Dandelion wine and architectural honors 

Ah, the lowly dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, one of the craftiest and most resilient freebooters of the plant kingdom and the bane of lawnheads everywhere. If you are naturally disposed to like dandelions (read: if you rent), then the arrival of sunny spring weather brings free eye candy as far as you can see. If you are less inclined to love them, then all you see this time of year are enemies, enemies, enemies.

You can attack them with broadleaf herbicides, but you might accidentally rub out innocent plants in your yard and garden (collateral damage, you could call it). And besides, who wants to sprawl out on a lawn doused in chemicals? You can get down on your hands and knees and dig them out one at a time, but since the taproots are so long and plants can sprout from broken pieces left in the soil, you’ll probably be too busy digging to enjoy your lawn anyway.

Our solution? Eat them. Dandelions are one of the most complete plant foods on earth. Their leaves contain more iron than spinach, more beta-carotene than carrots, more potassium than bananas and almost twice the phosphorus of cabbage. They’re also loaded with vitamins C and E and other minerals. Young leaves (collected before flower buds appear, and at least 75 feet from roadsides) can be bleached, steamed or eaten raw in salads, and the roots are delicious fried or roasted. Even the flowers can be battered and fried for a tasty side dish. And then there’s the whole gamut of wines, meads and jellies you can make.

After a few years, the dandelions will gradually become so demoralized they’ll decide to—if you’ll pardon the pun—pull out. And then you can help yourself to your neighbor’s.

•••

If buildings were people, you’d be nicer to them. You’d look at them more and give them more thought, size up their successes and forgive their failures. But instead, you just use them—you inhabit them and work in them and walk by them impassively, as if they were just so many summertime panhandlers.

Well, now’s your chance to make up for your neglect, because this weekend marks the annual Missoula Historic Preservation Awards. Hosted each year by the county’s Historic Preservation Advisory Commission, the awards are intended to draw some fresh attention to the changing face of the Garden City’s history. Laurels go to architects, builders and property owners in a rather surprising array of categories. This year’s winner for Commercial/Residential Restoration, for example, goes to the Lenox Flats, the once-downtrodden red brick behemoth on West Broadway that in recent months has been reborn as offices and apartments. Meanwhile, the prizes for Adaptive Reuse—finding a new purpose for an old building—goes to The Swift Building, a railroad-era shophouse that sits proudly at the end of South Fourth East, and The River City Grill, the erstwhile lumber company in Bonner that now serves chicken fried steaks to hungry highway travelers.

A host of local designers, antiquarians and other community-minded folk will be on hand for this year’s ceremony, this Friday, May 18 at the Boone & Crockett Club at 7 p.m. Heritage lovers everywhere are invited to join them in paying tribute to Missoula’s built environment, past and future.

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