Foolproof Flower Pots

This is not the way to have amazing, professional looking flower containers like the ones you see at Disney World.  It is how to have flowerpots that do not look completely silly.

I just love flowers in containers on porches, decks, walkways, steps. They’re in the book “A Pattern Language” as something that makes a home feel right, and so they do.

But mine have always looked dumb. Mismatched, odd color schemes, looking exactly like what they were… the result of grabbing a bunch of things and mixing them together.  Every year I would find “inspiration flower pots” and what was available at stores would not match up with the inspiration at all.

For five years I only did red, white, and purple petunias. So I guess that looked okay, but boring.

Last year I did red white and blue but changed the plants. Stupid looking.

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That is just awful, and why I took a picture of it, I will never know.

One year I did yellow and hot pink. Yuck.

Yes I know the advice, “thriller, spiller, and filler”, which always results in something like this:

No thank you. Actually this one looks okay compared to most of the spiky plant ones.

And then, while watching the show “Escape to the Country”, (sort of a British “House Hunters”), and admiring the containers, I noticed something.

Those British geniuses plant one type of flower per container. One. Then they are arranged in groups. So one pot of all white petunias, one pot of red geraniums, one pot of some weird leafy thing. And when they are arranged, they look natural and beautiful.

I was further inspired by how they looked on my porch, waiting to be arranged.  Pretty good.

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So this year I gave it a try. I was able to pick out whatever flowers struck my fancy. They sort of coordinated, but I didn’t worry about it too much. I put some herbs in too.  Each got it’s own pot.

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As they grow, they will look better and better, spilling over the sides, and the basil in the bigger pots will give it some height.

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The more interesting flowers can stand alone and look lovely, instead of making a mixed planting look busy.

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The small pot has blue lobelia that I started indoors, and looks like it will bloom in approximately 100 years.

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Even the mudroom entrance got some.

And at last, I have flower pots I can be proud of! Or at least not embarrassed by. They will look better as they fill in a bit more.  And if I find that I need more contrast, more height, whatever, I can buy more plants, pot them up, and rearrange.

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Plant Tomatoes When the Dogwoods Bloom

Dogwood bloom? Dogwood blooms? The word dogwood now seems very weird.

Anyway, the time is here! It tends to be about two weeks after the average last frost date, and when nights are consistently in the 50s.  An overcast day is best so that they don’t get stressed and dried out after being transplanted.

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My tomatoes were taking over the house and it was such a good feeling to get them in the ground. They are also losing their dark green color which means they are hungry.

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How I plant them:

I set my cages three and a half feet apart, in rows three feet apart. I stagger the cages in a checkerboard pattern so there is a lot of air movement on all sides of the tomato plant. I do this because my mother in law told me to and she is the tomato master.

I always set up the cages first. It just helps me make sure everything is in the right spot before I get started. I loosely set them in the ground, then after I plant the tomato I set them in firmly. I have planned for 15 tomato plants this year, so naturally I have 11 cages and about 25 plants. The big cages came with the house when we bought it, which was great. I think they are some type of fencing rolled in a circle, and they are perfect. The little green ones I bought, and they are too small and I’ve already broken one.

After setting the cages, I take down the one I am working with and dig a wide, deep hole. I lay them down on their sides so that a majority of the stem is buried.  I snip off any branches that will go underground, just using my nails.  Roots will grow all along the stem and make for a stronger plant. The plant will look short and you will think how depressing, but in no time it will bounce back.

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This year I planted:

2 Celebrity (a classic looking red slicer)

2 Early Girl (a smaller, early red slicer)

2 Sungold (a very sweet orange cherry)

2 San Vincente (a red cherry, new to me this year)

2 Brandy Boy (a hybrid somehow related to Brandywine. It’s my favorite for taste, but gets a lot of cat facing.)

2 Madame Marmande (very beautiful red slicer)

2 Supersauce (a large Roma, good for canning)

1 Striped German (an heirloom that is beautiful but a little bland in my opinion)

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I asked Camilla to run into the house for pen and paper so I could write down what tomato went where, and this is what she returned with:

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But make sure you label them as they go in, because even though you think you will remember what goes where, I promise you will not.  I have mine mapped out on the back on an envelope.  I have forgotten for two days now to go actually mark them in the garden and live in fear of losing the envelope.

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All done! When the tomatoes are in, it feels like garden season is really here. The peas and broccoli don’t really count.

Now we just have to find a home for these guys.

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I’ll update as the season goes on to review the varieties and record the yield.

Happy weekend!

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French Rolls for Sandwiches

We make these rolls every week, on Tuesday.   They are great for Italian sandwiches, cheesesteaks, and whatever sandwich your heart desires.  The dough can also be made into larger round loaves or baguette shapes to serve with dinner.

The best thing about the rolls is that they freeze well for at least two weeks, and can be defrosted in the microwave easily (takes about 1 minute on the defrost setting).  The crust can be recrisped with just a few minutes in the oven.  They have a thin, crisp crust and are super soft inside.

I always, always, always knead and rise my dough in the bread machine, although I never bake in it.  The stand mixer is okay.  I have never had success kneading by hand, but obviously many people do.

This recipe is one of the easiest to make, but also one of the best.  It is slightly adapted from Bread Machine Magic.

You will need:

4 cups of bread flour

1 1/2 cups of water

2 t. salt

2 1/2 t. instant yeast (I like Red Star brand)

Cornmeal and flour for dusting

Directions:

  1.  Combine your ingredients and knead into a soft smooth dough, preferably in a bread machine on the dough cycle.
  2. Cover and allow to rise until doubled.  (The bread machine will take care of this, and will beep when done.)
  3. Divide into 10 equal pieces using a sharp knife.
  4. Shape into rolls, pinching the bottoms until the tops are smooth.
  5. Prepare your baking sheet by either spraying with non-stick spray or covering with parchment, then dust with cornmeal.
  6. Rub flour on top of the rolls. Place them on the baking sheet, slashing a diagonal line with a sharp knife.
  7. Preheat your oven to 450, and place a spare empty baking sheet with a lip in the oven.
  8. Cover your rolls with greased plastic wrap, and put in a warm place to rise.  When they look very puffy, remove the plastic wrap.
  9. When the oven has preheated, pour 1 cup of water on to the spare baking sheet to create steam.  It may buckle.  This is okay.
  10. Put your risen rolls into the oven, and bake for 16-17 minutes.  When done, they will have slightly browned bottoms and feel light for their size.
  11. Cool and use immediately or freeze.

 

 

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Switching Up the Kids Bedrooms

While we were saving to build this house, and actually building it, we were in a 900 sq foot two bedroom cottage. There were only two kids at the time, and they shared a room because there was no choice. We were so, so against it at the time. We even considered giving each of them a private bedroom and putting our own bed in the living room. Well, my husband wanted to, I refused.

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(This is what the property looked like.  I can’t believe we bought it!)

Anyway, there wasn’t even enough room for two beds. One child was still in a crib at the time, but when she needed a bed we had her share with her older sister. They shared a dresser. There was one small closet in the room with no door, and half of it taken up by the HVAC return. And it was where I had to keep my own clothes, so no help there.

I was so excited for them to have their own room when the house got done. We planned on a downstairs master and an upstairs with three bedroom with a private bath each (please consult my tab on “simple living”….oh dear). I couldn’t wait for the storage space, the sparkly new bathrooms, the separate and quiet spaces so they would both nap. But as we put the build off, and off, and off, I came to see the benefits of the shared space.

They chatted with each other for an hour each night before falling asleep, so we started putting them to bed at 7. Everyone got some relaxing time before bed, me included. They shared a lot of books, and their baby dolls shared clothes, and they traded stuffed animals back and forth. There was very little middle of the night crying, or being afraid of the dark. They never resisted bedtime. Once they were in there they resisted sleep, but they were happy to get their pjs on and head in together.

And so, when construction began at long last, we decided they would continue to share. It never even really felt like a decision. It was just what everyone wanted, and was never up for discussion. I saw matching vintage iron beds for sale outside a thrift store, and that was that.

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This is our upstairs floorpan.  They have the large bedroom in the bottom left.  The “office” is their small play loft:  The large hall closet now holds their toys.

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When they are older we are thinking we will put some arm chairs here and make it a cozy reading spot.

The wide hallway holds their bookshelf, which needs a little more space:

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They have enjoyed a sweet shared bedroom for a year and a half now. They have fought over certain nightgowns, toys, the music they want to listen to, the stories they want to hear. They have read to each other, told each other about their days, and discussed what they will be doing in the morning. They have a had a nice shared bathroom with a big window where they attempt to style each other’s hair. They have occasionally come down at night when they are scared of storms or winds, but they have mostly been content.

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But last week, they asked a for a change:

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And we were happy to oblige.


Setting Up a Baking Corner

Aren’t these pictures beautiful?

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(both from Pinterest, can’t find the original source)

Please don’t put your baking supplies in a place like this!

It will look great in pictures, and that is about all it is good for.

Put them in your kitchen.

Wherever you stand in the kitchen the most. This tends to be somewhere between sink and stove.

(For me, it is in the corner to the right of the cooktop.)

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Put your flour, sugars, oils, vinegars, salt, and spices in your kitchen “hot zone” where you are standing.  Also your baking powder and baking soda, cocoa, cornmeal, cornstarch, bread crumbs, nonstick spray, and shortening.  All of that stuff.

Mine is the cabinet on the right of the picture above.

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Some baking stuff on the left, spices on the right.

Some can go on the counter. Some in a cabinet.  Deep drawers would be great.

I also have a few things on the counter (white sugar, Brown sugar, panko bread crumbs, and all-purpose flour in the big King Arthur tin.)

My lazy susan holds almost everything else:

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I have a lot of bulk sized items, a lot of unopened extra bags because I stock up when there is a sale, and everything fits easily.  It definitely look better with matching labeled canisters, but it is fine.

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Measuring cups and spoons should be here too, in a spot where you don’t even need to take a step to get them. I have seen pictures of people storing them on hooks inside a cabinet door. I have never tried this but it seems like it would get annoying gingerly placing them on hooks and having them clatter about when you open the door.

I prefer a drawer:

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I moved my spatulas to a canister to make room.

Just keep them nearby. You will soon know exactly where everything is as you use it more.

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Even if you are not a big baker, all of these ingredients are used in everyday cooking too. They belong next to you in the kitchen.

Below this little drawer is a little cabinet for small appliances I use in baking, like the food processor, blender, and bread machine.

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Now this area is all set up for my “everyday” type baking. Breads, cookies, muffins, anything like that can be easily made without trekking back and forth to some distant pantry. It is all right here. If I need to make a marinade, a salad dressing, meatballs, whatever, everything I need is here or in the fridge. The only things I keep in my pantry cabinet, a bit further away, are pasta, canned goods, and unopened extra things like sauces and other fridge stuff.  (Come to think of it, my extra flour, etc. should be probably go there too.)

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Whatever is living in the cabinets by your sink or your cooktop, see if you can give it the boot. If your sugars and flours are in a pantry, take them out and put lesser used small appliances in there instead, or bakeware, or whatever else you don’t use every day that is taking up prime real estate in your cabinets.

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And I think you will find that baking becomes less tedious, as the whole routine of taking things out and putting them back is drastically simplified.

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My mom says it is weird and that all food should be together, in a pantry!  What do you think?