Saturday, June 24, 2017

Front Porch Planter Ideas


Years ago a gardening friend gave me one simple piece of advice for designing the perfect arrangement for porch planters. You need to have:
  1. Thrillers
  2. Fillers
  3. Spillers
So, what does that mean? Well, building the perfect planter is somewhat like scripting an action movieyou need excitement for sure, but a movie filled with nothing but explosions is going to get boring after 10 minutes or so. There needs to be a filler--dialogue, scenery, music. And the spiller? The movies or stories that best hold my interest have a secondary plot line--it's not all about just one person (even "Waiting for Godot" introduced other people into the tale). 


A few weeks ago I created some new planter arrangements for my front porch (Winter had FINALLY departed). There is a grouping of two planters on the left side of my porch (against the railing):



Oh goody, you get to see a picture of my right foot!

And a grouping on the right, against the wall of the house:





And then there is a large planter in the garden adjacent to the front entrance:



This is the largest of the planter boxes and the guiding theme for the others. Unlike the planters on the porch, this pot will not move--it is quite large (and heavy) so the "thriller" used is an evergreen shrub which will be a permanent fixture. As the surrounding annuals fade away (nothing lasts forever) I will find other companions for it to go along with the season.

Although only two types of flowers (lobelia and sweet allysum) are present in all five, all planters are united by using the same color palette. 

I have two more criteria in addition to thrill/fill/spill that will make your planters winners--color and texture. My neighbor creates beautiful planters that are a riot of colors, but whenever I try to copy them, I feel that my hot combo is more of a hot mess; therefore I tend to stick with colors in my comfort zone. All of the plants in my garden (1 acre+) are in the purple/orchid/pink/white/
blue range. 

Texture is using plants with a variety of shapes and/or foliage. Look at the rex begonia (below) and you'll see what I mean.


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The plants I used are:
#1 - Variegated Euonymus
This is the "thriller in the largest of the planter boxes.  Eunymus is an evergreen shrub which means that it will not lose its leaves in the Fall. 


















#2 - Calibrachoa
This sweet little plant has several other names--sometimes referred to as a miniature petunia (it isn't) or called "million bells". It does not get any taller than 4 inches, but grows quickly and vigorously. It "fills" and "spills" with great abandon.



















#3 - Bacopa
Bacopa is a study plant that will reward with exuberant "spilling." Several years ago I had one that not only grew in springtime and through summer, it continued to bloom in autumn and was still holding on at Christmas. I can't promise that your bacopa will last that long, but it IS a long-lasting annual.


















#4 - Sweet Allysum
She fills and spills and rewards with heavenly honey-like fragrance. Allysum self-sows and might surprise you with babies in other little corners of your yard before summer is over. But don't worry, it won't become a nuisance. Be sure to keep your allysum evenly moist. They tend to be a bit thirsty, probably because they are quite small and do not have deep-burrowing roots.


















#5 - Lobelia
Lobelia is one of the few flowers in nature that are a TRUE blue. They come in  pale blue, pure blue, and dark (almost navy)  plus several that are variegated white and blue. There are two varieties of lobelia--an upright (which will work as a filler), and a cascading variety that makes a great spiller. 




















#6 - African Daisy
African Daisy (osteopermum) was used in the smaller pots as the thriller. It stands head and shoulders above the surrounding flowers and comes in shockingly bright hues of purple, red, orange, and yellow--all with a blue center.

















#7 - Rex begonia
Rex begonia is a stunning filler, and one I love to use for its unusual colors and texture. It will flower, but the blooms are insignificant. With rex, it's all about the leaves.




















#8 - Petunia
Petunias come in a dazzling array of colors and color combinations, from pure white to almost midnight black. In fact, I think the only hue missing is true pure blue. They are terrific fillers, but grow large enough that they can be used as a spiller as well.





















#9 - Dusty Miller
Dusty miller is a beautiful filler and a terrific foliage specimen. Its flowers are insignificant (little yellow beads). In mild climates the dusty miller can become a perennial, growing and spreading year after year.











Saturday, June 17, 2017

Remembering My Dad on Father's Day

Was It Only a Dream?

My earliest memory of my dad is the two of us walking hand-in-hand at the Zoo. I was probably two or three years old, toddling along on short little legs at my dad’s left side. And, in that image I see another hand holding his on the right—a chimpanzee. Did this really happen? I have no idea. Perhaps it was just a dream, but it seems very real to me, and it testifies to the loving person who was my daddy.
Ever patient; ever kind; ever loving--that was my Daddy.

Let's Start at the Beginning

To everyone else he was known as Roy, the third of four surviving children of Frederick and Elizabeth. The family of six might have been a family of ten if not for the high mortality rates of that time. Daddy told the story of his birth in this way:
"In 1906 babies were usually born at home, and my birth was no exception. Mum was a tiny woman, less than 5 feet tall and I was a large baby. It was a difficult birth, and I emerged limp and lifeless. The doctor placed me on a table and covered me with a sheet. As he turned to attend to my mother, the next door neighbor arrived. 'Where is the baby?' she inquired. 'Sadly, the baby did not survive' replied the doctor. The neighbor lifted the sheet, touched the little body and felt movement. 'That baby’s alive you damned fool!' With that, she wrapped me in a blanket and tucked me next to Mum where I was warmed and loved back to life.”
So, let me tell you about my Daddy.

He Had a Sense of Adventure

With such a perilous near-miss entry into this world, perhaps it was destined that Roy would have a keen sense of adventure.
At the age of 15 he left family and education behind and became a seafarer, working for the Alaska Steamship Company. Although he was short in stature, he was strong and well built and was able to lie about his age.
He worked on the steamship Wapama which traveled the west coast of the Unites States from Seattle, Washington to San Francisco, California.The Wapama is considered a historical ship and is stored at the San Francisco Maritime Museum.
The Wapama
A wooden-hulled steamer designed for the coastal lumber trade, the Wapama is unique to the West Coast. Built in 1915, she was the last of 235 steam schooners, operating between Washington and California.
The long shallow hulls of steam schooners made for a weak structure, prone to sag at the bow and stern. As age and decay sapped the strength of Wapama’s massive timbers, this “hogging” process became so bad that she could not remain afloat.
 
Placed on a barge in 1980 the Wapama remains a unique and impressive piece of naval architecture. Given suitable systems for rot control, physical support, and weather protection, it will be possible to preserve Wapama indefinitely out of the water.


And a Love of Family

How many years did Roy sail on the Wapama? We have no way of knowing, But what we do know is this; in 1930 he was no longer at sea. With legs firmly planted on the ground, he married and started a family. He and his wife Helen had two children--a daughter Carol and a son Lee.
Defiance Lumber Mill - The Doud brothers of Buckley purchased 18 acres of land on the Tacoma waterfront in 1906. By 1907 a mill was erected on the 1400 feet of shoreline and 150 men were employed. Ships from all nations visited Tacoma to load lumber.
Source: Tacoma Public Library archives


He Had a Strong Work Ethic

Roy worked at the Point Defiance Lumber Mill, at a time when so many were much less fortunate. Despite the long hours and strenuous physical labor, he considered himself to be very blessed indeed. Our Nation was in the midst of the Great Depression, and unlike many others, Roy had a job.

He Didn't Let Defeat Define Him

An accident at the mill forced Roy out of work for months. Sadly, his long convalescence was too much of a strain on the marriage—Helen fell in love with another man, and Roy found himself without a family.
The lumber mill injury left Roy with one leg shorter than the other and unable to stand for long periods of time. His work at the mill was a thing of the past.
And he was alone.
Someone else might have given up, but for Roy quitting was not an option. He found a job that would allow him to move about yet remain off of his feet for most of the day. He began driving a delivery truck for Supreme Cleaners--a truly life-changing decision.


Supreme Cleaners at 1012 Center St. Their slogan was "the cleanest linen on the face of the Earth." The laundry industry in Tacoma grew during World War II and continued to grow during the post war era. They offered union jobs and employment security
It was there that he met Betty—a tall auburn-haired single mother of three.
A wise person once said
“It takes a strong man to accept somebody else’s children and step up to the plate another man left on the table.”
Roy was disabled, but he was the strongest of men. He loved Betty, and he also loved her children as much as his own flesh and blood. Roy and Betty married in April 1948. And four years later, in their mid-40’s, Roy and Betty added one more to their blended family. I was born.

The Best "Life" Teacher

For 29 years Daddy was my cheerleader, my mentor, and my shining example.
He taught me how to hammer a nail and change a tire. He taught me how to mow a lawn and cook a pot roast. It was Daddy who taught me how to dig for clams, tie a necktie, and iron a pair of slacks. He taught me how to parallel park and drive a stick shift. He taught me to love baseball.
Daddy gave to me the love of kitties--and of all living things.
He taught me patience. He taught me how to pray. He taught me how to love someone even when they aren't being very likable.
I am so thankful that he taught me to be a little bit like him.

Blessings in the Midst of Adversity

Bad things happened to a good person—there was a time when Daddy lost his way of life and he lost his family. But one thing he never lost was his faith.
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
If not for his injury, he would not have sought a new job; he would not have found a family who needed him (and whom he needed as well).

He Lead Me to a New Chapter in Life

When he was 75 years of age, Daddy walked me down the aisle. Tears of joy misted his eyes, and he placed my hand into the hand of the man who has stood by my side for 36 years.
On the day that my husband and I returned from our honeymoon, I saw Daddy. He looked tired; I expressed my concern. "It's OK" he replied. "My back is just a little sore. Don't worry. I'll be fine tomorrow."
And he was right. That evening Daddy had an aneurysm and was taken from us in an instant. He awoke in Heaven, where all of his old-age aches and sawmill injuries are a thing of the past.
The limp is gone.

What Did I Learn From My Father?

ADVENTURE

Don’t be afraid of adventure. Explore. Take risks. Attempt new things.
” If you try you might lose, but if you never try you will certainly never win.”

LOVE

“God is Number One, friends and family are Number Two. Making yourself Number Three makes you a winner.”

WORK HARD

“Do everything as though you were signing your name to it.”

AND NEVER GIVE UP.


Thank you Daddy, for being such a perfect example. Thank you for being such a wonderful YOU.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Polenta Dumplings


What do you think of when you hear the phrase "Italian cooking"?

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase "Italian cooking"? Do you envision steaming plates of pasta, a robust Bolognese sauce simmering on the back of the stove, or perhaps a crisp crust pizza dotted with fresh mozzarella and basil?
I have traveled to Italy several times (my oldest sister lived in Maniago--just an hour north of Venice). Prior to that initial trip, I must admit that whenever I thought of Italy I thought of "pasta". But Italian food is so much more than that. In northern Italy there is less emphasis on pasta--polenta is definitely the "carb celeb".
There are two ways of serving polenta--it can be cooked, spread out on an oiled surface and allowed to solidify. Then slabs of the firm polenta are sautéed. The other version (and my favorite) is to cook the polenta slowly at a simmer. When all of the grains have become blissfully toothsome, stir in a bit of cream or marscapone cheese. You now have luscious puddle of Heaven to serve to your family (....is my bias showing a bit here?).


But isn't polenta just another name for grits?

Before writing this hub I did a bit of research. Some writers say that the difference between grits and polenta is the fineness (or coarseness) of the grind, or the use of white cornmeal vs. yellow cornmeal.
Both are wrong.
Grits are:
  • made from field corn (maize)
  • soaked in lye or lime water to remove the bran and the germ
  • is often coarse ground
Polenta is:
  • made from sweet corn
  • still retains the bran and germ
  • is stone (fine) ground

What makes this recipe unique?

Polenta can be allowed to cool and firm and then be baked, broiled or sautéed. And as I previously stated, it can be served immediately while it is still creamy. But there is a third stage in the preparation of polenta--that in-between phase when it is no longer creamy but not quite slab-like. That's when I think we can make something wonderful......"Polenta Dumplings".


Cook Time

Prep time: 1 hour 10 min
Cook time: 15 min
Ready in: 1 hour 25 min
Yields: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup quick-cooking polenta
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  1. Prepare a large cookie sheet by covering it with a sheet of parchment paper. Spray the parchment with non-stick cooking spray or grease lightly. Set aside.
  2. Bring 2 cups of the broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir the remaining 1 cup of broth into the dry polenta in a small mixing bowl.
  3. Gradually add the polenta mixture to the boiling broth, stirring constantly. When mixture returns to a boil, reduce heat to low. Cook and continue to stir until mixture is very thick (about 5 minutes). Be careful--it will sputter.
  4. Remove from heat. Stir in the cheese and half and half. All to sit for about 15 minutes. Using a small cookie scoop, form about 25 to 30 dumplings, placing them on the prepared cookie sheet. Cover and chill about one hour.
  5. To cook, carefully drop dumplings into simmering soup. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

How to Roast a Head of Garlic


Is  there a more versatile herb than garlic? Garlic can be grown in multiple climate zones and in the smallest of garden plots. Fresh garlic provides the pungent bite in so many cuisines—Italian pesto, Greek pasta, Asian stir fries, French cassoulet, South American chimichurri. But when slowly roasted, the crisp heat of fresh garlic transforms to a creamy sweetness. The result is amazing, but is achievable by anyone—even a novice cook. Here is how to make the magic happen in your kitchen.

Cook Time

Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 30 min
Ready in: 35 min
Yields: each head of garlic provides about 1 tablespoon

Ingredients

  • 1 head of garlic, (see note below)
  • 2 tsp. olive oil

Other equipment you will need

  • ovenproof dish
  • heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • small sharp knife
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Remove any loose papery skin from the garlic but leave the head of garlic intact. Cut about one-half inch off the top of the head of garlic--enough to expose the interior of the garlic cloves. Place the garlic head in the ovenproof dish, cut-side up. Drizzle the oil over the garlic. Cover with foil and bake in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until garlic feels soft (pierce with tip of sharp knife to test).
  3. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Squeeze the garlic cloves from the bottom to release the roasted garlic pulp, which should now be sweet, creamy, and golden brown in color. The resulting roasted garlic pulp can be spread on bread, mixed with softened butter, stirred into dips, or added to sauces. The only limit is your imagination.
  4. Cooks Note: A good head of garlic should be plump and firm, with no visible mildew, spoilage, or shriveling and very little if any sprouting (the green sprouts can be bitter).