Friday, October 9, 2009

New England bound

I'm off to Vermont and New Hampshire for the next week and will not be posting until I return. In the spirit of my trip, I wanted to discuss my current favorite garden writers, Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. These men design and care for a garden in southern Vermont called North Hill. I have never seen it in person, but I have walked the landscape in my mind for hours while reading their beautiful prose. To call them garden writers seems a little silly, like calling Anne Lamott a religious writer, or M.F.K. Fisher a food writer. They are all simply good writers, who happen to have a specific subject. More interesting to me is that Eck and Winterrowd write together and their shared voice is amazingly fluent and crisp. I have never come across their equal in this regard.

Each man has written separate books: Mr. Eck is the author of the essential Elements of Garden Design, and Mr. Winterrowd wrote the definitive American reference book on annuals. My favorite books are those that are co-authored, A Year at North Hill and Our Life in Gardens. They have another book about cooking seasonally from the garden that has become my great white whale....I persist in searching high and low for a reasonably priced used copy. I have a feeling that once I stop looking for it, a copy will bubble out of the universe in an unlikely place, like a book swap in a bar or a garage sale in my neighborhood. Until then, I return with alarming frequency to the works that are available in the Chicago Public Library.

Their books are almost impossible to read straight through. It would be like eating my favorite French chocolate torte in one sitting: too rich and too indulgent. That being said, see the recipe below. I am a fast reader, blazing through books in a night or two, but these are books that make me slow down. I savor them, rolling their words like wine on my tongue. I first read their books while I was nursing, and each chapter lasted just about as long as my baby's appetite. These two fed my mind in the same way.

I have a short list of books that I read every year or two, each reading a homecoming to a kindred soul: Lolita by Nabakov, The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, The Art of Eating by M.F. K. Fisher, Angle of Repose by Stegner, Jane Eyre by Bronte, Pride and Prejudice by Austen and The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. To this list I have now added both A Year at North Hill and Our Life in Gardens. Eck and Winterrowd inspire not only the gardener's imagination, but also the creation of a life lived exactly as you want, mud and all.

French Chocolate Torte

10 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cup sugar
5 Tbsp flour
1 /2 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 325. Butter and flour a 10 inch spring form pan

2. Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler, mix until smooth and put aside to cool slightly. Beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.

3. Sift flour and baking powder over the eggs and fold in. Fold in chocolate, and pour batter into the prepared pan.

4. Bake cake 20 minutes. Cover pan with foil and bake another 30 minutes. Remove from oven (cake will be slightly underdone) and remove foil. Let cool in pan. Cake will fall as it cools. Serve in slim wedges with some whipped cream.

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