Thursday, October 29, 2009


The folks at Timber Press, sent me this wonderful little book to read a few weeks ago. Released just in time for Halloween, Black Plants, 75 Striking Choices For The Garden, showed up in the mail at just the right time.

Truth be told, I hate our backyard. I would love to just start tearing it to pieces, but I can't get a grip on what to do with it. This book has given me some great ideas for a color palate. In the plant world, black is not always black. "Black Plants" can be deep red, burgundy, brown, black, and dark purple. Just thumbing through the pages makes me dream of having these rich dark colors bordering our house! A little creepy? perhaps. Cheery? not so much. For me, this is perfection.

Here are a few of my favorites:

"Black Scallop" bugleweed
Black Hollyhock
Devil's Tongue
Chinese Cobra lily (*Extraordinary!)
Chocolate cosmos
"Karma Chocolate" dahlia
"Sooty" Sweet William (the name alone is worth having the plant!)
Persian fritillary
"Black Peony" Breadseed poppy (for your naughty garden!)
Black Bamboo (screen out your nasty neighbor, ahem)

Black Plants is the first book written by Paul Bonine, who is co-owner of the wholesale nursery Xera Plants, in Oregon. I love his descriptions of some of the more devilish plants - its like reading your favorite scary childhood book: up way past your bedtime, head under the covers, flashlight in hand.

Here are a few excerpts:

Devil's Tongue
(Amorphophallus konjac)

This sinister creature has enormous, thick stems clad in black blotches and stripes that can reach 5 feet in height. The dark brown spadix reaches a height of 3 feet and is surrounded by a glossy, chocolate-colored, rubber-textured, vaselike spathe. This fascinating plant requires patience and woodland conditions with average amounts of water during the winter months.

Vampire's Dracula Orchid
(Dracula vampire)

It is altogether fitting that this orchid is native to one tall, remote, and misty mountain in Peru. Dracula orchids are best known for their bizarre flowers. Three large petals or sepals are veined with black and white lines, each terminating in a long, midnight-black tail. The interior of the flowers is no less sinister with yellow stripes that radiate from a central white to light pink pouch, reminiscent of a small coffin.

Large Wild Ginger
(Asarum maximum)

Vigilance and curiosity are required to discover the glory of this small evergreen woodland perennial whose flowers are tucked unobtrusively at the base of its glossy heart-shaped leaves. Ornate tubular cups have a ring of white fur at the base of each petal and beyond the black throat. Each flower is so neat it's as if it was fashioned out of felt to decorate the brim of a hat. It can reach six inches tall and over time will form colonies.

Voodoo Lily
(Dracunculus vulgaris)

Also known as carrion flower, it first appears as a group of palmate leaves with irregular lobes, but it is the very large flower that steals the show. A rippling spathe with an interior the color of raw meat unfurls in a graceful shield that surrounds the jet black spadix, which can be as long as 30 inches. Pollinated by flies, the freshly opened flower casts a vile, powerful fragrance of rotten flesh, which thankfully disappears in several hours. It is best suited to a location where it may be appreciated but not smelled.

Schunke's Maxillaria
(Maxillaria schunkeana)

This small beauty from the coastal rain forests of Brazil is one of the most truly black orchids, and it blooms for an unusually extended period. Small half-inch flowers are waxy and glossy black with four rounded petals. Thriving in the mossy branches of jungle trees, in bloom it may be seen peering out like many small black eyes.

Bat Flower
(Tacca chantrieri)

What strange twist in evolutionary fate could have caused the formation of such a foreign and unlikely flower? The bat flower or cat's whiskers, as it is known, is not an invention of science fiction but a plant native to the jungles of Thailand. A long black chord of a stem suspends this flower, which is actually a group of flowers, in a rubbery black sepal. Protruding from the side of each flower are long, stringlike cords.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It's Been Awhile...

I can't believe how the days fly by. Fall is in the air - it's all crisp and different, even here in LA. I have had the most amazing, exhausting season of work - the most intense summer/fall season I have had in several years. I feel horrible that I haven't posted more. When I first became a photographer, it meant spending my time shooting, and printing in the darkroom. We printed with enlargers if something was wrong, it usually just meant that we had to change a lightbulb...not so anymore. Now it's all computers, even though most of my work is still shot on film. Nonetheless, when I am this busy, it means hours and hours and days in front of a screen, and it's taken a toll on the blog. I feel awful, like I've neglected my friend. Things are going to start calming down a bit in the next few weeks though. In the meantime, I have a million posts in my head, waiting to come out.

Garden stuff - we had a disappointing summer. It was really foggy on at the beach this spring. We always have June Gloom, but it lasted until August, which put the kaibosh on our summer harvest. The heat came in late (and the fires came in early, which is a future post!). We are getting a nice bumper crop of tomatoes right now, just as the weather is turning cold. I wonder if they'll lose their sweetness? Hardly any squash, a few peppers - no canning.

We did, however, have a fantastic crop of Concord Grapes. They were AMAZING, and so incredibly easy to grow. Here is a great sorbet recipe I found in the cookbook "The Perfect Scoop". I bought this book over the summer, as I am determined to master ice cream. This sorbet is made with corn syrup. Perhaps I've read too many Michael Pollan books, but I am really against the whole corn syrup thing, but I made it anyway, and it was delicious. A few days after I made the sorbet, I found a recipe in Gourmet for a similar sorbet but using sugar instead, which makes me politically happier. I will post this recipe as well, even though it is untested...

Please note that I am completely devastated about the closing of Gourmet Magazine (they can, for the moment, be found online here, and the November issue will still come out). Doubtless you will hear about this over and over in future posts, as this magazine is of biblical proportions to me. I am so incredibly sad, it is a little ridiculous. Thank you, Ruth Reichl, who is the most wonderful, inspiring editor. Thank you for your grace and courage and especially for the expose on the tomato pickers of Florida. Thank you to all of the writers and the painstaking, worldwide research that changed eating and aspiring to cook into an international adventure. And finally, huge, giant, indescribable thanks to all of the great photographers and art directors who contributed over the years to this magazine - every issue was a piece of heaven to look at, and so visually inspiring to me I cannot begin to describe it. OK Enough. Onto the recipes...

Grape Sorbet, adapted from "The Perfect Scoop"
Makes About 1 Quart

Grapes that are very robust, such as Concord or Muscat, make a fine, flavorful grape sorbet. These grapes are usually at their best in autumn. If you have access to wine grapes, they produce a wonderful sorbet as well. Don't use seedless table grapes, such as Thompson and Red Flame; these make a great snack, but not a very tasty sorbet.

3.5 Pounds Grapes
3 Tablespoons Water
1/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup
1 Tablespoon Vodka

Remove the grapes from the stems and cut them in half if they're large or have thick skins. Place them in a large, nonreactive pot, add the water, and cover. Cook the grapes over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the skins have burst and the grapes are soft and cooked through.

Remove from the heat and pass the warm grapes through a food mill fitted with a fine disk, or press through a strainer with a flexible spatula if you wish to remove the grape solids. Stir the corn syrup and vodka into the grape juice.

Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

*We ate this about 4-5 hours after it was made and it was a bit runny. The following day, the texture was better just right...freeze this for at least a day before you eat it.

The Gourmet Magazine Version:

Concord Grape Sorbet, September 2009 Issue

Sorbetto Di Uva
Makes About 1 Quart
Active Time: 10 minutes; Start to finish: 5 3/4 Hours (Includes chilling)

Although Uva means "grape" in Italian, Concords are native to North America. A velvety sorbet brings out their inky, foxy intensity. It will, in fact, swing you right into autumn.

2 Pounds Concord Grapes, stemmed, divided
3/4 cup superfine granulated sugar

Equipment: An Ice Cream Maker

Puree half of grapes in a blender until smooth, then force through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids. Repeat with remaining grapes to yield 3 cups puree. Whisk in sugar until dissolved. Chill until very cold, 3-6 hours.
Freeze in ice cream maker, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up, at least 2 hours.

That's it...happy cooking.