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Your own patch of GREEN: How to make a TERRARIUM

Winter always gets me a bit stir crazy, so this year, I made my own little tropical paradise in a terrarium. These little gardens are only limited by your imagination, and are very easy to create and maintain!

To start, you'll need a container. Take a look around the house and see if you happen to have any glass vessels like an old vase, pitcher, brandy snifter or punch bowl. There are myriad options at your local craft store, but also check out thrift stores and resale shops.

I chose this vase for its fat bottom and bubbly glass.

You will need...
Drop cloth or newspaper for easy cleanup
A glass vessel that has no drainage
Pebbles or gravel – you’ll need enough to cover the bottom of your vessel to about an inch
Activated charcoal
Potting soil (preferably without added fertilizer)
Trowel or scoop
Snips or scissors
Small scale houseplants
Any other nifty bits like beach glass, pretty rocks, chipped china, or miniature accessories


First, give your glass container a quick rinse to clear out any dust or dirt. Also, rinse your pebbles and charcoal to minimize the dust. The charcoal dust can seep down into your pebbles and look black and nasty. You can use a strainer or a large bowl.


Layer your pebbles on the bottom of your vessel to the depth of about an inch. This creates the drainage needed so your plants don’t drown. I chose to do a mix of large pebbles and small gravel as I wanted to emphasize the natural look of the pebbles. I also picked through them and chose some of the prettiest to use as a final touch.


Sprinkle a thin layer of activated charcoal across your pebbles. The charcoal keeps your soil sweet and minimizes bacteria. You can find it and the pebbles at your local pet store in the aquarium supplies.


Add a layer of potting soil. Start with about an inch or two that you can add to later. You may want to create hills or valleys in your terrarium – go for it!


Plant choices: in general (unless you are doing a succulent terrarium) choose a variety of low light, high moisture houseplants. Ferns and mosses are ideal.

Pop your plants out of their pots. In my case, the variegated creeping fig came apart immediately, so I was able to split it and put it in several spots. Depending on the depth of your vessel, it may make sense to trim the roots or shake off a good deal of the existing soil. It can be a tight fit to get the plants planted, but the roots will be fine with a bit of cutting. Also, you may need to trim your plants down in size. With the rex begonia, I cut off a good third of the foliage to make it fit. Remember, this is a miniature landscape, so you will want to use small plants. We don’t want them to grow too much, which is why I suggest choosing a potting soil without added fertilizer.


After you get your plants snuggled in and topped off with a bit more potting soil, think about what other embellishments you may want to add. I sprinkled in my pretty pebbles, some hickory nuts, and an artfully broken black walnut. You can also add twigs, bark, shells – almost anything!


With all the plants and embellishments in place, water the terrarium thoroughly. If you are using an enclosed vessel, you will rarely need to water as the transpiration of the plants creates high humidity. You’ll have water dripping down your glass. Do lift the lid or the cloche now and again to get fresh air into your little environment as it can get too stale. With an open container, make sure that soil is evenly moist.


Wasn't that easy? In just an hour, I have a pretty new arrangement. Terrariums can be lovely additions to the home, but also consider creating one for the office. These little gardens can really brighten up a workspace.

Get more terrarium tips and ideas on my blog!


Gardening by Heather Prince

Part of the Second City Soiree Contributor Series. Heather is on Twitter @FearlessGarden. Read her full bio here.


{scene} Sneak peak: "First Look for Charity" gala menu

The Chicago Auto Show's First Look for Charity is one of the city's most prominent galas, donating more than 31 million dollars to local charities since its inception. Held right on the auto show floor, attendees in black-tie get an exclusive "sneak peek" of the Chicago Auto Show, before doors open to the public.

Last week I tooled around town on a menu tour for this spectacular fundraiser, sampling bites from Savor (the new caterer at McCormick Place), Fogo de Chao, Wildfire, David Burke's PRIMEHOUSE. They're among the many restaurants donating their time and talent to First Look. Each establishment will serve 5,000 pieces at 45 food stations, totalling 90 different food items. See the full menu here, and drool over the photos below.

Tickets are $250 each, with a whopping 90% going directly to eighteen local charities. Sounds like a win-win...I'll see you there! (Oh, and don't wear painful shoes. There's quite a bit of walking to do.)

First Look For Charity
February 9, 2012
McCormick Place
Black-tie attire
Buy tickets here


Indie Wed Bridal Expo - 1.28.12

Ten years ago, with a shiny new engagement ring on my finger, I went to one of those bridal expos. There in the bland hotel ballroom my eyes glazed over one dull vendor booth after another. After 20 minutes, I'd seen enough to know it was a one-way ticket to Generic Wedding town, complete with rubber chicken and cheesy DJs.

Lucky for you, 2012 bride, there are other options!

Indie Wed is a bridal expo focusing on small, independent businesses, and also couples with an independent spirit. For some that may mean a full-blown unconventional fete, while others may want to incorporate handmade items from local artisans.

With 100+ of unique & whimsical displays from the Midwest and beyond, brides can actually shop, as the majority of vendors will have wares for sale. Bring your other half and dance to tunes the DJ spins, admire tablescapes created by some of Chicago’s hottest wedding pros, and nibble samples from local caterers. Free interactive workshops and lectures will run all day. In short, it's THE alternative to the traditional bridal expo.

Purchase Tickets and get 20% off using the code SECONDCITY. And be sure to peep their adorable promo video!

Indie Wed 2011 from I Do Films on Vimeo.




Not Your Typical Wedding Cardbox

One small - yet fairly important - detail that many couples overlook is the cardbox. That little vessel that’s going to hold all of your wedding cards does not have to be a white satin box or white birdcage from the craft store. There are so many unique and fun alternatives that can speak more about you and your fiance’s personalities. I always encourage couples to browse stores like Homegoods, TJMaxx, World Market, Pier One, or even the local Goodwill... because it doesn’t have to be a "box".

This charming cardbox is personalized with your initials and your wedding date. So adorable for a rustic themed wedding. By Braggingbags on Etsy, $79.


How about putting some vintage suitcases to work? You can often find these at secondhand shops.

 photo source


Mailboxes with beautiful detailing can also make an unexpected cardbox. You might find one at an upscale garden decor store OR get creative with an average metal mailbox, some steel wool, and a coat of bronze paint!

photo source


Something I have been seeing more often in stores are faux decorative “books” that are actually storage boxes! How fitting for couples that are avid readers. Available at many craft stores and Sears, $30.25


Another great idea is one that your florist can create by using a large clear vase, surrounded with a lush ring of flowers and a slot where cards can fit through. 

photo source

What kind of cardbox are you using and have you seen any fun alternatives?

Weddings by Charlene Liang
Part of the Second City Soiree Contributor Series. Charlene is on Twitter @SweetchicEvents. Read her full bio here.


3 EASY winter squash RECIPES

Winter has a reputation for being short on produce, but even in the coldest climes, you can find an abundance of fresh vegetables from hearty greens like kale and cabbage to pantries overflowing with brightly colored squashes or gourds.

Every year our Community Share Agriculture (CSA) closes out its season with a delivery of a variety of squash: a sugar pumpkin or two for holiday pies, an exotic red kuri, a more familiar butternut , and usually a couple pounds of adorable delicata squash. The delicata are my favorite of the bunch-- easy to peel, cut and clean with sunny colors of yellow and orange with green stripes to remind me of warmer weather.

Choosing Squash

No matter which squash appeals to your tastes, be sure to choose one whose skin is tough and free of cracks or soft spots. The tough skin protects the squash flesh so you can store them without worrying about using them right away. As long as you store your squash in a cool, dark place, you can keep them for up to three months before using.


Preparing Squash

As for preparation, roasting is usually best. With most winter squash, the skin is too tough to eat, except for delicata which you can eat skin on, making for a pretty presentation when served on salad greens. So unless you plan on scooping out the squash flesh to puree, be sure to take the extra step of peeling your squash before cutting and roasting, usually at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until fork tender.


Easy Squash Recipes

Roast squash can be used on salads, tossed with blue cheese or parmesan for a side, or pureed into a soup. In fact, we ate plenty of squash soup in my house to use up a good amount of the squashes we received from our CSA. The trick to keeping it interesting was a variety of garnishes, all made from seasonal ingredients which I am sharing with you here in case you want inspiration for a simple, yet elegant first course for a winter evening party.

  • Curry Apple and Radish: take thin, 1 inch slices of a medium apple (fuji or honeycrisp work well here) and 3-4 pink beauty radishes. Sauté over medium heat in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Season with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp of black pepper plus a dash of cayenne. Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of light brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of yellow curry powder. Cook until apples and radish are tender, about 6-8 minutes. Place a few spoonfuls of the sauté mix in the center of each bowl of soup and serve with a slice of toasted baguette, smeared with some goat cheese.
  • Pear, Sage, and Pancetta: Dice 3 ounces of pancetta and cook until crisp in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat, about 5-6 minutes. Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain and reserve. Pour out fat from pan, leaving 1 tablespoon behind. Add thin, 1 inch slices of a pear (I used Anjou) and 1 tablespoon of thinly sliced fresh sage. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper each then add a couple dashes of ground cinnamon. When pear is tender, after about 5-6 minutes, add back in the pancetta. Add a couple of spoonfuls of this mix to the center of each bowl of soup and sprinkle with additional sage if desired.
  • Chorizo with Lime Scented Sour Cream: Cook 1/2 pound of ground chorizo over medium heat until browned and cook through. While chorizo cooks, mix together 1/2 cup of sour cream with the zest of 1 lime and 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lime juice. Spoon chorizo on top of soup and top with a dollop of sour cream.


Simple + Seasonal Cooking by Christina Wong
Part of the Second City Soiree Contributor Series. Christina is on Twitter @cj_wong. Read her full bio here.

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