Picnicking – A Little History and A Lot of Screen Time

picnic_basket_1Unseasonal weather and spring’s quick approach bring the promise of an outdoor picnic to the table. While dining in open air has long been in practice for both pleasure and necessity, the origin of the word “picnic” maintains more elusive origins.

The earliest written form of picnic appeared in French to describe a group of diners who decided to BYOB their own wine at a local café. From there “pique-nique” in French continued to circle in use as a term to describe what Americans refer to as a pot-luck – a meal where all diners brought something to contribute to the meal. Our modern dictionary now defines picnic as “an excursion or outing in which the participants carry food with them and share a meal in the open air” (www.dictionary.com), however the origin remains debated.

Wherever the actual beginnings of the word “picnic” were born, Western culture has since embraced picnicking as a rite of spring and outing suitable for families, lovers and friends.  Today, we associate picnicking with a day of leisure and culinary consumption under a shady tree, an event of pleasure, relaxation and reveling in the good weather that comes with springtime. Picnickers are a common sight in city parks and even on longer hiking trails during the sunny months.

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Super Bowl Foods On The Grill

BBQ-Chicken-WingsSuper Bowl Sunday is the biggest game of the year that also signifies the gathering of friends and family with food as the main attraction.  This iconic game day is known as the seventh largest grilling day of the year and the most poplar winter day to break out the grill.  The best thing about  grilling on game day is that most foods benefit from preparation methods prior to cooking on the barbeque and the more you are prepared in advanced then the more time you will have to watch the game.

On average, people will consume over 90 million pounds of chicken wings, 65 million pounds of avocados that will be used for guacamole dip, and 14,500 tons of chips. Try taking a healthier approach toward popular  Super Bowl foods by choosing your barbeque versus traditional cooking methods like deep frying.  This can also help the dreaded clean up too.  No greasy spills, excess dishes to scrape clean, or running up the heating bill.  Instead, allow the kitchen to be a gathering place for guests who need a break from the game.

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A Guide to a New Garden Season: Moving to the Garden Space

garden_journal2A garden journal is only useful if it is used and used often.  This use starts out in January when the thoughts and dreams of a warm, outdoor space begin to flow.  Looking over what was done last year and planning this year is one use for a garden journal.  Another use is to document a proposed garden space by creating a blueprint for the garden but if the plan stops here it is useless.

When a gardener first goes out to the garden, they need to take along their journal.  They can add more detail to the plan while they are inspecting the space.  Also, the journal needs to be present during the construction of the space.

Once the garden has been prepared, the journal should not be placed on a shelf but instead needs to go out when the first seeds or plants enter the space.  If the journal has been done properly, it will provide a blueprint for where the plant material goes, spacing of that plant material and any accessories that will be needed.  This includes cages, fencing and/or stakes.

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A Guide to a New Garden Season: Starting your Garden Indoors

seed_germinationStarting seeds indoors for the upcoming gardening season is a great way of brightening up ones space and mood along with saving money.  It does not take a lot of equipment or time but to be successful one must start the process correctly.

Contrary to what many people believe, seeds do not need sunlight to germinate.  A south-facing window though provides an excellent source of sunlight for the seeds once they germinate.  For seeds to germinate, they need a growing medium and moisture.

A growing medium can be several things including soil, perlite, vermiculite, and even a paper towel.  But the best planting medium to use for the beginning gardener is a light, fluffy soil that is loose in nature.  If you do not have this or cannot find a soil that meets this criterion, make your own.  It only requires equal parts of soil, vermiculite or perlite, and sphagnum moss.

Next, seeds need something that will hold the planting medium.  This is very open-ended and the only requirement is that the container needs to be at least 2-inches wide and 2-inches deep.  Plastic pots, cardboard egg cartons, and even paper cups can be used but if you are planting several seeds consider using greenhouse seed trays.

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When and Why to Brine Your Meat

Brining-meatBrining meat is a great way to add or enhance flavors, increase tenderness, and reduce the cooking time of some of your favorite grill items. If done correctly, the age-old process of brining can really be an asset to your grilling experience.  Brining in general is very simple. However, there are a few intricacies to the process that vary depending on the type of meat you are using and your desired outcome.

I always like to have a basic understanding of what is actually happening to the food I am cooking when using a method like brining.  With brining, you are essentially submerging your meat in a solution that has a higher sodium concentration than the meat. Through the chemical process known as osmosis, the meat absorbs the brine and the salt begins to break down the meat’s fiber proteins creating a tenderer end product.

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Tailgate Grilling

wilmingtonAs super bowl approaches true gamers and sports fans begin to prepare for the party, the tailgating party.  The only thing better than a super bowl party is a tailgating party full of hotdogs, chicken wings, sliders and touchdowns. The sport of grilling is among us and I’m here to present some handy grilling assistants to make your tailgating party a success.

Let’s begin with the O Grill, portable yet powerful.  Whether in your backyard or the stadium parking lot, you will be prepared to grill in style with this carry along gas grill.  Although compact, the O Grill still packs a big grilling punch. The grill is designed with a cast iron & porcelain–enamel heat safe grid and coupled with a grease pan for when those burgers get a bit too juicy. Another convenient feature of the grease pan is the easy clean up, which will be a key feature when you’re grilling on the go. The retractable legs and ergonomic handle make portability even easier. It doesn’t take up the entire trunk, so you will have space left over for the extra add-on’s such as the foldable compact docking station that make setting up a breeze. This let’s you can focus on the score and not where you’re going to set-up your grilling station. In addition, with six colors to choose from you can represent your favorite team color while preparing your winning tailgate recipes.

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Techniques for Juicy Meats

Main 1 Fire Magic GrillAre you tired of eating meat that has the same consistency as shoe leather? Do you have to drink a glass of water to choke down every bite? If your answer is yes to either of these questions, then you’re eating dry meat. Good meat should never be dry unless you’re on a camping trip, and even then there’s a cure for uncle Jerry’s dry mouth jerky. So what’s the cure? Glad you asked. Simply put, it’s important to match the correct equipment and techniques with the types of food you like to cook. Top restaurants don’t typically use 2 star utensils to cook 5 star dishes, they buy quality and they buy once. In this article I will point out the type of equipment needed to create juicy grilled foods, juicy rotisserie foods, and juicy smoked foods.

When it comes to grilling juicy food most people do not have trouble with foods that have a high fat content such as beef hamburgers, sausages, and chicken thighs. Backyard cooks usually struggle with leaner meats such as fish, chicken breast, and pork chops. In order to consistently cook juicy restaurant quality meat, you need a Lynx grill. Lynx grills use radiant heat technology, which allows the grill to get hot without bombarding your food with loads of dry air. Most of the other lower end grills have a direct heat cooking system, uneven heat distribution, and you will probably get lots of flare ups. A poorly manufactured grill with an outdated grilling system means you will be playing musical chairs with your food to avoid hot spots and your lean meats will dry out faster than a speeding bullet. A few other manufactures that have the latest and greatest in grilling technology for keeping your favorite foods juicy are Twin Eagles and Fire Magic’s all infrared grill.

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A Guide to a New Garden Season: Create a Garden Journal

garden_journalA garden journal is a very important tool that every gardener should use.  It helps document the garden space’s history, which includes success and failures along with those who tilled the soil.  It can also include family recipes, seeds, and pictures and even pressed plant material that document a family’s journey through modern-day urban homesteading.

But before you sit down to document last year’s garden space, lets talk about some choices in journals.  A garden journal is only good if it is used and used often.  It needs to be gardener friendly and in a style that fits you.  Some people like to use scrapbooks to document every year’s garden while other simply use a spiral notebook or school notebook.  Other choices include using a folder to store loose-leaf paper, handmade journals made from scrap or junk mail or even a journal on the computer.  If you use the later approach, consider pulling it up on your smart phone when you are at the nursery or garden center.  This could be very valuable, especially if you have a question about plant material.

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The History of the Home Conservatory

orangerie-gardensHome conservatories are a general term that can also include orangeries and greenhouses.  While many individuals may feel that conservatories are a relatively new concept they really are not.

The history of these structures starts out in the early times of the ancient Chinese and Roman Empires.  Both of these cultures were exploring the world in the great age of Exploration and needed a way of protecting fragile plants from the cold winds of winter.  Conservatories provided this protection.  These decorative glass houses provided not only protection but also a way of stylishly displaying ones exotic plant material.

At this point, the structures begin to become more specialized with the collection of citrus fruits.  This type of plant material collection moved from Italy northward toward Holland.  The Dutch then took the Italian orangerie design and made it more sophisticated.  This splendid development can be seen at Louis XIV’s orangerie at Versailles.

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Feng Shui Gardening – Creating a Balanced Landscape: Part II

budda_gardenAfter the feng shui bagua chart has been created, one must take a long, hard look at their outdoor space.  This is something that should not be shrugged off.  It is very important to take a true look at what you have, where it is located and how it is presented.

The first step in this process is to remove the clutter.  This includes empty pots, containers, hanging baskets and garden tools.  If a garden shed is available, these items can be stored there.  If a storage shed is not available, consider storing the items in a basement or on shelves.

Clutter in feng shui is not limited to items though but also includes spent flowers, dead trees and plant material along with weeds.  After all these items have been removed from the environment, it is time to really look at ones garden space.  Start this evaluation inside your home.  Ordinate your bagua chart to the direction of the front door.  If you have windows along the front of your home, look how the sunlight comes into the home.  Are there trees blocking this light?  Is there plant material blocking the front door entrance?

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