Showing some appreciation to your house plants

Knowing the readership of this blog, I am sure I don’t need to carry on about the general value and virtues of plants, and indeed, there’s no shortage of special days celebrating plants of all sorts – trees, wetlands, you name it. Today, however, we celebrate those special plants that have been taken out of their natural environments to provide company to man in his domesticated context – today, 10 January, is House Plant Appreciation Day.

“Babies Tears”, also known as “Peace in the Home” – a popular house plant for small, confined spaces.
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Just about any plant can qualify as a house plant, as long as it can handle some level of shade, is reasonably neat and is small enough to fit into your house. Ferns are a good choice for peace and tranquility; flowering plants can add spectacular colour; small trees can create structure; certain carnivorous plants can even help rid the home of flies and other irritating bugs. At a more basic level, plants in the home help filter and clean the air, and they act as an important oxygen source.

So, on House Plant Appreciation Day, give some attention to the plants around your house. Do they look healthy and vigorous, or are they perhaps in a bit of a sorry state? If the latter, why not put in extra effort today – feed them, water them, and treat them to some personal attention. And if you happen to not have any plants in your house, perhaps today is just the time to go and buy a leafy friend from your local nursery. Of all possible pets, they are the least demanding, they react with surprising vigour to a bit of personal attention, and they can be highly therapeutic.

Go on, get a house plant, and add some life to your home.

Arthur Guinness’ brew is good for you!

Yep, it’s a big day down the pub today – we celebrate the birthday of Irishman Arthur Guinness, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and most importantly, founder of the Guinness brewery.

Arthur Guinness’ exact date and place of birth is not known, with some indications being that he was born in late 1724 or early 1725, while others point to a date later in 1725.  In the early 1990’s the Guinness company decided to put an end to the speculations, and proclaimed its founder’s ‘official’ date of birth to be 28 September 1725. This date, affectionately known as ‘Arthur’s Day’, has been enthusiastically celebrated by fans of his dark brew ever since.

Arthur Guinness’ legacy lives on in Guinness, one of the world’s most successful and well known beer brands, brewed in almost 60 countries and available in more than 100. Guinness and Co merged with Grand Metropolitan plc in 1997, and has since become part of the multinational alcohol conglomerate Diageo.

According to Diageo, the perfect pint of Draught Guinness is poured by means of a ‘double pour’ method, which should take exactly 119.53 seconds. When poured, the draught passes through a 5-hole restrictor plate which increases the pressure and creates small bubbles in the beer, resulting in the classic creamy head. This first pour is allowed to settle, whereafter the glass is filled with a second ‘slow pour’ until the head creates a slight dome at the top of the glass.
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Guinness’ marketing has always been one of its strong suits, and this is a significant contributing factor to the continued popularity of the brand. The classic Guinness advertising series was created in the 1930s and 1940s, mostly illustrated by the artist John Gilroy. The advertising posters included classic phrases still seen in Irish pubs all over the world, such as “My Goodness, my Guinness”, “Lovely Day for a Guinness”, and most famously “Guinness is Good for You”.

The “Guinness is Good for You” slogan actually dates back to the 1920s, and stemmed from a market research campaign where people told the company that they felt good after a pint of Guinness. Beyond the feel-good factor, the stout was also considered to have some medicinal benefits – it was given to post-operative patients and blood donors, based on the belief that it was high in iron. It was also popular with pregnant women and nursing mothers.

The question “Why do Guinness’ bubbles travel downwards?” has been the subject of many a conversation down the pub. It is actually only the bubbles along the outer edge that moves down, as a result of drag – bubbles in the centre of the glass can travel upwards unhindered, while those along the edge are slowed down by the glass. As the beer in the centre rises, the liquid near the edge has to fall, and the resulting downward flow pushes some tiny bubbles downwards. Try explaining that after a few pints!
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What’s interesting is that research more than half a decade later indicates that perhaps the ‘good for you’ claim wasn’t so far off the mark, albeit for different reasons. As reported by BBC News in 2003, “A pint of the dark stuff a day may work as well as a low dose of aspirin to prevent heart clots that raise the risk of heart disease.”

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin tested the stout by administering it to dogs who had narrowed arteries similar to those in people with heart disease. They found that the dogs fed different daily doses of Guinness had reduced clotting activities in their blood, while a control group of dogs given a lager beer did not show similar improvements. The research team furthermore claim that the greatest benefit was achieved when test subjects received about a pint each day at mealtime. Their conclusion was “that ‘antioxidant compounds’ in the Guinness, similar to those found in certain fruits and vegetables, are responsible for the health benefits because they slow down the deposit of harmful cholesterol on the artery walls.”

In response to these claims, Guinness’ owners Diageo simply said “We never make any medical claims for our drinks.” Despite this, I am sure millions of Guinness fans the world over will be more than happy to call on the ‘irrefutable scientific research’ above to justify their daily mealtime pint.

So here’s to Arthur and his famous brew – cheers, everybody!

Popping corks and tasting stars – celebrating the invention of Champagne

Legend has it that on this day in 1693, the French Monk Dom Pierre Perignon, invented Champagne when a wine he was making started a secondary fermentation in the bottle, so when he opened the bottle it produced a fine, bubbly mousse. Upon tasting this sparkly beverage, it tasted so special that he was inspired to exclaim “Come quickly, I am tasting stars!”.

Popping a cork in celebration of the father of champagne, Dom Perignon.
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As is often the case, however, the truth of this legend is questionable at best. Sparkling wine almost certainly existed before Dom Perignon’s time, with the oldest references to it dating back to the Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire, in 1531.

That said, these early bubblies probably tasted very different to the refined sparkling product that became known as Champagne (after the French region where it was perfected), so even if the discovery of sparkling wine cannot be attributed to Dom Perignon, he can take credit for establishing the principles of modern champagne making that are still in use today.

And that’s more than enough justification to pop a cork to celebrate the great man.

Now here’s an interesting story:

In a medical study from 2007, scientists from the Universities of Reading and Cagliari showed that moderate Champagne consumption can potentially help the brain cope with the trauma of stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.  According to the research the high levels of the antioxidant polyphenol in Champagne can help prevent the deterioration of brain cells from stress and trauma.  The study was done on mice – one group of mice was fed a Blanc de Blanc Champagne, a second a Blanc de Noir, and a control group got no bubbly at all.  When the three groups were subsequently exposed to high levels of neurotoxins (simulating the effect of brain trauma), it was found that the groups who had previously been fed champagne, had higher levels of brain-cell restoration compared to the control group.

Now isn’t that just the best news you’ve heard all day? Cheers!