Botany of Desire

Michael Pollan’s fascinating book Botany of Desire has been made into a compelling documentary, scheduled for Prime Time, on PBS, October 28th. It will air at 8pm in the Boise area. Of course, check your local TV listings for the correct time where you live. If you liked the book, you’ll enjoy the show. Pollan tells how the apple’s sweetness, the tulip’s beauty, marijauna’s intoxication and the potato’s importance as a food crop has inextricably linked these plants to the life of man and civilizations. Plus, Amy Stewart’s cameo appearance rocked!

Alas, as I plant my tulips for next year, I cannot help but be amazed that empires and nations were ruined by these most humble and benign looking little brown lumps.

Take, for instance, the fall of Sultan Ahmed the Third. His extravagant tulip ceremonies were his undoing. He reigned from until 1730 yet learned nothing from the 1637 collapse of Tulipmania in Holland. I had hoped the TV program would offer some kind of photo/drawing/etching/artists rendering/depiction of the giant tortoises with candles on their backs, lighting the mirrored nighttime gardens of the Sultan where the harems frolicked and guests wore clothes to set off the colors of the tulips. And the tulips, if they had opened too wide and their anthers were exposed (heaven forbid), well, they had to be tied shut, painstakingly, by hand. Mercy.

In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I received an advance copy of this documentary for my viewing pleasure. I just happened to love it. So there.

Dear Friends and Gardeners, Week 24 (24???!!!)

No wonder I am tired of gardening. But wait! I’m making a comeback, maybe today and tomorrow only, but a two day respite is better than no respite.

Along with my sound advice channeled via KD Lang, don’t smoke in bed, let me add, don’t research nasty giant stinging creatures just before you go to bed. To wit: this ugly bastard

Cicada Killer Wasp
Cicada Killer Wasp

This creature has been swooping around the Lily Pond, scaring the crap out of me. Apparently, mostly harmless, until you read up on it, going through all the flying insect/wasp websites…just before going to bed. Then it will creep you out for HOURS.

Back to the garden. Not much of anything is happening. I have lots of Sungold cherry tomatoes, just like last week. The gold raspberries are starting to make their autumn comeback. I harvested 5 figs. The apples that should be turning red are turning red. I have about a half dozen small green eggplants coming along slowly. That’s it, my friends and fellow gardeners. The rudbeckia Goldstrum looks like its ablaze and it still makes me smile, especially at dusk. Ya know why they painted school buses that color yellow -its a screamer.

My friends who’ve had a better go of their vegetable gardens are bringing me lots of tomatoes. Indy, you could send me some of those green beans. Dee, whatcha got over there, girl?

The artichoke plants have withered and died. They were trampled one too many times by my lovesick springer who dances back and forth along the fence trying to get the attention of the big old blond next door. Her name is Sally and she’s a yellow lab. That’s where I’d planted all my green beans. They came up about 3 or 4 inches and poof! To resolve some of the dog stepping, we’re making plans to do a good sized raised bed (fenced) for veggies next year. I am hoping we could get it built this fall so it would be ready to go in March. But you know what they say about the best laid plans?

Meanwhile, this little burst of coolth, coupled with a gander at the bulb plantings of Jacqueline van der Kloet at the New York Botanical’s Seasonal Walk, has me contemplating the bulb catalogs. I know I swore off bulbs. Just for one year. Yet, here I am, already plotting plotting plotting. Such is the optimism of a gardener.

Until Week 25,
the head gardener at Ranch du Bois

Best recipes for garden vegetables

I know, I know! How boring is that post title? It is SO NOT me.

When I went to in search of the best vegetable garden cookbooks, I could pull up more than 200 and sometimes 600 matches. There’s a new one for sale about every other day. I should know, I own a few dozen cookbooks in this category ALONE. I decided to look no further than my own cookbook shelf. Here’s are my absolute faves:

“The Mother of all Vegetable Garden Cookbooks!” Hubba Hubba Bubba, now we are cooking. I am talking about the original Victory Garden Cookbook, by Marian Morash, published in 1982. Take a look:

If you wanna know how loved that book is, try picking up my copy. Use both hands, please. The cover is no longer attached, it just has to go along with the book. The binding glue is cracking and falling all over the place. The book itself is trying to break into two or three booklets.

The Victory Garden Cookbook was a companion piece to the television program, the original Crockett’s Victory Garden, produced by Russell Morash. Turns out, Russ’s wife, author Marian Morash was executive chef on the Julia Child and More Company show. Russ is credited with discovering Julia Child in the 60’s and putting her on the tube. A star is born. So, having been clever enough to link together the Victory Garden Cookbook and Julia Child just days before the movie, Julie and Julia makes its nationwide debut, I best be sharing with the reasons I love this book.

It covers 37 vegetables. Anytime you have a pile of fresh zukes, eggplants, kohlrabi or leeks, open this book. The simplest of preparations are laid out for you, as well as a dozen or more straight forward delicious recipes for each veg. Under “Finishing Touches for Hot Snap Beans” is our all time favorite …”With Warm Salad Dressing.”

You will find page 111 all puckered with dashes of olive oil, red wine vinegar and the no doubt the juice of fresh tomatoes. This is the page for our beloved Caponata, a cold eggplant salad that is also fantastic over hot pasta. Fresh cold tomato basil sauce for pasta is a 15 minute wonder. The page with “Tabbouleh with Tomatoes” is also dog-eared. Corn? If you find yourself with a bushel of corn, this is the book for you. Dressings for raw celeriac? Right here. I discovered I loved fresh celeriac salad 15 years ago, in Los Angeles. I could get celeriac in Boise, but how to make it into a salad? This was before Google was a household word. I turned to Marian.

Second on my list, or the brother from another motha, is Jamie at Home, Cook Your Way to the Good Life. Yes, I have the DVD as well and probably the last season or two spooled up on TIVO. I like to drink and watch him cook mushrooms on a bed of straw in the forest. As many times as I have seen this episode, I am – every time – convinced he is going to set the woods on fire. I covet his handmade stone oven and his gardener Brian. At least he confessed to having a gardener. And that little garden hut, where he cooks up a storm? I want one of those, too. A blob, a mash, a nob, some lashings and gobsmack me right on over to the dinner table.


I am taking the fixin’s for Jamie’s (we are on a first name basis whether he knows it or not) Rhubarb Bellinis to a party tomorrow. Rhubarb juice, champagne, sugar and mint. Regular readers know my passion for rhubarb, and I have a nice batch of rhubarb juice all made up and resting in the freezer. If any rhubarb survives my penchant for reducing it to juice for cocktails, I might try making rhubarb and sticky stem ginger crumble. Someday. Maybe.

This cookbook is all about the seasons. It includes recipes for fresh spring lamb, chickens raised at home (or elsewhere if you must), preparations of fresh fruit and pickles. Make the Ultimate Mushroom Bruschetta, Amazing pickled and marinated veg, and someday, if it ever cools down, Italian bread and cabbage soup with sage butter. Promise me you’ll try the bread and cabbage soup. Its all about the good life.

Start with these two books. You’ll be glad you did.

ps, the idea for this blog template was borrowed from Jamie Oliver’s TV show. I love the notebook paper background he uses for his handwritten recipes.

GBBD July 15, 2009

Not to be left out of the big doin’s, here’s my little upload for Bloom Day, July 2009-a small selection of what is blooming in the garden at Ranch du Bois. It is blazing hot and hard to photograph all the lovelies right now. Heck, its hard to even LIKE the lovelies when it is 100 degrees in the shade.

Old fashioned petunias and Profusion series zinnias
Old fashioned petunias and Profusion series zinnias
Globemallow + winecups
Globemallow + winecups
My little golden darlings. Apricots. Sweeter than sweet
My little golden darlings. Apricots. Sweeter than sweet
Echinacea purple and white + rosa chinensis mutabilis
Echinacea purple and white + rosa chinensis mutabilis
Liatris Kobold
Liatris Kobold
Grosso lavender covered with honey bees, rudbeckia, verbena b, and apple espaliers
Grosso lavender covered with honey bees, rudbeckia, verbena b, and apple espaliers

Here and there you will also find: Veronica ‘Royal Candles’, persicaria ‘Firetail’, miscellaneous salvia greggiis, a brown turkey fig, delosperma ‘Table Mountain’, hesperaloe, eryngium, penstemons, agastaches, and tomatoes.

Dear Friends and Gardeners (week 18)

Dear Carol and Dee,

Once again, I am amazed: WEEK 18??? What the heck? July 5th? Where do the days go? Days, where do the weeks go?

Not a great deal to report from Ranch du Bois. Rasberries still producing in spite of high 80’s/90/s heat.

I cannot WAIT till the day I can write to you two and tell you I am in knee deep in tomatoes and getting sick of them. I find myself staring at the tomatoes, saying to them under my breath, “Grow, dammit!” I am one of those people would not be caught dead buying tomatoes from a grocery store. If I buy them, ever, they are locally grown and from a farm stand. We just don’t use sliced tomatoes out of season. So, it is with bated breath I wait for the warm ripe tomatoes from the garden. All I can think of is how good some Insalata Caprese would be right now. That’s the simple salad of sliced tomatoes, torn basil, and sliced fresh mozzerella. I have the fresh basil and some mozzerella on hand. Come ON tomatoes!

I pruned the apple espaliers yesterday. I filled up an entire garbage can with the branches. There aren’t a lot of apples, in fact, I was pretty darn disappointed. There might be a couple of dozen apples, and that’s the extent of it. I do know the dog has made off with the Granny Smiths from the bottom branches. I noticed some of the cottony mildew in the congested, areas – those places really needed to be cleaned up and opened up to the air and sunlight. I sent a boatload of earwigs scurrying. I hate those critters.

The dog has also helped himself to the low hanging fruit on my new fig tree. I’ve raised it up on a double stacked pot until I can figure out a stable, out of reach place for it. Bad dog.

True confessions: I counted yesterday, before I hid them from the prying eyes of my gardening friends, 21 small pots (4 inchers) of plants that need to go in the ground pronto. Let me put it this way, if they don’t get planted this week, I might as well kiss them goodbye. I am not going to do the math on this, but suffice it to say, if I blow it, I might as well light a match to a C note. Will I ever learn not to buy a plant if I don’t have a place for it?. Arrrrrgggggh. Its definitely akin to my fabric habit. I hoard fabric. There. Out in the open. Is there a 12 step program for plantaholics?

I am planning to spend the next few mornings in the garden taking advantage of the cooler temps. The afternoons will be for catching up on my writing about Idaho Gardens. Next weekend, a big treat for me: the Sawtooth Botanical Garden tour in central Idaho. My chance to be a tourist in OPGs. Other Peoples’ Gardens. I am so looking forward to it. I’ve also been on the prowl for gardens for the 2010 garden tour in Boise. Man, you get some strange looks when you start cruising the alleys, the same ones, again and again and again, trying to get a look inside the back fence.

Until next week, be cool.

Your pal,

ps, I forgot to tell you, my Cueball squash bit the dust. Actually, the little darling was yanked out of the bed by its head and left to wither and die in the heat. We are not even gonna talk about who committed such an offense, just know it wasn’t me.