Gardening Home

On Tree Stalking

 

This is not my garden. It belongs to a guy called Monet.

When we first moved here, I didn’t know much about west coast plants so was pretty much flying blind when we planted the first time. So just before Thanksgiving, we redid our garden. My vision was that it was going to be a Garden of Eden type setup (minus the snakes and except that we would wear loincloths since our homeowners association forbids public nudity) wherein, when hungry, we would just venture outside and pluck food off of a tree for just-in-time consumption. Good-bye, grocery stores!

Aside from a walkway lined with camellias, we installed loquats, figs, grapefruit and avocado. But to have a really well-rounded diet, you need to add persimmon and pomegranate too. But alas! Persimmon and pomegranate were out of season. I could not have them! I had to wait until they were available in bare root form, sometime in the winter. Winter!!! I can be a little impatient and obsessive sometimes (shocked hush falls upon the world).

This camellia actually is from my newly planted garden.

So I started calling. I called every nursery within 50 miles of me, and scoured the ones online too. They were saying January. February. I wept. And after a day of rabid stalking research, the nice man at Home Depot told me he expected them to come in mid-December. This was better news. This was hope. And then a little desperation kicked in because I started calling him every day to check on the trees because what if they came in early? And then I started get a little embarrassed because he clearly recognized me so I started using different accents but the same voice. Hindsight is always 20/20.

These are also from my garden. Oh wait, not mine. They’re from the Queen of England’s garden. Nevermind.

Finally, on the day I used my Alabama accent on the phone, he told me that they were in! They hadn’t been unpacked yet, but they were in! I dropped everything. I sped off to Home Depot. And there they were, a huddle of bare root trees, tied together on the ground like a bunch of people kidnapped for ransom but with sticks for bodies.

Since they were bound together I had to have an employee cut them apart. But…I cleverly avoided the male employee in the department since I feared he would recognize me, and went up to the female employee. She said she didn’t have a knife and walked over to the male employee. He asked me which types of trees I was looking for and I meekly answered him. He looked at me and asked, “Did you call?” to which I replied, “I called yesterday.” which was technically true.

At last. I’ve found you.

I took them home, followed the instructions on the package, and after watching a billion videos on how to prune a bare root fruit tree, pruned them. This stick in the ground is the persimmon:

and this one the pomegranate:

You just have to trust that these are going to produce enough food for a family of four in a few months, people. It’s called faith.

 

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Cooking Food

Duck with Lavender Honey

It’s a (relatively) chilly December day, bright and sunny with just a bit of bite in the air — the So-Cal way of announcing winter. Though I don’t miss the long, cold winters in the east and midwest, in a place that gets nearly year-round summer, chill is a a bit of a novelty. It’s also the perfect weather for duck.

Crispy-skinned, savory and fatty, o how I love thee duck. What do I make for Thanksgiving? Duck. Christmas? Duck. Easter? You guessed it. Duck is the new black, people!

What I love about this recipe is that it requires very little hands-on time, which leaves more time for fun things like tabletop decor.

Don’t judge my wrinkled tablecloth. It’s too big and unwieldy to iron properly. I just dim the lights and serve wine which seems to take care of most of the wrinkles. And most other things in life, come to think of it.

I’ve been making this duck for about 13 years and I never tire of it. Hope you’ll love it as much as I do!

DUCK WITH LAVENDER HONEY adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Savoring France

Ingredients

  • 4 tsp fresh lavender blossoms or 2 tsp dried blossoms
  • 4 tsp herbes de provence
  • 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 duck, about 5.5 lb
  • 4 TBSP lavender, acacia or other strong-flavored honey
  • 3 TBSP red wine

The day before:  Mix the spices and herbs together in a small bowl. Remove the giblets from the duck cavity, rinse the duck and pat it dry. Using a sharp knife, cut crisscrosses through the fat — but not into the meat — of the breast. Rub the duck inside and out with the herb mixture. Discard the neck. Let marinate overnight, or at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Roast for 2 hours. Remove form the oven and pour off all but 1 TBSP of the collected fat from the pan (I reserve the fat and make french fries with it, but that is admittedly over the top!). Spread the duck breast with 2 TBSP of honey and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Baste with pan juices, and roast another 10 minutes. Remove duck again and spread with the remaining 2 TBSP honey, and sprinkle with half the lavender blossoms. Roast for 10 minutes longer, then baste again with pan juices. Cook for another 5 minutes and remove form the oven.

Move the duck to a platter, cover the it loosely with aluminum foil, and let stand for 10 minutes while you prepare the sauce.

Put the roasting pan over medium heat and add the remaining lavender blossoms and the red wine. Deglaze the pan, stirring with a wodden spoon to remove any browned bits from the pan bottom. Cook until well blended and slightly reduced, 3-4 minutes. Keep warm.

Carve the duck, place on a platter, drizzle with sauce and serve immediately.

Serves 2-4.

 

 

 

 

Travel

How Boston Restored My Sanity

 

Last month, which shall heretofore be known as The Month in Which I Lacked the Mental Fortitude to Post, I shrieked “I QUIT!!!” to my car, which accepted my resignation with stoic silence. My husband was on business in Boston, my calendar looked like a rainbow had puked, I was sick, my kids were over-scheduled and I was supposed to take them to Boston that weekend for a family wedding (did I mention that we’d be flying on Halloween when they’d be all jacked up on candy?). I was feeling a little resentful about my dishpan hands and the lack of having a house filled with cooks and servants a la Downton Abbey, and that’s how I went into the month of Thanksgiving.

There’s nothing like a getaway and a wedding to fix a grinchy attitude.

I used to live in Boston, long ago. I found my apartment on a quick weekend trip, in the paper (back when people read those): $900 a month for a 2-bedroom, Harbor view, close to the T. Went to check it out, and sure enough, it was right on the Harbor and a steal with a parking spot too, and just a 10 minute walk to the JFK / UMass stop on the Red Line. The rental agent told me it was a diverse community, which I took to mean that it included doctors and dentists.

My first night there I was wondering why there were fireworks. I also thought it was weird that every morning I’d hear on the radio that someone was murdered in my neighborhood.

Yup. My apartment was in the projects.

It was fine, actually. I was a consultant at the time and mostly out of town, and when I was in town I would just walk as if I knew kung-fu and everyone pretty much left me alone. Except for the story of the Chinese girl (me) and the hubcaps…but that’s for another time.

One of my early Boston clients was near Faneuil Hall, so I’d grab dinner there frequently. I dragged my family there and we got lobster rolls. Good start to the weekend. I have simple needs.

Next, we hopped on a double-decker tour bus with open-air windows, at which point it started to pour with rain and howl with wind. There are no pictures of that since we were soaked to the point that we feared we might drown. This made me thankful for California.

The weather cleared up later in the day and we hopped over to Cambridge to visit a small liberal arts college near MIT (sorry, that’s a friendly jab at my cousin). We saw fall colors!

I look forward to our family weddings because our family, though huge (my mom has eight siblings), doesn’t seem to have the stamina to plan a family reunion so we rely on life events to bring the cousins together. Here are some of our kids. We only make girls:

The wedding was lovely and there were a few hours between the ceremony and the reception, so we walked around downtown and ran into Terry and Cornelia in the midst of their photo shoot.

The reception was at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf hotel, which happens to be where I lived for about 6 months on my very first consulting project. I used to get a cranberry-orange muffin at the bottom of the escalator from the Dunkin Donuts cart every morning, which is the only time I’ve been recognized as a “regular” in my life (and even then, only as the cranberry-orange muffin girl). It’s been completely redone and Dunkin Donuts has been replaced by Starbucks, so though I had anticipated flashbacks it looked like a completely different hotel.

The food was fantastic and everyone was happy. That’s what I like about weddings — they’re so happy! I’d forgotten by this time that I had no servants at home.

Now, you see that girl in the red dress on the right hand side?

It’s Jennifer Che from Tiny Urban Kitchen!!! How do I write this in a way that makes me appear not to be a stalker — she’s kind of a big deal. Look at all the award badges she has on her site. Then look at all none of them on mine. People actually invite her to eat their food and blog about it. I have to pay people to let me eat their food, and probably to get them to eat my food too.

My favorite thing about Jen’s blog are the authentic Asian recipes she has on there — specifically, the Chinese / Taiwanese dishes that I grew up with but never bothered learning how to make. After we got home the kids and I were inspired to try making her hand-pulled noodles, which I’ll dedicate a post to later. Suffice it to say that she makes it look easy while we made it look like larvae.

I was really excited to meet Jen, who was super nice and incredibly skinny for someone who seems to eat all the time. I discovered that she sings and plays a bunch of instruments too in addition to being able to pull perfect noodles out of a mound of dough.

Of all the cities I’ve lived in, Boston was never my favorite — probably because with my consulting lifestyle, I wasn’t around much. But it is one of the places where I’ve gotten some of my best stories (see “projects” reference above) and where I did a lot of growing up. And this time — thanks, Boston, for getting me back on track.

Cooking Food Travel

Whole Trout en Papillote

It’s finally the end of the week and I’m feeling like the fish above. He’s all, “Girl, my terrariums are all dessicated and don’t even talk to me about my hair, so I’m just going to lie down in a bed of butter and lemons now.” Am I projecting?

I got back from another business trip to London a couple of weeks ago. Every morning I ran in the mist like a gorilla, which is my favorite weather and method to run in.

Across the bridge:

along the River Thames:

past Big Ben:

and on the first day, accidentally across a finish line amidst a cheering crowd in #theonlyraceilleverwin. Not to worry, the glory didn’t last long because the very next day some piece of cobblestone tripped me into some major Crouching Tiger-style flying and rolling on the ground resulting in this (and yes, as a friend so generously pointed out, I managed to land on the tops of my knees. And don’t judge my skin.):

It wasn’t like I was very noticeable wearing hot pink running shoes, a purple running skirt and a fuschia jacket or anything. I always said that exercise was dangerous.

Later, I did manage to make it to a pop-up restaurant in SoHo called The Full English, and felt much better after stuffing myself with bacon, eggs, tomatoes and beans. Check it out if you’re in London.

So that was London. Now on to fish.

Trout is one of my favorite fish, and what  I love about fish (aside from the brain health benefits that I so desperately need) is the speed with which you can prepare it. I’m not terribly experienced with cooking whole fish, so I used this Whole Trout en Papilotte recipe from the Food Network. Place some chopped onion on a piece of parchment paper, lay the fish on top and cut slits into it. Season it inside and out with salt and pepper.

Stuff the fish with herbs, coat the top with shallot butter (see instructions below) and cover it with a layer of lemons.

I wrapped it in the parchment, grilled it for 20 minutes, and it was done! Moist, tender, and makes you smarter!

WHOLE TROUT EN PAPILLOTE (from Food Network)

Ingredients

  • 2 whole trout, dressed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup sliced sweet yellow onion
  • 2 handfuls fresh herbs (thyme, parsley and rosemary)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon-shallot butter, recipe follows
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Parchment paper

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (I used a grill — either will work!). Cut 2 sheets of parchment paper large enough to completely cover the fish when folded. Wash and dry the trout. Using a knife, score the fish on 1 side by cutting slits into the flesh just until you feel the bone. Season the trout generously, inside and out with salt and pepper. Spread 1/4 cup of the onions on each sheet of parchment. Place fish on top, scored side up. Stuff the inside of the fish with herbs. (It’s ok if they stick out a bit). Top each fish with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the shallot butter. Cover with the lemon slices. Drizzle 1 tablespoon white wine and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil over each fish. Fold the parchment over the fish. Starting at 1 end, fold the paper on itself, making sure to completely seal it. At the end, fold it underneath itself. Repeat. Place fish on large baking sheet and cook for about 12 to 15 minutes. To serve, place trout en papillote on a platter. Cut the parchment at the table to ensure that all the aromas stay inside the package.

Lemon Shallot Butter

Ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 lemon, zest finely minced
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation

In a food processor, combine all ingredients until mixed. Place whipped butter mixture onto a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a log. Freeze until ready to use. Butter will keep in the freezer for at least a month.

Cooking Food Travel

The Last of Summer Tomato Salad

Et tu, summer?

After my last post about being still, I have to confess that I have been anything but. I woke up one day found myself in London:

I was there for business, but I did manage to fit in dinner with some friends, a few runs in Green Park, a peek at the Prime Meridian in Greenwich:

a meal and a chocolatey porter at the Mean Time brewery:

and a glorious hour at Fortnum & Mason, where I had an internal debate on whether my life would be incomplete without a $700 tea pot:

You know, because I have so many tea parties.

But then I realized that this decision was headed for the same outcome as a purchase I made 10 years ago of pleather pants, so I made a quick jaunt over to Carnaby Street where I bought overpriced scented erasers as souvenirs for the kids.

It was a hectic but productive trip, and as soon as I got home I promptly fell ill. And then got on a plane again soon thereafter.

All this rushing around argues for a bit of simplicity.

One of my favorite things about summer is tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes, to be exact. Colorful, flavorful, deliciously simple. We still have time for that.

I made this salad as part of an dinner we had with friends outdoors on a warm summer night. Because when you are a friend just arriving from Germany, with another on her way to Europe and a third who is Canadian, it would only be logical to stop in for a meal prepared by a Chinese American married to a Brit.

It’s a simple one really — just some slicing and a vinaigrette. But perfectly colorful, tasty, and quick enough to allow you time to enjoy some pause amidst the busyness of everyday life.

HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 5-6 varied, fresh heirloom tomatoes
  • 3-4 leaves of basil

Preparation

Slice the tomatoes into slices 1/4 inch thick. Place them in a single layer on a serving dish, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Mix the balsamic vinegar and salt together, until the salt dissolves. Add in olive oil and stir until combined. Grind in some fresh black pepper to taste. Pour over the tomatoes.

Julienne 3-4 leaves of basil and sprinkle over the salad.

Serves 4-6.

 

 

Popular Travel

Postcard from Paradise

I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

I’m on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, surrounded by lush greenery, birdsong, and the gentle breeze of the trade winds. It’s a quieter version of home, really, and arguably I live in a sort of paradise already. But what I was really looking forward to on this trip was being in the moment. Being still.

Most of my life has been spent in a mad dash to get on to the next thing. It was always a moving target, that next thing. And I wasn’t really sure why I was chasing it in the end. I suppose that it got me to a place where I can have nice vacations, but that wasn’t really why I did it. Maybe habit. But most of the time, I wasn’t really living. I mostly stressed and exhausted.

Two years ago, I decided I needed to change that.

It’s hard for me to slow down and be present, but this is the perfect place to practice. When dawn comes with the chatter of birds and the sound of rustling leaves, you listen. And somehow when you take the time to listen, time becomes, like the universe, an ever-expanding entity, and suddenly, hurry makes no sense.

Day begins with the early stirrings of the sun through the slats of the shutters.

The birds sound busy — like they’re rattling off the tasks for the day and urging their little ones along (or maybe I’m just projecting). There’s a lovely variation in their chatter…unlike the roosters. The roosters strut around saying the same thing over and over again (“Making NOI-ses! Making NOI-ses!”), with one leading the chant and the others echoing as if they’re kids at a YMCA summer camp. They’re kind of like the Ryan Lochtes of the island.

We feast on fresh laid eggs brought to us by the owners of the house we rent, and overlook the garden.

 

 

A hungry cardinal visits us regularly hoping for scraps.

We take a magical path down to the beach.

Some people get so excited they jump right in with their clothes on.

There are so many beautiful beaches with turquoise waters. They imbibe us and bring us to the present.

I begin to notice the tree roots.

The clouds.

The scale of things.

And the stillness. Be still and know that I am God.

We head back to the house and enjoy a refreshing shower outdoors, surrounded by plumeria and ginger, coral and moss.

Back out to see the sunset.

The rhythmic lapping of the waves a reminder of the eternal cycle at work, that tomorrow will be here at its own pace, moving along in slow ripples of time, slow enough for me to notice.

Cooking Food

Salmon Gravlax

Summer is officially here, and to me, summer is about garden parties, and more specifically, buying dresses and creating garden party situations so that you can wear them.

I’ve developed a maxi dress problem.

After shunning them for a few seasons, arguing that I’m not tall enough to pull it off and that my legs are some of the more reasonable parts of my body, I’ve taken to them like Usain Bolt to a track.

I recently bought this dress. Because I liked how she was walking through the fields. And I was sure I could find a field somewhere that I could walk through and look that young and skinny in.

Photo credit: Anthropologie

I haven’t found it yet. Also, I only recently realized that a shawl someone gave me years ago is actually a table runner.

But no matter, I have been to a garden party. This party was in my friend Marjie’s huge and beautiful garden, which was recently featured in a local garden walk. I met Marjie through my mother-in-law, who met her when she was living in Tokyo. Marjie is retired and designs jewelry, crafting, gardens and travels the world. She’s living the dream.

My kids love going to her house to pick fruit.  This time, it was kumquat season.

Marjie’s also a fantastic cook, and she whipped up a summery feast for us to enjoy outside.

Looking suspicious…

…where I did not wear said field dress.

Why yes, my hair is two different colors, thanks to my trip to Tokyo and lack of maintenance thereof.

One of the delicious dishes on the table was the gravlax. Flavorful, tender and placed atop a bagel it was delightful.

Here’s the recipe she used, which can be found on Epicurious:

GRAVLAX (Scandinavian Cured Salmon) from Epicurious:

Ingredients

3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons white peppercorns, crushed
1 teaspoon whole allspice or coriander, crushed
1 large bunch dill (about 3 ounces)
Two 1/2-pound center-cut salmon fillets, in 2 equal pieces
1 tablespoon cognac or vodka or aquavit (optional)
Black bread
Mustard

Preparation

In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, peppercorns, and allspice. Chop the stems and leaves of the dill. Lay a piece of the salmon, skin side down, on a piece of plastic wrap large enough to wrap both fillets. Sprinkle the fillet with half the spice mix, moisten with half of the cognac, if using, and cover with all the chopped dill. Cover the second fillet with the spice mix and cognac. Sandwich the 2 fillets together and tightly wrap in the plastic wrap. Make sure the fillets are held tightly closed with a good seal.

Place the wrapped salmon on a plate and weigh it down with a 1-pound can or weight. Place in the refrigerator. Every 12 hours or so, open the package and baste the fish with the liquid that has formed around it. Let the salmon cure for at least 24 or up to 36 hours.

When the salmon is ready, scrape the dill mixture off with a spoon and refrigerate the fish until ready to serve. To serve the gravlax; slice thin pieces at a 45-degree angle with a long, sharp narrow knife. Lay the gravlax out on a platter and serve it with black bread and a bit of mustard. The gravlax will stay fresh for a week wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator.

Serves 8.

 

Lifestyle

And on the 5th Day, She Recycled Bras

I had drafted a post about days 4-8 of my 15 day decluttering challenge (getting rid of 7 things per day) but  you probably don’t need or want to know exactly what I gave away. Suffice it to say that it was frighteningly easy to find 7 things to donate, sell or give away for every day of the exercise, and I liked it so much that I’m still trying to purge every day. Some things I learned:

  • You can opt out of credit card and insurance offers in the mail by going to OptOutPrescreen.com. 
  • You can donate gently used bras and even clean underwear to organizations like AmVetsThe Bra Recyclers recycle bras and distribute them to women in need around the world. Women’s shelters also frequently have use for bras.
  • DMAChoice.org has a list of direct mail companies and how to contact them for removal from mailing lists.
  • Go to YellowPagesOptOut.com to opt out of receiving the phone book.
  • You can get good resale value on recognized labels on eBay. I have a lot of items from Anthropologie, Free People, J. Crew and Barneys New York in my closet, and have made over $300 in the past 30 days selling items that are still in good, wearable condition. It’s also a good, disciplined way to manage my closet — using the funds I get from selling my old clothes, I can buy new ones — fewer in number as a sort of self-regulated replenishment.
  • Converse recycles old sneakers at its stores, any brand, and makes them into soft surfaces for use on playgrounds.

Judging my the number of fancy, lacy bras in my drawer, at some point I must have anticipated becoming a burlesque dancer before veering slightly left into the world of venture-backed commerce. In any case, many of these gems were barely, if at all, worn, and had excellent resale value on eBay. One recently sold for over $20 after waiting patiently in my drawer to see the light of day. Somewhere, a burlesque dancer is happy with her bargain.

Lifestyle

De-cluttering Challenge! Days 2-3 + Sold App

sold App
Image courtesy of Sold

Still doing the 15-day de-cluttering challenge: For 15 days, you get rid of 7 things per day by recycling, selling, giving it away, or, as a last resort, disposing of it.

I have a few items that I wanted to sell, and thought it might be a good time to try out the Sold iPhone app. It’s supposed to optimize the price that you get for, say, a 1-year-old iPod. You take pictures of your item and describe it; Sold scans the internet for like items to suggest a price for you. If you like the price, Sold will post it for you on sites like Amazon and eBay, and when you have a buyer, it sends you a prepaid, pre-labeled box with bubble wrap included so all you have to do is plop it in and ship.

I tried it with one of my kids’ pairs of Joe’s Jeans. Snapped pic, wrote description. Sold went trolling for a price…and came back to me the next day saying that it couldn’t find consistent demand for it online.

Their blog has some guidelines on what sells on Sold. I suspect that electronics with very specific specs tend to do well — the type of thing that a bot has no trouble identifying. So when I have something that I think might fit the bill, I’ll try again.

But for now, I’ve listed eight items on eBay…so far. I won’t count them in my daily count til they’re sold, but I have bids on 6 of them so far!

Here’s my challenge list so far:

Day 1 – 6 tops, 3 skirts, 1 dress
Day 2 – 27 books, sent to my kids’ school for their used book fair
Day 3 – 2  tops, 1 kids’ leotard, 2 pairs socks, recycled a box of old business cards, 2 books

How’s your challenge going so far?

 

Lifestyle

De-cluttering Challenge! Day 1

I’ve been reading Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home and feeling a little guilty about all the packaged waste I create. Meat? Wrapped in plastic. Cereal? In a box. Bea’s been able to get her family’s annual trash production to one quart per year! That’s about as much as I produce in a minute.

So while I’m not yet prepared to go foraging for Spanish moss in lieu of toilet paper and the electric deer from Christmas is still going strong on my balcony, I am on a mission to de-clutter and simplify my life (she said as she ordered yet another compulsive item from Anthropologie). I got this idea from my good friend Danielle at Cozycakes Cottage who has a bazillion followers so she must be doing something right: she is participating in a month-long de-cluttering challenge from another blogger.

Now, I happen to be a person who develops emotional attachments to pens (they have souls), so I’m cutting myself some slack: I’m going to do a half-month challenge, and invite you to do the same. For 15 days, you get rid of 7 things per day by recycling, selling, giving it away, or, as a last resort, disposing of it.

I’ve begun.

It’s addictive.

And I’m realizing what a gluttonous lifestyle I lead, in a home full of things that could be enjoyed by someone else.

So here we go:

Day 1: I gave away 10 items of clothing — 6 tops, 3 skirts and a dress to my cousin Renee and her daughter Amy. All gently used, cute items that I never wear that look completely adorbs on them.

Are you in? Let me know what you’re giving away today!