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(SHOT ON LOCATION, BRIAN’S BALCONY, OVERLOOKING LAKE ONTARIO)

Hello, Culinary Playmates:

It is I, Helenka, your fearless advocate of gustatory creativity (aka I eat weird but really tasty food and think you should, too). Though, to be perfectly honest, the only weird thing about today’s special outdoor episode is that we were using my INDOOR electric grill OUTDOORS (or semi-outdoors, as was the case on Brian’s balcony overlooking Lake Ontario). Otherwise, the food was a mix of vibrant fresh veggies, yummy shrimp, some non-traditional spices and glazes. And us as the ever-eager samplers.

I know I could talk (or, more likely, moan) about how scrumptious the food tasted, because it did. It really did. But that would be nothing new where Brian and I are concerned. So, instead, I want to introduce you to the concept of Embracing The Fake.

What do I mean? Are Brian and I not all about REAL food, GENUINE friends and OODLES of fun? Well, as you could really tell from the background (and ::growls in irritation:: foreground) sounds of traffic, we were outdoors all right. Or … somewhat outdoors, since we were on Brian’s covered but otherwise open to the elements balcony. Also, even if you can’t tell because of the glare behind us, there IS a lake there.

Though we were technically outdoors, we were able to access and use the amenities available to us, such as electricity to power the indoor grill! Yay! As much as I love various outdoor locations for barbecues and picnics (and have been known to cajole people to stick a metal rack in their trunks so that we could use a firepit as a handy instant bbq grill), indoors is mighty convenient when you don’t feel like packing all that STUFF and lugging it from home to what feels like the ends of the earth.

In previous years, Brian and I have had barbecues at my place and, even if we only had to carry stuff a short distance, it took several trips from his car and my kitchen. So I was relieved that we didn’t have to do any of that arduous lugging this time. Mind you, Brian’s lucky that he has a balcony. So many condos have been built without any outside access, because developers think that a sun-killed (oops, I meant sun-filled … /sarcasm) solarium will suffice, even one without windows that open. ::sighs:: What a way to keep people from actually enjoying the outdoors (whether it’s sunny or raining or foggy, but at least you can feel it).

Therefore, the trick is to try to recreate the essence of outdoors while inside. And that’s where Embracing The Fake comes into play. Let’s pretend that you do have a large solarium or just a very bright set of windows in your living room. You can turn that into a pretend patio very easily. How? Well, the first thing is to estimate how much space you can devote to your patio. When you’ve done that, you divide the “patio” from the living room with a row of several ficus trees or pruned standards in pots. Then you can accentuate the boundary by hanging those shortish Japanese cloth doorway panels from the ceiling. To allow light to pass during the day, you can use clips to pin the inner corners to the outer.

The easiest (and most convertible) way to define the walls of the patio is to staple bamboo mats to the two walls facing each other. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can also do this on the ceiling and have bamboo poles holding up the ceiling. [BTW, this is not my original idea. I had a lovely friend in my life who did this in his first condo many decades ago.] Lay down sisal mats on the floor. Then add plants (both flowering and bushy that you can replace as often as needed) in uniform pots throughout the space as well as a garden table and chairs, perhaps even a loveseat or park bench. Add some hanging plants from the ceiling. If your ceilings are especially high, then you may want to use artificial plants so that you won’t have to worry about watering or drowning them. Line the window area with a row of trays holding various herbs. Just imagine how exquisite the scent will be. [I’m partial to rosemary and basil, myself.]

But wait. I’m not finished yet. Whether you’re living right next to a lake or are miles away, you can recreate that soothing water feature with a fountain. You can get carried away with a large one (really affordable if you build your own pond using a special liner, surrounded by plants) or the smaller portable ones you can find in specialty, hardware and even supermarket chains. Some even have lights. I’ve had my share of many fountains. Right now, I only have two sound machines (and, of course, my fave sound is that of a running stream which lulls me to sleep every night). Brian’s partial to water sounds, too, and occasionally has hooked up his sound machine to portable speakers so we can sit out on his balcony with the amplified waves lapping at the shore as we gaze at the lake. It’s incredibly soothing and reminds us of places we’ve been.

Finally, add some summer type lanterns, including the ones on a cord that are supposed to be suspended. Put some small floodlights at the base of the row of shrubs. You can also get the latest solar-powered lights (intersperse their stakes amid the herbs by the windows) that will come on at dusk, allowing you to enjoy your evenings in a lush but insect-free atmosphere.

I remember going way overboard (if you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s my default setting) in December of 1996. I wanted to impress someone from my past, so bought three white 4×8-foot lattice panels. I suspended two on either side of my 20-foot long windows, while the third went across my TV nook. Then I strung up clear mini tree lights before adding tons of artificial vines and leaves. It felt especially magical at night. With the addition of several fountains, I could forget that it was winter outside. Once again, this was not an original idea of mine, but one I copied from a fancy reception I’d attended, where each table had a rectangular latticed column covered with leaves and twinkling lights. You know, it never hurts to be aware and to remember what others have done that you can try to recreate in whole or in part.

I hope the message you take away from this episode is that, even though it’s marvellous to be outdoors (and authentic), it’s also fun and practical to bring the outdoors inside. Why don’t you take a look around to see if you can transform some of your space to maintain the illusion of terrific weather and liven up your mood.

Surprisingly, Brian and I didn’t need to maintain any illusions this week. It’s continued to be unseasonably warm (late spring-like weather, though a friend in South-West Ontario mentioned it had been incredibly summer-hot; but, then again, she doesn’t live on the shore of a lake). We hope you’ve enjoyed watching us as we played with our shrimp and veggies and know that it’s an easy meal to prepare. Until next time, have yourselves a great week and think about what kinds of outrageously imaginative ideas you can come up with to create your own indoor garden haven. If necessary, you may blame the blonde!

Enjoy!

B&H =:)

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