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Archive | Home and Garden

Garden-tainment creates lasting memories for guests

by Melinda Myers

Summer is filled with parties, gatherings, picnics and more. We all want to make these occasions special and memorable for our guests.

Many gardeners tend to schedule events around peak bloom or harvest in order to share the beauty and flavor from their garden.

Unfortunately nature does not always cooperate. It seems we are saying “you should have been here last week” or “come back next week when the flowers will be at their peak.”

No need to worry. It may be considered cheating by the purist, but isn’t it all about creating a great space and event for our guests? Consider adding some fun flower accents. Metal flower sculptures like daisy bouquet stakes, hollyhock stem stakes or aluminum fiddleheads insure color throughout the season.

Or make it fun with faucet handle flowers (gardeners.com), which are sure to spark some conversation amongst your guests.

You can also add some extra color with a bit of floral paint. Use garden colors to paint seedheads of flowers past their prime. Just cover the stem and leaves to insure only the seedheads get painted for a more realistic look. It might fool your guests or give them a good idea for their own garden.

Or stop by your local garden center. Many have flowering planters and large size annuals that you can use to fill in voids and add color to the garden.

Pot a few of these up and use them as centerpieces on the tables. A search of the garage or visit to a thrift store may find reasonably priced fun items you can convert into containers.

Keep your guests comfortable and the mosquitoes at bay with the gentle breeze of a fan. Mosquitoes are weak fliers and the gentle breeze of a fan can keep them away. Or step it up with the help of geranium oil. It’s natural, fragrant and can help repel mosquitoes.

And be sure to include fresh-from-the-garden flavor in your beverages and dishes. A pot of basil or mint near the party means guests can flavor their own lemonade tea or mojito. The hollow stem of lovage, cut down to size makes a great straw for your tomato juice or bloody Mary. Your guests won’t forget the fun of sipping their drink through this celery-flavored straw.

Then add some color and a gourmet touch to your salads with a few edible flowers. Nasturiums, roses and calendulas are just a few to consider. Just be sure they are edible and pesticide-free before serving them to your guests.

Use fresh-from-the-garden or container herbs for grilling, salads and your main course. And consider drying a few herbs or starting cuttings from your plants to use as party favors.

Don’t let the sunset put an end to your celebration. Light up the evening with solar illuminated planters, solar pathway lighting and decorative fiber optic lights. Or go old school and set votive candles in a mason jar or tucked safely in the garden.

So set aside some time to take a walk through the garden and plan a party or two for you, your family and friends to enjoy its beauty.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books. Myers’ web site, www.melindamyers.com, offers gardening videos and tips.

Posted in Bloomin' Summer, Home and Garden, NewsComments Off

Fresh Market—Farm Fresh Eggs

By Vicky Babcock

Eggs—or what some refer to as “cackleberries”—have been called nature’s perfect food.  And why not?  Packaged in its own perfect wrapping, each egg contains a multitude of nutrients necessary to good health. Egg yolks are the richest source of choline, important for brain function and health.  Eggs contain selenium, an antioxidant, as well as B12, B6, folate, vitamins A and E and lutein, which protects against macular degeneration and cataracts.  Eggs are packed with muscle-building protein and, even better, they taste great!

*BLOOM-Fresh Market eggsUnfortunately, not all eggs are created equal. Living in a farm community, you’ve likely had a chance to sample farm fresh eggs from pastured, free-range hens.  You can’t help noticing the darker color and fuller flavor from these liberated chicks.  Obviously they’re better for you.  But do you know how much? In several studies shared by Mother Earth News comparing conventional store eggs to pastured, free-range eggs, they found free-range to have one third less cholesterol, one quarter less saturated fat, two thirds more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E, seven times more beta carotene and four to six times more vitamin D.

These are all good reasons to buy local. Can you buy organic, free-range eggs from local grocers? Sure, but the term may be deceptive. For eggs to be labeled, “free-range”, the hens need to have access to the outdoors. This can be a small slab of concrete, not a good source of natural nutrients. “Cage free” is another deceptive term used by sellers.  A warehouse or pole barn with poultry packed toe to toe could be considered “cage free”.  And beware of eggs labeled, “vegetarian fed.” These are most certainly not free-range as chickens are not vegetarians.

Are there any benefits to conventional, store bought eggs? Yes.  You can be sure they’ve been washed, a process that removes the bloom, an egg’s natural protection from bacterial contaminants. Large commercial farms usually replace the bloom with a coating of edible mineral oil.  Does this mean that eggs should not be washed? No, we highly recommend washing eggs prior to cooking as you would any farm produce. However, allowing the bloom to remain intact for storage will increase the shelf-life of your eggs.  Refrigeration is also an important factor in shelf-life, although there are those that hold that eggs do not need refrigeration.  If you do decide to go that route(not recommended), be sure to check your eggs before using by placing them into a bowl of water.  As one source puts it, “If it doesn’t sink, it’s going to stink!”

 

Breakfast Casserole

Ingredients

1 pound mild ground pork sausage

1 pound hot ground pork sausage

1(30-ounce) package frozen hash browns

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 cups sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded  (8 oz.)

6 large eggs

1 cup milk

Fresh basil, chopped (about ½ cup loosely packed)

Combine sausage and cook in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring until sausage is crumbly and no longer pink. Drain well.

Prepare hash browns according to package directions, using 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Stir together hash browns, sausage, and cheese. Pour into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.  Stir together eggs, milk, basil and remaining salt. Pour evenly over potato mixture.

Bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes.

Fresh Market is brought to you by Solon Market located at 15185 Algoma Avenue.  For more information call 616-696-1718.  Like us on facebook for updates.

 

 

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Eight ways to get the most out of your trip to the farmers market

Young woman at the market(BPT) – This time of year is about warm weather, vacations and relaxing afternoons. It also heralds the return of farmers markets. A trip to the market is a great opportunity to indulge in fresh healthy produce and to expand your horizons by trying new items or preparing them in different ways.

Here are eight tips to make the most of your visit to the local farmers market:

* Note the hours and dates of your local market on your calendar. Set reminders on your smartphone that will alert you when favorite items such as tomatoes, peas, beans and strawberries come into season.

* Prepare your refrigerator and kitchen for the season’s harvest. Clean out your fridge’s produce drawer, and stock up on items that complement fresh produce, such as salad dressings and seasonings that can be used to turn basic veggies into delicious meals.

* While farmers market vendors will almost certainly have plastic bags on hand, take your own reusable bags or baskets to carry your purchase – they’re better for Mother Nature. If you’ll be buying perishable items, consider packing a cooler as well. Remember to place heavier items (like melons) on the bottom of the bag and lighter ones (such as berries) on top.

* You’ll find the freshest produce and best selection early in the day. Setting your alarm to wake you a bit early could ensure you get the pick of the day’s produce.

* Leave the $20 and $50 bills at home. Smaller bills will provide you with greater buying flexibility, and vendors will appreciate the change.

* Scope out the entire market before you begin making purchases. Certain popular items, such as tomatoes, cantaloupe, melons, peas and potatoes will be available from multiple vendors. Strolling through the market first will allow you to compare prices and taste samples to ensure you’re picking the best and most delicious buys for your family.

* Unpack bags as soon as you’re home and store each item appropriately. Create a menu plan for the week that incorporates everything you’ve purchased to help ensure nothing goes to waste. Don’t forget to incorporate snacks into your meal plan.

* Every week, try something new. By all means, enjoy your familiar favorites, but also add in new items like kohlrabi, chard or broccolini. Not sure how to prepare something new? Seasonings are a great way to add flavor without fat. Spice-filled marinades or rubs are a perfect complement to produce. Throw your veggies on the grill to bring out the freshness. On its website, www.simplyorganic.com, Simply Organic offers numerous flavorful fresh produce recipes.

Here’s a tasty recipe to try on your grill today:

Adobo Grilled Asparagus

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 8 to 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4 to 6

Ingredients:

 

Use organic ingredients where possible.

2 ounces slivered almonds

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons Simply Organic adobo seasoning

1/2 teaspoon Simply Organic paprika

Directions:

In a dry 8-inch skillet, toast the almonds, stirring often, until fragrant and lightly golden, about five to eight minutes. Remove and pour the almonds into a small bowl and set off to the side. In a shallow dish, toss the asparagus with the olive oil, adobo seasoning and paprika. Preheat your grill. Real wood charcoal tastes best, but gas works fine. Avoid briquettes; they make food taste like lighter fluid. Aim for medium-high heat. If your grill lid has a thermometer built into the lid, it should read about 375 degrees. Once hot, lay the asparagus perpendicular to your grill grates and cook for eight to 10 minutes, turning once until fork tender yet still firm. Serve on a platter topped with toasted almond slivers.

 

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Fresh Market

By Vicky Babcock

Maple’s Sticky Gold

On a hot morning in July 2012, Michel Gauvreau, an accountant with Veragrimar, arrived to inventory a warehouse full of maple syrup owned by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. The building, located in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, held around 16,000 barrels of syrup, stacked six high and hundreds deep. Each full barrel weighed 650 pounds—a value of $1,800, nearly 13 times the price of crude oil. This particular warehouse held about 1/10th of Quebec’s annual production, a vast sea of the nation’s “sticky gold.” It was not a setting for drama, yet unbeknownst to the principal players, the scene had already been set.

BLOOM-maple syrup tooMichel was scaling the barrels when he nearly fell as a barrel shifted beneath his weight. Catching his balance, he rocked the barrel. Empty. The first of many.  Gauvreau notified the Federation, who arrived to investigate. Upon opening a barrel, they found not a brown, goopy liquid redolent with the wintry scent of vanilla, caramel and childhood; it was thin, clear, and odorless. It was water.

Sixty percent—six million pounds—of syrup had vanished, about $18 million dollars, wholesale. The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist was a blow to Canada, which makes approximately 80 percent of the world’s production. It would be months before the Federation would have any answers. To siphon off and transport that amount of syrup alone would have required more than 100 tractor trailers.*

Canada prides itself on its maple syrup and its maples, and the maple leaf is an icon featured on their coins, military uniforms and their country’s flag. Ten species of maple are native to Canada and markets there produce maple sugar, maple butter, maple pork rub, maple vinaigrette, maple coffee, maple tea and yes, maple perfume.

On a smaller scale here in Michigan we have our own maple industry and it’s Pure Michigan! According to the Michigan Maple Syrup Association, our state ranks fifth in maple syrup production in the country with an average production of about 90,000 gallons per year. Maple sap collection usually begins in February and runs about six weeks, although in the U.P. it can run well into April. Temperatures play a part in the production, as the tree needs a combination of warm days and freezing nights for the sap to run. Timing is also important, as the sugar content is highest in late winter to early spring. When the trees come into bud, the sap is unpalatable. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

Native Americans introduced European settlers to the practice of collecting and reducing the sap, although the settlers refined the process. Its discovery is uncertain; however, popular lore speaks of an Indian chief who carelessly embedded his hatchet into the trunk of a maple tree. The tree yielded its sap, which was collected by the chief’s squaw and used to cook their meal. This pleased the chief and so began our love affair with maple syrup, most often used today to enhance the flavor of our pancakes and waffles.

Unlike sugar, maple syrup contains an abundant amount of naturally occurring minerals, including calcium, manganese, potassium and magnesium. It is also a source of antioxidants, which have been shown to aid the immune system, lower blood pressure and slow the effects of aging.

Michigan made maple syrup can be found in farmers markets throughout the State from June through August—or until the last pint is gone. Better hurry though, the Michigan Maple Syrup Association tells us that maple syrup is one of the few Michigan crops where demand exceeds supply!

*For more on this story, Google “The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist,” by Brendan Borrell. Much of the information in this article was gleaned from this source.

Fresh Market is brought to you by Solon Market located at 15185 Algoma Avenue.  For more information call 616-696-1718.  Like us on facebook for updates.

 

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Fresh Market—the Cottage Food Law

BLOOM-Fresh-market-Apple_pie-webBy Vicky Babcock

 

The scent of lavender and sun-kissed strawberries wafts upon the breeze; farm fresh eggs tempt the palate; an array of colors and textures delight the senses. Welcome to your local Farmers Market! Tickle your taste buds with samples of honey, fresh fruit and—wait—is that fresh bread I smell?

If you’ve come to Market lately, you may have noticed a trend—small start-up businesses offering a variety of breads, flavored oils, baked goods, jams and jellies and other delicacies. Prior to 2010, these goods were rarely seen at Markets. Start-up costs were counter-productive. State regulation required licenses, licensed industrial kitchens and inspections, drastically cutting into the bottom line of most hopefuls. A business began in the red—many stayed there until quietly packing up shop and eating the costs—until 2010. That’s when Michigan adopted the Cottage Food Laws. The relaxed regulations make it possible for farmers to expand their line of products and for others to test the waters without getting in over their heads. With a small grocery list of staples, a person can begin operations.

However, rules do apply. Sales must be documented. Individuals cannot earn more than $20,000 a year. This changes on December 31, 2017 to $25,000 per year. You need to maintain sales records and provide them to a Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) food inspector, upon request. MDARD has regulatory responsibility for the Cottage Food Law.

Products must be labeled with your name and physical address as well as an ingredient list with a note of possible allergens and the following statement, “Made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development”—this last in 11 point font or larger (about 1/8” tall). Products must be produced in your own kitchen with no animals or pets in the room. You cannot cook for yourself and for sale product at the same time.  Hand-printed labels are acceptable if they are printed legibly in durable, permanent ink and equal or greater to the 11-point font size.

Foods that are allowed under the Cottage Food Laws include:

• Breads and similar baked goods

• Vinegars and flavored vinegars

• Cakes

• Sweet breads and muffins that contain fruits or vegetables

• Fruit pies (cooked)

• Jams and Jellies that have been processed to be stored at room temperature

• Dried herbs and herb mixes

• Dry baking mixes, dip mixes and soup mixes

• Dehydrated vegetables or fruits

• Popcorn and Cotton Candy

• Nuts (coated or uncoated)

• Dried egg noodles

• Roasted coffee beans or ground roast

• Vanilla extract or baked goods or that contain alcohol (be aware that these products require licensing by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.)

Foods that are not allowed include:

• Meat and meat products

• Fish and fish products

• Raw seed sprouts

• Canned fruits or vegetables like salsa or canned peaches

• Vegetable or Fruit butters

• Canned pickled products

• Pies or cakes that require refrigeration

• Milk and Dairy products

• Hummus

• Cut tomatoes or chopped/shredded leafy greens

• Foccaccia style breads

• Sauces and condiments, including barbeque sauce, hot sauce, ketchup or mustard

• Salad dressings

• Pet foods or treats

All products must be wrapped or otherwise sealed. For example, you cannot sell slices of pie unless they have been individually wrapped for sale. Cottage Foods must be sold by the person producing it to the person consuming it face to face. You can advertise over the internet but you must do the actual transfer of product in person either at a Farmers Market or something similar or from your home.

For a more complete list of allowed or disallowed products or additional information on the Cottage Food Laws please Google™ Michigan Cottage Food Laws or check out the web page at http://www.michigan.gov/mdard/0,4610,7-125-50772_45851-240577–,00.html

Here is a sample label for home product:  note that sub ingredients are required and any nuts must be identified such as, walnuts, almonds, etc. not simply nuts.

Ready to give it a try?  Try out our recipe below for a starter. See you at Market!

 

CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI  CAKE

1 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

2 cups sugar

2 tsps. Vanilla extract

3 cups  grated zucchini

2 1/3 cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

2 tsps . baking soda

1tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. baking powder

½ cup chopped nuts

½ cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°.  Combine oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and zucchini in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder.  Add zucchini mixture to dry ingredients.  Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.  Pour into 2 greased 5 x 9-inch loaf pans.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack and remove from pans.

Fresh Market is brought to you by Solon Market located at 15185 Algoma Avenue.  For more information call 616-696-1718.  Like us on facebook for updates.

 

 

Posted in Bloomin' Summer, FeaturedComments Off

How committed is your state to local foods?

Physician-Chef shares four reasons you should care

Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, respectively, claimed the top three spots in the 2014 Locavore Index, a ranking of each state’s (and the District of Columbia’s) commitment to promoting and providing locally grown foods.

At the bottom of the heap are Arizona, Nevada and Texas, with the Lone Star State dead last despite the fact that it’s the nation’s No. 1 cattle producer and No. 3 for crops receipts, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“There are many good reasons to eat locally produced foods, the first among them that they’re very good for us,” says cardiologist and professional chef Michael S. Fenster, MD, (www.whatscookingwithdoc.com), author of “Eating Well, Living Better” and “The Fallacy of the Calorie,” (Koehler Books; fall 2014).

“There’s a direct relationship between our food, our environment, our genetics and our health. Eating locally grown foods gives us our most nutritious meals, most flavorful meals. Few choices have as many personal ramifications as that which we decide to stuff into our gob.”

He offers four more reasons – “the tip of the iceberg lettuce, so to speak”—to go localvore:

•  Money. Eating organically, eating fresh and finding the seasonal local foodstuffs can be expensive – if you do all your shopping at the supermarket, Dr. Mike says.

“Finding healthful produce at venues like a local farmer’s market can result in prices that are at least comparable, if not substantially less than, those at the megamarket, which has the additional costs of shipping from the nether regions,” he says.

Likewise, visiting a local fishmonger can result in tasty bargains compared to flash-frozen fish flesh. Shopping for what is bountifully in season, and thus locally overstocked, can mean big savings.

“Finally, by purchasing items produced locally, your money strengthens the local economy and helps sustain the people producing the types of food stuffs that you wish to sustain yourself upon,” he says. “That is the smiley face circle of life.”

•  Freshness: In some ways, it’s amazing we’re alive considering all the food we eat that’s dead, Dr. Mike says, noting almost 60 percent of the modern Western diet is prepackaged, preserved and processed.

“Any time we manipulate our comestibles in such a fashion, we add compounds that are not naturally found in them or remove parts that are,” he says. “Those pre-cut vegetables in the supermarket may be convenient, but they started losing nutritional value and flavor as soon as they were sliced and diced.”

Because local growers don’t have to add preservatives or pick produce weeks early to ensure they’ll produce will keep during shipping, local foods can be consumed at the peak of freshness and ripeness – when they taste their very best.

•  Rhythms: Our great hairy ancestors have always been omnivores.

“There is ample evidence that the reason we as a species became the smartest kids on the block is that we took advantage of a varied diet. This hardwired drive for diversity in dining is also one reason why restrictive diets that seek to severely limit what we consume almost always, ultimately fail,” Dr. Mike says.

By leveraging the seasonal and cyclic variations that naturally occur, your palate will never become dull and monochromatic, he promises. A pleasant dining experience directly lights up our primal happy-happy joy-joy place, an experience that contributes directly to overall well-being.

•  Sustainability: All the reasons for purchasing high-quality ingredients locally ultimately circle back and rest upon the concept of sustainability. In knowing where your food comes from, in being able to ascertain both what it contains and what it does not contain, you take a proactive step in determining your own health and wellness, Dr. Mike says.

By focusing on procuring the best for you and those who depend upon you, you act to sustain yourself and your family. By affecting such a posture, you deliver local impact.

“With enough people acting locally, the impact becomes regional and if enough people demand control over their foodstuffs then, like a crazy cat video gone viral, it can have a global effect.”

About Michael S. Fenster, MD

Michael Fenster, M.D., F.A.C.C., FSCA&I, PEMBA, is a board-certified interventional cardiologist. Also known as “Dr. Mike,” author of “Eating Well, Living Better: The Grassroots Gourmet Guide to Good Health and Great Food,” (www.whatscookingwithdoc.com), he combines his culinary talents and Asian philosophy with medical expertise, creating winning recipes for healthy eating. A certified wine professional and chef, Dr. Mike worked professionally in kitchens prior to entering medical school and maintained his passion for food and wine throughout his medical career.

Posted in Bloomin' SummerComments Off

Basil—The King of Herbs

DIG-Fresh-market-sweet-basil-plantFresh Market

By Vicky Babcock

 

Ah basil. Its heady aroma, its varied and intense flavors, its striking foliage.  How could one not love basil? Its popularity is world-wide, yet none more so than here, with our blend of cultures and cuisines. America’s love affair with basil most likely stems from its association with Italian cuisine, flavorful sauces and pesto. Yet basil was not always loved and it is not native to Italy.

Some sources suggest that basil derives its name from the terrifying basilisk—a creature in Greek mythology, half lizard, half dragon, whose stare could cause madness and death. Perhaps this is the source of the belief, first recorded by scribes dating pre-206 BCE that basil “exists only to drive men insane.” It is also the first known written record of basil in any context. Both the Greeks and the Romans associated basil with hatred. Western European lore claims that basil belongs to the devil and for basil to grow well, one must curse the ground it is planted in. The French idiom, “semer le basilica,” to sow the basil, is synonymous with going off on a rant. Nicholas Culpeper believed it was poisonous. He also adhered to the belief that basil could produce scorpions and that smelling too much basil could create a scorpion inside the brain. Conversely, basil is held by some to protect against scorpions and the herbalist, John Gerard, noted that those who ate of basil would feel no pain from a scorpion sting. There are as many advocates of basil as there are detractors.

Native to India, the word stems from the Greek “basileus” meaning “king.” Jewish folklore suggests that it adds strength while fasting. It is sacred to the god Vishnu in its native country and the goddess of love in Haiti. In Hindu, holy basil, or “Tulsi,” is a symbol of love, fidelity, eternal life, purification and protection.

Basil is a member of the mint family. Its essential oils show both antifungal and insect repelling properties and components of the plant have been proven to be toxic to mosquitoes. The herb is an excellent source of Vitamin K and manganese, and a good source of Vitamins A and C. It is heart healthy, being a good source of beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant that protects against free radical damage and also prevents free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol in the bloodstream. Only after it has been oxidized does cholesterol build up in blood vessel walls. Because free radical damage is a contributing factor in other conditions, such as asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, basil may help to lessen the progression of these conditions as well. Studies have shown that components of the oil can act as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting an enzyme called “cyclooxygenase.” Many common over the counter non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen work by inhibiting this same enzyme.

Basil is best consumed fresh, as drying changes the flavor. For cooked dishes, add this herb at the end of the heating process to maintain flavor and nutrition. For future use, try freezing basil in ice cube trays with water for soups and sauces. Or try our recipe for pesto below.

 

Pesto 

1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, (about 2 cups, packed) washed and dried

3 medium cloves of garlic, peeled

1/3 cup raw pine nuts

¾ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

In a food processor, pulse basil, garlic and pine nuts briefly—do not over process.  Add cheese and pulse a bit more.  Blend in olive oil and add salt to taste.

Great on sandwiches or over pasta.  Refrigerate.

Makes about 1 cup.

 

Fresh Market is brought to you by Solon Market located at 15185 Algoma Avenue.  For more information call 616-696-1718. Like us on facebook for updates.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Diggin' Spring, Featured, RecipesComments Off

Grow your own backyard paradise in a pot

By Melinda Myers

 

Create a backyard escape with the help of container gardens. Whether you’re looking for a visit to the desert, an English garden or tropical paradise, a few planters can help create the mood.

Reduce your workload and increase your enjoyment with a bit of planning and proper planting.

Select a container with drainage holes and one that mimics the color and feel of the location you are trying to recreate. Use troughs, stone or other containers made from neutral colors when growing succulents. The container should complement, but not overpower the simple beauty of the desert plants.

Keep things warm and natural when going for a more tropical feel. Wicker, bamboo and other natural materials work well with the lush foliage and vibrant colors of tropical plants.

Add a few terra cotta, metal and basket type containers when creating an English cottage setting. Set them on your patio, steps or in the garden to create a focal point.

Keep your plants looking good throughout the season with the proper planting mix. Look for potting mixes with good drainage and water holding abilities, like Schultz Potting Soil Plus (schultz.com). Check the label as some mixes contain enough fertilizer to last the entire season and water-retaining crystals to reduce the need to water.

Use a cactus mix that provides the perfect growing conditions for cacti and succulents. The potting mix should retain the moisture and nutrients the plants need, while providing the excellent drainage that is a must for these plants.

Plant any orchids added to your backyard tropical paradise in a potting mix designed for these plants. Use an orchid mix that has excellent drainage and aeration, yet retains the moisture and nutrients these beauties need to thrive.

Check your planters daily and water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil are crumbly and slightly moist. Allow cacti and succulents to go a bit drier.

Mulch the soil in tropical, herb, vegetable and annual container gardens. Spread a thin layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles or twice shredded bark over the soil surface. Use fine pebbles for cacti and succulents that like things hot and dry.

And don’t forget about garden accents. A wattle fence and arbor of twigs and branches work well for an English garden setting, while a water feature can enhance a tropical paradise themed garden, and some southwest garden art can complete the desert scene you’re going for.

So start your vacation this year with a trip to the garden center. Invest in a few containers, the right potting mix and plants. Then plant your way to the retreat of your dreams.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment segments. Myers is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’ web site, www.melindamyers.com, offers gardening videos and tips.

 

 

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Bringing Indoor Comfort Outside

DIG-Outdoor-spaces

Make outdoor space an extension of your home

 

(Family Features) The arrival of summer, along with its sunny skies and beautiful weather, beckons homeowners to create a space to entertain guests and enjoy the great outdoors. Design an outdoor living room that merges style and function, and incorporates elements of indoor comfort.

Whether entertaining for two or 10, the warmer weather provides an abundance of opportunities to lounge in peaceful, open-air surroundings. New offerings in decor and design breathe indoor inspiration into your outdoor spaces, creating a beautiful extension of your home for all to enjoy.

“It’s easier than ever to bring the comfort and style of your favorite indoor spaces into your porch, patio and other outdoor areas,” said Aimee Beatty, in-house stylist with Pier 1 Imports. “From comfy throw pillows to trendy rugs, colorful artwork and cheery curtains, new outdoor products boast durability and so much style that your patio will be the neighborhood’s go-to summer hot spot.”

Beatty shares some of her stylish secrets to make your outdoor space an elegant living space worth sharing.

 

Arrange away

Treat your outdoor area as you would your living room. If space is limited, use sectionals to create seating in whatever arrangement fits best. If there is more room, add an investment piece, such as the Echo Beach Dining Table from Pier 1 Imports. This high-quality piece is made from handcrafted, all-weather synthetic rattan and offers plenty of space to arrange chairs just as you would in your dining room. Finish the look by layering your favorite accessories, such as handcrafted trays, detailed lanterns and a colorful floral arrangement to create a cheerful centerpiece that makes your guests feel welcome.

 

Tie it all together

To let you in on a little secret — outdoor rugs tie everything together and really bring a space to life. Simply layer a rug, such as Pier 1 Imports’ chic Wavy Geo Rug, with a beautiful seating collection, colorful cushions and pillows, and you’ve got an outdoor area that makes everyone comfortable and happy.

 

Embrace the bold

Some might be afraid to create a statement outside because — it’s outside. But an outdoor living space lends itself to adventures with color and pattern, providing the opportunity to be bold and to go beyond your comfort zone. When shopping for the outdoors, remember — anything goes.

 

Make it uniquely yours

Mix and match with color and patterns, and personalize your space with accents such as outdoor artwork, planters, umbrellas and more. A smart combination of accessories really transforms an outdoor space from simple to fabulous.

 

Be bright, all night

The sun may still be shining when the guests arrive, but you’ll need something to light up the night and keep the party going all evening long. Create a delightful, welcoming atmosphere with a variety of outdoor lighting options, such as string lights, paper lanterns or floating LED candles placed around the patio. Fashion an elegant glow with lanterns in various sizes, such as the Scroll Trim Lanterns from Pier 1 Imports.

 

Serve in style

Al fresco entertaining always focuses on food, drinks and friends. A self-service food station or bar enhances the casual tone, freeing guests to grab refreshments whenever they please. This also allows you, the host, to focus on the fun at hand. Look for serving and drink carts that maximize space, such as the Rania Serving Cart from Pier 1 Imports, which has three levels so there’s plenty of room to stash an ice bucket, drink dispenser, snacks, lawn games and more.

 

So let the warmth of the season bring many memorable moments to your life and stylish elements into your outdoor spaces. For more great decorating ideas, visit www.pier1.com.

DIG-Outdoor-service

Outdoor-Friendly Materials

Have you ever wondered how some products are suitable for the outdoors while others can only be kept inside? Various processes and materials give outdoor furniture and decor durability and weather-resistant appeal.

 

Synthetic Fibers

Ever think about all the abuse from the elements outdoor pillows, seat cushions and umbrellas suffer? Between the sun, rain and everything in-between, fabrics made for outdoor use are designed to withstand the elements, keeping your newly designed patio fresh for all the parties to come. Synthetic fibers used in these fabrics are designed to bead water, resist stains and maintain their color. With this in mind, you can lengthen the lifespan of such materials by covering them when not in use and avoiding prolonged exposure to rain or sun.

 

Acrylics and Melamine

Outdoor drinkware and dinnerware made of acrylic and melamine provide much of the same great style as their glass counterparts without the breakability. A nice set of acrylic drinkware and melamine dinnerware, such as Summer Quench Turquoise Goblets and Trellis Dinnerware, both from Pier 1 Imports, will keep your outdoor soiree safe and fun throughout the evening.

 

Synthetic Rattan and Wicker

Wicker may be the traditional material for outdoor furniture, but this new generation of synthetic wickers and rattans is not your grandmother’s porch furniture. All-weather chairs, tables and more are woven of synthetic rattan or wicker over durable, rust-resistant frames, making them durable and easy to clean. This approach offers the flexibility to incorporate a woven look into furniture of all styles — from traditional to global, modern to whimsical — without sacrificing durability and longevity.

 

Posted in Diggin' SpringComments Off

It’s strawberry season!

DIG-Fresh-market-strawberriesFresh Market

By Vicky Babcock

 

In our state, we look to the robin for the early announcement of Spring. These brave, hardy birds often appear when the snow is still on the ground. They bring us hope and a promise that winter will soon loose its grip and warmer days are ahead—a promise that the earth will again yield new growth. For the Seneca Indians, the strawberry is linked with Spring and rebirth, as it is the first fruit to ripen in the season. The Seneca believe that strawberries grow along the path to the heavens and that strawberries bring good health as well.

Modern science supports this belief, as studies have shown several benefits to the consumption of the fruit. Among the findings: eating the berries can help prevent memory loss and reduce heart disease and cancer, aid to resist infectious diseases and counter inflammation. Components of the berry aid in absorbing calcium and contribute to healthy bone structure. One test concluded that subjects who ate nitrate rich foods such as strawberries before exercise burned, on average, about 100 more calories than others who did not. This may be because consumption of nitrate rich foods can increase the blood flow to muscles by as much as seven percent, increasing oxygen and making it easier to exercise.

The goddess Venus was said to have cried strawberry tears upon the death of Adonis. The association with the goddess of love probably arises from its heart shape and red color. It is said that if one splits a double strawberry in half and shares this with someone of the opposite sex, love will grow between them. Strawberries were considered an aphrodisiac in France and a soup made from the fruit was served to newlyweds.

The Brits used crushed strawberries and the juices to reduce sunburn and mild blemishes and, in parts of Europe, the fruit is considered sacred to the Virgin Mary. The Romans considered the fruit a cure-all—it was believed to relieve depression and to cure inflammations, fevers, throat infections, kidney stones, gout, fainting spells and diseases of the blood, liver and spleen. It was also used to mask halitosis.

The strawberry is a member of the rose family. It is the only fruit whose seeds are on the outside. An average strawberry contains approximately 200 seeds. It is low calorie, containing about 45 calories per cup. Its fresh, tart/sweet flavor makes it a favorite to many and its nutritional value makes it a favorite to moms and health providers.

Look for strawberries from mid May to mid to late June. Check local farmers markets or food markets that cater to local produce for the freshest berries. Enjoy these treats as they are for a guilt-free snack. Toss them into salads or cereals or muffins. Or try out our recipe for a refreshing summer drink. Any way you slice them, you can’t go wrong with strawberries. Bon Appetite!

Strawberry Lemonade Smoothie

1 large can frozen lemonade

1 16-ounce tub frozen strawberries in syrup

Fresh strawberries (about 2 cups), rinsed, caps removed

1 cup vanilla or strawberry yogurt

1 ½  cups water

Ice (about 8-12 cubes)

Sugar to taste

Blend first five ingredients. If mixture is too strong, add additional water. Add sugar to taste. Add ice and process until desired consistency.

 

 

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