My Grandpa built a castle for my Grandmother way out on Pocatello Creek Road. It was grand and wonderful with lights that dripped crystals from the ceilings, carpets of roses that tumbled from wall to wall, blue fixtures in the bathroom, pixies that smiled from stars and moons in her tiny kitchen and a small fireplace (never used) with a mantle where a lovely old clock sat that measured out moments of comfort like heartbeats. My Grandpa built a rose garden for her with roses that climbed over white lattice-work where she loved to sit on a wrought-iron bench in the company of her favorite flowers. Grandma planted blossoms all around her house and whenever I smell the pungent perfume of sweet alyssum and geraniums, I always think of her as those were her flowers of choice for her window boxes. Four o’clocks ran circles around her house and bloomed at…..4:00. I thought she had some incredible magic to make them bloom right at the time their name suggested. Near a tiny well house, they planted an apple orchard that grew the sourest apples in the world and from which my grandma made equally sour and unsweetened apple juice. I did not know which was worse: her apple juice or the water from the well. Most of the time I stayed thirsty.
Together those two planted an enormous and extraordinary vegetable garden each spring, which they tended together. They could not be induced to take a trip anywhere that might take them away from their garden for long periods of time. That garden was their passion, but also their life. They ate from that garden daily. It sustained them not only physically, but mentally, spiritually and emotionally. They were up before the birds and the heat of Idaho summers, and found joy in planting, nourishing and harvesting. In the fall, my Grandma canned every vegetable and fruit their Peaceful Acres produced, filling Mason jars that lined shelves in the cool of their basement pantry. Potatoes went into an earthen potato cellar and kept the squash and pumpkins company. At one time they had chickens and I took joy in gathering eggs from feisty hens when I visited. Hens that didn’t lay weren’t worth the chicken feed it cost to sustain them and they became Sunday dinners with homemade noodles.
I remember gardening magazines piled in rooms, but particularly the bathroom, which apparently provided fine reading and enlightened moments. Even way back then, my Grandpa was into “organic” farming. He never used pesticides. His hoe was the best weed killer and his weathered hands plucked offending bugs, worms and other beasties from his precious plants. Chicken manure provided the necessary fertilizer and the garden valued the well water much more than we did. I also believe it was the love they poured into it right along with the manure and the water and the blessings of their prayers and hopes for it that made that garden into their lush and productive Garden of Eden.
My Daddy inherited his parent’s particular aptitude for gardening, as did my mother from her parents, who also lived all year long on the produce from their garden. It seemed that nearly everywhere we lived, our family had a garden and that garden supported a hungry family of seven. I cannot say that I inherited my grandparent’s, or even my parent’s, green thumbs or any uncanny ability to make things grow like they did. Nor do I have the amount of time my grandparents took to care for their enormous garden. But I love gardening. I have always loved making things grow and the miracle found in planting a seed.
At Angelheart Cottage I planted a Secret Garden. It was a beautiful surprise at the end of our yard, winding slightly to the left and up brick and stone steps my son-in-law built. I often perched on my gliding bench and viewed the sky and Puget Sound from the lens of that garden. I knew exactly what Eve felt like in her Paradise and her garden could not have been any lovelier than my bit of earth.
I designed a perennial bed that I labored long and hard over, collecting something new every year for years. It edged the long yard and ivy smothered the hillside below it. I constantly battled that ivy to keep it from zealously overtaking my perennial bed. There were many spring and summer days where I sat contentedly in my Great Room listening to Albinoni’s Adagio and looked through windows that took up an entire wall of that room. I gazed beyond window boxes full of David Austin roses to the yard that was, to my joy mostly moss, and then to the perennial bed and beyond. Sitting there….with Albinoni in the background and my beautiful bit of earth in the foreground, it was a perfect juxtaposition of flowers and sky and green and growing and utterly exquisite life and I always wept because everything….all of it….was so breathtaking. I have no doubt that my grandparents looked at the sight of their lovely yard and gardens and orchard in the early morning light and wept out of sheer gratitude and love for the blessings of the earth and what hard work could coax from it.
This was the deck and the courtyard at the opposite end of the yard….built especially for our daughter’s wedding and her reception. Our children gathered to lay every one of those pavers in a very short period of time. Pavers that ran where the edge of deck started, along the deck and alllllll the way under our balcony to the end of our breezeway. That was a lot of pavers. And a lot of work given by loving hearts and hands. I swooned every single time I sat out there and contemplated the beauty that surrounded me. Reading was almost impossible, if I brought a book outside to enjoy, because I was always distracted….by hummingbirds that hovered so close nearby, or birdsong that filled the air, or bees that buzzed around flowers that perfumed the air.
This is the courtyard and the front garden. When we first moved here, a narrow, broken aggregate pathway led from the driveway to the porch. It was dangerous–especially when wet, which it was a lot of the time in the Pacific Northwest. The dirt was so hard-packed by years of neglect that nothing would grow on it, except for a few obstinate weeds. This courtyard was my husband’s creation. He dreamed it and our extraordinarily talented contractor made it a reality. We had a fountain in front of the house that splished and splashed in welcome. It was always shady there and the perfect place to sit and cool off during the occasional heat waves that blasted us in summer. It was a perfect prelude to the symphony of life at Angelheart Cottage.
And this….this, my friends, was my homage to my grandparents. We uncovered those brick steps and the brick wall of the herb garden when my son and I cleared out what seemed like acres of blackberry bushes in this area below our house. I was so excited when I found them that you would have thought I unearthed an archeological wonder. To me….they were. Original stairs. Part of the stairs that once led from where the perennial bed was, down through the ivy and passed an ancient apple tree we cut down and then down to this area. I have no idea what was here at one time….other than the stairs. My husband and son-in-law built the boxes. I saw a PVC-pipe support in Port Townsend one year and told my husband and he created the black PVC-pipe framework. We covered it with deer netting to keep the deer, the raccoons and rabbits out, He even made a bird-netting covered door for me to go in and out of to weed, water, plant and harvest. One afternoon while I was down there, a pair of morning doves landed on the arched arbor and serenaded me with their cooing. Again….Eve could not have been happier in her Garden than I was in mine.
On one of our jaunts to Port Townsend years and years ago, we first ate at a small intimate place called the Fountain Cafe. It became our favorite. We always made a point of eating there every time we stayed at Port Townsend, which is one of my favorite places on earth. The food was always fabulous, fresh and local. One day, Warm Salad was featured on the menu. I was intrigued. I ordered one. It came to me green and lovely with cooked vegetables atop a bed of greens with chive blossoms, viola flowers and Calendula petals sprinkled across the entire thing. It was a feast for my eyes before it ever became a feast for my body and soul. I took a bite. I was instantly transported back to my Grandmother’s house. In celebration of spring every year, when the chives were up and blooming and the first lettuce leaves appeared in her garden, she made what she called Spring Dressing, which was warm and poured over those tender little lettuce leaves, wilting them slightly. I loved that salad. Craved it. But we only had it in the spring. My mother made her version of it and we ate it all summer long. Wilted Lettuce Salad, she called it, and it amounted to nothing more than lettuce leaves with a warm vinaigrette, slightly different from my grandmother’s.
I’m sharing my version of the Fountain Cafe’s Warm Salad with a loving nod to my Grandmother’s Spring Salad and my Mother’s Wilted Lettuce Salad. It can be enjoyed any time of the year….not just in the spring.
Warm Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
For the salad:
1 12-oz container baby spinach, arugula, spring greens or a delightful combination of all three
5-6 red or Yukon gold potatoes, cooked, cooled and cut into cubes
6 oz (or more—we LOVE more) mushrooms, sliced
1/2 large sweet onion like Vidalia or Walla Walla
1 zucchini, cut in half and then sliced (or you could use cubed butternut squash or even sweet potatoes substituted for or in addition to the zucchini)
Fresh green beans (I like the haricot verts at Trader Joe’s in their produce section–you can snip the corner off the package, toss it into your microwave for 2 minutes and you’re good to go…when they’re cool, cut them in half and add them in at the last moment….you only need about half the package) OR grow them yourself
1/2 red and 1/2 yellow bell pepper
3 carrots, julienned
1 package of Trader Joe’s apple wood smoked bacon, divided (it makes ALL the difference in the world when you use apple wood smoked bacon) diced and fried, reserve drippings
Optional: Roasted or cooked red or golden beets (wait to use these until you have everything plated, or everything you cook will be a shade of beet red….just slice and place atop salad with everything else)
For the dressing:
Remaining 1/2 package of Trader Joe’s, diced and fried and reserving ALL the drippings
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh chives snipped plus as well as chives blossoms (tip: do not use the coarser chives stem the chives blossom is on…use just the blossom) plus extra snipped chives for garnishing
5 TBPS white balsamic vinegar (Trader Joe’s) or red wine vinegar
1-2 tsp sugar, depending upon taste
Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad: Boil the potatoes, but don’t cook them all the way…you still want some resist to them when you pierce them with a knife (because you’re going to cook them more when you sauté them), drain and cut into cubes when cool. In a large frying pan, fry the bacon with a little butter. Remove bacon reserving the bacon drippings. Not knowing how much you are in to just using bacon drippings, but I do not use all of mine, but add more olive oil to replace or add to the amount of oil/drippings needed to effectively sauté the potatoes. Saute the potatoes at high heat until they get slightly brown and crispy and good. in another saucepan, add 3-4 TBSP of olive oil (or more if needed) and add mushrooms, zucchini, red pepper, onions and beans and sauté JUST until crisp tender. Do not overcook. If you use the squash and/or sweet potatoes, cook these in a separate pan with olive oil until done. You don’t want these crisp tender, but done. Add all the vegetables and the bacon bits to the potato mixture and stir everything through. Plate serving dishes with a pile of greens.
For the dressing: Fry the other half of the bacon in a tablespoon of butter on medium heat and drain, but save the drippings. Put 1-2 tbsp drippings back into the pan (or more to taste) and add enough olive oil to equal 5 TBSP turn heat to low and add 5 tbsp vinegar, add the sugar, a pinch of salt and a few turns of the pepper mill. Prior to serving, toss in the chives, swirl the pan and divide the dressing atop individual portions of greens and vegetables. Top with a sprinkle of chives blossoms, Calendula blossoms, fresh chives and the diced cooked bacon.
Tip: You can roast all the vegetables instead of doing the big sauté. They will be every bit as delicious, if not more so, than cooking everything. And probably faster and easier, too. You could also add asparagus to the mix. I just use whatever vegetables I have in my refrigerator, except broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower won’t work as well….although I could change my mind about cauliflower if I roast it.
Thank you for walking down the garden path with me today. Bon appetite.