garden paths. I typically use stones set in gravel for a path when designing a landscape but the grass path shown above is a delightful change!

 

Til next time AND…a look at FOOD, the culture of the South.

Wear a hat and protect your skin from the summer sun!

 

Finally, I’m back…

Friends, I’ve been away for several months, unable to really concentrate and write very much, maybe just thinking a bit, reading, planning and dreaming. Well, we all need some of that time but mine was more related to a continuing need to deal with vertigo that hit me last summer after two bad falls and…okay, hitting my head on the concrete floor in the garage! At my age you’d think I’d be able to walk and climb steps! So anyway, I’m trying to get back in gear, put all in perspective and just move ahead sharing my words and thoughts with you!

Cottage in the woods charm…or, the little house with a big heart! At first sight, the tiny white clapboard house and surrounding garden seems quite unremarkable tucked away beneath a shady canopy of huge oak, poplar and pine trees. The secluded home and gardens are rarely discovered except by family and friends. It’s casual and warm, friendly and cozy with vintage finds here and there…

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After several weeks of clouds and occasional showers, suddenly my garden has burst into growth and greenery and finally the hummingbirds are showing up…it’s May, a very busy time in the garden…a time to get ready for summer.

IMG_0597Romancing the rose…scrambling up and over the fencing around the chicken pen is “Felicia” a hybrid musk old garden rose…entwined with purple Clematis jackmanii. She is a charming little rose full of character, masses of early blooms, and a delightfully sweet fragrance I enjoy every time I get near! Beautiful “Felicia” is such an easy rose to grow, she only gets a few hours of direct sunlight but still produces clusters of blooms from early spring to mid-summer and then another huge burst of bloom with cool fall weather. Lots of sweetly fragrant pink phlox planted along the base of the pen also provides fragrance all summer into autumn. Note the blue umbrella!

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Mixing foliage and flowers and textures is one of the secrets of good garden design…shown above is a favorite butterfly herb, bronze fennel, mixed with blooming purple salvia and soon to be blooming, pink phlox and rudbeckia…somewhere in the mix is “Iceberg”, a white very fragrant rose.

images-14 Plant a potager and reap the rewards for your kitchen…here, shown in late April, is my informal potager and herb garden I planted in mid-March. This year I had to put simple fencing around the 25’x25′ space to keep the chickens from attacking my crop of salad greens, Swiss chard, tomatoes, parsley, snow peas, beans, cucumbers, French melons [seeds from Jeanine], peppers, potatoes, garlic, sage, lemon thyme, oregano, and much more…The teepee in center allows yellow pear heirloom tomatoes to grow vertically, taking up much less space. I start my vegetables with organic seeds and use mostly heirloom varieties. A compost pile in the left corner provides needed nutrients along with compost tea with every rain shower. Blueberry bushes and lilacs protect the back of the garden and act as a wind break outside the fence. Sunflowers will offer trellising for pole beans.  A border of lavender and onion chives planted around the front of the fence attracts beneficials early in the growing season. Blackberries on growing wires stand just outside the potager. This densely planted area is always buzzing with bees, butterflies, Ladybugs and hummers all summer. OH, and always a beautiful rose in bloom in the corner of the potager. It may not be pretty but this tiny space…in just the right spot…always provides a great deal of vegetables and fruits for my kitchen!

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Rose honey will sweeten up your life! NOTE:  I use ONLY deeply fragrant rose petals from my organically grown rose bushes. Shown here are just picked petals from an old Damask rose bloom sitting on tissue while drying…the tiny dried rose buds came from Jeanine’s rose bush in Texas. I use 3-4 complete rose blooms to 2 cups of organic honey. Pour a small amount of honey into a sterilized jar, then add rose petals…pour more honey into the jar and gently stir the petals and honey together so that petals are equally distributed throughout the honey. Make sure the rose petals are covered completely in honey. Remove any air bubbles by tapping the jar on the table. Screw on cap tightly and store in a dark place for 2 weeks, shaking the jar occasionally. After 2 weeks, or so, strain the honey to remove the petals and pour into a clean jar. Perfect in hot tea, lovely on toast, drizzled on vanilla ice cream or whatever you wish!!

 

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Watching my chickens roam about the back yard and garden is pure pleasure…oh sure, they do scratch and eat insects and throughly make a mess but I just rake the paths and beds every day, if I can, and take on an attitude that perfection is not a part of my garden! They are such a hoot running behind me as I walk around the yard just waiting for me to toss them a treat. With the increased daylight, more chores are getting done and the “girls” have more time to roam! As the days grow warmer I make sure to provide plenty of fresh water bowls around the yard as well as spray water in the dimples of the wine bottles lining the paths. Chickens can become dehydrated rather quickly in the heat and can possibly die. I always make sure to provide extra shade and food cover with a few small beach umbrellas standing in the larger pen area. They do tend to eat less in hot weather but become excited about the fresh kale, chard and greens I share with them in the afternoon…these terrific greens give added nutrients to their diet along with needed moisture. I also add a teaspoon of baking soda to their water supply to aid in absorption of calcium…thus helping maintain strong egg shells.

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Now, as the setting sun casts a warm light on the garden…I see masses of dark clouds gathering far beyond the woods…rain and thunder storms will soon arrive from the southwest to pelt the area with rain, wind and lightening. Time to quickly pick some herbs, maybe a few flowers, and head inside after I call in the chicks to their pen. Wine time and dinner!     [Photo taken at Jeanine’s]

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I’d like to share a special moment spent in my French sister’s garden a few weeks ago in TEXAS…we had prepared several special dishes for lunch with friends and just being there in her fabulous garden was like being in Provence with all the blooms and fragrance and whimsical details. Thank you, dear sister for a delightful visit!

 

Love from Holly and me…jusqu’ a la procaine fois…

 

 

 

It’s SUNDAY, time for soup & traditions!

Today is Sunday and I’m making SOUP...even though it is sunny and considerably warmer outside…a ‘balmy’ 54 degrees! The soup can actually simmer slowly on the gas stove while I poke around a bit outside in the sun gathering vitamin D. The sky has been overcast, gray and dreary for the past week so today is very welcome…and gives me a moment to gather a few fresh herbs! On the stove is late winter soup…chicken and vegetables…cooking in my favorite Le Creuset pot, a parting gift from friends when I left Texas over 12 years ago.

IMG_0219Soup has been a tradition of mine for many years…the gathering of ingredients, the preparation, the simmering pot on the stove, the aroma when coming inside from the garden and finally the enjoyment of a nice bowl of warm goodness after a day of chill and sometimes very hard work! What could be better?!

Of course, SOUP has historically been traditional fare for hundreds of years…and served as main meals in many countries. Cooked over a campfire, wood stove or gas range…most soups are simple to make from just about any collection of ingredients!  I especially like the soups one finds around the south of France and areas of the Mediterranean. Gee, surprise.

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There are so many kinds of soup that you can enjoy just about anywhere…shown above is a nice Provencal fall vegetable hearty soup being served family style on the patio.  Along with the soup is Pistou, typically added just before serving at the table,  a seasoning paste of pounded [in a mortar & pestle] garlic, basil, and olive oil. Often added to this mixture, is Parmesan cheese, dried bread and pine nuts or almonds…showing a bit of Italian influence.

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Here, shown in the garden…is spring garden soup with new potatoes served alongside a fresh egg omelet. Another great companion for the humble soup would be Rillettes de Poisson, or creamy fish spread of finely shredded fish, chives and mustard spread on toasted baguette.

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For villagers in the south of France, Provence, traditions are also strongly important…the families work long hours tending to their land, gardens, farm animals, vines and orchards, while making cheese and often doing stone work. Early morning would start with cafe’ and bread, usually left over from the the night before…unless fresh croissants were available in the village bakery. Their mid-day break for a meal [dejeuner] is typically the main meal of the day. Except for special occasions, their supper or evening meal is very light….typically soup, bread cheese and seasonal fruit or preserved jam/fruit as a little sweet with their bread.

Most Provencal cooking is considered “home cooking” with traditional food preparation methods or recipes passed from one generation to the next. This has been considered the inspiration for professional cooks/chefs…calling their food…”in the Provencal style “!

In most villages, the Provencal cook or housewife prepares meals from whatever is available seasonally from the garden or sometimes the bounty found at the village market…soup being the mainstay of the farm kitchen.

Many years ago, one of the most fabulous things I learned from my French sister, Jeanine, is to look in the refrigerator/freezer, find chicken stock, a few fresh or often “leftover” ingredients, collect some herbs and greens and such from the garden and within an hour or two have a fabulous meal of magical soup, cheese and bread as well as a simple dessert of freshly made sorbet.  I’ve seen her do this from some of the most unlikely ingredients that quickly become a 3 Michelin star repast. After arriving home from the office, she does this several times a week and WE do it every time we are together. It soon becomes an art to see what we can create!

FRENCH ideology is…Take what you have and make it something better!

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Reigning Violets…Tiny violets, fragrant violets, candied violets, violets on a salad, a nosegay of violets…the fragrance and beauty of Viola odorata flowers is elusive and unique. In the language of flowers, the violet celebrates modesty, virtue, faithfulness, humility and happiness.

Violets were used medicinally [ often a cough remedy] throughout the known world since before Christ, Romans made sweet wine from them, and they were used as a component of strewing herbs in Medieval homes to sweeten the air.  Much later, violets became very popular with the Victorians for their fragrance when blossoms were used in eau de toilette and for tiny flower posies ladies carried to hide their noses from street smells. In fact, it was reported that in 1874 six tons of violet flowers were harvested in the south of France to then be shipped to England.

Violets won the hearts of the French long before Napoleon but they became a favorite of the Emperor and his wife Josephine. At her home, Malmaison, the Empress grew violets along with her favorite roses. The Emperor was so obsessed with violets that he chose them as his emblem and would often send Josephine tiny bouquets. While in exile in Elba, Napoleon told his supporters that he would return to France when violets were in bloom. After Josephine’s death, tiny bunches of violets were regularly placed on her grave.

Violets are a quaint, romantic little flower…used for soaps, medicinal preparations, candles and perfumes. Candied violets have been a favorite sweet treat throughout the centuries…I’ll never forget buying some of these quaint treats in a Paris sweet shop…I still have the jar and wrapping.

Gardeners can grow the true hardy Viola as well as some of the newer hybridized  varieties that were bred with longer stems. Usually available in garden centers, or wooded areas, these dainty beauties are lovely in a strawberry bed, an herb garden or as a rose companion. Violets are virtuous, vivacious, valuable and oh, so powerful!  Soon they will herald the arrival of early spring…

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NOW, I’m going to take a moment to whine a bit…having VERTIGO really does suck!!

Here’s hoping I can work through all this and get on with my garden, my home and my writing…

From Holly and me…love & hugs till next time!

 

 

 

 

Welcome January…and 2018!

8ac4c6ac07e775ee92e7b6e1cd902fef     With each new day comes the CHANCE to do, make, fix, choose, try, find, love, show the world and anything else you choose to do! Think on new chances for YOU this new year! 

DO…I choose to DO something FUN everyday, at least once…sometimes it involves a new garden project, sometimes a closet that needs cleaning [how did that get there], searching and researching for my blog and a new book I am thinking about writing. Do people still buy books?? Rhetorical! Of course I do, I LOVE the feel of a book and being able to write notes on pages and look at great photos in cookbooks and just enjoy knowing that the bookstack of beautiful covers, words, pictures, thoughts, ideas and so much more are sitting and waiting for me by my chair…for anytime!

MAKE…This week while the temps hover in single digits here, I’ve chosen to be inside for a few hours and work on a favorite project: sharing our family history in pictures for daughters and grandchildren…

Using black and white copies of old photos, I glue them to manilla shipping tags and suggest hanging on the Christmas tree each year as a reminder of family past as well as all those still with us. On the back of each tag I write who is in the picture and as much information about the date and where taken and how related in family. I usually decorate the tags with lace or ribbons and sometime buttons and such…IMG_0210

This collection of tags and special photos now fill a small box and as I continue making more I truly hope that they will be saved and cherished for many years to come.

Tonight I will FIX a frittata for dinner…hens have slowed down production, but a few of my 16 girls usually lay 6-8 eggs that I find amidst the piles of warm straw in the nest boxes. Keeping fresh water for the girls is an ongoing process as the water bowls freeze within an hour after filling!!

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This photo is from a woman who writes a blog…FRESH EGGS DAILY… about chickens and farm life which is quite a hoot to read!

This afternoon using my fabulous new stand mixer that my daughter, Cindy, gave me for Christmas I’m also going to MAKE spelt bread.

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Much too quickly so go ahead…take a chance and try something new!!

 

For now, From Holly and Me…we wish you great happiness for the new year and always!

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Rediscover the Spirit and Sparkle of Merry Christmas…

Welcome family and friends…a bright, twinkling display of tiny lights strung over a deciduous vine or climbing rose already growing on an arbor creates a warm and welcoming entry to your home. To make it more festive for Christmas, add red plaid ribbons and bows with sprays of evergreens.

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Capture the season by decorating your home with traditional garlands of fresh greens adorned with red velvet or gingham ribbons, winter berries and fresh foliage, simply wrapped presents stacked under the live tree shimmering with tiny white lights, flickering candlelight on the mantel…clicks.aweber.com

 

Rows of candlelights in simple jam jars decorated with ivy and sprigs of holly flicker on a window ledge while bunches of seasonal greenery hang inside and out.A sparkle of red and silver set a gracious holiday table.

 

Bake/Make tasteful treats…gifts of food give so much pleasure and nothing evokes anticipation of the celebrations to come quite like the tantalizing aromas of Christmas baking…spicy gingerbread cookies, jars of fruity jams and jellies, dreamy chocolate fudge, steamed fruit puddings, homemade biscuits crammed with cheese and nuts, curried pecans, and so many other creative foods.

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The joyful spirit of giving and sharing often gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. But, giving can be more fulfilling if we remember that the best gift is one that creates something special between you and another person.

 

Winter Warmers…’tis the season to eat, drink & be merry… 

Enjoy the magic of a winter walk through the countryside or nearby park followed by a steaming pot of soup still simmering on the stove. Later, spend time warming in front of the fireplace accompanied by a glass of rich Armagnac, or a smooth Cognac to sip and savor. Don’t forget, a bottle [or 2] makes a lovely and thoughtful gift. HINT:  In France, the Dartigalongue distillery has been producing spirits since 1831. The Roger Groult distillery offers some of the finest Calvados made from a variety of apples grown on their own trees…their region is in the heart of the Pays d’ Auge.

If you want to really splurge… Look for Jean Fillioux Cognac, considered one of the finest premier cru in the world of Cognac. The estate is located in the heart of the Grande Champagne region. Some of their RESERVE FAMILIALE bottles are over 50 years old.

Of course my choice, [ if I could even afford the gift box ] is DuPeyrat organic Cognac XO, aged a minimum of 15 years by the Du Peyrat family at their distillery in France. The family has been producing Cognac for over 300 years so I assume they have their production very well organized.

To keep the good cheer flowing…any of these wonderful, luxurious spirits would be perfect for a sit and slow sip by the fireplace.

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This time of year marks both a beginning and an ending…the hard work has ended for a while and while I still putter about on warmer sunny days, I am looking ahead to next spring…For now it’s the beginning of winter and I know that long after I have closed the back door and hung up my very old blue denim jacket, the gardeners of Provence will still be out, having supper on the patio, snapping off stems of rosemary & thyme still warm from the sun…I knew it would be this way, winter slowly creeps on and I am already longing for spring and a visit with my French sister, Jeanine…

Love and All the Best Wishes for the Holiday Season…

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Merry Christmas! says HOLLY!!

 

 

There’s something about autumn…

the countryside painted in vibrant, warm colors…road-leaves 

The sounds of autumn...rustling leaves blowing down the road, migrating Canada Geese honking to their fellow travelers, the crunch of first frost underfoot, the wind in the trees…

The smells of autumn…apple trees, smokey bonfires, drying leaves, spicy mums, cinnamon laced apple pie fresh from the oven…earth after rainfall…silly people burning leaves…

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Savor the seasonal pleasures…crisp cool days spent working in the garden or walking through the woods, juicy apples just picked from the tree, sumptuous pears baked in maple syrup, outdoor fires for roasting marshmallows, warming drinks and harvest suppers, gathering pecans, picking and carving pumpkins…misty mornings, cozy nights under a quilt, warm mugs, scarf & sweaters…golden light through the trees…a clear, cold night sky to enjoy the Harvest Moon…

 

The words of autumn…     cozy…crisp…gathering…HARVEST…pumpkins…cornucopia…maple syrup… cranberries…nuts…roast turkey…spice…migration…purple grapes…thankful & grateful…persimmons…ABUNDANCE…crimson…golden…sunset…gourds…amber leaves…oatmeal mornings…delicious smells…WELCOME!

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The colors and textures of autumn…

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An autumn sunset…

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An autumn scrapbook…

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A view to autumn change…

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From my back porch to yours, enjoy the change that is upon us!

 

Friends…after an entire summer and early fall spent renovating my brother’s home after the broken pipe and resulting flooding of his house…Not completely finished…arrggh, contractors! BUT, I am finally trying to get back to spending time writing again.

More to come for the end of year. Next year I hope to continue with more posts. AND, I’m churning ideas in my mind and heart right now for a new book project with Jeanine…will keep you posted.

Love from Holly and me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A home, a garden, a lifestyle, a season, an obsession…

Life moves along with the seasons…this is particularly true during the summer when fruits and vegetables and herbs are at their peak of freshness.

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ALFRESCO…Here, in the above photo, a lite breakfast of ripe, just picked fruits epitomizes the beauty of a summer garden. There is no better time of year than summer for creating fabulous meals while there is a limitless supply of fresh from the garden…or maybe the Farmer’s Market…colorful fruits, herbs, salad greens and vegetables. Eating out in the garden or on the porch/patio is a completely different experience from a meal served indoors. The fragrance of flowers…the scents of the season…mingle with the pleasure of delicious food and drink. Celebrate the tranquility and pleasure of bare feet on the grass or cool stone while sipping a chilled drink…

Long, hot summer days demand light food…plenty of salads, raw and grilled vegetables, simple fish, shrimp, crabs or scallops accompanied by a chilled while wine or Rose’ to bring the day to a close.

A hot summer day calls for cold drinks during the time just before the evening meal…enjoy a glass of Prosecco with fresh blended peaches. [Did you know that peaches originated in China?]

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OR…a personal favorite…Try LILLET with lemon. Lillet is a French aperitif, made in the village of Podensac from Bordeaux wine infused with oranges, honey, fresh mint and spices. Serve it chilled with a squeeze of lemon for a refreshing summer afternoon drink or before a meal as an aperitif. Crisp and delicious and refreshing.

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Of course, when I was growing up in the south, ALFRESCO…in the open air…meant taking a tomato sandwich out on the porch to eat while shooing flies away with a mesh swatter from the Piggly Wiggly…or cold fried chicken and corn on the cob under the tree by the wash house….all while my French sister, Jeanine, growing up in Lyon, enjoyed a bite of cheese or a piece of tortilla, a fresh lemon presse’ and a chunk of baguette from the “bakery” next door. And my friends wonder about my obsession!

 

Season of Summer...we fall into a slower pace, a more relaxed time for being outside, a time for picnics, for vacations at the beach or a cabin at the lake…a time for cooling off in the water, playing croquet on the lawn, canoeing on the lake…endless hours whiled away swinging into the lake dropping from a rope while yelling…”Geronimo”!!

Early summer in the garden…water your garden during dry spells, although we finally got rain yesterday and all night and shows 3 1/2 inches in my rain gauge!! There are 4 things to be mindful of in the garden: be alert for insect pests and diseases and be vigilant in your watering and weeding. Of course, if you follow my organic program you really shouldn’t be bothered by 3 of the chores, but watering is critical when the sky is dry for days and days…plants need about an inch of rain or watering a week. In loose sandy soil you’ll need more!!     So remember…plants are like people…they need to be clean and healthy to feel good and need air and water to survive!

A tip for you if you plan to put in a stone patio this season…which I am doing at my brother’s house…use creeping thyme planted between some of the stones on a terrace or patio to give fragrance and fresh green color year round.

Summer inside…close your eyes for a moment and envision the perfect room for  summer living. So, what do you see? For me it’s whitewashed woods and wicker, sorbet colors and white slipcovers on furniture. The look is comfortable and welcoming. However, I can’t change over furniture every season as would like to do so I think of simple tricks to give a breezy easy livin’ look to my rooms where I spend the most time. Lavender trimmings in the clean fireplace, fresh lavender, gardenia, and peony candles, a creamy white quilt thrown over the French paisley sofa, fresh little bouquets of herbs and flowers on every table, soft pretty pillows, a mantel full of gathered treasures, crisp white sheets on my bed topped with a lacy white cover from Portugal, all express my love for a somewhat simple, sophisticated lifestyle. My house is not perfect and never will be, I prefer comfort for Holly, my Border Collie, and me. It takes a lifetime to get where I am now!

AND, outside…I dream of a courtyard in a village in Provence…There is something, to me, about all things French that make them stylish and ROMANTIC! I remember a summer afternoon spent walking through a market in the south of France…a large woven basket, I still use for shopping, filled with some goat cheese wrapped in green fig leaves, a fresh still-warm baguette, a bottle of local Rose’, a few bars of handmade lavender soap and a new pair of red espadrilles and of course, a lovely bouquet of lavender stems. Later, nearing dusk, we, Jeanine and I, ambled down the lane towards a small stone house with lacy curtains fluttering in the breeze…our little cottage for the night! Roses clambered up the wall and eventually onto the roof…lavender just starting to bud…such wonderful fragrance added to a night sleeping with windows open to the night air.

Tonight, as I slip between the crisp white sheets, lavender sachet from Provence by my neck, I hope to dream of another time and back to that place…

Here’s to the Joys of July….

Love from Patricia & Holly & Cerise, the Deux Chevaux…