Front Porch Decorating

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“Porches are America’s lost rooms.”

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

One of my favorite spring rituals is setting up the front porch for warm weather living.  This year, I looked at the porch furniture coming out of storage and suddenly felt I had it all wrong.  I decided to move everything around.  Do you ever do this?   I really love the new design so much more and can’t figure out how I didn’t set it up this way all along.  The porch seems more spacious.  The conversation easier.  Movement around the porch smoother.  There is much more of the pretty outdoor rug, my design starting point, to see and enjoy.  I even had room to add a bar area!  It’s not a huge space but it lives big.  I had to laugh, as I sat on my “newly” designed porch reading the latest Architectural Digest issue, when the words of Bunny Williams, a favorite designer, jumped out at me:  “I get so upset when people ask what’s new in decorating? Just take what you have and make it look new.”  Point well taken Bunny!

You can read about how I first created an outdoor room on the front porch here.  Tour the redesigned space and let me know which version of the porch you like more. But don’t  be seduced by those gorgeous blue hydrangeas on the old porch….They’ll be making another appearance at a porch near you, soon!

One of the biggest changes I made was moving this console table previously used as a room divider to the focal point of the porch. The plate rack with its bird house and green tole garden plate was already on the wall. It makes so much more sense to put the console there. The lanterns and urn are the same as when the table was on the side of the porch. Now they really all work together. The table is also in the middle of the seating area and can be used to serve food when entertaining on the porch.

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Salsa Verde-Chicken Enchiladas with Black Bean-Pinapple Salsa

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This was my first enchilada dish and I have to admit they were a huge hit.   I have often been turned off enchiladas because they are often too mushy, drowning in sour cream and excessive cheese.  This combination was just right and lightened up without sour cream.  Instead I served Greek yogurt on the side.  Using bottled salsa verde whizzed up with tons of fresh cilantro in the blender made an easy and quick delicious sauce.  Spicing up the meat from a whole rottiserie chicken with cumin, smoked paprika, garlic, chili powder, lime juice and fresh jalapeno made for a light flavorful filing without a lot of work. The fresh pineapple salsa with black beans was a fantastic side.  I pickled the red onion for a half hour while I prepared the rest of the dish to soften their bite.  Although you could use raw onion and skip this step, the pickling turns the onions a pretty pink color and adds some bright notes to the salsa.  This meal was a test drive for Cinco de Mayo and made me wonder how I could have deprived my family from such delicious enchiladas for so long.  It’s destined to become a favorite.  Happy Cinco de Mayo!

For the filling:

  • 8 large soft tortillas(10-12 inch diameter)
  • 1 large rotisserie chicken, skinned, deboned, meat shredded
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • 1 large jalapeno pepper, cored, seeds and membranes removed, diced
  • 1 cup of shredded Mexican-blend cheese

Toss the shredded chicken with all the ingredients and set aside.

For the sauce:

  • 1 16-once jar of medium heat salsa verde
  • 1 cup of chopped fresh cilantro, packed tight

In a blender, mix the cilantro and the salsa verde until blended into a smooth sauce.

For the topping:

  • 2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Assembly:

  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Spread a layer of sauce  in the bottom of a 9″ X 13″ oven proof dish.
  3. Warm the tortillas as you usually do.   I microwaved each one for 20 seconds.  Spread about 1/3 of a cup of the chicken filling across the lower  third of the tortilla.  Roll up and set seam side down on top of the sauce. Repeat until all the tortillas are filled.  Spread the rest of the sauce over the enciladas, leaving about an inch of the tortilla uncovered on each edge. Sprinkle with the cheese.
  4. Bake 20 minutes uncovered in center of oven until cheese is bubbly.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve with the black bean-pineapple salsa, cubed avocado, extra lime wedges, Greek yogurt or sour cream.

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Black Bean-Pineapple Salsa

  • 1 14-oz can of black beans, drained
  • 2 cups of fresh pineapple, chopped in bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 large jalapeno, cored, seeded, membranes removed, diced fine
  • 1/2 cup of diced pickled red onion*
  • 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  1. Mix all ingredients in a serving bowl.  Let the flavors blend together at least a half hour.  Can be made up to 3 days in advance.

*To pickle the red onion, in an unreactive bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 cup of white distilled vinegar, a teaspoon of white sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Mix well and add the diced red onion.  Leave to cure about a half hour before adding to the salsa.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

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Rhubarb has the power to evoke wonderful childhood memories for me.  I have always loved it and  find all kinds of ways to use it while it is in season.  This classic cake boasts a whole pound of spring rhubarb on top of a fluffly moist honey cake. Although the original recipe on Delish.com was a vanillla cake, I changed it to be a honey cake with cardamom spice which I find such a winning pairing of flavors with rhubarb.  Enjoy rhubarb season!

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The Importance of Casseroles: Cheesy Baked Pasta with Ground Turkey and Spinach

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Sickness. A meal for a shut in.   A welcome home meal after a long absence. Beareavement.  A new baby.  A new neighbor.  A casserole serves all needs.  With the ease of the 9″ X 13″ pan, covered in foil with the reheating/cooking instructions written right on top, the casserole has been delivered to grateful recipients for generations.  Think back to the times you have been the lucky recipient of such meals.  You probably don’t remember the meals as much as the love and support nourishing you or your family through your time of need.

A piping hot frittata delivered to my husband after surgery including a gorgeous calla lily, a tea towel and wooden spoon to keep, a salad with vinaigrette and a loaf of French bread, all packaged in a beautiful basket.

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Ricotta-Sweet Pea Toast

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“How luscious lies the pea within the pod.”   Emily Dickinson

This easy-peasy(pardon the pun!) ricotta-sweet pea toast is so good, you’ll forget all about avocado! Using a really good sourdough cut thick, lemony ricotta cheese is heaped on then topped with minty peas.  Classic spring flavors made fresh on a toast.  So simple, so good, you’ll want to have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Continue reading

Hypertufa Garden Sphere-DIY Tutorial

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Stone in a garden just does something to me.  I love the patina, texture and architectural interest it weaves  into a natural setting. Its earthy color makes it easy to incorporate into any garden for a rich yet subtle sculptural effect.  It whispers of antiquity and timelessness.  Stone spheres as garden ornamentation in particular, imparts a quiet serenity in the space.

Three orbs sit among a perennial bed of bluebells, enhancing but not detracting from the beauty of the flowers.

An added bonus of stone garden ornamentation, is that it can be mobile and moved around the garden at a whim if it is not too heavy.

Stone spheres are usually expensive and finding one, often a random lucky discovery on one’s travels.  Good places to search are in architectural salvage stores.

Two of my spheres invite attention on a garden wall alongside an antique olive oil urn.  The brand new spheres have an ancient looking patina that blends perfectly with the old urn.

For many years I have been making hypertufa containers for my garden.  It never occured to me to try making garden spheres.  After some research I found instructions on how to make them and they were quite easy.  I played around with 3 techniques and all of them yielded beautiful spheres. All the orbs I created were solid.  In the first technique, I used an inflated ball as the mold.  In the second technique, 2 round soup bowls without any rims were sandwiched together to serve as a sort of hinged mold.  In the third technique, I shaped a small orb free hand.  For all methods, I used the standard ratio of 1 part Portland cement, 1 part perlite and 1 part peat moss with just enough water to create a thick mixture.   I just adjusted the quantity of the mixture to fill the molds.

Materials needed:

You will need a large bucket, a mask to protect you from the cement dust, rubber gloves, kitchen scissors to cut the top of the ball, a rubber ball to use as a mold, water, equal measures of Portland cement, perlite and peat moss and a box to secure the sphere as it cures.  You will need a plastic bag large enough to hold the sphere as it cures.

Cut a small opening on the top of the ball large enough to get your hand through. The ball will deflate a bit but don’t worry. When you add the cement, it will regain its shape.

Add enough water to your mixture, and using your gloved hands, work it until it forms a thick paste. Start filling the ball with the hypertufa mixture until full.  You will need to get your hand inside the ball often to really pack the stone into  every nook and cranny.  You will know you have it full when the surface of the ball is restored to its original shape.  I was surprised at how much stone was needed to fill the mold and had not mixed enough the first time.  I simply mixed a second batch and continuted filling the ball.  Once it is full, place the ball in a plastic bag, tie it and secure it in a box to keep it immobile while it is setting.  Cure an initial 48 hours in the mold.

After 48 hours of initial curing: Using kitchen shears and working on newspaper, cut away the rubber ball and discard. Your sphere will have some markings at the top where the cut-out hole is. Mine also had a horizontal striation where I had run out of hypertufa stone and had to mix a second batch. At this stage, the cement is still pretty soft. So take a paring knife and gently scrape away to remove any lines you don’t esthetically like.

The markings on my sphere before I remove them.

The surface of my sphere after I carved away the unsightly markings. You could use sandpaper to achieve a similar result.  At this stage, rebag the sphere in the plastic bag and cure for a week, securing the sphere in a box to stabilize it.

The second technique I developed was to use 2 rimless soup bowls from my kitchen that that a perfect rounded shape.  For this technique, you must generously spray the inside of the bowl with cooking spray to be sure you can separate the mold.  The rest of the technique is exactly as described above.  I liked this technique as I could lift the mold and look at my mixture once it was packed in tight and use my hand to smooth any air bubbles.  I also liked that I could reuse these soup bowls as subsequent molds.  Because I only had 3 molds and I made 2 spheres at the same time, I let one half of the first one dry outside the mold.  Both spheres cured the same way.

The third way I created hypertufa spheres was free hand.  With some left over material I created a finial for an antique cloche(Eastcote Lane, Devon, PA).  I really like the organic texture of the finial against the glass.  When the material was still soft, I notched the bottom with the rim of the cloche by spinning it on the rim a few times so it would lock into place once dry.  I let it cure in a plastic bag for a week like with all the other spheres.  I just love the way this little finial turned out.

My friend Inta is perhaps the gardener I admire the most for her expert eye at integrating architectural elements masterfully in the garden landscape.  Plants remain the focal point in her garden while architectural salvage and other sculptures provide unique punctuations of texture and interest.  You can visit Inta’s incredible garden here to be inspired and mesmerized!

I hope you have enjoyed learning how to make hypertufa garden spheres with me today.  These examples were my very first attempts at making them and I assure you they are easy to make.  In a future post I will share how to grow moss on these hypertufa spheres.  One of the deterrent to making hypertufa projects is that Portland cement is sold in 96 lb bags.  My awesome local hardware, Do It Best in Wayne, PA, repackages broken bags into 10 lbs bags for small projects which they sell for a few dollars. It’s worth asking if you can purchase a smaller amount.  I made all 4 sheres with just one 10 lb bag of cement.

Happy gardening!

Coconut White Chocolate Scones

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These scones are out of this world.  With a double dose of coconut inside the scone and sprinkled on top, they are a coconut lover’s dream come true. The white chocolate chunks are a lovely complimentary flavor and a nice surprise as you bite into one.  Moist and not too crumbly these will please even non-scone lovers.  Truly delectable!

Coconut-White Chocolate Scones

Adapted from What’s Gaby Cooking
INGREDIENTS

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold, grated
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
½ cup white chocolate morsels
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the Glaze
1/4 cup milk, coconut, almond or regular
1 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup toasted coconut for topping
INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together. Add the grated cold butter to the dry mixture and gently combine with a wooden spoon until the butter is evenly distributed and the mixture ressembles coarse oatmeal.
Fold the coconut into the dry mixture along with the white chocolate. Make a well in the center and pour in the heavy cream and vanilla. Fold everything together just to incorporate. Do not overwork the dough.
Form 16 mounds out of the dough. The size can vary depending on if you want to stretch the recipe to make more or less.  I found 16 was just the right size.  Arrange them on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake in the pre-heated oven for 14 minutes, or until the top just barely turned golden brown.  Watch them closely as the bottom can burn where any white chocolate has settled.
Combine the milk, powdered sugar and melted butter in a small bowl and whisk until no clumps remain. Once the scones have cooled, drizzle with the glaze and  sprinkle with toasted coconut.  You can toast regular sweetened coconut in the microwave, dry skillet or on an oven sheet, stirring often, for a minute or so.

Franciso Oller, Puerto Rican Impressionist, 1833-1917, Still Life With Coconuts, Brooklyn Museum image