Friday, April 3, 2009

Falling Apples

I love stormy days. I grew up on the coast of Texas and loved the smell and sound of thunderstorms. So, instead of working, I'm looking at my topiary project that I've nearly killed. Perhaps topiary is a good thing for me because I have an excuse to give it a new shape or form. It's my "experiment."

Topiary? My realm is outside, not inside. In fact, I am a serial h
ouseplant murderer. In efforts to rehabilitate myself, I do not purchase plants that should live indoors -- even my Epipremnum aureum, Pothos Ivy, is a terminal case, only survives because of its weekly injections of care from my housekeeper. But last month, my garden club featured New York landscape designer Natasha Hopkinson who shared the history of the use of topiary in the garden, and then gave a demonstration on creating topiary. Of course, I had to try it myself. It's only been three weeks, but I can already see that topiary is just not my thing (see pitiful attempt at left, compared to lovely examples above).

But what I'm thinking about today is really the garden club. Yes, my mother is in a garden club, and not just any club, a "Garden Club of America" club. She helped get me invited to be in a GCA club too. Oh yes, I'm from the South. Yes, I, like my mother was in the Junior League (don't even ask if you don't know). It's a right of passage.

My siblings and I were my mother's own personal yard slaves. When the pool was closed in the summer (Mondays), we weeded and swept and raked and mowed until our hands bled and knees ached. We had to learn how to keep and eye out for copperhead snakes (and how to kill them quickly) while we worked. We know proper mowing techniques, how to edge a flower bed with a flat spade, and how to clean mildew from brick patios. I swore as a child I would not ever have a garden or a yard, nor would I make my own little cherubs do any of my work. But I do. I love it. I make my children help as much as possible, even if it's just to bring me a glass of water while I toil outside.

I also swore I would never join a garden club. It's for housewives . . . older housewives, who clearly have way too much time on their hands . . . who have a to do list that includes lunch, coffee, prune roses, buy new screwdriver, select paint color for the basement, take divided hostas to neighbor . . .

Wait - that's MY list! I've turned into my mother. Not a bad thing in my book. So I'm embracing it. As I look back on it, it has been a long process and I've noticed little things along the way, like the tendency to dead-head pansies with my thumb, giving a permenant indentation in the nail that no manicure will ever hide. Like volunteering to chair a school fundraising event. Like offering to test a recipe for my garden club cookbook.

The proverbial apple has fallen not far from my mother's tree. I'm just glad she's still here to give me some shade.

Oh, here's a yummy soup to try (it's the one I tested for my garden club).

Mushroom Barley Soup
(from The Frog Commissary Cookbook, by Steven Poses, Anne Clark & Becky Roller)

3 tablespoons butter (2 tablespoons is enough)
1 ½ cups chopped onions (about 2 small/medium onions)
1 cup chopped carrots (about 3 medium carrots)
1 cup chopped celery (about 3 large stalks)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 4-5 large cloves)
1 pound sliced crimini mushrooms
3 quarts chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon thyme
1 cup pearl barley
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a large stockpot, melt butter. Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic and sauté until tender but not browned (about 10 minutes). Add the mushrooms and cook until soft (another 5-10 minutes). Add the broth, seasonings and barley. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 2 hours or until barley is tender. Just before serving, stir in the fresh dill and parsley. Serves 10-12.

For reduced sodium:
Use six (6) 14.5 ounce cans of low sodium broth plus another 2/3 can of water.

Reduce cooking time by soaking barley in water for 2 hours before beginning the soup, then simmer time can be about 30 minutes. Soup can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated and reheated. If it becomes too thick, thin with additional chicken broth.


  1. Love love love barley, love love love mushrooms. Can't wait to try this.

  2. I love reading your blog, esp. in the morning over coffee. Did I mention that we burned a copperhead at the springs a few weeks ago? John Peacock killed it around 3pm and left it at the back door step for us to look at. The kids and I were at the market when this took place. When we got home Ame and John Cobb forgot to mention the snake at the back door. I let out a loud yelp and Livi did not speak for 30 min. I think she was in shock. Needless to say cocktail hour was early that Friday. As the sun sat John Cobb bravely picked up the copperhead with a stick and the kids and I followed behind him to the gigantic burn pile. The kids were saying, "Burn Him, Daddy". As we approached the melting inferno, John slowly pushed the snake into the flames and then with an instant the snake started wiggling all over the stick and then our brave Daddy yelped and flung the nerve tingling copperhead into the flames. That was a good w-end. The kids learned a lot about clearing land, burn piles, snakes, sweet smores and people with six fingers on each hand. (The Peacock’s).

    Happy Weeding,

  3. Caroline,
    I was weak with my children...the only Monday I consistently made them work was Labor Day! I had forgotten about edging flowerbeds with a flat spade, but can attest to that tool's perfect use in chopping up the dreaded driveway snake. I'm glad I've found your blog, and will be making a Caesar salad soon!
    Happy Friday!

  4. Yes...I too said I would not be like my mother...Hello?...I teach now! We tend to be ducklings and go around what is familiar...but that's ok with me! I am also a indoor plant serial I will not try the topiary...I will stick with my veggies...but I will try the soup..Yum! And it is good for kids to learn about growing and tending to know an ongoing respect for nature! Love it!

  5. Suggestions from the apple tree for the soup:

    Use more carrots. While cooking, stir in 2 tablespoons catsup, a dash of balsamic vinegar and a little extra sea salt.