16 April 2012

mountain garden dreaming

Looking out my office window, I definitely see some green -- albeit the muted, winter green of the sea of pine trees we live in. But shift my gaze downward just a tiny bit, and it's all brown. A whole winter's worth of shed pine needles, brown grass, brown shrubs, brown leaves. It's easy to think back to a time, not so very long ago, when I somehow managed to grow a pretty wide range -- come to think of it -- of deliciously green edibles back on the tiny balcony of our place in LA.


Tiny strawberries...

Broccoli (and broccoli *greens*!)...



Loads of sun gold cherry tomatoes...


Cilantro by the handful...


And my favorite of all, snow peas...

This was probably my proudest ever day of gardening, and one of the most delicious...

Not that gardening was without peril, even in the city. There were many, many, many bird attacks, and a surprising array of bugs and caterpillars that made it awfully hard not to break out the chemicals, or the ladybugs.

But now, I am sooooo ready to start seeing more green again!

Back in the summer when we bought our house in Truckee (that's just north of Lake Tahoe in California's amazing Sierra Nevadas, for new readers), our little patch of mountain heaven was an explosion of green.

These days it's looking less, um, inspiring.

That bright green grass, though it's starting to make a re-appearance, is now more of the sad yellow-brown variety. Then and now...

And the front flower beds, though overflowing with greenery and flowers just a few months ago, wouldn't inspire much now. Then and now...

But, in exciting news, the daffodils that my dad planted in the fall, are starting to hint that they might make an appearance.

Last week...

Today, one additional week's growth...

Of course, I've got my eye on something bigger and better than flowers, pretty as they are, and as much personality as they lend to our lot.

I want food!

Fun facts about the growing environment here:
  • It can frost and get below freezing any night of the year, so the growing season for delicate edibles is very short (June to September, in a good year).
  • The Sierras are made of quartz-rich granite, in which not a lot of plants grow, so anything that looks like "dirt" is really just broken down granite with very little organic matter in it. That means: no topsoil. We only have a lawn because the prior owners put in topsoil and sod. Everywhere else, you can't just plant, and in fact, you can hardly even dig into it without a pick ax. (No exaggeration.) On the plus side, granite drains really well, so root rot is rarely an issue. (Not like the Wisconsin clay I grew up gardening in.) 
  • The big pine trees that make our lot and neighborhood so pretty also block most of the sunlight, making our lot more shady than sunny. 
  • It's very dry here. Weather and/or geology nerds may enjoy reading about the rain shadow phenomenon that absolutely affects us. It's amazing that less than ten miles to our west, the mountains get as much as sixty feet of snow in a winter, but over here, it's borderline desert. Technically we are the very western edge of the Great Basin, though we'd have to descend 2000 feet and travel 30 miles east to Reno to be in the basin itself.

So, if I want a garden, I can't just throw some seeds in the ground. We need to figure out a sunny spot on our lot (or make one), build an elevated garden bed with imported topsoil (plus side: at least then I can ensure it's organic and never had chemicals in it), start the seeds indoors so they have a fighting chance of surviving in the short summer, and then water like crazy. So what I gained in space by going from my tiny balcony garden to a real yard, I'm losing in terms of growing season length. But you know I'm still gung ho on the idea.

The best candidate for a garden plot is just beyond the edge of the lawn to the right of the house, if you're looking from the street. Unfortunately, that small pine tree is kinda in the way, either of the plot itself, or of the sun.

We know this general area can work as a garden, because our next door neighbors have their garden just a few feet away, and they had good success last year. But that darn pine tree just isn't in the right place. Fortunately, we have plenty of pine trees, so we can spare a few.  

This provides a better view of what we have to work with, which is to say: there is nothing here to work with. Hard, unworked ground, pine needles and even old fireplace ash piles (why anyone would put that in the flammable yard is beyond me). 

Though I'd love to have something like this...

Production Garden traditional landscape

... I will definitely settle for something simpler with no fence, terraces or multiple beds.

So that's my dream, but with no real plans behind it, we may be looking at another year of container gardening, or this may be a gardenless year.

Do you have any visions for gardening or landscaping this year? Any successes with container gardening that you can share? Or tips for working with a short growing season? I'd love to hear them all!

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11 April 2012

office update, and a curtain decision

Print from Sweet Harvey on Etsy

I believe that my office now has it all. That makes it true, right? Today's post is about why it's good to let yourself change your mind. I'm so glad I let myself do it. 

Here's how my office looked when I officially declared it "done":

Looking back, I think, "Ugh! How busy!" Not to mention that the dark blue wall, single recessed light, one tiny window and dark-toned curtains weren't helping one little bit.

The space needed some major lightening up. Less stuff, less darkness, more white. The heights of things were also feeling weird and unbalanced.

The first place to start: the dark and busy curtains, which I so proudly blogged about sewing here:

Dark, busy and not long enough because I didn't have enough fabric to bring them all the way down to the desk.

In my pro-originality, anti-blog tirade (to which so very many of you kindly chimed in to agree -- thanks!), I hinted that the frontrunner for new curtains was the "Khanjali" print by Robert Allen, in the "glacier" color.

And that, my friends, is what eventually won out. Check out my new office curtains! (Sewed by moi. I made them the same way I made the first set of curtains.)

Just like with my new footrest in the family room, I love that the curtains give me an inexpensive, non-committal way to bring some trendy ikat into the house. You already know that I'm willing to scrap curtains that I don't like for new ones!

See how they fall all the way to my desk now? Ooh la la.

I love that, even though the curtains are a print, they are a subtle and mellow print, so the overall effect is light and not at all busy. The linen-toned background color also helps brighten the space up a ton.

You may have also noticed that there's a lot less stuff on the desk now, too. That is definitely by design. I got rid of (almost) all the stuff that didn't need to be on the desk, I added some wall-mounted magnetic file holders (which are white to boot, which ups the overall brightness) to get the files off my desk, and added a few more framed prints that come to the same height as the curtains and help balance things out.

Here's how my office looks now.

I did add one thing to the desk surface, for a splash of green and a little height opposite the big, blue wall: a little moss topiary.

And a little birdie on the windowsill.

Aside from the curtains, the biggest changes are all on the blue wall.  A few framed prints and inspirational sentiments carry some lighter tones higher up the wall, which does a ton to brighten the space.

And these magnetic, white file holders add extra height and brightness, too, while getting unwanted but necessary file folders off of my desk surface. Hooray for that. 

To save you from scrolling back up, here's the before again:

And the after:

So much better, right? At least that's what I think today. ;-)

I'm sure there will still be changes to come, since every room keeps evolving, at least at our house.

What else would you change if this were your office? I'm sure I won't stick with the dark turquoisey blue for the long haul, but I still like it for now. And I love the functionality of the space overall. But I'd love suggestions on other tweaks I can make to help it look and feel even better.

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09 April 2012

healthy breakfast quinoa

Once upon a time, PoMoHostess used to have as many food/recipe posts as house posts. No joke. That's why there are so many food and party pics in the header up top. If you've started reading recently, you could not be blamed for thinking, "I wonder why a house blog has so many food pics in the header?"

But I'm going back to my roots.

After spending a full year renovating our condo and then close to another year planning to move, moving and decorating our mountain house, I've naturally focused more on home stuff, but it's time to find that balance once again. Because of course we eat every day, so it's not like there's any shortage of inspiration.

With that in mind, it seemed appropriate to share with you my current favorite healthy breakfast. This recipe is a great way to start the day, and a great way to kick-start my (re)focus on sharing easy-to-prepare, entertaining-appropriate recipes for you, your family and your guests.

Living in the mountains, where it's cold every morning of the year, I've been craving warm breakfasts, and a girl can only eat so much oatmeal. But I'm a h-u-g-e fan of quinoa, as in I could eat it every day, so I love experimenting with quinoa for lots of healthy breakfast combos. This one is my favorite. Feel free to sub just about anything, and it will still be delicious, filling and uber good for you. If you use the flaxseed oil, it's loaded with omega 3s. If you use the coconut oil or MCT oil, you're getting a dose of brain-boosting medium chain triglycerides. The cinnamon is great for regulating blood sugar (caveat: so say the experts, of which I am not one!). The bran brings extra fiber, and the quinoa provides complete, plant-based protein. And did I mention that it tastes really good, too? (Bonus: it's vegan and GF-friendly.)

(Big thanks to Madison for sharing how best to write a recipe! I'm sure this one still has too many words -- it is written by me, after all -- but I'm all about trying to make directions clearer and better.)

Healthy Breakfast Quinoa
Prep: 1 minute  Cook: 15 minutes on stovetop

Ingredients (Note: all ingredients can be doubled, with instructions staying the same)
*1/2 c. dried quinoa
*1/4 cup unsweetened dried coconut (flaked or shredded)
*2 T. chopped nuts (pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.)
*1 T. healthy oil (coconut, MCT, walnut, almond, etc.)
*1/2 t. cinnamon
*Pinch of salt
*1-1 1/2 c. water
*2 T. wheat or oat bran (optional)
*1/2 c. almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, cow's milk, etc. (optional)
*1 t. chia seeds (optional)
*1 t. to 1 T. sugar, honey, agave or other sweetener, to taste (optional)
*1 T. flaxseed oil (optional)

*In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add the quinoa, coconut, nuts, oil, cinnamon, salt and water, along with the bran and/or "milk," if using. Stir to combine, cover and bring to a boil.
*Once boiling, turn the heat to low to simmer, and cook covered for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the quinoa is tender to your liking. Add extra liquid (water and/or milk) along the way if the quinoa mixture gets too dry to simmer.
*Remove from heat and stir in sweetener and/or chia seeds, if using.
*After cooling 2-3 minutes, stir in flaxseed oil, if using, and serve at once.
Makes 1-3 servings, depending on appetite

In my version, I used pistachios, MCT oil, wheat bran, almond milk and coconut sugar (my current favorite sweetener), along with unfiltered, high lignan flaxseed oil. Jonny Bowden would be so proud.

If you're serving a crowd, you can double or triple the quantities, and make it exactly the same way. If you're making it for the health food phobic, just leave out the bran, and don't let them see you stir in the flaxseed oil. There's nothing else in it to make anyone accuse you of serving them rabbit food. Dried fruit would be welcome to the party, too. 

What's your favorite breakfast? Any secrets for sneaking nutrition into your meals?

(Note: none of the links in this post are affiliate links.)

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05 April 2012

musical chairs in LA

I haven't shared anything about our place in LA in a long time, so I thought I'd give a little update. We've been spending more of our time in Truckee this winter, since winter = ski season, my most favoritest of all seasons. But we've had a few weeks here and there in LA, and the distance helped me see that our old furniture arrangement, above, just wasn't using the living room to its best advantage. Namely, it was obscuring the fireplace we worked so hard to update and show off.

Here's another, more recent, photo of the old furniture arrangement.

One more:

And here's how it looks now, after a few rounds of musical chairs.

No idea what we'll do with the wall space over the couch -- or if we'll do anything with it. But now the fireplace feels like the focal point it was always meant to be. And even though the photos may not show it, there's plenty of space to get around the couch into the hallway.

Another bonus: the couch is now the first thing you see when you come in the front door, which I'm told is good staging, and makes a home look welcoming. At any rate, it's better than the first view being of the TV.

What do you think? Better now? Or better before?

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