Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Homemade Chalk Paint Renovation

I write a guest blog, Hey Neighbor, for Dwell Denver Real Estate once a month. This was August's post.


Hey Neighbor,

My newest DIY infatuation is with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. It's easy to use, the colors are beautiful, and a complete furniture transformation takes place in a day or two. The only drawback is the price - the supplies last a long time, but the cost of entry isn't cheap! Enter my sister-in-law Li. She's so frugal she'd make a penniless monk look like he lives his life with frivolous abandon. 

Li and my brother recently moved from a 700 sq foot New York apartment to a 3000+ sq ft, 4 bed / 4 bath home just south of Denver. Movin' on up! The trouble of course lies in the fact that they do not have enough furniture to fill their new suburban palace. It's a familiar story, but fortunately for us, we get to learn from a thrifty lady, her auction find, and a Pinterest recipe for success.

Li bought a $10 end table at auction to go with her new couches and super fab $100 estate sale rug. The table had good bones, but an ugly finish. It also did nothing for their decor.

With her sleuthing skills, Li then did a Pinterest search for chalk paint and found the following recipe on LiveLoveDIY's blog:

Homemade Chalk Paint: 2 cups paint, 5 TB Plaster of Paris, 2 TB water.

The bonus of the self-made paint is that you can pick any color you want - Li went with Benjamin Moore in a punchy Japanese Kimono color - and all of the supplies cost her less than $50. (Full disclosure, on my first trip to an Annie Sloan dealer I left the store with $230 worth of similar merchandise in my bag.)

We spent a Saturday together transforming the little end table that could.

First, a quick sanding to take off any peeling varnish. Then, Li made her chalk paint. 

Two tips: 1) mix the water and plaster of paris first to make a slurry before adding to the Benjamin Moore paint and 2) if it's too thick, add a little water until it's the consistency of normal paint.

Three painstaking coats were added to the table. If Li had been going for a distressed look she could have gotten away with two, but the goal here was a modern pop of color.

After letting the table dry between coats, and then overnight after layer #3, Li applied Minwax Paste Finishing Wax with cheesecloth and buffed the table to a shine.


As the recipient of half a bag of Plaster of Paris, I can't wait to try this new painting technique in my dining room on a sideboard begging for a facelift. I'll let you know how it goes! And Li and I would love any tips you have on furniture restoration. We are officially addicted. Thanks, neighbor.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Perfect Pasta Salad

In theory I've always loved pasta salad. A quick meal in the summer. An easy side dish for get-togethers. Something I can make the night before and dinner is already taken care of the next day. In actuality, most pasta salads I've tried have been pretty to look at and nothing for the palate to write home about.

So, I made up my own. You may think it looks just like everybody else's, but the key is in the type of ingredients. And a homemade dressing. I encourage you to make it once, as is, before you stray. Also, I am not responsible for a lesser choice in tortellini, meats or cheeses.

Perfect Pasta Salad
serves 4

1 12 oz bag dried Barilla Cheese and Spinach Tortellini 
4 oz Tillamook Monterey Jack cheese, cubed
4 oz Olli Norcino Salame, cubed (FYI - in Denver you can get this at Marczyk's)
3/4 C fresh or frozen organic peas

1/2 C Quick and Easy Vinaigrette, heavy on the red wine vinegar

Boil pasta according to package directions. Add peas in the final 30 seconds if fresh, 60 seconds if frozen. Pour contents into colander and rinse with cold water. Allow to drain while you prep the vinaigrette.

Mix all four dry ingredients gently in a large bowl. Mix in vinaigrette, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, preferably overnight. If it's a little dry when you serve it, add a few dashes of red wine vinegar. The acid balances the meat and cheese.

When accompanied by crusty bread and sliced fruit, I can easily feed my family of 4 with lunch leftovers for my husband and I. We drank an excellent three-buck-chuck Shiraz with dinner and found that it paired quite nicely. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Quick and Easy Vinaigrette

Salad dressing from the grocery store, even the semi-sacred natural grocery stores, are overly sweet concoctions that lack body and overflow with additives. This simple vinaigrette can be made fresh in 60 seconds and is easily adapted to suit your family's tastes. I can't attest to how it stores, since I make it when I need it.

Basic Vinaigrette (yields 1/2 cup)

Mix the following ingredients in a bowl:

2 TB red wine vinegar
1/2 TB dijon mustard
2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp salt

Whisk in 1/4 C Extra virgin Olive oil. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve immediately.

Add 2 cloves minced fresh garlic or 1 small minced shallot.

Add fresh herbs - rosemary or thyme mix well in this.

Add 1/4 C finely diced tomatoes.

When I am making pasta salad, I add more vinegar or fresh lemon juice so that the bite in the dressing doesn't get lost in the pasta.

Mix and match any of the ideas above - or experiment with your own - and leave the bottled junk at the grocery store for the rubes.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Deer Repellent

My tomatoes have turned me against Bambi.

I am relegated to a container garden this year as we are overrun with deer and rabbits in our neck of the woods. (Seriously, where have all the predators gone?) Normally I love the wildlife, and am enamored by Aidan running to the sliding doors every morning and calling out "Deer? Rabbits? Are you?"

Until a month ago, I was also in love with the container garden. Virtually no weeding. Pretty colored pots. Giant lovely tomato and pepper seedlings courtesy of my favorite plant-pushers, Seed Savers. I was set up to have the most successful, trauma-free garden of the last four years. Two of my plants were taller than my toddler! I should have taken a picture because, as we learned from our old pal Pony Boy, nothing gold can stay.

Enter the deer.

Sad little garden.

They took me down to the stalk. Then the plants recovered over the course of a week! And then the bastards took me down to the stalk again. Only the prickly-stemmed squash escaped unscathed.

Deerpocalypse 2013!!!

Like a discarded popsicle stick...

The sight of two speckled day-old twin fawns frolicking in the trees outside my window almost made me offer up my plants directly...and then I remembered how delicious summer tomatoes are fresh off the vine, hot from the sun, and I toughened up. I taught Aidan to say "No deer! Bad deer!" and we returned to the garden.

Photo bombed!

I wish we could blame the dead yard on the deer too, buddy.

I sprayed the plants with liquid capsaicin from the local feed store. So far so good. Apparently Bambi is not into food that registers on the Scoville scale. We're 3 weeks out from the last deer blight and the plants are making a strong comeback.

Heritage plants unite!

I'm hoping for one solid round of fruit before the frost, and then I'll chalk this up to a lesson learned for next year. If the capsaicin doesn't hack it in 2014, I have a girlfriend who can get me a bag of deer-deterring hair from her salon (it's Aveda, so it's designer!) and there is an African lion rescue 30 miles down the road that gives away free lion poop to spread as a natural form of deer-be-gone. Ah, country life.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Simple Skillet Recipes - Zucchini and Eggs

I can thank my Italian grandma for my great hair, pleasing peasant build, and this recipe that takes advantage of baby zucchini and (eventually) my own eggs. Farm to table in 8 minutes or less.

Zucchini and Eggs
(serves 1)


2-3 baby zucchini (less than 6 inches)
1/2 TB butter
2 eggs, slightly beaten
salt and pepper to taste
fresh salsa (or pesto...or a nice slice of stilton...maybe a fruit compote...)

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the zucchini, sliced thin. Sauté until softened. Add eggs, salt and pepper, and let set. (I scramble them - easier!). Remove from heat, top with salsa and enjoy!

(This pairs well with an NPR Tiny Desk Concert and San Pellegrino Aranciata over ice.)