Monday, July 30, 2012

How to build a wooden trellis

After we moved into our house we discovered a young grape vine growing in the back yard. Well, it wasn't growing when we moved in, at that point it really just looked like a stick in the ground, but before long it sprouted leaves, and vines and even a solitary little bunch of grapes. We're still waiting to find out what type of grapes we have, and whether they're good for eating (or making wine?). In the meantime I thought I'd better do something to support the vines that were getting ganglier by the day, and starting to lean out onto the ground.

I checked out trellises at my local hardware and garden stores, and was shocked to find that even basic wooden ones cost at least $30. Forget what you'd pay for a fancy wrought-iron one! The one I made cost about $6 in materials, and took me less than an hour to make. I used five 8' 1x2s, a hand saw, a drill and a handful of 1.5" screws. If you have any scraps of 1x2 around, this is a great opportunity to use them up, since this project requires some shorter pieces, and it doesn't really matter how long they are. Here's my setup:

I started by laying an 8' 1x2 that would be the center piece on the ground, and attached a short (about 1') cross piece to it about 18" from the bottom using two screws. If you want to be sure that the wood won't split, you can pre-drill the holes, but I just went ahead with the screws themselves and backed up and drilled if the wood looked like it was starting to split.

I then attached two more 8' 1x2s, one to each end of the cross piece, using only one screw each so that I would be able to adjust the angle between each of them and the cross piece. This is how you control how much wider your trellis is at the top than it is at the bottom. I just sort of looked at it and adjusted it until it seemed right.

I used a scrap piece of 12 that I had lying around for the next cross piece, attaching it where the vertical pieces were the same distance apart as it was long. I then cut one of the other 8' 1x2s into two pieces, one smaller and one bigger, and attached them lower down and higher up on the trellis, respectively. I attached each one to the center piece and each of the other vertical pieces with two screws. 

At that point I decided that the trellis had enough bars and vertical pieces for my purposes, but you could certainly add as many cross pieces as you want. If your outside vertical pieces were farther apart, or you wanted to build a very tall trellis (or a short wide one), you could add more vertical pieces. I would recommend attaching them to the second or third cross piece, so that more structure is added to the trellis as it gets wider. 

Here's how the trellis looks now that the grape vines have grown a bit more, and are used to being supported by it.


Grapes are, of course, far from the only type of plant that a trellis like this could be used for. It would be great for roses too, and you could use different sizes and widths of trellises for raspberries, cucumbers, pole beans or any kind of climbing vine. 

You could also paint or decorate this trellis in any number of ways (red, anyone?) to add a splash of extra colour and interest to your yard or garden. Do you have a home made or decorated trellis? I'd love to see what you've done, and hear your ideas for how I should jazz mine up a bit!


Sunday, July 29, 2012

How to secure a ladder

A few weeks ago we had our bedroom window replaced (a topic I'll cover in another post soon), and the guys who came to install the window used what seemed to me to be a very clever trick. They held a full size crow bar against the bottom rung of the ladder, and hammered the straight end into the ground like a tent peg so that the foot of their ladder wouldn't slide out from under them. 


Do you think that this is another great use for the woefully under-appreciated crow bar (see Ode to the Mini-Crow Bar), or a dangerous recipe for disaster?

Would it be better to hammer the crow bar in until the curved part hooked right over the bottom rung, or does the way that they have it work just as well?

Or should we just stick to doing things the old-fashioned way and make sure that we have a friend on hand to hold the ladder in place?

Makeover: Adding Colour and Contrast in the Kitchen

 I am one of the very fortunate women (who are becoming more and more common, it seems) whose husband loves to cook. And I'm not talking about barbecuing, which James also does exquisitely, but the real gourmet stuff. Don't get me wrong, I can hold my own in the kitchen, but since James cooks most of the dinners, it seemed only right that he have a proper kitchen to do it in. And so the kitchen makeover began.
These photos were taken by the folks at Homes in Motion, who kindly gave me permission to use them here, to advertise our house before we bought it. The door on the back wall opens out onto the back patio, and the one in the opposite corner leads down to the basement. Since we don't have the money to tear out any walls at the moment, the basic structure of the room had to stay the same. 


We love how bright the kitchen is, but hated having the fridge all the way across the room from the stove and sink. For financial reasons the cabinets, counters and floors had to stay (at least for now). Lucky for us, James' parents gave us a generous housewarming gift, so we were able to replace the fridge from 1986 (yup, that was the date on the sticker on the back) and the 27" electric stove with miniature oven. (No turkeys or full size baking sheets would have fit in there, never mind dutch ovens full of lamb roasts, which are not unheard of at our house.)


The other important issue for us was the lack of a dishwasher. We had to have one, not least because I abhor washing dishes, but also because it apparently uses less water to wash dishes in the dishwasher than it does to wash them by hand. (That's a convenient rationalization, isn't it?) Since it had to be installed close to a water source and drain, and we didn't want to lose a cabinet and 4 drawers, we opted for a mini dishwasher that was only 18" wide.

The biggest design challenge was figuring out what to do about our stranded fridge. We didn't want to put the fridge beside the stove, not only because having a heat source right next to the fridge isn't a great idea, but also because we didn't want to block the lovely window that's there. But where else could it go? After a few days of mulling it over, James came up with a brilliant solution. We would seal off the door to the hallway (after all, we already have access to the living room from the kitchen), and get a shallow fridge that would fit in the space between the liquor cabinet and the door to the basement. Eureka! (One of these days I'll post about the experience of hanging a 26" door in a 27" door frame that's not square, but that's a story for another day.) You'd never even know there used to be a doorway there now, would you?


We decided on black for the new appliances, since stainless steel appliances are significantly more expensive, and the ones that just look like stainless still seem to cost more than black. Also, we like black. We think it looks modern, and it's easy to keep clean. In order to unify the look of the kitchen given the black appliances and white cabinets, I had the brilliant idea (is it okay not to be modest? I think it was brilliant!) of replacing the white cabinet handles with black ones. 


In addition to jazzing the place up by adding black accents, we decided that the walls needed a splash of colour too. Along with our bright yellow/orange accent wall (which friends who helped us paint were really not sure about at the time), we opted to paint the bulkhead above the cabinets a lovely dark Georgian brick red that matches our banister.
For storage we used shelves that we already had, selected mostly because they fit the space. We also added a fantastic kitchen island that we found for $250! We love having the extra counter space, and it has a drawer and a shelf for added storage too. Best of all, we fluked out and found a mahogany one with the wood of the base stained in a reddish tint, to match our red accent bulkhead.


One of our favourite features of the kitchen was the built-in liquor cabinet, which you can see between the door to the living room and the door to the hallway. We wanted to highlight it as a special feature, so removed the door and painted the inside of the cabinet dark red. James had to use a screw extractor bit to remove the hinges, but once we had the right tool, the job went smoothly.


When it came time to decorate we were thrilled to discover that the faux-window painting that my mum had created for our kitchen wall in Austin, based on a photo that I took while we were travelling in France, was a perfect match with our new yellow wall colour. It now hangs over our kitchen table (you can see it in the photo, above). With a few more little personal touches, like these great canisters with little yellow flowers that match our yellow wall that James' mom brought for us from her house, the kitchen has really started to feel like home. 


I am amazed and what a difference we have made to this room without changing its fundamental structure in any way. It feels modern, bright and fun, which just goes to show what updated appliances, paint and and the right island can do for a kitchen!


Have you ever made a dramatic change to a room in your home without altering its structure? Perhaps you've changed it's purpose or layout just by swapping out the furniture, and updated it with fresh paint. If you have, we'd love it if you'd share your tips and experiences in the comments!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Healthy & delicious white bean spread

Back when we lived in Austin our favourite restaurant used to bring freshly baked bread and a delicious hummus-like spread made from cannellini beans to the table for us to enjoy while we waited for our meal to be prepared. It was always a welcome change from the bread and butter that you so often get at restaurants, not only because it's a healthier alternative, but also because they had different versions of this deliciously simple spread. For a while they served a roasted red pepper version, and later they switched to serving it with olive pieces mixed in, and a few olives on the side. Since moving to Toronto, we can't go to Sagra any more, so today I decided to try making this yummy spread at home. 


If you've made hummus before, you'll find that the process of making white bean spread is quite similar, although I find that the finished product is a bit lighter and smoother in texture. White beans are also a little less expensive than chick peas, and this recipe calls for less tahini (which can be almost as expensive as hummus itself) than most hummus recipes. For me, the biggest challenge was figuring out exactly which "white beans" were the right ones for this recipe, since several different varieties of beans at the grocery store seem to go by that name, and none of them said "cannellini beans" on the package. After a little online research I was able to determine that the beans I was looking for are also called white kidney beans. For my first attempt at the recipe, I decided to go with a can of beans instead of committing to a whole bag of dry beans (although this would be a less expensive way to go, if you plan to make the recipe more than once and have the patience and foresight to soak the beans overnight).


I started with a recipe from FoodNetwork.com, which you can find here. I'll share the original recipe along with my adjustments, substitutions and things I will do differently next time below. The instructions are very simple; just combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.


The recipe calls for:

  • 1/4c chopped green onions 
I used fresh chives from the garden, and put in 1/3c because I harvested too many and didn't want to waste them. I would use chives again, but next time I'll stick with just 1/4c.


  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 T tahini
  • 1/2 t dried oregano
I used fresh oregano from the garden, but next time I would use dried instead, since the final version ended up tasting a bit leafy, even though it was well blended.


  • 1/4 ground cumin
  • 1/8 t salt
  • 1/8 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (19 oz.) can cannellini (aka white kidney) beans, rinsed and drained
I drained the cannellini beans, and set aside the bean liquid, which I used about 3 T of to thin out the spread at the end, since it ended up a bit too thick. I didn't rinse them, but I probably will next time.
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
I used 2 cloves, and I'm glad I did (but then again, we like garlic!) I cut them in thirds before adding them to the food processor.


This spread is delicious on bread, but it's also great as a healthy veggie dip, and a fresh new alternative any time you would use hummus. It should last for a week or so in the fridge.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Makeover: From Back Patio to Outdoor Oasis

One of the spaces in our home that we have come to use the most since summer has arrived is our back patio, so I wanted to share with you how it came to be so nice and comfortable, since it wasn't that way at all when we moved in. Here is what the back patio looked like when we moved in:

Since then, it has come a very long way. The first addition was the cheap plastic greenhouse that we brought over from our old place. It was a set of poles and shelves with a clear plastic cover that goes over it. I won't recommend it here, since one of the zippers broke almost right away, and it kept falling over (which really isn't good for the plants). In any case, I managed to stabilize it by attaching a 1x2 diagonally across the back, so at least it doesn't fall over any more, and it now provides at least a little covered outdoor shelving for storing gardening and barbecue tools.

Early in the season we picked up a great table and chair set that we love, on sale for only $99. They're metal and really sturdy (although storing them will take up a bit of space in the winter), so we're hoping they'll last a long time. Next, we added a 8' x 8' canopy for shade, which we got at a steep discount because it was discontinued. We picked up a Weber charcoal barbecue and chimney starter (a must-have for any charcoal grill-master, which James is planning to post about soon), and then it was just a matter of adding a few finishing touches.

Our whimsical new door mat!

When James' parents came to visit last week, his mom got us a great outdoor rug for under the table and chairs, and a whimsical bird-themed doormat (above), to help keep the mud from the garden from making it's way onto the kitchen floor. His dad helped us to replace the old outdoor light with a one with a motion sensor for security (and savings, since it won't get left on like the old one sometimes did.) And there you have it, our wonderful outdoor oasis!




Sunday, June 10, 2012

Creating a Gravel Parking Pad

When we decided that we wanted to have a nice gravel parking pad, instead of a dirty, uneven, weed covered parking area off of our back lane, I had a number of questions, like where does a person buy gravel anyways? Not to mention how much do we need, what does it cost, and how do we get it home?

One reason we chose to put in a gravel parking pad, rather than paving, is that using a permeable surface for parking is more eco-friendly, since it reduces run-off. In case you're considering this relatively cheap but high-impact project, I will share some of my new-found insights here, along with some photos of our project. This is a before picture from when we were building the fence. (There were a lot less weeds then.)

We decided to put landscaping fabric down underneath the gravel to crush the existing weeds, and prevent more weeds from growing up through it. If you do this (particularly on a windy day), be sure to have lots of rocks, or better yet (as we discovered) some 2x4's on hand to weigh down the fabric until the gravel arrives.

When I was trying to figure out what type of stores I should be calling to compare prices on gravel, it seemed to me that in the old days, one would have just looked up "gravel" in the yellow pages. So, I tried it (on yellowpages.com, that is). This didn't turn up many places that looked promising to me, but it did set me on the path of the "building supply" store. That, my friends, is where you buy gravel.

Google maps led me to a number of building supply stores close to home (which, I reasoned, would make delivery cheaper). Now I know there are some hard core DIY'ers out there thinking to yourselves "Delivery, bah! I'll just pick up the gravel myself, shovel it into the back of my hatchback, and drive it home in a few small loads." (Okay, I'll admit it, I considered this.) Don't do it. Gravel is heavy. Really heavy. And the amount you will need is more than you think (I'll get to that in a minute). So if you can't avoid the delivery fee, how else can you save money on gravel?

James and the dump truck.

The best way to save money on gravel is to call around and ask about the cost of gravel (usually given per cubic yard), and also about the cost of delivery. I called five building supply stores. The cost of the gravel ranged from $37 to $50 per cubic yard, and the cost of delivery was between $25 and $70. So you can see that it is well worth taking the time to shop around. Fortunately for us, the place with the cheapest gravel also had the cheapest delivery, so calling around really did save us a bundle.

So, how many cubic yards do you need? I asked a number of people, both family friends with experience in this area, and the people at the building supply stores. The conclusion that I have come to is that, as a general rule, 1 cubic yard per 100 square feet that you want to cover is about right. If the ground that you are putting the gravel on is not very compacted, or if there is room for the gravel to spread at the edges (which there wasn't in our case), you might need a bit more. We got 4 cubic yards, and it was a big pile! Here it is:


Our other big tip for you, given our experience raking and shoveling the gravel to convert it from a giant pile of rocks into a nice, even parking area, is to have the dump truck dump it in the middle (rather than at the edge) of the area that you plan to cover with gravel. That way you can spread it out from the middle in all 4 directions, instead of having to spread it a farther distance in only 3 directions, like we did. Also, wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water.



And voila, a dazzling new parking area that's eco-friendly too!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Household Hints: How to get more juice from a lemon

Especially during the winter, lemons can be expensive. Here are a couple of tips that will help you get more juice from a lemon.



- Warm your lemon up in the microwave before cutting it in half to get more juice.
- Roll your lemon on the counter, applying pressure with the palm of your hand will also loosen up the juice inside.
- If you just need a little lemon juice, poke a hole in the lemon with a toothpick, squeeze out the juice that you need, and put the toothpick back in to plug the hole. This will keep the lemon fresh and ready to use again.
- If you're serving a family, or having guests, wrap half a lemon with cheesecloth and bring it to the table face down on a small plate. Each guest can squeeze the juice he or she needs from the lemon, put it back on the plate, and pass it along to the next guest. The cheesecloth will prevent the juice from squirting anyone across the table, and keep the seeds from falling into your food. If you don't use it up, simply put the plate and the lemon in the fridge and use it at your next meal. You can use any type of porous cloth you wish. Try coloured cloths or tie the corners together with a ribbon for extra decorative flair, your guests will be impressed!

Do you have any other lemon-related tips to share?