The Spiritual Gardener: Feasting With Thanks

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Flowers for your holiday table, plus two fabulous recipes for Thanksgiving and the cooler months to come.

It was sunny and chilly this morning as I drove off to work. The impatiens have all collapsed, the grass had a crispy crunch when I went out to get the papers and even a rhododendron or two were droopy. That’s how you know it’s really cold here, when the rhododendrons droop like that.

It has actually been rather mild here so far this fall, though obviously that can’t last much longer, as winter begins to bear down upon us. We had the merest lick of frost last week that scarcely even caused the impatiens to shiver; our leaves are mostly down, raked up and carted away, though our town still looks lovely with quite a bit of remaining color. A single giant purple clematis flower has opened and flung itself defiantly into the teeth of the oncoming winter, and across the patio a single bold pink gerbera daisy has bloomed; a few roses are straggling along in sporadic bloom as they will almost until Christmas week.

This weekend, I tried a new thing: I got out my hedge trimmers and cut down, by degrees, all the dead or near-dead things in the garden in furtherance of my new theory of mulching-in-place. This is an admittedly experimental gardening practice, but it is derided scornfully by other members of the household as “messy gardening”.

I, on the other hand, find it more environmentally sound and, frankly, quite a lot easier. Anyway, that went all right and, amazingly, I managed not to cut any bits of myself off in the process or to cut the power cord with the trimmer again. In case you ever wondered what THAT would be like, let me tell you. It is quite exciting: there is a tremendous explosion, and smoke and flames and sparks shoot everywhere. It’s all extremely stunning and impressive.  Plus, it tends to elicit unwelcome and unhelpful marital speeches, cautions, you-should-be-more-carefuls and the like.  I am on my second electric hedge trimmer now, and treat this one with much more respect.  One does not care to be electrocuted while pottering about in the garden, after all; it is amazing how rapidly wisdom enters in, occasionally.

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To get the house looking a bit more festive for Thanksgiving, I managed to scrounge up a fairly respectable bouquet out of the declining garden; one big, fat, clear pink rose, a pink gerbera daisy, a handful each of white and pink mums, and some red leaves from a tree in our hedgerow. Not much prospect of more, I fear.

Anyway, we really must get cracking on the holiday cooking, so here is the recipe for some outstanding stuffing. This can be for Thanksgiving or Christmas and can be served with or without a roast bird. We are still negotiating at the highest levels in our house about whether we are doing turkey or salmon for Thanksgiving this year, but everyone agrees on these accompanying dishes. The sausage makes the dressing very hearty, so that it can accompany a holiday feast or can stand on its own as an entrée. We make it all winter. And the garlic mashed potatoes are pure heaven, you will never settle for plain mashed potatoes again.



Chicken Sausage Dressing

1 baguette or similar loaf of French bread

2 crisp apples

2 stalks celery

8 Tbsp. butter

1 medium yellow onion

1 lb. of chicken sausage, without casings

4 oz. Portobello mushrooms

1½ cups chopped Italian parsley

3 eggs


16 oz. chicken stock

1½ Tbsp. chicken base (or 4 Tbsp. chicken bouillon powder)

1 Tbsp. diced thyme leaves (no stems)

½ tsp. freshly ground pepper

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

4 oz. cognac or bourbon (optional, but preferred)

1 clove garlic, finely minced

5 oz. finely chopped pecans

Cut the loaf into half-inch slices, brown these on both sides under the broiler of your oven, and then cut the toasts into half-inch cubes.  Peel and core two large apples; any will do, but crisp ones are better and locally grown ones will have a great starchy crispness.  “Honey Crisps” are perfect and they are just going out of season at this time of year, but they are worth looking out for.  Cut them into a half-inch dice too.  Cut two stalks of celery lengthwise and then cut into half-inch dice; brown the celery in two tablespoons of the butter.  Dice two onions and brown them also in three tablespoons of the butter.  Brown the chicken sausage.  Chop the Portobello mushrooms and brown them in three more ounces of butter; add a little water if the mushrooms absorb the butter too quickly.  Chop the flat Italian parsley.  Lightly beat three eggs.  Add all the foregoing ingredients into a large pasta bowl and toss, mixing well.

In a medium-sized saucepan, create a broth by adding the chicken stock and the chicken base or bouillon; the fresh thyme, ground pepper, cayenne, ground nutmeg, cognac or bourbon, and the garlic. Simmer the broth for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.  Once the broth has cooled somewhat, pour it over the ingredients in the pasta bowl and toss all the ingredients well.  Butter a large casserole dish and put the stuffing in it.  Cover with tin foil and cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes; remove the tin foil and cook for 15 more minutes.  While that is cooking, toast the pecans and, immediately before serving, sprinkle the toasted pecans over the top.  If you like, you can double this recipe and freeze half for later use.

And here is a recipe for the garlic mashed potatoes ever, while we are on the topic of holiday food.


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Garlic Mashed Potatoes

2 bulbs garlic

1 Tbsp. olive oil

3 lbs. of potatoes (or 2 lbs. potatoes plus 1 lb. sweet potatoes)

2 tsp. salt

½ tsp. freshly ground pepper

4 oz. whipping cream

8 oz. melted butter

1/3 cup chopped parsley or cilantro

Sea salt

Bread crumbs

Freshly grated parmesan

Cut off the pointed ends of the garlic bulbs and drizzle them with the olive oil, and bake them for 45 minutes at 350 degrees; allow them to cool, then squeeze out the pulp and put it into a blender.  While the garlic is roasting, peel and quarter the potatoes (or, if you prefer a bright orange color and slightly more interesting taste, two pounds of potatoes and one pound of sweet potatoes).  In a large stock pot, boil the potatoes with one teaspoon of the salt, 20-25 minutes or until tender.  Mash the potatoes by hand (or, better, put them through a ricer) in a large bowl.  It is important to mash or rice them and never to put them in a food processor, which breaks down the cells and releases the starch.  To the garlic in the blender add the remainder of the salt, the ground pepper, the whipping cream, the butter, and the parsley or cilantro.  Blend this together, then add it to the potatoes until it is all combined.  Spoon into a buttered baking dish.  Sprinkle with sea salt, freshly grated parmesan, all to taste, for a crispy topping.  This recipe may likewise be doubled and half of it frozen for another occasion.

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David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at You can follow David Jensen on Twitter at @GardenInterior.








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