Monday, August 20, 2012

The Essence of Summer

Nasturtiums and Cherries, Sebasco, Maine
James Aponovich
oil on canvas, 2011
*week # 27

Nasturtiums, cherries, and moist ocean breezes speak of summer. The painting, Nasturtiums and Cherries, was painted by James last summer on a trip to Maine to visit friends in Sebasco. Today feels much the same as I remember that day a year ago.
The Mid-Coast area of Maine is remarkable and has enchanted artists for decades. Countless artists like John Marin, Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley have found their way up the coast of Maine to capture the raw beauty and life on these rocky peninsulas that into the sea. James found the same thrilling visual attraction to this stunningly rugged place.

James and I spent many summers on the coast of Maine what remains from our experience is a strong connection between time and place. This is where that memory thing 'mnemonics' comes forth connects summer to Maine.
When I look at this painting done at Sebasco it is the sound of the gong buoy I remember.The clarity of blue sky and flowers swaying in the salty breeze and nasturtiums stretched out across the stone walkway with their orange flowers held proud,the smell lobsters steaming and a neighbor appearing a huge bucket of peonies for our table are all vivid images I keep.

Summer memories are found here in our garden where certain flowers whether by color or fragrance, tell us it is summer. Pansies shout out when spring has arrived. Nasturtiums appear as we roll into mid summer and will stay until they have all been cut for vases, salads, as objects for paintings... or until the first frost claims them.
We have tall phlox in our garden that came from our decade ago garden in Maine. The phlox came to our New Hampshire garden, by way of Maine, a gift from my gardening mentor Julia Martin. There are several plants in our garden that were gifts from friends or in some cases that came from a special place, each recalls that place or person as they hold a unique spot in our garden.

The Tomato, an icon of summer.

Garden tomatoes and fresh basil with olive oil from Panicale.
Believe me, nothing is better! One worry though, our can of Panicale olive oil is nearly empty....could that mean it is time to go back to replenish our supply?

There are always tomatoes in the garden, Red Brandywine, Yellow Brandywine, San Marzano, and Sun Gold are just some of the varieties we grow. By the middle of August we are gathering tomatoes daily. The routine of making tomato sandwiches, BLT's, panzanella salad, and tomato bisque is well under way.
There are pots tomato sauce on the stove as the kitchen fills with wafting aroma of tomatoes simmering.

Our year round friend and summer neighbor Judith makes a knockout tomato salad which we adore. It is heaped full with chunks of avocado, blue cheese, scallions and wedges of ripe tomatoes in a perfect classic vinaigrette. It is all about the quality and balance of ingredients.
A salad that says, " it must be August," in a big and flavorful way!

James is in the kitchen right now.... he should be at his easel......but the lure of ripe Roma tomatoes and a bounty of fresh herbs has taken him into the kitchen to roast .

There are times during our short New England summer when it is difficult to sit still; there are the flowers in need of attention, the tomatoes calling to be brought into the kitchen, and the sunlight that beckons us out the door.
Road trips for seaside lunches are a must. Then there are the visits to farmer's markets, we went to one last weekend that sells heirloom Berkshire pork as well guinea hens
(a reminder of what we cook in Italy). I can't forget the frequent trips to Lull Farm to fill bags with sweet corn, cherries, peaches and to eat a freshly picked plum, immediately!

The season's finest combined in all the images, aromas, tastes, people and places
that get stored in our memories as

Right now....the aroma of roasting tomatoes and herbs has made it's way out of the kitchen and into my studio. Now my only thought is "what's for dinner?"

*The painting, Nasturtiums and Cherries, Sebasco, Maine, by James Aponovich
was done as part of his year long project Aponovich 52.
It was painted for week #27.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Time Out To Enjoy the Garden

The sun is setting which is a good indication that our workday is over. Our studios have become too dark to push a brush around the canvas and the shadows in the garden have become long.
I recall reading the wisdom of the garden writer, researcher & professor Allan Armitage reminding us all to put down our garden tools and enjoy our gardens. We take his advice on this perfect summer evening and ignore the weeds and the hose not put away, take off the garden gloves, and spend time in the garden.......with a cocktail, but of course!

This lovely red drink is an Americano.......more about this as our walk continues, but first the garden.

Borgo Pinti Garden

Our garden is made up of a number of individual garden areas which we have assigned names to. We did this for our own convenience to distinguish between the areas when we are discussing them. To the western side of the house is the 'Borgo Pinti Garden', named for a street in Florence where there is a hidden garden that we borrowed ideas for this design. The pea stone paths announce each footstep as we move slowly through this shady garden.

Squirt's Garden

Sipping our drinks we continue our evening stroll south along the path to the front terrace to view a distant mountain that remains fully in the light of the day's sun. Again, we take time to watch as the shadows begin to slowly rise up the mountain. The citrus aroma of the apertivo pairs well with the warm setting sun!

We enter a garden in re-creation. Formerly a rose garden.... that is until I could no longer deal with blackspot and the disgusting hordes of Japanese Beetles every season. We knew that the roses had to go. The next part of this re- creating experience was the question of what to do next. I will say that it was a difficult decision to part with the roses from this garden. Roses remain in other areas, but for the past decade this was a garden dedicated to roses.

We are home cooks so an herb garden seemed like a logical and delicious direction to go in. It would be an apothecary garden of sorts with medicinal, ornamental and culinary herbs. Hmmmm......a sudden inspiration!
This plan changed, thank goodness it was only on paper, after a return visit to Tuscany and the
garden at La Foce in May. Simplify and take a lesson from this Tuscan garden. Create space and edges with boxwood, cypress and lavender. Well, unfortunately we cannot have the cypress, but the box yes, and lavender we already have established.

Once home from Italy we planted sixty young boxwood that will in the future create a low hedge to delineate the edges of 'Squirts Garden'. The area around the pool is planted with herbs, so we did not entirely do away with that earlier plan.

The two Adirondack chairs that are on the freshly cut lawn. We sit back and notice what seems to be hundreds of dragonflies circling over the meadow just to our left. It is quite an amazing site like a dance, whirling and swirling as they fly in and out of this cosmic rotation. A few pass overhead as they exit the arena. Nature is staging this magnificent show here in our garden and we are the audience so fortunate to see it.

(Allan Armitage, you are so right... take time to enjoy the garden)

As the dragon flies migrate towards the lower field we return to the lavender walk which in June is a haze of fragrant blue violet, but now that color has quieted and two unique daylilies call attention to themselves by their form and colors.

Shadows are growing longer.....we walk on to another Italy inspired garden that is called by us 'The Aurelian Garden'.

We walk down the granite steps into the Aurelian Garden. A weed is spotted, we both ignore it,resist, resist! Quickly we move across the pea stone to the iron benches. We watch the shadows draw out long as in a Surrealist painting. It is perfectly silent once we stop walking.
On a stay at the American Academy in Rome, we had the opportunity to linger and draw in their illustrious and grand garden at the Villa Aurelia at the top of the Janiculum Hill.
We repurposed our terraced area from a garden we saw in that Rome garden. The Rome garden was based on a chequered parterre pattern with alternating lemon trees. No lemon trees here.... but our scaled down interpretation uses boxwood with lilacs on standards.

Returning up the stairs, we notice the mountain is now in shadow save for a streak of sunlight at its's peak, soon to fall into darkness as well.
With little but orange slices remaining in our glasses it is time to cook dinner...

..But before we forget first a little about this cocktail or apertivo as it is called in Italy.

The Americano is a favorite apertivo whether in our garden or in Italy served ice cold. An apertivo is meant to slow the day and prepare the palate for dinner. The classic and a few variations on the recipe.

1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Rosso Antico ( sweet vermouth)
1oz. soda water ( club soda)
slice of orange

James' Americano
1oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
3 oz. club soda
a squeeze of orange
slice of orange

For a bigger blast...... try a Negroni
1 oz Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1oz. gin
orange slice
(sometimes a squeeze of lemon on rim of glass)

a little lighter without gin and bubbly.... Negroni Sbagliato (negroni wrong)
1oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1oz. prosecco
orange slice

When we are in Panicale ( Umbria) we start our day with a cappuccino or caffe latte
at Bar Gallo. Every day begins this way. Aldo engages James in conversation. Daniella always remembers a little sprinkle of cacao to my cappuccino. Friends and familiar faces are around, Katia and Massimo are always there with their young children, as are their parents, uncles, aunts etc. They all stand at the bar with their espressos. Artist friends and new acquaintances are seated outside. This is a warm and friendly gathering place and the coffee and 'tall drinks' are splendid.

Later in the day... 6:30 or 7:00 we often stop here for an apertivo before dinner.
It could be prosecco, a Negroni or an Americano.
I have learned to order an Americano cocktail...... twice in Rome I ordered an Americano and was served coffee, American style!
Here at Bar Gallo Aldo makes a perfect Americano cocktail . Here we sit an enjoy the piazza and the people before dinner.

Back in our garden......
The morning will bring a new day with plenty of time to pull weeds, water and plant another row of arugula.......but for now I am happy we have taken the time to spend time with the garden.
James suggests we do this again tomorrow. I agree.


Note: Allan Armitage is a Professor at the University of Georgia, Athens. He is a garden expert, lecturer, and is the author of several books on the subject of gardening.