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From the Spice Rack

From the Spice Rack

by Kathe Kitchens, Bestemor Herb Farm

Cardamom

This relative of ginger and turmeric is similar in its flavor and therapeutic qualities.  Historically there were three varieties, now generally reduced to green and black or brown types.  Cultivation is believed to have begun in India, varieties used and traded for at least two thousand years.  There is the “true” cardamom, Elettaria, and the close relative group of plants Amomum, Alpinia and Aframomum.  As with cinnamon and its relative cassia, these cultivars are close in flavor and are often used to extend the real spice, or substituted in its place.  It is still grown primarily in India, but was introduced to Guatemala in the 1920’s and became a leading crop.  It can be grown in Texas, but only in pots as it is a tropical zone species.  The seeds of the plant are harvested, picked by hand to retrieve them at the proper maturity; it is one of the world’s three most expensive spices, after saffron and before vanilla.

Its value as a cleaner for teeth and breath made it a staple for after meal consumption in ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian society and later in Europe.  Green “true” cardamom has shown promise in research for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.  According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, studies prove the value of black cardamom as a therapy for cancer.  Naturally diuretic and full of fiber, this spice lowers blood pressure and supports cleansing of the kidneys.  Its anti-inflammatory properties are especially effective on the mucus membranes of the mouth and throat.  Energizing for those who suffer from fatigue or depression, it is also reported to stimulate the production of hormones and enzymes, digestive juices and peristalsis in the intestines, speeding up the elimination of toxins.  It also promotes sweating and helps to clear respiratory congestion, and relieves headaches resulting from illness.  Like antimicrobial garlic, coriander and other spices, it is used in foods to delay spoilage.

In essential oil form, cardamom is valued as an astringent and antimicrobial. One or two drops in warm water used as a mouthwash disinfects oral tissues and eliminates bad breath.  Used in a bath, it will disinfect skin and hair.  Blended with coconut or other natural oil, it is reputed to be unsurpassed in producing glowing skin.  As a hair treatment, cardamom is renowned for the elimination of dandruff and producing shiny locks, and is also a natural lightener for those who prefer the sun kissed look.  Like most essential oils, it should not be applied directly to skin unless blended with dilution oil.

A strong warming spice, cardamom should not be used by pregnant or nursing mothers or very young children. Properly trained aroma therapists, herbalists, naturopaths or practitioners of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Ayurveda can direct the safe and effective use of this treasured spice.

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Bringing the Indoors, Out

Bringing the Indoors, Out

by Jennifer Manley, Interior Decorator, Decorating Den Interiors

The line between indoors and outdoors continues to blur as many of us want to take our indoor comforts and solitude outdoors… This process is becoming more realistic as many manufacturers of home products, develop more and more appliances, furniture, lighting and accessories that can be used indoors or out.

People are driven to find peaceful sanctuaries as a prescription for our stressful lives. Outdoor patios and sunrooms are becoming more sophisticated and refined and are becoming a living extension of the indoor spaces.

Outdoor furniture has evolved a long way from the folding, vinyl strap versions we grew up with, to beautiful pieces made of teak, steel, rattan, and wicker. Many pieces look just like indoor furniture but are constructed and designed to take the outdoor elements. Sunrooms are a unique space to decorate. If they are completely enclosed spaces you can use indoor furniture, upholstered with outdoor fabric. Fabrics such as Sunbrella are making a name for themselves in the outdoor furniture industry.

Fabrics are being manufactured to resist fading from ultraviolet rays, to resist mildewing from damp conditions and to resist odor absorption. These types of fabrics are a must for any upholstery or drapery that will be used outdoors or in a screened-in location.

Lighting is also a very important aspect to creating an inviting outdoor space. Whether it comes from landscape lighting, overhead lighting, ceiling fans or decorative side lighting be sure you are incorporating various types of lighting in your outdoor space just as you would in your indoor spaces. Developing a creative lighting plan can help you create a space with increased ambiance and functionality.

Remember to create a space that is “perfect” for you and your needs and then sit back and enjoy it! This is a space where memories will be made so consider it an important investment. I like to call an investment like this an emotional anchor: a space where your family gathers, shares and remembers forever.

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April is the Time to…

April is the Time to…

Plant:

•    Sod St. Augustine, bermuda and zoysia. After mid-month see common bermuda. Keep new grass moist the first 2 weeks, then let dry out between waterings to encourage deeper roots. THE LOWEST-MAINTENANCE “GROUND COVER” IS ACTUALLY TURFGRASS unless you have problem areas (excessive shade, steep slopes, etc.).
•    Annuals:  trailing lantanas, moss rose, hybrid purslane, zinnias, cleome, purple fountaingrass, oranamental sweet potatoes, cosmos, celosias, firebush and copper plants for sun; coleus, caladiums, impatiens, begonias and flowering tobacco for shade.
•    Perennials from 6-inch, quart and gallon containers. This month the selections are best. Prepare beds carefully before planting and the soil will not need reworking for a long time.
•    Herbs into beds and containers.
•    Last plantings for vegetables will be okra, eggplant, southern peas and sweet potatoes. They need the warmth to establish and grow.
•    If you are looking for unusual trees, shrubs, vines and groundcovers, this is the month you’re most likely to find them.
•    Roses while they are in full bloom in nurseries this month. Watch for Texas A&M-tested EarthKind varieties.

Prune:

•    St. Augustine-mow 2 to 2 1/2”, common bermuda at 1-1/4 to 1 1/2”. Hybrid bermuda and zoysia will vary in heights, depending on variety. Buffalograss @ 3 to 3 1/2”. Mow frequently to keep grass low and spreading. Vary mowing patterns to avoid “grain.”
•    May need to re-pot and reshape over-wintered tropicals when moving them outside.
•    Spring-flowering shrubs and vines (forsythia, bridal wreath, azaleas, wisteria, Carolina jessamine, climbing roses) as needed by early to mid-month to maintain their natural form.
•    Lower branches of shade trees if excessive shade is threatening your lawn. Oaks would be an exception. They should be pruned in mid-summer or mid-winter when oak wilt fungus is not active.
•    Fall asters, coleus, copper pants, chrysanthemums by pinching to remove growing tips and to keep the plants low and compact.
•    New tip growth of blackberry clumps to encourage side-branching and more compact plants.

Fertilize:

•    Pecans with all-nitrogen fertilizer, one pound per inch of trunk diameter. Repeat one month later.
•    Lawngrass with high- or all-nitrogen fertilizer (half or more of nitrogen in slow-release form). Repeat at 8-10 week intervals.
•    Flower, vegetable beds with same high-nitrogen or all-nitrogen food (as dictated by reliable soil-test results)
•    Pots and hanging baskets with complete-and-balanced, water-soluble food with each watering. Apply encapsulated, time-released fertilizer for long term feeding.
•    Wisterias, azaleas and other plants prone to iron deficiency (chlorosis)
•    Apply iron/sulfur soil acidifier. Repeat monthly during growing season. Keep iron products off surfaces that could be stained.

Watch For:

•    Cankerworms hang from single threads after stripping portions of tress of their new leaves.  Apply Bacillus thuringiensis (“B.t.”) as well as nitrogen fertilizer to promote new leaves.
•    Cabbage loopers leave holes in leaves of cabbage, broccoli and related crops. Apply ”B.t.”–only reliable control.
•    Thrips cause rose buds to fail to open properly and to turn brown and scorched around edges of petals.  Apply systemic insecticide.
•    Slugs and snails chew large holes in many types of plants. Feeding is nocturnal, and slime trails will be visible.  Apply bait or dust.
•    Aphids congregate on new growth of plants.  Look for small, pear-shaped insects. Most general-purpose insecticides will eliminate them.
•    Fire ant mounds will appear when soils are wet. Use individual mound treatments where needed. Area-wide baits are very effective.
•    Fruit crops must be protected against insect and disease problems. Use labeled insecticide and fungicide at 10-14 day intervals until harvest.
•    Roses show black spot on foliage. Dark areas will be surrounded by yellowed halos. Keep leaves dry as you irrigate, and apply labeled fungicide.
•    Powdery mildew on new growth of many types of plants causes dusting resembling flour. Keep foliage as dry as possible, and apply labeled fungicide.
•    Broadleafed weeds such as clover, dandelions, dollarweed, dichondra and others can be eliminated with application of 2,4-d herbicide according to label directions.

Provided by the Denton County Master Gardener Association

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Terrific Window Treatments

Terrific Window Treatments

by Jennifer Manley, Interior Decorator, Decorating Den Interiors

Nothing gives a room more drama and pizzazz than beautifully designed window treatments.

Strictly speaking, windows, along with walls, floors and ceilings, form the “shell” of any room.  Your windows may be treated to blend unobtrusively into the background, or take center stage in your room’s design.  However you chose to treat your windows, they are really a decorating opportunity to help you set your room’s mood and style.

Before you look into the wide range of possibilities, analyze your window needs and determine just what you want your window beauty treatment to do.  Here are some terrific window treatment tips to help you along in the process!

Want to hide an unattractive view without shutting out sunlight?  Why not try framing your windows with beautiful printed or textured sheer side panels?

Add some splash!  Try accenting your window treatments with tiebacks, fringe or beads.  It’s not only a clever way to get an even more custom look, but will add a splash of the unexpected to your design.

Add some drama!  Decorative rods, brackets and finials have expanded dramatically and beautifully in today’s marketplace.  From wood, to metal, to unusual materials, today’s rod choices are varied, unlimited and gorgeous!

Large Room?  Small Windows?   By extending your window treatment side panels and top treatments beyond the edges of small windows, your room will actually appear just a bit larger and more expansive.

Small Room?  Small Windows?  Try to keep your window treatment design, and color simpler in style.  You’ll definitely find that your room will tend to appear larger.

Scrumptious Side Panels!  Consider framing the beauty of your windows with scrumptious side panels.  From silks, to tapestries, to sheer fabrics, side panels truly add beauty, flair and excitement to any window design.

Shady Shades!  Never before have Roman shades been as popular as they are today!  These beauty shades provide privacy in the most decorative of ways!

Window treatments are so versatile. They can become a focal point, frame a beautiful view or simply complete a room. Consider custom window treatments for a unique, one of a kind design.

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Working with Color

Working with Color

by Jennifer Manley, Interior Decorator, Decorating Den Interiors Continue Reading

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Home for the Holidays

Home for the Holidays

by Jennifer Manley, Interior Decorator, Decorating Den Interiors

When the holidays begin approaching, I find that many of my clients enjoy creating a warm and festive atmosphere in their homes.  Here are a just a few suggestions to help you give your home a cozy and warm holiday glow!

Foyers set the stage in every home.  It’s where a great first impression can be made.  So why not consider dressing up your front door with a beautiful holiday wreath?  From a natural evergreen wreath to one featuring beautiful dried flowers mixed with silk greenery, a wreath will definitely help you set the stage for holiday decorating.

Is your entryway inviting?  A welcoming, well-lit foyer is a must for every home.  Mirrors can definitely help brighten these areas.  And a well selected area rug will help add a much needed touch of warmth.

Moving beyond your entryway, family and friends generally settle in your living or family room.  The centerpiece of either room is typically a brightly decorated holiday tree.  If your room features a fireplace, then mantle decorating is a must.  Candles, pine cones, and holiday stockings (hung with care!) will add just the right festive touch to your fireplace area.  Typically, furniture needs to be slightly rearranged to accommodate your family Christmas tree.  Be sure to keep these newly arranged pieces in a comfortable and conversational grouping.

Naturally, the dining room should provide an attractive and delicious atmosphere for your special holiday meals.  A well set, decorative table is a must.  Perhaps a holiday linen or lace tablecloth will become the backdrop for a lively -but not overbearing- holiday centerpiece.

If you have houseguests, think of ways you can make their visit with you even more special.  Beautify the guest room with just a touch of holiday magic.  Create that special welcoming touch using holiday inspired accent pillows on the bed, or drape a holiday throw over a chair.

Above all else, when decorating for the holidays make sure to put your own family’s personality into everything you do.  Preparing to welcome family and guests to your home is a lot of fun, and it’s also a great excuse to complete that long-overdue decorating project!

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