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Friday, July 15, 2011

Blackberry Peach Crostata

Loosely based on this Barefoot Contessa recipe and featuring blackberries I found growing behind our garden shed!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

DIY Skim Coat: The Magic Trowel

*Steven rolling on the joint compound in the master bedroom*

As I mentioned previously, Steven did the skim coating of the master bedroom and nursery walls himself. Just like in the downstairs rooms that we renovated last year, these 2 rooms had rough, unfinished horse hair plaster under the wallpaper...but unlike the downstairs, we decided to save money and try to DIY. If it came out less than perfect, so be it.

We did, however, have our plasterer redo the ceilings in the 2 bedrooms--new blue board & plaster--as they were probably going to collapse on our heads within the next couple of years. Signed, Chicken Little

So anyways, Steven did his usual exhaustive research and came across a specialty tool called The Magic Trowel. Despite its rather infomercial-y vibe, the reviews were promising, so we decided to give it a try.

And it works! You basically use a paint roller to apply thinned out joint compound to the wall, then come along with the Magic Trowel and smooth it out. Of course there are some tricks here and there...getting the joint compound to the right consistency and keeping the applied compound & trowel nice and moist, for example...but all in all it's a great tool and Steven did a great job!
*See how smooth the just-troweled section to the right is?*

The 18" trowel costs about 25 bucks, and a 5 gallon bucket of all purpose joint compound is only about $14 at the home improvement stores, so we saved a serious chunk of change (hundreds) by going this route. Not too shabby!
*Freshly skimmed and primed*

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

*My grandmother's flag cake*

I hope everyone is enjoying the long holiday weekend! Hopefully it's filled with good things like BBQs, fireworks, sunshine, swimming, and good company. Here are some other good things on my radar lately...

...a cute accessory for the bathroom
(Steven's commentary when he vetoed it: "What, do we own a McD's in London or something?")

...stumped on what to read next? get suggestions HERE.

...i would love to have a great outdoor living area directly behind the house one day.

...Maine, i miss you.

...no bake cookies are so simple that it's easy to overlook them. until you get a wild & desperate hankering for them as i did last weekend.

Happy 4th!

Friday, July 1, 2011

S'mores Cupcakes

One of many nice things about being on pre-maternity leave is having the opportunity to play housewife and surprise Steven with something special from the kitchen when he gets home. Sometimes the surprise is simply having dinner ready when he walks in the door, and sometimes it's a little more exciting, like these s'mores cupcakes.

It's fair to say that Steven is rather enthusiastic about s'mores--he's been known to recite s'mores related quotes from The Sandlot, and when fireside, is personally offended by any deviation from traditional s'mores making protocol. Since I suspect that our next camping trip will be a long way off, I thought these cupcakes would be a fantastic "Honey, I'm hoooome!" treat.

And I was right. They are sinfully good!
Basically a graham cracker cupcake filled with a dollop of marshmallow fluff and topped with chocolate ganache, then topped off with piped fluff and toasted under the broiler, these cupcakes are a gooey mess of deliciousness. And unlike many s'mores inspired foods (I'm looking at you, PopTarts.) they absolutely capture the essence of that simple fireside wonder.

Absolutely delicious with a cold glass of milk!Recipe HERE. Another s'mores cupcake recipe I want to try HERE.
(Hey, if there's one thing I'm learning from reading Julia Child's memoir, it's that one must be thorough in the kitchen! ;)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nursery Preview!

*special touch: our closet door turned blackboard*

Just wanted to take a minute to share some pics of the nursery, for which major renovations are complete, and the "feathering" phase has started. As usual, I'm gonna hit you with some before pics first...

This is what the room looked like in the beginning. Steven immediately attacked that purple carpet and got it into the dumpster...
Here it is after we wiped it down and made it our temporary bedroom while we worked on other parts of the house...

And here it is now...
We started with the now familiar first step of stripping the wallpaper, and then Steven skim coated the raw plaster walls (future post about how he did it currently in the pipeline). We had the ceilings redone & the fir floors refinished. Steven added crown moulding, and of course we painted, painted, painted. We chose a light & happy green from Valspar's National Trust Historic colors collection called Belle Grove Aloe Green. A new simple light fixture and closets redone (another future post), and here we are.
The crib is all set up and looking cute, and the newly refinished rocking chair has taken up residence, as well. We are currently working on refinishing an old dresser to serve as both extra storage and a changing table and then we'll hang some of the wall decorations (yes, we actually have some!) and continue adding bits and pieces to the room.

I'll be sure to post more pictures when we get the dresser and accessories in!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Eggplant Parm Cannoli

Last week's dreary, rainy, cold weather temporarily relieved my need for light summer food. I felt like something a little heavier and a lot cozier was in order...

This recipe was inspired by a meal I had years ago in Boston's North End. As I recall, the menu simply listed this dish as eggplant parm, but when it came out I was treated to this upgrade--hollowed out fried eggplant filled with a yummy garlic herb ricotta filling. It was delicious and obviously made an impact, since years later I found myself compelled to imitate it.

I started with small eggplants (my grocery store had them labeled as "Italian eggplant", and their shape was much more conducive to hollowing out into nice little tubes than the typical giant ones.) I hollowed them out, breaded them...you know the drill--flour, egg, breadcrumbs...and then fried them.
While they cooled down a bit, I mixed together some ricotta, fresh crushed garlic, salt, pepper, and fresh chopped basil.I improvised and used a sandwich bag with a corner cut off to pipe the filling into the golden brown fried eggplant "tubes". This is when it occurred to me that they were like savory eggplant cannoli. :)I warmed those in the oven for about 4-5 minutes, then served them over spaghetti with marinara* and some grated parmesan.
*No, I did not make my own marinara. Next time. (bluff)
But as far as store bought goes, we really like Newman's Own Organic Marinara.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rocking Chair Redo

I'm so excited to share this project!

Since finding out that we are expecting a little one, Steven & I had kept an eye out for a good used rocking chair for the nursery. No luck. Then a *lightbulb* moment! We had an old Victorian platform rocking chair up in the attic that had been in the house when we moved in and we figured...why don't we just see if we can rejuvenate this piece and use it in the nursery?

And here are the results:
I have to say that I am in love with this rocking chair and I can't believe how CUTE it looks! Steven, as always, did an awesome job...
He started by disassembling and sanding it, then primed and painted it white.

He then recovered the cushions with this adorable dragonfly & ladybug material that I found at the fabric store, and put it all back together.

Just for kicks, here's another Before:

And the final product:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Veggie Garden-June Update

Well, almost everything is in. I still want to get some eggplant, onions, and some more herbs, but as of right now we have planted:

Pickling Cucumber
Burpless Cucumber
Butternut Squash
New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin
Baby Blue Hubbard Squash
Sugar Snap Peas
Red Bell Pepper
Green Bell Pepper
Yellow Banana Pepper
and 7 varieties of tomato

Steven wondered if it's a little overkill on the tomatoes, but since all but one of the varieties were started at home from heirloom seeds, I wasn't quite sure how many would germinate or how well they'll produce.

While there's plenty more work to be done, it's nice to see the improvements since we moved in almost TWO YEARS AGO. (Where has the time gone???)

Changes/additions since last year include rototilling the remaining jungle-esque portion of the bed, removing an errant Norway maple tree, and adding a compost tumbler. We also split the bed up into 4'x4' mini beds (a la Square Foot Gardening) with a straw lined center aisle, and will be adding some trellising along the northern perimeter to try and grow the cucurbits vertically. We added a significant amount of organic matter by tilling in last year's mulched leaves and compost purchased in bulk, but I still think the soil is a little..bleh...so we plan to do this yearly.

I'm happy to report that there are already quite a few veggie plants blooming and/or sporting little baby veggies, so I'm hoping this year brings a bountiful harvest. (All I'm asking for is improvement over last year...and some fun, funky tomatoes!)

Monday, June 20, 2011

New Catch All Tray

Until recently, it was not at all uncommon for Steven & I to spend (waste) some time hunting for keys, glasses, phones, etc. before managing to get out the door. Well, now we have a solution.

I've been seeing other bloggers' posts about having "catch all" containers (HERE, HERE, and HERE, for example) so when I saw this silver plated tray at a yard sale recently I immediately considered it for the job. As soon as I picked it up for a closer look, the seller declared "I'll take $2 for that..." and that was all I needed to hear.

A little silver polish, and voila!

My little $2 steal cleans up nice, don't you think? Style, function, and a bargain all rolled into one...sweet.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dining Room featured on Favorite Paint Colors!

I'm rather flattered to report that pictures of our dining room were featured on Favorite Paint Colors, a blog about, you guessed it, paint colors! It's a great resource for real life inspiration pics and as Steven & I are regular readers, we're quite excited to see our Sharkey Gray by Martha Stewart walls included among all the other beautifully painted rooms.

Many thanks to Kristin for posting our dining room!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shrimp, Lemon, & Pea Risotto and a Request

Lately I've been thinking that I really need to develop a better repertoire of light fresh summer meals. Recipes more exciting and substantial than say, salads...that still capitalize on the availability of good produce and require only minimal stove time.

Right now our summer dinner staples include:

1) Healthy Tacos-healthy(er) modifications include using ground chicken or turkey, mixing our own taco seasoning (ever read the ingredients list on the packets?), baby spinach instead of iceberg, and adding avocado. Steven has even given up his beloved "liquid nacho cheese product" as part of this healthier makeover.

2) Greek Wraps (a la this post)-mostly veggies with feta and spiced meat, pushed squarely into the light & fresh category by the presence of freshly made tzatziki.

3) Pesto/Caprese Pasta-whole wheat thin spaghetti with fresh homemade pesto, grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella bites, and a variety of other fresh veg...usually sweet peppers, summer squash, and baby spinach.

And, uhhhh, that's pretty much it. Need...more...recipes!!!

Trying to branch out, I whipped up a light lemony risotto the other night. (It's a rip off of one of the best dishes on the menu at CAV.) I just cooked the risotto and added shrimp, julienned peas, lemon zest, grated parmesan, and a healthy dose of black pepper.
Definitely light and fresh (the lemon takes a bow) and easy enough to make on a hot day. Woo hoo, a fourth recipe!

So here is the request part of the post: please share your favorite summer recipes! I need inspiration! Anything fresh & light, while substantial enough to sustain a hardworking DIYer like Steven, not to mention his somewhat less hardworking assistant, moi. Keep us from eating pesto pasta every night, because there is definitely such a phenomenon as too much of a good thing!
Thanks! ~LT

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Reading

1) Some chick lit (i.e.-junk food for the brain)
2) Years of working in science and I know that HeLa cells are a staple of laboratory research, but I never even considered their provenance. This New York Times bestseller tells the story of the woman, Henrietta Lacks, from whom they were collected.
3) I've heard a lot of people say that they love Emily Giffin's books, but don't think I've ever read one. This title was the only book of hers available at my library...a testament to their popularity?
4) Of obvious appeal.
5) Yes, I'm going to try and be crafty. Roman shades, curtains, and redoing an old rocking chair are the top projects on the list.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Spring Flowers

I am excited to report that spring made a much more dramatic showing in our yard this year compared to last. I'm not sure why, but there were more blooms on nearly every plant and shrub in the yard...and in some cases, we saw flowers on plants that were complete duds last year.

Was it some factor about the weather, the heavy snow blanket for much of the winter, or perhaps our somewhat distracted but nonetheless earnest efforts to weed and compost last year?

Either way, we had tulips spring up that we definitely did not see last year, more prolific oriental poppy blooms, and new lupines appear. Even the crabapple tree, which we had concluded was dead when we first moved in, burst forth with a full canopy of pink flowers.

Here are some other highlights:

*The bearded irises split from my mother's garden and planted near our side door last summer apparently like their new home. The purple ones smell like concord grapes!*
*These deep red roses next to the garage have a ton more buds this year, and thus far have been spared any aphid attack*
*We have more white peonies than either of the pink varieties, and they make such a stunning impact when cut and arranged in a vase.*
(Like that vase? I picked it up for less than $10 at a glass factory in the Czech Republic nearly 10 years ago, and it is one of my favorite possessions. I finally dug it out of the attic this spring and put it center stage where it belongs.)

*The foxglove, which is not typically a favorite of mine, won me over this year*
*Our deep pink peonies hardly did anything last year...just a few small, late blooms. This year was a different story. There must be at least four times the flowers, and they're much bigger. LOVE. Incidentally, I just realized that we only have one light pink peony bush (probably a Sarah Bernhardt?) in the yard. I think we could use a couple more.*
(Another vase related note: I just scored this milk glass cutie at a yard sale for 50 cents! :)

*Last year, I found a tiny fledgling lupine that had sprouted next to our driveway and transplanted it with some compost & TLC. It's about a billion times bigger this year, and much to my surprise, it's PINK!*
*The catmint Steven planted in front of the house last summer is crazy happy. As are the cats if we bring them in a little sprig.*
*And here's one of my faves: an old rose bush with gorgeously full flowers and an amazing scent. Steven pruned the bajeezus out of it last year and it's really paid off. Tons of buds!*
Very happy with the yard this year!