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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mystery Plant!

My plants at work always seem to flourish even as those at home wither and droop. That's no mystery, at work I have windows and sunshine and a schedule of watering and care. At home available windows look out on brick walls which block any hope of sunshine entering to nourish houseplants. Watering can be sporadic and cats contribute to the general malaise.

Consequently, I get comments at work on my green thumb and my healthy plants - to the extent that at my last job several co-workers asked me to nurse their failing plants back to health. One person finally just asked me to take over her plant - until it died, that is. Then she said I could have the pot and the dirt, if I wanted. I really did not want but I took it anyway and let it languish in a corner by the window. Imagine my surprise when months later, green shoots appeared, growing a few inches weekly, until they were tall and slender. Until I left that job, took the pot home and let them languish.

I brought the pot to my new job along with my other "office" plants. They love the Northwest window and the regular watering and feeding, spritzing in winter and occasional trims. I had no immediate plans for the unknown plant other than to let it sit in a corner of the window until needed.

Imagine my surprise when months later, I again noticed little green shoots. I noted their progress with weekly photos and sent them to friends to see if they knew what the plant might be. I kept sending photos and they guessed "it looks like a hosta" or "I think it's ginger". I knew it was not a hosta and I was pretty sure it was not ginger.

Week by week I watched it grow, wondering what it could be and why it spent so much time pretending to be dead, only to start all over again. I hoped this time I would not kill it, whatever it was. I christened it Junior Bonaparte and encouraged it with plant food and water. I thought it was in the orchid family (that's what the original owner thought) so I treated it like an orchid.

Today the mystery was solved. I came to work and prepared to water plants and was greeted by what was unmistakably a calla lily. Click on the pictures and see for yourself! I did a little reading and found that calla lilies are tropical and like moist soil. They go dormant after blooming and can be allowed to dry out, especially when grown in pots. Apparently I had been doing it right without knowing. Next time I won't worry and I'll hope they bloom again!

Quotable quotes; in the category You Knew I Had To Go There, Didn't You?

"The calla lilies are in bloom again."

Katherine Hepburn in the MGM film Stage Door.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Tomato Blushed When It Saw The Salad "Dressing"!

I made a nice salad the other day, and a homemade vinaigrette to go with it. The dressing was so delicious I wondered why anybody, including myself, would buy bottled dressing. Okay, maybe a favorite blue cheese dressing is worth buying but I have never had a store bought oil and vinegar dressing that was as good as one made from scratch. And making vinaigrette is one of those things that is stupid easy. Few ingredients, simple methods and endless variations.

You can make your dressing in a bowl or in a jar. You can make enough to keep on hand or enough for just one salad. Here's a giant hint (and one less bowl to wash) - make the dressing right in the salad bowl, add the vegetables, put the lettuce on top and stick it in the fridge until serving time. The veggies will marinate in the dressing and the lettuce will stay crisp. Toss well before serving.

Sometimes you don't even have to make a dressing, just add the dressing ingredients to the salad, tossing after each addition. I once had lunch at a friend's house - the sort of lunch I think of as fussy and not filling enough. Quiche and salad. Well, it was one of the best lunches I ever had. The quiche was delicious and what can one say about a salad that included fresh herbs plucked from a windowsill herb garden moments before serving? This is how she made the salad.

Prepare Romaine lettuce by washing and drying well. Leave the leaves whole or cut them but not too small. Place in a bowl and chill until ready to serve. At serving time core and slice but do not peel an apple, adding the slices to the lettuce. Drizzle with a good quality extra virgin olive oil and toss well. Add a bit of nice herb vinegar and a little lemon juice if you like and toss well. Add just a bit of salt and pepper and toss once more, adding some toasted walnut pieces and a little crumbled blue cheese. Reach out your window and pick a few basil leaves and tear them into the salad. Toss and serve. In my humble opinion, apples, walnuts and Stilton cheese are a natural medley. Sliced pear with Gorgonzola and pecans is even more wonderful!

The most basic dressing is vinegar and/or lemon juice and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir these together then add about 2 to 3 times as much oil as vinegar. Adding a pinch of sugar and some herbs to the vinegar will make it a little more interesting.

To make a basic dressing in a bowl or in a jar, start with a good spoonful of mustard such as Dijon or a grainy, spicy mustard. (Hint: make your dressing right in the mustard jar when the mustard is almost gone - use up the mustard and save washing another jar)!

Add a little vinegar. I prefer cider or rice vinegar, wine or malt, or a flavored vinegar such as herb or raspberry. Add a little sugar or honey and a squeeze of any citrus - lemon, lime, orange even grapefruit. Add some fresh or dried herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper. You can even cheat by adding a few shakes of seasoned salt or herb blend. Stirring these ingredients together before adding oil allows them to blend.

Now add oil - olive, canola, safflower or whatever you prefer. Some nut oils or avocado oils can be very delicious and interesting. The usual proportion of oil to vinegar is about 3:1 or 4:1. You may prefer more or less oil. If you add sugar or honey or use sweeter vinegars you may find you need even less oil. Whisk or stir the dressing in the bowl or put a lid on the jar and shake vigorously.

Taste the dressing by dipping a bit of lettuce or other salad ingredient (this is how those fancy chefs do it on TV). Adjust the seasonings, oil or vinegar as desired. Drizzle some dressing (remember, less is more) over your salad and toss well, adding a little more dressing as needed. Revel in the knowledge that you have created the freshest, most delicious dressing possible for your salad.

Oh yeah, there is one reason to buy a bottled dressing - so you can have a fancy bottle to store your homemade vinaigrette in the fridge! Your dressing may thicken in the fridge. Just allow it to warm up a little before shaking and adding to your salad.

Quotable Quotes; in the category You Can Never Be Too Rich . . . Or Too Successful!

"The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is out grossing my films."

Paul Newman