Tuesday, February 19, 2013


My friend Brian grew up in the tiny town of Roseau, Minnesota (current pop. 2800), six miles from the Canadian border. His parents, Charleen and Ardmore, farmed 1200 acres of wheat, soybeans, canola, barley and flax..

Now he lives in West Hollywood, goes on auditions, and does makeup and hair (Mariah Carey was one of his clients).

He's showed me photos of his homeland but it's hard to picture Brian on a farm. "So you do help out when you go back?" I ask eagerly. "Can you drive a tractor?"

"Hell, yeah! I grew up on a tractor"...

The other night he invited me and some other friends to dinner. I arrived a bit early to find him dashing about the kitchen in that oh-my-God-people-are-going-to-be-here-soon-and-I-haven't-even-started-the-sauce-gribiche state that, having given dinner parties myself, I know all too well.

He was wearing a T-Shirt that read "Bring Back the Beet" and what looked like a scary black oilcloth butcher apron but what turned out to be part of the garb he dons in his capacity as developer, CEO, President, and head beautician/magician of Makeover Workshop.

 "Check out this celery," he said, handing me a bunch topped by the deep greeniest leaves ever, the stalks as slender as a ballet dancer's waist.

"Wow, beautiful--did you go to the Farmer's Market today?"

"No, I grew it."

"Grew it!" I'd seen the strawberry patch, the basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, and  heirloom tomatoes by his front door, but I had no idea he had a back garden. "What, you have a plot by the garage?" I asked.

"Kind of," he said, washing a head of butter lettuce. "I plant stuff all along the driveway. Hey, can you peel these beets"...

I peeled beets and snooped through the cupboards (one kitchen shelf was stacked high with cardboard packs of hair color). The other guests arrived. We exchanged news, we made fun of each other, we pushed aside the display cases of makeup, sat down, said grace, and ate.

We had oven-braised baby carrots in rich hues of orange, gold, and deep red.

We had avocado and roasted beet salad with citrus dressing.

We had chicken with warm bread salad and watercress from the Zuni Cafe cookbook (Brian used to wait tables there).

We had four or five different vegetables and Brian had grown every one of them.

We had coffee and Tom's delicious chocolate mousse with cardamom, we gossiped and gabbed, we did the dishes and when it was almost 11, Brian strapped on a headlamp and said, "Come on, I'll show you the garden."

So out we trooped, and here, hard by congested Santa Monica Boulevard, in notoriously cramped, impossible-to-find-parking West Hollywood, Brian, it turns out, has managed to create a 14-inch wide plot, backed by a cinder block wall, that runs the whole length of the lot-long driveway.

"L.A. has sun. The problem," he explained, gesturing to the adjacent three-story apartment complex, "is that the buildings block it out. Right here actually gets the best sun anywhere on the property, especially up by the garages where the house isn't in the way. At first I thought such a narrow strip would be constraining but the asphalt gives me a place to stand so I don't have to wade through the mud. The driveway makes a natural border. And I can plan small sections that turn out to be convenient to tend and pick from."

He grows curly kale, Russian kale, and Tuscan kale; red beets, golden beets and chioggia beets. He grows butter lettuce, speckled lettuce, watercress, brussel sprouts, romaine, arugula, and carrots.

"How do you water it?" Tom asked.

"Out of consideration for my neighbors--and because the water pressure out here is almost nil--by hand. In the middle of the summer I've hauled out twenty-five buckets of water a day,  one by one"...

I thought of the love that had gone into the food we just ate. How often in L.A., or anywhere, do you get a meal in which every dish has not only been cooked by scratch, but where the cook has personally planted, hand-watered, and picked the vegetables?

"Want some arugula?" Brian asked, tearing off a good-sized bunch, then straightened up, gazed thoughtfully at the sky, and said, "There's a cold trough coming in from Alaska. I can feel it"...

He hopes to visit Roseau later in the spring.





  1. How wonderful!!! One of my favorite Facebook pages is Grow Food, No Lawns: https://www.facebook.com/GrowFoodNotLawns?fref=ts

    What an inspiring post!! Thank you, and thank Brian.

  2. Dear Heather,

    What a gift your friend Brian is. "Take and eat" indeed! Your post put a smile on my face first thing this morning. My family will be thankful you did, as it is cold, grey, and icy here and I have been in the grumps.

    I love to read about your dinner parties- given or attended. And one where veggies are the star of the show- well, let alone hand watered and grown- WOW!!

    For all the grace that is imbued in this post - also, WOW!!

  3. Wonderful, just wonderful! What a brilliant use of urban gardening! Very cool. The heart of this New Englander, in the midst of the February mud and snow, is gladdened indeed. :)

  4. Dear Heather,
    "Brian grew up . . . six miles from the Canadian border."

    Well, thank account for it then doesn't it? But then, I am biased.

  5. Heather thanks for helping me pull the dinner party together. Those final moments always get me...

    Love the late night photos the garden! It's so fun growing greens in the So California winter! Thinking about squash, beans and tomatoes, another month and it will be time to plant.

    Such joy to garden and watch it flourish.


  6. I was just snapping blindly away, as you know yakking all along, but somehow the flavor of your incredible garden came through. And the credit for cooking that fab meal goes all to you! Thanks again--maybe a nice crop of flax next year?...

  7. Hey Brian, I'm in Fargo, ND, not all the far from your hometown. We'd welcome you back anytime, and if you do come by Fargo, you must call and make dinner for our family of seven. :) Heather, thanks for sharing. It was very cool reading a post about our area from your home in LA!

  8. Hi Heather! I just wrote in but my note disappeared. Hard to resubmit the same thing, but I wanted to mainly say Hey to Brian, who hails from a place not far from where I live in Fargo, ND. Brian, I would welcome your love cooking in my home when you are back here next. California is blessed to have you. Heather, I enjoyed reading about our area on your LA blog. Very fun!

  9. Hi Heather. Tried this just a bit ago and it disappeared. Or maybe it's just in moderation. Anyway, I was thrilled to read about someone from our part of the world on your LA blog. Brian, your food looks amazing. We would be honored to have you cook for our noisy brood next time you're in the area. :) California is blessed to have you! I love how you've brought it with you. You'd love my children's book, P is for Peace Garden: A North Dakota Alphabet. It mentions kuchen and knoephla soup!

  10. What a wonderful story. I could hardly put it down. And now I'm hungry.

  11. This made me hungry:) Yummy stuff with a lot of love.

  12. My main burning question has to do with those cabbagey looking leaves in the last photos. I recognise them instantly as rape, a vegetable eaten in Zimbabwe and recently planted in our village by a Zimbabwian gardener. I would like to ask Brian (not sure if you'll know, Heather!) what these leaves are called in the Sates!

  13. Hello, Heather: What a great post!! I am so inspired by this driveway garden. Here is a thought for the day. Sr. Macrina Weiderkehr, a Benedictine sister who is in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, has been a great inspiration in my life. At a silent retreat I attended many years ago, she made a comment that I wrote down and have used as a prayer for years: Everything on your plate is sacred; something had to die so that you might live." This post reminded me that we who take our planet and nature seriously do the good by having our "driveway gardens", wherever they may be. The trouble we go to is worth it just to have those lucious and healthy things on our plates. Thanks for the inspiration!!

  14. Isn't it crazy, the driveway garden? I KNEW you all would get it! Love the response and I'm also reflecting on the way that limitations and borders that initially seem constricting can actually allows things/us to flourish in some new way...

    Something had to do so we could live is excellent pondering for Lent (just as we will die so someone else can live..). Roxane, all the comments came through--it's so good to hear from you!--and Jane, I will try to get Brian to identify that vegetable. It's not brussel sprouts?...

    Happy planting, cooking, weeding, composting and of course, eating!!

  15. The big leafy green is broccoli and the smaller green is brussel sprouts.

  16. i like the photo of the long driveway at the top of page.


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