Monday, January 30, 2012

Our Nandina Nightmare

I've always had a great fondness for members of the Nandina family because they're evergreen and colorful, with delicate, feathery foliage. However, after a discovery I made this weekend, I'm worried about my plan to grow more of them as low-maintenance foundation plants.

Some of the Casualties
Saturday we were in the garden enjoying a beautiful, sunny afternoon, Roger running the chipper while I snipped and tidied. I came to a favorite pair of Harbor Dwarf which had been in the ground about three years, and had grown to nearly four feet. One looked normal, but the other one was leaning, and when I tried to straighten it, it came out of the ground, rootless. Voles had been dining, and both plants had only a few very tiny roots left. None of the other plants in the immediate vicinity had been eaten, just the poor Nandinas. That realization prompted me to check the other Nandinas on that side of the house, and I discovered that they'd been eaten too. The casualties included three 'Firepower' and four 'Harbor Dwarf', all of which were established plants that had no rodentia problems before. Happily, the Nandinas planted elsewhere are intact, at least so far...

Roger to the Rescue
All the nibbled Nandinas still look beautiful, and when I examined what was left of the roots, I felt there was enough remaining to at least try to save them. Roger put them in containers with planting mix, and watered them well. At the moment they're in the emergency hospital (the driveway, close to the garage), where we can keep a close eye on them and hope for the best. If any survive, I won't put them in harm's way again. They're going to become container plants and live a cushy life on the deck and porch.

Now I know that if I'm going to have Nandinas in the garden, it can't be in that danger zone. And I'm seriously considering digging up the survivors in other parts of the garden and putting hardware cloth around the root ball of every one. (I haven't mentioned this little project to Roger yet, so please don't tell him...)

Nandina Emergency Hospital
This is our first experience gardening in vole country, and we've had a few problems before, but not on this scale. I usually have a live and let live wildlife policy, but when it comes to these destructive little creatures and the many chipmunks who also live on our property, I don't interfere when one of the cats goes hunting and catches one, as long as he or she doesn't eat it under the dining room table. So far they haven't made enough of a dent in the rodentia population to suit me, especially after this experience. I'm just glad the rabbits haven't done anything worse than chew the mondo grass down to stumps this winter. I would have had to shear it in a couple of months anyway, and they've saved me the trouble....


Baci is a very smart cat. She must have been reading this over my shoulder, because when I went outside just now, I discovered that she'd left a present for me by the steps to the kitchen door...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Who's Afraid of Metamerism?

I often say that color is a moving target, because it plays tricks on us by changing its appearance as its surroundings and circumstances change, and depending on who's looking at it. Color is never static.

Metamerism, or metameric failure, is one of those color tricks, or better yet, phenomenon, you may have encountered, without realizing that it was a common occurrence with a name and scientific explanation. It's a technical topic, but think of it simply as the tendency of color to look different in different situations.

Have you ever chosen a paint color that was perfect during the day under natural light, but all wrong at night under artificial light? That's a metameric failure, and it happens a lot...

There are several types of metameric failure:

  • LIGHTING:  Two colors appear to match under one light source but don't match under another.
  • OBSERVER:  We all see color differently because of our physical characteristics, and because color is light, not the property of an object.
  • GEOMETRIC:  The same color viewed from one angle doesn't match when viewed from another angle. Attributes like texture and gloss can contribute to the problem.
  • FIELD:  Colors that appear to match when used in small areas don't match when used in large ones.

Take this ceiling, for example. The paint on the ceiling came from the same can as the paint on the wall, yet it looks like a different color. It's an example of geometric metamerism.

Is there any way to avoid these metameric failures? The answer is yes and no. To me, one of the most challenging things about working with color is that the effect of color is cumulative, and it's also specific to the context in which it's used. In other words, no one really knows how well colors will work until all the paint is applied. And don't plan on avoiding the problem by copying someone else's colors, even if you love them. They'll look completely different in your house, and may not work.

Having said that, there are things you can do to decrease the likelihood of metameric surprises:

  • Always make large paint color samples, at least 2 x 3 feet. 
  • View the samples in the room where they'll be used. Study them throughout the day as the natural light  changes, and at night under artificial light.
  • Always view paint samples in the orientation in which they'll be applied, because the color will change!
  • Be alert to the effect of other colors in the room, particularly on large areas. Hardwood floors, for example, often have a yellow cast that's reflected on the ceiling and walls. (Maybe the friend with colors you love has wall to wall carpeting, not hardwood...)
  • Color applied to a large area will appear darker than it will when used in a small area. You may want to sample a color that's a shade lighter.
  • Bright colors will look even brighter when applied to large areas. Resist the impulse to choose the bright orange that's on trend right now, and sample an orange that's a little "earthier".

Now add the human factor to all these variables. Let's say that you love purple. You want to paint the dining room a sophisticated eggplant, but your spouse has an emotional response to the word "purple" that prevents seeing any member of the purple family in a favorable way...  That's SPOUSAL METAMERISM...and no, I don't have an answer for that one...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Roger's Favorite Breakfast

Roger's Hot Cereal
One of my most important domestic responsibilities is to keep Roger well supplied with his favorite breakfast, a custom hot cereal blend that I created a few years ago from inexpensive ingredients. The faux "Grape Nuts" is the star because it tastes good and the chewy little nuggets improve the texture of the cereal. Because of the nuggets and the large flakes of grain, this mix doesn't turn into gritty lumps or cement, like many finely ground hot cereals.

Roger looks forward to this breakfast because it tastes great and he knows it's a healthy meal. It's become his secret weapon for keeping his energy level high until lunch time. What I like is that once I've created the mixture, Roger can make his own breakfast in no time. He just fills a bowl with the amount of cereal and other ingredients he wants, adds water to cover and sticks the bowl in the microwave for about two minutes, depending on how full it is.

It's so easy to add variety to the basic mix with fresh or dried fruit, nuts, sugars, fruit butters, jams or syrups, that Roger doesn't feel that he's having the same old thing every day. He tops the cereal with almond milk, and sometimes adds protein powder when he knows there's a challenging day ahead. A lower calorie version uses just a little stevia and almond milk, and it's still delicious and very filling.

Roger's Hot Cereal

1 package generic 100% whole grain old fashioned rolled oats ( 2lb, 10oz size)
1 package generic "Grape Nuts" (1lb, 8oz size)
3 pounds  "Six Grain Blend"  (flakes of white wheat, red wheat, barley, sunflower, rye and rolled oats) $1.98/lb at ingles
cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice to taste

Other possibilities include soy grits, corn grits, or flax seed meal. Create your own blend with the ingredients you prefer, and tell me about it!

Because of the large volume of cereal the basic recipe makes, I don't have a bowl that's large enough to mix it all at once, so I split the ingredients in half and do it in two batches. One complete recipe fills this large canister and keeps Roger going strong for weeks.

Roger's Hot Cereal is delicious, inexpensive, healthy and easily tweaked for variety. What's not to love?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Syroco, Any One?

If you've ever rooted around in an antique shop or flea market, you've probably seen, and maybe been amused (or even horrified) by home decor pieces of Syroco, perhaps without knowing exactly what they were. Syroco is short for the Syracuse Ornamental Company, founded in Syracuse, NY by Adolph Holstein, a wood carver who came from Warsaw in 1889. As the business grew, he employed immigrant carvers from Italy and Austria who worked in walnut, mahogany and other fine woods, creating decorative pieces for late Victorian homes.

To help meet increasing demand, Holstein developed a new material made of wood pulp with flour as a binder, plus other ingredients for strength. It looked and felt like wood, but multiples could be created through a molding process. The new, lightweight material, which could be painted or finished to look like wood, was called SyrocoWood. Many of the pieces I've seen have a painted gold finish, like the dogwood branches below.
Syroco came in literally thousands of designs, including mirrors, brackets, vases, clocks, shelves, sconces, moldings, figurines and much, much more, in numerous traditional styles, including Baroque, Heppelwhite, Queen Anne, Louis XIV, Renaissance. You name it. The variety of Syroco items is staggering. Google “Syroco images” and you’ll see what I mean.

Even though some might say that Syroco is tacky, I like it because it's inexpensive and the creative possibilities are endless. The character of even the most over the top, elaborate pieces can be completely altered by paint, making them work as an accent or counterpoint in rooms of all sorts, from the simplest or most modern, to rustic or traditional. There's something for nearly everybody.

When you’re decorating on a budget, start with a Syroco shape you like and just add color(s). Black paint, for example, turns Syroco into wrought iron. The ubiquitous gold finish looks much different (and far more subtle) with a verdigris patina. Or, as in the case of this mirror, use a bright color. Imagine Syroco pieces in varying shades of white in a shabby chic room...

The Syracuse Ornamental Company remained in the Holstein family for several generations, and at one point was the world’s largest producer of decorative wall accessories. It passed through several owners until 2004, when it was bought by Vassallo Industries of Puerto Rico. The company closed the plant in 2007 after increased material and operating costs made the business too unprofitable to continue. Although the company may be gone, Syroco lives on in countless homes, including ours. Maybe a Syroco piece can find a place in your home, too.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Customized Mustards

Roger always takes his lunch to the job, along with a snack or two to keep his energy level high.  Sometimes there’s a remnant of our dinner the night before that makes a good lunch, but most of the time he has a sandwich. One of the things I do to make his sandwiches more enjoyable, and to decrease the amount of mayonnaise that he otherwise would slather on both pieces of bread, is to create special mustards. 

I admit to being “frugal”, so I start with inexpensive store brand mustards and modify them. Once you start customizing mustards, you’ll see how easy it is to create your own versions, and how limitless the creative possibilities are.  These mustards also make a perfect base for quick, easy and delicious salad dressings and sauces.

Here are some of Roger’s favorites. For all but one of them, no cooking is required. I add salt and pepper to taste.

Sundried Tomato Mustard
1 plastic bottle Dijon mustard
½ cup sundried tomatoes (drain and rinse if packed in oil)
½ tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 tsp dried minced onions
¼ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp Italian herbs
Combine all the ingredients and refrigerate in a container with a tight lid. For variety I sometimes add chopped fresh parsley, roasted red Bell pepper and/or grated Italian cheese. 

Caramelized Onion Mustard (cooking required)
1 plastic bottle whole grain mustard
2 onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced fine
1 tbsp butter
1 pinch sugar
1 tsp fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute the chopped onions, garlic and thyme in the butter over very low heat, adding the pinch of sugar to help them brown, along with the salt and pepper. Once the onions are caramelized, blend in a food processor or a blender.  Refrigerate in a container with a tight lid.

Pear Mustard
1 plastic bottle of spicy brown mustard
½ cup pear preserves
2 tbsp ginger preserves

Raspberry Mustard
1 plastic bottle of Dijon mustard
 cup of seedless raspberry jam
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Cranberry Mustard
1 plastic bottle of Dijon mustard
½ cup dried cranberries
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Southwest Mustard
1 plastic bottle of spicy brown mustard
Taco seasoning and/or very well-drained salsa to taste

Asian Mustard
1 plastic bottle of Dijon mustard
¼ cup hoisin sauce or plum sauce
½ tsp soy sauce
½ tsp sesame oil

You could also create delicious versions with apple butter, roasted Bell peppers, pumpkin puree, crushed pineapple, etc. If you have a flavor inspiration, please share! 

Monday, January 2, 2012

This Apple Isn't Red

Many people think of  color as the property of an object, but color really is a characteristic of visible light, part of the electromagnetic spectrum, as perceived by the eye and brain.

We all, meaning man and beast, see color differently, and some of us don't see color at all, or we see only certain colors. Perception is the heart of the matter. I see a red apple, and perhaps you do too, but we should keep in mind that this apple isn't really red. It just as easily could be seen as blue, or another color. The personal nature of color perception might explain some of those color decisions that otherwise are difficult to appreciate!