Liz Barbour's Edible Landscape
Liz Barbour creates beautiful— and delicious—dishes with what she grows.
A tulip in your salad? Pansies in your crêpes? Sure, says Liz Barbour, you can do that and more. “The possibilities for using flowers in food are endless. They add wonderful color and flavor to a dish, and make meals much more interesting.”
It is a message that Barbour carries to cooks in the community—both aspiring and experienced—as part of her business, The Creative Feast. She packs up her butane burners and the ingredients for the recipe of the day, and heads to homes, libraries and businesses to demonstrate how to create healthy, tasty meals without too much fuss.
Although Barbour—with a background in catering and work in the restaurant industry—offers a number of different programs, it is the garden-themed ones she most loves.
In the program, she uses slides to show what’s possible. There are begonias (“a lovely, lemony flavor”), daylilies (“sweet and savory”), tulips (“a very fruity taste”), Rosa rugosa (“on the sweet side”), peonies (“pretty, but not much flavor”), lavender (“wonderful in gin”) and dandelion greens (“good for you”). And that’s just to name a few.
Many of the flowers—as well the herbs and vegetables she uses—are grown in a garden Barbour created in front of her antique Cape in the historic district of Hollis. The garden is in front because the property is small, just one-third of an acre, and the back is shadowed by tall pine trees.
Plus, Barbour says, the road is quite close to the house and, with two young children, she hoped the beauty of the garden would slow the traffic down. “It worked,” she says. To keep it working, Barbour offers a fresh view each spring by changing her window boxes and the content of the garden.
The garden in front of Liz Barbour’s Hollis home is part of what she calls her “edible landscape”—vegetables and herbs mostly, but the flowers are edible, too. Barbour uses them all in her culinary arts business, The Creative Feast.
In the back of the house, what Barbour calls her “edible landscape” is extended with a raised patio that holds washtubs with cherry tomatoes, baby greens and more.
When she brings the bounty from her garden into the kitchen, she lays it on a white towel and allows her version of pest control to happen—“the bugs just crawl off,” she says. No need for chemicals of any sort. She uses only organic fertilizer, which is especially important when you’re growing flowers to eat.
Making their house work
Her kitchen is just what you would imagine for a sophisticated cook—beautifully designed and decorated with an upscale stove as well as lots of room for preparation and storage. But it wasn’t always so.
When Barbour and her family moved into the house, which was built in 1744, the kitchen was small: twelve feet by five feet. “I couldn’t even open the door of the refrigerator all the way,” she says. “Also, the cabinets were built by someone who was not a cook. There was no storage space whatever.”
To accommodate her business—and her family’s meals—the kitchen had to be bigger. Because of the constraints of the property and zoning restrictions, the two-thousand-square-foot house couldn’t be expanded. But there was space between the kitchen and the back of the house taken up by a powder room and small TV room with an oddly placed shower sitting to one side of it. All that would be taken out to allow for the kitchen expansion.
Barbour knew she needed help with the design. At Vintage Kitchens in Concord, she found owner/designer Sue Booth, who had experience working with older houses. “She understands their appeal,” Barbour says. “And I felt she knew how to add to the history of the house, rather than erase it.”
Part of adding to the history was to make sure the kitchen wasn’t, as Booth puts it, “discordant.” Booth didn’t want it to “overpower the scale of the old house.” She didn’t want it “too modern or too fake-y old.” Booth wanted it “current, but compatible.” Barbour agreed.
Booth and Barbour also felt it was important to tie the kitchen to the outdoors and allow in natural light. Two existing floor-to-ceiling, paned windows made that possible once the TV room and powder room were removed.
The space where the powder room had been became a full-size pantry, with shelving that Barbour says is “one-can-deep so I don’t lose things in the back of the cabinet.”
A “found” antique wooden cabinet acts as a center island in Liz Barbour’s kitchen, which was remodeled to accommodate her family and her business with help from Sue Booth of Vintage Kitchens in Concord. The hand-painted, wide-pine floor ties the kitchen to the keeping room/dining room.
Almost all the storage in the kitchen is in the lower cabinets and antique wooden center island, a “found” piece with an added hinged table and stools that can be used for meals. Adjacent to the island is a primitive wooden cabinet that came from Barbour’s family, providing yet more storage. Above it is the beautiful stained-glass window that had been above the sink in the original kitchen; the other side of it can be seen in the entryway.
The only cabinet above the Carrara marble countertops is an antique wooden one that holds Barbour’s glassware. “I didn’t want to have upper cabinets that would take away the light and the airiness of the room,” Barbour says.
The focal point of the kitchen, appropriately enough, is the stove, which combines a classic look with contemporary features. The forty-three-inch Aga Legacy six-burner gas stove has three electric ovens, each with separate controls. Barbour says, “That way I can cook things at different times and at different temperatures.”
Behind the stove is the same marble as the countertops, but cut and arranged as subway tiles. The commercial-grade hood can handle all Barbour’s cooking.
Next to the kitchen is a keeping room/dining room with an open hearth fireplace (yes, Barbour has cooked there), but the two rooms needed a better connection. “You want the connection,” says Booth, “but without seeing the whole kitchen from the dining room.” This was accomplished by running the counter to a structural post between the rooms, leaving the space above the counter open. A backsplash was created for more visual separation and to keep any kitchen mess out of view.
The two rooms are also connected by the patterned painted floor, done by Rich Addonizio of Old World Finishes in Mason. A light-hued paint was used to make the rooms seem bigger and brighter.
Fruit of the labor
Barbour continues to build her business, adding new programs, such as the cookbook clubs where she prepares something she’s never cooked before. It’s all part of her aim to “demystify the cooking process” so people feel comfortable enough in their kitchen to cook there often and to cook healthy.