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15 Jun 12:00

pack a picnic: smashed chickpea salad sandwiches.

by erin
pack a picnic: smashed chick pea sandwiches | reading my tea leaves
A salad you can pack into a sandwich and tuck in a basket or bag for easy toting is maybe the best kind of picnic fare that there is. Perelandra—the neighborhood grocery store that's sponsoring this series—serves a really great mashed chickpea salad sandwich at their juice bar & kitchen. When I was pregnant and running between my home office and my office in Times Square, I would often stop into Perelandra and grab a chickpea sandwich to go.
pack a picnic: smashed chick pea sandwiches | reading my tea leaves
This summer, I've been experimenting with different variations of chickpea salads to tote on weekend day trips. Last week I made this one with black olives and fennel (an idea I borrowed from this vegetarian pan bagnat recipe that I made recently for a family picnic). The fennel provides a nice little crunch and an unmistakable flavor and the olives are just briney enough to keep things interesting.
pack a picnic: smashed chick pea sandwiches | reading my tea leaves
pack a picnic: smashed chick pea sandwiches | reading my tea leaves
I used a pastry blender to chop everything together into like-sized pieces. If you have a food processor, a pulse or two would be all you needed to blend everything together.
pack a picnic: smashed chick pea sandwiches | reading my tea leaves
The finished salad should be about the consistency of a chunky tuna salad.pack a picnic: smashed chick pea sandwiches | reading my tea leaves
When it comes to sandwiches I'm something of a mayo fiend, so I coated toasted pieces of wheat bread in mayo before piling on butter lettuce and the chickpea salad.
pack a picnic: smashed chick pea sandwiches | reading my tea leaves
Smashed Chickpea Salad Sandwiches

What you need:

For the salad:
2 cups or so of cooked chickpeas (a 15 ounce can of already cooked chickpeas will also do)
10 cured black olives, depitted and finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small tomato, diced
3-4 basil leaves, chopped
5 stems parsley, leaves removed and chopped
3 stems oregano, leaves removed and chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

For the sandwich:
Whole wheat sandwich bread, toasted

What to do:

1. In a large bowl, mix together chickpeas, olives, fennel, red onion, garlic, and tomato. Using a pastry cutter or fork, smash the ingredients together until the chickpeas are all broken into small bits (the aim is for all of the ingredients to be more or less the same size.
2. Add olive oil, the juice of one lemon, and fresh herbs and stir to combine. (I thoroughly eyeballed the calculations here, but a good glug of olive oil will help everything stay together a bit.) Season with salt and pepper.
3. Layer the salad between toasted sandwich bread along with tender lettuce leaves and a hearty swipe of mayonnaise.
pack a picnic: smashed chick pea sandwiches | reading my tea leaves
I used sheets of Beeswrap (also sold at Perelandra!) to wrap our sandwiches.

This summer picnic series is sponsored by Perelandra Natural Foods Center, our favorite neighborhood grocery store. Since their opening in 1976, Perelandra has been committed to supplying the Brooklyn Heights community with nutritious, sustainable, and delicious food. Perelandra prides itself on stocking 100% certified organic produce and all of their grocery products are hand-selected by their on-staff nutritionist. 

Perelandra is currently offering Brooklyn-based Reading My Tea Leaves readers a free delivery when you place your grocery order online with the code FREEDELIVERY. Visit them at to place an order.

Thanks so much for supporting the thoughtful, sustainable brands that help support original editorial content on this site.
22 Jun 16:03

herbed summer squash pasta bake

by deb


summer squash pasta bake

One of the things I’ve first-world struggled with since the beginning of this incubation period is a lack of appetite. Of course, there’s the glib side of me — great for managing weight gain! why “eat for two” if you can eat for half?! — but mostly, it’s a bummer. I thought that after the first trimester nausea passed, I’d be good to go and yes, I’m back to eating regular meals, but my enthusiasm has only returned in short bursts. Sure, I’ve shamelessly consumed all matter of crispy eggs with soy sauce, sesame oil and chile flakes (flipped only long enough to keep the food police at bay, or so I tell you). I will eat almost any green vegetable roasted to a blistering crisp with olive oil and salt and finished with lemon juice. Speaking of lemons, we go through homemade, barely sweet lemonade by the half-carafe. And some cravings are even fun; for example, “the baby wants ribs” was a text I sent out to friends a few weeks ago while led to a great deck party. But do you know when I sat down with my plate after an afternoon of carefully preparing three glorious racks of ribs, I could only eat one? It’s rather grim for a so-called food writer to go through life unmotivated by hunger and cravings, to have become a person who shrugs and says “Meh, whatever you want to eat is fine.” I don’t even know me.

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© smitten kitchen 2006-2012. | permalink to herbed summer squash pasta bake | 104 comments to date | see more: Freezer Friendly, Italian, Pasta, Photo, Summer, Summer Squash, Vegetarian, Zucchini

10 Jun 19:04

Beet-Dyed Deviled Eggs

by A Beautiful Mess

Juniper's birthday party treat!!!

Beet-Dyed Deviled Eggs (so good!)I've been wanting to try dying deviled eggs with beet juice for a long time. One of my favorite local lunch spots, Aviary, serves them and I order them pretty much 100% of the time—SO good. 

To hard boil eggs I use this simple method—place eggs in a large pot filled with water (so eggs are completely covered). Let the water with eggs come to a boil on medium-high heat. As soon as the water is boiling, turn off the burner and remove the pot from the heat. Let the water cool to the side (at least 15 minutes). When you remove the eggs, they will be hard boiled. Easy peasy! 

Beet Dyed Deviled Eggs To dye the eggs, immerse the whole egg (with shell peeled off) in beet juice for one hour. I got a 16 ounce glass of fresh beet (straight) juice at the health food store to use. You could also use juice from a can of cooked or pickled beets. Beware, this juice will dye anything and everything including your clothing, anything wood and anything that isn't stain-resistant (another day I loved my quartz counter tops because it wiped right off). 

Beet juice is BEAUTIFUL. The color is absolutely incredible. 

When you cut the egg in half, it will be all white with a thin rim of pink around the edge. If you like that look, cut them right before you serve. After even just one hour, the color bleeds through most of the egg so it looks more like my photos look. I cut these, made the yolk mixture, and refrigerated them overnight before assembling. 

Beet Dyed Deviled Eggs  I started with about 22 eggs (I wanted to have some extras in case I messed up, which I did, peeling the eggs perfectly is tricky!). To make the yolk mixture combine the following in a food processor—egg yolks, 3/4 cup mayo and four tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard (I always buy spicy mustard!). Blend all ingredients. Use a piping bag to fill the eggs or just a spoon if you don't have one. 

Garnish with a sprinkle of smoked paprika, fresh thyme, fresh chives and fresh dill (the chives are the yummiest). Enjoy! 

Beet Dyed Deviled Eggs   I already can't wait to make these again for my next party. They do take a little more prep than typical deviled eggs, but I think it's well worth it for the beautiful presentation. By the way, if you're curious—you can't really taste the beet flavor once they are complete. It's mostly just for the look! 

Hope you enjoy trying these out! xx. Elsie 

Credits// Author and Photography: Elsie Larson. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess Actions

14 May 15:59

toasted marshmallow milkshake

by deb

toasted marshmallow milkshake

Almost exactly 5 years ago, in celebration us both signing contracts to write cookbooks, I met a friend* for lunch at a burger joint called The Stand on East 12th Street, and we finished the meal with something the menu declared a toasted marshmallow milkshake. I don’t remember a thing about the burger, but I do know that pretty much every conversation I had in the weeks that followed went like this: “The weather is so nice today!” “It would be perfect for a toasted marshmallow milkshake, don’t you think?” “How is your son sleeping these days?” “Did I tell you about this toasted marshmallow milkshake I had? Let me tell you about this toasted marshmallow milkshake I had.” “Can you believe this Deepwater Horizon mess?” “Toasted marshmallow milkshake, toasted marshmallow milkshake toasted marshmallow milkshake.” You could argue it had some impact on me.

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© smitten kitchen 2006-2012. | permalink to toasted marshmallow milkshake | 145 comments to date | see more: Drinks, Ice Cream/Sorbet, Photo, Summer

09 May 13:00

Installing Picture Rail Moulding

by A Beautiful Mess

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Decorating a cookie cutter house is full of creative challenges, mostly where character is concerned. We live in a 1959 ranch that would be pretty run of the mill if it wasn't for the brick wall in our kitchen and living room. But the bedrooms? Uninspired blank boxes with zero interesting elements.

I was considering how to add some character to my daughter's new bedroom without just throwing more stuff into the small space. Clutter does not equal character. I felt a little envious of the wide moulding and beamed ceilings of spaces I was pinning to my Pinterest boards, when the thought occurred to me—I could add my own touch of architectural interest to the room with a functional picture rail!

I love the interest that breaking up wall color adds to a space, and finishing off the transition between colors with moulding adds an elevated look to the room. Throw in the picture rail functionality to the deal, and the bland room now has a generous dose of character! Not to mention my drywall has been saved from many future nail holes as artwork gets rearranged on the walls. Check out how I did it below.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Materials:
-moulding with curved top that fits your picture hook
-picture hook (I used these)
-strap hangers (for mounting on the back of picture frames to attach the wire)
-wire (I used this wire)

Optional Materials:
-duct tape (helpful during a dry fit when working with less hands)
-wood glue (if you are joining together different pieces of moulding)

-nail gun or hammer with a nail set
-miter saw

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.MG_2599Selecting the Moulding

I purchased my picture rail hooks before selecting my moulding because I envisioned myself ordering hook after hook, only to find that they didn't fit the moulding I had purchased. I brought the hook with me to the lumber yard and asked the millwork men if they had any picture rails. They look confused. Not good. When I explained what a picture rail was, they understood, and said, "No, I'm sorry, we don't have that."

So I looked around the lumber yard at the seemingly endless selection of pre-cut moulding and finally found one little strip that perfectly fit my picture rail hook. I brought it to the same guy and said "Found one!" He said, "No, that's pencil moulding." I said, "Not anymore! Now it's a picture rail."

The problem with the pencil moulding was that it was just really skinny. Not exactly the dramatic detail I had envisioned for the room. So I looked around at the other moulding before I found another profile that looks great when resting below the pencil moulding. I had them cut the pieces to the measurements I had made of our room (with a little extra just in case), and brought them home in my parents' mini van.

Because I'm not a master craftsman, I didn't use any fancy installation techniques, such as fashioning coping joints, but I did get the job done with professional looking results. Check out my tips to get the same look in your own home.

Tip #1: Glue together your strips of moulding before trimming and installing. To get started, I glued together the lengths of moulding (before trimming them) so they could be installed in one piece. To do this, I simply ran a bead of wood glue along the pencil moulding and used duct tape as a clamp to attach it to the other strip of moulding. Make sure to wipe down any seeping glue right away or it will harden and become almost impossible to remove.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.After the glued moulding had dried for over an hour, we measured each section of wall and began cutting the pieces of moulding to fit. I used a miter saw to cut 45 degree angles where the moulding would meet in the corner. Against door frames, I just cut the moulding straight across. As you can see above, the angle of miter saw can be adjusted to the specific angle you cant to cut. My saw locks into place at common angles, such as 45 degree angles, taking away any guess work as I cut.

Tip #2: Always cut the moulding a bit longer than you think you need it. It might mean lots of trips back to the miter saw, but it's better to take your time than to trim a board too short. You may end up needing to recut your angles because...

Tip #3: Your walls may not be square, 90-degree angles, so don't assume they are! As you can see below, my walls were not square, so my angles were too obtuse to fit together. I had to shift the angle of my miter saw to make the angled ends of my moulding more acute. After recutting each piece of moulding to something closer to a 43 degree angle, the corners fit together perfectly.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Tip #4: When tweaking the angle of your cuts to ensure a good fit in the corners, both pieces of moulding must be cut to the same angle. If you cut one piece to a 50 degree angle, but leave the other angle at a 45, they will not match up when fit together. They must be cut to the same angle, such as 48 and 48 degrees.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Once our corner angles matched up perfectly, I trimmed the end of that piece (shown above) to fit snugly against the door frame. When we were checking the corner miters, we held the boards above the door frame so the untrimmed board could rest flat against the wall to accurately check the corner fit without cutting the board to fit inside of the door frame. I wanted to save some length in case I needed to make more cuts at the corner to get a good fit.

Tip #5: Do a dry fit before painting and installing the trim. We used duct tape to hold the moulding up to check out the joints as we trimmed each length of moulding. We didn't leave the duct tape up for very long, so it didn't leave any marks on our walls.

Tip #6: Use a level when installing the moulding— don't rely on paint lines or chalk lines.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Tip #7: Nail the moulding into studs. These rails should be capable of bearing heavy weight on the hooks, so make sure they are secure by fastening them into the studs on the wall. Use a stud finder to locate the studs and mark them with masking tape to make installation quick and easy.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Tip #8: Hide imperfect joints on painted moulding (not stained wood) by caulking the joints and painting over the caulk. I cut one of my pieces too short and actually had to piece a sliver of moulding into the corner to fix my mistake. The joint still wasn't perfect, but I was so over it by this point, and the gap ended up not even being visible in the end, thanks to a little caulk and paint!

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Tip #9: Cover nail holes for a nice finish. I painted my boards before installation, so I used a synthetic filler to cover the tiny nail holes, then dabbed primer and paint over each spot so that they're now unnoticeable.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.For the best paint job:

I chose to paint the moulding before installation because I didn't want to be 7 months pregnant priming moulding in an enclosed area on a ladder. Very bad ideas, all of them. Also, when priming raw wood, there's lots of sanding between coats involved to get a professional finish, and it's just a lot easier and less messy to do that outside on saw horses. Here are the steps you should follow to get silky, smooth painted moulding:

1. Lightly sand down the unfinished wood to remove any splintered cuts or rough surfaces. Then thoroughly wipe away any residual dust.

2. Spray with one moderately heavy coat of primer. Don't spray it on so thick that it drips, though. My favorite primer to use is 123 primer. It works really well to fill in any wood grain that might be visible, too.

3. Wet sand the first coat of primer with 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper (just keep dunking the sandpaper into a bucket of water as you sand to keep things wet) or buff it with grade 0000 steel wool (which is what I did, since that's what I had on hand). Wet sanding works to really smooth out any unevenness in the finish caused by pronounced wood grain, but if you're using a wood like poplar without pronounced grain, buffing with steel wool is probably good enough. Do not skip this step, though, because it will make the finish sleek and smooth, removing the little hairs of the wood that pop up when the primer initially soaks into it.

4. Spray with one more coat of primer.

5. Finish with two or three light coats of your semi-gloss paint. Semi gloss is a great finish for moulding because it is sleek, easily wiped down, and the paint finish isn't easily damaged by cleaning products like eggshell or even satin finish paint is. Spraying the paint will ensure a smooth finish without brush marks, but brush marks aren't the end of the world!

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Once your touch-ups are dried and cured, go ahead and hang some pictures! I mounted strap hangers on the back of the side rails of my picture frames so I could easily attach wires on each side. I cut each side's wires to be the same length, then looped the top and twisted the wire around to secure it in place, as shown above. While holding a level on top of the picture, I pulled on one side or the other of the frame to tighten the wire as needed in order to make the picture level.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.The wires are practically invisible from a distance, but I think visible wires would look really great. I might look around at alternative ideas to use for cords.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Things look much more polished in Lucy's big girl room with the addition of the picture rail moulding. When she got home and saw it, she squealed with delight. I said, I know! So fun, right? -Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Valentine and Stella from the Signature Collection.

12 May 16:04

mushrooms and greens with toast

by deb

mushrooms and greens with toast

Regarding the ever-present stacks of cookbooks around the apartment, my mother joked to me on Sunday that I should open a library. She’s probably right. I don’t think that a week goes by that I don’t* receive at least one new cookbook and I hardly know where to dive in. And don’t get me wrong, I too swoon over the currently in-demand aesthetic of vertically oriented, dimly lit photos of reclaimed weathered barnwood tables boasting sauce splatters and variations on kale on matte pages bound in jacketless books. It’s just that they’re all starting to jumble together.

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© smitten kitchen 2006-2012. | permalink to mushrooms and greens with toast | 121 comments to date | see more: Casserole, Greens, Kale, Mushrooms, Photo, Vegetarian, Weeknight Favorite

11 May 16:27

atakilt wat: turmeric-spiced potatoes, carrots & cabbage

by kickpleat

turmeric-spiced potato, carrots, & cabbage | everybody likes sandwiches

Sunday was Mother’s Day. And because my mom isn’t around anymore, I couldn’t make her a meal or call her on the phone. But I pulled out a tablecloth that I had picked up when I was visiting with my dad in April. It’s an object that is full of memories as it was on our table every Sunday or special occasion when I was little. It’s definitely retro with it’s vintage flower vase print and it felt right to put it on our table yesterday for dinner.

turmeric-spiced potato, carrots, & cabbage | everybody likes sandwiches

This isn’t fancy food at all. It’s an incredibly simple dish made with inexpensive ingredients. Potatoes. Onion. Cabbage. Carrots. Turmeric and cumin lend colour and flavour and I threw in some cooked French lentils to make this a good main dish meal. It’s a top-of-the-stove braised dish with no liquids needed. Just cover and let it do its thing. The vegetables will break down and get tender and in about an hour you’ll have something fragrant and hearty to eat alongside brown rice or your favourite grain.

turmeric-spiced potato, carrots, & cabbage | everybody likes sandwiches

turmeric-spiced potatoes, carrots & cabbage
2-3 T olive oil
1/2 red onion, large dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2″ ginger, peeled & minced
1 t ground cumin
1 t turmeric
1/2 t aleppo pepper (or 1/4 t cayenne pepper)
1/4 t kosher salt
1 large carrot, large dice
1/2 small head of cabbage, large diced
3-4 red potatoes, diced
1 c cooked french lentils or chickpeas (optional)

In a large pan, heat up oil over medium heat. Add in red onion and sauté for a minute before adding in the garlic and ginger. Stir everything around until fragrant and stir in the cumin, turmeric, aleppo pepper and salt. Let the spices get toasty for a minute and then add in the cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. Give everything a good stir, cover and leave on medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. It’s important to keep this dish covered, so that the vegetables braise without the help of any extra liquid. Stir in the cooked lentils or chickpeas if using, lower the heat, and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Serve with brown rice. Makes 4 servings.

07 May 13:12

Spring Roll Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

by A Beautiful Mess

Spring Roll Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing (via spring rolls are one of my favorite healthy snacks. The only draw back is they can take a little while to put together since you have to roll up all the prepped ingredients into the wrappers. Not a big deal, but if you're pressed for time, it can be a concern.

Spring Roll Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing (via In many ways, this is the LAZY or quick version of fresh spring rolls. All the ingredients and even a similar peanut dressing, but it only takes about 15 minutes to throw everything together. Perfect for a quick lunch. 

How to cook cellophane noodlesSpring Roll Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing, serves 2 (you can easily make more servings).

For the salad:
1-2 oz. cellophane noodles (about half what you see pictured above, I went too crazy)
1/2 head of lettuce, chopped
1/3 or 1/2 head of red cabbage, shredded
2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
2-3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
a big handful of peanuts, chopped

For the dressing:
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 tablespoon red curry paste
2 tablespoons natural, creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar (optional, but it does add a nice sweetness)
1/4 cup peanut oil or water (to thin the dressing)

Begin by soaking the cellophane noodles in hot water for 10-12 minutes (check your package directions as soak times can vary). Prep all your vegetables. 

Spicy peanut salad dressingFor the dressing whisk together the first five ingredients listed above. I made my dressing with peanut oil, but you could also use water. The oil adds a richness, but it has a tendency to separate. You can simply whisk it again before pouring it over your salad. Either way, whisk the oil or water in last, slowly drizzling it in as you whisk to help it blend in with the other ingredients. 

Spring Roll Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing (via  Assemble your salad and pour the dressing over the top. Enjoy and happy salad days! xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

16 Mar 08:30

Stuff — my journey still in progress — and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

by Kate

This is a nice piece from the viewpoint of "not a minimalist" but still paring down on STUFF

life changing magic of tidying upIn the casual conversations that Pam and I have several times weekly, we often circle back to a recurring subject — stuff. We joke about how Pam is a “hoarder” of vintage its, bits and woddities and how in some areas I could be a “vintage hoarder in training.” As much as we giggle about it and share our stories of frustration that we have too much and should really pare down a bit, it seems that we continue to collect, amass and pile up all sorts of goodies we find at estate sales, on ebay and at the ReStore. But does all this amazing stuff really bring us happiness — or is it a source of underlying stress that slowly takes bites out of our of our ability to concentrate, our sanity and our free time? What follows is the account of the personal journey I’ve been on regarding stuff, and my thoughts on how to find your own happy place between minimalism and living in a house that resembles a storage shed. 

bedroom from the 90s

Does this look like a typical 15-year-old’s bedroom? Yes, I had lots of stuff, but it was very well organized.

My natural mode: “Tidy packrat”

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always enjoyed living in a well-organized, relatively neat space, even though I did have a large collection of toys, books and other knickknacks. Mom rarely had to ask me to clean my room and she actually paid me — on multiple occasions — to organize my little brother’s messy room.

At the same time, I come from a long line of thrifty folks (on both sides of the family) with packrat tendencies, that don’t like to waste resources, no matter how trivial they may seem. Waste not, want not is a great mindset to have — and I give my family a lot of credit for showing me how to create and be content with my modest lifestyle. Even so, I recently realized that the stuff was creeping in and my inner packrat was winning — and my home, which once felt spacious — seemed to be constricting. In my adult life I noticed a pattern in my relationship with stuff had developed. My packrat self would save and acquire things, then my ‘tidy’ self would realize I had too much, purge, then drop off a carload at the thrift store — it was a constant struggle.

My turning point

Then something changed. Last July while my immediate family was visiting, we faced the daunting task of trying to clear out and sort through my grandma’s house so it could be put on the market.

50s ranchThe first morning when we arrived at the grandma’s 1950s ranch, I felt a mix of nostalgia, sadness and hope that we could quickly accomplish the task at hand. However, once inside, the true enormity of the effort was quickly evident: we had to decide the fate of a lifetime of possessions.


Grandma reading to me Christmas 1985.

Hats off to Great Depression thrift… but…

My grandmother was a child of the Great Depression, which understandably had a huge influence on how she lived her many years afterwards. Surviving this difficult time made her very conscious about not being wasteful and meticulously maintaining her most precious belongings so they would last. I greatly respect grandma for her thrifty values, and practice many of them myself.

The problem with this kind of behavior is in the compounding. Grandma lived in this house for most of her life — probably at least 60 years — and we found all kinds of things that accumulate during a 60+ year stay in one place. Her particular weakness seemed to be an aversion to wasting useful packaging materials and retaining paperwork. It was completely and totally overwhelming.

After four straight days, we were able to reach every corner of the house. It took at least 15 pickup truck loads to the thrift store, the dumpster, and the recycling center before all the stuff was removed. The experience left me with two lessons that I wanted to apply to my own life:

  1. Hanging on to that much stuff becomes a burden to you and — after you are gone — your loved ones, who must wade through every scrap of your life for days and days and figure out what to do with it all. I do not want to be a burden if I can help it.
  2. When you save things in an attic or a basement for years and years and never use them, they often deteriorate from dampness or dry heat, making them useless to anyone. We had to throw out an alarming amount of furniture, canned goods and other items — which would have appalled grandma — because they were too damaged from their many years in the basement or attic to be salvaged. If they had been let go all those years ago, someone else could have taken care of and enjoyed them.

My journey begins

After the week spent working tirelessly to clean out grandma’s house, I had a realization about my own relationship with stuff. Much of what I kept and accumulated was unnecessary — and it was stressing me out, whether I realized it or not. I decided it was time to make a change.

One of the main reasons I tend to love midcentury style so much is because of the clean lines, thoughtful design and generally clutter free, clean aesthetic portrayed in midcentury modest homes from catalogs and brochures. Back then things cost more… people simply had less… and people took care of their things with pride. I wanted to reclaim that vintage ideal in my own present day home.

Besides the clean aesthetics that owning less would provide, I also wanted the simplicity of having fewer things to clean and maintain — freeing up more time for other pursuits.

Once my family visit was over, I hatched a plan to change my ways. In my 32 years — lived during this time of plenty in American history — I had much more than what my grandmother had accumulated by a similar point in her life. My entire past: boxes of childhood toys, art supplies, drawings, notebooks, textbooks and other things from grade school through college were stored throughout my home. More recently I had accumulated vintage goodies from family hand me downs, estate sales, vintage shops, the ReStore, piles of clothing and shoes, mounds of paper, kitchen utensils, dishes, furniture, tools, gardening supplies, and the list goes on. Continuing to accumulate at this rate would surely result in my possessions being at least double that of my grandmother’s at the time of her passing: a realization that horrified me. It was time to make a change.

I started by going through my house and ruthlessly — or so I thought — purging my belongings. I donated seven car loads of excess stuff to the thrift store and ReStore, and tossed and recycled several large bags of paper and other items, which made me feel much better. Then a few short months after I thought my hard work was done, the stuff had started creeping in again — negating my prior progress.

I realized that If I truly wanted to make a change, I had to come up with a better plan — one that not only made me reconsider what I was keeping — but also reassessed the criteria I used to justify bringing new things home. Failure to get to the root of the problem might result in being forever stuck on a hamster wheel between acquiring new things and taking trips to the thrift store. Did I really want to spend my life living between bouts of shopping and purging? Imagine how much extra time I could devote to other pursuits if I cut down the time I spent cleaning and sorting all that stuff each week. This idea of freedom was all the extra motivation I needed to find a permanent solution.

Many of my favorite childhood memories don't include stuff, it is about spending time with people you love. Above: Helping Bob and Nana shuck corn for dinner during their visit in 1985.

Many of my favorite childhood memories don’t include stuff, they are about spending time with people I love. Above: Helping Bob and Nana shuck corn for dinner during their visit in July of 1985.

Minimalism — a great idea for some, but not my cup of tea

At first, I began researching the extreme opposite of my packrat ways — minimalism. But could I really adhere to such a strict concept? The thought of minimalism instantly brings to mind visions of sparse, white rooms holding nothing other than the bare necessities. While I loved the idea of a ‘clean slate’ I doubted that I could actually jettison the 80-90% of my worldly possessions that living a minimalist existence would surely dictate. Still, I was in research mode, so I drank up all of the information I could find about minimalism and let those ideas float around in my head. Some of the blogs that I read and enjoyed include:

The Minimalists – Two men in their thirties — Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus — share their paths from lives of unhealthy excess to their new content lives as minimalists, plus all the life lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Be More With Less — The story of one woman — Courtney Carver’s — road to minimalism and a happier, healthier life that started after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She also explores creating “capsule wardrobes” — wearing only 33 items for 33 days — and “capsule kitchens” — buying a set number of ingredients to cook all meals for a month — to encourage and challenge herself and others to simplify their lives.

Becoming Minimalist — Joshua Becker had an ‘aha’ moment while spending the weekend trying to clean his garage instead of spending time playing with his son. He shares his road to a simpler, more meaningful life through minimalism.

Zen Habits — Leo Babauta — a father of six — tells his story of how he transformed his life, his body and himself through practicing minimalism. Zen Habits takes a deep look into minimalism in all aspects of life, not just through the amount of possessions you own, with an emphasis on the spiritual aspect.

Once I had thoroughly explored the contents of these four websites, plus several other articles about minimalism, I reached a conclusion: I am a highly visual, artistic, and sentimental person. I can’t get rid of all but the completely necessary items in my life because if I did, I don’t think it would bring me happiness. There is no magic number of sweaters or books or throw pillows that everyone should strive to have.  I like the idea of paring down my possessions, but minimalism goes a bit too far for me. Having said this, I do like some parts of the concept of minimalism. These include:

  • Not living an overly scheduled life — allowing yourself to have free time for thought, relaxation, meditation and the pursuit of crafts and hobbies
  • Not giving in easily to the pangs of consumerism — questioning what you really need and why you want an item before buying it
  • Being environmentally friendly — less consumerism leads to less waste, using less of earth’s limited resources
  • Having fewer things to take care of and clean — spending less time doing mundane chores around the house and more free time to pursue other interests and live your life
  • Simplifying your wardrobe — spending less time trying to decide what to wear each morning
  • You already likely have ‘enough’ — be grateful for what you have instead of chasing the next best thing, be content with your possessions
  • Things are not important — people and their relationships with each other are important.
spring cleaning

My closet after tidying — this is probably the cleanest and emptiest it has ever been.

The final missing piece in the puzzle of my relationship to stuff

While I worked to sort through and pare down my belongings little by little, I discovered a book about tidying up that was getting lots of good press and was on the bestseller list. I read several articles reviewing the book and its ideas — and in each one the author claimed reading it had given them a whole new perspective on tidying. I was curious, but after all of my research on minimalism, organizing and its effect on happiness, could this book really have anything more to offer? Deciding to take a chance anyway, I ordered myself a copy.

spring cleaningUpon receiving The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (affiliate link) by Marie Kondo, I instantly devoured it. Kondo’s book was the missing piece of information that I needed to complete my journey.

Yes, you can buy it from Amazon — or, don’t “consume” it — get it from your library!

Kondo works as an expert in tidying, decluttering and organizing in Japan and has been interested in the subject since she was a small girl. She has done loads of research and personally tried many methods of tidying up. Her conclusion: The method — described in her book — is the only way to tidy with any sort of long lasting effect.

I’m about half way through the Kondo tidying process and already, I am noticing a huge difference in how I feel about my home and my possessions on a daily basis. I think this feeling is compounded by the fact that I live and work at home, so I spend a great deal of my daily life within the four walls of my Retro Ranch. Since I started my journey, these are some of the positive effects the process of tidying up has had on my daily life:

  • I spend far less time cleaning than ever before and have a cleaner house on a daily basis.
  • I make my bed every day.
  • I have very little desire to shop for new things (besides weekly grocery trips), which is saving me money and time.
  • I have read two books that I’ve been wanting to read forever, but never felt I had the time to do.
  • I’ve started making art again.
  • I listen to more music instead of just turning on the TV and plopping down on the couch.
  • I cook more from scratch — including the gumbo I made recently, which took five hours and turned out fantastic — and I make my own sandwich bread once a week on Sundays. I also no longer use pasta sauce from a jar and rely on very few convenience foods, which are expensive and not as good tasting or good for you as home cooking.
  • I spend more quality time with my husband and my dog, which is something that truly makes me happy.
  • I’ve finished some big projects that I’ve been putting off — namely, reupholstering my great grandmother’s sofas.
  • I’ve greatly reduced the amount of clothing and shoes I own to what I wear on a regular basis, plus a few ‘nice’ outfits for special occasions. It is much easier to get dressed in the morning, put clothing away after laundry and see what I own.
  • Getting rid of items I’ve held onto for a long time for no good reason helps me let go of the past and live in the present.
  • I feel lighter, happier, less stressed and less agitated overall.
  • It is easier for me to focus on the task at hand (Pam benefits from this too!)
  • I have realized what my priorities are, what makes me happiest and what I want to accomplish.

spring cleaningThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has helped me to achieve all of this because it explains a clear order in which to tidy your possessions to achieve maximum results with the least amount of effort. Kondo gives her readers only one guideline to use when deciding whether or not to keep something — Does it spark joy? Now, some people might have issues with mundane objects like socks ‘sparking joy’, but if you gathered all of the socks you own into a big pile and picked your favorite ones of the bunch — the ones you reach for first — those would be the ones that spark joy in your heart. If you use this criteria for deciding what to keep, you will be left surrounded with only your favorite things, and that really does spark joy.

Another part of Kondo’s teachings that I found very helpful was how to deal with some of the guilt that makes us keep things that don’t spark joy in our hearts — such as that shirt that you bought and then never wore or those old threadbare pajamas that are ‘still good’. Kondo tells us to touch each item as we make our decision about whether or not to keep it. If it doesn’t spark joy then we need to thank it as we discard it. Tell the shirt that you bought and never wore, “thank you for teaching me that this style and color doesn’t suit me” … and tell the threadbare pajamas, “thank you for your many years of service.”

spring cleaningEven if you are not ready to take stock of your entire worldly possessions, reading Kondo’s book is worth it solely because of her section on folding and organizing clothes. Of the parts of the tidying process that I’ve completed thus far, tidying my clothing, has had the biggest happy effect on my overall day to day life. I can now open a drawer — in my lovely Broyhill Brasilia dresser — and see with one glance all of the sweaters I own at once as I am making my daily wardrobe selection. My dresser drawers are really a thing of beauty now, and my closet — it is clean and clear with space between the hangers making clothing easy to remove and rehang.

spring cleaning

My husband’s dress sock drawer, which used to be overflowing, is now neat and tidy — and has plenty of extra space.

Kondo advises that you only tidy your own things and not force others to follow your ways. She suggests that once they see and feel a difference in the parts of the house that have been tidied, they will want to join in. This has been true for my husband. At first, he was glad to see my enthusiasm and happiness increasing as I completed reading the book and started the process of tidying, but he had no interest in doing any tidying himself. Then as we were trying to pack him for a week long business trip, I asked him if I could tidy his sock drawer, since we had issues finding matched pairs. He agreed and was so pleased with the results that he has since taken the initiative to pare down his massive book collection by 1/3 — a task that would have been out of the question before. I also think he likes benefitting from my newfound happiness — especially if that means he gets homemade bread and gumbo on a regular basis.

bookshelfAbove: see that large bookshelf? We don’t need it anymore.

spring cleaningAbove: The freestanding bookshelf is gone, sold on Craigslist to make room for a small art desk.

After sorting through our books and downsizing our collection quite a bit, we found we no longer needed the freestanding bookshelf in our den. The remaining books easily fit into our built-in bookshelf, my husband’s enclosed nightstand and a small bookcase we have in the bedroom. Getting rid of the bookshelf cleared an entire corner that will soon be the home of a small tilt-top art desk. Having an easy-to-use area for drawing is part of my plan to set up my home for the way I want to live my life now — spending less time cleaning piles of stuff and more time making art. Getting rid of old novels that we didn’t plan to reread or textbooks we hadn’t touched since graduating college 10 years ago, clears out the clutter of the past so we can focus on the present.

The verdict

If you’ve made it this far in this epic post about my journey with stuff — give yourself a pat on the back. If you are thinking that maybe you’d like to start a similar journey, here’s my verdict:

In order to be successful in a huge, life-changing way you need to really be ready and want to reduce the amount of things you own. It is a difficult task, but the rewards are indeed life-changing. The process isn’t just about things, but all of the feelings and emotions attached them and the reasons you haven’t let them go. In dealing with the accumulations of your past, you make room — both in your home and life — so that you can live in the present. If your journey is similar to mine — you’ll feel as if a thousand pounds have been lifted off your shoulders.

Now does all this mean that I’m not buying any more retro goodies? Of course not. I’m still collecting certain things for my future Tiki bar and if I see something that really ‘sparks joy’ then I wouldn’t hesitate to bring it home, but I plan to do so with more intention and restraint than I have in the past. It is fun to go shopping, but I don’t need to bring home everything I find, and that is ok.

This isn’t our first time at the stuff rodeo, check out Pam’s post about stuff:

Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up?
If so, what did you think?
Can you share how you’re handling your relationship to stuff — in this era of material plenty?

The post Stuff — my journey still in progress — and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up appeared first on Retro Renovation.

28 Apr 08:30

Reporcelain refinish steel sinks, stoves and other vintage parts — we find a second source

by Kate

re porcelain vintage sink appliancesDo you have a steel sink, stove or other appliance that needs to be refinished? Professional reporcelaining is the way to go for long-term durability. Reader Barb tipped us to a second company that can do this high-heat job —  Independence Porcelain Enamel. The company has been in business since 1922 and is located in Independence, Missouri, close to Kansas City.

Note, however, that Independence only reporcelains steel — not cast iron.  If you have cast iron, the only source we know of remains Custom Ceramics — and owner John confirmed with Pam yesterday that his waiting list for three years long. Ouch.

Barb wrote to us:

I wanted to have my 1947 66-inch double bowl, double drainboard porcelain sink (on a Youngstown steel cabinet) done by Custom Ceramics in Illinois,  but I can’t wait 1.5 – 2 years. I found a company in Independence, Missouri, close to Kansas City. It is Independence Porcelain Enamel, in business since 1922. I took my sink last Friday. Jeff Gaylord at IPE tells me it will take about two weeks. It will be sandblasted and fired at 1600 degrees. It was a good size company and has been in business for a long time so I am optimistic for good results. Cost will be $550.

[Editor’s notes re Barb’s email above: Custom Ceramics also can reporcelain steel — for that, the wait is currently about 12 weeks, the company told us; it’s the cast iron work that has the multi-year wait list time. Also note: Independence gave us different firing temperatures when they answered our questions below.]

I contacted Jeff at Independence Porcelain Enamel to verify that they did indeed re-porcelain vintage steel drainboard sinks, and to inquire about the company, pricing and available colors.

Independence Porcelain Enamel

Jeff writes:

Independence Porcelain Enamel has been in my family since 1983. We are a job shop the specializes in one-time projects, and we also do larger volume runs of commercial products. We don’t do mass volume runs of 1,000s of units though.

re porcelain vintage sink appliances re porcelain vintage sink appliances

Our main business is restoration work. However, we only refinish steel sinks (not cast iron). Colors range from your basic white, black, and almond to reds, blue, greens, turquoise, buttercup yellow, and orange. Our process is we media blast all the old porcelain off and apply new porcelain to raw substrate. Porcelain enamel is a water based slurry that is applied to the substrate then dried to evaporate the water from the slurry. We can then brush any areas (thru or threaded holes) that need to be free of porcelain. Then the piece is fired at 1400 F to 1520 F depending on the substrate (steel or cast iron).  It is then inspected and reprocessed with another coating if required.

re porcelain vintage sink appliances

vintage sink before restoration.

re porcelain vintage sink appliances

Sink after restoration.

Here is a before/after of a restored sink. The cost to refinish a double bowl with double drain boards sink in white is $550 plus shipping. Lead time is 3-5 weeks after receipt of sink.

I wondered: How can someone tell if their vintage sink is steel and therefore a good candidate for re-porcelaining at Independence? Jeff replied:

The easiest way is if you look on the underside of the sink. A cast iron sink will have raised lettering and a rough texture. Cast iron sinks will also be very heavy in weight. Steel sinks won’t have raised lettering but a stamp with the manufacturer’s date.

re porcelain vintage sink appliancesIndependence Porcelain Enamel also does appliance re-porcelaining. Pricing varies depending on size and color. Jeff said that an RV cooktop or oven doors can range from $82.50 each to $97.50.

re porcelain vintage sink appliances

Pam though this looked like cast iron so she called Jeff to check. He confirms that IPE can reporcelain smaller cast iron parts. When it comes to sinks and tubs, though, they cannot; these larger castings have more imperfections from the underlying molding and are not good candidates for IPE’s wet slurry process.

It’s great to to have another source for reporcelaining our vintage steel sinks, parts or other appliances!

So how did tipster Barb’s sink turn out?

Barb writes:

vintage drainboard sink

Barb’s sink before.

The people at Independence Porcelain Enamel were great.  So I hope that they get lots of jobs from your article.  I stayed up one night searching and searching the internet and then I found them.

vintage drainboard sink

Barbs sink after being re-porcelained by IPE.

The sink is absolutely beautiful.  I’m sure it looks exactly like it did when it rolled off the assembly line in 1947.  IPE did a fantastic job.

Mega thanks to reader Barb for the tip and to Jeff Gaylord from Independence Porcelain Enamel for taking the time to answer our questions and send photos for this story.

Link love:

The post Reporcelain refinish steel sinks, stoves and other vintage parts — we find a second source appeared first on Retro Renovation.

28 Apr 13:20

Concrete Feather Finish Countertops

by A Beautiful Mess

Counter tops before and afterOver a year ago Laura did a countertop feather finish project. The results were such a success and they've held up well, so we decided to use a similar method in our HFHS kitchen. Plus we wanted to keep the counters as neutral and inexpensive as possible since we don't know who the lucky new owners will be (and we don't know their tastes). The gray finish provides that neutrality and the whole thing cost less than $200!

Concrete feather finishI used a couple different methods, tools, and products than Laura, so I'm going to share those with you. 

Supplies to skim coat a counter topSupplies:
-Henry's Feather Finish
-Ghostshield food safe sealer
-CHENG countertop wax
-trowel and spackle knives (varying sizes)
-throwaway buckets
-sandpaper 100-2000 grit (3M prograde)
-terry cloths
-waxing sponge
-painter's tape

For the HFHS counter, we had our contractor replace the old worn out formica counter with two layers of 3/4" plywood. Since the feather finish drys so quickly and uses such a minimal amount of water, I didn't worry about putting down any seal or backing layer. The two layers of ply provided ample stability. Although I did add some bracing to the front lip where the sink was going for added strength. I taped off the backsplash about half an inch up from the counter surface.

How to skim coat a counter topThen I used basically the same process as Laura. Instead of using the Ardex brand feather finish which had to be ordered, I used the Henry's brand feather finish found at our local hardware store. It mixes the same, with the ratio of 1:2 (water to powder.) At first I thought using a mudding pan would work for mixing, but I quickly switched to the temporary buckets. (Should have just followed Laura's directions there.) I applied about five coats of the feather finish, making sure to keep the surface as smooth as possible. In the previous post, the counters have a satin, textured look, but I was hoping to achieve a smooth glossy surface. After I had about five coats applied and it was all set, it was sanding time.

Sanding the counter topTo achieve the reflective surface, I went through a bunch of sandpaper. I used a prograde product, and I could tell the difference in sanding instantly. The paper was more durable (almost rubbery) and held its grit longer which produced a better sand. Invest in the good sandpaper! I started with 80 grit and moved through the ranks after going over the entire surface— 80, 120, 200, 500, 1500 and ended with 2000. Observing the surface transform from gray to reflective was worth all the dust and elbow grease.

We wanted a food-safe seal, so a I applied a product by Ghostshield called Countertop Seal 660 (real catchy name.) It's a bit pricey at $70 for 16oz, but it works great. I applied four coats, using only about 10 oz. I mixed as directed, then covered the container after each use. I tested the finish by dripping some water over some areas and letting it sit for about 5 minutes. The water just beaded up on the surface, no penetration at all! Sweet.

Then it was time to wax. I applied a concrete wax by CHENG using a $5 drill mounted wax kit. It can be applied by hand as well. I'm not sure if I like how the wax ended up as I don't have anything to compare it to. I wasn't impressed with the results, which were a bit streaky and sticky. Steel wool did help with the streakiness (0000#). Ghostshield does have a wax that you can buy in conjunction with their sealer. I'm curious how that goes on in comparison. 

Overall, I am happy with how the counters turned out. They look good, are durable, and didn't break the bank. If you don't want to go through the process of pouring a concrete slab, this is the next best thing! -Josh

Credits // Author: Josh Rhodes, Photography: Emma Chapman and Josh Rhodes. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

06 Apr 19:06

Wooden Sofa Sleeve with Cup Holder

by A Beautiful Mess

THIS IS WHAT I'VE BEEN TALKIN ABOUT! Seriously I really want these in lieu of the coffee table. Come oooooooooon!

Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.I'm the kind of gal who will spend 10 minutes working on crafting the perfect cup of coffee with perfectly ground, freshly roasted beans, but then let it get cold when I snuggle up on the sofa, engrossed in a really good book. I'd like to think that I'm really just an attentive reader, not so much a lazy coffee drinker, but it's true that I really am too lazy to lean forward to grab my coffee cup off the table for a sip or two in between pages. A wooden sofa sleeve might not be the answer to all of life's problems, but it sure does encourage me to actually enjoy my coffee in the midst of a good read.

I was so pleased with how this sofa sleeve turned out, and how easy it ended up being to make, that I'm already planning on making more as gifts for my friends who also have Ikea Karlstad sofas. Chances are you don't have a Karlstad sofa, but I'll walk you through figuring out the sizes of wood you'll need to make a sofa sleeve perfectly customized to your own sofa or chair.

This project has optional steps and materials you can skip!

If you are intimidated of using pocket holes with a Kreg jig, shown in steps 4 and 7, don't worry! I determined that these steps are truly optional, as wood glue provides a very strong hold for wooden accessories like this that are gently used. Just don't let your kids frequently use it as a step stool, and it should hold up fine without completing steps 4 and 7.

Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.Tools:
-clamps (at least 8" long)
-hole saw in diameter of your choice (based on your most used cup diameter) A larger hole saw will require the use of a drill press. I used a 3 7/8" hole saw that I attached with this arbor. My hole saw was too large to manage with just a power drill, so I opted to use a friend's drill press to cut the hole. See step two for more info.
-tape measure
-power drill (You only need this if you're using pocket screws and/or a hole saw smaller than 2.5".)

Optional tool:
-Kreg pocket hole kit - This is an optional tool shown in steps 4 and 7 that will add to the strength and life of your sofa sleeve, but is most likely unnecessary for a gently used sofa sleeve.

-wooden board cut into three equal lengths—see step one for info on sizes to choose
-piece of thin plywood—see step one for size information. You can find thin 1/8" plywood in the wood section of your local craft store.
-wood glue
-wood stain (I used a mix of Minwax's Early American stain and Minwax's gel stain Antique Maple.)
-150 grit sandpaper or 180 grit sandpaper
-grade 0000 steel wool

Optional Materials:
-veneer tape—this is an optional way to finish ugly cut edges of your lumber if you aren't using high quality hard wood such as maple, oak, or poplar. Softer wood like pine will soak up more stain on the cut edges, which will make them dark. You may choose to iron on veneer tape before staining to avoid this.
-1.25" Kreg screws—you will only need these optional screws if you plan to add the additional support of pocket hole screws in steps 4 and 7. Otherwise, wood glue will suffice.

Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.Step One: Determine the sizes of wood you will need by measuring your sofa or chair arm. You will need to know the width of your arm as well as the height. Use the following formulas to determine the wood pieces you will need cut for you at the lumber yard if you don't have the tools to cut the wood at home. The following formulas assume that the boards you use will be 3/4" thick, which is the standard thickness for 1x boards, such as 1x6 or 1x8 boards.

Top piece of wood—length: 14" / width: width of arm + 1.5"
Side pieces of wood—length: 14" / width: height of arm from cushion—you should round down to the nearest board width.
1/8" plywood piece—length: width of arm / width: width of arm (This is the piece that goes underneath the cup hole.)

My measurements for an Ikea Karlstad sofa: I used three 14" lengths of 1x8 board, and simply trimmed the width of one length to 6.25", which is the width I needed for the top piece of my sofa sleeve.

Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.Step Two: Center the hole saw on one end of your top piece of wood. Mark the middle point where the pilot drill of your hole saw will get the hole started. It is important to note that if you are using a big hole saw, as I did, you will probably not be able to control the drill with your arms, as muscly as they may be. It will skip around and ruin the finish of your wood. I had to bring my piece of wood to a friend's house to clamp it in place while cutting the hole with a drill press.

If you don't have access to a drill press, but plan on making a hole bigger than 2.5", just skip the hole saw and cut the circle with a jigsaw instead, as shown in this tutorial.

Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.Step Three: Sand the inside of the hole and the top and bottom of the wood, being careful to stay away from the edges and corners. If you round the corners of the board from sanding the edges, the boards will not be flush when joined together in step 5. 

Step Four: This step is optional. Clamp your Kreg jig as shown above to drill pocket holes on either end of just one side of each side board. These pocket holes will only be visible from the inside of the sofa sleeve. Using the pocket screws will provide for a very secure connection when you join each board together, but is probably not necessary for the end use of the sofa sleeve.

It is always a good idea to practice pocket hole placement on scrap wood before completing them on your finished boards.

Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.Step 5: Apply a somewhat thin layer of wood glue to one long edge of your side board (the side closest to your pocket holes if you chose to use them). Smoothing it with your fingers can be helpful, just keep a damp cloth nearby to wipe your fingers.

You should use a damp rag to wipe away all seeping wood glue immediately. Wood glue is very difficult to remove after it's dried, even with heavy sanding.

Step Six: Clamp the glued side board to the bottom of the top board (making sure your pocket holes are facing the inside if you chose to make pocket holes). Before you tighten the clamps completely, make sure the boards are perfectly lined up on the ends and flush at their corners.

Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.Step Seven: This step is optional. If you have chosen to use pocket screws, now is the time to screw them into place. If your pieces of wood pull away from each other at all, wait to drill in the screws until the wood glue has set up completely (follow instructions on glue bottle).

Step Eight: After both side pieces have been glued and clamped into place, give the hole piece a really good sanding. I used 150 grit sandpaper for this, but if your wood is really soft (like pine), you might want to finish up with something closer to 200 grit to avoid any scratch marks that would be highlighted when the stain is applied.

Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.Step 9: Apply a coat of wood stain and allow it to dry for at least 12 hours before lightly buffing away the roughness with a piece of grade 0000 steel wool. This will take off the little hairs that pop up from the moisture of the stain soaking into the wood. You may need to apply a light second coat of stain if you notice the stain has lightened in some areas after buffing.

Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.Step 10: Attach your square piece of thin plywood to the bottom side of the hole using wood glue. Make sure you apply only a light amount of glue, because as you clamp it in place, the glue will ooze out. After clamping the plywood into place, you must wipe away the excess glue right away, or the dried glue will be visible on the final product.

Step 11: Seal the sleeve with two light coats of polyurethane. This will protect it from the moisture of cup condensation.

Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.The finished product is sleek, clean, and adds to the beauty of the sofa, rather than distracting from the room's style. We've loved using it so far! It's great for holding wine and cheese or beer and a bowl of chips too.

Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.Make this handy sofa sleeve to keep your drinks nearby.Well, I guess I'm out of excuses for microwaving my cold coffee now. I know, I know... there is no excuse for microwaving coffee. Which is exactly why I love my new wooden sofa sleeve! Do you think you'll try making one too? -Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Valentine and Stella from the Signature Collection.

28 Mar 12:00

Harper's "It Started With Fabric" Nursery — My Room

by Carrie McBride

I kind of love the circular crib

Name: Harper (1 month)
Location: Toronto, Ontario

Long before Daniel and I even knew were going to have a child, we found and fell in love with a cotton fabric adorned with woodland creatures and foliage, so we bought 2.5 yards of it to have on hand just in case. A year and a half later that fabric became the inspiration for Harper's colourful nursery.


16 Mar 11:55

baby proof: breastfeeding.

by erin

True true true words

baby proof: breastfeeding | reading my tea leavesIt's taken me nearly 10 months to write this post. Everytime I sat down to write about breastfeeding, I would stop.

There would be voices in my head telling me that no one wanted to hear another sappy story about a woman nursing her child. There were voices telling me that a post about breastfeeding would come across as insensitive to the people who don't or can't breastfeed. What about the new babies who have two dads? Surely, the world doesn't need another post proclaiming the health benefits of breastfeeding. This isn't a post meant to convince you that what you're doing with your baby is anything but fine.

But if I've learned anything since becoming a mother, it's that the world doesn't  have enough talk about breastfeeding. Or natural childbirth. Or postpartum recovery. Or child-rearing generally. At the same time that we're utterly bombarded with "mom" articles, I've found myself wanting more. So I'm writing.

There are days when I think of breastfeeding as my superpower. My impossibly tiny boobs are feeding a human being. I am purely mammal: a blue whale, a leopard, a kangaroo. Improbably pumping out a magical, nourishing elixir for my own human animal. It's staggering.

But there are other days when breastfeeding feels like a burden. I can't wear half the dresses in my closet. I had to wear breast pads for at least five months and still, when I nurse in the middle of the night, whatever boob isn't being suckled spurts milk. I have leaked through my clothes in public. I have rushed home to pump with aching breasts.

I have cried when I couldn't pump enough milk to fill a bottle. I have sat strapped to my electric breast pump wailing against the inborn patriarchy that means that I have to be the one to nourish our child.

I have cried because I can't think of a single thing sweeter than the tiny hand of my daughter reaching back to play with her hair while she nurses. Or the way that she stretches her fingers to touch my lips when I look down at her. Or the way that her lips crack into a smile and she can't continue nursing because her grin is too wide, laughing at her own private joke.

I've wept because I can't wait to stop nursing. And I've wept because eventually I will.

In the first days of breastfeeding, the physical transformation was mind-boggling. My breasts were so engorged that I couldn't put my arms down, like a bodybuilder whose bulging muscles keep his arms permanently lifted away from his sides. My nipples were tender. My armpits were lumpy. I texted friends for advice. I bawled to my sister who hopped on a subway bearing nipple butter and a breast pump. I drank cup after cup of tea to help with my milk production and fortify my spirits.

But eventually Faye learned to nurse and I learned to nurse her. Together we made it happen. The misery lasted for two whole days, which is not very many days. The slight discomfort for just a few weeks, which is not very many weeks. I'll get to nurse this baby for a year or two, which is not very many years.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, all blessings are mixed blessings. But they're blessings all the same.

This post was sponsored by Traditional Medicinals, whose Mother's Milk and Mother's Milk Shatavari Cardamom teas I've enjoyed regularly as a part of my breastfeeding routine. Thank you for supporting the thoughtful, sustainable companies that support this blog.

Photo by James.
04 Mar 20:05

Gem Mirror DIY (+ Easy Glass Cutting Technique!)

by A Beautiful Mess

Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)If you saw this post and thought, "Whoa, that looks great! I should make that! Wait, glass cutting? I'm out!" then you probably aren't alone. I had wanted to try mirror cutting for a while now, but just the sound of it gave me the shivers. I think I have a mild case of aichmophobia with some materials (the irrational fear of sharp objects), so the thought of trying to break a mirror into several pointed edges sounded less than ideal. However, life is for facing and conquering your fears, right? I looked up a few tutorials on the technique, and I was shocked at what I found—it looked so easy to do. Of course, I was skeptical that they were just making it look easier than it was, but I asked Josh about it and he said that he had done it before and assured me that, yes, it was in fact that easy. Sweet! I'd been wanting to make a gem mirror for a while, and I thought this would be the perfect technique to learn in order to achieve that goal. Let's do it!

Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)Supplies:
-glass cutter tool*
-mirror (we used this one)
-metal ruler + marker
-gloves and safety glasses
gem line drawing and cutting guide (right click to download)
-fine grade sandpaper
-contact paper
-X-Acto knife
-gold spray paint
-clear spray paint

*Note: Most of these glass cutter tools come with an area in the top where you can put oil that runs down to the blade, but you don't really need the oil to score the glass. The oil helps keep the blade sharp longer, but you can still cut just the same without it.

Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)To make your octagon gem shape, first you'll want to cut your mirror into a square. Use a metal ruler and marker to measure out and draw a square the size of your desired finished width onto the mirror (don't worry about the marker, glass cleaner will take it right off). Position your glass cutting tool on your line and place your metal ruler up against the cutting wheel. Use your glass cutter tool to score a line into the mirror that runs the entire length of the mirror (make sure to keep your tool right up against the ruler as you score). You want to firmly score the line in one single pass, so don't go over your line again once you've scored it. You are basically cutting off the entire chunk of mirror that is to the left (or right) of your marked square line. It basically feels the same as cutting with an X-Acto knife. And if you worried it will make a "nails on a chalkboard" sound as you score the glass, don't worry. It hardly makes any noise at all.

Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)Once your line is scored, scoot the mirror to the edge of the table and line up the scored line with the edge. In one swift motion, push down on the piece you are breaking off and it will snap at the scored line leaving a clean break between the two. It's a bit scary to actually go through with the breaking part because your brain is convinced that the mirror will shatter as soon as you press down. But once you do go through with it, the mirror only makes a tiny snapping sound and you feel a bit silly for building it up so much in your mind.

You'll want to wear gloves and eye protection for this step just to be extra careful, but Josh is a bit of a daredevil as you can see, so he skipped the gloves part. I still felt a little nervous at this point, so I wore really thick leather gloves just to be safe when I did my pieces. 

Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)Once your four sides are snapped and you have a square, measure, mark, score, and snap off the corners of the square to get your final octagon shape. Clean the lines off the mirror with glass cleaner.

Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)Now that we have our shape, let's create our gem lines! Cover the whole front of your mirror with contact paper. Use this handy dandy line making and cutting guide that Josh made for you (right click to download) to draw and cut the lines of your gem with your marker and then X-Acto knife. It looks complicated, but just draw and then cut all the lines in the order he has shown. It's a lot easier than you'd think. You can make your lines as thick or as thin as you want depending on the overall size of your mirror, but ours are about 1/4" thick. So we cut 1/8" on either side of the lines. Peel off all the lines to expose the mirror underneath.

Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)Before painting, use a fine grade sandpaper to lightly sand the edges of your mirror in case there are any sharp spots.

Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)Spray your mirror with a few coats of  gold spray paint and top it off with a clear coat spray. Use the X-Acto knife to lift up the corners of your contact paper shapes and peel off each piece. I love this part of projects like this. There's something so satisfying about peeling off each square to reveal the design, isn't there? Once all the contact paper has been removed, you're done!

Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)Gem Mirror DIY + Easy Mirror Cutting Technique (click through for tutorial)You can either set the mirror on a ledge or shelf like I did, or you can get mirror clips to install the mirror on a wall. I suggested using the clear coat on top of the gold so you can clean your mirror with glass cleaner as needed, but depending on the paint you use, it may not be necessary (test an area with your chosen paint on a scrap piece of mirror to find out first).

This is the same process you would use to cut clear glass as well, so it's great to have another DIY tool under my belt that I can use without being afraid. I think the final result of our mirror is adorable and looks totally profesh! It would also be fun to do with colored gem lines or make a group hanging with a few different shaped gems (like with an emerald shape and a radiant cut). Think you'll have the courage now to try glass cutting? If I can do it, you can too! xo. Laura (+ Josh)

Credits // Author: Laura Gummerman and Josh Rhodes, Photography: Laura Gummerman and Janae Hardy. Photos edited with Stella from The Signature Collection.

26 Feb 16:48

the ‘i want chocolate cake’ cake

by deb

the 'i want chocolate cake' cake

About six weeks ago, around 9 p.m. on a day I had consumed mostly air and maybe a slice of toast because I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how food had ever tasted good, without any warning, I wanted a slice of chocolate cake with swirls of chocolate frosting and probably some sprinkles and the sprinkles, so help them, better be rainbow. Except the word “wanted” doesn’t accurately describe the craving; it was suddenly everything. I needed a piece of chocolate cake so badly that I began to regret every cupcake shop I’d ever walked past and not gone in during the height of the mid-aughts cupcake craze. I regretted not licking every beater of chocolate buttercream that had ever crossed my path when I worked at a bakery in high school. And I regretted that when I asked my husband why we didn’t have any chocolate cake, he said “because you haven’t made any?” He was correct — I’d made them dinner, instead — and the great unraveling of all that had once been right and good but failed to lead me to chocolate cake continued.

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23 Feb 17:00

spaghetti pangrattato with crispy eggs

by deb

spaghetti pangrattato with crispy eggs

Several years ago, because we didn’t have a kid yet, didn’t know about things like school break schedules and figured midway through February was as good of a time to escape the snow as any, we decided to get away to someplace warm and winter-free during Presidents’ Day week. We found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a beach resort that had to have easily been 75% children, and the kind that were at that time my worst nightmare of what kids could be [insert yours here, then multiply it as far as you can see] and we decided to both never have kids and never ever go away on Presidents’ Week again.

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© smitten kitchen 2006-2012. | permalink to spaghetti pangrattato with crispy eggs | 150 comments to date | see more: Budget, Eggs, Italian, Photo, Put An Egg On It, Quick, Vegetarian

11 Feb 20:01

Make Real Silver Jewelry with Metal Clay!

by A Beautiful Mess

Have to do this! Use metal clay at home to make a pure silver fingerprint pendant necklace (click through for tutorial)           Since I've been doing art and craft projects since I was a kid with my art teacher Mom, there aren't that many areas I've never dabbled in at all, but this project was a totally new challenge for me. Emma mentioned that she had learned about this clay that you shape and dry, and once it's fired, it turns into pure silver! It sounded crazy, but the more we looked into it, we realized it was true. The clay is made of silver particles, organic binders, and water, so when you fire the piece, the organic binders and the water burn off, and you are left with a piece that is 99.9% pure silver. Awesome!

The other great thing about this clay is that if you've heard anything about metal clay before, you may have thought that you had to have a kiln to work with the material, but you actually don't need one. They make metal clay that has a low enough firing point that you can actually just use a butane torch (the same thing you would make creme brûlée with) to fire the piece instead. As long as the piece is smaller than a silver dollar in size, you can use the torch and that change makes the project much more accessible.  

I love the idea of making jewelry with a fingerprint of someone you love, and having a husband that travels a lot makes the idea extra special to me. I thought I could make two fingerprint necklaces (one with his print and one with mine) so it's like having a piece of each other near our hearts on a daily basis. Love it!

Have to do this! Use metal clay at home to make a pure silver fingerprint pendant necklace (click through for tutorial)Supplies:
-Art Clay Silver 650 (low fire)
-polishing papers
-small piece of plexiglass (check your local home improvement store)
-card stock paper or playing cards
-acrylic roller
-small circle cookie cutter slightly bigger than the size pendant you want (I used the smallest circle in this pack. It's a little less than 1" wide)*
-firing block
-small butane torch 
-wire brush
-fine grade sandpaper
-small spray bottle for water
-plastic clay knives
-agate burnisher (optional)

They also make these Art Clay starter kits that come with a bunch of the above items, so it may be a better deal to get a kit depending on what you need. 

*The clay will shrink 8-10% once it's fired, so pick a circle that's a bit bigger than the size you're going for.

Have to do this! Use metal clay at home to make a pure silver fingerprint pendant necklace (click through for tutorial) First you'll want to set up your station to roll out the clay. Metal clay starts to dry as soon as you expose it to air, so get everything ready to go before you take it out of the package. You can use pieces of card stock or playing cards stacked next to each other with about 1 1/2" in between them to keep the thickness of your piece consistent. I used 4 pieces of card stock on each side, and I would suggest a thickness of 4-5 cards for this project. Secure your cards to the plexiglass with a few pieces of tape and unwrap your metal clay. You can coat your fingers in a very thin layer of olive oil so the clay doesn't stick to your fingers, but the clay does wash off hands easily. Place your clay on the plexiglass between the card stacks and use your acrylic roller to roll out the clay the thickness of the cards. 

Have to do this! Use metal clay at home to make a pure silver fingerprint pendant necklace (click through for tutorial)  Once rolled out, take your thumb and press it into the clay starting on the left side of your thumb and roll your thumb to the right (like if you were making a fingerprint with ink). You want to press hard enough to get a good impression of your thumb, but not so hard that you smooch all the clay to one side or the other. If you think you pressed too hard or too light, simply scrape up the clay with a clay knife, knead it gently, roll it out, and try it again. If the clay starts to dry before you get a good print, lightly mist the clay with water from a spray bottle and it should knead back into a soft state. I did notice that no matter how hard I pressed, I could never get quite the definition of Todd's fingerprint, so maybe he's just way stronger than I am (totally true) or he has more defined fingerprint lines.

Have to do this! Use metal clay at home to make a pure silver fingerprint pendant necklace (click through for tutorial)   Have to do this! Use metal clay at home to make a pure silver fingerprint pendant necklace (click through for tutorial)     Once you have a good thumbprint, place your circle cookie cutter over the part of the print you want to become your pendant and press down. Keeping the cutter in place, use a clay knife to scoop up the rest of the clay around the cutter and place that clay immediately into plastic wrap and then into a plastic bag with a damp paper towel at the bottom for storage. Keep the bag in a dry, dark place, and it should stay good until you want to use it again.

Have to do this! Use metal clay at home to make a pure silver fingerprint pendant necklace (click through for tutorial)     Remove the circle cutter and use a toothpick or a small straw to make a hole for your jump ring once the piece is finished. Allow the clay to fully air dry for 24 hours.

Once the clay is completely dry, you should be able to pick up your piece and sand down any edges that are uneven or sticking up with a fine grit sandpaper (like a 220 grit) or the fine side of an emery board. 

Have to do this! Use metal clay at home to make a pure silver fingerprint pendant necklace (click through for tutorial)         In a dimly lit room, place your piece on the firing block and use your butane torch to fire your clay (obviously this photo above is not a dimly lit room, but I wanted to show you the angle and proximity of the torch to the clay). You'll want to hold your torch about 2" away from the clay at a 45° angle and move the torch around the clay in a constant motion to heat the piece evenly (don't settle the heat on any one spot for too long). At first, you may not see anything happen, but keep going and the piece should begin to smoke a bit or even catch on fire. Don't worry, that just means the organic binders are beginning to burn off. Keep moving the flame around the piece until you see the piece begin to glow a peach color. This is why you want to fire the piece in a dim room if possible as it's easier to see the peach glow in a dim space.

Once you see the peach color, you'll want to keep time of how long you continue to fire while you adjust the proximity of the flame to maintain the peach glow. A weight of 5 grams only requires 1-1.5 minutes and 6-15 grams needs 1.5-2 minutes, but since I didn't know the exact weight of my piece (and you can't really fire it too long), I kept the peach glow for at least 2 minutes just to be safe. Once time is up, turn the torch off and allow the piece to completely cool. The piece should be coated in a white layer at this point.

(If you're like me and you want to have a visual walkthrough of the firing process, this is a great video to see what it should look like as it's happening.)

Have to do this! Use metal clay at home to make a pure silver fingerprint pendant necklace (click through for tutorial)          Drop the cooled piece in water and use the wire brush to brush off the white outer layer. Dry with a cloth. Then use the polishing cloths to polish your piece (starting with the coarsest and working down to the finest). Dip the polishing cloth in water and polish in one direction only (like only in strokes from left to right). To get a mirror shine, rub an agate burnisher all over the piece for an extra professional look. If you want to add a dark patina to your piece to highlight the sunken lines of the fingerprint, you can use a bath of liver of sulfur before you polish the piece.

Have to do this! Use metal clay at home to make a pure silver fingerprint pendant necklace (click through for tutorial)            Have to do this! Use metal clay at home to make a pure silver fingerprint pendant necklace (click through for tutorial)           At first I was skeptical about this process because it seemed so technical, but now that I've done it a few times, I'm totally obsessed! Also, the process is a lot more forgiving than I thought it would be, so I was happy that I didn't have to feel stressed to do everything totally perfect.

It's so special to have matching necklaces with each other's prints, and I know for sure that I will be wearing this necklace a ton when he's gone. You can do this process on a bigger or smaller scale and make charms or key chain pendant gifts with meaningful fingerprints. Of course, I love making jewelry and learning new crafting skills regardless of the sentimental level, but when it's a project that also pulls a bit at your heartstrings, well, that makes it extra special if you ask me...xo. Laura

Credits // Author: Laura Gummerman, Photography: Laura Gummerman, Todd Gummerman, and Elsie Larson. Photos edited with Stella from The Signature Collection

23 Feb 20:26

Colorblocked Scratching Post DIY

by A Beautiful Mess

So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)           If you have a cat (or two!) and have ever roamed the pet store aisles looking for a good scratching post, then you probably already know about my personal anguish. Our cat Mac has taken to occasionally scratching on a few rugs and chairs that I would rather keep "unshredded", so I thought we should get him a post so he can direct his scratching instinct in a more positive direction. The problem with cat scratching posts is that most of them are pretty, well, boringly hideous. I mean, if I want a piece of furniture that's going to stand out in my house, I want it to be a cool vintage chair or plant stand, not a dull-looking scratching post. Thankfully, what's a girl to do when she can't find what she wants already made? You guessed it, DIY to the rescue!

So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)              We’re happy to be working with Fancy Feast, who just launched their Broths with Chicken (you can see Mac is loving it!). It's part of their #WaysToWow campaign, sharing tips to wow our furry little buddies. As part of our partnership, Fancy Feast is making an additional donation to Humane America Animal Foundation (behind, who helps homeless pets get out of shelters and into loving homes. It's in conjunction with the brand's history of raising awareness about shelter animals.

You may already know, but I have a pretty big heart for the humane society and pet adoption. I adopted our first kitty Charlie over three years ago, and we loved her so much that we adopted a little brother named Mac for her a year ago. Since I have a husband that is on the road touring a lot for his musician job, it can be really lonely when he's out of town, and I have to say that the loneliness was really getting me down. As soon as I got sweet Charlie though, it was a million times more fun to be home alone and so comforting just to have another heartbeat around the house. Mac's playful spirit (and constant willingness to cuddle) has brought even more joy, and I always tell people that I feel like they rescued me instead of the other way around. I love those furry babies so much. 

-18" round wood circle
-4x4 wooden fence post (about 20" tall)
-drill and long wood screws
-white 4x4" post cap
-white paint
-150 ft of 1/4" nylon rope*
-pink and yellow dye
-bucket and salt (to dye the rope)
-staple gun (or hammer and small nails)
-white and pink (or white and yellow) electrical tape

*It seems like sisal rope is actually the rope of choice for scratching posts (I think it holds up to long-term scratching better), but it looked like I could get a brighter dye color and a whiter white with the nylon rope instead. Either rope works though and the sisal can be dyed as well.

So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)           So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)           So, the first thing you'll want to do is attach your post to your round platform. Find the middle of your platform, place the post in the middle, and use a pencil to trace around the edges of the post so you can see where to put the screws. Use a drill bit that's slightly smaller than your wood screws and drill four holes within your marked square that go all the way through to the other side of the platform. Flip the platform over and line up your traced square to be on top of your post (so basically your whole scratching post should be sitting upside down). Since you pre-drilled your holes all the way through the wood, you should be able to see where to screw in your four wood screws from the underside to secure the platform to the pole. (Get someone to help hold it in place if you need to while you drill. It's a bit awkward to hold yourself) Flip the scratching post right side up when you're done and paint the bottom platform with a few coats of white paint.


So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)           To dye your rope, you'll want to get a bottle of dye for each of your colors (I chose pink and yellow). Since I wanted three colors of rope to color block with, I dyed 50 ft pink, 50 ft yellow, and left 50 ft white. Fill a large bucket halfway with hot water and add 1/3 cup of salt to the water (the salt helps to set the dye). Mix in your first dye color and stir. You can control the color you want by adding more dye, more water, or simply leaving the rope in for longer or shorter amounts of time (I did one full bottle of color and left the rope in for 30 minutes). Just keep checking the rope to see how it's progressing and leave it in longer or add more dye if you want a darker color. When you are happy with the color, pour out the dye and rinse the rope in cool water until the color runs clear. You'll really want to rinse the rope until all excess dye is removed so you don't end up with dye on your kitties' paws. If you would rather not use a manufactured dye, you can also look into some natural dye options as well, but if you rinse the rope really well, the dye shouldn't transfer from the rope.

So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)   Once your rope is rinsed, hang it up or place it on a cookie sheet in a big pan to air dry.

So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)   After the rope has dried, take your white rope and staple gun the end to the bottom of the post. (You could also use small nails instead of a staple gun.) Wrap the rope around the post as tightly as you can, pushing down on the rows every so often to make sure they are packed tightly together. 

So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)   When it comes time to change colors, cut your white rope, take your white electrical tape and connect the end of the white rope to the beginning of your pink rope. The trick with electrical tape is that you want to pull on it and stretch it while you wrap it—that's what makes it really secure. Continue to wrap your pink rope around the pole and repeat the process of joining ropes again with the pink or yellow electrical tape when you switch to yellow rope, and again with the white tape when you switch back to the white rope to finish the pole. Remember to wrap tightly and push down on the rows every so often. 

So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)   To finish your rope wrapping, cut your rope and secure the end with electrical tape. Use your staple gun to secure the rope end onto the pole. Glue your post cap onto the top of your post (I just used a simple epoxy glue to secure mine), and you're ready to show kitty the new scratching post!

So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)             So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)          So cute! Color Blocked Scratching Post DIY (click through for tutorial)            I rubbed some catnip onto the sides of the post and brought Mac in to check it out. I did a few scratching motions myself on the post and it didn't take him very long to give it a try himself! If your cats aren't already using a scratching post, you may need a few tips to get them used to using the new scratching routine (check out this post for ideas). And man, I still really love those junk food cat toys I made recently and they still play with them everyday...

I have to say, I was a little worried that a cute scratching post might not be possible, but I'm so pleased with how this came out! Since the colors and feel of the post match the rest of our home aesthetic, it really blends in with the rest of the room and doesn't awkwardly stand out (and of course you can change the dye colors to match whatever your home colors are). It's cute, functional, and the kitties love it. So I would say it's a win for everyone! xo. Laura

 Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

24 Feb 14:17

Pom Pom Wall Hanging

by A Beautiful Mess

Pom Pom Wall Hanging — Simple to make and so cute!Wall hangings are the décor de jour for bohemian, flower children these days. I can't say that I'm much of a hippie, but I can appreciate a little textile art in my home. I thought I'd put a bit of a refined, though simple, spin on a wall hanging that would add a pretty, delicate touch to any home.

Pom Pom Wall Hanging — Simple to make and so cute!Supplies:    
-handmade pom poms with tails still attached (check out this post to learn how to make them with scissors and a fork)
-yarn (I used a delicate pom pom yarn for added texture)
-sharp scissors
-lace ribbon in length and style of your choice
-wooden dowel 2" longer than your length of lace
-embroidery needle (not pictured)

Pom Pom Wall Hanging — Simple to make and so cute!Step One: Loop the plain yarn through the lace and around the wooden dowel. An embroidery or darning needle is helpful for this. Leave a long tail for the next step. If you run out of yarn, knot another length of yarn to your remaining strand and tuck the tail into the looped yarn using the embroidery needle.

Step Two: Knot the ends of the looped yarns to secure them in place around the wooden dowel. Then use the tail of the yarn to create a string for hanging. Knot it in place and tuck the ends of the knot into the yarn-wrapped dowel using the embroidery needle.

Pom Pom Wall Hanging — Simple to make and so cute!Step Three: Tie lengths of yarn through the openings in the bottom of the lace ribbon. Knot them tightly into place and trim off the excess yarn. Don't worry about keeping the lengths the same—the total length can be trimmed later.

Pom Pom Wall Hanging — Simple to make and so cute!Step Four: Use the tails of your pom poms to tie them onto your hanging yarns, creating a pattern or even trailing randomly.

Step Five: When your pom poms are arranged how you wish, knot them into place and trim off the tails.

Pom Pom Wall Hanging — Simple to make and so cute!Pom Pom Wall Hanging — Simple to make and so cute!This wall hanging is a relatively easy way to get a large scale wall hanging for your home, and there are so many ways to customize the design and size. Change up the yarn, lace, and pom pom size and arrangements, and you can make something unique to you! -Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Stella from the Signature Collection.

02 Feb 16:54

charred cauliflower quesadillas

by deb

charred cauliflower quesadillas

Last week* I mentioned that we’d been on a big breakfast-for-dinner spree this winter, less out of a noble desire for inexpensive, balanced, wholesome meals and more because scrambling eggs at the last minute allows us to go all the way to 15 minutes before dinner to come up with an idea for it, which is meal-planning equivalent of the heavens opening up and glorifying all of my late-afternoon lethargy at last.

scallions, poblano, lime, cheese, cauliflower, "cilantro"
give it an extra chop once cooked

The other kick we’ve been on since the beginning of the year is passing off anything we can put in, on, or near a tortilla as dinner, leading to a steady rotation our go-to fajitas, beef tacos, black bean tacos and, in a mash-up of both the breakfast and tortilla benders, scrambled egg tacos. Many of you asked “how” I got my son to eat such foods as scrambled eggs and tacos, and while I’m tempted to take credit for it (“it’s the rainbow of local organic produce and definitely not the daily succession of pb&j sandwiches I ate while he was in the womb!”) it would be dishonest when it’s been more due to random outside influences. The grandmother of one of my son’s classmates brought in warm — warm! freshly cooked! how I long to be a kindergartener most days! — quesadillas for snack a few weeks ago, and it’s all he’s talked about since. Plus, since it fit into our all-tortillas-all-the-time meal plan, I set about finding a way to pass it off as dinner.

what you'll need + lazy slaw, if you please

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18 Nov 06:47

cubano breakfast bagel

by kickpleat

GTFO this looks amazing

cubano breakfast bagel | everybody likes sandwiches

Oh my gawd. I posted about a sandwich! On a blog that people seem to mistakenly believe is about sandwiches (hmmmm, I wonder why that is……?). Whatever. This bagel sandwich is freaking amazing.

cubano breakfast bagel | everybody likes sandwiches

First you start with the best bagels in town. My husband is actually the bagel snob in the household, so we buy Montreal style bagels from Seigel’s Bagels that we pick up at our local food co-op. They’re chewy and all that a bagel should be without the return airfare to Montreal. A cuban sandwich is traditionally made with both ham and roast pork, so that’s what we’ve got here. The ham is finely sliced from our local deli. If I needed some quick roast pork, I’d request a hundred grams or so from the deli counter too. But I was in luck to have leftover roast pork on hand. It was a spicy asian flavoured pork loin, but it worked out well.

cubano breakfast bagel | everybody likes sandwiches

Cheese is a must. Not only does it add to the gooey, deliciousness it acts as the glue that helps to hold this behemoth sandwich together. Cucumbers and pickles add cool crunch and interest. Cucumbers aren’t traditional, but I like that they add a freshness to every bite. Mayo and dijon lube it up just right.

cubano breakfast bagel | everybody likes sandwiches

And then there’s the egg. The egg is a must! See it splooge all its tasty goodness! That means it’s perfect. Breakfast decadence because you know it’s a good breakfast when you need to lick your fingers.

cubano breakfast bagel | everybody likes sandwiches

As you can tell from the photos, we’re eating outside. Which means that it clearly isn’t mid-November. I took this back in September when the weather was warm and the sun was strong and sitting outside for breakfast was a thing we did. This is a nice reminder to warmer days and a good kick in the butt to make this again soon.

cubano breakfast bagel | everybody likes sandwiches

The weather now is snappy and cold. The skies are bright and crisp and there’s frost on the ground. The holidays are coming up fast which means that things are getting busy in my etsy shop. I’d like to extend some happy savings and offer all my readers 15% off all orders! I have lots of new holiday cards, cute cat notepads, art prints & gift tags and so much more! Just use the code BAGEL at checkout for 15% your order (but hurry, it expires November 23rd!).

cubano breakfast bagel | everybody likes sandwiches

It’s not a complicated sandwich, but it’s full of components. So to make things go smoothly, have everything at the ready before you begin. I made two sandwiches as easily as one, so making more would be a snap.

cubano breakfast bagel | everybody likes sandwiches

cubano breakfast bagel
This combination of leftover pork tenderloin, deli black forest ham, fresh crunchy cucumbers, melted cheese, pickles, raw onion and a runny egg on a chewy Montreal-style bagel made for the BEST breakfast I’ve eaten in a long while. It’s messy, it’s full of flavour and it would be delicious any time of day.

1 bagel, sliced
dijon mustard
2 thin slices of deli ham
2-3 slices of roast pork (deli or leftover tenderloin)
1-2 thin slices of cheese (cheddar, provolone or swiss is tasty)
4 thin slices cucumber
1-2 slices of pickle
a few thin slices of red onion
1 fried egg (sunny side up, preferred)

Turn on your oven’s broiler.

Toast your bagel. Spread one side with mayonnaise and the other side with dijon mustard. Top one side with ham, roasted red pepper and a slice of cheese. Top the other half with roast pork and onion.

Place on a baking sheet and pop under the broiler until the cheese melts, just a few minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. As soon as the bagel goes under the broiler, fry your egg in butter and season it with salt and pepper, sunny side up. The yolk should still be a little bit runny – sludgy and creamy is how I like it.

Top the roast pork/red onion side of the bagel with cucumbers and pickles. Top with the fried egg and place the other half on top. Chomp. Chomp.

Makes 1 cubano breakfast bagel sandwich but please repeat as desired.

cubano breakfast bagel | everybody likes sandwiches

21 Jan 14:25

Funfetti Buttermilk Birthday Cake

by A Beautiful Mess

Buttermilk Funfetti Cake (via's my birthday today, guys! I shared my birthday cake with you last year, so I thought, why not continue the tradition. I also mentioned in that post last year that I was working on cooking my way through a cookbook. I did not make it all the way through in a year as I had hoped. But, I did make it pretty far and learned a TON during the process. 

One thing I worked on a lot last year was different kinds of frostings. I actually don't bake cakes all that often as they are a lot of work, and you really don't want too many cakes sitting in eating distance of you if you can help it. I have a real problem with saying no to sweets, if you can't tell. 

Buttermilk Funfetti Cake (via Anyway, through all that frosting research, I found a few new favorites. Turns out I am a pretty big fan of Swiss meringue buttercream. It's amazing and also super rich. Which I say, if you're celebrating, why not? Just don't make it every week. Which I would never do because it's actually a fairly difficult frosting to make. But I have a trick I learned (that I'll share with you) that makes even the most lumpy Swiss meringue come out smooth every time.

I also decided on a funfetti cake this year. I can't really explain why. It just sounded good to me. Oh—and yes, I decorated it with Trix. I'm 29 today, guys. If I want to decorate my birthday cake with kid's cereal, I can!

Best homemade funfetti cake recipeFunfetti Buttermilk Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream, makes one.
Recipe lightly adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

For the cake:
1 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 3/4 to 2 ounces rainbow jimmies

In a bowl, combine the flours, baking powder and salt. Give that a good whisk to combine and remove any clumps from the cake flour. Set aside.

In a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Then add the eggs two at a time, stirring well in between. Then stir in the vanilla extract.

Now add half of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk. Stir until combined. Then add the remaining flour and buttermilk, and stir until combined. Last, stir in the jimmies. 

Add parchment paper to two round cake pans and butter the edges. Divide the batter into the two pans. Bake at 350°F for 30-32 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pans before removing to a cooling rack. You really want these cakes to be completely cooled before adding the frosting. You could even make these a day or two ahead, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator before assembling with frosting. 

Tips for making swiss buttercream frostingFor the frosting:
2 1/4 cups sugar
9 large egg whites (make crème brûlée from the yolks!)
3 cups softened (room temperature) butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a heat proof mixing bowl or glass bowl set over simmering water, whisk the sugar and egg whites for 2-3 minutes. We're looking to completely dissolve the sugar without cooking the eggs so our frosting with be smooth (and not grainy) in texture. You can check if your mixture is ready by rubbing a little bit between your fingers. You should not be able to feel any sugar granules. 

With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on medium for 5 minutes (this allows the mixture to cool). Then increase the speed to high and beat for another 6-7 minutes until stiff, glossy peaks form. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter a tablespoon or two at a time while the mixer is running. You really want your butter to be at room temperature here so that it will more easily mix into the frosting. Once you've added all the butter, pour in the vanilla extract. Once you've added all the butter, if the frosting looks lumpy or cottage cheese like—don't freak out. This happens to me too, at least half the time I make Swiss meringue buttercream. 

Trick for "fixing" lumping Swiss meringue: Remove about 1/4 cup of the mixture from the mixing bowl. Microwave on high for a few seconds, just until melted. Then, with your mixer set to medium, add the liquid frosting to the lumpy frosting. Beat until smooth. 

This will make slightly more frosting than you may need, depending on how you decide to decorate your cake. But, better to have just a little too much than not enough. :)

How to fix grainy swiss buttercream frostingWhat's this poorly lit photo? Well, I wanted to show you how temperamental this buttercream can be. See the top of the cake, with the melted looking frosting? That's from having the candles lit for just a minute or two. This frosting is mostly butter, so it can melt or harden quickly depending what you do with it. So, keep that in mind. I find that making this just before I need it is usually the best way to go. You can store it in the refrigerator for a few days if you need or if you just won't have time to make it fresh before your party, but it can be difficult to get it back to room temperature so it's smooth and spreadable again. If you do store it, try my microwave trick again to get it smooth if you think that it's just not looking as good as the day you made it. 

Buttermilk Funfetti Cake (via  Thanks for letting me share my birthday cake with you all. Wish you had been in our office late last week and I could have handed you a piece. :) xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

12 Dec 18:05

an easy weekender: espresso and spice bundt cake

by kickpleat

espresso & spice coffee cake | everybody likes sandwiches

This is was an unexpected cake. We had just returned from a totally unplanned last minute 5 day trip to Los Angeles (which was amazing, by the way) and heading into the kitchen to bake was the last thing on my mind upon return. However, the in-laws wanted a Sunday afternoon visit and at the last minute I decided that I’d make a cake to go along with the afternoon coffee. Unfortunately, they cancelled, so that meant I had an entire bundt cake with no guests. My husband didn’t see a problem with this situation. Especially after he had a slice and then another and said it was the best cake he’d eaten in a long time. Well, it’s true. This is a very good cake.

espresso & spice coffee cake | everybody likes sandwiches

And it’s easy to whip up too. Which is great when you have Sunday afternoon visitors and maybe it’s even better when you don’t! Coffee cakes don’t usually contain coffee, they’re usually meant to be enjoyed along with a cup or two. But this cake has got a nicely bitter bite from some instant Italian espresso powder sprinkled inside and on top of the cake. There’s also a good amount of cinnamon, sugar and some dark chocolate chips too.

espresso & spice coffee cake | everybody likes sandwiches

My husband loved what he called the bitter crunchy stuff (aka the espresso chocolate sprinkles) while I loved the buttery, nutmeg-y crumb of the cake itself. Maybe because of all the freshly grated nutmeg that went into the batter, it reminded me of an old fashioned plain donut, which is my favourite donut in the whole world. Boring, maybe, but there’s something about nutmeg that I’m completely smitten with. The texture, however, is completely un-donut like. It’s not dense but super light instead – it provides a nice contrast to the crunch of the topping and the golden exterior.

espresso & spice coffee cake | everybody likes sandwiches

As we head into a new weekend, maybe you should give this coffee cake a try. It’s great with a late night cup of tea and maybe even better for breakfast with your morning coffee. If you’re in town, make sure you stop by Got Craft at the Maritime Labour Centre in East Van on Saturday and Sunday where I’ll be selling my cards, note pads, birthday calendars and prints. It’s my favourite local craft fair and I’d love to say hello and chat! But if you’re not a Vancouverite or can’t make it out, remember this cake. It’s a keeper.

Oh crumbs, I forgot to mention it, but I’d love it if you could “like” my photo on the Le Cruset Canada facebook page. It’s highly unlikely I’ll win the contest, but it would be nice to dream of a new set of Le Cruset’s new stainless steel cookware!

espresso & spice coffee cake | everybody likes sandwiches

espresso and spice bundt cake
I used instant Italian espresso but I think some finely ground espresso beans would also work, though you’d lose that texture that a freezer-dried instant coffee can provide.

2 c all-purpose flour
1 t freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c sugar
2 large eggs
1 c plain yogurt
2 t vanilla extract

1/4 c sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
1 T instant espresso powder
1/4 c semi-sweet chocolate chips, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour a bundt pan.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar for 1 minute until fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in the yogurt and the vanilla until combined. Slowly stir in half of the flour mixture and when that is combined, add in the rest. Batter will be very thick.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, espresso and chopped chocolate chips together.

Spoon half of the batter into the bundt pan and spread it out so that it lines the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle half of the espresso mixture over top the batter. Spoon on the remaining batter, spreading it out, and sprinkle the rest of the espresso mixture on top.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and the top of the cake is nice and golden. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before removing cake to fully cool on a rack.

24 Dec 14:00

Easy Patchwork Quilt DIY

by racheldenbow

Learn to make an easy patchwork lap quilt on today
Making your first quilt can feel a little intimidating, but I've got an easy tutorial with a simple patchwork pattern that will leave you feeling pretty proud of yourself when you're finished! This simple throw quilt is the perfect size for lounging on the couch or wrapping up in first thing on a chilly morning. Also, if you're working on handmade gifts this holiday season, this one will solidify your standing as the most thoughtful ever. 

Easy Beginner's QuiltSuppliesSupplies:
- one cut of fabric measuring 31" x 43" for the front
- five cuts of various fabric prints measuring 8" x 43" (you can have two of the same)
- one cut of fabric measuring 43" x 66" for the backing
- cotton batting measuring 43" x 66" (get this cut from the bolt instead of buying a prepackaged piece)
- embroidery thread 
- embroidery needle
- straight pins
- scissors
- rotary cutter and healing mat (optional)
- ruler
- iron and ironing board
- sewing machine and thread 

Note: I suggest prewashing all fabrics in warm water and on a medium tumble dry to preshrink everything. Then I suggest ironing your fabrics for the most smooth cuts and even lines.

Step OneStep One: Cut five strips that measure 8" x 43" if you haven't already. I cut these five strips out of four different fabrics so I had two of the same. You'll also want to cut one large piece that is about 31" x 43". These will make up the top side of your quilt once sewn together.

Lay Out FabricsThe trick to having your patchwork quilt look great is choosing fabrics with prints and colors that work well together. I suggest choosing between 5-6 different prints that work well together, and then making sure that if you're using the same fabric twice, those two pieces don't touch each other. I had mine arranged a certain way, and then realized I didn't want the two prints that were the same overlapping each other, so I rearranged them again. 

Lay your fabric down so that your big piece is in one corner and standing tall like a building. Then place two strips of fabric to the right of the big piece and the other three strips on top. This will be your pattern, but you can mess with the strips until you are happy with the order of the prints.

Step2Step Two: Starting with the two vertical strips, place one on top of the other so that the right sides of the fabric are facing each other and match up your edges. Pin these two pieces together along the right edge as shown. I space my pins about 6"- 8" apart. Stitch along your pinned edge. Make sure to leave about 1/4" seam allowance from the edge to where your needle is stitching through. Remove pins.

Step3Step Three: Unfold your two strips and lay them face down on your ironing board. Iron the back seam to one side. This helps flatten your fabric and makes for smoother matching up of strips down the road. Repeat this process of sewing your top three strips together as well. 

IMG_3275Step Four: Once your top three strips are sewn together (and remember I later went back and ripped these three strips out and rearranged them because I got distracted during this process and didn't realize my two similar fabrics were touching. Not a big deal, but I didn't like how it changed the pattern), sew your two vertical strips to the long edge of your largest cut of fabric. Press flat with your iron. 

As you can see, the three pieces of fabric on the bottom now equal the length of the vertical strips above. Sew the two pieces together and press flat with your iron. 

IMG_3279This is what the back of your quilt top should look like. 

IMG_3289Step Five: Place your cotton batting on the floor and smooth it out. Sometimes I tape the edges to the wood floor, but it's not necessary. Then place your backing fabric on top of the batting so that the edges match up and the right side of the fabric is facing you. Finally, place your quilt top on top of it all with the right side facing down away from you. Match up the edges and then pin them all together like a sandwich. I pin every 8" or so along the perimeter as well as every 10" in the middle of the quilt.

We are only hand tying this quilt, otherwise we'd be pinning much closer together. 

IMG_3290Step Six: Before you start sewing, fold back a section of your quilt top that is roughly 12" long and pin. This will be your opening marker so that you can turn your quilt right side out. Then stitch along the perimeter of your quilt about 1/4" from the edge of the quilt top (except for the opening that you just pinned). You may have excess batting or your back side may be wider than your top. Just be sure you're stitching through all three layers all the way around. 

Step 6Step Seven: Trim your edges for a cleaner fold and trim off the corners. Just be sure not to cut into the stitching. Turn your quilt right side out and flatten out. You can see where the opening is in the photo above. Hand stitch that closed and you're almost done!

Hand TiedStep Eight: Instead of machine quilting your quilt, you're going to hand-tie it together. Start your first knot 4" in from the bottom corner and then add another knot every 8" across and 8" up. Stitch through all three layers and tie a double knot. Trim your ends to about 2/3". 

Hand Tied QuiltYou did it! 

Let's Make A QuiltGet Cozy In Your First Handmade QuiltGive a girl a quilt, and she'll want a book to go with it. If you give her a book, she'll ask you for some coffee and a cozy chair. If you give her a coffee and a cozy chair, you can kiss the afternoon goodbye because she's going to be there awhile!

Enjoy your new skill and go make a few more for the special people in your life! xo. -Rachel

P.S. If you enjoyed this you'll be happy to know that Rachel (and Katie) are currently hard at work developing a sewing based e-course. We think you're gonna love it!

Credits//Author: Rachel Denbow. Photography: Rachel and Brett Denbow. Photos edited using the ABM Signature Collection.

29 Dec 14:26

Try This: Easy DIY Serving Tray

by A Beautiful Mess

Making your own serving tray couldn't be easier!Playing hostess for the holidays is much more fun with the right accessories. A comfortable, chic party dress is a must, but so is a beautiful serving tray (or two, or three!). We cover the bar in our kitchen with snacks and treats for our party guests  to enjoy, and a few trays can be a great way to organize the food chaos. When it comes to serving drinks, I do the same thing. All of our mixers are stored on a tray on our dining room counter, and then we serve house cocktails on a tray for our friends to enjoy.

As you've probably surmised, I love using serving trays while playing hostess, and I love using them in decorating my home too. Always ready to add a new tray to my collection, I whipped up this new one using just a couple of bar pulls and a cutting board. And it only took me five minutes to create!

Making your own serving tray couldn't be easier!Creating this tray is as simple as attaching the bar pulls to the top of a nice cutting board, but if you need a little guidance, I've included steps below.

-cutting board (I used this one)
-long bar style drawer pulls (I used these, though this is a less expensive option.)

-power drill with drill bit
-measuring tape
-pen or marker

Making your own serving tray couldn't be easier!Step One: Place the bar pull handle onto the cutting board close to the edge and make sure it is centered width-wise. Use a measuring tape to measure the distance from the edges of the cutting board to the point where you will be placing the screws that attach the handle. Write down this measurement.

Step Two: Remove the handle and mark the points you measured in the previous step. Before drilling, make sure you measure the distance between the two marks to verify that it matches the distance of the attachment points on your actual handle.

Making your own serving tray couldn't be easier!Step Three: After triple checking your measurements against the handle, drill into the cutting board with a drill bit that matches or slightly exceeds the size of screws for your handles.

Tip: Place a piece of scrap wood beneath the cutting board when drilling to avoid damaging your work surface.

Step Four: Use a screw driver or your power drill to attach the handle to the cutting board with the screws that came with your bar pull handles. If your cutting board doesn't have bumpers on the bottom that raise it up slightly, you will want to either countersink your screws or cover them with little rubber pads.

Making your own serving tray couldn't be easier!How simple was that? You can completely customize the look and cost of your tray with different cutting boards or handle styles.

Making your own serving tray couldn't be easier!Such a great party tray, but this guy would also look great on an entry table to corral catch-all dishes or incoming mail. I love it! -Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Stella of the Signature Collection.

08 Dec 17:20

gingerbread biscotti

by deb


gingerbread biscotti for hot chocolate dunking

It’s scientific fact that the most decadent hot chocolate needs the perfect dunking cookie. Last week, the hunt for this led me to assault family and friends with bold, high-stakes queries such as “would you rather dunk graham cracker flavored, snickerdoodle or gingerbread biscotti in your hot chocolate?” Don’t let it ever be said that the Smitten Kitchen shies away from the hard questions! Gingerbread was the clear winner, and while I aim to please, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that a little snickerdoodle-style roll in cinnamon-sugar is never unwelcome in winter, and so it was.

what you'll need
wet into dry ingredients

This is gentle gingerbread; it’s not going to muddle your steamy cup of dark chocolate cocoa with molasses and cloves, but instead gently suggests a little winter spice. It’s as much a cookie as it is the ideal golden and crisp packet of December warmth, essential on 26 degree days like today (too soon, New York, too soon!) even if you, perhaps, after reading one too many articles about how Norwegian and Danish children go outside all winter, regardless of how cold it is, didn’t conclude that this meant that you and your small child should arrive at the schoolyard 30 minutes before the school bell to get your fix of “fresh air” and “nature exploration” and have still, 3-plus hours later, not warmed up.

forming the dough into a log

... Read the rest of gingerbread biscotti on

© smitten kitchen 2006-2012. | permalink to gingerbread biscotti | 144 comments to date | see more: Cookie, Photo, Winter

09 Dec 20:04

popculturebrain: Trailer: ‘Le Petit Prince' - Coming...


Trailer: ‘Le Petit Prince' - Coming Soon

Directed by Mark Osborne, with the voices of Rachel McAdams, Mackenzie Foy, James Franco, Jeff Bridges, Marion Cotillard, Benicio del Toro, Paul Giamatti, Ricky Gervais and Albert Brooks.

Note: This is the French version of the trailer.

13 Nov 14:23

Make a Statement Wall with Paint Pens!

by A Beautiful Mess

Easy and cheap! Make a statement wall with paint pens (click through for tutorial)      You guys know how much we love statement walls here at ABM (you can see all the previous walls here!), but it occurred to me recently that we haven't done a wall with paint pens or markers yet. I know, I know; shame on us and all of that, but don't yell too hard because I'm about to share one with you today. My musician husband Todd has a music room in our house where he can practice, write, and record, but until lately it's been dubbed the most boring room of the house. He insisted on keeping a giant couch (that he's had for the last 13 years!) in the space, and it felt like it was literally taking up half the small room, so I never really put much effort into decorating it. Once he decided to move the couch to his off-campus studio space, I jumped at the chance to add some personality to his room, and I thought a statement wall recreating this amazing geometric print would be just the ticket for the space. Since the walls are a medium grey color, I decided that a stenciled wall design with a white paint pen would work out perfectly. Here's how I did it:

Easy and cheap! Make a statement wall with paint pens (click through for tutorial)
-scrap cardboard (just ask a local store for boxes if you don't have any; the bigger the better!)
-painter's tape
-thick white paint pen (this one and this one are good)
-X-Acto knife
-push pins to hold template on wall

First I decided how many rows of the pattern I wanted on the wall. Once I chose four rows I measured the wall height, marked the four section measurements on both ends of the wall with a pencil, and used painter's tape to mark off the rows.

Easy and cheap! Make a statement wall with paint pens (click through for tutorial) Once I figured out the height, I got a big piece of cardboard, cut it to the row height, and traced my shape across the cardboard as far as it would go. I alternated the shape orientation so that it would look like an interlocking pattern once all together. Keep the shapes that get cut out of your template since you'll need those in your final step.

Easy and cheap! Make a statement wall with paint pens (click through for tutorial) I used push pins to secure the template to the wall so I could trace without having to hold the giant template in place. Pay attention to where the middle of the wall is, and make sure that you have the middle of a shape line up exactly in that spot. If you line up the middle carefully, the outside edges of the wall will both end at the same point in your pattern.

Easy and cheap! Make a statement wall with paint pens (click through for tutorial) Taking the paint pen, I just traced inside of the shapes and allowed the paint to dry (which it does rather quickly) before going over it a second time. If you have a lot of corners to get into like I did, I would also use a smaller point of paint pen as well so you can get into the corners a little better.

Once you have completed all your outline shapes for that section, remove the push pins and move the template over. Make sure to overlap the first shape of the template with the last shape you traced so that your spacing will be the same throughout. Since it can be hard to get the big template to line up exactly with the ends of the wall, you can use the leftover cardboard shapes that you originally cut from your template for this final step. Trim the cutouts vertically as needed and to use them as smaller templates to complete your shapes right next to the corner wall seam. Once your shapes are all traced, you're done!

Easy and cheap! Make a statement wall with paint pens (click through for tutorial)
Easy and cheap! Make a statement wall with paint pens (click through for tutorial)
Easy and cheap! Make a statement wall with paint pens (click through for tutorial)
The wall only took me a couple of hours to complete, so I was pretty happy with how fast it went, and since I was able to use one paint pen (well, one thick pen and one thin pen for the corners) for the whole wall, the project only cost me around $10 too! Not bad if you ask me. I love the vibe that the geometric shapes add to the space and the room definitely feels like it's got some personality happening now. I will for sure be expecting a lot of love songs to be written about me in this room from now on—I think it's only fair, don't you? xo. Laura

Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with Stella from The Signature Collection

24 Nov 14:42

Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Caesar Salad

by Angela (Oh She Glows)

veganCaesarsalad 2905   Crowd Pleasing Vegan Caesar Salad

My dad is coming to visit this week. This means two very important things are on my “what to make dad” menu. 1) Chili, always and 2) Caesar salad. Those are essential food groups for the guy. Anything else is icing on the cake. Plus, I always welcome the opportunity to use my huge bamboo salad bowl that we received as a wedding gift from our friends. When this bowl comes out, it’s something special!

Even though Caesar salad isn’t traditional holiday fare, I totally think you can serve it as part of a holiday menu. I love an unexpected twist on the table personally. Do you have any non-traditional dishes that are go-to’s for your family? My mother-in-law used to always serve Caesar salad as part of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner and I swear it was one of the things that went the fastest, next to her famous croquettes. And my dad, well…let’s just say his famous Caesar salad and chili make an appearance at every Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve gathering.

I’ve made a couple vegan Caesar salad recipes over the years (one of which is in my cookbook), but I think this version is my best rendition yet. Recipes are always works in progress for me and I find each time I make it, I’m always trying new things. In addition to a new dressing, I also added roasted chickpea croutons and a nut and seed based parmesan cheese. I used a blend of traditional romaine lettuce with non-traditional Lacinato kale (destemmed of course). This way you have the classic flavour of romaine with the nutritional boost of the kale, without scaring anyone away (ahem, dad). I love the two tone greens in the bowl too. It’s a great make ahead salad because you can prep everything the day before (except for the roasted chickpeas) and then just mix it up the day of your event!

The first time I made this dressing, I actually used double the quantities you’ll see in the recipe below. However, I found that it made way too much (I had half leftover after mixing the salad), so I cut the dressing ingredients in half and it still worked out fine in the blender. I’m just mentioning this in case you are wondering about making a larger batch for a crowd – this dressing doubles beautifully!

I had a lot of fun with the photoshoot for this recipe, so I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.

And in case I’m not back again this week, I’d like to wish my American readers a lovely Thanksgiving! Thank you for coming here each week and eagerly trying out so many of the recipes I share. If you’re looking for my favourite Thanksgiving recipes, you can find them here. Also check out my 3 Course Step-by-Step Vegan and Gluten-Free Holiday Menu.

vegancaesarsaladrecipe   Crowd Pleasing Vegan Caesar Salad

bestvegancaesarsalad   Crowd Pleasing Vegan Caesar Salad

Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Caesar Salad

Vegan, gluten-free, grain-free, no bake/raw, refined sugar-free

A delicious, creamy vegan Caesar salad that will please a crowd! The dressing recipe easily doubles for a larger group. Feel free to skip the roasted chickpea croutons and simply use your own croutons, or you can use the gluten-free Nutty Herb Croutons in The Oh She Glows Cookbook (page 296). The dressing will keep in the fridge in a sealed container for at least 5 days. It thickens up a lot when chilled, so be sure to leave it at room temperature to soften before using. Dressing adapted from My Vega.

5-6 small bowls
Prep Time
45 Minutes
Cook time
35 Minutes
Total Time
1 Hour, 20 Minutes


For the roasted chickpea croutons:
  • 1 (15-oz) can chickpeas (or 1.5 cups cooked)
  • 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
For the dressing (makes 3/4-1 cup):
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 small garlic clove (you can add another if you like it super potent)
  • 1/2 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce (I use Wizard's gluten-free brand)
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt and pepper, or to taste
For the nut and seed parmesan cheese (makes 1/2 cup):
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews
  • 1 tablespoon raw sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hulled hemp seeds
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • fine grain sea salt, to taste
For the lettuce:
  • 1 small/medium bunch Lacinato kale, destemmed (5 cups chopped)
  • 2 small heads romaine lettuce (10 cups chopped)


  1. Soak cashews in a bowl of water overnight, or for at least a few hours. Drain and rinse.
  2. Roast chickpea croutons: Preheat oven to 400F. Drain and rinse chickpeas. Place chickpeas in a tea towel and rub dry (it's ok if some skins fall off). Place onto large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle on oil and roll around to coat. Sprinkle on the garlic powder and salt and toss to coat. You can add a sprinkle of cayenne pepper if you like it spicy. Roast for 20 minutes at 400F, then gently roll the chickpeas around in the baking sheet, then roast for another 10-15 minutes, until lightly golden. They will firm up as they cool.
  3. Prepare the dressing: Add the cashews and all other dressing ingredients (except salt) into a high speed blender, and blend on high until the dressing is super smooth. You can add a splash of water if necessary to get it blending. Add salt to taste and adjust other seasonings, if desired. Set aside.
  4. Prepare the Parmesan cheese: Add cashews into a mini food processor and process until finely chopped. Now add in the rest of the ingredients and pulse until the mixture is combined. Salt to taste.
  5. Prepare the lettuce: De-stem the kale and then finely chop the leaves. Wash and dry in a salad spinner. Place into extra large bowl. Chop up the romaine into bite-sized pieces. Rinse and then spin dry. Place into bowl along with kale. You should have roughly 5 cups chopped kale and 10 cups chopped romaine.
  6. Assemble: Add dressing onto lettuce and toss until fully coated. Now sprinkle on the roasted chickpeas and the Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Note: Be sure to check the label to ensure your Worcestershire Sauce is gluten-free (if necessary) as not many are. I use Wizard`s Gluten-Free Organic Worcestershire Sauce.

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