• The Banes of Spring

With so many beautiful plants showing off as we traipse through springtime landscapes, it’s hard to believe any of them could do harm. But be warned: there are banes of spring.

Bane, as in the word derived from the Old English word meaning “killer, slayer, or murderer” (and that word was derived from the Proto-Germanic word for “wound”). During the Middle Ages, it was applied to plants that cause serious harm – even death. Some include Henbane and Wolfsbane, but another harmful plant of spring is Hemlock. Not to be confused with the conifer tree by the same name, Hemlock is a biannual plant that closely resembles wild carrot, also known as Queen Anne’s Lace.

I was reminded of this plant by being quite surprised at its appearance in my back yard yesterday. Nothing like seeing a poisonous plant in the yard to wake you up!

Hemlock 1 Hemlock 2

They were still pretty young, so it’s hard to be 100 percent sure that it is Hemlock, but it lacked the hairy stems that wild carrot is supposed to have. According to a site about wild carrot, the leaves look more like hemlock. (To learn more about identifying this plant, check here and here.) Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to plants like these, especially if you have pets or young children who might accidentally ingest some of the plant. So consider pulling it out – roots and all – and wear gloves, as Hemlock is toxic even through contact with the skin!

Hemlock 3

One of the reasons I was so quick to pull it out (I did it as soon as I spotted them) was because I have an elderly dog that had been exhibiting a few symptoms that a mild Hemlock poisoning could explain. Dogs who eat it may exhibit symptoms such as salivation; diarrhea; neurological signs like muscle tremors or weakness, convulsions, or coma; and respiratory distress. Get to a vet soon – if the animal ate enough, death can occur in the matter of hours.

People exhibit similar symptoms: nausea and vomiting, salivation, dilated pupils, headache, altered mental status, seizures, weakness, respiratory failure, and more.

When you enjoy the outdoors, it’s always a good idea to learn a bit about native plants to avoid as well as those that are helpful. With a little knowledge, nature is a safe and wonderful escape from our noisy modern world.

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• Flea Market Inspiration

Sometimes I get too many projects going at a time. My newest project I blame completely on Flea Market Gardens magazine.

The 2013 edition came out recently and, while hanging out with some friends a couple weeks ago at the book store, we perused the fun and funky projects throughout the magazine’s pages. So the next day, I decided to check out a large local flea market to find some garden inspiration.

I wove through several of the long, endless aisles. And then there it was, amidst a booth running amock with garden-bound items including a lovely wrought-iron arbor, about a half dozen chipped and rusting (known as “vintage” in the world of flea markets) hanging wire baskets, and more. It was an old – excuse me, vintage – cast iron bird feeder:

Feeder & planter

The metal planter beside it was found in the same booth. It looked like it would go nicely with the bird feeder if painted the same color, but the feeder was definitely what caught my eye. Though I kept looking for something that could be used to make a more unique garden creation, the feeder turned out to be the main prize for the day.

Admittedly, I bought it to clean it up, paint it, and find a place for it in my own yard. But as I unloaded it from the car, I realized that this was something my Mom might really like.

And the timing for new outdoor décor couldn’t be better. A couple months ago, Mom moved to a ground-level senior apartment. Luckily, they allow residents to create small flowerbeds or veggie patches around their apartments. Mom’s is currently pretty bare, and she has suggested that helping create some pretty outdoor areas would be a great Mother’s Day gift

But would she like a rusty old feeder?

Sneaky girl that I am, I left it and the planter on the front porch so Mom would see it when she visited on Sunday. “Did you see my flea market finds?” I asked her innocently. Sure enough, she did love the bird feeder (not sure the she had much to say about the planter). I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised – Mom loves all things bird. She loves to feed wild birds and see what kind she can get to come to her yard. She likes ornaments, pictures, and other ornamentation with birds. You can bet the Christmas cards she sends will have a cardinal or chickadee on it somewhere. She even has a clock that chimes each hour with a different birdcall. Annoying thing.

Definitely "birdy"

Definitely “birdy”

Though not putting the feeder in my own yard makes me a little wistful, I feel that I was supposed to find the feeder in order to pass it on to a person who would enjoy it more. Sometimes things are put in our hands for safekeeping until we realize who it is truly meant for.

Now I just need to wait for the weather to cooperate for some outdoor rust removal and painting. I’ll post a pic to share how the cleanup goes.

So what’s the favorite thing you’ve done to surprise a loved one?

• A Smoking Addiction

No, not that kind of smoking addiction – I’m talking about all things edible that are smoked first

Smoked meat has been a personal favorite for as long as I can remember. And the first time I had smoke-flavored black-eyed peas, I fell in love. But I was never sure how the beans were flavored, presumably with liquid smoke, which I’ve always found to be a suspicious ingredient. Call me unadventurous.

In recent years, however, we’re seeing more options for smoky indulgences. In the past year, a good friend introduced me to smoked cinnamon and smoked paprika; the later has become a regular in many dishes served up in my kitchen. Soon after learning about these, I got a hold of some smoked sea salt and it, too, has a permanent spot in the spice rack. You can also get smoked garlic, smoked caraway, and probably several other options I haven’t discovered.

Smoked spices

Smoked paprika and apple wood-smoked sea salt take center stage in the spice rack.

Lately, spices smoked with particular woods are getting some attention. From pecan-smoked sugar to hickory-smoked sea salt, those with refined taste buds are getting a treat.

On a recent shopping trip, I found that my local health food store, which sells bulk herbs and spices, had some apple wood-smoked sea salt. I wasn’t sure if it would really be different from plain-ol’ smoked sea salt, but I just had to try it. Surprise! It has a lovely, deeper flavor than the regular smoked sea salt and really shines in the simplest of dishes – a fried potato and scrambled egg hash, for example.

Given its popularity, I know my friend and I aren’t the only ones who have fallen prey to this food fad. Do you have any smoky addictions and how do you like to use them?