September 25, 2010

Willow Valley Garden
Saturday Supper Club

Willow Valley Garden utilizes the freshest, seasonal, organic,
locally grown and raised produce and meat.
What our own garden does not offer, we endeavor to procure from the abundance of our local community whenever possible.

This hardy, harvest menu reflects the bounty of our lovely autumn.

Harvest Moon Supper ❍ October 23, 2010

Palette Teaser
Roasted ~ Sweet Red Pepper, Eggplant, & Garlic Spread
with Toasted Baguette Rounds

Butternut Squash & Kale Soup

Serious Second
Apple Cider Braised Pork Chop
~ tender noodle dumplings ~
Sweet, Sour & Savory Red Cabbage

Apple Tart

Sharp Aged Cheddar

Mineral Water, Coffee & Tea Provided
B.Y.O.B. ~ Wine or Spirits
50.00 p.p. ~ all inclusive

❧ To Reserve a Seat at the Table ❧
space limited to 15 persons
☎ 815. 947. 3617

September 23, 2010

Harvest Moon Supper

It's been years since I have tasted a harvest supper in the Willow Valley, and it is a damn shame. Pushing my grocery cart through the crowded produce aisles in Portland, I jostle for position in front of a tower of tuscan kale. Stuffing a slender bunch of the dinosaur-skinned greens into a plastic bag, I wobble over to a basket of shallots. I fill a paper bag with those and move on to the next pyramid of produce. Mentally checking off the items on my list, I am soon swinging into the refrigerated section and beyond. Weaving my way along the linoleum path, until my cart is full enough to feed my family of five for the next week. At the check out, our family's diet parades, unceremoniously down the rubber mat, into the hands of a cashier. I have been shopping at this store for over two years and we still don't know each other's names, and she even has a name tag on. Sometimes there is banter, but mostly we share a congenial silence based on the fact that neither of us really wants to be there.

Later, I call my Ma and ask her for that recipe. The one she made the last time she was here. It was part of an amazing meal that we shared in the backyard with our neighbors. A Labor Day supper, that coincided with the end of my parents' visit, as well as the end of my son's summer vacation. Two eventualities that could have merited a can of beans and a fork, for the melancholy that accompanies them, but we decided to celebrate instead. Happy to be exempt from my kitchen duties, I watched as Ma sliced potatoes, thin and precise, then plopped the rounds into a cold water bath. A few days earlier, we had gone to Portland's big downtown farmer's market and stocked the larder. The potatoes were still dusty with dirt when we bought them from the farmer. My Pop chose the ones he knew would delight his grandchilden. The purple, pink and yellow fleshed tubers, were layered inside a casserole dish with heavy cream and butter, salt and pepper. We also bought lamb chops from a tent with bunches of fat shallots hanging from its poles. I stood off  to the side and watched my parents haggle knowingly with the rancher, while wondering how many customers he had served that day. Compared to the vegetable stands, he had only a couple small coolers. Pop asked for enough to feed four big heads and two little ones, and walked away with enough meat to feed many more than that. A market slight that Ma may still be stewing about to this very day. As luck should have it, however, that lamb fed six big heads and two little ones, our entire Labor Day party. Sitting inside the twilight of new September, we picked up the bones with our fingers and enjoyed one of summertime's last improprieties. And then there was the kale. We had begun to tire of the crowded booths and our bags were full, so we headed toward the train that would take us home. When suddenly, my mother remembered that she wanted to make a dish with kale. She slipped into the crowd one more time and came out holding a bouquet of tuscan kale as big as my seven-month-old son. At home, she cooked it just as stealthily as she procured it. Come suppertime, each plate was awarded a pile of the dark green ribbons, topped with slivers of sizzled salami and shallot. That particular dish disappeared long before any of us had had our fill and I was ready to make it again. 

The recipe is given with a chef's attention to detail and I stay with her until she starts talking about the dressing. I know how to make dressing, she already taught me that. Instead I start to imagine where she is, on the other end of the long telephone line. It is two hours later there and the sun is setting, the garden paths are slick with dew. Both of my parents have been working elsewhere all day, but now they are home and hungry. Pop gets sent out with a basket and a harvest list. Ma pulls a handful of shallots from the pantry. The stove is tucked into a dark corner of the kitchen, but soon it is humming with fire and light. The basket comes back from the garden dripping wet from the hose and laden with tuscan kale, peppers, beets, beans and basil. Always more than she bargained for, but perhaps she'll still send him back for something else. The kale gets julienned and blanched and set aside, then she fries the shallot in olive oil, followed by the salami. Pop sets down two place settings, while Ma transforms the drippings into dressing with honey and sherry vinegar. She will find a beautiful bowl. I can almost hear the chairs sliding across the wooden floor as they sit down to eat. The forks scraping across the plates and the harvest moon hanging low in the valley.

September 14, 2010

Long Live the Queen!

Lily Tolpo is a beautiful, vibrant woman who happens to have celebrated her 93rd Birthday September 13th. Rumor has it that one her beauty secrets is a daily dose of Garlic!
Her sparklingly positive engagement in living to the fullest is fed by an extreme can-do attitude besides a healthy appetite for garlic... and everything else in life.
This elegance shows a supreme comfort of living in her own skin. I 'm glad to be numbered in her multitude of friends and acquaintances. Long Live Lily!

breathe & grow

There's a back-story behind this blog. There's always been "A garden" in our family life - we had a postage stamp sized "French Intensive" on Burling St in Chicago in the early 80's. We expanded to Bette of Good's suburban plot in the City of Destiny back in the mid 80's. We really bit off the big wad and moved to the boonies of Jo Daviess County in the late 80's and really went crazy with this garden thing.

This need for us to dig and plant is a metaphor for our life in a way.
Gardens begin in a burst of hopeful enthusiasm. Fallow ground begs notice and responds wildly to any attention. When the efforts of that intimate interaction yield the first shoots of green, budding or flowering in abandon- it's green adrenaline for a melancholy winter heart. The flurried frenzy of summer growth is intoxicating - an explosion of DNA that feeds everything with its promise. The gardener's reward is the unstinting horde the plants provide us in their fruits and blooms. Nature's generosity is the great gift, gratitude for life's mystery the only option.

We eat and breathe what we grow - it becomes us. It's simple. Remember that.

September 13, 2010

The Story of Garlic

Splitting heads, counting seeds.
Tucked in snug.
First ones up.
Green Therapy: take a seat.
Wishing on a garlic.
July harvest.
Garlic salon, specializing in braids.
Cottage industry.
Willow found on a Portland doorstep.


Unlike grandmother corn who has let her two- legged children go a little crazy with the roundup readiness and high fructose craziness, grandmother garlic remains calm and reminds us that it is not about domination. It's about balance and beauty and heart. That we may all add our flavor to the soup and become the lovely vitality for all who have appetite.

September 12, 2010

I could be converted to a religion of grass. Sleep the winter away and rise headlong each spring. Sink deep roots. Conserve water. Respect and nourish your neighbors and never let trees gain the upper hand. Such are the tenets and dogmas. As for practice—grow lush in order to be devoured or caressed, stiffen in sweet elegance, invent startling seeds—those also make sense. Bow beneath the arm of fire. Connect underground. Provide. Provide. Be lovely and do no harm. –Louise Erdrich, “Big Grass,” from Heart of the Land