"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
_ William Morris
, 19th century craftsman, designer, writer

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Intruder Alert: Have You Checked the Sprouts Lately?

  Remember the 2006 thriller, When A Stranger Calls, the scene where the sweet, unsuspecting babysitter is being terrorized by an unidentified caller only to discover that the harrassing calls are being made from inside the house.... (view the above clip for a refresher)

That is exactly what's happening with my sunflower sprouts.

In spite of creating lovely upcycled greenhouse condos for each of them, then gently covering the whole case at night - in the morning the little green leaves have been ravaged. 
  The assault is an inside job.
I am not preventing the invasion, I am actually trapping the intruders inside...oh, the horror.
Fellow blogger and garden enthusiast, Rita C. at Panoply suggested I sprinkle a little red pepper on the soil, I am going to try that before resorting to a commercial repellant.

Meanwhile, although some leaves are being feasted upon, the remaining plants are thriving within their little greenhouse shelters. The coverage is keeping the moisture inside and clearly providing a happy space for them--and of course, the dreaded bugs. But we shall persevere.
 Have you checked the sprouts lately...
 (Do you think those little black specks are the culprit? Could they possibly be eating those giant holes?)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

 Happy St. Patrick's Day!
I am more than a smidgen Irish, and that heritage is quadrupled on March 17th! 
No matter what your background, St. Patrick's Day celebrates the banishment of snakes (in my book always a good thing), green beer and Shamrock Shakes! May luck and love be yours today and always. Just in case though, I've also got a great recipe for Guinness Chocolate Pudding and one of my favorite Irish blessings to brighten your day...see you at the drive thru:

Traditional Irish Blessing

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
May God be with you and bless you;
May you see your children's children.
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home
And may the hand of a friend always be near.
May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
May true be the hearts that love you.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Who's Been Snacking On My Sunflowers?

Someone's been munching on my sunflower sprouts!
 I immediately Googled which unwanted guests might be coming to dinner...
 According to my research, it turns out sunflower sprouts and leaves, along with pea sprouts, are like the candy of the insect world -and the culprits could range from beetles, caterpillars and lacewings to snails with a sweet tooth -and beyond.

I discovered frustrated gardeners commiserating about the many ways sunflowers don't live to see their full potential: deer were a popular predator, as were possum, birds, bugs, rats and even squirrels. One woman recounted the time she saw a squirrel working beaver-like at the bottom of a large sunflower stalk, when he felled the flower he took the whole thing in his mouth and ran off. The nerve!

For now, however, I am going to worry about one pest at a time.

On the Helpful Gardener Forum, one reader shared her secret for thwarting hungry bugs. She cut the bottom off plastic bottles and created little fortresses around the sprouts. She reported success: her sprout was intact the next morning.

I decided to do the same.

 I rummaged through my recycling bin and got to work. In order to cut the bottoms off of the bottles I had to use my sharpest garden pruners to get started, then I used large scissors to finish cutting all the way around.

Many gardeners also advised sneaking up on the sprouts at night with a flash light and catching the perpetrators in the act.

 I covered all the sprouts with their private greenhouses, although some had to double up inside lemonade containers, and then covered the bottles with a lightweight dish cloth. I might be getting just the teensiest bit neurotic... (getting you say?)

I am concerned I won't be able to leave the bottles over the sprouts during the day since it has been so hot here (* North East friends, I am not complaining!) - but I am going to see what happens.

Anyone out there have other ideas for keeping bugs at bay? Please share in the comments below!

In other news...the foxglove have finally joined the party! Can you see the little green specks? It's amazing these grow into such large plants!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Celebrate: Marc's Super-Simple-No-Bake Lemon Pie!

My sister-in-law, Chris McCarthy-Manzelli (the one who gave us the Oreo Truffle recipe!) is also responsible for gifting me with one of my all-time favorite, crowd pleasing recipe's: Marc's Super-Simple-No-Bake Lemon Pie! Actually, she calls it, Marc's Lemon Pie, but I wanted to be more descriptive...

I posted this recipe a couple of years ago but today, in honor of Pi Day, March 14 (3-14) I wanted to share again!

In case you need yet another reason to celebrate, consider that Pi Day is also Einstein's Birthday! How cool is that!

I think it also means we each get 3.14 slices, right?

It only takes 4 ingredients and the hardest part is waiting for it to chill in the freezer!

The recipe was included in a hand-written cookbook Chris put together for us as a wedding present. (Great idea for a very special gift by the way!)

I think you can always tell the best recipes by how dog-eared and messy the pages look...this one has seen some action! Good times, wonderful celebrations, great memories!

  Marc's Super-Simple-No-Bake Lemon Pie
1 can sweetened condensed milk (I have used reduced fat and no one noticed!)
1 lemon (juice and grated rind of)
Prepared graham cracker or shortbread crust (go ahead and use store-bought...I won't judge...and I certainly haven't heard any complaints!)
1 container Cool Whip (must be softened in refrigerator over-night)

1. Mix together the sweetened condensed milk and the juice and grated rind of one (large) lemon.

2. Pour the mixture into the prepared crust.

3. Softly scoop and swirl the softened Cool Whip into the pie pan -over top of the mixture. Swirl the peaks to look very fancy and professional!

4. Freeze overnight (or at least for 3-4 hours).

Sometimes I garnish with a fresh mint leaf or two on top! I think candied lemon peel would also look terrif!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ikea Project: Operation Counter Space

It's would be an understatement to say counter space is at a premium in my kitchen, which is why I can't believe it took me so long to trade my bulky, knife blocks for a magnetic storage strip. However, when the lightbulb finally went off I wanted it done yesterday.
I had the perfect spot for the storage strip and I couldn't wait to get started on what appeared to be an extremely simple Ikea project...do you see where this is going?

I chose the Grundtal Magnetic Kitchen Knife Rack ($14.99) which has a measly three pieces. How hard could it be?
Unless of course you have plaster walls. In which case, I also needed anchors, and of course my own screws since the knife rack does not come with screws, yada, yada, yada...I just wanted it up. Done. Happily ever after.

I scrounged around in the tool box and found some hardware that looked appropriate. I read the terse directions several times and fired up the electric drill. To his credit, my husband heard the drill and remained in his office, possibly pretending that if he ignored the home improvement project it would go away.

Since I had never installed anchors before and was more than a little nervous about drilling them into our wall -when they failed to screw in flush to the wall I began to panic. The holes were huge and the plaster could crack at any minute...resulting in yet another project...help.
I dragged my husband, who does not fancy himself a handyman, away from his desk and into my crisis. He assessed the wall, the anchors, and picked up a heavy mallet. No, I assured him, force was not the answer. He pounded them anyway. It worked. Of course, they are never ever coming out of the wall and the magnetic knife strip will now live there for all eternity, sort of like the pyramids.

I had no idea what this picture meant until it happened to me. OUCH (or another word)!!! When attaching the front, magnetic panel of the rack to the metal wall mounted strip -WATCH YOUR FINGERS! The magnetic strip is drawn to the metal on the wall with the kind of G-force usually reserved for jet pilots... 

Today, I am living the dream. The knives on the wall have been a big hit with the family and we all marvel that we didn't think of it sooner. 
It kind of makes me wonder what else I am missing...I'll get back to you on that. 
In the meantime, please share your own DIY success stories in the comments below. I'd love to hear your story!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Seed Update...

They're heeeere!
 I was beginning to worry but here come the sprouts! The Skyscraper Sunflowers and the Indian Summer Hollyhocks are on the move - still no sign of life from the Minibels or the foxglove, but will keep you posted.
It was so much fun to check on the pots and see green!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cooking Class: In the Raw at 118

Several weeks ago a good friend asked if I wanted to go with her to a cooking class - I agreed immediately! Fun! After writing down the time, date and place I asked what kind of class it was...
In retrospect, most people would have probably asked that first.
It was an evening demonstration on raw food preparation at the 118 Degrees restaurant in Costa Mesa.

Okay, sign me up. Healthy here we come.

 On a rare rainy night in Southern California, I arrived at The Camp in Costa Mesa, a cool outpost of shops and restaurants with a hip, healthy vibe and made my way to 118 degrees.

Michelle and I were among the first to arrive, but the rows of chairs filled to capacity before the presentation began. For a bunch of Californians to gather in the rain, at night -this had to be something special. And it was.

Chef and raw food evangelist, Jenny Ross was charming, knowledgeable and had the kind of glowing, flawless skin that sells high priced creams and lotions. In her case, however, the big sell was nutrient rich healthful eating. I was interested.

Ross said she began her raw foods journey years ago when she struggled with her own health issues. "I was very sick," she said, and looking for solutions. Thanks to the advice of a friend she transformed her diet and as it turns out, her career path.

The raw food lifestyle is based on foods that have not been heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Ross says, "This is the commonly agreed upon temperature after which plant-based ingredients begin to break down and lose essential vitamin and mineral content, as well as enzymes."

Ross shared when she first tried raw foods she was desperate to alleviate her health issues and find relief no matter what was required -but she realizes such a dramatic change in lifestyle might be difficult for many. Instead, she suggests simply adding in more of what she calls, "the good stuff" to your diet -instead of focusing on taking away. I love this. "Keep in mind," writes Ross in her book Raw Basics, "this is not an all or nothing proposition. Choosing to add even one more component of living nutrition to your daily eating plan will begin the process."

That evening, for our cooking demonstration Ross and her team prepared entrees and dessert -and everyone in attendance was given large portions to sample. Delish! Really!

The food was fresh, flavorful and yes -filling.
I was a believer.

Kitchen appliances for the raw food kitchen rely upon a high-powered blender, mandolin, food processor, juicer, chef's knife and cutting board. A dehydrator is not essential, but it does open up more menu options.

Throughout the evening, Ross sprinkled in tips and tricks for plating and presentation, preferred ingredients, shopping resources and even how to use the mandolin more easily -wear a work glove!

She also shared her recipes.
Since even Ross believes renovating eating habits is  more fun when you start with dessert, I will do the same. The following is her recipe for Chocolate Go-Go Balls -which are healthy enough to eat for breakfast, and easy enough to tote in your bag as an afternoon snack:

Chocolate Go-Go Balls

"For eating on the run, these go-go balls are great, and the best part is that you'll feel like you're having dessert for breakfast. Raw cacao is high in magnesium and stimulates the creativity center of the brain, so these aid in concentration all day long."

2 cups raw pecans (pieces)
1/2 cup raw agave nectar or honey
1 1/2 cups raw cacao
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tblsp. raw coconut butter (optional)
2 Tbsp. maca-root powder
2 Tbsp. supergreens powder 1 tsp. sea salt
coconut shreds for topping

Place raw pecans in a food processor with S-blade attachment. Pulse until a coarse, flour-like mixture forms. Add the cacao, cinnamon, supergreens powder and salt. Continue pulsing until well combined. Switch to the processing setting and slowly pour in coconut butter and then sweetener. Aim for the center of the processor; and stop as soon as a dough ball begins to form. Over processing will result in an excess of oil in the mixture so this is to be avoided. 
Scoop out onto parchment paper lined in coconut shreds, and roll mixture until ball forms. If needed freeze mixture for 15 minutes so that balls hold their shape well.
Makes twelve 2-inch balls, which will last indefinitely stored in your pantry in an airtight container.
As for me, I may not change the family lifestyle over night, but the seeds of raw inspiration have been planted -and will be coming soon to plates near me.

If you have favorite raw recipes or tips for healthy eating, please share in the comments below -I'd love to know!

2981 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Cooking classes and more info is available on the website: www.118degrees.com  

Friday, March 6, 2015

Sowing Season: Step One

 I finally found the time to get my seeds into the little newspaper starter pots I made - and realized I will probably have to make more. 
I began by planting a single seed inside each pot and quickly calculated (no brain cells were harmed during this exercise) that at this rate, and with my enthusiastic and ambitious seed purchase I was going to need a lot more "pots". I began adding two. Then three...four seeds at a time...

 Sky Scraper Sunflowers, step one.

Very excited about these Minibell tomatoes! They are supposed to grow about a foot tall on a tree-like stalk. My plan is to obtain maximum cuteness and full sun by planting them in individual terracotta pots! Joy! But first, they have to sprout...

 An artsy shot of a full box of planted seeds. I lined a long cardboard box with a garden trash bag and separated the seed types with flaps from the box.

 To test drive another method of seed starting I put the foxglove seeds in an empty egg carton. One blog I read suggested actually planting the seeds inside empty eggshells for added nutrients. Interesting! But my shells were long gone. Maybe next time.

To gently water the seeds after tucking them into the soil I Farmer McGuyvered my own system. Using a safety pin, I punched holes all over the bottom of an empty water bottle. When I filled the bottle with water it would sprinkle out the bottom without flooding my seeds. With the cap on, you can tip the bottle upside down to stop the flow.

Okay, sunshine do your thing!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Garden Origami: DIY Seed Pots!

 Things are gettin' busy here at the urban farmstead and I am thinking I may need to kick my game up a notch and name my house something befitting a working estate...Martha has Turkey Hill, I'm thinking maybe Opossum Corner? If It Flies Farm? Grammar Manor? Doodle Downs? Lazy Acres? I'm open for suggestions! Give me your best in the comments below...and in my first ever blog contest the winner will get a prize!

In the meantime, here's what I've been up to since the seed delivery:
After a little Internet research, I used the tutorial on the Learning And Yearning blog to make seed starter pots out of newspaper. It was easy and a great way to recycle the Sunday paper.

Here's the process:
 Cut the newspaper into four pieces along the folds.
Layer the pages so you are cutting more than a single sheet at a time.

 Using one of the quarter-page pieces, fold it length-wise into thirds. Doesn't have to be perfect. 
It's sort of garden origami...

 Next using a small juice glass, wrap the band of folded paper around the glass and tape on one side to hold.

 Now, fold down the paper snugly on the bottom of the glass and tape closed.

Excuse sad lack of manicure...

 I made a bunch and used most of the Sunday paper since I bought so many seeds. It's a project that could easily be done in less than an hour -unless you are like me and keep stopping to read the articles...

Next up: seed pots in action. Stay tuned!

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