Friday, April 16, 2010

The Garden Today

Photo courtesy Flickr
Turning the garden over to native plants set me outside the commercial mainstream of horticulture. The decision to go native was contrarian: there are no native plants in this area. If the whole neighborhood went native, I’d probably put in Tropicana roses and a ton of marigolds.

I used to spend hours cultivating plants that had enchanted me in catalogues and nurseries. I read a fair amount, hung out with plantswomen, and learned that commercial horticulture evolved along with the suburb in Victorian England. Previously, new plants were fostered on estates. Their forms and colors were subtle. The newly prosperous suburbs supported the market for bright and brash plant forms.

I like flashy as much as the next kid, but it’s good to know the difference so the origins of garden practice will inform choices rather than decree them. Respect the neighbors and add insight to local custom. (In my area, local custom has included free experimentation.)

The most beautiful garden I ever saw, bar none, belonged to a former classmate who had grown up in a trailer. As a child, she had no training in the domestic arts and grew up to be extremely bright, rational, and justifiably confident. Much of my work is influenced by her choices.

When I visited Carla’s house in Portland, I found it set in a grove of youngish Doug fir. Needles carpeted the frail lawn. Aside from the trees, the only plant on the property was a yellow tea rose growing in half a whiskey barrel. It sat in the only patch of sun on a broad, brown-stained entry deck that matched the house. In its weathered barrel against a dark background, the rose glowed as if in a spotlight.

I have never experienced that kind of visual impact from so spare an installation. It was as if Carla had transformed the western ocean view of her girlhood into an ocean of shade. The generous grounds were a perfect range for her four kids and their friends, with the dry, thready turf showing no damage from feet and bikes.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Boots and Saddles

Photo courtesy Flickr
In the spirit of historic preservation, here is a Northwest antique. My great-grandmother was given the recipe for this old cavalry punch from someone at one of the many small forts that guarded the entrance to Puget Sound around 1900. The poet John Ciardi says boots and saddles is a cavalry call from a French root meaning to saddle up.

My experience with Boots and Saddles is that the first glass tastes like liquor, but the third goes down like Kool-Aid. Its ability to impair judgement is, in my experience, unsurpassed.

Find a punch bowl big enough to hold a block of ice, to forestall dilution. A party rental outfit will have something elegant, if you don’t reserve houseroom for one. After World War Two, it was not unusual here to find a surplus Plexiglass B-29 nose holding punch. I use a Victorian washstand pitcher and a ladle. A biology major used a lab crock with a little pinch hose and tiny, uncountable glasses.

Choose a gallon of burgundy. I suspect this punch is a way of soothing the effects of trans-oceanic and cross-country train and wagon travel on nineteenth-century wine. Add half a pint of gin to the wine, more or less to taste. Sweeten not quite to taste with bar syrup made from white sugar mixed with boiling water. This punch is best on the dry side.

Mixing the punch is one of the danger points for intoxication, so make sure the party is ready to go. Add lemon juice to taste. Then add grenadine syrup to taste and a bottle of maraschino cherries. Adjust the sweetness, add the ice, and float seeded lemon slices among the cherries.

I don’t know what they were drinking, but historian Murray Morgan writes of a day in Old Seattle when two ferry boat captains decided to race. The whole town turned out on shore to watch and, no doubt, wager. Seafair opens with the Elliot Bay tug boat races in May or June and closes with the hydroplane race on Lake Washington in August, long the largest single spectator sport of all. Environmental caution closed down the Sammamish slough race, but if you can find old footage, it’s a muddy hoot. People are racing canoes, again, too. The Jamestown s’Klallam race fiberglass canoes with updated traditional designs, almost as if Big Daddy Roth had been their art director.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Wedding in Print

Photo courtesy Flickr
Every family has someone who keeps wedding invitations, birth announcements, and obituaries. In fifty years, an heir will open a shoebox and the history of the family. Keep that heir in mind when you choose an invitation.

If the ceremony you are planning is large enough to warrant outside help (see January 14), it’s worth budgeting a few hours to research graphics. Our Western tradition of writing and print is the longest uninterrupted one in the world, 2000 years. Get the feel of classical letter design and choosing wedding graphics will be a richer experience. A quick visit to Wikipedia’s “classical typography” site tells me that the basics are on-line should you care to learn more. The digital faces Lucida and Stone are designed in the deep tradition.

Look over the etiquette books in the public library’s reference collection and choose one to be your navigator. Miss Manners is always the funniest, particularly when she talks about social climbers. Etiquette is psychology in action. It saves stress by taking decisions off the table.

I only know Seattle in this respect, but the city always seems to have one or two high-end stationers who can be counted on for sound advice about social graphics. Their services ain’t cheap, but they ain’t much more expensive than ill-informed, pretentious, second or third-rate rate jobs, either. If I had a fixed budget, I’d spring for first-rate invitations and serve a good punch (posted tomorrow) instead of champagne. The hangover that counts is the hangover in that shoebox.

A good stationer will offer a limited selection of carefully chosen type faces. A good stationer is being your friend when this happens.

A good stationer will offer, probably, high-quality paper in white and off-white. Again, the stationer is being your friend, not a party pooper. That boring paper has the snap and feel of a new dollar bill.

A good stationer will make you a wedding invitation that looks as fresh in fifty years as the day it is delivered. That kind of invitation, requesting “the honour of your presence” at the ceremony, is as good a vote for a durable marriage as any I can imagine.

That said, no formal tradition has the right to trump the sensibility of a given and a prospective family. Deeply rooted cultural preferences express themselves in ways that the mainstream might not recognize as valid.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The National Pastime

Photo courtesy Flickr
Here are my grandmother’s ca. 1956 notes about the DiMaggio family’s cioppino. She collected the recipe at their San Francisco restaurant.

Slice one large onion, a bunch of green onion tops, and one green onion itself. Mash two cloves of garlic. Place in a chemically neutral pot, such as enameled cast iron or stainless steel. Add a third of a cup of olive oil, half a cup of chopped parsley, a can of tomato puree, and an eight ounce can of tomato sauce. Add a cup of wine, red I presume, half a bay leaf, salt to taste, a quarter teaspoon of pepper, and an eighth of thyme and rosemary.

Warm over low heat for twenty minutes.

Pour over two cracked crab, a dozen clams, a pound of prawns, and a pound of halibut. Heat to cook if fish is added.

I would use flat-leafed Italian parsley and unsalted canned tomatoes, estimating the replacement quantity for the paste and puree that are too acid for my taste. I’d omit salt altogether, or use sea salt. I’d use fresh herbs if I had them, and I’d ask someone at an Italian deli to recommend a specific olive oil.

This is a good dish to ensure that the party is relaxed and fun-it’s too messy for guests to stand on ceremony.

More after the jump.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Coming Out of the Week-end

Photo courtesy Flickr

Friday’s estimate of two hours for the garden turned out to be fifteen minutes to mow the front sward, dispensing with shaggy grass and dead stems in one pass with a mower set high. Very pleasing, but somehow the loafing area had accumulated a winter’s worth of entropy. I came out even on time, but the schedule went through the looking glass.

While I was wresting leisure space from chaos yesterday, my pard was marinating a pork tenderloin to barbeque as a salt-free substitute for bacon. After the fire died down to cooking coals, I pruned an organically managed apple tree and added short lengths of green wood to the fire. The pork was wickedly delicious. We get as much value out of apple wood as from the fruit itself.

-30- More after the jump.