A Twilight Walk Along the Wintry River And Hearty, Potato-Cheddar Soup…

January 30th, 2011 § Comments Off on A Twilight Walk Along the Wintry River And Hearty, Potato-Cheddar Soup… § permalink

Winter is Soup Season: A Bowl of Potato-Cheddar Really Warms the Spirits

“The Dead of Winter”. I spent a good part of yesterday ruminating on this phrase. Is winter really dead? I suppose it might seem that way if you spend all of your time indoors. But if you are curious, and bundle yourself up properly, it’s easy to find signs of life –even in January. A walk along the river yesterday afternoon revealed green-tinted leaf-buds, browsing rabbits and flocks of noisy ducks. Reflective waterways are always gorgeous places to enjoy the beauty of sunset. And even in the chill of winter’s twilight, I choose to linger along the shoreline, basking in the pink-tinted afterglow…

Mallard Ducks Swim Along the Pink River at Sunset

Birch Against a Winter Sky

Mallards Gathered Along the Snowy Shoreline at Sunset

Of course it helps to cozy up beside the wood stove after a romp through the snow, and nothing beats a hearty bowl of potato-cheddar soup for warming the bones and spirits. I love soups and make a big pot at least once a week during the winter months. I think the key to great soups is always in the base stock, and this old family recipe is my hands-down favorite. Use good, flavorful potatoes and the best homemade stock (chicken or long-simmered vegetable). I always add a cup of rich beer (an amber style brew or dark, sweet beer) and fresh herbs to my potato cheddar, and a very fine quality local cheese. With a pot of soup waiting back home on the stove, I never seem to mind the cold weather…

Winter Walks are Nicer with Thoughts of Warm Potato-Cheddar Soup

Favorite Potato- Cheddar Soup

Ingredients (makes 6-8 servings):

5          Cups homemade chicken or vegetable broth

1          Cup high-quality amber ale or porter beer

3          Tablespoons butter

1          Cup chopped onion

3          Cloves garlic, chopped

1          Tablespoon freshly chopped sage

1          Tablespoon freshly chopped thyme

2          Bay leaves

3          Lbs potatoes, peeled & diced (I like flavorful golds for this soup)

Kosher salt to taste (about a teaspoon)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste (at least a teaspoon or more)

2          Cups grated, sharp cheddar cheese (I use Grafton VT cheddar)

Sour cream for serving

Freshly chopped chives for garnish (or sub other herb)

Directions:

Pour homemade broth and beer into a large stock pot and simmer over very low heat. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan on medium-low and add butter. When melted raise the heat to medium and add the onions and sautee for 10 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, sage and thyme and reduce the heat. Cook for several minutes to release flavors and then remove from heat. Add the onions and herbs to the stock pot, grind in freshly ground black pepper and add salt to taste, and toss the bay leaves on top. Cover the broth and continue simmering on low heat.

While the broth is simmering, wash, peel and dice the potatoes. Slowly add the potatoes to the broth, raise the heat slightly and cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork. Do not boil the soup. Remove from the heat. Fit a food processor with the metal blade and process the soup in small batches (or puree in very small batches in a blender). Be very careful when handling hot soup, and never fill the processor or blender beyond the max liquid line or you will be scalded! You can process the entire pot of soup for a very smooth texture, or leave half unprocessed for a chunkier soup.

Add all of the soup back to the pot and simmer. Now is the time to check texture and consistency. If the soup seems to thick, add a bit more broth or beer. When the soup is at the desired thickness, add the cheddar cheese and stir over medium low heat to blend and melt.

Once the cheese is melted, Remove from heat. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and a garnish of freshly chopped chives.

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Mallards on the River at Twilight

The Shoreline’s Pink Afterglow

Time to Head Home…

And Cozy-Up Beside the Fire

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Article and Photographs are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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Falling for Bold, Beautiful Bromeliads: Glorious Guzmania ‘Passion’ & ‘Luna’

January 28th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Guzmania ‘Passion’

Guzmania ‘Luna’ and Guzmania ‘Passion’ – Could There Be a More Lovely Pair?

Guzmania ‘Luna’

So here we are, nearing the end of January. It’s mid-winter, and after many major snow-storms, the garden outside is now fast asleep beneath a heavy white blanket. Yes, it’s still beautiful, but the winter landscape is definitely more spare. Friends in warmer climes often ask me how I —such a complete hortimaniac— deal with the long, New England winters. Well, I could try to explain with words, but in this case, a picture really does paint a thousand of them. Images like these usually help others understand how I make it ’til April. Although I have no travel plans this year, I’ve somehow managed to bring quite a bit of South-Central America to Vermont. Now, can you imagine suffering from winter doldrums with these two tropical beauties in your house? My indoor garden is a true paradise that sustains me during the cold, dark months.

I’ve always loved the Bromeliaceae family, and with their colorful bracts and erect inflorescences, they make quite a statement in all kind of interiors; from minimalist to ornate. And at this time of year —when the outdoor world is nearly devoid of such bold color— the Guzmania species is pretty hard to resist. Two beautiful hybrids —‘Luna’ and ‘Passion’— and many others, are the result of a G. lingulata/wittmackii cross. Although these tropical bromeliads look as if they might be difficult to care for, Guzmania are very tough epiphytes (plants that, in nature, grow on and in other plants, but do not feed off them – including orchids, bromeliads and many ferns). Because they tolerate a wide range of temperature and light conditions (avoid full sun, and provide filtered, bright light and temps 55-80° F for true plant happiness), Guzmania actually make great houseplants –even for novices.

Guzmania ‘Passion’

Of course, there are some key points to keep in mind when caring for all bromeliads, including Guzmania. Always keep the rosette (the central cup of the plant), filled with water. I use lukewarm tap water from my well (use spring or filtered water if you live in a city), and gently pour/drizzle water down the center of the plant, allowing it to collect in the wells. When I fertilize (once a month during the growing season only – spring to fall), I mix the epiphyte fertilizer into my long-spouted watering can, and apply it when I am giving my Guzmania a drink. Many members of the Bromeliaceae family prefer high humidity, but this species is a bit less demanding; provided I keep the rosette moist. Guzmania aren’t particularly fussy about their soil (regular, well-drained potting soil is OK), but during the winter months, keep the root-zone on the dry-side of moist. And although they tolerate a wide range of light conditions, bright but indirect sun —and temperatures at the warmer end of their range— is essential to bring this lovely plant into bloom. In the spring, offsets form along the sides of the mother plant. These can be left in place to form colonies as the central plant dies back, or they may be divided off and potted separately. Pests are not a big problem with Guzmania, but mealy bugs (and sometimes aphids or occasionally scale) may attack –particularly if the plant is under stress. Gently sprayed applications of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil (once every 5 days or so for a month) should relieve plants of sap-sucking insects.

Looking for a bold way to brighten someone special’s day? Or perhaps you prefer to give living plants and flowers for Valentines day? Guzmania ‘Luna’ & ‘Passion’ are sure to delight. And at this time of year, bromeliads are relatively easy to find in most florist shops, and even at some larger garden centers (Recently, I spotted some fine specimens at my local Home Depot for under $25). Just look at these flamboyant, uplifting hues! I’d take a blooming bromeliad over a bunch of soon-to-die, cut-roses any day… Wouldn’t you?

Guzmania ‘Luna’

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of Michaela – The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced without prior written permission. If you would like to use a photo or article excerpt, please see ‘contact’ page at right. Thank you !

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Simply Lovely: Etched-Gourd Cachepots

January 25th, 2011 § Comments Off on Simply Lovely: Etched-Gourd Cachepots § permalink

This Pretty Etched-Gourd Makes a Lovely Cachepot for Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’ (and on the right, Colocasia affinis ‘Jenningsii’)

Displaying plants indoors can be as creative and fun as arranging pots outdoors on porches, patios and balconies. Whenever I spot an new and interesting vessel —natural or man-made— I log it in my mental-file cabinet as a potential cachepot for a plant. Two years ago, while traveling in Vieques, Puerto Rico, I picked up this etched gourd from an artisan at a street market. Sure, it makes an interesting bowl for collecting spare change or keys, but why not use it as a cachepot? I sealed the inside of this gourd to waterproof it (wood-sealer or shellac work well) and filled it with a lush Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’ —and wow! The purple-red stems jump out when played against subtle golden-undertones on the surface of the dried gourd. You may remember how much I love this plant from a previous post (To read “Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name” click here).

A great mix: Crafter’s Gourds from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Like the look? There’s no need to travel to the Caribbean to get it! Growing gourds is fun and easy —a great garden project with kids— and when dried and sealed, they can be used in all sorts of creative ways. I plan to etch and carve many more gourds this year to use as indoor cachepots. Just imagine the possibilities! Of course, dried gourds can also be used as serving bowls/dishes, desk accessories or jewelry holders, and in addition, bottle-type gourds are often used as small bird houses. Gourds do require a long growing season —they are harvested in fall— so in cold climates these decorative delights are best started indoors before the last frost date. Now is a good time to order gourd seed from one of the many catalogues filling your mailbox. Renee’s Garden Seeds has a great “Crafter’s Mix” which includes larger, smooth-gourd varieties -these seeds are specially selected for creating vessels of all kinds. An excellent selection of gourd seed, as well as organic gardening supplies can also be found online at Burpee (and they sell luffa gourds: perfect for drying and using in the bath). Gourds grow on vines in full sun, and they can be trained up a trellis in a small space, or left to sprawl in a larger garden.

Read more about the lovely Pepperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’ here.

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Article and Photographs (with noted exceptions) are copyright Michaela/The Gardener’s Eden. All Rights Reserved.

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Indoor Eden: Simple,Verdant Beauty… Twisting & Twining English Ivy

January 22nd, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ – English Ivy Twists and Twines Round a Metal Chair in the Secret Garden Room

Busy about the Secret Garden Room this morning –potting, pruning and moving plants around to make room for new seed starts– I suddenly found myself driven to delightful distraction by my gorgeous friend, Ivy. Positioned as she is –right inside the double French doors– I routinely pass my lovely Hedera helix ‘Glacier’, whenever I enter or exit the garden room. But today, something about the way the light flickered behind her verdant, porcelain-edged leaves made me stop right in my tracks. Simply beautiful…

Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ catches winter sunlight in the Secret Garden Room

English ivy likes to twist and twine, making it the ideal plant for wrapping around old metal chairs, bed frames and other ironwork. There are many ivy cultivars available, in all shapes and sizes. The colors and leaf patterns of Hedera helix range from the simple to the bold; in endless shades of gold, cream and green. I have a great fondness for the subtly variegated ivies; leaves with beautiful mottling and shadowy color combinations. Grown from a small softwood cutting, my durable H. helix ‘Glacier’ thrives in the filtered light and cool temperatures of my Secret Garden Room. Feeding –with a low-nitrogen organic fertilizer– will begin in spring and continue every two weeks through late fall. Ivy prefers slightly dry soil year round, and in winter, I reduce watering even further to prevent rot. I like to prune longer stems –especially those with large gaps between leaves– taking them back to a node located amid lush growth. This bit of regular maintenance helps keep the plant looking full and healthy. My lovely English ivy is currently insect free, however aphids, mealy bugs and scale are common ivy-pests, and can be controlled with insecticidal soap, neem and horticultural oil. And although regular misting usually keeps them at bay in my Secret Garden Room, spider mites can sometimes become a problem for ivy –indoors or out. Clip off and destroy mite infested parts where possible, and/or treat the ivy with a horticultural oil/soap mix.

Ivy is easily trained along walls with hooks and wire or fishing line. Here, Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ creeps along the rough-hewn hemlock between the double French doors.

English ivy may be common, but she’s also a stunning and remarkably versatile houseplant. In this dimly-lit indoor garden, the variegated leaves of ivy capture filtered rays of sun and enliven plastered walls. In summer, this plant lives just outside the garden room door, and in late autumn –before the hard freeze– I move her back inside. Over time, my variegated ivy has become one with her pedestal; winding her tendrils ’round the back, legs and seat of an on old metal chair. Because the seat is constructed of light weight metal, I can easily move the entire vignette back an forth with the seasons.  Ivy is easy to propagate. When pieces break off, I simply stick them in a pot of moistened soil and begin a new plant for a friend.

Much as a well-worn pair of blue jeans or fine old leather bag with a perfectly-aged patina adds character to a basic wardrobe, a lush pot of English ivy lends classic style to a low-lit room. Looking at my lovely old ivy in the sunlight today, I’m reminded to never underestimate the beauty and power of simplicity…

I love to watch sun spots dancing around the Secret Garden Room –the low light illuminating Ivy’s wild tendrils– while I’m tending to plants or working at my desk.

Discover more extraordinary ivy cultivars and find information on ivy culture at the website of The American Ivy Society.

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Article and Photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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I’ve Got Sunshine On A Cloudy Day… My First In-Print Gardening Article for Martha Stewart Living Magazine!

January 20th, 2011 § 9 comments § permalink

Enjoying the Fruits of my Labor in Martha Stewart Living Magazine

Some moments are worth celebrating with friends! My first gardening article for Martha Stewart Living —“Sunshine in a Pot”— has just been published in both print and electronic format. Savor the sweet moment with me and pick up a copy of February’s Martha Stewart Living Magazine or download the iPad App— it’s a beautiful issue…

Martha Stewart Living Magazine – Subscription via Amazon

Johnny Miller’s gorgeous photographs set the sunny mood for my citrus-growing article; filled with all of the horticultural information, online resources and cultural tips you’ll need to get started with these rewarding plants. Martha Stewart Living iPad edition also contains wonderful citrus recipes; including Meyer lemon butter, lemon pine-nut tart and Meyer lemon coffee cake.

A Splash of Sunny Color and Lively, Citrus Flavor Brightens Grey Mid-Winter Days and Helps Chase Away the Blues…

Imagine waking up to the scent of citrus blossoms; their sweet, delicate fragrance perfuming the air. Picture yourself stepping through the door and into the next room; plucking a plump, juicy lemon, glowing orange or shimmering lime from the branches of your own tiny citrus tree…

Slice a bit of fresh lemon for your morning tea. Close your eyes and breathe deep. Instantly, the fragrance transports you: grey clouds and dingy snowbanks disappear as you are whisked away to a sunny Mediterranean terrace; sampling a zesty lemon granita as the vespas fly by…

Have an Apple iPad ?
If you do, click to download Martha Stewart Living Digital Magazine and Mobile Apps

The pulp: “Sunshine in a Pot” contains all of the sweet, cultural details you need to succeed with homegrown citrus. Also inside this issue of MSLiving: discover the southern charm of Camellias in a feature gardening article by Stacey Hirvella —with dreamy photographs by Ngoc Minh Ngo— along with the always delicious recipes, fantastic decor and fabulous crafting ideas you know and love.

The beautiful sea-green glazed mug in this post is by Virginia Wyoming

Special thank you to Stacey Hirvella and Miranda Van Gelder

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Article and Photos (excepting links from Martha Stewart Living) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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