Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Purple Aspirations

Art washes away from the soul
the dust of everyday life.
- Pablo Picasso

'Twas a nutty Christmas to say the very least. Kicked it off at a glorious vintage holiday festival in the quaint village of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 

Where my dear friend lives in this storybook purple cottage. I'm way impressed with creative types who have the good sense to doll up a one hundred year old home. When you get to be this old, it's cool to strut your stuff.

My friend's darling New Hampshire cottage.
This New England town is home to Strawberry Banke. Settled by colonial types in 1623 ~ where I learned how to make pretty wreaths from natural goodies collected in the woods nearby. We saw the Nutcracker Ballet and did all things vintage Christmas. It was very special.

And then... I hopped on a plane, squished in like sardines, seated next to a woman who was very ill, should NOT have been flying. 

She gifted me with her illness 2 days before our own celebrations began.

Persimmons in the wreaths
So that slowed me down a bit but it didn't stop any of the festivities. You can't exactly call off Christmas, now can you?

Living in a ski resort we're guaranteed to have our own storybook setting ~ fluffy white snowflakes and a winter wonderland. But, not this year. It was warm as toast. A brown Christmas in a ski resort? Strange days.

We cooked and cooked in anticipation of the big Christmas Eve party. The second everyone arrived, the power went off. And, stayed off for hours. Until most of the partiers gave in, gave up, and went home.

Sounds awful, doesn't it?

Oh, it wasn't so bad. Relying on dim flashlights and plentiful holiday candles, we sat quietly by a cozy fire and welcomed in the big day.

Took this week off to recuperate. I am clearly in the minority on this, but I kind of like December's short days and early sunsets.

Spent my evenings curled up on the couch reading The Deep Middle Blogger's book: Sleep, Creep, Leap

Between his great book (3 years of ups and downs in a Nebraska garden) and M's fancy purple cottage, I'm bursting with big ideas to make some colorful changes in my own garden during the new year.

So... how was your holiday? Here's hoping you had a warm and wonderful celebration, complete with working electricity so you could enjoy the tree!

Portsmouth, NH Holiday Stroll
Best wishes for a Very Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pop Go the Chestnuts

Fresh Chestnuts, ready for the oven.
Slice an 'X' through the Chestnut shells prior to roasting. 
Skip this step and you'll be sorry...

Ever roasted chestnuts? Fresh from the oven, with a dash of sea salt, they're quite delightful. And, pretty easy to do, if you follow directions.

Last Christmas, I bought a pound of fresh Chestnuts and decided to give this tradition a try.

The outcome was not nearly as cozy and romantic as I expected. They explode! In unison! When you remove them from a hot oven and they hit the cooler air it's like 4th of July all over the kitchen. So, that was not good. But, the remnants were quite tasty.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell: 
Chestnuts are one of the healthiest nuts you can nibble. Low in calories, low in fat, rich in vitamins, minerals and protein. Nutritionally similar to brown rice...

Blah, blah, blah. I rarely put things on the menu because they're good for you. That's almost always asking for trouble. Since good for you quite often equates to a flavorless mess. But, Chestnuts are different. They have a rich, buttery flavor that can fool you into thinking they're on the do not snarf list.

Our jazzy Christmas table settings.
Roasting Chestnuts:
  • Slice a criss cross into the shells.
  • Place on a baking sheet.
  • Cook in a 375 (F) oven for about 30 minutes
  • The criss-crossed shells will curl back letting you know when they are done.
  • As soon as they're cool enough to touch, pop them out of their shells. (It's a lot easier to remove shells when they're still warm.) 
  • Spritz with a buttery flavored cooking spray.
  • Sprinkle with finely ground sea salt.
What I've learned:
* In the mountains, try a cooler oven. Bake at 375 (F) vs. the 425 you see in directions all over the web.
** No need to soak them in salt water. That's a waste of time since the moisture and salt permeate the shells, not the chestnuts, and you're throwing the shells away.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Stunning Life of Flowers

Life of flowers from VOROBYOFF PRODUCTION on Vimeo.

* This is so pretty I had to share. I just love how these blossoms stand up and say Howdy!

Produced by Vladimir Vorobyov. Astana City, Kazakhstan.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Flor de la Noche Buena

Ever wonder what's up with those brightly colored Poinsettia blooms?

In her natural state, she'll show off green, red and mottled leaves.
 Poinsettias are simply celebrating what we humans are lamenting ~ the long, dark days of winter.

For more Wordless Wednesday participants click here!

* Flor de la Noche Buena means Flower of the Holy Night. Introduced to the US by the Minister of Mexico in 1828. Another fine reason for us to stop being so damned prejudiced.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cookie Cutter Creativity

Back when I had a real job... whenever I wasn't doing a good enough job... my boss would crab at my lack of creativity and accuse me of taking a cookie cutter approach. That was a confusing way to insult me because I've tried to make perfectly consistent cut out cookies since Lauren was a baby and it's a whole lot harder than it looks.

This is my theory as to why most of us leave the creative cookie cutting to Pillsbury:

After we turn 40, we figure out that women's magazines are filled with re-touched photos of flawed people. Once we realize that Angelina Jolie could very well be fat and ugly in real life, we feel a whole lot better about ourselves.

For some odd reason, we haven't quite accepted the fact that food photography gets the same specialty treatment.

I can assure that you it does. I once spent 16 hours at a photo shoot because some dumb art director needed the peas in the pasta salad to be placed in just the right spots.

Today, I'd like to encourage everyone to haul out the cookie cutters, roll up their sleeves and think... Picasso, Dali, and Pollock ~ definitely Jackson Pollock!

Because there are a whole lot of creative masters out there 
who happily failed Art Class 101.

Simple Sugar Cookies
No matter how they look, they all taste delightful. This recipe makes 3 dozen average size cookies or 1 gigantic cookie sculpture (in case you'd like to pay tribute to Gaudi!)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1.25 teaspoons baking powder
How to:
  1. Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in egg and vanilla.
  2. Add flour and baking powder in intervals. (Dough will seem too dry but it will improve when chilled.)
  3. Divide dough into four equal parts and refrigerate about an hour.
  4. Roll out dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper, 1/4 inch thick for crisp cookies or 1/3 inch thick for soft cookies.
  5. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and and bake for 7-8 minutes @ 375 F.
Don't forget to eat lots of cookie dough. This dramatically reduces the amount of time you spend baking the cookies.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Forever Christmas Trees

We need more ornaments!
The great debate continues... what's best for the environment?

Buy a fake tree? 
Buy a live tree?

Well, they're not exactly 'live' if they're leaning against a chain link fence in the Christmas tree lot at your local supermarket.

There is another option. 
Buy a REAL, live tree!

Yesterday, I decked out our Christmas tree from 4 years ago. We bought her live and then transplanted the tree into the garden, the following spring. This year, she's sporting some festive twinkling lights.

- If you opt for a truly live, potted evergreen keep it in the house for a maximum of ten days.
- Set it outside, in the pot, in the shade, through the rest of the winter. (Water if there is no snow cover.)

Our tree doesn't look anything like this!

Good 'Christmas trees' for gardens:

Norway Spruce is a popular cut Christmas tree but not so great in the garden. She drops her needles all year long.
  • Happiest in High Altitudes: Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri) has soft needles and strong boughs, ideal for heavy ornaments. USDA zones 4-7.
  • Korean Fir (Abies koreana ) grows to approximately 40 ft, a perfect size for most yards. USDA zones 5-7.
  • Noble Fir (Abies procera) is an absolutely stunning silvery-blue tree with fragrant tips, though too tender for the mountains anywhere but the Pacific Northwest. USDA zones 7-10.


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Tribute to Auntie Edna

This is Aunt Edna, my most beloved houseplant. I get all silly about her, every Christmas.

A gift from my Mom, back when I was in college. The poor dear drank a lotta beer* back then and, apparently, developed a taste for it!

She's graced me with gorgeous flowers every holiday season since we lived in the dorm.

Edna was a cutting off my Mother's Christmas Cactus. Who was born from a cutting off my Grandmother's Christmas Cactus.

She's a more important holiday tradition (for me) than a tree, having brightened up many a crappy apartment during my younger years.

Try as I might, I cannot capture a great photo of Auntie Edna from afar. Making me wonder if her beauty is an optical illusion based solely on sentimentality? She has mesmerized me for 25 years. And, shows no indication of slowing down.

Growing Tips:
* No more beer for the old gal. These days she's content with groovy, organic tea.
* Cool temps, bright sunshine and turn her loose every once in awhile. She plays outdoors in my garden (under a shade tree,) all summer long.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Petunia Sting Operation

I was scarred (for years!) by these conniving little Petunias.
 Popped over to visit Garden Faerie's magical blog ~ intrigued by her post title: The Story Behind the Name. She was curious about how we came up with our blog names and what's the {sometimes secret} significance to the name we actually chose.

I explained that choosing High Altitude Gardening was boring. A no brainer. Though, I suppose my 'secret' would be that I've always regretted deciding upon it.

Here's the full story ~ the Petunia Sting Operation ~ that's worth a giggle and the background as to why I picked that lame name.

Clumped together, Petunias can be pretty persuasive!
I was house shopping in Park City, Utah ~ which is kind of like window shopping on Rodeo Drive. Me being the poor soul who can barely afford to peer in the window, much less fantasize about buying anything. I'd spent 6 months seeking a non-dumpish house, that fit within my price range, when my real estate agent announced he'd found one that was right up my alley.

I pulled into the driveway of the soon-to-become over-priced Kate mistake ~ and gazed upon an impossible garden. (I didn't know it was impossible at the time.) At least a thousand stunning Petunias were waving in the breeze.

The inside of the house barely registered. All I could see was that gorgeous garden. Bought it on the spot! It wasn't until after we moved in that I realized the house was missing one important item: a bedroom. (Could have swore there was 3, turned out to be 2. But, oh! That garden!)

One less bedroom to clean? Not that big a deal.

Discovering that after an early freeze my impossible garden was dead as a doornail? Well, that was absolutely heartbreaking.

At the time, I did not know Petunias were annuals. And, that all it took was one night of nasty weather and they were done for.

The following spring I started asking plant companies for advice on PERENNIALS that would do well in my high altitude garden. Of course, none of them lived in the mountains. They had no idea what they were talking about and recommended annuals claiming it's impossible to grow perennials at higher altitudes.

Having been burned once I was not falling for that again. Anyone who has hiked a mountain trail can clearly see that perennial flowers are simply delighted to live up here.

Hence the inspiration to spread the word in a blog. Hence that lame blog name so other mountain gardeners could find me. And, the tagline (Growing an impossible garden at 7,000 feet) to constantly remind myself that plant companies aren't the be all, end all, when it comes to advice.


Friday, December 02, 2011

Your First Gift of the Season

I'm giving away TomatoFest heirloom tomato seeds.
Spent a good bit of time standing in line at the post office yesterday. They're holding my brand new cowl neck sweater hostage, claiming they don't have my package, when Athleta swears they do.

I'm pretty sure they do, too. It's a RARE situation when our local postal service does anything right. And, I'm not just mad about the sweater. They sat on my hiking boots for 5 months before admitting the package was in their back room.

Have you ever grown tomatoes indoors? It's easy!

While I was standing in line, I sorted through the rest of the stuff retrieved from my PO box...

Gary Ibsen, of TomatoFest sent me these goodies.

And, look what I found!!! 

An oh, so, generous stack of heirloom tomato seeds from Gary Ibsen, owner of TomatoFest. I'm happy to call him a 'friend,' now. As in friends on FB.

Leave a comment for a chance to win yummy heirloom tomato seeds.

Do you Facebook? People can be very passionate about Facebook. Either they love it or they hate it.

I like the fact that it connects me with people like Gary, King of the Heirloom Tomatoes. I've ordered from him before. I order from lots of plant companies. But, what a great treat to be able to talk to the guy.

He sent me a whole stack of heirloom tomato seeds. Indoor container collections (I grow small tomatoes in winter, in my sunny window.) He included a stack of outdoor heirloom tomato seeds, as well.

12 packs in all. 
I'm giving away 10. 
To random blogging friends who leave me a comment.

Now Gary didn't realize I was going to give these away. He just wanted me to have a bunch. But seeing as how it's the holidays and all... I thought it would be good to share the love.

So, back to my question. Do you Facebook? If so, go buddy up to TomatoFest. You could pop over and say hello to me, too.
Simply leave a comment to participate.
10 randomly selected commenters will receive a packet of
TomatoFest Heirloom Tomato Seeds.
Winners selected by my darling daughter (who claims she cannot be swayed by bribes.)