Sue on 19 Dec 2008
Have you ever noticed that most jack o’ lanterns look best about a week after Halloween? Once the face has experienced a good frost and a few warm days, it’s features take on a whole new persona as the eyes sink and nose melts into the mouth. Soon to be removed to the compost pile, it provides one more reminder of winter’s fast approach. The progression of holidays has begun. Floppy pumpkin faces are replaced by colored corn and before long we swap the corn for wreaths and holly. Then the seed catalogs begin to come in earnest, along with the day dreams.
I once read that many of us garden in hopes of recreating our first magical experience with plants and nature. We remember colors, smells and textures in an exaggerated, dreamy way. Nostalgia paints a seductive picture, and we try year after year to live up to the masterpiece.
Years later, I still ponder this idea and it’s implications. Holiday memories seem much the same – filled with fragrance, taste and color yet impossible to define in exact form. Each year I try to give shape to my memories once again through my medium of plant materials.
We live in a great area for windowsill gardening. Most mornings provide enough bright eastern light to satisfy many different plants. Living plants provide a special holiday ambiance, particularly herbs and flowering houseplants.
Because the holidays have a tendency to be a bit harried (and I am absent minded when harried), I prefer plants that can take some neglect. If I forget to water or miss a pest inspection (within reason) there is not too much of a problem.
The herbs I like to use most around the Christmas season include sage, rosemary and thyme. I combine these with bright red and white geraniums and/or miniature roses for a new twist on an old theme. The sage lends a beautiful gray-green softness to the grouping, with a few of its leaves imparting traditional character to poultry seasoning, dressings and even potpourris.
With its evergreen needles and spicy fragrance, rosemary adds pizazz to the eyes and nose during the holiday season. If your plant is large enough, small wreaths can be made from its branches. Given as gifts, these dry beautifully and are welcomed by cooks.
Rosemary or sage provide a wonderful bed for roasting potatoes (see accompanying recipe). Drizzle with a little olive oil and you’ll find the basic spud elevated to a whole new level. A word of caution: rosemary and miniature roses both greatly resent completely drying out. Keep them away from heating vents. Gusts of warm, dry air take their toll on indoor plants.
If you intend to eat your herbs or rose blooms, don’t apply pesticides.
Washing plants periodically does wonders for pest control. It brightens them by removing dust and provides a shot of much needed humidity. This is so effective and restorative that I’ve invested in a small, shower-type gadget that fits over the faucet on my kitchen sink. I purchased it at a local hardware store for under $10.00. It’s flexibility and gentle shower allows me to easily clean the underside of leaves; a favorite hiding area for spider mites. Moreover, I’m sure that I’ve heard contented sighs coming from freshly showered plants drying on the kitchen counter. Honest! Now the recipe:
Herb Baked Potatoes
Peheat oven to 350 degrees
Idaho baking potatoes
Rosemary or sage
Scrub potatoes and pierce with a fork. Wet roll in salt until covered. The salt can be removed after baking. It aids in drawing out the moisture and results in a “fluffier” finished potato with a slightly sweet flavor.
Cover the bottom of your roasting pan with a bit more salt and herbs. The amount of rosemary or sage will depend on personal preference. I’ve completely covered the bottom of a pan with rosemary branches and didn’t find it overwhelming and the kitchen smelled deliciously of rosemary . Place potatoes on top of the herbs. Top the spuds with a few more herb sprigs if you’re so inclined. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top and bake for about an hour.
You should be able to pierce the potato easily with a fork when done. Great, fluffy baked potatoes are never wrapped it in foil! Foiling produces steamed rather than baked potatoes.
Sue Oberle’s article in the Winter 1997 issue of Real Life Magazine