with The California Poppy, a Muir Woods vintage postcard
In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt used the powers of the Antiquities Act to sign the Muir Woods National Monument into being. William Kent, a business and politician in California, donated the land for the monument and requested it be named for conservationist John Muir. Muir was a farmer, inventor, sheepherder, naturalist, explorer, writer, and conservationist born in 1838 in Scotland. His family emigrated to the United States when he was eleven years old. "In 1867, while working at a carriage parts shop in Indianapolis, Muir suffered a blinding eye injury that would change his life. When he regained his sight one month later, Muir resolved to turn his eyes to the fields and woods. There began his years of wanderlust. He walked a thousand miles from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. He sailed to Cuba and later to Panama, where he crossed the Isthmus and sailed up the West Coast, landing in San Francisco in March, 1868." (Sierra Club) From then on, he called California home.
He gained fame writing about conservation, and with supporters founded the Sierra Club, advocating to protect Yosemite and other natural treasures. He was also personally involved in the creation of Sequoia, Mount Rainers, Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon national parks. He was very much inspired by the work of his predecessor, Alexander von Humbolt, whom he grew up reading. "Muir's famous quotation — 'When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe' — owes a great deal to Humboldt's ideas that nothing, not even the tiniest organism, could be looked at on its own." (Andrew Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humbolt's New World, via the L.A. Times)
This pairing celebrates a favorite postcard of mine, bought on a trip to Muir Woods with my (now) husband. It is a vintage image of California poppies. The red poppy found in the Greek islands was always my favorite flower for its strong vividness paired with delicacy, and I never knew that an orange variety existed until Joseph introduced me to them in California. Just in time for Thanksgiving, the image pairs beautifully with a classic sweet potato mash. I adapted an Ina Garten recipe given to me by Tom Clarke, a fellow Marshall Scholar who brought this dish to the Marshall Scholar Thanksgiving Dinner celebrated annually by scholars while living in the U.K.. My family's Thanksgivings tended toward the healthy, and a sugar-enriched dish like this was previously nowhere on my radar. It was a wonderful discovery that I recreate every year: worth the indulgence, enlivened with orange juice, full of flavor, this mash is the perfect creamy, buttery comfort to celebrate gratitude with. Happy Thanksgiving!
- 3 lb sweet potatoes (about 8 small)
- 2/3 cup orange juice
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tbsp cup light brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp orange zest (optional)
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2) Scrub the potatoes, prick them several times with a knife or fork, and bake them for 1 hour or until very soft when pierced with a knife)
3) Remove from the oven and scoop out the insides as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Place the sweet potato meat into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and add the orange juice, cream, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, pepper and orange zest, if using. Mix together until combined but not smooth and transfer to a baking dish. Taste to see if you want any more orange juice, sugar, cream or butter and adjust accordingly. If you like a bit of bite with a sweet dish, add a whisper of cayenne.
4) Bake the potato mixture for 20 to 30 minutes, until heated through. Enjoy!