I had a brief career as a pastry chef and still have two big bins filled with specialty baking tins and equipment. Going through some old photos I came across a couple of snapshots that brought back memories of those days when I thought nothing of spending an afternoon making a show-stopping dessert at home. I rarely use any of these items but the spring form or tart pans these days, but I haven't as yet been able to bring myself to jettison anything. I keep thinking I will make plum puddings or Yule logs or charlottes or madeleines one of these days and so there they all sit.
Among all these baking items is the mold I used to make "peach' cakes. It's a pan that is intended to be used to make cakes that can be decorated to look like baseballs for a kids' birthday party. You put two cakes together to make a round shape. But I bought this pan with another idea about how to use this curvaceous shape.
I'd clipped an article from Food and Wine magazine where Judith Olney, a creative cook and baker whose books and ideas I love, made a giant peach cake. She baked two big rounded cakes in metal bowls and united them with whipped cream as you can see in the magazine clipping on the left in the image below. But when I saw the baking tin above I thought, why not make cakes that looked like peaches since it was peach season?
I used a mix for the cakes. After baking, I very lightly brushed the curved side of the cakes with a thinned down apricot jam and then rolled them in pink, yellow and orange sugars. The two halves are "glued" together with cream cheese flavored with honey and orange rind. Mint leaves stand in for the peach leaves.
I put each peach cake into one of the purple paper cupcake-type holders that peaches came in when I bought a hand basket of them the way I always used to do at my local grocery store. I filled my basket when it was empty of real peaches with the peach cakes and brought it to work as a birthday surprise for the grand dame of our office.
At the end of the day I discovered how real my peaches looked when a co-worked mentioned that she didn't like peaches so she didn't have one. She never realized they were cakes and not fruit! This is not the kind of dessert you make more than once or twice in a lifetime, but it's peach season now so it might be the moment to try my hand a some fancy baking again.
Everywhere I look bloggers are talking about their summer pots. We have a dozen pots that spend their summer scattered throughout our garden as well as three huge platters that are displayed on the walls of the house. All of them are the work of Wisconsin artist, Mark Skudlarek of Cambridge Woodfired Pottery.
We like pots that are elegant as well as earthy and subdued. Among my favorites are this pair that have been living on the deck for a number of years; currently planted with Hostas and boxwoods before that. They are the only Skudlarek pots that have plants in them.
Often these deck containers have a companion pot nearby.
This one is just off the deck enmeshed in Geranium cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' in a triangular garden where three paths cross each other. This has been a great year for that particular Geranium.
Though we have traditional Japanese elements in our garden, we've given them a western interpretation like this Tsukubai below. Rather than a stone basin and bamboo water spigot, we've used one of Mark Skudlarek's pots and a piece of recycled copper tubing from an old hardware store in Madison.
You'll notice that many of his pots are patterned; some with stripes like the ones above and below.
Some are more subtle with an all-over textured surface. This pot held a waterlily but we usurped its spot when we redid the driveway last year and have not quite decided its new location and use.
The glazing contributes the "decoration" on some of the pots. Though this has four handles we never use them to carry the pot. This was the first really large pot we bought from Mark and it gave us a desire to add more big containers.
We used our 20th wedding anniversary as the excuse to treat our selves to the pot below. It is so large that we can barely lift it. But what a sense of drama and scale it gives to the garden and the Tea House.
If you look closely below (or enlarge the picture) you can see the other big pot on the opposite side of the Tea House.
This one is at the top of the sloping Tea House garden that I've been working on for the last few years.
If you live in the area it is well worth making the short trip out to Mark Skudlarek's pottery. His showroom is always open with payment on the honor system. Although most times he is out working in his adjacent studio so you can meet him and ask any questions. And you can see his amazing kiln!
I really don't remember where I first saw a Hosta planted in a pot. But I believe it was in the blogosphere rather than on a visit to a garden in person. Though I was a bit unsure that I was digging up the correct Hostas earlier in the spring, it turns out I was right. This is H. 'Abiqua Drinking Gourd,' which apparently was the 2014 Hosta of the Year as determined by the American Hosta Growers Association.
I'd put it at the top of my list for most dramatic and a fairly quick grower. They say it has "probably the most deeply cupped foliage of any Hosta cultivar" and thus makes "a distinct and unique specimen." I think its chalky blue color and those huge quilted leaves make it as dramatic a piece of sculpture as anything you could add to your garden.
It's pretty easy to see its parentage if you know your Hostas: H. 'Tokudama' x H. sieboldiana. It grows about 22 inches tall by 40+ inches wide. I think if my two potted clumps were put next to each other in the ground they would be right on the mark size-wise.
The only drawback to these cupped Hostas is they catch leaves and debris and must be cleared out carefully without leaving fingerprints on the leaves. Yup, touching them with the natural oils in our skin lifts off the powdery surface.
The "drinking gourd" alludes to the hollowed out gourd used by slaves and other rural Americans as a water dipper. In the song, "Follow the Drinking Gourd," it is a code name for the Big Dipper star formation, which points to Polaris, the Pole Star, and North. The song is a musical "map" or guide to going North. Hostas, history and art all in one beautiful package.
Snowdrops are blooming in my garden! Just outside the library window on the south side of the house are a number of clumps of the common double Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis flore pleno, below) while a hidden corner of the garden has a nice little group of G. 'Magnet.' I wrote about 'Magnet' last year when they bloomed beautifully in their first season in the garden. They have become an instant favorite! The Snowdrops are numerous enough that I felt free to bring a few indoors for a Monday bouquet. Flore pleno are on the right and Magnet on the left in the photo below.
I have had this pair of Chinese cloisonné vases on little stands since I left home after graduating from college. I used to pick violets for my mother to put in them when I was growing up. She inherited the vases from her mother. Each Spring I still use them for violets: white in one vase and purple in the other. Their delicate stature means they are perfect for many spring ephemerals. Their small size also means they will fit in spots that are not big enough to hold most of my other containers.
This sandstone Buddha is on a pedestal at the end of the hall that leads from our bedroom to the rest of the house. So his smiling countenance greets us every morning. The perfect way to start the day.
He's 18th Century Burmese (Shan period) and is making a characteristic hand gesture known as a mudra. This particular mudra is the Vajrapradama Mudra and symbolizes unshakable self-confidence.
I couldn't resist these vibrant tulips at the grocery store on Monday. They went in one of my all-time favorite vases by Wisconsin potter Mark Skudlarek. Our home and garden are filled with Mark's pots, plates, bowls — you name it.
It seemed only fitting that they be joined by my teapot made by potter Seth Cardew, Skudlarek's former father-in-law, who died last month. I keep Seth's teapot in the cupboard surrounded by all my containers of tea so it's always at the ready when needed. It's decorated with Cardew's artfully painted bird, feels good in the hand and pours beautifully. The Cardew family are famed for their pottery, made for many years at Wenford Bridge in Cornwall. We're honored to have these two pieces.
Multicultural mix: A Central Asian baby hat adorns the head of one of a pair of paper mache maracas-as-sculpture. Standing sentinel on either side are a pair of shigras bags, made from Agave fiber, from Ecuador. I bought the one of the right in the Matterplay shop on State Street in the 70s or early 1980s. The other bag is much older as indicated by the much finer weave and was found in an antique shop.
Up-ended against the wall is an East Indian container that is supposedly a snake charmer's basket. Somehow, I doubt that story but I love the old textile that covers the inside and outside of the form.
We bought a new piece of art (not in view here) in the late fall that spurred us to rearrange most of the art in the house. There are a few things that always stay where they are but most things move around a lot. Being lovers of art as well as makers of art, with many friends who are also artists, our house is full of art. So are a number of closets and the basement. When a new piece comes into the house, we typically "shop the basement" to see what we have that might enhance the new work.
But rearranging multiple rooms means that we don't want to do it again for a number of months. Thus, this year, I tried to create holiday displays that did not detract from the art or cause us to have to move anything. In the case of the fireplace mantle, I came up with a solution that I've left in place post-holiday. It feels wintry to me, but not Christmas-y.
If you compare what the mantle looked like at the beginning of December, you can see that I left most everything in place. But I spiced it up with pomander balls, some wrapped in gold cord. Then I draped one of my few new holiday purchases across the mantle: a chain of thin brass discs.
These are made from two pieces of soft metal glued together with a cord running between them. A splurge but worth it. I like a bit of metallic glimmer at the holiday but this is more subtle because it's not shiny.