Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Asian Garden

Portland Japanese Garden, Portland Chinese Garden, Asian Garden
Three years ago I had this little patch of ground hidden away in the back of the property and decided to turn it into my own Asian garden.  With few financial resources to use on this project and even less skill or knowledge about landscaping the stylized Asian look, I was on a real mission and a real challenge.
Fortunately I was physically able to do the hard work like dig out what remaining grass was growing, build a couple of berms, and slope the area to achieve a pleasing vertical and horizontal perspective.  I searched through the used book store and found many books on Japanese garden design and did a lot of research on the web.  I kept my eye out at nurseries and garden centers for plant materials (on sale) that would fit into my design, lugged them into the backyard, dug, amended soil, and re-dug and amended soil until I placed them were I thought they should be to achieve the Asian look.
Although I was pleased with the initial results, I quickly realized that it would take several years of a dedicated maintenance regime for the garden to look like a beautiful Asian garden. Since that time I have worked and watched the garden mature, from the moss floor spreading out into a full green carpet, to the ferns, azaleas, pines, and  bamboo filling out.

The garden isn't truly emblematic of the basic structure and philosophy that a traditional Asian garden requires, but I think I did accomplish the desired result which imparts a sense of peace, harmony, and tranquility and the feeling of being a part of nature.  And although the garden, as with all gardens, will continue to grow and be amended again and again, I’m happy with it as it is now. Most importantly, the garden reminds me that it’s the journey not the destination that teaches and inspires.

If you are interested in learning more about the Asian style of garden design or just visiting an authentic Asian garden, there are two internationally acclaimed gardens in Portland.  Both of these gardens have informed, inspired and delighted me, and they are well worth the trip and the admission fee.  
The Portland Japanese Garden is thought to be the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan and is truly a haven of tranquil beauty.  

On Monday, November 12, you can visit the garden free of admission.  For more information follow link above to their website.  This Saturday, October 27,  from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm the Friends of the Garden will have their annual Maple Plant Sale.  More information about this event is also on their website.

Also, offering a glimpse of Chinese culture, beauty, and harmony is the Lan Su Chinese Garden located near Chinatown in downtown Portland. Inside the garden is an authentic teahouse such as can be found during the Ming Dynasty. Light meals and snacks are offered along with numerous varieties of tea to suit every mood and season. Live performances range from Chinese er-hu music to song and poetry.

Life is good - bye for now.  Evelyn

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Saturday Afternoon in Portland

Spend an afternoon in Portland sometime.  Meander around one of those unique districts that Portland has to offer with quaint cafes and even quainter shops.  It puts the pizzaz back into your thinking and gets the creative juices flowing.

This Saturday I was in the Pearl, but there are other districts in the city which give off their own unique vibe as well.  The original purpose for the trip was to check out an urban garden shop for some new garden design ideas.  But as soon as I parked the car I couldn't resist the lure of the street.

The Pearl District is made up of old warehouses converted into new swanky condos, and busy hip shops with an amazing diversity of people, and things to do and see. I wondered into the cool Pro Guitar Shop (a brave new world in that place for sure) - the largest guitar shop in the Portland Metro area with an amazing wall display of any guitar you'd ever want to see or play.   Then there was the French Cut Hair Salon - effortlessly seductive and charming!  I couldn't resist popping in for a peek at their very chic salon and they were graciously welcoming - like meeting an old friend.

Made another stop at the Tea Zone and Camilla Lounge - tea, coffee, jazz, blues, cocktails, food - who would think about putting all those things together and yet it worked so well.  Then on down the street you'll find the exquisite French Quarter Linens - luxurious, stylish, sophisticated, elegant and expensive, but worth a look for some fresh ideas.

Now there's no shortage of incredible places to eat in Portland.  In fact it's pretty overwhelming unless you have something specific in mind before you make the trip.  It was Lebanese food that was on my mind and I was determined to get it.  And there's no better place in town then Nicholas Lebanese Restaurant on Grand Avenue just across the river.

Outside it looks a little like a bit of a hole in the wall, but inside awaits the most delicious middle eastern food you'll likely get in Oregon.  They are open all day and serve a variety of meat, vegetarian and vegan dishes, in fact, the menu is daunting. So watch out - your eyes can be bigger than you stomach in this place.  To get you started you'll be served a mouth watering giant, fluffy, steaming pita along with a herb olive oil dip.  The main courses are huge, in fact they could easily serve two.  Nicholas's is a bustling energetic place with a touch of middle eastern ambience.  Great eats too!

As I said in the beginning - spend an afternoon in Portland sometime - it stimulates the mind and soul.

Life is good - bye for now.  Evelyn

REMEMBER:  Buy Local When You Can!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Autumn - The Changing of the Guard

Now that we’re in the crossover season, I’ve been spending a lot of time cleaning up the garden - putting it to bed for the winter.  It seems to take you by surprise, this time of year, because just when you think things are winding down, there’s still so much left in the vegetable garden to pick and process.  If fact it can be the busiest time of the gardening season.  It took the tomatoes so long to ripen - we didn’t really have a good crop until September - and now we’ve got to quickly salvage what’s still on the vines (and there’s plenty) before the first frost.  Last week instead of canning them, I decided to blanch, peel, chop and then put them in quart freezer bags for the freezer.  This way I can do what I want with them later when I have so much more time (during those dreary nothing to do Winter months).

I took a drive out into the country and realized that October has become a boon for pumpkin and squash farmers.  Kind of like what u-cut Christmas trees are to Christmas tree farmers. Out at Heiser Farms on Grand Island,  it’s almost an amusement park with hayrides, a corn maze, a hay maze, little railroad station, fantastic pumpkin slide, pick your own pumpkins, and my favorite – pumpkin smashing.  Yes pumpkins smashing - the most mindless activity that is so astonishingly laughable (joyously funny!).  

This is the way it works – the pumpkins are shot out of cannons only to swoosh through the air (like cannon balls) and splat hundreds of yards away in the field.  And then you laugh and they do it again!  Heiser’s is open every weekend through October so you better get out there, pick you pumpkin, and watch the pumpkins splat.

Lastly, I can’t write about Autumn (Fall) without mentioning the stunning (dare I say kick-a--?) beauty of the trees and fall flowers.  You know the drill - patches of crimson, butterscotch,  creamy yellow, and burgundy leaves bursting forth in the last show of glory before the inevitable.  It’s the same routine every year, yet it never fails to thrill and inspire.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Granola - Sticks and Twigs

Most people know that apple jelly is good spread on toast or as a kitchen gift, also very nice alongside Brie. But generally it ranks more as a kitchen staple to be used as an ingredient in making something else - not held in the same high regard as it's gourmet fruit cousins in the berry or tropical fruit category.

One thing I have found though is that it's become an absolutely necessary ingredient in the granola recipe I make and love.

I've gotten serious about granola this year.  I've always liked it and thought all those sticks and twigs were good for something - gave you the ruffage your body needed to keep you in balance as well as a whole host of other essential nutrients.  Buying it already prepared in the box is expensive and if you read the ingredient list on the box you soon realize that there's a lot more in there than just sticks and twigs - sugar being in the top of the list. Now I'm not against sugar, but I am trying to eat less of it in proportion to the other ingredients.  And there's a lot of it in most prepared food products.

That's one reason for making your own - you know what's in there and in what proportions. The other reason is that it's the best tasting stuff around.

My favorite recipe comes from 101 Cookbooks, named, Honey Toasted Fruit Muesli.   It is very good, but one day when I was short on honey, I substituted apple jelly and it turned out great! I prefer to make it using half honey and half apple jelly, but it can be adjusted either way or not at all.  I also discovered that when making the recipe you can make adjustments to the other ingredients to suit your taste, so I have altered the original recipe somewhat, either because of my personal preference or because I didn't have a particular ingredient on hand at the time.  The dried cherries and plums I made this Summer have gone into my recent batches and of course I also add a teaspoon (at least) of cinnamon.

My all time favorite way to eat it is with some plain homemade yogurt (or prepared fruit yogurt), a little sweet 2% milk, and fresh fruit on top.  Yummy and very healthy - you might say I've turned into a real granola.
So if you have an abundance of apples this Fall and have decided to make some apple jelly, you can add this recipe to you apple jelly repertoire and be very pleased with the outcome. Bon appetite!

Live is good - bye for now! Evelyn

REMEMBER:  Buy Local When You Can!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Apples - It's Been A Very Good Year!

ABUNDANCE --- It is Fall in Oregon and I'm getting wary of friends that have an apple tree in their backyard.  The apple surplus seems bigger than usual this year, so as with zucchini, I feel like I need to lock my car for fear an over supplied neighbor will sneak in a bag or two.

I have one friend that has a whole orchard. Since the apples have ripened, every visit includes a walk down to the orchard with a couple of gigantic bags in tow, which are so quickly filled and so heavy you can hardly lug them back up the hill.  And you keep saying to your friend, "oh thank you, I think I have enough now" and they keep piling the apples in with a pleading, desperate look in their eyes, "here - just a few more, we haven't even begun to touch the tree".  So you take them home.

And then what?  I've now spent the entire week trying to figure out what to do with all these apples. What applelicious treat can I concoct?  I have to confess, I've not been successful in coming up with any truly blog-worthy recipes for all my kitchen testing.
In fact my apple jelly failed to jell (because I didn't follow the instructions carefully), and the caramel apple jam was a little short of true fabulousness (too sweet for my taste).
I made an apple cake, that I thought was going to knock the socks off of my guests, but it turned out to be pretty ordinary (boring).  I tried apple slaw - eatable, but no pizzaze.   And to my disappointment I've put on 5 pounds just testing (althought I can't entirely blame the apples for that).
Now, as we all know apples are wonderful, there are as many fabulous apple delicacies to be found, and made, and eaten, and fondly remembered, as there are apples.  With this in mind, I settled down, took a look at my most dependable blog sites, and found some true apple winners that I'm now going to focus on this week.

Here are my top winners!
  • Apple Jelly - David Lebovitz, Living the Sweet Life in Paris - What was I thinking when I attempted my own version of AJ? This is the way it should be done.
  • Membrillo - Simply Recipes - Made this last year with quince (ancient relative to the apple).  Follow the instructions and you've got success. This is a classic Spanish treat served along side Manchego cheese.
  • Apple Tarte Tatin - Smitten Kitchen  If you in the mood for a challenge these are the best instructions for this complicated French classic.  I confess that I have always wanted to, but never attempted this intimadating dessert. Maybe I'll give it a try this week.
  • French Apple Tarte -  Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network - This one has become a favorite in the family.  Actually it's my daughter's easy go to recipe that she knows like the back of her hand.  Check out the video on the page too!
  • Classic American Apple Pie - Food Wishes - This is a video blog by Chef John at Food Wishes. The recipe is almost all filler, but you will notice a recipe for a traditional pie crust at the bottom of the blog. He actually has several apple pie recipes on his blog including a caramel apple pie which is his favorite.  I can do this one, it pretty basic and it is always a hit.  Enjoy the video!
As they say we're just looking at the tip of the ice berg here. You can make juice, cider, crisp, cake, turnover, you can dry or you can stew (oh my!) and on and on.

But there was one recipe I almost passed up - my granddaughter's all time favorite - German Apple Pancakes - truly blog-worthy! 

Life is good!  Bye for now.  Evelyn  

REMEMBER - Bye Local When you Can!

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