Life as I know It

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San Luis Obispo, California, and South Bristol, Maine, United States
Author ~ Illustrator ~ Lecturer

Monday, December 31, 2007

New Beginnings

The day we left our old cottage in Cambria, California, was one of the most difficult times of my life.

How was I, a country girl, going to live in a real town with traffic lights, the constant drone of cars, strangers all around me, and a tiny garden? Would I ever see the Pleiades in the night sky? Would I ever have birds visiting me? Would I ever feel at home here when I was used to the wide open spaces at "Seekhaven," my shelter for the past 23 years?

I half heartedly dug into the thick, clay soil at our “new” 1920s Spanish Revival cottage. "Look!" I said to my patient husband, "Even the soil is lousy here. I'm not a city girl." He looked at me and said, "Make this your own paradise. In Cambria, you had the woods surrounding you, but here, YOU can make nature happen."

He was right. I've spent years writing and lecturing about bringing nature into your own piece of the earth, but when faced with city-life I was chickening out. I needed to suck it up and dig in.

I started right outside my new studio. As I sat at my drafting table and painted, all I could see was the bleakness of the back wall of the garage and a scraggly lawn. This little patch is just a few steps from our kitchen, and it would be the perfect place to start the transformation.

First, we bought a tall wall fountain and centered it on the empty garage wall. (Water is the most crucial thing to include for attracting birds and other wildlife). Next, Jeff dug out the lawn and laid out yellow plastic construction tape to delineate where we wanted beds. Even looking out my window and seeing this made me feel more at home.

Instead of rock or wooden borders we decided to visit a stone yard and pick out some thin ledge rock for the edging of the paths and beds.

Jeff hauled a couple of tons of rock and laid them, and then topped the pathway areas with plastic screening to exclude weeds and about a two inch layer of decomposed granite.

I spent days amending the soil, making sure the weeds were banished, and planting. Within a month of constructing and planting the new space, we had this wonderful little garden established. The beds are outlined with my signature fraises des bois planted by my grandchildren.

This is "little town farm," my petite potager. I harvest edible flowers, herbs, vegetables, and an abundance of mini-strawberries and salad greens throughout the year. Look closely and you may see my first robin visiting the wall fountain. I finally feel like I am home again.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Their produce is outstanding in its field

The fields surrounding the hacienda of Beth and George Kendall of Dos Pasos Ranch boasts pumpkins, gourds, and squash that shine through their tangle of prickly leaves like gem stones. Every year I can't wait for the approach of autumn so that I can wander around their barnyard and choose my favorite cucurbits from their vast selection.

Once I get their produce home, I arrange squashy vignettes throughout the house. Their wares are so sculptural and colorful that it is difficult for me to remove them from my tables and counters to cook them. The only consolation is that I always save their seeds–some to roast, some to plant. And, so the cycle continues.

Every fall for the past 5 years, the Kendalls have hosted a squash tasting extravaganza. Dozens of aficionados flock to their home to taste, savor, and finally evaluate the qualities of each chosen variety.

Two years ago we tasted 20 different kinds of squash, but this autumn we narrowed our focus to include only the Hubbard family. They are all nutritious, but some are bland, others richly squashy, stringy, sweet (without adding any sugar or maple syrup), and nutty. Tasting the squash made me feel as though I was time traveling through thousands of years of our agricultural history.

We judged the Green Hubbard, introduced in 1850; The Mini-Green, the New England Blue, introduced in 1909; the Navajo; Sugar; Olive Vert, a French introduction from 1884; the Sibley, Mexican from 1887; the Boston Marrow from Salem, Mass. introduced in1831; Golden Delicious; Guatemala Blue; Tahitian; Fairy; and the Seminole, which dates back to the 1500s. The WINNERS in the best tasting category were Guatemala Blue (my favorite, so sweet tasting it didn't need a drop of sweetener), the Tahitian, and Olive Vert. These three sweethearts won the taste test by a landslide.

Don't be afraid to cook these elegant table decorations, but before cooking the squash, cut them in half and dig out the seeds with a melon baller or ice cream scoop. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, wash the seeds in a colander or sieve to remove strings, pat them dry, spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, drizzle with a good quality extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle on sea salt or a mixture of sea salt, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a pinch of ground cumin. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring the seeds occasionally, and remove them from the oven when they are a light golden color. The seeds are great scattered atop a bowl of squash or tomato soup, eaten as snacks, or included as part of the stuffing for a cooked squash.

Roasted Pumpkin or Squash Soup

2 to 3 cups roasted squash or pumpkin (see directions)
1 large onion, peeled and cut into one inch pieces
4 cups chicken broth
spices (see notes)
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup sour cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt
Preheat oven to 350. Cut pumpkin or squash in half, clean out seeds and excess fiber, and place cut side down in roasting pan.  Roast at 350 degrees about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until soft.  Cool slightly. Scoop out cooked flesh and measure for soup. The remainder can be frozen for future use.
Puree onion and roasted squash in a food processor until fine.  Add chicken broth and spices and puree until well blended.  Pour mixture into a heavy bottomed pan and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes.  Add butter, salt, and pepper to taste and stir until well blended.  Serve with sour cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt swirled into each bowl of soup.
Notes:  Vary spices to suit your taste.  Following are recommendations.
1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg or
1 tsp rosemary and 1/2 tsp thyme or
1 tsp chili powder and 1/2 tsp cumin or
2 tsp curry and fresh cilantro sprigs (added at end)

Recipe courtesy of Beth Kendall, Dos Pasos Ranch

Great Sources for Heirloom Squash Seed

Nichols Garden Nursery, Albany, Oregon

Renee's Garden, Felton, California

Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

Start dreaming of your spring garden NOW!