Chaos teaches us to expect the unexpected, a concept that is certainly apropos this spring as we long to get some dirt under our nails. Weather patterns seem to unanimously agree on one thing: chaos rules. Having had to be extra patient getting into the garden up here on the Bruce has meant there’s a little more time for Netflix-ing and Tedx-talking (listening) and Instagram-ing. Imagine finding two movies centered on landscape design! Beauty in Chaos with Keira Knightley and Dare to be Wild, a movie about garden designer Mary Reynolds, both strive to push the boundaries of traditional design into new territory…a territory whose foundation embraces an element of chaos as essential. The science of the chaos theory asks us to expect the unexpected in all of nature’s infinite complexity. The beauty of chaos in the garden is that it often results in a resilience not found in the predictability and order of a more controlled design.
What does that mean for us? Well, it means paying attention. What are the parameters at work in our gardens? What are the variables that contribute to micro climates, sun patterns, wind, soil conditions, vistas, traffic flow, functionality and so on? How do these variables play out on an annual basis? Basic design principles tell us to establish a sense of balance and rhythm with our plants. I can’t resist an analogy made by Master Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf when he draws a comparison between a garden’s matrix planting and fruitcake: both can have a similar shape and both are hopefully studded with splashy treats. A good fruitcake depends on a good batter. A good garden matrix depends on plants that are visually quiet, with soft colours and a subtle form, such as grasses and long lasting perennials, which are then punctuated by the treats we love to come across, including a succession of irises, poppies, sedums and asters.
It’s spring: we’re at the starting gate and our palettes are full. After a long winter it sure helps to be able to roll up our sleeves armoured with a renewed sense of purpose and direction. Gardens are a work in progress. Just like us. I’m often reminded of a childhood memory my mother created. While gardening was certainly an enduring passion, fibre arts also occupied much of her time. She must have taken a banner making workshop at one point and came home with a huge 1×3 metre piece proclaiming “Bless This Mess” in her finest stitchery. She fixed it to the entrance to her studio to welcome anyone who dared to enter.
My interpretation is that while pursuing orderliness and excellence, she invited chaos. Finding the balance between order and chaos is always the key to unlocking an experientially pleasing landscape. Push the edge, tip the balance, stoke the diversity, pull things off balance and you’ll create an opportunity for folks to really take notice. Our roles as guardians, to preserve and enhance, is our call to action, our need to pay attention. And as the adage proclaims: there is no time like the present. The trout spawn in the creek, the robins seek sumac for fortification as the worms lie under so much snow and the “I probably planted them too early because I was anxious” seedlings in the window lean ever more towards the light in anticipation of the real deal. Point is, we adapt. We do our best to survive, to find (or sometimes lose) the balance. It sparks the creative process within.
And on that note, we have the perfect segue for our recipe. Which is, I have come to believe, our opportunity to turn the theoretical into the delicious through our act of mindfulness in the kitchen. With that in mind, let’s take Piet Oudolf’s illustration for a fruitcake and turn it into an amazing rite of spring passage…we’ll call it:
Savoury Wild Leek Bread Pudding
It’s ramp season; this is our call to the forest. Being mindful to preserve, harvest only the leeks you need. With a goodly handful, head back to the kitchen. Wash and thinly slice the leeks. Dice up some onions and garlic and sauté until golden. Add salt and pepper. Add the wild leeks, stir, cover and turn off the stove to let them rest.
Cube up a loaf of your favourite herb bread, or whatever-needs-to-be-used bread, and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes; set aside. In a large bowl mix bread and leeks together.
In another bowl add 3 or 4 farm fresh eggs with up to 3 cups of milk, cream, almond milk or your choice and whisk together. Use your cheese knife to shave in some parmesan cheese. Head to the garden and pick some eager chives, sorrel, dandelion leaves – anything green at this point – and wash, chop and add them to the leeks. If you have any basil leftover in the freezer, make up some pesto to add to the mix.
Grease your favourite loaf pan, start with some of the bread / leek mix and layer in the egg batter with some Parmesan shavings. Top with more parmesan. You may have enough for a couple of loaves, which is always a good thing.
Let these rest for a while to allow all the flavours to meld and the bread to soak up the batter. Bake at 350 for up to an hour.
This can be enjoyed hot out of the oven but wait…why not let it cool, slice, toast and use for an appetizer with salsa, or underneath pretty much anything breakfast oriented? Taste the matrix: the smooth silky batter punctuated by the sharp and sassy pops of the leeks, cheese and herbs working together (just like your new garden design).
Modify and adapt the ingredients to find your own new favourite savoury bread pudding dish to share with family and friends. Invite a little chaos into your life as you whirl about the kitchen. Throw caution to the warmer winds of spring and celebrate that “we made it through another Grey-Bruce winter”!
Expect the unexpected. Embrace yourself. Eet smakelijk!
Originally published in the May issue of Grey Bruce MOSAIC magazine.