Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cooking up something in the back yard.

I made an electric green cake yesterday; using five bunches of parsley and a bunch of mint. It was for a lecture I was giving on cooking from the garden and it actually tasted amazing. It looked like I was serving those lumps of grass that gather up under the lawnmower and compress in the awkward covers of the cover of the blades and it tasted like a perfect August day.

I think it’s funny that I give the lecture on cooking, as I have absolutely no kitchen improvisational skills. Sure I can follow a recipe like a rock star, and since I treat cookbooks like the food porn they are, I have a lot of good recipes.  But the talent that allows you to decide a little of this and a smattering of that will elevate the existing flavors into something ethereal, is something that eludes me. I can do it in the garden, I can combine textures and colors and shapes with ease, but ask me how much marjoram to throw into the pot and I panic.

Not that I necessarily always do the right thing in my own garden, I’m much better with other peoples gardens, with editing and coalescing the collections and assortments that other people have brought home, then I am at dealing with my own mess. People love my garden, but it’s purely a garden of, “Oh no, now where am I going to put this?” There is very little planning involved. Especially when it comes to sick plants. I am a sucker for a sick plant. Is there a phlox that has terrible mildew and is heading for the dumpster? Give it to me. A tree that is just a root ball with a chewed up stump and one lone side shoot?  Oooooh, quick let me plant that. A holly marked down to 60% off because it got smooshed on a job sight? That’s my baby.

I’m a sucker for a freebie or a deal, and so I have a lot of unexpected arrivals in my garden. It’s something I try to talk people out of doing to their own garden, but as I always say, I’m very big into, “do as I say not as I do” garden consulting.

It’s difficult to find a place for a yellow conifer if you are trying to work it into a bed of magnolias, hydrangeas, hostas and perennials; it’s probably not going to work; but I’m up for the game. I’ll try and tie it in using a golden thyme as a edger nearby and perhaps some ladies mantle over there. I will then rip out the tall heliopsis that is now clashing and wasn’t working there anyway and move those back among the forsythia, where they will created a second, later. sea of yellow. And I will then pick up the random self-seeded butterfly bushes that will complement that yellow with their purple and drag them to the back as well and viola I’ve got an interesting tall border started. The veronica that is eight feet tall works between the garden and the veggie garden, but there’s another clump in the front paniculata bed that is just not working and I will dig it and some of the Joe pyeweed up and move them to the back  too. I can’t say that the yellow conifer is really going to work, but for now it’s sort of interesting, and I can live with that.

It helps that I have a large property. It helps that I don’t mind experimenting and that I am willing to move things around, sometimes even a couple of times while looking for the right fit. In cooking, once you add too many anchovies you can’t go back. You have to start all over from the very beginning. Luckily gardening is not like that. In gardening you can take out some if not all of the offending anchovies (so to speak) and move them into another border, give them to another garden chef, or worse case scenario, chuck them out, without ruining the feast you’ve been creating.

Sure, sometime I go to someone else’s garden and I’m so enamored of what they’ve created that I want to go home and start with a clean slate, but most of the time I am honest enough to admit that I’m not going to be able to edit myself down to using just a few plants, or just a few colors. Much like I’m not going to be able to live in any of those sparse, monasteric, elegant, white and beige homes with three pen and ink drawings on the wall that I rip out of magazines and scrawl, “Love those" on for my husband. I can’t live there -- I have piles of books everywhere in my home.I am a girl who loves everything. Anchovies, chocolate, salt, sugar, dahlias, geraniums, phlox, hydrangeas, oil paints, paintbrushes, shoes, cashmere sweaters, books. 

I also love more. 

I have a lot of passions and very few edit buttons. 

I don’t just shop I binge. 

When I had a place to paint I used to buy oil paints by the handful. 6, 9, 12 at a time. I buy 11 books, not just one. I combine hot pink with orange, both when I dress and in the garden. From where I write I can see a patch of the garden that has five different pink dahlias combined with a maroon one and a red one. It’s jarring but in a good way. It’ll be better when the climbing white rose and the fairy rose that will eventually frame the dahlia both head and foot have grown, but I still like it. I am a person who always tries to throw a little something else into the pot.

Not the best plan for cooking, but something that can be managed in the garden. And is sometimes, even a good thing. 15 years ago I planted a baby, beat up, cut leaf Japanese maple that I found somewhere, either at a yard sale or at Cheap Sam’s in the fall. It’s planted too close to it’s neighbors, that’s for sure, and it’s now on it’s way to being suffocated, but I don’t care. The way it’s tucked itself around its neighbor makes it look like they’re in love. The maple hugs it’s bedmate and peeks out from behind it like huge burgundy eyelashes flirting with you. It’s fabulous. It’s terrible planting practice, but it’s great looking when you come upon it. And it makes me smile and ask for more, which is the recipe I think all chefs strive for, don’t you? 

Paige Patterson’s recipe for Parsley Cake came from the Roberta’s cookbook, which rocks.