NOTE: I love this illustrator’s style! Clicking on the image will take you to his portfolio on iStockphoto.com
December 20, 2012
NOTE: I love this illustrator’s style! Clicking on the image will take you to his portfolio on iStockphoto.com
November 5, 2012
UPDATE! I’ve got awesome news! Amanda’s book has been released a full month early and is now available on Amazon. Of course that means we can move up the drawing for a free copy so that the lucky winner can get it in time for Christmas! So rather than wait until December 15th for the drawing, I’ll do it this Sunday, December 2nd at noon! Yep! So jump to the bottom of this review to get the rules for entering and enter before noon Central Time on the 2nd!
Amanda Thomsen (aka Kiss My Aster on Twitter and Facebook) is what I’d call a punk landscaper and garden designer if we’re using the broader meaning of punk. The punk ideology is really about doing it yourself and doing it to your individual aesthetic, mainstreamers and corporatists be damned. And that’s how the music was too, in the beginning, before the record companies saw dollar signs and co-opted everything. But that’s another soap box.
This soap box is all about Amanda’s drive to empower the newbies, the rebels…the rest of us; giving gardeners and home owners the right and the courage to do things their way.
Gardening should be fun yet there are too many books that make it seem not so. Throw in the word landscaping and it’s easy to see how a new home owner or gardener might simply pave over the yard and lease out parking spots.
This is why Amanda was compelled to create her first solo book, Kiss My Aster, and why Storey Publishing felt the time was right for the little guys to have a coach and cheerleader like her.
Amanda has chunked tomes of landscaping advice into a non-linear format similar to the old Choose Your Own Adventure books she grew up with. Turns out this is a perfect form for the way today’s younger readers seek and absorb information. She also keeps all the advice succinct while including games to make it fun and memorable.
Her snarky humor combined with the quirky illustrations encourages readers not to worry about doing it right or being perfect. The landscaping lessons end up being just right for each reader no matter where they start in the book.
While experienced landscapers and gardeners will find this book humorous with a bona fide ring of truth, garden newbies will also find it inspiring, helpful, to the point, (e.g., no unending paragraphs about the benefits of juniper), and fun.
If you consider yourself independent, different, not like your neighbors, this book is written specifically for you. It’s full of advice and guidance enabling you to do it yourself or with the help of a team. And it will give you the freedom to think outside the boxwood hedge.
Photos are excerpted from Kiss My Aster © by Amanda Thomsen, Illustrations © by Am I Collective/Bernstein & Andriulli, used with permission from Storey Publishing.
This past summer I had an opportunity to interview Amanda about a lot of things including her upcoming book. I also followed her on a tour of her new house and very large yard. She pointed out a creek bed where she planned to break a landscaper’s rule by planting an invasive to manage erosion, her plans for disposing of the dated lava rock around the foundation, and her latest thrift store find; a cool 70s outdoor fireplace.
SV: Who did you have in mind when you first came up with the idea for this book?
A: As always, I am my own target audience. The cool thing about this book is I never pitched it to anyone. Someone at Storey said “hey, I think your blog is really cool” years and years ago. “I work for Storey and I’m keeping my eye on you.” We got to be kinda friends, we met in Boston, she wanted to know if I had ideas for a book. Well sure, I had plenty of ideas, crazy ideas for books. And so we met and talked and I liked her so much and she was so young and hip and cool and into gardening and organic farming. She’s like the coolest target audience I could ever think of. If I could amuse her, then I could probably amuse anybody. And that’s how this entire book ended up this way.
SV: So you didn’t think about demographics and target audience…
A: No, what I did think—and this is sort of a dorky thing to say—this book is gonna be something they could put on a table at Urban Outfitters; it’s gonna be that cool. That was my one thing. That it would hit this younger audience.
SV: When I think about this book—the way that it’s structured, the style of illustration—it seems very appropriate for almost any age but especially younger gardeners.
A: Absolutely! I was hoping 20s, X and Y, millennials. I showed this book to my dad—he’s like 65—and he saw the unicorn and was like “who’s this book for? Kids?”
Q: But you’ve got bits of humor in here for everybody, the gnomes, unicorns,…
A: My sense of humor is a range, I love old movies, there are references to Mr. T. They did edit out some of the really young references.
SV: So they did edit your book?
A: Oh yeah, there was a page on watering called “Where your hose at?” and they did change it to “Where’s my hose?” And the page after making a short flagstone path was on making a real mortared stone path and it was called “harder and longer” and they did change that.
SV: How do you feel about those changes?
A: I won so many, there’s so much in here that’s just so flippin’ cheeky that I can’t believe I got away with it. They wanted over-the-top so I wrote over-the-top. Anything they took away (giggles) was probably for my own good. They did let me keep the topiary of Mr. T. (SV: for reals, there is a topiary of Mr. T, I saw it.)
SV: So let’s talk about the illustrations. Why illustration when so many gardening books are based on photography?
A: Well look at it, it’s so awesome. I wanted to do a hundred other things because I couldn’t conceive of spending this much money to get something like this. My original idea was to have the illustrations be like IKEA instructions in 13 languages, I thought that would be really funny and they were like, “we don’t get it”, so it just kinda morphed into this style kind of naturally.
SV: I love the lava lamp in the worm den.
A: The illustrators were just so insane. I’ve never spoken with them, just sent the briefest of notes. They gave the publisher lots of ideas. The illustrators did a really good job of keeping my flava’, you know?
I’m so glad I ended up with these guys, I just love them.
SV: And it sounds like they loved working on this too, I read on their blog.
A: What’s interesting is, there’s this twistiness of the concept and how it’s written but the illustration is fun, it’s not morbid in any way. Every page is fun. Here’s two of my favorite pages: “The Hobo Deck Style” and “The Hobo Garden.” I did have to explain that to the illustrators, they were like, “whaaaat’s a hobo garden?”
SV: The squirrels are great, you’ve got them in several places in the book.
A: When it was originally going to be a graphic novel, it was going to be me and a drunken squirrel fighting about how to do things and he was gonna do things wrong. So I asked for the squirrel to be included in as many things as possible.
SV: This book flows differently than others, it’s not linear. Can you tell me how you came up with the idea for it not being a linear book?
A: I wanted to make something interactive, and I thought about the ones I knew that were interactive, the Choose Your Own Adventure books. And I thought well, planting your yard is an adventure and I just came up with the idea. I thought it was too complicated for me to do, to weave everything together, and then the publisher said, “you just write the stuff, we’ll weave it together.” I wrote the book from beginning to end and they made everything match up.
SV: So someone picks up this book, how do they decide where to start.
A: They can start anywhere. There’s not really a table of contents but there’s this worm burrow at the beginning so if you wanna just do vegetable gardening, there’s a vegetable gardening worm burrow and you can do any of those pages. Or you can start reading from the beginning and at the bottom of every page you can choose where to go next.
SV: Did you have a particular goal with this book or did you just want to write a book?
A: To write more books. I don’t know why, I just want to. And I’m not a particularly driven person but I enjoyed this. The big story behind this book is that the day I found out it was a go was the day I peed on a stick and found out I was pregnant. And from there the race was on. I had a year to write a book and 10 months to have a baby. So it was a very interesting year. I also got a big promotion that year. Writing this book was so fun. I’m not going to say it was effortless. I don’t consider myself a writer, I’m an amusing person to talk to and I can pretty quickly tell you what kind of tree to plant in your back yard. That’s pretty easy to do and I just wrote it down.
SV: What’s your favorite part of the book?
A: I love the games. I’m really proud of the bingo and the cootie catcher. There’s mad-libs, match-em-ups. One of my favorite things that I didn’t do, is the last page, the little garden party. It was all the illustrators’ idea.
SV: Most gardening books I’ve seen are reference tools with the exception of fiction like The Orchid Thief.
A: Yeah, I’m hoping this is somewhere in between. There are personal stories in here and a lot of parts that are conversational.
You have 3 ways to win this groovy book!
Remember folks: You must list a separate comment for each of the three to be entered multiple times! I’m noticing folks entering once with 3 things in one email.
December 15th December 2, 2012, noon, Central Standard Time
Eligibility: US residents only, sorry.
On December 2nd
15th, I’ll use the Random Number Generator to choose one winner of the book and then four winners of the tattoos. These are temporary stick’em tattoos, not real ones dude.
Storey Publishing just released the book so they assure me they can send the winner their copy before Christmas if we do the drawing sooner.
releases the book in January of 2013 and will send the winner a printed copy at that time So you must include a real email address when you leave your comments so I can contact you if you win. No email and I’ll run the Random Number Generator again and choose someone else.
Good Enough Gardening Podcasts: http://www.goodenoughgardening.com/
Check out her Ryan Gosling gardening meme: http://www.kissmyaster.co/2012/01/hey-girl-garden-series.html
October 28, 2012
Evie’s family was due to arrive in 20 minutes and she was still frantically frying the hoecakes for the fancy Tofu Florentine Benedictus concoction she created to combine all her favorite ingredients. Luckily she’d gotten the kale, tofu, and Hollandaise sauce done the night before and everything just needed to go into the warming tray for brunch. If all went as planned, the buffet table would also be stuffed with fruit salad, muffins, mom’s casserole, and a mixture of innocuous beverages.
The first Sunday of every month was the only time they all got together anymore. She missed her little brother, dad, and uncle Sal. But mom, not so much. Mom was the typical picky mom, always finding the one dust buffalo that Evie didn’t round up. Always complaining that the hoecakes weren’t crisp enough or the coffee too strong.
Listening to the sizzle of the last hoecake, Evie’s mind was a clutter of Mitch, work, family, who was ahead in the World Series, and well, more Mitch. It’s funny how he crept into every thought no matter how mundane.
Five minutes until show time and the door bell rang. They were never early, in fact, they were usually 15 minutes late.
Evie hustled to the door, opening it to find the most shocking vision she’d seen since that girls’ night out last year when the Bettys went to the Three Penny to see that old John Holmes movie.
“Hey babe,” said Mitch, standing in plain view wearing nothing but a fuzzy purple thong and carrying a pink riding crop. “What’s cookin’?”
There are 4 components of this hybrid version of vegan eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine:
There seem to be a zillion vegan Hollandaise sauce recipes on the Internet and none of them were exactly what I was looking for. I wanted something that was as authentic as possible but without the cruelty and cholesterol. It had to smell eggy and taste lemony. And I didn’t want to fall back on adding lemon juice to store-bought vegan mayo.
I started with a tried and true creme sauce with zip that Allison from Allison’s Gourmet created for her baked ziti and I started playing with ingredients. It didn’t take much to get something that smelled like deviled eggs, was gooey enough, etc. In fact, it was downright creepy how close it was to eggy goo. Below is my version, for Allison’s original cashew creme, check out her blog.
Also, if you’re making this ahead of time and refrigerating it, you’ll likely need to stir in a tad of water to thin it after refrigeration. It does seem to thicken upon chilling.
I made the recipe below but I didn’t like it. However, The Husband loved it and you know how he is. He hates everything except peanut butter, popcorn, and ice cream. So I’ll share this anyway but realize that I ended up using Trader Joe’s Marinated Savory tofu slices in the photo above. There are also a zillion recipes for baked tofu online and they are all pretty much some variation of the soy sauce thingie. I don’t care for overly salty things but The Husband does. He’s actually asked for this tofu on a salad for his birthday. Can you imagine? I would have asked for more batteries.
My grandma never made cornbread the way most folks I know make it. She made it the Southern way: no sugar, used grease in the pan, fried it pancake style in a cast iron skillet. Then my grandpa would crumble it into his buttermilk and eat it with a spoon. Grossest thing ever, I thought at the time. When I had sweet cornbread for the first time, it was quite a shock and I still don’t like it. So this recipe is for grandma and it’s a veganized version of a classic style corn cake from the Bob’s Red Mill corn meal package.
Assemble the four components while warm, although they do taste great cold.
October 25, 2012
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Evie won top honors again at her yoga class during the annual Downward Puking Cat contest. Testing willpower and creativity, contestants invented a plethora of curious, weird, and often vile concoctions. Evie always won because her substances were the most creative, odd, and yet edible, not to be confused with yummy.
“Congrats kale queen,” Kim teased, alluding to Evie’s secret ingredient in her award-winning frozen daiquiri. Her frozen kale daiquiri was indeed a very interesting drink, likely loved best by kaleheads and greenies. It was definitely an acquired taste along the lines of wheat grass, but with a rum punch.
If it weren’t for the valuable prizes, including a free private hot yoga session with Amol, their insanely hot instructor, Evie probably wouldn’t bother. She had better things to do with her kale. But the promise of a private session was too much to ignore. It was one way she’d entertain herself during normal business hours since her relationship with Mitch required late dates and sly pie at faraway diners. She hadn’t yet decided how long she’d be able to keep her appointments with him a secret.
TIP: This is a drink for serious kaleheads. If you’re not a kale juice fan, you may want to cut the juice 50% with pineapple or mango juice.
October 24, 2012
Evie and Kim exited the elevator on the 12th floor, promptly running into Mitch.
“Evie, I need to talk to you about revising the sales teams’ PowerPoints. Come with me to the sales department,” Mitch commanded with a very managerial tone.
Kim played oblivious while Evie followed Mitch back to the elevator. No sooner than the door closed, Mitch turned to invade her space, backing her up against the wall by the keypad.
“You didn’t stay for the full sales launch meeting,” he said, using the most demanding tone he had with her, “where the hell were you!”
Evie looked at his overly stern look, eyebrows stitched, and stammered, “uh…I…I had to drop off some documents at Kinkos.” Her lie was spreading all over her face and the guilt of ditching such an important meeting was beading up on her brow.
“Well, that would be excusable if it were true but I just got a tour of our swanky copy center on the 12th floor today. You don’t use Kinko’s do you?”
She was in the middle of coming up with her back-up excuse so he wouldn’t suspect that Kim knew everything when Mitch moved close enough that he could feel her bra size.
“I think you owe the sales manager an apology dinner for lying while on the job.”
Oh, now she got it. This was how the game would be played. That’s ok, she liked elevators. And floors, and corner offices especially.
“Yes, I do owe you an apology Mr. O’Donnell. I’ll make my special succotash for dinner tonight. It’s perfect for…sucking up to the boss,” she sheepishly managed to say before Mitch borrowed her tongue.
Serve warm or cool. Works both ways. Garnish with green onions, or not.
Blend all ingredients until smooth.
October 23, 2012
Evie and Kim sneaked out to The Juice Joint mid-afternoon when the sales team wouldn’t notice. Mitch was keeping them busy with a lecture about brevity. As was typical of those guys, their new sale pitches were all suffering from bulletitis: 64 slides with 20 bullets each. Maybe Spanx’ idea of hiring Mitch to get them in line was actually a good plan after all.
“So, I’ve been patient all morning AND through lunch. Spill it,” Kim whispered across the corner table.
Evie was sipping her Gingerkale, trying to remember what she and Mitch had discussed—or did—last night before she opened that third bottle of Hahn Cabernet. While watching Mitch orchestrate the sales team in the morning sessions, she was starting to remember most of it. His cool calm, confident swagger, and strong jawline were bringing it all back. At least the essence of the evening.
“Mitch wants us to keep seeing each other but of course, no one at work can know. Because he’s in management, he signed a special clause in his contract about fraternization,” she smirked, rolling her eyes at the new word for her vocabulary. “That’s why he didn’t call after our first date. He had his interview the next day, found out it was at my company, and he wanted to see how it played out first.”
With eyes obediently open, Kim nodded her to continue.
“So…we talked for a while about how much ass he’d be kicking in sales—oh, Kim you wouldn’t believe what a mess that group is—anyway, he’s there to clean house,” Evie clamped her hands over her mouth, immediately knowing she’d said too much. That was something no one was to know yet.
She decided the best thing was to move on quickly to the smutty parts, “and then, I poured more wine…we must have had a good time because my bed was still made this morning, the restraints were still attached to the dining table, and my bra was missing.”
Unsure if the diversion worked, Evie glanced at Kim’s still shell-shocked expression. No. It didn’t.
“Cleaning house?” Kim repeated quietly to herself.
Pour the spritzer first then stir in the ginger syrup. Last, add the kale juice.
October 17, 2012
Something was buzzing at her hair and in her sleepy confusion, she swatted her iPhone to the floor. The buzzing only grew louder against the hardwood in her living room. Evie finally squeaked open one eye, the one not squished against the ratty rug under the sofa.
“Oh shit!” she scrambled for the phone, “yeah!? I mean, hello?”
“Hey kale breath, you’re late! The party started an hour ago,” Kim joked, reminding her of the sales launch meeting that Evie was clearly missing.
Even though she was only one step up from a Betty, if she valued a future in Marketing, she needed to make a showing at the quarterly meeting. But she could barely stand upright and she had an even more challenging time recalling how she ended up asleep on the living room floor.
“There was food and wine, lots of wine. I see one…no…three bottles on the coffee table. Kim, I don’t remember anything. Just that Mitch came over to talk, and…we…uh, arm wrestled for dessert.” Evie recounted.
“Well, that might explain why he’s wearing a smirk today. You’ll have to tell me everything over lunch,” Kim replied, “Now get your baked buns down here before Spanx notices you’re missing. They’ve catered baked ziti today.”
Husband Rating: 3 man grunts and he went back for seconds.
Optional add ins: If you want to up the veggie ante, toss in some mushrooms, peppers or kalamata olives. Just don’t use carrots. For the love of all things Italian, don’t use carrots please. It just ain’t right.
I pulled this ricotta, with permission, from Susan’s favorite lasagna recipe on her blog, Fatfree Vegan Kitchen. If you’re looking for a great lasagna, try her recipe! And BTW, this ricotta would be awesome without any greens at all, just in case you need something like that. It’s the kind of flavor combination you can eat from the bowl when no one’s looking.
Put all ingredients, except kale, in a food processor and pulse until incorporated. Add kale and pulse until mixed but don’t process so long that the ricotta turns green. You can also use a potato masher and do this by hand to get a chunkier, ricotta-like result.
Allison also has a great ziti recipe from her column, VeganizeIT! in VegNews magazine. That’s where I snagged, with permission, this amazing and tangy cashew creme to give me something gooey for my ziti. Check out all her recipes from the VegNews column. She recently won the Veggie Award for favorite column in VegNews. Congrats Allison!
If you don’t have a high-speed blender like a Blendtec, blend the cashews into a fine powder first then add the remaining ingredients. But if using a fancy blender, you can dump it all in at once and blended until creamy.
If you need a basic tomato sauce recipe, this one works. You could also use jarred sauce if you have a fave.