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Archive for January, 2011

Posted by Hazel
I keep a toolbox of flower-arranging equipment. Several floral knives: a less-than-sharp one-sided knife made especially for cutting flowers. Rolls of floral tape in different colors. It comes in light or dark green and white (for wedding floral). Pearl-tipped pins (again, weddings), often handy for a variety of uses. Several different sizes of wire: floral wire is a godsend because you can use it to make recalcitrant flowers do what you them to do. Wire can make a droopy, day-past-its-prime rose stand up and last through the evening.

I keep these items in my flower-arranging toolbox: orange sticks, two kinds of tape, wire, clippers, thorn stripper.

I keep rolls of clear and green sticky tape for taping floral foam into shallow vases (among its many uses). And also a roll of the horrid, gooey, sticky tape that is needed so often in floral work – I keep it in a baggy; otherwise it will stick to everything else in the toolbox. I have a pair of wire cutters, a pair of rose pruners and a pair of scissors. I also have a couple of bundles of wired sticks — more on those later. And, not in the toolbox, but a must-have is a case of floral foam. I go through a lot of it, but you might find it easier to keep three or four blocks of it stashed somewhere.

So those are the basics for doing flowers. Now here is some fluff:
My current favorite extra is floral mesh. It comes in a huge variety of colors and adds sparkle to any arrangement you put it in. I cover vases with it, twist it with wire and insert it among the flowers–the uses are only as limited as your imagination. Very fun stuff! I have sparkles on wires; you can make them longer with the previously mentioned floral tape and wire. They come in pearl as well as rhinestones and other glittery things.

I usually have several bundles of curly ting. Curly ting is basically a long, very thin stick that’s curly at the end and covered in glitter. Again, it’s available in an array of colors: I just picked up black to add to Laurel’s party. But the extra punch it adds to a centerpiece is too much fun! It’s not expensive and can be found readily at Michaels and Floral Supply Syndicate. Remember those sparkly Christmas beads you saw everywhere during the holidays? They can make a fabulous addition to your centerpiece. I keep strands of pearl beads and make drapes of them, sticking them right into the floral foam with the oft-used wire. I’ve got more “extras” in the days to come — stick around!

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Dishes from the Garden

Posted by Laurie
I was laughing as I read Hazel’s post the day before yesterday because it is so true. I spent three days thinking about my menu for this dinner party and ten minutes putting together my table.

I had a dozen cookbooks out as I contemplated my menu. Alan and Carol are vegetarians (not vegan, so cheese and eggs could figure in the menu) and post-holiday penitents, trying to watch their weight. Mel requested polenta.

What would work with those requirements? I narrowed those cookbooks down to Viana La PLace and Evan Kleiman’s Cucina Rustica, Paula Wolfert’s Slow Mediterranean Kitchen and The Joy of Cooking. I ended up using them not so much for recipes as inspiration, though I always go with the Joy of Cooking recipe for making polenta in a double boiler. My life is just not long enough to spend an hour or two of it stirring cornmeal. I did stir some grated parmesan into the polenta as soon it finished cooking.

I broke down and bought an out-of-season eggplant (it’s this warm weather we’ve been having; my thoughts turn to summer dishes), sliced it thick and browned the slices in olive oil. The rest of the menu, however, came from the garden–mine and those supplying our local farmers market.

I unearthed last summer’s tomatoes from the freezer: I had them in two forms, roasted with garlic and basil, and smoked (courtesy Hazel’s sweetie, SmokeMaster Mark). Combined, they became an exceptional sauce. I topped each slice of eggplant with a few tablespoons of sauce and a slice of reduced-fat provolone and baked them until the provolone bubbled and browned a bit. The farmers market yielded a stir-fry mix of greens–gorgeous black kale, red chard, radicchio–which, with slow-simmered fennel and garlic, mushrooms, onions and thyme, made an unusual side dish.

And then we finished with the extravagant Molten Chocolates Cakes–because I don’t cut calories when it comes to dessert. Alas, I had no aliens with which to adorn the ramekins. We had to make do with whipped cream.

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Dishes from Space

Posted by Mel
Unlike many men, I like to shop, particularly at big malls. I don’t need to actually purchase anything; just walking around and watching the people and enjoying the architecture are enough for me. (I suspect that at least part of my fondness for exploring malls is due to having seen a movie called Things to Come at an impressionable age. Near the end of this movie, the human race has rebuilt civilization after decades of war. Most people live in airy city-size buildings and travel from place to place in flying cars and freestanding elevators. Many contemporary hotels — where the rooms surround an atrium that reaches from the lobby to the highest floor — seem to have been influenced by this movie too.)

One Sunday afternoon Laurie and I were out shopping for something specific, though I can’t remember what it was. She was browsing through a store called the Great Indoors, looking for whatever-it-was, leaving me to my own devices. I saw these plates and fell in love instantly, a thing that doesn’t usually happen between me and crockery.

I like the science fiction-themed plate on the floral place mat--it ups the steampunk quotient. Plus Mel accessorized with his cherished flying saucer salt and pepper shakers.


These were novelty dishes, each featuring a different picture. Not the usual food or birds or plants, but buildings and bridges and automobiles. The set that caught my eye had a sharp black-and-white illustration of the crash site of a flying saucer in the desert outside Roswell, New Mexico. The picture appealed to me not only because I have always been interested in science fiction and the possibility of life on other worlds, but because the Roswell crash happened on my birthday. Many of my friends claim this explains a lot.

Only dinner plates were available–and they were on sale. We bought all the shop had, six of them, and took them home knowing that we would use them on special occasions. Many of our science fiction-reading friends have turned green with envy at the sight of these dishes, which are impossible to find at the moment.

This past Saturday, we were hosting a small dinner party. Laurie hastily decided to use a black-and-white color scheme for the table. That, and the fact that our guests were old friends, made my UFO plates seem like a perfect choice. Alan had been my boss back during my animation-writing days, and we feel as if we’ve known his fiancee, Carol, almost as long. I don’t see and use these dishes often enough.

All in all, it was a lovely, relaxed evening. I was delighted that my dishes from another world were part of it.

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Because we’re in a state of “between parties” this month, Laurie and I have been chatting about party basics. While we both stress over the food and décor for a party, we also know our strong points. So, while I love to cook and invent recipes and find new ones, you could say Laurie loves it more.

Me? I love the décor part of it. I love setting the perfect table with my favorite porcelain and napkins. I love a beautiful centerpiece – now, don’t get me wrong, so does Laurie. But I will almost always figure out a party in a different order from the way Laurie does it.

We will both decide who we’re going to invite first, so we can rough out the menu, but I will be thinking about what china to use with which tablecloth long before I’ve actually designed my menu. I will contemplate what flowers are perfect for the season, whether or not I might be able to rob the garden or will have to go in search of fresh flowers.

If I’m on a budget (as I so often am), I look around my house to see what I can use for a centerpiece without going on an expensive floral quest. My Christmas dinner for 12 found me without flowers for a centerpiece (I ended up working way more hours than I had planned and didn’t have time to shop), but it became one of the loveliest tables I’ve ever assembled. With seven crystal candlesticks, a sparkly bead garland my aunt Mary had recently given me, some ornaments that we stole right off the tree and some glittery gold ting ting, the table made me very happy.

It’s not like those crystal candlesticks came in a boxed set. I picked them up here and there. They are different styles and heights, and that adds interest to the table. When you’re at a thrift store, look for individual candlesticks; same goes for the antiques stores or Ross or Marshalls. Make sure you always have enough matching or coordinating candles to go in them, though. It doesn’t take much more to dress up a table after you add the perfect light!

Hazel

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One of the irresistible vendors at the flower mart is GM Floral. Its second-floor space is a dazzling sea of colorful, fun, unusual and lavish decorative items. Call it party planner nirvana. The ribbon–aisles of it!–gift bags, gift wrap and floral wrap would dress up any gift or flower arrangement. GM is open to the public, but be aware as you shop that the posted prices are wholesale. Retail is 30 percent more. We were so inspired by some of the things we saw, we decided on the spot that Laurel wasn’t going to have any say in the theme for her birthday party next year–we’ve already started shopping for it.

These huge bows at GM Floral caught our eye. They have the feel of the classic animated Disney Alice. We didn't buy them--because where would we store them after the party?--but we're going to borrow the idea.


Moskatel’s, across Wall Street, is a block deep and chock-full of what Barbara Hambly would unhesitatingly describe as “more weird crap” (that would be right before she ran amok among the shelves). We were watching our pennies, but we certainly found some things that had to come home with us: fabulous little gift boxes just the right size for a chocolate truffle or two (luckily, I have been tinkering with chocolate truffle recipes), darling organza bags–on a roll! Tidy, efficient and just begging to be transformed into something. One or two Christmas items for next year (80 percent off–what do you think? Are we going to say no? Hardly!).

The Floral Supply Syndicate has locations across the country; its mail order business is strictly wholesale, but on Saturday mornings the Wall Street shop does sell to the public. I was very taken with some lights, perfect–oh, so perfect!–for a science fiction themed party. Unfortunately, my budget precluded my buying them just now. Maybe next time. They carry a huge array of baskets, balloons, dried and preserved items and just about every handy tool you ever wanted and thought didn’t exist. I picked up a dozen 15-inch red tapers (because it will be impossible to find red tapers three days before Valentine’s Day) for 10 bucks. And it’s not really a problem that they’re not quite steady in my candlesticks because FSS also carries a product called Sure Stick Adhesive Clay. My candles will never wobble again. Heck, this product might even make them cat proof. If it does…well, Alice won’t be the only one in Wonderland! I’ll be stunned.

Laurie

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In my life I’ve attended surprisingly few parties with an Alice In Wonderland theme. I say “surprisingly” because one would think that the wonderful characters, the great decorating clues provided by Sir John Tenniel’s drawings, and the wealth of commercially available material would make such a party an obvious choice.

Laurie and Hazel are about to throw an Alice-themed birthday party for our friend Laurel. I had thought that I would be the guest of honor at an Alice birthday party because of my long love for the story, but I will be 64 this coming July, and I suspect the theme for MY birthday will be the Beatles — as in “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” Laurie and Hazel didn’t want to wait until I am 65 to throw an Alice party, so Laurel is getting it.

Mel came as the Beamish Boy, but he didn't bring his jabberwock. These days his jabberwock book is available at the Kindle Store of Amazon.com.

I was in my late twenties when I attended my first Alice party. I pointed out to Lydia Marano, who owned and operated the late lamented Dangerous Visions Bookstore, that Lewis Carroll had a birthday coming up soon. Immediately she was determined to have a mad tea party to celebrate the event.

And so it happened. Friends and longtime bookstore customers — the people Lydia called “the family” — gathered on Carroll’s birthday, many in costume. (The party was actually held only near his birthday, so, appropriately enough, it was more of an un-birthday.) I myself, dressed in vaguely medieval garb, came as the Beamish Boy of “Jabberwocky” fame. Lydia’s husband, Arthur Byron Cover, who looked more like the Mighty Thor than like Alice, wore a blue dress and a white pinafore. Little cakes, along with cups and pots of tea, covered a long table down the center of the store.

Because we were very much aware that we were in a bookstore full of new merchandise for sale, the guests were careful to be neat at all times. Eventually, this made Lydia crazy. “What kind of mad tea party is this?” she cried, and began to throw wet tea bags around. The guests soon got into the right spirit. Like the tea bags and cake crumbs, the Alice quotes flew thick and fast.

I’ve been watching Laurie and Hazel as they plan Laurel’s party and have occasionally been invited to participate. The planning has been fun and that usually bodes well for the event, which will take place along about the middle of February.

I will make my report then.

Mel

(To see my own nod to Alice, read The Jabberwock Came Whiffling, now available on Kindle.)

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Mayesh at 8:30 AM

This Saturday’s trip to the flower mart in downtown Los Angeles was a lot of fun because I wasn’t in a panic. I didn’t have to make my rounds, pick up all the flowers, transport them back to my truck safely ensconced in water and dash back to the mart for round 2, with a major deadline looming–getting 30 centerpieces done by 3:00 p.m. I usually give myself about an hour to pick up flowers and always have a list that I follow as much as possible. I say that because you rarely find exactly what you planned–you will have to make substitutions.

Laurie and I met up downtown just to see what there was to see. I never get that leisure! I kept telling Laurie how much fun it was to not be under the gun, to be able to just meander and hit shops I’ve always wanted to see. I finally had time to stop by a container shop called Basket. I will be sure to add it to my regular stops now, because they had such cool stuff. I was able to get five rolls of stunning ribbon for $20. This is good because I love ribbon! (In fact, Laurie just called me to tell me she found the most perfect ribbon at Costco and purchased it for me. I have one whole drawer dedicated to just ribbon — but I digress.)

I know the mart by heart and usually head straight to my favorite spots because they’re always reliable in quality and price. Mayesh , a wholesaler that sells to the public after 6:00 a.m., has fabulous greens, great orchids and a neat array of flowers, so I hit them first. If I wait till last, I know I will lose. Officially the mart is open to the public until 12:00 on Saturdays, but, trust me, most vendors have packed up by 9:00 and the place is a ghost town. If I don’t find the greens I want at Mayesh, I’ll go to the Greenery.

The Greenery - strictly greens!

For exotics, I choose Tayama next and for roses and everything else, Mellano. Mind you, these are by no means the biggest or only places. The mart is huge, with hundreds of vendors — and I’ve visited most of them.

Some of the vendors have websites; many do not. Here’s a list of vendors and their phone numbers.

Hazel

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