Bzzzz January 3rd, 2008

For me, peace of mind includes being orga­nized and hav­ing a plan.

That includes what I’m cook­ing and when. I find that if I have a weekly menu plan and shop for the week I face far less of a strug­gle at 6 p.m. when it’s time to start cook­ing din­ner. (We usu­ally eat at 8:15 p.m. — I know. An ungodly hour for most peo­ple.) The ingre­di­ents are all there. The recipe is there. I have every­thing that I need.

I also find that post­ing a glossy designed and printed ver­sion of the week’s recipes on the refrig­er­a­tor min­i­mizes last minute requests and grum­bling. Every­one knows what the heck to expect–and looks for­ward to.

Of course, around here plan­ning a week of food that every­one will eat is no small task. There are many food fetishes and dis­likes. It takes some seri­ous head-scratching and thumb­ing through my vast cook­book col­lec­tion. Recently, I’ve hit on the idea of theme menus. We have had Greek Week, Inter­na­tional Week and Veg­e­tar­ian Week. This week is Power Foods Week.

The menus also give me an oppor­tu­nity to intro­duce nutri­tion ideas into the con­ver­sa­tion with­out being overly dogmatic–important for the recep­tiv­ity of teenage guys. (Sur­pris­ingly, my 16-year-old son prefers “spa foods.” Imag­ine my surprise!)

Since I go to such lengths to plan and design the menu, I thought I might start shar­ing them. So here’s my menu for this week, the Power Foods menu.

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Bon appetit!

Posted In: Food and Recipes, Lifestyle

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Bzzzz January 2nd, 2008

It seems that most of the gar­den­ing blog­gers I’m read­ing these days have been lav­ish­ing atten­tion on their houseplants.

Well, it’s prob­a­bly about time the indoor plants get their share of atten­tion. I know that at my house, it’s no small task to keep every­one look­ing good and healthy when there is so much to do out­side in the warm weather.

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Philo­den­dron and Bam­boo by Read­ing Chair

I took a quick cen­sus of the house­plants here. All of the plants are in the most-frequented rooms so that I don’t for­get them. Those also hap­pen to be the rooms with the best light in our north-facing house.

Here are the plant numbers:

21 – fam­ily room

4 – kitchen

2 – music room

10 – office light garden

3 – my bedroom

1 – my son’s room

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Kitchen Suc­cu­lent

I’m sure there are some folks out there who can best my num­bers, but this seems a good bal­ance for me since I feel claus­tro­pho­bic with too much “stuff” crowd­ing in a room and most of my plants are of an impres­sive size.

I have been in love with house­plants since I was a teenager and dis­cov­ered Jerry Baker’s Happy, Healthy House­plants. Pub­lished way back in 1985, it was one of the first and best books on house­plants at the time. I don’t have a copy any­more, but I believe this is the book that included an illus­tra­tion of a fel­low peak­ing from behind a shower cur­tain where he is bathing with bunches of house­plants. For some rea­son this made a big impres­sion on me. To this day I reg­u­larly bathe my house­plants to remove the accu­mu­lated dust from the leaves and give them an at-home spa treatment—although I rarely get undressed to do it anymore.

One of the rea­sons I adore my house­plants is that it gets me a bit closer to my dream of liv­ing in a house that seam­lessly blends indoors and out­doors. Given that I live in Zone 7 Mary­land rather than in the British Vir­gin Islands, that isn’t an entirely fea­si­ble idea.

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Crown of Thorns

Peo­ple who love plants might appre­ci­ate a few plant stories…

Years ago when Ben­jamin was quite small our lives were overly-full with travel, jobs and just sur­viv­ing. We couldn’t seem to muster the energy for a proper Christ­mas tree so I re-purposed a good-sized Nor­folk Island Pine for the job, dec­o­rat­ing it with lights and orna­ments. Unfor­tu­nately, the tree was then top heavy, so we had to anchor it with one of Harry’s heavy run­ning shoes. Well, one morn­ing around 3 a.m. it all came a-tumbling down, spread­ing dirt and bro­ken orna­ments every­where. (Why is it things like this never hap­pen in the day­light hours?) Hap­pily, the tree sur­vived, but the dec­o­ra­tions did not.

Another plant story (sorta) comes to mind. We had a beau­ti­ful Bel­gian Mali­nois named Winifred. If you’re not sure what those are, they are the dogs you see bomb sniff­ing in air­ports. They look rather like small-ish Ger­man Shep­herds. Well, Winifred was going through a spell of intense gas­troin­testi­nal dis­tress. I had taken her to the vet­eri­nar­ian numer­ous times for exams, x-rays and blood­work. I fol­lowed all of the veterinarian’s rec­om­men­da­tions and still, she was hav­ing major dif­fi­cul­ties. I had assured the vet­eri­nar­ian that, no, Winifred did not get out­side and eat any­thing she shouldn’t have. Well, I was right about that.

One morn­ing at the height of the gas­troin­testi­nal dis­tress episode, I was out­side with Winifred on her morn­ing dis­tress call of nature. At the risk of your con­clud­ing that I have a poo fetish like my brother, I was exam­in­ing her poo and dis­cov­ered the prob­lem. It was absolutely FILLED with lit­tle peb­bles! They were the very same peb­bles that I had used in the bot­tom of a humid­ity tray for a box­wood top­i­ary! Winifred was eat­ing the plant’s rocks!

One more…

My son Ben­jamin is quite smart. But like many boys he doesn’t always do smart things. When he was 13 years old he acci­den­tally broke off a small part of an absolutely gor­geous cac­tus that I had sit­ting on the kitchen counter. Fas­ci­nated by the milky sub­stance ooz­ing from the plant’s wound, Ben decided to give it a lit­tle taste.

I wasn’t home at the time, but Ben appar­ently dis­cov­ered that the milky sub­stance was very very very HOT. Water wouldn’t put out the heat on his tongue. Milk wouldn’t put out the heat on his tongue. Pant­ing wouldn’t help. He suf­fered for quite a long time until the heat passed.

Really, we’re lucky the house­plant wasn’t poi­so­nous. But we still warn Ben “Don’t eat it! Just say no!” when­ever we see a cactus!

The plants you see here are a few of my favorites. I bought the Crown of Thorns for a cen­ter­piece for our wed­ding anniver­sary about four years ago. (My hus­band didn’t see the humor.) It didn’t bloom much after drop­ping its blooms the first time. But once I repot­ted the plant it has bloomed every since.

I adore the philo­den­dron and bam­boo by the red read­ing chair in my bed­room. I bought the bam­boo as a teeny tiny thing at Wal-Mart about two years ago. It’s amaz­ing how the lit­tle $2 plant has grown. And the philo­den­dron is amaz­ingly healthy climb­ing up a piece of wood for sup­port. (It’s on my list of things to do to re-pot this one as soon as I can find a nice pot.)

The suc­cu­lent is one I keep in the kitchen because I think it looks nice in con­trast with our farm­house table. The pot is one I found at the Desert Botan­i­cal Gar­den in Phoenix last year and had shipped home. When she saw it, a fam­ily friend asked “What? They don’t have vases in Maryland?”

So there you have it…some of my house­plants and plant sto­ries! They’re not much to look at right now but once my orchids are all bloom­ing at the same time again I’ll share those too.

Happy indoor gardening!

Posted In: House Plants

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