Friday, December 31, 2010

Have Yourselves an Incredible 2011

"A garden is never so good as it will be next year." 
                                        Thomas Cooper, Horticulture magazine, 1993

Sunday, December 26, 2010

More of Atlanta's White Christmas

Yesterday's snow really was the ultimate Christmas surprise, and (if possible) it made a great day that much better.  As it happened, the snow began coming down with gusto about an hour before people started to arrive at our house, so it provided that perfect romantic holiday backdrop.  There was a dusting of snow on the lawn and trees and just enough big fluffy flakes coming down to make people feel "Christmas-y" as they arrived with their respective contributions to the feast. 
By late last evening, there was a magical silence in the air that comes with snow.  Because of the holiday, there was very little traffic, so even in the street there were only a couple of sets of boot tracks and those of a wandering neighbor dog.

Friday, December 24, 2010

While Visions of Sugarplums Danced in Their Heads....

Frank and Sadie the Dog have each had an exhausting day of pre-holiday carbs......I hope you get what you're dreaming of........

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Away Ina Manger"

I would love to say I'm clever enough to come up with a phrase like that, but I'm not.  It was the caption under a photo of Ina Garten's face (The Barefoot Contessa) nestled in swaddling cloth in the manger on a brilliant website called Food Network Humor.  (Something tells me my mother wouldn't find that photo "brilliant" and would ask where I'm going to church tomorrow night).

In any case, I've started the Christmas cooking (a favorite activity now that I'm not a caterer anymore!), and just finished Ina's stuffing that she used for a Roasted Turkey Roulade.  It's pretty incredible, and definitely worth trying.  I followed her recipe to the letter, and wouldn't change a thing.  (Don't you hate when people completely change the recipe, then give the recipe a "poor" rating on those websites???)  It's from her Back to Basics cookbook from 2008.  I'm doing the whole recipe as written with a boneless turkey breast.


• 3/4 cup large-diced dried figs, stems removed

• 3/4 cup dried cranberries

• 1/2 cup Calvados or brandy

• 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

• 1 1/2 cups diced onions (2 onions)

• 1 cup (1/2-inch-diced) celery (3 stalks)

• 3/4 pound pork sausage, casings removed (sweet and hot mixed)

• 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves

• 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

• 3 cups herb-seasoned stuffing mix (recommended: Pepperidge Farm)

• 1 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

• 1 extra-large egg, beaten

• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1 whole (2 halves) turkey breast, boned and butterflied (5 pounds)

• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


Place the dried figs and cranberries in a small saucepan and pour in the Calvados and 1/2 cup water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, crumbling it into small bits with a fork, and saute, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, until cooked and browned. Add the figs and cranberries with the liquid, the chopped rosemary, and pine nuts, and cook for 2 more minutes. Scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon.

Place the stuffing mix in a large bowl. Add the sausage mixture, chicken stock, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and stir well. (The stuffing may be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator overnight.)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place a baking rack on a sheet pan.

Lay the butterflied turkey breast skin side down on a cutting board. Sprinkle the meat with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Spread the stuffing in a 1/2-inch-thick layer over the meat, leaving a half-inch border on all sides. Don't mound the stuffing or the turkey will be difficult to roll. (Place the leftover stuffing in a buttered gratin dish and bake for the last 45 minutes of roasting alongside the turkey.) Starting at 1 end, roll the turkey like a jelly roll and tuck in any stuffing that tries to escape on the sides. Tie the roast firmly with kitchen twine every 2 inches to make a compact cylinder.

Place the stuffed turkey breast seam side down on the rack on the sheet pan. Brush with the melted butter, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and roast for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, until an instant-read thermometer registers 150 degrees F in the center. (I test in a few places.) Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and allow it to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Carve 1/2-inch-thick slices and serve warm with the extra stuffing.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The New Header

I opened my computer this morning, coffee cup in hand, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a very lengthy rant from a reader, going on and on about my "ecologically irresponsible promotion of golf courses over nature," asking how I could possibly encourage readers to cut the prairie so short.  This was presented in a mix of capital letters, italics and bold fonts.

The only thing I can assume from the comment is that he is referring to the new header photo, which I put up to give myself something green to look at.  In this grayest of gardening seasons, I start to get a little crazy from lack of chlorophyll and sunshine.

Just to clarify, the photo is of the Queen's Estate at Sandringham, which we visited a few months ago.  I found the entire property to be exquisite (in my opinion).  An elderly docent told me that "this is where Her Majesty is just Granny," and the estate conveyed that message over and over.  It's a beautiful old rambling house with incredible grounds.  It could not be further from my Stepchild Garden, with its "Southern Vernacular Lawn" of crabgrass, ground ivy, poke and henbit.  In fact, I don't even own a lawnmower, and the urns in that photo probably cost more than my truck with its cracked windshield.

I certainly am not in a position to defend Her Majesty, but I will point out that (1) I didn't see a golf course, or even a putting green, on the property; (2)  The turf areas are kept very tall on most of the estate; and (3)  I was impressed when the gardener told me that the property is not kept in a manicured stage all the time, and that Her Majesty prefers to allow the plants to progress through their natural seasonal stages.

I was tempted to release my flying monkeys on the person who commented (who, by the way, isn't even a regular follower of this blog), then I decided I should just send him over to Jim at "Grouchy."  At the end of the day, though, I think he just needs to chill a little, grab a glass of wine, and spend some time gardening.....dude, you are way too tightly wrapped to be a gardener....

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Promise of Spring

Even after a week of freezing weather, a walk through the garden reminded me of why I moved to the South in the first place.  It seems as soon as there is an inkling of warmth and sunshine, the spring bloomers are showing signs of life.

In the vegetable garden, the broccoli made it through the freeze just fine, and is continue to grow under the shelter of those big leaves.
The rhododendrons are promising a wonderful spring show, just covered with giant swelling buds.  This particular shrub is well over my head, so I needed to take this shot from underneath the leaves.  That's a rare occurence in the south, where they typically don't handle the summer heat well.
Outside the screened porch, the Edgeworthia buds are about to pop, releasing that incredible fragrance.
Hypericum "Brigadoon" is cautiously sending out new growth, which will go blue later in the season.  There is no better show than this little plant when the "Peacock Blue" selaginella comes out all around it.
I'm feeling warmer already.......

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bartlett Pear and Dried Cherry Rustic Tart

This is a Martha Stewart recipe from five or six years, that I've modified only slightly.  The Chinese Five Spice Powder provides a really interesting twist on the traditional flavors one would expect for the holidays.  (Please resist the temptation to substitute dried cranberries for the cherries......the cherries really make a world of difference!)

All-purpose flour, for work surface
1 lb. package frozen puff pastry, fully defrosted
3 small or 2 medium Bartlett pears (about 1 pound 2 ounces),
            cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 ounces dried sour cherries
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ tsp each Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ tsp. Chinese Five-spice powder
1 large egg, lightly beaten

• Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
• On a lightly floured surface, unfold the puff pastry. Cut into two 10-by-7 1/2-inch rectangles. Refrigerate until ready to use. (Puff pastry needs to be cold when it goes into the oven.)
• Stir pears, cherries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and spices together in a bowl.
• Transfer 1 rectangle of dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
• Spoon fruit mixture onto dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around the edge. Brush the
border with beaten egg. Lay remaining dough over filling; crimp the edges together.
• Trim edges, and brush top with beaten egg. Cut slits in the top crust for ventilation
during baking.
• Sprinkle with sugar. Bake, rotating once, until crust is golden and filling is bubbling,
bubbling, about 35 minutes. Transfer pie to a wire rack to cool.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Caramelized Onion Dip Recipe

This is something that  I make with regularity in the winter, because it goes together very quickly, and is consistently well-received, even by non-onion lovers.  In this season of impromptu socializing, it's an easy item to take to a cocktail party.

2 T. butter
3 large Vidalia (or other sweet) onions, coarsely chopped
2 c. shredded  Swiss cheese
2 c. mayonnaise
1 (8 oz) can diced water chestnuts, rinsed and drained
1/4 c. dry white wine, plus one glass for the cook
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
Crackers or Tortilla Chips for Dipping

In a heavy skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat; add the onions and cook about 10 minutes, until they've started to really brown.  (The more you stir, the longer this will take, so stop stirring and drink some wine.)

Remove from the heat, let cool for five minutes, then add everything else, except the crackers.

Pour into a 2 quart casserole, and bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.

NOTE:  This is not a recipe that adapts well for low-fat, low-carb, low-calorie.  It's the holiday season, so use the regular mayo and regular cheese, and pop an extra Lipitor!  (It's also a dish that works for kosher guests and vegetarians, if they are part of the mix.)

Garden Tour?

It's 42 degrees at the moment (9 AM), and this is the high temp for the next three days!  Mark your calendars for the 2011 Cobb Master Gardeners Tour, May 7....spring is coming back, really it is!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Computer Hates this Weather, too!

I think my computer is boycotting this crazy cold weather, as well, so no posts for the next few days.....have a great weekend!

Monday, December 6, 2010

But it's Not Even Winter Yet!

It is absolutely freezing in Atlanta today.  It's currently 38 degrees (our high today), and not supposed to get out of the 40's until Friday.....not the sort of weather that makes for a happy gardener!

The tetrapanax has gone from its lush tropical look to that of wet tissues.  At least it's opening up the view of the native azalea, which will be one of spring's first bloomers.
The fatsia japonica is bowing down in the cold temps, as well. It's funky blossoms are reaching for the ground rather than for the sun! Fortunately it's much tougher than it looks, and will perk right back up when it warms up a bit.
The aucuba looks like it's trying to get into a fetal position!
Oh, well, seems like the perfect day to go and get my annual flu vaccination!  Stay warm wherever you are!

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Special Day

Today marks 25 years for Frank and me as a couple.  I know that it sounds cliche, but in hindsight, it seems to have passed so very quickly.  It feels like just a few years since we met.

I don't express it often enough, but I really do wake up every day thinking about how lucky I am to be in such a relationship, and that this many years later we are still actively challenging and supporting one another to be all that each of us can be in life.

I really feel blessed that there isn't anyone I'd rather spend the next 25 years with.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Bathroom Re-Do is Mostly Done

Still needs some accessorizing, but the bathroom reno is almost finished.  Tony the amazing contractor is finished with his part, and now it's just waiting for the Pottery Barn boxes to arrive.  These are two different angles, but hopefully this will show just how incredible Tony often do you meet a contractor who leaves you anxious to start the next project!?

If anyone needs a "Merman" shower curtain, I know where one can be found at a great bargain!  And if you are in metro-Atlanta and need a great contractor, I'm happy to recommend Tony to you!

Winter has Arrived

It's 34 degrees at the moment in Atlanta, colder where we are in the 'burbs.  It's going to hit 47 degrees as the high's only December 1.  HOT-lanta? 

I need to check with Tom at Seventh Street and see how many days until spring.........