Thursday, May 31, 2012

Plum poppies!

all photos, Dan Ryan

My purple "Patty's Plum" poppies are in bloom! These oriental poppy blossoms sit atop long wiry stems and only grace us with their presence for a short week or so each year. Their dusty lavender skirts—like crinkled, ruffly satin dresses the day after the prom—have a big dollop of blackberry jelly in the center. Deliciousness!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Grilled potatoes

photo, Diane Carnevale

These are so fabulicious. First, slice the potatoes into half-inch slices, then boil them for about 10 minutes. When mostly cooked, put potatoes in a bowl with a marinade of lemon zest and juice, minced garlic, fresh herbs (chives, rosemary, parsley, oregano) salt, pepper, and olive oil. Toss them up so they soak in all those flavors, then grill them. I garnished this batch of 'taters with yellow violas, chive blossoms, and more fresh herbs. The potatoes have a really zesty flavor!

photos, Dan Ryan 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Black Jack Iris

photos, Dan Ryan 

The Black Jack bearded iris in our "chocolate" garden has that special WOW factor, especially against the lime green foliage of our honey locust tree leaves. The black lacy leaves in the photo are from Black Lace Sambucus elderberry shrubs.

Monday, May 28, 2012


photo, Dan Ryan 

Burgers sizzlin' on the grill, a classic Memorial Day tradition, 
are a great way to kick off the unofficial start of summer!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Tutu Project

all photos by Bob Carey! 

You've gotta love a man who is willing to put on a pink tutu for breast cancer awareness! Bob Carey's wife is battling breast cancer, and knows all to well the healing power of humor. In his own words, he writes;

"The mission of The Tutu Project is to raise funds to the cost of self-publishing Ballerina. It’s also the story of doing good while doing well. Ballerina is a book all about a man, his pink tutu and raising funds for women with breast cancer. 

Seems like we all know someone who has gone 'mano a mano' with breast cancer. Read more about the crazy wonderful Tutu Project here, where you can see more photos, make a donation, buy a t-shirt, or just drop a note of support to this very good cause. Stay creative, tutu man!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Keep an eye on Iris!

Hello Iris! It was recently reported that the fabulously eccentric 90-year old Iris Appfel has donated over 900 items from her wardrobe to the Peabody Essex Museum in nearby Salem, MA! Known for her trademark, oversized Mr. Magoo type eyeglasses and chunky baubles, she's already donated hundreds of pieces of clothing and accessories that she's acquired over the years from top designers such as McQueen, Dior, and Lagerfeld, Halston, to flea market finds. Can you imagine her closet? It surely much be several rooms. If you were lucky enough to see her "Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel" show at rhe PEM back in 2009 (or at MOMA in 2005), then you already know how what a fabulous museum acquistion this is for the PEM. Keep an eye out in future years—Apfel and her husband Carl are also donating the funds for a new fashion gallery wing at the PEM, scheduled to open in 2017.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Snake in the grass

photo, Diane Carnevale

One sunny afternoon in my back yard I spotted this beautiful garter snake! He had pulled up a sunbeam and basked in the warmth for hours, not budging an inch as I walked back and forth while doing my garden chores. I gave him special permission to snack on all of the delicious slugs he could find in the garden!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tom Kha Gai

This is the classic Thai chicken coconut soup called Tom Kha Gai. It's quick, easy and packed with intense quintessential Thai flavors, which it gets from coconut milk, lemongrass, fresh ginger, lime juice, chile paste, Thai fish sauce, cilantro, and kaffir lime leaves and other goodiesAmazing complex Thai flavors.

2 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 large can unsweetened coconut milk (I use the light version)
2 cups canned chicken broth
2 tablespoons finely chopped lemongrass
1tbsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
2 keffir lime leaves**
1 tbsp palm sugar**
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/3 of a red serrano chili, sliced into rounds*
1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce* (or srirachi and minced garlic)

+ + +

2 skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
pre-soaked rice noodles
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 tablespoons fresh lime juice
cilantro leaves
grated unsweetened coconut

*adjust chili ingredients to your heat tolerance
*find palm sugar and keffir lime leaves on Amazon.

In a saucepan, sauté mushrooms until very lightly browned, then combine all ingredients in pan except for the last 6. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and cover and simmer 10 minutes to let the flavors blend. Then add chicken and rice noodles, and simmer for 5 more minutes until cooked through. Mix in green onions and lime juice. After ladling soup into bowl, top with cilantro leaves and grated coconut, and prepare your taste buds for a treat!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vertical viewing—Emma

Hi movie fans! I explained my Vertical Viewing  film obsession before (watching and comparing several different versions of films), and here is another 'VV' to consider—Jane Austen's Emma.

Anything Jane Austen was all the rage in the nineties, which is fine by me because I love all 7 of JA's novels, and can't get enough of the films. There was such a flurry of Austen flicks in the '90s; her 1815 novel Emma is bright and refreshing every time I see it. I love the characters in this classic—the smarmy Mr. Elton (played brilliantly, BTW, by the talented Alan Cumming in the Gwenyth Paltrow film), the dashing Frank Churchill, and poor, frumpy, Harriet Smith. who gets her heart and emotions trampled on, but fear not, she also finds love by the end of the book (and films). And Mr. Knightly—do you love that he adores Emma so much, even though he scolded her when she was mean to that penniless bore, Miss bates ("Badly done Emma, badly done."). Sure Emma is rich and spoiled, but her heart is in the right place, and who doesn't love she and Mr. Knightly hook up at the end?

Now, for my fave film adaptations—Wikipedia says that there are over twenty film, TV and stage adaptations of EmmaI do wish there were older film versions—can't you just picture, say... a young Olivia de Havilland in the starring role and Charles Boyer as her Mr. Knightly? Swoon. Alas, there is not. One film that I have not seen yet that intrigues me like crazy is a mod, 2010 Indian version... does Emma go to Bollywood? It's on my list, but for now, here are the adaptations I have seen:

the 1972 version with Doran Godwin (BBC TV)
the 1996 version (called Clueless) with Alicia Silverstone  (film)
the 1996 version Gweneth Paltrow (film)
the 1996 version with with Kate Beckinsale  (film) 
the 2009 version with Romola Garai (BBC TV)

I found the 1972 adaption to be a bit stuffy and dry—Emma wasn't 'delightful' enough for my taste. But in a completely different and clever updated twist, the 1996 the film Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone, was set in modern day California; that was fun! Next came a flurry of Emma films. There is a 1996 version of the story with Kate Beckinsale as the lead role that was very good, but not my favorite. That honor has to go to 

Gweneth in the 1996 version. Loved it! It was made two years before GP starred in Shakespeare in Love—both films show her command of a darn good faux English accent. In 2009 BBC TV had a version of Emma with the beautiful Romola Garai playing the perpetually matchmaking Emma Woodhouse. This was fabulous and refreshing too, and I found Romola to be appropriately delightful. 

If you love all things Emma (and surely you must, if you are bothering to read this) I found a blog called Emma Adaptations that is completely dedicated to it!

Click on "vertical viewing" label below for other vertical viewing suggestions!
Or click to read my vertical viewing posts of 
 Love AffairAnna Karenina, A Christmas Carol
Cyrano de Bergerac and Shakespeare's Tempest!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

For every bird a nest

It would have taken a very large bird to make this nest! I created it from pulled Virginia Creeper vines (creeping over from my neighbor's yards), the end result being roughly 2 feet in diameter, and placed 4" round stones in it. Then I tucked the nest away in a corner of my pergola under the wisteria vines, where it looks welcoming and mysterious.

For Every Bird a Nest

For every Bird a Nest—
Wherefore in timid quest
Some little Wren goes seeking round—

Wherefore when boughs are free—
Households in every tree—
Pilgrim be found?

Perhaps a home too high—
Ah Aristocracy!
The little Wren desires—

Perhaps of twig so fine—
Of twine e'en superfine,
Her pride aspires—

The Lark is not ashamed
To build upon the ground
Her modest house—

Yet who of all the throng
Dancing around the sun
Does so rejoice? 

—Emily Dickinson

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lollipop, lollipop...

photo, Dan Ryan

Looks like a yummy purple lollipop, good enough to eat! This allium, near our fish pond, looks gorgeous against the swordlike foliage of the irises.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Alliums and Irises

I think May is the prettiest month in gardens—it is in my garden anyway. Everything is blooming, the air is warm and sweet with mingling floral aromas, the weeds aren't winning the war, and the insects haven't munched on the leaves yet. The alliums and irises in my long border explode in shades of purples, and even the underside of my giant ornamental rhubarb (Rheum, Ace of Hearts) leaves boast a gorgeous shade of reddish purple. I posted a photo of this flower border last May here, where you'll see beautiful burgundy Heuchera leaves (coral bells). Unfortunately, those plants didn't make it through our dry winter and spring, so I have since replaced them with Bonfire spurge (euphorbia) and chocolate bugle weed (ajuga black scallop), which contrasts fabulously with the golden Creeping Jenny (IMHO).

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Isn't this portrait absolutely breathtaking?! The intense colors of the robe, wrapped around a sturdy looking man with a sword makes for a mighty powerful image. Last year the Library of Congress made available these 100-year old "color" photos of daily life in Russia, taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944). With the support of Tsar Nicholas II, he took this photo survey of the Russian empire between 1909 and 1912 (before the Russian Revolution or World War I!), making him a pioneer in the field of photojournalism. That alone was pretty remarkable, but that this former chemist made these photos with glass plate negatives and in color is even more extraordinary. Of course, the technology to make color photos wasn't available back then, so wanna know how SMP-G made them?

In a revolutionary process called digichromatography Prokudin-Gorskii used a special camera to make three black and white images in fairly quick succession, each time using red, green and blue filters, then he recombined the images using filtered "magic lanterns" to project the final color photos on a wall. Voilá, RGB—it's genius! Below are some more samples of these photos, and if you'd like to see more click hereYou can also read more at the LOC, and read more in-depth details about the photography process, by clicking here.
Sample of red, green and blue plates

Click to enlarge!

Self portrait of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Grilled chops and peaches

photo, Dan Ryan

This ain't your grandmas porkchops and applesauce! These grilled pork chops are spicy, salty, sweet, and delicious. They've been shellacked with piquant and sweet glaze made from Stonewall Kitchen's Bellini jam (made with peaches and procecco), and sriracha chili pepper sauce, and BTW, this would work really well on chicken too. The peach halves were wrapped with a slice of pancetta before grilling, then topped with a nice nob of salty blue cheese. The dressing on the greens below it was made with the aforementioned peach jam, too. What would grandma think of this combination of flavors?

photo, Dan Ryan

Peach salad dressing
1 tbsp Stonewall Kitchen Bellini jam
1tbsp chardonnay vinegar (or white wine or champagne vinegar)
3 tblsp grapeseed oil
1 small shallot, minced
salt + pepper

Peach grilling sauce 

2 tbsp Stonewall Kitchen Bellini jam

2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp. sriracha chili pepper sauce
squeeze of lime
salt + pepper

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The color orange!

Inspired by... the color orange.

To see more colors, click on the "color blocks" label below.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gorgeous portrait—Rita Hayworth

Rita Hayworth was not just another pretty face. She could act, sing, and dance. I mean, have you seen her do the Dance of the Seven Veils in Salome? Goddess! Aside from dancing, she could be a cold hearted casino owner's wife (Gilda), a mysterious woman (The Lady from Shanghai), or a jaded ex lover (Separate Tables). And she had a sense of humor...

In 1946 when she was asked what held up her dress 
in the movie Gilda, she replied, "Two things."

And, in the immortal words of Madonna in her song Vogue...
"Rita Hayworth gave good face."

Click on the gorgeous portraits label below for more gorgeousness!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Poppies will put them to sleeeep...

That great line was, of course, spewed by the evil wicked witch of the west from the Wizard of Oz. This beautiful poppy botanical poster by Johann Weinmann (1737–1745) is anything but wicked—it's quite lovely. And if you stare at these poppies long enough they could... possibly... put you to sleep.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Salad primavera!

I made this colorful salad, filled with various spring treasures, for my mom yesterday. Tossed in with the mesclun greens (some from my garden!) were carrot and summer squash ribbon curls, yellow and orange tomatoes, chive blossoms and various colors of edible pansies. I dressed the lovely mélange with a light and tangy lemon, champagne vinegar and grapeseed oil vinaigrette. This organic looking carved burlwood bowl (from China, by way of T.J. Maxx) got lots of attention too. I also made two different quiche, and buttery sautéed fingerling potatoes with an aioli dill sauce... All for mom, with love...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sweet spring air

It was a gorgeous spring day yesterday! There were dozens of happy, busy bees swarming around these very fragrant wisteria blooms. A slight breeze was blowing wisteria petals all around and the whole scene was magical and enchanting!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy birthday, Salvador Dalí

photo taken Phillippe Halsman

It's Salvadore Dalí's birthday today! I love him because he was such a character—with that expressive face and distinctive 'stache. One of the most popular posts on this blog is on the 'rhino in art,' and specifically, Salvador Dalí's rhino, which was inspired by a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer in 1515, popularly known as Dürer’s Rhinoceros. Click here to read about it!

photo taken by DC last fall, in Venice

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Almond joy

Love coconut? Then you'll appreciate this treat. I found these Oskri coconut bars at the market and instantly knew I was going to make homemade Almond Joy bars. I cut them into bite sized pieces, dipped them into melted dark chocolate, then topped them with roasted almonds. They were simple to make and tasted really delicious!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wild thing

Maurice Sendak, the award-winning writer and illustrator of children’s books who died yesterday at 83, created wildly fantastic worlds of fantasy and imagination that appealed to young and old, I fall in the latter category. I loved his illustration style—especially loved his Nutcracker and Where the Wild Things Are books—and I'm so glad that his unique vision and creativity will live on forever. You can read about his Nutcracker book and ballet production here. RIP, wild thing!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The toast of the town

photo, Dan Ryan 

I once heard Jaques Pépin say that he'd be happy if his last meal was a good piece of bread with butter. I'm with him on that one—I've long thought that a fine piece of crunchy bread or toast with butter was heaven. Growing up my mom would give me tea and toast when I was not feeling well, sometimes she'd even sprinkle cinnamon sugar on it and cut it into fancy triangles. Lucky me! And though the carb police claim that white bread (also pasta and white rice) is the devil, and although I know it has little nutritional value, I can't resist this simple pleasure sometimes.

Pépin grew up in France on what was no doubt some of the best bread on Earth (Mon dieu! What IS it with French bread, and all European bread for that matter—is it really the flour?) My first French baguette, so crunchy and magnificent the way it shattered into tiny shards of golden crunch bits, ooh la laaa! It was definitely one of my top 10 culinary experiences—so far anyway. The French cheese didn't hurt the experience either. And Italian bruschetta, which is a term they use for burned bread, never fails to delight and comfort. By the way, in Italian the CH is always pronounced like a hard C or K, so bruschetta is pronounced "bru-SKet-ta" not "bru-SHet-ta," the way you would pronounce chianti or Brunelleschi's Dome). There, cleared that up I hope. 

The word bruschetta originates from the Latin verb brusicare, which means "to burn." This is how I make my basic bruschetta. I toast the bread slices on a grill (preferably) or in a toaster, rub it lightly with a clove  of garlic, then drizzle it with a good quality olive oil. It's fabulous just like that, or it could be topped with all manner of interesting tidbits, like chopped tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil, or a fava bean and parm reg cheese puree. But sometimes the simple things are best, so here I rubbed each piece of bruschetta with a half of a tomato, then sprinkled some fleur de sel on top. I'm sure that Jaques would have enjoyed this!

Monday, May 7, 2012


It's all about the drama. I have a few beautiful Bonfire dwarf ornamental peach trees in my flower border. In the spring they produce beautiful pink blossoms which fade and give way to most spectacular burgundy foliage! The leaf color holds for most of the season, only changing to a greenish hue at the end of the summer. I really like the leaf color as a counterpoint to everything else going on in my flower border—which morphs from purples to pinks throughout the season—but the main thing is that I have lots of lime green foliage, and these peach tree leaves look great against that lime green! The peach trees produce a little fuzzy hard peach pits, but they are not edible—just fuzzy and cute. But the leaves... those are dramatic! 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Minty fresh!

Graphic by Diane Carnevale 

The Kentucky Derby, a fabulous hat, and one of these frosty 
libations in your hand... that's a triple crown winner in my book! 

Classic Mint Julep
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
sprigs of fresh mint
crushed ice
Kentucky Bourbon

To make these refreshing drinks, first you need to make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a silver julep cup (an absolute must, daaahlin') with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Bourbon. Yup, a double shot. Garnish with a big sprig of fresh mint. Sip and enjoy—make it last for longer than two minutes though, 'kay?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Spaghetti alla carbonara

I'm just not sure if you can beat Dan's spaghetti alla carbonara for Italian comfort food. It's a quick dish,  packed with flavors, plus it brings us back to Pisa every time—the place where we first ate it while on our honeymoon in 1993. It's salty from the pancetta (or guanciale, if you can find it), and creamy from the egg yolks. The recipe he uses to make this heavenly dish is from Saveur, but note that he cuts the egg yolks by half and adds in some pasta water to make it moist and creamy. Instead of spaghetti, we like using the super thick bucatini pasta, which you can order on Amazon. Rustichella d'Abruzzo bucatini is the brand we buy. Go ahead, enjoy some Italian comfort food!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Venice in a day

photo by Joerg Niggli

Dreamy colors, aren't they? This is just one of myriad still images that were strung together to make a film depicting a day in the canals of Venice—in three minutes. The creative person behind it is Joerg Niggli—Click here and have a look. If you've been to Venice, you'll especially love this!

I mentioned to Dan how a lot of the scenes look "fake," like a miniature set or something, and he told me it's a pretty popular technique for photos and films these days (and very well done in this example). Here's Dan with more:

The effect that makes the scenes look like "miniatures" is called a tilt-shift or diorama effect; if you're really interested, here's an explanation of traditional methods of doing this, and look at how the effect can be simulated. Basically you blur the foreground and background so only a narrow range of the image is sharp. Bump up the saturation and contrast and there you have it.

Here's an example using a photo we took in Rome 
(click on photos for larger view). 



This was my first try at the effect and it's pretty simple. You can really see the effect by looking at the people in St. Peter's Square, and the cars entering from the side street to the left of the obelisk. I used Photoshop; the filmmaker above probably applied the look in After Effects

As some of the links above explain, the effect works best on photos that are looking down on a scene. Below are more of our photos; the effect works better on some than others:

The photo above (before, left; after, right) was taken in Amalfi. Being able to distinguish faces, etc., takes away from the "fake" effect a bit, but still pretty cool. (Diane says this looks like an old post card.) 

The photo below, taken in Florence, is similar; the blurred guys in the foreground look the most "miniature." Maybe the looks is less effective on vertical photos?

The photo above, was taken in Venice. You see how the depth of field and saturated colors make the buildings and water seem model-like. Even the boats have that miniature look. But again, being able to make out faces detracts just a bit. it's a neat enough look if you're not quite after the full diorama effect.

Finally, the effect works fine without people; this patio at our hotel in Positano turns into a toy set with just a few steps: