Summer Fun

One year ago this month, we became homeowners. This time last year, I was frantically painting the fireplace (lots of terrible, grainy photos here).

I’ve had requests to post more about the great outdoors around the house. It’s hard to overstate how much it’s changed in one year. Last July, the bulk of the yard was thick with 8-10 foot tall grasses and weeds. A year later, it really looks like a lawn. This spring, the lawnmower we bought off Craigslist last year broke. Then we found a restored John Deere riding mower on Craigslist (hurray for Craigslist!) at a really great price, so we jumped on it:

Here’s Ben having fun with our new toy in an area of our yard that was completely inaccessible just a year ago.

We’ve cut so much brush that, until recently, there were five or six giant (I’m talking 6-ft. tall, 10 ft. wide) piles of brush in the yard, which has meant some great bonfires.

But you can’t always burn brush (due to county-wide burn bans to prevent wildfires, etc.), and even a big fire takes all day to get through a pile of brush. A month or so later, Ben also found a wood-chipper on Craigslist (Craigslist has been seriously good to us):


We’ve been trying to really enjoy the expanded yard: lawn games, hammocks, even fireworks on the Fourth of July–

String lights, tissue tassel bunting and bonfire on the Fourth of July

View of the house from the Fourth of July bonfire

The first harvest of statice flowers from our garden

The view from our hammock

Even the deer have been enjoying our yard--when we leave the gate open

It’s been an incredible first year of home-ownership. And it’s been a delightful summer so far. And what’s more, it’s likely to get even better–as we’re getting married (here! on our own land!) in, oh, five or six weeks (!!).

Weekend Thrifting

Found two really sweet items at a yard sale this weekend–both are from Mexico and over 30 years old:

I love this woven suitcase. I’d love to use it as a picnic basket, but I worry it’s too fragile. The yard is fluorescent pink–it’s remarkable how bright it is. Tell me what to use this for, please, Internet.

This basket is also in incredible shape for its age. It’s about 16″ high and 15″ in diameter. I have no idea how to use this one, either. But the seller was eager to sell–when he saw I was interested, he talked himself down to $10 for both. How could I not?

We also came across something a little pricier:

The seller wanted $7000 for this 1958 Airstream. It was in rough shape, and we just aren’t ready to put that much work into it right now (we’ve got plenty of projects as it is!), but someday we’d love to have a restored camper guest-house on our property.

Ok, tell me what to do with my beautiful handwoven baskets now. Thank you.

A quick lawn-chair refresh

While I was on a recent work trip, my partner did some really killer thrifting. I came home to some great new toys–the best one was my new roadbike, a beautiful black and red Motobéccane “Super Mirage.” Unbelievably, I still haven’t taken a decent photo of it. I’ll do that, and come back to it. Today I want to talk about another gem Ben found that week. What would you think if you saw this sitting in someone’s driveway at a yard sale:

Ben thought: Sidonie would love this. And he was spot on. I love this.

I knew right away when I saw it what I would do: A few coats of Danish oil would revive the dull wood, and a coat of Howard’s Feed-N-Wax would keep it looking fresh. Outdoor canvas would work best for the seat, because it’s durable and won’t stretch out (much) over time and can stand to be left out in the rain if we forget to bring it inside (likely!).

I also knew we still have a big stash of Dwell Studio’s outdoor canvas in Peony–if you’ve been following this blog for several years, maybe you remember it from our little camp stool (which did make the trip to Washington with us) or our beloved porch furniture (which, sadly, did not).

It only took a day to polish up the wood and make the sling seat, but of course I ran into issues–namely, my inability to “measure twice, cut once.” I made the sling too short, but a few days later I redid it and I’m really pleased with the result:
It’s so amazing to watch dry wood rehydrate. Doesn’t the frame look amazing now? It’s lovely and satin-y and smooth.
It’s held on by dowels that slip into loops I sewed into the fabric, which makes it really quick and easy to remove/replace. The  gray cord that runs perpendicular and keeps the seat and back taught was a total experiment, but I love how it turned out. It’s remarkably comfy!
The chair has a great design that allows it to recline really easily. Apparently there was a matching chair that still had fabric on it, but it sold before Ben arrived at the yard sale. It would’ve been so great to have two!
Someday I’d like to try “weaving” cord in both directions to make a seat instead of the fabric “sling.” For now, though, this makes me pretty happy.

An Old Update

Here’s something I did last fall that I meant to write about at the time, and… didn’t. Forgot, maybe. Or got lazy. Anyway, it’s no big deal, just a little change that makes me smile on a daily basis.

The hallway that leads from the big, open living space (kitchen/dining/living room) to the bathrooms and bedrooms had some dim and dated light fixtures–

They aren’t terrible, I guess, but they aren’t great, either.

I picked up three dark blue industrial-style pendant lamps at a thrift shop and decided to try them out in the hallway. The ceilings in here aren’t really high enough to be ideal for these lamps, but I think it works–and at $5/pendant, it won’t hurt if I want to switch them out later.

Since these photos were taken, I also bought half-chromed (incandescent) bulbs, so the light reflects back up against the bright white interior, and gives off a bright glow without shining in your eyes. Perfect.
Does anyone know if you can get half-chromed CFLs anywhere? I haven’t found them, but eventually these incandescents are going to burn out and I’m going to be sad.

Anyway, this little change definitely made the hallway seem less neglected, but I’d still like to weave a long runner for it–I’m thinking black and gray, so as not to add too much visual clutter to the small space–and I’d like to find some art for the opposite wall, which is just a little bare:

Of course, long-term, I’d also like to install nicer doors (these are hollow-core and cheap) and hardware, plus remove the carpet and install wood flooring, probably. But that’s years away.

(In case you’re wondering, the first room on the left is the bathroom, the second room on left is our bedroom, which has its own bathroom; the first door on the right is my office, and the last door on the right is our guest bedroom/my craft room; behind the double doors at the end of the hall is a linen closet).

Now the question is whether to use the third of these blue pendants in the kitchen.

Previously there were two fluorescent lamps in the kitchen, one of which I subsequently replaced with track lighting. One fluorescent lamp remains, and boy, is it ever from the seventies:

Oh, yeahhhhh.

So what do you think? Could the third blue industrial-style pendant work here? It would sort of mirror the one in front of the linen closet at the end of the hall, since the pantry doors are the same as those linen closet doors, and it might kind of pull the kitchen and the hallway together, visually.

Anything would be an improvement, but of course, changing out fluorescents takes a little work, and then it’s a pain to recycle the tubes… plus I’m certain there will be yellow ceiling paint behind the fixture (there was behind the other kitchen fluorescent), which means painting the ceiling, which is also a huge pain. So it’s not a quick fix–still, totally worth it, right?

Saturday Activities

It’s a beautiful drizzly day in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m not letting it go to waste. After a delicious brunch at our usual place and a little antique mall window shopping with my brother, I came home and dove into one of my favorite projects: re-arranging the furniture.

Here’s our living room. It looked good already, and it was pretty functional, although sometimes it felt a little tightly packed with all our big furniture (two seven-foot couches, three end tables, a five-foot coffee table, a comfy chair and that big pouf I made last fall). But sometimes even when things are good, I like to switch them up anyway, just for fun. I love new things.

I tried a bunch of different options. The couches are both two-piece sectionals, so I tried making some L shapes:

I didn’t care for either of those very much.

The floor plan is really open, so we can either go with that plan and leave lots of walk-ways through the living room to the kitchen, dining room, hallway and patio doors, or we can strategically close off walkways to make the space feel cozier and, well, more like a room. Here’s an attempt to close off the walkway to the patio, leaving a sort of hall way behind the couch:

But the couches are just too big for that option to look very elegant. Everything looks kind of cramped and you end up with even less usable space.

In the end, I liked the very first thing I tried, which looks like the option above but reversed, opening up the space toward the patio doors and hall:

It doesn’t really photograph very well. And the dents in the carpet drive me a little crazy. And actually, I’m not sure I like it better than it was before. I wonder if it would feel more balanced if I switched the cream and mauve couches around, so the back wall was visually a little lighter, and the area closer to the patio doors a little more visually anchored.

We’re going to live with it for a couple weeks and see. Maybe we’ll just go back to the way things were. Or maybe I’ll keep playing around with it all day, because it’s just that much fun.

Any layout input? Feel free to share in the comments.

I can’t remember the last time someone left a non-spam comment here. Just sayin. You’re welcome to. If you like. No pressure.


Rugs. Always more rugs.

The very observant reader might have noticed in yesterday’s kitchen update post that more than just cabinet paint has recently changed.

Nope, I’m not talking about the marble pastry board, which was a housewarming gift from Ben’s (generous!) aunt & uncle–

Though it is certainly lovely and note-worthy (this photo is from my birthday, last September–obviously I have been negligent in blogging).

No, I’m talking about rugs. Of course. I’m always talking about rugs. We moved the one that used to be in my office into the kitchen. It’s full of blues and oranges, so it fits right in. Here’s a reminder (because yesterday’s post is already so far away!)–

I’ve already acknowledged that I have a rug problem. While we were in India, I bought no fewer than three new rugs. Three! When we already have rugs we don’t have room for. Sigh. Anyway, one of them was just right for the office, so I thought I’d try this one out in the kitchen, and I think I really like it.

Meanwhile, the office is really coming together. It’s SO hard to take photos of this little  room, especially in the middle of a bright, sunny day, but I’ll do my best. Here’s the new rug in place. It’s a dhurrie, hand-woven in Kashmir–

In December, I found a perfect floor lamp at a thrift shop–actually, a pair of lamps; its twin is currently in the guest bedroom/craft room, which isn’t perfect, but works for now. Here’s the office lamp:

I love this spot for reading now. We got that practically brand-new recliner off Craigslist last fall, and my mom got me the Glacier National Park blanket from Pendleton for Christmas, and it’s wonderful.

Ben got me a couple of Pendleton blankets for Christmas, too, which makes me both very lucky & very warm. You can never have too many beautiful, cozy blankets. And Pendleton blankets are really the best.

There are still two other new rugs, for those of you keeping track, but I’ll save them for another day.

Fresh Kitchen, Fresh Food

We just returned home from seven weeks of traveling, and I can’t tell you how nice it is to be home. We spent three weeks running across the country on Amtrak, visiting relatives and friends, followed by four weeks in India, for the wedding of a college friend of mine and a yoga retreat. It was delightful. And it’s even more delightful to be back.

Wedding decorations, wedding preparations // Calcutta, India

Bringing in the fishing nets // Kochi, India

Travel is wonderful, I love it, and I don’t think I’d be a very happy person without it. But even as you feel empowered by making and executing plans, experiencing new places, taking risks, etc., you start to feel a little helpless: most places, you can’t cook for yourself. You don’t really clean up after yourself. You don’t have anything to take care of but your own self, and you (or rather, I) start to really look forward to having a few good old-fashioned responsibilities.

Is that weird?

Well, anyway, I’ve been knocking out chores for the past few days, and it feels great. Dusting everything, sorting two months’ worth of mail, paying bills, cleaning the oven–and best of all, cooking lots of delicious food. While we adored all the delicious Indian food we’ve been eating for the past few months, it feels great to eat fresh, simple meals we make ourselves.

And here’s the best part: the kitchen improved while we were gone! I stalled out on painting our cabinets back in September or October, and couldn’t bring myself to get started on them again, so for months we’ve been living with unintentional open shelving mixed with unpainted cabinets, mixed with the few cabinets I did get around to painting–and it’s been more than a little irritating to look at.

But my wonderful brother came to the rescue and offered to finish the cabinets as a Christmas present! He’s not done yet, but he’s made a serious dent and the results are beautiful. As a quick reminder, here’s how it looked last fall:

And here’s how it was looking last fall (wow that’s a bad photo!):

And here’s where it’s at now:

Ahh. So fresh!

It’s still far from finished, of course. Pull back to reveal more unpainted or missed cabinet fronts–

And chaos reigns on the other side of the room–

But it’s starting to feel like it could someday be finished, which would be like a dream.

Anyway, with the kitchen feeling so fresh, I’ve been really enjoying cooking. Last night I tried to make pho for the first time, with fried tofu and spring rolls. For the pho, I used this recipe from The Kitchn. There are definitely things I’d do differently next time (more ginger! more stock!), but it was delicious. It was only my second time making spring rolls, so I’m still getting the technique down. On the side are soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and my homemade ginger-plum sauce, which I love.

Good Luck

Something very exciting happened over the weekend.

For a year I’d been complaining about the dearth of great finds on Craigslist out here on the coast: bemoaning the over-priced used Ikea furniture and the difficulty of picking up good finds, when they did appear, because we chose to live two hours away from major cities; and romanticizing the great deals we used to find “all the time” in the midwest. And I think it’s true, things cost more on the coasts (duh), and the midwest is FULL of great mid-century finds.

In particular, I’d been missing our sweet dining table that we picked up in the Chicago suburbs for $40 back in 2010, and sold in 2011 just before moving. That lovely made-in-Denmark, extendible beauty:

I’ve spent a few hours since then mulling over the odds of finding another one like it, and scrolling through listings for similar tables in Seattle, priced between $200 (needing work) and $1800 (not joking).

But I was hasty, and I forgot that, in Craigslist as in life, good things come to those who wait.

Imagine my surprise to find this diamond in the rough, located just about 10 minutes down the road from me, for $25. Twenty-five. Dollars.

Even though I troll my local Craigslist furniture pages regularly, I somehow missed this beat-up beauty for two whole days. By the time I caught it, I was sure it would be gone. Twenty-five dollars is a great deal for any wood table.

This one, made of teak and stamped Made in Denmark, with a maker’s mark from Vejle Stole Og Møbelfabrik, had definitely seen better days. It wouldn’t really be a Craigslist deal without a solid moment of doubt, and mine came when I pulled up at the house to buy it, and found it sitting outside in the rain/mud, covered with a tarp, and with the edge banding peeling off on almost every edge. Two pieces of edge banding were already completely separated from the table. There was plenty of water damage and light scratches, and one or two burn marks, and the tabletop was pretty warped.

After a very light sanding (the tabletop is veneer, so I couldn’t sand too much for fear of sanding straight through the veneer) and gentle cleaning, I treated the whole thing to a heavy dose of teak oil. The wood was extremely dry, which is why the color was almost gray and undoubtedly why the edge banding had separated and fallen off–as the wood dried, it contracted and shrunk. One thing my woodworker brother has taught me is that the contraction and expansion of wood is a powerful force, powerful enough to split apart the wood itself, if given the chance.

For excellent advice on refinishing vintage wood, I recommend what everyone else has probably already recommended, Morgan Satterfield’s thorough post on The Brick House. I followed a very similar set of steps: clean, sand lightly, clean, oil with teak/danish oil, repeat as needed, finish off with Howard’s Feed-N-Wax, enjoy.

Some discoloration was still visible after oiling, so I lightly sanded again, and oiled several more times, and it mostly evened out.

Next, I had to re-glue the edge banding where it had fallen off or was coming loose. I used wood glue, and held the pieces on during the glueing process with painter’s tape, which doesn’t leave a residue.

So plenty of damage is still evident, but it’s so much more lovely, and the teak oil absorbs into the wood and hardens, protecting the wood from future damage (to some extent). I really don’t mind that it shows wear–it makes it a little less nerve-wracking to set warm dishes on it (hot pads and coasters are my best friends, anyway), and it gives it that all-important “character,” right?

I am SO happy with this table in our dining room.

It pulls the dining and living areas together more, since the deep red color ties into the color of the floating cabinets, and it definitely makes our mismatched chairs look classier and more put-together. I like the chairs a lot better, not that we have the table in place. It also takes advantage of the shape of the rug so much better than our old, square table.

And just so you don’t think it’s all peaceful and pristine around here, here’s a view toward the kitchen, where I have been messily canning applesauce all weekend, and still–still!–have not painted our cabinet doors. Somebody come help me. I just cannot bring myself to do it.

It’s feeling more like a home–more like our home–every day.

Worth every penny. Thank you, Craigslist.

Plum Crazy, Pt. 2: Pflaumkuchen


After thirty or forty jars of jam and sauce, it was super fun to do some baking. These simple German-style plum cakes don’t use up a lot of plums but they’re easy to make and they do freeze well (or so I’ve read–this is my first time making them!), so I ended up making five of them. Good thing we have a lot of freezer space!

I did a little experimenting to get to a cake I was really happy with, and here’s what I thought worked best:


1/2 C. butter, softened
3/4 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 C. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt
~15 plums, halved and pitted

Preheat oven to 350F.
Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl. Add the eggs and beat thoroughly. Add the flour, baking powder, vanilla and salt and mix well. Spoon the mixture into a 10″ springform pan. Place one half plum face-down in the center, and arranged the other halves face-up in concentric circles around the center.
Bake 45 minutes, until top is golden brown and a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove springform and allow to cool.
If freezing, be sure to let it cool completely before wrapping with plastic wrap or another airtight packaging.

Did the plums sink in, or did the batter rise up?

I haven’t thawed one yet, so I can’t say how good they are after freezing. The internet seems to think they stay pretty good, so, y’know, take that for what it’s worth. I did read that you should NOT re-heat them after freezing, just thaw for several hours and serve at room temperature.

Anyone have experience freezing/thawing cakes? Any tips? I’m out of my element here, but I’m really hopeful for delicious pflaumkuchen whenever I feel like. Maybe served with a little plum sorbet?

While I was at it, I made a tart, too. This one also supposedly freezes well, but I’m not so sure.

I had seen something similar in a few places, so I just kind of made this one up as I went. I made a pie dough (my recipe is here, if you want it–I just use the basic pie dough from Joy of Cooking). After letting the dough chill for 30 mins., I rolled it out placed it in the pan, and then let that chill for another hour or so.

Then I quartered a whole bunch of plums and arranged them “artfully” in the dish:

I baked it at 375F for 50 minutes or so. The plums cooked and released their juices and turned pink. So easy, so delicious. It doesn’t keep super well, though, so I had Ben take it to work to have hungry farmers finish it off.

And the best news is: there’s just one more plum post left, I promise. Then we can all get back to the fun stuff.

Plum Crazy, pt. 1: Sorbet & Jam

Italian plum sorbet

Disclosure: If you don’t like fruit, or you don’t enjoy recipe/cooking posts, you might just want to skip this week. It’s going to be a little heavy on the plums.

I haven’t posted much yet about our fruit trees. My mistake. Our new home came with four apple trees, two cherry trees, a currant bush, a pear tree, and two plum trees–one Asian plum (think sweet, juicy cling-fruit) and one Italian prune plum (think dark purple freestone fruit).

The Asian plums came and went in July, and they were beautiful and delicious and, because of their juiciness and inseparable pits, pretty hard to work with. I made a plum salsa I was pretty happy with, and we ate a bunch of them fresh, and more than enough of them to fill a five-gallon bucket fell to the ground before we could get to them.

Plum salsa with taco fixins

But while I was out of town last weekend, our Italian plums came ripe. My wonderful partner got out the ladder and spent hours picking plums. It took two days and several wasp stings, but when we was done our fridge was packed with about 80 pounds of plums.

Our little orchard

The heavily-laden Italian plum tree, a week or two before harvest

So yesterday Ben and I went out to breakfast and mulled over what to do with all these plums. When we got home, we got to work. I started with a sorbet recipe that called for two pounds of pitted plums, which I doubled.

We'll never use up 80 lbs. at this rate.

Italian Plum Sorbet

2 lbs. Italian prune plums, halved and pitted
1/2 C. brown sugar
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. bourbon, optional

In a large pot, combine the plums and sugar and cook over medium heat, about 15-20 minutes, until plums reduce and sauce begins to thicken. Remove from stove and cool.
Add lemon juice and bourbon, and process in food processor until smooth. Place mixture in a glass pan in the freezer for four hours.
Remove from freezer and mix, by hand or in food processor again. Return to freezer until ready to serve.

Italian prune plums aren’t very sweet or juicy raw, so it’s amazing to watch them transform under heat into a sticky, sweet, colorful, juicy mess.

After processing and freezing, then processing and freezing again, I wound up with a sorbet that is complex and tangy and not too sweet. Perfect. I’ll be making more of this.

After the sorbet, I moved on to jam. I made three batches of jam, each using about four pounds of pitted plums.

Plum Jam

4 lbs. Italian prune plums, pitted and diced
4 C. white sugar
1.5 C. Water
1/3 C. lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. (I love my 6 quart Kobenstyle pot for jam because it holds heat so well, and the enamel makes it so easy to clean. Plus it’s lovely to look at.) Cook over medium heat for 40-50 minutes until temperature reaches 200F (jamming temperature at sea level).

Test the jam to see if it will set by sticking a couple of metal spoons in the freezer. Dip a cold spoon in the jam and watch the mixture flow off the back of the spoon. If it drips, it’s not ready; if it “sheets” off (drips combine together and run off slowly), it’s ready and will set up just fine when cooled.

These plums, like apples, have enough natural pectin that you don’t need to add any for the mixture to jell. I love that.

Before the next set of photos, I should note that I am not using a candy thermometer, because I don’t have one, and that this is not a great thermometer to use because it maxes out at 220F, which is what I’m trying to reach. I don’t rely heavily on a thermometer for jam, though maybe if I had an appropriate one, I would? Who knows.

Once it’s ready, remove the pot from heat, and fill your sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Process jam for 5-10 mins in a water bath. If you’ve never canned before, there are TONS of helpful guides on the internet, go check those out. It is not hard at all, but a little confidence will make it a lot more fun.

After the jam, we moved on to cakes, prunes and savory sauce. Yes, processing plums is ALL we did on Sunday. It was a little bit tedious, but in an attempt not to make it tedious for you, I’m going to break it up into a few posts.

Next time: cakes!