Friday, February 26, 2010

IN THE GARDEN: Forcing Branches

This is the time of year, here in New England, to put on boots, find the felcro pruners and go outside to cut branches. Starting early in February, branches such as forsythia and witch hazel can be cut and forced. Once the branches are brought inside, find the tallest vessel on hand ( I use a very tall French flower bucket), stand it in the sink, fill it to the top with tepid water and then the branches. Allow the branches to stay immersed for 3-4 hours. Remove branches from bucket, cut ends of branches and arrange in a decorative water filled vase.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


A late winter storm covered the area in snow yesterday. It was very quiet and very white outside as the snow fell... all day long. The only activity outside, other than a snow plow, was at the bird feeders. The lone male cardinal that frequents our feeder was a punctuation of vermillion against the field of white. It was with great excitement we spotted a female cardinal for the first time all winter. Could this be a winter storm romance in the making?
The snow is melting this morning so the dramatic look of yesterday's landscape is loosing it magic. Work goes on in the studio, fewer outdoor chores need attending today, and in the kitchen biscotti is baking. All is well, and spring will soon be here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Winter Garden, Summer Garden

Here in New England we are waiting for a late February winter storm. The region we live in will likely receive close to a foot of snow by this time tomorrow. A trip to the market to buy supplies, the bringing in of cordwood to fuel the wood stove for warmth and fill the fireplace for a little ambiance and romance, all pre-storm rituals that will happen today. There will be at least one broth or soup cooking in the kitchen that will fill the house with wonderful aroma. Later in the day we will make a Bolognese ragu.
Outside, the bird feeders will be filled. Shovels brought out of the garage and placed by the back door. As the snow begins to pile up, we will try to think positively, knowing that the snow will create a blanket for the roses and perennials throughout our garden. We will pause to think about how the plants benefit from this snow and to the beautiful tulips in May and peonies and roses in June, then we will go to kitchen and enjoy the hot soup.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


It is snowing here in New England and I understand that there is snow in Rome, the first snowfall since 2005. In the book, Four Seasons in Rome, the author Anthony Doerr hopes for snow so that he can stand in the Pantheon as snow falls through the oculus. James and I watched, mesmerized, as a feather floated down from the oculus, snow would be incredible!
Going through sketches today in the studio, I came upon a few that were done in Italy . James and I spend a great deal of time looking at art during our trips there. We both carry sketchbooks, and in doing so, we really "see" Italy. Taking time to stop, look, record and interpret all with a pencil and a sketchbook . The landscape, including gardens and architecture all become subjects. On a winter day here in New England it is interesting to consider the sight of snow in Rome.
The sketches I have out today are of Tuscany and Umbria, drawn in the spring. When we are out for a day viewing art or drawing, lunch is always a serious pause in the day, as it should be in Italy. The location for lunch and sketching on this occasion was La Chiusa in Montefollonico. We sat at a table beneath the flowering chestnut trees, looking out across a valley, that the owner referred to as "Val d' Paradiso", a name of endearment he created for this beautiful place. We spoke of our fondness for pecorino cheese, as we watched sheep grazing in a distant field.( All this time we were sipping local wine.) "Subito!", a very fresh and young pecorino was immediately removed from the refrigerator to allow it to come to room temperature.
(We have not come up with an Italian translation equivilant for the term "room temperature")The pecorino was a devine finish to our meal.
This may have been the best dining experience we have had. After a glorious three hour lunch, we knew we would return here sometime to eat, draw and perhaps spend a night.
Hurry Spring!

Monday, February 15, 2010



Arriving in Rome and in need of something quick and truly Roman go directly to the Campo de' Fiori. Once there, make your way through the vegetable stalls and flower carts to find a mecca for pizza enthusiasts,Forno Campo de' Fiori. I have a memory of our first pizza there, where the timid may find themselves sensa (without) pizza! We did manage, however, to get pizza, a pizza bianca (white pizza) with anchovies and zucchini flowers. Outside, we stood with the crowd in the campo eating this delightful creation out of the paper it was wrapped in. We did return for a second piece and walked to the quieter Piazza Farnese, where we sat and savored our second portion, it was unbelievable!
So why is Roman pizza so good? We have heard different theories on this, one person said it is the water, others say the olive oil, still others believe it is the mere fact of being in Rome. Well, at the Forno Campo de' Fiori they have been making pizza for over 200 years, so skill may have a lot to do with it!
For a different experience, with equally good pizza, there is Lo Zozzone, near Piazza Navone.
Here there are tables, inside and out, so pizza can be enjoyed with a glass of wine or beer.

Eating pizza in Rome has inspired us to create a version that we make in our kitchen. James takes the lead in this pizza bianca preparation.( This is best cooked on a pizza stone, which should be preheated in the oven.)


3 cups all purpose flour (or Italian flour)
1 teaspoon yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated (optional)
cornmeal for dusting pizza stone
kosher salt , good olive oil(EVOO), fresh herbs, such as rosemary, for coating

In a warm bowl add 1 1/3 cups tepid water, dissolve 1 heaping teaspoon of yeast with 1 teaspoon sugar (to proof), stir to dissolve. Wait, about 5 min. , for a bloom to appear, meaning the yeast is active. Add 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 cups of flour to make a 'sponge', scraping flour from sides of bowl. Add 2 teaspoons salt ( and the optional parmesan cheese). Gradually add up to 1 cup of flour, mix and knead with the dough hook of an electric mixer (or mix by hand). Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead, adding additional flour if needed. Knead until an elastic ball is formed, continue to add flour until the dough feels firm, yet somewhat sticky. Turn dough into an oiled bowl and cover. Let dough rise until 1 1/2 times or double in bulk, punch down and cover again for a second rise. When double in bulk again, punch down and divide into 3 balls . On a floured surface, press one ball (cover other 2), flatten into a disk. With hands (or rolling pin)spread dough as thin as you like. Transfer dough to a pizza peel that has been dusted with cornmeal. Using the tips of your fingers create small depressions across the surface, and drizzle with olive oil ( EVOO), sprinkle with kosher salt ( add chopped fresh herbs, optional). Carefully slide dough onto a pizza stone, that has been preheated, into a hot, 500 degree oven. (if you do not have a pizza stone,dough can be baked on a oiled baking sheet).
Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, slice and serve warm. (freezes well up to 2 weeks)
Pizza can be topped or sliced and stuffed with cheese, mortadella, fresh tomato, etc.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The epic snow storm that has blasted the east, did not reach this far north. A few weeks back I took this photo in the early morning, after an overnight snowfall. We are so used to receiving "the Jackpot" when it comes to snow fall amounts, that it is hard to believe this storm stayed to our south. The new snow is just enough to blanket the garden and add a fresh glow to the landscape.
So, now it really time to get back to those seed catalogs that have dozens of pages marked with must have items. I can't resist poppies. Poppy 'Lauren's Grape' and 'Peony Purple' and 'Papaver Pinetree Mix' are at the top of a long list. We always grow nasturtiums, this season will include a Tall Climbing Single Mix. On a visit to the Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston, we saw these cascading from the balconies in the inner courtyard garden, it was breathtaking. Our task is to come up with a creative way to use these, we unfortunately, do not have a palazzo with a balcony!
Cosmos this year will be,'Carpet Cosmos',and 'Rubenza', 'Double Click BonBon', along with the old standards. Morning Glory,'Caprice' looks promising, and how about a selection of sunflowers for good measure and late color.
Zinnias are great for cutting, so we will order such varieties as, 'Candy Cane', 'Giant Lime', Dahlia Flower Mix, several colors of 'Benary's Giant', and 'Zahara Starlight'. Here we are, already to 'Z', we have chosen 30 varieties of annual seeds. we will leave the vegetables , herbs and perennials until another day.
Time to head to the kitchen to make pizza.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Indoor Gardening

The February sun feels warmer than the January sun, but step out the door and the chill of winter still grips the air. Our sunroom is the place to be early each morning with a cup of coffee. We make an effort to have flowers in the house year round. James and I are very capable outdoor gardeners, so during the warm months, bouquets of peonies, roses,delphiniums and hydrangeas can be cut and put in vases throughout the house. As an indoor gardener, my skills are limited to forcing bulbs and branches. I am very happy with that, after all I adore paperwhites. I love the simplicity of their form, the stems that go from a pale green up to a dark green, against the bright white of the flower. It is a flower that I have drawn several times. Amaryllis are just so magnificent. James has used these bold beauties in several paintings, and why not, they are dazzling! So now it is time to think about forcing some forsythia branches, and I know that there are still a few paperwhite bulbs in a box, somewhere.