Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly,"

"but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."
- Maya Angelou

I'm battling computer troubles at the moment so I'll just post this. I hope it gets through.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Our first tomato of the season.

Our plant markers were soon erased by rain, sun, whatever. So this is our mystery 'mater. I have high hopes for it. Caprese? Mmmm...

Our cucumbers are flowering and so are the bell peppers. Though we've already mysteriously lost one tiny bell.

I have a confession. I'm not even sure what these plants are. Is that tall one possibly corn? We did plant popcorn though I don't know what we'd do with the harvest. I'm a reluctant gardener at best, but I love the end product. The fresh flowers. The greenery. The edibles. So I try. In a week or so, the farmers market here will be in full swing. Maybe our vegetable garden will be as well.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Too darn hot

"but I ain't up to my baby tonight
cause it's too darn hot
It's too darn hot
It's too darn hot"

This song has been humming in my head all morning, ever since I swung by Chronicles of a Country Girl. Not the Ella Fitzgerald or a Broadway version of Cole Porter's "Too Darn Hot." Nope. Playing on endless repeat in my personal mental soundtrack is Erasure's cover from the 1990 Red Hot + Blue album.

"It's too darn hot"

How did I ever survive in Texas? Temperatures are hitting the high 80s this morning, and the air feels sluggish and thick. I'm supposed to be steaming away wallpaper, heading out to pick Pop's birthday present (happy 77th!), and packing away the kitchen. Instead, I'm parked in front of our largest window unit, trying not to wilt. The kidlets are outside playing with water.

Some cooling images if it's hot where you are too.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The last pick-your-own strawberries of the season

As of today, strawberries are still available at area pick-your-own farms. However, this will likely be the last week for pick-your-own strawberries. So if you haven't picked berries yet this season, there is still time. Because this year's crop ripened a week or two earlier than normal, many of the area farms held their strawberry festivals this past weekend.

Here's part of our morning's loot from Land's Sake Farm in Weston. Three quarts of dainty berries. They were complex, spicy, with more intense flavors than their grocery store brethren.

It was warm work, hunting for these little ruby gems hidden amongst the leaves. We found tiny berries in one patch. Later, we meandered over to a different patch and found larger berries, ripe and waiting to be picked.

The fun came literally screaming to a halt. We're talking full blown horror movie hysteria. The screams poured from my girl standing petrified in a cloud of angry bees. "Run!" I reached out my hand toward her. For a second, I worried that she wouldn't move. She tends to freeze when anxious, but this time, she burst into action and ran through the swarm. Luckily, she escaped with only two stings.

This is my middle child, my cautious, earnest rules follower. As we walked toward the buildings, she sobbed, "I looked for bees!" The kind staff put some salve on her stings. After getting a drink from the hose (like a real farmer), she was all smiles. By the time we got home, the swelling had mostly gone down, and she was ready to dive into the fresh loaf of sourdough bread and berries we'd purchased.

Our second day of summer. Fresh berries and bee stings. Interesting way to start.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Suburban archeology

This week's expedition involved taking down wallpaper. Steamy!

The mudroom was uneventful. Sometimes I peeled away wallpaper and discovered handwriting. I hoped for something romantic. Scrawled initials. A naughty child's nonsense. Nope. Just "paper." Instructions for the work crew. Not romantic at all.

The butler's pantry had more to reveal. Well, "butler's pantry" may be too grand for a house that has never seen a butler.

The top layer has a certain Laura Ashley charm. The wallpaper could have stayed, but for the large water stained area in the mudroom. I think people who put up wallpaper should repeat this mantra to themselves. What goes up, must come down. No matter if it is the most chic wallpaper in the couture-iverse. So please, please, do not superglue it.

Under several layers, we found this. Could it be the original paint color? This soothing yet cheerful color lies somewhere between Farrow & Ball Arsenic and Blue Green.

Oddly, we were considering these colors for the mudroom. Blue Green or maybe Teresa's Green. The color also echoes the Cooking Apple Green of our cabinets (color seen below).

When we were designing the kitchen, we didn't stick with what was period appropriate. We were creating a functional family kitchen, not doing a historical restoration. But it makes me happy to know that we're listening to our house and keeping its authentic character.

Oh, and this is something else we discovered while demolishing part of the kitchen. Isn't it festive? The kitchen cabinets used to be a bright mustard gold to coordinate with the paper. Definitely not vintage 1935!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thanks, K. Kilgore!

Yep. Another change. I just seem to get a wild hair on the weekends and can't stop noodling with my blog design. Many thanks to K. Kilgore, a very talented Central Texas photographer, for providing the image. Check out her website if you have a moment. Her gallery of fine arts photography is worth the visit.

Mexican tea cakes

New England social life has a certain rhythm to it. Or so it seems to this newcomer. In winter when it falls dark well before dinner, people withdraw into their warm homes. In the late spring, as the sun and warmth entice people out, social activities start jostling each other on the calendar for elbow room.

For today's neighborhood street party, I wanted something festive. Something easy. Something with the flavors of Texas or Mexico. So I tried these.

Mexican tea cakes
(Recipe originally published in Gourmet, May 1989)

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup very finely chopped pecans (2 1/2 oz)
3/4 teaspoon salt

Beat together butter and 1/2 cup confectioners sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at moderately high speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in vanilla, then add flour, pecans, and salt and mix at low speed until just combined. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Let dough stand at room temperature until just pliable, about 15 minutes. Roll level teaspoons of dough into 3/4-inch balls and arrange about 2 inches apart on lightly buttered baking sheets. (I used parchment paper-lined cookie sheets.)

Sift remaining 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar into a large shallow bowl.

Bake in batches in middle of oven until bottoms are pale golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately transfer hot cookies to confectioners sugar, gently rolling to coat well, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Roll cookies in confectioners sugar again when cooled.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cooling your house...

...with no air conditioning.

This is genius if you ask me. Or at the very least, ingenious. We've discovered a way to cool your house...okay, a couple of adjoining rooms...without running air conditioning.

You see. We have no central air. Because we have steam heat, we also lack ductwork so adding central air would be an expensive, difficult chore. We're always trying to figure out ways to cool our house. It's especially frustrating on cool, breezeless evenings when inside our house, the air remains warm and muggy from the warmth of the day. We've suffered many an evening sweltering in our second story bedroom. So...

Why is the fan pointing out the window? I've always directed the fan's breeze towards me.

My husband figured out that if you point the fan toward the window, you push air out of the house. This creates negative pressure. Which then pulls cool outside air from another open window into your house.

It's like a whole house fan on the cheap! An added benefit: it's more environmentally friendly than running air conditioning, even our window unit.

And it really works! Perfect for those chilly evenings. I'm sitting beside an open window now feeling the cool air rush into the room. Who needs central air conditioning? Well, ask me again on Saturday when the highs are predicted to reach the 90˚s.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Strawberry and orange fools

I needed a fresh, summery dessert to take to a get-together. This recipe proved to be the ideal dish. Most importantly in this end-of-school-year madness, it was simple. I tripled the recipe to make 12 servings and prepared it in two batches. The most time-consuming step was prepping three pounds of strawberries.

Strawberry and orange fools
(Serves 4. Adapted from recipe originally published in Bon Appétit, May 1996. See original recipe here.)

1 lb. of fresh strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped
3/4 cup chilled whipping cream
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used Fage)
3 oz. white chocolate
4 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 teaspoons Cointreau or other orange liqueur

Place chopped strawberries in medium bowl. Mash coarsely with fork. Place in colander and let drain 15 minutes.

Beat cream in large bowl to stiff peaks. Gently fold in yogurt, sugar, orange juice and peel. Fold in Cointreau and white chocolate. Gently fold in strawberries. Divide among 4 wineglasses or coupes. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover; chill.)

Garnish fools with mint and/or additional halved strawberries and serve.

The fools were cool, creamy, complex, fruity. Summery and delicious!

Monday, June 14, 2010

What lies beneath

Renovating an old house teaches you a lot of things. Patience. Tolerance. How to shoehorn an unexpected repair into your budget. How to go with the flow.

This last is tough for me. I'm a planner, a scheduler, a researcher. I create lists. I have a contingency plan for my contingency plan. There are times when planning just isn't possible. This is one of those times.

Recently, we discovered that underneath this scarred gray vinyl surface,

lies this original flooring.

An oak floor. Talk about patina! The old black glue (not true cutback we were relieved to discover) slathered over its surface for umpteen years had stained it dark. People pay a premium to have their wood flooring distressed, don't they? Well, here we have it. Authentic distressed oak.

Here's the challenging part. We don't know if we can use it. First, we have to see if the asbestos folks can remove the vinyl flooring's asbestos paper layer while leaving the wood usable. Then, we have to assess the condition of the whole floor.

Even the small area of wood we uncovered has a pine patch, and the wood itself seems very dull and dry.

Once the asbestos layer has been abated, we need to clean the wood and decide whether to replace it with antique heart pine (our original choice) or whether the floor is in decent enough condition to repair and finish. After we've decided original oak or heart pine, we need to source some appropriate wood to give to the cabinetmakers for the hood trim. The timetable for all of this cleaning and sourcing is days, not weeks. DIY, of course.

It's a case of wait, wait, wait, and then freak out! Fun, isn't it?

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Don't be.

Yep. Things are a-changin' in Bluebonnet-land. I've been hankering for wider width columns for a while now, but didn't want to pony up for an actual blog design. Then surprise! I happened upon some new Blogger templates. After some late-night fiddling around, I decided upon this look. I'm not absolutely sold on the header so things are still open to change.

Things will also be a-changin' in the Bluebonnet kitchen. Demo is scheduled for July 5. Cabinets are scheduled to arrive August 10. So this summer, I will be effectively kitchenless. Thankfully, farmers market season has started here. I'm looking forward to simple meals with fresh, locally grown ingredients. Look for lots of grilled foods and foods that require little cooking or preparation. Maybe that's too ambitious. If we drown in dust and chaos, we may just be surviving on sandwiches, takeout, and cold cereal.

I'll leave you on this wet Saturday with some lagniappe photos. Last week was my birthday, and my fabulous husband surprised me with my much longed-for macro lens. I'm still learning how to use it, but boy, is it fun!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Look what came in the mail...

...the other day.

Seven of these vintage brass library bin pulls from ebay! (The seller by the way, moondoghs, was fantastic and has various vintage items for sale.)

Aren't they gorgeous? The shape. The patina? I plan on putting them on the small Cooking Apple Green drawers. Here's the pull with the Cooking Apple Green paint and Beleza soapstone countertop. Love!

Speaking of Cooking Apple Green, we finalized our cabinet order yesterday. Gulp. I was having cold feet...heck, frozen and frostbitten feet...about the light green cabinets. Maybe we should do all of the cabinets in Old White? After all, light green cabinets?!? Not neutral. I could just hear one of HGTV hosts stating, "This is very taste-specific" in a tone dripping with disdain.

Then, at my cabinetmaker's, what do I see? Absolutely stunning cabinets in the process of being built. Painted pale green. Headed for a very upscale home.

Oh no! Maybe I'm not quirky or interesting. Maybe I'm just...trendy? Lord, I hope not.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Winner: first anniversary giveaway

Congratulations to comment #174:


You've won the Wüsthof serrated knife and cutting board set. It will be shipped to you very shortly. Enjoy!

Thanks to everyone for reading and entering!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New England fish chowder

A happy congruence of events. Whole Foods had fresh locally caught haddock fillets on special, and my mother was visiting from landlocked Austin. What quintessential New England food should I serve? The answer, of course, was chowdah.

New England fish chowder
(Adapted from epicurious.com. See original recipe here.)
1/4 pounds bacon
2 TB unsalted butter
2 medium onions, diced
6 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped
2 bay leaves
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/3 inch thick
4.5 cups chicken broth
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2.5 lbs skinless haddock fillets
1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream

1. Heat a 4- to 6-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the bacon. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a dish, leaving the fat in the pot, and reserve until later.

2. Add the butter, onions, savory or thyme, and bay leaves to the pot and sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 8 minutes, until the onions are softened but not browned.

3. Add the potatoes and stock. If the stock doesn’t cover the potatoes, add just enough water to cover them. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil, cover, and cook the potatoes vigorously for about 10 minutes, until they are soft on the outside but still firm in the center. If the stock hasn’t thickened lightly, smash a few of the potato slices against the side of the pot and cook for a minute or two longer to release their starch. Reduce the heat to low and season assertively with salt and pepper (you want to almost overseason the chowder at this point to avoid having to stir it much once the fish is added). Add the fish fillets and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and allow the chowder to sit for 10 minutes (the fish will finish cooking during this time).

4. Gently stir in the cream and taste for salt and pepper. If you are not serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover the chowder after it has chilled completely. Otherwise, let it sit for up to an hour at room temperature, allowing the flavors to meld.

5. When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat; don’t let it boil.

6. Use a slotted spoon to mound the chunks of fish, the onions, and potatoes in the center of large soup plates or shallow bowls, and ladle the creamy broth around. Scatter the bacon over the individual servings.

I was supposed to finish the dish with sprinklings of chopped parsley and minced chives, but reality intervened. We paired the chowder with grilled asparagus, grilled corn on the cob, and baguettes. New England delicious!

New England Fish Chowder on FoodistaNew England Fish Chowder

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What's for dinner...

...when you haven't been to the grocery store in awhile. Surely I'm not the only one who has realized around four in the afternoon that the larder is literally almost bare. So, after some rooting around, this is what I found.

broccoli rabe from a friend's garden (yum!)
garlic, garlic, and more garlic
frozen chicken thighs
some heavy cream
dried penne
a box of Pomi crushed tomatoes

(And don't forget. My Wüsthof giveaway ends tomorrow. Enter today.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Deal flash: Vermont Danby

Danby-lovers in the Boston area, take note.

Marble and Granite in Westwood, MA, has just received 16 slabs of 3 cm. honed Mountain White Danby. It's the first time they've had honed, less expensive Vermont Danby. The price is as fabulous as the marble. By choosing a Mountain White slab instead of Imperial Danby, we saved nearly $1,100. According to the stoneyard's charts, the honed Mountain White is far less expensive than Carrara.

This run of Mountain White has gorgeous charcoal veining with subtle hints of gray-green. It looks like it was made for our color scheme. Toward one end of the lot, the slabs are whiter with fewer veins. Toward the other end, the slabs have much more veining. There are some lovely glimmers in the stone and some areas that shade slightly cream, adding a touch of warmth. Sadly, it lacks the delicious caramel veining of Imperial Danby, but for a $1,100 savings? I don't mind. Really.

We chose the slab above. Because our marble runs (baking counter and bath vanity) will all be shorter, we wanted more veining. The whiter slabs with simpler veining like the one below would look spectacular over a long run or a large island.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Style cues from The Breakers

I admit. It's hard to relate to this.

Photo from Gardenvisit.com

I was too busy gawking to take many photos. My jaw ached from dropping so many times.

The Breakers, the Vanderbilts' 1895 summer "cottage," sits on 13 perfectly groomed acres in Newport, RI. Its 138,000 square feet encompass one room whose walls are clad in perfectly bookmatched Italian Cippolino marble slabs. The morning room walls are gilt in platinum leaf.

Just the idea of a morning room appeals to me. With or without platinum gilding. Imagine. A room designated for one's mornings. It sounds so peaceful.

The upstairs interior layout allowed female servants to invisibly deliver clothes to one's closet. Yes. The Vanderbilts actually had house elves! Or the very best Muggle approximation. The next time I ask my children if they expect laundry elves to pick up their scattered dirty clothes, I'll have to add, "Remember. You're not a Vanderbilt."

Interestingly, The Breakers' kitchen had a more accessible aesthetic. After all, the kitchen was an actual working space. Not there to be admired, but to serve a function. And my eye, trained by what the New York Times calls the "vaguely prewar aesthetic" of Christopher Peacock and the vintage stylings of Restoration Hardware, found much that could be incorporated into a modern-day kitchen.

Sorry. No interior photographs were allowed in The Breakers.

The kitchen and butler's pantry both featured inset cabinetry. Not painted as in the Peacock style, but in a warm, fairly dark wood. Plain white tiles, perhaps six inches square and now very slightly crackled with age, covered most of the kitchen walls. Set tightly in a running bond pattern, the look echoed currently trendy subway tiles, but with a nice twist. The tile edges were square, not pillowed. Slight differences in height where tiles met created a lovely, subtle texture. A sophisticated, perfectly vintage look. Especially in a larger kitchen where the scale of the larger tile would be appropriate. The reddish square floor tiles were a similar size to the wall tiles and also set in a running bond.

In the middle of the kitchen stood a very large island with a zinc counter. I love zinc. It's soft. It scratches. It reacts with materials. It looked beautiful. Similar to stainless, but warmer. Another appropriate choice for a vintage-inspired kitchen.

The spacious baths (the house had 20 in total!) housed beautiful console sinks. They were reminiscent of these Catchpole & Rye basins. The tubs had four taps. Two (hot and cold) were for regular water. Two more (hot and cold) were for saltwater. Quaint, but probably not where the modern homeowner would spend his or her budget.

Even more ornate details spark inspiration. The Trikeenan tiles we'd bought for our master bath floor are reminiscent of a herringbone ceiling at The Breakers. (The clear tape covering the Trikeenan tiles make them appear glossy.)

But perhaps the best style cue from The Breakers. The one item that many of us would love to have.

The view.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Maple syrup and cornmeal pancakes

A few weeks ago, it arrived! Our maple syrup from the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary's sugaring program. Months ago, I'd blogged about my family's first experience maple sugaring. What a fun morning! We're looking forward to next year's program. If you'd like more details, contact Mass Audubon. A few of their sites offer maple sugaring in the late winter/early spring.