Teeny Tiny Potatoes (and other stuff)

You know when you see something and you just have to have it? It doesn't matter if you'll never use it. Or, in my case, you are cutting it out of your diet. It must be yours.

That's how it was when I spotted these: Teeny Tiny Potatoes at Trader Joe's. I actually cooed at them like they were a baby. If potatoes had cheeks, I would have pinched them. I had to have them. I wasn't going to eat them, but there was bound to be somebody at the house who would. In the very least, I could peek at them in the pantry every so often and think how cute they are.

As it turns out, they went perfectly with the Pork Chops with Apples and Thyme I had planned for dinner. Jeff thought they were just as cute as I did and gobble them up.

Pork Chops with Apples and Thyme
From Yahoo Foods
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons canola oil
4 (4 ounce) boneless pork chops, 1/2 inch thick, trimmed of fat
1 small onion, sliced
1 tart apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup apple cider or apple juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1) Mix 2 tablespoons broth and cornstarch in a small bowl.

2) Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add chops and cook until browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

3) Reduce heat to medium-high and add onion to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until it starts to soften and brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add apple and cook, stirring often, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining broth, cider (or juice), mustard, thyme and the cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring, until thickened and glossy, about 1 minute. Return the chops to the pan and heat through. Serve immediately.


Breakfast Room Updates

We are almost done with the Vanilla Bean breakfast room. I am hoping that by this time next week, I'll have a new place to eat my Wheaties. Just kidding. I don't eat Wheaties. I'm a Frosted Mini-Spooners girl.

Table & Chairs Before

Chairs During


The process: The chairs were first sanded down and got about 3 layers of white paint. I distressed the edges with my palm sander and then went back over the exposed wood with a Q-tip dipped in dark wood stain (I wiped it off soon after it was applied). It really brought out the distressing detail.

The table was a bit more work. When we first brought the table home, we discovered it was too short and we couldn't get out legs under when sitting down. So, if you look closely at the bottom of the legs, you will see how we heightened the table (by we, I mean Jeff). He did a great job blending it all in and you can't even tell!

I didn't sand off the exisiting green paint. Just painted on about 3 coats and used the same techniques as I did on the chairs.

Also, it's DIY Day at A Soft Place to Land...check it out for more projects!


The Secret Life of a Cushion

We all do it. You know you do. You say you just want to update the look of your dining room. Maybe add a little color to your breakfast nook. So, you head on down the the local fabric store and pick up a couple of yards. Maybe you'll go with a bold pattern this time. Or, get in on the burlap craze.

I'm talking about recovering a chair cushion. An easy, affordable way to change the look of your chairs. Some of us are able to control this urge. Then, there are others that need an intervention.

With this in mind, I give you Exhibit A:

Looks harmless, right? Four of these chairs were given to us. I liked the curves of the legs and back and thought they would be great in our breakfast room. I got most of the paint sanded off. Repainted them. Distressed them. Then, it was time to work on that seat cover. My plan was to strip down the seat cushion, put a simple piece of fabric on it, and buy a couple of cushions to put on top of that. I picked up some super cute ones at Pier One (this is the pattern...the shape of mine are a bit different).
First up, stripping off that brown fabric. That was easier said than done.

Which brings me to Exhibit B:

You might find it difficult to see the many layers of this seat. So, let me break it down for you.

And, it doesn't stop there. I got down to the "last layer", layer 6. A sweet, light blue striped fabric that goes perfectly with our walls and the cushions I picked for the chairs. But, upon further inspection (I didn't want to rip the striped fabric) I noticed there were at least three more layers. Possibly a fourth. For a grand total of 10 layers of fabric. And approximately 10 thousand staples.

Because the gifter of these chairs thought there were only two layers of fabric, an intervention in this case is clearly beyond my control. Clearly, someone before her had an addiction to recovering chairs. What gets me the most is, why, after 10 transformation was it decided that these chairs should be given up on? What was it that caused this person to toss them aside? Perhaps purchase new ones? I will never know. But, as they say, one person's trash is another's treasure!


September Staycation

Four days ago I started a glorious staycation. When I am not busy slaving away in the Vanilla Bean Kitchen & house, I am a special events manager for a nonprofit in St. Louis. I have some down time until the next big fundraiser, so I decided to take a few days off and try to finish some of the gazillion projects I am working on. Or, in the very least, start a few new ones.

Here are a few of the things I am working on:

I picked up the above window pane at an antique store for $20. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to jump on the chalkboard bandwagon.

The green farmer's table below was purchased at the same antique store. I've been looking all over for a farmer's table, but couldn't seem to find one for under $250. This little guy was $150. He just needs a paint job to blend in a little more. The bench will go on one side (it just happens to look great w/ the Dockside Haze paint we picked for the kitchen).

On the other side will be two of these chairs we got from my mother-in-law. I'm almost done w/ one and cannot wait to show you the pics.

Last, but certainly not least, is the little sidetable I picked up below. At first glance it looks ordinary...but wait until you see what I found inside...


Dorie, oh how I've missed you!

Poor Dorie. For the last several months, Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan has remained untouched. Sure, she had the company of Giada, Bobby, Martha and others. But, I know she was feeling neglected.

It was this week's choice of Flaky Apple Turnovers that got me back in the kitchen. I am a sucker for anything apple. Pie. Bars. Butter. Tini. So, thank you Julie at Someone's in the Kitchen for getting me back in the groove. Head on over to her blog to get the recipe. And, check out all of the other Tuesday's with Dorie bakers here.

There is a lot of down time with these turnovers. The dough has to chill for a minimum of 3 hours. And, I could see why. Once it warmed up a bit, it was hard to work with. Aside from that, these were fairly easy to make. The sour cream gave the dough a great flavor. The only thing I would do differently is add more cinnamon. And ice cream.


A Room with a View

When you are looking for a house, you have your list of "must haves" and "willing to sacrifice." I was willing to negotiate on the number of bedrooms if the basement was finished. Because our dogs love to run...away, a fenced yard was at the top of our list. Vaulted ceilings would be nice. One of the biggest musts was an open living room and kitchen area. Or, at least an area that could be made more open. I'm not afraid to do a little work, if needed. That's what I have Jeff for, anyway.

First, we took down the hanging cabinets.

Eventually, we will add some hanging pendants here. Next, we addressed the ugly florescent light fixture above the kitchen island.

We wanted a hanging pot rack w/ lighting, so it wouldn't be so dark above the island. We found exactly what we were looking for at Lowes. Also, it made up for some of the cabinet space we lost by taking down the hanging cabinets.

Our next major project is painting. We started with the fireplace, which had mostly red bricks. Painting a fireplace is one of my least favorite jobs. The rolling. The jabbing the brush into the lines and bricks....my arm is still sore.

Our first attempt was at whitewashing. We used a 50/50 mix of white paint and water. After painting a few bricks, we would wipe it off. It came out gray and not exactly what I was looking for.

So, off to Home Depot for some off-white paint. I think it looks much better!

If you look closely on either side of the fireplace, you can barely see the blue we will be painting the living room, kitchen and breakfast nook. There is no natural dividing line, so we are painting it all one color. After two days of rolling and jabbing at the fireplace, Jeff asked, "So when do we start painting the rest of the room?"

I'm picking up the paint tonight :-)


Chocolate Cupcakes with PB Frosting

I'm not breaking new ground here...just sharing the best peanut butter frosting recipe. Ever. I cheated a bit on these and used a box cake mix (hey...Sandra does it, so can I). I also tried a little trick w/ these cupcakes. I made mini cupcakes. So, when I ate 4 at one time, I didn't feel so bad. And you won't either!

Peanut Butter Frosting
Courtesy of Ina Garten

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract*
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth. Spread on cupcakes...or eat right off the spatula!

* I didn't have any vanilla on-hand and the frosting turned out just fine.