Friday, June 21, 2013

Before and after... back patio makeover


So the middle of June came and summer finally decided to grace us Montanans with her presence.  And let me tell you, when summer arrives in Montana, it is glorious! As soon as it gets warm, all I want to do is be outside if at all possible, morning, noon and night.  When we were first married, I never used to do much with flowers or really anything decorative for outside, but the last couple of years, I've been getting more and more excited about it. However, after a long dreary winter, our patio was looking a little... neglected.

(My dirty table!  Gross, huh? And below, the dead remnants of my little herb garden from last summer... sad.)
 Obviously, a little spiffing up was needed.  One major aesthetic improvement came when our vine finally got its leaves back.  As nerdy as it is, that vine is pretty much our pride and joy.  Since our patio gets the full-on afternoon sun, it didn't used to be very pleasant to sit out there for dinner, so probably at least five years ago Jesse and I planted this vine, but a couple of fierce hailstorms kept knocking it down as soon as it was getting big.  It's only been the last two summers that it's finally achieved the dreams we had for it all along, and now it provides perfect shade for our little table in the evenings!

And who doesn't love pretty little lights? :) I bought them last summer at Target and they were a great $25 or so investment.  They add nice atmosphere and actually put off a lot of light.
Does it look like I'm trying to block out the neighbors?  That's funny, because that's exactly what I'm trying to do!  Why?  I'm glad you asked.  It's because their back patio looks like this:

Pretty, huh?  (Please don't tell my neighbors I posted their back patio on my blog!) The bamboo shade was a freebie left over from someone's garage sale last year, and it's on its last legs.  This summer will, I'm sure, be its last. Then I'll have to come up with a new way to block out the ugly!

Next comes the fun part... flowers!  Jesse found four wine crates being thrown away and brought them home for me.  We turned them into two simple planters for flowers... I'll post a how-to on those soon. I love how they turned out and by setting them on the open edges of the patio, they somehow help to make it seem even a little more cozy and private back there.


And this lovely pot above is my mom's, but she left it at my house and headed down to St. George and hasn't come to reclaim it yet.  It was looking kind of lonely, so I  planted some flowers in it.  Much better than an empty pot, right?  Right!
 I apparently delayed buying herbs for so long that they were all sold out of the standards (basil, cilantro, rosemary, etc.) everywhere I looked, so I just decided to put flowers in the pot that had herbs last year. I wish I had herbs though.  Next year maybe I'll be organized and start my own seedlings early.

And there you have it!  Much improved, no?  My future plans involve a new doormat, possibly an outdoor area rug(??), and someday, my husband building me some modern patio furniture (this part may be just a fantasy, although he totally has the skills needed!) In the meantime, I'm looking forward to a long (I hope) summer of grilled veggie salads and cold drinks in this little spot of ours.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Biscotti, four ways

On a Monday afternoon Karen and I got together to solve the world's problems, and to make biscotti. Problem solving is best done with a cup of coffee in hand, and even better if there's biscotti to dunk in it.

We started with one basic recipe, then divided the dough into four bowls, making four different flavors. They are as follows: Mexican chocolate, butterscotch with burnt sugar, chocolate chip with white chocolate mint glaze, and almond with coffee glaze and toasted coconut.

The possibilities are endless. We came up with these variations based on ingredients we had on hand. Get creative and come up with your own combinations. Here are some we'd like to try next time:  spicy butterscotch (with brown sugar and a touch of cayenne), cranberry walnut with orange glaze, espresso with maple glaze . . . we could go on and on, but we'll spare you. Here's a good basic biscotti recipe to start with:

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely shredded orange or lemon peel (optional)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease two cookie sheets; set aside. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Place eggs and egg yolks in the well and stir into the flour mixture. Add butter and, if desired, orange peel; stir until dough starts to form a ball. Stir in almonds.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; divide into three equal portions. Shape each portion into a 14-inch-long log. Place logs about 3 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets; flatten logs slightly until about 1-1/2 inches wide. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until firm and light brown. Remove from oven and place cookie sheets on wire racks; cool 15 minutes.
3. Transfer logs to cutting board. Use a serrated knife to cut each roll diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. Place slices, cut sides down, on cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn cookies over; bake 10 to 15 minutes more or until crisp and golden brown. Transfer to a wire racks and let cool.
4. Makes about 84 cookies.
(recipe courtesy of


"When I am old I shall wear pearls." Isn't that the saying? No? Well, anyway . . . I wanted to make a necklace with a strand of freshwater pearls I had, so this is what I came up with. 

I randomly spaced some gold beads in with the pearls, and then added some wood beads, too. Here's the finished product, worn a couple of different ways.

 Karen says you have to punk it up (like with a Bob Dylan tee), since you don't want it to look "old lady". Or, maybe you do. We'll leave that up to you!