Friday, February 24, 2017

Plants and Flowers That Actually Grow In North Texas (and they might grow where you where you live too!)

My granddaughter came running into the house this evening and sighed, "It's magical outside!There are blossoms on the trees!" It's true; spring is in the air--at least for today. Which means it's time to think about flowers.

My parents were wonderful gardeners. I didn't necessarily inherit that talent, but they did pass on their love for things that grow. So as a gardener, I seek for plants that look lovely but don't require a lot of care. I usually choose perennials for my flower beds, and then mix things up a bit by planting annuals in pots. And don't be afraid to experiment. Many of my plants came from clearance shelves at Lowes; that way I can try new things without spending a lot of money.

Here are a few perennials that have worked well for me:

The tall plant in the front is canna. These plants grow from large bulbs and add wonderful foliage, height and color. The spiky leaves on the left are amaryllis. I have several in my yard, and all of them started out as house plants. Mine had already bloomed, but this is what the flowers look like:

Image result for images of amaryllis flower

This climber is clematis--delicate, beautiful flowers that come in a variety of colors, and lovely, lacy greenery. They do need something to climb. This is a better look at the blooms:

Jackmanii Clematis

This hardy plant is sage. It smells amazing, is a great filler, and is drought resistant.

These are my newest favorites--Turkish caps. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!
(And so do the hummingbirds!)

Lantana--very hardy and drought resistant. But be careful--these grow big 
and can take up a lot of space.

This spiky flower comes in blue and pink and grows into fun mounds.
(I can't remember/find its name, but if you see it in the nursery, it's a winner.)

Salvia--easy to grow, drought resistant.

I use begonias to edge my front flower beds. Technically, I don't think they are perennials, 
but usually about half of them come back every year. I think the fact that I mulch protects the roots.

Blue daze--a spreading, low-growing ground cover.

Cone flowers come in a variety of colors and are pure joy.

Just a few of my favorite annuals--perfect for pots:

The tall planter features geraniums and baby tears. The pot on the left holds an hibiscus, and the plant on the right is a gerbera daisy. I have them in my flower beds as well. I took these pictures late in the growing season, but here is what the daisies look like. So pretty:

Image result for gerbera daisy

The purple flowers are petunias. You can see pink sage and salmon begonias below.

These two potted plants came from dear friends. I think of them every time I pass by. On the left is a large, happy coleus, and the bird bath holds bamboo. Red sage is planted below.

And finally, sweet potato vine on the left, hosta in front, and aloe vera at the far back right.

Think Spring!

Friday, February 17, 2017

DIY Storage Bench

4/23/21 Four years later, this bench is still going strong! We did decide to recover it in a new fabric; click here to see the process!

Can we talk about how much I love window seats? My dream house definitely has a window seat, perhaps flanked by bookshelves so make it a reading nook. If our current place was actually ours and not a rental, I'd already be scheming to build one into our bay window.

As is, when I decided I needed a better storage solution for the toys in our living room, this DIY bench seemed like the perfect solution. Target had a basic storage cube on sale for $45 (if I was mother, I realize I would have built the bench. Alas...) Looking now, Ikea lowered its price of a similar shelving unit to the same price (it was $60 last month. Blechy. Why is furniture so expensive?)

After buying and assembling our storage organizer, we needed items for the cushion. We bought a giant, 3-inch slab of foam from Smith's (who knew, right?) for $20. We later saw the same size foam for the same price at Home Depot. We cut the foam to fit the top of our bench: 57 & 3/4 inches by 14 & 9/16 inches. Since we didn't have an electric knife (the cutting tool of choice for cutting foam at JoAnn's), we just sawed by hand using a serrated bread knife.

This left enough foam for mom to take home for a bench of her own, so in the end the foam was only $10 for each bench! Love. 

Now, I was tired with a newborn and not thrilled with paying money for MDF board and then bothering to drill and screw the cushion to our shelving. I thought we should just cover the cushion, put it on our cube unit, and call it good. Luckily, mom was in town to help me and insist that, like the tutorial, we affix the cushion to the bench. At Home Depot, a helpful employee suggested we use "hard board" instead of MDF board for our project. What is hard board, you ask? It's basically a strong and thin white board, and a giant sheet costs only $10. Plus, they cut it to size for free! We put the foam on the hard board and then draped them in quilt batting, as per Mommy Vignettes suggestion, to keep the cushion smooth.

Tightening the batting as I went, I stapled it to the bottom of the hardboard for a smooth, finished look.

We found some awesome fabric on clearance at Joann's for... how much was it a yard, mama? I forget. Okay, you'd better shpeal everyone on the fabric, come to think of it. I'll just add the picture.(Aside from Mom: Fortunately I was there during a JoAnn's 50% off Red Tag event, so we found our Waverly upholstery fabric for $3 a yard! We chose an outdoor fabric that we hope won't fade from the sun coming in the window and will be relatively spill proof.) 

We cut the fabric amply big enough to wrap around the foam, batting, and board with three-ish inches overlapping onto the back of the board. You can see we measured and lined everything up upright on the cube organizer to make sure it would look just right, but finally I had to carefully flip the cushion pieces over to staple the fabric to the back of the hard board, pulling it taut as I went. The corners were the most time-consuming part; I tried to take extra care so the fold lined up at each corner to prevent asymmetry or puckering.

Now, how to attach the cushion? Mom was convinced that we could use the large Command velcro strips. That way, we wouldn't have to drill holes into the shelving unit should we decide to use it in another capacity later. As much as I love these damage-free miracles, I was skeptical that they'd be sturdy enough to really secure the cushion (or that they would even be thick enough to adhere to each other. After all, there's quilt batting and fabric along the edges of the hard board). I was so wrong! These work like a dream; I put one large strip at either end of the board (one side on the hard board, the other on the top of the shelving unit), and these two strips alone work great for us so far. Unlike the blog post we followed, we didn't add legs. The height seems just perfect for us without them. I think it turned out splendid. We scored some bins for $5 a piece at Shopko to hold and hide the toys. 

Plus, because mom is awesome, she made these matching pillows and promised to make curtains in a coordinating gold fabric that was also on sale at JoAnn's. Tutorial forthcoming, mama?

Again, feel free to check out the recovering process four years later!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sweet Potato Burritos with Avocado Salsa Verde

9/6/20: I seriously still love this recipe! Still, I'm going to update it to reflect some of my tweeks. Since this is an involved recipe, I like to quadruple the spices and have my own "spice blend" in the pantry so I can just measure once and add 3.5 tsp of the blend to the sweet potatoes. Just a thought. Okay, on to the recipe...

California, how I miss thee. The wonderful weather, the self-driving Google cars, the parks every two blocks, and even the hipster eating trends. Okay, less so on the last one; I never even tried cold-pressed juice, and my first kale salad was in Utah, surprisingly.

Nonetheless, there seemed to be a self-awareness about healthy eating in our little town that a girl could appreciate. This meal makes me think of two things: California and Shay. Shay is the angel woman who brought me dinner not once, but thrice during those oh-so-difficult first months of new motherdom when SourPatch was so hungry and took such short naps. I have to say, this meal knocked me off my socks. It is amazingly delicious. It tastes fresh and flavorful, and it is packed with, well, vegetables. And the avocado sauce? It is sooooo good. So good.

I make this meal all the time, as, apparently, does Elin. I have to admit that it's tricky sometimes to avoid scorching the sweet potatoes. I've decided the key is to be generous with the oil and to check/stir the potatoes often. Also, if you've discovered the wonder of using silicon baking mats, I find they really help the potatoes achieve a nice, even roast without burning. Don't sweat it, though, if you accidentally let the edges get black. It's also a forgiving recipe. For example, Elin always leaves out the roasted red peppers, while I tend to omit the toppings. Sometimes I forget to buy cilantro and leave it out of the salsa, or my avocados are unusually large or small. Yet it always tastes delicious. Elin also uses corn tortillas and omits the cheese to create a gluten-free, dairy-free version which she prefers. So many options!

Also, I just spent a thorough 3 minutes browsing the internet to see if this recipe makes enchiladas or burritos. It seems to be a hybrid. I'm going with burritos? It's a big decision... kind of stressing me out.

Sweet Potato Burritos with Avocado Salsa Verde

4 medium sweet potatoes
¼- cup olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
¼-½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
8-10 whole wheat tortillas (I use 8 inch)
1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into long strips
2 15-oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2+ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Avocado Salsa Verde
3-4 ripe avocados
2 cups mild salsa verde, jarred
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 limes, juiced (approximately 4 tablespoons lime juice)
½ cup packed cilantro leaves
Optional: 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh jalapeño, deseeded and roughly chopped

Optional toppings:
shredded romaine
diced red onion
sour cream

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse, peel, and chop the sweet potatoes  into large, bite-sized chunks, about 1.25x1.25x0.5 inches. In a separate bowl, mix the olive oil with the cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Toss the sweet potatoes in the olive oil, making sure they are lightly coated in oil on all sides. Spread the sweet potatoes in a single layer onto two large baking sheets lined with foil or parchment paper. Bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring the sweet potato chunks every 15 minutes, until they are cooked through and caramelized around the edges. 

2. While the sweet potatoes bake, make the avocado sauce. In a food processor or blender, combine the avocado flesh, salsa verde, garlic, jalapeño (if adding), lime juice, and cilantro. Blend until smooth and well-combined.

3. To assemble the burritos: In the middle of each tortilla, put down a couple strips of roasted red pepper, then add 1/3 cup roasted sweet potato chunks. Add 1/4 cup black beans down the center and top with 1/3 cup of Monterey jack cheese on top. Gently roll the burrito. Assemble remaining burritos. Bake the burritos at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the tortillas are lightly crisp and golden.

4. Carefully transfer each burrito to a plate. Smother it in avocado sauce and add desired toppings.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Upcycling--Gift Pillows

I think I have mentioned before that I volunteer at a community resale shop. I love it because the proceeds help pay for worthy causes in our area. And I work with a group of wonderful women.

One of the side benefits, however, is that--along with huge quantities of things that I would never buy--I occasionally find a treasure. Recently one of those treasures was a small pile of beautifully appliqued pieces of fabric. It was clear that they once had been part of something else and that someone had, like me, felt that they should be rescued.They reminded me of the needlework I saw and admired on a trip to Panama a few years ago. My guess is that they originated there or somewhere close by. Although I am trying to decrease not increase my own pile of projects. I couldn't resist them. Here are a couple of examples:

So the question was, what should I do with them? Well, my sister's birthday is coming up, and she has three chickens. (Each hen is fondly named after one of our great-aunts.) What would be more fun than to make her a pillow depicting her chickens? The piece was just a little too small to fit a standard 12 x 16 retangular pillow form, so I sewed a narrow strip of black around each side of the block to make it the correct size and then cut a backing of black the same size as the completed front. (The smaller pillows I simply stuffed with polyester fiberfill.)

I like the way the black edging frames the piece. It is truly fabric art:

One of the amazing things I saw in Panama was the purple crabs on Isle Iguana. When I found the crab square, I knew it had to go to a friend who shared that adventure with me:

I love the simplicity of the cat, and it made me think of my sister-in-law who has an incredible way with animals, including her beloved cat. So this pillow is for her:

It is true that these blocks are unique and things like this don't come into the shop often. However, we do get quite a few needlework projects. Some of them have been completed and framed but are ready for a new frame or a new way to be displayed--like a simple pillow. Others I have seen come neatly folded in a bag, the stitching completed but not displayed. That was the case with this Irish Blessing counted cross stitch. Once again, I turned it into a pillow, and it became a birthday gift for another amazing sister-in-law who was born on St. Patrick's Day:

So next time you are browsing at a thrift store, flea market or garage sale, look for a hand-made work of art like these and give a gift that has been loved twice.