Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Patio + Garden Inspiration | White + Green

Lately we've enjoyed some absolutely gorgeous spring weather and it has me inspired and motivated to give our backyard + patio some much needed attention.  Like the rest of our yard we have lots of trees, which means lots of shade, so my options are a little limited when it comes to planting flowers.  I've conveniently used this excuse for the last seven years.  That, and my lack of a green thumb, both of which have prevented me from doing much of anything back there (except killing a few hanging baskets).

Looking through my exterior pinterest board I noticed a reoccurring theme: white, white, and more white.  Lots of hydrangeas and boxwood. Simple planters over flowing in shades of green and white.  I decided this was going to be my year to get on the horn and make our backyard space a little more lush and inviting.

I plan to add several Annabelle hydrangea plants with a boxwood border on one side of the patio.  And maybe add a couple Limelight hydrangeas along the path leading to the patio. We get a little early morning sun before the shade takes over which seems to be their preferred conditions.

^^Annabelle Hydrangeas^^

^^Hydrangeas with a boxwood border^^

^^Annabelle hydrangeas, boxwood, and urns filled with white flowers^^

In addition to the new plantings, I will add several oversized planters to our patio. I like simple planters and prefer stone or terra-cotta, but I'm not willing to pay over $100 for a pot.  That I will fill with dirt.  I found a few on Home Depot's website that give the right look for a more reasonable price, but I'd like to check them out in person first. Now it's just a matter of deciding on the style.

^^ Classic terra-cotta planters (From one of my all time favorite Cottage Living homes. Sigh.)^^

^^I think these are Restoration Hardware. (Very $$$) I like the look of wood square planters, especially when filled with round boxwood or topiary plants.  Something similar would look great flanking our back door.^^

^^Classic stone urns, probably a bit too formal for our patio, but oh so pretty.  Likely better for the front of a house.^^

^^It would be pretty to add just a bit of blue to the pots.   Or maybe have a pot with just lavender.  I haven't had luck planting lavender.  I think they need more sun.  We always had an abundance in our garden when I was growing up and the smell brings back so many good memories. ^^

^^A round up of some of my faves. From the pricey to the more affordable.^^

^^I'm also going to stock up on some additional seating.  We currently have a black wrought iron table and chairs and I'd like to add a little rattan + bamboo to the mix.  These Ikea chairs are stackable and would be easy to store away when the weather is bad.^^

I'd love to begin this weekend.  I'll be sure to post before and after pics as things start to come together.  Wish me luck.  Hoping I can make some of the plants last through the summer. My track record isn't the best. 

(sources for all images can be found here)

On My Nightstand | What I've Been Reading Lately

I have traded in my evenings perusing blogs in exchange for reading more books.  I don't watch much TV, unless it is Sunday night (Call the Midwife, The Good Wife and Mad Men - It's like I binge watch my TV for the week all in one night!).  I have a nice hefty list of summer reading already in place, starting with this one.  It's a 900+ pager, and a bit different than my normal books of choice, so I'll have to report back, but so far I haven't been able to put in down.

Here's what I thought of the above recent reads...

The Silent Wife - A fast paced, hard to put down book, along the same lines as Gone Girl.  The story is about two, very flawed, people who's relationship is coming to an end. You know from page one that she murders him but you don't know how and there are some twists.  I thought it was well written and recommendation worthy!

Bond Girl - I'd categorize this as mediocre chic-lit.  It wasn't witty enough or funny enough for me.  I like a little fluff reading every once in a while, but I really have to love the central character and I just didn't here.  I finished it though (not aways the case with me) but kept hoping it would get better. I didn't dislike it, it was just a so-so read for me.

The Husband's Secret - I really enjoyed this one.  Not as good As Gone Girl, but well written and fast paced.  You are dying to get to content of the mysterious letter, but I kind of predicted what it would say.  Sometimes that is a real downer but it wasn't the case with this book. Also, recommendation worthy!

This Is Where I leave You - Excellent read. It is told in male, first person, which sometimes isn't my favorite, but I liked it this time.  It's being made into a movie and the casting is BRILLIANT (except for Phillip, not at all how I pictured him).  Jason Bateman will play the lead and I pretty much love every movie he is in.  Family drama, sad and funny all wrapped in one.  Couldn't put it down.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends - Sorry, Rob Lowe, I still think you are a hottie, but should probably stick to acting.  The book is not well written.  I constantly felt like I was reading one of Andrew's papers and wanted to chime in with editing comments.  If the book was juicer, I could overlook the bad writing, but it wasn't.  I think he held back and I respect that since his sons and wife have likely read it, but it took  the drama away from his story. Other friends have really enjoyed it, so maybe I'm being picky.  He has a new book out too.  I will not be reading it.

Eleanor & Park - A sweet, quirky, story of first love between two unlikely characters.   It's young adult fiction. Well written and one that when you finish you are left wishing you knew more of how their life story enfolds.  Recommend too!

So, how about you?  Any must-reads to add to my summer list?!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

Happy Easter, friends!  Sorry to have been a bit absent from this blog the last couple weeks.  I was in a bit of a blogging slump.  No real reason in particular, I just didn't feel inspired to write, or even read other blogs for that matter.  I've been blogging long enough to know that sometimes that happens and it's best not to force it when you aren't feeling it.  Anyhow...  I managed to take a few pictures of our Easter celebration today and wanted to share them.

Last week was a doozie and as a result, my Easter planning was on again, off again more than once.  On Tuesday, Andrew broke out in a mild rash that turned out to be Fifth's Disease (a bizarre, but mild respiratory infection that results in a rash).  Always nice to get that call from school that says your child has an unidentifiable rash and needs to be picked up immediately.  Only to be sent right back after the doctor says he is no longer contagious.  Amazingly, it cleared up in a couple days.  Then Thursday evening, Charlie was hit with the worst stomach bug he's ever had.  Thankfully that too cleared up in 24 hours, but it left him (and me) feeling exhausted.  He was still a bit out of sorts today and not quite himself yet.  As a result, I ended up simplifying things quite a bit this year.  We still had my parents over for breakfast but it was just homemade cinnamon rolls, quiche (with a non-homemade crust), bacon, and berries.  With mimosas! Most of the flowers came from the garden (and maybe a few from the nearby park.  Oops. They were picked by my boys and almost at the end of their blooming life so I figured we were ok.)  The weather was spectacular and I was grateful for fever-free, rash-free, tummy-pain-free children! Rejoice!

^^ Easter baskets were very simple this year too: a toy (Lego for both boys), a book, a chocolate chick and a golden egg.  Charlie's also had a plush Olaf.^^

^^I loved their baskets this year! The baskets are from Williams-Sonoma, the large polka dot kraft paper is from Target, the ribbon is from my stash ;).

^^ Lego assembly ^^

^^ I made a little basket full of my sugar cookies for my parents.  I wrapped this up with cellophane too, but only took pics beforehand.  Basket from Michaels, linen dishtowel + bunny card from Everyday Occasions. ^^

^^ The bunny cookies in all their Easter finery, marked each place setting. ^^

^^ Handsome guys ^^

^^ Handsome boy in his aviators with a mouth full of candy. ^^

^^ With my Mum. ^^

(PS. Several asked about my dress...it is from Madewell)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Dinner | French Potato Salad + BBQ Baby Back Ribs

I don't ever remember reveling in the arrival of Spring with the same level of enthusiasm that I have this year.  After such a long winter, I think my senses are heighten.  Sun! Fresh air! Open windows!  I can't seem to get enough.  It is still chilly (it's not like we have entered short weather. yet.) but I feel confident we have finally left winter behind us. (though I'm not quite ready to take the coats to the dry cleaners for fear I might jinx it.) Sadly, tomorrow it is back to school for the kiddos.  It has been so wonderful sleeping in, having late and decadent  breakfasts and letting my guys play a little past bedtime.  Heck, I'm ready for summer break.  :)

Tonight we grilled out for the first time this year.  I made a favorite Barefoot Contessa recipe for French Potato Salad to go along with our BBQ baby back ribs.  I only make these recipes in the spring and summer, they signal the arrival of outdoor eating.  Recipes that taste and smell of sunny days.

  ^^ This potato salad was the very first Barefoot recipe I ever made, from her first cookbook.  That means I've been making it for almost 16 years!  I remember feeling fancy the first time I bought champagne vinegar. Haha. ^^

^^ I usually make it with a mix of white and red potatoes, but the red didn't look so great at the store.  The key to making this salad just right is not to overcook the potatoes.  They should be just slightly undercooked when you drain them, then place them in a colander and cover with a clean dish towel to finish the cooking with their steam.  Test them with a fork when they are still in the water, there should be a little resistance, if they fall apart or are completely soft they won't hold up well in the salad.  I almost over cooked them today, so I ran them under cold water to stop the cooking when I drained them and skipped the steaming step.^^

Barefoot Contessa French Potato Salad

1 pound small white boiling potatoes
1 pound small red boiling potatoes
2 tablespoons good dry white wine
2 tablespoons chicken stock
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 tablespoons good olive oil
1/4 cup minced scallions (white and green parts)
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves

Drop the white and red potatoes into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are just cooked through. Drain in a colander and place a towel over the potatoes to allow them to steam for 10 more minutes. As soon as you can handle them, cut in 1/2 (quarters if the potatoes are larger) and place in a medium bowl. Toss gently with the wine and chicken stock. Allow the liquids to soak into the warm potatoes before proceeding.
Combine the vinegar, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and slowly whisk in the olive oil to make an emulsion. Add the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Add the scallions, dill, parsley, basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss. Serve warm or at room temperature.

My favorite recipe for baby back ribs is super simple but made in two stages.  First with a dry rub cooked in the oven and second with sauce and finished on the grill.  This way you get the tenderness of cooking in the oven with the charred finish and smokey flavor of cooking of the grill.  I prefer a charcoal grill and the flavor it gives food, but it is far more challenging to control the heat than with a gas grill, so this recipe is perfect for us.  We use our favorite local BBQ sauce, but you could use any that you like.

^^ here is how they look after steaming, covered, in the oven for an hour and 15 min. ^^

^^ and then after covering in sauce and placing on a hot grill for a few minutes ^^

^^ This is Andrew's most requested dinner in the summer. ^^

BBQ Baby Back Ribs
(adapted from Jamie Deen)

2 TBS light brown sugar
1 TBS dry mustard
1 TBS paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp kosher salt
2 racks of baby back ribs
Favorite BBQ sauce

Pre-heat oven to 350.
Combine brown sugar through kosher salt in a small bowl to make the dry rub, break up lumps with your fingers.  Remove the silver skin from the underside of the ribs by sliding your fingers under the thin membrane and pulling it off.  Repeat with the second rack.  Rub the ribs on both sides with the dry rub.  Place ribs in a single layer on a large roasting pan and cover tightly with heavy duty foil.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and uncover foil.  Cover generously with your favorite BBQ sauce and place on a medium warm (ours is usually just hot) grill for about 5-8 minutes.  Grilling each side, until nicely charred and perfectly sticky.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Beauty + Bath Products

The boys have been on spring break this week, as usual, we opted for a stay-cation.  We tend to save our airfare dollars for our summer vacations when we can stay somewhere longer than a week, and the thought of a road trip makes me tense up and want to cry.  Living in the Midwest means you have to drive FAR to make it to warm temperatures and ocean waters.  I have lots of admiration for all my friends that make the drive every spring break.  I wish I had the stamina required, but I don't.  There are some benefits of staying home too.  There is no rushing around, bed times go smoothly because we are in our own home,  and we make an effort to get out and enjoy things in our own city.  This week we went to Columbus, Ohio for a couple days (a short car drive I can handle) and it was perfect.  The kids loved staying in a hotel, we ate out at great restaurants (bonus for me), shopped where they had a big Lego store (bonus for the boys), and spent a really fun day at a children's science museum.  It was just enough for all of us to do something a little out of the ordinary.  In our day of shopping, I stocked up on some old and new favorite beauty products and thought I would share them, just in case any of you are looking to switch it up or experiment in that department...

^^ I am a big fan of the Citrus line of Fresh body lotions and shower gels, especially for spring + summer.  I picked up this lip polish while in line at Sephora and I'm addicted.  I've used it daily even though it suggests 2x per week. Your lips feel amazing afterwards! ^^

^^ Speaking of lip care, I've gotten a number of requests to share my lipstick color. (thank you, by the way, even though questions like that always give me a little chuckle.)  I have not been purposefully evasive, I just hadn't had a chance to jot down the colors.  I actually combine 3 different shades to get the one you see here. (Why does Clinique keep discontinuing my favorites??)  I start with Covergirl Outlast Lipcolor in 625 (Sun Kissed), then add just a tiny dab of Covergirl 542 (Brazen Raisin).  I only apply the CG colors once, in the morning, then I use Clinique's Long Last Glosswear in Fireberry throughout the day.  I find the CG gives enough color to last all day but it can be drying on its own and I like a glossy finish.  See?  Not a simple answer. Ha. ^^

^^ Last summer when we had a layover in Michigan, I was killing time at a L'Occitane store and picked up this exfoliator.  I loved it so much, that I've used it weekly ever since and it leaves my skin super soft, refreshed, and dare I say, glowing?  Again, I could use it daily, but I stick with the recommended 2-3x per week.   For years (since age 12) my skincare routine was Dove + Olay, but I'm learning that there really are some incredible products out there that make a noticeable difference in my skin tone and overall appearance.  I fear I'm heading down the path of beauty product junkie, which I always prided myself on avoiding, thinking it was all just hype.  My Nana swore by her Olay and she had beautiful skin, but I think that might have had more to do with her avoiding the sun.  Which I don't.  However, I still like to keep my routine simple, I've just switched things out for what I feel are better suited products for this stage in my life.  I added the accompanying Immortelle Brightening Moisturizer this week and so far it is equally impressive.^^

We took Payton (our dear neighbor + friend) along with us to Columbus.  She is a 12 year old shop-a-holic.  After 6 hours of shopping, I was ready to just plop down with a Starbucks, but she kept me going.  It worked out well, because the boys went back to the hotel and put together new Lego sets,
while we shopped wherever we wanted.  I introduced her to the joys of the Paper Source (why oh why, do we not have one in Cincinnati yet?!?!) and she introduced me to a very cool bath store called Lush.   I have seen their products in department stores, but I had never looked very closely.  I thought it was all just soaps that looked a bit like sidewalk chalk.  While they have soaps, they seem to be known for their "bath bombs."  These giant balls of scented and sparkly goodness you drop in the tub.  Some fizz, some bubble, some just condition.  I might have bought a few too many because I knew Charlie was going to love to experiment and sometimes he's not super excited for bath time.  We've already tried a couple and OH MY GOODNESS do they smell incredible!!!  The whole bathroom smelled heavenly, and while the bath water turned a vibrant lavender color, there was absolutely no residue left when the water was drained.  I couldn't resist picking up a few for Easter baskets too, since they had some spring ones just for that occasion.

^^You swirl around one carrot to make a bubble bath and they are reusable^^
^^They describe these golden eggs as "sweet honey-toffee bath bombs dipped in creamy, moisturizing cocoa butter" Yeah, think I'll save these for me. :) All the Easter products can be ordered online, here.^^

(bathroom image sources can be found my bathroom pinterest board)