Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Open sesame

I call this my orange sesame kale salad because the dressing for it is made with creamy tahini—sesame paste. It's especially nice in the summertime because it's citrusy and doesn't use mayo. Combine a mix of whatever greens you wish—here I used lots of nutrient dense kale, shredded purple cabbage, shredded carrots, some chopped scallions, and parsley leaves. Savoy cabbage would also be great in this mix. The day I made this I also added pieces of shredded honey orange infused chicken, and I often also add chickpeas. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top just before serving. 

Orange sesame tahini dressing
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 tsp. chili pepper flakes
1/2 clove minced garlic
1 tbsp. honey
salt  and pepper
1/2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Orange chicken
Slice one boneless chicken breast into long strips. Quickly sauté the chicken in medium high heat in a pan with a little olive or vegetable oil in batches until browned on all sides. reserve in a bowl.
Add a crushed clove of garlic into the pan with more oil if needed, and sauté over a low heat until tranaslcent. Do not burn garlic! Squeeze in juice of half an orange (or add 3 tablespoons of orange juice). Put the chicken back onto the pan and simmer on low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed. Behold—intensely flavored orange chicken!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Twinkle, twinkle

photo, Dan Ryan

Twinkle lights magically illuminate our courtyard on a snowy winter's evening. We keep the lights on the ivy topiary balls on all year long, which gently lights the hakonechloa grass path on summer evenings. The table branch and lights are replaced with an umbrella for the summer. Here in the dead of winter thoughts of warm summer nights seems a long way off, don't they?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Deja vu in Venice

photo by Alvaro Leiva

This is the time of year that we New Englanders dread blizzards, but Venice dreads the flooding high waters—the acqua alta—that constantly threatens their beautiful city. This week these high waters reached the highest level that Venice has seen in 22 years at just over five feet above sea level. If you've every been to Venice and seen the gilded churches, palaces, museums, markets and high end stores, you'll ache at the thought of this as much as I do. Venice was built on muddy islands, so what can be done? Lots, but it's an pricey job. Named after Moses, who parted the seas, the Moses project is in full swing. Enormous and expensive gates (costing billions of Euro) built in the Adriatic would lift when very high tides are predicted to help slow the flow of water into the city. And now there is another clever idea, which involves slowly injecting the soil under Venice (over a ten year period) to plump up and raise the soil beneath it. Read about it here on the National Geographic website, and see photos of the December 2008 floods here. In the meanwhile, pull up those Wellies.

Most of these photos are from the December 2008 floods
photo by Toshio via Flickr

photo by Luigi Costantini
photo by Andrea Pattaro

photo by Manuel Silvestri

photo by Michele Crosera

photo by unknown

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tulips = happiness!

parrot tulip photo by Cédric Porchez

Tulips make me happy! In the golden age of Dutch history—the early 1600s—tulip bulbs were once so valuable that they were used as currency. Several books on this subject make for good winter reading, most notably Tulipomaniaby Mike Dash. There are many other books that cover the history of these precious bulbs, and there are gorgeous picture books and novels on the subject, such as the Alexander Dumas classic, The Black Tulip. Harold Feinstein has the most wondrous photos of tulips in his little book, The Infinite Tulip. Oversized white French tulips are my absolute favorite, but they are hard to come by and I can't afford them anyway. I grow tulips in the spring—crazy colored parrot tulips and adorable short, red, Little Red Riding Hood tulips with variegated leaves are two cultivars that I couldn't do without. Happy and colorful tulips are at the markets now, so go out and buy a bunch to bring yourself some good cheer! 

Friday, January 27, 2012

The winter garden

A saunter in the garden after a snowstorm is a magical experience indeed. Often there are blue skies and blinding sunshine, crisp winter air, and always, always, there is that amazing stillness, that peaceful, muffled serene silence of the snow that has to be experienced to fully understand. Perhaps you hear the delicate flutter of a bird's wings at the feeders, or you hear their winter mating calls, and you feel the crunch of snow as it packs under your feet with each step. You see zillions of dazzling shiny snow crystals illuminating like snow fairies—as if Mother Nature has sprinkled diamond bling dust everywhere. Perfect.

With structures in the garden—a trellis, arch, statue, trees, or an arrangement of large stones—there will  always be something interesting to look at in every season. Last winter delivered several feet of snow here on Boston's North Shore, and our four season's statues—which stand over four feet tall—were buried up to their necks in snow. Winter structures also cast beautiful shadows. An elongated tree shadow cast by the low winter sun on newly fallen snow is a beautiful sight. The snows of winter benefit the garden in two ways—first, by insulating soil, plants and their roots, and secondly, by pulling down nitrogen from the air which is beneficial for the soil. My Uncle Elmer taught me that A Blanket of Snow is a Poor Man's Fertilizer, so cross your fingers for more snow days!

Gorgeous lacey filigree shadows of the London Plane trees in our allée

Our sunken garden in winter

A teak bench is tucked into a cluster of arborvitae, 
giving a nice view into our sunken garden
all photos, Dan Ryan & Diane Carnevale

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Elvis

This is a fun breakfast and not just for kids—toasted, high fiber flax seed bread, topped with peanut butter and a sprinkle of freshly roasted peanuts and a couple of banana slices. Elvis would have added bacon, which I shamefully admit to trying once. I was surprised how good it tasted!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gossip girls

Three beautiful hens from Russell Orchards
 in Ipswich having a gossip session

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Renaissance judgements

In Renaissance days the ten lines of this little Spanish leaflet 
were mighty powerful.


THE POPE SAYS: …… I am the head of all.
THE KING SAYS: …… I obey the Pope.
THE KNIGHT SAYS: …… I serve these two.
THE MERCHANT SAYS: …… I cheat these three.
THE LAWYER SAYS: …… I confuse these four.
THE PLOUGHMAN SAYS: …… I feed these five.
THE DOCTOR SAYS: …… I kill these six.
THE CONFESSOR SAYS: …… I absolve these seven.
CHRIST SAYS: …… I suffer these eight.
THE DEATH SAYS: …… I take them all away.

With paints instead of words Michelangelo Buonarroti—the divine artist— 
illustrated a similarly dark message with his Last Judgement painting.

Some details...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Chinese new year!

Gung Hay Fat Choy—it's the year of the dragon! Chinese New Year’s Day is today, marking the most important time of year in Chinese culture. This is a time of vibrant colors, dragon dancing, loud noises to chase bad spirits away, and symbolic foods. Dishes served during this 15-day period all have unique significance and meaning for things such as wealth, good luck, a long life, etc. Xīn nián kuài lè!

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I'm loving my new curvaceous accordian side table that I just got from Wisteria. Shown like this it looks like a sculptural piece of giant ribbon candy, but I flipped it over with the flat end up to make a nifty side table. It stands about 20 inches tall and is a very heavy piece of wood. Catch the wave!

This piece reminds me of Frank Gehry's Wiggle Chair. I painted a watercolor of it for my Chair du Jour blog back in 2009. Every day for a year I painted a different chair—check it out!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chanterelle mushrooms

photo, Dan Ryan

One of the most memorable and sexiest dishes I've ever eaten was in Gdańsk, Poland, in 2005. It was in a cozy outside cafe on a bustling pedestrian-only zone, and the meal was a creamy chanterelle mushroom sauce served over a tender breast of chicken. Ohh la laa! What that French sole meuniere dish was to Julia Child, this meal was for me. It was silky, creamy, buttery and divine, and the memory of it haunts me. The word that I always use to describe it was butterscotchy. Not being sure what wine or cognac they used to flavor the sauce I have tried to replicate the flavors, and I think I have come close using Marsala wine. Fresh golden chanterelle mushrooms used to be difficult to find and only when in season, but now you can find them at Whole Foods markets any time. The chanterelles are ridiculously priced at around $20 a pound, but are worth the splurge once a year or so. Marilyn down at Vidalias Market in Beverly Farms offers them occasionally too. This dish may not take you to Gdańsk, but you'll love the butterscotchy flavor.

2 chicken breast paillards
2-3 cups chanterelle mushrooms
1 large diced shallot
Marsala wine
1/2 cup créme fraiche
sprig of fresh thyme
1 tsp or so of diced parsley
1 tsp olive oil
2 tblsp butter
salt and pepper

Season chicken paillards with salt and pepper and quickly sauté them in olive oil on both sides. Remove from pan and keep warm. In the pan sauté the shallots until clear, then add in half of the butter and the mushrooms and sauté for about 2 minutes until tender and soft. Add in the Marsala wine and light to flambé (watch your eyelashes and keep a lid close by for safety). Once the flames die out, add in the créme fraiche, thyme leaves, and salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat for around 10 minutes to infuse the sauce with the mushroom flavor, then taste for seasoning (adjust if needed) and melt in the remaining butter. Place warm chicken paillard on a plate, spoon mushroom sauce over them and sprinkle with diced parsley.

photo, Dan Ryan

Oh and a funny postscript—after dinner we were served a glass of Polish Goldwasser (goldwater), a strong, cinnamon tasting root and herbal liqueur with flecks of 22 karat gold in it!  We liked it so much we brought a bottle home with us.

I took this photos of these lovely chanterelles at an outdoor market
in Helsinki, Finland, 2005

—You could serve this over a bed of buttered papardelle noodles, 
   as we did in the picture above.

It's a rich sauce, so it's nice with a crisp chardonnay 
   (Frei Brothers is very good) or champagne.

You can find similar gold flecked Goldwasser type liqueurs here in the states.

Friday, January 20, 2012

San Gimignano skyline

I made this oil painting of the enigmatic and gorgeous San Gimignano skyline. What are all those towers about, you ask? Basically it was the conspicuous consumption of the day—people keeping up with the Joneses. They were just showing off their wealth and power by outdoing each other with these tall towers, though none were permitted to be built taller than the City Hall tower. This walled medieval Tuscan hill town has an interesting history, which you can read about here and you can also see some good photos of the town here.  During the Renaissance it was a stopover point for Catholic pilgrims traveling to the Vatican. Those towers must have been like New York City skyscrapers back then, seen from miles and miles away. Once upon a time there were 72 of these towering golden rectangles, but now only 13 remain.

+ + + 

We've been to San G three times now—the first time was in 1993 when we were on our honeymoon. The word is out on this charming little hilltop town with its myriad towers and it attracts serious crowds of people today, but back then it was a sleepy town with much fewer tour buses. These days cars are not allowed to drive up into the town, but that is precisely what we did back in 1993. Yup, we drove into the center of town and found a lovely hotel with a room on the second floor that overlooked the Piazza della Cisterna (the main square with the water well). The place was the Hotel Leon Bianco, and it's still running today. (See photos below!) Their outside cafe was just below our window and in the morning we awoke to the sound of clanking dishes and silverware and the heavenly aroma of strong Italian coffee. Ahh, memories!

photo from the Hotel Leon Bianco website

Me looking out our window at Hotel Leon Bianco in San Gimignano in 1993

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tuscan olive grove—III

One more Tuscan olive grove painting, this one is in shades of yellow. 

 (Search my blog for more of my Tuscan landscape paintings.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tuscan olive grove II

Here's another Tuscan olive grove painting in shades of greens. 

 (Search my blog for more of my Tuscan landscape paintings.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tuscan olive grove I

I got into a painting groove this weekend and painted four new canvases, all Tuscan landscapes (in oils) from photos I took during my visit there last September. I am doing a series of olive trees—love the gnarly twisted trunks and ethereal shimmering leaves. This painting—in shades of purples—is of a row of olive trees that lined a long dirt road, creating a tunnel effect. 

 (Search my blog for more of my Tuscan landscape paintings.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Kale chips rock!

I actually called my mom after making these crispy greens to say "Look mom, I ate kale!" You see, growing up I was reluctant to eat a lot of greens other than the usual lettuce, string beans, peas, etc. Mom was a great nutritionist and always made very healthy dinners for my brothers and me-even while working a full time job. Sure, she snuck kale or spinach or broccoli into soups and casseroles, but really I didn't actually appreciate those green veggies on their own merit until I was older—like around 50 or so. KIDDING! Late 20s, max. Thanks mom!

+ + + 

Trim out the thick center stem of kale leaves and cut remaining leaf into bite sized pieces. Coat with olive oil and sprinkle a dash of garlic powder and salt and pepper. Place leaves on a baking sheet in a 350° oven for 10-15 minutes, then remove and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Theyyyyre heeere!

Those garden catalogs are arriving in my mailbox—little teases of springtime and green and growth. When we're housebound on cold and blustery winter days (It was 5° when I woke up this morning!) garden catalogs and books really deliver a dose of sunshine and possibilities. The plants and flowers always look so big and colorful in the catalogs, don't they? There are no weeds or bug eaten leaves, just pages and pages of beautiful combinations and potential. I am thinking about planting a huge cutting garden on the west side of my house, filled with loads of colorful dahlias, zinnnias ans sunflowers—really hot colors like pinks and oranges yellows. Am I crazy? It would be lovely but would mean more edging and weeding! Get those stickies and scissors out and create your perfect dream garden!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Gorgeous portrait—Louise Bourgeois

                                                                                      portrait by Annie Leibowitz

I have a thing for gorgeous portraits and also for older faces. This one of the artist Louise Bourgeois in her elder years, made by photographer Annie Leibovitz, is stunning.

Click on the gorgeous portraits label below for more gorgeousness!

Friday, January 13, 2012

A cheese guy and an opera singer...

This is a postcard I got in Lucca, Italy last fall.

Sounds like the start of a good joke, doesn't it? Nope. I meet the nicest people shopping sometimes! I was perusing the cheese section at Whole Foods recently and was chatting with the two cheese guys working there—Giovanni (yes, Italian, accent and all) and Brian. Turns out that Brian is not only a cheese guru, but his real love is Opera. Yup, he's a tenor opera singer, and what an amazing voice he has! Please have a listen to Brian Landry...he's trained and performed in Italy, and is the real deal!

I love opera posters!

opera poster graphic, Diane Carnevale

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Minding my Ps and Qs

Pumpkin and Quinoa, that is! Pumpkin soup is so velvety and delicious anyhow, but add to it some cooked quinoa and it's super nutrish and delish. This curried lentil soup is accompanied by a curry lentil crisp and both recipes are from Gordon Hamersley. You can find his recipes here on the Food & Wine website. I added the quinoa on a whim but you could add any whole grain or omit if you wish. I also added thyme and a swirl of crème fraiche.

+ + + 

I never understood the origin of that phrase, "to mind your Ps and Qs." It was something that was said to us as kids when we needed to be reminded to mind our own business. There are many meanings given on the Internet—Urban dictionary is particularly interesting—from it being shortened in pub language from pints and quarts to priorities and qualities (Example; "Always remember that you have 'priorities' in life, and the 'qualities' of your character will help you achieve them...") 

But the most credible and logical definition to me is in both Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia, where the phrase is said to have originated in the printing business; you see the lower-case Ps and Qs could be used interchangeably by typesetters by flopping them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Equus quagga, zebra

photo, Diane Carnevale (taken in Venice, Italy)

Haven't we all been a little enchanted by the zebra since we were little kids? As you can tell by my blog banner I certainly am. The playful red zebra background is wallpaper that is produced by Scalamandré, and comes in several different colors—love it in the Zanzibar gold!

In red the wallpaper once adorned the walls at an well known Italian restaurant in New York city called Gino's. According to the New York Times, “Mr. [Gino] Circiello was a hunter without the means to pay for an African safari, but he reasoned that he could at least afford zebras on his wallpaper. So he commissioned a friend [Flora Scalamandré] to design wallpaper depicting leaping zebras pursued by arrows.” How could you not have fun dining next to such delightful walls, even if it is, um, a hunting scene? Sadly Gino's has since closed its doors after 60 decades, but in its day the restaurant was a popular eating spot with visits from notable names such as Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck, Jackie O, and Ralph Lauren to name a few.

So what is it about zebra's stripes that make them seem so unusual and otherworldly? Are they white with black stripes, or black with white stripes? (Anamalia experts claim the latter.) I think they are just fun. I snapped the photo of the top zebra, a poster in Venice, last fall, and below are are some more images.

Illustration, Lodolphus

photo, unknown

photo, Tim Lyman