Food Friday: Get Ready for Spargelfest!

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Are you all set for Spring? The snow has melted, the flowers are blooming and the sun is rising earlier every morning. Birds are singing. Have you started exfoliating? Are you eager to put the sweaters back in the closet? It’s finally April and we are springing with joy for asparagus season!

We have been eating asparagus for ages. 20,000 year-old wild asparagus seeds have been found at archeological digs in Egypt. There is an image of asparagus in an Egyptian frieze that was painted before 3000 BC. Queen Nefertiti decreed asparagus to be the food of the Gods. In the first century AD Emperor Augustus quipped, “Velocius quam asparagi conquantur,” which every clever Latin wag knows means, “As quick as cooking asparagus”. A recipe for cooking asparagus even appears in the oldest known cookbook: Apicius’s Third-century AD De re coquinaria, Book III.

The asparagus-loving emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus kept an “Asparagus Fleet” for importing their beloved vegetable from the far edges of their vast empire. Samuel Johnson, the great British diarist, made a note of having bought some at a market in 1677, though he called it “sparrow grass”, a more colloquial term than “asparagus”.

Asparagus, (or asparagi) named by the Romans, means “the first sprig or sprout of every plant, especially when it be tender”. There are four popular types consumed here in the twenty-first century: green, white, purple and wild. Green is what we usually find at the grocery store or farm stands. Germany goes mad for a couple of months celebrating white asparagus. They have Spargelfests, which are akin to Octoberfest, only they are celebrating the many virtues of asparagus. And the new asparagus crops will be coming to market soon.

Here is an asparagus-centric menu from the International Food and Wine Society’s Celebration of Asparagus Dinner held in England in 2010:

Asparagus mousse & char-grilled asparagus
With air-dried ham, toasted pine nuts, spring onion rings & 10 year old balsamic dressing.
Muscat Réserve, Trimbach 2008

Asparagus & watercress soup
Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Lemon-scented salmon fillet
With Jersey Royal new potatoes, roasted asparagus, sweet carrots & sorrel Hollandaise
Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Rhubarb & apple crumble
With vanilla pod ice cream
Clos L’Abeilly, Sauternes 2007
Freshly brewed tea or coffee with Florentines

“The mousse was lively and persistent, the wine light gold in colour and refreshingly dry with a good length.”

http://www.iwfs.org/assets/upload/regions/europe-africa/Food_and_Wine/Food__Wine_June_2010_1.pdf

But we are wasting time inside here at the computer. It is spring, and time to enjoy the great outdoors and the bounty of asparagus that is rolling our way. Carpe asparagi! Seize your lively and persistent asparagus by the lapels, and cook it with abandon! I have blown on before about our favorite way, which is to roast it on a cookie sheet under the broiler, with a scattering of salt, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. We also like to roll it up in aluminum foil and toss it on the grill for a few minutes. You can celebrate Friday Night Pizza and toss a handful on the pizza just as it goes in the oven. Or stick a few tender shoots on a piece of baguette with a schmeer of goat cheese. Don’t waste a minute, or a morsel.

Here are some other ideas for your own Spargelfest (Asparagus Festival)!

4 minutes (cooking time, add some more for prep)
http://www.diningchicago.com/blog/2010/04/21/eat-this-asparagus-the-vegetable-of-kings/

15 minutes for Julia Child’s classic hollandaise sauce:
http://www.food.com/recipe/julia-childs-hollandaise-sauce-251332

20 minutes:
Food52 has a genius of an idea, that they call: Alice B. Toklas’ Asparagus in Salt & Pepper Whipped Cream
https://food52.com/recipes/34736-alice-b-toklas-asparagus-in-salt-pepper-whipped-cream

20 minutes: Mark Bittman also suggests this heady combo: Asparagus with Miso Butter
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/11220-asparagus-with-miso-butter

25 minutes: The New York Times’ Mark Bittman suggests a hands down favorite Roasted Asparagus Frittata:
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017302-roasted-asparagus-frittata

And if you are trying to get some reluctant and unruly children to try asparagus, you can always start an Asparagus Race – who will smell asparagus pee first? Who knew that history and culture and a tasty plate of asparagus could lead to so much fun?

“A few Stems of Asparagus eaten, shall give our Urine a disagreable Odour…”
-Benjamin Franklin

Asparagus “…transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.”
-Marcel Proust

Food Friday: Living High Off the Hog

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There will probably be a little tone of desperation running through my columns for the next year. The Tall One is to be married next April, so I have got a year to pull myself together. I always say that I would love to be taller, blonder and thinner; maybe discovering I was switched at birth, and I will find out that my long-lost aristocratic British parents left me their small estate in Sussex with a generous annual stipend and a wine cellar and a housekeeper.

Ah, the price I pay for working alone. I can have some pretty outlandish flights of fancy. Indeed,Luke, the wonder dog, would like you to know that he tries to entertain me the best he can with walks outside and treats and hunting snakes. All normal stuff. But the fact is that I want to look good in the wedding photos, and not echo Emma Thompson’s character in Love Actually, and lament that I am wearing Pavarotti’s cast offs. I think can manage blonder. And I am hoping for thinner.

So I am going to try to forgo carbs, at least during the week, and step out more often with Luke. We have been walking 3 and 4 miles a day for the past month. But now I will leave the biscuits behind. Sadly. I do love a nice, hot biscuit, with a bit of dripped butter glossing my chin. Sigh.

The only thing good about going carb-free is that I can ramp up my bacon intake. Everything is better with bacon, as the saying goes. Even without those invitingly warm, crumbly biscuits. Which is a good thing – I almost always have bacon in the house because one never knows when The Tall One will descend and bring his enormous appetite. Like catsup and mayonnaise, and Lipton chicken soup and Saltine crackers, I reliably have bacon on hand. Capers? Not that often.

And I will be taking you, Gentle Readers, on this carb-free year long adventure. Prepare to eat bacon. But keep your frying pans and skillets stashed in the cabinet. Get out a cookie sheet and bake your bacon. An ever-so-wise friend schooled me in this technique, and it has saved me from hours of scouring pans, and wiping the grease splatters off the tricky bits on the stove. I do go back and forth – whether to cook on a rack, or use parchment paper or aluminum foil to line the cookie sheet. Our current thinking is to bake the thick bacon on the rack – which despite being bought because the package was labeled “Non-Stick” – the thinner bacon does indeed stick. It is a sad and unholy mess pulling the stubborn bacon bits off, though Luke is happy, because then he gets a little smackeral of bacon.

The baking time bacon takes a little practice, because it can vary depending on the thickness of the bacon, and if your oven is like mine and is a little wonky. Generally we heat the oven to 375°F and bake for about half an hour, turning it halfway through, just when the odor gets irresistible. That being said, I burned bacon using this method a couple of weeks ago, for the very woman who advised me to adopt this otherwise reliable technique. I was yammering away and forgot to check every few minutes. Let that be a lesson to you. Pay attention! Don’t burn the bacon!

This next recipe for weaving bacon is sheer genius. You will never again have to endure a BLT that does not have B covering every square inch. I cannot believe how many years I have gone through life without this approach to bacon preparation. Thanks, Mimi for finding this!

Bacon weave recipe: http://myfridgefood.com/recipes/salads-and-sides/bacon-sheet/

I know some of you Gentle Readers will want to know about the dangers of sodium and cured meats, so I am thoughtfully adding a link to an NPR story about such incidentals. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/10/25/240556687/does-bacon-really-make-everything-better-here-s-the-math

Here are some of the truly bizarre recipes I found while doing my very scientific fieldwork:

Bacon Infused Vodka naturally leads to a Bacon Bloody Mary…
http://whatscookingamerica.net/Beverage/Bacon-BloodyMary.htm

Bacon Cheesecake. Honest.
http://kfgo.com/podcasts/it-takes-2/939/chef-scott-talks-bacon-who-doesnt-love-that/

Bacon Peanut Butter Cups. Really?
http://www.baconfreak.com/recipe-bacon-peanut-butter-cups.html

And one last glimpse at bacon excess, although I never thought that I would type those words in the same sentence: http://www.npr.org/blogs/waitwait/2010/08/16/129232792/sandwich-monday-the-lady-s-brunch-burger

Sadly, most of those recipes involve lots of carbs. But that’s OK. I am happy with just plain, crunchy delicious bacon. Bon appétit!

“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.”
-Thomas Jefferson

Environmental Concern Holds Spring Native Plant Sale

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Environmental Concern’s annual Spring Native Plant Sale will be held on Mother’s Day weekend. Our staff will be ready to welcome the public on Friday, May 8th and Saturday, May 9th. Growing more than 120 species of shrubs, trees, and herbaceous plants for over 43 years, Environmental Concern (EC) hosts one of the largest native plant sales on the Eastern Shore. The sale will take place at EC’s campus located at the head of San Domingo Creek by the St. Michaels Nature Trail. Plan to walk the trail during your visit as many native species will be in bloom.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 8.43.10 AMEC’s featured plant this spring is yellow sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale). Vibrant yellow flowers bloom from June through November. Helenium autumnale offers high wildlife value. Both butterflies and hummingbirds find the flower an attractive food source. This easy-to-grow perennial mixes effortlessly with other summer blooming natives such as swamp milkweed and butterfly milkweed – two plants that are crucial to the survival of the Monarch Butterfly. The Monarch population has decreased by 90%. Help increase the population by planting milkweed in your garden this year.

Perennial favorites including the showy violet-blue flowered pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) as well as the eye-catching cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) will also be available. The vibrant scarlet blooms of the cardinal flower, visible from May through October, offer hummingbirds an endless supply of nectar.

The sale hours are Friday, May 8th from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 9th from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Pre-orders will be accepted until Wednesday, May 6th. Contact Penny at (410)745-9620 or email at nursery-sales@wetland.org.

All proceeds from the plant sale will help fund EC’s mission to improve water quality and enhance native habitat in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

EC is a 501(c)3 public not-for-profit organization. For more information, visit www.wetland.org or call (410)745-9620.

“Upper Shore Harvest Directory” to Become “Eastern Shore Harvest Directory”

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In 2012, The Upper Shore Harvest Directory underwent a major update in order to be the most comprehensive resource connecting consumers with local farms and agribusinesses in Maryland’s Kent, Cecil, and Queen Anne’s counties. Recently, in March 2015, the Harvest Directory gained enough momentum to expand, now servicing agribusinesses in Caroline, Dorchester, and Talbot counties with hopes of expanding even further, highlighting farmers’ markets, bakeries, stables, charter services, vineyards, wineries and more! The directory is accessible online at harvestdirectory.org, in print available at Visitor Centers across the region, and in the App Store for iOS and Android.

With hundreds of agribusinesses registered, customers can find plenty of local options in their area and businesses can expand their outreach to everyone on the Eastern Shore. Interested businesses may register at http://register.harvestdirectory.org/ www.linkedin.com/in/dorismason

Food Friday: Boston Cream Pie – Better than Jelly Beans

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This is a big food weekend; Passover Seders and Easter extravaganzas will abound. As always, I encourage you to simplify your life, and bake a pie that is really a cake: Boston cream pie.

We had neighbors who did not celebrate family birthdays with cakes – instead they always had pie – and sometimes store-bought pie, to boot. Somehow blowing the candles out on a dowdy, brown, deep-dish apple pie was never appealing to me. I always thought their behavior was edging deep into the grasses of the lunatic fringe, but now I realize that we have been baking Boston Cream Pies for birthdays and major family celebrations for YEARS! We probably haven’t baked a proper birthday cake since the year I pieced together Thomas the Tank Engine and some of his friends, for the five-year old birthday boy, who is now out of college and is engaged to be married. Once again my hypocrisy and quick moral high road are being questioned.

Though Boston cream pie is indeed a cake, with two layers and a custard filling, that is covered with chocolate icing. It was created for the Boston Parker House Hotel by Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian. It is the official dessert of Boston! It is a fun fact and good to know in case you are considering moving based on your love of regional foods. Boston is much closer than Aix-en-Provence.

Of course we take every shortcut known to science in the kitchen, and the BCP is an eager co-conspirator. If there isn’t time to bake the cake from scratch, it is easy to substitute a quick mix from Betty Crocker. If you haven’t yet mastered a decent crème pâtissière, then yummy custard filling can be made from Jell-O instant vanilla pudding. And the icing? It is the easiest thing ever, and the shiny patina makes even the most rudimentary baker look as skilled as the Best Amateur Baker in the Great British Bake Off. You will be a rock star. Now bake!

Although baking is a science as we are often admonished, sometimes you have to improvise. I do not use the entire batch of batter for a Boston cream pie. After I make the batter, whether homemade, or as I have suggested whipped up slyly from a cake mix, I only use about 2/3 of the batter. In my mind a BCP should not stand as tall as a two-layer layer-cake. The other third I pour into a couple of cupcake papers and leave out to keep the circling cake samplers at bay.

I line a spring form pan with parchment paper, and pour the cake batter into the pan, which I then place on top of a cookie sheet, and bake according to directions. After the cake has baked, and cooled, I slice it into two rounds, using a long bread knife so I don’t hack the cake to bits. (Martha suggested using dental floss to split cake into layers once. I cannot recommend this method, unless you are a very experienced ceramic artist. I could not achieve a straight line – it wobbled and looked like corrugated tin.)

Crème Pat – as they like to say on the BBC – courtesy of Martha Stewart

1 cup milk
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar together in a small bowl. Add flour, and mix until smooth and free of lumps.

Thin egg-yolk mixture with approximately 1/4 cup of warm milk. When remaining milk begins to boil, add it to egg-yolk mixture, and stir well. Return to saucepan, and place over high heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until pastry cream thickens and boils, about 1 minute. (Turning the pan as you whisk helps to easily reach all areas of pan.)

Reduce heat to medium, and cook, whisking constantly, until cream becomes shiny and easier to stir, about 2 minutes more. Pour into a bowl, and stir in vanilla. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming, and allow to cool.

http://www.marthastewart.com/316410/creme-patissiere

Or you can default to Jell-O Instant Vanilla Pudding. No one will mind. (Not even our houseguest, who works for Bon Appétit magazine!)

Artfully trowel on a good thick layer of the Crème Pat (or the vanilla pudding) on the bottom half of the pie and carefully replace the top half.

You cannot change one speck of this magic chocolate glaze! I have been using this glaze since 1989. The cookbook always falls open to this page, which is also the glaze I use for Flourless Chocolate Cake. It is covered with crumbs and splatters from the festivities from the last 26 years.

3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon

Melt the chocolate and butter together over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the brandy. Pour over the top of the cooled cake, smoothing with a spatula, and let it drip down the sides.

(The glaze recipe is from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, which I cannot find digitized or linked to any place on.)

Here is the link to the Spring Forth Cake from a couple of weeks ago: http://chestertownspy.org/2015/03/20/food-friday-spring-forth-with-cake/

And here is a short history of BCP: http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/BostonCreamPie.htm

Cover and put in the fridge. Uncover and let the glaze warm up a bit before serving – this will bring the shine back to the chocolate glaze. And sit back and bask in the glory. Hop on down the bunny trail. Yumsters.

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”
― David Mamet

Food Friday: Spring Planting = Summer Delights

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You have been waiting all winter for this – admit it. You have been thumbing through seed catalogues and feverishly imagining your sunny, raised garden bed, fecund and lush and o’er-spilling with cukes, and beans, and sun-warmed tomatoes. Thinking about all those tender, fresh, aromatic herbs that no one else can coax as greenly as you. Picturing the extra little flourish and the modest bow you will take when you humbly present your salad greens (with brio) at the Fourth of July picnic. Visualizing the ribbons you will take home from the Fair. Envisioning how you will please, delight, and amaze your family when you whip out a fresh, homegrown shallot for the salad dressing. Or when you pop open a jar of homemade pickles at Thanksgiving. Considering how you can take revenge on the idiot neighbor who mows his lawn on Sunday mornings – zucchini is the perfect passive/aggressive pay back. All the glory goes to you.

So get hopping!

These
cabbages,
onions,
spinach,
peas,
lettuces,
carrots,
celery,
corn,
summer squash,
tomatoes,
shallots,
pole beans,
lima beans,
watermelon,
pumpkins,
and zucchini
will not plant, water, NOR weed themselves. “Plant a carrot, get a carrot.” Get in a little elbow grease action – which is much more nurturing and healthy than hot yoga. Heavens to Betsy.

I have learned over the years with my sandy back yard, and my short attention span, that I am easily tired and discouraged. I now keep my exposure to a minimum. I am happiest (and most successful) with a little container garden. I have fresh herbs, and a catnip plant to keep the ancient bony cat entertained. I do a couple of tomato plants every year, but this year I bought some trendy heirloom, organic tomato seeds. Let’s see if they do better than my usual cheating, pre-fab seedlings from the hardware store. Although anything is better than those soul-less, soggy, cardboard globes I get at the supermarket.

It is time for my annual bean experiment. I imagine myself living in someplace ancient and beautiful like Sissinghurst Castle, where the gardener’s assistants take care of the weeds, and I am left with my follies and the trés amusement
garden structures I fashion from bamboo poles and woven willow strips. I will train the beans this year in a big terra cotta pot, with three bamboo poles perched like a teepee above the seedlings. Maybe they will do better than last year’s. Maybe if I remember to water every day they will have a shot at making it to the table.

I had a successful little run with lettuce last year. We had some awfully fresh salads for a couple of weeks. I doubt if it was very cost effective to wrangle my own little Bibb-aroos, but it felt so good to wander outside with the kitchen shears, and judiciously snip a leaf here, another leaf there, and know the salad was good and fresh, and I was leaving modest carbon foot print.

They are saying that all those Amazon deliveries, however convenient and fast, are proving problematic – they are increasing traffic and road wear as those UPS trucks come streaming our way with our cheap books and Kindles. So I have to do my bit and think of the environment when I plant my tiny little vegetable garden.

If you do not feel not up to the responsibilities of growing your own vegetable garden this season, now that the snow has melted, and the snow drops are popping up every where, please think about supporting your local farmers at farmers’ markets and farm stands and CSAs. We were cool long before Brooklyn and all its mustachioed, plaid-sporting, artisan, organic, heirloom, microcosmically hip farmers, tanners, butchers, chicken farmers, bakers and baristas. We like homemade and all the virtues associated with it.

It is oh, so very pleasant to wander outside in your jimjams on a summer morning, pausing to watch the sun rise, while munching meditatively on a dewy green bean that you have just twisted off a vine, before you ever have a cup of coffee or read the newspaper. Instagram cannot replicate that real delight. Honest.

https://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_images/uploaded/planting%20chart-spring.pdf

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2015/03/margery_fish_s_we_made_a_garden_is_a_feminist_manifesto_disguised_as_a_gardening.html?wpsrc=fol_fb

http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/classics/onward_and_upward_in_the_garden/

“From December to March,
there are for many of us three gardens:
the garden outdoors,
the garden of pots and bowls in the house,
and the garden of the mind’s eye.”
– Katharine S. White

Adkins Arboretum Offers Landscape Design Workshop March 28

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Register for Adkins Arboretum’s Landscape Design Workshop on Sat., March 28, and learn how to transform your property into an attractive landscape with year-round interest and beauty.

Offered again by popular demand, this all-day workshop will address typical challenges of homeowners in the Chesapeake Bay region. Three experienced landscape designers and avid gardeners will lead this intensive planning session. Come with your challenges and dreams, and leave with a landscape plan, ideas and confidence to transform your home landscape for your enjoyment and pride.

Topics include analyzing the challenges and opportunities of your property; developing a plan for circulation and unique features; designing “rooms” for outdoor living; choosing materials for patios and walks; incorporating sustainable practices; and selecting ornamental plants. The designers will offer practical advice on getting started; tackling wet areas; laying out a path; screening an undesirable view; and plants recommended for specific conditions. Step by step, participants will develop their own landscape designs.

Workshop leaders are Arboretum Executive Director Ellie Altman; landscape architect Barbara McClinton, formerly of the Baltimore landscape architecture and land planning firm Daft, McCune, Walker; and landscape designer and native plant enthusiast Chris Pax, a graduate of the George Washington University sustainable landscape design master’s program.

The workshop begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m. The fee is $125 for Arboretum members, $145 for non-members, and $175 for member couples. Advance registration is required. Bring lunch, a property plat, photos and other documentation of your property. Continental breakfast, break refreshments, worksheets and handouts will be provided. Register at adkinsarboretum.org or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.

Initiative to Certify Conservation Landscape Designers

rain-garden-x

Tom and Judy Boyd knew they had landscaping and drainage problems at their home in Charlottesville, VA. And even though Judy is an avid gardener and knows her fair share about the importance of native plants, they didn’t know as much about how their yard could contribute to capturing and treating rainfall.

 That is, until they hooked up with Virginia Rockwell, a horticulturist and landscape designer from Orange, VA, who is one of a growing breed of professionals who marry traditional landscaping with stormwater management techniques.
Throughout the Bay watershed, local governments, watershed groups and their partners are installing small-scale rain gardens, pervious pavers and bioswales to reduce nonpoint source pollution from stormwater and meet Bay cleanup goals. But they need help in making sure their investments are built right to begin with and maintained correctly over the long haul.
To meet the growing demand for qualified professionals, the Chesapeake Conservation Landscape Council and partners (University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension, Wetlands Watch, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Habitat Partners) is spearheading an initiative to certify professionals in the design, installation and maintenance of these landscape practices.
This consortium has engaged landscape and horticulture industry representatives, state and local government leaders, watershed groups, and educators and workforce development specialists to develop the certification program.
Their goal is to have the program established by 2016 in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, and expanded Baywide in 2017.
They are planning a program that will include a standardized evaluation of the skills and knowledge of landscape contractors in three tracks: design, installation and maintenance. The certification program will also have an online database to help consumers connect with trusted, credentialed professionals.
The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee, which consists of local elected officials from around the watershed, said that increasing the pool of qualified employees and contractors to carry out restoration and protection projects was a top priority in 2014.
Local governments are in the front line to make sure measurable goals are met for the reduction of nutrient and sediment pollution from urban and suburban stormwater.
Often, stormwater management practices installed at parks, schools and municipal buildings are the easiest way for local governments to get reductions. But this can be expensive — and in many cases, there are not enough opportunities on public lands to meet the stormwater reduction goals.
Thus the need for more residents, like the Boyds, to reduce pollution from their properties.
Christin Jolicoeur, a watershed planner for Arlington County, VA, who serves on the consortium’s certification committee, said that the county cannot meet its pollution reduction goals by installing practices on county-owned land. “We’re hoping that a large portion will be done voluntarily by homeowners and businesses.”
But stormwater management techniques like bioswales, rain gardens and green roofs — practices that combine infiltration with vegetation — must be designed and installed properly to improve water quality and reduce runoff. The Chesapeake Bay Program’s recent verification protocols, crafted to ensure that management practices are actually achieving these goals, offer up to five years of credit to local governments counting the best management practices toward their pollution reduction targets.
There is evidence that not all of these stormwater practices are working properly. Almost half — 48 percent — of a 2012 survey of rain gardens in the Severn River watershed failed to protect water quality. A 2008 survey in Fairfax County showed that 65 percent of the BMPs surveyed lacked adequate pond depth to capture stormwater effectively, and three out of the 20 surveyed didn’t infiltrate at all.
Donna Morelli, Pennsylvania director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, said that she’s seen BMPs installed as recently as 2010 and 2011 that are failing and need to be retrofitted to work properly. The Alliance works with local governments, homeowners and other nonprofits to install stormwater BMPS — often as part of grant-funded demonstration projects designed to encourage homeowners to adopt the practices.
“We’ve worked with some great landscape designers and engineers, but sometimes the installers didn’t understand the principals, Morelli said. “They didn’t follow the designs, or thought that substituting materials and plants was OK.”
The most common problem she’s seen is rain gardens that are convex instead of concave. “People are still used to the idea of mounding soil and compost for drainage away from a planting site.”
Having a certification program will help define and provide consistency in the best practices for small-scale infiltration BMPs, Jolicoeur said.
“Ten years ago, many installations were ‘experimental,’ for lack of a better word,” Jolicoeur said, adding that the science of bioretention is better now and standards are being developed in conjunction with state stormwater regulations and for credit in the Bay model.
Amanda Rockler, regional watershed restoration specialist with Maryland Sea Grant, one of the partners in the certification initiative, said it was also important that rain gardens and bioswales not fail aesthetically. “We need the citizens engaged in putting in these small-scale projects, but if they are hard to maintain or don’t look good, we’re not going to get widespread adoption by homeowners.”
Many homeowners do want to do their part in cleaning up their local rivers and the Bay, according to studies by the Hampton Roads nonprofit, Wetlands Watch, a partner of the certification initiative.
“We’ve conducted surveys in our area to help local governments understand the barriers that homeowners have to conservation landscaping,” said Wetland Watch’s Shereen Hughes, who is coordinating the initiative in Virginia. “Most homeowners said they just didn’t know how to do it.”
Tom Schueler, executive director of the Chesapeake Stormwater Network, said that stormwater utilities are offering incentives for homeowners to install rain gardens or other stormwater controls. Because few homeowners build the controls themselves, the demand for qualified professionals has increased, he said.
Landscape professionals are looking forward to the certification, too, as evidenced by the number of landscape and horticulture associations that have joined the certification partnership.
Both the Maryland and Pennsylvania Nursery and Landscape Associations are members of the certification consortium, even though they already offer conservation landscaping certification. The Baywide certification would complement these existing programs.
Rockwell, who is advising the Boyds and is a member of the Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association board, said having a Baywide certification program can enhance existing programs. “People from the industry say they are not hesitant at all about having another program, “ she said. “They are asking, ‘Where can I get the best training?’ ”
Having consistent guidelines across the Bay jurisdictions will also help developers, builders and engineers who work across political boundaries.
Growers, too, will benefit from the certification, said Leslie Cario, chair of Chesapeake Conservation Landscape Council. While running a large native plant nursery for 14 years, Cario saw growers shift from nonnative ornamentals to a wide selection of native plants and cultivars She expects the trend to continue as demand increases.
The multistate certification program will have to dovetail with existing programs and certifications, including those offered by trade associations, state-mandated pesticide and nutrient management requirements, and stormwater regulations.
There are regional differences that will need to be accommodated. Working in Tidewater Virginia is different from working in Fairfax County, said Sara Felker, coordinator of the RiverStar program for the Elizabeth River Project. “We have a high water table and sandy soils, so we’re going to be designing rain gardens differently and using different grasses.”
But the principles are the same, she said, pointing to the council’s eight principles of conservation landscaping (See box on this page).
Wetlands Watch’s Hughes said the consortium was able to draw on “some really strong work that has already been done in this area.” Anne Arundel County, MD’s, Watershed Stewardship Academy, the Alliance’s RiverWise program in Virginia, and the homeowner BMP manual developed by the Chesapeake Stormwater Network are examples of the many programs.
“We’re on the tipping point of conservation landscaping becoming mainstream,” Cario said. “With such broad support within the watershed community, we’re feeling strongly that this is going to happen.”
If successful, the certification program will be a key component of meeting Chesapeake Bay cleanup by supporting, in the words of the 2009 Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, “a dramatic increase in the number of citizen stewards — of every age — who support and carry out local conservation and restoration.”
There are numerous resources for homeowners and local governments who need help implementing conservation landscaping. A user-friendly guide that includes templates for planning and links to native plant nurseries and watershed service providers is found here:
By Leslie Middleton

Food Bits: Mason’s to Start Sunday Brunch in April

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The Pascal Group, which purchased Mason’s in December, announced today that the popular Easton-based restaurant will start opening every Sunday for brunch effective Easter, April 5.

“Many Mason’s ‘regulars’ and fans of our lunch service have told us how much they would enjoy joining us for Sunday brunch,” said Robert A. W. Pascal. “Plus, with so many people visiting the Eastern Shore on weekends, especially during the warmer months, we felt like we were missing an opportunity by not being open on Sunday.”

Starting April 5, Mason’s will serve brunch from 9:30 am to 2 pm every Sunday. Reservations are recommended.

The menu, developed by Executive Chef David Hayes, will feature traditional brunch favorites with a twist. Among the brunch entrees are Crab Cakes Benedict served with house-cured bacon, arugula, and tomato jam topped with hollandaise; Fish and Chips starring beer-battered haddock, a freshly made tartar sauce and English peas; and Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes, accompanied by fresh fruit and crispy bacon.

Chef Hayes, originally from England, is known for the European flair he brings to many traditional dishes. A graduate of the Colchester Institute in Essex, Chef Hayes interned at Buckingham Palace in London. He began his career on the Eastern Shore at the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels and was with Mason’s before joining St. Michaels Harbour Inn, Marina & Spa as Executive Chef in 2011. Voted “Best Chef Eastern Shore” by the readers of What’s Up? Eastern Shore Magazine, his recipes have earned him accolades in several culinary competitions.

In addition to the new Sunday hours, Mason’s is open for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. and for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm.

Mason’s is located at 22 S. Harrison St. in historic Easton. The 150-seat restaurant offers a variety of dining room experiences including a casually sophisticated bar and banquette area, a more formal dining room, an intimate second floor space and a relaxing courtyard. For more information about Mason’s or to make reservations visit www.masonsgourmet.com or call 410-822-3204.

Food Friday: Spring Forth with Cake!

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One of the perils of working from home is that I don’t get out much. Some days the only conversations I have are with the clerks at the grocery store. My office companion, Luke, the wonder dog, and I take a couple of walks every day. Luke is an enthusiastic and charming fellow, but his conversational skills are minimal. I can’t remember the last book he read, and he never minds that I do the crossword puzzle in ink. He might comment that I will never catch a squirrel, or that I don’t sniff mailboxes with gusto. And he would be right.

When Luke and I go on walkabout I usually have my earbuds firmly planted. I listen to several podcasts, and often feel that the folks on these podcasts are my real office co-workers. Podcasts are the intimates of solitary freelancers, nursing mothers and the sleepless. Every week Julia Turner, Dana Stevens and Stephen Metcalf charm my socks off. Their Slate Culture Gabfest podcast is full of good humor, insight, wit and bon mots. They merrily discuss popular culture with aplomb; dissecting current memes, television, music, and movies. Where else can I go for brilliant water cooler conversation? And one week, a couple of months ago, Julia (Yes, I do call her “Julia” in my cheeky fashion.) rhapsodized poetical about a recipe she had found in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook for the perfect cake. I looked up the recipe and filed it away for another day.

And today is the day! It’s time to forget about winter, and move on to celebrating Spring! I have had the delightful television baking experience of The Great British Bake Off to fan my enthusiasm for home baking, and what better way to pay homage to Spring than with Smitten Kitchen’s Best Yellow Layer Cake? While you are poking through the brown oak leaves under the side yard hedge, looking for tender green daffodil shoots, you will be much happier knowing that there will be a slice of cake and a tall cold glass of milk waiting for you in the kitchen. The squirrels have retreated, so Luke has to stick with kibble, which always makes him very happy.

Smitten Kitchen’s Best Yellow Layer Cake

“Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers, and, in theory, 22 to 24 cupcakes, two 8-inch squares or a 9×13 single-layer cake
4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.”

The Smitten Kitchen goes on to suggest that you use a chocolate icing, but I am feeling too cheerful and full of new spring hope. I am making a light, lemon-y icing instead.

Lemon Buttercream Icing

1 stick butter – room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Salt
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons half and half or milk

Beat the butter in the bowl with and electric mixer until it is fluffy. Add the confectioner’s sugar just a few tablespoons at a time. Add the salt and vanilla extract. Continue adding confectioner’s sugar, alternating with splashes of cream (or milk) and lemon juice Add more cream (or milk) if you like thinner frosting. You will need to double this recipe if you want to have tidy frosted sides to the cake.

Scrumptious! Thank you, Julia Turner!

You can find more charming intelligent folks on the Slate Panoply podcast network who discuss sports, finance, politics, the Supreme Court and even our friends from Food 52 with a podcast called Burnt Toast: http://www.panoply.fm/shows

More recipes:
http://smittenkitchen.com/

More of Julia, Dana and Stephen:
http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/culturegabfest.html

“In Britain, a cup of tea is the answer to every problem.
Fallen off your bicycle? Nice cup of tea.
Your house has been destroyed by a meteorite? Nice cup of tea and a biscuit.
Your entire family has been eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex that has travelled through a space/time portal?
Nice cup of tea and a piece of cake.
Possibly a savoury option would be welcome here too, for example a Scotch egg or a sausage roll.”
― David Walliams