Monday, March 1, 2010

Spring's Coming: Flower Power

With last week's snowstorm and possibly another one on the way still, March is certainly coming in like a lion. Spring is, however, imminent as the sun is setting later and the temperatures aren't quite as bitingly frigid. After being holed up in the cozy warmth of our homes, everyone is eager to witness the first signs of spring as the crocuses and daffodils emerge from their winter naps, the sounds of birds coming home for the summer and the smell of fresh new grass after a spring shower. In preparation, many of us begin what has been referred over the ages as spring cleaning. The winter ski jackets are relegated to the back of the closet in exchange for lighter layers, the new season's fashions begin to fill our closets. The home gets a freshening up as marathon cleaning and sorting sessions get underway and windows are opened for the first time in months. The first of the season's produce adorns our dinner tables. This begins a four part series of tips to make the transition into spring enjoyable and help to make your home a more welcoming haven to come home to in any season, without breaking the bank on expensive home improvement projects.

When you have been away at work all day and trying to de-escalate the stress level during your commute home, it's important to walk into a home that really feels like a home should. It should feel welcoming. It should lift your spirits and evoke a sense of calm simultaneously. Your home should reflect your personality as well, the sights and smells and sounds should say who you are, so that you are comfortable in your own skin, or rather in this case, home. If your home feels relaxing to you, that will likely transcend to your guests as well when you have friends over for dinner or coffee.

This installment is going to focus on plants, and that includes produce; this is, after all, a blog on kitchen and home. While you have undoubtedly noticed that most vegetables and fruits can be procured from a supermarket all year round, those specimens which are not in season will not have the same impact of flavor on our palates. Produce should be enjoyed primarily during its peak season. With the arrival of spring, start by bringing home some asparagus. Spring is the best time to enjoy this versatile vegetable, and with the numerous ways that it can be prepared, you will not grow tired of it anytime soon. It can be roasted, simply lay the spears out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in a 450-degree oven for about 15 minutes. It can be steamed. After steaming you can bring it right to the table for immediate consumption as a healthy side dish, or you can cut the spears into one inch pieces and toss them into a salad, a soup or a pasta dish. Also at peak season in the spring are peas, which can also add some bright green to a pasta dish or made into a delicious soup. Berries also enjoy the spring spotlight, and can be enjoyed au natural with no additions, or as a garnish on ice cream, or as an ingredient in baked goods. If you are fortunate enough to live near a farming community, take advantage of spring harvests which include lettuces, new potatoes and baby vegetables. Once again, you will taste the difference between these and the ones purchased in the supermarket during the off season.

Since the temperatures have not yet begun to heat up, one can still benefit from the use of the oven. Sending a whole chicken to the oven to roast for dinner will allow some time to putter around the home as you engage in your spring cleaning projects. In addition to bringing home spring produce from the store, consider bringing home some flowers to help set the spring tone. Think about which flowers are typically associated with spring: first daffodils and then tulips, for instance. You can create an eye-catching and warmly welcoming display on your kitchen counter, on your dining table and in your living room and/or family room. You can either choose colors which compliment the room's overall color scheme, make a statement with a bright color that pops the room to life, or go with the neutral classic of all white blooms which will create elegance in any backdrop. For a kitchen display, place the flowers in a whimsical container, such as a ceramic pitcher, a small galvanized watering can or an old-fashioned milk jug. Coming home to a display of bright yellow daffodils in a white pitcher evokes an uplifting feeling, knowing that your home looks welcoming as you revel in the season.

If you have curious pets or toddlers, I would urge you to consider using silk flowers rather than live cut blooms. Many plants and flowers are toxic when ingested, why take chances? If visions of your grandmother's obviously fake plastic flower displays are haunting you, put those images out of your mind. Today's artificial flowers are make from silks and look so real, it's near impossible to discern them from the live varieties unless you physically touch them. After an incident with one of my cats, which fortunately did not end tragically in this case, I have only used silk flower arrangements in my home. Other benefits to using silks include the fact that they will never look spent or die, they require no care whatsoever, and you'll be able to use them for several springs seasons.

The first image conjured in people's minds at the thought of spring is that of flowers. By gracing your home with flowers, this is the first step taken toward making simple and inexpensive changes to your decor to make your home feel welcoming and comforting. Flowers are uplifting in their brilliant visual appeal, and that will make your guests feel welcome and vibrant yet relaxed in your home as well. As spring moves into summer, tulips should be switched out for sunflowers, daisies, hydrangea blooms and peonies. When fall approaches, choose mums and choose flowers in colors that display a fall palette. For December, poinsettias set the holiday mood, as well as blooms of white and red. For winter I usually stick with white roses and hydrangeas in white or blue.

Another way to add floral decor to make a home seem welcoming is to display seasonal wreaths on each door that enters into your home. Wreaths aren't just for Christmas anymore, they now come in arrangements to suit any season and holiday. Some are strictly made of silk flowers indigenous to the season at hand, others are embellished with whimsical additions such as little stuffed snowmen, garden gnomes or teddy bears, ornaments of birds, seashells or miniature garden tools, or "Welcome" plaques. Every season I change my wreaths on the front and back doors, as well as the garden flag in front of the house, whose design changes to suit the season. If I actually had neighbors close enough in proximity to see it, I think they would be threatening me to take away the "Let It Snow" snowman flag right about now!

Flowers are not the only example of flora for use in kitchen decor. Edible displays are not only at home in the kitchen, but can strike that seasonal note effectively. In addition to a display of flowers on a counter, I often use a display of seasonal fruit. In the summer I'll fill a bright blue bowl with lemons, evoking the cooling idea of fresh lemonade. Not only do they look appealing, but when it comes time to juice a lemon for a recipe, room temperature lemons yield considerably more juice than refrigerated ones. In the fall I'll fill a wicker basket with a variety of fall-colored apples. In the winter I'll fill a white ceramic basket with green Granny Smiths, or a bowl with red pears and bosc pears. For spring, lemons and oranges look nice, as do the yellow and red tints of gala apples. These displays perform double duty: they not only enhance the decor, but encourage healthy snacking too.

Next time, we'll focus on how aromatics can play a role in making your home envelope you in welcoming comfort. I'll give you one hint: I think the oven and some of those spring berries might be involved! As we count down the days until that first official day of spring, next time you make a stop at the market, pick up two bouquets: one of asparagus for the evening's meal, and one of the season's first picked daffodils for your kitchen counter. Nothing welcomes spring like the lively picture of yellow daffodil blooms and a dinner of roasted salmon and asparagus with a light lemon sauce and fresh raspberries for dessert. It may be too cool yet to enjoy that meal al fresco among those springtime blooms, but you can certainly bring the flower power indoors all year long.

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