Monthly Archives: April 2010

Hens and Chicks in the House

Last year my dad was thinning his hens and chicks and offered some to me. The pile he pruned out sat on the concrete where he first tossed them for a few days before I gathered them up into a plastic bag, which I forgot on his back patio for a few days, after which I brought them home and let them sit on my patio in the plastic bag for a few more days. Then I (literally!) set them on the dirt where I wanted to plant them, and they grew. That is my kind of non-fussy plant!

They are called Hens and Chicks because they start out as one main leaf rosette (the hen) which grows bigger and bigger, and then little leaf rosettes start to pop their heads out from underneath (the chicks). After awhile you can prune out some of the chicks, toss them to another spot on the dirt and they will start growing and become their own mama hen.

Aside from being hardy and beautiful, they look very interesting when cut and put in a vase.

They look very nice in a clear vase with square sides. Cut some stems, stack them up in the vase (alternating to try and cover the stems with the leaves above) and fill with water. At Christmas time this looks very dramatic with cranberries dropped in around the plants. Then drop in some clear marbles to keep the berries from floating to the top.

Fill with water and there you go. Easy and very architectural .  And when you’re done, You really can take the plants out of the vase, set them back onto the dirt and they’ll start growing again


Lemon Painted Towels

Last fall I was inspired by my parent’s Meyer Lemon tree

and painted a bunch of dishtowels. Painting on dish towels is really easy – just use acrylic paint and it will stick forever (as it will do if you get it on your clothes!) No need to prep or handle gently. A simple painted vignette or image is all it takes, and you’ll have fresh towels for every season. Literally, this was about a 15 minute project. Roll up a pair and tie a ribbon around and you’ve got a great hostess gift.

Fancy Gift Certificates

I needed some gift certificates for an event I’m planning next week. The prizes have been donated but needed some kind of fancy presentation.

So, after a little thinking and a little Photoshop-ping, here’s what I’ve come up with. Ran some red paper through the printer with the swirl pattern that’s running throughout the event. Then I printed out and folded some old bond paper into an accordion with the prize title, information, and the name of the event on the 3 panels. I cut a scrap of wrapping paper, sewed it all together with the zig-zag attachment foot on my sewing machine, and voila! A fancy gift certificate! I’m going to seal it up with sealing wax so that its dramatic when you open it to find out your prize..

This would be a really fun idea for an invitation or a special gift – make a gift certificate with the plan for a special outing or something. Hmmm….

Fool Proof Salad Dressing

This Salad Dressing base is a great all purpose salad dressing recipe. The great thing is that all you have to remember are the basic proportions, and then you can let your imagination run loose and experiment with all sorts of interesting flavor combinations. The basic rule is 1 part sweet, 1 part sour, 2 parts oil. (Note that most salad dressing recipes call for closer to 4 parts oil, so this recipe is both healthier and less diluted in flavor)

Start with a straight sided jar (makes is easier to see your proportions), and pour in your sweet. Add your sour, and your salt and pepper and other herbs or extras you may be using. Close the jar and shake to dissolve all the sweet with all the sour. Then open the jar and have a little taste – how is it? Is it too sweet? Add a little more sour and try again. Did your lips pucker? Add some more sweet to balance the flavor (you should taste it and think -that tastes sweet! and sour! and sweet!)

Then add your oil and shake again. Taste once more and then use or put in the fridge. The great thing is that the proportions really keep the dressing in emulsion – it won’t separate even after being in the fridge a week! You still will want to give it a shake right before using, but it will coat your salad greens nicely and not bead up into little oil and vinegar droplets.

Here are a few suggestions, you can use one or more of each category to build up the “parts” for example, you could use some honey and some apricot jam to make the one part sweet. Whatever you like!

Ideas for Sweet:

  • honey
  • brown sugar
  • turbinado sugar
  • apricot jam
  • frozen lemonade concentrate
  • pineapple juice leftover from the canned pineapple
  • white sugar
  • orange juice

Ideas for Sour

  • balsamic vinegar
  • apple cider vinegar
  • lime juice
  • rice wine vinegar
  • lemon juice

Ideas for oils

  • olive oil
  • vegetable oil
  • oil from the sun dried tomato jar
  • oil from the artichoke hearts jar

Ideas for extras

  • salt – every dressing NEEDS some salty to balance the flavor.
  • soy sauce (instead of salt)
  • chopped preserved lemon (instead of salt)
  • mustard -powder or Dijon
  • chopped basil or other herb

Some of my favorite combos:

Basic sweet vinaigrette: honey+rice wine vinegar+vegetable oil+ a squirt of Dijon mustard

Taco salad dressing: turbinado sugar+apple cider vinegar+ vegetable oil+paprika and chili powder

Raspberry Vinaigrette: raspberry jam+balsamic vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice+ vegetable oil

3 Suprising Ways to Slice

To Halve Cranberries:

I made a discovery yesterday when the recipe called for halved cranberries. The first batch involved frozen cranberries rolling all over the cutting board and counter as I chased them with the knife: some got halved, some got quartered, some got nicked as the knife passed by. For the second batch, I thought of our carving board which has a pyramid grid carved into the center. I poured out the frozen cranberries onto the base and cut easily down the straight lines. 

To Slice Strawberries

To quickly cut a pile of strawberries into thin, even slices (great for salads or a berry garnish), use an egg-slicer. The pieces will come out perfectly even and  mess-free. To make strawberry heart slices, cut a long notch across the end where the stem used to be before putting the strawberry in the slicer.

To Safely Cut an Onion

When you need onion slices for fajitas or stir-fry, use an apple wedger. This is completely avoids the whole “trying to safely wield a large knife when your eyes won’t stop watering” situation, and makes quick work of an often unpleasant task. It also conveniently removes the onion core for you.

Bouquets to Art

Every year at the de Young there’s an event called Bouquets to Art. Florists from all over the Bay Area come together and respond to various works of art by creating incredible fresh flower displays that are set up in the galleries. Yesterday we made our annual visit to again be amazed and inspired by the incredible ways the artists use flowers.

Some interpretations are pretty loose- using the color pallet of a waterfall painting to inspire a grouping of blue hydrangeas- Others get the piece spot-on, like this florist’s recreations of Wayne Thiebaud’s gumball painting

Although it wasn’t inspired by any piece in particular, in the entrance hung a beautiful circle of violet ribbons that extended maybe 100 feet from the ceiling with orchids tied on the ends.

What a stunning, (and if done on much a smaller scale, how simple!) way to display flowers.

Lavender and Rosemary

It was in Slovakia that I learned to make real flower crowns. Not the sparse daisy chains I made when I was little – flower, long stem, another flower – but big puffy Dandelion crowns that look like thick fur hats around the top of your head.

Now that I’m grown up, I can’t wear flower crowns around when I play in the garden… so now when I make one I hang it on the door and call it a wreath.

The difference in the Slovakian crowns is that they take flowers and braid them together which makes a thick woven rope of stems covered in flowers. Today I started with three Lavender flowers with 10 inch stems. I made one braid “stitch,” then added one flower to the right strand, and crossed the left over it to lock it (like a french braid). Each “stitch,” that’s made, add another flower(s) to the braid. The petals kind of lock things in place and keep the new stems from falling out.

When the garland is long enough, knot some thread around the end to tie it closed. Continue to wind the thread around the braid to hold the straggler flowers in. Then form it into a circle, and tie the stem end of the braid to the flower top with a few inch overlap.

And then- this is the important part- tie a nice big ribbon around the part that’s most lopsided, so it doesn’t show. (If its a crown, put a big flower on this part and make it the fancy front.)

This wreath was made from lavender (two kinds) and rosemary. It smells good enough to wear.