Garlic and Gooseberries: A Deep Well of Goodness


We have a new system in the garden: we now have pretty red flags on little sticks to put in our garden plots when we are away. The flags alert fellow gardeners that our plots may need watering. When we are tending our own gardens we can easily spend a few minutes spraying our neighbor’s plants – a few minutes that make a big difference for a neighbor in need. What a relief to know the vegetables will be cared for until we are back in town.

The concept of waving a red flag when we need help is so appealing, and depends on the belief that there is a well of goodness in people, a deep quiet well of goodwill, waiting to be tapped. I truly do believe most people are happy to help if they are but asked. It doesn’t take much to water a neighbor’s plot when we are already there with the hose in our hand, but we don’t know it is necessary unless we see the flag.

In some cases we know in advance we will need help, and can put the flag out for all to see, but the goodness of people truly shines when we need help unexpectedly. The other day I took a long, meandering walk to the community garden with my 88 year old mother. I held her arm tightly while navigating the uneven sidewalks, and she took in the charming houses and beautiful spring blossoms along the way. But on the way home, one block from my house, one tiny misstep caused her to fall, in slow motion, pitching forward and breaking her right arm. One moment we were discussing what to make for dinner and the next we were surrounded by the kindness of strangers. In the blur that followed I remember a small crowd of passers-by who offered help, called my daughter for me, and comforted us. Suddenly I heard “Do you need a doctor?” and our band of helpers cried in unison, “Yes!” Riding by on her bike with her small son in tow, a young woman who turned out to be the head of Geriatric Medicine at a large medical practice pulled over to tend to my mom, still laying on the ground. Then there were the EMTs Ron and Matt, and firemen and policemen, one of whom yelled at some irate motorists to “grow up and be civil to one another – there is a medical emergency going on here!”

While there is no denying the physical pain my mom is now enduring, my whole family remains a bit in awe of the kindness we encountered throughout the whole process of arranging her care and getting her home to California. Even the geriatric doctor who stopped to help continued to check in with us over the next few weeks. I lost track of the people we need to thank and I wouldn’t even know how to reach them. I hope somehow they can feel our gratitude.

A few days later, my daughter and I wandered into Harvard Square right after graduation ceremonies had let out. While eating ice cream cones on a crowded sidewalk we spotted a boy of about 10 eyeing our ice cream, and realized he was conspicuously alone amongst the revelers. He approached us and my daughter was the first to understand the situation: this young man was autistic, he was lost and he wanted ice cream. We kept an eye on him as he dove into the packed J.P. Licks ice cream shop; we alerted the people working there, found a policeman who got on his radio, and within minutes saw his terrified aunt, accompanied by another policeman, running towards us. As she arrived, he was being kindly handed a dish of chocolate ice cream, surrounded by a line full of concerned fellow customers. Relieved, we carried on our way, thinking of all those people who had suddenly appeared when my mom fell, and I saluted them. Perhaps paying it forward is the only way to repay such a debt.

Preparing to travel back to California the next week to help care for my mom, I had one more red flag to fly, this time to my husband. In the flurry of activity since the accident I hadn’t been able to plant the seed potatoes I had bought for the garden. They were sprouting and long overdue for planting. They had to get into the ground soon if we ever hoped to harvest them. As I waited to board my flight, not more than an hour after my husband left me at the airport, he sent me a text message. My phone lit up with pictures of the beautiful planting bags filled with dirt, seed potatoes nestled inside, watered and ready to grow, and some zucchini plants newly planted, for good measure.

A well of goodness, deeds of kindness: they are everywhere I look.

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Garlic and Gooseberries: New Spring, New Plan


FullSizeRender (1)Spring, summer, fall, winter, and then back to spring. The rhythm of a year is both reassuring and haunting. When you are going through a new experience – a job, a new school or city, or any life change – the first year is unfamiliar and every season is unexplored territory. Then suddenly, you are back to a time of year you remember and something shifts. For better or for worse, you have been here before and you know more or less what to expect. “Here we go again,” you think, with your heart singing over the good stuff and sinking over memories of the bad.

I approached this spring and summer with some trepidation as I remembered some tough times the year before. Once I realized what was happening I gave myself a good shake. I needed to remind myself that each day dawns fresh, full of possibilities, unburdened by the past. I had to get clear on the idea that, while the seasons repeat themselves, the events of history do not have to. The seasons may be familiar but we are each, in fact, quite different than we were the year before, precisely because of those events. All the experiences and lessons offered throughout the previous 12 months are alive within us and ready to guide us through the new year if we but take the time to listen. The year rolls through its cycle and, like magic, we get another chance with each revolution to apply our new knowledge.

With that thought in mind as I planned my garden for this year, I decided to see what I could learn from last year’s efforts and do things a bit differently this time around. Remembering the bugs that ruined the arugula and broccoli, the spinach that never even sprouted, the overgrowth and powdery mildew, and of course the unforgettable crowding and subsequent jailbreak of the pumpkins, I knew there was lots of learning to be done. A good look at my favorite gardening book Vegetable Gardening in the Northeast by Marie Iannotti gave me some insight into how to avoid these problems and I soon had a plan.

First of all, this year I planted a whole month earlier, spending Mother’s Day with my hands in the dirt. That early start should produce some tender salad greens. I also did not put any plants in the same part of the garden they were in last year, as rotating them keeps the soil from getting depleted by the nutrient needs of each type of plant. In keeping with the desire to keep the soil full of good nutrients for the hungry plants, I (or rather my husband – thank you!) amended it with lots of good compost before anything went into the ground. I also sprinkled scoops of New England fish fertilizer around. Not sure that will do anything but I figured, “How can it hurt?”


Perhaps the biggest challenged I faced was to not over plant, remembering how big those tiny plants eventually became. No broccoli, pumpkins or eggplant this time, and fewer zucchini, but I did add 2 tomato plants this year. Kind of excited about that, as there is just nothing quite as tasty as a sun warmed, ripe tomato right off the vine. To deter the bugs I interspersed herbs and flowers among the vegetables. Last year the herbs struggled in their shady corner of the garden so we will see how happy they are peeking out from in and around the other vegetables.

When we lived in Oregon, one of our greatest garden surprises was the delectable taste of home grown potatoes. This year I ordered seed potatoes and gardening bags from Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater Maine. Check out their website: I am really looking forward to seeing how those work out and tasting those taters in a couple of months.

The last change is in how I laid out the garden. Last year, everything was a bit haphazard, so I never knew if the little green shoots coming up were weeds or something I had planted. This year I planted the greens in mounded rectangular planting beds, and the root vegetables in wide rows, so it should be more obvious what to weed and what to leave. Already we are off to a good start, with the leeks getting fat and sturdy, and the lovely green garlic shoots from Gilroy marching in two straight roes. Who knows how it all will grow this year? I know there will be lessons in the seasons ahead, but it is reassuring to know there has been much learned already. I will welcome each dawn, ready for whatever comes next.FullSizeRender (2)

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Garlic and Gooseberries: Light Streams In


I walked out the door without a jacket this weekend. An unfamiliar warmth and exhilaration swept over me, quickly followed by a wave of distrust. Not sure if I could really believe that our long winter is finally over, I went back inside and got an extra layer, just in case. The plants and blossoms are also tentative in their reentry, making their appearance timidly, unsure of their welcome, but persevering nonetheless.

By all counts it was a long dark winter here in Boston, record breaking snowfall and frigid temperatures stretching into a slow, chilly spring. It wore people down, it really did. FullSizeRender-10Everyone was demoralized and dazed by the time winter finally eased its icy grip. But I feel it has not only been a hard time here in Boston: it seems a lot of people I know are struggling in some way. Friends who pay attention to astrology tell me the stars have something to say about this and I am inclined to believe them. Or perhaps it is because most of my friends and I are over fifty now. We are at a time of life when our parents are aging, our children are facing adult problems and we ourselves are experiencing health challenges. There is suffering, death, addiction, anxiety and depression everywhere. Unrest and tragedies in the world beyond my own circles, too, seep into our consciousness. How can we not feel the pain of the world’s suffering at some level?

To help me navigate these challenging times I have been reading Miriam Greenspan’s compelling book, Healing Through The Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear and Despair. IMG_3725

An insightful psychotherapist, Greenspan explains how it is only through allowing the dark emotions of grief, despair and fear to flow through us, to be felt and acknowledged, that we can find the gifts they offer: gratitude, faith and joy. Running from the pain, as tempting as it is, causes all sorts of emotional and physical damage, including addiction, violence, depression, illness and anger. She writes, “Painful emotions challenge us to know the sacred in the broken; to develop an enlarged sense of Self beyond the suffering ego, an awareness that comes from being mindful of life’s difficulties rather than disengaging from them; to arrive at a wider and deeper perspective not limited by our pain but expanded by it.”(p. 27)

Her words have struck a chord with me. My own painful experiences of the past few years forced me to face those demons of grief, fear and despair and, while there was nothing pleasant about it, I have to admit there have been gifts along the way. Greenspan is right: gratitude, faith and joy are indeed the unlikely offspring of some pretty dark emotions. Like childbirth, agonizing, messy and uncontrollable, the journey through hard times can result in new life.

Through the humbling experience of breaking down and rebuilding, I discovered another beautiful truth that Greenspan discusses in her book: the way to healing is through connection with others. In Greenspan’s words: “As we become more aware of our own dark emotions and able to tolerate them, we become more aware of the suffering of others and more empathic. We loosen the constriction of isolated pain. We open our hearts to the world. We grow in compassion.” (p. 240)

Ah yes, “…the constriction of isolated pain.” Isolation is the enemy and it can be a tough one to fight. When we are in pain, we can feel so alone. Depending on what we are struggling with, we can be paralyzed by shame, physical limitations, anxiety or any number of obstacles to seeking connection. Like being shut-in during this endless winter, when just walking outside required backbreaking shoveling, and getting anywhere was a merciless slog, reaching out can feel overwhelming. But once you find the courage to open up, you will find, like the crowds of people waiting for overdue trains, that you are not alone. We are connected beyond what we could have imagined. As Greenspan so beautifully puts it, “Look into the pain of the world and you find your own private path writ large. Look into your heart and you find the broken heart of the world.” (p. 212)

Once you can speak up, putting a voice to your pain, the worst is over and the healing can begin. Connection can be found in unlikely places. People show up to listen and you may be surprised who else has been where you are. This community connection can be the crack through which light streams into the inky darkness. I am talking about the life affirming joy that can be found in being seen, heard and understood, in knowing others have stood where you now stand, the relief of knowing you are not alone. You and the world around you benefit, as compassion breaks through the isolation.

I suppose it is not a surprise to realize the importance of human connection. We spend much of our lives in a variety of communities: family, friends, classmates, religious groups, neighbors. In fact it is not uncommon to feel alienated from some of these groups over time, as we grow and develop our unique selves. We don’t always get along, or agree with one another. In troubled times though, the deep value of community becomes clear, and we need to find ways to develop the support network – new or old – that we need. Whether it is a sorority or club amongst a sea of new faces in college, a table of lunch buddies we see every day, a recovery support group, or the familiar faces of your family and friends, the support of community can provide a sense of belonging that can carry you through. Those people provide motivation and accountability. They are a witness to your journey. They are there to notice when you stumble and listen to your pain. They are proof you are not alone.

IMG_3675This weekend I will plant vegetables in my community garden plot. The people there don’t know my particular struggles, nor I theirs, but we recognize each other’s humanity and pale faces after a harsh and brutal winter. This group doesn’t usually interact much but this spring is different: we have already had a planning meeting and two work parties to weed paths and sort out some communal issues. Already we are sending more emails, hoping to share plant purchases and future harvests. We are chipping in to improve our garden, letting each other know that we are not alone. As the garlic shoots and leeks rev up their growth after the long winter under snow, I feel the stirrings of hope: the gifts of gratitude, faith and joy are taking root.IMG_3676

Food Friday: Sweet Freedom and Passover Treats


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I have always loved Passover: the chaos, the rituals, the food. I love the reclining, the storytelling and the matzo-ball soup. I love the charosis – apples, walnuts, wine and cinnamon – layered into matzo sandwiches with horseradish that makes my eyes burn. I love the parsley dipped in salt water and the gefilte fish, yes, even the gefilte fish. I gorge on matzo and hardboiled eggs all week until my insides turn into cement. I love how the spotlight turns on the youngest child who asks the 4 questions and how all the children hunt for matzo and get prizes. I love opening the door for Elijah, and seeing the wine in his cup disappear, the Seder Plate full of symbolism, and the way we read the Haggadah around the table and bless everything we eat and drink. And how about those 4 glasses of wine? What Jewish pre-teen hasn’t felt their first drunken giddiness from parent-sanctioned Manischewitz at a Passover Seder?

The tradition of welcoming strangers to the table is one that is especially close to my heart. When I lived in Portugal as a child, our family hosted the only Seder in the area and wandering Jews always somehow found their way to our table. There were a handful of Jews in our expat community, and everyone brought their own traditions, loudly over-riding each other, insisting on their favorite tune or prayer. My memories of Seders past will always be accompanied by the grating sound of small, compact, red-haired Sophie Goldenblum belting out Chad Gadya with her New York accent.

This year we are the wanderers, as we drive to New Jersey for my husband’s family gathering. Every year his brave cousin hosts Seder for 4 generations of 25 raucous aunts, uncles, cousins and children, but we have often lived too far away to attend. Unlike my own family’s speedy service, this group reads every word and observes every rule, going late into the night. I will bring Orange Almond cake, Chocolate Biscotti, and a roasted artichoke tomato salad for our contribution, as the regulars will be providing my favorite staples of charosis and gefilte fish.

The youngest may ask the questions at Seders, but as an adult I have begun to ponder the meaning of the oft told story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. Yes, we were slaves and we celebrate our escape from bondage, but then we wandered in the desert for 40 years. I never really thought much about that part of the story until now. We wandered and sometimes we lost our way. We struggled and made mistakes. To be released from bondage sounds like a good thing, but once freed we must figure out what is next. When the shackles come off, we can then decide who we want to be, how we will live. In the unknowing, in the wilderness, that is where we have the space to grow, to learn, to develop. It is work but, unlike slavery, it is work we do for ourselves.

This Passover I would love to wish for freedom from pain and worry and bad times, but that is, in truth, not even desirable: from those dark times come light. When my father died at this time 7 years ago, our rabbi compared the grief we felt to this wandering in the wilderness. There was a comfort in that, in the idea that we would wander through this hard time and that we would eventually come through it whole.

So this Passover as I look at the world and the struggles we have with one another, I pray instead  for freedom from a different sort of bondage: I pray for us to be free from judgment – of ourselves and others, free from hatred, unkindness and cruelty. And in my wandering I will look for manna wherever I can find it, manna in the form of compassion, love, tolerance and peace.

Happy Passover, one and all.

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Orange Almond Cake  (A colleague shared this with my back in the 80’s – I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing it with you now!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 9 inch spring-form pan with parchment paper.

Boil 2 naval oranges in water just to cover until soft (about 30 minutes) Allow to cool, then puree in a food processor.

Beat 6 eggs until thick and pale yellow. Beat in 1 cup sugar, 1.5 cups ground almond flour, a pinch of salt, and the pureed oranges.

Pour into prepared pan and bake one hour. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan. Decorate with slivered almonds.

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The recipe for the amazingly delicious Chocolate Biscotti I made comes from this Boston Globe article:

A great source of gluten and grain free Passover recipes is Elana’s Pantry. Her gluten free matzo balls are wonderful!

A light and delicious salad for any occasion is my Roasted Artichoke and Tomato Salad:

Rinse and thaw two bags of artichoke hearts (I get them at Trader Joe’s). Place in one layer on a roasting pan. Sprinkle with 1 tsp coarse salt and 2 TBSP vegetable oil. Roast, turning occasionally in a 400 degree oven until slightly browned. Cool.

In a large salad bowl, combine 2 pints of cherry tomatoes, one sweet onion chopped and rinsed to remove the bite, one finely chopped red pepper and one chopped red pepper.

Make the dressing: Soften one garlic clove in the microwave for 5 seconds. Smash with a fork and mix with 1 tsp coarse salt, freshly ground pepper, 1/2 tsp oregano, 2 TBSP lemon juice, 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard and  5-6 TBSP walnut oil (or olive oil). Mix well and toss into salad.

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Garlic and Gooseberries: Lessons from the Garden



The inevitable darkness of winter has arrived. In November I cleaned up our tired garden in preparation for its long rest, pulling up and composting the yellowed vines and spent plants, and removing the buggy broccoli stalks. The cilantro and arugula had shot up, flowered and gone to seed, so I scattered the little pods in the hopes they will grow again next spring. The last of the calendula flowers were dried on the kitchen table, and infused into almond oil to be made into healing salves. The turnips were harvested, the herbs trimmed and the tenacious morning glory ripped from the fencing and uprooted. The sage, gooseberry and currant plants that had grown in the garden long before it was mine stood brave and strong, ready for the cold months ahead. I left the leeks and new garlic shoots with some trepidation, not quite believing what I know to be true: the upcoming freeze would sweeten and nourish the white bulbs underground so they would be flavorful and ready for us to eat later.

Now the dear patch of ground that brought me so much solace last summer lies under more than three feet of snow. All I can do is hope that nature knows what it is doing, for certainly there is no sign that anything will ever grow there again. If I learned anything from a year of gardening through life’s hard times, it is this: we cannot ever know what will happen, no matter how well we plan, nor how good our intentions. Despite the white and gray of January’s snowy landscape, however, I do believe that nature will deliver and that spring will arrive, bursting with color and life. This faith that dark times will turn to light is tempered by the knowledge that the light will also return to dark, but the faith brings comfort none the less. It also brings the courage to engage in life as it unfolds, and to embrace the lessons that are offered from the weeds as well as the flowers.

Here are some of the lessons my garden taught me this year:

  • A little struggle is good for everyone: Roots grow deeper when your plants are not over-watered.
  • Consume life with gusto: The more you harvest, the more will grow. Cut off the lettuce heads and new life grows from the stalks, pick the zucchini and more blossoms come forth, snip the herbs and fresh sprigs appear.
  • Sometimes maturity can only be obtained by letting go: Some produce will only ripen and sweeten off the vine or in someone else’s garden.
  • Be open to change: When something isn’t working dig it up, pull it out, get your hands dirty, try something new.
  • Don’t let bullies push you around: Trim them back and hem them in neatly. They will thrive happily within their boundaries and everyone else will have a chance to blossom.
  • Avoid unnecessary irritants or Don’t stand on ant hills: The ants may be harmless but you really don’t want them crawling up your legs.
  • And lastly, perfection is not required: There is always a little room for weeds.

Garlic & Gooseberries/Wednesday Wandering: Gilroy Garlic


When I was a child in California, my family often went camping. So many images are woven into the memories of those early days, our car pulling a trailer over miles of highways, the scent of pine trees in the campgrounds, the barren, dry hills of southern California. Somewhere in the basic vocabulary lessons of those years, I learned about Gilroy, the Garlic Capital of the World. Perhaps there are other places in the world that grow more or better garlic, but in my heart Gilroy will always be the capital.

On a recent trip to California, after a week of family togetherness and the momentous joy of attending my nephew’s wedding, my mother, my cousin and I took off on a road trip back in time. My parents always loved road trips, and for my 88-year old mother this was a chance to recapture the suspension of time and sense of adventure of those trips. We traveled the same highways and winding roads down the coast of California I remembered as a child. IMG_2565IMG_2561For every beach and town name on road signs my mother had a story to tell, a trip we had taken, a person who had lived there, a place we had camped. We stopped at 3 houses my family had lived in, including the first house my parents owned. I was born around the time they moved in there, and we stayed there 9 years. The names of my sister, brother and myself are still carved into the cement sidewalk outside.
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We found the house we had lived in for only 1 ½ years, where my mom found out she had breast cancer and we decided to move to Portugal, both events changing our lives forever. We stayed at a lodge in Big Sur where my cousin and I had camped with our families, the redwoods and scented air transporting us all to past camping adventures. My dad would have loved it all.IMG_2483

One of our first stops, before heading west to the coast was at the Garlic Shoppe in Gilroy, right off the freeway among miles of dry, flat fields of garlic. There we tasted garlic ice cream, which was surprisingly delicious despite repeating on us over the next several miles. I also bought a braided rope of 10 plump and pungent bulbs of garlic that accompanied me all the way back to Boston.Gilroy garlic

I separated two of those bulbs into about 30 cloves, and on an unusually warm October day I tucked them into the rich dirt of my garden, marking the rows with sticks. Infused and enriched as they are with all those good memories, they will hopefully grow big and strong by next summer.garlic cloves for planting


Garlic nestled in the dirt

Garlic & Gooseberries: My Runaway Pumpkin


As I was leaving the community garden the other day, I happen to glance back and I gasped. From where I was standing on the path I could see into my neighbors’ plot, and there, on their side of the fence between our gardens, was a sweet little pumpkin. MY sweet little pumpkin.IMG_2729

A vine from my garden, the renegade that had saved itself from the zucchinis by leaping over the brick path, had forged ahead right through the chicken-wire fence, on its way to freedom. There, in celebration, it produced a pumpkin, perfect in every way.

I choked up, I couldn’t breath, I sputtered: “But that’s MY pumpkin!”

On further inspection, it looks like the neighbors have built up a platform of blocks for it to rest on and ripen, knowing it wouldn’t have survived dangling from the fence. How kind.Runaway pumpkin

I have mixed feelings.

It looks so happy there, my little runaway pumpkin. It has its own platform on which to catch the fall sun, away from powdery mildew and aggressive zucchini, yet sheltered by the nearby protective sage leaves. I admit to feeling a bit rejected, but for heaven’s sake: it’s a pumpkin. Really, the vine was very clever in figuring out how to save itself and provide a better life for its offspring, though it still has one little pumpkin hanging out in the kale and cilantro patch.

I check on it every time I go, but I am not sure what else to do. So,  I guess I will be happy, and grateful for my neighbors. It takes a village to raise a pumpkin, after all.IMG_2730

Garlic & Gooseberries/Food Friday: Saving Sage


All summer I have been drying herbs to keep for cooking during the year. My kitchen table always seems to have oregano or sage, tarragon or thyme laid out on paper towels. The lemon balm, lemon verbena and chamomile never got too robust, but I did get a bit of them dried and put away in the cabinet. There are medicinal uses for many of these herbs and I look forward to experimenting with them over the coming month for help with colds, coughs, and digestive upsets.

My huge sage plant inspired me to see if there were more ways I could access its medicinal qualities. A perfect post appeared on a blog I follow called And Here We Are, written by an American expat living in England. Ariana Mullins writes engagingly about food, travel and life overseas, and recently posted What To Do With (Way Too Much) Sage. Her post gives information on the uses of sage, which seem to include just about every ailment and skin condition, and links to recipes and other articles. This is one good herb to have around.

I followed Ariana’s directions to make this Sage and Honey Cough Syrup and Sage Tincture.











I will have to investigate specific uses and dosages as I use these remedies because like all herbal concoctions they are medicines and can have negative as well as positive effects, but I hope they will come in handy. I hope to use the tincture for an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial skin toner, oral rinses for gum health and battling cold sores, and even as an anti-perspirant. The sage honey is so delicious I am almost looking forward to my first sore throat of the winter.

Now that I have gotten my feet wet, so to speak, with sage, I have calendula flowers drying on the kitchen table in anticipation of making healing calendula infused oil and balms.


Garlic & Gooseberries: Flowers, Flowers, Everywhere


The calendula has arrived!

IMG_2250I planted seeds early on, but never knew if they had taken hold, not quite sure how to distinguish their green sprouts from weeds. Suddenly though, there are beautiful orange and yellow flowers everywhere. It makes me happy to see them, bright and cheerful spots of color. Soon I will be turning them into oils and tincture, harnessing their wonderful healing properties.IMG_2722 IMG_2719

I finally gave in to the seductive charm of the morning glories, allowing them to have their way with the garden. They have wound their grasping vines up and down the fences, and onto every plant, but oh, my little garden looks like a Monet painting now. Monet painting

IMG_2246 IMG_2247The heart shaped green leaves and the vibrant purple flowers are everywhere, and the colors are accented by the little white flowers of the cilantro, chives, arugula and mint. I am letting them all flower and go to seed, allowing nature to do what it is meant to do. I hope some of them will reseed and come back next year. Even if that is not how it works, I love watching the bees go from flower to flower, knowing my plants are contributing to some luscious honey somewhere.IMG_2187 IMG_2191 IMG_2203

I am letting the broccoli plants flower too, as the florets are covered in tiny little bugs and bug eggs. IMG_2168When I first discovered the sesame seed-like eggs under every leaf I thought of a friend of mine who rescues butterflies. I swallowed my squeamishness in the hopes that perhaps these eggs were the beginning of something beautiful. My kind and gentle friend hunts for eggs and caterpillars on wild milkweed, feeding them and keeping them in safe enclosures until they become adult butterflies. Then she sets them free.  She told me she and her friend started to do the three R’s of Monarch work (rescue, raise and release) when they learned that only 1 Monarch in 100 survives to become an adult butterfly in the wild.  What a beautiful gift to offer the world: saving butterflies.

My bug eggs turned out to be aphids that ruined my broccoli.

I am ok with that. Aphids must be beautiful to someone in the natural world. Perhaps the lady bugs who love to eat them?IMG_2712

Garlic and Gooseberries: Benign Neglect


A month or so ago, I was already feeling the melancholy of fall approaching but my garden ignored my dark cloud and just continued growing. I visited a bit less often as I was out of town and other tasks were calling for my attention. Somehow I felt the garden was winding down but it seems there was plenty to keep my little patch of nature busy while I was otherwise engaged. In fact it seems there was quite a ruckus going on!

The battle between the overcrowded squash, pumpkin and zucchini plants was won by the zucchini, leaving most of the squash vines withered and defeated. However, one triumphant, renegade pumpkin vine leaped over the brick pathway taking over the barren failed spinach area. It looks quite happy there, canoodling with the kale and cilantro and I have high hopes for a baby pumpkin I spotted nestled under the leaves.

IMG_2164 Baby pumpkin in cilantro patch

It looks like that section is getting all kinds of new life. The stalk left over after I harvested the kohlrabi has sprouted three new bulbs. A second harvest – such luck!IMG_2249

A mutant purple eggplant specimen appeared recently, along with a couple of massive zucchinis. Undaunted by stories of woody, tasteless giant zucchinis, I promptly stuffed those monsters with a delicious mixture of veggies and smoked sausage, turning them into an awesome dinner.






In its quiet corner, the trusty Swiss chard grows and grows, shiny, healthy and colorful. I cut leaves every time I visit and add them to whatever is cooking, along with the ever-present herbs.


And the transplanted garlic has finally taken root. Just look at those tender shoots.


Lastly, there was great excitement when I confirmed that the jagged, slightly bug-eaten leaves under the sage plant are indeed the turnips I planted back in June. Lovely purple bulbs are peaking out from the dirt, and I will wait till cooler weather to pull them up.




Red Sox and Black Quilts


I was at a Red Sox game this summer, thinking about quilting.

It wasn’t my fault. I was trying very hard to concentrate. I like baseball, in theory. I have been a Red Sox fan for almost 30 years since my husband brought home a Red Sox T-shirt for me from a business trip. Now, of course, we live here which makes me doubly happy to root for them, but the details of the game have never been my strong suit.

That night it was very confusing. They were playing the Yankees, and one of the players who had been on the Red Sox earlier that week was suddenly playing for the Yankees, due to a rash of last minute trades. A player I liked from Oregon, my home state, who had once been on our team, was also now a Yankee along with an old Mariners favorite. I didn’t know who to cheer for. As someone who is vague on the details of sports rules – did you know you can’t strike out on a foul? – I often follow the lead of the crowd to know when to cheer, but this crowd had a higher than usual density of loud Yankees fans. So, for someone who likes things to be black or white, it was requiring a lot of attention to keep track of who was on first, so to speak. I thanked my husband for answering all my questions, and he made some comment about how many questions he would be asking if we were at a quilting convention, and well, the next thing I knew, I was thinking about quilting.

My yearning for black and white brought to mind the quilt I am making for my son, who is in his twenties. Back when he left for college, I decided to make him a quilt. Not wanting to offend me, but also not being partial to traditional quilts, he asked if it could be black. Undaunted, I bought fabrics in black, grey and white and began to design an appropriately male quilt. I love the process of planning a quilt. I live with it in my head, I daydream, and sketch and scribble ideas on graph paper for a long time before I cut and sew. Quilting is an unusual craft in that whole fabrics must be cut up and then put back together in a completely new way. It is unclear how the small pieces will end up looking in their new configuration and sometimes designs have to be reworked. The entire process is one of discovery. Since my son left for college, the black quilt has taken on a life of its own and I tinker with it endlessly. We have moved across country, my son has graduated, moved home and left again, and still the quilt lingers. It has morphed in size and design to something that fits who he is now far better. The pieces have been cut and placed and are ready to be sewn together. Yet it has been so long in the making, I hardly know how to sew up the edges and hand it over.

The fans at the game became steadily drunker, louder, happier, and I thought how dangerous it would be to quilt drunk, how easily I could hurt myself and ruin the quilt. I started to see how draining that intense concentration has been. Perhaps it is time to relax. I am sure my son has no idea how much effort I have put into that quilt. Once it is done, only I will see the missed stitches, and the crooked seams, and they won’t really matter. It will be beautiful. It will be just the way it is supposed to be.

Sitting there in an historic ballpark on a balmy night I wondered, does it really matter who got traded, who retired, who is playing for which team? It is time to sit back and enjoy the game. It is time to finish the quilt.

Garlic and Gooseberries: Melancholy


When I came home from the garden the other day and started to make dinner, I found myself overcome with sadness. I stopped washing the zucchini – from Trader Joe’s, not the garden, since only one has been harvested from my enthusiastic plants – and let the melancholy wash over me. Why was I sad? After a week away I had found that much of the squash and pumpkin plants had withered away, taking the promise of a fall harvest with them. One of the green eggplants had turned bright yellow, which I believe means it is over ripe and bitter, only good for seeds now. Not remembering which variety of eggplants I planted, I realize now that those sweet little green orbs are not supposed to get much bigger than they already are, and I should have picked that yellow one long ago.IMG_2073

But really, what were those waves of sadness about? My husband gave me a hug, and I felt a little silly. Was it a sense of failure that I have not turned out to be a very good plant mama after all? Should I have fertilized more, or planted less? Was it the dirt, the sun exposure, the bugs and powdery mildew, or was it, as my daughter said, just the cycle of life?

My husband reminded me that it has never been about the end result, but only about the process. This little garden gave me hope and purpose and a giddy sense of joy when I was shaky in all those areas. I am so grateful. So perhaps those withered squash vines scared me a little with their reminder of the end of the growing season. Yes, the chard is still gorgeous, and the broccoli and turnips are just beginning their moment of glory, but let’s not fool ourselves: the summer is waning. IMG_2062I have always deeply loved the warmth and light of summer, so letting it go is hard. But this summer has had its ups and downs, no question about it. Sitting with my sadness is a good way to recognize that, and then to let it go. Isn’t it better that life does not unfold exactly as planned? If it all went smoothly we would not know what to appreciate, and what to value, how to be flexible or how to seek out answers and get help. We would not know how strong we are or when it is okay to fall apart. Hidden gifts. IMG_2068

I woke up the next morning forgiving the garden its less than perfect outcomes. I will take my cue from the leeks and turnips that dig down deep as fall comes, gathering strength and substance in the quiet and darkness of the cooler seasons.

Food Friday/Garlic and Gooseberries: Italian Zucchini and Leek Omelet


In honor of my daughter’s upcoming semester in Italy, I made what I call an Italian omelet for brunch the other day. Actually, I am not sure if this is how they make omelets in Italy, but somewhere along the way I learned this technique and have always called it that. Using our first zucchini from the garden, this light and puffy breakfast was a great way to celebrate her new adventure. We got to use some fresh chives and the last of the cilantro from our garden to garnish our creation. One of the things I love about this recipe is that you can use whatever you have on hand: asparagus, spinach with garlic and yellow summer squash are a few ideas of what can be cooked up and used instead of the zucchini, and you can add your favorite herbs on top. Dill, thyme, oregano all add their own flavor. IMG_1889

Even if you have no plans to jet off to Italy, this omelet is easy and delicious and will add a little zest to your morning.

This recipe makes 3-4 portions, but it is very adaptable. If you have more mouths to feed, use two frying pans and increase the amounts proportionately.  You can make it smaller, with fewer eggs and it will just be flatter, but no less delicious.

Italian Zucchini and Leek Omelet

1 medium zucchini, sliced into ¼ inch wide rounds, or half rounds if the zucchini is very wide (about 1 cup)

½ large, or one small leek, well washed to get out all the hidden dirt, sliced finely (mostly the white part, but some of the green is ok) (about 1 cup)

6 eggs


fresh chives and cilantro

olive oil, butter or bacon grease

Optional: 2 TBSP parmesan cheese, grated

Heat 2 TBSP of oil, butter or grease in a 9-inch frying pan on medium heat. Use a pan that can go into the broiler, not one with a plastic handle. (I use stainless steel or cast iron). Add leeks and toss to cover with the oil. Cook gently about 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add zucchini slices and cook on medium high heat, tossing occasionally for about another 5-10 minutes. You want them to turn slightly golden on both sides and for some of the water to cook out of them. Sprinkle with some salt.

In the meantime, whisk together the eggs until frothy with some big bubbles.

Turn the broiler on.

When the vegetables look golden and glistening, add last TBSP of fat and spread the zucchini and leeks evenly over the bottom of the pan. Pour the eggs over them evenly. Tip the pan a bit to make sure the eggs cover the bottom of the pan. Allow to cook a minute or two until they start to firm on the bottom and sides of pan. Then take a spatula and tuck it under one edge, lifting the omelet up a bit, at the same time tipping the pan in that direction so some of the runny egg on top runs down into the space you have made. Move the spatula around the pan repeating that so that the runny egg goes from the middle of the omelet to the pan underneath the edges all the way around the pan. This makes delicate layers of puffy cooked egg around the edges, and the middle will look a bit deflated and still a bit wet. At this point put the whole pan into the broiler for about 1-2 minutes, adding the grated parmesan cheese before you do, if you like. Take it out when the middle has puffed up and turned a lovely golden brown.

Sprinkle with about ½ tsp of coarse sea salt and chopped chives and cilantro. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.IMG_2079


Garlic and Gooseberries: Everyone Needs Space to Grow


The milk spray was a success! It seems to have gotten rid of the powdery mildew and the zucchini are robust again. That is a bit of a mixed blessing, however, as they are now taking over that part of the garden. They have crowded out the eggplants which had been the strongest and most prolific I had ever managed to grow. IMG_1887Now those plants aren’t getting enough sun and the many eggplants that had started to grow have stalled. Why, oh why did I plant them so close together? They were so tiny I never imagined they would get so big. This is a phenomenon I should have learned already: I have two children who are young adults, a stage I could only imagine in a theoretical way when they were babies.

Everyone needs space in the world to grow, even eggplant. When my children were young I remember they were always within arm’s reach, on the floor by my feet, in my arms, on my lap. Now it is a bit crowded when everyone is home, on top of each other, needing air and room to spread out. This summer they are both in different cities where they have plenty of room to grow.

I think of this as I clear the weeds away from the plants, pruning away leaves, making room for air to circulate and sun to come through, training the growth of the zucchini away from the eggplants to give them both the space they need. They will do their growing on their own, but some maintenance and support is still helpful.

While the eggplants have stalled, the first zucchini and more yellow squashes are showing up. I am thrilled and wondering what I will make when the overabundance starts.







Wednesday Wandering: Downtown Chicago


On a recent quick trip to Chicago we were faced with a challenge: how do we capture the essence of this city with only one day set aside for sightseeing? True to form, we had already planned a few meals to capture the flavors: deep dish pizza on arrival, reservations at a famous steak and seafood place, and peirogis and cabbage slaw from a deli in Ukrainian Village, all of which richly satisfied our taste buds.

In order to similarly satisfy our tourist curiosity we decided to focus on downtown: The Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park and a walk down the Magnificent Mile. Click on the links in this post to learn more about some of the places we enjoyed. Exploring the Art Institute was pure joy – almost as good as the deep dish pizza. IMG_1652_2We covered Impressionism and Modern American painting, seeing some classics and personal favorites. IMG_1647_2I got the audio tour, something I have started doing recently when I go to museums, allowing me to choose which paintings to hear about and which don’t interest me as much. Two special exhibits enriched our afternoon. I personally found the exhibit on Ethel Stein, Master Weaver to be tremendously inspiring. This 96 year-old artist began her body of work in her 60s. It is never to late to follow your passion. A huge exhibit on René Magritte’s mind-bending work was also wonderful. We left behind several other collections as the museum is too big to cover in one day.IMG_1655_2

Right outside the Art Institute is the beautiful and lively Millennium Park. Teaming with people but still offering the special pleasure of nature and fresh air, the park was brimming with wild flowers and meandering paths. There is something thrilling to me about a park in the heart of the city. I love the view of skyscrapers framing a landscape of greenery and flowers. Millennium Park plays with those two contrasts particularly well.

IMG_1682 IMG_1679






IMG_1686_2As we came out of the paths, a live band was playing in a concert area, and where the park met Michigan Ave, a huge mirrored sculpture called the Bean drew crowds of fun loving tourists checking out their distorted reflections.


Chicago is known for its exceptional architecture, and on the sunshiny mild summer day we were there the sky scrapers sparkled.




We were struck by the grace and beauty of the wide range of styles, including the Wrigley building. Wrigley, of Doublemint and Juicy Fruit gum fame, and Wrigley Field, was a name we saw everywhere.


The neo-gothic Tribune Tower is imposing and intriguing. It has stones and bricks from historic sites brought from around the world by journalists, embedded in its stone facing, with plaques stating which ones. IMG_1713The 60s era round buildings called Marina City caught our attention with several floors of an open parking garage, causing us to wonder how many cars had done a swan dive from there, ending up in the river. Apparently it has been in several movies, at least one of which did have a scene with a car flying out of the garage into the river. Ugh.

A friend suggested I visit the lovely Driehaus Museum, a well-kept secret that I am sharing with you as it is a special treat. It is a well-preserved palatial 19th century home, furnished as it would have looked in its heyday.  Lavish and brimming with marble and extravagance, the Driehaus Museum houses a spectacular collection of Tiffany glass lamps and other stained glass.IMG_1721



My favorite part of our whirlwind day? Stumbling upon the Fannie May chocolate store with its world famous Mint Meltaways. Sublime.






Food Friday/Garlic & Gooseberries: Swiss Chard and Bacon Soufflé


Soufflés seem to have gone out of fashion. Why is that? I think maybe they seem intimidating, and yes, they do have a lot of steps that might seem complicated at first. Then there is that persistent possibility that they may not rise, or that they will rise and then fall before getting to the table. Well, okay. I see why they may have fallen out of favor. However, when I harvested my first big armful of rainbow swiss chard leaves from my garden, I wanted to do something special with them, and I knew it had to be a soufflé.IMG_1780_2

It has been a long time since I made one (see factors above) and since I had failed soufflé-dish-buttering in cooking school – yes, you read that right- I was a little nervous. I decided to return to the source: I studied Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking recipe for Spinach Soufflé and then adapted it to make the dish I had in mind. As I worked my way through the many steps I kept thinking, “This can’t possibly be worth it. I won’t do this again.” After the dish was in the oven, however, and the many pans and bowls were washed, the house started to smell truly delicious. IMG_1790My stomach began to growl. When I pulled it out of the oven, the soufflé had risen 2-3 inches above the dish, bacon and cheese crispy on the top: a thing of beauty. I was so excited. From the first flavorful bite that evening to the cold leftovers for lunch the next day, all I can tell you is this:

It IS worth it. I will make it again and you need to try this. You will love it. It is THAT good.

There are a few steps you can prepare in advance, which is what I will do next time, and that will make it a lot easier.

I served this soufflé with a simple tomato and cucumber salad and crispy French bread. It makes a perfect light dinner.IMG_0876


Swiss Chard and Bacon Soufflé (serves 4 or 2 with leftovers to eat cold the next day)





You will need a six cup soufflé dish

1 tsp butter

2 TBSP grated parmesan cheese



2 slices bacon

1 lb swiss chard, cleaned & finely chopped – should be about 8 cups (or enough frozen spinach, thawed and drained, to make 1 cup)

¼ tsp salt

2 small or 1 large garlic clove, finely minced


Sauce base:

3 TBSP butter

1 TBSP chopped shallot or green onion

3 TBSP flour (gluten free option: 2 TBSP almond flour and 1 TBSP tapioca flour)

1 cup milk

½ tsp salt

grinding of pepper

¼ tsp nutmeg


½ cup grated parmesan cheese


5 eggs

pinch of salt

¼ tsp cream of tartar


To start:


Butter the bottom and all the way up the sides of the soufflé dish as evenly as possible with 1 tsp butter. Distribute the parmesan as evenly as possible on all surfaces by shaking the dish, tipping it on its side and rotating it. Turn upside down over the sink and tap lightly to remove excess. To avoid my humiliating cooking school mistake of accidentally leaving a thumbprint inside the buttered dish, don’t be tempted to touch up the coverage with your finger.IMG_1785


The greens: (you can do this earlier in the day, or a day or two before. Warm up slightly as you continue)


Chop up the bacon in very small pieces and fry in a large frying pan until very crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Leave a couple of TBSP of bacon grease in the pan. Set aside.

In another pan with a lid, cook the greens down with about ½ cup water on medium heat, until very soft (about 10 minutes, but watch that they don’t burn. Add more water if not soft). You should end up with about a cup. You can use frozen spinach if you prefer, thawed and drained, ending up with 1 cup. Press as much water out of the greens as possible.

Sautée the finely chopped garlic and the greens in the bacon grease with ¼ tsp salt until warmed through and thoroughly mixed. I puréed them with an immersion blender at this stage, but if they are finely chopped and mashed up, that can work too.


The sauce base: (this can also be done earlier and set aside with some pats of butter on top. Warm slightly when you start preparing the rest)


Melt 3 TBSP butter in saucepan and add in 1 TBSP chopped shallot or green onion. After a minute mix in flour (or almond flour and tapioca), stirring into a paste, and cooking over medium heat 2-3 minutes without browning. Remove from heat. Bring 1 cup milk to a boil in a small pan or in the microwave and pour into butter mixture, whisking quickly until blended. Whisk in salt, pepper and nutmeg. Return to heat and boil, whisking 1 minute. Sauce will be thick. Remove from heat.

Immediately begin to separate 4 eggs, putting whites into a large mixing bowl to beat later. Put yolks into sauce, whisking after each one.IMG_1781_2

IMG_1782_2IMG_1784_2Stir in the greens. Combine thoroughly.


Egg whites: (this must be done right before you want to put the soufflé in the oven, about 40-45 minutes from dinner time!)


Add one more egg white to the mixing bowl (total of 5 egg whites) and save the last yolk to add to an omelet or scrambled eggs another day. Beat egg whites with a mixer, starting on a slow speed until they are frothy, then gradually increasing the speed. After about 1 minute when they are foaming, add a pinch of salt and ¼ tsp cream of tartar. Beat another minute or two. When whites start to stiffen up and turn shiny, test to see if they hold a peak when beaters are lifted up. If they droop, beat a bit more until they stand up in peaks. They should look shiny and smooth. Do not overbeat! (If you do, and they get granular and dull, beat in another egg white…)IMG_1786_2


Put it all together:


With a rubber spatula, stir ¼ of the beaten egg whites into the pan with the lovely green sauce base, along with ½ the crispy bacon and all but 1 TBSP of the grated parmesan cheese.IMG_1787_2

Now put the rest of the beaten egg whites into the pan and gently but quickly fold them into the green mixture with the rubber spatula, cutting down through the whites and scooping some of the sauce up from the bottom onto the whites on top. Repeat until most of the whites have been gently incorporated. It should take about a minute, and don’t worry if there are some areas where the whites are not quite mixed in.IMG_1788_2

Pour the fluffy mixture lightly into prepared soufflé dish and sprinkle top with remaining cheese and bacon.IMG_1789

Place dish on rack in middle of preheated 400 degree oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 375 degrees. Do not make any loud noises – like dropping things or slamming cabinets! Bake 25-35 minutes. When it is done, the soufflé will have risen 2-3 inches above the rim of the dish. It will be brown on top and firm to the touch.IMG_0878

The soufflé will start to sink almost as soon as it comes out of the oven but will still remain a bit higher than the rim of the dish, so take it right to the table. (The accompanying photo was taken about 5 minutes after coming out of the oven.) Oooh and aaaah, and then serve it up. Poke the tip of a sharp knife straight down in the middle and then slice into quarters. Scoop it out like you would a slice of pie. Serve with a light salad with vinaigrette dressing and some French bread.

Pat yourself on the back and be proud: you just made a soufflé!





Garlic & Gooseberries: Midsummer Report


Progress: The garden has been busy growing and the first eggplant has been harvested along with our first and only yellow summer squash so far. There are lots of zucchini and yellow squash blossoms but only one actual squash. I had never heard of anyone’s zucchini plant not producing until I met my neighbor, who has never had any luck growing zucchini. We will see if I follow in her footsteps or eventually find myself offering her our excess. Stay tuned.IMG_1636IMG_1633IMG_1815

A large kohlrabi has now been harvested and is awaiting being turned into Smoked Paprika Kohlrabi Fries, a recipe I love on the inspiring Inspiralized website. There are also some sweet little green eggplants starting to show up, and our first leaves of Russian Red Kale. The swiss chard is vibrant and plentiful.IMG_1881

IMG_1889Chives and cilantro have been gracing many meals recently. I love keeping them in glasses of water on the counter and snipping them onto our food. They added some great zip to the yellow squash and red kale I sautéed in butter the other night.IMG_1819

Problems: In the meantime, some of the squash leaves have developed powdery mildew. After a bit of research I started spraying them with diluted milk, as suggested by Marie Iannotti in her book Vegetable Gardening in the Northeast. I will watch them carefully to see if it works.IMG_1635_2

A lesson in never giving up: I am happy to report that there are a few new garlic shoots where all the transplanted garlic died off earlier. Perhaps they will produce some bulbs in the fall or next spring. The leeks too are coming along slowly. They can take their time. I will have a soup pot and a few potatoes ready whenever they get big enough. While the basil and lemon balm are struggling, the lemon verbena has finally taken hold and I am happily harvesting and drying leaves along with lots of oregano, sage and mint. IMG_1643_2

Reported missing: the turnip seeds I planted may or many not be coming up. I can’t tell if what I am seeing are weeds or not. The pot marigolds/calendula are also nowhere to be found. I hope I didn’t accidentally pull them up in a fit of garden housekeeping. Still no sign of spinach. I will plant some more in a couple of weeks.

Unwelcome visitor: the beautiful morning glory that I was excited to find popping up has turned into an unwelcome guest. It is a vine that wraps itself around all the other plants, growing aggressively, putting out the occasional flirtatious purple flower to distract me from the damage it is causing. (See its deceptive heart shaped leaves threatening the lemon verbena above?) Out it went the other day, evil temptress, before it could do any more harm.

Community news: Our fearless community garden coordinator called a meeting recently and 6 or 7 people out of 24 showed up. It was a friendly, civilized group and together we solved a thorny issue about placement of hoses, conjured up a set of rules and decided we should all be responsible for weeding the paths around our plots. Social hour and a work party may be organized at some point in the future. Meeting adjourned.


Swiss Chard:



Happy eggplant:



Garlic and Gooseberries: Bolting


Browsing in a small bookstore recently, I came across this treasure: Vegetable Gardening in the Northeast by Marie Iannotti.

Even in today’s world where it seems every question can be answered by a Google search, there is something very comforting about holding a book of instructions in my hands. It feels like everything I need, including answers to the questions I don’t know to ask, are right here between its covers. It is here that I confirmed what one of my friends suggested in the blog comments: it really was too warm to plant spinach at the end of June, which explains why none is growing. But the author also says to just hold onto those seeds and plant again towards the end of summer for a fall harvest in cooler weather. A second chance.

I have also been learning about BOLTING in the last week or so. When plants feel stressed, because the weather is too warm or the days are too long, they make a break for it, a sprint to the finish. “The seasons are changing! Quick! Save yourself!”

They shoot into reproductive mode, sending up tall stalks and putting their energy into making seeds. The leaves get bitter and will soon die off.

I can relate to this reaction in plants: I feel like bolting when under stress too, and let’s face it, I probably get a little bitter too!

With plants we need to snip off those runaway stalks quickly, give them lots of water and trick the plants into producing tender new leaves to extend the harvest season.

I have been trying to learn those kinds of tricks to keep myself from bolting under stress, but there is no handy book of instructions. Without a friendly gardener to do it for me, I am learning how to take better care of myself, and when running away really isn’t an option, a walk to the garden can definitely help.IMG_1589

Food Friday: Island Creek Oyster Bar and Farm


toddler oysters editedBack in May, my husband participated in a team building exercise at Island Creek Oyster Farm, out in Duxbury Bay with some colleagues. He approached it with mixed feelings: while a change of pace is always enjoyable he was busy with work and travel, and oysters were not at the top of his priority list. Imagine my surprise that day when I started receiving texts and photos showing oysters at each stage of their growth.

“Look at these toddler oysters!”

“There are teenagers growing out here in these beds”IMG_1611

OK. Who knew it would be such a fun and interesting day?

He came home full of information, enthusiasm and naturally, oysters. The team ended the day with a cooking class and dinner at the Island Creek Oyster Bar in Kenmore Square, a restaurant opened in partnership with the Farm to highlight the magnificent locally harvested oysters. Proud of his newly acquired ability to shuck oysters and excited about the taste and quality of the dinner, including the legendary buttermilk biscuits, he vowed to take me to dinner there soon.

Getting reservations at the ICOB is no easy feat, as word has spread about this great place. The location right at Kenmore Square near Fenway Park gives baseball fans a perfect way to mix sports with culinary decadence during the long Red Sox season. Luckily for us we were able to book a table for our 29th anniversary a couple of weekends ago, after extracting a promise from my husband that he would not pick up a shucking knife and join in once we got there.


The restaurant is airy, open and beautiful, with one whole wall made up of cages full of oyster shells, illuminated from below. The star ingredient is evident everywhere and a long bar full of a huge variety of oysters on ice is manned by many shuckers.

We had our own Mad Men moment, pairing a martini with a huge platter of Island Creek oysters from Duxbury, perhaps the very ones my husband had met as young adults in the bay. The menu detailed a multitude of choices of local shellfish and where they are all grown, including lobster caught by the chef’s cousin Mark in Maine. This is a very personal experience!IMG_1595

The shellfish is complemented by many appetizing choices: cooked appetizers, salads, several fish entrees and even some great sounding meat and chicken dishes, along with a full selection of sides to share. The night we were there the salmon tartare with a touch of sesame oil, which we ordered after seeing it arrive at a neighboring table, was delectable. IMG_1592We both enjoyed the monkfish and bluefish entrees, and the famous buttermilk biscuit was so perfectly light, crispy, flakey and ever so slightly sweet that we didn’t even need dessert.IMG_1597

The beautifully designed space offered something many restaurants can’t seem to pull off: decent acoustics. Despite the size of the open area we could hear each other relatively easily and actually carry on a conversation while enjoying the great oldies soundtrack playing in the background. While we savored every bite and reminisced about 29 years together, we kept noticing a charming mother-daughter pair sitting next to us. The young mom and her 10 year old daughter worked their way through oysters, salmon tartar, clam chowder and lobster rolls with admirable gusto. We struck up a conversation with them, remarking on the daughter’s sophisticated palate, and learned she was about to go off to camp in Maine where she would be eating sloppy joe’s for a month. This was her farewell dinner. Hailing from San Francisco, a city we would love to live in again some day, this was a yearly tradition for them. They in turn enjoyed a moment’s conversation with their neighbors on their other side. Certainly you don’t need to meet and greet the other diners if you aren’t in the mood, but there was something so open, friendly and personal about the atmosphere, something almost celebratory as if everyone was there for a special event, that we left feeling like we had dined with good friends.

We are eager to go back again – my husband is still hoping to get a few oysters to shuck himself.


For more information, here is a link to the Farm, the Island Creek Oyster Bar, and an article about both in Boston magazine.

Garlic and Gooseberries: Gooseberry Demise


I imagine you all waiting with bated breath for news of the unripe gooseberries I brought home the first day, the very berries that inspired the name of this series, along with the now dead garlic. Well, I have a story for you.IMG_1402

My fruit allergy did not stop me from wanting to make jelly, knowing there would be willing consumers amongst my friends, and family, and so I picked a recipe for Gooseberry-Lemon Verbena Jelly from Preserving For All Seasons by Anne Gardon. IMG_1569

I was particularly excited because lemon verbena was one of the herbs I had just planted. I eagerly waited for the berries to ripen and for the herb plant to grow enough leaves to fill a cup measure.

Timing is everything, right? By the time the berries ripened there were about 6 leaves on the little lemon verbena plant. 1 cup of leaves is a whole lot more than six. Undeterred, I boiled the fruit and strained it in a bag hanging over a bowl, which made the kitchen look like a mad scientist had taken over. IMG_1407I poured the beautiful juice into a glass container and froze it until the lemon verbena could catch up.

Yes, there was a little voice that told me this was an awful lot of effort for 4 tiny jars of jelly I would not be able to eat, at a time when I had many other things demanding my attention, but I didn’t listen. Sometimes a louder, bolder sign is needed to get my attention. One day, as I was struggling with some stubborn item in my freezer, I knocked the container of berry juice and out it flew, crashing into a million shards of glass and chips of frozen gooseberry juice. I am still finding sticky reminders everywhere.

Seriously, I may have to change the name of this blog series.

There is a happy ending to this story though. The armful of rhubarb I brought home the other day quickly went through a similar science experiment process and became a refreshing summer drink, mixed with maple syrup and a sprig of mint. Ahh, summer is a lovely season, isn’t it?IMG_1414