Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Garlic is here.

And strawberries.

Poppy seeds.

Bush beans.

Figs coming.

Persimmons coming.

Oh my, oh my, oh my, I can't wait. Tomatoes are coming!

Bees and flowers everywhere, and other babies are coming soon too.

Here's a hint about what's coming: making this late spring salad—arugula, stilton, the first nectarines, barely cooked eggs, and a sherry vinaigrette—will be a whole lot easier once they arrive and grow up.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Rules

Arboretum and botonical garden plant sales are no laughing matter. They're serious business with serious customers and serious expectations of behavior. I've made my share of mistakes at these events, and I hope the suggestions below will help prevent the all too painful plant sale heartache.

Guidelines for Attire:
Rule Number 1: Wear running shoes.
This is very important, and therefore, serves as my first guideline for you, the poor innocent who has not yet experienced the violence of plant-obsessed maniacs at such Holy Grail events. Please, do not feel bad. I was once you. I once wore sandals and shorts and lots of exposed skin, thinking, "Hey, it's going to be hot, and it's just a plant party, right?" Oh, I was so very, very wrong.

You're going to need to run because everyone will want the same plants you will. You heard that the sale would have that hummingbird-attracting, sweet-smelling, drought-resistant, absolutely drop-dead-gorgeous, impossibly perfect plant you've been salivating over. Well, everyone else heard the same, and they're ready to dive for it, so you better be prepared to move that sweet ass of yours. As well (as you will discover in Rule Number 6), unprotected toes are in definite danger at plant sales. Everyone and their husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, adult child will have a cart with them, and your toes will get run over. They will. Be prepared.

Rule Number 2: Wear full-length, sturdy pants, preferably jeans.

Once upon I time, I too dressed like the girl in blue above. It was my first sale; I didn't know better.

I entered the grounds in awe at the number of people and plants. Look at that almost black penstamen! Oh, and the ornamental oregano! So much beauty everywhere. Suddenly, a desperate woman pushed her way to the last of the funky batface cuphea and shoved me right into the needle-quill of a low growing agave. Deep into my calf the needle entered, and when I pulled myself away from it, a purple gush of blood dribbled over my sandaled ankle and under my heel. More and more blood pooled into my sandal, collecting around my toes. I had to sit down in the middle of the mania and press my calf for a few minutes until the bleeding stopped. When I finally had a chance to stand again, the tables of plants were noticeably emptier.

Do not let this happen to you.

Rule Number 3: Do not wear makeup.
This is just a little rule, but you'll find it important. You will sweat. Sweat and makeup do not blend well. If you want your face to look like it is still attached to your body and hasn't melted off, down your neck, and into your cleavage, please leave the makeup at home. You'll thank me on this one.

Guidelines for Behavior:
Rule Number 4: Set limits.
This is so much easier said than done. I've fallen prey to the charms of the lush, water-hungry begonias and attention-starved carnivorous plants. They call me over to them, the cells in their plant walls sparkling seductively, whispering, "Take me home. I promise to live. I'll look this pretty forever."

They are liars.

So, go in knowing what you want while allowing a little wiggle room for the just-beyond-practical impulse buy. This year, I knew I would focus on edibles and hummingbird attractors. Beforehand, I made a list of plants I would not allow myself to buy. This year, finally, I managed to stick to the DO-NOT-BUY list, and because of this, my heart will break a little less this summer.

Rule Number 5: Bring a spotter.
There are more plants than you can possible see in one walk through, but remember, you're competing against everyone else. My best suggestion is to go with a friend. If you agree to spot for him, he can spot for you. If you find what he wants, pick it up, and vice versa. It's also good to tell you your limits (refer back to Rule Number 4) to your spotter so that you're accountable to someone and something other than your bank account.

Rule Number 6: Bring something to cart plants around in.
And finally, here is the suggestion you must follow if you want to be able to take home the plants that you managed to get your rough, garden-abused hands on: purchase a wagon.

Granny carts, cardboard boxes, plastic nursery flats are all well and good, but they just don't compare to the plant transporting ability of a red wagon.

Forget the Prada bag and the designer miniature dog. Forget the expensive, overly large sunglasses or the timeless pearl solitaire. The perfect accessory for you is a red wagon.

You're welcome.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Stacking Stones

About a month ago, a few friends and I wandered through the canyon below my house. In one of the grassy meadows, some other hiker had stacked large, flat white stones, one on top of the other in a tower that was taller than any of us. One of my friends, a recent Japanese immigrant, told us that in Japan, this is how people commemorate the death of a child. They don't stack stones for adults, he told us, but only for children.

One stone stacked on top of the other.

Right now, I'm shoring up stones of memories. I don't have many, for my young friend who recently died did not have a long life, nor did I know him for as long as I have known many others. But I knew him for half of his life, and for him, that must have felt long.

Here's a stone for the time—he was so little then—he left the comfort of his mother and aunt and walked down that long hallway with me, crying the whole while. Snot smeared his cheek. Here's a stone for him rolling his eyes then chanting the books of the Bible with a smirk that said, "See how much I know?" And another for the time he told me he wished he could teletransport to the 60s so he could jam with Jimi Hendrix. My most recent stone: Saturday before Easter, he cracked a few jokes with me outside among the flowers. His dreds caught the mist of the still-chilly morning, and he smiled his beautiful smile. That's the stone I'm going to put on top because that's the one I want to look at most.

Carrot Cake or Cupcakes for a Beautiful Boy
Today, we celebrated the twelve years of his life. Afterward, we gathered together and remembered him with foods, his favorites.

This is my mom's old recipe, and I have no idea of its origin before that. I usually make it as a cake, a lovely three layer cake with lots and lots of cream cheese frosting. The recipe makes two dozen flat-topped cupcakes. A rich, moist, complex-tasting cake, it is made particularly special with the addition of crushed pineapple.

You will need:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 cups grated carrots (about 3 1/2 large carrots, or 11 ounces of carrots)
1 8 ounce can of crushed pineapple, well-drained
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

To make the cupcakes:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stir together the first 5 ingredients until completely combined. In another bowl, whip together the sugar, oil, and eggs until they are thoroughly blended. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until combined, then stir in the carrots, pineapple, and nuts.

If making cupcakes, use a large spoon to ladle the batter into your lined muffin or cupcake pans, filling until about 7/8ths full. Place the pans in the oven and bake for 23-25 minutes. If making cakes, grease and flour your three cake pans, then pour the batter evenly into each. Place the pans in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Let the layers or cupcakes cool, then frost with cream cheese frosting, made soft and creamy, just the way he liked it.