Life as I know It

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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Still Crazy? Not Now!

The majestic meadow at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is dotted with my beloved California poppies

So how do I keep from going crazy when I have to leave San Luis Obispo and journey to Los Angeles?

I take a great break along the way and visit the GORGEOUS Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, which is truly rising from the ashes of the devastating Jesucita fire that roared through the grounds. I took many classes at SBBG and still return there for special lectures, walks, and classes whenever possible. They also have a wonderful gift shop with everything a plant lover could desire.

And, how do I get back down to earth after filming gardening segments all afternoon in L.A.? I GARDEN, in my own little yard with fabulous organic plants from one of my favorite mail order sources Mountain Valley Growers. Honestly, you can't find a better selection of organics that are shipped than those from Mountain Valley. Not one of the dozens of plants arrived with any damage.

Vanilla grass-who could resist ordering this? I'll have to experiment with it a few times before writing about it, but if it retains its vanilla fragrance when dried, perhaps it can go into my edible flower seasoning mix or into a pot pourri

Here's what I'm doing...planting a sinuous pathway of scented pelargoniums that will greet guests at our front gate and entice them up the pathway with their diverse aromas: apricot, ginger, lime, lemon, Rober's Lemon Rose, and so many more. Yum. I had a pathway like that at my old Heart's Ease store, and my visitors loved the natural perfume of these stalwart, old-fashioned plants.

Oh, wow, I feel rich. I have a couple dozen of these scenteds, and they have grown an inch and a half in the past two weeks

These have many common names, but they are calaminthas, and I am wild for their fragrance and taste. I learned a few years ago that in Italy they are called mentha de funghi or mentha de porcini (which is simply another mushroom), and they are great with cooked mushroom dishes

Here's the BEFORE shot of the future fragrant pathway. All you can see now is the thyme lawn and the wooden plant stakes, but in a couple of months, there will be a magical transformation.

Traveling was fun, but it is so great to be back home.

Simple joys,


Sunday, February 21, 2010

What a Weekend!

A rainbow of colors for our roasted vegetables

I felt like a child awaiting Christmas Eve. Why? Because of anticipation of my cooking class with Edward Espe Brown, co-founder of the famous Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, and author of The Tassajara Cookbook, The Tassajara Bread Book, and Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings (and more).

Edward shares his viewpoint about fine foods and taking time to enjoy them with friends and family

We met at a beautiful home in Morro Bay, and 13 of us worked together in a large, sunny kitchen. Just listening to him philosophize, advise, proselytize about food, and concoct his stunning recipes was a dream come true.

Edward sprinkled our salad of dino kale with salt and "massaged" it into the chopped leaves. This process is called "hand frying," but why I do not know.

We worked together for a few hours and created a fabulous and healthy meal of roasted vegies on a beurre rose sauce, "hand fried" dino cabbage salad, and cloud-like chile relleno souffles. Good wine and conversation around a long table made for a perfect day.

Rena chops the carrots and turns and rolls them for each cut. Note the correct grasp of the Japanese knife blade, instead of holding the handle (I splurged and bought one)

Every place at the table was set with a fanned napkin and a lovely sprig of rosemary, the herb of remembrance

Saturday, February 20, was the big event at my friend Susan Branch's farmstand in Arroyo Grande, California.

Susan and I signed books for a steady stream of wonderful attendees. I saw so many people that I haven't seen since I sold Heart's Ease, and they made me feel like a princess for the day.

The day was moved from February 6th, due to rain, and we all thought that yesterday was going to be a wash out. But the rain held off, and we had a sunny, blue-sky day with about 400 eager attendees, great foods, antiques, and book signings. We had a ball.

Our friends Susie and Ellis Bassetti own Green Valley Herbs and Bassetti Vineyards. They create great wreaths, harvest olives and make Taggiasca olive oil that is to die for, and bake home made bread that goes perfectly with their divine jams, jellies, and syrups. I use their pomegranate syrup to baste my roasted chickens.

Just a look at Miss Amy O'Kane makes me smile. Can I adopt her?? and NOT just because she bakes yummy and fun cupcakes, but also because she is a very special woman.

Love to you all,


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Carpe Fungi

Our teacher was my old friend Dennis Sheridan, who is a great photographer, mycologist, and entomologist. This is the bounty he collected this morning and spread out on our nature table. He gave me two candy caps to dry on my windowsill because "when dried, they emit a warm, maple syrup scent."

Today was perfect. Valentine's Day, 75 degrees, the gardens bursting with life, and a chance to go on a mushroom walk at one of my favorite places, the Dallidet Adobe (built in 1859) in San Luis Obispo, California.

The old adage is that a picture is worth a thousand words-so here goes. Look for the miracles hidden in plain sight and enjoy the beauty!

Look at the top of the photo and you'll see round shapes. These are called Bird's Nest fungus, and they produce little basidocarps (fruits) that look like eggs. These make my heart go pitter-patter when I find them.

Two adorable young girls collected these.

This is called Scleroderma for its hard skin.

You have to admit that this Russula is perfect for Valentine's Day.


Pig's Ear feels like latex and is supposed to be edible, but it didn't look very appetizing to me.
Maybe if I were desperate?

King Alfred's Biscuit. I thought it looked like a walnut, but when cut in half you can see the concentric circles inside it.
Elve's Saddle has an indentation in the center that makes each one resemble a small saddle.

This one sent me to the moon and back. This is an earthstar. When the weather is dry, it is a tight, hard, black ball, but when the rains come, the ball opens up and produces the star. Dennis gave me one, and I am going to soak it when my grandchildren come visit. It will open in about 10 minutes.

Coral fungus. Doesn't it look like coral plucked from the sea? This fungus likes to hide underneath rocks, logs, etc.

This is a blewit (short for blue hat). When it dries, it has a lovely violetish scent.

Carpe Fungi!!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

An Old Fashioned Valentine

Hidden under a mound of boxes in the corner of my Mother's garage sat an old domed trunk held closed by crumbling leather straps and a rusted padlock. Judging by the newspaper wrapped packages in the boxes on top of the trunk, it had been there since our move in 1954– untouched, unopened, just waiting for me to discover it.

I shrieked when Jeff pried open the lid. Nestled inside were celluloid boxes of coral jewelry, Civil War medals and ribbons, paintings, vintage clothing, photos, two family samplers from Pennsylvania, and old letters from the Quaker members of my family in Chester County, Pennsylvania, to the younger family members who had settled in the Pasadena colony.

A stack of books, tied together with faded blue satin ribbon, held Emerson, Keats, Burns, Browning, and others beloved by my Grandmother and her young husband, who died just a few years after they married.

I treasure everything we found that day. I sent some of the mementos to family members in Alabama, New Mexico, and Tucson, Arizona. Some of them remained with me.

This calendar card had a note attached to it written by my Grandmother Lovejoy, who said that it was given to her by a student. I LOVE IT and so am sharing it with you my friends.

Wishing you and yours a joyful and love-filled Valentine's Day,


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hope is the thing with feathers...

Poetry is my soul food. First thing every morning I turn to it for peace, quiet reflection, and sustenance.

Here is one of my favorite poems by the enigmatic and brilliant Emily Dickinson (I got to visit her home in Amherst, Mass. last year).

Hope is the thing with feathers,
that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune-without the words,
and never stops at all.

But I also feel that hope is the thing with petals that blooms in your soul, brings the promise of spring to you, and never stops at all.

This morning, when a host of what I felt to be nearly unsolvable problems knocked me down, I walked into my dining room and the day changed for the better. The twigs I had cut and brought indoors a few weeks ago gave me a sweet surprise and uplift. The delicate, papery white blooms of plum and the vibrant green of the first narrow leaves filled my home with life and with hope.

Hope and the promise of spring to you all,


Friday, February 5, 2010

Tiny Salad Gardens

The weatherman predicted storms for the week, but every day when I awoke I found sunshine and not a cloud to be seen. Yesterday was a different story. Gray clouds billowed against the mountains, and the new petals on some of our fruit trees whirled past me like snowflakes.

A gray day is a perfect time for planting

Too cold for a nightgown and so I wore my best robe, which I had promised NOT to wear in the garden. I always wipe my hands on my "work" clothes. My professional spoon trowel, which was once my Grandmother's, is used for most of my transplanting and working in pots.

Jeff worked hard to get our last Santa Rosa plum into place. It wasn't a matter of simply digging a hole though; it entailed digging out a network of salvia roots that needed some axe work. But finally, after an hour of back breaking sweat-time, he got the tree in and set. It looks like a 6' tall pencil with a couple of nubbins, but I'm already envisioning a fresh plum dripping sweet juice as I bite into it (in a few years).

Looks pitiful now, but it will be magical in a few years. I seeded poppies all around the base of the tree

I hurriedly planted two kumquats in large terra cotta pots and surrounded them with dianthus and mache. I use the flowers in my salads and baking. I planted another two troughs with mini salad gardens filled with edible viola and various lettuces, and another two pots with kale and parsley. Around the bay tree my friends Susie and Ellis Bassetti gave us as a housewarming, I set out more lettuces and violas and the only inedible thing in the kitchen garden, Cambridge blue (that wonderful sky blue) lobelia. I just need to have that trailing down the sides of the pot and spilling like a pool onto the soil. They self sow readily, and I always have dozens of little volunteers surrounding the bay.

A big terra cotta pot holds a salad garden and the bay tree given to us as a housewarming gift

Today is the un-birthday, birthday party for my grandson Asher. His wish was for a big, red (his new favorite color) cake. So I baked great Aunt Audrey's red cake and did my friend Susan Branch's cream cheese frosting (from Heart of the Home), which I tinted red too. Sparkly red sprinkles topped it off. I hope he loves it.

Remember that there will NOT be a get together at Susan Branch's farmstand tomorrow. And a good thing that was cancelled. It rained burros and ponies today and more is forecast for Saturday. Join us all on February 20th for an old fashioned tag sale, book signing, and an offering of GREAT homemade foods presented by Amy O'Kane, Ellis and Susan Bassetti from Cambria, and more.

Until next time I send love out to all of you,