Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Patio Revival

If you've been reading this blog for more than a week, you may remember that I was recently inspired by the following photo:

A few years back we had a pergola built off the back of our house. We live in a 1955 ranch. One story and a basement. Nothing big on the inside, but it sits on a 1/4 acre lot, which extends long and narrow from the back of the house. Considering that we manage 3 months of Summer-like weather in Portland, tops, this yard becomes vitally important when the weather is good. Northwesterners hibernate in the winter like bears. Movie-watching, beer-drinking bears but, still. When the sun comes out we take our pale, pudgy bodies outside and stay there until it's too cold and/or wet to stand it anymore. This is why we love our big yard, because we absolutely live in it all Summer long. We anticipated that the pergola would turn the concrete slab behind our house into an outdoor room of sorts, but something was lacking. Until I saw the photo above, I didn't know what that something was. You can clearly see though, that while we had decent bones to the space, it just wasn't right.

These thatch-like reed screens are often used for cheap fencing and can be bought at most yard/hardware stores. We got two 6 foot by 15 foot rolls for about $40 apiece and precariously rolled them down the pergola, my husband delicately affixing them to the beams via staple gun. We trimmed the ends, swept up all the pine needles and laid out the plastic outdoor rug I got on sale at Anthropologie two years ago (and then promptly forgot about cause it started to rain again) et voila! Outdoor dining room finally exists!

I still have plans for the space, such as more seating and an outside bar, but for now, I'm happy to have a space to sit outside with enough light to play cards by and enough screen to outwit the sprinkling of Summer rain that will inevitably fall.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Salad Days

So the first day of Summer is here. Miracle of miracles, it is actually sunny and warm here in Portland, not something we usually see for the first day of Summer. In the spirit of cold dinners eaten outside I'm posting my latest take on pasta salad. I, like many, ate a lot of pasta salad growing up. Truth be told, it wasn't always that different from potato salad and usually involved mayonnaise in varying quantities. For the sake of my family's health and the fact that our garden has started producing actual food I've taken away the mayo and much of the actual pasta, making the noodles more of a sideline ingredient instead of the main thing. What we ended up with was refreshing, healthy and didn't make us sweat!

Any pasta will do, I cooked it a dente (not mushy) and skipped the whole running the hot pasta under cold water thing as it always makes it turn out oddly slick and rubbery. Instead I drizzled a little olive oil on the noodles and let them cool while I chopped up everything else.

Added to them after cooled:

thin sliced fennel
sliced radish
smoked salmon
arugula and other lettuces from our garden
basil and flat leaf parsley
lemon zest and juice
extra virgin olive oil
s&p of course

The pasta can be cooked the day before and kept in the fridge then it's really an easy after work dinner. And it's so interchangeable depending on what veggies are in season. I can hardly even count it as a recipe. I love the combination of fennel, radish and avocado and often have just those three as a salad, especially if we've got some grilled fish. Mmmm, maybe next week.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Folder Titled "ArtIWant"

I have a folder on my desktop where I put pictures I find on the internet of inspiring things, project ideas or basic gorgeousness that I don't want to lose. I just added a folder called "ArtIwant" because I seem to be finding lots of paintings that I wish I had but likely never will and I don't want to forget what they look like.
While lolling through an unusually slow day last week, reading design blogs to pass the time, I came across a photo of a painting by an artist who I had not seen nor heard of before. Not that that's news. I'm no art expert, as evidenced by my "art" collection at home of vintage paint by numbers canvases that I can't even manage to get framed. However, I like to think I have a decent eye for the stuff and at least I know what I like. Or I thought I did till this picture came up. It just doesn't jive with what I thought was my style. I have a lot of pictures of trees and interesting ladies and bullfighters. I'm not very attracted to the abstract, at least in paintings (the contents of my brain are an entirely different thing). So I was surprised as anyone when I discovered that I was drawn so much to this particular painting by YangYang Pan, a Chinese-born artist living in Canada. Unfortunately for me, and good thing for my pocketbook, this painting is not available to buy. Some of her other works are, but they just don't pull me in like this one.

Curious to see what other works she has I checked out the website for the gallery selling her stuff, the Canvas Gallery . I have no idea if this is representative of Canadian art as a whole or if it's just the style of works shown at this specific gallery, but it appears that Canadian painters are really really liking nature these days. Which is great because I already have a tree painting by a Canadian artist over my fireplace. Here's what I think would look great on the opposing wall:

This bee is by Annette Kraft van Ermel

David Marshak

Deb Gibson (no, not THAT one)

Adria Collins

Steve Nederveen

Sarah Martin

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Great Outdoors

So something strange happened in Portland this past weekend. Something that hasn't happened in such a long time that its occurrence had almost become something of an urban legend in these parts. It was sunny and WARM at the same time! Pasty and pale citizens still hanging on to their Winter weight poured out of their houses in all manner of Summer dress. Most were squeezed into some form of tank top that was lying on top of the Summer clothing box that has been stored in the basement for the past, oh, nine months or so. At least I was. While enjoying my first grilled meal of the season that did not also involve a sweatshirt and/or umbrella I happened to have a chance to look around my yard. Now, I love my yard. I don't say this to brag, because I can take just about no credit at all for it's gloriousness as everything beautiful about my yard is due to hours of sweaty manual labor executed by my husband. However, since I do love looking at gardens and flowers and design magazines so much, I'm constantly imagining new and fabulous projects for him to complete. We have a wood pergola that comes off the back of our house, covering a concrete slab patio. This is where our grill and table live and not a whole lot else. It's got plants and a few large Blue Atlas Cedars shading the area in and about every other Summer we remember to wrap some outdoor, white Christmas lights around the beams to give the place a warm glow. A couple of months back I bought a rusty old metal chandelier-type contraption that holds perfectly 6 tea light candles, but other than that the decor is pretty spare. Then I saw this:

Now, just to clarify, our slab of patio looks nothing like this photo. It's neither as large nor as fancy and my rusty old chandelier is actually rusty, not "antiqued". That said, I'm in love with the thatching that covers the space. While we have trees to provide shade, they don't make it feel like an outdoor room. And this time of year an outdoor room feels like such a luxury. Plus there are lots of variations of thatched fencing that are inexpensive and would look dynamite as an outdoor roof. So this is my husband's new project. I've collected a few other inspiring outdoor rooms that I like to think will be a someday project too.

This one has the same great thatch roof, but takes the outdoor kitchen theme to a whole different level.

I adore the idea of a sleeping porch. It makes me reminisce about the childhood Summer camp I never went to. My real memory of Summer camp involves some muddy, mosquito infested backwoods shack in Louisiana with mean counselors and no ice. I like this concept much better:

As far as cozy, inviting outdoor patio rooms go, these are perfect because they actually seem like something a normal person with a normal salary could replicate in their own space:

This one is a great choice if you live in an abandoned cement factory in, like, Italy:

But for all-out fabulous patio fantasies, this one takes my cake:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stress and the Imagination

It's no secret that owning your own business is a stressful endeavor. Just getting a small business up and running is a slightly monumental task itself and keeping it running requires constant attention. It's no accident that small businesses are often referred to as the owner's "baby". It requires almost as much attention, and at least as much money. Just like parenting, there are good days and bad days, weeks that you wish could be repeated over and over and weeks that just won't end. I've noticed that the more stress I am under, the more my imagination runs off on me. The more work I have to do, the more time I seem to spend daydreaming about happier moments and places. My husband, naturally, works the opposite way. His rising stress only corresponds with an increasing sense of impending doom. A figment of his imagination to be sure and not a fun one. For all of you who stress like he does, and for those of you who just want a visual Quaalude to relax your day I've compiled a few places and things that instantly send my imagination off the deep end. When I'm wishing I could escape my current stress and worry, these are the places I wish I could escape to. To quote Liz Lemon, "I want to go to there".

Colmar, France


Greece? I'm guessing here, but it doesn't matter, it only exists in my imagination right now anyway.

Bruano, Italy.

Just for naptime. For dinner in my imagination, I'd like to eat here:

And I'd like to sleep here:

I feel better already...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

La Cuisine

I've designed two kitchens now, the shop kitchen which was an exercise in function over style and my home kitchen. We remodeled our house almost four years ago and took what was an decent sized but outdated, hideously painted and badly organized 1955 kitchen and turned it into something useful. I probably spend more time there than any other room besides the bedroom, and that's only because I'm sleeping in the bedroom. I had two main requirements for my kitchen: a big, industrial style stove with a convection oven and hood fan (ok that may be a couple requirements right there) and lots of light. Of course, if you're going to spend lots of time in one room it helps to make it pretty to look at. I'm not looking to remodel a kitchen anytime soon, even during bbq weather, but that doesn't keep me from being inspired by other people's beautiful kitchens. Here's a little culinary eye candy of some spaces that I find inspiring.

I covet this stove and I love how they've incorporated Ikea-looking shelving so seamlessly.

Chandelier. That's all I'll say.

Ok, so it's the stove again, but it's also almost the exact same wall color as my kitchen and therefore, love.

I don't even know where to begin here. The Beams! The open fire! The stone walls!

I find this so clever. I could actually do this DIY project. Or, more likely, get my lovely husband to do it...

This photos is from Cote Maison. It is so French I probably didn't even need to mention that it's French.

This is a view into the kitchen at the Chateau de Bagnois Hotel in France. Beaujolais, I think. For any of you who have worked in hotel kitchens, you know how utterly dreamy this is. Someday I want my home kitchen to look out onto a well-lit, gorgeous stone courtyard. A girl can dream, yes?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Salad Again?!

While it may seem like I have nothing better to do than write about what we eat for dinner every Tuesday, I really have a lot going on. Trying to decipher USDA regulations and researching small scale food manufacturers takes up more time than one would think, not to mention the pie-making that happens every day. It's a wonder I'm not bored of eating in general given how much time in a day I spend thinking about food and the making of food. I think that combined with the early Spring urge to eat anything besides meat and root vegetables is what keeps leading me to salads lately. This week I was inspired by the olive bar at my grocery store. It seems like every grocery has jumped on the olive/antipasti bar bandwagon in the last couple of years, some more effectively than others. This is really a combination of a chopped salad, panzanella and an antipasti plate. Which is great because that means it's super flexible and can be altered in a variety of ways.

Here's what it includes:

Rotisserie chicken cooled and shredded
chopped romaine hearts
sliced radicchio
sliced yellow bell pepper
sliced fennel
chopped cucumber
yellow cherry tomatoes
olive bar marinated mozzarella balls, sweet-hot peppers, almond stuffed olives & marinated onion
focaccia croutons
drizzles of balsamic and olive oil

You can sub iceberg for romaine, salami for chicken, feta for mozzarella, etc. In the fall you can use beets and carrots or whatever. I bought a square of supermarket focaccia and cut it into chunks toasted them in the toaster oven. The whole thing took about ten minutes to put together and made an all encompassing dinner. I only wish it had been warm enough to eat it with a glass of pink wine in the yard.