Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Beacon Hill Table

Sometimes you just don't know where a project is going to take you.  We picked this table up off the street in Beacon Hill four years ago, and it's been taking up room in the basement since. 
If you're not familiar with Beacon Hill, it's a charming, historic section of Boston with brick sidewalks and narrow streets and many wealthy residents and lots of tourists.  I imagine that a small dog sat perched atop this table in front of a window every day for decades, awaiting its owner's return home.  That's the only way I can explain the damage to the table's surface.
I had no idea what I was going to do with this table.  The truth is, I wasn't even sure I wanted it.  But then when the living room was starting to feel too crowded, I thought I would try painting it to replace the larger table in the corner.
So, I took the orbital sander to the top to smooth it out for painting.  I used an 80-grit disc, following the direction of the wood, keeping the sander moving.  It took about 20 minutes.

And when all the finish was removed from the top, I had revealed this.

Oh, no!  It's kind of beautiful.  How can I paint over that? 

So, I had to revise my plan.  I would stain the top, and paint the legs.  It was a compromise, because removing the finish from the legs would have required days of stripping and sanding, and I wasn't at all interested in restoring the entire piece.  Did I mention that I wasn't even sure I wanted this table? 

I used a walnut gel stain for the top, applying it liberally with a rag, and then wiping off the excess with another clean rag after 3 minutes or so.  Here's a photo half way through.  I wound up doing two coats.

And for the base I used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Country Grey.  I'd be the 800th blogger to say how great the paint is (you don't have to sand or prime, you can leave the lid off and the paint just gets better, and you can make a beautiful wash by diluting the paint, too), so I'll just say that, like the wax, it has a little more texture, a little more something special I can't quite put my finger on.  Quality, I guess.  In the end, it's just nice paint. 

It was difficult to get into all of the little grooves in the legs with a brush,
so I left some areas uncovered.  I tried applying dark wax to the crevices to age the look of the last table I painted, and I figured I'd just be saving myself a step, and a whole lot of wax.  I did apply clear wax to the base once it was painted, and three coats of matte polyurethane to the table top.

See how smooth the clear wax makes the finish look? 
And, you might have noticed that, at least for now, the table is not in the corner, but right next to the door.  I felt like it deserved a place a little more front and center. 
So for now, the living room is one table more crowded than it was before.  It's all part of the process, I guess.  More changes to come!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sunday Soups: Lentil Vegetable

I hope everyone had a great weekend.  I went for a couple of nice walks each day, but our weather has been alternating between rain and humidity, giving me reason to keep busy with some indoor projects, one of which I'll share with you tomorrow.  I was so preoccupied with projects that I forgot to start the soup on time. This is a very simple soup to make, but you need to start it early- not, say, at 5:45 if you're expecting to have it for dinner.  I was planning to serve it with sausage on top and a fresh baguette I picked up at the bakery, but we wound up having grilled sausage, garden tomato salad and some of the baguette for dinner.  It was fantastic; I can't really complain.  We'll eat this soup for lunch all week.

I've stolen ideas from a few different recipes to put this together.  I'm basically following the Moosewood  Cookbook recipe, with a nod to the Barefoot Contessa, who adds leeks, and my friend Lisa, who adds sausage.  The sausage makes the soup heartier for dinner, but without it, you have a healthy, vegetarian lunch. 
These are the first leeks I've pulled from our garden, after they've been trimmed up nicely.  They didn't grow to be too big, but they still taste like leeks.

Lentil Vegetable Soup
adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook

Simmer for 3-4 hours:
1 16 ounce bag raw lentils
7 cups water
2 teaspoons salt

Sauté in olive oil in a separate pan for about 20 minutes as you're approaching the 3-4 hour mark:
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped leeks (white part only)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

Once the vegetables soften, add them to the lentils and continue to simmer for half an hour over low heat, while you add the final ingredients:
lots of black pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
2 Tablespoons dry red wine (which means you have to open a bottle and have a glass or two)
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons brown sugar (or molasses)
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

Top with fresh chopped scallions and a sprinkle of red wine vinegar.  And sausage, if you are so inclined.  We often have it with sweet Italian, but chicken apple also adds a special twist.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Next Year's Tomatoes

My friend Sharon's grandfather created his own heirloom tomato, and her family has been saving the seeds for many years to keep them going.  I was lucky enough to receive a beautiful tomato and told how to save the seeds for next year.
Sharon's method was simple.  She said to scoop out the seeds and put them on a paper towel to let them dry for a few days. Then seal them in an air-tight container and store in a cool, dry place until you're ready to plant.  Dave's Garden outlines a similar process.

I had to complicate matters by Googling "saving tomato seeds" and reading all about fermenting the tomato seeds first, which isn't necessary, but helps to sort out the bad seeds, and is "good etiquette" if you're planning to trade seeds.  I like the idea of simple, but the fermentation process intrigued me, and didn't seem like much more work. 

1) I took my very ripe tomato and scooped out the seeds and put them in a jar with 1/4 cup of water.
2. After 3-5 days in a sealed jar, a film and some mold grew on top.
I skimmed the mold/film off the top, and then added some water and stirred.  The good seeds will supposedly sink to the bottom. I carefully poured out the water and bits of pulp, using the spoon to hold back the bunch of seeds.

3. I put the seeds on a paper plate to absorb some of the liquid and help them dry faster. 

4. I put them in an air-tight container (a Ziploc) and stored in a cool dry place (the basement). 

I'm going to do this with one of our Brandywine tomatoes now that they're finally looking healthy and ripe,
and our Black Cherry tomatoes,
because we picked up the plant in Vermont and I didn't see that variety at any of our local gardening centers.  I know they look green here, but even at their ripest, there's still a little green on top.  They are delicious, and look so pretty in a salad with the Sun Gold and Sweet Cherry tomatoes.

Assuming that at least some of these seeds grow to be plants, we can invest in a few new varieties next year.  Do you have a favorite tomato that you've grown?  What else should we try?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Soups: Fresh Corn Chowder

I love making soup on Sunday and having leftovers for lunch or dinner during the week.  It never happens in the Summer, but now that it's nearly Fall, I've decided to start this series to help me make a habit of it.  There are healthy soups and hearty soups, and I thought I would start with one that is light and perfect for this time of year, when the corn at our local farm stand is still at its best.

This is not your typical corn chowder, because it's not creamy in the traditional sense.  After cooking all of the vegetables, you puree some of them and stir them back in to thicken the soup.  There is the addition of some milk at the end, but the soup is really all about the fresh corn.

Fresh Corn Chowder
from Mollie Katzen, adapted from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest

1 medium potato, peeled and diced small (about 2 cups diced)
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups minced onion
1/2 teaspoon thyme (I use fresh, but the recipe calls for dried)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or to taste)
1 medium stalk celery, finely minced
1 small red bell pepper, finely minced
5 cups (approximately 4 to 5 cobs' worth) fresh sweet corn
White pepper to taste (I give it 3 shakes, which may be more pepper than many like)
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil (or more, to taste)
1 cup milk, at room temperature (lowfat OK; I do use skim because that's what we have in the house)

TIP: This may seem obvious, but someone had to tell me, so I'm going to pass along the knowledge in case it helps.  When you're cutting corn off the cob, it tends to fly everywhere if you start from the top.  Start half way down,
work your way around, then flip the cob over and do the same.  It's less messy. Why didn't I think of that?

1. Bring the potatoes and water to a boil in a saucepan, lower to a simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are tender. Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a pot, then add the onion, thyme, and salt, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring. After about 5 minutes, add the celery. Five minutes later add the cooked potatoes with all their liquid, the red bell pepper, the corn, and a few shakes of white pepper. Stir well, cover, and reduce heat, cooking quietly for about 5 minutes longer.

This is what the soup looks like before you puree some of the vegetables.

3. Using a blender or food processor, purée about half the solids (about 2 to 3 cups--it doesn't have to be exact!) in some of the soup's own liquid. Add the purée back into the pot.

This is what it looks like once some of the vegetables have been puréed.

4. Stir in the basil and milk about 10 minutes before serving time. Don't actually cook the soup any further; simply heat it until it's hot enough to eat. Serve immediately.

Do you cook more on Sundays so you'll have leftovers?  Do you have any great soup recipes?  Please send them my way!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wax On, Wax Off

I found this table by keeping tabs on the free section of Craigslist.  Sometimes I time it just right and something good is right around the corner.  The table was a little beat up on top, but I am a big fan of free, so I put it in the car.

I decided to paint it and put it on the screened-in porch as part of my master plan to slowly move the outdoor furniture outdoors and fill the porch with real furniture. It took just a few minutes with the orbital sander to smooth out the top,
and then I gave it a coat of Benjamin Moore Beach Glass, which is a very pale blue, and a color we had leftover from painting the sideboard on the porch.  And then I roughed up the edges a little bit to make it seem a little worn.

But I didn't want to stop there.  I went to Brimfield last week and picked up some Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and waxes (in addition to another sad little table that will need to wait in line for its makeover).  The paint is being used in my very next project, but I thought this would be an opportunity to experiment with waxes.  (Does that sound kinky?  It's not.)  As far as I've been able to gather, one might use waxes in the same way one would use polyurethane- to protect the finish.  Annie Sloan has a clear wax and a dark wax, and it seems there are infinite options for how you might use them to finish a piece of furniture.  There's also a bit of an art to how it is applied, and I tend to prefer very clear direction.  I was intimidated, particularly because the stuff is so damn expensive and I didn't want to waste it.  Then I found this video on YouTube with someone demonstrating how she'd been taught to use the wax in a class and that at least gave me the confidence to move forward. 

So, you use a brush or cloth to apply a coat of clear wax.  It's a matte finish, but it has more texture than a matte polyurethane.  I like it.  If you are applying dark wax to the piece, you then use a stiff brush to wipe it on, really mashing it into the crevices and the grooves in the wood or the paint.  It's best to do just a small area at a time, because next you use clear wax on a cloth to wipe off the dark wax before it dries, as much as you want until you have the desired effect.  It acts as sort of an eraser.  The more clear wax you use, the more easily the dark wax comes off.  I just wanted the tiniest bit of dark wax left on the table, hoping it would add some definition to the edges I roughed up.  I didn't want the paint to look dirty.  So I put on a lot of clear wax to wipe off a lot of dark wax.  I'm not sure you can see much of a difference from before, but here's what it looks like.

Maybe I was scared and it shows, maybe it wasn't the right piece to use dark wax on, maybe it looks just fine.  It is probably just the right amount of perfect for the porch, and it's defnitely growing on me.  Either way, I promise I'm done with this little corner of the house and will stop sharing pictures of it.

Do you have any projects planned for the weekend?  Have a good one!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Behold the Brandywine

We finally have a tomato we can eat. 
We have been enjoying cherry tomatoes for a couple of months now, but this is our first real tomato.  Tonight there will be tomato salad.  My great aunt used to make "August 1st Tomato Salad" with garden tomatoes, garlic, onion, olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, and other fresh herbs.  I will make "September 15th Tomato Salad."

We threw away the first several before they ripened because they looked diseased.

I started feeding them fish emulsion, every other week, in early August, I think.  After that, someone said they looked like they needed calcium, so I dissolved some epsom salts in water and sprinkled those around the base of the tomato plant.  I don't know if one or both of these is the reason for success, but I will definitely be testing the soil next year, and feeding the tomatoes.

I also have high hopes for these guys, waiting in the wings.
Have a beautiful day!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


We finally did it.  The interior of the porch has been stained.  We started thinking about this last summer, and put our project plans into place, in earnest, this summer.  We began prepping around, oh, Memorial Day.  And we completed the project Labor Day weekend.  It's not that it took us the whole summer to do the project, of course.  It's that we started, and never finished, which seems to happen a lot around here.

The thing with outdoor staining, if you haven't attempted it, is that you're supposed to do it during a spell of dry weather that's not too hot and not too cool.  No rain, no humidity- which describes zero days this summer.  I don't think I've seen so many torrential showers in my whole life as I've seen in the last three months, and the vegetable garden will attest to that. 

So, here's what we started with.

And here's what it looked like midway through the process.

And here's the finished floor.

Dramatic, isn't it?  I know it's not much to look at, but it does look cleaner, well cared for. I'd even say, beautiful.  The stain is Benjamin Moore Arborcoat in Briarwood.  

There are a few tips I have to pass along now that I'm an expert. 

1) Stain comes in solid, semi-solid, and semi-transparent.  Solid is like paint.  Semi-solid is still an awful lot like paint.  (That lesson cost us $50.)  The more solid the stain, the better it protects the wood, but if you're looking for something that looks like stain and not paint, you want semi-transparent.  Arborcoat now makes sample sizes, and I highly recommend testing out the color before you buy a gallon.  (Anyone interested in a semi-solid Sea Gull Grey?)

2)  As I mentioned earlier, you're looking for a period of a few days that's going to be dry, usually at the beginning or end of the summer, if you live in a place where there are 4 seasons.  Good luck.

3)  You must prep the surface before you stain, and give it plenty of time to dry.  We used the orbital sander on a few rough spots, but mostly prep involved cleaning.  We found that the best way to clean the wood that was showing a bit of mold/mildew in parts was to use a good scrub brush, and a solution of 4 parts warm water to 1 part Oxi-Clean.  We messed around with natural, green cleaners, but cared less about the environment after plenty of useless scrubbing.  Bleach is good. 

4) Enjoy the time between the cleaning process and the staining process, however long it takes, because neither will be fun.  We did have a whole summer's worth of fun, despite this project hanging over our heads.

After all the cleaning and staining was said and done, we admired our work, and then covered the floor with a new rug.


I ordered this custom outdoor rug from a local carpet store in June, and finally picked it up and rolled it out.  I spent a lot of time looking for a rug to fit the space, but for the larger rugs, I found custom to be less expensive.  Plus, I could order it to be exactly the size I wanted.  It makes our porch feel a little more like an outdoor room. 

Next, we're in the market for a light fixture.  For now, when the sun goes down we rely on the little lamp in the corner, and the TV, to light the room. 

We also wanted to repair and stain the outdoor deck, which is an eyesore.  There's still another month or two.  We'll see.  Meanwhile, we hope to enjoy a couple of more months on the porch, with many unseasonably warm days and watching the Red Sox win their way to the playoffs. Porches are for dreaming, right?