Tuesday, August 30, 2011

First Blackberry Harvest

We enjoyed our first blackberries from the berry garden this past weekend. 
To say that I was ecstatic would be an understatement.

My sweet Graham joined me for this festive occasion, although we only picked a few berries together before he started grabbing fistfuls of vines and leaves (with a readied open mouth).

There were enough ripe berries that morning to serve with our breakfast -
mmm mmm, so sweet.

I also picked the very last of our blueberries. 

A colander of sweet summer berries made my heart sing.

We enjoyed our fresh picked berries over whole wheat pancakes. It has become our weekend tradition for Mike to make us pancakes on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. 

He makes them mostly for me, I'll admit it. Although I do know that he enjoys them, it is mostly I who think it's perfectly acceptable to have them two mornings in a row... 

Although sometimes, I go out on a limb and request french toast...I know, I'm unpredictable

Pure organic maple syrup completes our weekend breakfast tradition.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Patio Table and Chairs

We have been enjoying our new patio table and chairs this summer, which provide much-needed space and are extra comfortable as well.

Here's the story of our dining patio.

My search began in early spring. Since I couldn't really get out to shop very easily with the babies, I was limited to online resources. 

I wanted the table and chairs to match the style of our house but wasn't able to find a set that was old-fashioned and had character. So I decided to mix and match. 

For the table, I ended up ordering a maple base kit that Mike assembled (the company recommended maple for outdoor use). The table seats six. All that remained was to add some simple cedar planks (cedar is most weather resistant) to complete the surface of the table. We stained the table with a platinum gray solid-body exterior stain from Benjamin Moore. Although the paint itself is different, we used the same platinum gray color on our wraparound porch floor.

It was a challenge to find white outdoor wicker chairs (in our price range). I looked online until my eyes were crossed and then my lovely friend Joan (For the Love of a House) suggested these chairs from Pier 1 Imports. They were exactly what I was looking for - not too bulky, nice lines, weather resistant, and affordable. I bought six. 

For the cushions (another lengthy search), I found these at Home Decorators Club.  I chose the color cilantro

We also added some new plantings to the patio. To complement the Limelight hydrangea, we replaced the lavender plants that were next to the stairs with these Little Lime hydrangea. It is a new variety of Limelight that I found at the nursery last spring. 

They offer a nice, compact version of the larger Limelight variety.

The regular Limelight blossoms can get as large as footballs. These larger blossoms are in the sunniest area of the patio.

We have one bowl of blueberries left to be picked in our berry garden, which is next to the picket fence. It has been nice to have fresh berries just a few steps off the patio. I asked our dog Lucy to look after the blackberries we planted at the end of the fence line to prevent any future raids from our local deer. ; ) 

In addition to the last of the blueberries, we have these to enjoy. 
I picked up 20 pounds of organic peaches last week, the latest summer treat in the County.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Exterior of the Old Sauna


This is a picture of the property when we purchased it. Buried in the overgrown yard was a little outbuilding (which I've circled) that the previous owners used as a sauna. 

This was the desert phase of our remodel! The renovations on the main house were mostly complete by then, leaving the arduous task of bringing the yard back to life

Here it is after we seeded the grass. I also had just planted an Endless Summer hydrangea under the little window. 

This is a closeup of the front facade, before we renovated the interior. 

You can see inside the old sauna here. 


This is one of those projects that will probably be ongoing. But it's looking a little happier since we installed a new wood door (the old door was a hollow core laminate version from the 70's). 

Thanks to so many of your suggestions, we loved the idea of installing a Dutch door but it was out of our price range (over $1,000). So we went with a wood-paned door from Simpson (the same company that made the rest of our doors), which was less than $300. 

We also removed the metal awning, which highlights the building's desperate need of a fresh coat of paint (the ongoing part...). 

The front bed has an Endless Summer hydrangea and a climbing clematis. We planted a mature boxwood on the corner for some winter color, and a hedge of Limelight hydrangea along the side. 

In the top photo, you can see an Incrediball hydrangea at the left of the frame. There are three Penny Mac hydrangeas to the left of the Incrediball (out of the frame). 

The Limelight are very happy here. They were transplanted from a front bed by the house, where they received too much sun for their liking. Here they enjoy a mix of sun and shade.

We're so glad that we had this little outbuilding shingled when we re-roofed our house. It was one of those spur of the moment decisions that paid off - otherwise who knows how long it would have taken us to get around to it!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First Blueberry Harvest

The blueberries are finally ready for harvest! I feel as if we've been waiting for this all summer as we've patiently watched the bushes flower, then form small green berries, and slowly grow into plump purple clusters. 

We have been surprised at how many berries the bushes produced. They were planted just this spring, and although they were rather mature bushes, we didn't anticipate a very large crop until next year. 

We also have been happy to see that the deer have not been back after their early pre-harvest sampling! I had a talk with them after their raid a few weeks ago and apparently, they're standing by our compromise agreement (i.e. eat all the roses you'd like but leave the berries alone).  

Margaret joined me for the first harvest as Graham was still down for his morning nap. 

The berries we picked were to accompany our morning pancakes. Now that the babies are eating solids, we'll be sure to include some blueberries in their menu this week - which is so exciting! 

We let Margaret explore the morning's pickings... 

with two hands. 

 She liked squishing them between her fingers. 

The varieties we planted (boy and girl bushes are needed to cross pollinate) were: 

Jersey Blueberry 
Berkeley Blueberry
Bluecrop Blueberry
Early Blue Blueberry
Herbert Blueberry 

Next harvest, blackberries! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More Summer Salads

Mike tried a new beet salad recipe. It's for pickled beets, although there is no canning involved. Mason jars were used for refrigerator storage only. 

There was one too many gold beets for the brine, but that evening's meal took care of that. 
We tossed the beets in a nice fresh green salad sprinkled with feta cheese.

Mike also made our favorite potato salad (yes, he is still doing the majority  all of our cooking). This is a recipe I found years ago from a farm fresh regional cookbook that his sister Mary sent us from Wisconsin. 

It's delicious. 

Madison Potato Salad

1/2 teaspoon salt
clove of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup mayonnaise 
1 cup plain yogurt
6 green onions, finely diced
6 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
3 pounds red potatoes
1/2 cup celery, chopped
pepper to taste

Quarter red potatoes and boil, set aside to cool.
In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. 
Add to red potatoes.  

Pickled Beets 

5 medium red beets 
5 medium yellow beets
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 or 5 dried basil leaves
1 1/4 cups white wine vinegar
1 1/4 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar 
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt 

Stem and boil beets in separate saucepans (to prevent color staining). Simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender. 
Drain and cool, keeping beets separate. 
Peel beets. 

Combine coriander seeds through bay leaves. Sprinkle over beets, dividing evenly. 
In a saucepan, combine vinegar through salt and bring to boil.  
Immediately pour over beets, dividing evenly. 

Let cool and refrigerate. 
Will last in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cherry Cannons

Due to our cool June and July weather, the cherry harvest has extended into August in our valley. As the last of the year's crop is harvested, our late summer days are filled with the distant muffled pop and poof of cherry cannons. They go off throughout the day to deter birds from swooping in to feast on the red fleshy fruit.

It's a soft subtle sound that you don't notice so much after a while. But every now and then, during a quiet pause, you hear them and think...cherries.


I'm sure the cherry cannons subliminally led me to stop in at the local organic farm down the road from us.

It's not your standard farm stand catering to drive up customers. There are no displays of fruit or a counter to walk up to. It's just a big, old packing house. My visit went something like this:

What do you have for fruit right now? Are peaches in?

No, we'll be picking peaches next week. We just have cherries right now.

Yes, of course, cherries. What's the smallest quantity of cherries I can buy?

20 pounds.

I thought, 'no, too much', but said, 'yes, I'll take twenty pounds of cherries.' 

They've just been picked, so they're still warm and may have some leaves mixed in...is that okay?

Just picked is good, sun warmed is perfect. 

cherries on pancakes
cherries for snack
cherries for lunch
cherries for dessert

We cleaned, pitted and froze about 15 pounds.

Perhaps we'll have cherries for Christmas like our Australian friends.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Salads

Among my favorite things to eat during the hot summer months are yummy cold salads. Last Sunday, we spent the afternoon making several cold salads to eat during the week. 

Here is one of the salads we made, which is a favorite. Its ingredients are simple: whole wheat pasta, chopped spinach, feta and kalamata olives. 

So fresh, so tasty...we eat it as a side salad but it can also be served as a light main course. 


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
1 tablespoon balsamic vinaigrette
2 garlic cloves, pressed
7 cups whole wheat spiral pasta (cooled)
3 cups chopped spinach
1/2 cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese 

 Combine cooked pasta (cooled), spinach, olives and feta. 
Toss with the dressing, which combines the olive oil, balsamic and garlic. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

East End Profile: Before and After


This is what the east side of the house looked like when we moved in. As you can see, several quirky additions had been made to the original footprint of the 1923 farmhouse. 


We tore down the small appendage with the bay window and built a larger dining room in its place. Also, we tore down the 70's style front porch addition and added the wraparound porch. 

Two new dining room windows offer a nice exterior detail. 

I planted a hedge of Little Lamb hydrangea underneath these windows. They are a sun tolerant variety but I found (when they were planted in the front bed last summer) that they really do much better with some shade.  

The Little Lamb hydrangea look very similar to a new variety of hydrangea that I planted in front of the dining room. The new variety is called 'Bombshell' and is also sun tolerant. 

The berry garden is thriving! Though, so much so that the deer have come around to do some pre-harvest sampling... 

 Here's a glimpse of what will soon be a very delicious summer treat, blueberries... 

... and blackberries. 

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