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Where We Live by John Silveira and Richard Blunt. Photos and commentary from Oregon and New England.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category


From A Garden Harvest To A Gourmet Vegetable Tart

Monday, August 17th, 2015

My Small Garden

On a warm, early spring day, fifteen years ago, I started digging a 3-foot-deep trench to lay a 4-inch drain pipe in an effort to correct a problem of water collecting around the foundation of my house when it rained. My wife, Tricia, noticed that this small strip of ground was the only spot on the property that got all-day sun. She suggested that since I was doing so much digging, I could widen the trench a little, fill it with enriched soil and start a small garden. She said, “With a little planning, a small garden in that spot could be very productive.”

While living in Boston years ago, I became an avid viewer of a popular gardening show aired on Public Television and hosted by master gardener Jim Crockett, and later hosted by Bob Thomson. Both Crockett and Thomson wrote detailed and informative books on gardening titled Crockett’s Victory Garden and The New Victory Garden, respectively. My wife and I were apartment dwellers while living in Boston and had no chance of starting a garden, but I bought and read both books, hoping that some day I would be able use this knowledge.

This laborious trench was my opportunity to start my first garden. After laying the pipe, I started working on the garden. Using my copies of the Victory Garden books as guides, the garden was ready for an initial planting by June of that year. The planting space measures a mere 90 square feet, but it has proven adequate for my purposes. Every year my garden produces plenty of fresh vegetables that I can harvest and serve fresh and I have plenty left to can and freeze for meals during the cold months.

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One of our favorite summer side dishes is the vegetable tart featured in this post. The crust that I use for this tart is the only constant in the formula. The filling depends on what the garden is offering at the time. I made the tart featured in this post this past Sunday, after filling the basket shown below with whatever was available.

For this tart I used the eggplant, zucchini and some of the tomatoes. I pickled the okra and dried the cayenne peppers.

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Mountain Fresh Tomatoes: These disease-resistant, firm and flavorful tomatoes are a standard in my garden. They are delicious eaten fresh and are great for canning.

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Sweet Basil and Globe Eggplant — Two key ingredients in this tart

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Below is my first successful attempt at producing this tart. I filled it with the same cheese mixture as the one featured here, but used part of an abundant crop of tomatoes as the only vegetable/fruit.

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The latest version

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Fresh Tomato, Eggplant and Zucchini Tart

Dough for the tart shell

I have used both masa harina and regular corn flour to make this crust. However, I prefer the masa harina because the process used to make it mellows the corn flavor, which, in my opinion, allows the flavor of the fresh vegetables to stand out more.

1½ cups (7½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ cup masa harina or corn flour

½ tsp. kosher salt

4 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, diced into ¼-inch cubes

¾ cup fresh corn kernels or frozen corn, thawed (divided and remainder used in filling)

1  tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

2 tbsp. fresh goat cheese at room temperature

1 tbsp. cream cheese at room temperature


Combine the flour, masa harina and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse two or three times until combined, add the butter and pulse until the mix resembles a coarse meal. Transfer this mix to a suitable size bowl and set aside. Do not wash the processor bowl.

Combine ½ cup of corn, lemon juice, lemon zest, goat cheese and cream cheese in the bowl of food processor and process until smooth.

Return the flour mixture to the processor bowl and pulse several times until the dough starts to come together. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and distribute the dough evenly around the blade. Continue to pulse until the dough comes completely together, about 5 or 6 quick pulses. Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface and press into 8-inch round disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Tart Filling

1 pound fresh ripe tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices

1 pound fresh zucchini squash, sliced crosswise into ¼-inch thick pieces

1 pound fresh medium-size eggplant (cut crosswise into ¼-inch slices)

kosher salt

2 tsp. vegetable oil

½ cup shredded fresh basil (divided)

½ cup shredded Italian fontina cheese

1 tbsp. fresh oregano, minced

4 tbsp. fresh bread crumbs (divided)

½ tsp. kosher salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

¼ cup crumbled fresh goat cheese

1  large egg, lightly beaten with ½ tsp. of olive oil


Place an oven rack in the middle position in the oven, and place a pizza stone or a large cookie sheet, reversed, on the rack. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit one hour before the baking the tart.

The three vegetables that are the heart of this filling contain a lot of excess water. Most of this water must be removed before final assembly and baking. If not, the heat of the oven will extract this excess water from these vegetables and be soaked up by the pastry shell, making it dense and wet. Salt causes each of these vegetables to release water. We will be sauteing the zucchini and the eggplant before incorporating them into the tart, and this extra step helps these vegetables saute and brown rather than stew in their own juices.

Place the zucchini slices in a colander and sprinkle them with 1 tsp. of non-iodized salt. Set the colander over a suitable size bowl until about 1/3 of a cup of water drains from the zucchini. This will take about 30 minutes. Rinse the zucchini with cold water and dry on a double layer of paper towels.

Repeat the above process with the eggplant but do not rinse, just place the eggplant on paper towels to dry.

Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on a triple layer of paper towels and sprinkle with 1 tsp. of salt and let them drain for about 15 minutes. Remove any residual moisture by gently blotting the tomatoes with another layer of paper towels.

In a 12-inch, heavy bottom, non-stick skillet heat 1 tsp. of vegetable oil over medium high heat until it just begins to smoke. Add the zucchini and saute, stirring constantly, until it just begins to brown. Place it on a layer of paper towels and set it aside.

NOTE: Like a stir-fry this step uses a hot pan to just sear and brown the vegetables, not cook them through.

Repeat the above process with the eggplant.

Tart Assembly

Combine ¼ cup of fresh basil, fontina cheese and fresh oregano, and set it aside.

Combine 2 tbsp. of the fresh bread crumbs with the ½ tsp. kosher salt, and set it aside.

Remove the crust dough from the refrigerator, place it on a well-floured piece of parchment paper and roll it into a 14-inch circle. Carefully transfer the rolled dough and the parchment paper to the back of a large cookie sheet. If you are lucky enough to own a pizza paddle, this task will be easier.

Arrange the cheese mixture on the rolled-out crust, leaving 1½-inch space at the border.

Sprinkle the fresh bread crumb and salt mixture evenly over the cheese.

Arrange the zucchini and eggplant in a way that you find appealing over the cheese and sprinkle with the remaining breadcrumbs.

Arrange the tomatoes in overlapping slices over the bread crumbs, and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup of corn.

Fold the edges of the dough toward the the center of the tart, pleating and sealing.

Brush the tart shell with the egg wash mixture and place it on the pizza stone or reversed cookie sheet, in the oven to bake for 15 minutes. Open the oven and carefully top the tart with the remaining goat cheese, and continue to bake for 3o minutes, or until the crust is a rich brown. Let the tart rest for 15 minutes before serving.

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Gardening and Farming on a Flood Plain takes Grit and Determination

Monday, July 1st, 2013

After an unusually cold and dry start to spring, the weather in New England did an about-face. Average daytime temperatures rose from the mid to high 50s to the mid 60s from the middle of April to the first of May. The following weeks a perfect weather pattern delivered the right amount of rain to complement the warm weather and sunshine. During this brief period the “flats,” as they are called in this valley, came alive as professional farmers and Kolp gardeners went into overdrive preparing their fields and gardens for planting. It didn’t take long for the fertile valley soil to begin producing early vegetables: radishes, broccoli, lettuce, kale, spinach, and peas. Warm weather vegetable seedlings like beets, summer squash, tomatoes, and corn were starting to appear in many gardens by early June. All of the professional farmers were mowing the fully-developed winter rye in their fields in preparation for drying and baling.

In the middle of all of this productive activity, the meteorologists began forecasting a dramatic change in the weather pattern. Weather computer models were showing an extended pattern of thunderstorms and heavy rain for most of the East Coast. All of this wet, unsettled weather was headed straight for Connecticut and the Farmington Valley. This type of forecast is very disturbing to the folks in this state, especially those living near rivers like the Farmington River. This paranoia over heavy rain during the summer months goes back to at least August of 1955 and perhaps before that. In 1955, the 81-mile-long Farmington River was one of three rivers in the Connecticut River Valley that overflowed its banks after receiving more than 20 inches of rainwater from two hurricanes, Connie and Diane, in less than two weeks. During this disaster 77 lives were lost and 350 million dollars in damage was suffered in Connecticut. In August of 2011 Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene dumped about 4 inches of rain in the Farmington River, causing it to overflow its banks. This flooding dumped contaminated water on the “flats,” destroying the crops of both professional and Kolp gardeners. Now another weather pattern consisting of most of the rain and wind elements that have marked previous flooding problems was headed in our direction. Since much of the Farmington Valley is flood plain, especially this area, all we could do was wait and worry. The Farmington River flows just 10 feet behind those trees on the right side of the first photo below.

Since I have included more photos in this post than usual, I will limit my commentary to basic information about each of the photos below. I have, in past posts, provided a great deal of information about the gardens and the folks that plant and maintain them. If this is your first visit to this site, you can access these past posts by clicking on one of the related categories or on a date in the archives. Both sections are located on the right side of the page.

A view of the gardens in early May. Both farmers and gardeners were busy planting and looking forward to a long and productive growing season.


The gardener below, along with his brother, owns 12 acres of land on the flats. They plant and maintain much of this land using the same basic tools as the small plot gardeners. They also own a small tractor that I have only seen in use two or three times.  This land is the last privately-owned property on the “flats.”


This photo was taken a few days before it began to rain. Nearly all of the gardens were planted with early season crops at this time.


This is a shot of Terry’s early planting, taken the same day as the one above.


This is the garden being planted and maintained by Cub Scout Troop 170 of Unionville. They are being advised by a local master gardener.


This plot is planted and developed by Girl Scout Troop #66126 of Unioville. This local hardware store is helping them with the expense of planting and maintaining this garden. The sign was the idea of the Troop as a way of expressing gratitude for the support.  Most of the businesses in this town contribute to the welfare of the community. Over the past 20 years, when I can’t find something in a big-box store, I come to these folks, because have it in stock. If it is not, they will find it for me in just a couple of days. If I need advise on how to proceed with home project, I can always find it here. The vegetables grown in both Scout gardens are donated to the local food pantry. They are also in competition to see which troop will grow and donate the most during the growing season.


Krell Farms was the first of the professional gardens to plant corn this season. These folks maintain several fields around Farmington, and at least one field in a neighboring community. The complete list of high-quality fruits and vegetables grown by these folks is far too extensive to list here. But it does include: corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, summer and winter squash, pumpkins, strawberries, and a variety of fresh herbs. They also sell first-class hardened-off seedlings at their farm stand. Impressive when you consider that this is a family operation.



Farming doesn’t get any better than this. This is Matt and his daughter preparing cut and dried rye grass for baling on a warm, sunny day early in June. Matt represents Eaton Farm, another one of the professional farms in the area.


This was a busy day on the “flats.” Two other farmers were also working their fields. The green tractor belongs to Krell Farm; the yellow bins on back are full of corn seeds for planting.


In my April post I introduced you to a male Horned Lark that seemed very upset with me because my presence was interrupting his  mating routine. Well — everything worked out just fine. Below is Mrs. Horned Lark tending a clutch of eggs. I took this shot and moved on as quickly as I could, because I could hear the male yelling at me to “get away from her” in the distance.


Changes in the weather increase the influence of the Farmington River in the entire area, especially the farm lands. These two  photos show the river at normal level for late spring. Popular locations for swimming and fishing become very active at this time. I have included, below, another photo of this spot after the the third day of rain.


On the other end of that bent rod is a nice fat rainbow trout, one of about 5 or 6 that this fisherman caught while I was watching.


A few days after that last photo was taken, it began to rain. It rained for the next three days. I watched as the river began to swell and flow faster and faster.


On the third day the river was moving along at about 50 mph at this spot.


This is what that swimming spot looked like after it stopped raining.


Several of the gardens that are located in low spots were flooded.


At first I thought that this was Irene all over again. When I started poking around the river bank I realized that the river did not contribute to the flooding in the fields. This was all rainwater. If these plants could survive getting their feet soaked, a recovery was possible.


The Recovery

This is Charlie, a 92-year-old gardener tending a 5000 square foot plot that he planted with the help of a practicing dentist from a neighboring town. As soon the water in the road receded and the police barriers came down, Charlie grabbed his gardening tools and headed for the gardens to repair any damage caused by the rain. Luckily his garden is on higher ground and suffered minimal problems.


This is Charlie’s 5000 square foot plot.


This is what the four flooded gardens, shown above, looked like several days after the rain stopped. These plots are all maintained by veteran gardeners that do this primarily for the love of the craft. However, after talking with them, I can assure you that none of them are thrilled with planting a 2500 square foot garden twice to get only one harvest.


The lady in the hat is another veteran gardener. This year she is working with her son to repair storm damage  their 5000 square foot garden.


I included this picture because I think it demonstrates the determination of all avid gardeners.



This young man is one of several local artists that appreciate the beauty of these gardens and the natural habitat that surrounds them.


After surviving another near natural disaster, the river, fields, and gardens are once again at peace. Until the next time.

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There is an old Samurai chant that was taught to me years ago. It reflects the determination and grit that farmers and gardeners everywhere apply to their craft.

“Expect nothing. Be ready for everything.”


WalkingTour of the Emerald Necklace—The Arnold Arboretum

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

The Arnold Arboretum is a 265 acre botanical garden located in the Jamaica Plain and Roslindale neighborhoods of Boston. It is owned by the city of Boston and leased to Harvard University for 1000 years beginning in 1882. This park is the second largest link in the Emerald Necklace, featuring a rolling landscape with meadows, forests, and ponds with 4000 different varieties of woody plants and 15000 varieties of trees, shrubs and vines. The Arboretum was founded in 1872 when the president of Harvard University became the trustee of a portion of land owned by a wealthy New Bedford whaling merchant. The  land was deeded to the city of Boston in 1882  and incorporated into the Emerald Necklace in the same year. The first president of the Arboretum, an American botanist, Charles Sprague Sargent. working together with Fredrick Olmsted designed the road and pathway system and outlined the collection areas, in the Arboretum, by plant family and genus.

The Arboretum is a free, safe and accessible resource that is open to the public every day of the year. As a university based living collection, the Arboretum shares a wealth of knowledge with the public in a way that is engaging and substantive. My mother-in-law  lived her entire life just a few miles from the Arboretum. Through her life she, her family and a group of close friends and neighbors made regular visits to the Arboretum. She often spoke about touring the Arboretum on Lilac Sunday with the whole family, which included my father-in law, Arthur, my wife, Tricia, her two sisters and her brother.  Of the thousands of flowering plants in this magnificent garden, only one, the lilac, is singled out for a day long celebration. On this special day my mother-in-law, her friends and thousands of others from all over New England gather to picnic, watch English Morris dancing, (a form of English folk dance) and tour the Arboretum’s extensive lilac collection.

For my tour I followed a path often described during my conversations with Gertrude as one of her favorite walks. I entered the Arboretum at the main gate near the Hunnewell Visitor Center. After a brief visit at the center to get directions, I started walking along Meadow road to Linden path heading toward my first stop– the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden. From there, a short path led me to my second stop, the Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection.  Continuing along Linden path to Bussey Hill road led me to my final destination, the Explorers Garden on top of Bussey Hill. To return to main entrance, I followed Bussey Hill road down to Meadow Road. Along the way back, I snapped photos of trees most often mentioned in conversations with Gertrude

The main entrance gate

The Hunnewell Visitors Center building was donated to the Arboretum by Horatio Hunnewell, a railroad financier, armature botanist and one of the most prominent horticulturists in the nineteenth century. He is believed to be the first person to cultivate and popularize rhododendrons in the United States.


I began my tour at 10 in the morning. This is only one of the several family groups were there when I arrived.

Leventritt Garden is is a three acre garden that showcases 737 conifers, shrubs and vines. It was made possible through the generosity of Frances Leventritt and her son and her son Danial.

This is one of the artistic linear planting beds in this garden. It is bordered by terrace walls constructed of New England field stone.

This shot was taken from an open air pavilion that provides a gathering place for visitors and a planting area for flowering vines.  It shows the gentle winding path that visitors follow from Meadow road to Leventritt gardens.

The Larz Anderson Collection of Japanese Dwarfed Trees

Larz Anderson served as the United States ambassador to Japan for ten weeks in 1912. He resigned the post when Woodrow Wilson replaced Howard Taft as president. Along with an impressive collection of horse-drawn carriages, sleighs and vintage motorcars, he also owned a collection of 40 bonsai trees. When he died in 1937 his wife Isabel Anderson donated most of the plants to the Arboretum.The core of the collection consists of  seven specimen of hinoki cypress purchased from the Yokohama Nursery Company, estimated to be between 150 to 275 years old. The exhibit is open from mid April to November. Special care is taken to house the plants during the winter months in a concrete block structure that is maintained at temperatures between 33 and 36 degrees Fahrenheit to protect them during the cold months.

From the Bonsai exhibit I head back down the path to Bussey Hill Road and begin the gentle climb to the top to  the Explorers Garden. This garden is a horticultural hot spot. It is located on the south side of Bussey Hill, which rewards it with the greatest amount of sunlight and warmth. The gentle slop of the hill caused cold air to move down hill rather then settle into deadly frost pockets. These features make it an ideal spot for plants that require mild growing conditions. The garden features an impressive display of rare and interesting trees that, unfortunately, were not available for viewing because of important tree maintenance  being  performed in the area. I am told that October is the best time to visit this garden. I will be there with camera in hand.

On my way back to the main entrance I was able to snap shots of some trees that my mother-in-law often mentioned

The Amur Cork Tree is one of the fifty fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. It produces petrochemicals, a discovery that has attracted considerable scientific attention over the past few years.

Gertrude loved this painted maple because it’s leaves remained bright green, even in very hot summers. In the fall the leaves turn bright gold wit crimson fall color.

The White Pine is no stranger to us living on the East coast. In fact, there is a 70 foot specimen across the street from my house. Every three to five years this tree produces an abundance of pine cones that blanket my lawn from October through  following May. Gertrude and Arthur also had a White Pine in there yard small back yard. During peak pine cone production, Arthur had a special name for this tree, which will not be repeated on this page. White pine forests once covered most of the northeast, only about one percent of the original trees remain untouched by the extensive logging operations of the 18th century. Virgin stands of White Pine still exist in Great Smokey Mountain National Park and in the Huron Mountains located  on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Pictured above is a stand of Black Walnut trees bordering the right wide of  Meadow road. These trees can be found  from Massachusetts to Georgia and west to the great plains.The Black Walnut is an imposing tree with a long history of use by people. I grew up in a neighborhood that had one  large Black Walnut .  In October the yellow-green husked fruit would ripen and fall to the ground. Me and a couple of friends would gather these fallen nuts and attack then with hammers in an attempt to get at the oily fruit inside. The nuts were so difficult to crack that we usually abandoned the effort after opening two or three. We would also soak the nuts in a bucket of water overnight. The next morning the water would be a dark brown. We would take this water to an out of sight spot on the Franklin Park golf course and dump the water on the grass. In a few minutes earth worms would start popping to the surface to be scooped up and used for bait our fishing trip.

The dark, chocolate brown heartwood of this tree the most sought after native American wood. The world wide demand for the wood is so high that this tree has become rare in nature. Unfortunately, we harvest more Black Walnuts than we plant,  and a newly planted tree needs, at least, 60 years in the ground to produce a reasonably large trunk. It is my hope that this all-American tree will continue to be appreciated by those who recognize it’s beauty. The Black Walnut is not currently in danger, but they are becoming less common on the American landscape.

The wood of the Paper Birch has many uses. It used to in the manufacture of furniture, flooring,  toys and Popsicle sticks. Yet these trees offer another resource that is largely untapped here in New England–the sap.  Birch syrup production is an emerging cottage industry in Alaska. In spite of the fact that sugar maples are plentiful on the East coast, we also have plenty of birches scattered around. It would be nice to see some enterprising Yankee tapping birch trees for syrup production. Occasionally, when I can afford, it I buy a bottle of birch syrup to enjoy on the blueberry pancakes that my wife, Tricia, makes with  blueberries that she harvests from the two bushes in our front yard. My mother also loved this syrup. She often said that it had a more distinctive  flavor than maple syrup. Unfortunately, birch syrup, is expensive; an 8 ounce bottle can cost 20 dollars. This is because it takes about 100 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. It is probably one of the rarest gourmet food products in the world, and the most difficult to make. Marketing New England made birch syrup might be a tough sell, but with a little education it is possible.

This tree was formally the state tree of Kentucky. I first saw this tree growing along the path leading to George Washington’s house while on tour of Mount Vernon several years ago. It is native to the mid west, and is generally planted in parks and city streets for ornamental purposes. The tour guide said that the seeds of this tree can be used as a substitute for coffee beans. He also added the caveat that the seed is also toxic in large quantities. It is a handsome and relatively fast growing tree that sheds it’s leaves in the early fall, leaving with a bear and almost dead looking branches for over six months of it’s growth cycle. The Greek genus name for the Coffee tree translates as ” naked branch”.

This tour covered only a small portion of a very large and beautiful park. I will return in October to record the spectacular fall foliage show.



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