Wednesday, June 29, 2011


photo, Dan Ryan

Meet Rosie—the first rose blossom of the season! I am enjoying this image because it was taken before the Japanese beetles come around to snack on poor Rosie. I gave up on growing roses several years ago because the [#@$%!] beetles relentlessly devour them. We don't have lawn grubs, so I don't know why the beetle sitch is so bad here, but here I go again giving the rose another chance.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fresh ricotta cheese

Meadowbrook Farm in Hamilton, a local farm run by a great Italian guy, is carrying fresh, locally made riccotta, mozzerella and burratta cheeses. I have never seen buratta cheese sold anywhere on the North Shore, so this was very exciting, but for now let me tell you about the fresh ricotta cheese. Until I tasted this ricotta I only had a fair relationship with this cheese. To me it was always a sort of bland, supporting actor type, never really the star of the show. Then I tasted this ricotta. Sweet mercy, it was love at first bite! Rich in flavor and chunkier in texture than regular store-bought ricotta, you'll want to just eat it by the spoonful. The photo above shows a breakfast made with a German high-fiber, whole-grain bread, with a schmear of ricotta, and a spoonful of zingy orange marmalade. It was a lovely combination with the crunch of the bread, the smoothness of the ricotta, and the tanginess of the marmalade. We tried it another day with a drizzle of honey instead of the marmalade, which was equally as delicious. 

The timing was nice for these Italian goodies, because I just read a great book written by the actor Michael Tucker called "Living in a Foreign Language," and in the book he mentions eating fresh ricotta cheese, and other delicious tales of Italian living. It's a quick read that will transport both you and your taste buds through Tuscany.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gratin de Quenelles de Poisson

Our "Gourmet Saturday Night" dinner this past weekend was trés spectacular! Dan channeled Julia Child and got out her Mastering the Art of French Cooking book—volume one, in case you were wondering. He had made these seafood quenelles gratinéed in white wine sauce once before using just halibut, but this time he mixed the halibut with some shrimp. To sum the recipe up quickly (ahem), he made a pâte à choux, mixed it with the diced seafood, formed quenelles of that using two spoons, poached them in simmering water, made a béchamel sauce with white wine and fish stock, arranged the quenelles and sauce in a gratin dish, added grated Gruyère cheese and broiled until slightly browned. Et voilà, ethereal pillows of seafood. You must to try this recipe—just take it step by step and go for it.

I made an endive (ahhn-deeeve) salad similar to the Barefoot Contessa endive salad (which was delicious), although in all the excitement of the quenelles (and possibly the Lillet buzz) I completely forgot to add the pears! I used my own homemade French vinaigrette that always have in a jelly jar in the fridge, which I make using diced shallots, champagne vinegar, grape seed oil, dijon mustard, salt and pepper. No egg yolk, ala Ina's recipe. It was all trés fab, n'est pas? 

We had a light refreshing raspberry sorbet planned for dessert but were both too full to actually eat it. It was store bought, though on that note our raspberries are starting to ripen so I will be making my own raspberry granita very soon!

Here's the menu:

Lillet Apéritif 
with twist of orange and splash of sparkling soda 
Endive, Roquefort cheese, and toasted walnut salad 
2008 Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuissé 
Gratin de Quenelles de Poisson 
Raspberry Sorbet 
du Monsieur Häagen-Dazs

Saturday, June 25, 2011


photo, Diane Carnevale

Saturday was a ridiculously cold and raw June morning and I wanted to warm up the house without having to turn on the heat. Insane, I know. The entire week was cool and rainy, and I even made a chicken, mushroom, barley soup—something I don't usually make in June! I saw some neglected bananas (well past their prime) and I thought aha!... banana bread. Instead of making one big loaf or a batch of muffins, I used my tall, skinny timbale molds for them, which made a petit serving size. Dan first made this pecan banana bread recipe for us on a cold wintery morning last year after spotting it in Saveur Magazine. It's unusual in that it calls for pecans instead of the usual walnuts, but trust me, the pecans really work, and it's super moist because of the canola oil. The only extra thing I do is swap out some of the flour for unprocessed bran. That's me, the Fiber Queen.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Miss Scarlet

I've got a new friend! I love all the little chipmunks that scamper around the yard, and over the years I've named several that I've gotten this close to—Mr. Chipps, J. Edgar Hoover, Mr. Stubbs (with only half a tail) and Princess Chippy. Meet Miss Scarlet, who was named as such because she traipsed through some red oil paint from a pallet that I had left outside, and she left a trail of delicate, little red paw prints hither and yon. Do you love? I swear these chipmunks have bags of my sunflower seeds—intended for the birds, mind you—buried underground in their little chippy, condo bunkers. They just can't help themselves, they are hoarders. But Miss Scarlet is adorable, and I can't resist her chubby cheeks.

Friday, June 17, 2011

FISK Mississippi River maps

photo from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Inspired by... the FISK Mississippi River maps. Isn't this map incredibly gorg? In 1944 cartographer Harold M. Fisk made a geological survey of the ever shifting Mississippi River for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This masterpiece, and dozens more like it from various parts of the river, are the result. He and his team did a huge amount of research on the history of the river course, tracing 20 "stages" of the river course going back some 2000 years. Each color represents the geological route the river had taken throughout the centuries. You can see more of the Fisk maps here, and you can actually download the full sized maps for free from the Army Corps of Engineers!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Oooh, foxy lady!

Sometimes I get delightful little surprises from the garden, and this foxy flower always pops up in random places and does just that. This gorgeous pink freckled foxglove—a biennial—pops up wherever she darn well wants to, and always puts on quite a show. To me there's something very playful and fairy-like about the Digitalis plant.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Wild strawberries

photo, Diane Carnevale

These little strawberries were grown by moi, so perhaps I should call them homegrown rather than wild. The neighborhood chipmunks think these sweet little morsels are just as yummy as I do, so alas, they tend to disappear overnight. They have to make a living too, I guess. I only harvest enough of these treasures to nibble on or sprinkle on a bowl of cereal, but what a treat!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Art in the Barn, 2011

Approaching Storm, Gloucester

I have four paintings in the annual Essex County Greenbelt Association's 'Art in the Barn' show. The group is this three days only—today, Saturday and Sunday, and there's loads of paintings, pottery, jewelry, and sculpture to oogle at and buy. This organization is "...the region’s most effective champion of land conservation, working to conserve the farmland, wildlife habitat and scenic landscapes of Essex County," so any art that you buy supports beautiful open spaces of the North shore. Click here to view more of my paintings on my website.

Clouds over Crane's Beach

Appleton Farms, Ipswich

High and dry

Sunday, June 5, 2011


photo, Diane Carnevale

Irises reaching for the sun!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Little Buddha

The buddha that watches over the small pond in the Japanese maple grove was flanked by a lovely supporting cast—a concubine, if you will—of parrot tulips this spring. Although the blossoms are fading here I love the maple tree 'helicopters' that the buddha has caught in his hand.

See our Buddha in the spring here,
and in the fall here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Leaf power!

I rely a lot on plant foliage in the flower border—combining and interweaving various colors, sizes, textures of leaves that play off of each other to make striking combinations. Above, dark purple Queen of the Night tulips borrow foliage from variegated iris leaves. 

Here are some leaves in my chocolate garden that help show a canopy of different foliage. Filigree black Sambucus leaves (Elderberry) hover above and weave through large lime green leaves of a Fire Island hosta, which covers golden Creeping Jenny (lysimachia). 

Purple Heuchera leaves contrast nicely with Creeping Jenny and ornamental rhubarb leaves.

                                                                            all photos, Dan Ryan and Diane Carnevale

Purple alliums blossoms grow up through gigantic ornamental rhubarb leaves, which contrast fabulously with the spiky, sword-like iris leaves around them.