Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The perfect local, market fresh cocktail

Drinking your strawberries
This winter we invested in a VitaMix. It's been great for morning time smoothies, afternoon pick me ups, and even for soup making. It's a crazy fun machine. And has made increasing veggie and fruit intake easier. But now that it's summer? It's perfect for berry smoothies, and I have to admit, summertime cocktails.

Stop scoffing. I know.

But whip up a bunch of ice and fresh berries, throw in some fresh herbs, like mint or thyme or basil and you have the perfect puree to combine with alcohol of your choice. It's the ultimate local fresh farmer's market cocktail. Dare I say it blurs the line of cocktail and health food drink? No, I didn't say it, but perhaps I thought it.

The photo above is a strawberry and mint puree with vodka and ice. Super refreshing and frothy, it's perfect on a hot day, to sip and linger awhile with. Next time I just may try it with basil.

Happy, happy summer.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mmmm Pie: Portland Pie Off is ON

You may remember the pie event from last summer. In case you don't, here are some choice photos:
Fruit pies were the largest category of entries
Admiring the beauty of pie
Premise? Make pie, bring to the park. Share pie, chat with friends, eat pie. Ribbons, applause, fun. Good times. In the end? We had 50+ pies and 100+ people. Of course we're doing it again.

Make sure you're following the Pie Off blog, where I'm a contributor and fellow Pie Commissioner. Mark your calendar and plan to come. It's fun. It's quintessential. It's summer. It's pie. And this year? It's the Summer of Pie.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Keeping up: the season is marching along

Box of freshly picked strawberries on Sauvie Island
Strawberry season is coming to a close and the next phase of berries are marching along in. We made strawberry freezer jam, froze whole berries, and pureed them into ice cube trays for easy freezer bag storage for use throughout the winter.
Strawberry puree to freeze
I love the taste of strawberries. I don't think any other berry is quite the same. The first berry of the season, the strawberry, is just winding down here in Oregon for its main flush of production. Next up? Raspberries.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Visiting the garden of my dreams: you should come too

The best way to get ideas for your garden is to visit others. There. I’ve said it. Because it’s true. Whether it be an open garden or a garden tour, I can’t get enough of visiting other people’s gardens. Plant combinations, garden art, structures, or to just experience someone else’s aesthetic hand at play in nature is inspiring. Where do you think I came up with marbles in our gravel walks? Thanks to seeing it someone else’s garden!

So this is where we cue the soundtrack. Because I’m going to tell you about a garden I can’t wait to see. And seriously, it has had a song written about it. That beautiful song by Pink Martini about The Gardens of Sampson and Beasley? Yes, this is that garden.

Bella Madrona is one of the gardens on this weekend’s Seeding Our Future garden tour in Sherwood, Tigard and Tualatin. I’ve heard of this magical garden for years, and have never actually been in it. Photos in Fine Gardening? Oh yes, I’ve seen them. Plant combinations designed in dreams? Oh yes, I believe they’re there. And I can’t wait to spend the afternoon volunteering as a Master Gardener. To be inspired, to draw ideas from, to revel in the creativity of gardeners who seek beauty and solace and peace in natural form. Here are some photos of Bella Madrona from my friend Lisa...

You should come do the tour. Because it is sounding to be absolutely breath taking. And what a great way to spend an afternoon: visiting beautiful gardens and getting ideas or inspiration. There are six private gardens on the tour, all with different styles and focus. Tickets are $20 each, and you can read more about each of the gardens, and how to get tickets, on the Seeding Our Future website.

If you see a woman with a silly grin on her face roaming the grounds of Bella Madrona, please say hi.

P.S. Don’t forget the garden art show at Tigard High School!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Las caseras verdaderas de NoPo*

The real queens of our garden
These queens are demanding. The chairs must be at the perfect angle, the pillows must be fluffed, and the umbrella above better block that sun. Or else. No table flipping here, thank god.

*Translation: The real housewives of North Portland

Friday, June 19, 2009

Allium allium allium = yum

My latest column is on the streets, but here's a cross post for you as well. Bonus photos and even a soundtrack at the bottom of the post.
I knew there was a reason I ordered that box of different kinds of alliums from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs last fall. The poor box sat there and sat there, until the day before the first wave of Snowpocalypse 2008 hit Portland. My partner had had enough waiting for me to plant that box o’ bulbs and there she was, in the cold rain, planting tulips and alliums for me all over the garden. Thankfully, she remembered to plant them in uneven numbers. I may be a lazy gardener, but that doesn’t keep me from being aesthetically particular.

Her work has paid off. This spring, our tulips were delectable. Swaths of black parrot tulips lurked in the shadows, painted tulips danced through the garden. But following steadily on the tulips’ heels came the real stars of this spring’s garden: the alliums.

Allium is a huge family and one you’re familiar with even if you’re not a gardener: Onion and garlic are both from the allium family, along with leeks, chives and shallots. I can’t imagine cooking without alliums; in fact, they’re often referred to as the jewels among vegetables.

But it’s the ornamental factor of alliums that has cast me under their spell. If Dr. Seuss created a flower, this would be it – a purple orb atop a long, tall green stick. In the landscape, they serve as punctuation marks in a sea of new spring green foliage. Long-lasting, they hang out in the garden later than other delicate spring blooms. I imagine them perfect to create a pattern or rhythm in a modern garden seeking structure, and they’re quite at home in a romantic cottage garden as well.

But honestly? I like them because they’re just weird. They’re like that wacky aunt everyone loves but you don’t entirely know what planet she’s on. (Wait. I think that’s me.) The different varieties range from tight balls to exploding balls to huge balls to small balls. You see a theme here? Alliums are all about the balls.

Allium giganteum is always a top pick: The size of a softball and home to small purple florets, it reaches 4 feet tall in a good year. Pair it with a backdrop of a dark-leaved smokebush for a dramatic display.

A looser and starry-eyed version is christophii. This is the allium with star-shaped florets. I’ve been known to gaze at mine for lengthy periods of time, trying to better understand how such is architecturally possible. It gets about 2 feet tall, lasts for a good month at least, and is perfectly paired with hostas. Bonus? These allium multiply. I once had three; now we have at least five. Score!

But the real freak show of the alliums are growing in my garden this year; Allium shubertii is truly blowing me away. It looks like a spaceship, with different lengths of stalks in its flower poking out a foot or so in width. Pinkish purple, it’s airy – but it seriously is the size of a volleyball. That’s right – a pink spaceship volleyball on a stick in my garden. It only gets 1-2 feet tall, but I am so proud of it, my heart swells.

Even when the alliums are done blooming, you can still have fun with them. Let their stalks dry up in the garden and don’t cut their blooms off. Carefully spray paint them with a surreal color of your choice – florescent orange is a good one – and trip out visitors who need to know about this rare and unusual plant. I’ve done it. It’s fun. Alliums never let you take your garden too seriously, and we can all do well with that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Top 10 Reasons Why I Love Strawberry Freezer Jam

rinsing oregon strawberries
10. It's easy. No actual canning involved: helloooo freezer.
9. It's not cooked. And because it's not cooked, it has the freshest fruit taste ever.
8. It's beautiful. Seriously. Look at that color.
7. It's tasty: it does the berry justice.
6. It's the kick-off to the preserving season.
5. It's the most-liked by friends.
4. We can pick in the morning and jam in the afternoon.
3. Leftover strawberries means strawberry cobbler.
2. Strawberry freezer jam is the perfect jam for a winter-time sandwich cookie or thumbprint cookie.
1. Because I love strawberries.

A few things....
We picked both Hood and Shuksan strawberries. You can see them side by side here:
Hood on the left, Shuksan on the right

We use the Shuksan for freezer jam, and the Hood for fresh eating, baking and freezing whole.

Containers for freezer jam are easily found at most local large markets and can be used and re-used. I like these because they stack easily.
finished product: strawberry freezer jam

Be ready before you pick; strawberries can rapidly ripen and spoil in warm weather once picked, and you want to be preserving them when they're at their best. Plan your containers, pectin and sugar needs ahead of time. We follow the directions for making the freezer jam as found in the pectin box: we use the Sure Gel lower sugar pectin, found in the pink box.

I've been thinking I'm going to try my hand at some different flavor combinations (herb + fruit infusions) this year, but when it comes to strawberry freezer jam, I'm keeping it straight forward and simple. There's nothing better than capturing the flavor of Oregon strawberries at their best in the season. They hold the promise of summer to come.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I interrupt this blog: Rhubarb Orange Flower Cocktail

rhubarb orange flower cocktail
It appears to be that time of year again wherein I hunt the summer cocktail. This here? Above? Rhubarb Orange Flower. Tangy, refreshing with a hint of floral goodness (and for me, a scent of my childhood, citrus blooms) and the bonus is that it's easy.

Step one: make the rhubarb syrup. I followed this recipe. Keep in mind you have to squish and squeeze the liquid out of the rhubarb. Be prepared. And for gods sakes, wash your hands.

Step two: add a teaspoon or two of the orange flower water to the syrup. I was recently gifted with some and didn't know what the heck I'd do with it. Within one week, I was putting it in a cocktail. That's just the way I roll.

Step three: Fill glass with ice.

Step four: add one shot of vodka, one shot of rhubarb orange flower syrup, and top with mineral water.

Step five and six: mix and enjoy.

It's pink!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's that time again...

It's time for these
Oh Oregon strawberries. You taunt, you tease, you are now ripe. If you're not familiar with my love of Oregon's strawberries, I suggest you visit these posts.

And guess who's picked up a certain photo as part of their collection for sale? The lure of Oregon's strawberries run deep.

More posts to come this week because it is time.
It's time

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Happy Pride to you and you and you

Happy Pride
About a decade ago, I went to my first gay pride parade. I was just coming out and figuring out what it meant to be queer. I read a lot of great books during that time, and my wonderful girlfriend, who had always been in touch with who she was, encouraged me to learn more about the gay community, issues, and the subculture surrounding queers.

So I went to my first Pride parade with my friend G. G was a little older, and whole lot more "out" than I was. He had worked professionally in the gay cause, and was an awesome gay role model for me. He and I talked about my coming out, about the early dramas of my now 10-year relationship, and his amazing stories of being gay and coming out in the decade prior, and what it meant to him as a proud, gay man.

G and I had a prime spot for the parade on SW Broadway. He wore his “I Marched on DC” 1980's-something t-shirt, taken out of the drawer and worn with pride that day. He was so excited. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought there’d be a few hundred fellow queers, a couple of floats, and some drag queens. My only other memory of Pride was from when I was 12, and on a family vacation in San Francisco. We discovered our vacation in the motherload of gay cities coincided with Pride weekend. (There were a few uncomfortable moments.)

What I discovered on the day of my first Pride parade, attending as a newly-found queer, was something that has and will always stay with me. Thousands of others—male, female, androgynous, old, young, families (!)—I had never seen such a cross-section together, in one place, at one time. Couples holding hands. In public! And pure, unadulterated celebration. In the light of day. Celebration for who we are. I was in awe.

G clapped and hooted and hollered for every contingent walking in the parade. Political representatives marched or rode in cars, and he ran out there, shook their hands, and thanked them for supporting us. All with excitement, happiness and pride. We danced along with the dancers on the Boxxes float. We saw people we knew marching, and cheered for them.

I saw fierce, amazing women, riding without shirts, on fast, loud motorcycles. I was in awe. I was embarrassed. I was excited. I was surrounded by people who were either just like me, or who embraced people like me. I was in a place that I felt safe. And I realized that was a very rare thing in my life. I was safe.

G and I applauded for every single marching contingent. But when PFLAG approached, G got misty. There were mothers, and fathers, and brothers and sisters, all marching in support of their gay family members. “I Love My Gay Son” was a sign carried by a mother walking hand in hand with her son. I was speechless.

And they came, one chapter after another, from Roseburg, Medford, Eugene, Portland: all vocalizing, and marching in support of those they loved. G told me how important this was, and how incredible these people were. I knew. My biggest fear at the time was coming out to my family, and not knowing if they would support me. We clapped as hard as we could, and thanked them for marching—mouthing THANK YOU when it was too loud to hear our voices. And we cried, for the families that loved their children so much to march in Pride, publicly declaring their love.
Tomorrow is another Portland Pride parade. It’s been 10 years or so since I went to my first. A lot of queers don’t “get” Pride, and I understand. I used to not get it either. But G taught me it’s about our history, about connecting with our family, and celebrating who we are. For so many of us we hide parts—or all—of our authentic selves, being queer in a straight society. Pride, historically, has been about letting that go and being true to ourselves. And seeing the thousands of others around us who are doing the same. We're not alone.

Tomorrow I’ll be true to myself, to the love of my life who will be by my side, and to the memory of G. Sometimes I think if he had been able to connect with the love he felt on Pride, he could have loved himself to keep living. But he’s gone.

And tomorrow I’ll clap for those marching, I’ll thank the politicos for making a statement by being there, and I’ll dance to the disco floats and their dancers. But when PFLAG appears, I’ll cry for G, and clap as loud as I can. And thank them.
This was first posted here on my blog June 2005. I either repost or link to it every year.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Wall of Scent

It’s no secret I like fragrance in the garden. Actually, I like fragrance in my house too. And on my body. But fragrance in the garden is a decadent element I design space for.

The Wall of Scent: jasmine and roses

So it’s no wonder that The Wall of Scent is in great bloom at this very moment.

It wasn’t named The Wall of Scent until right now. But the sensory experience is obvious. Old fashioned roses, one smelling like sweet rose water, another like spicy pure rose, and one Chinese jasmine absolutely blooming its head off.

Autumn Sunset and Lavender Lassie Roses

I stood here the other day at The Wall. I forced myself to just stop. Stop the tasks, the to-dos, the client calls: stop.

Close my eyes.
Deep inhale.

This jasmine has come into its own this year. You know the saying first year they sleep, second year they creep and third year they leap? This must be the jasmine’s third year. It has leapt and scrambled all along the fence, covering the hardware for the rainchain, and now it’s in full bloom.

Jasmine in bloom

Deep inhale.

How do you describe, in words, this scent? It’s the purest of jasmine, the undertone of 75% of all women’s perfumes, I would assume. But it’s not at the high note of the scale. It maintains a musky deep accent, a serious fragrance that nicely balances the sweet rose bloom notes bouncing through the same air. Together they blend into a wonderful late spring experience. They draw me in and welcome me to sit and take them in some more.

Deep inhale.

And I’m not the only one who visits The Wall of Scent. Look who’s visiting today…
Visitor to the rain chain
A closer look...
Close up of visitor

There’s The Wailing Wall, and then there’s my wall. And it smells delicious.

Last week, the Portland area experienced a strange storm. Wind whipped through the garden, the sky turned a dark green grey, and I sat in the backyard taking it all in. Until the thunder began.

After the storm

Thursday, June 04, 2009

What does summer taste like?

There are many tastes of summer....like strawberry popsicles, mint chewed fresh from the garden, a tart hibiscus tea. I'll stop there because my mouth is starting to water.

But here's what my summer is tasting like...
Fromage blanc, lemon, honey, tropicana thyme
A simple cheese plate, piled with fresh fromage blanc, drizzled with acacia honey, covered in lemon zest, and dappled with tropicana thyme fresh from the garden. Tropicana thyme? Essence of citrus and pineapple is embedded in this thyme, and now I know why I grow it. This platter was put out at a party, I turned my back, and it was gone.

I hope summer sticks around longer than that plate did...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My garden has a soundtrack

Freakshow in my garden

Areas of my garden have a soundtrack in my mind. Flowers, too. This one in particular though? It plays often when I check in on its status out in the garden.

I had ordered a box full of bulbs last Fall, and AdRi got them into the ground for me at the very last minute before Winter hit.

This little freakshow? It's been tempting me for weeks now. Marvelous twirling leaves, followed by a vertical stalk that just kept growing taller and taller. Until it unfurled and twirled the freakshow that it is. And because I know you're wondering, it is a Nectaroscordum - siculum ssp. Bulgaricum.

I think we have a new series on the blog. Welcome to Soundtracks from the Garden. Feel free to join in and start your own! What songs play to you in your garden? Any freakshows going on?

What does summer look like?

Summer is...
This is what summer looks like. Sunshine and popsicles. Laughter and sunglasses. Good times and silliness. Swimsuits and smiles. The bench in our front garden gets a lot of use this time of year. I love seeing these two on it. Sweet summer is here!