This is a summary of today’s post.
- Autumn grips the garden more firmly each week, so that the gardener is on his rounds of fall clean-up projects. And in the kitchen we are perfecting a classy upgrade to the old homey fallback for leftovers, the chicken pot pie; our recipe is seafood version, packed with lobster. Delicious!
- Also, please check out the photos posted under the button on the right (“Weekly Garden Photos”), for some new and beautiful pictures of what is going on in the autumn garden. The garden is OPEN today, so please come in!
- And in the “Book Reviews” section (button on right), we are reviewing More Scenes from the Rural Life, by Verlyn Klinkenborg. This is the second volume (the first was The Rural Life) from this author, who is the popular columnist for the New York Times; he writes about his farm and garden with extremely acute observation and sympathy.
- Do you think love and death are the most important things in life? Gardeners work intimately with both concepts and to the right of this post, under the button “Personal Snapshot: Love and Death”, I am talking about some times when death came a bit too close for my comfort (though as you see I lived to tell about it).
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We have had fresh fall mornings already, but this is the first really cool one, where I wanted to grab a jacket just to go get the paper—it was forty-nine degrees when I got in my car at eight. I found two of those woolly, red and black caterpillars on the driveway, and one large red maple leaf, perfectly shaped and almost as big as my hand, in the garden. The helianthus are finishing up and I am not yet wearing a raincoat to walk from the parking garage to my office building, but I notice that the ubiquitous Philadelphia police are all wearing their fall jackets. Last weekend, I thoroughly weeded the porch bed and the oval bed, and this was pretty much the first time this year I have had the entire yard weeded, just barely in time for autumn’s arrival.
I am feeling the autumnal end of things very poignantly this year, not sure why, must be getting old, I guess. They say this is going to be the coldest winter in ten years in the Northeast, so we shall see, but already my mind is full of the glories of spring bulbs and tender green shoots in the fresh black earth, thinking one season ahead, as the gardener always does, and of the perfect times to come. But the chillier nights keep us rooted in the present; at a dinner party outside on the patio Sunday night, we had a jolly, roaring fire in the fire pit to take the chill off, and at one end of the table was a big bowl of roses, with the deep red having by far the best perfume, but the pure white coming a very close and very spicy second.
Sunday, I sat still (uncharacteristically for me) for two hours on the patio and read a book, with a sweater on and the full sunshine lighting up the green bowl of our back yard. During this tranquil moment, a large blue jay visited, and I recalled that it was exactly this week last year that I last saw a big blue jay (no doubt the fabled bluebird of happiness, which comes to us every year at this time to commemorate my wife’s birthday). They must be migrating south through the New Jersey Flyway right about now, and it was a joy to put my book down and just watch him for a while. The large troupe of Carolina wrens gathered round me, and the boldest of them, whom I think of as Ascot owing to his dark neckerchief marking, hopped forward as their spokesman and kept cocking his head at me and then looking down at the ground so meaningfully that, of course, I had to get up, go inside, and fetch them a cracker, which created a very gratified sensation among the wren population. Ah me, I have so many bosses; even the birds and the beasts order me about. I must be remarkably weak-minded.
We are repeatedly warned of impending frost, but so far, the threat has passed us harmlessly by; the impatiens have not even been fazed, although the mornings have naturally grown quite dark and the house now thoroughly cools off at night. I spent much of this past weekend cutting back all the floppy, excess foliage from plants in the herbaceous border so it looks more like a garden of individual plants again and less like a big green mess with some flowers stuck on it. I was particularly ruthless with the helianthus, cutting them back to just six tidy clumps in their neat, four-foot frames, and they now look very sober and distinguished once again. I potted up seven amaryllises for Christmas and stripped the last of the mint that has been drying in the basement. The grapes have all been gorged upon, mostly by me but quite a few by the chipmunks.
Pumpkins and chrysanthemums adorn the front and back porch steps. A few cannas are still blazing, but I have begun to cut down the ones that are finished, and of course, the dahlias are in fine fall form and are flaunting their brilliance so much that people stop me to ask, “What are those flowers?” Honestly, are there really people who can’t recognize a dahlia when they see one? The impatiens are, of course, relishing the cool days and mild sun, and are no doubt sensing the end is near, and the Montauk daisies in the oval bed have now bloomed. How fresh and bright they look.
My wife, who does not work today, tells me she is going to make one of our favorite dishes for dinner tonight, lobster pot pie. Nothing says boring old leftovers like pot pie, but this is a take on the comfort-food classic that takes it up more than a few notches.
Lobster Pot Pie
For the crust:
2½ cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. rosemary, diced fine
1 stick cold butter, cut into pieces
6 Tbsp. cold shortening
Mix the flour, salt, and rosemary in a bowl. Add the butter and shortening and chop it into the flour with a pastry blender until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Add 5 or 6 Tbsp. of ice water, a little at a time, until the pastry can be formed into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough gently to smooth in all the lumps of butter and shortening; do not over-knead. Divide the ball in half and then cut each half in two again, so you end with four pieces. Form each of these gently into a ball, then flatten each ball. Refrigerate for an hour, while making the filling.
For the filling:
2 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred)
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
½ cup clam juice
1 cup roasted corn
1 cup carrots (cut into ¼ inch disks)
1 cup sugar snap peas (cut in half diagonally)
One cup small pearl onions
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cooked lobster tails, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup cooked and peeled medium shrimp (cut in half)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. tilapia
1 tsp. water
Boil one cup of the stock; add the carrots and rosemary and boil for 4-5 minutes. Discard the rosemary and separate the stock and the carrots, reserving both. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and cook the snap peas for 30 seconds, then plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking. Fill the saucepan with water again, bring it to a boil, and then boil the onions for ten minutes. Rinse them under cool water and then peel them.
Put the olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the tilapia in the oil until it is cooked and a bit crispy; set the fish aside. In a saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour over low to medium heat for four minutes. Slowly add the carrot liquid, the unused stock, and the clam juice, whisking constantly. Continue whisking and cook for three or four minutes, until the sauce is thickened. Get four oven-proof ceramic bowls or ramekins and put an equal measure in each of the corn, carrots, snap peas, onions, lobster, shrimp, and tilapia. Pour enough of the sauce into each bowl to fill it to near the brim, but not so much as to be soupy; hearty and chunky is the look we are going for. Refrigerate the filled bowls.
Roll each piece of pastry out on a floured surface to make a round big enough to cover the top of a bowl. After the bowls have cooled, whisk the egg and water together to make a kind of egg glue, and brush the outside lip of each ramekin with this glue. Transfer the pastry round to the top of each ramekin, pressing the edges down onto the glue. Trim off any irregular pieces with a knife. Then chill the dough in place in the freezer for half an hour. To cook, pre-heat oven to 475 and bake the ramekins for about 18 minutes, or until the pastry is well browned.
Many wines will go well with this, but a hearty white would be best. We love Rombauer, one of Napa’s really great chardonnays, widely available for around $30. Or, if you are lucky enough to have a micro-brewery nearby that will let you buy their beer in take-home jugs like the old days, when your grandfather brought beer home from the tavern down the street, this would be perfect.