June 2009: Around the House

June 2009: Around the House

Connect four

Here, the cheese factor’s a good thing: A set of four serving plates from The Happy Cook brings vintage labels from European cheeses to your table. Are you daring enough to serve Gruyere on the Emmenthaler plate?








Hyper-local food

When times get tough, get foraging. Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants will show you the way with its thoroughly encyclopedic cataloguing of everything digestably vegetal. O.K., so you’re not going to find Rambutan or peanut butter fruit in the yard, but morels and dandelion greens are definitely out there! Perfect for garden inspiration or the adventurous vegetarian in all of us.—Lucy Zhou






Love is a battleground

Late spring has come to our place in the hollow. The creek is running high with lots of little waterfalls, and for the first time in years the Regale lilies have not required their traditional draping to protect tender buds from a late freeze. Yet the soil below, though moist, remains perversely chilly. Moon vine leaves pout and heat-loving tomatoes, peppers and basil languish in the cold ground. Such are the vicissitudes of nature to which the gardener must bend.


Japanese beetle traps should go on the perimeter of the area you’re trying to protect, not at the center.

On the other hand, consider the Japanese beetle. In great numbers (which rise with abundant rainfall or irrigation and fall during drought years), they destroy leaves and flowers of crabapples, hibiscus, roses, crape myrtles, Boston ivy, Virginia creeper, and Japanese maples, as well as feeding on grass roots in the fall during their grub stage—a double whammy. Many dollars are spent and poisons applied to defeat these enemies of our ideal Eden. Yet they keep coming.

The metaphor of gardening as war is so 20th century. Let us think more creatively. Thoughtful gardeners can refrain from poisoning bees, birds and earthworms, not to mention their immediate surroundings, and choose not to put out a welcome mat for the bronzy green marauders in the first place.

Begin by limiting their preferred underground nursery, the lawn. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of different plants. For instance, members of the rose family are prone to fungus as well as to Japanese beetle attack. Euonymus can host damaging amounts of scale insect. Older varieties of garden phlox tend to get powdery mildew. Look instead to “iron-clad” plants like daffodils, Siberian iris, peony, daylily and herbs that have few problems. Use disease resistant roses and phlox.


• Spare the pollinators.
• Deflect pest attacks with wise plantings.
• Explore the “iron-clads.”

Diversity is the best defense. In a healthy ecology, it makes sense to avoid large plantings of just one kind of plant, a practice known as “monoculture” that can set you up for devastating insect or disease infestation and create a cycle of chemical dependence. The more different kinds of plants, the less vulnerable they are to one pest and the easier it is to use environmentally friendly methods when problems do crop up.

Handpicking beetles into jars of soapy water or dealing them a deft thumbnail squish on the head do not exactly qualify as a Hindu-like respect for life, but at least the surrounding atmosphere isn’t polluted and other creatures beyond the immediate predators aren’t harmed.

Jaunty yellow and green beetle traps attract their prey with odiferous pheromones, so place them on the perimeter of the area you’re trying to protect, not at the center. Daily emptying the cardboard houses of their poisoned bodies is a necessary task, so why not handpick them anyway?

Milky spore disease has long been touted as the ultimate organic solution. The idea is to introduce naturally occurring bacteria into the soil by sprinkling granules in a grid pattern over large areas of turf where it will infect future generations of beetles. Sounds logical, but I know of no evidence that indicates milky spore has eradicated Japanese beetles from any place.

Even if, however, this were the case, the only way to protect your grounds from adult beetles, which after all, do fly, would be to infect the surrounding neighborhood, county, state—you see where this is going.

“It is in the understanding of this world —a world not of our making—that life becomes richer,” wrote the great landscape architect, Jens Jensen.

One can only concur and exhort the general gardening populace not to go into full military alert at the sighting of the first beetle of summer. Peace, baby.—Cathy Clary


Out with the old, in with the cukes

The zucchini are coming, the zucchini are coming! To be prepared for that weekly CSA box bounty, it’s time to trash those leftovers, scrub those shelves, and whip your fridge into shape to make room for summer fruits and veggies. Here’s how to take on that big white beast:

1) Get rid of leftovers. It sounds simple, but we guarantee that you’ll unearth an opened can of this or that from yesteryear. Keeping your Tupperware labeled with a “packed on” date can help keep you on track, while checking expiration dates is another way to free up the clutter.

2) While you’ve got everything out for examination, pull out the shelves and give them a thorough cleaning to get rid of sticky spots and spills. While baking soda mixes are traditional, others recommend a half cup of white vinegar in half a gallon of warm water. Wipe everything down and dry with a soft cloth.

3) To prevent your fridge (and other white appliances) from yellowing, mix 8 cups of warm water with half a cup each of bleach and baking soda, plus 2 tablespoons of Borax. Go forth and wipe.

4) As for odor control, baking soda works as do aquarium charcoal and fresh coffee grounds. Sounds crazy, but it’s true.—L.Z.


Charming accent

Ah, the miracle of paint: A bit of red on the windows, and this house on Woodland Road takes on a level of appeal that it wouldn’t otherwise have. In contrast with the crisp white walls and muted shutters, that red pops right out. Oh, and the window boxes are sweet!









Shrimp just might be the perfect Father’s Day grill.

Who you callin’ shrimp?

There’s nothing simpler and more delicious to throw on the grill for Father’s Day than shrimp. Slit, seasoned and skewered, they cook quickly and can fit into any meal or go directly into Dad’s mouth. While shrimp is almost always a frozen item, there is a seasonality to the little crustaceans; here on the East Coast, shrimp season begins in June and continues through the summer and into the early fall. If they’re going to be frozen, what does seasonality matter? Well, it means you are getting a product that has been frozen for a matter of days or weeks, rather than months.

For the best quality and freshest shrimp, buy from a seafood dealer rather than out of the frozen section of the grocery store. Seafood @ West Main (located in the Main Street Market) sources its shrimp from a single purveyor that pulls the wild white Atlantic shrimp from North Carolina’s Pamlico and Albemarle sounds. That’s about as local as you can get! Perhaps as importantly, owner Chris Arseneault sources seafood from purveyors who support sustainable fishing and management practices. While you’re there at the counter, you can pick up recipes and ask the experts any questions you might have. sfdatwestmain.com, 296-8484.—Lisa Reeder


Maharaja’s Shrimp Tomatar

This dish takes you away to India’s 3,000-mile coast—right here at home.

2 medium fresh hot green chilies
1 cup chopped onion
5 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp. red chili powder (or less)
3 Tbs. vegetable or canola oil
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 Tbs. lemon juice
4 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. garam masala (available at Grand Market)
1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1 lb. medium-sized shrimp, shelled and de-veined
2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Blend onion, garlic and chilies into a paste with a tablespoon of water. In a saucepan, heat oil over high heat. Add the blended paste and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Add the chili powder, turmeric and garam masala and cook for 4 to 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the shrimp and salt and about 1/4 cup of water and cook, stirring for 4 to 5 minutes or until the shrimp turn slightly pink. Add tomatoes, cover and cook on low heat for 8 to 10 minutes. The sauce should start to thicken. Cook until desired tenderness. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with lemon juice and garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve with rice or chapati (flat bread). Serves 4.


The thrill of the grill

On grill duty? Protect yourself with all-natural bug spray.

Grilling season is upon us! Dust off your apron, rub the rust off your long-handled spatula and scrape the grates in anticipation of summer. If you have a charcoal grill, check that the body and legs are intact and fit for another season; any collapse or cave-in becomes very tricky at 800 degrees.  If you are a gas griller, check your propane supply and your hoses—and get rid of the spiderwebs! Before you go any further, move the grill to a little-used section of the yard, preferably sunny and within reach of the hose.

Gently pull the “fat traps” from inside or directly underneath the grill, and dump them into a plastic trash bag; this is guaranteed to be disgusting. Now lift out the grill grates and scrape them, top and bottom. Gently wipe any gunk off of the interior perforated gas hoses, being careful to leave them seated just as they are inside the grill. Give a wipe to the inside of the grill as well, removing any asparagus skeletons from last year. Finally, hose off the grates and the fat traps in the grass, letting them dry in the sun before reassembly.

If everything is in working condition, you are poised for a great season.  One last ingredient that will keep everyone safe and happy—how about an all-natural bug spray that really works? Try Natrapel, available at the Blue Ridge Eco Shop in Preston Plaza (blue ridgeecoshop.com, 296-0042).—L.R.

Working ideas

Need a place to park your laptop, your unfinished novel or both? We scoured the area for the best desks we could find. Pull up a chair and get down to work.


Root desk from Quince

Made from tree trunks and roots, topped with recycled elm, this one goes au naturel. $650; chair also available, $325.







Cosmo desk from Under the Roof

This piece does a minimalist wraparound, and you can remove the hutch if you like. Oh, and there’s a keyboard tray. Translation: friendly modern. $399.







Folding campaign desk from And George

Circa 1850, did all desks have numerous leather pockets, worthy of a general’s correspondence? A winning strategy. $3,400.









Atticus desk from Classic Furniture

No one can argue with this: solid work surface with plenty of storage in décor-friendly cherry. It’s a keeper. $2,899.






Dropfront desk from Patina Antiques

It’s old as the hills—made around 1800—and has the heft to match. Walnut construction and a plethora of cubbies. $2,800.

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