The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, spaghetti met krab.


foto cover kookboek

De zomer laat het deze reis afweten. Geen warme avonden om al fresco zoals dat zo mooi heet te tafelen. Nou ja dan halen we gewoon de zuidelijke zon in huis. In maart verscheen het nieuwste werk van Frances Mayes, een kookboek. Samen met haar man Ed heeft ze eindeloos gekookt en gebakken met als resultaat het “Tuscan Sun Cookbook“. (ISBN 978-0-307-88528-9) In dit mooi geïllustreerde kookboek met foto’s van Steven Rothfield gunt mijn vriendin Frances een kijkje in haar Toscaanse keuken. Zij begon 20 jaar geleden te koken met beperkte middelen in haar nog te renoveren huis Bramasole. Daarna verkende zij beetje bij beetje de eetcultuur van de Toscanen, van haar vrienden en buren. Het kookboek bevat gerechten, die je kunt verwachten als je bij Frances en Ed op bezoek komt. Heerlijk eten en een “casa aperta”, open huis, zoals zij dat noemt. Ook lardeert zij het kookboek met verhalen uit haar eerdere boeken, foto’s van vrienden en haar huizen. Een speciale zeer praktische sectie bevat tips om een Italiaanse voorraad in huis te halen. Al met al een heerlijk boek om in te lezen en om uit te koken. Nu het zomerweer nog. Uit het “Tuscan Sun Cookbook” maak ik een spaghetti met krab, zest en witte wijn. Een lichte maaltijd. Salade erbij en presto! Een lekker koude sauvignon blanc erbij. Voor de verandering eens één uit Nieuw Zeeland, koel en crisp.

Nodig 4 personen

400 g spaghetti
400 g krabvlees
2 el olijfolie eerste persing
1 glas witte wijn
sap van halve citroen
1 el citroenrasp
zout en zwarte peper
50 g Parmezaanse kaas
gehakte peterselie


Kook de spaghetti al dente. Meng het krabvlees met de olijfolie, peper en zout. Verwarm in een pan en voeg de witte wijn toe. Als het kookt kun je meteen het vuur uitzetten. Meng de spaghetti en de krab en voeg de zest en sap van de citroen toe. Bestrooi het gerecht met de Parmezaanse kaas en peterselie. Indien de pasta iets meer vocht nodig heeft kun je wat kookvocht van de spaghetti toevoegen.

James Ernest Shaw a talented man, Chicken Tajine


foto: James Ernest Shaw

Some while ago I read about James Ernest Shaw through the weblog of an other American writer. I discovered that James is a man of many talents and passions. Filmmaker by origin, farmer and  writer. This man has a lot of stories to tell. A virtual conversation began through, mail and on social media on his latest book An Italian Journey. I immediately ordered his book and started to read his adventures in the olive groves of Italy. James most ardent question is the why of Italy! I invited him to particpate in “geprekken en gerechten” (conversation and recipes) Let’s see if we can conceive a dish for James Ernest from the answers he gives to my questions. Needless to say that this willl be an organic dish and olives to be an ingredient. And likely more elements from the Mediterranean.
Who is James Ernest Shaw? Tell me some more.
I am a retired filmmaker of documentary and adventure films. I grew up in the middle part of America, in wheat country in southwestern Nebraska. As a youngster I loved bicycling. I took my first long distance ride to the mountains of Colorado when I was fifteen and discovered that people are very open and welcoming to people who tour via bicycle.
How did your attraction for Italy and the Italians start?
My attraction for Italy began early – my best friend was Italian, his family owned a restaurant, and the food was very good. They also had a beautiful daughter. I briefly tell of her in the introduction to “An Italian Journey.”
Currently you own an organic farm, when did you start these activities?
I became interested in small scale farming when I read “The Unsettling of America” by Wendell Berry in the 1980s when I was researching the production of a film for a huge agribusiness client. Berry’s book opened my eyes to the abuses of agribusiness that attempt to overwhelm the natural cycles.
What is your favorite type of agriculture?
Small scale family farming. I love that small farms not only raise great food, they tend to raise outstanding families and citizens as well. Family farms grow strong work ethics.
Which plant do you like the most and which one you dislike? I am very curious about that.
I love lots of plants, but my favorite may well be wild plums. Once when my father was baling hay we discovered a bountiful harvest of plums surrounding the hay fields. My mother turned those plums into a delicious and very tart jam that I loved eating with homemade bread. Decades later, when I discovered that the farm I was considering buying had dozens of thickets of wild plums, I was ecstatic.
You traveled by bike through Tuscany, picking olives, what was your most striking moment? Many moments come to mind, some of which I relate in the book, but in general the thing that I can say is that traveling by bike rewards the rider with many unplanned and unexpected treasures, those special moments when the sunlight paints a landscape with a special glow, or you take shelter from a passing rainshower and are treated to the delicious smells of a field that has just been plowed and wetted down – I love that smell of freshly moistened earth.
Are there differences between American and Italian farmers?
 Yes. The important distinction is not that one is Italian and one American, but the differences are due to what food is being produced. American agriculture tends toward more mechanization because of the food that we tend to raise – wheat, corn, etc. Olives and grapes require more personal involvment – those activities require people and that builds stronger communities.
You talk a lot on the hand of God in the Tuscan landscape. Does that also apply to Colorado and Winsconsin?
No, the collaboration between man and God in creating the landscapes is not so noticeable in Colorado and Wisconsin. Small scale farming such as is prevalent in Tuscany shows off the collaboration much better – whether it is a rock wall defining a field or an odd-shaped pasture, the hand of man is seen much better in Tuscany. In Colorado and Wisconsin and my home state of Nebraska, the landscape and countryside is more a production of big tractors and machinery and less the production of a man working with his hands.
And for whom you would like to pick olives again and why?
 I would like to revisit all the farms where I worked, but I have a special fondness for Pietro and Aurora because in them I saw the battles that I see playing out in agriculture worldwide, between small scale farming and agribusiness, between farming for love and farming for business – both are important. It comes down to a question of balance and coming to the understanding that the land must be respected. We can get in trouble when we get so focused on high yields that we damage the land that sustains us.
On food, which food do you like and which you would never eat?
I can’t think of any food that I wouldn’t eat, except things like ants. I love tomatoes – they bring out the flavors of all foods so well. I also have a great fondness for potatoes – especially when they go from being in the earth to being on my plate in less than thirty minutes. I love fresh potatoes and tomatoes.
What wines do you like?
I seem to like everything I’ve tried from the Montepulciano area. I also have found that I enjoy making my own wine. Last year I made a particularly fine-tasting red wine from our raspberries – love drinking wine from my own land.
Can you tell me something about your “foodprint” A lot of waste we have in the Western world?
My wife and I favor local food. We enjoy getting to know our local producers and our local shopkeepers. We are raising less of our own now that our children are on their own (for the most part). We are now enjoying buying more of our food from our neighbors.
What else do you want to tell/share?
 If you want to get to know more about farming, or about people, I highly recommend volunteering to help with harvest, or planting, or cultivating, especially if you also receive an invitation to join the farmers at their kitchen tables. It will be an experience that you will never forget.

The Dish, chicken tajine with lemon and green olives
The dish I suggest for James Ernest will be a Moroccan tajine made of chicken thighs, olives and cured lemons. I chose this dish for him first ofcourse because of the green olives, but also for its flavors. I prepared this dish many times when giving a cooking class. A tajine is a stonewear cooking pot they use for hot pots like this. It has a conic lid and works like a kind of oven. It can be used on your stove as well on your way on a fire. Cured lemons are easy to make. Make sure they are organic. To drink I suggest a white Languedoc viognier wine. With its fruity tones to pair the 1000 and 1 night flavors.

Ingredients 6 persons:

4 sweet onions
6/8 chicken thighs
6 oz dryed apricots soaked for 1 hour, chopped
1/2 bushel of flat parsley
1/2 bushel of cilantro
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 ts ginger powder
1 ts turmeric powder
5 saffron threads
1 red chili pepper, sliced
juice of half a lemon
1 cured lemon in tiny pieces
olive oil to fry
pepper and salt


Rip the leaves of the parsley and cilantro. Put these leaves aside in a bowl to use later on. Make sure you do not throw away the stems of the herbs. They will be used in the stewing process. In a flat pan you heat some oil and fry the chicken thighs, rubbed with salt and pepper. Fry them golden brown. Get the meat of the pan and put them together with the herb stems in the tajine pot. Put the chopped onions, the garlic, ginger powder, turmeric, saffron and chilipepper in the same oil and fry. Add some water and pour everyhting on the meat in the tajine. Cover the tajine with its lid and let simmer slowly. Do not forget to add some water as to prevent dish from cooking dry. After 30 minutes you add some lemon juice and all the green herbs. At the end when the chicken meat is done you add the green olives, apricots and cured lemons, just to warm. Season with some salt and pepper.
Serve this dish with some steamed couscous.

Cured lemons

Wash the lemons thouroughly. Put a big jar in boiling water to pasteurize. Cut the organic lemons in 4 parts, but make sure that the lemons are not cut in 4 (loose) pieces. Put some salt flakes in each lemon and close. Put the lemons in the jar and press them thightly. Close jar and store for hree days in a dark spot. If after this period the lemons are not totaaly covered by their own juices, add some boiling water and salt flakes. For seasoning add some bay leaves and rosemary. Pour some olive oil EV on top to tighten from air. Store the jar for a month in a dark place.

Gesprekken en gerechten: Susan Herrmann Loomis and her recipe

 foto: Susan with a beautiful tarte tatin

Some years ago now I read the books and adventures of the American writer Susan Hermann Loomis, who wrote two books for which she is known in the Netherlands, a report on her kick off in Paris, restoring an old Norman timber house in the town of Louviers, adapting to French life and her start of a cooking school, called On Rue Tatin. The second book was called “Tarte Tatin” Reading her adventures make you feel as if you’ve known her for a long time. The press called her stories pure escapism. Susan was already known for her farmhouse cookbooks in the US. She has written a total of nine books.  In her third book, Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin, also translated in Dutch, Susan shares her recipes with us. I never got it back after lending it to someone. (who?) Suddenly I got the idea to invite Susan for my series “gesprekken en gerechten” (conversation and recipes) Based on the answers she gave I conceived a recipe, that will please her and ofcourse my readers. I suppose that it
will have a Norman Dutch touch. Certainly by using lamb’s meat from salty pastures.

Who is Susan and what would you like to share with us?
I’m an American journalist who specializes in food and loves France. I have lived in France for twenty years, and I am now a French citizen. I own a small, exclusive cooking school called On Rue Tatin ( in Normandy, and Paris where I teach technique-oriented classes in English. I have two wonderful children, and I live in a lovely home in the center of a French town.

You come from the Northwest of the US, can you give a description of that region and what is special over there?
The Northwest is gorgeous. Seattle is on the water. Portland is in a lush valley. Both cities are home in a certain sense, though France is my real home. If I had to choose between the cities, I’d choose Portland, for its food culture.

Nowadays you live in a small town in Normandy. Is there a difference?
Normandy has a very similar climate to both Seattle and Portland. There, the similarity ends.  In Normandy, the houses are old, the culture is too. People aren’t terribly friendly, but when you get to know them, they’re great. Everyone loves food; the soil is fertile so everything grows here (except citrus), it’s possible to buy just about everything from the person who produced it. And it doesn’t rain as much as people say it does.The colors of everything here are intensely beautiful, which is why the Impressionists called it home.

You invested a lot of energy in restoring your house and starting a cooking school? In another life, would you do it again? Or would it be somewhere else?
I’d do it again. I don’t believe in re-writing the script.

Your prose and recipes speak to the imagination, certainly with me. How do you do that?
I write what I feel and I feel things deeply. I think that’s what speaks.

My parents were/are very French oriented. De last two decades there has been a shift from French to Italian cuisine, certainly in my generation. Do you notice that in France too?
Not at all. Italy is looked upon with a certain disdain in France, particularly when it comes to food and wine. Everyone here likes pizza, but I’m not certain everyone here thinks it comes from Italy. There are plenty of Italian restaurants, but again, I wouldn’t say there is any “shift” in allegiance from French to Italian. The French love themselves, and they love and revere their cuisine.

On French society. In your books you tell that you had to adapt to many things. Did you experience change in the last decades?
Yes. There has been change. There are fewer mom and pop-owned stores. Even in my town, there is less of a personal touch, as bigger chain stores, banks, and telephone stores have moved in. Supermarkets have become the center of things more than they used to be. But the farmers markets are still active, there are still many producers. I think the link with the soil in France is what keeps it fascinating and rich. As an expatriate, one is constantly being surprised, constantly learning.

What do you miss from the US living in France?
Sometimes I miss efficiency; sometimes I miss smiles on people’s faces. I miss the instinctive understanding of “systems,” from the postal system to the electoral system. I miss friends, of course, but I’m very happy in France.

Culinary speaking, you are very experienced in French cooking now, which one is your favorite recipe? And naturally which wine?
I don’t have a favorite recipe, though I love to saute magret de canard and serve it with fresh sauteed cherries. I love almost all French wines; and as soon as I find one I love, I get some to put in the cave, then move along to discover more. That said, I have a penchant for French whites.

If you were to start a cooking school in the Netherlands, what would you want to teach us? I know this is a though question.
I would teach what I always teach: first, the importance of buying local and seasonal, making the best choices possible. Then, I would teach technique. Then, I would encourage everyone so that they gain confidence in the kitchen, and have fun both in kitchen and at the table.

Last but not least, do you want to share anything else in my blog? Please be welcome
Thank you so much for the opportunity to be part of your blog! I like what you’re doing. Putting people in touch with each other is so very important. Encouraging people to shop for good ingredients and cook with them is both satisfying and necessary. Time together at the table is too. Congratulations on a great blog!

 foto books by Susan

As said your dish will have Norman and Dutch components. This for me will be quite a challenge.
The recipe I suggest for Susan is a kind of navarin printanier, stew of lamb’s shoulder with vegetables, since it is Spring now and the Dutch pré salé lamb meat meets a French cuisson. The wine to pair is a red Bandol from the Provence.

Ingredients 4 persons:

1 kg/ 2,5 lbs lamb (from the shoulder)
4 medium sized tomatoes
150 g/ 5 oz French beans
4 carrots
6 stone leeks or spring onions
3 sticks of celery
1 bunch thin green asparagus
1 red onion
3 cloves garlic
250 ml/1 cup of chicken stock
6 tbs olive oil to fry
250 ml/ 1 cup of dry white wine
1 tbs flower
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly ground nutmeg

Rinse the lamb’s meat and dab with some kitchen paper. Cut the meat in 2 inch dices. Season with salt and freshly gorund black pepper. Remove the skin of tomatoes in the classical way, by using hot and then cold water. Cut them in four parts, remove the seeeds and chop into cubes. Peel the carrots and cut them in nice, not to small sticks. Wash the French beans, cut of the ends. Chop the stone leeks in nice tiny rings, cut the celery sticks in pieces. Rinse the asparagus and cut of the woody end. Chop the garlic and onion finely.
Heat half of the olive oil in a pan. Fry the lamb´s meat for about 10 minutes til brown. Add the flower, put in the chopped garlic and onion and fry for another 2 minutes. Pour in the white wine and add the tomato cubes. Bring to a boil and leave to simmer for 45 minutes, lid on.
The rest of the oil is heated in a sauce pan. Stir fry the carrots and stoneleek rings, keep stirring constantly. Add the beans and celery and fry for another 2 minutes. Cover with the chicken stock and let the vegetables simmer for about 10 minutes. In another pan the asparagus are cooked for about 8 minutes til tender. Get the asparagus form the pan and put in a separate dish, give them a dash of freshly ground nutmeg. Get all the vegetables from te sauce pan and put on a ovendish. Keep everything warm in oven.
Add the half of the chickenstock to the meatpan and let it simmer for 5 minutes. get the lamb´s meat out and put on same dish as the vegetables.
Reduce the sauce to the half, taste it and if needed, season with some extra salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables and serve.
Needless to say that this dish will be best enjoyed with crispy bread and rich creamy Norman or perhaps Dutch butter, the choice is yours!

Gesprekken en gerechten: Frances Mayes and her recipe

photo Frances Mayes (source internet)

For years I have been an ardent reader of the books of the American writer Frances Mayes, who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun, a stunning memoir on restoring a derilict villa in Tuscany and how to fill in her new Italian life. For over 20 years she has given her readers much inpiration out of the Tuscan land. I read on her weblog, that coming 13 March 2012  a cookbook with her Tuscan recipes will be given to the light, a saying of giving birth In Italy, dare alla luce. Suddenly I got the idea to invite Frances Mayes for my series “gesprekken en gerechten” (conversation and recipes) Based on the answers she gives I am going to conceive a recipe, that  I hope will please her. I chose for a surf and turf dish with an tomato/mascarpone sauce. The turkey meat and crayfish have both conquered the European menu, coming from the New World. And what to think of the pommodori? These are the quintessence of so many Italian dishes  Ofcourse there is no meal without wine. In my opinion a young Morelino de Scansano will pair with the dish. This wine is made from the Sangiovese grape in the coastal region of Maremma. This wine is not stocked on wood and bottled after 8 months. Serve this wine slightly cooled.

Who is Frances Mayes and What would you like to share with us? 
Writer, traveler, reader, cook. I live half and half in Tuscany and North Carolina, where my family is. I’m exceptionally lucky to be married to Ed, poet and fellow-adventurer. We never forget that life is to savor and rejoice in.

You were a teacher in San Fransisco, creative writing, how did this help to start an new life as a writer?
I’ve been a writer since I was nine years old. My teaching career built up a helpful knowledge of how other writers write. I learned to read anew–once for pleasure, again to see how the writer did it. I wrote a book, The Discovery of Poetry, that quantified my knowledge of the craft of a poem. Working with young writers was always stimulating–seeing them catch what I said and run with it. I quit teaching a decade ago to devote myself to full-time writing. I don’t miss teaching at all–23 years was good.

You wrote that at first you liked the calm pace of the Italian land compared to the frantic life in San Fransico. Now you live in North Carolina. Is there still such a difference?
My social life in Italy has become formidable! So now, North Carolina, where I’ve lived only six years, is my peaceful place.

You invested a lot of energy in restoring houses. In an other life, would you like to be a “geometra”?
I’ve a shadow career always haunting me: architecture. I’ve studied it always and love to travel to see buildings. I like interior design too and have a line of furniture, At Home in Tuscany, from Drexel Heritage. I like houses that ARE the inhabitant, not super-designed places that could be anyone.

Your prose speaks to the imagination, certainly with me. How do you do that?
Thank you! I like to work with images because they make direct contact with the senses of the reader.

My parents were/are very French oriented. The last two decades there has been a shift from French to Italian cuisine, certainly in my generation. How does it feel to be one of the pioneers in this field?
Cooking has been enlightening in Italy–the simplicity that’s possible with prime ingredients and a good way with them. Early on, I studied cooking with Simone Beck, partner of Julia Child, in Provence, an area so close to Italian cooking. I still love French food–and Moroccan, Chinese, Mexican, Thai–but for day-to-day, Italian is best.

On Italian society, you’ve called it homogeneous. Did you experience change in the last two decades?
Oh, yes, yes. The entire world is changing fast. Everywhere there are people who are from elsewhere–and in Italy I’m one of them! Right now in Italy, there’s a big influx of Romanians, who blend well, though one of my neighbors calls them “red face.” Immigration has been hard for Italy because for so long they were the immigrants but no one came to their soil.

What do you miss from the US being in Italy?
Only friends and family and my farm.

Culinary speaking, you have quite some experience in Tuscan cooking now, which one is your favorite recipe? 
That’s impossible to say! Love the pastas, the gelato, and most of all the plethora of vegetables from my garden. The big pork roasts, the pizza, guinea hen, figs, plums—everything!

Corn, tomatoes, eggplant are all from American descent. Italians gave an own twist to it. What can they learn form someone from the South like you?
Not much! They know everything! When I’ve served classic southern desserts such as pecan pie or caramel cake, they push it away after two bites. Too sweet. I’ve planted American corn and have had no success. “This is for pigs!” they say wonderingly. I think they would like, if I made it, our low-country boil, hush puppies, shrimp and grits, maybe fried chicken.

Last but not least, do you want to share anything else in my blog? Please be welcome 
I meet many Dutch people in Italy. You all are great travelers. I hope to get back there on a book tour sometime–have been only once.

Your dish I will give a litlle hint will be Italo Southern style. This for me will be quite a challenge.
I look forward to tasting it!

photo Sunday morning at home

Thus for Frances a recipe from under the low Dutch sky, with American origins and a dash of Tuscan sun.

The recipe:

Ingredients 4 persons:

4 turkey breasts
5 oz crayfish
1 bunch of parsley finely chopped
4 thin slices of smoked bacon
salt, pepper
2 tbs olive oil
knob of butter

1 can of peeled tomatoes
1 sweet onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves
salt, pepper
dired oregano
4 oz of mascarpone cheese
2 tbs of cream
olive oil
1 glass of white wine

2 oranges
2  heads of radicchio
1 cup of  roasted walnuts
salt, pepper
3 tbs olive oil
1 tbs of walnut oil
2 tbs of induced balsamic vinegar or crema di balsamico
a little dash of dried oregano


Cut the turkey breasts in halves an put them between two sheets of clinging foil. Flatten the meat by using the back of a pan. This is always fun to do. Season the meat with some pepper and salt. Put the crayfish and finely chopped parsley on top of the meat and roll the meat tightly around the crayfish. Cover the rolls with the bacon. Put together with a wooden stick. Heat some oil and butter in a frying pan and fry the rolls of meat quickly until brown. Put them on an oven dish and keep warm in the oven on 176 degrees. (80 Celsius)

In another pan fry the finely chopped sweet onion and garlic in some oil. Add the peeled tomatoes and a glass of white wine. Season with salt and pepper. Add some oregano. Let this simmer for a while. Whisk the cream and mascarpone in a bowl to loosen up. Strain the tomato sauce through a sieve. Do not bring the sauce to a boil again and mingle bit by bit with the cream/mascarpone.  (cover to keep warm)

Peel the oranges and cut them in nice thin slices. Cut the radicchio in pieces. Put both in a salad bowl and top with the roasted walnuts. Make a vinaigrette from the oils and induced balsamic vinegar. Season the salad with some salt an freshly ground pepper. Add a dash of dried oregano. Pour the dressing on the salad in tiny drips, so that the oil and balsamic vinegar seem to appear as drops.

Get the turkey rolls from te oven and put them on a plate. Cover with the creamy tomato/mascarpone sauce. Add some of the salad. (or in a separate plate)

Gesprekken en gerechten, Smoked cod for Jeff Minnich

This is the first in my new series of interviews and recipes. I start my sequel with Jeff Minnich from Arlington, USA. I happened to meet him through the blog of American writer Frances Mayes. We are both ardent readers of her books and blog. I invited him to join my series of “gesprekken en gerechten” Jeff is a garden designer and a poetical blogwriter. He has many talents. But, who am I to tell his story?  Thus, I sent him through mail some questions, which he gladly answered. Ofcourse my part of the deal is creating a recipe. As Jeff is living in the Mid Atlantic, I suggest a smoked cod, Dutch stirfried vegetables and a sauce hollandaise. The fun of this recipe is that it can be made at home or as in Jeffs case “al fresco”. My wine suggestion is a crisp white chardonnay wine from Burgundy, Mâcon region.

 foto: Jeff Minnich

Who is Jeff Minnich? Tell me some more.
I am landscape designer, horticulturist, gardener, reader, writer, cook, veterans advocate, partnered. I dabble in interior design; I don’t have any formal interior design training, but I love experimenting and learning. One thing I’ve come to know is that design is design—in other words, the principles are the same, no matter what kind of art you do.
I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, here in the U.S. I specialized in landscape design and nursery management. I have minors in English and business, also. I use every bit of what I’ve learned, and I’m still learning, every day. I have my own landscape design/build business in Arlington, VA, which is in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Most of my work is in the immediate Washington area, though I do some work outside the area from time to time.
My partner, Steve, is a fireman in Wilmington, North Carolina, which is on the Atlantic coast in the far, southeast corner of North Carolina, almost to the South Carolina border. It’s very mild there. Palm trees and Live Oaks, draped in Spanish moss, grow all over there. The Live Oak is a beautiful, evergreen Oak that grows twice as wide as tall—very majestic. Spanish moss is an epiphyte—it lives on its own, yet uses the oak (and other trees) for support. It is gray and hangs off the trees in long strands–very mysterious and beautiful. The warmer climate allows me to grow lots of subtropical plants I can’t grow in Arlington which is fun for both of us. One of the many things Steve and I have in common is our love of gardening, which we do together, often. We have a special place in our hearts for military veterans, also, and especially for those who were injured in combat physically and/or mentally. We try to help where we can.
In Arlington, I live in a little cottage (which is called Woodland Cottage) built on a hillside, surrounded by old trees. It’s magical. My garden is a place for good, hard, physical work, beauty, relaxation and spiritual uplifting. I love to share it with all who want to visit.
I write a fair amount—mostly newspaper and magazine articles. I have a blog, also, and I try to write in it once a week or so. It’s been fun and I’ve met many new friends. As I get older, and the physical work becomes more difficult (it isn’t so much yet), I’d like to do more and more writing and less of the landscape design/installation work. This Winter and throughout the coming year, for instance, I’ve agreed to write several articles for a newspaper and magazine here in Wilmington. It’s good Winter work and keeps my mind nice and sharp.
Steve and I love Savannah, Georgia, and travel there several times a year. The climate is wonderful. We’ve thought we might want to retire down that way sometime in the not-too-distant future, buy a bit of land and start a little Palm nursery, grow our own vegetables, get back to the land. I think we’d be very content with that set-up.
When did your attraction to gardening start?
I’ve wanted to garden for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia (right outside Washington, DC, also). We had an elderly neighbor who was an old family friend—in fact, our families go back together many years. They are really like family. Anyway, this neighbor, Marguerite, was a wonderful gardener and decided to help me plant my first, little garden on the back of our property. I grew vegetables, mainly, and a few flowers. Gradually, I took over the maintenance of the entire yard at our house (about ¾ of an acre), though I did share the grass cutting with my younger brother. Additionally, my maternal grandparents and my paternal grandfather were great gardeners, and I worked and learned from them, as well. They were “old school” gardeners and gardened by wisdom passed down through the generations—using few chemicals, planting/harvesting by the moon, keen observance of the seasons. Actually, all of this “old school” gardening is coming back into fashion now, as we all look for ways to preserve our environment.
I’ve had many other wonderful teachers throughout my life and I’ve learned much from them.
Currently you are a garden designer and owner of a garden design company. When did you start these activities?
I started my company, Jeff Minnich Garden Design, Inc., in 1997. Here’s a link to the It’s been an incredible amount of work, yet extremely rewarding. I absolutely love making order out of chaos, and that’s my job. I try to get inside my clients’ heads and figure out the best type of garden for each of them. It’s so interesting to see how many people evolve through the process. At the beginning, they say what they think they want in a garden…many times, after careful consideration, they find out what they actually want is much different. Fascinating, this metamorphosis. Many become wonderful gardeners, when previously they were not gardeners, and I think they are more surprised that I am.
Prior to 1997, I worked for 15 years as a landscape designer at a large landscape company/nursery/garden center in Northern Virginia. I’ve worked in florists, greenhouses (both retail and wholesale), nurseries…come to think of it, I’ve worked my tail off most of my working life! And loved almost every minute of it. Working with plants is the only work I’ve ever had, and I’ve been doing it since I was 5 years old, and professionally for over 30 years now.
What is your favorite type of garden?
My favorite type of garden is an eclectic one–evergreen (mostly broadleaf), textured, layered, very green, very dense; simple from a distance and more complex close-up. I love a garden that is private. A garden that appeals to all the senses. I would say a woodland, shady garden is my favorite—they are much more subtle, softer, with an emphasis on the textures and colors of the foliage versus the flowers.
Which plant do you like the most and which one do you dislike?
I love Palms, specifically the hardier species. When I look at them, I feel warm, even if the air is cold (as you may have discerned, I am not a lover of cold weather!!).
I really do love all plants, so it is hard for me to pick one I dislike. I would have to say I am not a big fan of Barberries (Berberis is the genus), specifically the deciduous types. While they have many wonderful attributes, particularly for Northern climates, I find them difficult to work around because of the monstrous amount of thorns.
You’ve travelled a lot to see gardens in the U.S. and worldwide—tell me about your favorite garden.
I find it hard to choose one, but since I must, I’d say Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. It was designed by Beatrix Farrand, a niece of the writer Edith Wharton, and the first woman in the world to become a landscape architect. Dumbarton’s garden is a series of very different garden rooms and each provokes a different mood. I particularly love to sit on a beautiful bench in a very, very simple garden “room” surrounded by clipped Yews. It’s quiet and peaceful.
I’ve admired many, many other gardens around the world, but these stand out without thinking about it too much: the Oak allee at Oak Alley in Louisiana; a magnificent, Bougainvillea-covered, modern arbor in a park along the river in Brisbane, Australia (it seemed to go on forever); the botanical garden in the same city which had a tree called a Sausage Tree—maybe the most bizarre plant I’ve ever seen; and Hayman Island in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia was incredibly beautiful, too. Come to think of it, at the Sydney, Australia, botanical garden, the Ficus trees were huge, but the amazing part was the flying foxes which roosted in the trees and ate the fruit at night. Those bats are giant!! And Muir Woods in California—those giant Redwoods—awe-inspiring.
I’ve loved so many gardens around the world, for so many different reasons.
Are there differences between American and other gardens?
Oh, absolutely. Our diverse climates make for the necessity of very different gardens across the U.S., based on the local climate. I will say that within these climates we’ve adopted the gardens from other countries that match that particular climate. For instance, California has a very Mediterranean climate, so the gardens there have many attributes that resemble Italy, Spain, and Mexico. The English settled in Virginia early on, so many of the Virginia gardens have a truly English feel to them, not to mention English boxwoods so suit the Virginia climate. They look right there. Further South, in South Florida, tropical plants from around the world have been brought in to create a beautiful, lush feel. It suits the climate.
And because America is such a melting pot of people from other countries and cultures, those influences have affected how our gardens have evolved, as well.
I would say the most uniquely “American” gardens might be those of the grasslands of the Midwest and Plains, and the deserts of the Southwest. In my own travels, I haven’t seen those represented as much outside the U.S.
What garden would you never design?
I would have to say a desert garden because I don’t know the plant material as well. I come from a lush place of humidity and rain. That’s what I know. As I mentioned earlier, design principles are design principles—the same around the world—but then, to make a healthy garden, you’ve got to know the best plants for a particular environment.
And for whom would you like to design a garden and why?
I love to design gardens for people who open their minds to the possibilities. Those gardens always turn out the best because they evolve with the collaboration. Oh, it’s fun, and we become wonderful friends during the process, too, nine times out of ten.
So many people come to the table with an absolute idea of what [they think] they want in their garden, and often, in my opinion, the kind of garden they think they want is not the garden for them, at all. Yet, stubbornly, they persist. If they would just open their minds to the possibilities, let go, and let the garden evolve as it will, they would have a garden much more tailored to their lifestyle and who they really are—not who they think they would like to be. I know that sounds harsh, yet in so many cases it is so true.
I once read an article about the movie star, Brad Pitt’s, garden. He collaborated with a very headstrong designer and Mr. Pitt is very headstrong, too, according to the article. There was a lot of head-banging and arguing, I understand! And yet, the garden they created together, their collaboration, is just astoundingly creative, beautiful and lush. I would love to visit there sometime, if Mr. Pitt still owns it, because I know he keeps it maintained as he likes it. What a talented garden designer he has…the guy is to-the-moon creative, in my opinion.
On food, do you think food and gardens can be complimentary?
Oh, absolutely. It’s the big trend now here in the U.S. Unfortunately, where I garden and do most of my design work, there is too much shade to include vegetables, fruit and herbs. But we do try where we can. In Wilmington, we have sandy soil and lots of sunshine, plus a long, long growing season. You can grow many seasons of different crops here. We put the Tomatoes in with the Zinnias, the Marigolds with the shrubs…we mix it all up. It really pulls in the bees, and the crop yields are really good (given a year of good climate). The birds come in…oh, it’s glorious. Birds and bees bouncing, flying and playing; singing and buzzing…the scents, the sounds…it’s so entertaining. And there is NOTHING like a fresh Tomato—the store-bought Tomatoes here in the U.S. are dreadful.
What wine do you like?
I have a limited wine palate—sorry, I do! I wish I knew more about wines! But I do know that I love the Cabernets, Merlots and Shiraz for the cold months; and chilled Chardonnays, sweeter whites, roses for the warmer months. I do not like dry, bitter wines—I always go for the sweeter. Champagne is lovely, but it gives me a terrific headache, so I don’t indulge often, unfortunately. As far as specific wines…I leave the brand names to the experts. I am probably kind of trashy when it comes to wine selection, but I do know what I like when I taste it!!
What else do you want to tell?
I’m very private, very simple. I decorate my own house and garden to satisfy me, not anyone else. To me, our houses and gardens in Arlington and Wilmington are beautiful, each very different, yes—but we’ve done them for our pleasure, not to show off or keep up with others. That turns me off. That said, others can do whatever they want with what they have. Who am I to judge? Have at it—whatever makes you happy.
I like nice things, yet I am not materialistic. I love to travel, yet I don’t have to stay in the Taj Mahal, either. I love simple dinners with close friends, our gardens, hanging out with my partner and family in our cherished spare time.
I love people. That’s a big part of my work, getting to know people so I can help them with their yards. The resulting friendships are a nice bonus. I know lots and lots of people, it’s true, yet I have very few “best” friends—those with whom I spend a lot of time. I can count those special people on one hand. And my family, of course. I do love my family and Steve’s family, our family. As much as I love people, I need my time alone—to read, write, cook, garden, sit and meditate, recharge. My work is very demanding, so I need this time to recharge so I don’t burn out.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  foto: bronze eelsmoker in Monnickendam harbour
The recipe:
Ingredients 4 persons:
for the smoked cod:
1 ½ lb of fresh cod or pollock
2 tbs olive oil
salt and peper
lemon juice
4 tbs smoking ground
for the vegetables:
1 big carrot in dices
½ lb of Brussels sprouts, halved
1 leek in slices
1 turnip in dices
olive oil
peper, salt and ground nutmeg
for the sauce hollandaise:
3 egg yolks
2 tbs water
6 oz unsalted butter, cut into tiny cubes, not too cold
2 tbs white wine vinegar
salt and ground white pepper
chopped parsley
the smoked cod:
You can either use an outside smoker, or a steam pan from a well known Swedish furniture supplier. You fill the device with special smoking woodpieces, like small pieces of oak, birch etc. or smoking ground. If not, an alternative way, is to use and old pan, with a thin bottom. You cover the whole inside of the pan with some aluminium foil, shiny side up. On top of the foil you put 4 tbs of special smoking ground.
Meanwhile you cure the fresh cod in olive oil, salt, pepper and some lemon juice and leave it to rest for 20 minutes. After that, you cut the fish in  medium thin slices.
Cover the smoking ground with some alu foil, pierce it with a fork and put a plate on it. Put some pebbles under the plate to help smoke/air circulation. Put a small grill on top of the plate.
Put the pan on a high fire and when the ground starts smoking, put the cod on the grill. Cover up with foil and a lid an let the fish smoke for about 10 minutes.
the vegetables:
Rinse and peel the vegetables. Put some oil in a stir frying pan and fry them until “al dente” Let them simmer for a while and add some ground nutmeg. Keep warm until the fish is done.
the sauce:
Melt the butter in a pan, that is in another pan with boiling water. See that the bottom is not in direct contact with the boiling water. (au bain marie method) In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with some vinegar and a dash of lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Bit by bit beat in the melted butter, then add some water water. Return this into pan and beat over very low heat until mixture is slightly thickened. Leave to rest. Add some chopped fresh parsley before serving.
Serve the pieces of fish on a bed of the stir fried vegetables and add the sauce.
Note: Special thanks to Keizer Culinair for teaching me how to smoke cod in a pan.


Gesprekken en gerechten, Talk and table


In het komende voorjaar start ik met een nieuwe serie blogs op culi_DL. Het heet voorlopig gesprekken en gerechten. In deze serie wordt aan de hand van een gesprek, een kunstwerk, belevenis of een boek een beeld geschetst van de verteller of maker. Naar aanleiding van het gesprek maak ik dan een recept dat het meest het besprokene weergeeft. Ik heb al enkele slachtoffers gevonden, maar ben JIJ van mening dat je in een korte dialoog een mooi recept zal opleveren?   Meld je dan aan en vertel me je verhaal.  Hier op de blog of via Twitter gereon_DL

This Spring I will start a new sequel of blogs on Culi_DL. For now it is called “Conversations and Recipes”  The blogs will portrait the maker of a piece of art, book or  the person who experienced an adventure. From the things they will tell, I will conceive a dish or recipe, that shows a portrait of the person to the reader. Already some “victims”volunteered. BUT, if you think that a short dialogue will make a nice recipe? Be my guest and apply  for a conversation. Apply now on my blog or Twitter gereon_DL

De weg voorbij: Poulet Basquaise

Jour de répos. De zachte smaak van de wijn nog op mijn lippen. Het feestmaal van de avond ervoor: “‘C’est simple, mais ca marche”, zegt mijn oom. Het menu: potage d’onion, jambom de pays (gerookte ham, vooraf geïnjecteerd met zelfgestookte eau de vie van pruimen, knoflook en afgewreven met zwarte peper), omelette aux cêpes, salade verte au vinaigrette, fromage, camembert van lait cru, Lanquetot, café noir en cognac.

En de wijn: Pomerol 1979, Mercurey en Bourgogne 1983, Domaine des hautes Perrays Clos du Cochet. Praten, veel praten en roken. savoir vivre, savoir la joie de vivre. Omstreeks middernacht val ik tussen de lakens.

Zomaar een citaat uit het zojuist verschenen relaas (De weg voorbij ISBN/EAN 978-90-817282-1-8) van mijn vriend Maarten van Rooy over zijn tocht naar Santiago de Compostela jaren geleden. Niet lopend, maar gewoon op zijn fiets vanuit het Brabantse land. Dit werkje stuurde hij mij deze week op. En, omdat u vraagt wij draaien nog liep tot 30 november heb ik voor deze noeste fietser vandaag een recept voor poulet Basquaise. Weliswaar niet zo copieuze maaltijd als in het citaat, maar wel genoeg energie gevend voor de klim over de Pyreneeën. Bij dit gerecht past een fruitige soepele rode wijn, zoals een Beaujolais Villages.Nodig:

1 grote kip
2 zoete uien
5 tenen knoflook
3 rode paprika’s
1 dl olijfolie
2 blikken gepelde tomaten
1 laurierblad
1/2 tl tijm
2 tl pimenton (gerookte Spaanse paprikapoeder)
peper en zout
1 glas witte wijn


Verdeel hele kip in gelijke stukken ( poten, vleugels en borst). Snijd de uien in ringen en de paprika’s in stukken. Hak de knoflook fijn. Bestrooi de kippenbouten met peper en zout.
Verhit wat olijfolie in de pan en bak hierin de kip mooi bruin rondom. Haal de kip uit de pan. Giet het braad vet weg. Doe nieuwe olie in de pan en bak zachtjes de ui, paprika en knoflook aan. Voeg de pimenton toe en bak deze even aan voor de rokerige smaak. Blus af met witte wijn en voeg tomaten, tijm en laurierblad toe. Breng aan de kook. Leg de kip in deze saus en laat het geheel een uur sudderen. Breng nadien op smaak met wat peper en zout.
Serveer de kip met stokbrood.