Tuesday, August 29, 2017

You Say Tomayto ...

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There's nothing quite like the taste of home-grown tomahtoes
Photo: Chronica Domus


... I always say "tomahto".  Despite the fact that I've lived in the United States for well over two decades, I cannot - with a straight face - say "tomayto".  It's just never going to happen!  Whichever preference you may have as to pronunciation, tomatoes are among summer's greatest pleasures.  I am, of course, referring to those perfectly sun-ripened fruits, just at the pinnacle of freshness, bursting with sweet, juicy flavor. I'm just mad for them!

Tomatoes happen to be one of my favorite foods and I would eat them by the bucket load, year round, if I could.  I have, however, come to the conclusion that the old adage "all good things come to those who wait" holds much truth, particularly when it comes to the consumption of tomatoes.  Out of season, well, it's really just not the same.

During the month of August, and into September, the farmers' market is awash with tomatoes in a multitude of colors and shapes.  The red tomato of my youth is there alright, but so is the yellow and orange, brilliant scarlet, and the deepest, darkest maroon.  Believe it or not, there's even a vibrant stripey green variety.  It really is a mad, mad, tomato world out there ready for eatin'.

I adore tomatoes so much that although I am no fan of artificial air fresheners and scents, and believe these manufactured fragrances are wholly unnecessary (just open a window for the best type of air known to mankind), I did once succumb to this:

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Yes, it really does smell of tomato leaves!
Photo: Chronica Domus


The astute noses at Floris, England's oldest retailer of toiletries and scent, and Royal Warrant holders since 1820, somehow managed to trap the delicate aroma of tender tomato leaves within a bottle.  It really is rather marvelous as a single squirt fills one's room with the promise of everlasting summer. I binge purchased six bottles of the stuff on a shopping expedition to Floris' charming outpost on Jermyn Street several years ago and I am so glad that I did.  Not long after, the entire Tomato Leaf range was discontinued.  I am, sadly, down to my last remaining bottle.  No matter, I could always grow the real thing I suppose, and that's exactly what I did earlier in the spring.

It dawned on me in April that I had failed to plant tomatoes in my vegetable patch for the past few years.  Correcting the error of my ways, I came home one morning from the farmers' market with a lone four inch potted seedling labeled "Black Cherry Heirloom".  Into the soil it went.  A few weeks later, emboldened by the seedling's rapid growth, I planted another. This one was identified as "White Currant Heirloom".

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The heirloom Black Cherry tomato plant photographed in July
Photo: Chronica Domus


By mid-July, both plants were thriving and had scrambled far beyond their support structures reaching an impressive height of six feet.  I picked my first tomatoes at the beginning of August. Here they are:

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The first batch of tomatoes  ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


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... went straight into the salad bowl moments after picking
Photo: Chronica Domus


It is now the end of August and both tomato factories are humming along in full production mode. The more the plants continue to mature, the sweeter and more flavorful the fruits become, and the deeper their color.  What a pleasure and a privilege it is to be able to step into the garden and gather up the fruits of one's labor. The following photograph shows last Saturday afternoon's pickings, enjoyed as part of an early dinner at home with friends. I made a simple chopped Caprese salad using summer's Holy Trinity of ingredients - the just-picked garden tomatoes, fresh basil, and creamy mozzarella.  The salad was enthusiastically devoured by all.

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My garden trug is full once again with tasty tomatoes and happily, there's no end of them in sight!
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Won't you please help yourself?
There's not much to compare to the simple pleasure derived from popping a perfectly
ripened, home-grown tomato straight into one's mouth moments after picking
Photo: Chronica Domus


Do you savor the flavor of summer's deliciously sweet tomahtoes and if so, do you have a favorite way of preparing them?  Please, do tell, no matter your pronunciation preference.




Nota bene: I am neither paid nor do I receive recompense in exchange for applauding products or services within my blog.  I do so because I enjoy them.  If you are a kindred spirit, you too enjoy recommending nice things to fellow good eggs.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Visit To Boscobel

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A view of Boscobel House's sublime façade
Photo: Chronica Domus


It was hot and humid the afternoon my family and I arrived in Garrison, New York last month. The mercury hovered around the 85 degree Fahrenheit mark.  None of this really mattered, mind you, for the sublime beauty of both Boscobel House and its environs far eclipsed any discomfort we might have felt under the collar.

Boscobel, which was built for States and Elizabeth Dyckman between 1804 - 1808, is an extraordinarily scrumptious house done up to a fare-thee-well.  It is furnished with a staggeringly extensive and jaw-droppingly gorgeous collection of American Federal furniture and decorative arts. I was left swooning at every turn. Gazing upon Boscobel's delightfully airy and delicate façade, I could not help but be reminded of the prettiest opera houses and theaters with their balconies, billowing curtains, and swags. I don't think there's another house quite like it anywhere. 

Meandering through Boscobel's herb garden to reach the main house, I am stopped in my tracks by the most picture-perfect orangery imaginable.  Oh, how my inner-gentlewoman gardener would so adore having one of these beauties in her own modest garden.  Alas, there is little room to accommodate such a horticultural fantasy but what a pleasure it was to be visiting this one.

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The clapboard and brick orangery is surrounded by plantings of culinary and 
medicinal herbs and flowers 
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Hollyhocks appear like towering giants against the orangery's pint-sized dimensions
Photo: Chronica Domus


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The rose garden, located just behind the house, is adorned with
several metal benches - this one resembled the one in my own garden
Photo: Chronica Domus


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This is the view from the rose garden, where the verdant Hudson River Valley can be admired
(West Point Military Academy is just visible to the right)
Photo: Chronica Domus 


Before our guided tour began,
 we had time to view the special exhibition in the gallery. Make-Do's: Curiously Repaired Antiques features a sizable portion of Andrew Baseman's intriguing collection of inventively repaired ceramic and glass articles. Each piece has been restored using either bits of tin, metal staples, or molded silver deeming the object useful, once again, to its owner.  What a refreshing concept to ponder in our modern throw-away age.  If you too are interested in viewing this marvelous assemblage of oddities, you have ample time ahead of you to plan your visit.  The exhibition runs until October 1.

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Long before Super Glue and two-part epoxy were invented, items such as those in the
photograph above were repaired using metal staples, pieces of tin, or molded silver
Photo: Chronica Domus


At 1 p.m. our little group gathered at the foot of Boscobel's front steps where we listened attentively to our guide as she explained how Boscobel came to be a house museum.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I was fascinated to discover that the building had been saved from demolition in 1955 by the efforts of a group called Friends of Boscobel and Lila Acheson Wallace, co-founder of Reader's Digest. Mrs. Wallace provided much of the funding required to save Boscobel and move it from its original location in Montrose, New York. She was also an influential force behind its decoration.  Many years later, Berry Tracy, the curator of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reinterpreted the decorative scheme to reflect a more authentic Federal interior.  And, what a stupendous interior that is! Let's go inside.

Stepping into the cool, front entry hall, one is immediately struck by the scale and detail of the airy space.

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The large entry hall not only welcomed guests of the Dyckman family but was also used 
for dances and musical recitals, and on occasion for dinner parties
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Painted oilcloth was often used as a protective water-resistant floor covering in the
eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries especially in high traffic areas
Photo: Chronica Domus

Berry Tracy was responsible for acquiring much of the Federal period furniture in the house.  Outside of a major decorative arts museum, I don't believe I've seen a collection quite so extensive.  Pieces by noted cabinetmakers Charles Honore Lannuier, Michael Allison, and Duncan Phyfe grace every room.

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Boscobel's rooms are sumptuously decorated and furnished with Federal
period furniture and decorative arts
(note more of Andrew Baseman's repaired ceramics displayed upon the mantelshelf)
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Can you imagine the fun of dining by candlelight in such an exquisitely decorated room?
Photo: Chronica Domus


It is not only the public rooms of the house that are outfitted so well.  The photographs below show a more domestic-oriented space which was used by the household staff to store the family's glassware and ceramics.  This room was also where hot and cold beverages were prepared, and where the paraphernalia involved in the preparation of such drinks was kept.  I must admit, as much as I adore poking around the more formal rooms of such house museums, it is often the domestic spaces which most intrigue me.

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All the best households utilized plate warmers which were positioned in front of
a roaring fire until their contents were warm to the touch
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Silver serving dishes, candlesticks, and Argand lamps sit atop a mahogany tray
Photo: Chronica Domus


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More of Andrew Baseman's repaired antiques are seen on the mantelshelf and table
Photo: Chronica Domus


Heading upstairs, I discover that the wooden handrail is elegantly supported by several iron balusters.

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The view from the second floor
Photo: Chronica Domus


The bedchambers, all three of them, are kitted out with more period furniture and accessories.  A refreshing slumber could be had by anyone so fortunate as to spend a night in one of these comfortable rooms.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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The bedchamber's fireplace kept the chill at bay as did the brass bed warmer
which was slipped between the sheets in advance of the occupant
Photo: Chronica Domus


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No detail has been overlooked in the decoration of the bedchambers including 
the linen press, chock-full of crisp white linens to dress the bed
Photo: Chronica Domus


My favorite formal room in the house was States Dyckman's magnificent library.  It took my breath away.  I really should have packed the smelling salts.

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The perfect storm of wall color, rush matting, and furniture had me 
panting for breath as I stepped into this sublime room
Photo: Chronica Domus 


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Would you believe the body of this incredible chandelier is made from a single piece of 
carved and gilded wood?
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Had I the resources and space, this is a room I would gladly replicate in my 
own house
Photo: Chronica Domus


The upstairs library holds a fraction of States Dyckman's book collection which is housed in an impressive and handsome mahogany secretary bookcase believed to have been made by Duncan Phyfe, circa 1810 - 1820.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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This is son Peter Dyckman's bedchamber which features a bed built in Duncan Phyfe's workshop
Photo: Chronica Domus


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If I were Peter, I'd have a difficult time leaving the comfort of my fireside chair
(Oh look, there's more of Mr. Bateman's repaired ceramics parading along the mantelshelf)
Photo: Chronica Domus


Our tour was rapidly drawing to a close but not before our guide showed us into one final room, the kitchen.   

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Photo: Chronica Domus


It is here that we are treated to some of Boscobel's warm hospitality in the form of refreshing lemonade and delicious cookies.

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Thirst quenching cups of lemonade and sweet treats are offered to Boscobel's
appreciative visitors
Photo: Chronica Domus


What a hospitable and welcoming gesture, and a delightful way to wrap up a most enjoyable tour.  So much more civilized than exiting through a gift shop, would you not agree?

Now that I've had the good fortune to visit this fine house, I fully understand Mrs. Lila Acheson Wallace's philanthropic urge to save it.  Boscobel is nothing short of a jewel.


Boscobel House and Gardens
1601 Route 9D (Bear Mountain Highway)
Garrison 
New York 10524


Monday, August 14, 2017

More Pink Flamingo Than Prince of Orange

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Hooray for Prince of Orange the first sweet pea bloom of the season,
but wait ...it's not orange!
Photo: Chronica Domus 


It's that glorious time of year in my garden, a time to rejoice and celebrate the first of the season's sweet pea blooms.  As has become my habit in the last few years, I was again enticed into growing my sweet peas purely from the delicious descriptions printed on the attractively illustrated seed packets. Well, that and the fact that I rather fancied delving into the world of orange sweet peas, a color I had not previously attempted to grow.  Two varieties fit the bill, Prince of Orange and Henry Eckford. The Prince promised "pure, clear orange flowers of excellent substance", while Mr. Eckford assured "spectacular bright orange flowers".  I could not wait to get planting!

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Heirloom varieties of sweet peas in zesty shades of orange beckoned 
to be taken home and planted in my garden
Photo: Chronica Domus


I sowed half a dozen of each variety on April 29 and patiently awaited their germination.  Sweet peas, as you may know, can take an age to get started so I make it a point to soak the seeds overnight in hopes of softening their rock-hard shells.  Right before I sow them into the moist, compost rich soil, I chip away a little of their coating in an effort to aid them along.  Even with this additional step, the seeds can take up to two excruciatingly long weeks to germinate. As William Langland reminds us in his poem, "Piers Plowman" patience is, indeed, a virtue.  I do try though.

Three months have now passed and I'm not exactly sure what happened to Mr. Eckford.  All I have to show for my efforts is a lone plant.  Perhaps the gentleman is a little shy?

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Lathyrus odoratus Henry Eckford was first bred by the man himself in 1906
Photo: Chronica Domus


The few blooms I have been able to gather thus far possess such peculiarly stunted stems that arranging them in a vase is next to impossible.  Ah well, as I'm not one to give up easily I will try planting Henry Eckford again either later in the autumn or early next spring.

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What in the world has happened to Henry Eckford's stems?
Photo: Chronica Domus


And, as for the Prince, imagine my surprise upon seeing his true colors come to light.

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Looks more pink flamingo than Prince of Orange to me!
Photo: Chronica Domus


With barely a scintilla of orange to behold, my dream of gathering orange-hued sweet peas this summer has, alas, been dashed.  Admittedly, despite the unanticipated color, I am really quite chuffed to have pink flamingos taking flight in my vase.  The blooms are exceptionally pretty, no matter their rosy hue.

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Might the Prince's orange reveal itself if I squint I wonder?
Photo: Chronica Domus


As a gardener, albeit an amateur one at best, I am constantly humbled by the act of nurturing the tiniest seed.  Regardless of how meticulously one plots and plans ahead, and despite the coddling and cosseting, Mother Nature always has the last word.  Either that or, as I suspect might be the case here, there was a mix-up at the packet-filling end of things.

Have you ever grown anything from seed with unexpected results?


Nota bene: I am neither paid nor do I receive recompense in exchange for applauding products or services within my blog.  I do so because I enjoy them.  If you are a kindred spirit, you too enjoy recommending nice things to fellow good eggs.
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