Je zou er een boek over kunnen schrijven……

In de zomer van 2012 opperde een familielid van mij dat het zonde was om alleen maar te bloggen over eten en wijn. “Je zou eens een boekje moeten schrijven”, zei de dame in kwestie. Subiet ging ik aan de slag, tekstjes verzinnen, recepten nakijken en fotootjes verzamelen. En in augustus was mijn kindje klaar, dacht ik. Van meet af aan wist ik dat mijn boekje “Gereons Keuken Thuis” een boekje zou zijn uit de losse pols, zoals ik zelf kook. Ik verzin vaak de recepten achteraf, nadat ik een maaltijd aan mijn thuisfront of gasten heb voorgeschoteld. Een werkje ook zonder foto’s van gerechten. Daar doe ik niet aan. Dat vind ik meer iets voor de menuborden met TL verlichting op een willekeurige toeristenboulevard. (grimast nu)

En het design, dat moest ook passen bij mijn keukentje, geen frutsels, niet veel kleurtjes, wat hout. Ontwerpster Fenny Kusumawardani van Atlantis Media begreep precies wat ik bedoelde. Zij maakte de lay out en de omslag. Ik ben er heel blij mee. En schrijfster Marieke Rijneveld gaf de voorzet voor de achterflaptekst.
In het voorjaar van 2013 begon het echte werk, het na laten lezen, het fine tunen, het drukken. Het had allemaal veel voeten in de aarde. Ik zou er een boek over kunnen schrijven, verzuchtte ik deze zomer.
Maar aan alles komt een einde. “Gereons Keuken Thuis” is nu een tastbaar feit. De bestelde boeken zitten al in een envelop en gaan vandaag op de post. Tijd voor het volgende project. Of misschien toch maar weer een boek? Wie weet, ik heb in ieder geval de smaak te pakken…

En dan de hamvraag, welke wijn drink je erbij? Ik ga voor een rode wijn uit de Beaujolais, de cuvée fût de chêne van domaine la Rizolière. Een fonkelrode wijn van oude wijnranken, vieilles vignes, 10 maanden gelagerd op eikenhout.

Talk and table, multi talented Debbie Travis

2013_03_04-Debbie Travis 0567--fin1 (1) picture: Debbie Travis,, she sent it to me!
When I was researching Frances Mayes for my blogseries ”talk and table” I stumbled upon a short youtube film starring Debbie Travis, roaming around the Tuscan land. She also visited the Mayes’ mansion Bramasole. My attention was caught. Wouldn’t it be nice to invite this multi talented woman to join my blogseries?  Debbie Travis is a British TV personality, a self taught interior designer, former fashion model.  Her ideas can be seen on Canadian television and of course on her website. Caleidoscopical as she is, she brings colour in your life.Whether design from the City or tips and tricks from her Tuscan get away. Bright and fun!  Let’s see if we can conceive a dish for Debbie from the answers she gives to my virtual questions. Needless to say that this willl be an dish  full of colour, nicely styled and with a Southern twist.
Who is Debbie Travis? Tell me some more
I am British but moved to Canada when I was around thirty.  I began my working life as a model in London and traveled around the world at a very young age.  I wasn’t the greatest fashion model but I did love doing television commercials.  I was intrigued by the process of making these programs.  I began to intern in London at different TV networks and finally in my twenties I launched my own television production company.  I was producing a show about self-made millionaires and took my idea to MIP the TV market in the the South of France, held in  Cannes every year.  On the first night there at a TV event I met a Canadian, fell in love and followed him back to Canada. I never actually sold my show but I did get myself a guy! He was European but living in  Montreal.  Here, reality set in.  I could not find a job in television because  the stations were French.  I began to practise the exciting craze that had just gripped the  UK.   It seemed everyone wanted to create paint finishes on their walls.  This led to many jobs around North America.  Four years later I made a ‘how-to’ video which was a massive success, teaching home owners how to create sponged, ragged, marbleized walls etc.  Through this video I was asked to appear on talk shows which again became successful. Timing is everything.  I had hit the new DIY market at the perfect time.  Through these appearances I was asked to create a TV show showing people how to do up their homes with a can of paint.  We produced thirteen episodes of Debbie Travis’ Painted House which became an instant success with a kind of cult following. Ironically the series was distributed back in Cannes at MIP and sold around the world.  I filmed this series, which I hosted and produced for seven years – two hundred episodes and sold in over eighty countries.  Then I created Debbie Travis’ Facelift which was the first reality based design show in North America where I surprised homeowners with a newly renovated home while they were away on a trip. Again this series hit a cord with homeowners became a hit.  I produced sixty five episodes over five years.  This was followed by two primetime network series From The Ground Up and All For One.  During these seventeen years the shows aired worldwide, I authored nine books published by Random House, I write a syndicated design column published by Kingfeatures/Hearst across North America which appears weekly in seventy newspapers.  I created a home product line with Canada’s largest retailer Canadian Tire producing Debbie Travis product from drapes, furniture, bathroom products, Christmas decorations, laundry etc.  I have become a speaker at mostly women’s events inspiring working mothers, women entreupeners etc. Now I have taken all these aspects of my career and I am holding women’s’ brainstorming retreats in Italy.  I fell  in love with a valley in Tuscany where I have bought an eighty acre olive and lavender farm.  Here I have restored an ancient property into a fourteen bedroom boutique hotel where I take these women for a girls getaway under the Tuscan sun.  They come from all over the world to discover where their next chapter may take them and to meet other like minded women and share their stories.
I have two incredible sons and have been married for a very long time to my business partner and the man I met all those years ago at that party in Cannes.  We live between Montreal, London and Tuscany


How did your attraction for interior design start? Well I have answered much of this in the above but while I was a teenager and most of my girlfriends shopped for the latest trends in fashion I was always rearranging my bedroom.

You have an own show on TV, needless to say that we can’t see it in the Netherlands. Although internet opens some possibilties. Can you tell something about it and when you started?  Yes my shows have all been sold to the Netherlands I have had 4 series which are seen worldwide and of course you can see them all online – my design books are published in English, French and Flemish

You worked as a model, what did you experience over there? Did it give you an eye for styling? No – my modelling years gave me the confidence to ‘just go for it’.   If you can stand in a bikini with twenty male executives after a boozy lunch for a casting for some job believe me you can do anything

What is your favorite type of design? Are you a city dweller or a girl from the country? I have four homes all different styles. I love modern and old together and am now a huge fan of ‘rustic chic’

Which type of interior do you like the most and which one you dislike? I am very curious about that   I am not a big fan of over the top American homes – I like simple European designs

You traveled a lot,  what was your most striking moment? Touring South Africa with the TV station there that airs my show – I took my son on safari which was awesome.  I lived in Tokyo when I was a model for six months and that was a life changing trip for a young woman.  I also walked across Vietnam to raise money for colon cancer which killed both my parents at a young age and I loved that trip.  I have hiked up to Machu Pichu to raise money for children with arthritis, leading two hundred Canadians through the Andes was pretty special.  I travel all the time mostly now back and forth to Italy.  My most striking moment was the minute I discovered my valley in Tuscany and realized this was my future

What was de biggest difference for you to overcome when you started  with your Tuscan getaway?  It is  different world from my television world but in some ways similar – instead of inspiring millions through a TV screen I get to give fifteen women a life changing experience and one of the happiest weeks of their lives – it is an amazing week

What is your attitude to Britain and British design nowadays? Gosh my attitude to Britain.  I love England and feel there is an enormous amount of talent there.  I love the way Brits socialize – I love the pub.    I am not a big fan of the typical country British design but I love the new modern British look

On food, which food do you like and which you would never eat? I am afraid I love all food – I love the freshnes of Italian food and I love wine far too much.  The only food I really really hate is mashed potatoes.  They make me retch.  I was educated by nuns who forced me to eat grey cold mashed potato and would even rub our faces in it – oops I am retching now!!

Which wines do you like? I love all wine – can’t say I am a great connoisseur  but I should support our local wine which is the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – the vineyards surround our property.  I have planted my own vineyard so we will see if it is drinkable soon!

Can you tell me something about your “footprint”  We waste a lot of food in the Western world? Yes we do.  One of things that inspires me about Tuscany is how we shop daily for just what we need.  I have a garden which I live off in the summer.  I shop at the market and adore explaining to my guests how we can only buy what is in season.  If its not asparagus season it is impossible to find.  They find this strange coming from North America but they soon  get used to it.

What else do you want to tell? My passion is inspiring women whether through design or to live to their potential and demand a happy life.  I am a business woman who left school at the age of sixteen and built a small empire.   My motto is Dream it…Do it…Live it

I also lived in Amsterdam, when I was a model and loved the city. One of my regrets is that I was once sculptured by a famous Dutch artist- no clue who he was, but he wrote to me years later and said the statue he had carved of me was in an exhibition in New York and if I would like to go. I was too young at the time to be interested. Of course now I would love to see it!

The recipe

What a wonderful and inspiring answers Debbie Travis gave to my questions. She is really a multi talented woman. For her I will make a simple, slightly classic, but nice dish full of flavour. It is a dish of fish and vegetables. Easy and  light. It is mid Simmer now. And this savoury fish will pair with a nice glass of white Vernaccia di San Gimigniano. A crisp organic Tuscan wine from Fattoria la Vialla.

Ingredients 4 persons:

4 trouts
1 courgette
1 leek
6 tomatoes
2 spring onions
1 red bell pepper
1 garlic clove
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 lemon
almond flakes
chopped parsley


Rinse the trouts and pat the fish dry with some kitchen paper. Give the fishes a dash of salt and pepper. Cut the courgette, red bell pepper in pieces. Chop the spring onion and leek in nice rings. Peel the tomatoes by putting them in hot water water first and cold after. Get the seeds out. Chop the peeled tomatoes in pieces. In a pan heat some oil and start stir frying the vegetables until light brown. Add the garlic, thyme and tomatoes and leave to simmer for just three minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven at 200 degrees C or 392 degrees F. Pour the vegetables and tomato moist in an oven dish. put the trouts on top. Place some parts of lemon aside. Put the dish in the oven for about 15 minutes. In the meantime you can chop some parsley and roast the almond flakes. When the fish is done, get it out of the oven and cover it. Leave the dish to rest for about 10  minutes.
Put some vegetables on a plate, put the trout aside together with a warm lemon part. Garnish with some roasted  almond flakes and parsley. Bon appétit.

When, after reading this, you would want to now more about Debbie Travis or the Tuscan Getaway? Go to or  Or just simply follow her on Twitter or Facebook

Talk and table, Kiran Jethwa

kiran picture: Kiran in his kitchen

For some time now, I watch the TV series ”Tales from the bush larder” on 24 Kitchen. Starring Kiran Jethwa.. He is a third generation Kenyan, a talented cook in Nairobi and a real adventurer. Cooking with all the lovely produce this amazing country has to offer. His mother is English and his father comes from  India. These two influences and the use of African produce contribute to all the taste that he shows us.

Kiran is also a big traveler, From the USA to Italy, from France to South East Asia, From Central America to India. All kind of flavors you will find on his menu! Intriguing!
Let’s see if I can conceive a dish for this multitalented guy, from the answers he provides to my questions. Needless to say, this willl be an international dish travel and foreign exciting ingredients to be in it. And I hope to venture something Dutch in it.
Who is Kiran Jethwa? Tell me some more.
I, Kiran Jethwa am a colorful and ambitious 3rd generation Kenyan born in Nairobi. I have an English mother and an Indian father and the influence of the 2 cultures in his life can be clearly seen in my cooking style. Having completed a BSC in hospitality management in Manchester, I then traveled all over the world, from the US, to Italy, France, South Africa, South East Asia, South & Central America and Australia to mould my professional abilities and broaden my palate. In 2010 I opened my first restaurant Seven Seafood & Grill which has been a huge success in Nairobi, Three months ago I opened a second restaurant, a bespoke Steak House- Seven Lounge & Grill.
How did your attraction for cooking start?
Growing up in a house, where food was the most important occasion and coming from a family (Originally from Goa) who created fantastic dishes at simple mealtime, have all contributed to my comprehensive knowledge and interest of the culinary world. From a very young age I have been cooking, but begun my formal training in a Hilton in Florida in 1996.
What is your favorite country? To travel to and to stay
It’s difficult to have a a favorite as every country offers so much. If I had to pick my top 3 for food and travel combined would be India, Thailand and Mexico.
Which means of Kenyan produce do you like the most and which one you dislike? I am very curious about that.
I don’t think I dislike any produce. Every food has its place in the culinary world. My approach is to take all food and get the best out of it in any dish you are creating. My favorite Kenyan produce has to be the Seafood from this country. We have incredible variety and quality here
Are there differences between African and European cooks?
There are differences and similarities. It is a bit difficult to generalize, but I would say the biggest difference in that African Chefs as a whole do not have the exposure to as much variety of ingredients. This is like only allowing an artist to use certain colours as opposed to all the colours of the world. The pictures ultimately will all have the same tone.
You talk a lot on finding local produce. What  do like like the most about it?
This for me is very exciting. We use food every day but often  have no idea where it comes from, or how it comes to be. The hard work and love. that farmers go through to give us the quality of food we desire in humbling and really makes you appreciate food more.
With whom would you like to cook one time and why?
Heston Blumenthal- quite simply as he is genius and he approaches food in away that is inspiring.
I once did a cooking workshop once for several guys from Eastern Africa. I remember that night very well.  Because the perception of cooking was so different between us. I learned a lot.“We men never cook” said one to me. They also didn’t understand the fun/leisure part of the cooking workshop. Can you tell me some more about the attitude of African men towards cooking?
Generally African men DO NOT cook. This is the womens job. I have just returned from Ethiopia filming series 2 of Bush Larder. This was very apparent there. I think its about tradition and chauvinism, but this is changing as Africa modernises.
On food, which food do you like and which you would never eat?
I am a great lover of ALL seafood, especially Oysters, There are so many different varieties and I love to try them. I dont think there is any food I would NEVER eat. Being a chef, it is your job to eat and understand all food. Some things you won’t like and some will allow you to discover new and incredible eating experiences.
Which wines do you like?
I LOVE WINE. In my restuarants I have a selection of over 150 at any time, and it always changes. I create the wine lists myself.  At the moment I am really loving the red wine from Sicily. I have a good selection of different grapes. There is a particular Nero-d’Avola which I love. I am also really enjoying various New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and an Albariño from Spain. My taste changes all the time- I think wine is fascinating.
Can you tell me something about your “foodprint.” Are you a conscious cook?
I am a very concious cook. We are very lucky in Kenya as most of our produce is organic. This comes by virtue simply of the fact that farmers don’t have access to methods that make food “un-organic”. My beef all comes from one farm that practice fantastic beef rearing techinques.Completely organically fed and treated. My seafood I only source from sustainable sources. I try very hard to be concious of where my food is coming from.
What else do you want to tell us? Do not be shy
Besides being a chef I am a lover of sport and adventure. I have played professional rugby in my life, and represented Kenya many time at international rugby. I love motorsport and rallying which I do as a hobby and any chance I get to travel and explore, or go on adventures and fish I will take. These days with my workload I don’t get enough time for this- but I guess that is life.
 039 fishing for mackerel just outside of Amsterdam


The recipe

Kiran has given me a lot of hints for a recipe. What comes in mind is seafood ofcourse. In the Netherlands, as a small country we are never far away from the sea. Since Kiran is an explorer, I am too in a more modest way, I will make him my balcony smoked mackerel served on a flour tortilla with grilled vegetables, a Mexican salsa. Easy to take with you on a trip. Or as a snack, while watching the adventures of Kiran on TV. The wine I suggest is a white Rueda wine from Northern Spain made from the verdejo grape. Crisp and fresh to pair the smoked fish an spicy salsa
4 flour tortillas
2 tbs of sour cream


the fish:

600 g of mackerel filet
wood ground
1 lemon for curing


the salsa:

6 tomatoes
2 red onions
1 clove of garlic
1 red spanish pepper
lemon juice
olive oil
1 ts cane sugar.



1 courgette
1 red bellpepper



You can either use an outside smoker or pan. You fill the smoker with special smoking wood ground, Like small pieces of oak, birch etcetera or smoking ground. 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. That is what I sometimes do on my balcony.

Meanwhile you cure the fresh mackerel filets in olive oil, salt, ground black 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. Smoke for about 10 minutes.Peel the tomatoes, get the seeds out and chop in fine pieces. Chop the onion, garlic, Spanish pepper, chives and parsley very finely. Mix everything in a bowl to get a salsa. Add some lemon juice and olive oil. Season with som salt and a treaspoon of sugar.Cut the courgette and bellpepper in pieces and grill them gently until al dente.

Spread some sour cream on each tortilla. Put some of vegetables and smoked mackerel on the tortilla. Top the whole with some salsa and fold them.

Provençaalse vissoep

 foto: zeilscheepjes in St Tropez

Ik zag eens een reportage over vissers in de calanques rond Marseille. Zij maakten voor zichzelf een heel basic maal, een vissoep. Hup een schep zeewater, pan op het houtvuurtje. Wat kruiden uit het struweel, venkel, tijm en oregano. Een flinke scheut wijn erbij. Vis in de pan en koken maar. Ik zie het op deze zaterdag ochtend nog zo voor me. De tevreden koppen van de vissers, die smikkelden van deze soep.
Eigenlijk is niets zo makkelijk buiten te maken als een soep. Echt een uitdaging, een éénpansgerecht voor in de zomer, op de camping of je balkonnetje. En dan maar hopen, dat je buren ook van vis houden. (dan toch maar binnen koken?) Haal de Provence in huis met deze vissoep. Erbij een rosé uit de Var. Fris en fruitig. Laat de zomer maar beginnen.


750 g zeevis, zoals poon, mul, wijting, pieterman
300 g garnalen en andere zeevruchten
3 rode uien
2 preien
6 tomaten
4 tenen knoflook
1 fles witte wijn
bouquet garni van peterselie, tijm oregano en laurier
1 glaasje pastis
1 visbouillonblokje of 1 l verse bouillon van viskoppen
peper en zout


Maak de vis en zeevruchten goed schoon. Snijd de preien en uien in kleine stukjes. Pel de knoflook en hak fijn. Ontvel de tomaten, haal de zaadjes eruit en snijd in blokjes. Breng 1 liter water aan de kook en los daarin de visbouillon tablet op.
Verhit in een pan de olijfolie en fruit daarin de ui, prei en knoflook. Voeg de tomaten toe. Daarna de vis en zeevruchten in stukken. Blus het geheel af met de witte wijn. Hang het bouquet garni in de soep en breng aan de kook. Giet beetje bij beetje de warme visbouillon erbij en laat het een half uur pruttelen.
Haal het kruidentuiltje uit de soep. Pureer de soep met de staafmixer. Giet als laatste een glaasje pastis door de soep. Maak op smaak met peper en zout.

Pastasalade met lauwe groenten voor Letty LaFaille

foto: deze appel stuurde Letty per post
Ons stekkie aan in Zandvoort aan Zee. Het heet Sea Spot, zo genoemd, omdat het uitkijkt op zee en op surfclub The Spot. Wij genieten al jaren van het mooie uitzicht, zomers van het strandleven, in de herfst van de verkleurende zee. En in de winter genieten we, warm binnen, van de lage luchten. Zwerken zoals op de schilderen van Hollandse meesters.
Ik deel dit heerlijke plekje graag met anderen. Hetzij voor een diner met vrienden, maar ook met mijn huurders. Ik verwen mijn gasten graag. Sommige gasten vinden dit zo leuk, dat ze nogmaals terugkomen. En dan als dank een leuk schilderijtje achterlaten. Dat bevordert het gesprek met elkaar. Je komt erachter, wat mensen bezig houdt. Zo ook de schilderes, Letty la Faille. Zij genoot dermate van het uitzicht op zee, dat zij het wilde vangen. Ik ben er heel blij mee. Het schilderijtje krijgt een mooi plaatsje aan de wand in Sea Spot, in een leuke lijst.
Voor Letty, die nu exposeert in Steenwijk, maak ik een lekkere pastasalade. Een salade van penne met geroosterde groenten, tomaatjes uit de oven en feta. Erbij een frisse witte Saumur van domaine Fouet. Wie weet zet ik dit gerecht eens klaar voor mijn volgende gasten.

foto: koolmeesjes

Nodig 2 personen:

1 courgette
1 aubergine
15 kerstomaatjes
1 rode ui
200 g penne rigate
sap van 1/2 citroen
1 el kappers
75 g feta
gehakte peterselie
1 tl tijm
peper en zout


Kook de penne al dente en laat afkoelen. Was de aubergine en courgette en snijdt deze in heel dunne plakken. Verhit een met olie ingesmeerde grillpan en bak de groenten om en om gaar. Leg apart op een bord onder wat folie. De bedoeling is dat de groente lauw blijft. Verwarm de oven op 180 garden. Leg de kerstomaatjes op wat bakpapier in een schaal en bestrooi met tijm. Laat de tomaatjes 10 minuten bakken. Snipper de rode ui fijn. Verbrokkel de fetakaas. Doe de penne in een kom. Voeg de kappers, de rode ui, wat olijfolie, peper, zout en gehakte peterselie toe. Hussel daarna de gebakken groente en tomaatjes er voorzichtig door. Knijp de citroenparten uit over de pastasalade. Serveer direct op borden en garneer met de fetakaas.

 foto: een tweede appel

PS. Het schilderijtje van de Noordzee staat op de pagina “Gereons Sea Spot” Ook eens genieten van het uitzicht op zee

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.

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.


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