Thursday, December 31, 2009

It’s raining this morning….go figure, as we end the second wettest year in Atlanta’s recorded history. It’s hard to argue with the notion of climate change, since 2007 was the second DRIEST year on that same scale. Just when we learned how to master gardening in times of drought, with the requisite rain barrels, 5 gallon buckets in our showers to catch “gray water,” xeriscaping our gardens, etc., we have found ourselves with more water than our gardens know how to absorb. The rosemary that has thrived for the past few years out next to the street is chronically soft and dark, but the ground in the stepchild garden feels more like soil than terra cotta and the hydrangeas that have struggled for a few seasons are visibly bursting with buds right now!

I’m not unhappy that it’s raining, since I’ve been under the weather (no pun intended) for the past week, and this forces me to stay inside and get some things done. The Christmas greens are beyond dry and crispy on the mantel and there’s a hunk of candy cane stuck to the carpet, so a day like this is perfect for getting things out to the compost pile. I’m going to start majorly redoing some of the containers at the penthouse garden later this month, so my most strenuous activity today will probably be going there to take some exact measurements and photos of what will get changed.

The reporters on television this morning were chatting about the changes that this past decade brought, and expectations for the next one. Since 2010 is when I’ll hit 50, it all seems somehow more applicable this year. I’m finally at that age of saying, “Where did the time go?” while also being able to maturely consider what I want to accomplish in the years to come.

For me personally, this first decade of the millenium has been pretty awesome! We relocated to Atlanta, I look forward to going to work every day to do something I love, and I think I have more balance all the way around. Frank and I have developed a relationship over the past many years in which we don’t take one another for granted, but delight in having been together for so long. I have much more laughter (and laugh lines) in my life, and feel that I have a better sense of what matters in the grand scheme of my life (if there really is one……) I’m okay having a body shape that is more like “The Barefoot Contessa” than the gardener on “Desperate Housewives.”

Perhaps the greatest learning in my life of this past decade has been my acceptance of life as it is, and my realization that I CHOOSE to be happy or not. I certainly have goals, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t also celebrate the amazing state of the present. It’s raining, I’m sick, my house needs to be cleaned……and life is unbelievably FABULOUS!

Have an incredible New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Planter is "Tha Bomb!"

Just down the street from the mystery gambler's house I passed this wall that is associated with a pretty large estate, as well. In this section of Valley Road (between Habersham and Tuxedo), everyone has walls, everyone has huge gates, and many homes even have bridges crossing the creek to get into their homes. Without sounding jaded, it's hard to out-do your neighbors when it comes to ornamentation on those walls. I think this house might just have done that!

This structure marks the end of each side of the curved wall, and (in my humble opinion), is pretty fabulous. To give you an idea of scale, the structure is about 4 feet across and perhaps 8 feet high, without the finial. The urn alone is about 24 inches tall and wide. The finial looks a little out of scale in this photo, but because there are several of them along the length of the wall, it really works.

This isn't flashy, it's very simple ivy done in the most simple way......but, boy, does it make a statement! (Just to add a little icing to the cake, the niche is very softly lit at night).

Another Pretty Awesome Christmas Decorating Job

"You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run..........from a really bad plastic surgery job".

OK, I added that last bit in....did it give you any clue about the reported owner of this pretty awesome (albeit, Baroque) Buckhead home?

What I really like (all kidding aside) about the decor is the split wreath, which we've seen much more of this season in Atlanta. I think it's pretty ingenious to have the wreath split, so you can do larger wreaths on the (seemingly-mandatory in Atlanta) gates. The truth is that with some of these massive sets of gates, a pair of 36-inch wreaths gets lost. Anyway, some brilliant designer created this option, which works beautifully.

For some reason they wouldn't let me pull into the driveway with my truck loaded down with pruning waste (was it the cracked windshield that put them off?), so I had to stalk this one from the street. Check out the garland around the door, which seems to be made of silk poinsettias. Again, it was one of those things that could have been a tacky disaster, but really seems to work on this massive and elaborate house.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas in Atlanta

Driving around Buckhead today, there were a few homes that seemed particularly well done. This first one is on the lawn outside the gates of a massive estate. Very simple and very beautiful, I think. (The deer are life-sized). This second one is so tailored, and just beautiful. What you can't see is that the entire right side of the property is nandina, which is just covered with red berries right now.
The main house of a huge estate, below, where the owners understand that the decorations need to be massive, just to be in scale with the residence. From having catered parties here, I can tell you that the entire property is this well done.
This one below isn't even one of my favorite houses. It's just for all y'all who think every house in Atlanta looks like Tara.

A Frosty Morning in Atlanta

I happened to have my camera with me this morning on my way off to work, and got some shots in the stepchild garden while the frost was still fairly heavy. This urn has annual color in the summer, so the prostrate deodor cedar is looking both lonely and cold. Ilex meserva "Blue Princess" looks like a Hallmark photo at this time of year! I don't see it used nearly as much here as I do in northern climates. Not sure why, since it does just fine here, as well.
The "Teddy Bear" magnolia is not looking very Southern under the coat of frost!

This was my bargain purchase last week with Jo-E and Jack. It was in the reject section at the concrete place, since the aggragates are all exposed through the cement. I think the bad mixing job only adds to the charm of the piece, and makes it look almost ancient! Behind the sculpture is "Hot Lips" salvia, which will probably start blooming again as soon as the frost is gone....gotta love that plant!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Few Christmas Shots from the Big House

Some great color from the pansies, despite yesterday's ridiculous rain (3.2 inches!). This is the combination of Delta "Apple Cider Mix" and "Premium Persian Medley". The Kale in the background is "Toscano Laciniato"
At the front door, the English hollies look pretty awesome with the sheer red and gold ribbon. They are filled with white LED lights, which seem to reflect off the variegated foliage and make them really glow at night. The artificial garland always looks very artificial in daylight, but next to the kale, it's perfect!

This variegated boxwood is actually surrounded with pansies. They really are in there somewhere under the cut greens we put in for a few weeks! Perhaps it's just working as fancy mulch!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another Fast Party Recipe - Red Beans and Rice Dip

I can't take credit for this, since I used it right off the back of the box. It was actually much better than I expected, and lots of people asked for the "secret recipe!"

Prepare 1 box of Zatarain's Red Beans and Rice according to the package directions. Add 1 c. salsa and 1 T. Jalapenos (I used canned). Grind in a blender (or food processor) until smooth. I actually left it a little more "textured" than smooth.

Serve with crackers or tortilla chips.

Sounds funky, but it's great hot or cold!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Bar Nuts" to Keep Around the House this Season

I really haven't disappeared from the face of the Earth, just fully enjoying this holiday season.

The decorations are up at the big house (it sometimes takes a while, since it's a pretty big place), "Mr. & Mrs." have left the penthouse for warmer places, and I'm finally starting to get a grip on things in the stepchild garden. Chuck spent four hours blowing leaves on Sunday morning (ya gotta love sweetgums!), so things are pretty clean for the winter. In the meantime, there always have to be some holiday get togethers.

Here's a recipe for "bar nuts" that people consistently ask for. I typically make a big batch at this time of year, since they're great to keep in the house and also make perfect last minute hostess gifts.

1-1/2 cups EACH of unsalted cashews, walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts
6 T. fresh rosemary leaves
1 t. cayenne pepper
2 T. dark brown sugar
1 T. kosher salt
3 T. butter

Put everything except the nuts in a glass bowl and microwave just until melted; stir to dissolve the sugar. Add this mixture to the nuts in a large bowl and toss to coat.

Roast in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Be careful, since nuts will go from "white" to "burned" very quickly. Let cool and store in an airtight container for up to 10 days.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Seasonal Evolution of Limelight Hydrangeas

My friend Laurie, who is the salesperson extraordinaire for Buck Jones Nursery, has taken photos of the Limelight Hydrangeas in front of her business three different times this year, three months apart (July, September, December). The evolution of this plant, combined with the fact that it is virtually maintenance free, makes it a "must have" plant for your full sun areas!

Friday, December 4, 2009

It Seems Winter is Here

It's 48 degrees at the moment, but the forecast is for another cold night. It was in the 30's this morning, but the weather did the classic Atlanta thing and warmed up quickly. My transplanted Bostonian attitude has kicked in as I hear shoppers talking about the "snow coming to Atlanta!" (Translated as perhaps a semi-frozen flake in the midst of the rain tomorrow morning.) Quick! Let's all run out and buy toilet paper and milk! (I've never understood why these are the two things that we MUST have in our homes during a blizzard.....I'd rather have brownies, ice cream and cognac if I'm being snowed in).

In the garden, it's amazing what difference comes in a week. Here are a few shots from this week.
From the top: This camellia was hidden for ten years behind one of the arborvitaes that was cut down a couple of weeks ago. It's amazing what a little sun will do for a flower!
The mustards and chards are taking on incredible color as the weather chills.
The creeping fig looks so beautiful at this time of year when the asparagus is down for the winter.
The fatsia japonica with its "Sputnik"-like blooms
It looks like snow, but it's just a view through the elderly Autumn Cherry.
Bake some brownies and light the fireplace!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Cannellini Bean Obsession

It's been miserable, cold and rainy all day. I spent a couple of hours at the Big House tweaking some of the Christmas decorations. Don't you just hate when one section of lights on a big piece goes out??? Anyway, those things are done, the ribbons have been fluffed, and tomorrow it will be outside.

My gardener side gets crazy on days like this, since I can't go outside; my chef side, however, loves cold rainy days. Lately my rainy day activity of choice has been catching up on recorded episodes of "Barefoot Contessa," since I really like Ina Garten's approach to cooking...great quality foods prepared simply.

I stopped at Whole Foods on the way home from work, and decided it was a cannelini bean kind of day. I got started on the White Bean and Fennel Soup (that recipe was posted in February) too late for it to be dinner tonight, so the giant pot of soup that's simmering on the stove now will go into the freezer for lunches.

While I was already in the kitchen, I decided to try another white bean recipe, which became dinner. It was very easy to put together, and really good! It's much less "gourmet" than it sounds, and the fried sage leaves really make a difference, so don't skip that step!

1/4 c. olive oil
3 c. fresh bread crumbs
20 fresh sage leaves
1 large onion, chopped
1 T. chopped garlic
1 lb. chicken sausage, removed from its casings
1/2 c. dry white wine
3 cans (19 oz) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

If you can't find fresh breadcrumbs (look in the bakery section at the supermarket), just grind up a baguette in the food processor. Fresh makes a difference here! Mix 3 c. breadcrumbs with 2 T. olive oil and set aside. I guess you could always use panko for this, too, but no canned breadcrumbs this time!

Heat the remaining oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the sage leaves (they have to be dry), and fry for about 2 minutes, until they start to crisp like bacon. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

In the same pan (with the oil), saute the onion and garlic until translucent, then add in the sausage. Stir to break up the sausage a little, then add the wine and the beans, and cook about five minutes until the sausage is cooked.

Pour this mixture into a shallow casserole dish, top with the breadcrumb mixture, and bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees. When it comes out, top it with the fried sage leaves.

This with a green salad was an amazing rainy night dinner!

The Sandhill Cranes Flew Over

Patti (AKA "The Witchdoctor") has almost been visibly pacing for the past couple of weeks, stopping every now and then to look at the sky. She is very much in tune with nature, and regularly will stop what she's doing momentarily to ask, "Did you hear that? It's the mating call of a such-and-such."
Yesterday during lunch she jumped up and went outside to look at the sky. I pointed out that we were in a greenhouse with a glass roof, and perhaps she didn't need to run outside. "You don't understand!" I was told, "The sandhill cranes are going over."

This post is just to let all of you know that we can relax and enjoy Christmas. The sandhills have passed over metro-Atlanta on their way to Gainesville, for their winter hiatus. (I don't ask how she knows they winter in Gainesville.....)

Interestingly, I went to the National Geographic site and read a little about Sandhill Cranes. This paragraph might explain Patti's fascination with them. During mating, pairs vocalize in a behavior known as "unison calling." They throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—an extended litany of coordinated song. Cranes also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating but all year long.....I think they might be relatives......

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The "Family" Tree

Since the neighbors talk about us already, I thought this might be the year to go ahead and put up a second Christmas tree. The regular tree is very traditional, dark green, adorned with ornaments purchased or received from friends over the years. It always give me great pleasure to decorate, since virtually every decoration has a story behind it. This tree, in the little sitting room near the kitchen, is solely for fun!

There are very few folks who appreciate a white Christmas tree, particularly since Liberace and my grandmother ("People who call it gaudy are just jealous") have both passed on. I've always thought a white tree was just too frou frou, but when they had them in clearance at Walmart last January for $10, it was too good a deal to pass up.

I considered Christopher Radko, but there is something just WRONG about putting an ornament on your tree that costs more than the tree itself. As a result, this little tree is decorated with disco-colored ornaments and aqua glittered branches. I'm not sure this tree will become an annual tradition, but for now we're having great fun coming with it!