Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Peaches and prosciutto

                         photo, Diane Carnevale

I was delighted to receive a bag of home grown peaches from our lovely neighbor, Lu! Because they are organic they were on the smallish side, and perhaps the skin was not as perfect as one finds in the green grocer, but to me they were nothing short of a bag of gold. (I am growing an espaliered peach tree in my French potager garden, but it's only in its second year so no peaches yet.) On the short walk home from Lu's house my mind raced with what to make with them: Peach soup with pancetta crisps?... Wrapped in prosciutto and grilled along with a peach and chipotle shellacked pork chop?... Peach and avocado salad?... Well, we ate most of them for breakfast the next day—just as they were—and some less than perfect ones are destined for a soup, but I saved one gorgeous peach to have for my lunch. I got the grill screaming hot and quickly seared the peaches, then added them to a bed of peppery arugula (anointed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar glaze), a few thin slices of prosciutto, and judicious shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The salty prosciutto is a perfect marriage with the sweet peaches. Thanks Lu!

                                                                                                                                                              photo, Diane Carnevale

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Burrata cheese

photo, Diane Carnevale 

Italian Burrata cheese is an ethereal bite of heaven. At a quick glance the cheese looks much like a sphere of mozzarella, but inside that sphere is a mixture of soft mozzarella cheese and cream. Molto bene, si?  The cheese has a soft texture and a rich, buttery flavor— in fact burratta in Italian means buttered, so there you go. You can find this cheese locally at Meadowbrook Farms in Hamilton, and be sure to get it when it's super fresh; they get a delivery every Thursday. The cheese pairs well with vine ripened summer tomatoes, like the ones you see here which are fresh from my garden. Be sure to have  piece of crusty bread ready to sop up the creamy, tomatoey juices. Add a drizzle of olive oil (Italian of course!), salt and pep and you're instantly transported to the Italian countryside. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Swaying with 'Irene'

                                                                                    filming and video work by Dan Ryan

"Sway me smooth, sway me now..."

One element that you simply must include in your gardens is movement! I'm not talking about anything as elaborate as installing a Calder mobile; all you need to do is plant some ornamental grasses or anything tall or billowy that will sway with a breeze. Our garden includes several repeating cultivars of grass—miscanthus sinensus (maiden grass), several kinds of Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass), miscanthus giganteus (giant Japanese silver grass), variegated ribbon grass, and annual grasses such as purple fountain grass and a new pinkish fountain grass called Fireworks. Not only do the stalks of grass move easily,  but they all produce feathery plumes that move with just the slightest whisper of a breeze. As tropical storm Irene was waning she still had plenty of breeze in her, leaving our garden dancing merrily to Dean Martin's "Sway With Me." Click on the video to watch (sound on). For full effect click the full-screen icon; you'll see the little birds along for the ride on the privet branches near the end of the video.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Vertical Viewing—Shakespeare's Tempest

James Henry Nixon's The Tempest

There's a big storm in the local forecast today (Hurricane Irene), which made me think of film adaptations of Shakespeare's The Tempest. You know the story... exiled magician Prospero and his daughter Miranda, a strange and remote island, a big storm (tempest!), a shipwreck, talk of marriage, a big confrontation of all the players, then forgiveness all around. In the end we learn about power, morality, betrayal, revenge, and most importantly, forgiveness. By the way, Prospero is a name derived from the Spanish word prospero, meaning happy, prosperous, and successful.

In wine tasting there is a term called vertical tasting—sampling one wine varietal from the same producer from several vintages. I coined the term Vertical Viewing to describe when I watch and compare several different versions of films. It's great to really get into the storyline and compare the acting and the strengths and weaknesses of each film. So let's explore Shakespeare's Tempest in this format, shall we?

IMDB shows dozens of adaptations of The Tempest, including TV productions, and (so far) I have seen 4 versions:

the 1956 version (called Forbidden Planet) with Leslie Neilson
the 1982 version with John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Susan Sarandon, and Molly Ringwald
the 1991 version (called Prospero's Books) with with John Gielgud
the 2010 version with Helen Mirren

There is a silent film of The Tempest in 1905 which I have never seen but hope to one day. Silent films are so overly dramatic and campy, but always entertaining—so much can be 'said' with facial expressions. In 1982 there was a modern day version of the the Tempest that took place on a Greek island with John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Susan Sarandon, and Molly Ringwald making her film debut as young Miranda. Raul Julia played the half man, half monster Caliban. Great cast and it was a fun film, but the most compelling Tempest I have seen is the 1991 Peter Greenaway's film called Prospero's Books, with Sir John Gielgud as Prospero. If you love Peter Greenaway films, as I do, you will not be disappointed with this one—it's wild! Another wild interpretation was Julie Taymor's (The genius behind Broadway's Lion King) 2010 version of in which she cast Helen Mirren as 'Prospera' (a nice gender twist on the role) and other notable names. The sets and costumes are brilliant! I admit that watched this film twice back-to-back—the second time with the Julie Taymor's voice over. And apparently the characters and settings in the 1956 sci-fi film, Forbidden Planet (starring Leslie Neilson and Anne Francis), was influenced by Shakespeare's Tempest... so how 'bout that? Whatever your film genre preference, get your Tempest groove going and rent one of these films.

Prospero and Miranda 
detail from George Romney's The Tempest engraving

Click on "vertical viewing" label below for other vertical viewing suggestions!
Or click to read my vertical viewing posts of 
Anna Karenina  Emma Love Affair 
A Christmas Carol, and Cyrano de Bergerac! 

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Our beautiful summer days are starting to fade,
 like these glorious sunflowers.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tomato, mozzarella pearls and basil oil

photo, Diane Carnevale

Tomato, mozzarella pearls and basil oil

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Poblano chile peppers

Many moons ago I lived in Taos, New Mexico, for three years. One of the best memories I have from those cowboy-and-Indian days was in the late summer when the heavenly aroma of roasting chile peppers permeated the air. That deliciously smoky air... mmm. Chile vendors in their cowboy hats and boots would be camped out on the roadsides with their huge, circulating gas-powered roasters, selling their verdant treasures by the bagful. Think of that sort of setup here in on the North Shore though... it would be the equivalent of a truck parked on Route 1A in front of the local Stop & Shop or hardware store. Never mind permits and safety issues, right? When I first moved back to New England I would have those famous New Mexican "Hatch" green chiles shipped to me in ten-pound boxes, but over the years I've settled for the mildly hot poblano chile peppers, which are readily available at the aforementioned Stop & Shop and other green grocers. I will always have those New Mexico memories (and my red cowboy boots), but once a month or so I still have the urge to roast up a few to chiles to stuff, dice into scrambled eggs or put into a green chile stew. Shown above is a chile pepper stuffed with black beans, brown rice, corn, scallions, Jack cheese, cilantro and tomatoes. Polka dotted around the chile is a cilantro oil and chipotle crema. Below is a peek at the ugly but beautiful business of blistering the skin off of chile peppers. I highly recommended wearing rubber gloves (and not rubbing your eyes — or other sensitive areas!). Giddyup.

photos, Diane Carnevale

photo from Focus New Mexico

Read more about the 'chili' vs. 'chile' spelling debate here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bodacious dahlia

Of all the kajillion cultivars of dahlias in the world this Bodacious dahlia may well be my favorite—or at least the most favorite one that I have grown. The petals are fire engine red with bright yellow tips and undersides. It's big, commands attention, and isn't this dahlia utterly bodacious, just as the name suggests? 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mahi mahi + fruit salsa

A lime green cilantro chutney wakes up a piece of grilled mahi mahi fish and a bright, fruity (and spicy) papaya pineapple salsa takes you to the islands, mon. Fruit salsas go perfectly with grilled fish or chicken and they are fun and easy to make. You don't even need a recipe for salsas, just some rough guidelines. photos, Dan Ryan

Beautiful papaya!

Here's my fruit salsa formula: I use mango, pineapple, papaya, cantaloupe, pears, or any combo of those, and to the fruit I always add an acid to brighten the flavors (a squeeze of lime or vinegar), heat to give it a kick (sriracha chili sauce or diced jalepenos), a sweetener to balance the sour flavors (honey, sugar or agave nectar), some kind of a crunch (diced red onions, green onions, carrots, jicama or sweet red, yellow, or orange peppers), cilantro, and of course, salt and pepper. If you have an Asian fish sauce, absolutely do use that but then skip the salt. The fish sauce adds a killer umami. A drizzle of olive oil will add a nice savory flavor and depending on how wild I am feeling I might even add some shaved coconut, curry powder or even a splash of rum, and garnish with a flower from the garden. There's no right or wrong to fruit salsas, just experiment and have fun!

Cilantro chutney
a thumbsize piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh hot green chile such as jalapeño or serrano, trimmed
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro sprigs
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp white-wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper

You can also add in 1/4 cup grated coconut 
Mint leaves will darken with the acid, so don't mix them in until you're going to serve dinner.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Farro salad

Italian farro makes a delicious nutty salad along with tomatoes, spinach leaves, chive blossoms, parsley olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.  photo, Diane Carnevale

Sunday, August 21, 2011


    photo, Diane Carnevale 

Lillet is a delicious French apéritif wine made with a blend of white wines and liqueurs made from Spanish and Moroccan orange peels. It's known as a tonic wine because it also includes a liqueur made of Peruvian Chinchona bark which contains quinine (you know, the stuff used to treat malaria). Apparently that is how the apéritif developed, as a way to administer bitter tasting quinine. Sweet herbaceous drinks masked the nasty quinine flavor. And here's another fascinating fact — James Bond orders a martini made with Lillet and called the drink a Vesper after one of his GFs in Ian Fleming's 1953 novel Casino Royale. How cool is that? We like Lillet on ice with an orange peel, and sometimes with a splash of club soda. It's amazingly refreshing on a hot summer day, the likes of which are waning, so go and get some Lillet before the summer is over. As it states right there on the label, "serve well chilled."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Patty pan squash

Patty pan, patty pan, patty pan... I just love saying that. These happy little patty pan squashes are easy to grow and versatile in the kitchen. You can stuff them in various ways, with grains, cheese, beans, veggies, meat—or with any combination that your heart desires. Or you can quarter the squashes then grill or sauté them. Here I have hollowed out and stuffed a squash with corn, diced squash, onions, carrots, lemon thyme, and a little cheddar cheese to bind them. The colors are striking surrounded with purple oak leaf lettuce.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I'm your Venus

Goddess on the mountain top 
Burning like a silver flame 
The summit of beauty and love 
And Venus was her name 

She's got it 
Yeah, baby, she's got it 
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire 
At your desire 

(Sung by Shocking Blue in 1970,
 then by Bananarama in 1986)

Diego Velazquez's Venus at her Mirror (1648), also called his Rockeby Venus, is captivating and mysterious all at once. Though her curvaceous backside is revealed in all its splendor, the reflection of Venus's face is slightly blurred in the mirror hinting that the face represents the goddess within all women. The self-absorbed yet no doubt sensuously erotic Venus is admiring herself in a mirror that an adorable little cupid, clearly captivated, is holding for her. And how could he not be enchanted by the Goddess of Love?

Sad to think that the Spanish Inquisition may have stopped this Baroque masterpiece—the only surviving female nude of Velazquez's—from being part of the art world. Back then artists of licentious or immoral paintings were heavily fined, excommunicated, or, um, worse. So lucky for Velázquez that he had a royal appointment. Velázquez used this mirror trick later in his life in Las Meninas, the maids of honour (1656). Little María Margarita is shown in an ornate dress with her maids around her, but also the hot Spanish royal couple of the time (King Philip IV and his wife Mariana) are seen in the reflection of the mirror in the paintings. Clever man, isn't he?

Velazquez's Venus has inspired many an artist, including me. Have a look at some other Venus paintings that I found on the web. This collection of Venus portraits shows many varied approaches to the subject including simple line drawings, modern portrait photography, posed Barbie dolls, and even bathroom tiles. I tried to give proper credits to all artists or at least say where I found them. One Venus is a conté crayon sketch of mine that I did several years ago. Send me your Venus and I'll post it here too!

Alberto Giacometti's Venus, 1959

Ruxandra Raileanu's Venus

el Espejo's Venus from Wet

ddgrafix's Venus from Flickr

Spanish artist Eleazar's Venus from

Vincente Collado, Jr.'s Venus


Photographer André Maier's Venus
(love the birthmark on the buttocks)

J I Fernandez's Venus

Mary Ellen Strom's (Nude no 3) Venus

Diane Carnevale's conté crayon sketch of Venus

Czech artist Ktistyna Milde's Venus

Photographer Clive Stewart's Venus for Yves-Saint-Laurent

Bathroom shower tiles from House Modern Renovation

Using photography and digital manipulation,  Haley Leanne's Venus  

from Mauricio Cortes Garcia's Venus Flickr page
(not sure of the artist or even what medium this is)

I'm your Venus, I'm your fire 
At your desire 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wrapture in the garden!

photo, Nicole Chan

Our garden is featured on the Style Me Pretty (Massachusetts) bridal website! Remember my Day of Harper-Razzi blog post from July 28th?... the tea party photo shoot? Shown above in our allée of London plane trees graphic designer Rebecca Q Yankes models a gown from Wenham bridal couturier extraordinaire Harper Della-Piana (Seams). Is this not gorgeous?!

Below Rebecca is wearing one of Harper's "Wrapture" dresses at the steps of our sunken garden, and in the very bottom photo all of the models are standing behind a charming tea party table set up by event planners Greia Marlow and Jenny Wong.

Wanna see more? Go here to see all the photos taken by photographer Nicole Chan! There's a link to click to see the entire gallery from that day in the garden or you can just click here for that. In case you are wondering, yes, we got to sample the little tea cakes supplied from the 3 Little Figs bakery when the photo shoot was over. Yum! 

photo, Nicole Chan

photo, Nicole Chan

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bear Naked tarts

                                                                                                                                    photo, Diane Carnevale

Pssst... I have a secret. The nectarine tarts I recently made had a layer of granola pressed into the crust. The granola I used was Bear Naked brand granola, and what's great is that it's not hard and crunchy, but sort of a soft and chewy granola. I think it gave the tart a nice complexity, not to mention a cute name.

                                                                                                                                    photo, Diane Carnevale

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Delightful swirls

More fun with tomatoes! Here is a small appetizer plate of yellow pear tomatoes, tiny mozzarella pearls, purple basil leaves, and a delightful swirl of basil oil.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Melon carpaccio

     photo, Diane Carnevale

Meadowbrook Farms in Hamilton sells the most amazing melons this time of year. They are not cantaloupes, but rather, orange flesh Honeydew melons, and when chilled they are the sweetest, most refreshing bit of summertime you will ever taste. The owner of Meadowbrook Farms, Ronnie, says that at the produce market in Boston he has to elbow out the guy who buys for the Ritz Carleton Hotel for these particular melons because the Ritz has them on their breakfast menu. Here I sliced the melons super thin, sprinkled them with fennel pollen, then garnished the plate with fennel blossom and frond. Nice combo.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chunky gazpacho, 3 ways

I had to do something with those tomatoes, right? Although most chefs would disagree with me, this is my take on a good bowl of gazpacho. I really dislike the traditional Spanish blended version, pulverized so fine you could drink it (think V8 juice). I prefer to eat hearty chunks of crunchy vegetables—red, yellow and green tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, green bell peppers (sometimes yellow and orange bell peppers too), celery, minced garlic, red onion, scallions, and cilantro leaves—all bathing in a perky tomato juice. Subtle undertones of smokey Spanish pimentón paprika, sherry vinegar and a good olive oil shine through the bright vegetable flavors. Think of this as a salad that you eat with a spoon.

A jazzed up version of gazpacho...
an appetizer in a martini glass with garlicy shrimp that's been dusted with pimentón 

One last spoonful... 
an amuse bouche in a porcelain spoon, with chili pepper threads