In My Kitchen, October 2012

The clouds had been gathering all day, but when the first fat raindrops began to fall, it felt like a surprise. Within about five minutes, the rain was coming down in sheets; Kaya and I were making dinner in the kitchen, and I wasn’t sure how we were going to get it to the house without getting soaked. (Umbrella to the rescue.)
When we woke up this morning, the air felt as if it had been scrubbed clean. It was the first morning that had the air of an autumn day, redolent with the smells of damp leaves and soaked earth. Everything seemed clearer and brighter, and the kitchen seemed particularly inviting. So, without further ado, I offer the first glimpse of the kitchen this fall. (To see what’s happening in the mother lode of kitchen glimpses, head over to Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.)
In my kitchen…

…there is the distinct feeling that the maximillian sunflowers are about to stage a world takeover. They are great because they explode into bloom at the very tail end of summer/beginning of fall when everything else is swooning from the heat. Another sign that fall is here at last.

… there is a bowl of popcorn from the garden. Baki and I planted some Dakota Black popping corn and we harvested it a few weeks ago from skeletal, dried out plants. Out of the blue, Baki asked for popcorn this morning right after we ate breakfast, so we tried it out. After much energetic popping, I am pleased to report that it is unbelievably tasty — I swear, it tastes buttery! I like, too, how it looks burnt, but it’s just the hulls and kernels from the corn.

… there are quince, ready to be eaten. These might look green and unappetizing, but they are sweet and fragrant once you get them out of their fuzzy peels. Ali picked them from the tree, which was bent almost double under the weight of the fruit, and we’ve eaten plenty of them already. I will be making quince jam this week, and will post the recipe. It’s my mother-in-law’s no-fail easy-peasy pressure-cooker quince jam.

So these sights, smells and flavors of fall have gotten me well and fully appraised of the change of seasons. Summer is but a sweaty memory. I’m digging out the wellies and the sweaters. Hooray for fall!

Meet Max

A few years back, I was looking at the Seeds of Change seed catalog, choosing seeds for the following year. I was looking at the perennial flower seed section, out of deference to Ali’s perennial preference, and was surprised to find a sunflower listed there. Maximillian sunflowers (Helianthus Maximilianii), the catalog promised, come back in abundance and grow prolifically enough to form a hedge. I did not hesitate.
In the first year, they grew much as you might expect a sunflower or Jerusalem Artichoke to grow, sending up tall stalks and flowering obligingly at the end of the summer. The second year, though, we noticed that where there had been Maximillian sunflowers the year before, there were numerous stalks emerging. These promising sprouts soon grew into thickets, and I saw what they meant when they mentioned hedges. By the time they flowered at summer’s end, they had colonized huge tracts of the garden.
Their display only lasts a few weeks, but they really go for it:

I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for some carefree color and possibly hoping to obstruct a view. I have tons of seeds if anyone is interested. (I take a handful for myself each year and the birds get the rest)

It isn’t so easy to get things done in the garden these days, with only the weekends available to me. On Sunday, though, Ali watched the kids for a little while so I could put some chicken wire up around a nice new raised bed that he’d made. Then I went and planted some garlic in our old corn bed. Garlic is one of my favorite things to grow; you just plant it and forget about it until the spring. It is like money in the bank when you put a bowl full of garlic cloves in the dirt. We used all of the largest heads from our harvest this past June, and my mom sent a lovely big head of garlic that she had gotten at the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC. That one is a hard-neck garlic, which I have never grown before – we always grow soft-necks and I make them into braids. It’ll be interesting to see what the hard-necks are like.

I guess the boys got restless, because I ended up with an audience:

Peony madness

In 2009, I went to Sheffield to visit my aunt Georgina. One of the conditions of my going on the trip was that I bring back plenty of plants. My aunt recommended the online nursery, Crocus, which is truly dangerous- whatever we looked at we wanted. In the end, I brought back, among others, the amazingly scented red rose that now scrambles up the side of our house (Etoile de Hollande), asparagus root crowns, and a peony, paeonia lactiflora “Duchesse de Nemours,” that was apparently both snow white and scented. Well, it flowered for the first time this year, and all that and more: it is just an impossibly beautiful thing to behold, with a scent like lily of the valley and vanilla ice cream. I think it says, “Look, the world is a beautiful place after all,” but Ali thinks it’s saying to us, “You’re ugly and you smell.”

It’s got a cage around it for two reasons. One is a little lesson that I learned last year: if you want to have free range chickens, you can’t have free range plants. The other, more pressing reason for this particular plant is that we are having another house built, and the peony is right behind it. Lest this sound very grand, let me point out that the entire footprint of the house is 15 meters squared, and the interior of it is 9 meters squared, so it is more accurate to think of it as another room, with a terrace. Still, it’s a welcome addition, and it’s almost finished.