Category: Porch, Patio & Plants

Patio Life – Building an outdoor fireplace into the side of our garage (Part 1)

Outdoor fireplace built into the side of a garage.


Outdoor patio paradise!  Isn’t it magical?!?!  There was a lot going on with this project, so I will tell the story in a series of posts.  The project started last July and the fireplace and exterior garage renovation were completed the day of our first snow in early December.  I sat in front of the fire on this snowy eve with a gloved hand, glass of wine, and umbrella to prevent snow from accumulating on my glasses and in my wine.

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When we first started ‘farming’ at a community garden, we purchased our plants at home centers and nurseries once the garden was ready for planting.  Last year, we decided to grow our own plants from seed in order to have more variety.  I have tried starting seeds indoors in the past with little or no luck.  They either dry out too much with the heat or stay too moist and get moldy.   I needed an easy, fool-proof method that doesn’t demand so much attention.

We picked up a gardening magazine last winter, which had an article on winter sowing.  It was something I had never heard of, but sounded easy enough and made sense.   Plant the seeds and stick them outside in mini greenhouses.  They will germinate when the conditions are right.  When they grow large enough for transplanting, they are already hardy and ready for outdoor conditions.  We decided to just go for it and  tried this with several plants last year with very good luck.  We have greatly expanded our options this year and look forward to sharing our seedlings with friends and neighbors.

This winter, in the darkness of the post-holiday blues, we began our search for vegetable, herb, and flower seeds.  In January, we planted cabbage, brussel sprouts, spinach, corn, onions and one of my absolute favorites…..lavender.

In February and early March, we planted some native woodland perennials and a few annuals including Canada lilies, blackberry lilies, Virginia blue bells, Dutchman’s breeches, ramp or wild leeks, Celedine poppies, Icelandic poppies, Oriental poppies, columbine delphinium and two that bring back great memories.  Jack-in-the-pulpit reminds me of Brownie and Girl Scout hikes in the woods, while Hollyhocks remind me of my grandfather and grandmothers’ house.  Their alley was filled with hollyhocks in so many colors.

I can’t wait for April.  That is when we will start the tomato, cucumber, squash, and pepper seeds.

List of supplies:

Very simple instructions:

  1. Drill or poke holes into containers.  You need several drainage holes on the bottom and also holes on the lid to allow water to enter your mini greenhouse.  You can recycle old food containers, but we find Rubbermaid containers are sturdier, making it easier to transport seeds from home to the garden.  We clean and re-use.
  2. Fill the container with 2-3 inches of seed starting soil.
  3. Distribute seeds and cover with seed starting soil.  Don’t bury the seeds to deep, just a light covering (about 1/2-inch).
  4. Water or place in tray with water, so soil absorbs water through drainage hole.  Replace lid and place in a sunny spot.
  5. Patiently wait for the seeds to germinate.  If moisture is not accumulating on the lids, you will need to water.
  6. Once spring arrives and the seedlings start to grow, you can remove the lids during warm days.  Be sure the lid is replaced to protect them from cold night time temperatures and risk of frost.
  7. When the plants grow too high to fit into the container it is a good sign they are hardy and ready for transplanting into the ground.

Step 1: Drill holes in tops and bottoms of mini-greenhouses.

Step 2: Collect soil, seeds, and signs.

Steps 3-5: Distribute seeds, cover with soil, and water.

Step 6: Wait for seeds to germinate and open to allow them to get comfortable with the weather. Close at night if it’s cold.














This post contains affiliate links.  If you purchase items in the supply list using the links I have provided, I will receive a portion of the seller’s profits.  Thank you for your support.

Drunken Onion Sourdough Baguette Appetizer

I am enjoying lots of parties this holiday season.  I do hope you are too!  Many thanks to friends and family for the wonderful invitations.  I enjoy bringing along food and for a recent party I used Drunken Onions I canned back in September as the star of an appetizer dish.

I purchased the baguette slices and goat cheese from Costco and the London Broil deli meat from a local grocery store.  I have used the baguettes in the past, but didn’t notice they were jalapeno cheddar flavor until I opened them.  I thought the flavors might clash, but the little bite of heat that lingered after eating these tasty treats was quite nice.

Super easy assembly.  Spread baguette slices with a ‘schmear’ of goat cheese, add a nice layer of Drunken Onions, and top off with some roast beef or London Broil.  Voile’.  What a fabulous appetizer.  When it was time to leave the party, the plate was empty.  You’ll notice in the photos below, I made myself a little sample plate.  So important to have a taste test of what you plan to serve.

I wanted to let party guests know some details about the dish.  While I LOVE goat cheese, I realize it’s not for everyone.  I suppose cream cheese would be a good alternative.  Came up with this cute little appetizer label idea while digging through my gift wrap box.  So here I am all wrapped up and ready to head out to the party.  I brought along a couple of gifts for the wonderful hostess, including  a jar of Drunken Onions and a cute little cupcake candy dish.

Loved that the hostess sent me this cute picture the next morning……perfect place to store sugared cranberries.  We certainly enjoyed those sweet little cranberries in our martinis.  Yum.  White cranberry juice, vodka, and a few sugared cranberries.  Beautiful simplicity!  Enjoyable drink!

Cheers!  Laura

Bird Feeder Pulley System

It’s been awhile since I last posted, but I have been busy with many projects.  Now I have lots of blogging to catch up on.

We are fortunate to have a little cabin up in the north woods.  We enjoy relaxing at our little place in the woods and watching all of the wildlife.  Patrick decided to hang bird feeders not long after we purchased the cabin.  We started with basic bird seed and were delighted with visits from squirrels (gray, red, black, small and large), chipmunks, raccoons,  a variety of birds (chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays,  and a variety of woodpeckers).  So fun to watch all the action.


A few years ago during a Thanksgiving weekend visit, Patrick splurged on bird food with dried fruit and nuts.  I thought it was overkill as it looked like trail mix I would eat myself and the price was pretty steep.  Later that evening we couldn’t figure out what was eating the nut-fruit mix  at the feeder.  Definitely something we had not seen before.  It looked like squirrels, but they were moving too fast.  Could it be some kind of bird?  It looked like they were flying to the feeder from another tree.  After some seriously patient watching, we finally figured out it was a bit of both…..flying squirrels.  I never knew these were native to the north woods.  So fun to watch!  So cute!  They are nocturnal, so they have very large eyes relative to rest of their body.  Needless to say, we always buy the fruit-nut mix now for our furry, flying friends.

This fall, we decided to add another feeder.  We had to get it higher into the tree, but still needed access for filling.  We developed a pretty simple pulley system.  The supply list is pretty simple and can be seen below.  I used a planter hook, rope, a pulley, two carabiners, an eye hook, a pulley, a screwdriver and drill.  My feeder is heavy when filled, so I might need to replace the planter hook with a stronger hook that has a cross bar for added support.  It is already starting to bend with the weight.


We drilled holes into the tree and screwed the hardware in for the planter hook.  These screws came with the planter hook.  I hung the pulley from the hook and passed the rope through.  I tied a carabiner to the end of the rope for easy connection and release to the rope on the feeder.  I made sure the rope was long enough to lower the feeder to ground and tied the other carabiner to this end of the rope.   Getting the rope right is definitely the trickiest part of this project.  The carabiner at the end of the rope reaches to the pulley when the feeder is lowered.  It doesn’t lower all the way to the ground, so the quick release on the feeder is helpful to detach the feeder for filling.   I screwed an eye hook into the tree and use this to secure the carabiner on the rope so the feeder is secure in its elevated position.  A quick weekend project and our feathered and furry friends enjoy their new feeding station.


Hope you are having a great fall.  I look forward to your comments.  Please find the link at the top of this post.



Drunken Onions – September onion harvest

When you grow your own vegetables, you begin to understand the seasonal order of produce.  In my farming experience, September is a great time to harvest onions, leeks, and peppers.   I love red onions.  I love them in salad, on sandwiches, and in just about anything I can think of.  One of my most favorite ways to eat red onions is to caramelize them with brown sugar and then simmer them in wine with balsamic vinegar.  Here’s a link for a great ‘drunken onion’ canning recipe.  I don’t stray much on this one.  So simple and delicious.  These onions are fabulous on sandwiches and brats or other sausages.  My favorite way to eat these onions is on top of a baguette slice with goat cheese.  Yum!  Great flavor contrast……slightly sour cheese with the sweet onions.  Patrick doesn’t like goat cheese and sometimes it’s not readily available, so cream cheese is a good alternative.



This year we also had a harvest of Mexican Gherkins.  They are about the size of a grape and are great for just poppin’ in your mouth for a snack, but we had so many I thought I would can them using my Blue Ribbon pickle recipe.  I will use these as part of the garnish for bloody Mary’s.  I also made another batch of Taqueria Carrots and used the leftover vinegar-herb solution to can jalapeno slices.  These always come in handy when serving nachos during the fall and winter.


Beautiful fall day.  Busy day of canning.

Take care.  Laura

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August Remembered – Taqueria Carrots

When visiting southern California, I love the pickled vegetables that are served alongside the chips and salsa in Mexican restaurants.  Nice crunch, with a spicy bite.  I hope you have had the chance to sample these veggies during your culinary adventures.  If not, make them yourself and share with your family and friends.

Seems to me that carrots are more of a late spring/early summer harvest.  However, we kept sprinkling new seeds in the ground at our farm plot and ended up with an abundance of ‘carnival carrots’ in August.  I love the mix of colors: orange, yellow, and even red.  Timing worked out perfectly with a good harvest of jalapenos, onions, and garlic.  Last year this recipe was new to my canning rotation, but Taqueria Carrots are now part of my canning repertoire.




Here’s my favorite recipe for Taqueria Pickled Carrots.  The ingredient list is short and simple.  However, I do highly recommend Mexican oregano.  The flavor is unique.  I had no problem finding this at local grocery stores.  You really don’t need too many canning supplies or special techniques, so this is a great recipe for beginners.  Another bonus – clear canning instructions.  I like to serve these pickled veggies in a small bowl with toothpicks for stabbing and eating.  It’s fun to tailor the toothpick holder for the occasion.  Didn’t know what to do with all those souvenir shot glasses?!?!?!  They have a purpose!  I found the cute mermaid ‘garnish’ at World Market.  I have seen all kinds of fun cocktail glass garnishes, but without a doubt the mermaids are my favorite.


I was pretty impressed with my carrots until a friend from Finland shared a Facebook post with this…….I am definitely up to the challenge.  Think I might need a new set of kitchen gadgets!


Photo from: Avantgardens

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A visit to ‘our’ Farm


When I met Patrick just after arriving at college,  I never would have imagined we would have so many common interests after nearly 30-years together.  It turns out that we both come from a long lineage of farmers on our maternal side.  Looks like we can’t escape the farming instinct.  Must run deep in our genes.

Our yard at home is shaded, so we don’t have a lot of space to grow vegetables.  We do have a beautiful garden filled with native perennials.  This will certainly be the topic of a future post.  Three years ago, we decided to rent a community garden plot (30′ x 30′) at a nearby living history farm operated by the park district.  Each year, we experiment with new plants and growing strategies.  Last year was rough.  It was cold, then it was dry, the weeds grew better than the vegetables, and after a measly reward of just a few cucumbers and tomatoes (I might be exaggerating a little bit) following a lot of hard, sweaty, summer work (NOT exaggerating) we almost packed up the farming tools and tomato cages for good.

So happy we didn’t!  This year has been perfect with just the right amount of sunshine and rain.  This winter, I’m thinking I might actually check into ‘The Farmers’ Almanac’ to see what that’s all about.

We are growing carrots, beets, radishes, onions, leeks, lettuce and spinach on raised rows.   In the flat area, we are growing broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, eggplant, and herbs.  I’m sure I missed something!  This year, we filled all of the open space with a thick layer of hay.  This seems to be helping with the weeds.  Fewer weeds and those that do manage to grow are weak and easy to pluck.  The hay also helps retain moisture.  This is important in minimizing watering trips to the farm during the crazy work week.

With so many fresh veggies, it’s hard not to eat healthy.  After working at the farm Sunday, we enjoyed a nice BBQ on the patio with sausage from a local market, delicious olives with rosemary and lemon from Costco, cherries, and a wonderful salad prepared using lettuce and early cucumbers from the farm.  I also threw in some fresh mozzarella and tossed it all with a little lemon olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Al Fresco dining at it’s best!  What a great way to end a nice weekend.  Can’t wait to see what we find at the farm next weekend.

take care!



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