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24 July 2017

Why Sage is Better Than Basil

 Most people think herbs belongs in pesto or on a salad or sprinkled on a roast. Not on your lobe or collarbone.

If you know my work,  you'll understand  (a) that I think all vegetables look good around your neck because (b) I’m a gardener who is on a mission to give edibles proper due. In my studio, I transform them into true heirlooms, spinning metals into skinny French beans and haute couture gunmetal acorns, even affixing Swarovski crystals to lotus.

The design process

When Sara Hobel, executive director of the Horticultural Society of New York, wanted to commission me to create a piece of jewelry to represent the organization, I was thrilled by the challenge. Because much of the Hort's work is focuses on urban dwellers about growing food and planting edible gardens, a representation of an edible plant seemed appropriate. Her fondness for basil quickly surfaced.
Now, life has its challenges. Basil turns out to be one of them. Because before I choose what to design, it must pass my duo –isms:

  1. Why make it? In other words, what will be my take, my Mavecism, if you will, on this plant, animal, fish? This is particularly important if someone has already designed said object. 
  2. How will it read? I’m going to be honest here. Phallicism is a real thing in the veggie world. Squash, my friends, is beyond the pale. (Why do you think I went with the seeds of the squash?)

I spent time with basil, and I could not make it work. It looked like a wad of gum. I gave up but then, I stepped into my garden, hoping to find wisdom among my plants. And I found it! Four varieties of it. Right at my feet sprang velvety sage with itty bits lines of gorgeousness. Wrinkles of wisdom.

Wearing sage

Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’ became my rebound herb, my muse. I made a wax model, I cast it, and I set it free to adorn humans, but also to continue its bonafide intentions of romancing hummingbirds, of ornamenting landscapes, and of flavoring food.

Here is Dorothy Le Suchkova, Director of Capacity Building with the Hort's Neighborhood Plaza Program.  She help community groups in New York City manage their local garden pedestrian plazas.  She always acts wisely, and wears her velvety sage leaf earrings and necklace.  10% percentage of every sale of the sage earrings goes to the Horticultural Society of New York

Eating sage

Gail Monaghan (the cook book author and teacher) is a pro at coaxing the flavors of this herb, as she proved on a recent visit to Bird Haven Farm. She cooked up fried sage leave sandwiches with anchovy paste. Her recipe is easy:

Wisdom “sandwiches”

This is not your typical sandwich. The leaves are the “bread” in this recipe. Ingredients

Fresh sage, large leaves are better

Self-rising flour (store bought; or combine all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt)


Anchovy paste

Unflavored/neutral vegetable oil

Fleur de sel, or sea salt

  1. Make the batter: Whisk together equal amounts of water and self-rising flour. Set aside.
  2. Make sandwiches: Pair together two like-sized leaves; squeeze a line of anchovy paste down the center of one of the pair; then press both leaves back together to form a sandwich.
  3. Over medium-high heat, add 1/3 inch of oil to a skillet large enough to hold all your sandwiches.
  4. Dip one sandwich at a time into the batter, shaking off excess batter. Then, drop carefully in the hot oil. Flip when it’s golden and cook the other side (about two minutes each side)??.
  5. Drain on a plate with paper towels (what’s brown paper? Is that what you meant to say?)
  6. Serve hot.

Recipe options:

  1. Fry the leaves individually, then sprinkle with sea salt or fleur de sel (or add the salt to the batter beforehand).
  2. Substitute Bulgarian feta, ricotta salata or chevre for the anchovy paste. Or add one of these cheese with the anchovy paste.