Monday, September 29, 2014

Fall Planting

 I know, you would think I would be sharing pictures of planting mums, not hydrangeas!  It all started when I casually went looking for fall pansies.  No pansies to be found, but instead all kinds of shrubs on sale.  I had no idea this is the time of year to buy... not just on sale, but "let me make you a bargain so I can clear out my nursery to make room for Christmas trees".  Justus and I both looked at each other and I knew we were thinking the exact same thing - looks like we'll be planting this weekend. 

 We had 28 shrubs sitting in our front lawn and then we were trying to figure out where and what we were going to do with all of them! 

 Ever since we tore out all kinds of ground cover four years ago in the front, we haven't planted anything in that space.  It was on the list, but just one of the many things we hadn't gotten to yet.  So Justus tilled, we planted and Justus even ran to the store to pick up a quick load of mulch just to see how our beds would look finished.  Now we're wondering how we went this long!     

Once we finish the mulch, the beds will wrap around the entire front and sides of the house.  Yesterday afternoon we sat on the swing for a while and I was thinking how pretty everything would hopefully look in five years... and then I realized I would have an 11 year old in five years, and I couldn't think further than that!  ;-)

Next on my list (once we finish the mulch, of course): more mums, pumpkins and pansies for the planters.  I did get out my fall pillow covers though! 

Love these burgundy leaves... 

 When we finished the chicken coop, I planted two boxwood on each side of the door.  This weekend we added more slowwww-growing boxwood to match on the side of the coop. So maybe we'll get to enjoy these in about 20 years or so.  ;-) 

 Hope you had a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Salmon with Spice Rub Recipe

 This is one of my favorite recipes to use for cooking salmon.  The main reason I love this recipe is because it doesn't require any marinading or much prep.  I cook supper nearly every day, but I am not much of a meal planner.  I never have a menu for the week (despite my best attempts) and it's not unusual for Justus to call me as he's leaving work (he has an hour commute) and the only thought I've given to the evening meal is setting out some chicken to thaw.  Especially in the summer!  Now that we have some after-school activities and the weather will cool down soon, I do have to put a little more thought into meals, but this salmon still ranks up there as a great meal to cook when I'm putting a meal together in a hurry! 

 This salmon has a delicious variety of seasonings that are mixed together and used as a rub.  If you want to add a little kick, you could even include some cayenne pepper, but since I have little ones, I keep the seasonings mild. 

The salmon is rubbed with the spice mixture...

And seared briefly in a skillet with some olive oil before putting in the oven. 

I always add some parchment paper to my baking pan before placing the salmon on it.  It saves on clean up! 

 The salmon is then placed in the oven and baked until done. 

(I always test with a fork to make sure it's cooked through.  You can tell by how easily it flakes.)

 We usually have salmon once a week and I always make a batch of brown rice as a side.  It's such a great pair and is even delicious mixed together.  An easy, healthy meal you can have on the table in less than an hour!   

Salmon with Spice Rub Recipe


2 lbs salmon fillets 
2 Tbsp organic brown sugar
1 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine brown sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin in a small bowl.  

Rub spice mixture on salmon fillets (the salmon I buy usually has the skin on, so I only place the spice rub on the top side of the salmon).

Meanwhile, add the olive oil to a skillet and heat over medium-high heat.  Once hot, place the salmon in the skillet and sear on each side for 1-2 minutes.  

Transfer the salmon to a baking pan or dish lined with parchment paper and place in the oven until done (the salmon will flake easily with a fork).  This will usually take about 5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the salmon.  Enjoy immediately! 

P.S.  This particular evening I was craving poppy seed dressing to go with our salad.  I combined kale, spinach & chard greens with sliced strawberries and chopped almonds and used this easy recipe for the poppy seed dressing.  It was pretty tasty! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

September Randomness

 The last days of summer are here and this year is no exception to any other for me.  Although I love fall, summer's departure feels a little bittersweet.  I'm still soaking in the warm days and snacking on the last of the cherry tomatoes in the garden. 

Still, I notice I've started craving things like warm scones out of the oven and pots on the stove simmering with all kinds of flavor.  (I think chili is a must on the menu this week.)  I'm watching for those little seeds I planted to start popping out of the ground in the garden with our (hopeful) fall bounty.  The fall flowers are starting to bloom in the flower garden and we're dreaming of a stand packed full with bouquets in shades of fall. 

 The farmers markets are starting to bring out all the delights of fall.  So far I've managed to resist the pumpkins, but definitely not the apples! 

Our big project to start this fall is our upstairs bathroom.  We've been putting it off for... oh, a year or so.  ;-)  But I noticed Justus sketching away this weekend with ideas, and I'm dreaming away. 

Happy early fall to you! 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Weathering Wood with Steel Wool & Vinegar

When we went to Florida early this summer, we first stopped to spend a few days with our good friends that moved there.  They had the most beautiful wood console sitting in their living room, which Justus and I both admired and I told Justus I would love something similar for a coffee table.  My friend told me that somebody had made theirs out of pine and it was an Ana White plan.  When I commented on the gorgeous stain, she said it was steel wool and vinegar.  Wow!  You know I could hardly wait to come home and research that.  It didn't take me long to find the plans and wouldn't you know it, there was a plan for a coffee table and an end table! 

Recently I went to visit my sister-in-law for the weekend, and when I came home Sunday night, I found the coffee table sitting in the guest room.  Justus had made it for me while I was away and surprised me.  (I know, it made my heart melt too.)  Since the coffee table was made and ready to go, all I had to do was research the steel wool and vinegar method.  I don't typically share project tutorials here, but this was the most fun I've ever had working on furniture and thought you might enjoy trying it too.  

You'll find a lot online about using this method, but mostly I wanted to share photos during each phase, because it takes a lot of "ugly" steps before it reaches the "pretty"!  When I first stained the coffee table, I thought for sure I had ruined it, but I loved the end result.  Needless to say, I didn't take any photos at that time, so these are photos from the matching end table that Justus built. 


 Step 1: At least a few days prior to working on your wood project, you'll want to create your steel wool and vinegar solution.  This consists of purchasing distilled white vinegar and grade #0000 steel wool (I used Rhodes American Steel Wool #0000 found at Wal-Mart in the hardware section).  Tear one chunk of the steel wool into pieces and then place in a glass jar.  Fill the jar with white vinegar, screw on a jar lid and let the solution sit.  When I worked on the coffee table, the solution sat for three days.  When I worked on the end table, the solution sat for three weeks.  Both match perfectly.  You just want to allow enough time for the solution to oxidize.   

 In addition to the steel wool and vinegar solution, you will also need sandpaper for the initial sanding (I used 120 grit), black tea bags, a cheap paintbrush, 220 grit sandpaper (I used a block) for the finish, and wax. 

Step 2: Brew some strong black tea and let steep for at least an hour.  I filled our tea kettle and used 5 tea bags. 

 Step 3: Sand your furniture.  I used 120 grit sandpaper for this and my trusty old mouse sander I've had for years. 

 I really like to take my time sanding, paying attention to all areas.  These pieces were for our living room, and I wanted them very smooth and polished looking.  Once you're finished, wipe down the piece good.   I actually used my blow dryer first to blow all the wood shavings off and then followed with a lint free rag. 

 Step 4: Using the cheap paintbrush, paint tea all over the piece.  This sounds like such a funny step, but it's really essential.  Pine wood lacks tannin content, but tannin occurs in tea, and the steel wool and vinegar will react with the tea stain and darken the wood. I made sure I did one very thorough coat, getting in every nook and cranny.  On the table tops and legs, I actually did two coats.  Use your judgement - on the wood that looks very light in color, you may want to use a little extra tea.  Let the wood sit until completely dry. 

 Step 5:  Strain the steel wool and vinegar solution into a bowl.  There may be little steel wool particles left (as pictured above) that you will need to throw away.  I found there to be a lot less in this solution, which sat for 3 weeks.  (A note of caution: use a bowl you don't care about.) 

 Step 6:  Begin painting your steel wool and vinegar solution onto the wood.  Both times I used the same cheap paintbrush I had just used for the tea.  The first time I did this step, my heart started pounding and I was sure I had made a dreadful error in trying this experiment on my beautiful new coffee table.  I frantically started sanding as the wood got darker and darker, to no avail.  I decided to let it sit and started working on the bottom of the piece.  After a while, I saw it might have promise. 

 Some of the wood you will paint will be light gray in color.  Then other areas will appear black (see picture above).  Do not worry about it - I promise it will look right in the end. 

 As the solution sits, it will get darker.  This is a great example of the "ugly" stage.  On areas you've already painted and it has begun to dry, the color will have turned a dark gray (see outer edge).  When you first paint, the color will be a light gray-tan. 

 But as the solution begins to dry over the entire piece, you'll begin to have hope. 

 (If you happen to build a table using this same plan, Justus didn't attach the table top until I was finished with the stain as it made it much easier to work with.) 

 Step 7:  Even though your piece is looking so much better, you'll have a few places where you can clearly see drips (see photo above on right hand edge) and even areas where the wood is darker.   This is where the fine grit sandpaper comes in and this step makes all the difference.  I used a 220 grit sandpaper block. 

Just lightly sanding over the area removes the drip stain and helps the color blend (see above).  I used the sandpaper over the entire piece, focusing on areas that needed extra blending.  Be sure to wipe down the wood after you've finished sanding. 

Above is what the table looked like after doing the finish sanding.  Don't you love the weathered wood look?  I've never been fond of using stain on pine, but this method is so different and really eliminates the yellow color of pine showing through.  Looks like fun, doesn't it?  It really is!

 Step 8:  The final step is a wax finish.  By the way, at this point I've only worked on this for a few hours or so, even waiting for everything to dry, so it's a fast project.  Annie Sloan wax is the only wax I've ever used and I love it, so that's what I decided to use.  I can't say whether or not wax you can purchase at the hardware store is any different, but I've found this wax is easy to apply and I love the finish after it cures. 

 Using a disposable knife, I placed the wax on a paper plate and used a lint free cloth to apply the wax.  (I've found that old fashioned Gerber cloth diapers work great!) 

I've used a wax brush before, but the cloth seems to work perfect, especially on intricate areas.  You can see the wood is starting to look more brown and polished as the wax is applied.  I applied a couple light coats of wax over the entire piece. 

Step 9:  Finished!  The wax will take a little while to fully cure, but you can use it gently pretty much right away. I'm so happy with the way these tables turned out, and especially love them in our living room.  

I'm not sure if the wood really looks like barn wood, but it definitely has a weathered rustic look, yet is still very polished and clean (hopefully kind of Pottery-Barnish).  I'll show photos of them in the living room soon!

If you're interested in the building plans, you can find the coffee table plans here and the end table plans here.  And this is the awesome tutorial I found that helped the most with the oxidizing. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Taco Salad Recipe

 This recipe is really more like a meal suggestion.  It can be tweaked all kinds of ways and will still taste delicious.  I make this all the time, because it's so easy and quick.  It's perfect for Saturday lunch or a weeknight supper when life is hectic. 

 Most of the ingredients you likely already have on hand and you can add/take-away/substitute in a variety of ways that suit you and your family.  Here are the ingredients I used this weekend when I took photos:

1 lb ground beef
1 can pinto beans
minced garlic
frozen corn
cherry tomatoes
sour cream
tortilla chips

 We are very fortunate that we have access to a freezer full of grass fed, pasture raised beef, thanks to the cows my parents raise, but chicken would also be delicious.  I prefer to add the corn and beans to the beef so that the salad has a nice warm topping. And while I love a pot of beans made from scratch, nothing beats using a can every now and then when you're in a hurry! 

Beef/Beans/Corn Mixture
1 lb ground beef
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 can pinto beans
1 cup frozen or fresh corn

Begin by heating a skillet over medium-high heat and cooking the ground beef, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper until the beef is no longer pink.  Drain the fat from the beef and return to skillet.  Drain and rinse the can of pinto beans. Add the pinto beans and corn to the beef, stirring for a few minutes until thoroughly heated, and then remove from heat.  I usually add another few grinds of salt at this point too.

black olives
cherry tomatoes

Meanwhile, chop your salad ingredients.  Our tomatoes in the garden are just about finished - I will miss them so much!  Other ideas for ingredients that would be delicious to add: cilantro, green onions, shredded cheese, red onion. 

 Salad Dressing
sour cream

When I first threw this salad together, I made a dressing that had several ingredients.  One day when I was really in a hurry, I combined just these two ingredients and could hardly tell a difference.  Since then, that's all I use.  I don't measure - I just eyeball equal amounts of each.  Every now and then I'll even eliminate the sour cream and just use salsa.  But only for me... the rest of my family would not be happy!  ;-) 

When serving the salad, I also include a bowl full of tortilla chips.  We usually crush a few of them and mix in with the salad in our bowls.

 Add a base of salad, the meat topping, a little salad dressing, a few chips and you're good to go.  This is a delicious, simple, quick meal that's also very filling!  My girls absolutely love it when I make this salad... our youngest daughter, Rosetta, always says, "SO yummy!"   

P.S.  This also makes great leftovers.  I place the salad and meat topping in the same bowl, but on separate sides and put the salad dressing in a different container. 

Hope you enjoy! 
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