My Contraband Plant

Twenty years ago I made a long-anticipated move to Los Angeles with the intention that I would be the next host on Talk Soup. I would watch that show all the time and said to myself, “You could do that! So off to LA you must go.” Around the same time, one of my best friends who hosted me in Los Angeles for the prior 15 was moving on to Japan for his career. Though I was thrilled to create my next chapter in life, I was also bummed by the irony that he was about to start his somewhere else.

What he left me with was plenty of advice on Los Angeles…that, and a green twig (like the one pictured) in a 10-gallon bucket of dirt. That’s right, one twig and 5000 times its weight in dirt. Not potting soil….just road-side Malibu dirt.

John told me that his friend brought it back for him from Mexico. Or did he say it was contraband smuggled back as a souvenir? He also said, “Just wait, that thing is gonna be huge.” He had no instructions on care and feeding except: “Just wait.”

Not a week went by when I didn’t consider just tossing that twig and the bucket it rode in on.

John would never know. But he is the friend who would check on it occasionally over the phone from across the ocean. And I wasn’t gonna lie to him. So the little green twig became my only pet.

Of course I watered it. It was taking up space in my home and I had to make sense around that.

Also, HOW COOL to have a plant that shouldn’t be here. And how awesome that I was potentially aiding and abetting an illegal alien plant.

So “wait” and “keep this plant on the down low” I did, for what seemed like a lifetime.
Then, one day, out of nowhere, slight leaves appeared on the tips of that twig. Little did I know that these little bits of growth would be the next biggest branches that would make their own little upwardly mobile offspring.

Flash forward seven years and this little green contraband was seven-foot-tall contraband. Like a giant version of the Ker Plunk game I had as a kid with sticks going in all directions to keep the game marbles from falling, this unknown specimen was my LA Christmas tree of sorts.

This stellar, no-maintenance horticulture achievement also became a bit of good luck upon which I hung images of things I wanted to have happen in my life. I remember like it was last week reading an article on the hippest places (I was much younger then) in America. And the article focused on Northeast Minneapolis hung in the branches until it was time to say goodbye to LA and move to Minneapolis for my new chapter at ShopNBC (an earlier name for Evine).

Turns out the plant is not illegal after all. (Not the first time I fell for a good contraband story). Instead, it is available at nurseries around the United States and is called Euphorbia tirucalli, also known as aveloz, firestick plants, Indian tree spurge, naked lady, pencil tree, pencil cactus, sticks on fire or milk bush. It’s a tree that grows in semi-arid tropical climates, primarily in Africa.

If you are interested in having one of these plants, be fully aware that it produces a poisonous latex which can be very harmful to people and pets if eaten or touched on skin. So, as intriguing as this plant might be, it’s not for everyone.

When it came time for me to pack it all in, this plant was a prize I had to leave behind. So off to the home of one of my best friends it went.

Fortunately, I recently replaced it with one, much smaller, but on its way, from a neighborhood greenhouse here in Minnetonka. Surprisingly, it was only $20. And wait I will again, until this plant grows from one foot to seven feet.

Lastly, Talk Soup never signed me to be their next host. But many other, better blessings, came into my life in the form of amazing people that truly enriched my life, and plants that brought me good luck and taught me how to keep a little secret.

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All That Glitters

All That Glitters is Not Gold...but with the right technique, you could be golden.

It just so happens that I like nice things.  Call me odd.  Call me over the top.  Go ahead and say it: “Who does Brian think he is, a Rockefeller?”

Well, it turns out I’m neither a Rockefeller nor a Vanderbilt.  So how does one lavish their “castle” without a tycoon’s bank roll?  We improvise.  It’s a matter of knowing what you want and making it happen with a little bit of effort.

A couple years back I was exploring my heaven on earth: H& B Gallery.  It’s Minneapolis’ premier antique store.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, I came across a mirror costing several thousand dollars.  It was a  www.carversguild.com piece – hand carved of wood and gilded to the hilt.  It was so me and oh so mine, but I couldn’t lay down the cash or put it on a credit card.  All I could do was store away the image of it in my mind and sleep on it for a couple of years.

Then, out of no where, came my “diamond in the ruff.”  Or, should I say, “carved wood mirror, painted an ugly buff”.  It was a machine-carved mirror frame made in the 50’s and finished in a pickled peach.  It looked pale, sickly and no wonder someone had cast it off.  What’s more, it was part of a dresser set so it had carved wooden feet on it that would rest on the larger dresser that I didn’t want.  But it was the perfect size for a foyer and it was only $150.  So off it went for a ride home to my place.

Flash forward a full year later, on a day with a list full of things I didn’t want to do, I cut the dresser legs off it and attempted a gold gilding using a product from Michael’s I had never tried before: Rubb n Buff.  Ya, it worked but it didn’t look like it was gold leafed.  Plus, I really wanted it to look old.

For almost a year, I passed that mirror a couple times a day and each time I said to myself, “Brian, the world isn’t right and neither is this mirror.”

Now flash forward to February 2017.  It was just another day with a list of must do’s around my home that I just wasn’t interested in doing.  So to distract myself I said, “The Mirror.” And it was through more improvising with trial and error that I got the finish just right.
Most old mirrors have a layer of plaster in between the carved wood and the gold paint or gold leafing.  So with the help of Martha Stewart’s acrylic white paint, I was able to give it that traveled, moved, chipped and moved again exposed plaster look that could give this mirror from the 50’s an aged, early 20th-century look.

So next I took a small brush and haphazardly applied that white acrylic in random areas on the mirror frame, because age never hits any piece of anything (or anyone!) evenly or symmetrically.

After the white paint dried the fun of the gilding could begin.  Of course I had the option of gold leafing the mirror, but what a mess that is with tiny fragments of 24K all over. Sounds neat I know (what a problem to have, right?), but it’s not.

So I tried Plaid’s version of Classic Gold Leaf in the form of paint.  Wow, it worked and one little 3/4 oz jar was much more than I needed to do the entire job.  Keep in mind, I carefully and intentionally left spots of white exposed.  And to my satisfaction (not easy people!) it turned out great.  More on this technique when I attempt it again on another piece in another room.

If you ever see something you love, but don’t care for the finish, it’s probably waiting for you to take it home and give it a new color.  So many things of value get overlooked that way.

Please leave me a message here or on Facebook if I can be of any assistance to your next improvisation project.

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My Favorite Childhood Toys

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s was vastly different than the experience of kids today.  No internet, bluetooth, cell phones, apps, or PlayStation.   In fact, it was’t until 1982 that the Commodore 64 computer came onto the scene.  Yet, like in every era, the toys of my childhood were accurate indicators as to how our young minds were focused by the times, our parents, and toy makers.
camaroMimicking our parents was a big theme because we just wanted to be like our parents. For my brothers and me, it was tooling around our patio in metal cars and fire engines like these in the pictures.  For other kids in the neighborhood, it was making cakes in the infamous Easy Bake Oven.

rock-em-sock-em
Plastics played a huge roll in toy making as many new types were in their advent.  From softer plastics used for the somewhat flexible Barrel Of Monkeys pick-up game to the heavily molded and mechanical Rock Em Sock Em Robots, designed to help kids take out their aggression in a game versus on each other.

mr-peanutMake and Do was one of my favorite genres as I like making things and using creativity to make one-of-a-kinds.  From snow cones portioned for Lilliputians, to peanuts we pulverized into butter with little help from Mr. Peanut (that was soooo hard to turn.  No wonder the crank handled busted) to the wildly fun Creepy Crawlers and shrunken heads we baked in our basement using the Mattel “Mystery” Goop.  Oh, and were those bottles ever really tested for toxicity? This was during the time when asbestos was in it’s heyday.  At the same time, how lucky was I that my dad was able to formulate endless supplies of  the Goop at work in the chemistry lab and bring home lots of colors for FREE!

 

creepy-crawlers

 

Building things was another favorite.  Like the Lincoln Log sets made out of real wood.  Or learning about leverage and a tension fit from the
Don’t Break The Ice Game.  But there was a limit to the amount of dont-break-the-iceattention I was willing to give things even back then. For example: Model Cars.  I loved them, and bought many of them.  But I never put more than 1/3 of a car together before I threw it all back in the box and put it back on the shelf.  The all-too-many extra pieces made no difference to me.  I just wanted to get to the good part of painting and detailing. Ever hear of the Real Wankel Model Engine? We never opened it.  Nope.  It would take a patient saint to read all those instructions and a special kind of kid that would even care to build an engine.  I’m sure the real value of that unopened gift will come to surface the day I put it in New, Unopened Condition on Ebay!!  monopolyMonopoly was fun but only for a while.  I don’t know any 10-year old with the patience for either.  By the time you started making some money, it was time for dinner.  Oh and battleship.  Talk about a game designed for twin boys living on a farm 250 miles from other children.  Boring!

 

pinball

Lastly, there was the big casino table top pinball machine our Grandpa Jim bought us one year at Christmas.  We just couldn’t believe it.  So cool. And so electrified with no less than a dozen D-size batteries.  Wish we would have taken care of that.  It would be worth a fortune today.

 

My two brothers and I were lucky kids.  We didn’t get a lots of toys, but we did get even the slightest of skills from the ones we played.   My mom, to this day, covets and keeps all the vintage toys under lock and key, as they are a source of fond memories she has of us when we were young.  I think she still doesn’t fully trust us with them.  “Our Lincoln Logs are the real ones made of wood”, she likes to remind us.

lincoln-logsWhat was your favorite toy?  Leave a picture of it below if you still have it.  Or grab one from Google images and post it with a memory.  Everyone can relate.  I hope you can remind me and others of toys we might have forgotten.

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My Own Private Idaho

Brian blog 2 1RThere seems to be so very much talk these days about ‘farm-to-table’ sourcing of food for an ever-growing number of restaurants.  The thought that perhaps the meat and produce were grown locally, or even better, on the premise, makes food seem extra healthy, no matter the amount of butter, salt or oil chefs add to make it taste good!  Restaurants based on this concept where I live in Minneapolis can’t find enough tables and chairs for their trendy clientele, and Pinterest can’t find enough bandwidth for the photos.

Brian blog 2 2LSo, what to do with all this extra land around my home, now that the flower gardens are maturing and the chickens are getting settled?  Create a ‘yard-to-table’ flow of fresh greens, vegetables and berries that can bring organic, healthy and creative benefits this summer and every summer that follows!

I can think of no one better to partner with than my Partner Aaron. He’s a farmer’s son and knows a great deal about planting and crop rotation. Me, I’m just a non-stop farmhand that can go after the weeds (including the roots!) for hours. I just start with 70’s hard rock in the a.m. and finish Brian blog 2 3Rhours later with the best of the 90’s blaring from my Bluetooth speakers and Spotify.

Over the winter, Aaron created a potager (a kitchen garden) and, together, we planted over 100 unique types of vegetables, fruits and berries this spring.

Five types of lettuce (including the delicious Red Romaine and Little Gem), three varieties of blueberries, French breakfast radishes, Roquefort beans, wax beans, and Dragon beans will for sure expand the gastronomic journey for all dining at our home.

Brian blog 2 4L (2)Sure, sure, you’re absolutely right . . . this is going to be some of the most expensive produce brought to any table, but it’s food we created for ourselves and friends.  And how exciting to see otherwise unused property become something very useful, and seeds go from packet to produce!

Oh and the seeds . . .  please don’t ask the price of the seeds! They’re not just any seeds.  Aaron had to find non-GMO seeds from probably one of the last places on earth that purvey Berian blog 2 5Lthem: the Baker Seed Co.  I guess we’ll just look the other way on the total cost of seeds, plants and water bills as we prove the cliché, “You get what you pay for.”

Is there a saying “A farmer’s work is never done”?  If not, there should be because in August we’ll be installing the next round of plants in the rotation per the potager.  More beets, squash and melons will be next on the menu for our fall harvest dinners with Brian blog 2 6Mfriends.

Brian blog 2 7ROh, and the rabbits!  Yes, they couldn’t be more excited for us and our little private Idaho. They eat well. They eat organic. They have variety. They, are very happy here.

So, tell me about your garden!

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Summer in St. Louis

BK photo 1 rightWhen I was a kid, Summers were filled with making my spending money cutting lawns, going to the McKenzie Neighborhood Pool when finished for the day, and frequent stops with my family at the St. Louis Phenomena, Ted Drewes, for the best Frozen Custard on this planet. If you ever travel to the “Show Me” State of Missouri, it’s well worth your time and travel to get there and get in line!

BK photo 2 left

 

Since the 1930’s, St. Louisans have been lining up 12-windows-across, sometimes 20-people-deep, to enjoy a cone, sundae or Concrete with our favorite toppings amidst the Frozen Custard Crowd.

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Depending on the night, you may see the mix of families with kids in red wagons, Muny Opera-goers dressed in full Lilly Pulitzer, and countless baseball, softball, & swim teams, either celebrating their victories or dusting off their losses.

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BK photo 5 rightMy favorite sundae is the ‘Tiramisu’, with chocolate, pistachios and cherries on top. It’s just one of dozens to choose from!  And yes, I have been more than once in the course of a day, on more than one occasion . . . (you would too!)

July is National Ice Cream month and, may I say, Frozen Custard more than qualifies.   So why not plan an ‘Ice Cream (or Custard) Social’! Gather your most deserving friends and family together to share in a tradition dating as far back as England’s King Charles II with something delicious that you make yourself.

No one Frozen Custard recipe would satisfy everyone’s different likes and/or food sensitivities, so I’m including a link to Pinterest to inspire you.   Note: frozen custard does not have to be just vanilla, and a number of recipes can even be made without an ice cream maker!  Custard is much like ice cream, just without the whipped air.  (Sorry, but Ted Drewes is not giving his up at any price, although many attempts have been made to buy him out.)

https://www.pinterest.com/explore/frozen-custard-recipes/

BK photo 7 middleWe make a lot of ice cream at home and will all the more with the fresh eggs our new chickens will provide this summer. Want to upgrade your creation? Consider shopping your local kitchen store for Lyle’s Golden Syrup. You’ll love the rich taste and it can be substituted in equal amounts to sugar, honey, or corn syrup. Enjoy!

BK photo 8 rightBK photo 6 right

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. Let me know how your ice creams turn out. I love to learn from you too!

 

 

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