Archived entries for culture

Little Book of Little Gardens

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about awesome tiny gardens. I found the miniature works of art, especially the pothole gardens, to be a delightful way to make a person stop in their tracks and take notice of their surroundings. I also feel that it’s the right thing to contact someone about their photos before posting in a blog, which is how I met the pothole gardener himself, Steve.

I’m happy to announce that Steve now has a book! You can read more about it at The Little Book of Little Gardens.

I can’t give a review yet, but as soon as I have my copy in hand I’ll share the love on these cute little gardens. Check it out!

Memories of Olive Garden

I can be critical, perhaps even condescending, in my opinions regarding excellent food versus food for the masses. But sometimes I’m torn, because I have a nostalgia for the way I used to just appreciate things for what they are, without fuss or pretension.

There’s been a lot of talk about Marilyn Hagerty’s review of an Olive Garden in Grand Forks, ND. I love that Anthony Bourdain stated that he was enjoying watching Marilyn’s “triumph over the snarkologists (myself included)”. I’ve been to South Dakota, and it was stark in its overall vibe of distances and loneliness, at least to a gal from New Jersey. I can only imagine that North Dakota is similar.

I suppose it’s hard to ever completely detach oneself from a first experience. My first experience at an Olive Garden was in New York state when I was 17 back in the late 90′s. I was on a road trip with my Dad to visit college campuses before deciding on where to apply. We were mainly visiting state schools, and I don’t remember exactly how we decided on going to a particular Olive Garden but there we were. I remember thinking it was damn good. I remember the cheesecake. I remember my Dad liked it, too.

Fast forward two years later, I was in a statistics class in college. The adjunct professor was prone to chatting about his personal life, including one morning about his daughter. He was very proud of the fact that she was attending Sarah Lawrence instead of a state school. He was also very proud about how his daughter saved money by going to the Olive Garden with her friends and filled up on salad and breadsticks. The fact that you can’t win at roulette because of the OO and this little Olive Garden story are the only things I really remember about that class.

Since that first experience at the Olive Garden, I’ve had numerous exceptional meals in New York City, dined on moules and frites in Brussels, and tasted gnocchi in Como, Italy. But I can count on one hand the number of times I had a meal alone with my Dad at a restaurant, and in my memory, the Olive Garden was fancy. To a girl on her way to college from a middle-class background who grew up 15 miles from New York City, a chain restaurant with a Tuscan theme was lovely. I get it Marilyn!

Yum, Boulder!

The Foothills

I remember the foothills were first thing that my friend Jay mentioned when he spoke of Boulder. He moved to Boulder somewhat recently, a place he had dreamed about while he was working in Florida with Mike and me. We’ve tried repeatedly to get Jay to consider moving to Seattle, and while he says he likes it here in Seattle, he always goes back to the sunny Colorado skies.

As the days got darker and darker here, my family got more and more excited about visiting Boulder. We finally took a trip out to that hippie-tech startup-sunny base of the Rockies last week.

Jay told us that he was going to make us French Toast repeatedly. I didn’t think much of it until I had a taste of the bread he made the night before. It was the loaf form of an english muffin. You know how an english muffin is soft and airy, yet it has that certain texture that can’t be described except for it being perfect for soaking up butter and jam. Yeah that’s it.

I’m waiting for the recipe. :)

Of course while in the downtown, we looked for coffee. We were lucky to befriend a nice woman (a transplant originally from Jersey City!), who told us about Boxcar coffee. They roast their coffee on premises, oh my god they do a good job. As another plus, they were cool and friendly, unlike some baristas in other coffee houses we visited.


Finally, we took a visit to Spruce Confections, where I had the loveliest chocolate croissant. I would put it in the top three I’ve ever eaten. Yes, that good! We didn’t stick around to listen to the young man playing the violin for very long, but I loved the sun and violin on the cafe table.

So my vote – Boulder is worth a visit!

Pacific Northwest Flower and Garden Show

Leila in front of a lovely little garden

I attended the first day of the Pacific Northwest Flower and Garden show this year. Since I took the bus to avoid parking issues in downtown Seattle, my daughter-in-tow was more than ready to set her little feet down and run around the exhibits. The photo above is from my favorite (and gold medal winner!) garden design, “Paradise (to be) Regained” as a tribute to the author Thoreau. More impressive than any use of native plants and a cool, casual design is fact that the designer Courtney Goetz from The Creative Gardener is only 17 years old!

A lovely selection of succulents

I think the thing that scares off some people I know about garden shows is the cheese factor that exists in some of the vendor stalls as well as the designs. I can’t help but think of the art-collector Mom from Beetlejuice sometimes when I see certain garden ornaments for sale. I hope that doesn’t sound too catty but it’s my gut reaction when I see some things. Most of the time when that happens I just move on.

Jury's out on this one.. although my little girl liked the stone rabbits.

Hawaiian Heritage Plants

This is the time of year when times seems to stand still. Winter feels like it will never end. Dreams of tropical flowers and soft breezes start to become more prominent in my mind. So a book on Hawaiian heritage plants looked like just the thing to get my imagination going.

This isn’t an entirely soft and dreamy post. The lush beauty of Hawaii has a number of somewhat dark historical facts related to its plants. Other plants were and still are vital to the local economy and food chain. Here’s a list of some plants that are important to the history and culture of Hawaii.

Plumeria:
Similarly to hibiscus, plumeria is a lovely addition to many leis, but is actually native to Mexico, Venuzuela, and Central America.


Plumeria image available from Calyxia Design.

Sandalwood: (‘iliahi)
The background on sandalwood on the Hawaiian islands was the most surprising out of all the plants I read about. For thousands of years, sandalwood has been of great importance because of the strong, seductive scent that originates from its heartwood. One of my favorite descriptions of use by the Hawaiian Islanders was that some young women would take sandalwood powder and mix it with coconut butter to create a wonderful body balm.
What I didn’t realize was that many of the native islanders were exploited by their own leaders to sell the vast sandalwood forests to outsiders looking to make a profit.

Hibiscus: (koki’o ‘ula or koki’o ke’oke’o)
I find it interesting that even though there is such an emphasis on encouraging use of native plants, in reality the plants that have really shaped many cultures are often transplants from other areas of the world. Take the hibiscus. The hibiscus is a native to Southeast Asia, yet it is now Hawaii’s most famous emblem as well as the state flower. In spite of its recognition, many varieties of this plant are endangered.

Taro: (kalo)
The taro needs growing conditions similar to rice, in that it likes to have a shallow amount of water all around it to flourish. Taro has been a staple of the Hawaiian diet for centuries, and is commonly called “poi” when the taro root is pounded and fermented.

Wild Ginger: (‘awapuhi)
A plant with gorgeous blooms, its thick sap can be easily used as a hair shampoo and conditioner.

Noni: (Indian mulberry)
Noni is frequently hailed as a modern day cure-all, especially by noni juice companies. Its effectiveness isn’t conclusive, and in the days when the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i was used a leper colony, noni was sometimes used without any positive result. It is supposedly good at treating lice!

For lots more on this subject, pick up Angela Kay Kepler’s “Hawaiian Heritage Plants”.

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