Thursday, May 31, 2012

Classic Strawberry Shortcake

Oh, do I have a sweet tooth.  Though a slightly discerning one.  Slightly.  I've never been one for straight-up sugar - jelly beans, candy corns, and such, though I rarely meet a dark chocolate I don't love.  I like most anything that has cream - creme brulee, custards, and so on.  But perhaps my most favorite dessert genre is fruit desserts - crisps, cobblers, pies, tarts, you name it.  And when the weather starts to turn warm, I find myself making strawberry shortcake again and again.  How perfect...fruit and cream!

I'm all for a good pound cake, but for me, this isn't the place for it.  I like strawberry shortcake with a biscuity base, crumbly and buttery and only a little bit sweet.  Top it with some lightly sugared strawberries and vanilla whipped cream and I am pretty much in dessert heaven.

I'm not sure exactly where this biscuit recipe came from.  It has been passed from my great-grandmom to my grandmom to my mom to me.  I know my great-grandmom was a great baker but I don't know if she made this up or it came from a 1920's cookbook or where it actually originated.  But it's the only biscuit recipe I ever make.  If you are sure not to overstir the dough, you will get melt-in-your-mouth biscuits every time.  If you're looking for a biscuit to accompany something savory, cut the sugar in the below recipe in half and they are perfect with eggs or chicken or, heck, straight out of the baking dish and into your mouth.  Believe me, I've done it.

Strawberry Shortcake

2 c. flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
milk (see below for amount)
1 lb. strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 tbsp. sugar, divided
1 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and 1/4 c. sugar in medium bowl to blend.  Cut butter into mixture using a pastry cutter.  You want some fairly large chunks of butter left in here.

Crack the egg into a measuring cup and add enough milk on top of the egg to measure 3/4 c.  Whisk to combine, then pour over flour mixture.  Fold gently together with a rubber spatula.  You want the flour to be sticking together but the whole mixture should look quite lumpy.  The lumps are what give you lovely, tender buscuits.

Spoon into a 9" square glass baking dish and bake for about 12 minutes, until the top and edges are golden.  (This is kind of the easy way out.  You can also shape into balls or use a cutter to make shapes, but I love the ease and rusticity of using a baking dish and then having a chunk of biscuit under my strawberries).

While the biscuits are baking, stir together the strawberries and 1 tbsp. sugar and let sit.

Whip the cream, vanilla, and 2 tbsp sugar until you have soft peaks.

When the biscuits have cooled a bit (or, honestly, a few hours later they are still just as good), top a wedge with a big spoonful of strawberries and a hearty dollop of whipped cream.  I've said it before...classics are classics for a reason.  They are just so good.

I'm clearly not the only one in the family who has a thing for whipped cream.

Click here for printable recipe.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blue Cheese Burgers with Dried Cherry Mayo

Once Memorial Day has arrived and summer has unofficially started, I really start to crave grill foods.  It's just so easy to toss something on there and shortly thereafter have dinner.  And, seriously, doesn't everything taste better on the grill?

I can't really take credit for most of this recipe...the burgers are basically Ina Garten's recipe for blue cheese burgers and the mayo was inspired by an idea I saw at Whole Foods.  But then, I'm not a chef, most of my recipes come at least partially from some other source.  Regardless of the origin, if you're looking for an essentially old-fashioned burger with a little more flavor complexity, this is it.

Blue Cheese Burgers with Dried Cherry Mayo

Makes 6 burgers

1.5 lbs. ground beef
1.5 tbsp. steak sauce
3 eggs
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
6 sesame burger buns
blue cheese
1/4 c. mayonnaise
2 tbsp. dijon or whole grain mustard
1/2 c. tart dried cherries, chopped

Preheat grill.

Using a fork mix ground beef, steak sauce, eggs, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend.  Do not overmix, just stir until combined.  Form into six patties.  Place patties on hot grill and grill about 4 minutes on the first side and 3 minutes on the second side.  Remove to plate and tent with foil.

Meanwhile, stir mayo, mustard, and dried cherries in a small bowl.

Slice blue cheese and tomato.  I like a milder blue cheese and used Castello here.

On sesame buns, layer burgers, lettuce, tomato, and blue cheese on one side and spread some of the cherry mayo on the other side.  We had olive oil and salt roasted potatoes and early-season corn with our burgers.

Bite into that juicy burger and feel summer a-comin!

For printable recipe, click here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wooden Console Table Refinish

I bought this console table seven years ago when my husband and I moved into our first Boston apartment.  There was a very narrow hallway inside the front door and we needed somewhere to toss our keys and such when we came home.  I came across this table at Target and it was perfect...under $100, slim profile, and I loved the flared legs.  This is what it originally looked like:

It came with us when we moved to our house in the suburbs and since then has lived in our entryway, behind the couch, and finally in its current location in the kitchen.

The decision to paint it was the end result of a sanding mishap, but what a happy accident because I like it so much more now.  Months ago, I had been planning to stain it a lighter wood shade but when I started sanding the top with my electric sander I very quickly realized there was a problem.  Turns out the top was not solid wood but the thinnest of wood veneers on top of particle board.  In those few seconds I had obliterated the veneer on one side of the table.  This left me two options - replace the veneer or paint the table instead of staining it.  I priced out wood veneer and it was almost as much as the whole table had cost.  I wasn't into the idea of painting it at the time so I placed another table behind the couch, stuck the console table in the back of the garage and forgot about it for a few months.

When I started thinking about putting a table under the back window in our kitchen, I thought, "Aha!  Perfect!  I will pull out that table in the garage and paint it."  This was before I started writing this blog and so I have no pictures of the unfortunate beard of mold I discovered on much of the table.  Ick.  But some rubber gloves and a bleach and water scrub later, I was back in business.

I primered the table then painted it with two coats of a pale grey semi-gloss latex paint.  I swapped out the three original brushed nickel knobs for glass ones I got on sale at Anthropologie.

And with that this little table went from a leftover piece of furniture I had come to feel just lukewarm about to one I really, really like.  I have a feeling this table has finally found a home where it will be staying for awhile.

Click here to see an update to the table!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Home has come to mean many things to me.  It's where I grew up (near Philadelphia).  It's where I live now (near Boston).  It's my husband, Scott, and our two daughters, Ada and Ellie.  It's my parents and the house I grew up in.  It's the house where I live now.  It's part the actual place I live but more the people I love most and all the things I do that circle around and weave within our lives.

Since buying our house a few years ago, Scott and I have become enthusiastic do-it-yourself-ers. We know when to seek help from a professional but like learning to do things ourselves. I love a home project! I am a serial re-decorator and am constantly moving furniture and accessories around the house. I also like cooking, eating, and feeding my family good, fresh food. Someday, I hope to be able to say, without hesitation, there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. But I'm not there yet...  

I love finding old furniture pieces and stripping them down, taking them apart, refinishing, and reupholstering them.  I also love building furniture from scratch, and will strive to give you step-by-step instructions on how to do it yourself.

I hope this blog will be both a chronicle and a reflection of my home, of the people I love dearly and the things I like to do both with them and in my bits of free time.  And if you are inspired to cook or build or decorate or sew something new...well even better.

I love hearing from my readers and always reply to e-mails.  You can reach me at

Monday, May 7, 2012

DIY Upholstered Bench | West Elm Essex Bench Knockoff

I love to build things and I love a project so, naturally, combining the two is a super lovefest.  My great-grandfather was an upholsterer and sometimes I think this fondness for building things with my hands must be in my blood.  He made some absolutely gorgeous pieces - the tufted back, green damask couch he made for my parents as a wedding gift in 1973, and which still sits proudly in their living room, is the most gorgeous piece of furniture I have ever laid eyes on.  At this point I can only dream of being able to make something so exquisite.  But here goes my first shot at an "upholstered" piece of furniture.

I've wanted a little upholstered bench in our kitchen for awhile now.  Somewhere for friends to perch with their glasses of wine while we're in the kitchen together.  A couple months ago I saw the Essex Bench from West Elm and it was just right...except I didn't want to pony up the $400 (there are delivery and delivery surcharge fees) to get it.

 Essex Upholstered Bench, Ikat Gray/Flax

Plus, I wanted to try my hand at this kind of thing anyway.  They offer it in this abstract ikat fabric I loved...which, lucky for me,  I could buy by the yard (and big bonus, I could cash in credit card points for a $50 West Elm gift card).  So I set out to replicate the bench for myself, at a fraction of the cost, and I am pretty darn thrilled with the results.  The only significant change I made was adding some silver nailhead trim around the bottom of the bench.  Now I just need to figure out how to keep sticky toddler fingers far, far away from my masterpiece...

If you're inspired to give it a shot yourself, read on for step-by-step instructions and photos.  This will give you a finished bench that measures approximately 48"W, 18"H, and 19"D.  It may look like a lot of work, and while not quite a leisurely afternoon project, I promise you the whole thing took me no more than 5-6 hours total.

***For an updated building plan with step-by-step diagrams, click here!***
DIY Upholstered Bench with Nailhead Trim
You will need:
6 pieces of 3/4" plywood (Lowes or Home Depot should be able to cut these pieces for you)
  • 2 - 19" x 48"
  • 2 - 9.25" x 48"
  • 2 - 9.25 x 17.5"
Wood screws
3"-thick piece of foam, cut to 19" x 48"
cotton batting, 48" x 84"
staple gun and staples
54" wide fabric for cover - 3 yards
muslin, felt, foam, or other utility fabric for the bottom of the bench, 16" x 45"
straight pins
thread to match fabric
wooden bun feet, 4" high (doesn't have to be exact, just something close to this)
metal mounting plates
wood stain
150 upholstery nails

Screw plywood pieces together to make a rectangular box.  Drilling pilot holes with a drill will make this much easier.

Lay the batting on the floor and center the foam on it.  Place the plywood box on top of the foam.

Pull the batting tight around the box and using a staple gun, staple the batting to the box.  As you get to the corners, trim the batting to leave approximately 2" of overhang.  You will cut a rough square of batting off each corner.

Wrap the batting at the corners as you would a present, tucking and folding to make corners as neat and flat as possible.  Then staple the up the side edge of the box.

When all stapling is finished, you should have something like this:

Turn the box over so the finished side is facing up.  Drape your chosen fabric over the box inside out.  If your fabric is patterned, you'll want to pay attention to centering it over the top.  Leave several inches of extra fabric on each side, so you will have some fabric to pull and staple underneath.  trim any excess.  Smoothing and pulling the fabric taut, pin the fabric at each corner to make a snug slipcover.  The pinning should angle in slightly at the top of each corner in order for the cover to fit properly when finished.

Carefully pull the cover off the box and, using a sewing machine, sew along the pin lines.  Remove pins and flip cover right side out.  Pull the cover over the box with the right side facing out this time.  You should have a snug-fitting cover with extra fabric at the bottom.  Make sure the corner seams are aligned well with each corner of the box.  Flip the box over so the bottom is facing up.  Pulling the fabric very taut, fold the corners as you would a present and staple along edges and corners to secure fabric to the box.

Center the muslin, felt, or foam on the underside of the box to cover the bare wood and fabric edges, and staple to the box.

Stain the wooden bun feet with wood stain.  Dry as directed and topcoat with polyurethane, again allowing to dry as directed.

Attach the metal mounting plates to each corner of the bottom, 2" in from each side.

Working your way around the box, mark dots at 1" intervals, about 1.5" up from the bottom.

Hammer the upholstery nails in on top of each marked dot.  Screw in the dry legs (make sure they are fully dry), flip over, and, baby, you've got yourself a bench!

For instructions on how to make the Greek key accent pillows pictured, click here!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Home Story

My husband, Scott, and I bought our house in the Boston suburbs almost five years ago now, in June 2007.  We were still sort-of-newlyweds, married eight months at that point.  We both worked full-time, he in technology sales and I as an elementary school teacher.  We had been looking at houses in both the city and the suburbs for over a year, not totally sure where we wanted to buy, and had seen a LOT of properties.  Scott had fallen half in love once with a house I wasn't into.  I fell several times and had to be talked off the ledge of obsession by my more methodical, rational-in-the-face-of-spending-a huge-chunk-of-our-savings husband.

Then one Sunday in April we drove out to an open house in a quaint little town 35 minutes outside of the city.  We walked through the cozy cape-style house and uh-huh-ed and hmmmmm-ed and okay-ed as the real estate agent showed us around.  I had left houses before exclaiming, "I LOVE this place!!"  No such love-at-first-sight for me this time, and yet...there was something.  I remember getting into the car and Scott asking, "So what did you think?"  "Yeah, I liked it, it's got potential," I replied.  And he said, "Yeah, I liked it too."  Two days later we submitted an offer and two days after that we had ourselves a deal and a house.  I'm still not sure exactly what it was about this house that pulled us in...but like I said, there was something about it that felt right for both of us.

So we moved in the end of June with a truckload of stuff and energy and plans for improvement.  Five years later we've redone the kitchen, renovated two bathrooms and added a third, installed wainscoting in the dining room and master bedroom, painted every single wall in the house, ripped out and replaced all of the original front landscaping save one lovely azalea, and much, much more.  For some of it we have hired help.  Much of it we have done ourselves.  We've learned so much along the way, and I tell you, I never imagined I could love power tools as much as I do.  I hope that writing this blog will inspire me to take better before and after pictures because, frankly, I have been downright horrible at documenting some of the changes.

I can't wait to share both projects we've already completed and ones to come.  For now, I will leave you with straightforward before and after shots of the front of our house.


Scott built the stone wall rock by rock.  My very talented brother, who is a landscaper, designed the new layout and content from 300 miles away, and then Scott installed all the new plantings. 

It still makes me smile to hold these photos side-by-side.  Granted, the first picture is covered in snow (this is Boston after all), but there wasn't much there besides some nondescript, rectangular shrubs.  I absolutely love what my brother designed for us.   

And so begins our little home story...