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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Trash To Treasure: Pallet Fence Project

I am so tired of chasing my garbage cans all over the yard and down the street on a windy day. We've had a lot of windy days lately! Furthermore, the cans look horrible sitting next to the garage. Plus there's all those random building materials and a pair of old tires someone dumped in our back 40 next to the garage. We tried putting the tires in our dumpster while we were remodeling, but the dumpster dude who picked it up after our remodel wasn't fooled and he pulled the tires out and left them next to the garage door. That's where they still were to this morning. So what's a girl to do with all that hideousness and no money to spend?

I was poking around on Pinterest the other day and came across a really clever project done by Desiree Guy over at Camelot Art Creations. She simply used an old wood pallet and some paint to make a really cute fence. Wouldn't you know that very same day I saw a stack of pallets listed on Freecycle? So I of course hopped right over there and put them in my little clown car. Have I told you about my car?

I brought the pallets home and stacked them in the ugly zone with all the other random building materials beside my garage of course! My husband came home and rolled his eyes at me. He's not a big believer in the whole "trash to treasure" mind-set.

So yesterday was the perfect day, sunny and not too chilly. I spread the pallets I got from a fellow Freecycler out on the grass to pick out the best one for the job. I was looking for one with fairly even spacing of the face slats, not too wide, not too broken, etc. Once selected I set about gently prying out the nails holding the face slats to the top board. They needed convincing with a pry bar and hammer, but I had to be careful not to break or split the wood.

Next I marked off a nice even triangular corner on both sides of the top of each board and cut those with a saw. I would have used my jig saw, but remembered that I didn't have any blades. I keep forgetting to buy those. Don't you hate that? So, my crappy circular saw it was! Once all the corners were nipped off I put the top board back in between the front and back face boards and re-nailed it about 2 inches below its original position. Lastly I cut the back face boards flush with the horizontal board I just re-nailed. I stood the pallet upright and it actually looked like a picket fence! Just that small symbolic language of "dog-earred" picket is all it takes to see this old wood pallet as a fence. We are talking about 20 minutes of time invested thus far.

Now, to get the little "fence" to stand up, the easiest way was to first make sure the ground was more or less level. I left it a little bit of a slope downward away from the house to make sure any rainwater would flow away from the house and not pool up. However, I didn't want it to be a hugely noticeable slope. Then I took two  welded steel fence posts (the sort you bang into the ground with a big hammer) and well... banged them into the ground with a big hammer. A 5-lb baby sledge to be exact. From there, I stood the new picket fence section up against the t-posts and ran several screws through the holes in the metal posts into the back side of my former wood pallet turned fence.

Two coats of paint, including the green metal t-posts on the back side, really made the whole "pallet" idea disappear and it truly looks like it was never meant to be anything other than what it is right now. Lastly, I decided it needed a little more cuteness, so I hung three flower pots on little cuphooks on the face of the new fence and put some pretty pansies in them.

As for those flower pots, they were 3 medium sized terra cotta pots I had laying around from last summer. I painted them with some leftover paint from my house colors to make them color coordinate and tie the whole look together. I also had an extra solar landscaping path light, so I drilled a hole in the top corner of the fence and stuck the solar light into the hole like a fence post lantern. This is really great when I need to take the trash out at night so I can see the cans (no I don't have a light on the side of my house!).

That's it. I spent a total of ZERO dollars. I used only free stuff, and items I had on hand left over from other projects. The whole project including painting (which was the majority of the time) was about 2 hours start to finish, including putting all my tools away.

So, if you find yourself in possession of some wood pallets, I challenge you to come up with something great and send me a picture of what you made!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rainy Day Gardening: Garden Markers!

As I stood with my face pressed to the glass looking longingly out my back door at the garden, the rain and cold kept me safely inside the house. What to do with myself? So I got to thinking I needed some new garden markers for my new patch of bliss out back!

I put on my rubber garden clogs, a jacket and grabbed a wire trash can and headed out back to collect some baseball-sized rocks. I was looking for smooth-ish ones, not jagged or lumpy. The rocks need to have pretty flat areas for painting on. This isn't a big chore around my house as the previous owners had some sort of rock fetish and must have bought a dozen truck loads of rock in various shapes and sizes from small gravel sized all the way up to boulders almost as big as me!

rocks ready to be painted

supplies I used: acrylic paint, water, rag, brushes, marker, clear lacquer
All I needed to do was clean them up a bit, so a quick wipe down with damp cloth and let them set to dry for a little while. Then I was ready to get started.

I began by painting rough shapes of the vegetable. You could just do words or anything you like, but don't be afraid of making "mistakes". They are just rocks. You could always bury them if they embarrass you! Or paint over them, or wash them off before the paint dries! Besides, the first coat will look pretty lame.

After the initial shape dries, go back with another color- maybe just slightly darker or lighter, and add a little shadow or highlight to begin defining shapes. For example on my "PEAS" rock, I started with a spring green pointed oval shape to represent the pod, then took a darker green and made round peas on top of the pod shape. You could make these very flat color combos so they look quite stylized and cartoon-like, or more gestural and less "perfect" like mine.

Starting is the hardest part
After the second color(s) dry a bit, take some black paint and a small brush to put the lettering on. I decided the black didn't really read well, so I outlined in white. Perhaps it would be easier to paint a white band on first and then put the lettering on top of that, but you wouldn't get the shape of the letters. Either way would be fine, the band of white would be much easier to do though.

Add lettering using a small brush
Once everything is completely dry, I took a fine point Sharpie (permanent) marker and drew in some details and outlines on the vegetable to really make it look the way I wanted it to. As you can see, the little painted veggies really begin to look nice at this point. They don't have to be perfect, but they should make you smile when you look at them rather than hang your head in shame. It's a fun project that serves a valuable purpose. It isn't rocket science or anything!

Two colors on the pea plus black lettering
Here are all my rocks with finished letters and veggies. They look kind of BLAH.

adding white outlines to make the design "pop"
Sharpie marker makes adding fine details easy
painting complete
finished rocks with clear lacquer coating ready for the garden

To complete the job I took the rocks back outside once the sun came out and I put 3 coats of clear spray lacquer to preserve the paint job. These should hold up nicely for several years use.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What's For Dinner?: Crab Arugula Salad

 I know, this all sounds pretty exotic, right? Well, not really. Readily available ingredients and basic equipment is all you need, and about 30 minutes to whip up something that seems pretty impressive. Hey, if I could do it in 20 minutes including taking a bunch of pictures, surely you can do it in 30! 
Crab Arugula Salad

To begin, make the dressing first:

dressing ingredients and equipment
The ingredients you will need (from left to right): dijon mustard- any brand is fine, ground black pepper, 2 eggs, salt, vegetable or canola oil, a lime, and most importantly is the food processor. Don't worry if you don't have one, an electric mixer or immersion blender would work. I suppose you could do it by hand if you really want to, but make sure you have uber strength in your arms and lots of stamina! Go buy a machine already! 

I used to just buy the cheap machines and treat them as semi-disposable. I would use them for a few years until they broke or the blade was too dull to cut and then I would buy a new one. Then I finally realized if I bought a good one it wasn't that much more expensive and it would last a lot longer. I have the basic medium-sized Cuisinart model, which comes with a general purpose top, and a chopping top and blades. Pictured here is the general purpose top.

The Cuisinart food processor has a tiny cup/stopper that goes in the center hole of the lid to prevent stuff from flying out, and it also has a nifty feature which I will use when preparing the dressing, which is essentially homemade mayonnaise using lime instead of lemon. 

Cuisinart Food Processor lid cap

See the little lid with tiny hole in the center? The hole is the perfect size for adding the oil at the ideal rate for making mayonnaise. I will explain more as we move along.

how to separate an egg
To begin, separate your egg yolks from the whites and put yolks in the bowl of your food processor. Don't be squeamish, just crack it into your hand and gently let the whites run through your fingers into the sink (or container for use in something else). Add 1 tsp dijon, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, and 2 tbsp lime juice (about 1 lime). Put the top on the processor and turn on the machine. When I'm blending small quantities I sometimes tip the entire machine at an angle so all the "goodies" go to one side and get mixed by the spinning blade. 

adding the oil with machine running

Now, put the little cup (if you have one) onto the lid and begin filling it with 2/3 cup vegetable oil. Just keep refilling it as it runs out into the bowl of the processor. If you don't have this feature, just pour it VERY slowly through the opening in the lid. 

See how slowly I mean by checking out the picture here:
a very slow trickle of oil into the mix is critical

Once you have added all the oil, you will have a nice thick white-ish mayonnaise. I'm using this as the main dressing for the salad. You could easily double the recipe and keep half of it in the refrigerator for a week or so to use on sandwiches and such. Won't your family be impressed?

finished mayonnaise dressing

peeling the jicama

Now to finish up, peel a small jicama (hick-uh-muh)- a brown bulb vegetable with texture and taste similar to raw potato or water chestnut. I like to peel it by cutting off both ends to a make flat surface for sitting on my cutting board, then I whack off the outer peel with my chef's knife. You could use a regular peeler or paring knife if you prefer.

jicama matchsticks
Once peeled, cut the jicama into thin slices(1/8-1/4" thick), lay the slices on their sides in a stack and cut again into strips (matchsticks). Put the jicama in a mixing bowl and pour juice of 1/2 lime, and 1 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper to taste over the top of the jicama. Mix well. 

mixture of fresh arugula and baby spinach
Now toss this mixture with 1-2 cups fresh arugula leaves, or combination of arugula and baby spinach leaves. Arugula has a strong peppery taste that some people (my kids) find objective. If I'm making this for adults I do just the Arugula, but for the kids I mix half and half with spinach. Toss well with the jicama to coat the leaves with a little of the oil and lime juice mixture on the jicama.

16 oz can crabmeat in the refrigerated section of your market

In a separate bowl mix 1 pound crab meat-I bought this 16 oz can in the refrigerated section at Trader Joe's for about $8. WOW! What a deal! Sure, you could use fresh crab, (are you rich?) or even use imitation crab if your budget is really tight, which makes this an affordable every-day option. In with the crab, I mix 2-3 green onions, sliced up (green AND white parts), 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, and all of the mayo dressing we made up above.

Here it is all mixed up with the dressing:

dressed crab meat mixture
All you have to do is plate it all up together. Put the greens and jicama mixture on a platter or low bowl, and scoop the crab mixture into the center. Garnish with a little fresh cilantro leaves and a wedge of lime and avocado slices. 

Enjoy!  (ingredient list follows)

Crab Salad:

16 oz crab meat
2-4 green onions, green and white parts, chopped
1/4-1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Green Salad:

4 cups fresh arugula leaves (or combination of arugula and baby spinach)
juice of 1/2 lime (approx 2 tsp)
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mayonnaise Dressing:

2 egg yolks
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
juice of 1 lime (2 tbsp)
2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil

Preparation time: 30 minutes
can be made ahead, leave dressing off green leaves until ready to serve to prevent wilting. Hold in the refrigerator up to 2 days.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hoppy Easter Everyone!

Today was all about gardening, but I did take some time to make some eggs tonight. So, to update my earlier post on Totally Awesome Eggs, I thought you might like to see pictures of my latest creations, with a lot of help from my 11-yr old son. While the control freak in me would like the colors to be darker and the patterns a little more all-over, ... it's not about me this time! The little guy had a great time cutting up neck ties and wrapping the eggs. So what if they aren't all perfect? I hadn't noticed the bag of ties I collected were predominantly in the red family until the eggs were done. :0)

Anyway, don't eat too much candy tomorrow! I'll be attempting to figure out what to do with all those boiled eggs and there just might be a recipe coming. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

April Fool's

What did you guys do for April Fool's Day? Nothing? Yeah, that's what I figured. Here's what I did... I know what you're saying, "it's a little late now!" Well, maybe you can file this away in your thinking cap for next year then. Do you file things in your thinking cap? Anyway...

I made "Grilled Cheese" Sandwiches and "Cupcakes". What's that?... You don't see anything so great about those? Check it out then smarty pants! Just like I said. Except it isn't. 

Okay, so the sandwiches are actually poundcake that I made from a mix (don't tell on me). I sliced it after it cooled off and then toasted each slice in the toaster. Then take a can of frosting (again with the judgement?) and I added some yellow and red food coloring until it looked roughly the color of that crappy American Cheese-food stuff that comes all wrapped in individual slices. GROSS. Anyway, the trick is to slather it on kinda thick so it oozes out just a little when you put the two slices together to form the sandwich. Then slice them in half and put on a plate. Totally convincing, right?!

For the "cupcakes" I made my usual meatloaf, even snuck in some veggies (hee hee) put the meat mixture in foil cupcake liners in muffin pans and then bake them off at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. While those were cooking I peeled and boiled some potatoes until tender (I suppose you could use instant if you really insist). Then put in some butter and milk, salt and pepper. Mixed this up real good with an electric mixer. Please don't use your food processor here. It tends to make the potatoes all gluey. The key is to get them really smooth, so you may need a little extra butter or milk than the usual mashed potato mixture, just careful not to get them runny. Plop a spoonful on top of each baked meat muffin. If you want it to look extra convincing, add a few drops of food coloring to the potatoes when you mix them. I did pink. To be real fancy, I chopped up some red bell pepper and chives very tiny in the food processor to get something resembling sprinkles. I added these on top of the potato for decoration.

Happy Belated April Fool's Day!

Extremely Awesome Easter Eggs!

So I'm thinking, I bet you would like to make something super impressive to celebrate Easter, right? But you don't have a lot of time and it needs to be easy. I've got the thing for you! 

Here's what you do:

Eggs, raw (as many as you care to make)
vinegar (any kind will do)
rubber bands
old t-shirt (preferably white cotton)
silk neck ties (they must be silk, 100%)
enamel or glass pan for boiling (this is very important)

Begin by taking the neck ties apart. Cut off the labels and slit the seam up the back side. Remove the inner fabric and the lining fabric at both ends and discard. This doesnt have to be precise, just hack them out with scissors. Chop the silk part into lengths roughly 6-7" long.

Wrap each egg in a piece of silk. The silk must be placed with the "right" side against the egg. Wrap as tightly as possible and secure with rubber bands. Wherever you have wrinkles or folds, the pattern will be interupted; this can be a negative or possitive result depending on what you are trying to do with the design.

Cut the t-shirt up into pieces slightly larger than the neck-tie pieces. Now secure the t-shirt material around the egg. I generally do this by making a little "pony-tail" and putting a rubber band around that. The t-shirt keeps the silk tighter on the egg and also prevents the colors from bleeding from one egg to another.

Fill the pot with COLD water. Put in at least 1/2 cup vinegar or more for a very large pot. Gently place as many eggs into the pot as will fit. Place pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and rinse in cold water. Leave eggs to cool in the sink.

Now comes the fun part! Carefully cut the rubber bands and unwrap the eggs to see your beautiful designs. I like to keep the egg cartons for storing the eggs in and also letting them dry in. Once the eggs are dry, you can rub a little bit of vegetable oil on each one to make them shiny if you like.

Voila. The hardest part is the rubber band process. I like to find the ties at Salvation Army or garage sales. You could also use silk yardage from a fabric store if you can find small prints in 100% silk.

The silk scraps can be rinsed and dried and put away for use next year. Each piece should have enough color to die 3-6 eggs before tossing.

Happy Easter everyone!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Welcome to my home!

Welcome to Serendipity and Sunshine! 


an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

There's always something going on at my house; good and bad, so stop in often to see what I'm up to. 

This is me. I just got my hair cut that day,
so I look better than usual.
Let's begin by having a somewhat formal introduction. I'm not a terribly formal person, in fact, I'm a regular smart-ass most of the time. Well, there's something. My name is Patricia Newport. I'm a wife, mother, animal lover, gardening fanatic, cooking and food enthusiast, lover of hand made, house remodeler, do-it-yourselfer, knitter, Pinterest addict, designer and probably several other things I can't think of to bore you with. 

For a while now I've been trying to figure out how to share my wide interests and, not to toot my own horn, but my talents, with other like-minded folks. Most people think they don't know how to do something, therefore they just don't do anything on their own. There is very little I wouldn't attempt to tackle in and around my home, so stick around and see what I'm screwing up making or doing!

Long story here, which I won't bore you with the details... mostly because my lawyer says I can't... I was out looking to rent a house (I can't say why), and I accidentally bought a house. This all happened in such a hurry, for reasons I can't mention of course, that we ended up with a house in need of a tremendous amount of TLC. Right. So, how bad can it be? Not too bad if you don't mind mold, subflooring as sturdy as a sheet of paper (not exaggerating here), or load-bearing walls gone A.W.O.L. Then there was endless amounts of leaky plumbing which also spewed forth oodles of sewage all over the basement floor. Only truly a problem in light of the fact someone got rid of all floor drains down there. An air conditioner that blew hot air, a refrigerator that ran like a river across the kitchen floor, hot electric wires laying around unattached inside of walls, roofs with holes, siding that was disintegrating before our very eyes, and the list goes on. 

What the heck did you buy that for?! That's what you are saying. I can hear you! Long story. No, we aren't stupid, mentally infirm or ill-informed. Yes, we got an inspector, he was blind, dumb, and asleep very competant. Like I said, it all happened so fast. Sort of a house buying aneurysm I guess you might say. I'm sticking with that.

Surprise! We won the beautification award!
So, we were forced (by the city in which we now own said lovely abode) to fix all of the above. Pronto. Only problem was there was no money left after accidentally buying the house (and other reasons I can't legally tell you about). So complicated. Short of moving my family out into the back yard to live in a tent, we called up the old attorney who invited the building inspector over for tea. The rest is thankfully history. We FINALLY got the house put back together and just this week passed our final inspection, and can now live safely in our home without fear of sitting on the toilet in a half-asleep 3am stupor and winding up on the basement floor floating in spewing sewage! Whew, that was a close one! 

Did I mention that my darling husband is very handy with a pry bar and jack hammer? Boy howdy, can he rip a house apart! And I'm a cracker-jack with tile and grout, and plumbing a toilet! So, stick around and learn. If you need to know how to tile your shower, or plumb in a "sharkbite" fitting, or install a toilet flange, just ask me!

This was my MasterChef entry.
Impressive, right?
Another skill of mine, cooking. For example- I was on MasterChef last season. Well, not actually ON the show. I didn't quite make it there. After 4 interview rounds I did meet Graham Elliot (celebrity judge) and he was very impressed with me. I could tell because he kept asking me for my recipe! Cheeky bugger. Don't suppose I'd get royalty payment for every bowl of my soup he sells if I gave it to him do you think? Doubtful. Anyway, I'll give you the whole story there some day- I might even give YOU the recipe! Great fun auditioning for a national TV show, something I'll never forget for sure. I may just try again and next time I'll win- mark my words! 

So, I like to cook. I am quite competent at it if I do say so myself. I'll be sharing recipes and such with you. When it comes to cooking I have two very different approaches. One is the part where I love to pull out all the stops and plan an elaborate dinner party, I will prep for a week, and then cook for two days straight! So fun. That sort of cooking doesn't happen a lot around Chez Newport! Who has time for that?! Thanksgiving is a truly "holy" day to me. I take it very seriously and prefer to do it all myself. I know. I'm nuts... That's what you are saying, I can hear you! 

Most days I like to pull together one solid home cooked meal that my kids don't bitch about too much and is more or less healthy. We often eat vegetarian, but not always. I try to keep things pretty low-fat too. I don't do much with pre-made convenience foods. They are expensive and usually taste terrible. I AM a huge fan of Trader Joe's, so I will mention them a lot. They will need to pay me royalties for sure! A decent meal should be easily attainable in less than one hour and be satisfactory to at least 3 out of 4 members of my family. Usually the 11 yr old complains and won't eat, but then he never does- so I just don't worry about it. His loss!

Then there's the gardening thing. Boy do I love that! I suck at house plants. Don't get me wrong here, I love the IDEA of them. I just get too bored with their needy little reality. I pamper them for a little while and then they all up and die because I got too busy plumbing in a new toilet. Ingrates! So, I really focus on the outdoor plant life. It's short and intense in Michigan most years, so I can pay extreme attention to it until it all dies. Kind of like me and house plants except the outdoor stuff is supposed to die at the end of the summer. I do the whole gamut here, we're talking annuals, perennials, fruits, veggies. The vegetable garden is my big passion and I have been known to write about that on my other blog ( ). I will try to be better about that, but may just talk about the garden here too. 
One day's harvest last summer. Who's gonna eat all that!? We did!

I also love knitting, crocheting, sewing, making, drawing, designing, etc. I recently broke my arm (another long story) so much of that is just off the radar- plus it's garden season for crying out loud! What do you want from me?! I do take on an odd craft project from time to time during the summer, but most of that lingers until rainy days or winter. Sit tight if you are looking for a lot of craft projects, or just follow me on Pinterest ( If you aren't invited to Pinterest you must be a loser. KIDDING! Give me a shout and I'll send you an invite silly!

I also have a couple of ongoing projects I like to call my "children". One is almost complete and will be going to college in a few months (please let her graduate). The other one is a long way from civilized and will take many more fretful, stressful days of training before I can unleash him on the world. You will hear much about these two "projects". :0)

Moose and Clover
There are critters. One on purpose- "Clover". She is my darling sweet little doggy. We also have "Moose" who is an orange tiger cat who decided that we would let him in and feed him. Now he won't leave. I'm not a cat person. Truly not. That being said, Moose is amusing to me. I don't understand him, nor does he understand us... but he's funny. We also have a horse named Suede. No, he doesn't live in our house! He lives in a barn a few miles down the road where we board him. 

So, that's pretty much what I'm about. I look forward to getting to know you!