Saturday, December 9, 2017

Winter Is Here

Cones on Hinoki Cypress

Our first full year in the Pacific Northwest has definitely been one for weather records. One year ago today, we got a light snow and later in January we got almost a foot. Summer brought a lot of really hot days (I can't remember if there was a record number or not). Now, we are experiencing an unusual dry spell. This has happened about eight times in the past. The present stretch of dry days is expected to last a week or so. During the last week, we also got our first major frost.

Strawberry plants

The frost is pretty but it is so cold. Last night the temperature dipped into the upper 20s. I brought the last of the tender potted plants from the deck into the garage just last week.

No more roses for a while

Pennisetum alopecuriodes 'Hameln'


Pinus mugo 'Aurea' (Mugo Pine)

Not sure if it will help or not, but I covered the lettuce and cabbage although I forgot to cover this patch.


I am taking advantage of the dry weather and continuing work on the terraced area. My goal is to get this section completed over the winter months. That is, if the weather and my budget will cooperate. I have been so discouraged by the price of rocks. The small section you see below was a full load and you can see they don't go far...



And the Christmas decorations are up...


mailbox-christmas Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Apricot Tart

These rainy, cold, blustery days call for some baking!

Apricot Tart

The filling, divine enough to eat as a breakfast treat, can be made days ahead and refrigerated. I made this three days before baking the tart and stored it in the refrigerator.


12 ounces dried apricots
2 cups water
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
Optional: 1 TBS. rum, cognac or kirsch (I used kirsch)
Optional: 2 TBS thinly sliced toasted almonds (I did not use

Soak the apricots overnight in the water.
Place the soaked apricots and water in a heavy saucepan. Add the sugar and mix.
Over high heat, stir the mixture until it comes to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Uncover, raise the heat to high again. Stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken and the apricots fall apart. This will take a while (almost 20 minutes for me). You can also slice the apricots as you do it with your spoon.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and almond extracts and the optional liquor and almonds.


*2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
* 1/2 cup ice water

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. When ready to use, roll out on a floured board. Line a pie pan (or tart pan) with half the dough and set aside the remainder to use as a top crust.

Glaze (applied to top of tart before baking)

Beat together:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp water

Apricot Glaze (applied after baking and tart has cooled)

1/4 cup apricot preserves
2 tsp water

Bring the mixture to a boil and brush over the top of the tart.


Preheat the oven to 375 and butter a 9 1/2 x 3/4 inch flan ring. Place the flan ring on an ungreased cookie sheet. Adjust your oven racks with the bottom rack one third from the bottom and the second rack in the center of the oven.

Spoon the apricot mixture into the pastry shell. Cover with the other half of the pastry. Pinch the two crusts together around the perimeter with your fingers. Cut off the dough that rises over the top of the pan. Cut some slits along the top of the crust. Apply the glaze with a pastry brush. 

The additional dough can be used for decorative strips or other embellishments (I have a little dough cutter that cuts in the shape of leaves - really cute!)

Bake on the bottom rack for 30 minutes at 375. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 and move the tart to the center rack. Bake an additional 20-30 minutes until the top is browned slightly.

After baking, carefully remove the tart from the flan ring and allow to cool.

Brush with apricot glaze. Serve with vanilla ice cream!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fiery Fall Colors

Dogwood (Cornus kousa) 'Celestial Shadow'
The autumn colors here are still magnificent. We have yet to have a freeze and I love how the temperatures stay on an even scale, just dipping ever so slowly. The overnight temperatures are averaging around 40 with the daytime highs around 50. The gray wet weather pattern that dominates the winter season has begun.

Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) (seedling)
The two Japanese Maples that flank our back deck have been very slow in turning color but all of a sudden they are spectacular. These were unnamed varieties and I chose them mainly because they were large specimens at a decent price. They have put on quite a bit of growth this year.

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'
An existing Japanese Maple in the front yard is "Bloodgood". It too has grown well but there is significent bark damage and I am reluctantly considering replacing it. I would like a taller tree for that spot. It pains me to dig this one up though.

Acer palmatum ‘Murasaki Kiyohime’
A dwarf Japanese Maple, also already in existence, is planted next to the front door stoop. It is 'Murasaki Kiyohime' and it has been slow to change color.

Acer palmatum 'Shaina'
 'Shaina' was just added earlier this summer. That is Japanese Blood Grass planted at the base.

Some more trees and shrubs showing off their fall finery -

Dwarf Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea 'Kelseyi')
Barberry (Berberis thunbergii 'Orange Rocket')

Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica)
Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)

And lastly, although not really fitting the "colorful" category, is nevertheless an amazing plant at the moment - the Strawberry Tree (Arbutus). This is a new plant for me and I am loving it.
Strawberry Tree (Arbutus)

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Autumn lovelies

Blue Star (Amsonia hubrechtii) and Geranium 'Rozanne'

Salvia 'Amistad' and Pinus mugo 'Aurea'
Salvia 'Amistad' and Mugo Pine 'Aurea'

Lagerstoemia (Crape Myrtle 'Catawba')
Crape Myrtle (Lagerstoemia 'Catawba')

Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum)

Dogwood (Cornus florida) Fall foliage
Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Aster 'Monte Cassino'

Cuphea 'Strying Sunset'


Panicum 'Shenandoah'

 Candy Lily (Iris norrisii)

 Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

 Lettuce 'Multi-leaf Salanova'

 Sourwood (Oxydendrum)

Salvia 'Hot Lips'

 Snowbell (Styrax japonicus)

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)


Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Mocha Chip Chiffon Cake

After a long hiatus, I think I am ready to get back in the kitchen and back to some Maida Heatter recipes! The weather here is rainy and cooler which spurs me on. I had bookmarked this recipe a long time ago - it is a very light cake (similar to an Angel Food cake) with a wonderfully subtle hint of coffee flavor.

Overall, it turned out wonderfully well. One thing I would do differently next time is to chop the chocolate much finer. As she explained in her recipe, the chocolate chips will sink to the bottom if they are too heavy. I decided to use ready-made chocolate chips and they are too heavy. I did chop them a bit but next time I will use a chocolate baking bar instead. That minor flub did not affect the taste of the cake though.

3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 TBS. instant coffee or espresso (I use Medaglia D Oro Coffee Inst Expresso)
1 TBS. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
7 eggs, separated
1/2 cup Kahlua or Tia Maria or other coffee-flavored liquor
1/4 cup cold water
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
Optional: confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 325. You will need a non-stick tube pan, the type that has two pieces and which comes apart. Do not spray or butter the pan.

Chop the chocolate into pieces that are 1/4 diameter or less. As I noted earlier, I used chocolate chips and they were really too large, even though I chopped some of them. The larger pieces will sink to the bottom of the cake.

Sift together the flour, 1 1/4 cups of sugar (reserving the rest), the powdered coffee or espresso, baking powder and salt.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the oil, egg yolks, coffee liqueur, water and vanilla. Whisk together until smooth. Use a large spatula to fold in the chopped chocolate. Set aside.

In a separate mixer bowl, beat the egg whites until they are foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat on high speed until soft peaks are formed. (I always put my bowl and beater in the freezer for a few minutes to get them nice and cold. Always use the whisk beater for egg whites. Start out slow and gradually increase the speed until full speed). Reduce the speed and add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Increase speed to high and beat again until stiff peaks are achieved. Beat for an additional minute to be sure the mixture is stiff.

In three additions, slightly fold in about 3/4 of the yolk mixture. Do not fold in thoroughly, just barely! Then fold the whites into the remaining yolk mixture, being a bit more thorough this time.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 1 hour and 10-15 minutes until the top springs back when pressed. The top will crack during baking. (It took 1 hour and 10 minutes for mine to bake)

After removing the pan from the oven, invert it on a narrow bottle and let it cool completely.

After cooling, use a long, sharp knife and gently run it around the rim of the pan and around the center tube. Carefully slide the pan apart and run the knife along the bottom of the pan under the cake. Remove the cake from the pan. If it is still sticking, use the knife to saw it carefully from the pan.

Use a flat pan, dish or I like to use preformed cardboard circles to plate the cake.

Sprinkle with confectioners sugar, if desired.

I think the cake needs whipped cream, ice cream or fruit to accompany it. We tried it with buttered pecan ice cream and it is delicious!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy