Girls Night Out!

I’m out of town this week so I asked my digital manager Mary Ellen Pyle to write this guest blog about a Girls Night Out at the Garden Home Retreat.

When Allen goes out of town everyone in the office breathes a collective sigh. Not that we don’t love the guy, it’s just nice to have him out of the way sometimes so we can get things done. Brilliant as he is, he’s not one for detail work and there’s a lot of that around here. Last week we shipped Allen off to Merry Olde England where he is visiting a few estate gardens in Norfolk and Suffolk. He’s sure to return full of new ideas he wants to try out.

Before Allen left he set the ladies up with a Girls Night Out at the Garden Home Retreat. The theme was red wine and chocolate. He gave us some tips for dressing up the space without expending a lot of energy. After all, Girls Night Out is about having a good time without a whole lot of effort.

We set up our GNO in the west octagon building. Allen took his inspiration from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello when he designed these eight-sided pavilions.
We kept it simple inside with a red, brown and white color palette. The table cloth is made from fabric in the Tobi Fairley Home Collection. The pattern is 'Athens'. Allen made the chandelier with branches and Christmas lights.
Since it was HOT outside sangria seemed like a good way to enjoy red wine. We gave ours a lift with locally produced Mountain Valley Sparkling Water and Lombardi Limonata. The recipe is below.
Red roses and hypericum berries.
Red Gerber daisies with strawberries. Floral wire inserted into the strawberries keeps the fruit in place.
Allen suggested we use these La Rochere French Bee tumblers that he purchased at Sur la Table. Perfect for sipping sangria.
For a sugar buzz and a little sustenance we served chocolate raspberry mousse cake, pecan bars dipped in chocolate, fudge brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Yum!
Laughing it up in the kitchen before we headed out doors.
Luigi was the only boy at the party. He came with Mimi, Allen's COO. As you can see he was very excited to be one of the girls for the night.
Handsome Luigi.

Girl’s Night Out Sangria

  • 1 bottle red wine (Pinot Noir works well)
  • 1/4 cup Cointreau liqueur
  • 1/4 cup limonata
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 thin orange slices, cut in half
  • 1/2 peach or other seasonal fruit, cut in thin wedges
  • 1/2 bottle Mountain Valley Sparkling Water or to taste (1 liter bottle)

Combine all ingredients in a covered container and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours, or serve over ice.


Tobi Fairley

Sur La Table La Rochere Glassware

Mountain Valley Water



What to Plant Now for Fall Color

Can it really be summer already? It seems just yesterday I was gazing out of the window at my ice-encrusted garden, wondering if I would ever see my plants stand tall and wear green again.

During those dimly lit winter days it felt as though time was moving as slow as cold molasses. With the arrival of spring the clock seemed to speed up, and now, on the summer solstice, time is racing by like a runaway horse with me in hot pursuit yelling, “Wait! Not so fast!”

The summer solstice is my cue to make sure my garden is ready for the next season with plants that are autumn showstoppers. Here are 10 of my favorites.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)

Zones 8-11; 36-48 inches tall, 24-36 inches wide; flowers late summer into fall; pineapple-scented leaves are edible.

‘Prince’ Fountain Grass (Pennisetum)

Zones 8-11; 60-72 inches tall, 24-36 inches wide; excellent for fall arrangements.

Luscious® Citrus Blend™ Lantana

Annual except in zones 9-11; 24-36 inches tall, 20-30 inches wide; blooms spring through fall; attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

The Knock Out® Family of Roses

Zones 5-11; 3-4 feet tall, 3-4 feet wide; blooms spring through fall; Sunny Knock Out® produces hips too.

Blueberries (Vaccinium sp.)

Zone hardiness and size depend on type and variety; blooms in spring with berries following; outstanding fall color on a low-maintenance shrub.

Japanese Anemone (Anemone x hybrida)

Zones 4-8; 24-36 inches tall; 18-24 inches wide; blooms late summer into fall; will grow in partial shade.

ColorBlaze® Dipt in Wine Coleus

Annual except in zones 10-11; 20-36 inches tall; 12-14 inches wide; great color combination for autumn.

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale)

Zones 4-9; 4-12 inches tall, 4 inches wide; blooms in fall; leaves appear after flowers fade.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana)

Zones 6-10; 4-6 feet tall, 4-6 feet wide; blooms in summer; yellow fall foliage paired with bright purple berries.

Poor Girl Gourmet Tomato Tart for Under 10 Bucks

It’s hard for me to use the words food and budget in the same sentence, but the reality is that eating is getting more expensive. This forces us all to be more conscious of where we spend our food dollars. For me this is a good thing. This awareness helps reinforce the idea of simplicity over convenience.

I recently did a cookbook exchange with Amy McCoy, author of the blog Poor Girl Gourmet. What initially appealed to me about Amy’s cookbook is her use of in-season ingredients but as I read through the introduction and recipes I discovered a shared belief that good food leads to a good life. She puts an emphasis on eating well with cost savings in mind. What I really like about her advice is she not only shares practical tips for food budgeting but also suggests that choosing in season, homegrown or locally grown produce will save money too.

With tomato season coming up I thought it would be timely to share her tomato tart recipe. According to Amy it costs $8.51 to make and will serve four people. If you really want to get frugal plant three ‘Roma’ tomatoes this summer. You will easily end up with a bushel of tomatoes, which will keep this tart on the menu all summer. What tomatoes you don’t eat you can dry in a food dehydrator.

As with any meal, be sure to make an event out of it and relish the idea of eating gourmet in your own home.

Poor Girl Gourmet
Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC
ISBN-10: 0-7407-8990-2
Find a bookstore near you.

Photo courtesy of Amy McCoy

Tomato Tart

Serves 4, $5.00 to $10.00

If, for some unfathomable reason, you haven’t yet made the Savory Pie Crust, let this tomato tart be the motivation to get into the kitchen and do so. This is a wonderful do-ahead dish, and, as it takes advantage of vine-ripened summer tomatoes, also happens to make for an easy warm-weather meal with a simple salad of mixed greens.


  • 1 Savory Pie Crust, egg wash omitted (see Note; recipe follows)
  • 1 pound tomatoes (approximately 2 medium), cored, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices, seeds removed
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces as best as you are able
  • 2 slices bacon, cooked to desired doneness and coarsely crumbled
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn


  1. Set one oven rack in the customary middle position, and another rack one notch below the middle. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom on a 10 by 15-inch rimmed baking sheet to prevent that removable bottom from having its way with you. If the tart pan is not nonstick, grease it lightly, using the wrapper from the stick of butter that you used for the dough.
  2. In order to make the transfer of dough to tart pan go smoothly, when I roll out dough for pie crust, I roll it out on a piece of reusable silicone parchment paper that is lightly—very lightly—dusted with flour. This same process will work with plastic wrap or disposable parchment paper, and saves you from having to fold the dough over your rolling pin—or worse, having to peel the dough off of the counter—to transfer it to the pan. So, roll half of the dough out into a 12-inch circle that is 1/4 inch thick. To transfer it to the pan (which is now sitting on a rimmed baking sheet and should be very near to you), simply pick up the parchment and slowly flip it over so the crust is facing down and centered over the pan. Lower the dough into the pan now, and gently peel back the parchment. Tuck the dough into the tart pan, folding a small amount of dough back over itself into the pan to form a crust edge. It is also important to know that if your dough round isn’t perfect, this is the time to go ahead and patch any areas that require patching, simply using a dab of water to adhere the patch to the rest of the dough. This is particularly handy if your crust edges come up a tad short during the final fold-over. Remember, no need to get frustrated, there’s always a work-around, and it’s going to be delicious, patch or no patch.
  3. Refrigerate your crust for 30 minutes to prevent it shrinking up on you during baking.
  4. In order to achieve a crispy bottom crust, the likes of which will make you wonder why you even bother with frozen crust varieties, you must first bake the crust without its fillings, a process known as blind baking. It’s quite easy, takes but a half an hour, and is worth the doing, for you will be amazed—amazed, I say—at the finished product. Remove the crust from the refrigerator, pierce the bottom of the crust all over with a fork, then cover it completely (edges, too) with aluminum foil, shiny side down, and pour in 1 cup of dried beans, distributing them evenly. No need for fancy pie weights—inexpensive dried beans will do the trick to keep our crust free from buckling while we blind bake it. Bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Keep the heat at 400°F, remove the tart shell from the oven, carefully—we don’t want any burns, now—remove the foil and beans from the shell, and set them aside to cool, as those beans are now your fancy pie weights. Return the shell to the oven until it’s golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes.
  6. While the crust is blind baking away, toss the sliced tomatoes with the olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. Place them in a small baking dish or roasting pan and roast them on that rack we placed one notch down from the middle rack (where the crust is baking) for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  7. Keep the heat at 400°F. Remove the pie shell from the oven. Sprinkle the Pecorino Romano over the crust as evenly as you are able. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the roasted tomatoes from their pan, leaving the accumulated juices behind, and arrange them in a single layer over the crust, tucking them into place as necessary. Place the goat cheese chunks on the tomato slices, creating a lovely goat cheese and tomato kaleidoscope pattern as you do. Top that kaleidoscope with bacon crumbles, and return the whole lot to the oven. Bake until the goat cheese is lightly browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Now sprinkle torn basil leaves over the top of the tart. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing the tart from its pan—using oven mitts to do so, as that pan is still hot a mere 5 minutes out of a 400ºF oven—and transfer to a cutting surface. Slice into 8 more-or-less-equal wedges, and, if the summer heat has really gotten to you, tell everyone to help themselves, they can find utensils in the drawer. They won’t mind, so crispy is the crust, so sweet are the tomatoes.

NOTE: The pie crust recipe will make two crusts, and you will only use one of them here. If you aren’t inclined to make another tart a day or two later, simply wrap the other half of the dough airtight and freeze it for future use. Oh, and there will be a future use.

Estimated cost for four: $8.51. The crust costs $1.02 as made in the Savory Pie Crust recipe, less the egg wash. The olive oil costs $0.12. Tomatoes should cost no more than $3.25 per pound. One-quarter cup of Pecorino Romano costs us $0.25. A 4-ounce log of goat cheese costs $3.99, we are using half, so that’s $2.00. The bacon will be about 2 ounces, so at $6.99 per pound, that’s $0.87. The basil consists of the leaves off of just one stalk of basil, but we’ll go ahead and throw a dollar in for them. Even though you and I both know that’s being more than generous.

Savory Pie Crust

Makes 1 thick or 2 thin (12-inch) crusts, $5.00 or less

We start this chapter with a recipe that will change your life—or, at the very least, will help you stretch your food budget all while appearing quite fancy, thank you very much. It is imperative that you know about savory pie crust.

Let’s just say you have some leftovers—perhaps a beef stew, perhaps some chicken in, oh, I don’t know, cider gravy—and you’re thinking, “Boring! I can’t possibly eat that again.” Well, my friend, should this happen to you, simply whip up a savory pie crust. In about a half an hour, you will be placing into your oven a dish worthy of
company. If you happen to be a guest at my house during the winter months, you need not worry about being gauche by asking if the meat and gravy part of the pie are leftovers. They most assuredly are. And yet, you will be overwhelmed with the transcendent buttery flakiness of the crust, and will not care that I am serving you leftovers, my dear guest.

The number of dishes that can be fancied up with this dough is practically limitless. Ok, so you’re a vegetarian. How about a vegetable stew, or a lentil and carrot stew? You there, Ms. Carnivore, let’s make a chili con carne and top it off with a layer of shredded pepper Jack cheese and then the crust. Or maybe a lamb and carrot stew would be more to your liking. Why not add a bit of goat cheese under the crust for that dish? You see what I mean? Practically limitless.

So, now, just forget that you’ve ever read anything that implies pie dough is challenging to craft. Get thee to thy pantry and gather up the flour and butter and vegetable shortening. We’re going to make a meal-saving, savory pie crust.



  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) very cold vegetable shortening
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup ice water
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon milk (any kind)


  1. Now, you do not need a food processor for this, but I will provide instruction for both the by-hand method and the food processor method. It must be due to the fact that I have to hand-wash my dishes (that’s right, I have no newfangled dishwashing machine) that I’m not fully embracing the food processor method, but in the interest of full disclosure, I thoroughly enjoy working with dough by hand, or a mano. It’s soothing and also gratifying to know your two warm palms and ten cold fingers put it all together.
  2. To make the dough by hand, mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Now, not to scare you about the dough, because we all know now that the dough is your friend and is infinitely useful, but the reason why the very cold items must be very cold is because you want a flaky crust, and that can’t happen if the fats blend into the dough completely. It is the little bits of fat that create flakiness and give you that buttery crust we all hold so dear. This is also why you should use your fingers, the cold part of your hands, and not your palms, which are the warm part of your hands, to work the dough. If it makes your life easier, you can put the butter and shortening into the freezer for 5 or 10 minutes to ensure that they are both very cold for the next step.
  3. Cut the very cold vegetable shortening and the very cold butter into approximately 1/2-inch cubes and add them to the flour mixture. Using the tips of your fingers, blend the butter and shortening into the flour. What this means is, you plunge your fingers into the flour, coating the fats with flour, while breaking up the fats until they are roughly pea-sized. It is perfectly okay for some of them to be larger than pea-sized, you just don’t want them to be close to the same size as the cubes you initially placed into the flour. Remove your fingers from the flour and fats mixture. Get yourself a fork. Pour 1/2 cup very cold ice water (yes, I know I’ve mentioned “very cold” before—I am trying to make a point) into the flour and fats mixture and blend the water into the dough with the fork. You are trying to moisten the dough just enough that it holds together, so if there are still dry spots in your bowl, and I’m pretty certain there will be, add very cold, oh, absolutely frigid, ice water to the dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, blending in gently, until the dough is just holding together. On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
  4. And now, the food processor version: In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Then add the very cold butter and the very cold shortening, and pulse for about 10 seconds until the fats are pea-sized. Pulsing the motor, add 1/2 cup of the ice water to the flour mixture until it begins to form small balls. If there is still a fair amount of flour laying about in the processor, add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dry has become moist. Turn the small balls of dough out onto a lightly floured surface, being very careful of the metal blade—that thing is sharp—and form them quickly and gently into a ball. Cover the dough completely in plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  5. Now, let’s just say that you’re transforming Chicken in Cider Gravy (page 67) into pot pie, but let’s also say that you decided to use a rotisserie chicken that you picked up from the grocery store on your way home, and you’re going to make a cider gravy on the stovetop. You could pick the chicken clean and make the gravy in about the amount of time it takes for the savory pie dough to firm up in the refrigerator. Now, let’s pretend that your grocery store sells rotisserie chicken for $7.99 each. And that your cider gravy costs $4.16 as described in the Chicken in Cider Gravy recipe (page 67). And that the pie crust costs $2.60 to make. And that the pie serves at least six. Now, how much does that cost us? That’s right, people. It costs us $14.75 for the whole thing, or $2.46 per serving. With purchased rotisserie chicken. 6 Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  6. So now your gravy is done; it and the chicken are in the pie pan, and you need only to get the savory pie dough out of the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll it out to approximately 1/4-inch thickness in some approximation of a circle (or a rectangle, or a square; whatever shape baking dish you’re using). As soon as the dough is rolled out, gently lift it and place it atop your baking dish. Push the dough down the sides of the dish to firmly cover the filling as though you’re tucking someone you love into a toasty bed, allowing for an inch or so of dough overhanging the edges of the baking dish. Crimp the overhanging dough over itself to create a thicker crust edge. Beat the egg yolk and milk together and brush it over the top of the crust. Cut five 1-inch slits in the dough over the filling—be decorative with it if you like—and place your masterpiece into the oven. I advise you to put the baking dish on a foil-lined baking sheet in order to prevent spillage on the bottom of the oven, which might result in copious amounts of smoke in your kitchen, and might require you to set the oven to clean the next day. Ahem. Not that this is has ever happened at my house or anything. Bake until the crust is golden brown, approximately 40 minutes.

NOTE: When making pot pies, be certain that there is some liquid in those leftovers you’re transforming. Don’t go putting meatloaf slices sans gravy in a pie dish and topping it with pie crust. No. In fact, you should wrap the meatloaf slices in this pie crust as though you’re mailing them off in savory little envelopes and call it pain de viande en croute. Now, that’s fancy.

Estimated cost for one pie crust: $2.60. The flour is $0.71 for 3 cups from a bag that costs $4.49 for 19 cups. The baking powder costs $0.01. The vegetable shortening is $0.90 for our 8 tablespoons at $5.49 for 49 tablespoons. The butter used is 8 of 32 tablespoons at $2.79, so that’s $0.70. The egg yolk is from 1 egg, which is $0.26, and the milk for the wash is $0.03, 1/64 of $1.99.

From Poor Girl Gourmet: Eat in Style on a Bare-Bones Budget by Amy McCoy/Andrews McMeel Publishing

My 10 Must-Have Summer Perennials

I am a hopeless collector of perennials. I can always find a spot in the garden for new additions. While I love trying new plants I have a few mainstays that I rely on for gorgeous flowers and foliage year after year.


Daylily (Hemerocallis sp.)

Zones 2-10; size varies with species and variety; summer

I’m excited that I now have developed 2 new varieties this year out of my daylily breeding program. I can’t get enough of this old reliable favorite.

Hyssop Color Spires® Steel Blue (Agastache)

Zones 6-10; 18-24 inches tall, 18 inches wide; blooms summer through fall; heat and drought tolerant; attracts butterflies

I love this plant. It has been a tremendous performer in my garden. No staking needed. After the flowers fade I cut back the old bloom stalks and it keeps on trucking.

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

Zones 5-9; 36 inches tall, 24 inches wide; blooms mid-summer through fall; drought tolerant; deer resistant

The wide drift at the farm is spectacular from mid May to late June. After the bloom I cut 25% off the top and it will flower again late August through September.

Mexican Sage ‘Santa Barbara’ (Salvia leucantha)

Zones 8-10; 20-36 inches tall,24-36 inches wide; blooms summer through fall; attracts butterflies; drought tolerant; deer resistant

This plant is a mainstay in the late summer garden. It always gets comments from our visitors.

Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata)

Zones 4-8; 24-36 inches tall, 24 inches wide; blooms mid-summer into fall; attracts butterflies

We trialed this variety Flame™ Purple last summer. It proved to be an excellent re-bloomer right through the intense heat we experienced in July and August.

Lamb’s Ear ‘Helen von Stein’ (Stachy byzantine)

Zones 5-10; 12-18 inches tall, 24 inches wide; heat and humidity tolerant

‘Helen von Stein’ has grown in the garden at the Garden Home Retreat for the last 5 years. Love the giant leaves and fuzzy texture.

Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’

Zones 6-9; 24-36 inches tall, 24 inches wide; use silver-gray foliage a bridge between colors; drought tolerant

The frilly foliage looks great with Supertunia® Royal Velvet and Superbena® Royal Chambray Verbena.

Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.)

Zones 4-9; size varies with variety; blooms in summer; good for partial shade too

Heucheras are beautiful as singular sensations in containers. Plant 1 variety per pot. Many of the newer heucheras like Dolce® Key Lime Pie can take a half day of sun.


Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’)

Zones 4-8; 24 inches tall,12 inches wide; blooms early summer; variegated foliage adds sparkle to shady spots

The arching stems are a graceful addition to a shade border. Looks great poking up through hosta and ferns. Here I’ve combined it with Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica).


Zones 3-9; size varies with variety; the best foliage plant for shade

Hosta are such a versatile plant. I use them in containers on my screened porch.

Hardy Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium)

Zones 5-9; 6 inches tall, 12 inches wide; blooms in autumn; interesting patterned leaves that persists through winter; C. persicum is the type sold by most florists and is not hardy

Subtle yet inspiring. I so enjoy seeing their pink blooms in autumn when the leaves begin to fall from the trees.

Chinese Ginger (Asarum splendens a.k.a. Hexastylis splendens)

Zones 5-9; 12 inches tall, 18 inches wide; blooms in spring; excellent ground cover

This is a great low growing plant for shade. So easy and beautiful – I love foliage plants and this is a good one.