Archive for November, 2012

Holiday Preparations

Friday, November 30th, 2012

There was a time when every inch of our house in Ojai was decorated for Christmas. Over the years I picked up items to add to any unadorned surface.  Usually by Christmas day it began to feel a bit claustrophobic.

A few years we took vacations and I chose to do quick tree decorating since we would be gone for the week after Christmas and hate having so much to put away when returning to work and school straight from the flight.

The year we went to Aruba I only adorned the tree with pinecones, berries and big white poinsettias from Ben Franklin.  This picture reminds me that I have to look for Santa.

The year we went to Whistler it looks like we put up a few ornaments but used  white snow flakes from Macy’s to fill up the tree.  The packages don’t even have bows.  Oh the humiliation.

Last year we moved into the Shack two weeks before Christmas.  Every room of the house was being painted or worked on in some way.  On Christmas Eve the boys brought in the artificial tree and shamed me into taking a moment and throwing on those pinecones, berries and some burlap ribbon.  The close up hides the drywall dust and bare wood floors.

This year Spencer has a basketball tournament over break and we probably won’t get away during the holidays until after he graduates.  The boys decided it is time to do up the house, big time.  Well really, they get out the boxes and I do up the house.

They got every box out of the barn and stacked them on the back porch.  Pressure!   We even bought a live, much bigger tree the day after Thanksgiving.  Usually we travel at Thanksgiving to my parents ranch.  We didn’t this year since the cousins were returning from college.  No excuses this year for slim trimmings.

Out came seven of those boxes with just ornaments.  I barely managed to cram them onto the much bigger tree.  I had to spread the red ribbon a bit thin, might need to rethink that next year.  I had to buy four more strings of lights and sort of threw them onto the branches.   One year I tried wrapping the branches and could hardly get them off of the dead tree after Christmas.  It did look good.  Honestly though,  maybe I never unloaded all the boxes before.  How could they barely fit with at least two extra feet of tree?   Not even a pine cone, poinsettia or snowflake in sight.  That is another three boxes still as yet untouched.

Then it actually rained in California and is expected to continue through Sunday.  Are you kidding me?  I covered the boxes with a tarp and haven’t touched them since.  Now I can’t decide how much more decorating to tackle since there are still so many undone projects around the Shack.  But then again, it isn’t even December yet…that leaves lots of time for embellishing before the big day.  Plus I will be in big trouble if the boys have to take all of those boxes back to the barn still full.  BIG TROUBLE!!!

















Orchard Inspiration

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Next up on my agenda is to start planning the orchard we want to put in where there once was a chain link fenced horse turnout.  It is surrounded on two sides by hedges and borders the road off to the left of the house.  We began by having the chain link removed.   There was a time when the weed infested area appeared to perhaps belong to a neighbor.  With the fence down and a clear view of it from the driveway there is no denying that it is indeed OUR weed infested area.  Here is some inspiration from my folder of saved images.

I envision pathways of gravel or decomposed granite edged in sandstone to match the driveway.

Maybe with boxwood edging like the rose garden and a nice big arbor at the end for future photo opportunities.  Grass pathways would require too much water and maintenance although they are pretty.

Maybe if I am up to the challenge, a clipped parterre.

 I definitely want a water feature.  Kirk tends to like something much bigger and splashier, but I love this one.

Maybe with some built-in seating.  The boys want a sand volleyball court.  I would love a bocce court.  Maybe enough room for tables to be set for feast in the one day verdant orchard.

We inherited a melange of fruit trees spread throughout the garden at the Shack.  A fig tree produced enough fruit for me to pick and eat while gardening.  There were about a dozen walnuts, two apples, a handful of peaches and plums, enough avocados for the dog, the occasional lemon and a few small bitter Valencia oranges.  A small tangerine tree is laden with ripening fruit this year.  I am not quite sure if the trees are past their prime or in need of care.

We all miss the orchard we left behind in Ojai.  So many oranges that Spencer’s weekly job was composting fallen fruit.  Bumper crops of juicy apricots, I still have jam from the spoils.  Plums in excess.  The lemon tree just outside of our front door produced gallons of lemonade.  The fig I planted that just began producing a nice crop.  The Improved Meyer Lemon that yielded fruit to add just the right finishing touch to countless dishes.  I swoon when recalling the orange blossoms in spring.

I better get to work laying out the orchard so that I can take advantage of the bare root trees about to appear in nurseries.  The sooner they get planted, the sooner we can begin making jam and enjoying fresh fruit.


I have saved the above pictures to my compute so long ago that I no longer know who to credit.  Uh oh.

Colors of Tuscany

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Last week Kirk and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary by taking a trip to Tuscany.  The country side is unbelievably beautiful with antiquities galore, but what stood out most to us were the colors of the architecture in a myriad of warm earthy tones.A building in the village of Sienna had some yellow, gold, salmon, green, umber, terra cotta and grey all blended to perfection.

Pisa garageA red garage door in Pisa set in an umber building.

A green door in a soft taupe building.

A salmon wall with grey window surround.

 A gold wall also with a grey window surround.

Ironwork window set in a brick building.

A mosaic in those same golds and greys.

Even the marble complied with the color scheme.

As did the vegetation.

With views like this, it is no wonder artists use colors like raw umber and burnt sienna.  Italy was a veritable pallet of paint colors, blended to perfection over the centuries.

Kirk would like to live in a Tuscan house…in Santa Barbara.  Not a bad dream.









Friday, November 16th, 2012

I love Ina Garten!  I packed away all of my cookbooks when we were moving, except for the Barefoot Contessa books.  I NEEDED them to stay with me through my moves.  I haven’t really missed the others much at all.

Now she has a new book out, Foolproof.  I picked it up at Costco the other day.  As soon as I got home I sat down to read through her introductions to each chapter and scan the recipes.  I love her kitchen, her house, her barn, how she loves food, and of course how she loves her husband Jeffrey.  She dedicated the book to him saying, “he’s foolproof.”

I want to try the Easy Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Croutons.  I have made her Roasted Tomato Basil Soup from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook many times to rave reviews.  This one looks to be a simpler version, skipping the tomato roasting in favor of canned tomatoes and adds saffron, orzo and heavy cream.  Sounds delicious.

The Salted Carmel Brownies sound divine.  This recipe is the Outrageous Brownies also from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook with the addition of caramel sauce and flaked sea salt.  Everyone loves the original brownie, carmel could only make them that much better.

Amelia’s Jambalaya is a new recipe that I am going to try.  It is described as a perfect one-dish dinner for a crowd.  Sounds right up my alley.

There is plenty of advise on how to throw a dinner party that is successful for the guests and hostess alike.  My favorite is that each meal should have one dish prepared in advance, another baked or roasted in the oven, and a third cooked on top of the stove.  Seems like a simple enough formula to take the stress out of timing a meal.

I would love to enjoy a meal on the terrace outside of her barn!  She remodeled the kitchen that most of her shows were filmed in and added a screen porch also.  Hope that is featured on the new season of shows.   It seems to me that her kitchens could be installed in the Smithsonian one day, along side Julia Child’s, who Ina refers to as her hero.   In the mean time, I better get to the grocery store so that I can try some of these recipes.




Roses, Roses, Roses

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

So this is the story of the varieties that are beginning to fill the rose garden ! I have a particular affinity for English Garden Roses. They were created by cross-breeding Old Garden Roses with modern hybrid teas and floribundas by David Austin in the 1960′s. They have a loose old-fashioned look with a fragrance that is unbelievable. Because I am really a lazy gardener, they also thrive despite my neglect by not spraying or rarely fertilizing. Those that don’t respond to my meager care are root pruned (I get rid of them). In the garden, their bushy shape is pleasing even without blooms. My gardens have always been predominately filled with these roses. I once had a strict, no pink policy, but since these are in a designated rose garden, I am including some of those beautiful pinks I had previously passed up.

I began by buying one lonely English Garden Rose, Golden Celebration, last spring and left it to languish in the pot until very recently. It is by far my favorite rose, ever. It has giant, cupped blooms of a deep yellow with a very strong scent. The shrub is a nice big rounded bush that looks good even without flowers. It never was bothered by pests in Ojai. Let’s hope it does as well here.

I then went to Green Thumb nursery in Ventura and was lucky enough to find five sad-looking English roses on clearance: Pat Austin is an orange blend; Jubilee Celebration is a large salmon, pink; Heritage is a clear, soft pink; Janet is a pink flushed with soft yellow; and Claire Austin is a pale yellow fading to cream. Some have already flowered after being happily put into the earth.

Since I didn’t have much luck finding more English roses at the nurseries in town, I decided to head out to Otto and Sons Nursery in Fillmore. Their website says that they “are known throughout this region for our immense selection of roses with over 120,000 plants and just north of 800 varieties each year.” They carry other plants, but I usually don’t have extra room for much else after I make the hour drive to get there, I just want ROSES. They have 67 English Garden Roses pictured on their website. In October their roses are 40% off so not everything was still in stock, but they still had plenty.


After walking around in circles for some time I ended up with six to add to my collection: Munstead Wood is a deep crimson; Teasing Georgia is a large yellow; Grace is a pure apricot; and Sophy’s Rose is a light crimson. I also picked up two 36 inch Gourmet Popcorn tree roses for the back of the garden. Although they aren’t English they are very free-flowering and will add continual color at eye level.

Of course there were some that I wish I had gotten, like Tea Clipper, and some that I hope will be in stock next year. I have room to add more in the future, but for now I…


p.s. Otto and Sons Nursery has Rose Days in the spring. Seeing all of those roses in bloom would make anyone love any rose. Mark your calendar.