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Thursday
Aug162012

Attracting BUTTERFLIES and HUMMINGBIRDS to your balcony

Late summer brings many outdoor pleasures, but two of my favorite things that turn up this time of year are butterflies and hummingbirds. Our annual big butterflies like monarchs and swallowtails typically begin to arrive in July and August. Hummingbirds have been flitting around since April, but some of their favorite flowers are blooming now.

If you have a sunny, protected spot in your yard or on your balcony, consider building your very own butterfly and hummingbird container to attract these colorful creatures. You can do a mix of annuals and perennials for a longer show.

Butterflies favor flowers high in nectar production such as verbena, milkweed and lantana. Hummingbirds are attracted to red and blue tubular blossoms where they can sip nectar with their long tongues. They love salvia, fuchsia and lobelia. You can create a mix of colors and textures to attract both species. Consider annual coleus for its big, bright, colorful leaves, but allow it to flower instead of pinching back. Mix in some perennials such as sunset hyssop, coneflower and black-eyed Susan for added nectar sources.

If you choose annual or perennial milkweed, check your leaves frequently. Monarch butterflies only lay eggs on plants in the milkweed family and you may get a caterpillar or two! Raising caterpillars and watching them transform into chrysalises then butterflies can be a magical experience, especially for your little gardeners.

 

Gardening by Heather Prince

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

Monday
Jul302012

Gaming AL FRESCO - a summer GAME NIGHT

I often categorize "game night" as a cold-weather activity. Make a pot of chili, throw a log on the fire, dust off the Scrabble box and voila! Game night!

Recently, though, I enjoyed an especially delightful game night on the porch of a spectacular Mackinac Island B&B. It was so pleasant that we had multiple game nights al fresco. Just us, the spirit of competition, and on one night, a particularly inquisitive little frog who roosted on the railing to watch. Our urban-dwelling hearts were charmed, and we briefly considered moving to the country.

 

No matter if you live in the sticks or in a 606xx, I encourage you to enjoy a game night on your porch (balcony, fire escape, bench on the park, etc.) sometime this week. I'm a big fan of the strategy game Risk, whereas my husband dominates at Monopoly. Add a pitcher of white wine sangria and a few domino cookies to distract your opponent from your next move.

Monday
Jun252012

Tips for making your HERB garden GROW

Herbs can liven up any meal, from breakfast to dessert. A sprinkle of chives in scrambled eggs adds a dash of bright onion flavor, while a sprig of mint in your ice cream can make it even more refreshing. If you've been reluctant to grow your own, remember that herbs are easy to grow, making them a great plant for novice gardeners.

 

How to Grow

Herb growing is a practically foolproof prospect, and the results come quickly. There are a few tips to keep in mind, however:

1) Most herbs thrive in sun, so you’ll need a space that gets at least six hours of sun.

2) You can grow herbs in pots or in the ground. If in containers, keep them evenly moist, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings. If you are growing indoors, your herbs may require more water due to air conditioning’s lack of humidity.

3) In general, herbs do not require much fertilizer, if any, and if you do fertilize, it can change the flavor of the foliage. Of course there are some exceptions, so read your plants’ growing instructions.

 

 

What to Grow

Most of us are familiar with basil, rosemary and mint. This summer, why not try something new? Experiment with fresh herbs in your cooking, but remember they are much stronger fresh than dried, so a little can go a long way. Here are some perennial herbs that are staples in my garden and in our pantry.

Greek oregano: A spreading perennial, its strong woodsy flavor is ideal for Italian dishes.
Lavender: Its beautiful blooms and buds are delicious added to pound cake or frozen into ice cubes to dress up your iced tea
Sage: A classic for pork, but try stuffing a roasting chicken with sage and onions for a succulent flavor.
Summer savory: Similar to thyme, but stronger, it is excellent with poultry, pork and in pasta salad
Tarragon: Essential to classic French cooking, its anise flavor is wonderful with meaty fish, chicken salad or roasted meats.

 

Gardening by Heather Prince

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

Monday
Jun112012

10 NEON Accents - from Subtle to STATEMENT

Unless you've lived under a rock, you've seen a whole lot of color--neon in particular--in blogs, magazines and on the street fashions of the most trend-setting women on your daily commute. It ushered in spring fashion in a big way, and now the influence is felt in home decor, cropping up on everything from pottery to furniture. The electric-pink reproduction Thonet chair from ABC Carpet & Home seemed suddenly as ubiquitous as manicures in not-so-classic hues.

If the idea of adding loud colors to your interiors has you running for Restoration Hardware's save haven, fear not! 2012's neons bear little resemblance to the dubious iterations of the 80s. Add voltage to your decor by incorporating small touches, like a a neon stripe on a gray pillow, or by applying neon to transitional pieces (versus investment pieces like a couch or even bedding). Finally, neon need not be as loud as you might think. There are softer, more subdued versions, not to mention pairings with neutrals that balance neon when it's at its most saturated. The following are a few of my picks.

 

Rosanna's La Vie Boho dessert plate set proves that (nearly) neon colors are a soft alternative to saturated brights.

 

I’ve been a fan of k studio’s charming pillows since they first debuted years ago. This Clematis style pairs neon orange-pink with soft gray (love the neutral-and-neon combo).  Get it at Design Public.

 

Etsy vendor Ktaadn applies water-based ink to linen to make these tea towels. The yellow may be neon-bright, but the overall look is still subdued.

The chic Ander collection by Sebastian Herkner provides a pop of color; volume and spacing tones down the impact.

 

I've been smitten with the Dots carpet by Danish design studio Hay since it first appeared in my Google Reader. Again, pairing brights with neutrals creates balance. This area rug could work with modern interiors or more traditional ones (as seen above).

 

Designer Karim Rashid is no stranger to bright colors, so his use of neon-esque shades is less trend, more way of life. This xO stool (available at Y Living) kicks up the neon a notch with its single use of the yellow-green shade but is small enough so as to not overwhelm a room. 


This saturated lime-green vintage Hollywood-Regency-style table lamp from Etsy seller The Savage Savant would light up a room even when turned off.

 

The aptly named Sagaform Happy Days punch bowl from Fjorn Scandinavia would perk up any party--and can left out after the festivities end.

 

When I first spotted--and quickly bought--AMAC's colorful M Series boxes at The Container Store years ago, I had no idea they were a "favorite of designers since the 60s", much less that they were part of MoMa's permanent collection. Mine are translucent, but I'm really loving the neon colors in the more opaque versions (available at Fab.com) above.

 

Lumas is a great source for "entry level" art--quality pieces that while still a significant investment, aren't solely for the rich. When perusing the site recently, I was struck by Eva Castringius's "Untitled #3 (Flamingo)," with its burst of colors and neon shapes.

 

Interior Decorating and Design by Christine Sisson
Part of the Second City Soiree Contributor Series. Christine is the author of Words on Style and is on Twitter @WordsOnStyle. Read her full bio here.

Friday
Jun082012

Simple + Seasonal: Ravishing RADISHES

I bet if you were playing a word association game, "radish" wouldn't come to mind when you hear the word "exciting." I can't blame you. We usually eat radishes raw, perhaps in a salad, and as Homer Simpson once taught us, you don't win friends with salad.

As members of the turnip and horseradish family, radishes look tame but they can have a pretty fiery kick. Between the variety of shapes, sizes, and color, not to mention their crisp texture, cool and refreshing watery nature, and that hint of pepper, it's no wonder that the radish is a staple, an integral part to seriously complex and delicious dishes at restaurants everywhere.

 

Selecting

At your grocery store, you'll likely find the basic radish we normally see at salad bars. Those are just fine, but take advantage of the warm spring weather and support your local farmers by hitting a farmer's market to find gorgeous varieties like Easter egg, pink beauties, watermelon (halved lengthwise then sliced, they look like actual watermelon slices) and icicle radishes. Pepperiness does not correlate with size but rather with how long it took to grow. Split or cracked radishes may either be a sign of age or a sudden influx of moisture.

 

Storing

Remove the tops from radishes to keep them crisp longer. The tops attract moisture making radishes soft. Store the green leafy tops in a plastic bag in your crisper for 2-3 days; store the radishes whole in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for 5-7 days.

 

Preparing

Be sure to eat your radish greens! They can be sauteed in a little bit of oil with garlic and red pepper or eaten raw in a salad. For the radishes, serve them raw as part of a salad or on an appetizer platter. Steam or saute them in some butter to add to entrees. You can also thinly slice them on a mandolin then deep fry them, making radish chips. Just make sure to scrub the dirt off of them with a vegetable brush and trim the stem and root ends off before preparing radishes to your liking.

 

Here are two ideas for making radishes the star of an appetizer platter. Their bright colors and the refreshing yet peppery bite of a radish straight out of the refrigerator make them perfect for late spring or summer entertaining.

The Mediterranean Plate

 Cube 4 ounces of a good, firm feta cheese (preferrably not packed in water.) Cut half of an English cucumber into 1 inch pieces. Lightly grill 2-3 pieces of naan, pita, or some other flat bread. Trim radishes or for even more color and height, scrub them clean but serve them attached to their leafy greens in a bunch. Arrange these elements on a serving platter then sprinkle the border with flakey sea salt and a small dish of hummus. Tasters should feel free to dip a radish in some of the sea salt before eating it paired with the feta for an outstanding contrast between the crunch of the radish and the creamy texture of the cheese.

 

The French Plate

Place 4 ounces or 1 stick of room temperature butter in a medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon each of up to three of your favorite fresh herbs, finely chopped-- I love the combination of chives, parsley and dill. Add a pinch of salt and pepper then mash together with a fork. Optional-- add 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest to the butter as well. Place the herb butter in a small bowl and serve with toasted slices of baguette and thinly sliced radish rounds that have been sprinkled with flakey sea salt. As an alternative, you can make lovely looking bruschetta by spreading the butter on cooled but toasted baguette slices, arranging the radish slices on top then sprinkling with sea salt right before serving.

 

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

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