Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Tulips Keep Coming . . .

The plethora of tulips planted in the front garden last autumn are about three-quarters into their season. Pieter de Leur, a lily-flowered variety, present their glossy, huge, crimson blooms in front of still-in-bud, late-season, Sky High Scarlet cottage tulips.

Surrounding lavender bushes are putting out new green growth

This single Pieter de Leur looks as if it's floating in green ether.

Nearby, Apricot Parrot tulips dazzle with their flamboyant form and colour.

Some Pieter de Leur and Apricot Parrot along with pink Miss Elegance and Daydream (starts out yellow then blends into apricot) wind up in a flower brick.

Viridiflora tulip, China Town may be demure, but also unforgettable, with its shell pink streaked with vibrant green.

The entrance path separates the plum tree, abelia, and tulips from some purple bearded irises.

Varigated Lamium galeobdolon loves the shade, self propagates readily, and its foliage and yellow flowers look wonderful against grey rocks.

Dirac the Cat opened an eye to let me know that he is safely tucked within the candytuft away from rambunctious Eli the kitten. I warned him not to let down his guard so soon . . .

. . . as he has left a telltail.

In the back garden, the potager is being prepared for some more sowing. Potatoes and peas are in, and soon carrots, kale, and beets will take their turn. Tomato seedlings are sitting pretty in their mini-greenhouse. Rhubarb has had its first harvest and the asparagus bed is sprouting about a kilogram of spears weekly.

That's the wild area of mostly brambles in background for hedgehogs, lizards,  birds, and insects

À la prochaine!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Tulips, Irises & Sweet Violets

The many tulips planted last November continue to dazzle. Species and Darwin hybrids are just about finished blooming. The lily-flowered variety are at their peak, especially the gorgeous Purple Dream.

The petals are sheltering what could be an extraterrestial forest

Van Eijk tulips graciously wait for the changing of the bloom guard . . .

. . .  and are not disappointed by their replacement.

Often found in early spring gardens, is the intriguing contrast between still bare branches, in this case, a beauty bush, and lush flowers. Van Eijk has fragrant, large, and long-lasting, hot-pink, splashed-with-coral blooms with cherry-red insides.

Daydream, a fragrant Darwin hybrid (its perfume is similar to freesias) starts out yellow and then becomes flushed apricot. Colour-wise, it complements Purple Dream nicely.

Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is a wonderful, evergreen ground cover that is commonly grown around spring bulbs as to hide the muddy earth and eventual dying foliage (which feeds next season's blooms). A few shell-pink, double lily-flowered Miss Elegance of the many which were planted for last spring's display managed to rebloom. Unlike daffodils, most tulips don't return.

Bearded irises when they open fully and splashed with rain lend a bit of the exotic to the garden. In the lower left corner of the below photo, you can see the tufted, yellow and white 'beard'.

On the entrance steps, some potted white heather and echeveria with its crimson-edged foliage, cheered us up during the winter. The latter is upping that cheer presently with its yellow flowers.

Sweet violets spread wherever they find shade and a bit of earth. These are doing their thing along the length of our driveway.

Though there are problems having a refrigerator depot as a neighbour, there are benefits as its spacious entrance driveway is beautifully landscaped with a pair of enormous spruce trees and an ornamental cherry tree which presently resembles a soft, pink cloud. That amazing billowing that it does sometimes eludes my camera, as it lasts usually just a day, but this season, it got captured nicely.

This is the view from our living/dining room!

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Early-Spring Garden 2018

Tulips dressed in silky tutus are twirling about in late-March winds. The first dancers taking the stage are Van Eijk whose tremendous pink blooms flushed with yellow spread their citrusy fragrance touched with a hint of vanilla and the freshest, richest cream throughout any room in which I place them. When a bloom starts unfurling, the outer petals are splotched lime-green. At first, I wondered if in my eagerness for cut flowers, I picked them too early.

Within an hour, the green mellowed into yellow.

Its stupendous perfume emanates mostly from its core, so I get close to their innards and breath in deeply. Ah! Spring is officially inside our home. The interior of the bloom is closer to scarlet than pink.

Last autumn, I planted several varieties of bulbs to include early, mid, and late season numbering to around two-hundred. There are/will be Darwin hybrids, Late-Single (cottage tulips), Lily-Flowering, Parrot, Viridiflora, and Species.  To honour the abundance, I splashed out for a rectangular holder for up to thirty-two tulips. It's a reproduction of one of The Rijksmuseum's Delft Blue artefacts.

Unlike daffodils, most tulips do not bloom from year to year so they often are regarded as annuals. One exception is Apeldoorn, a Darwin hybrid. Its second season of blooming is much appreciated.

The purple plum tree's branches are laden with delicate blossoms.

When the rain ceases for a while, I garden. Moist soil allows for easy 'lawn' edging.

Such soil is good also for transplanting. These two Junipers (Sky Rocket) were about 15 cm (6 inches) when they arrived in the autumn of 2016. They were put in a nursery bed and are now around 90 cm (3 feet).  Buying shrubs when small through the mail may mean a better choice and lower price than from the local plant nursery. This narrow variety is moderately fast-growing, has a blue-green foliage, and grows tall enough to resemble a green steeple. It is also fairly combustible so my first choice of placing them near the front of the house got changed to putting them relatively far away from it.

The asparagus patch is coming to life.

The late-afternoon sky decided to say hello to the tulips via a rainbow!

À la prochaine! 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Book Review / The Asshole Survival Guide: How To Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt by Robert I. Sutton

Mr. Sutton doesn't resort to euphemisms for designating people who sow discord, never learn to improve their noxious interface, and like a huge syringe of poison, inject their venom into each and every situation in which humans may find themselves. He references a popular quote found on social media often attributed to Sigmund Freud but actually written by the Twitter handle @debihope which succinctly sums up how harmful assholes are: Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes. Unless you can identify assholes early on (some can be charming and brimming with confidence at first impression), ease into protective mode, they will harm not only you, but also others plus their high-conflict, non-reciprocal interface is contagious. A common misperception is that being an asshole is essential for getting ahead. Except in extreme situations, where your life is pitted against another, long-term success is built on co-operation, transparency, creativity, focus, consistency, innovation, and other constructive aspects.

This book could be considered a sequel to his The No Asshole Rule which was written in 2007. Though the earlier book had a chapter on how to deal with assholes, its emphasis was on building positive work environments. Its success resulted in an outpouring of communication with the author for strategies and tips that enable people to escape from, endure, battle, and force out bullies, backstabbers, and arses. One part of his research was derived from ploughing through eight thousand emails sent by people driven to distraction by assholes along with his own experiences and various interviews. The other was based on scholarly research regarding the topic. His conclusion is surviving assholes remains more of a craft or skill than a science.

One defence among several methods against assholes is not complicated. If possible, increase your physical distance as much as possible from the asshole even if it is just a few seats away or across the street or in another room. In the last few months I have applied this simple approach and have watched my stress level deflate. I highly recommend it. The equivalent for online interaction is not only blocking the asshole but also their enablers.

How do you know that you are not one of the asshole brigade?  Or an asshole enabler?  The authentic asshole and their enablers won't even ponder that she/they could be since assholes lack insight and accountability. However, non-assholes do make an effort to question themselves. A helpful mantra for non-assholes to keep crankiness, bias, and irritation on bad days to a minimum is Be slow to label others as assholes, be quick to label yourself as one. I would temper this advice with the realisation that kind, considerate people need also to be less hard on themselves which they do too easily, and accept more readily that assholes exist. In other words, it is not a case of two sides, or the other side, but yours. The protection of your mental, emotional, and physical health is imperative.


Book Review / Florike Egmond's An Eye For Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500-1630

Book Review / Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal

Baking From Around The World by Jessamyn Waldman

Rodriguez with Julia Turshen

Book Review/The Confidence Game: The Psychology Of The Con And Why We Fall For It Every Time By Maria Konnikova

Book Review / The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art by Joyce Carol Oates


The Asshole Survival Guide at Amazon

Thursday, March 15, 2018

French Cheese: Coulommiers

Coulommiers is regarded as the petit frère (little brother) of Brie which is an odd relation because though it may be smaller it is actually the ancestor of Brie. When first arriving in France all those years ago, we noted that every supermarket was graced with its presence. Wherever we have lived or visited in France, there was a small round to be had. It being less runny, having a thicker rind, and tasting of almonds make it my preference over Brie. Being able to bring home a whole cheese or two instead of just a slice is in its favour also.

A fantastic way of serving is first cutting the round longitudinally to get two halves. Layer thinly sliced truffles on the bottom piece and top with the second. Wrap in plastic and store in a cool place (preferably not the fridge) for two days. For a dessert version, fill instead with chopped dried fruit (such as apricots, raisins, prunes, cranberries) and nuts (such as pistachios, hazel nuts, walnuts, almonds) mixed with a couple teaspoons of mascarpone. Store for at least a day in the fridge. Garnish with some whole fruits and nuts on top. Serve with a white wine. A bread chock-a-block with dried fruit and nuts could take the place of the filling. Another savoury approach is to simmer some cream or crème fraîche in a saucepan, remove the croûte (send it to me, please, as I am of the mind that one can never get enough of a bloomy rind), chop the Coulommiers, add the pieces to the warm cream, toss in a herb sprig like thyme or oregano, stir till smooth, salt to taste, and pour over pasta (penne would be an excellent choice). A less rich variation is subbing pasta cooking water for the cream.

I love when it is young enough to have a more solid centre as the contrast in textures adds to enjoyment. Regardless of the age (affinage) of the cheese, it is essential to bring it to room temperature before serving. The difference? Extreme lusciousness. If you go the sweet route, and serve it as a dessert in the cosy company of fresh fruit like mixed berries or figs, you won't mind not eating a pastry. Especially if you dribble some herb-infused honey on it.

However my favourite way of scoffing this cheese is exactly that: unadorned, unaccompanied, delectable sliver after delectable sliver vanishing through ecstatic lips.

À la prochaine! 

Other French Cheese Posts:



Bleu d'Auvergne
Bresse Bleu

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Resistant Starch: Pasta Alfredo with Peas & Shrimp

Desserts or homey, slowly simmered meals are not the only edibles that can comfort.

Pasta drenched in Alfredo sauce rich in cream, butter, and . . . 

. . . cheese will pamper the self just as much.

Not only does cooking the pasta and peas and storing them overnight in the fridge the night before saves time the following day, such a process allows the starch to become resistant when the pasta is reheated. For two servings, ingredients and their amounts are in boldThrow in two large handful of frozen peas (if fresh, add during the last few minutes of cooking) with enough pasta for two servings into boiling water and cook till just al dente. Drain, put into a container, and stir in a little oil to keep the pasta from sticking together. Cover and put in fridge.

The next day, in a suitably sized skillet, pour in 6-8 tablespoons of cream, bring to a simmer, add 4 tablespoons of sweet butter.

When butter is completely melted, add 8 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan.

Gently melt all the cheese while stirring frequently till sauce is thick and smooth. When a spoon is dragged across the sauce and stays parted for a few seconds, it's done.

Toss in the pasta, peas, and three handfuls of small, cooked shrimp (if frozen, first thaw and then squeeze out the liquid which can be reserved for court bouillon).

Stirring often, simmer for a minute or two . . .

. . . until everything is slicked with a scrumptious glaze and most of the liquid is gone. Salt to taste.

Cocooning, baby! That's the word the French use to denote setting up your personal environment in such a way that you feel cozy, protected from a fast-moving, demanding world. Afterwards, it would not be remiss, if you snuggle under a courtepointe douce (soft small quilt), propped up with a cushion here, a cushion there (especially for the feet), and read a book. Ah,  les petits bonheurs (the little things of happiness)!

À la prochaine!