We spent most of last weekend digging and planting in our front yard. Bit by bit, we’ve been filling in the bare dirt left behind when we removed truckloads of juniper bushes. In addition to making our yard look better, our landscaping project has had the unintended benefit of helping us get to know people in the neighborhood. Dog walkers, families out strolling, and shoppers on their way to Trader Joe’s stop to introduce themselves as they pass by. In addition to chatting with passersby, we call out encouragement across hedge and street to others out working.
On Sunday afternoon, one of our neighbors strolled the block offering beers to those of us outside. Pretty soon, a group gathered mid-block to take a well-earned break. With a beer in one hand and a container of cookie dough brownie bonbons in the other, my husband arrived offering sweets. Another neighbor ran off to grab bags of lemons for anyone who wanted them, and I unloaded the extra society garlic that we’d dug up from my parents’ yard. We swapped stories and stuff before finally getting back to work.
I felt ecstatic about the huge bag of lemons I scored and couldn’t wait to incorporate their bright flavor into our meals. We squeezed wedges over the abalone my husband caught on the north coast Sunday morning, we enjoyed them in lemon arugula pasta, and in several batches of lemon-raspberry muffins.
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I‘ve never liked juniper. These prickly shrubs always seem to take over the yards where they grow, edging out other plants with more distinctive or colorful foliage. Additionally, when I brush up against juniper’s mass of short, rough needles, I break out in hives. You can imagine my delight, then, about the awesome juniper display in the front yard of the house we bought last summer.
A rock garden mounded with with 18 bristly juniper tufts covered the tiny 16′ by 16′ area directly in front of our house. Another juniper behemoth loomed from the small side area lining the path to our front door.
Aside from the sheer mass of juniper in the yard, our house was practically perfect in every way. As soon as we could manage it, we ripped out the bushes and hauled away the gravel.
Instantly, even with bare dirt, our house looked better. Now, a Meyer lemon tree, apple tree, strawberries, rosemary, and blueberries have given our yard a new beginning. In the weeks to come, we’ll add more plants to fill in the rest of the bare dirt. Someday, maybe we’ll even forget what it looked like with all that juniper.
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Years ago, my daughter Eliza admitted that she and her friend Tarn had tried to eat the lemon verbena soap by the sink at our friends’ house. It was hard to keep a straight face while she explained their resulting disappointment. The girls just didn’t understand how something that smelled so good could taste so awful.
This woeful soap story had all but disappeared from my memory until I lathered up with a bar of cardamom-clove soap made by my friends Sharalyn and Peg. As soon as I realized how much I wanted to eat this ambrosial bar, I flashed back to a baffled and sad-faced soap-eating Eliza. Fortunately, this vision helped me restrain myself — but just barely.
Since I started to salivate every time I used the soap, I realized that I needed to incorporate this alluring spice combination into something edible before I started nibbling my shrinking bar.
This presented a perfect opportunity to experiment with monkey bread again. After great success with a rosemary-lemon version, as well as one stuffed with cheese, I felt ready to try making sweet monkey bread.
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Tessa’s birthday parties always involve flowers, so it didn’t surprise me when she and her friend Sabrina decided to have a joint Georgia O’Keefe-themed party this year. What did surprise me was the fact that the girls gave us an earful about O’Keefe when we shared their party options at 4 Cats Art Studio, where we planned to celebrate. Van Gogh didn’t elicit any response, nor did Pop Art, or, for that matter, did any of the other cool choices.
Apparently their kindergarten class had studied O’Keefe and had even sketched some O’Keefe-inspired flowers. Since the kids on their guest list had also had this exposure, we figured the party would be a big hit.
Once we’d settled on the theme, it didn’t take long for me to get excited about making the birthday cake. I felt inspired by O’Keefe’s poppy paintings and researched how I might shape a giant poppy to place atop the cake.
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