Friday, May 31, 2013

Pea sformato

Look away if you don't like peas... you know who you are! This savory pea custard (or Italian pea sformato) brings out the full essence of the humble spring veggie. This is a riff on Mario Batali's recipe, which uses just eggs, cream and milk, and a good amount of mint. Around the sformato I added a broken vinaigrette of olive oil and champagne vinegar, along with some crushed peas, then I tumbled on some pancetta crumbles for a bit of crunch and saltiness. Great light lunch or starter, and good to the last pea.

Pea sformato with peas and pancetta
3/4 lb. previously frozen peas
3 eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup ricotta cheese 
1/4 grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
3 sprigs of mint, chopped finely
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper

1 tsp. honey
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

5 sprigs or fresh mint
1/4 cup sweet peas, quickly steamed or warmed if frozen
6 slices crispy fried pancetta, crumbled
sprigs of pea shoots for garnish, if you have it 

For the sformato—In a food processor, blend together the peas, eggs, cream, ricotta and parm. cheeses, chipped mint, lemon juice, salt and pepper until smooth. Grease the bottom and sides of 6 ramekins. Distribute the pea batter equally into each ramekin, and place them into a deep sided casserole type pan. Emerge this pan into a bain-marie (water bath) to help steam the sformato while it bakes. Put pans into preheated 350° oven for 20 minutes or until done. Remove and let them cool a bit.

For the dressing—Whisk together the honey, champagne vinegar, and olive oil, salt and pepper (or shake vigorously in a lidded jar). You can emulsify or lave as a broken dressing.

For the plating—Spoon some dressing around the plate. Run a knife around the inside edge of the ramekins and invert each gorgeous green sformato onto a serving plate. Srtinkle a dozen or so peas onto each plate, crumble over some of that yummy pancetta., and for one last fabulous touch... Add chiffonades of fresh mint. The combo of salty, sweet and creamy is divine. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The color salmon!

Inspired by... the color salmon.

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

French dirt

For gardeners and Francophiles alike, French Dirt
is a great summer read!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mini San Marzanos!

I found some darling mini San Marzano tomatoes at the market and added them to a fresh batch of pesto pasta. Molto deliziozo!!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Red, white + blue

This is my idea of getting a red white and blue groove going!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Heavenly wisteria

This has been a good year for our wisteria! Imagine lunching under this massive vine in all is glorious bloom and full of its heavenly scent?! It's my Shangri La, if only for a few weeks each spring. All seems mystical and harmonious under its cover, even after the blossoms fall and the green leaves emerge.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fiddlehead fern and goat cheese salad

It's fiddlehead fern season! The curlycue tips of Ostrich ferns—picked just when just beginning to unfurl—taste like a cross between asparagus, string beans and artichokes. And they're delicious! Here's how to cook them: Boil them for about 7-10 minutes in salted water. Shock them in ice water and dry them in a paper towel. Serve them the same way you would asparagus; topped with a vinaigrette,  lemon butter, or Hollandaise sauce. Sometimes I sauté them with minced shallots and butter, then and add a squeeze of lemon. Here I also tumbled in a few little nobs of goat cheese and come colorful pansies. 

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Purple scrumptiousness

photo, Diane Carnevale

Our alliums are in bloom!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Color inspiration—agave leaves

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


A trio of Japanese maple trees—Acer palmatum dissectum Orangeola, to be specific—surround our humble little pond and waterfall garden. Love these weepers, and if one tree is fun, then three is better, right? I often buy garden plants in threes. The new foliage of the Orangeolas emerge in the spring with this reddish-orange color, then in summer the leaves take on more of a greenish purple tint. Later in the summer more new growth appears with this same reddish-orange tinge, layered over top of the summer color. Then as fall approaches the leaves turn red, then a brilliant, flaming orange! 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sargent's watercolors

Gondoliers' Siesta, Venice

John Singer Sargent's much anticipated watercolor exhibition opened in April at the Brooklyn Museum. I'm a huge fan of Sargent, especially his watercolors, and even more especially his watercolors in Venice, which this exhibit will have plenty of. Sargent captured color, shadows and light like no other. The Brooklyn Museum and the MFA have combined their Sargent watercolors for this magnificent exhibit. 102 works of art will first show in Brooklyn until the end of July, and then in mid October the entire show will move to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. As the catalog accompanying the current exhibition states, "together they trace Sargent's path across Europe and the Middle East as he explored the subjects and themes that habitually attracted his attention: sunlight on stone, reclining figures, patterns of light and shadow." I'm counting the days to this one!

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice

Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

Monday, May 20, 2013

Orange sesame kale salad

I made a big bowl of my orange sesame kale salad for a family party yesterday. It's colorful, crunchy, and has bold citrusy flavors. There's nothing but good stuff in it with nutrient dense kale, shredded purple cabbage, shredded carrots, sliced onions, parsley leaves, garbanzo beans, orange segments, plus a creamy sesame tahini and orange dressing. I made the carrot flowers by cutting "v" ridges down the side of a carrot, then slicing them thinly on a mandolin.

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

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Burgundy + chartreuse

This is one of my favorite color combos in my garden. Ruffly chocolate petals of a black parrot tulip look quite striking against the chartreuse leaves of hosta Fire island. Below, black scallop bugelweed is wiggling its merry way into chartreuse creeping jenny auraDrama, drama, drama!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Texture and patterns in nature

Here are some beautiful texture and patterns that are found in nature. All images came from Pinterest, and I've arranged them in this rainbow color block.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Plants with panache

One of the most enchanting shops here on the North shore is a quaint flower shop in Beverly, MA called The Leonhards. Flower arrangements from are always extraordinary and unique, but it's so much more than just a florist.The store is absolutely bursting with all kinds of elegant and unusual home decor, such as topiaries, statuary, furniture, pottery, plates, and other things you know you couldn't live without.  I just swoon whenever I visit. It exudes the kind of panache and élan that one might stumble upon on a Parisian street, tucked in between the pâtisserie and the fromagerie. Oui, merci!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Color inspiration—balsam pine

Beautiful spring growth of a Balsam pine tree.

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Violet cupcakes

Violets grow wherever they please on our yard and our pea gravel driveway. I used to always yank them out, but lately I've softened up to them, since they are such tough little ladies. I put their blossoms to use here on these darling mini cupcakes.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

May Fools

If April reminds me of the film Enchanted April, then surely May reminds me of a charming little French film called May Fools. Directed by Louis Maile, the film is a story of an upper-middle-class French family who has gathered at a vineyard for the funeral of their matriarch. It's the late '60s and unrest and turmoil are rampant in Paris. The grown-up children battle and bicker, but overall it's a feel good comedy.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Peter wabbit

I've been seeing this little fella in the woods by our house, foraging... and, you know, hopping down his little bunny trail. I've also seen little baby bunnies zipping around the yard. Adorable, but I hope they all stay away from our veggie garden!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Color inspiration—tableau in grey

No, this tableau isn't in my garden but it's absolutely my style! Love the classical theme with the urn and Diana statue (all of which I actually have), but where can I possibly find a huge circular architectural piece like that? Brimfield Fair perhaps? 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Conquer and divide!

I finally did it. I got out my pitch fork and divided my ornamental rhubarb plant. It was getting huuuge last year, and there was more than one corm popping up through the soil this spring, so it was definitely time for me to conquer and divide itThe roots of rhubarbs, either ornamental or edible, are notoriously long, (like a big rat-tail actually) and sure sure enough, I chopped off two of them by accident. But hopefully they'll bounce back after setting out new roots. Love the huge leaves of this plant in my garden—they start out with a burgundy color, and eventually turn to green and always make  a dramatic statement!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Chinese Pagoda house

As you wander the grounds of Long Hill—the Sedgewick Estate in Beverly, MA—you'll eventually come upon this striking Chinese Pagoda house, tucked behind a huge, sweeping Japanese maple tree. This chinoiserie has a sense of mystery to it, begging for a closer look. Check out my blog post on other chinoiseries by clicking here!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cherry bombe!

Cherry blossoms look lovely on a tree or in a vase, but how about on a cake? The blush pink petals were the inspiration for this cherry-flavored cake (or, since this has a token layer of ice cream, a 'bombe'). I have an ancient bottle of cherry flavored kirsch that I only use about once a year when I make a cheese fondue, so I was happy to find another use for it ... in this sweet cherry bombe! I infused both the frosting and the cherry ice cream layer in the middle with the kirsch. It's da bomb!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lichens: Nature's little beauties

A combination of a fungus and an alga, lichens have a symbiotic relationship of both elements that create their unique look and structure. Even more exciting (admit it, this is exciting stuff!) is that lichens appear in colors ranging from brilliant, flaming hot reds, oranges and yellows, to more conservative grays, browns and sea-foam greens. Texturally lichens can be mossy, crusty, leafy, shrubby, or even jellylike.

We've all seen lichens on rocks in our back yards, roofs, woodland rocks, coastal rocks, wooden fences and even on trees, but have probably rarely taken a very, very close look at them. I think all lichens are beautiful works of art, so of course I just had to have this whopping 828 page reference book—Lichens of North America—that shows them up close. Lichens really are nature's little beauties! 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dan's lasagna

Dan's three-cheese lasagna is molto bene!! What I like best is that it's not too heavy and gooey with cheese, and the therefore the lasagna is always al dente and never mushy. The recipe he uses is from Food & Wine magazine, and uses three cheeses, but contrary to most recipes, ricotta cheese isn't one of them. The cheese stars are Parmigiano-Reggiano, mozzarella and Italian Fontina, and for the meat layer Dan swaps in a light fennel seed flavored chicken sausage (from Bianchi & Sons) instead of the pork sausage. We don't usually buy gimmicky kitchen things, but proudly admit to owning this nifty three-row lasagna pan, which can also be used to bake bread loafs or make pâté in. Good comfort food, and we have leftovers for a week.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Hyacinths + biscuits

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

—Carl Sandberg

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cinco de Mayo!

The 5th of May seems like a muy buéno excuse to make a frosty margarita, and I even have loads of fresh lime juice on hand. Por qué, you may ask? Well... I recently bought dozens of limes from the 'less than perfect' rack at the grocery market. They were ridiculously cheap, and their only crime was being smaller than usual. So I did what any well prepared Bar Goddess would do... I juiced those baby limes and froze them in itty bitty ice cube trays. Now I am super prepared to whip up a 'rita (Preferably with Patron tequila, sí?) or perhaps a minty Mojito at the drop of a Mexican hat. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Avgolemono soup

I make Greek avgolemono soup in the spring around the time of Greek Orthodox Easter, which this year just happens to be tomorrow. Growing up our Greek neighbor used to call us on Greek Easter morning and exclaim, Christos Anesti—Christ is risen! Making this lemony soup always reminds me of her. It's a simple soup, made with eggs, chicken broth, and lots of lemon. I like my avgolemono with rice and mini turkey meatballswhich I always have a stash of in the freezer. Some folks swap out orzo pasta for the rice, and skip the meatballs. I also add in some fresh sprigs of dill. Opa!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Asphalt jungle

Sometimes I come across beautiful things in the most unexpected places! This is a regular old asphalt road whose cracks have been patched up with ribbons of hot tar. Reminds me of a monochromatic version of the Fisk Mississippi river maps.

Click here to see some 
beautiful crumbling cement.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Madame Butterfly

Madame Butterfly, our yellow Magnolia tree (Magnolia acuminata Butterflies),  is now in bloom! From afar it looks like dozens of yellow finches perched on the branches, but up close the large blossoms reveal themselves. Read more about our magnolia here from a post I made last spring. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Elissa's garden

I painted this tree branch tunnel that was once in my friend Elissa's garden. Some of her art students constructed it for her one year from branches found on her property, but it has since crumbled due to heavy winter snow. She is moving soon, so this painting will be a nice memory to take with her. To me tree tunnels always have a mysterious feel to them, and I am drawn to the other side. See a similar tunnel of trees that I painted here.