Thursday, September 15, 2011

delicious melon smoothie

Whenever I have melons, even though M. and I love them, there always seems to be quite a bit left over. So, I've gotten into the habit, whenever I cut into a melon, of placing a generous third of the melon (of whatever kind) into a ziplock bag in the freezer. Because melon is a soft fruit, I've never found it a problem to break the frozen melon apart, so it's easy. Chuck some in the freezer, some into a covered bowl in the fridge for breakfasts and snacking, and voila, no waste.

Then I discovered that nice ripe melon that is frozen makes a great element in smoothies. This is not revolutionary in any sense, but it's been a tasty, practical habit. I've been making peach-melon, strawberry-melon, avocado-melon smoothies all summer. Herewith, I share my secret. This recipe is not hard-and-fast at all. I often add yoghurt. Coconut milk yoghurt is especially nice. There is a passionfruit-mango flavor that, mixed with the ubiquitous banana and melon, makes for a nice "tropical" flavor.

Melon Smoothie (basic)

1 cup milk/unsweetened soymilk
1 ripe banana
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
large handful frozen melon (I used a mixture of Cantalope and Catawba, what I happened to have on hand)
1 tablespoon agave nectar

Blend thoroughly in blender. If you add another fruit, adjust liquid.

M. and I are in the middle of packing for our move October 1st. Stay tuned for posts about our recent wedding and other much-belated news.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

fiddlehead foraging frolic!

Early May is the time when I always think of the luxuriant fiddlehead patch behind my dear grandmother's last home in Center Sandwich. It was on Mother's Day weekend when I first came upon this patch while walking in the woods with my sister: a low, damp area a bit too dry to be called swampy, but decidedly squishy and messy on the shoes. Intrigued by the funny-looking curls popping up seemingly straight out of the ground, we brought my parents out to see. Little did I know these curlicues were edible, but I knew after my parents became excited about them, and harvested a bowl for dinner.
Fiddleheads, as the edible parts are known, are the infant fronds of the majestic Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), a large fern which grows from erect crowns in damp places and spreads by rhizomes to eventually form large stands, if conditions are right. The Ostrich Fern prefers dappled shade but because of its stature needs an area free from underbrush where its 3-4 ft fronds can grow unimpeded. It is a native of northern North America, and it is also grown in gardens as an ornamental, forming a beautiful backdrop for shade perennials. Ostrich Fern prefers acidic soil, a consideration if you want to plant it in your garden because you will likely need a soil amendment to help alter the soil pH.
Cindy's ferns: for looking only, not for picking!
Here in Ithaca, my aunt Cindy has a beautiful patch of Ostrich Ferns in the back of the backyard. It is shady, it is acidic, it is open, and the fiddleheads are popping up like a whole orchestra right now. Later, she and I will rip up the garlic mustard that always threatens to shade the fronds before they are big enough to fend for themselves (I've always thought it unfair that such an annoying weed has the names of two of my favorite food items). I think we both feel protective of that patch. She feels especially protective, of course, and so I am not allowed to harvest any of them. I have solemnly promised that I will not. However, they serve as a useful barometer. When I saw how fast those fiddleheads, which come up all crowded together at the head of the crown, were unfurling, I ran off to a few likely locations and made a small harvest. I'm not sure I can reveal where I found them, because the location might not be entirely legal, but I promise it was nobody's private garden. In any case, a traditional Yankee sense of secrecy seals my lips where forage locations are concerned.
unfurling frond sheds its brown coat
If you would like to search for fiddleheads yourself, keep in mind the growing conditions they prefer, as I describe above. You should also be careful to choose the right species of fern, as there are many other fern fronds unfurling at this time of year. They can look similar, but there are a few details that help the edible fiddleheads stand apart. Ostrich Fern fiddleheads are bright, clear green, and smooth. When they first emerge they are covered with a translucent chestnut-brown coat that easily flakes off. The fiddleheads of other fern species might have a brown coat, but the coat will be lighter in color and more closely clinging. A note: you should pick only as much as you will eat that day, as fiddleheads become bitter if frozen and are tastiest eaten on the day of picking.

While I was looking for fiddleheads, I also came across a small but healthy stand of ramps. My landscape colleague Jenna, of The Mushroom Forager, had generously given me a bunch of ramps earlier that day. Once I had smelled their sweet perfume and had seen their vividly green leaves, I had caught the bug. I wanted to search some out for myself. I can tell you, Ithacans, that if you take a walk along upper Fall Creek, you will almost certainly see some ramps. Please, please harvest them responsibly (a mantra repeated and practiced by Jenna and Ari). I have also since learned that ramps may be available to plant in your garden, though I do not know the success rate. Cindy found some for sale today and planted them near the Ostrich Ferns. Part of me is a little nervous that they may have been dug up from the wild for nursery sale.
With my ramp haul doubled, I had enough to use in making dinner that night (and of course, I was in the mood to cook with my goodies!). Here is a recipe for one of my favorite meals at this time of year (I know! I haven't posted a recipe in ages). This recipe takes a short amount of prep in terms of chopping and mixing, and once you start cooking it takes only half an hour to put it on the table.
Ramps, rinsed and ready

Pasta Primavera with Ramps, Asparagus, & Bacon
To feed four generously.

2 big handfuls ramps (approx. 2.5 packed cups very roughly chopped ramps, or double the amount in the photo above)
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends snapped off, cut into bite size pieces
8 strips thick-cut bacon (or desired amount, I include a little extra for noshing while cooking)
1 box mezzi rotini pasta (or other shape pasta of your choice)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Asiago or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese 
3 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil or vegetable oil

Other: large serving bowl

Put a large pot of water for pasta on to boil.
Ready a vegetable steamer insert in a medium saucepan with an inch of water, and put the asparagus in this pan on medium-high heat, covered, for 7 minutes.
Put a large pan (non-stick if possible) over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sauté ramps until wilted and stems are tender, about 5 minutes. Add a small pinch of salt and stir frequently. Set ramps aside on a plate.
When asparagus is done, drain immediately and set aside on plate with ramps.
Preheat oven to 350.
Melt butter in microwave or on stovetop. Using a fork, mix butter with breadcrumbs and add cheese. Spread on a cookie sheet and hold in readiness.
Cook bacon (can use same pan as for ramps) until crispy.
At this point, put buttered cheesy breadcrumbs into oven for 3 minutes (careful, they burn quickly!)
When pasta is cooked al dente (I like it a hair beyond al dente, really), quickly and thoroughly drain, then invert pasta into large serving bowl. Immediately add eggs and stir well, so eggs cook on the hot pasta. Add vegetables and crumble bacon into pasta. Stir well. Take breadcrumbs out of oven, and distribute over top of the pasta. Enjoy!

I recommend a cold Pinot grigio or light beer with this dish. I myself had Sam Adams Noble Pils, which is lemony and refreshing.
 Now I want to try Jenna's recipe for ramp pesto! It sounds delicious!

Monday, April 18, 2011

spring in Italy

It has been a busy past few weeks. Between going to Italy, perpetual wedding planning (when will it eeeennnnddd? Oh yeah... that's right...), and a studio project which has as its theme saving the world*, it has been hard to find the time to post a few words. I am only "finding time" right now because I am procrastinating, or in denial parlance, "taking a leisurely hour for lunch."
*only partly joking

So, in the midst of all this chicken-running-sans-head stress, a quiet moment of contemplation:
  These anemones were blooming in and around the ruins of the Villa of Pollio Felix, in Sorrento. One of the most beautiful spots on earth. It also includes this lagoon of sapphire-blue water.
There is another way in, aside from the wooden staircase seen above.
 I was in Italy with my professor from last semester Kathryn Gleason, and classmate Bryan Harrison, to present work from last semester's studio class to community leaders and other participants of the conference last fall who had returned for this mini-conference. It went pretty well, though some things didn't go exactly as planned. This studio project is going to have a longer life than I anticipated, as the professors involved see a publication in the future, for which I have been asked to do some writing. It's good to stay in touch with this project, not only because I want some of the improvements we designed to be built in Castellammare di Stabia, but also because I intend to go back to the place pictured above, someday. If anyone is going to the Sorrento area anytime soon, ask me for directions. It's hidden off the usual tourist path, but totally worth the trek.

Monday, April 11, 2011

eminent domain : evil or benign?

I had a good conversational debate with a neighbor this morning on the issue of eminent domain. As I left the house and crossed the street, I noticed a new sign our neighbors across the street had posted. Tacked to a tree in their front yard, the sign read "We want a sidewalk and bike lanes. Place sidewalk here" with an arrow pointed down to the base of the tree (about 7 feet into their current property). The issue was therefore on my mind when I arrived at the bus stop at about the same time as the other neighbor.

A bit of context before I go into our debate: Hanshaw Road has an active sign culture. A fellow on the corner of Hanshaw and Warren changes his handpainted signs, which present political viewpoints and quotations, on a regular basis. He's fought for the right to post these signs on his property, when challenged by neighbors. Two houses down from me, the woman on the corner of Hanshaw and Blackstone frequently posts political signs and anti-fracking posters. Over the past few weeks, new, professionally produced signs have cropped up all along Hanshaw. Some read "We Want the Walk!" and others "Say No to Eminent Domain on Hanshaw." The residents along Hanshaw Road generally do not shy away from public discourse. The city's plan--to put in a sidewalk on the northern side of Hanshaw Road, and widen and pave the shoulders to make them negotiable for bicyclists--has created a rift between neighbors.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Monday, March 21, 2011

home again

Spring break, n: school holiday or vacation occurring roughly during the middle of a spring academic term. In other words: the eye of the storm.

It is very sweet to be home. *sigh*

Yesterday I went to the Boston Flower Show with a good friend and fellow plant-lover, Emily. The Philadelphia Flower Show is heavy on spectacle and competitions, with less emphasis on inspiration and things real home gardeners can do. The Boston Flower Show has plenty of the latter two items. The theme was similarly not highfalutin': Container Gardening. How practical for the city dweller! I find this type of flower show more endearing and approachable. Though I don't think I am the type to join a Garden Club, as I shun competition when it regards things I truly love,* I respect garden clubs and think they are quite wonderful in an idealized small-town neighborly sort of way. 

Unfortunately, flower shows have hideous lighting which makes for bad photos. But here is a sample:
Delphiniums, juniper, pine, and white tulips, among other plants, in the Garden of the Treehouse

Monday, March 14, 2011

midterm week

On a bit of a hiatus this week, as the midterm crunch has descended. I will return next week with more photos. Meanwhile, look at this:
 A yellow lady slipper orchid, at the Philadelphia flower show. I'd never seen this species grown in a pot before. I love its graceful leaves.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Philadelphia Flower Show 2011

Let the kitsch-fest begin! A replica of one arch of the Eiffel Tower, at shrunken scale, looms ahead as you enter the show, surrounded by pink blooming cherry trees and tulips.
I am a sucker for flower shows. I love the combination of theatrical kitsch and delicate plants. I love the marvel of forcing all those plants on time, and then keeping them going indoors for two weeks (not to mention transporting them). Yes, it is probably a huge energy suck. Yes, not all of the plants make it to good homes afterwards. But it is a heaping dose of spring at a time of year when it seems to many as if spring is still far away (at least for Ithacans).

Monday, March 7, 2011

spring tease

It really is terribly ironic:  I drove south to Philadelphia hoping to find more springlike weather, and I found that in spades. What happens in Ithaca while I am gone? It snows, also in spades (shovel-fulls, to be precise). A foot and a half of heavy snow. Ugh. I should post a snow photo, to contrast with the spring-flower-filled photos below, but I don't want to give the snow any more publicity. Snow now completely covers the windows of my basement room, blocking out all but a thin, blue light. I want to flee again.

I am way too tired this evening to post anything more exciting, but I'll give you some eye candy.

They just look like they're singing, don't they? Since I recently posted some (comparatively thin and sad-looking) crocus photos, here is something different (not yet blooming in Ithaca, not for another month).

Winter aconite. I always forget the name of this flower, for some reason. Very sweet, with its little ruff of leaves.
photo credit: Kelly Shipman
Kelly snapped a photo of me taking a photo of the winter aconite. A characteristic pose, for me.

Souvenirs from the flower show, now decorating the bulletin board above my desk. I do not yet have a garden of my own (tragedy), so the seeds are for my parents. Other bulletin board accessories include a photo with friends from Senior Ball circa 2004, and the label of a mineral water from the town in Italy where I am returning at the beginning of April.
It was a wonderful weekend, all in all, and despite the snowy welcoming, I do feel invigorated, or I will right after I... zzzzz... snor... zzzz... wha... oh yes, hi. On Saturday, Kelly, Alice, and I roamed around Mt. Airy (me in cotton blouse and light jacket!), making highly satisfactory visits to the Trolley Car Diner (most impressive beer selection of any diner I've ever seen, wow), a yarn store, and a used-book shop, chronologically. I picked up some spicy red sock yarn and a lovely hardcover edition of The Annotated Alice in Wonderland, to replace my battered and coverless paperback version.
Last night in Philly it rained, hard, and the sound of the rain on the windows of Kelly's apartment made me feel cozy as we talked late into the night over mugs of tea. I am lucky to have such beautiful, intelligent friends and relations!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

blue memory

*Sigh*    No current flowers today, as it is much more wintry outside, with a stiff wind all day. Back to the memory files. This Campanula was growing wild along a rail-turned-trail in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, near the Bois de Boulogne, last summer. Mike and I had a wonderful picnic later that day, while watching a coot family build their nest.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

here they come!

Finally, the moment you've been waiting for: photos of flowers that I actually photographed today, outdoors, in Ithaca, NY. Sure, those little crocuses look a bit anemic, but they're doing the best they can!

Okay, okay, a bit of a caveat: there is a little hill on Tower Road (near the landscape architecture studio), between Garden Ave and East Ave, adjacent to the Azalea Garden, which seems to be sheltered enough that the snowdrops and crocuses bloom there first. A microclimate, perhaps. I've been keeping an eye on this hillside, and on my way to the library today noticed snowdrops poking through the leaves in between clumps of snow. I love the French name for snowdrop: perce-neige, which literally means "pierce snow." It evokes for me the feeling that this tiny plant is dealing a blow to winter. En garde, hiver! Le printemps avance!

As I was kneeling in the mud and leaves with my camera, I heard a shout from across the street. "Liz!" I turned. "Ha! I knew it was you," said my classmate Matt. "Who else would it be?"

Ha, it's true.

Monday, February 28, 2011

fleurs d'érable

Above, Acer platanoides blossoms are pictured in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow.
It is the season of maple sugaring, as my cousin reminded me the other day. She'd been assisting with sugaring operations over the weekend at Fairmount Park in the Wissahickon nature reserve of Philadelphia, and was describing the scent of fresh sap filling her apartment. I love how she relishes the turning of seasons, she always seems to be taking advantage of the most ripely seasonal food or activity (or both).

The sense of smell takes prominence in spring. As plants and earth wake from their winter slumbering, a musky scent of soil, with topnotes of chlorophyll, fills the air. Before even the smallest crocus unfurls to distract the senses (vision, that most easily seduced sense, overwhelms more subtle stimuli), the earth exhales, and we breathe it in.

The sense of color deprivation I feel at this time of year, when snow makes for a monochrome landscape, is really the biggest motivation for this series of flower posts, but I also feel scent-deprived, a deprivation not as easily mollified. Alas, scent is not transmittable by internet, so I will have to speak to memory and try to awaken yours. The scent of maple flowers is one of my favorite spring smells. Norway maple flowers have a sweet, fresh, warm scent I just love (one of the few redeeming characteristics, selon moi, of this invasive species). To me, the scent of maple flowers has always been the standout indicator of spring. The scent of green cut grass belongs to summer, and frequently has gasoline overtones. The heat of summer, at least in the city, blots out subtle scents with a miasma of smog. Delicacy of scent in nature belongs to dulcet, humid spring. So, enjoy the scents of spring! Breathe deep!

I intend to soothe my cabin fever next weekend at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Last year's show featured such marvels as an attractive luxury-resort style lounge with pillars and walls of plants (even a plant-covered bar, left), and a larger-than-life-size giraffe made out of orchids. This year's theme is "Springtime in Paris." I expect numerous floral interpretations of the Eiffel Tower, and a generous serving of kitsch. It will be difficult to resist adding another orchid to my collection, but I am trying to remind myself that moving domiciles with a large collection of plants will be tricky enough as it is.

Friday, February 25, 2011

last September, Ravello

In September 2010, I had the good fortune to go to Italy. The trip was academic in nature: my studio class was studying the site of an archeological park in Castellammare di Stabia on the Bay of Naples, a site centering on two villas that were part of the Roman town of Stabiae. We stayed at the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Institute, a former seminary with views of Mt. Vesuvius. During the day, we did field work, went to lectures, and ate long lunches. Occasionally, we were treated to outings by bus to see local attractions, usually after we had completed a cycle of staying up all night drinking Italian wine working and then formally presenting our designs, and were thus somewhat loopy.

Dendrobium kingianum 'Roy'

I purchased 'Roy' in spring 2009, at the Smith College Botanic Garden orchid sale. He has fragrant purple flowers in abundance when he blooms. The drawing at left depicts only one of his "branches." What are they really called? Bulb-lets?
To be honest, though I painted the picture on the left last night, the underlying pencil sketch was done last winter, when Roy sent up numerous spikes of flowers. This winter, he has not bloomed, though it is prime orchid blooming time and all my other orchids (except for the teeny baby Phal, which is still nor more than the size of my thumbnail) are blooming. Why? Well, it's my own fault. While he was blooming last winter, I overwatered him, thinking that surely putting up so many flowers must be taxing. As a result, instead of storing up flower-energy during the summer, Roy sent up a huge crop of clonal babies (keikis). This, I read, is a dendrobium's response to receiving surplus water during what is supposed to be its dry season. Oops. Those babies, however, after they sent down lots of fibrous white roots, were transferred to tiny pots, and given to friends (I still have one unclaimed. Any takers in Ithaca?). I'm keeping him dry right now, in the hopes that he will bloom next year. On the right is a color photo of my D. kingianum 'Roy,' alongside Oncidium Twinkle 'White Twinkle.' Twink has been banished to the corner of the kitchen under the grow-light, where she is now blooming her silly head off, because her flowers smell like cheap vanilla perfume, with top-notes of putrid fruit. Roy (coincidentally, also the name of my future father-in-law) smells like fresh iris and violets.

Edit: Since writing this post, I have taken a look at my orchids, and one of the offspring of Roy is growing a flower stalk! Hooray! The parent plant is also showing some swelling buds. There will be flowers after all, just a little late. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

poppy, Château d'Acquigny

Very full weekend, excuse the lack of posting recently. Last Friday-Saturday were spent riding the rails of New York state, for a studio project. Sunday was greenhouse work. Mondays are just crazy-busy for me. Man, I love teaching, but it is exhausting!

I'm working on some watercolors to post here, but (bien sûr) with all that's been going on its been really hard to find a non-exhausted moment when I can paint. I'm always stealing time from something else to have a wee moment of pause. Like now, I am supposed to be in class... A tout à l'heure!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

tiger lily, Parc André Citroën, Paris

Isn't this orange color just magnificent? This lily was glowing in one of the modernist bosquets of the Parc André Citroën, a wonderfully geometrical park in the XVe arrondissement in Paris.The park was designed by a group of architects and architectes-paysagistes (landscape architects) in the 1990s. While we were there last summer, there was a weather balloon mounted in the center of the park (is it still there? a semi-permanent fixture?). Square screens on four sides of the balloon changed color to indicate air quality (red=bad quality, green=good quality). The immense balloon was tethered to the ground with cables, and visitors could ride in its basket for an incredible view of Paris and of the park. I had never been in a balloon before, and the idea of a balloon view of Paris seemed too perfect to pass up. After a moment of extreme vertigo as we climbed higher and higher, and the basket swayed queasily, I steadied myself and snapped as many photos as I could manage (double click on images for larger views).
In the second photo of the three above, you can see the Tour Montparnasse off in the distance.  As you can see in the photo immediately above, there were ugly construction gates set up throughout the park, as the water system was being refurbished. Some of the water features were not functioning, but I am sure the work is completed now (if anyone reading this is heading off to Paris soon and wants to visit a really neat park, and if so I am envious). At the "head" of the park are two large glasshouses housing strange tropical plants, complete with informational placards. Several other, smaller glasshouses are placed near the bosquets (you can just barely make them out in the middle photo). Despite the construction work, many people were using the park, including a full-blown birthday party going on in one of the bosquets, and these adorable kids kicking a soggy football through the fountain between the two big glasshouses. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


This tiny passiflora was blooming in Cornell's Liberty Hyde Bailey Greenhouse (now sadly closed due to its deteriorating condition) last February. The elaborate flower pictured here was only about the size of a dime.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Rose, Parc et Jardin d'Acquigny, France

The Parc et Jardin du Château Acquigny has some beautiful roses, of the old, fragrant, billowy variety. My fiancé and I visited here the day after he proposed this past summer. The family to whom Château Acquigny belongs are friends of mine, ever since I stayed with them for two weeks in 2004, during a horticulture internship. It was romantic and nostalgic to visit again, as this was one of those places I knew I wanted to take Mike to, but never really thought it would happen. Aside from roses, a very pretty orangerie, and peaceful pastoral scenery, the park also includes some enormous, amazing trees, including two Sequoias and some immense London Plane Trees. If you ever find yourself in Paris and wanting to take a day trip, Acquigny is 45 minutes from Gare St. Lazare, though when you get there you'll need to take a bus into Louviers or call a taxi, though Acquigny is close enough to Louviers that you could bike the rest of the way. The d'Esnevals are really lovely people and may show you around in person. They have recently converted a graceful old carriage house into a gallery space, and frequently hold art events and concerts. Parc et Jardins d'Acquigny

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cherry Blossoms, Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow, Scotland

Geez, way to drop the ball already, Liz. That's okay, I know you understand. Maybe I should change the name of this posting event to "flower-every-day-I-can-manage-to-post." Nah, too long.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

a little spring in your step

Hello! I have been very lax in posting. Many apologies. I blame wedding planning and the hectic-but-so-far-so-good LAST SEMESTER of GRAD SCHOOL. Hurrah.

While the snow continues to fall, and spring seems very far away, I thought I'd bring back the flower-a-day posting. Forthwith, and until the end of April, I will bring you a flower each day, photographed by yours truly. Each flower shall be identified, along with its provenance. Use of flower images as screensavers and desktop backgrounds is encouraged (so long as you are honest and give me credit if anyone asks).

Today's flower is a (what else?) coquelicot, or field poppy. These iridescent red flowers grow wild throughout France. This one was blooming in a disused, weedy rail corridor (which, ridiculously charming, has a name:  La Petite Ceinture du 12e Arr. de la Friche Ferroviaire au Sentier Nature, in English "The Little Enclosure of the 12th Arrondissement [no trans.], of the Vacant Railway with a Nature Path," ye gods), which was being used variously as a sentier nature (nature path) and potager communal (community vegetable garden). Also as a place to spy on the gorgeous rooftop gardens of adjacent apartment buildings.

In the Square Charles Péguy, a park which adjoins La Petite Ceinture, several large placards explained to park visitors the importance of the city's tree maintenance workers, or Bûcherons-Élagueurs. Since I have a passion for the type of intensive tree pruning practiced in Europe, I couldn't resist reading them and taking a picture. Especially nice graphics, as well, which is typical of the Mairie (roughly, town administration) of Paris. Somehow that wood-grained tree-maintenance man, with his chainsaw and akimbo stance, manages to look chic and confident, for all he is a silhouette.