Friday, September 28, 2012

Closet Area Rug | How To Alter a Rug

The master bedroom closet was one of the big selling points for me when we decided to buy our house five years ago.  It has loads of built-in shelving and is longer than our upstairs hallway.  About a year after moving in I installed some basic Rubbermaid closet systems that helped the functionality of the closet and really maximized the space.  It's not a fancy, gorgeous closet but its size allows us to store all of our clothes and shoes plus laundry baskets, hampers, beach towels, and even extra blankets and comforters when we're not using them in the warm months.

The big thing that's been missing is something soft underfoot.  The only significant downside to the closet is that there are no heating vents, so on a chilly winter morning it can get pretty cold in there.  Add a bare, icy floor on your feet and brrrrrr!

I didn't want to spend a lot of money on a closet rug and it was also a tricky size given its narrow entry that opens up into a larger space.  On my most recent trip to Lowe's there was a bin of cotton rugs rolled up in the front of the store that were on clearance for...wait for it...$18.99.  For a rug.  I couldn't believe it.  I loved the pattern regardless of the price and so put two in my cart thinking I could do some work on one of them to convert it to a runner for the entry of the closet.

The rugs are a thick cotton mat style, very soft and cushy underfoot but still thin enough to cut with scissors and run through my sewing machine.  I measured the width of the closet entry and cut the edges of the rug to be just a bit narrower.

Then I used the over-edge stitch on my sewing machine to hold the edges together and prevent fraying.  I thought about buying some kind of binding and attaching that to the edges for a more polished look but I wound up liking the casual look of the sewn edges.  It's a casual rug and the stitching fit.

Here's a little glimpse of the closet with its naked floor.

And now with a cozy, colorful rug!

The second rug stayed its original size and spans the area between my side of the closet and Scott's side. 

Isn't the pattern so great?

For $37.98 count me one happy closet owner!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mushroom and Eggplant Cassoulet

I can't even remember now how I stumbled across this dish but it's become a family favorite.  It's one of those magical meals that consists entirely of simple, rather humble ingredients, but somehow comes out of the oven smelling and tasting extraordinary.  The white beans, mushrooms, eggplant, tomato, and white wine meld together into this intensely savory and satisfying meal.

If you're not a mushroom fan, well, then this dish may not be for you.  But if you are, then I'd encourage you to drop what you're doing and head immediately for your nearest grocery store to purchase the few ingredients you'll need to make this for yourself for dinner tonight.  It is so, so good.

A quick caution - while this is far from a difficult meal to make, it needs time to bake in the oven so all the flavors can blend.  You'll want to start this about an hour and a half before you plan to eat.  The actual prep time is only about 30 minutes though.

Mushroom Cassoulet
1/4 c. olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into chunks
1 lb. cremini mushrooms (or any "meaty" mushrooms you like)
15 oz. can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
4 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. white wine
3/4 c. fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375º.

Heat 1/2 c. olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat.  Add the eggplant and mushrooms and stir until softened and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Combine cannellini beans, eggplant and mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, and thyme in a rectangular baking dish  Arrange tomatoes on top and pour the wine over it.

Bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle bread crumbs evenly over the top and drizzle with olive oil, about 3 tbsp.  Return to the oven for 25 minutes or until golden and crisp.

Let cool slightly then spoon onto plates and serve.

Click here for a printable recipe.
Adapted from recipe here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Street Sign Turned Wall Art

I showed you some photos of our guest bath last month, which we renovated during the first summer we lived in our house.  I used to have a robe hook hanging on the wall to the right of the door but wound up relocating it lower so it could be used for hand towels.  This bathroom doubles as our main floor bathroom so I like to keep the hand towels separate from the guest towels hanging on the towel rods.

That spot to the right of the door has sat empty for a year or so now and I've sort of halfheartedly kept an eye out for something to fill the space.

In June, when we visited my family's lake house, my mom told me that all the street signs were being replaced.  For as long as I can remember, all the streets have been marked with these charming, rustic, hand-painted signs.  For a variety of reasons, they needed to be replaced with standard street signs and some of the street names were going to be changed because of repeat names within the same county.  My whole life, I've been going to Lakeview Lane, but the street signs were coming down and the street was being renamed.

My mom asked the association manager if we could have the two old signs when they were removed and a few weeks ago when my parents were visiting the house the old signs were propped up against the door.  One of the signs will hang in the lake house and I was so excited to hang the other one in this little empty spot in my bathroom.

The sign has a great weathered look...because it's actually been weathered.  I gave it a quick wipe with a damp cloth to remove a little of the dirt but I wanted to keep as much of the worn look as possible.

I removed the rusty screws from the top and then hammered a picture hanging claw on the back of the sign.

 I centered a picture hanging hook on the wall and popped the sign into place.

The sign fits the space perfectly and works beautifully with the other black and white in the bathroom. 

I love the rustic look and think it's sort of funny that most people will probably think it's a faux-distressed piece when it's actually been 100% genuinely weathered by rain, sun, and snow.  I also love having a piece of the lake house with me, perhaps especially because Lakeview Lane no longer technically exists.  I'm so glad I waited for the perfect little something for this spot because now I have something extra sentimental.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Black Beans and Rice with Chicken and Apples

I can tell fall is starting to sink in for me this year by the foods I'm making.  I made minestrone soup last week and meatballs with sauce yesterday.  I've baked three loaves of banana bread in the past week.  Sunday saw an apple crostada with apples picked that afternoon at a nearby orchard.  And this version of black beans and rice, which may not seem overly fall-ish, is a great healthy, hearty take on the traditional but feels rather seasonal with the fresh apple topping.  I love this early fall time when apples taste so extra delicious because I've been busy eating peaches and plums and melons and berries and have forgotten all about them over the summer.

The layers in this dish complement one another so perfectly.  The brown rice is a nutty, simple base, the beans and peppers are creamy and richly flavored by the chicken broth and spices, the chicken adds a nice salty, meaty component, and the apples are an unexpected juicy, sweet counterpoint to the rest of dish, keeping it from feeling too heavy or seriously Mexican.

The brown rice takes about 45 minutes to cook but the rest of the dish goes together in well less than that.  This has become another of my weeknight staples.  Not quite a "one pot" meal but everything you need is in the finished dish - protein, whole grains, fiber, and all those great vitamins from the fruit and veggies.  Do you need any more convincing?  Delicious, quick, and healthy...get cooking!

Black Beans and Rice with Chicken and Apples
2 c. brown rice, cooked
2 chicken breasts
2 tbsp. canola oil
1/3 c. red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground coriander
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
2 c. chicken broth
2 15-oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 apple, cored and diced
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1 tsp. lime juice
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced

Preheat oven to 400º.

Season chicken with salt and pepper and roast in oven until cooked through, about 20 minutes.  Let cool slightly and shred with a fork.

Heat oil over medium high heat.  Add red onion and peppers and cook until softened, 6-7 minutes.  Add garlic, chili powder, coriander, and cumin and stir for a minute or two.  Add broth and beans and bring to a boil.  Simmer uncovered about 15 minutes, until slightly thickened.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, combine apple, parsley, shallot, and lime juice.  Stir together and season with salt and pepper.

To serve, layer rice, beans, chicken, and apple salsa.

Click here for a printable recipe.
Adapted from recipe here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

{Sweet Friday} Caramel Tartlets

On our way out west a few weeks ago I utterly mismanaged my time packing and getting ready to go, caused us to leave the house thirty minutes later than we needed to, thus putting us in the heart of Boston rush hour.  And we missed our flight.  The woman helping us at the airport was so patient and diligent and figured out a way to get us into Vancouver almost the same time the next morning that we would have arrived anyway.

And what, you must be wondering, does this have to do with caramel tartlets?  Our new flight schedule included a quick overnight in Chicago where we stayed with one of my best college friends, Liz, her hilarious and charming husband, Bradley, and their gorgeous toddler daughter.  We ate deep dish pizza, laughed and caught up, and after dinner Liz, who is only a few days away from her due date with baby number two, looked at Bradley and asked him to get dessert from the freezer, to which he replied something to effect, "Really, babe?  You want to share those??"  Apparently Liz's late-pregnancy indulgence has been these amazing caramel tartlets from Whole Foods that were busting with out-of-this-world gooey, buttery, chocolately, caramely goodness and probably cost a small fortune.

We ooohed and ahhhed over them and polished off Liz's entire supply before talk turned to making them at home.  And the first weekend I was home from our vacation I set about doing just that!  I pressed an easy food processor dough into muffin tins and then after baking filled the little crust cups with a simple homemade caramel.  I topped the caramel in three different ways - classic chocolate chips like the Whole Foods version I had at Liz's house, pecans (I was thinking of pecan pie here), and apple slices (does it get more "fall" than caramel apples??).  

I loved them all.  I can't quite say I had a favorite though this time of year I felt slightly partial to the pecan and apple topped tartlets because they tasted so seasonal.


So what are are you waiting for?  Start now and you'll be sinking your teeth into these babies in no time.  What a *sweet* way to kick off your weekend.

Caramel Tartlets - makes 18 tartlets

2 1/2 c. flour
2/3 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, chilled and cut into cubes
2 tbsp. (or more) ice water

1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
2/3 c. heavy cream
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

chocolate chips
coarsely chopped pecans
apple slices tossed with lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375º.

Measure flour, powdered sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined.  Add butter and process using on/off turns until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add 2 tbsp. water and process until the dough begins to clump together, adding more ice water a bit at a time if needed.

Divide dough evenly among 18 muffin cups.

Press dough onto bottom and up sides of muffin cups.

Bake in oven until golden brown and cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make caramel by stirring sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.  Increase the heat to medium-high and boil without stirring until the syrup is a medium amber color.  Once you see the syrup starting to color do not walk away.  It goes from lightly gold to black and burned faster than you'd think possible!

Add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously).  Reduce heat to medium and whisk until any sugar bits dissolve.  Add butter, lemon juice, and salt  and whisk until the butter melts.

Spoon filling into baked cups and refrigerate 10-15 minutes to let caramel harden slightly.  Top tartlets with whatever you like, then return to the fridge for about 30 minutes to set the caramel.

Gently remove from the muffin pans by sliding a butter knife between the crusts and pan.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Grey Console Table with Gilded Detail

Back in May I shared a furniture refinish I did on a wooden console table in my kitchen.

I've loved the pale grey and glass knobs on the table and never really felt like it was missing anything... until...I came across this pale grey desk with gilded detail by Cassie last week.


I instantly loved the way the gold and grey complemented each other.  I had some gold acrylic paint on hand...soooooo...what did I have to lose?  Worst case, I'd not like the results and could quickly paint over the gold.  

I taped off the sections I wanted to paint - the top edge and the bottom moulding piece.

Using a small paintbrush I applied the gold acrylic paint and let it dry a few hours before giving it a second coat.  I let the second coat dry a bit and then carefully removed the tape.  I found running a razor blade along the seam between the paint and the tape helped the paint to stay put on the table and not get pulled off with the tape.

I totally love the way the gold warms the soft grey and picks up on the gold flecks in the glass knobs.

I took a few colorful cookbooks from my shelf and stacked them under the bowl of pears.

I also added a glass hurricane and borrowed the birds from our screened porch for the other end of the table.

I'm so happy with the results plus this was a super quick project.  I'd guess an hour to do the taping, both coats of paint, and the tape removal.

And here's a sneak peek at a project I'm currently working drapes for the kitchen.  I have one panel done and three to go!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Quinoa Pancakes {with blueberries and chocolate chips}

About a week ago I came across the food blog, Ambitious Kitchen.  I've since made three of her recipes - Banana Coconut Bread (best banana bread that's ever crossed my lips), Vegan Banana "Ice Cream" (pureed frozen bananas plus toppings - genius), and these Quinoa Pancakes.

I tend to make a lot of pancakes for breakfast.  There's a lemon ricotta one I've made a few times with almond flour that I love but Scott is just so-so on, a four grain one we all like that is made with whole wheat flour, white flour, oats, and cornmeal, and an old fashioned fluffy buttermilk pancake recipe passed down by my mom and grandmom.  I never thought to make quinoa pancakes until reading this recipe but it will definitely be in my regular rotation now.  I've made them twice in three days!

If you keep a container of cooked quinoa in the fridge these pancakes go together in no time.  I was a little skeptical about the combination of blueberries and chocolate chips but they were wonderful together.  The protein-packed quinoa gives the pancakes a pleasant chewy texture and the rich, sweet, dark chocolate was the perfect counterpoint to the tart, juicy blueberries.

I found the pancakes needed to sit in the pan just a bit longer than a "regular" pancake, but for me, it was totally worth the little extra time.  I made a double batch both times I made them and we've been enjoying the leftovers all week.  I've found leftover pancakes to be especially nice on those nutty get-out-of-the-house-and-off-to-school mornings, to which I am still adjusting.  Our leisurely weekday breakfasts seem to be gone but at least we can still have our pancakes!

You can use this recipe as a base for just about any fruit you like - add fresh or frozen raspberries (and dark chocolate?!), diced fresh or frozen peaches, or make them plain and top with a fruit compote (boil any fruit with some lemon juice and sugar for a quick and delicious pancake topping.

A few minor changes I made to Ambitious Kitchen's recipe:
  • I cut the chocolate chips amount in half - for a double batch I used 1/2 cup.
  • I used whole eggs instead of just whites, so 3 eggs for a double batch.
  • For a double batch I used 3/4 cup white flour and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour. 

Click here for a link to the Ambitious Kitchen's recipe, and while you're there, have some fun poking around.  The girl has some seriously delicious and healthy food, as well as downright sinful indulgences...and everyone needs something like once in awhile!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

West Coast Vacation Recap

Scott and I returned from our eleven day vacation out west two Saturdays ago.  We have over 500 photos from our trip so it's taken me a little while to pull out some highlights to share with you.  And even with my editing, there are kind of a lot here.

We had a wonderful time.  I'll try not be too verbose, but we don't take long vacations like this very often these days so you'll have to forgive me if I've gone overboard with the pictures and wax on about all the little details.

First up on our road trip was Vancouver, a city neither Scott nor I had been to before but both wanted to visit.  We drove directly from the airport to Grouse Mountain, a ski resort outside Vancouver where there are great mountaintop views of the city.  We drove over the Lions Gate Bridge and started a steep and windy ascent up the mountain and 15 minutes later we were there.

The views from the top were all we'd hoped they would be.  Snow-capped mountains in the distance on one side...

...and panoramic views of Vancouver from the other side.

As we were riding the chairlift to the top of Grouse, we saw a paraglider leap off the side of the mountain and soar off over the water and city.  It looked at once terrifying and peaceful.

A little farther down the mountain was a Grizzly bear preserve and we were able to see one of the bears up close, playing in a stream.

After spending several hours at Grouse, we made our way to downtown Vancouver and barely stayed awake through dinner before collapsing into bed.  The next day we were up early to catch a ferry over to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.  Our first stop there was Butchart Gardens, and it was spectacular.  Colors and textures layered like I've never seen.  I couldn't stop snapping pictures.  My favorite site there was the Sunken Garden, which was planted in an old limestone quarry. 

We left Butchart Gardens and made our way into downtown Victoria where we snapped some photos in front of the impressive Parliament building before heading out on a whale watch.

We saw tons of killer whales but I'll save you the boredom of our gaggles of pictures of whale fins cresting above the water.  Suffice it to say it was cool.  Super cool.

We spent our last day in Vancouver touring around the downtown.  We biked along the seawall, which has beautiful views of the mountains and the Lions Gate Bridge.

We visited Granville Island, a lively and eclectic marketplace with the most wonderful collection of food aromas.  I practically had to be led out like a child begging for treats.  Despite the enticing smells, we held off on eating lunch there and made our way to Yaletown, and very cool neighborhood that had lots of restaurants with outdoor seating.  We grabbed an early dinner, said goodbye to Vancouver, and made our way to Seattle.

We had one full day in Seattle so hit up all the big tourist attractions.  We walked around the Space Needle area...

...made our way to Pike Place Market for lunch...

...and capped off the afternoon with a kayak around Lake Union, where Seattle's famous housebouts can be found.

We even saw the house from Sleepless in Seattle :)

We hit the road again the next morning heading for Crater Lake, OR, which was about a 7 1/2 drive from Seattle.  The national forests we passed through on the way were spectacular.  We arrived at Crater Lake just in time for a sunset hike led by a national park ranger.  It was so quiet and remote and beautiful.

The lake was formed when a volcano collapsed 7,700 years ago.  It's the deepest lake in the U.S. and is considered the cleanest lake in the world.  It was absolutely breathtaking...or so I thought...

...until I saw it the next morning.

It's really that blue.  Really.  So blue you feel like your eyes have to be playing tricks on you.  I've never seen anything like it.  I'm kind of a national parks nerd anyway - I just love all that you learn and being surrounded by awe-inspiring natural beauty - but this was really a special place.  Unforgettable.

After a boat tour around the lake and an intensely steep hike back up the side of the crater, we buckled back into the car and drove 6 1/2 hours to Sonoma.  Shortly after arriving we had a fantastic meal at the El Dorado Kitchen - I could have eaten there a second night, the menu was so interesting and our meals so outrageously good.

In the morning we hopped on bikes and toured a few wineries in Sonoma.

The next day we drove through Napa as well.  I can't get over how many grape vines exist in this small little part of the country.  Practically as far as you can see in every direction.

We drove from Napa to Muir Woods and there I got my first glimpse of the redwoods.  Wow.  I'm pretty sure our photographs don't do justice to how massive these trees are.  I read on one of the plaques in the park that some of the trees were standing when dinosaurs lived.  And dinosaurs likely walked among these very trees in this very forest.  Crazy, right?

Not the clearest shot here, but it gives you some scale.  Don't I look tiny?

We left Muir Woods and drove a short distance up into the Marin Headlands for some great bird's eye views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was COLD.


And then we wound our way back down and drove over the bridge and into San Francisco, the last stop on our road trip.

We drove around the city a bit before checking into our hotel and watched the sun set over the Pacific.  Still COLD.

The next day we hit the streets and walked and walked and walked.  We strolled through Chinatown...

... walked up the steepest paved street I have ever seen or set foot on to snap some photos of Lombard Street...

...and made our way to Fisherman's Wharf for views out to Alcatraz.

Dungeness crabs were absolutely everywhere around Fisherman's Wharf so, hey, when in Rome!

After lunch we spent some more time walking around the city, enjoyed our last dinner out that night, and made our way home to Boston the next morning.  And in case you're wondering, I didn't wear the same thing eleven days in a row, though my gray sweater and gray sweatshirt got a lot of use!

It was busy and tiring and fun and refreshing all at the same time.  It was so fantastic to spend that many days just with Scott - we haven't had much alone time in the past four years!  But by the end of the trip we were both so excited to get home and give our sweet girls hugs.  My parents are that much closer to heaven for taking care of them while we were away and we were, and are, so grateful that they gave us the opportunity to take this trip together.

And the big news since we've been home is that our big girl started preschool for the first time.  I think she is the last of the children we know her age to go, but I wanted to have her home with me last year still.  She loved her first week and surprise of surprises, I didn't cry on her first day.  She was so happy and proud to be going to school that my oh-my-gosh-my-baby-is-growing-up-and-going-to-school angst didn't break through her joy.

Phew!  Are you exhausted after sifting through our adventures?  Now back to work on my ambitious project list for the rest of this month.  Nothing's been completed yet but I've got some things underway...