Small Space Gardening – Success

I’ve been the care taker of this little property in Curtis Park for almost 12 years. It’s an old house and I’m still attempting to figure it all out – how to manage owning an old house, prioritizing what the house needs against what I need or want it to be.demodeckibuilt

It’s been a long process and I’d say I’m about half way there. The first year I lived here, I built a floating deck in the back part of the yard. That served me well for several years, however, but I wanted the area to grow veggies. In May 2014, I went to work in the small area beyond the fig tree in the backyard and tore that out. I removed yet another yard of soil from my tiny backyard.

I have lost count on how many yards. I’ve removed in the last decade. Nine? Ten yards? Due to time and money restraints, I let the area be while I daydreamed.

Truth is, for most of my time at Wildlands, I worked 70+ hours per week and while I wanted a garden, I didn’t have the time to tend to one. Yet, every year I’d eeek out space in the yard, planting veggies haphazardly. I’d get a dozen or so tomatoes, had a few years where the artichokes grew by the dozens, and even a good pumpkin crop once. The bigger picture was sad: veggies withered in the hot Sacramento sun, dead by August.


With fewer financial resources, but more time available to me, I was determined to turn the back area into a productive garden. I watched the sunlight; while the area is partially shaded by the 100-year-old fig tree, the entire space receives at least 8 hours of sunlight with the two western side receiving nearly all-day sun. In January 2015, I built four raised beds and started seedlings. I’d sowed seeds before, but you probably can guess what happened to them. Eek.

Down went triple layers of filter fabric, then the raised beds with good garden soil, then a yard of river pebbles, and a drip system with individual shut off valves for each bed. While I was cleaning up the rest of the yard, I broke down the rotting wine barrel planters, flatted the garden in progressmetal stays and folded them in half
so they’d fit into the trash bin. As I was picking them up to place them into the barrel, up to place them into the barrel, inspiration struck. The flattened and folded stays looked like flower petals. I hung the stays on the back fence and created a flower sculpture. Friends liked it so much, two asked for the extra stays I had to make their own flower august1.jpgsculptures. I added a few other ornaments including pray flags and an old CalFire tree planting shovel.

Pretty quickly, I realized I needed a low fence to keep the pups out of the garden. Siddhartha took to laying in the beds and Sky thought there surely was a route to China through them. In mid-May 2015, I designed and built a fence using 2×2 inch redwood and copper tubing. There are garden2three gates, allowing easy access to all sections of the garden. The top rail each gate is a handle and acts as gate latch, sliding into the adjacent post.

I was giddy with my new garden space. I loved the sound of the wind chimes, the look of the copper fence, and things were GROWING. I had the largest veggie haul to date. Pounds of tomatoes, tomatillos, a half-dozen eggplants, two watermelons, eight spaghetti squash, five sunflowers, tons of chili peppers, and enough basil to make a few small batches of pesto.

I knew I hadn’t used the space as effectively as I could have, but I called the 2015 garden a success.  Finally, I had a garden space that is functional AND appeals to my personal aesthetic. Surrounded by city sounds, the garden brings comfort and holds a bit of magic, a tucked away space – just for me.

In the winter when I needed some peace and comfort,  I’d slip into the garden and daydream. I re-read a book on small space gardening. I got ready for the 2016 garden. In early March, I put my worry about Sky’s second surgery to work and started putzing in the garden. I’d sown seeds in early February and they were ready to go into the ground.

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With the squash and cucumbers planted, it was time to get serious. I built two trellises in the northern beds for the spaghetti squash and pickling cucumbers. It took them forever to catch on (a few weeks!), but when they finally did, they started their climbing with enthusiasm. As of now (mid-June), they’ve already reached the halfway point on the trellises. I go out every few days to adjust the vines, make sure they’re anchoring to the trellis. While the trellises are constructed with bamboo stakes and wool yarn, they are study and the weight of the vine anchors them and gives them strength. It’s a simple but effective design.


Arched trellises for the pumpkins and watermelon (Mid-May 2016)

13133401_10153588417916305_8696791281428343646_nWith the northern bed trellises built, I turned my attention to the southern beds. I’d been pondering an arched trellis and with a few eight-foot lengths of flex PVC piping, some green spray paint, zip ties, a large roll of garden mesh, and an entire day of tweaking the design, the arch was done. It’s just over 7-feet tall, but if the pumpkins and watermelon take, it’ll be a dreamy tunnel suitable for me (at 5’3″) and other hobbits. Ha. The pumpkins and watermelon are taking forever to catch. I had a long chat with them this week while I pruned the tomato and tomatillo plants.

We’ll see. I remain hopeful.

20160615_193938With the infrastructure complete, I’ve been filling in the beds with 2nd plantings of tomato, eggplant, pole beans, okra, and sunflowers. I’ve got some collard greens growing in bunches in the northeast bed. Mostly, the greens are just getting chomped by bugs and snails. Ah well, better the greens than my beans or okra. Every thing is growing, flowering, and fruiting. I’ve harvested a handful of tomatoes and a few peppers already. While tweaking the cucumber vines on Wednesday, I noticed my first pickling cuc was ready to be picked. I ate it right off the vine. Nom.

The back garden area measures just over 16 feet by 18 feet. I have four 4’x6′ beds squeezed in there with two foot wide paths. The paths aren’t wide enough to roll a wheel barrow through, so that’s a bit of a bummer, but doesn’t really hamper my garden putzing.

I20160608_163808n addition to the veggie garden, I planted a medicinal herb box over in the patio box.  I sowed the seeds and while the herbs have been slow to grow, it’s coming along. I have Calendula, Echinacea, and toothache plant holding their own. Somehow a volunteer spaghetti squash showed up it the box. I had thought it was a pumpkin until I noticed the long, oval squash developing. I built a trellis for it and it has two spaghetti squashes on it – each about four inches long.

Well done, volunteer, well done.
Garden dreaming in downtown Sacramento, March 2016.

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Gift Idea: Plant a Garden (Updated w/pics)

2016-05-30 17.07.21Over Memorial Day weekend, I planted a garden for two friends. They’d helped me with Sky’s surgeries and Bee’d just celebrated her 50th birthday in April. With a five-year old, they don’t have a lot of free time. I’d asked Bee during her birthday party if she was going to plant a garden this year. She said she’d love one but didn’t have the time to clean out the yard and get one going.

With them on the coast for the weekend, I’d offered to check in on their cats. Early Saturday morning, I let myself in and got to work. I found the key to the side gate (gotta love Bee’s organizational style!), which provided access to the back yard without having to haul everything through the house. It took almost all weekend, but I got their garden planted. I dug out their beds, added new garden soil and natural amendments, spray painted a few terra cotta pots to augment their beds, and made a few signs.

I’m a bit obsessed with small space gardening and put to use the information I’ve learned from my own garden and a few small space gardening books. I had a lot of fun doing this and I can’t wait t see the sunflowers growing and the pumpkin patch stretching out towards the wooden walk way.

Back home, I went through my collection of terra cotta pots (I have a lot from the previous home owner) and selected a strawberry planter (and then went to buy strawberry plants. Ha!) and a good-sized pot for an aloe (nature’s ouch gel). I figured with a small boy in the household, an aloe plant could prove helpful. Spraying terra cotta pots adds easy color to any garden and if you don’t like the color, just spray paint them another color. Painting these pots also helps to lower evaporation rates.

I added soil amendments to their two existing boxes. The box on the left was planted with cucumbers (metal trellis), pole beans (bamboo trellis), and a tomatillo. It receives good morning and late afternoon light but is shaded in the afternoon. That’s important for the cucumbers and beans which tend to wither in the California summer sun. The trellises were easy to construct. I found some wire fencing in their garage and simple turned it vertical and supported it with a few bamboo stakes. The bean trellis I constructed out of bamboo stakes. The box on the right receives sunlight in the hottest part of the day. I planted it with two types of tomatoes and three types of peppers.

13344609_10153647537661305_2279481801926206293_nIn their existing raised bed, I removed a lot of the clay soil, added a few bags of garden soil along with chicken manure and bone meal. This should help the plants get established. In this bed, there are two pumpkins (foreground), two eggplants (right side), a zucchini (under the sunflower banner), a spaghetti squash (to right of Bee’s Garden sign), and a watermelon in the bed section by the fence (top left in photo). As I’d selected a more viney watermelon variety, I added a red tomato cage for the watermelon to grow up. I placed bamboo stakes in the ground to mark the location of the sowed sunflower seeds. I planted the viney plants here, hoping they’d grow outward to fill the gaps between the bed and the wooden walkway.

After everything was planted on Sunday, I came home, went through my wine barrel wood scraps, got paint out of the garage, and 13325628_10153647538931305_3417003785622762705_nmade a few signs to personalize their garden. I painted Andy a pumpkin patch sign, Bee a garden sign, and for Colin, a sign for his newly planted herb barrel.

Before locking up the house, I took one look and smiled. Yup, perfect. A thoughtful birthday gift for a dear friend and her family. Bee contacted me when she got back – she loved it. While I’d just intended to clean out their garden and plant, it wasn’t until I got working on it that the other ideas came to me – the sunflowers, the pots, and the signs. The signs were nearly an afterthought, but seeing them in place, it added the personal touch I’d wanted.

I had a lot of fun and think about making this a side business. Too busy or tired to plant your summer garden? Don’t think you have the space for a garden? Garrison’s Garden Service to your aid – specializing in small space gardening. HA.

The cost of the project was just about 100 dollars which included plants, soil amendments, garden soil, seeds, and bamboo stakes.

June 26, 2016 update:

Went over for an impromptu BBQ today, and took a few pictures. I forgot to get a picture of the herb barrel, but it’s doing great too. The artichoke and strawberries are struggling a bit, but the rest, as you can see, is growing WILD. The sunflowers are about 18 inches high and the eggplant are covered in blooms. Everything is looking great!

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Ten Months of Healing

During a camping trip last August, I realized Sky was injured. She’d been moving a bit slowly before the trip, whimpering after a hard romp at the park, but I thought it was arthritis given her age (nearly 8 at the time). When we got back into town, I took her to the vet and found out she had torn the canine equivalent of a human’s ACL in her left rear leg.

The surgeries were expensive, roughly $4,200 per knee. I’m still heart warmed that so many people stepped forward to cover the cost of surgery. Aside from the financial cost, our household dynamics changed. I didn’t sleep in my bed for seven months, needing to sleep close to her so she would relax and give up her nightly vigils watching over me.

The first two weeks were beyond hard and the next four months were rough on all of Wildlands’ creatures. Sully was a good guardian for his dog Mama Sky; he stuck close to her and kept her company. For four months, Sky couldn’t have more than a few inches of elevation change, so I used a sling to help her go up and down stairs. She couldn’t jump or bounce – and she’s a bouncy girl. She couldn’t hop onto the sofa or the bed.

12717153_10153412884661305_5599975066083992974_nIn late December, Sky received the all clear from the vet. In mid-January, she began to whimper and drag her right leg. The vet confirmed her right knee’s ACL was torn through. Okay. Round two –  we got this. We know the drill.

Or so I thought.

Miss Bounce A Lot took her recovery less serious this time around. Within a month, I came home to find her sleeping on the sofa. She’d pulled a large, empty cardboard box off the sofa (meant to keep her off the sofa), and climbed right on up. After her initial vet visit, we all concluded perhaps her right knee was already tearing when she tore her left one straight through in August. Her spirits were higher and she met milestones far more quickly. The worry was gone from her face.

Two weekends ago, a friend and I took Sky to Bolinas Beach. The trip was a little stressful for me as it had so many firsts for her. The first time she’d gotten in and out of the Jeep on her own. The first time she’d been in the water since her surgeries. The first time I’d had her out in public with a lot of people and other dogs running around. Sure, we go to the neighborhood park to walk every night, but it’s more of a controlled environment with mostly folks and dogs we know.

We had a great day. We took it slow, but we had a blast body surfing. People came by to say hello to her; two surfers came over to pet her and say how much they loved seeing a dog body surf. Towards the one who wanted to pet her, she acted a bit shy, but eventually his kindness won her over.

13315558_10153657920066305_2039732581237314584_nThe healing for this type of injury isn’t exactly progressive. For the first 12 weeks in particular, one hop, jump, slip, or fall can undo the surgery, pushing the plate and screws out of place. So, sitting on the beach, I shed a few tears when no one was watching. I was finally able to let out the breath I’d been holding for 10 months. She was OK.

Towards the late afternoon, we moved down the beach and into a little alcove behind an eroding sea wall. Sky was tired and shivering a little bit, so I covered her with a towel and she fell fast asleep.

This pup is my protector, clown, mischief maker, and Sully wrangler. I don’t know if she’ll live as long as Siddhartha (who is 15), but I know even at almost 9 years old, her light shines bright. Her surgeries were worth every penny and sleepless night just so I see this again.

Sky at the neighborhood park in early June. I love how she stopped rolling to go greet one of her favorite humans.

Life is good.






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Yeah, that wasn’t crazy, or anything

Since I’ve owned Wildlands (2004), I’ve been working to improve the yard’s soil composition. The first year, I was frustrated when I hit hardpan clay at 2 inches in most places and 4 inches in a few places. The first several years, I didn’t see a single earthworm while working the front yard and broke more than a few shovels attempting to upturn the clay. It’s been a long process of adding natural amendments and organic material to break down the clay and make the yard survivable for more than crabgrass.  The yard was doing well until last summer. Between the drought and crab grass roots (which have vigorous runners down to a depth of 12 inches), I’d lost all but my most ardently hardy plants in that section of the yard. The Mexican marigold and lower-Sierra Nevada manzanita survived but the yard was sad. I’ve been day dreaming for awhile what I want there and how I would reclaim that section of the yard.

I am tenacious, resourceful, and above all else, determined. Because I’m an archaeologist by education and a biologist by training, I think these skills make me a landscaper. I’m sure we had this conversation before, back when I dug out 9 yards of soil in my backyard – by hand – through hardpan. Yes. At times I think I need to be restrained and prevented from the mayhem I bring upon myself – digging, moving yards of soil and rock – by hand.

I used my recent four day weekend to redo a small portion of the front yard (20’x20′). I took a bunch of pictures beginning on Thursday morning. For fun, I’ve included a few pics of the pack (well most of them). The ‘new’ kitty, Tecumseh isn’t allowed outside and he was not too happy to be inside while the rest of us were playing in the yard. Sullivan Walsh (the gray monster) had the most fun, heading outside with me by 7 am and not coming in until well after 8 pm. Siddhartha turns 15 this month and his age is catching up to him. He’s completely deaf. The moments I caught of him sunning himself and dozing in the garden, near me, as I worked, will forever warm my heart. I was super excited to find hundreds of earthworms in the lower section of the yard. Sky who likes to eat them and Sully who likes to play with them were equally excited.

On Thursday morning (pics above), I tore out the drip irrigation and began turning the soil down to a depth of 12 inches. I also spent a LONG three hours digging out elm tree root/stump clusters just inside the fence by the front sidewalk. Yeah, that was a real barrel of monkeys.

Friday, I screened and broke up dirt clods to remove weeds/roots and the crab grass dense root masses. To say I was a filthy, exhausted mess by 5 pm is an understatement.

Saturday, after completing ‘the hard part’ (hahaha), I went to the nursery and Home Depot to get plants and supplies. HD has begun selling more native and drought tolerant plants. Some of them aren’t appropriate for a native garden, but they do have a good selection of sages/salvias, and Ceanothuses for a good price. I also bought commercial-grade weed mat. No more hippie/environmentally friendly layers of newspaper and cardboard. This stuff is strong and while made from recycled material, it’s NOT going to let weeds through for at least a few years. After that, we’ll see. I turned my attention to the river cobble pile that’s been on the front walk for awhile (ahem) and began cobbling together a walk way and raised center bed.


Saturday, late morning. First layer of weed mat in, cobble getting moved.

I was so tired on Saturday, I finished working at 3.30 and fell asleep until 7 pm. I got up, ate something, and crawled back into bed.

Sunday, I headed back to HD with a friend and loaded up the Jeep with more small river pebbles for the walkway and a few bags of mulch. For ONCE, I’d underestimated how much mulch I’d need. However, being me, I had a few bags of cedar chips in the backyard. Ha. I love my gardening stash. I spent waaay too much time/energy sorting cobbles and laying down rock alongside my neighbor’s driveway. I then chose to move the rest of the cobbles to along side the house, so you know, I could have a nice big front walk way again. Gee, I forgot how much I love that wide walk way framed out by the arbor/gates I’d designed and built two years ago. The jasmine is growing up the arbor – perfect. It’s a tiny little cottage in downtown Sacramento and to me (and for me), even with all the repairs and the work, it’s a magical place, my home slowing becoming real… like the Velveteen rabbit.


Though I wanted nothing more than a shower and bed at 5 pm, I kept going, got all the plants in, mulched, and watered everyone.




Sunday evening at 7 pm

I selected plants and located them based on their water needs, using the sun map I’d made years ago. Down along front and on the mound, no water once established with exception of VERY occasional hose sprays. The more ‘water wise’ plants (that need weekly watering once established) were installed along the sides. I can hand water or re-install the drip irrigation. I was waaay too tired on Sunday to tinker with even a most basic drip irrigation set up. Maybe in a few weekends. The plants looked a wee bit sad after sitting out in their containers for 24 hours. I took pics tonight (Monday) and couldn’t stop smiling, so enamored by my native and drought tolerant plants. How is it I lived nearly 30 years before seeing the majestic manzanita or was delighted by the stunning blue shades of Ceanothus/California lilac?

So below are the plants. I’m enamored by them. Mostly sages/salvias and my beloved Ceanothuses.





Posted in DIY, Drought Tolerant Plant, Gardening, Sacramento, Wildands | 4 Comments

Wildlands’ Aged & Boozy Eggnog


Getting ready for the annual tree trimming party

Four years ago, a friend and I followed this recipe for aged eggnog. We made our batch at Thanksgiving. On Christmas night, we served it to friends and loved ones who commented that it was ‘good but too boozy.’ The next year, we made it a few weeks earlier and noted that it had mellowed a bit more.

I now make the ‘base’ in September and stash it away in the fridge until early-mid December when I serve it at my annual tree trimming party. I’ve tweaked the types and amounts of spirits and find the alterations have resulted in a better eggnog. Use organic or non-organic eggs and milk, etc., but don’t skimp on the booze. Quality counts.

If you weren’t ready for the holidays waaay back in September, you can make it and let it age at least a week. It’s going to be wicked boozy, so you’ll want to follow the recipe below and then add additional 1 cup heavy cream (not whipped) and 1 cup whole milk to taste.

Before you begin, I do recommend you read this article about using raw eggs. While I understand the concern of using raw eggs, no one who has sipped a nip of my nog has reported any stomach upsets (or worse).

Eggnog ‘base’ ingredients:
(make at least one month before anticipated serving date)

  • 12 large eggs yolks (use the egg whites for a few omelettes or the like)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 c. Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon (alternatively, blend a higher-quality with Bulleit or Costco brand)
  • 1 cup Bushmills Honey
  • 1 1/2 cup Hennessy Cognac VSOP or Ferrand 20 year reserve
  • 1/2 c. Kahlua Coffee Liqueur
  • 1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Pinch fine salt
    Optional: Add 1/2 c. of Goslings Dark Seal rum

Ingredients needed when it’s time to serve the nog:

  • 12 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream (to be whipped)
  • Freshly grated nutmeg (I leave a small grater and a few whole nutmegs in a small bowl on the serving table)

    To Make the Base:

    1. Whisk the yolks and sugar in a large bowl until well blended and creamy
    2. Add the the remaining ‘base’ ingredients and stir to combine.
    3. Transfer the mixture to a 1-gallon glass jar and tightly seal the lid. Place in the refrigerator for at least 1 week and up to four months. Some folks on Chowhound report aging it for a full year but that freaks me out, so I just make the base in the fall and stash it in the fridge. I use 2 liter pop plastic bottles to store the base. DO NOT use anything that has contained milk products, i.e., no reusing milk gallons, etc.

    To Serve:

    1. Whisk egg whites using a stand mixer on on high speed until medium stiff-peaks form, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the mixer bowl and set aside.
    2. Place the cream in the stand mixer bowl (washing and drying the bowl in between uses) and whisk on high speed until medium peaks form.
    3. Stir the eggnog base with a rubber spatula to re-combine, then add it to your serving vessel. Some use a punch bowl. I use a large glass drink dispenser with a spigot.
    4. Gently whisk the eggnog together until just combined and no large pockets of whites or cream remain (do not overwhisk or you’ll deflate the eggnog). Serve over ice, if desired, and garnished with grated nutmeg. If you have left overs, store in the fridge for up to a week.
Posted in Recipes, Sacramento, Wildlands | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Gluten Free Coconut Cupcakes

20150829_135531I’ve been experimenting with GF baking for a few years now. I tend to lean towards almond flour as a base with other GF flours mixed in. I’ve found mixing the different flours produces a better texture. However, I’ve made this recipe from King Arthur’s flour a few times now and wanted to share. The only modifications I’ve made to it is adding 1.5 cups of shredded coconut to the batter and substituted soy milk for the milk. I typically double the recipe and it produces 24 cupcakes. Don’t be concerned – there’s a lot of liquid in this recipe and the key is getting the lumps out of the batter – slow and steady without overbeating the eggs. I’ve noticed the cooking time is off – I started with 18 minutes and ended up around 28 minutes for the cupcakes. You may notice the same.

True to the pictures on their website, these cupcakes have a great rise and result in fluffy, crumbly cupcakes. What if you made too many? No worries, these cupcakes freeze GREAT. Topped with a simple cream cheese frosting (8oz cream cheese, 1/2 c. butter, 1 TBSP lemon juice, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp almond extract, 3.5 cups of powdered sugar) and toasted coconut (I toast half the coconut and the mix with non-toasted). They’re always a hit and no one ever thinks they’re ACTUALLY gluten free because of the lift and crumble.

Need a cake? Simply double the recipe and use two 8″ round cake pans. This recipe is GREAT to use as a base. Use a custard or whipped cream filling or even a fruit filling between the layers.

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Wildlands’ “Ouch Ointment” – Homemade Salve for burns, cuts, and scrapes

For Christmas gifts this year, I made a suite of homemade body products. I’ll be blogging about some of them in the near future, but the one I’d love to share first is my homemade “ouch ointment.” I researched recipes on the web, poured over my herbal medicine books, and then made three subsequent batches, tweaking each until I created THE one. A salve that was soothing to my sensitive skin, could be used on burns (Neosporen cannot be used on burns) as well as scrapes and cuts. The recipe below is my own concoction, but built upon several recipes I’d found on the web.

Disclaimer: I’ve been using this batch since mid-December and while I’ve found it to be quite effective on both burns and cuts, the results were from home “testing” and the salve was not created or tested in a lab.

Price: The shopping list is a bit long and not inexpensive as I used high-quality organic oils and herbs. I estimate each 4 oz container to cost six dollars and the batch below made five 4 oz containers. A little goes a long way and I anticipate it will be ‘good’ for at least a year as I store it in the fridge.

1.5 c. coconut oil
1.5 c. olive oil
1/4 c. beeswax
4 oz. raw honey

Dried herbs:
1/3 c. Calendula flowers
1/4 oz. Comfrey
1/4 oz. Marshmallow root
1/4 oz. Wormwood

Essential oils:
15 drops tea tree oil
15 drops lavender essential oil
20 drops arnica oil

Heat the coconut and olive on in a double boiler and add the herbs. Simmer on low for 2 hours, then remove from heat. Let the herbs steep in the oil overnight then strain, discarding the herbs.

Place the oils in the double boiler and add the beeswax, stirring occasionally until the beeswax is melted.
Remove from heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Add in raw honey and essential oils. Blend well with a whisk, place into containers, and allow the mixture to cool completely and ‘firm up’ before putting on the lids. The salve has the consistency of a thick ointment and will have a green color (result of the olive oil and infused herbs).

If you use this recipe, I’d love to hear your results. I’ve made two more batches of this recipe with consistent results.

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Latest Wildlands Rehab Project

2014-10-19A few years ago a friend gifted me this lovely old dresser. His wife had stripped it of its many layers of paint, but then had lost interest in the project. It had all of its original steel casters and tin lock hole covers (albeit both were covered in many layers of paint). The dresser is old and its back had never been painted. Instead, it was rough wood and very dry.

2014-10-19 (1)Up into the art studio it went and there it waited…

Fast forward to last weekend. I have been on a major de-cluttering kick and chose to move my lovely pale yellow hutch/dresser out of my bedroom along with the bedside table. As this dresser is shorter than my other dresser, I figured it was time to rehab it and put it to use. Before sanding it, I checked the overall condition, something I’d not yet done. I made a few minor structural repairs to lessen the ‘sway’ to the frame. I removed the wheels and tin lock hole covers and gave them all a good scrubbing with steel wool.

2014-10-22After spending several hours (with a mechanical sander), I determined that no amount of sanding was going to get the stain out of the top or the fine slivers of paint (or long-dried paint remover goo) out of the wood grain. I switched to plan B – milk paint.

I ordered two pouches of my favorite milk paint in Soldier Blue. I mixed it up (the hand-held blender does an awesome job) and then set about giving the dresser a few coats. I love milk paint because it allows the grain to show through, doesn’t chip, and leaves an incredibly smooth surface. As the dresser had many imperfections, I didn’t want a consistent, flat coat of paint. When I sanded the last coat, if any wood became exposed, I chose to leave it rather than put on an additional coat.

2014-10-26Satisfied with the color, I applied furniture paste wax to not only protect the paint but also to condition the wood – inside and out. The new hardware is on and it’s outside overnight to off-gas the wax fumes. I’m pleased with the color and love the upper drawers’ brass knobs.

I’m not loving the lower drawers’ pulls and anticipate replacing with brass bails at some point. However, given the quick turn around and total cost of $50.00 to rehab this piece, I’m pretty happy with how it came out. I love how the wood grain shows through and how on the sides, the base wood peeks out from under the milk paint. The wax is super shiny and smooth.


Welcome, beautiful. You’ll look lovely paired with my old brass bed. You remind me of an old beloved pair of blue jeans with brass pocket rivets.

2014-10-26 (1)



Posted in DIY, Furniture refinishing, Sacramento | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

EASY DIY solar dehydrator

20140913_194528Last night, I harvested the ‘tamed’ wild grapes from the front fence and netted over 10 gallons of grapes. I noticed some grapes had dried on the vine. I tasted a few and was happily surprised to find they have the flavor and consistency of dried currants.

As I began separating the grapes from the vine this morning, it occurred to me, I’d like to dry some of the grapes for use in baking recipes – including my annual batch of fruitcake. I’ve been meaning to build myself an outdoor solar dehydrator for awhile now, but honestly, with all the projects going on around Wildlands right now, I don’t have the energy or heart to cut mitered-edges and assemble frames.

I was up in the art studio earlier and spied a stack of canvas stretchers and I was struck by an idea – why not use THOSE to to construct frames? They are sturdy, not made from treated wood and once I’m done using for them, they can be washed and stored as-is OR have the screening removed and the frames taken apart.

I pulled out four 36″ stretchers and four 16″ stretchers from the pile and carried those down to the plank table. Using nylon screening material (36″ in diameter) and a staple gun, the frames came together and were in use in less than 20 minutes. In fact, it’s taken me LONGER to write this post than it took me to make them and get the grapes drying.

The cost to me was free, but if you’d like to have a similar set up, the cost would be about 20 dollars to make a set of 2 frames. Nylon screening can be purchased by the roll or by the foot at some hardware stores (like Hollywood Hardware). Stretchers can be purchased at craft stores, art stores, or online for a few dollars a piece. The beauty of using the canvas stretchers, you could easily make the frames wider (up to 36″). I’d keep the frames to 36″ long (or less) unless you’ve got a source for wider nylon screening.


Assembling the frames requires no hardware, gluing, or nailing. The ends slide into grooves to form a corner.


Frames assembled in less than two minutes


I cut nylon screening (that I had rolled up in the garage) to the width of each frame. The frames were 36″ (finished edge) and the screening was 36″ wide. Perfect. Using a staple gun, I secured the four sides, pulling the screening taunt as I went.

TIP: If you’ve not done anything like this before, let me suggest you staple a long side, turn and staple the other long side, pulling the screening taunt as you do. Then, staple a short side then pull the other short side taunt and staple.


For the drying ‘rack,’ I filled the side of the frame that had the screen on the bottom, making a reservoir to put the grapes.


To provide air circulation under the screened frame, I placed two 2″ x 2″ blocks on either end.


I turned the other frame face down on top of the bottom tray. This way, there’s a deeper ‘reservoir’ to place fruits or veggies for drying.

Tip: to keep animals, or in my case, curious cats from disturbing the drying tray, I added four large binder clips to the corners.

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We did it!

front streetThanks everyone who shared on social media and/or voted for the photo. The total amount raised from Sully and Sky’s photo (including the $700 prize money) is $1,860 dollars. With my donation of prize money back to the shelter along with at least one other category winner’s pledge to do the same, the amount raised for the shelter will just surpass the $10,000 goal.

Well done everyone!!

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$1,000 raised by Sully and Sky!

Just wanted to share the news – our photo of Sully and Sky has raised $1,053 dollars for the City of Sacramento’s Front Street animal shelter. Voting closes July 31st and each vote is a dollar. You can vote as often as you’d like and ballot box ‘stuffing’ is encouraged.

We’re currently in the lead and that means at least an additional $200 dollars in prize money to be donated back to the shelter for winning our category. If we win overall, it will be an additional $500 dollars of prize money that I’ll donate.

sully bow tieWhen I began fundraising, I hoped for $100 dollars, then $500 and then stretched that hope to $1,000. I can’t believe we made it with 10 days to spare! I’m promoting a few of my friends’ who could use some votes. Our buddy Miles is currently in 4th place, but he could totally win his category of “Awww cute.” And the stick carrier extraordinaire, Lulu, is currently in 1st place in the “working dogs” category. If Lulu’s picture wins, her owner is going to donate the money back to Front Street too! These two pitties, whose photo caption reads, “Together we make a family” are currently in 2nd place in the “Aww cute” catgory and their image melts my heart.

I promised on Facebook that if we raised $1,000 dollars, I’d post a picture of Sully wearing a bow tie, so here it is. I’m planning another photo shoot when the contest closes of him and Sky together. Tonight’s photo is a bit blurry, but we’re making progress. The first time Sully wore it, he thrashed around like a fish out of water.🙂

So, thank you to friends and family for spreading the word, getting the vote out, and helping me support the Front Street animal shelter! $1000 dollars – I’m truly stunned by everyone’s generosity. THANK YOU!


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Photo Contest Fundraiser – please consider sharing on social media


I’m raising money for the City of Sacramento’s Front Street Animal Shelter. The shelter has organized a photo contest; the winners receive prize money for best category ($200) and overall winner ($500). I entered this photo of Sully and Sky in the “best friends” category. Each vote is a dollar and you can vote as many times as you’d like (ballot box ‘stuffing’ is encouraged)!

Sully and Sky

I’m not asking you for a financial contribution (though, I would be grateful if you were able), but rather, if/where possible, please share this link on social media by posting the link. The link goes to the voting page for this photo. Voting ends July 31st.

I want to raise as much money as possible for Front Street through this fundraiser. If my photo wins either category or overall, I’m donating the prize money back to Front Street. You do NOT have to vote for Sully and Sky’s picture, but rather, there are many great photos and you may like another one more!! As of July 6, nearly $4,000 has been raised for the shelter. This photo has received 445 votes. It’s my goal to $1,000 dollars plus the additional prize money donation.

Why help me support Front Street animal shelter?

When I adopted Siddhartha from there twelve years ago, it was a notorious high-kill shelter. The fact that Siddhartha (who was sick and injured) wasn’t put to sleep after the five-day hold was a fluke. The kennels were crowded, incredibly noisy, and it was a terribly depressing place to be. I wasn’t looking for a dog; I was volunteering at the shelter to take photos of the dogs for their adoption website. I couldn’t have a dog – I was TOO BUSY to have a dog. And then… I saw him. When I inquired about him at the front desk, I was told  he would be put to sleep Monday morning (it was a Saturday afternoon and the shelter was closed the next day). I went and visited him three times that afternoon. I couldn’t leave him there.

siddy bedSiddhartha’s sweet, soulful stare tamed this nomad, forever changing ME. He has enriched my life and made me a better human. I love my pack, but the patriarch is Siddhartha. If I had not adopted him, would I still be wandering around California and the southwest? Most likely. Can one animal actually change a person’s life? Yes. He grounded me, providing a purpose greater than myself.  He is responsible for introducing me to many of the people who are now beloved friends. He quite literally he helped me locate the folks who have become MY tribe.

In the last few years years, I’ve watched Front Street animal shelter transform into a high-adoption shelter. The changes are the result of an amazing shelter manager, community support, dedicated volunteers, and outreach and coordination with rescue groups in northern California.

Please consider sharing this blog post or link to the contest on social media – see the buttons below the post for Facebook, Twitter, Digg, or to reblog here on WordPress. The link for the photo is: (

THANK YOU IN ADVANCE for sharing the link and getting the word out – and for any contribution you be able to make. EVERY bit helps!! xo from Wildlands (Jenn, Siddhartha, Pea, Sky and Sully).


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Outta My Trunkin’ Mind



Around my birthday, I purchased three old trunks off Craigslist for $45.00 a piece. I’m going to store camping supplies (in the garage) and linens (under my bed) in them. So, that’s reasonable and pretty cool, right? Not in the least bit ‘crazy.’ Agreed. What MAY qualify me as crazy: I went on to purchase this little zinc trunk ($35.00) and then another really big flat top trunk ($50) from Craigslist. Within two weeks, there were trunks sitting around seemingly everywhere – including in the Jeep. All the trunks need some sort of repair and so, it began. I found a great trunk repair supply place back in Maine and the manager of Brettuns Village has been GREAT – answering questions and helping me get the right supplies. He’s made a loyal customer out of me – reasonable prices, fast shipping, interactive customer service who provided REALLY helpful information on everything from replacement keys to ‘do you think it will look funny if I do xyz?’ I’ll also add: their site has pictures of the shop mascots – two black labs. Nope, that didn’t sway me in the least to get supplies from them.🙂

Trunk (after)

Trunk (after)

My friend Renee calls my new hobby trunking. “Nope, can’t hang out tonight, I’m trunking.” Sure, that works. It’s taken a few weeks of working on the trunks simultaneously and waiting for supplies to get this little trunk finished. The others are in various stages of repair. It’s torture, I tell ya, when I realize I didn’t order this/that and have to wait for two whole days for supplies to arrive from Maine.

Trunk interior (before) smelled better than it looked. The old paper was cool but I couldn't save it in the end - it was just too crumbly.

Trunk interior (before) smelled better than it looked. The old paper was cool but I couldn’t save it in the end – it was just too crumbly.

Don’t misunderstand – Brettuns’ folks are great; I just didn’t order everything I needed on the first go around. All told, I spent $55 to fix up this old trunk. I reused as many of the cinch nails and tacks as I could which helped keep new shiny metal off the facade. I took a picture of the strap stays and fashioned new ones with a bit of extra leather I cut off of the new straps.

The trunk was in pretty good shape given it’s age. It was missing a roller on the bottom (and I lost another one to rust when I tried to remove it). The leather pieces were hard, torn, or nearly rotted out. The hinges were in bad shape. The zinc has a few punctures and holes in it and the wood slats were very dry. Following the advice on Brettuns Village’s page, I worked on the repairs.

Interior (after). It looks good and smells better. I used Tung Oil and then dropped in a few homemade lavender pouches.

Interior (after). It looks good and smells better. I used Tung Oil and then dropped in a few homemade lavender pouches.

The list of repairs included:

  •  Removal of old interior paper and lots of sanding. I was able to save the pretty dancing girl inside the lid, but discovered someone had tried to cut her out before. Sand as I might, some of those cut marks were too deep to be completely sanded out.
  •  Removal and replacement of handles, lid lifter, and straps with new leather pieces. This was not nearly as difficult as I’d imagined – a good pry tool and blunt-nosed pliers made the job go fast. It was a bit nerve-wracking at times, but I was able to save and reuse the majority of the tacks and cinch nails.
  • Old strap stay construction. I was able to reuse the old nails for one side of the trunk. For the other side's strap, I had to order new tiny nails.

    Old strap stay construction. I was able to reuse the old nails for one side of the trunk. For the other side’s strap, I had to order new tiny nails.

    Fashioned new strap stays using the old one as a guide. This was also midly nerve-wracking but also fun/rewarding.

  • Replacement of two casters/rollers on bottom of trunk.
  • Sanded the wood rails and applied low-gloss Tung Oil (exterior wood and interior). The wood was extremely dry and soaked up the Tung Oil.
  • Replaced the cotton striped ribbon that had rotten away (used to ease the pressure on the hinges).
  • Replaced the ‘replacement’ hinges (not original) with new ones that look more appropriate for the trunk’s age and size
  • Rubbed down the exterior with butcher’s wax

I finished it up this afternoon and brought it inside. I’m really happy with it. It’s look pretty spiffy for its age (dated pre-1870). A trunk repair guy  (NOT the guys back in Maine – who let me say again – are AWESOME) I’d contacted (to ask if he could provide anymore information on this type of trunk) offered me nearly 10x what I paid for it. Nope, this little trunk will be staying here at Wildlands.🙂

I can’t explain exactly why this little trunk’s presence strikes me as much as it does. It’s lovely, no doubt, but I’m reminded of a post I wrote years ago on possessions and how some items make me feel MORE like myself, thus making them beloved. This little trunk fits in that category.

Old trunk's new home

Old trunk’s new home as an end table (with extra blankets and quilt inside)

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Brandied Apple Coffeecake

016I started a new job back in November. Working for a state resource agency is VERY different from working in the private sector. Sure, I don’t make a lot of money anymore, but the people  I work with have surprised me with their collegial attitude. To say thank you for just being a nice group of folks, I’ve made a brandied apple coffeecake for them to enjoy tomorrow. I didn’t use one of my fancy pans because I was going for volume over WOW factor. 

001I altered this recipe. The primary changes were: adding grated ginger (over ground), orange rind, freshly ground cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. After coring and rough dicing the apples, I soaked them with the above ingredients in brandy and brown sugar for a few hours. I then cooked the apples in a saucepan over low heat until the they were a little soft and the sauce became a thick-ish glaze.

The coffeecake should be prepped in three stages:

1. Peel & core apples, get them marinating (see below), then cook lightly and allow to cool.
2. Make the crumble
3. Make the coffeecake batter

Pre-heat oven to 325F. Grease a 9×12 baking dish and place in fridge.

Apple filling:
5 large apples (assortment)
1 c. dark brown sugar
1/4 c. brandy (as with anything, the better quality, the better the result will be. I prefer brandy but cognac could be used as well)
1 tsp. grated ginger
Grated zest from one orange
1 TBSP cornstarch
2 TBSP lemon juice (to prevent browning of apples)
2 tsp. fresh ground cinnamon
1 tsp. fresh ground clove
1 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg

Toss apples in large bowl to coat with spices and brandy, cover and let sit for a few hours. If you’re in a rush, let them soak at least an hour – you can make the crumble in the meantime AND clean your kitchen. Ha. Pour entire contents into large saucepan and cook on low, stirring frequently until the apples soften and the marinade because a thickish glaze. DO NOT OVERCOOK YOUR APPLES or they will be GROSS. Just soften them a bit.

004Crumble Topping:
2/3 c. dark brown sugar
1/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. fresh ground cinnamon
1 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
1 tsp. fresh ground clove
1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. butter – melted
2.5 c. flour

Whisk the sugars, spices, and salt into the melted butter. Add flour and fold in using a spatula. Press the dough-like crumble into bottom of bowl. Set aside.

2/3 c. yogurt
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. almond extract

Whisk these items together in a small bowl and set aside.

Place following ingredients into mixer:
2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Once dry ingredients are combined, add 12 TBSP of softened butter (cubed) and mix for 20 seconds. Once the butter is well-incorporated, add remaining yogurt mixture in 2 additions.

In the buttered (and chilled) dish, pour approximately 3/4 of the batter into the pan. Smooth out with spatula. Place apples on top of batter, straining apples a bit (don’t want the batter to become too soupy), then use the place the remaining 1/4 of batter in dollops on top of the apples. Doesn’t have to be perfect and doesn’t have to cover the apples completely.

012Now, the fun part. Using fingers, remove the slightly hardened crumble from the bowl and break into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks on top of the batter. You may have a bit of crumble left over which I shared with the pups – who now think I’m awesome.

Place in oven for 40 minutes. Pull out of oven and using a butter knife, make a few holes in the topping – the batter will bubble to the surface a bit – this is a good thing. Place back in oven for another 15 – 25 minutes until topping is golden brown and tooth pick comes out clean.

Cool completely before serving or wrapping up to lug to work.🙂

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1 year later – Review of LG 10 cu. ft. Bottom-Freezer Refrigerator

10 cubic feet with abundant freezer space, low operational costs, and pretty functional given the small cf.

10 cubic feet with abundant freezer space, low operational costs, and pretty functional given the small cf.

It’s been a year since I ordered this fridge for the kitchen remodel. While unpacking groceries today, it occurred to me I should share my thoughts about it. Excuse the old photo of the front; I lost good light.

Nearly everyone who has seen the fridge has asked me if I like it and/or regret getting ‘such a small fridge.’ Then, they see the inside and everyone agrees, it holds a lot more than they anticipated and that the freezer space’s organization (three drawers) greatly increases the storage functionality.

The overall capacity is 10 cu ft.; the fridge’s capacity is 6.3 cu ft. and the freezer’s capacity is 3.7 cu ft. It has a small footprint (24.5″ deep, 23.5″ wide, and the height of a standard fridge (67.5″).

The quick freeze tray (above the three full-sized drawers) is also a cool feature that is particularly handy during the summer months. Overall, I’ve been amazed at how much I can fit into the freezer drawers. It is because of its capacity, I now keep a well-stocked and well-organized freezer full of frozen veggies and Trader Joe’s Indian food.

You can fit a lot in 10 cubic feet - two weeks of groceries and abundant freezer space

You can fit a lot in 10 cubic feet – two weeks of groceries and abundant freezer space

I am very pleased with my choice. This pic shows the fridge filled up from today’s shopping trip. One of the things I like most about owning this fridge, I shop smarter and don’t overbuy. With two large veggie bins and another smaller bin (2nd shelf down) for meat/cheese/more delicate fruit and veggies, I don’t want for space. However, it doesn’t hold so much that I forget about items in the back, etc. Partially because of wonky work travel and long days, I used to shop less often and let a lot of perishable food go to waste.

I now use what I buy. It’s hard to see in the pic, but there’s a rotisserie chicken on the second shelf, a dozen eggs and 2lbs. of butter on the top shelf along with some short-bottled condiments. Now, I shop every two weeks, picking up a gallon of milk and container of yogurt once a week.

Oh, I should mention, the fridge doesn’t FIT a gallon of milk. So, I buy a gallon and divide it into two milk bottles (visible in the door) I purchased at Cost Plus and a smaller milk jug I take to work every Monday for my daily coffee fix.

The fridge has curbed my desire to buy a bizillion condiments and also, I resist the urge to load up on too many perishables just because they are available at the market – thus keeping me from buying too much and letting  food go waste. I’ve read online reviews for this fridge that suggest it’s air circulation system helps keep fruits and veggies fresher longer. I don’t know if that’s the case or not.

Completed kitchen - with new fridge (and dishwasher!). December 2013

Completed kitchen – with new fridge (and dishwasher!). December 2013

While I hope to not be in the market for a fridge for a long time, when I am, I’ll repurchase this model or similar. I often recommend it to folks who don’t want their kitchen overwhelmed by a big fridge. I live in a small house and while I have a decent sized kitchen, it’s a galley and the old fridge looked not only out of place, but it’s wide door would block the doorway into the living room. Sure, if you have a large family, this fridge isn’t the one for you. In interest of full disclosure, I DO have a second 10 cu ft fridge in the garage – it is shorter and wider than this one. I do not use the garage fridge as overflow for groceries; it is stocked full of beer and wine left over from previous parties. I use its lower veggie drawers to stash my baking chocolate.

I special ordered my LG fridge through Sears and got it on sale for $699. With an extended warranty, the price came in just under $900.00. Sears doesn’t always carry this model in the store and because of that, I read a lot of online reviews and gave the purchase a lot of thought prior to ordering. I checked around at many appliance stores and couldn’t find a model similar or as stylish – most of them looked like sad little apartment fridges.

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Knit Night Turkey Empanadas


Ground turkey empanadas

So, I was going to make a large jack-o-lantern empanada for the Halloween party last weekend, but time got away from me. As I had all the ingredients, I made empanadas for knit night. They were a hit and perfect for a fall evening. They can be made ahead of time and frozen (unbaked) and leftovers will keep in the fridge for a few days.

I borrowed heavily from this recipe, modified it using ground turkey and added 2 additional hard-boiled eggs, olives, celery, a 15 oz. can of black beans, and carrots. The recipe (with additions mentioned) made approximately 36 empanadas. Anticipating I’d need more dough, I made a triple batch.

They were NOT time consuming to make and as I used my food processor to make the dough, easy peasy. As the dough chilled in the fridge, I made the filling.


The filling

Martini glasses make great dough circle cutters

Martini glasses make great dough circle cutters

Once cut, rolled out a bit more

Once cut, rolled out a bit more. Have I mentioned recently how much I love my marble counters?

Rolled out the dough, placed about 2 TBSP of filling onto each circle, folded the dough, applied egg wash, and baked in a 400F oven for 25 minutes.


As you can see, we are a VERY serious group. Ha.

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Wildlands’ Kitchen Remodel ($6,000 budget)


Vintage Wedgewood (fully operational), lighted potrack, wall tiling, and beloved Griswold yellow frying pan

It occurred to me tonight that I never got around to posting the final pics of the kitchen. I still have some painting to do and some art to hang, but it’s 99.9% done. I couldn’t have done the work without my friend Neal who was so incredibly awesome – updating a few outlets, tiling the wall behind the stove and teaching me how to tile the backsplash and chalkboard wall. I really couldn’t have done it without him.

I wrote a post back in January, outlining what I what I wanted to do in the kitchen and proposed a budget of approximately $5,000. A few friends tracking the progress on FB have commented that it seemed like one day I just decided to remodel my kitchen or that started with a backsplash and it snowballed from there. Truth is, I had planned for a much larger renovation but then I was laid off. My budget went from $25,000 to $5,000. I needed to plan carefully, gave great consideration to each material selection and subsequent purchase.

Guided by my Wedgewood stove, I used Pinterest to find other kitchens and aspects I liked. I then set out to locate specific materials and pinned those, keeping a record of what I wanted to purchase (kitchen sink, tile, pot rack, hardware, etc.). Once I got into the work,  some aspects went fast and were quick rewards and some days were better than others. From start to true finish, it took five months and I’m quite pleased with the end result. The goal of the remodel was to improve the functionality of the kitchen and use more timeless finishes.

10 cubic feet with abundant freezer space, low operational costs, and pretty functional given the small cf.

10 cubic feet with abundant freezer space, low operational costs, and pretty functional given the small cf.

The biggest expense was the new fridge – standard height but with a 24″ x 24″ footprint which dramatically opened up the kitchen. I love the fridge and think it was worth every penny ($950.00 special order through Sears). Next, marble countertops (installed) and the tile (which Neal and I installed) each came cost just under $800.00.  Due to the odd-sized cabinet below, the kitchen sink was a special order through Home Depot and cost $400.00. Had it been standard sized, it would have been $150.00 less.  The new lightening (pot rack and pod lights) were approximately $1,200 installed. The lighted pot rack retailed for $350.00, but I found it at LampsPlus in their an open-box section online and paid $125.00.

I could not locate a true cabinet maker to construct new doors for the shortened upper cabinets. This bummed me out at first, but for now, the open cabinets are JUST FINE. Besides, the money I saved on new cabinet doors went to fund the new fridge, pull-out cabinet materials, and the pot rack. Turns out, the upper cabinets are NOT boxes screwed to the wall. Instead, the trim and shelves were toe-nailed into the plaster walls. How they stayed up on the walls all these years is a bit of a mystery. I anchored everything to studs, ensuring my glassware stays in place. The espresso maker can now fit UNDER the cabinets as can just about anything else. Previously, even an ‘undermount’ apartment coffee maker wouldn’t fit.


Pull-out cabinet anchored to wall and on casters

I’m VERY proud of the upper cabinets, but am most amazed at the lower cabinets’ transformation.  The black milk paint (with several coats of poly on top) looks stunning with the new hardware. Upon first look, most folks think I had new lower cabinets installed. I built the pull-out cabinet between the wall and fridge after seeing a few versions on DIY pages. None included plans, so I designed it to fit my needs (dog/cat food cans, mason jars, vitamins, first aid stuff).  I have one more pull-out cabinet to make for the slot between the stove and the fridge. I’m waiting on a narrow piece of chopping block (left over from a friend’s remodel) before I construct it. While I removed all the overhanging shelves (above the stove/doorway and on either side of the nook opening), I actually gained useable storage space via the pull-out cabinet, reconstruction the wall cabinet (now with doors below), and making some adjustments to the nook bench seating to improve access to the storage spaces below. I also got rid of items I didn’t use.

Old folding table, sanded down, milk paint/poly lower and exposed old pine top (mineral oil sealer)

Old folding table, sanded down, milk paint/poly lower and exposed old pine top (mineral oil sealer)

How did I stay on budget? Careful selection of materials, sticking to my choices, and doing most of the work myself. I hired out the electric and plumbing work and of course, had the marble countertop and sink installed.

Neal helped with a few light switches and ultimately, he gave me the confidence that I could do the work. He also loaned me a microwave which enabled me to have warm meals after long days plugging away in the kitchen.

My mom made me new black/white ticking bench seat covers. How she was able to make them in Ohio and have them fit like a charm is another great mystery. The little red folding table was taken apart, sanded, repainted (milkpaint and poly) and I made new supports for it. I sanded the top down and discovered beautiful old pine beneath. To preserve that, I rubbed in a few coats of mineral oil.

Where did the time go? Plaster repair, painting, getting the guts up to shorten the upper cabinets, refinishing the lower cabinets, nook rehab, and nook table refinishing. More time than I’d care to admit went into the pull-out cabinet and the reconfiguration of the wall cabinet.

I built the nook seating 9 years ago and while there was storage room beneath the seats, it wasn't accessible for a variety of reasons. I made a few adjustments to the lids and now have access to a six-plug outlet AND the storage space.

I built the nook seating 9 years ago and while there was storage room beneath the seats, it wasn’t accessible for a variety of reasons. I made a few adjustments to the lids and now have access to a six-plug outlet AND the storage space.

What do I really love about the new kitchen? The lighting – flexibility to have A LOT of light or more ambient (stove light, dimmable pot and pot rack lighting), USEABLE storage (pull-out cabinets, nook, and wall cabinet), and the new sink/counter. Folks told me NOT to get marble and I’m very glad I did not listen to them. I recently visited a house in the neigborhood whose kitchen hasn’t been remodeled and it has 1930s marble. Ha! I knew it was the right choice for the age of the house. The lower cabinets are now one of my FAVORITE components of the kitchen. Their surface is smooth; all that sanding between coats REALLY paid off. What don’t I like? Well, I really wish I had doors for the upper cabinets (I have to DUST my dishes and glassware. UGH) and the floor. BOTH of these, however, can be added down the road.

Maybe I should stop chattering and say, HEY! Look at the before and after pics! The complete photo set from the remodel (the good, the bad, the ugly) can be seen here.

kitchen  1_1.28.13_before

Very dark, even in the middle of the day

kitchen 1_091513

Dimmer pod lights and pot rack make the kitchen as bright as I need, even at night

kitchen 2 _1.28.13_before

The shelf above the stove and door way made the kitchen seem like a cave. It was also useless storage space. The old fridge stuck out nearly to the door frame and within inches of the stove.

kitchen 2_091513

Now, someone could get something out of the fridge and NOT block the doorway! The room seems more open with the shelf gone.

kitchen 3_1.28.13 before

The shelf above the nook doorway and stove just drove me bonkers. The nook now has ample storage to replace the shelf space.

kitchen 3_091513

I expanded the chalkboard size a bit and love the tiled wall. Really helps keep the wall clean.

kitchen 4_1.31.13_tile off

Ah, those 1980s oak cabinets with their rounded edges really grated on me. The short distance between the counter and the upper cabinets was a constant source of frustration. The wide door beneath the sink sagged and often fell off (too heavy for the hinges)


Most possibly the low point of the renovation. I worried I was in over my head and while most major purchases had been made, I didn’t have a lot to show for it. Months later, looking at this image I smile and am very proud of myself and thankful to Neal for helping me transform the kitchen.

kitchen 4_091513

Much better. I need to put up shelves on the far left cabinet. I took me awhile to know what to use that space for – travel mugs and cocktail mixing tools. Using a table saw, I ripped the wide door beneath the sink in half, rounded the edges with a sander and tada! Matches the other doors and no one is the wiser!

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Sully – Wildlands’ new addition

Little Sully_sleep

I’ve been meaning to blog about Wildlands’ newest addition, little Sullivan. Neal found him and his litter mates back at the end of May and I brought home the solid gray powder puff on the first of June. He’s growing like a weed and becomes more and more handsome by the week. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you’ll know I love Sweetpea (16 1/2 yr old tabby) but otherwise, I’m not really a fan of cats. Why? I firmly believe, if they were larger, they’d eat us. However, I saw this little guy and my heart melted. Folks weren’t ooing and awwwing over him like his litter mates. He has no markings; he’s charchoal grey and even his nose and whiskers are a dark shade of grey. The pads of his feet are pink, but you’d never know that given he’s not the best about bathing those.

Summing up Sully

siddy bedSiddhartha was terribly sick from the end of May until mid-August and had surgery in early July. For weeks, we were at the vets every day or every other day. Several times, I feared it was time to put him to sleep. He remarkably bounced back and is pretty much back to his old self, eating dirt and humping Sky at the park, stopping to socialize with all his favorite humans. Siddy doesn’t give Sully much thought. I’m sure he’s quite glad that there’s another male in the house, but otherwise, Sully doesn’t hit his radar. I do often find Sully curled up with Siddy, a sign of male solidarity. Ha.


Sully’s biggest fan in the household (besides me, of course) is Sky. She LOVES this kitten and has taken to carrying him around in mouth. When I can’t find him, fearing he’s escaped outside (which he’s done twice), I tell Sky to ‘go find Sully,’ and pretty soon I hear his little mews as Sky brings him to me, in her mouth. It’s quite heartwarming to watch a 114lb black lab play with a kitten. From day one, she’s taken great care to be gentle. While he’s now about 3.5 lbs, Sully came to us weighing just under a pound. Sky is very protective of him and for the few weeks, would check out anyone coming into the house, putting herself between them and Sully – just checking that they wouldn’t hurt her little rabbit.

002A few Sully fun facts:

1. He’s a TALKER. When he first wakes up, he has the cutest little mew that increases to a bellow until he finds me. He also bellows when he uses his litter box.

2. He is a collector – knitting needles, yarn, bottle caps, dog toys, cat toys, t-shirts, screws and nails, and lighters. I found his stash the other day and he pawed and bellowed as I removed the items. He’s spent much of his time since starting a new stash.

3. He spends so much time in water, you’d think he WAS a lab. He’s fallen into the kitchen sink several times (into pots I’d left soaking), the toilet, and two long drops from the fabric shower curtain into full tubs of water.

When he was very little, Sully would curl up and fall asleep on my knitting. I think he did this because he wasn’t sure I’d come back FOR him, but learned pretty quickly that I always come back for my knitting. My heart always melts a bit when I find him sleeping on my knitting. HOWEVER, if he absconds with and destroys ONE MORE skein of yarn, I may tie him down with the scraps of lovely silk and merino yarn, spritz him with chicken stock, and let Sky lick him until he mews “uncle!”



Yeah. He’s pretty cute.


Pea isn’t as… pleased with the new addition as I and Sky are. In fact, I’d never heard her hiss or growl as she has since he arrived. In her defense, he can be a total punk, pouncing on her whilst she’s using the litter box.

Yes, he’s a real charmer. Poor Pea.

One day, I hope my household returns to its peacefulness, but you know, until then, it’s gonna be a wild ride…

His nicknames are ‘bat’ (I really hope one day he grows into those ears!), ‘little rabbit’ (Sky’s nickname is ‘rabbit’), and ‘the little monster.’


004And lemme tell ya folks, since he discovered catnip, he’s even MORE of a riot.

This was Sully on Monday, getting his catnip on.

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Chicken Corn Chowder Pot Pies

023Webster’s online dictionary defines chowder as:

noun: chowder; plural noun: chowders
A thick soup containing fish or shellfish, especially clams, and vegetables, such as potatoes and onions, in a milk or tomato base.


With winter on the horizon, I thought I’d get busy making a large batch of my chicken corn chowder for individual pot pies. In my minds eye, I’ll be eating some of these by a warm fire as rainstorm soaks northern California. As part of my give-back initiative, I’m making five servings for a neighborhood friend who is a bit down on her luck. This recipe is guaranteed to nourish both the body and soul and it’s a recipe I’ve been perfecting for a few years. Chowders are rustic – if you don’t have all the ingredients below, feel free to improvise a bit…

Ingredients and directions: (makes 14 individual pot pies)

Cook and then puree the following ingredients with one 15 oz. can of low sodium chicken stock:

1 red pepper – diced
3 serrano peppers – whole
6-8 slices of bacon – diced
Remove these ingredients, strain, and puree as directed above.

Utilizing the bacon fat, place 1 white onion to carmelize, an add the following ingredients (chopped):

8 carrots
1 bunch of celery, and
the following herbs: rosemary (2 sprigs), thyme (a handful of fresh), 3 cloves of garlic (minced).

006Allow this to cook down for about 10-15 minutes. Next, pour in the puree, and add salt n pepper to taste. Stir occasional to prevent any burning/sticking, letting that cook on medium heat for about half an hour (or as long as it takes you to prep the corn and potatoes). Note the blackened bits from the puree – such peppery and bacon-y goodness!

To that add:
6 potatoes – peeled, cubed
Corn from 4 ears (cut off cob) or 3 cups of frozen corn
2-3 cups of water (enough to cover the veggies)

004Cover medium heat while you prep the chicken. I roasted a whole chicken earlier in the day but you could use a few chicken breasts, etc. All told, I added 2.5-3 cups of shredded chicken to the chowder.

Allow all ingredients to cook on low heat for 1 hour, adding 1 c. of half n half OR 1/2 c. of whipping cream immediately before serving. Mix well and serve…. or in my case, place in individual serving containers and freeze.

Pate Brisee crust recipe (from Martha Stewart):

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Place flour, salt, and butter into a food processor and spin until contents look a slightly lumpy cornmeal. With machine running, drizzle in the ice water until a dough forms. Remove from food processor, divide, shape into discs, wrap individually, and place into the fridge for at least 1 hour. Allow to soften for approximately 5 minutes before rolling out on a lightly floured surface.

007Putting it all together:

I’ve made individual pot pies by placing 1 quart freezer bags inside nine 10 oz ramekins and a five recyclable aluminum containers. Once cooled, I placed the individual containers into the freezer (open). To prevent pre-cooking of the crust topper (which would result in soggy, gross crust), I placed the dough on top of each frozen quart bag. Similarly, I sealed the dough on the give-away individual pot pies post-freeze. Each bag and aluminum container was sealed with Press n Seal and stacked into the freezer.

013When in need of a quick winter meal, place one of the frozen bag’s contents into a ramekin, seal the dough around the ramekins’ edges, and bake in a preheated 375 F degree oven for 20 minutes (check after 15 minutes). The pot pie’s done when the crust is a lovely golden brown.

Sometime soon, I’ll post my recipe for salmon corn chowder that’s always a hit around the coastal camp fire. Stay tuned…

Postscript: Have I mentioned lately HOW MUCH I LOVE my marble countertops?! Makes rolling out dough and clean up easy-peasy!

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Simple Pork Vindaloo Recipe

005Upon tasting this dish last night, I reminded myself to prepare Indian food more often.  The key, I’ve learned, is to have the whole spices on hand. This is one of my favorite recipes, a loose and fast vindaloo adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Curries and Kebabs (recipes from the Indian spice trail) by Madhur Jaffrey. Jaffrey describes this recipe as “Goan pork with potatoes” and says, “you may well call this a simple vindaloo…It has the pork, the garlic, the chilies, and the vinegar, but all in gentle proportions.”

I’m a fan of this recipe, but tweaked it a bit to add some flavor. The changes to the recipe below include 2 cans of diced tomatoes (include liquid), 2 roasted serrano peppers, 2 dried poblano peppers (ground with other spices, see below), and three bell peppers (2 green, one red).

Using a spice grinder (I use an old coffee bean grinder), grind:

2 tsp. whole brown mustard seeds
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
2 tsp. whole coriander seeds
1 tsp. whole cloves, and
2 dried poblano peppers, and
1/2 tsp. black pepper corns

In a gallon zip lock bag, place the following:
the ground spices (above)
1 pork tenderloin (cubed)
1 yellow onion (finely chopped)
2 TBSP. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. red paprika
1 3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. turmeric, and
1/4 tsp. sugar
5 cloves garlic, chopped

Seal the bag, removing as much of the air as possible, and throughly mix the ingredients until well-combined and coating the pork. Place in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes. (I usually let it marinate overnight in the fridge).

014In a large dutch oven, pour 3 TSP. of corn or peanut oil and add the marinated contents, stirring frequently. Once the pork is browned, add the cans of tomatoes, the chopped red and green bell peppers, 5 medium potatoes peeled and chopped, and 2 cups of water.

Cover and place in a pre-heated 275 F degree oven for 4 hours, stirring every hour. Remove lid for last hour.

Serve over basmati rice.

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Care Package for A Homeless Person with Dogs`

011I recently posted about a pay-it-forward moment I had a few days ago. As I noted in that post, the homeless man and his two dogs have been on my mind since. I did some online research for ideas and then set out to create a care package for him and his dogs.

First, when I began to gather items for the care package, I considered bulk and weight and the usefulness of each item. As I have already interacted with this man, I know a few things about him like his size and that he has a shopping cart to store some items. I tailored the care package for him and his dogs. If you’re inspired to make a care package for a homeless person, the lists below are a good guide for items of personal care, warmth, and nurishment.

Second, in Sacramento (where I live), I’ve observed when arrested, homeless persons  often lose their belongings when they’re only stored in a shopping cart or such. If they have a suitcase or backpack, those are taken with them into custody. As such, I wanted to supply him with a few bags or backpacks. I checked around the house and found two I could spare – an Eastpack daypack and a water-proof REI bag (about the size of medium-sized purse) with lots of zippers and storage space; both are in very good shape without rips, tears, and all zippers work well.

I chose the smaller bag to become a one-stop shop for personal hygiene, first aid kit for humans and dogs, and other small items. All told, I spent 60 dollars on this care package. Now, that’s a significant amount given I’m out of work. I’ll need to skip a few outings with friends, but ultimately, in the scheme of things, it’s really  not a lot of money.

If you look at the picture above and the list below, you may be surprised how much I was able to fit into the two bags. It took careful packing, no doubt. Lastly, I wrote him a short note which included a list of the items in the care package. I found this suggestion during my online research. If you’re including new (or newer items and/or backpacks, etc) it’s good to list these. If the homeless person is approached by police, they can provide the note to show they did not steal any of the items.

Smaller bag:

– Small LED bike light with 12 extra AA batteries
– Large tube of Neosporen
– Small plastic bottle of liquid skin
– Package of multiple-sized strip BandAids
– New tube of toothpaste and unopened toothbrush
– Bar of Dove soap
– 2 tubes of Burt Bee’s lip balm (one medicated, one regular)
– Large tube of BenGay
– Bottle of Benadryl 25 mg
– Bottle of Aleve
– 2 small package of tissues
– 3 packs of 20 handy wipes (Target sample/travel section)
– 2 med. size tubes of Eucerne hand lotion (Target sample/travel section)
– 1 canister Burt Bee’s hand salve
– Comb
– 2 Greenies (treats for cleaning dog’s teeth)
– 6 doses of large-breed flea medication (with package instructions)
– 10 oz bottle of tea tree oil and aloe dog shampoo (I’ve used it before on myself and must say, it’s quite lovely and helps with insect bites and stings)
– Small mending kit
– Collapsible canvas dog bowl (I’d given him one the other day)
– 2 Bic lighters

In the day pack (fully expanded):

– Roll of Duct Tape
– Full-sized thick woolen blanket
– Pair of wool socks
– 2 pairs of thick Dickie work socks (on sale at Target)
– A size x-large fleece-lined rain jacket with hood
– A construction vest with reflective stripes
– Lined notebook, 10 stamps and envelopes
– 2 one gallon Ziploc bags
– 3 pack deodorant
– 3 dark colored t-shirts (on sale at Target)
– 7 pairs of cotton boxers (on sale at Target)
– Quick-dry  wash cloth and bath towel in small pouch
– Coleman foldable fork/spoon
– Small can opener
– 2 ink pens, a black sharpie
– spill-proof travel mug
– 2 24″ bungee cords
and in the side pouch, an umbrella

I found 2 Nalgene square-sized 64 oz. and one 32oz. water containers at REI on sale for 9.50 each. I added those (filled with water), a rip-stop 8′ x 10′ tarp (on sale at a sporting goods store), a large jar of peanut butter, strawberry jam, a loaf of whole wheat bread, and a 2 dozen cliff bars to the care package.

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If I Can Inspire ONE Person to Give Back

I shared this on Facebook tonight; I’d like to share it now, to a wider audience with the hope that I can inspire one other person to give back.

“It’s late and so, I don’t expect a lot of people to see this post. I want to share a thought that’s been on my mind for 48 hours – even at our lowest economic points, we all have more than someone else.

While driving two 30lb bags of dog food around in the Jeep, I watched a homeless man feed his two dogs part of a sandwich he was eating and try to share water from a small paper cup. I’ve seen this man before by the post-office with his dogs and was also struck then by his dogs sitting patiently beside him, on leashes. As the light turned, he looked up and we made eye contact. I smiled and he smiled. I drove half a block, then circled back, threw on my flashers, and double parked.

I asked him if he had room in his cart for a large bag of dog food. He nodded, looking at me oddly as I pulled out one of the 30lb bags. I also gave him the collapsable dog bowl I keep in the jeep, a spare travel mug, and the 5 bucks I had on me. He accepted them gracefully with a quiet ‘thank you’ and a firm hand shake. I don’t know why he’s homeless and I don’t care. The kindness and care he showed those dogs, by putting them first, it was heartwarming and heartbreaking.  I won’t change the life of that man (or his dogs), but at least for a few weeks, he won’t have to share his meal with them.

I’m sharing this because I would like to inspire at least one other person to give to someone who has less. Circle back, stop, and give. “

I wrote this around midnight. I curled up in bed with my 2 dogs and snuggled with them as the cats duked it out in the livingroom. I did my best to fall asleep but I couldn’t stop thinking about that man and his two dogs. I started thinking about the items I saw he had in his cart and I started thinking about the things I have here in the house, garage, and art studio.

Then, I really couldn’t sleep. I got up, did some online research, and and for the last three hours have been digging up supplies to build a care package for a homeless person. And yes, I have every intention of going to find the man with the two dogs later today to give him said care package

As some of you know, I was laid off in December. I’ve been living off money I’d saved for a kitchen remodel (which I scaled back and used minimal home equity funds to complete) and unemployment. There are several job prospects on the horizon. After makng a decent salary for years, I was at first panicked and then pleased with how little I could live on, and even more surprised by how much I already had here at the house. Even in my current economic valley, I have a lot to give. And that’s my point – we all do – in varying degrees.

Since I moved to Sacramento a decade ago, I’ve made a point to donate goods or money or my time to various charities (local dog rescues, back to school donations, holiday secret santas for kids, food banks, etc. My mind’s been twirling for the last few horus; I’m thinking about making a new life initiative to give back on a more personal level.

More on that soon…stay tuned.

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The Skito Sweater

I think she likes it

I think she likes it

A dear friend turned 40 back in July. When I think of her, I cannot help but smile and get a little mushy. She is sunshine, laughter, warmth, kindness, and love wrapped up in the tiniest of packages. She also is a road-tripper, camper, a mom, and a very stylish lady.Pretty quickly, I figured out I wanted to design and knit a sweater for her. As we live in California, I knew my standard go-to for Aran knitting (Bartlett yarn) wasn’t a good fit. She does head up into snow country and loves weekends on the coast, so I knew a wool was most appropriate. I turned to my favorite fall back, Knit Picks, selecting Wool of the Andes worsted weight in Calypso Heather. Given the worsted weight, she can wear the sweater as an outer garmet but it’s not too bulky that she couldn’t wear it under a coat.

Gee, I love this yarn. It’s the second sweater I’ve knitted with it and it’s good stuff – not too thick, not too bulky, and not too scratchy. In fact, it feels pretty soft. It also comes in an amazing array of colours including a heathers. Oh, and the price? It makes knitting sweaters affordable!


The little dude misses his sleeping spot, but sure he’ll find new ones.

About a month before her birthday, Sullivan joined my household. For the last 2.5 months, he’s been sleeping on her sweater’s parts and pieces. Now that it’s done, I’m sure he’ll find another one of my knitting projects to sleep on, but he’s not so sure. Last night, I hung the finished sweater on the back of my closet door. This morning, I found him mewing and pawing at the door, wanting to get the sweater. My friend does have cats and a dog, so I wasn’t as concerned about Sully sleeping on it. However, I’ll be sending it to the dry cleaners prior to giving it to her.


So excited to give this to her!

I’ve written up the pattern instructions for the Skito Sweater in sizes S-XL and it is for sale on Etsy. The cost for this sweater was approximately $48.00 (using yarn from Knit Picks) and with rather sporatic knitting efforts, it was finished in just over 2 months.

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Carrot Cherry Ice Cream Sandwiches


Carrot cherry ice cream sandwiches

Tomorrow is the first summer BBQ hosted by dear friends with whom I spend most holidays and share big life (and little too for that matter) events and adventures. I affectionately call these folks ‘the Donner Party’ as they live on Donner Way here in Sacramento. However, you’d better believe I giggle happily every time I do. I’m fascinated with the Donner Party saga.

So, what to make for the summer kick off? I pondered this all day and avoided going grocery shopping until I had a solid plan. Around 9.30 pm, inspiration struck— carrot cake cookies + vanilla ice cream = ice cream sandwiches. Awesome.  I pulled up a few recipes online and finally chose the best one to tweak would be Martha Stewart’s Carrot Cake Sandwiches. The biggest difference of course, I used Dreyer’s Slow Churn (1/2 calorie) Vanilla ice cream in lieu of a cream cheese frosting. More on making the sandwiches later. I’ve included the original recipe with my alterations in parentheses.


Soft, chewy, and not overly sweet

Makes approximately 28 sandwiches (or 54 cookies)

  •  1 cup packed light-brown sugar (homemade, not store-bought)
  •  1 cup granulated sugar (1/2 cup)
  •  1/2 pound  unsalted butter, room temperature
  •  2 large eggs, room temperature
  •  1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (reduced to 3/4 tsp vanilla)
  •  2 cups all-purpose flour (1 3/4 c.)
  •  1 teaspoon baking soda
  •  1 teaspoon baking powder
  •  1/4 teaspoon salt
  •  1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (reduced to 1/2 tsp and ground my own)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (ground my own)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  •  2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  •  1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots
  •  1 cup raisins (1 c. chopped dried bing cherries)


    The cherries add sweetness and why I reduced the overall sugar amount for the recipe

In addition, I added:

  • 1/2 c. sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/4 tsp mace (spice)
  • rind from one lemon
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract


1. Beat butter and sugars in mixer until fluffy. Add in the extracts and rind from lemon. In separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices together. Once the butter/sugar mixture is light and fluffy, add these dry ingredients to the mixer. Beat for a minute, then use spatula to scrap down sides. Add the coconut, then the oats, and finally the chopped dried bing cherries. Place dough into fridge for at least an hour, covered. Leaving it overnight is fine too.


Not the prettiest; somwhere between a cake and cookie batter.

2. Once dough is well-chilled, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper or slip mats. Do NOT grease sheets in lieu of parchment or slip mats. Using a Tablespoon scoop or measuring spoon, place dough onto the prepared pans and leave approximately 2 inches between each dough ball. Bake in oven for 10 – minutes, rotating mid-bake. If you want crisper cookies (I wanted chewy and soft, not hard), leave in for approximately 15 minutes (as per Martha’s recipe). Once baked, allow the cookies to cool completely before constructing the ice cream sandwiches. You can make cookies and in a sealed container at room temperature for a few days.


An assembly line is the way to go

3. Remove ice cream from the freezer and let it soften up for a few minutes. Place the ice cream down on Saran Wrap or Press n Seal (or such) and roll ice cream into a log shape, slightly smaller in diameter than a finished cookie. Wrap well and place back into the freezer for a few hours. When you’re ready to construct the sandwiches,  slice the ice cream to approximately 1/4″ discs. I let the ice cream soften a bit more once it was placed on the cookie, then pressed the two cookies together, leveling/evening out the ice cream. I placed the sandwiches in ziplock bags and placed them into the freezer to firm up for about an hour.

Off to the BBQ — I’ll let you know what folks thought!

20130525_132526While I don’t often mention my cat on this blog (the dogs get most of the mentions), she’s doing well, though getting older. She is nearly 16. She got to lick the ice cream container lid, proving the pups don’t get ALL the treats around here!

In other news, the kitchen remodel is 90% done. I need to put up some light switches and hang some art. Then, I’ll call it done. I could have been finished three weeks ago, but broke out in full body hives. Those are clearing up now and I’m onto breaking glass like it grows on trees. The art would have been hung already if I’d not broken the glass to one frame once and another frame TWICE. I know, I’m a rock star. Blerg.

20130525_004029I thought I’d give a remodel teaser by showing off the new fridge. It’s footprint is 24″ x 24″ and 67″ tall. Overall, 10 cubic feet with freezer on the bottom. A few cool features is the ‘quick freeze’ button. When pressed, it can freeze water into ice cubes (in trays, no internal maker) in less than 20 minutes. Now, that’s pretty awesome. Aside from the ice cube drawer, it has three other sizeable drawers, and I can fit much more it this freezer than the one in my old fridge. The fridge compartment seemed very small at first and it’s taken a few weeks to get used to it. However, it suits my shopping habits (once or twice a week) and as you can see, holds a good deal. I have a 18 cubic foot fridge and small chest freezer in the garage, so I use those for back up if needed.

I love the small footprint and the low annual cost to run it (under 60 dollars). Cost ($950.00) was approximately 1/5th  of my overall kitchen budget, but to me, well worth it. The kitchen seems much larger now that it is in place. Stay tuned…

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Cakes are for the kids, these are for YOU

vanilla custard coconut cupcakes

Vanilla cupcakes with vanilla custard filling, topped with vanilla frosting and toasted coconut

A few weeks ago, a friend placed an order for birthday treats for a set of twins who were turning 40. We both agreed cupcakes would be less hassle to serve, so I set about coming up with two types of cupcakes to suit each twin. I came up with these — three dozen of each.

Vanilla cupcakes with vanilla bean custard, topped with a simple vanilla frosting and toasted coconut and dark chocolate cupcakes filled with butter salted caramel, topped with cocoa frosting and toasted pecans. I swear, I turned around to get one and POOF! They were all gone.  I haven’t posted the recipes, but if you must have, please let me know and I’ll post. Cheers!

caramel filled choc cupcakes

Dark chocolate cupcakes filled with butter salted caramel, topped with cocoa frosting and toasted pecans

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Updated (4.24.13) Dr. Olaf Prufer, I raise a glass in your honor today

Update April 24, 2013: Olaf has been added to the National Forest Service’s page on Hopewell Culture as a historical figure in Hopewell  archaeology. I’m glad that his contribution to Ohio archaeology and specifically, Hopewell continues to be recognized.

July 29, 2008:

Dr. Olaf Prufer died yesterday after a long battle with cancer….so may begin any obituary that will be written.

I’ve been sitting here for awhile, swirling a two finger scotch, thinking about you. Here’s my toast to you, old man—

I know you’d hate this sort of shit, but I want to share why so many of us remember you affectionately while recognizing you were a hardass, often crass, and brutally honest.

You were cantankerous.

For me (and many of my classmates) you were a shining light in an otherwise grey Ohio landscape. Never really giving reassurance, but rather, showing approval by not ranting and raving. And oh, how you could rant. Christ, your vocabulary was brillant and smattering of profanties made us grin or drop our jaws in awe.

Baring your teeth, you’d pounce, spouting impassioned views. You didn’t care if we agreed, you put your opinions out there, and often times with an intimidating force that many would not challenge. Some of us learned you would tolerate the challenge and often times, respect the challenger.

Your world view and travels intrigued me. With humor, with passion, you helped us make sense of a senseless world. Regardless of topic, I listened to you. You taught me to be a straight talker “no bullshit, Garrison” you’d say wagging a finger at me, demanding I look at a situation without sentimentality, political leanings, etc. Thank you.

You taught Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (Honors), my first anthropology class. From day one, you made a striking impression. You were lecturing on those in antiquity who could be considered the earliest anthropologists and you said in that accent of yours… “You know, all those motherfuckers.” Those writing dropped their pencils and stared at you. You didn’t notice. Your back was to us, looking out on front campus, your hands cramped into the front pockets of your black jeans, shoulders slouched over under your bomber’s jacket. The students whispered to each other “should we write down and all those motherfuckers?”

In a class on the history of anthropology, you once began a story, “So, my cat Fuckknuckles and I were going down a two track on the Navajo reservation with a case of Vienna sausages…”  I don’t remember the rest except it involved the Navajo police.

In another lecture class, I’d chosen to write a series of research papers on famous women anthropologists (“No feminist bullshit, Garrison!”) A few minutes before I presented my second paper aloud, you informed me she had been your Harvard advisor. My heart sank; you were going to shred me. I began reading and you stopped me and offered me a gummy lifesavor. I stared at you completely stunned by your mischeviousness. You grinned and told me to continue. When I finished, you reached over and patted my hand.

Right before I graduated, you found me smoking a cigarette on the front steps of Lowry. I told you I’d embarassed myself during a recent gathering where Tim White was present. You grinned an told me a story. You’d driven all day with a bad cold to get to a conference. You arrived exhausted and feeling miserable. You got into an elevator with an older woman and the older woman helped you to your room and quite literally tucked you in. The next day, you walked into the conference and discovered to your horror that the woman who had put you to bed the night before was Margaret Mead.

And then, there are those films that were shown my senior year! I’d nearly forgotten about those. You were up in Lima (I believe) and had the graduate students digging in the snow and sleet and rain. And after hours, the cameras still rolled. Owen singing “Over the Rainbow” (thank goodness for silent film) and then, scene with you dancing.  You came into the room towards the end of the film and laughed, shrugged your shoulders and shaked your hips to which we all roared.

These are some of the stories I recall and laugh outloud when I do.  Oh, how you could light up a room just by walking in and opening your mouth. You were much more than antedotes and stories. An icon, a strong, brillant man who shared his knowledge willingly with his students. I am appreciative of every class, lecture, story, office hours (especially those later on held at the Tavern), and moment you spent investing in MY education.  Your teachings provided a strong foundation for my LIFE and I am honored to have been your student.

Opie and I discussed today the sadness we feel knowing the world (and us) didn’t have the chance to understand a tenth of your genius. We are stunned that your incredible mind is gone. You wrote a lot and we’re hopeful that you wrote your memoirs. I will miss your laugh, your quick wit, and that grin of yours. Also, your seriousness. How you paced when you lectured, determined, tossing up your hands.

Thank you, Olaf. I pour a second scotch. May you have reached heaven half an hour before the Devil knew you were dead.

Postscript: The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made in his honor to the Ireland Cancer Center, University Hospitals, PO Box 74947, Cleveland, Ohio 44104- 9927, indicating that the gift is for Multiple Myeloma research.

Photos borrowed from Jason Prufer’s myspace page (black and white originally from Beacon Journal, 1978, i believe. The second one is from an anthro page out on the web… so Prufer… teeth barred and fist clenched).

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Yes, “that’s all” I did today

This is part vent and part ‘hey, look what I did today’ post. Not sure why other people’s comments sometimes bother me more than others. That’s the vent part of the post. It’s been a long few days for me; not feeling like myself. I’ve been feeling a little down, also not sure why. I spent yesterday with good friends at two different Easter gatherings and it was good to see them. I’ve been so consumed with the kitchen remodel, haven’t been very social–aside from the park. We’re there, rain or shine every day. Otherwise, little miss Sky drives us all bonkers.

Kitchen 2_4.1.13There’s a woman at the park who frequently chats me up and since she found out I’ve been doing a kitchen remodel, she asks me about it. She often comments that she doesn’t understand why it’s taking so long (errr…) and when I tell her what I did that day, she says (almost every time, without fail), “that’s all?” Yup, that’s ALL.

This is what I did today. I spent 10 hours squaring up the shallow cabinet, cutting new shelves, shelf pegs, and figuring out how to make notches on the underside of the shelves (so the shelves will rest on the pegs securely). More time than I’d like to admit was spent working on a top cap. The cabinet needed a top cap, but I also wanted to hang my grandfather’s photo higher on the wall. I think it looks really good and well, honestly, that’s all that matters. HA.

I’m doing what the previous owners did and surely, my careful placement of shelves will drive future owners batty as well. However, unlike the person who original built the cabinet, I’m not going to use glue and obscenely long nails to secure every shelf.

Often, when I do DIY projects, I use my grandfather’s level and ancient drill. I hope through osmosis, the tools will guide me to do a better job. Using his tools today, I felt soothed. Having his photo (leading the Kent Memorial Day parade) back on the wall, makes it MY kitchen. I’ve missed seeing it every day. I had a moment of panic this morning when I couldn’t locate it; I found it stashed beside the Gibson. I’m sure at the time, it made sense to stash it there… shrug.

front garden 3.30.13Yesterday, I spent sometime in the front garden taking advantage of the recent rains to do some weeding. Somehow, when I wasn’t paying attention, Spring came to Wildlands. Everything from the pear and peach trees to the star jasmine over the arbor, to nearly all the sages and salvias are in full bloom—and it looks beautiful. Still a bit wild, but beautiful nonetheless.

I’m proud of the remodel—regardless of how long it’s taken. As I’ve got a cattle dog personality, once it’s done, I’ve got a dozen other things to do around the house. I’m smiling now—I’m going to love telling the lady at the park that it’s going to take me at least a week or more to get the art studio organized. HA.

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Kitchen update

Kitchen 4_3.23.13It’s been another month since I updated and I can say, the punchlist is long but progress has been great. I am hoping to have the major items on the list completed by Tuesday evening. Left outstanding will be a few items I need to build—the two pull out cabinets on either side of the fridge. It’s my hope to have those completed in the week after next.

You may look at the photos below and think, huh, why’s it taking so long? Because things take longer to do if your mind is on never having to do it again. Yesterday, I spent nearly six hours taking apart and partially (yes, sadly, only PARTIALLY) sanding the nook table. Also, things come up. The electrician comes to replace two can lights only to realise, they can’t be recessed because of attic joists, so he replaces the two with one and leaves me with two holes in the ceiling. Awesome.

I spent two days repairing the nook benches and lids. They’ve taken a lot of abuse in the last eight years and a lot of their trim had come loose or fallen off. Each time a piece has come off, I’d place it in the garage. I found all the pieces and took the time and care to put the nook back together, properly. I’ve learned a lot since I built that nook. It’s all the little things that eat up your time, the things that take days but aren’t noticeable in a photo and probably will never be noticed by anyone else, but that would be quite noticeable if I’d NOT done it. Make sense? Yeah, I need my head examined for doing this remodel on my own; trust me. I know.

The total cost to date (and I’m over my original budget of 4,500 with the purchase of nook fabric, a new jigsaw, lighted potrack, and contractor fees to hang potrack) is 4,600.00. Nearly 1,000 went to the new fridge, another 1,000 to contractors (plumbing, electric, and pot rack hanging to joists in the attic), 800 to new counter, and the rest has been tile, a few tools, and odds and ends (paint, hardware, etc). I totalled up the cost of sandpaper—just under two hundred dollars – yup. Crazy, eh? My mom has kindly offered to make me new cushion covers for the nook benches. I hadn’t planned on replacing the cushions but the off white EVERYTHING in the old kitchen’s got to go. Seriously.

Other fun things—you realise that the chalkboard trim you’d so carefully installed (or so you thought) two years ago (under a bit of duress, in my defense) is NOT level. The wall needed repair before the subway tiles went up, so that took five days to repair the wall, install the tile, and replace the trim.

I could go on and on and bore you to tears. So, here are some photos to give you an idea of what I’ve been doing…

kitchen 1 _01.28.13_before

kitchen 1_3.23.13
3.23.13- pod lights added to shine down on the counter. I love how they highlight the upper cabinets. I CANNOT wait to get my dishes and china back into the cabinets. The lights are on a dimmer switch, so can be used to provide good light for working and soft ambient light the rest of the time. I added trim to the upper cabinets to dress them up just a bit. The trim on the cabinets matches the nook’s trim. Sadly, I’ll be having open cabinets for awhile. It’s partially a budget issue, but more sadly, the fact I couldnt’ find a cabinetmaker (after calling five and having three come to the house) willing to make wood frames (for glass inserts). The upper-most cabinets didn’t have doors on them when I bought the house. The job was too small (total of 10 doors) or too time-consuming as the upper cabinets aren’t square and irregularly-sized, they can’t be just ordered from one of their fancy catalogues. I’m pretty sad about that, but one day, I’ll get the glass doors.

kitchen 2 _1.28.13_before

kitchen 2_3.19.13
3.22.13 The tile walls are done. The chalkboard’s back up and done. The nook has two coats of poly, ready for a third.

20130324_123711I’ve been working on the tall shallow cabinet. Got the doors hung after making modifications to the cabinet itself. That’s a lot of time taken up for something that I thought would take an hour. Nope. I’ve recyled one set of upper cabinet doors here. The other set is too wide. For now, I’ll use the super thin old glass until I break that (just being real here, folks) then replace it with thick old wavy glass. Postscript 9.18.13: Is anyone surprised that I broke the glass within a week of hanging the doors? I’m not. It was very thin glass and it’s a high traffic area. So, I got my much-wanted wavy glass sooner than later. :)  Yay.

kitchen 3_before

kitchen 3_update 3.23.13
The cabinet doors are back up (minus the doors under the sink. I took the old wider door (which was too heavy and the hinges sagged) and cut it in half, matching the rounded edges. Side by side, it’s hard to tell now that it was ever one door.

There have been a few funny and not so funny moments and everything in between. After getting the lower cabinet base painted with milk paint—to perfection, I went on to apply the paste wax (just as I have a dozen times before) but this time, the wax would not buff, leaving a milky white hardened layer. So, I had to sand the cabinet base back down to wood and start anew. I switched to water-based poly and applied three coats sanding in-between. The finish is smooth as silk and I’m happy with them. The cabinet doors need a few more coats of milk paint, then poly and hardware. I’d misplaced the hardware and spent a few days freaking out. I found it all this morning—in the box with the silverware. Huh. Okay. They are pewter, so I guess that makes sense…

Funny things along the way like sanding a plaster wall after multi-day repairs—with all the ceiling fans on in the house. Awesome. Plaster dust coated EVERYTHING in the house. And I do mean EVERYTHING. I spent all day Friday dusting, vacuuming, dusting some more, and doing a final vacuum. Honestly, it was really funny.

Funny not funny

blue jeans (and thigh) meet belt sanderWhat wasn’t funny? Tussling with the belt sander twice in the last three weeks. The first time, I had terrible bruising and road rash on my abdomen. My sweatshirt got pulled into the belt and my skin along with it, leaving a 3″ x 4″ swath. I took great care not to get it infected, but it’s going to scar. Yesterday, the belt sander caught my jeans and this was the result. Needless to say, I’m putting the belt sander away and going back to the warmer, friendlier hand sander.

Siddy Sky Park 3.16.13
Here are the dogs and how they celebrated St. Patrick’s day.

On a lighter note, Sky made me very proud, if not a bit embarrassed yesterday. I introduced the electrician (who was OK, did fine work but who annoyed me a bit) to the dogs and warned him that Sky isn’t very friendly because she’s actually a bit shy and a persistent watch dog. He said what everyone (including myself before I had a dog like her) says—“dogs love me!” Okay, that’s cool. She let him pet her but that was it. He went up into the attic (access through my closet, so yes, that does mean all my clothes are now hanging on the elliptical) and Sky laid down on my bed.  I’m in the backyard, using the belt sander, when I feel my phone vibrate. It’s the electrician calling. I turn off the sander and I can hear Sky—deep growls and very mean-sounding barking. I rush inside; baby girl’s won’t let the electrician off the ladder and out of the attic. I apologized, but inwardly, I smiled. She got a few salmon treats for being ever watchful and wary of strangers who are in our home.

A friend of mine who writes for our neighborhood paper came over yesterday and wants to do a story about my remodel when the kitchen’s done. She is beyond impressed at the budget and the work I’ve been able to do. Yes, I’ve had help (Neal, couldn’t have done this without you!!), but my ability to do the work mostly myself and have the confidence to do it with less than 5,000 impresses even me. My friend recently got a bid for 70,000 to redo her kitchen. And yup, more extensive than mine, but my thought to her—having such a small budget really made me focus on what I wanted and what I needed and seeing where those lined up cost-wise and vision-wise.

I’m working hard to get nearly everything done by Tuesday…that’s when the lighted pot rack goes up. Fingers crossed.

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My, What Pretty Chrome You Have


Kitchen before (1.20.13)

As it’s been a month, I thought I’d provide you all with an update on the kitchen mini-renovation. It’s been a very productive month, though my progress has been hampered by a few injuries, a nasty chest cold, and slow responses by subcontractors. However, today was a milestone and I’m excited to share it with you.

kitchen 1_2.22.13

Kitchen 2.22.13. COUNTERS!

The cabinets have been shortened by six inches and the wall behind them is repaired. This work took a lot longer than I’d anticipated. One surprise–the wall is the back and side of the cabinets; they are not boxes mounted on the wall. I’ve added support along their bottom and against the wall. I used the new Dremel multi-tool; it’s been quite handy and I’m glad I splurged and got it.

After going around town with my friend Emily to several counter suppliers, I became discouraged with the $2,400 -$2,700 price tag for the engineered quartz counters I’d been eyeing. I was leaning towards that material because I wanted white carrara marble, but nearly everyone I spoke to discouraged me. It’s too soft. It’s too porous. It’s not in style. Well, I’ve never been one to follow trends and every surface (granite, wood, engineered quartz, marble) have their pros and cons.

2.22.13_new sink

Undermount sink (28 x 17 x 9.5 inches)

My friend Steve was stunned to hear the quotes I’d gotten and took me Granite Outlet in Rancho Cordova. There, in a warehouse full of slabs, I picked out the white carrara marble three times. That was enough for me to give up on trying to find something I wanted more. I nearly fell over at the counter when I heard the price for two slabs and counter/sink installation— $800.00. The supplier explained that marble is out of fashion and it’s a slow mover, so they’ve had it on sale. I smiled ear to ear.

The new sink is actually SMALLER than the old one but is nearly twice as deep. I special ordered this one through Home Depot. I had to go that route because the cabinet is odd-sized (29.5 inches)—of course. While smaller, the sink seems huge and I’m tickled pink.

Neal and I installed the tile wall; due to the size and special cuts, this took five days. However, you must admit, the effect is stunning. The slightly miniaturized subway tile (2 x 4″ in lieu of traditional 3 x 6″) with the dark grey grout really compliments the stove and doesn’t overwhelm the room.

bead detail

Beaded detail on tile wall with grey grout

For this wall, I wanted to add a decorative detail, well, honestly, because I fell in love with this beaded trim. It reminds me of a milk glass vase Bee gave me for my birthday a few years ago. In fact, the wall seems taller due to the height of the tile. Oh, yes, I also removed the 20″ wide shelf that spanned the space above the fridge, stove, and doorway. Before and after:


1.30.13 (before). Note the shelf above the doorway and archway.


Tile wall complete (outlet has been changed out and new cover installed since picture was taken) and Wedgewood has replacement bulbs!

Of course, when Neal and I moved the stove back into place, the oven wouldn’t stay lit without pushing the reset button…every time. MM had a look at it and put me in touch with the Wedgewood guru who arrived yesterday (2.21.13), armed only with a few wrenches and a screwdriver. He fixed the oven, lubed the knobs to prevent gas leaks, repaired the oven door’s hinge and re-installed the door springs, AND tweaked the timer. He’s been working on Wedgewoods (and Merril O’Keefe stoves) since he was 15. I dared not ask how old he is, but I suspect he’s got at least 50 years experience. He was just great. If you’ve got an old appliance in the Sacramento area, I highly recommend him (Bud Ferris, Ferris Appliance).

There’s been very good, okay, and not so okay moments during the last month. Here’s a few…


With great courage, I picked up the hammer and chisel and began removing the old 2 x 2 tile only to discover MORE tile underneath. And where they’d removed that tile? Solid plaster. Oh, awesome.


Cabinets cut off, all the tile and over an inch of chicken wire/concrete mesh behind that removed. Seeing the wall done to lath, the cabinets not repaired—this may have been the low point.

Sadly, I don’t have a picture of Neal installing tile or spending a VERY long Saturday updating the electric outlets (from almond to white) and cutting the backer board to cover the lath. He’s going to ‘supervise’ the remaining tile work. I’m excited to do it but will leave the tile cuts to him. Smile.


Getting ready for new counter and sink installation (2.21.13)

I removed the plumbing, the old sink, and the plywood counter myself. Many of the screws were too rusted to remove with a screw driver, so I resorted to using a hacksaw on many of them. While I was a bit intimidated by removing the plumbing, a contractor friend talked me through it ahead of time and actually, it was pretty easy. The plywood? Not so easy. Let me tell ya, that’s 4 hours of my life I’m never, ever getting back. Ha.

Ski, Zara, and Jack (out of frame) came over to help paint. Haven't had a painting party since my Kent days. Felt really good to have them here

Ski, Zara, and Jack (out of frame) came over to help paint. Haven’t had a painting party since my Kent days. Felt really good to have them here

The goal of the remodel is to improve the functionality of the kitchen and use more timeless finishes. My inspiration has been and continues to be the beautiful early 1950s Wedgewood stove. It’s late and I have a contractor coming in the morning to re-install the garbage disposal and plumbing beneath the sink.


So, I bid you a good night from Wildlands. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.

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Chicken Salad Sliders on BP Biscuits

Chicken Salad Sliders

Chicken Salad Sliders

On Sunday I thought I’d put the roast chicken left overs to use by whipping up a batch of chicken salad. As I didn’t have any bread in the house, I made baking powder biscuits. The result? These cute little sliders.

First, let me make a pitch for baking powder biscuits over cream ones. Those certainly have their place near and dear to my heart, but recipes for those often require buttermilk or heavy cream, or both. I didn’t feel like souring milk or running out to the store. Lastly, baking powder biscuits aren’t as fatty AND the dough is fool-proof.

A hot oven is the secret to any good biscuit.  Before you get the baking supplies out, turn on the oven and pre-heat it to 450 degrees F.

This recipe yields approximately 2  dozen biscuits (using a 2 inch scalloped biscuit cutter).

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
5 TBSP shortening
3/4 c. milk

1. In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the shortening and combine using a fork or your fingers until the mixture is grainy and the shortening is well-incorporated. Make a well in the dough and add milk, folding the ingredients to form a dough. It should be sticky, but not unmanageable. If it is, add a few TBSP of additional flour.

Nothing better than hot biscuits out of the oven!

2. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Pat out to about 1/2 thick, then lift the dough off the surface, apply a bit more flour to the working surface and return the dough to it. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out enough biscuits to fit on 2 cookie sheets. As necessary, fold up the dough and roll out again. Cut as many as you can each time as multiple roll outs will toughen the dough.

3. Bake at 450 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes.

While the biscuits are in the oven, make the chicken salad.

2 c. of roasted chicken, chopped
3 TBSP of yogurt or plain mayo
2 tsp. dark mustard
1/2  c. finely chopped celery
1/4 c. finely chopped red or green onion
3 TBSP finely chopped dill pickles
1 tsp. pickle juice
few splashes of hot sauce or dollop of wasabi
pinch of salt
1 tsp (or more) fresh cracked pepper (to taste)

Combine ingredients and tweak to taste. If it’s not wet enough, add an additional tsp. of yogurt or mayo. Place chicken salad on the biscuits. You may have a few biscuits left over.

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