Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Our Roof Top Garden

This year we expanded our garden. The one on the ground and our new found roof top garden. Our bedroom opens onto the flat, black roof of the family room. What have we been thinking all these years wasting this perfect garden space?

Out of room in the ground level garden, I was able to plant up the wonderful heirloom tomatoes given to me by a talented gardener. The black plastic pots leftover from bushes bought to landscape the patio are the perfect size and free.

Here they are in their new home. It was raining, of course. I have since dug up some volunteer plants - what I think are cucumbers - to share garden space with the tomatoes. My thought is to place them on tarps to protect the roof and the vegetables from one another.

I feel so permaculture-y.

I also feel a bumper crop coming on.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Have You Ever Noticed...

Have you ever noticed how fruit on beautiful fresh stems with leaves seems to taste so much better?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Feet

Henry always wears socks - just like his dad. The rest of us are die-hard barefoot, flip-flop people but the two of them are never without foot covering. Henry, has not embraced the low cut socks but rather wears old school crew socks and pulls them up as high as they will go.  Particularly humorous after many hours playing outside, on a rare occasion, we actually see his feet.....

Friday, June 24, 2011


Bored is a word I don't allow to be uttered in our house. There is no reason to ever be bored and I'm not even taking into consideration the many chores one could be assigned to avoid said boredom. I don't get boredom.

The other night I came home to this....

Apparently, this is what happens when Doug is bored. A kitchen draped in chili pepper lights.

Taking the Double D's Sauces business acumen to a whole new level.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tin Cans Reinvented

We love to entertain and we hadn't done it up in a while so in homage to fathers everywhere, we boiled lobsters. I took the opportunity to set a big communal table in the yard and loaded my Grandmother's vintage Maytag with icy drinks. It also gave me the time to do a bit of crafting.

After poking through the garage one day, I came across a bag of tin cans, previously destined to become a robot. I love the looks of tin cans and their uses are endless long after the soup is gone. Since paper napkins always blow away when dining outdoors I decided to turn these long forgotten cans into utensil and napkin holders.

I chose large baked bean and tomato cans for this project.

I used 12" square scrapbook paper from the craft store, measured the can and then cut strips to fit.

When covering larger cans, the 12" paper comes up a bit short so I just patch in a piece. When using a heavier weight paper pull out the glue gun and for lighter weight paper you can manage with rubber cement.

To give then a nautical look, I used a length of laundry line and glued a loosely knotted piece around the middle.

I think they are really cute and  the possibilities are endless.

Happy Entertaining!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Max is a Teenager!

Max became a teenager last on June 17th. He balked about the traditional cake picture and I (sort of) promised to post only this cool, mysterious photo.

This year Max will move into his final year of middle school - an eighth grader. As ever, curious and thoughtful, he excels at English and is a fabulous writer. I am constantly complimented on how he is such a bright kid. His observations and insights, mature beyond his years, can be startling. We are so proud.

All great things are ahead of Max and I hope he knows how truly wonderful he is.

Happy Teenage-dom, Max! We love you.

I couldn't not have "the" picture, could I?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hittin' The Big Time

(L-R) really hot, fresh hot, stupid hot and full flavored sneaky hot

Sometimes things just go well. The stars are aligned and if only for a fleeting moment, you think "Wow, this could really happen." We're having one of those moments in the yellow house. If you're not up to date on this fabulous project (ahem, Little Lesley), you can pick up the history here.

After working long and hard on his food business, Double D's Sauces, Doug has turned a corner - a big corner with lots of traffic. A new grocery store opening two locations in Chicago in the coming months will be carrying a variety of Doug's products on their shelves. Needless to say, he has been very busy hammering out the details of the website, packaging, printing, marketing and e-commerce.

Urban Orchard, with soon-to-be locations in Westown and Andersonville, is a terrific and timely concept bringing you  fresh, local produce and the best of hand produced foods.  They've partnered with farmers and food artisans in Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana which means farmer market access 7-days a week . Lucky Chicagoans.

A unique spice blend, Wingman. Unlike your friends, it's always got your back.
Additionally, Doug was interviewed for a chili lover's website and it was posted on Wednesday. Check it out here to learn more about this A-typical chili head and his thoughts on sauces.

His products are truly delicious and not just because I'm to married the man behind the bottle. There are hours of time and testing in each recipe. He is finicky about his ingredients and much thought goes into the clever tag lines. It's made in small batches and each bottle is hand-filled and labeled. This is his passion.

Some days, passion is what drags us out of bed and some days we are lucky it still clings to us as we fall back in at day's end. Perhaps I am naive (and if so I am okay with that) but with passion eventually all the rest falls into place.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Full Disclosure

Many years ago, when Hen was still in the baby carrier, I decided maybe I should try to work part time at Trader Joe's. Extra money, a little time out of the house. I could do that. I know that store like the back of my own hand. Facing shelves soothes my compulsive nature. I was jazzed. And then, they handed me the math test. Seriously?

Without going into the details and my inability to cheat with my cell phone, I flunked. I can't add 5 + 5 with both hands.Though it was humiliating, in retrospect, why would a mother of 4 with an infant want to work part time, potentially all hours of the day and night? Regardless, in order to get over my feelings of ineptitude in all things math, I proceeded to tell everyone. Really, everyone. It made for a great story at neighbor night and after a beer or two I was even more self deprecating and really enjoying this story at my own expense. Later after commenting on my stupidity to Doug, he kindly reminded me I didn't need to tell anyone. No one would know and I shouldn't feel stupid. But the thing is, telling the free world was easier than beating myself up. Cathartic even.

Which brings us to Creative Non Fiction at Waubonsee Community College. I thought it would be helpful to hone my skills as a writer. Assist my ability to just do it and attain life list goal #9. Unfortunately, it never occurred to me I'd have to actually share what I wrote. Doug reminded me of my blog writing and how the lovely Tara has kindly posted my words on Go West Young Mom, why would this bother me? Good question.

The first class met on Tuesday and I was looking forward to it - until I walked in the class room. But for the grace of God, I held it together and made it through quite possibly the hardest thing I've ever had to do. So now - I have to tell about it thus freeing me...of me.

Long story short, we had to write a short 20 minutes...with a pencil. I can't write fast and prefer to write on a keyboard. No big deal. I'll crank it out and re-write fast so I can actually read it. Aching shoulder and claw-like hand, I finished it and felt pretty good. I was proud of the story I had put on paper, though more vivid in my head, I knew it would translate. Well, I was wrong. And so goes my first lesson in creative non-fiction: There is no shame in having a better story in your head than you initially manage to put on paper..or screen.

When I got to the car I thought I would puke and by the time I made it to Main Street I thought I'd cry. I now feel much better. Anxiety be damned, I'll go back next Tuesday, with my computer.

Thanks for your shoulder and if you ever need a good neighbor night story, feel free to use mine.

In the meantime, if you're so inclined here is draft #3....

Jake stands in the center of the yard engrossed in the activity at hand; cleaning the ugly, gray yard box to be refilled with a redundant assortment of battered sports equipment. Max is weeding. The incessant whoosh of the hose buzzes in my ear and lulls me into my head. I recite to myself, as if present company would listen anyway, “Yard waste. Sow carrots. Where is the rake?” I am beginning to tire, it’s been a long day in the yard directing teenage boys and refereeing neighborhood games.

I really must remember to thank the boys. They do their best to work hard, especially when they’d rather be elsewhere. Teenagers growing up and away, sometimes leaving me feeling my only hold on them is a to-do list of yard work. Working side-by-side-by-side in the mottled light offered by the swaying leaves of the huge silver maple. The sun is warm, the air smells of dirt and chirping birds are interrupted by an occasional cluck.

Suddenly, pulled from my mental list, I come to with a fleeting annoyance; a rhythmic pulse. The hollow echo resounding from the ugly, plastic box as jets of water reverberate on its' wobbly sides. On and off, long and short, staccato then sprightly. Jake stands trigger attachment set to pulse, shiny black hose held loosely in hand. He is intently focused on the intermittent spray. Beat box?  FUN.?  Lady Gaga?

To his ears the musical message is clear. To my eyes – and my heart – he is still just a boy creating a toy out of anything and turning every chore into a game.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Finally - A Back Splash!

Years back when our kitchen rehab came to a close one of the last decisions was the back splash tile. The need for this decision also coincided with the fear of running over budget so it was put on hold. We painted the back splash with the same raspberry truffle red as the rest of the kitchen. Time went on and the tile project was continually moved to the bottom of the list as often happens with home improvement.  And the longer it wasn't done, the more I grew very attached to the red. I couldn't imagine not having all that color. I love color.

Two weeks back, it finally happened! My original and very simple choice, biscuit subway tile, made it to the wall. The twist I added was taking it only 3/4 of the way up the back splash. The tile stops 12" up the back and a bull nose tile runs around the top to finish it.

 Years ago, Doug had a stainless steel back splash (?) cut for above the stove. It works well with the stainless appliances.

We are thrilled with the away it has turned out. It's clean and simple and still full of color.

The only question remaining, as with many decorating projects, is why the hell did it take so long for us to do this?

Friday, June 10, 2011


Does anyone remember that Tom T. Hall song? "...old dogs, children and watermelon wine...". I think I remember my dad being particularly fond of it during the country music phase. I like that song. Of course, I love children and my (very) old dog Murray loved watermelon (though not as much as he loved me). Nostalgia.

I am working on some ideas for summer classes and the notion of flavored waters - those flavored with real food - is intriguing to me. It seems the perfect non-alcoholic drink with the panache of a cocktail and yet perfect for kids. Fine Cooking (man, I love that magazine) has an article by Ellie Krieger (who typically bores me to tears) all about infused waters. (I swear they read my mind).

I am big into eating locally and seasonally but sometimes often I have to work with produce not quite in season so I can teach how to use it when it is. This project is a perfect example because here in the Midwest, we aren't near watermelon in the garden. Squelching my OCD monsters, I forge ahead.

As I am sure you can well imagine, flavored waters are super simple. This one includes watermelon, basil, sugar (only 1T.) and lime juice. A basil syrup is added to enhance the watermelon flavor.

I used the blender to puree the watermelon with extra water and then strained through a fine mesh sieve.

All liquid is mixed together and chilled. The color is lovely, isn't it?

In a chilled glass, with lots of ice and sprig of fresh basil, it's surprisingly thirst quenching. Max commented how much he like the "herb-y taste" (I love that boy). I don't think a splash of icy gin or vodka would be terrible either. I may even add bubbles with my Twist n' Sparkle.

I took some extra and made ice pops (the summer treat formerly known as Popsicles) for the kids. Even better than juice pops!

In conclusion, my theory holds true - waiting a bit longer for watermelon would make for a sweeter, less green tasting drink. I really do suggest you try it when the time is right - there are so many possibilities and it takes little time.

And when the watermelon are sweet - let's make watermelon wine.

Watermelon-Basil Water
Fine Cooking, June /July 2011

1/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1 T. granulated sugar
1 cup boiling water
4 cups cubed seedless watermelon (1#)
2 T. fresh lime juice

Put the basil leaves and sugar in a small pot and crush the leaves with a wooden spoon. Pour in the boiling water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set aside to steep and cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a blender, puree the watermelon with 2 cups cold water. Strain the watermelon liquid through a fine strainer into a large bowl, discard the solids.

Pour the liquid into a large pitcher. Add the lime juice and 2 cups cold water; stir to combine. Serve over ice.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My Favorite Day of the Year + A Giveaway!

My favorite day of the year is the last day of school. Gone are the schedules and lunch packing (unless it's for a picnic), dinner can be later and days are longer. Add to that having my house full of the kids I love so dearly and life is good.

Now that everyone in the yellow house is older, summer changes a bit each year. There are fewer group outings, though they do humor me occasionally and the biggest are always going in different directions. Henry is content just being outside on his scooter from sun up till sun down. I am not sure what this summer will bring. I know chances of their complete attention, like in the old days are slim to none. But, the energy in the house will be higher and the silence broke. I'll take whatever I can get.

Love child-infused days? I have a give away for you. Leave a comment sharing your favorite summer activity with children (yours or others) between now and Monday, June 13th (my favorite day of the year) and you may be the lucky recipient of this fun book. The perfect way to celebrate every day those kids find you more fascinating than anyone or anything else.

Craft away the days and enjoy every second.

Before too long the only one to listen to you will be the dog.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Let the Pickling Begin

Last weekend, Doug was hard at work with our friend Leslie developing a logo for Double D's, his food company. I had a bit of time on my hands on a dark and stormy day, so I made a small batch of pickled radishes.

I had help. (Doug just asked if I was blogging about the dog - again....)

These couldn't be simpler.

They couldn't look prettier or be more tempting.

Pickled perfection.

Check back for more pickled things soon. We love pickles in the yellow house!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Now Where Did I Put That List.....

What seems like many moons ago, I started a life list. I had just turned 40. Little Henry was in school full time and I felt at loose ends. As often happens with my best intentions it sort of ended there. I tend not to be a dreamer and my desires are pretty basic.

Over time, I've thought of things to add to my life list but never actually done it though I've written about them in this journal of sorts. Have you ever had a big "to-do" list and added things you've already accomplished just so you can scratch them off? If you are a list maker - fess up - you've done it before. That seems really lame, bordering on cheating when talking about life list.

I've decided I'm not above cheating. The clock keeps ticking....

I have started writing. It's something I've always wanted to do and had just never DONE IT. I now set aside snippets of time to pursue this interest. It usually only lasts until the family finds me and has a sudden need to be with me. Of course, if the computer wasn't in my lap no one would care where I was. Anyway, I've had a few essays posted on Go West Young Mom, a sight dedicated to keeping moms in the western suburbs in the loop. It's a thrill for me. I've enrolled in a creative writing course. The life list thing? I'd love to have a piece published in something made of paper. Cyberspace is flattering but I am a book and paper girl. We'll see what happens. Fingers crossed.

I have an incredible appetite for reading - especially personal non-fiction. Courageous farmers and those brave enough to drop it all to go live in the south of France are favorites. After a particularly intense bout of reading all things Tuscan. I decided someday I'd like to visit its terraces and olive trees. Guess what? An opportunity arose and I am! Doug and I are traveling to Tuscany in September and while there will enjoy cooking classes and the Chianti Festival. We are staying on an amazing estate. I am purely giddy.

On a rather pathetic note, I've decided to add the Dane County Farmer's Market in Madison to my life list. You may laugh, but as many times as I've made plans to get to this mecca market, only to have them fall through, it deserves a spot. I'll probably get to Italy before I get to Wisconsin. Why?

Here is the updated list in no particular order:

#1 Go to France
#2 Knit a blanket for Project Linus
#3 Learn the Thriller dance (seriously)
#4 Take a cheese making course on an idyllic farm
#5 Run a half marathon (btw, this is not going well)
#6 Attend a farm dinner at sunset
#7 Raise goats
#8 Keep chickens
#9 Get something published - on paper.
#10 Go to Tuscany
#11 Get to the Dane County Farmer's Market
#12 Make croissants from scratch

Okay, I said I am not a dreamer but I am an optimist and maybe this will be the summer of......

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Junie B. is 1!

Happy Birthday
Jibbibity, Bug, June B, JibbyJu,
Pup, Jibbity Ju, Pubberz, Jibbs
Dirty Girl, Bad Dog

We Love You!
Every pretty girl needs a pig's ear on her birthday!


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Memorial Day Relief

Last weekend was a fairly typical Memorial Day in the Midwest. Rain - there is always rain. Monday, when the rain let up long enough for the sun to kick the humidity up to an oppressive percentage the only thing to do was make summery cocktails.

Remember way back, when I took one of these.....

...and shoved in a jar full of rum and ginger? This was the inspiration for our cocktails - that and the free app on my phone.

Pineapple-ginger infused rum, fresh pineapple, creme de coconut and ice. A spin through the Vita-Mix and....

Frosty, sweet respite.