Fall Alfresco Table Setting

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“By all these lovely tokens September days are here,

With summer’s best of weather

And autumn’s best of cheer.”

Helen Hunt Jackson

When summer’s sultry heat has abated and the leaves have just started to turn is a wonderful time to enjoy some fall alfresco dining.  Take a cue from nature and highlight autumn’s gorgeous jewel shades in your table setting.  Start dinner a bit earlier to catch the setting sun and share some easy conversation around a table set under the early autumn sky.  Bring in some candlelight and break out the sweaters to stretch the evening under the stars.

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Fall Floral Centerpieces from the Garden

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“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the mind.” Luther Burbank

One of my favorite challenges is to create floral arrangements out of what is blooming in my garden, no matter the season.  Come fall, the selections are fewer but no less interesting.  I was hosting a large group recently and needed several floral arrangements to place throughout the house. I went foraging in my garden and this is what I was able to find to work with:

  • persicaria ‘Red Dragon’, for its pretty purple and green foliage
  • hydrangea, in various stages of colors from green to deep pinks
  • astilbe in its post flowering seed stage
  • a few yellow annual dahlias still blooming in a planter
  • hardy begonias both for their delicate pink flowers and for their striking heart-shaped leaves
  • sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, still in its green stage
  • a single ‘Pierre-Auguste Renoir’ rose

I will show you half a dozen way I used different combinations of these flowers to create beautiful arrangements, all a bit different from one another.  Even when I didn’t think I had very much to work with and I was ready to run out to buy flowers, I managed to create seasonal centerpieces and hope to give you ideas to do the same.

For the bar area I created a tall arrangement in a birch bark container using astilbe, sedum, hydrangea, upside down begonia leaves and feather clusters in autumnal colors.  I started with a tight bundle of astilbe. I then wrapped sedum around their stems. Next came a crown of hydrangeas just beneath the sedum. I finished the arrangement with upside down begonia leaves for their striking pink color. I just gathered the flowers in hand and tied the stems together with an elastic band to keep the arrangement tight. I stuck the feathers in last. This is my favorite creation by far.  Doesn’t  it look like it came from a high end florist? Continue reading

Wild Purslane Salad in a Lemon-Mustard Vinaigrette

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Come late August, I have usually thrown in the towel on my garden because the heat and humidity of Pennsylvania is just too much for this Canadian girl and I’ve let the weeds win my constant battle with them.  This year I have an additional excuse for the sorry state of affairs!  A garden snake startled me in early spring and took up residence in my garden.  I know, I know.  They are beneficial.  They consume a lot of bugs and vermin.  But I threw in the trowel right then and there and decided that this would be the year I let the weeds grow with wild abandon alongside their little friend.  However when a garden party looms in your near future, one must tend the garden and tame the beast.

One of the weeds happily growing in profusion was purslane.  

I remember reading about its nutritious value and decided I would find my inner foraging spirit and harvest it to eat.  With its plump, soft, succulent-like leaves, purslane is high in beneficial omega 3 fatty acids, low in calories like most leafy greens, and rich in dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins and anti oxidants.   Dr. Strum natural skin care out of Germany uses it as a star ingredient in their line of products(WSJ Style Issue, September 2018).  But I cannot tell a lie.  I pulled the purslane up and was still hesitant to consume it.  I am after all new to this foraging business.  What if this was something bad for me?  I photographed a patch with my favorite plant identifying app, PictureThis, and it confirmed the weed as being common purslane. (The app is a free download and is very easy to use.  You take a phone picture through the app and it identifies the plant).   Reassured, I took the purslane into the kitchen to come up with a recipe to eat it in.  But truth be told, I was still dragging my feet, foraging whimp that I am!
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How to Throw a Summer Crab Boil Party

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“The best way to eat crabs, as everyone knows, is off newspaper at a large table with a large number of people.” Laurie Colwin

A crab boil is one of the easiest summer entertaining parties to host.    Low on stress and high on fun, I make mine even easier by ordering the crabs already cooked, encrusted in Old-Bay style seasoning and picked up piping hot, right before guests arrive. Where we live these red-shelled beauties are Maryland blue crabs from the Chesapeake.  Their Latin name, Callinectes sapidus, means beautiful swimmer. Their flesh is sweet and succulent and they are in season now.  Aren’t they gorgeous? Continue reading

Keukenhof Gardens

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Are you dreaming of spring?   Let me take you on an escape to the most beautiful spring garden in the world: Keukenhof.  I had long dreamed of seeing the famous Keukenhof gardens in Holland which seemed to have seas of flowering bulbs.  A few years ago I did make the dream come true and Keukenhof was truly an unforgettable experience.  It is still one of my favorite trips.  The garden was designed in 1857 as an ornamental garden for Castle Keukenhof.  It has been open to the public since 1950 and features more than 7 milion bulbs in bloom with more than 800 varieties of tulips to dazzle one’s imagination.  The garden is set in 32 expansive hectares in beautiful established woods with 15 kilometers of foot paths meandering throughout.  Large swaths of flowering bulbs enchant in gorgeous woodland vistas with centuries old beeches. In 2018 the show is open from March 22nd to May 13th and this year’s theme is “Romance in Flowers.”  Keukenhof is an easy 45 minute commute on public transit from Amsterdam.  On the short journey, you will pass by the bulb farms with field upon field of tulips planted in large swaths of one color.  That sight alone is worth the trip.  Join me for a visit to Keukenhof!

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Longwood Gardens Christmas 2017

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No holiday is complete without a visit to see the seasonal display extravaganza at Longwood Gardens in Kenneth Square, Pennsylvania.  The crown jewel of the gardens is the conservatory.  This year’s theme is “C’est magnifique!” and the décor is done in a French style reminiscent of Versailles.  The floating display is designed like a French parterre garden with thousands of floating Granny Smith apples, cranberries and walnuts arranged in a deconstructed fleur de lys design.  A Christmas table is set as if in a palace with its adjacent winter wonderland outdoor terrace garden. At every turn, there are surprises that delight every sense.  Trees are decorated with fleur de lys, giant castle keys and mirrored sun ornaments, a nod to Louis XIV, Le roi soleil, who was known for his vanity.  Towering Christmas trees made out of succulents are spectacular creations.  Another tree constructed of 400 fragrant orchids takes the breath away.  Giant pointsettia topiaries are nothing short of stunning as are the towering pointsettia trees. It was difficult to edit my photos for this post, it was all so magical.   Join me for A Longwood Christmas! The enchantment continues to January 7th.  Check the website for details. Continue reading

Slow Roasted End of Season Tomatoes

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“The difference between a bland tomato and a great one is immense, much like the difference between a standard, sliced white bread and a crusty, aromatic sourdough.” Yotam Ottolenghi

I always look forward to fall and all its splendour.  But, hélas, it also signals the end of tomato season.  In my garden, I have some tomatoes that are struggling to ripen with the cooler temperatures upon us and many that have become mealy and are just not that good.  Slow cooking these end of season, less than perfect tomatoes, can rescue them and bring out some of their sweetness and improve their texture.  Adding spices boasts their flavor and makes them fragrant additions to autumnal soups, braises and stews.  When the garden gives you mealy tomatoes…..make slow-roasted spiced tomatoes!

To slow-roast them, cut the tomatoes in quarters or halves depending on size.  For every pound of tomatoes, toss with:

  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Spread the seasoned tomatoes on a lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake in a 275 F degree oven for 2 hours. You will end up with caramelized, gently spiced tomatoes to use in various recipes and fill your kitchen up with the most heavenly aroma! Be sure to scrape up any cooking juices.    I puréed mine with zucchini and onions into a creamy all vegetable  soup.  So good!

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