Friday, April 29, 2011

The Mud Area

We don't have enough space for a mud room, but there was a little spot by the side-door entry into our kitchen that we made more functional.  Before we moved in, the area looked like this:
(I don't have a before photo of the other side of the door, unfortunately.)
I wanted a place to hang our coats, store hats and gloves, sit down to put on or take off our shoes, keep our wet boots off the floor, hold our bags, our keys.  Big demands.  My father-in-law designed a couple of simple pieces based on my specifications, and together he and his son built this:

For the seat, I went back to CushionSource where I bought some of the porch cushions, and ordered those great big hooks from House of Antique Hardware.  The baskets came from Michael's. 

For the other side, I bought a wooden plaque at A.C. Moore, which we painted, added three more hooks, and mounted on the lower cabinet. 

I put three tiny hooks at the bottom of an old shutter and mounted it on the upper cabinet. 

My favorite part is the boot tray.  I picked up this tray at Target, and filled it with rocks we collected at the beach.  All the snow and grit drains off your boots into the rocks instead of letting them sit in a muddy mess.  I can't take credit for the idea- I saw it on Apartment Therapy
I also put felt pads on the bottom so I could slide it in and out when I vacuum, because a tray full of rocks is quite heavy.
I have a few new projects brewing, a couple involving old shutters, and another using more beach rocks.  I'll let you know how things turn out.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Who thinks I did this wrong?
It took a few days (nine) for me to realize something wasn't right.  My mom gave me the dahlia tubers (I've learned they're not bulbs, but tubers, like a potato) for my birthday in early March, and sometime in the last month they sprouted in the bag they came in while I had them stored in the basement.  I quickly dug a few holes and stuck them in the ground.  Then I started to wonder, did I plant them upside down?   Are those roots I should have buried??  How could those white stringy things possibly turn into green stems with flowers on the end, like this:

Better Homes and Gardens
It turns out it's not as wrong as I thought (they're not roots), but I didn't get it exactly right. After consulting a few online gardening forums, it seems I should cut those sprouts off leaving only one little stub.  Multiple shoots will form, but you only want one in the end, so all the nutrients go to one plant. The white stub will then turn green with adequate light.  So, I didn't actually plant them upside down, but I don't think anything good is going to come of leaving them as is.  I'm afraid it might be too late, but I'll trim the shoots, and hope for the best.  Otherwise, I may have to wait until next summer to see flowers like these around here.
Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart

A Country Farmhouse

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Coffee Table Turns Ottoman

While I'm waiting for a good deal on my sofa in order to put the finishing touches on our living room, I thought I'd tell you about how I turned this coffee table into an ottoman.
I was inspired by Jenny at Little Green Notebook who has two tutorials- Make an Ottoman from a Coffee Table, and a Part II, where she did a makeover on her original project.  (Even more amazing is the role that ottoman eventually played in the birth of her third child.) 

I thought the table had potential to go in a few different directions. It was a bit large for an end table or nightstand in our house, and a bit tall for a coffee table.  I decided to make it shorter by cutting off the legs just above the shelf.  Using spray adhesive, I adhered strips of 4" foam to the sides and a big square on top, making sure all of the edges and corners were padded and the foam was evenly distributed.  I covered the whole thing with some quilted batting, pulled tight, and stapled it to the underside.  This helped to make the corners more rounded.  Last, I wrapped it in a yard of 70% off fabric I got for $13 (lucky day!) and I stapled that, too, folding the edges under around the legs and making hospital-like corners on either side. 

I might play around with adding some nailheads or fabric trim to the edge.  And I have a couple of ideas of what I might do with that leftover shelf that was sawed off the bottom.
Stay tuned.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Patient House Guest

This is Frasier.  He's staying with us for a week while our mom is in Florida.
We spent most of the weekend  (even the rainy parts) in the yard, so we still haven't moved the furniture into the bedrooms with the new floors.  It's all piled into "Frasier's room," but he managed to find this snug little spot.  Actually, he looks a little mad, doesn't he?  I think that may be since I closed off the other rooms, so he couldn't wander around and listen to his meows echo in the empty space.  He would like to do that for hours.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Digging the Earth (Day)

We had no idea today was Earth Day when we planned this to be the day we dig our garden.  What a great coincidence!  My partner in life and vegetable growing did most of the digging, while I picked out the weeds and rocks. 
Now we have to pray that it doesn't rain before we have a chance to mix in the three yards of compost tomorrow. 

We had to do a little math in order to figure out what we needed.  Our garden is approximately 12' x 17', and we figured we want a total depth of 18 inches, so we're going to mix in 6 inches of the good stuff (or .5 feet). 17 x 10 x .5 = 85 cubic feet / 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard = 3.15 yards of compost.

By the way, did you check out that garlic??  I'm so proud.
Did you plant something, recycle something, or just enjoy being outside on Earth Day?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Outdoor Rug Hunting

Goldilocks I am not.  She kept trying different sizes, and eventually found something that was just right.  I've been spending a lot of time debating and playing around with Homestyler, trying to find an outdoor rug for our screened-in porch, and I'm stuck.

I think the ideal size would be 9 x 12, which would look something like this:

(That's a step in the lower right-hand corner, coming from the house.)

This Restoration Hardware rug (in brown) is my favorite out there, but the largest is 8 x 13, which isn't the right size for my space.  It would be a few inches TOO LONG, so we'd have to turn it the other way.   Tapestry Bordered Outdoor Rug

The next size down at Restoration Hardware is TOO SMALL- 7'6 x 10.  I also like this one from Ballard Designs, which is slightly bigger than that at 7'10"x10'10", but it looks STILL TOO SMALL on our porch:
Laney Indoor/Outdoor Rug

I usually find to be a great resource for rugs, and they have a few that are 9'2"x12'6", but I'm not liking any of them.  This one is 9'6 x 12'9", and I might like the chocolate, but I'm afraid the brown will be TOO LIGHT, plus 12'9 would JUST fit between the step into the porch and the back wall (TOO LONG).Indoor/ Outdoor Greek Key Area Rug (9'6 x 12'9)
Home Decorators is also a go-to source for me because they often have free shipping and good coupons, but their sizing doesn't work either- mostly 7'6 x 10'9 or 8'6 x 13.  This one is 7'11 x 11 (slightly bigger than the Ballard Designs rug, but STILL TOO SMALL).
Alas, Crate and Barrell does have a few 9 x 12 rugs, but they're a little boring, and I'm not sure how they'd look. 

This one's on sale.


What do you think?  Should I go for the TOO SMALL 7'10"x10'10" from Ballard Designs, or the 9x12 Crate and Barrell sale rug above?  If neither, I'm open to suggestions as to where else I might look.  I wonder if carpet stores cut custom sizes of outdoor rugs....

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Last Summer's Porch Makeover

The bedroom reveals have been delayed since Nick the Floor Guy advised that we wait a week before we put any furniture on the floors.  They look great, and I can't wait, but I will. 

In the meantime, I've turned my focus outside, looking ahead to summer days, blooming flowers, and relaxing on the porch.  When we got home from Vermont on Sunday afternoon, it was a beautiful day, and we spent the rest of it out in the yard, doing a little clean up, and a little planting.  I transplanted some irises from random spots around the yard to the rock wall in the front of our house, and planted some dahlia and gladiola bulbs in another perennial bed next to our shed.  This weekend we're planning to dig the rest of our vegetable garden, and plant the potatoes, shallots, spinach and arugula.

I thought this would be a good time to share last summer's porch makeover, and the finishing touches we have planned for this summer.  It all started with this $15 settee on Craigslist:
I used a little Restore-a-Finish to clean it up, and threw out the cushions.  I entertained the idea of sewing my own replacement cushions for about 20 seconds (I don't own a sewing machine and my experience is only a semester of seventh grade sewing), and then went on a hunt for cushions, which led to an entire porch makeover.  I selected a Sunbrella fabric (Heather Beige) that was available in multiple places.  For the settee, I ordered custom cushions from because they seemed to offer the most flexibility in terms of shape.  An added bonus is that the cushion covers have a zipper, so you can take them off and throw them in the wash.
And then I moved on to making over the rest of the furniture to match.  I had this white aluminum furniture with vinyl straps from my parents' porch in the '80s. 
I wish I had a picture of that porch in its glory to share with you.  Back then, it was a nice looking porch, but it was starting to feel a little dated.  I wanted to bring it into the 21st Century, so I introduced the furniture to this:

I was inspired by AnNicole over at Our Suburban Cottage.  She tried out a bunch of different oil-rubbed bronze spray paints, but I ultimately chose the Rustoleum Universal, since I was trying to spray paint metal and vinyl.  I used something like 12 cans of the stuff, to cover a sofa, 6 chairs, an ottoman, a dining table, end table and coffee table, and a few more random things that got in the way.

I bought standard-size outdoor cushions from for the sofa and side chairs, and more custom cushions from for the dining chairs.  I was even able to replace some of the sagging and/or missing straps for a few dollars from  I picked up the throw pillows at Target and Christmas Tree Shops. 

Much better, right?  I can't wait to pull it all out of storage and set it up again.  Now I'm on the hunt for an outdoor rug to complete the space.  I'm going to ask for your help in picking one tomorrow.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Skiing, Syrup and Salmon

We went North to Sugarbush in Vermont for the weekend with dreams of skiing in the sun, jackets unzipped or left behind, and soft, corn snow.  It was icy.  And COLD.  Not what we ordered.
It was so un-Springlike that it actually snowed at the end of the day. 
We unexpectedly ran into some friends at the pub at the end of the day and had a good time despite the skiing.  I think it's a rule of aprรจs skiing that no matter how good or bad the conditions were that day, you'll always find someone who will tell you that you should have been there yesterday, or last weekend.  We were told we were a week late for beautiful Spring skiing, and, perhaps, a week early...? 

The snow turned to rain, also squashing any hope of Sunday skiing. There was no repeat of the April 15, 2007 storm that brought us a surprising 4 plus feet.
Instead, we had a leisurely day Sunday, taking back roads part of the way home, stopping at Sandy's Books & Bakery in Rochester for delicious bagels and muffins and coffee.  We also picked up a big jug of maple syrup to get us through a summer of pancakes and other delicious treats.  I'm picking up some salmon today to marinate with maple syrup and soy sauce for dinner with my mom tomorrow night.  Here's a quick recipe we use often:
Maple-Pepper Salmon

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 lb salmon fillet
lots of freshly ground black pepper

Mix the syrup and soy sauce in a large Ziploc, add the salmon and marinate for 24 hours.  Coat the top with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and grill, or bake on a cookie sheet at 450, for 10 minutes. 
We also had the chance to go to American Flatbread in Waitsfield on Friday night, where they not only have amazing pizza ("flatbread"), but a mysteriously wonderful salad.  The salad itself is simple- mixed greens, celery, and shredded carrots.  We were once told the dressing contains a homemade organic raspberry vinegar, orange juice, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, shallots and maple syrup.  I'm going to play around and see if I can come close to replicating it.  I'll report back.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Perennial Herbs

I was having lunch with my friend Jen the other day (shoutout to Jen!) and she said her family goes away for several weeks at a time in the summer, which prevents them from starting a vegetable garden, because no one is around to water it. One of my favorite things about perennial herbs is that you can get the satisfaction of growing something to eat without doing much work.  They don't really care if you water them, and some actually thrive on neglect, and most of us are pretty good at that.  You only have to plant them once and you can enjoy them year after year.  That's much more satisfying than spending four dollars at the grocery store, using a small amount, and then retrieving the rotted remains from your crisper drawer weeks later.  (C'mon-  that happens to everybody.  Right?)

To make room for more vegetables, we moved a few perennial herbs to a bed of flowers and shrubs yesterday, and I was inspired to share my cheat sheet for Jen and others who might be interested in starting a little effort/high reward perennial herb garden.  I've also added a few little notes about what we like to do with them.

They like a sunny spot with good drainage. Don't take more than 1/3 of the plant at a time.  Divide them (just dig it up, split it, and replant in two separate holes) every 3 years.
We snip a few and stir them into scrambled eggs with some cheddar cheese almost every weekend.  You have to snip the fluffy purple flowers to keep the plant growing, and they're edible, too!  I think they're a little too weird in eggs, but you can chop them up for color and flavor in a simple green salad, or you can stir them into some goat cheese with a little lemon juice and zest, some parsley, salt, pepper and olive oil to make a pretty and tasty spread for bread or crackers.  

They like a sunny spot, but some shade is okay, too.  After it comes up in the Spring, cut it back by a third.  Every 2 or 3 years, divide into a few plants.  I don't know if all oregano grows big, but our plant is gigantic- like a small bush.  I didn't expect it to grow so large, and it wound up pushing all of its neighbors out of the way, including the cucumber, which is a pretty pushy neighbor.  We could never possibly use it all, so I'd suggest that you don't grow any, and just ask me for some. 
You can use oregano in just about everything, but we regularly use it in this quick week night dinner from Food and Wine- Eggplant Tomato and Fresh Ricotta Farfalle.

Plant it on a sandy, South facing slope that gets plenty of sun.  Prune a couple inches off the stems in the Spring for established plants.  Every 2-3 years shear it back to 6-8 inches.
I'll admit I've never used it in the kitchen.  I just like to run my hand over it and smell.  I'll do some experimentation this year and report back.  I've seen it used in a rub for chicken with other herbs, like oregano and thyme.  You can mix it in when baking chocolate desserts, too.

Most people complain about overgrowth when they talk about mint, but so far, our apple mint and spearmint are under control.  We were told to plant them near more established perennials with bigger roots (like hydrangea) and they won't go too crazy.  So far, so good.  I may have to eat my words. 
In the meantime, we like to use our mint in cocktails, like Absolut Citron, lemonade and crushed mint.

It likes a sunny spot, but tolerates afternoon shade.  Good drainage is important, and then leave it alone. They say you can split it every two to three years, but you should also replace the plant after four or five, because it will lose it's flavor.  We'll probably skip the splitting and just replace it, as it doesn't seem to split as easily as chives or oregano.
We roast butternut squash, garlic and sage (add a little olive oil, salt and pepper, too) in the oven and then toss it with pasta, pine nuts and parmesan.

I read that you're supposed to cut it back mercilessly in Spring, but mine hasn't grown back very well each time I've done this, with two different plants.  I'm going to plant a third this year and not cut it back next Spring and see what happens.
We use thyme with so many things, but my favorite is this carrot dish that has become a regular favorite when we have big family meals. 

Buy French not Russian, which is flavorless.  It's not a pretty plant, and it thrives on neglect.  Cut it back when it begins to flower, and harvest often to promote growth.  Divide clumps in the Spring to renew the plant.  It should be replaced after 3 to 5 years.
I love to chop it up and put it on roasted chicken with lots of lemon. 

My last note is this: When you go to the garden center to buy your herb plants, taste them first.  There are different varieties and some will taste better to you than others.
Do you have any great recipes to share using fresh herbs?