God's Littlest Acre - Window Sill Farming

I've just finished reading The Bucolic Plague, by my friend Josh Kilmer Purcell. It's all about how he and his boyfriend Brent, two confirmed city boys, bought a palatial farm in upstate New York and turned it into a brand. It's a very funny book, and it's gotten me thinking about where my food comes from.

Meanwhile, my parents just left on a weeks vacation to California, and my mother has entrusted me with her potted herb garden. She brought it by a few days ago, and I've been tending to it on my window sill.
Despite the unrenovated windows and window sill, the garden is doing very nicely here! I believe it's even grown some.

She's planted some lovely herbs to use when cooking. They include basil, thyme, rosemary, chives and mint.
Her basil is going great guns! It's the show off of the garden. Just look at how lush it is! I need to trim off the blossoms so it won't go to seed on her.
While not as showy, the thyme and chives both seem happy.
The rosemary is doing well too. Just look at those rich green leaves.
The mint is potted in a separate container. It's a variety with tiny little fuzzy leaves. I have yet to try some in my tea. Maybe this evening.

It's so nice to have these little green friends with me in my apartment. I'm planning my own herb garden for glass shelves I intend to install in my kitchen window when I renovate in there. It's not the wide open spaces of Josh and Brent's farm, but it will be fun to pluck my own fresh herbs for the meals I cook!

Right now I may steal some of mother's basil for a batch of pesto. For those of you that missed it this March, here's my father's recipe:

Pater's Pesto

4 cups fresh basil leaves, neatly compressed
1 cup pine nuts
5 cloves freshly minced garlic
1 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste

Begin by combining your basil, pine nuts and garlic in a food processor. Pulse a few times to begin combining them. With the processor running, add the olive oil in a steady drizzle. Once it's all in, scrape down the sides of the processor and add the cheese and pulse to combine. Salt to taste. Makes about 2 cups.

Be sure and have a look at The Beekman - Brent and Josh's farm. It's a beautiful place. You can also see them on their reality television show on Planet Green on Wednesday nights. It's called The Fabulous Beekman Boys. Tune in, it's a lot of fun!


Before Shabby Chic There Was Carl Larsson

When I was a child I was given a book called A Home. It featured watercolor paintings by Carl Larsson of daily life at his family home in Sweden at the turn of the last century. Larsson was part of the Arts and Crafts movement. The home depicted in the paintings is a glorious hodge podge of images, colors and textures all rendered in delicate detail. These images have inspired and stuck with me through the years and I find myself referring to them when I have a visual project to do that needs a touch of traditional elegance.
This room is the subject of several of his paintings. Here, his son Pontus, punished for an infraction at the dinner table sits in the beautiful room next to one of those elegant kachelofens I mentioned in an earlier post. Notice the delightful designs featured on the door in the center of the image - the flower appears to grow behind the cross piece dividing the two panels.
Here's another picture of the same room from a different angle. I love how they turned the corners with the long runner carpet. The panels on the walls help define the space so nicely.
Here is Carl and Karin, his wife, after the children have gone to bed seated in the dining room. Notice the other kachelofen in the corner.

These beautiful images are a great source of inspiration for interiors. I suggest picking up a copy of the book for reference. There are several others that are equally as beautiful - A Farm and A Family. All are available on Amazon. If you'd like to find out more about Carl Larsson you can visit his official website and his wikipedia page.


Simple Summer Savory Satisfaction - Chive Butter

I spent last weekend in the Catskills with friends and made dinner for them on Saturday night. One of the things I made was this simple chive butter recipe.
It's such a delicious treat for a summer lunch or dinner and it's super easy to make.

You'll need:

1 stick of salted butter
Fresh chives
1 tsp lemon juice

Begin by setting the butter out in a medium sized mixing bowl to soften. Cut it up into smaller pieces to hasten the process. Once it's softened up nicely, cut the chives into the bowl.
I find it easier to use a pair of scissors for cutting chives. Then add the lemon juice (if you don't like things quite as tart you can use half a teaspoon) and mix everything together with a fork. Once it's all well combined, remove the butter to a sheet of wax paper.
Using the paper, work the lump of butter back into a stick form. It can be square or round. I chose to make a square stick. The process is a little obscene, but I'm sure some of you will enjoy that. If you're timid, you can put the butter in small ramekins. Put the butter back in the fridge to firm up. Serve with a hearty sour dough bread.
This can also be done with other herbs, and you can substitute cream cheese for butter. I love recipes like this. They add so much to a meal, but are so quick and easy to make. Enjoy!


Trim and Tubing - A Match Made in Heaven

A few months ago I featured a craft project from Conso Trimming's 1001 Decorating Ideas Magazine. While leafing through another issue I came across this project which is reminiscent of both that project and the Mexican style terry cloth mirror from a few weeks ago. This project has so many possible applications and is such fun to make!
These columns are perfect for framing a window or doorway, but they can also be used as posts for a headboard, table legs or on a smaller scale as accents in a centerpiece or even candle holders! They're made with heavy weight paper tubing - the kind carpets are rolled on. You can usually get the carpet cores from carpet and rug stores, stop by and ask.

Once you've gotten your tubes, test them out for height. If you want them to be a specific length you may have to cut them down to fit. This can be done with a saw. This project is great if you have lots of trims left over from other projects. It doesn't take a lot of trim to encircle the tube. Keep in mind that if you want two tubes that match you need to have twice as much trim. The trimming used in the above picture is all about bright colors, but imagine how beautiful it would be done in monochromatic white or even all black!

Wrap your tubing with the trims and glue them in place with Aileen's Fast Grab Tacky Glue, then stand them up in place and you have an instant statement! As shown in the picture, when put at a window they can dramatically increase the height and add some drama to your architecture. I like the table leg idea also though. If you have a table with 4 ordinary legs just sheath the legs in the trimmed tubing for a festive touch for a Mexican dinner, or for good!

The sale continues on eBay. New listings go up tonight (7/21/10) at 9 eastern! Be sure and have a look!


A Touch of Gold - Regency Accents for the Bathroom

Hello people! I've been spending these sweltering summer days thinking about the renovations of my apartment and making plans. This week has found me thinking mostly about the bathroom. It's a bit problematic, but I have plans...
A few months ago I found some ornate vintage switch and outlet plates on eBay and they've given me some ideas for how I'd like the bathroom to look.
The charm of Hollywood regency as a style is undeniable. These switch plates have that quality to them. I see the outlet plates used on either side of the medicine cabinet, maybe on a mirrored wall. The switch plate will be perfect for the light switch and the power switch for the jacuzzi tub, should I decide to keep it. While leafing through a vintage home remodeling magazine from 1977 I found an ad for similar fixtures designed specifically for a bathroom.
I like how these fixtures combine white and gold together. I may paint the inner field of the switch plates with white enamel after seeing these.

This sort of ornamental hardware is difficult to find these days. Most of what's out there is has a kind of austerity to it, and the pieces that don't are devoid of any whimsy or irony. Your best bet is to find vintage versions of it if you're aching for a touch of glamour. There are lots of sources for it - eBay, thrift shops, Habitat for Humanity and salvage yards all come to mind. It's these little details that bring a room to life. Time spent hunting them down is definitely rewarded by the finished look of the room. Life is in the details!

I've been busy listing some fun items on eBay. Stop by and have a look at some great vintage clothing featured on my television show for Style!


Out, Out Damn Spot - The Fine Art of Oven Cleaning

This post comes a little late in the day because it's content took longer to create than I expected. I've been slowly cleaning up my new vintage Frigidaire Flair range.
Bit by bit, I've been stripping away the grime to reveal a little gem. Today, I tackled the oven cavity.
Having come from a home that had been rented to multiple tenants (none of whom seemed to have the slightest interest in domestic cleanliness) and, well, being almost 50 years old, it was quite a mess, as you can see - and this was after the initial attempt at cleaning it out with hot water and bleach cleaner, which picked up the majority of the crusty drips and spills.

I have a great way to make cleaning an electric oven quite a bit easier and I was excited to implement it on my new baby. I made sure I had everything I needed for the job on hand before I picked a day to start. This method entails filling a bowl with household ammonia and putting it on the top rack, over a pot of water that has just come off a rolling boil.
You then close the oven door and let it stand over night - or in my case, all afternoon (don't try this method on a gas oven - the fumes are flammable). After about 7 or 8 hours, I opened up the oven to begin the real work. In most cases you can just wipe away the spots and stains with a damp sponge. The ammonia fumes are very good at softening grime. In my case it wasn't quite so easy. I had to resort to a nylon scrubber dipped in the ammonia, mixed with dish washing detergent and water to remove the baked on splatters of melted hard candy or exploded batch of crystal meth or whatever it was that had so tenaciously adhered itself to the walls and floor of the oven. It took several hours of scrubbing, letting the ammonia mixture sit on the spots, then scrubbing again. In between times I worked on the racks in the sink. I eventually had to put the racks in a black plastic bag, pour undiluted ammonia over them, tie the bag and put it on the fire escape for several hours to soak off the crusty residue. It was quite an afternoon. My back and shoulders are sore - not to mention my hands. And my fingers are dry, even after being sheathed in fetching orange rubber gloves. However, it was worth it. I can now step back and admire a clean oven.
It's not perfect, but it's decidedly better than it was, and, once it's installed, I believe I'll feel comfortable making a roast or my coconut brownies in there now. Next, the stove top!


Summer Fun With Terry

No, I don't mean Terry Bradshaw, or Terry Garr, or Tarrytown - This terry is cloth! Something about terry cloth just makes me think of summer. It's a great fabric for easy living and has had it's place in beach and poolside entertaining for many years.

While looking for a project for my post today, I was leafing through a McCall's 1968 You-Do-It Home Decorating magazine and came across some fun terry projects. One of them reminded me of a project we did on my television show - terry cloth pillows!
These pillows from the magazine are made with Pucci washcloths and tea towels and they said you could find them for between $2 and $5. Good luck with that. You can still find fun printed towels at thrift shops and bright solids, which can be found anywhere, can be fun too. The process to make them is super simple. Just stitch them together around all the edges with wrong sides together. If you're feeling ambitious you can make them a little more special by stitching them together with right sides in and putting a velvet welt in the seam as shown above. Leave a 5 - 6" opening at the bottom for stuffing and when stuffed, just stitch the opening up. You can stuff them with polyfill or if you'd like to be frugal, do what we did on the show and use old nylons that have been laundered. The nylons won't rot if they get wet by the pool.

Another charming project is a terry cloth tea cozy.
It's made from two printed washcloths and backed with batting and lightweight cotton. You can use an insulating fabric for more heat retention, if you prefer. Stitch around the pattern for a trapunto effect.

The piece de resistance of these projects from 1968 is the terry cloth covered mirror frame.
This one is a little more complicated. It's made up of 7 different brightly colored wash cloths that have been cut into rectangles and wrapped around a plywood frame. I just love how it looks, don't you?

You'll need:

7 washcloths, each in different bright colors
2 18" square pieces of 3/4" plywood
12 decorative nails with 3/4" heads
8 1 1/4" finishing nails
1 8x8" mirror
12 large head tacks
Aileen's tacky glue
18" of decorative chain to coordinate with your decorative nails
2 3/4" round head wood screws and washers

Draw lines 3" in from the edge of one of the plywood pieces and then cut out the resulting 12" hole. On the second piece draw a line 6" in and cut out the resulting 6" hole. On bottom frame, draw a line 2" in from edges. this designates where the fabric will end. Extend the inner edges of the cuts with lines drawn out to the outer edges of the bottom and top frames. On the top frame, draw lines bisecting the center of each side.

The corners of the bottom frame will take 4" squares of terry. The sides will take 6" squares. Mix and match your colors for a pleasing effect. It's best to plan the arrangement out in advance to avoid having colors overlap between the top and bottom frames. Cut the squares of terry out carefully making sure the edges are straight. The fabric is too thick to seam in place, so the raw edges will be exposed. Using the tacky glue, glue down the corners on the bottom frame first, following the guide lines you drew on the wood. Then move on to the edge pieces and carefully glue them down and wrap the edges around to the back of the frame. Set the bottom frame aside to dry and move on to the top frame. The corners of the top frame will be 6" squares, the edges of the bottom frame will be 6x8" pieces. Repeat the process of glueing the pieces down to the face of the frame, but only wrap the fabric around the inner opening edges, don't wrap the fabric around to the back on the outer edge.

After your glued frames have dried completely you can connect the two with the finishing nails. Nail the frames together in the four inside corners and on the seam lines between the fabrics along the edges. Keep the nails close to the edge. Turn the frames over and carefully wrap the loose edges of the top fabric around both layers of plywood and glue them in place. After they dry you can attach the decorative nails to the front at each inner seam edge covering the finishing nails used to hold the frames together. Place the mirror over the opening in the back and hold it in place with the large head tacks. The last step is to attach the chain using the round head screws and washers. Screw it into the back corners and hang your mirror!

Vicky Howell had a fun terry cloth project on her blog recently. Have a look at that one too!