I grew up in a small town near one set of grandparents who collected antiques, and another set who were lifelong gardeners. From both I learned that creating a home is really a collection of traditions to pass on, more than simply things to possess. A piece of furniture or a plant is just the most visible end result of a continuing process of history, shared with knowledge and care.
That might sound old-fashioned in an age where almost anything is available instantly at our fingertips, and newer is better; but I do think the notion of care -- of attention -- is at the heart of what I try to do in my own life and in my work. This is about time put in, to cultivate and to hand-pick the things that have a different, older wisdom to them, and to bring that knowledge forward. It's how we adapt those things to this time of now, matching traditions to modern habits, that intrigues me.
Gardening is a tradition to which I've finally been able to give serious attention over the past several years. I have always had a little terrace garden at my city apartment; but at my house on Long Island I inherited beautiful outdoor spaces and generations-old trees to care for. I have a real obligation to be a keeper of the land. I have created several different types of outdoor gardens here, none so special to me as my kitchen garden. I like to think that my grandparents would be especially proud of this garden, of the time over many seasons that it took to cultivate, with all a gardener's trial and error. I think they would be pleased at how wondrous it is for me to be able to enjoy food that I've grown; something that was just a given in their time.
I have been eating almost exclusively out of the garden all summer. I plan meals and make salads with whatever is ready to be picked. There's nothing new about extremely local seasonal eating, but the cooking that is a result of this garden is a new stretch for me, and certainly very different from what my grandparents would have eaten. The preparation of the food is what is modern in spirit. For me it's about keeping flavors fresh and rustic, using perfect, unfussed-with ingredients -- more about a simple method of layering than following elaborate recipes.
I've been growing many varieties of herbs, and I especially love to chop those up each weekend, to layer into everything from pasta to teas to omelets. I roast or marinate different ingredients separately, and then I just throw them together. I have discovered the ease of making elemental food at home, and Alice Waters is my new hero. It is such a full-circle experience for me now to connect these worlds of the in-and outdoors: entertaining around the kitchen island, prepping all kinds of little bowls of produce fresh from the garden, visiting with friends while I cook.
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