March 2012 archive

Balsamic Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

image via sunset

Sorry I haven’t been around in the past week but I do have a very good reason: it was my birthday! True to my hedonistic nature, birthdays are never a one-day affair but a flurry of dinners, celebrations and gatherings with plenty of friends, family, wine and food.

This year started on my birthday eve when I my husband took me and the kids out to our favorite sushi restaurant for The Love Boat (a two foot long wooden boat, complete with sails, covered in over 70 pieces of sushi and sashimi). My kids think it is the most amazing thing they have ever seen and would prefer if every restaurant served their dinner on Japanese warships.

The main-event of my birthday celebration will be a day spent touring the Charlottesville wineries with a big group of friends and family next month. But even though schedules didn’t allow for it on my actual birthday, we still didn’t let the day (or excuse for a party) pass us by. We had our extended family over to barbecue. It rained all day, but that doesn’t stop us from having a ball (after the second bottle of Pinot I doubt anything was going to stop us from having a ball). My husband grilled fresh oysters which he served with his homemade mignonette sauce (best tip- use champagne vinegar instead of the plain white variety). And I made my current obsession: balsamic heirloom tomato and goat cheese bruschetta. I’m certain there is a less-wordy name for this recipe. Ambrosia works well. Or perhaps just “heaven”.

Here’s the absurdly simple yet absolutely sublime recipe. Please excuse the image quality on this post but the sun refused my party invitation so these were all taken inside.

First things first; get your grubby mitts on some heirloom tomatoes. We found ours at The Fresh Market but if you can get them at a local farm-stand, all the better. They are ugly, misshapen, gnarled little buggers that come in a rainbow of odd colors. They are the epitome of wabi-sabi in that their imperfections are exactly what make them so perfect. Next you’ll want to whip up some poor-mans pesto. If you happen to have a dashing man hanging around your kitchen, as I did, ask him to pull the leaves off the basil and finely chop them. Or you could do it yourself, but then someone else would have to take the picture. After chopping the basil, put it in a little bowl with a good amount of chopped garlic (the jarred refrigerated kind is fine) and drown it with extra virgin olive oil (don’t measure it, just pour it on for a few good glug-glugs of the bottle), then crack black pepper and sea salt over it, mix it up and set it aside. While he’s chopping basil, make yourself useful and chop up the tomatoes. When you slice the tomato in half, use your (hopefully washed) fingers to dig out the seedy pulp from the insides. You just want the meaty part of the tomatoes for this. Chop them up into whatever size chunks you prefer. Then dump your pesto mixture on top and mix well. Then drizzle heavily with balsamic vinegar and stir it through. Set it aside to do its magic (ie: marinate). In the meantime, get some good crusty french bread and slice it into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Lay them out on a baking sheet and put under the broiler until barely toasted.

Next get your goat cheese out. I like the plain crumbled kind with this recipe. They also come in thick, creamy, flavored varieties that are delicious on steak. but for this, the tomatoes are the star, so the plain works best.

Drain the tomato mixture if needed, or just use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a clean serving bowl. Spread a piece of the warm bread with the crumbled goat cheese then top with the bruschetta. Divine.

This was a big hit at the party, but I also love to whip up a batch to nibble on while we drink wine on the deck. Hopefully the heirlooms I planted in the raised garden bed will keep me in bruschetta heaven all summer long. In my constant (losing) battle to institute “Meatless Mondays” at our house, so far this recipe is the closest I’ve come to victory.

Hallway or Mudroom Storage- Photo Tutorial

A few weeks ago I decided that something must be done about the train wreck we call a front hall. Feel free to refresh your memory here, but brace yourself for some altogether UN-luxurious pictures! Well, during my Spring Break I tackled the hall and created the storage unit for the kid’s debris. It didn’t end up fitting in the closet as I’d planned, but that’s only because I was too impatient to wait around until the perfect bookcase came along, so I bit the bullet and trudged off to Target.

I usually try to avoid Target for a few reasons. Mostly because I prefer shopping locally owned businesses and would rather spend more at my favorite antiques store to get solid wood instead of mass-produced particle-board. But also because I could go in for laundry detergent and new socks only to leave with $200 worth of god knows what. Case in point, among my ill-advised Target “must-haves” have been: approximately 7212 matchbox cars (blatant bribery to keep my oldest happy while I shop), orchids which I kill within a week, a pink tool set (returned when I realized that the projects I undertake require real actually yellow tools, not plastic Barbie ones), a lamp with a white fake fur lampshade (that one was over a decade ago but I still cringe when I think of that lamp), and any make-up product that they put on the end-caps (especially mascara. I am a mascara junkie). So it was with great restraint that I went into Target, purchased only what I needed and got out immediately (I even managed to by-pass the Starbucks they installed near the checkout). Then I came straight home and got to work. Here’s the how-to:

Materials: Bookcase of whatever size works for you, bead-board (I brought the backing of the bookcase with me so that they could cut it to size in store), 3 coat hooks (I chose brushed nickel), two  shallow baskets, black spray paint (or whatever color your want your bead-board to be), hammer (or nail gun if you already have one), power drill with a wood-bit.

Step 1- Take the cut bead board outside and spray paint it in two thin coats.

Step 2- Assemble the bookcase per the enclosed instructions. Try not to gag on the particle board vapors. Do not install the shelves, but keep them somewhere in case you want to use it as an actual bookcase once the kids are no longer in grade school. Also, do not install the back piece yet.

Step 3- Put the bead board into place as if it were the cheapo particle board. Then put the particle board backing over it because it has a nicer back and gives it a more finished look.

bead board in place, covered with the particle board backing

Step 4- Nail the backings in place. I used my upholstery nail gun for this, but you can use a hammer if you don’t have a nail gun. my nail gun lets me line up the nails with the pre-existing nail holesStep 5- Install the coat hooks. I placed these as high as possible so that their coats and book bags wont hang in the way of the shoe baskets.

the bead board is hard so you’ll want to start your holes with the wood bit on your drill before screwing in the screws

Step 6- Look at the back of the bookcase and realize that all the screws have shot out the other side, nearly drilling into the wood of your door frame. Release expletive of choice. Step 7- Remember that there are very few problems in life that can’t be solved with wine. Locate 3 wine corks and cover the sharp ends of the screws.

problem solved

Step 8- Put the baskets in the bottom and inform your children that their school bag, coats and shoes have a new home. You can also add that if their coats, bags and shoes don’t remain in their new home, you will make yet ANOTHER new home, this time for barbies and matchbox cars. And that new home is on top of the refrigerator for a week.

All finished!

No more front hall disaster!

I took these pictures in bright light so they’re a little hard to see, but if you like the basket of vintage print sachets, you can find them here, here, here, and here. They smell amazing- like cinnamon and vanilla.

Raised Garden Tutorial

You might say my husband and I are a bit on the nomadic side, seeing as in our eleven years as a couple we have shared 5 apartments and 6 houses together. That’s a grand total of 11 residences (not counting the couple of times we moved in with my parents when our leases expired before we found a new home). We’ve run the gamut of living quarters. There was a 4-story loft apartment in Richmond’s Downtown area, a 1 bedroom mere blocks away from the housing projects in Church Hill, a tiny cape cod in the suburbs of Mechanicsville and a 4500 square foot McMansion just to name a few. We don’t let the grass grow under our feet for long and even though we’ve been in our current home just under a year, we’re already discussing what’s next. The difference is, this time ‘what’s next’ is going to be a purchased home, not a rental. A place where we can finally put down roots.

Speaking of putting down roots, one of our more recent houses came with an enormous vegetable garden in the back yard. Completely overgrown and ignored for years, it was in terrible shape when we moved in. I set to work on it before I so much as unpacked our boxes and by the end of that Spring we were enjoying the fruits of my labor (literally). It was eventually over run by some overzealous acorn squash, but I did manage to capture a picture before the squash took over. This was right after the first seedlings went in, so it’s not quite showing its full glory.Since leaving that home I’ve deeply missed the garden and have wanted another. I decided on a raised  bed garden because when we pull up stakes here we can take it apart if needs be. I looked around for inspiration which was a little depressing because I came up with this:

via katyelliot.com

..and this:Needless to say these weren’t going to fit my budget. Or my back yard for that matter. But I found plans for a more realistic garden which we tweaked a little to make our own and I am very pleased with the results. Here’s the How-To:

Materials:

  • One 6-foot-long 4-by-4
  • Three 8-foot-long 2-by-12s
  • One 10-foot-long 1-inch PVC pipe
  • Two 10-foot-long ½-inch PVC pipes
  • 32 3½-inch #14 wood screws and 16 ½-inch #8 wood screws
  • Two 4- by 5-foot roll of ¼-inch-mesh hardware cloth
  • Eight 1-inch galvanized brackets
  • 35 cubic feet (1 1/5 cu. yd.) bagged garden soil
  • One package of protective mesh netting
  • One 2mm thick plastic drop cloth (like you use for painting)

The hardware store people will cut your lumber for you. Ask for the 4×4 to be cut into 4 separate 16-inch posts. Then have one of the 2x12s cut in half. Lastly, you want to cut the 1-inch PVC pipe into four 12-inch sections. Here’s what you’ll have at checkout: (Excuse the image quality as my camera phone is so old I’m surprised it doesn’t have an antenna.)Once home, lay out all your pieces in the shape of your bed and drill the sides into the four posts.

Notice that crack in the patio? That was from the big earthquake that hit Virginia last summer. The children are convinced it will open up to the center of the Earth at any moment. This is what you have after all the pieces are assembled. Hopefully you’ve thought ahead and built this close to where it’s going to end up, because it’s quite heavy. Next take it to its spot and mark where the posts are so you know where to dig (you could presumably do this by measuring but we didn’t have a measuring tape handy so we just lugged the entire garden back and forth a few times). Our back yard is a slope, so after digging the four holes for the posts, we also (and by “we” I mean “my husband”) dug a ditch along the top edge of the garden so that it would lay evenly when we settled it in. No special measurements were made. I just kind of pointed with the camera and said “I think you need to dig a little more out there”, and “Is that deep enough? Do you think maybe you should take it down a little further?”. I’m so helpful. Then we sunk the four 1-inch PVC pipes in until they were even with the top of the garden and drilled them in using the metal brackets. The pink hand belongs to our four-year old, who was mighty proud to be able to help with the project. Next we raked all the dirt flat and covered it with the plastic drop cloth so that weeds can’t make their way into the garden. Then we covered that with the wire mesh, to keep out moles, rabbits and gophers. We cut the mesh with wire cutters so that it fit neatly around the posts and poles. Next we dumped all the dirt in. Then we discovered that we didn’t buy enough dirt and had to go back to Home Depot for five more bags. (I put the full amount of dirt needed in the materials list so that hopefully you can leave that step out when you make your garden.) We raked all the dirt flat and inserted the long poles into the 1-inch pipes. (I took this picture before our second dirt run).Now the fun part- planting! The kids and I started these from seeds about two weeks ago in the house. No one told me that you don’t need to start beans inside and I didn’t read the instructions so naturally we were all surprised when we had 4 inches of bean growth within two days.

Here’s our finished garden! I added the trellis in the back so the pole beans have something to grow on and the protective mesh drapes over the two white poles to keep the deer from treating the garden like a salad bar. When it gets cold, we can drape that white greenhouse plastic over the arches to overwinter the garden.

No garden would be complete without a touch of Milk & Honey, so I added these: These are my own, but I also made a set for the shop with herb names on them and will be adding more sets with different vegetables over the coming weeks. Just click the photo below to go right to them:

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