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Georgia O'Keeffe's Garden

View down the rows of a large vegetable garden.
The garden at Georgia O'Keeffe's home in Abequiu, New Meixico, one of the main reasons she purchased the property.


The leaves are changing, and we are experiencing an early, dry fall in the Northwest. September flew by before I could blink.


But in August, we visited New Mexico and the its sage-colored hills, rust-red arroyos, and the famous choice, "red or green?" referring to one's choice of chile on your food.


One place we visited was the painter Georgia O'Keeffe's home in the town of Abiquiu, about forty-five minutes northwest of Santa Fe. She had been looking for a property to buy, and when she saw this place, she was determined to own it.


Besides the amazing sky and wide open spaces, O'Keeffe was searching for a place to grow her own food. I don't think it was a fad or even widely thought about at the time, but it was one more thing of importance to the often-inscrutable artist. I am looking at the cover of a book called A Painter's Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O'Keeffe, by Margaret Wood, one of the many people who worked for O'Keeffe in her later days. In the photo, O'Keeffe is stirring a pot with her right hand, her left cocked at her waist, an almost-smile playing across her lips, as if to say, "Oh, go ahead, show me doing something unglamorous!"


When O'Keeffe first saw it, the land was owned by the Catholic Church; for generations before that it belonged to the Lopez family. The house was in ruins, but there was still a garden under cultivation. The people of Abiquiu kept up the vegetable garden, but just as important, they exercised the water rights associated with it. New Mexico water rights are governed by a strict system of acequias that might have been in place before the Spaniards showed up, as evidenced by the ancient trincheras still visible across much of the Southwest.


It took O'Keeffe ten years to convince the Church to sell to her, and there are many stories associated with the restoration of the house and property. At that time, she owned the property at Ghost Ranch, just up the road, but had to travel seventy miles into Santa Fe to buy fresh vegetables. Looking east and south from its perch above the highway, one recognizes the vistas that show up in the strong lines of her paintings, as well as the colors that signal we could not be anyplace other than New Mexico.


Wisely, O'Keeffe retained the family of the original owners to continue caring for the garden, sort of like Pharoah hiring Moses' mother to care for the infant found floating in a basket. Much of the produce is dried, canned, or frozen for later consumption, and I suspect, still sustains much of the town of Abequiu. The family continues to tend it today under the auspices of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum that now owns and manages the property.


The cookbook contains recipes that my mother-in-law from Denver would have recognized as somewhat Midwestern – watercress salad, eggs Florentine, orange gelatin. But it shows some Southwest influence like verdolaga (purslane), fried flowers, and yes, red and green enchilada sauce. There are bread recipes in the cookbook, but also recipes for biscochitos and sopapillas, both New Mexican specialties. O'Keeffe kept a grain mill and her cooks ground the grain for her breads. Wood describes poring over issues of Prevention, a healthy lifestyle magazine, with O'Keeffe, who was especially fond of buckwheat for its high protein and fiber content. While the photo shows O'Keeffe preparing a stew, I'm pretty sure she left most of the cooking to others.


O'Keeffe entertained frequently in the small but wonderful house, with its deep-set doors and thick walls. One room still has a "shepherd's bed," an adobe bench under which a fire could be built to keep newborn lambs warm. Stones she collected are everywhere. One of the people on the tour with us, a man in his late seventies or early eighties, recalled playing in the garden as a child, under the ancient blackberry tree and along the flagstone pathways, when his parents visited O'Keeffe. In her later years, O'Keeffe kept disagreeable chow chows as guardians and companions, prickly like O'Keeffe.


Walking through the house, one can just imagine O'Keeffe in a black dress and rebozo regaling her eastern friends with stories about local life as a storm sweeps dramatically across the landscape. They are nibbling at a plate of biscochitos and drinking tequila from tiny ceramic cups made especially for O'Keeffe. You know she is just waiting for everyone to go back to Santa Fe so she can greet the night by herself and sketch out charcoal drafts for another day of painting. Such is the romance of place.

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Vending Veggies

Sam Lillie of Veggie Vinder with giant kale leaf. or is that Swiss Chard?
At a reading from The Deepest Roots in Port Townsend, Washington, at the Imprint Bookstore, I met food purveyor Sam Lillie. His business is called Veggie Vinder.

-First of all, did you grow up in Port Townsend? If not, why did you choose to locate here?

I'm originally from San Diego. I moved to Port Townsend in December of 2015 about a month after I finished thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It took five months to complete and, because I solo hiked, I spent the majority of it alone. I returned to San Diego but felt claustrophobic from the amount of people. I have family in Port Townsend and was offered a place to stay while I transitioned back into the "real" world. It's been perfect. I get to wake up, have coffee, see deer, and be a part of such an incredible community. I applied to, and was rejected from, 106 companies across 4 states before starting Vinder.  Read More 
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Golden Summer

Golden Summer

As we feast on Copper River salmon, roasted vegetables and fresh greens from our community garden, followed by rhubarb and ice cream, I say, "We will remember this after the 9.2 earthquake takes out everything west of the Cascades. All the old people who survive will be shipped to the Midwest, where they  Read More 
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The Rock Farm

In July, Phil and Anita Rockefeller invited me (okay, I begged) to see The Rock Farm, a portion of their property that has been turned into community gardens.

When I arrived Sunday at 10:30 am, Phil and Anita were hanging what looked like prayer flags along the eight-foot high deer fence. Up close, I could  Read More 
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The Next Big Thing

Apple harvest
I first met Wendy Hinman at the Seattle7 Novel Live! Event, where a number of us wrote a group novel, The Hotel Angeline, as a fundraiser for literacy. We each got up and flailed away at an unfamiliar computer on a stage with a camera pointed at us. The result is still pulling in  Read More 
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Mid-Winter Food

Garnet yams from Abundantly Green
On January 1, we visited friends who live west of the Hood Canal Bridge. In their sunny bowl of a valley, vegetables were still growing under cold frames, and they sent us home with two week’s worth of salads and greens.

Three weeks later, several inches of snow covered western Washington, stranding us all  Read More 
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Feeding the Dragon

A writer's life.
January 2012

2012 is the year of the dragon, and an apt symbol for something I just experienced.

After a few days of holiday festivities, I turned back to “Notes from a Food Oasis.” When I opened the file, it hissed at me. I tried to read my work over the last two years, and it  Read More 
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Even Farmers Have Their Bards

Poet Paul Hunter
On November 20, Paul Hunter visited from Seattle to speak, sing and declaim at a dinner celebrating the fall harvest on Bainbridge Island.

Ostensibly a fundraiser for the Educulture program that brings school children to the farms and local farm produce into the schools, the dinner really celebrated local farming. Many of the people I  Read More 
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Corn Harvest

EduCulture Director Jon Garfunkel with fresh corn.
On September 26, children barked and dogs frolicked as we harvested 600 ears of corn that will be served in the Bainbridge School Lunch Program this week.

Farmer Karen Selvar and friends from a preschool in my neighborhood finished this off in less than an hour. Pull down and twist, and the ears come off with a satisfying snap. Read More 
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Clamming with Neil

All year, Neil had bragged about the special place where he found geoduck, someplace no one else dug. He made a mystery of it, but said he was willing to share it with me. Eventually, I took him up on the offer, and we picked a day. When I e-mailed the day before to see what time to meet, Neil seemed reluctant to go, although he had already instructed me to go to Walmart and get a shellfish license. Walmart is not that close, so I went online and, sure enough, was able to buy a license for shellfish and seaweed for $12, and print out a temporary license on the spot. It was good for ten days. There are all these rules around harvesting crabs and shellfish in Washington State, and a lot of disputes about who owns the rights to the tidelands and their product. I guessed that Neil’s secret geoduck stash was on public land if I needed a license. I was right, sort of. Read More 
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