Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Rule of Three

When it comes to home design and decorating, there are no hard and fast rules.  However, the idea that things grouped in threes tend to be more appealing to the eye than other numbers of objects is a good tidbit to tuck away next time you're trying to arrange items.

The rule of three can apply to just about any aspect of home design: three sets of french doors side-by-side, three ledge shelves clustered on a wall, or three pendant lights hanging above a kitchen island.  Today, though, I'm breaking it down to the simplest manifestation of the rule: arranging items on a table.

This is the bedside table in our guest room.  I like to vary the heights of the three items I'm using so I chose a lamp that would be taller than the preserved boxwood, which is the absolute ideal houseplant for a black thumb like me: I can't kill it but it's not actually fake, just dried boxwood leaves shaped into a topiary.  The clock was a great, inexpensive find from LL Bean - it backlights when you press the button on top but is otherwise dark at night (great for light-sensitive sleepers like my mom!).  I like the punch of green in the boxwood but wanted to keep the color palette here neutral otherwise.

You might recognize this new table from my trash-to-treasure post last week (here).   And there's another of those little boxwoods - I think I have five of them around the house.  Here I went with a glass hurricane as the tallest of the three items, again added the preserved boxwood for a pop of color, and used a found piece of driftwood as the third item.

Isn't the driftwood almost dolphin-esque?  I have no special thing for dolphins, but I loved this as soon as I saw it.  It looked like a very intentional piece of sculpture to me but came completely from the wild.  I kept the color palette very neutral here again since there's a lot of color going on in the rest of the porch (see here and here for screened porch pictures).

This little chest sits in our downstairs hallway between the doorways to the office and the guest room.  My great uncle, whom I never actually met because he died before I was born, made it.  I love the cannonball feet and the curved detail along the bottom.  I've been going back and forth for awhile now between painting it and leaving it the warm, honey-colored stain it is now.  The larger basket was a gift from Scott's aunt a few Christmases ago.  It's beautiful but serves a great function for me here too: it's my catch-all for things that need to be returned to either the playroom or my workbench area in the basement, the doorway to which is right across the hall from this chest.  The glass bowl was a wedding gift and had the perfect low profile to complement the basket.  The teeny tiny basket was an Easter gift from my mother-in-law a few years ago and gave me that third height point and nicely echoed the shape of the larger basket.  Don't the colors of the items really pick up on the blues and purples in the painting above it?  The painting was my first anniversary gift (Get it?  "Paper?") from Scott, who painted it from a photograph he found in a magazine.

This small table sits in a little nook to the right of our front door and holds a lamp I like to turn on in the evenings to give some soft light to the hallway.  I also placed a family photo and a faux succulent on the table - a live succulent would never survive in this shady corner.  Or just survive me as its owner.

This octagonal table, which was one of the first pieces of furniture my parents had as a married couple and also made the journey to college with me, sits between two upholstered chairs in our living room.  The petite brass lamp, a hand-me-down from my mom, gives off the perfect amount of light for reading in the chairs.  I wanted to give it a little extra height so placed it on top of two poetry books (I'm counting this grouping as one of the "three" on this table, though I realize there are technically five!).  The small hurricane was another lovely wedding gift and the pottery dish was a recent gift from my mother-in-law, made by a potter who has a studio near my in-laws' house.

This drop-leaf table belonged to Scott's grandparents.  I especially love the base, with its carved legs and tiny brass wheels.  It sits in our front hallway.  I chose to do a grouping of three items to the left of the table and then a lone dish on the right where Scott can throw his wallet, loose change, and other odds and ends he accumulates through the day. 

I suppose I've given you something of a tour of accent tables here...and suddenly I am feeling like I have a lot!  But mostly I wanted to show you the different ways I've applied the rule of three in my own decorating.  Do you see many groupings of three around your own home?

On a side note, I've linked a few posts from last week to The Winthrop Chronicles today.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Truffled Steak Sandwiches

Weeknight food has to be fairly simple for me, but simple doesn't have to be dull, and these sandwiches are both simple and wonderful.  

I have sort of a love-blah relationship with beef.  I love tender, juicy, lean filet of beef and have come to like flank steak, steak tips, and strip steak but otherwise throw a big hunk of fatty meat on a bone down in front of me and, eh...I'd rather have a salad.  But filet...oh, filet...it's the one cut of beef I actually love.  Unfortunately, it's rather exorbitantly priced so it doesn't grace our dinner table very often, and we don't eat a tremendous amount of red meat anyway, but these sandwiches are the perfect way to enjoy filet without breaking the bank.

There are exactly five ingredients, not counting salt and pepper, but this is the perfect example of packing a lot of power in a very small number of items.  Truffle butter is like magic - toss it with hot pasta, dab some on vegetables, or spread your bread with it in this case and whatever you're cooking is elevated about a thousand percent in deliciousness.

I buy several chunks of parmesan or romano cheese at a time and grate them in the food processor.  It keeps almost indefinitely in the fridge and I like being able to grab the container and have fresh, finely grated parmesan at a moment's notice.  I'm not really a fan of the pre-grated stuff you can buy - it usually has some kind of anti-caking agent added and always seems sort of tough and rubbery to me.

The last two ingredients: fresh arugula and fresh ciabatta bread.  Put them all together and you've got a quick weeknight dinner with a whole lot of fabulous.

Truffled Steak Sandwiches

1 lb. filet mignon
fresh loaf ciabatta bread
3 oz. black or white truffle butter
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
several handfuls arugula

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Sprinkle filet generously with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the steak and how rare you'd like it to be.  My steak was about 3/4" thick and after 10 minutes it was medium-rare.  Remove from oven and cover with foil for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the ciabatta loaf in half lengthwise and spread each side with the truffle butter.  Cut each half into four sections and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese.

Place in a warm oven or toaster oven until the bread is soft and the cheese has melted a bit.

With a very sharp knife, slice the filet into papery thin strips.

Pile the arugula on top of the bottom halves of the ciabatta and top with the sliced beef.  Top with the top halves of the bread and serve.

Click here for printable recipe.
Adapted from "Truffled Filet of Beef Sandwiches" from Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics

Friday, July 27, 2012

{Sweet Friday} Dark Chocolate Mini S'mores

I can't take credit for coming up with this great idea myself.  A local friend hosted a girls' night cocktail party at her house a couple months ago and made bite-sized s'mores as dessert (you can read more about all the wonderful food she made here).  It was like a dessert lightbulb going on in my head...everyone loves s'mores, they're so easy to make, and the mini-size is perfect for just popping one or two in your mouth if you're not looking to sink your teeth into a giant graham cracker, half a chocolate bar, and several marshmallows sandwich post-dinner.  Though, truth be told, I probably ate the equivalent of a whole s'mores sandwich that night.  They were just so good.

I've made these little nuggets a few times since, and at first I thought homemade marshmallows would elevate them straight to s'mores heaven.  Have you ever made (or eaten) homemade marshmallows?  Vanilla clouds of wonderfulness.  However...I made the marshmallows this time around a day or two before bringing them to a 4th of July party at my brother-in-law's and sister-in-law's house and it was very hot and very humid.  The marshmallows still gelled but they were a sticky mess.  They tasted delightful, but were a nightmare to handle.  I managed to cut a few squares, though, and set about assembling the mini s'mores.  Don't they look pretty all piled high?

I popped them in the oven for a quick broil and took them out to find a whole bunch of unfortunate marshmallow puddles.

We still gobbled them up at the 4th of July party but, really, a fork would have been the best way to eat them.  And who wants to eat s'mores, mini or not, with a fork??

I'm not sure if the melting was a function of the weather when I was making the marshmallows or just that homemade marshmallows aren't the best choice for this particular recipe, but either way, next time I made them, for a cookout we hosted last weekend, I decided to use nice, firm, store-bought marshmallows.

You should use whatever kind of chocolate you like best.  For me, that is almost always dark chocolate.  I grabbed a few bars from Trader Joe's.

I cut the graham crackers into little squares using a serrated knife.  It works beautifully as long as you saw back and forth gently and don't press down hard on the crackers.  After I had a bunch of squares I placed them on a baking sheet.

Next, I cut the chocolate into little squares and put one square on top of each graham cracker.

For the marshmallows, I used a non-serrated large knife to cut each one into thirds - just chopped right down through them, no sawing motion this time.  I topped each graham cracker and chocolate tower with a marshmallow hat and preheated the broiler.  


I placed the baking sheet toward the bottom of the oven - I found this toasted the marshmallows much more evenly than placing the sheet directly under the broiler.  I set a timer for 30 seconds and repeated until the marshmallows were browned on top, about 1 minute total.  Beware, it happens very quickly!

I served them warm right off the baking sheet and, no surprise, the kids at the cookout went nuts and asked for seconds and thirds and fourths.  I can't say they were exactly mess-free for the little ones - there was a lot of chocolate to be wiped off mouths and faces and hands and clothes - but they were reasonably neat to eat for the adults, as s'mores go at least, and were just as popular as they were with the kiddos.

Hope you enjoy a sweet weekend! 

Linking this post to Southern Lovely and Lil' Luna!
Southern Lovely


Thursday, July 26, 2012

{DIY} How to Make a Pedestal Table from a Wooden Tray

What this post should really be called, but felt a tad verbose to me, is "How to Make a Pedestal Table from a Wooden Tray or Anything That Is Reasonably Flat and That You Think Is Pretty and That You Can Drive a Nail or Screw Into."  A bit too lengthy, right?  But that's the most accurate description of what I've done here, and what you could do with something similar.  

To begin, here's what I started with:

I haven't a clue what it was originally.  At first I thought a wall hanging but there was no hardware on the back or any signs it had ever been hung anywhere.  It didn't quite seem like a tray to me but I wasn't sure what else to call it for the purposes of this post.  My only clue was this sticker on the back:

Anyone have any idea what this suggests?  Is this just a moving company sticker from 1964?  Regardless, I thought the carving around the edges was gorgeous so I brought the medallion home with me to brainstorm ways to upcycle it.  I had barely turned into the driveway when I thought, "Table!  It would make a beautiful tabletop!"  It had some water stains on the top and one gouge out of the side but otherwise was in great condition.

I used epoxy putty to fill the gouge.

You cut off a small bit (it looks like a huge gray Tootsie Roll) and knead it with your fingers until it becomes pliable, then press into the hole you're filling.  I pressed it over the edges of the gouge to be sure it would completely fill the space but you don't want too much extra epoxy.  You can sand off the extra but it dries HARD!

Once mine had hardened - I let it dry overnight - I gave it a quick sand with my pad sander to smooth it out and make it perfectly flush with the rest of the tabletop.  I also gave the top of the tray a light sand to prep it for paint and remove any little bumps.

Here's where things got a little turned around for me.  My original plan had been to make a three-legged table.  I won't go into great detail here, because I wound up taking a different finished route, but I got all my supplies, prepped them, cut them, measured and determined where to place the three table legs...and then just wasn't into the look of it at all.

It just wasn't what I'd envisioned.  I hadn't wanted to use anything for the legs that would take away from the carved detail on the top but these just seemed too plain to me.  So I dejectedly stuck it off in a corner for a day or so and thought about other options.  I started thinking a pedestal table would be nice so headed to Lowes and grabbed a table leg that was a bit longer than what I wanted the finished table to be.  I also bought a round wood clockface at Michaels to use as the pedestal base.

I trimmed the table leg at both the top and bottom (straight cuts with my miter saw) so it removed the built-in screw at the top of the leg and left me with a finished leg that was the length I wanted.  For this step, you want to give some thought to where the cuts will look nicest.  I opted to cut the bottom first so the cut came right where the leg started to flare out before the lowest carved detail.  And then I measured up to the top to get my finished length. 

I decided to flip the leg and use the top as the bottom and the bottom as the top (just look at the above image and picture it flipped the other way).  To get the leg ready to attach to the table, I drilled a small hole in the exact center of what I wanted at the top. 

I cut a small square of scrap wood and drove a 2 1/2" screw into the pre-drilled hole in the leg.

I then did the same thing to the bottom of the leg, drilling a hole exactly in the center, then marked the center of the underside of the base and drove another 2 1/2" screw through the base and into the leg...

...leaving me with a finished pedestal base.

I used four small wood screws to attach the square plate at the top of the pedestal base to the table top.  You want to be sure that you position the plate exactly in the center of the tabletop.  And be very careful about what screws you use here - they need to be long enough to go through the square plate and into the tabletop but you don't want them coming through the top and making holes!

After the table was assembled I gave it a couple coats of a creamy white semi-gloss paint (Behr Eggnog) leftover from the upstairs and downstairs hallways in our house and added the new beauty to our screened porch (where, you might remember from last week, I've been moving some accent pieces around!).

I spent under $15 on this project because I was using leftover paint and had the other supplies I needed on hand.  The preserved boxwood on the table here got transplanted from our living room and the glass hurricane was a lonely leftover after its twin met an untimely death at the hands of an 18 month old a couple months ago.  The driftwood was a little piece of the lake house I grabbed when we were there a few weeks ago.  I thought it had the most beautiful shape.

I can't get over the carved detail on the table top.  It's just so intricate and lovely.

All that may remain to do is a top coat of something protective.  The paint on top is showing a few little smudges and dings already.  Any suggestions for a good protective product to use over latex paint that would keep that semi-gloss finish?

I love having this accent-table-making process under my belt.  It was really so, so simple and is so versatile.  It could be used to make any width or height table you need for a given space and can turn anything beautiful into an interesting and unique piece of furniture.

Linking this project at Home Stories A to Z, My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia, Southern Lovely, and The DIY Dreamer!

Southern Lovely

The DIY Dreamer

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Herbed Greek Pasta Salad

Another versatile summer pasta for you today (last week I posted about one of my all-time favorites).  For the most part, this is a traditional Greek pasta with tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta cheese, but I substitute mild black olives for the sharper Kalamatas and add lots of fresh herbs from my back deck pots.

It's a great meatless entree option or a side dish for a barbeque and can be made completely ahead of time if you're preparing it for a party.  It would also pack beautifully for a picnic and tastes great at any temperature, though I like it best either cold or room temperature.

I used two kinds of tomatoes here: red grape tomatoes and brown tomatoes.

My ultimate kitchen tool for slicing tomatoes is this small serrated knife.  It's slices like it's going through soft butter.  I can't believe I ever cut a tomato without this knife now that I've experienced how effortless it is.

With tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs in full harvest mode around here, this simple dish bursts with fresh, seasonal flavors.

I had trouble squeezing a few shots in before little hands made their way into the serving bowl...

Herbed Greek Pasta Salad

1 lb. whole wheat penne
3 c. assorted tomatoes, chopped
1 seedless cucumber, chopped with skin on
1 can pitted black olives, drained and sliced
1 c. crumbled feta cheese
1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 c. red wine vinegar

Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

Add tomatoes, cucumber, olives. feta, and herbs to a large bowl.  In another small bowl whisk the olive oil and vinegar and pour over the vegetables.  Stir gently and season with salt and pepper.  Add pasta and stir everything together until well coated with dressing and herbs.

Click here for printable recipe.