Categories
bouquets this week's bouquet

this week’s bouquet

This week’s bouquet is a lovely combination of sunlight and simplicity.

We had strong thunderstorms yesterday and very high winds today, leaving many of the daffodils with their faces in the dirt. With a soft shower in the kitchen sink, they were soon looking lovely and happy again.

I knew they wouldn’t be able to pick themselves up again, so I decided to bring them in and enjoy their beauty. Being quarantined and working from home, I am able to carry them around from room to room to fully enjoy their company and uplifting presence.

Daffodils are not an exotic flower, but they contain within themselves, the essence of hope. To me, they shout winter is behind us, and joy, sun, warmth, and color are on the way. They are the trumpeters of spring.

This little sweetheart, actually has a double trumpet.

In these troubling and difficult times of uncertainty, I pray these simple daffodils bring you joy, hope, and a smile to your face.

Joining Cathy from Rambling in the Garden for In a Vase on Monday. If you want to see many other beautiful arrangements from around the world, be sure to stop over and visit.

Categories
meal planning Recipes

best ever mac and cheese

This is the best mac and cheese I’ve ever eaten! I’ve been trying recipes for years, and I’ve finally found one that is everything I expect a good mac and cheese to be.

It only took one look at the ingredients to realize this recipe was going to be better than any other I’ve tried. When a recipe calls for three kinds of cheese, butter, and heavy whipping cream, you know it’s not only going to be tasty, but rich.

I know a lot of people don’t consider Velveeta to be cheese, but it is one of the ingredients that gives this recipe it’s cheesy, creamy consistency.

This recipe is super easy since it is made in a slow cooker crock pot. All the ingredients, except the pasta, are cooked together on low for 90 minutes until everything is melted and stirrable.

Use a large size slow cooker because this recipe makes enough to serve a family with leftovers. The pasta is precooked separately and set aside. Once the cheeses have melted, add the cooked pasta, stir to mix, and cook again for another 30 to 60 minutes.

Stir occasionally to mix the pasta and cheese sauce thoroughly.

Serve with a side salad, meat, or by itself, and a few optional toasted bread crumbs, sprinkled on top will give it some crunch.

I’ve served this recipe to several people and it has been a hit every time. This is a perfect comfort food for these trying times, great for kids, or taking to a pot luck. A crowd pleaser for sure. I hope you give it a try – you won’t be disappointed.

This recipe is courtesy of the food blog A Family Feast.

SLOW COOKER MAC & CHEESE

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound cavatappi/cellanti, or your favorite pasta
  • 1 pound Colby Jack cheese
  • 1 pound Monterey Jack cheese (I used Pepper Jack)
  • 1 pound Velveeta cheese
  • 1/4 pound butter (one stick)
  • 1 pint heavy cream (16 ounces)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Few flakes of hot sauce

Instructions:

  • Cook pasta in salted water to two minutes shy of cooked. The pasta should be chewy. Drain and rinse under cold water and hold until later in this recipe.
  • Place all other ingredients in a slow cooker and heat for 90 minutes on low.*
  • Run cooked pasta under hot tap water, drain and add to the slow cooker and stir.
  • Cover and heat for 30 to 60 minutes longer until the pasta is cooked and the cheese is melted before serving.
  • If cooking for a longer length of time, turn the slow cooker to warm so it doesn’t brown on the edges.

*If you want to speed things up, you can melt the cheese mixture in a saucepan, then add it to the slow cooker with the cooked pasta. Heat on low for about an hour before serving, or lower the temperature to warm.

Categories
bouquets Gardening this week's bouquet

this week’s bouquet

My first bouquet of the year using flowers from the yard. What a blessing it is to have signs of color and growth after a long and dreary winter. This bouquet is on display in my kitchen amidst other spring decor on my new makeshift shelf where I love to play and change things up on a weekly basis.

A sweet set of chicks that I bought at a flea so long ago, speak of hope and newness of life that comes with spring.

This bouquet is simple, because resources in the yard are still so limited. I realized it’s much harder to be creative when the selections are so few. The only other flowers blooming are the hellebores, and I didn’t want to deplete them when they will last so much longer if left outside.

I picked these when it was 70 degrees outside, because I knew it was dropping into the 20’s the same night. These were the only daffodils showing color yet, and some were still only half open, so I thought I would rescue them from the coming night’s frost.

Yellow is a color I rarely use or allow in my garden. Admittedly I am a “color snob” when it comes to the hot colors, but in early spring, yellow is such a welcome sight to winter weary eyes.

Keeping the daffodils company are sprigs of pussy willow and early cut branches of Hakuro Nishiki Japanese Willow.

Joining in on this shelf is my sweet little bee plate I found tucked away when cleaning the other day. I think it’s supposed to be a soap dish, but it is too cute to cover up with a bar of soap.

Having previously been a beekeeper (in a younger version of myself), I have a fondness for all things “bees”.

Sending you some simple spring joy from nature today.

And in case you’re struggling with fear, confinement, and the health situation in our world, I leave you some “in your face” sunshine to brighten your day.

Linking today with Cathy of Rambling in the Garden for In a Vase on Monday. Be sure to pop in there to see pretty flower arrangements from all over the world.

Categories
Baking Recipes this week's bake

this week’s bake – toll house chocolate chip pie

I made this week’s bake on a whim. It was one of those rare occasions when I came across a recipe online, and I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand to make it. My only hesitation was that I usually share my bakes with my co-workers, and since I would be working from home because of the virus, there was no one to help me eat it.

This recipe would have been super quick and easy if I had a pre made pie shell, but I didn’t. So, I pulled out my old and trusty pie crust recipe, and got to work on it.

In my opinion, there are several key secrets to making a good pie crust, and a good pie crust should be as tasty as the filling. The first key is sifting the flour with the salt.

The second key is to use ice water when mixing the dough.

And the last secret was taught to me by a dear friend, and that is to always roll out your dough between two pieces of wax paper. The wax paper can be a life saver. If your dough is too dry, the wax paper keeps it from falling apart when transferring it to the pie plate. And if your dough is too moist, it keeps it from sticking.

Once you’ve rolled out the dough to a round that is large enough to fit into the pie plate, remove the top piece of wax paper.

The bottom piece of wax paper gives support to the crust as you lift it, flip it, and maneuver it into the pie plate.

Once the crust is in place, peel off the wax paper, trim the edge, turn it under, and crimp it. Then set the crust aside and prepare the filling.

After beating the eggs until light and foamy, mix in the flour and sugars, and finally the softened butter.

Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts, and mix well. Then spoon the batter into the unbaked pie crust.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes and then cool for 30 minutes. It is recommended to serve warm with ice cream. I didn’t have ice cream on hand, but I did have the first piece while still warm.

I personally, found the pie to hold it’s shape better when it was totally cool, and I liked it better then also. The pie didn’t necessarily remind me of a chocolate chip cookie. I found it similar to a pecan pie, only not as rich. It was the perfect mixture of sweetness, chocolate, and crunch.

Since I liked it better the second day, this pie would be a great “make ahead” desert for either a dinner you’re planning or attending. I would definitely make it again, but to save time, I would use a pre made pie crust, making it an easier prep. And if you’re wondering if I ate it all myself. The answer is yes, I did.

The full recipe for the pie filling can be found on the food blog, A Family Feast.

Categories
DIY Projects Spring

keeping busy

What are you doing to keep busy while confined at home, during these trying times? Less than a month ago, I shared a post about projects I was working on while waiting for spring. The stay-at-home situation, plus the continued cold and rainy weather has given me time to keep plugging away on projects.

I had already planned these projects, so fortunately, the materials were previously purchased. I decided about six weeks ago, that I needed to replace the fence and gate on the side of my house. The fence on that side of the yard is an old chain link fence that is askew from old tree roots that have moved the posts from underground. The gate no longer lines up or latches correctly.

Last year I spray painted the chain link black in an attempt to give it a sense of “class”. Then I purchased an inexpensive black metal arbor in an attempt to keep the deer from jumping the gate. I even hung a small chandelier from the arbor to deter the deer. It didn’t work.

I finally hung a gridded piece of metal fencing from the arbor to keep the deer from jumping the gate. Overgrown forsythia bushes on each side of the gate, keep the deer from coming over the fence sections.

This side of the yard was the weak link that was allowing wildlife to access the backyard. But the last straw was when a skunk decided to visit the yard, and move in under my shed. At the time, the pieces of wood weren’t wedged in around the gate, leaving large enough gaps for any animal to crawl through. He/she lived under the shed for about a week, and left a stench that still persists today. I try to air out the shed and greenhouse every day, in hope that by summer time the stink will be gone.

This is when I decided to replace the chain link with a white picket fence to match the other fences in my yard. The middle of my living room floor became my work place where I planned, laid out, and constructed the fence sections.

Careful measuring is of the utmost importance. If things are not “square” from the onset, the whole section comes out crooked. A very small fraction of an inch doesn’t seem like a big deal when you start, but can end up being an inch or more by the end of the section. Believe me, I know. It isn’t fun to have to pull the whole section apart.

For that reason, I never hammer the nails all the way in until I have completed the whole section and know it is square.

Because the treated wood was still wet, once I finished the sections, I leaned them against the fireplace so the inside heat would dry the wood out. While leaning there, I thought I might as well decorate them with a basket of faux forsythia.

After drying the wood for a few weeks, it was time to start the “not-so-fun” job of painting, two coats of paint, one side at a time.

Meanwhile, with the sections drying again by the fireplace, I started painting the wood for the gate.

I’m making the gate out of leftover wood from the 6-foot privacy fence that was installed last fall. The wood is rather rough, but it was free, and that saves money. I won’t be able to finish the gate until the posts for the fence are installed, and I know the size of the opening. And I won’t be able to make the posts until the weather warms, which could be a few more weeks.

But in the end, hopefully soon the weather will be nicer, and within a month, the finished fence and gate will look like the others.

When not painting, I’m either (most thankfully) working from home, or sorting through the attic. Hopefully, you are finding things to catch up on, and spending time with family. Please stay safe.

Categories
Gardening this month's book

this month’s book – garden home

This winter I decided I wanted to challenge myself to read, cover to cover, one garden or home decor book each month. In an attempt to increase my garden knowledge, and force myself to slow down a little to read, I ordered my first book. But, while waiting impatiently for the new book to arrive, I came across a book I’ve had, but haven’t read or looked at, for at least 10 -15 years. I’d forgotten I still even had this book, and was so pleased to find it.

So, this month’s book is P. Allen Smith’s, Garden Home.

When I first bought this book so many years ago, I devoured it, reading every page and studying every picture. I loved it then, and as I’m reading through the book again, it is like rediscovering an old and cherished friend.

P. Allen Smith’s philosophy for gardening is to break up your yard into “garden rooms”, where just like in your home, each garden room has its own distinct personality. Dividing your yard into rooms, makes areas more manageable, and allows you to use different color palettes. Here is an aerial sketch of Allen’s city home in Arkansas, showing 13 distinct areas, from the house (1) to the toolshed/chicken house (7).

I love all the unique areas, with different themes and purposes, all arranged to surround the house, which sits on a corner lot. One of my favorite areas is #5, the Rondel garden.

Allen uses hedges, shrubs, or espaliers to create boundaries (walls) for his rooms, arbors as doorways, and walkways as hallways to draw you from room to room. He likes to block the view into the next garden, which creates mystery, so you are curious to see what is around the corner.

Chapter by chapter, Allen teaches the 12 Principles of Design, explaining each element and its importance, along with beautiful pictures to demonstrate each principle.

The book is full of stunning photos, and instructions for do-it-yourself garden projects.

This is both a beautiful and inspirational hardback book. Copyrighted in 2003, you can buy used copies on Amazon for as little as $6.50, a great value for all it offers. A wonderful book for a garden library.

Allen has written several other books, and the one I’d like to buy next is, Living in the Garden Home. You may already be familiar with P. Allen Smith and have followed him through the years. His first book, Garden Home, is based on the gardens of his city home in Little Rock, Arkansas. He has also built a newer and much larger home, called Moss Mountain Farm in Roland, Arkansas, which overlooks the Arkansas River. Here tours are given of his garden rooms, which are beautiful, large, and extensive.

Besides his books, he has three TV programs, called “Garden Style”, “Garden Home”, and “Garden to Table”. I’ve watched many of the episodes on YouTube, which is a never ending source of garden information.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the size of your yard, or how to arrange your gardens, I hope you might check out this book, either from your local library or purchase a copy from Amazon.

Even though the weather is still chilly, the photos alone inspire me to get out in the garden and find anything I can to do.

Are you ready to create your garden home?

Categories
DIY Home Decor Projects

aging clay pots

When I saw these sweet little pots at Michael’s, I immediately fell in love with their scalloped rims.

I had walked by, admiring them on several trips to Michaels before caving in and finally buying them when they went on sale at half off. What I hadn’t noticed prior to getting them home was how light the clay color was compared to my other pots. I think I had been so taken with their sweet scallops, that I also didn’t realize I wasn’t overly fond of the white sprayed texturing either.

I decided I was going to not only paint them darker, but try to make them look aged at the same time. A trip to Lowes to pick out a sample size container of paint was the first step. I ended up picking Valspar’s “Woodland” color, which is the darkest color on this sample card.

I used a foam brush to dab on the paint, and I left some parts purposely unpainted to give the appearance of depth and dimension. I only applied one splotchy coat of paint.

Next I dabbed on some leftover green house paint here and there, using a dry brush technique to give it a mossy look.

And then, an even softer coat of a lighter shade of leftover green paint.

I did give the pots a rough rub down with some dirt to make the texturing look more natural, before applying a coat of toner or you could use a glaze. Darkening the pots even more, makes them instantly look older.

There are many methods of aging clay pots, that you can find on the internet. Each method will give you a different finished look.

I was mainly interested in obtaining a mossy, aged look, so they wouldn’t look so new beside my other clay pots.

These pots don’t have holes in the bottom for drainage, so for now, I’ve chosen to use faux plants in them.

Also, since most all of the paints and finishes I used on the pots were interior paints, for now they will also be used inside.

They make the perfect container for a faux plant, and the perfect size to use in a small or poorly lit area.

This is a small, inexpensive project that can be done with any new or used/old pot, and the finished outcome is totally up to you.

Categories
DIY Flea Markets Gardening Projects vintage

rusty barrel rings

This next project was one I’d been wanting to do for several years now. One of those things you tend to put off because you can see it in your mind’s eye and how cool it could be, but not sure if it will live up to those expectations.

This idea came from the blog, For the Love of a House. Since I have always used whiskey barrels as rain barrels in my yard, I tucked the idea away in the back of my mind, waiting for the day when my barrels fell apart from use and age, and the metal rings would be available for recycling. In the last couple years I have had to replace my two rain barrels, so I finally had enough rings to make this project.

Although nervous, I decided to take the plunge and just “go for it”. After all, there was really nothing to lose. So, I dug the rings that were sitting behind the shed, out of the snow, mud, and leaves, and brought them into the house to dry out.

They really were a dirty, rusty mess, and I wish I had set them inside the shed instead of leaving them outside to deteriorate all these years. After cleaning them up a little, I sorted them into piles of different sizes. A couple of the rings had rusted through and separated, so they were not useable for this project. But, I did find four rings of one size, and three rings of another size, allowing me to make two orbs.

Because I was making these by myself, I was not able to take photos and hold the rings at the same time. This project is really best done with two people, one to hold the rings in place, and the other to do the drilling. For this reason, I am referring you to For the Love of a House for their tutorial. Every step is explained very well, with photos to demonstrate.

Because I don’t have a drill press, (as they used in their tutorial), I had to make do with my hand drill. It will most likely take longer to do the drilling this way, but the same result will be accomplished in the end.

For this project, good clamps are your friend and almost as good as a second pair of hands.

Once the holes are drilled through all the rings, and lined up, you can insert the screw through the holes, and attach the washer and nut. If the screw is too long, it can be sawed off with a hack saw.

Normally you would insert the screw into the rings from the outside, which is opposite of the above photo. But I wanted to set this orb on a cement garden pedestal that had a hole in it, so I chose to use a much longer screw that I could insert in the hole, so the orb wouldn’t blow off.

My orb wasn’t entirely round and balanced, since I didn’t get the rings spaced perfectly, so the longer screw was necessary to help it stay on the pedestal. If you’re just placing it on the ground in your garden, you can certainly use a shorter screw.

Here is how the smaller first orb with four rings came out.

Normally, this pedestal sits in the garden amidst a bed of lamb’s ears and monarda with an angel statue on top. I guess I’ll have to find a new home for the angel now. Since there is still too much freezing and thawing going on outside to put the pedestal out in the elements, the orb and pedestal will stay in the house for a month or so until it is safe weather wise to put them out together.

When totally finished, all the shiny metal hardware was painted with a brown paint to make it less noticeable. Aren’t those rusty rings perfection?

The larger second orb has only three rings, and I am leaning towards finding a home for it on the ground in the shade garden.

I do need your opinion on the second orb though. I am contemplating spray painting it with black Rustoleum paint. It will be sitting amidst green hostas and ferns. Do you prefer black or rust? I can’t decide which I would like better. Regardless of the decision, both orbs will be sprayed, either black or with a clear polyurethane finish to help protect them and slow down the rust process.

Here is another idea I saw on Pinterest, that I thought was beautiful. Maybe I could find a nice black plant container, paint the 3-ring orb black, and use it in this manner.

So, if you ever come across some whiskey barrel rings at a yard sale or flea market, be sure to pick them up and give this a try. They make a unique garden ornament. You can purchase them online, but you can make your own for a fraction of the price that people are charging for them, and you have the satisfaction of knowing you made it yourself.

Take a look at how Dan and Joan from The Love of A House, used the orb they made on their terrace.

Categories
Home Decor Spring vintage

adding space

Because we’ve had such a dreary snowless winter, I’ve been cheering myself and my kitchen with a few spring flowers from Trader Joe’s. Unfortunately, none of my windows provide very good light.

I have an old green cabinet that sits directly under the only kitchen window. Even being so near the window, the plants were not thriving because they sat well below the window ledge. In order to raise them up to window height, I brought a vintage cheese box that was in the living room and set it on the green cabinet. It not only elevated the plants, but created a shelf underneath, allowing for a place to tuck a few things.

The top shelf holds the hellebore I bought in January. Probably grown on in a cool greenhouse, it is neither equipped to handle the still too cold outside temperatures, nor the warmth of a house. Consequently, it has not done well, and I’ll be happy if I can just keep it alive until April, when I can plant it in the ground.

On the other side of the top shelf is an Angel Vine plant that I’ve had for at least 5 years. It always adds a touch of sweet softness wherever I place it.

In-between is a candle, faux tulips, and a garden angel that was a gift.

In the bottom shelf I can tuck a variety of either small, useful, or decorative items.

And the fun part is I can change things around over and over again . . . and I do. I finally moved the hellebore to the unheated upstairs dormer window in hopes it would be happier. In its place I put two vases of forsythia branches to force into bloom.

And more flowers from Trader Joe’s.

Since my kitchen is so small, every space counts for storage and practical reasons. It’s always fun to move things around, and especially to have a new area to decorate. Let the fun begin.

Categories
DIY Projects

while waiting for spring

Usually I embrace, or at least I really try to embrace each season and all its benefits, without rushing into the next. March is always a mixture of winter, with teases of spring. If nothing else, at least you know you are in the homestretch of winter and the finish line is in sight. But I think the reason I’ve been struggling so much this year with waiting for spring, is because we’ve had the mildest winter I can ever remember. It has literally felt like March since Christmas. And in my mind, that tells me spring is just around the corner. But according to the calendar, it isn’t.

All these starts and stops of winter have created an intense itching for spring. I often found myself wishing there was a cream that would ease this itch. I tried to ease the itch by buying cut or potted flowers at Trader Joe’s. That helped for awhile. Then I tried with slowly changing some of my decor from winter to spring. But, I think I have finally found the solution.

I decided to start working on some of my spring painting projects now. These are things I could do outside when the weather finally warms. But, by bringing things inside, I found I could put down a drop cloth, do my painting in the living room, and get them out of the way now.

I started with my obelisk that was showing signs of wear. It definitely needed a scrub down and fresh coat of paint. It is stored in the greenhouse during the winter, so I brought it in the house to dry out for about a week before painting.

I have done tons of painting in my lifetime, and the older I get, the less I enjoy this necessary task. So I decided to break down the painting into manageable bits that could be done quickly and easily in small increments of time. My solution . . . bottoms always first . . . first coat.

Everything dries quite quickly in the dry heat of a winter home, requiring only two days to apply two coats on both the underside and the top side. With the TV nearby for entertainment, I hardly noticed I was painting.

This obelisk is really tall, only inches short of my 8-foot ceiling, and before I knew it, it was finished.

Looking clean and crisp again, I will leave it inside for another week for the paint to completely cure before taking it back to the greenhouse to wait for spring. This obelisk is about ten years old, and was somewhat expensive. For this reason, I try to keep on top of its condition so it will last my entire lifetime.

As soon as it’s warm enough to turn the soil, I will be placing the obelisk in the center of what will be my new rose garden, with the beautiful David Austin rose, “Princess Anne” planted to meander up and through it.

While painting the obelisk, I brought in a garden bench that I set upside down on the washing machine, so the feet that were sitting in the damp ground could thoroughly dry out. In it’s lifetime, it has been painted black, then white, and now a soft green.

I always prefer to start “bottoms up” to get the worst part out of the way first.

It took less than five minutes to paint the top, and by the second day it was finished.

For some reason, even though this is an older bench, no matter how often I paint it, the paint continues to peel off on the top and seep sap. The top usually gets a touch up again around mid summer.

The bench will also stay inside for a few weeks, with hopes that if the paint dries and cures well, maybe it won’t peel.

Working on all these projects has definitely helped me to enjoy these last weeks of winter. Winter may drag on for another four weeks if it feels contrary, but with every outdoor project I finish inside, I find I don’t mind. At the same time I brought in the bench to dry out, I hauled in these old rusty rings from old whiskey barrels that used to be rain barrels in the yard. They were covered with dirt, leaves, and snow, and are the next project in waiting . . . to be continued.