Friday, July 31, 2009

French Apple Tart - If you can't stand the heat, get in the kitchen!

I love to bake so if it is too hot (or too cold) to be gardening, I'm often in the kitchen. Here is another recipe from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) and it is one of our favorites. It doesn't really look like a tart because I used refrigerated pie crust and decided to use the extra piece as a topping so it is more like an apple pie I suppose. The first time I made this, I did it exactly the way it reads, and even did the crust from scratch as well. It turned out beautifully - with the apple slices fanned out on a flat crust. This time I was a little lazy so used the refrigerated pie crust.

French Apple Tart

For the pastry:

* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
* 1/2 cup ice water

For the apples:

* 4 Granny Smith apples
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, small diced
* 1/2 cup apricot jelly or warm sieved apricot jam
* 2 tablespoons Calvados, rum, or water


For the pastry, place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter and pulse 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas. With the motor running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll the dough slightly larger than 10 by 14-inches. Using a ruler and a small knife, trim the edges. Place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem. Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baler. Slice the apples crosswise in 1/4-inch thick slices. Place overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making diagonal rows on both sides of the first row until the pastry is covered with apple slices. (I tend not to use the apple ends in order to make the arrangement beautiful.) Sprinkle with the full 1/2 cup of sugar and dot with the butter.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. Rotate the pan once during cooking. If the pastry puffs up in one area, cut a little slit with a knife to let the air out. Don't worry! The apple juices will burn in the pan but the tart will be fine! When the tart's done, heat the apricot jelly together with the Calvados and brush the apples and the pastry completely with the jelly mixture. Loosen the tart with a metal spatula so it doesn't stick to the paper. Allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Project update

The front lawn is divided into two sections that are bisected by the walkway that leads to the front door. I've been frustrated and disappointed by numerous attempts to grow grass here so I've decided to do away with the grass and cover the areas in gravel pathways and mondo grass and other shade-loving groundcovers.

This weekend I finished the smaller area and I think I'm pleased with the results. What do you think?

Before -

And after -

Now, on to tackle the other side which is double the size. More to come!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Perfect Weather

The past four days have just been glorious! A cool front came through on Saturday giving us highs in the lower 80s and 50s at night and no humidity. This is a rare occurrence and I believe the weatherman said this hasn't happened in forty years. I've been enjoying it to the hilt and got quite a lot of garden work accomplished. After spending Saturday morning doing some major pruning, we drove to Huntsville with some friends and visited Bridge Street Town Centre and it was so nice to be able to walk around outside without breaking out in a sweat.

On Sunday, I started working on the front lawn renovation that I wrote about earlier. I have decided to use mondo grass (two different types, the dwarf and the slightly larger one) to blanket large areas and do gravel walkways around those areas. I might also do some areas with pachysandra and possibly asiatic jasmine (although I'm not sure if that plant likes shade).

One depressing aspect of this job is how expensive it will be. The small area that I planted on Sunday (you can see it in the photo above) cost around $80 (four flats of 10 pots). I even divided the plants to make them go farther and it still looks like a tiny area was covered. This may end up being a long-term project!

I'm psyched about the project though and can't wait to do more work on Wednesday morning. I'm hoping to incorporate a small water feature somewhere along the pathways.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, that being the weather. The heat and humidity will gradually return by the end of the week. There is a silver lining - we have more rain predicted for Thursday and we are getting sprinkles today as I write this. The cool temperatures have been fantastic. Michael and I were talking about how it has affected our moods and how wonderful it would be to live in a climate where the temperatures are mild during the summer. I told him we should seriously consider looking at property in the Pacific Northwest!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July Bloom Day

The mid-July garden is quiet, hot and sticky. At least the plants seem happy, thanks to a generous rainfall last weekend. Not many blooms to show on our annual bloom day - but a few of interest.

First, my favorite container plant this year is Begonia "Bonfire" - all of a sudden I have a liking for orange. It is growing in a pot with variegated Blueberry Flax Lily (Dianella tasmanica) that we bought in Florida last fall. The blooms on the begonia are a little sparse. This begonia actually blooms more profusely in full sun.

All of the lilies have finished blooming with the exception of this late one. This is Oriental Trumpet Lily "Black Beauty"

Clematis "Betty Corning"

Coreopsis "Limerock Ruby"

Blackberry Lily (Belamcanda chinensis) getting ready to open

Euphorbia Corollata and Salvia Coccinea "Hot Lips"

Agastache (Hyssop)


Italian Arum (Arum Italicum)

Plume Poppy (Macleaya cordata)


Money Plant (Lunaria)

To see what is blooming in other blogger's gardens, be sure to visit May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Waste Land

This is what I've come to call the front lawn area. Here's the story - I've just about eliminated all the grass on our property. I can now mow all the grassy areas in about 30 minutes (this is better than 3 or 4 hours that it used to take when we had no garden, just lawn). However, I did want a large grassy area in the front of the house to give the eye a rest. Heaven knows there's so much going on that the eye needs it.

Well, I may as well forget that idea. It is shady here and worse, three red maples spread their hungry shallow roots all over the place. I have tried just about every grass known to man. I thought I had the solution when I planted fescue two years ago. It was beautiful that winter but it died the following summer. Fescue doesn't like our summer heat. I could replant it and water it daily in the summer but we don't have a sprinkler system and I know it would not get watered even with my best intentions.

I've thought about making a gravel pathway through part of it and surround it with dwarf Mondo grass. I know it is tough and tolerates shade. I'm not sure about the root competition. I saw a garden in Birmingham where large areas were completely covered in this and it looks great.

So, what to do? If any of you garden designers out there can give me some suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Close-up on hydrangeas

The hydrangeas have been blooming for about 6 weeks now but they are beginning to phase out. Some of them will continue blooming through the summer. That is, if we ever get rain again!

So, as Norma Desmond said, "Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up!"

"Angel's Lace"

"Big Daddy" - he didn't bloom at all last year. There has been 3 or 4 blooms this year. Sometimes it just takes them a while to get going.

"Charm" - this has been one of the prettiest this year and full of blooms.

"Mme Emile Mouillere" - another favorite, this one is almost white and ages to a light blue.

"Purple Tiers" - this year we are calling it "Pink Tiers".

"Sister Therese"

"Snowflake" - a gorgeous oakleaf.

This is Hydrangea Aspera, somewhat of a novelty and one that you don't see often. When we were going through our hydrangea madness phase and thought we had to own every cultivar known to man, we picked this up at a wonderful nusery near Atlanta that spealizies in hydrangeas (Wilkerson Mill Gardens). Thinking that it probably wouldn't make it, it has proved us wrong and seems to be perfectly happy right next to the towering pecan tree that shades most of our hydrangeas. The bloom looks not unlike any other lacecap but the growth habit it totally different - very tall (about 6 ft.), upright and a tad lanky. The leaves are fuzzy and thick. I once read that it is sometimes referred to as the "Space Cadet" hydrangea

"Mariesii Variegata" has beautiful variegated foliage which eclipse the blooms. This hydrangea has been spectacular in years past (take a look at this photo) but lately it has been going downhill. Lots of dieback and limited blooms. In fact, this is the first bloom I've seen this year

And last but not least, the dependable "Nikko Blue" with a spider friend. This is the most common hydrangeas available in nuseries. Here is a new bloom -

And here is a faded one-