Friday, February 24, 2012

A Vermont Weekend

Snow on Okemo Mountain
Last weekend we visited Vermont.  It was Presidents' Day weekend, typically a peak weekend for visitors to Vermont's ski country, but this has not been a good year for snow in Vermont.

The only snow to speak of was the snow on the mountains.  Even though the ski slopes have been making snow, ensuring skiing and snowboarding activities continued, we chose to spend our time exploring the area.

Our home base was Ludlow, Vermont, home of Okemo Mountain Ski Resort.

Ludlow on a Map

To explore we headed North.  I wanted to make a stop at the King Arthur Flour facility in Norwich, Vermont.  King Arthur Flour is undergoing a major expansion to their facilities, so if you visit before summer 2012 you may find them in some disarray.

King Arthur Flour Store
The retail store has plenty of hard to find kitchen items and many unique baking ingredients recommended by the fine King Arthur bakers on their Baking Banter blog.

King Arthur Products for Sale

I snagged some cinnamon chips and cinnamon Flav-R bites that I have been wanting to try for months and months.  They are destined for some scones in the very near future.  You won't go hungry while you are there.  There is a cafe in one section of the store so while there you can relax with a coffee and a cookie from their bakery.

Is there a teenager in your family?  Down the street a few miles, in the town of Hanover, New Hampshire, you'll find the campus of Dartmouth, one of the eight Ivy League colleges.  College towns are always fun for a visit.

Cupcake Snow Sculpture at Dartmouth

On the way to Norwich, you'll want to admire the scenery.  Take time to stop and admire the Quechee Gorge, a 165 foot deep, one-mile long gorge.

Quechee Gorge

If the weather allows, make sure you leave time to walk the trail along the gorge.  It was too icy for us on this trip, but we want to go back during warmer weather. This section of Vermont is also home to some talented artisans.  Those of you who admire fine glassware will want to stop in to visit the Simon Pearce store in Quechee.

Simon Pearce in Quechee, Vermont
The handcrafted glassware and home accents you'll find here are a feast for the eyes but be warned. The prices reflect the quality and craftsmanship.  Even the seconds will put a huge dent in your wallet.

Simon Pearce Glassware

There is a lovely restaurant on the premises that overlooks the adjacent river and falls.  You may recall that Vermont was hit hard by tropical storm Irene last year.  The flooding from the storm was devastating to Vermont.  While there has been much progress in restoring the roadways throughout Vermont, you will be able to see signs of the damage wherever you look.  The picture below shows the banks of the river littered with debris from the flood outside the Simon Pearce store.

Vermont's Flood Debris
Another, not to be missed, stop is the Shackleton Thomas gallery at The Mill in Bridgewater, Vermont.

The Shackleton Thomas Gallery
Here you'll be able to watch the woodworking and pottery craftspeople at work creating fine, handmade furniture, pottery, and home accessories.

The Shackleton Thomas Woodshop
It was here that I fell in love with Miranda Thomas' pottery, particularly the black carved designs.  I want some of the mugs.  I dream about them.

Miranda Thomas' Black Carved Pottery
These mugs are on my wish list...


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Savory Swiss Chard

Do you find yourself in a vegetable rut?  This time of year I find myself stuck eating the same vegetables over and over again...carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts.  This may be a great time to pick up a bunch or two of fresh greens and change up your vegetable sides a bit.  Spinach is my usual leafy green vegetable of choice, so on my most recent trip to the grocery store I decided to shake things up with some Swiss Chard.

Colorful Swiss Chard

Prepare your Swiss chard by rinsing the leaves well and cutting about an inch from the stems.  Discard this portion of the stems.  The rest of the stems are tasty.  Cut the stems from the leaves and chop into 1 inch pieces.   Cut the leaves into 1/2 inch widths.  It's as simple as that.

Savory Swiss Chard Ingredients
Savory Swiss Chard

  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard
  • 1 tablespoon garlic flavored extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 slices of bacon, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion sliced
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock

Heat the tablespoon of garlic flavored olive oil in a 12 inch frying pan over medium heat.  Add the red pepper flakes and bacon.  Cook the bacon until crispy.  Remove from the pan and set aside.  Add the red onion and stem pieces from the Swiss chard.  Saute until tender, about 5 minutes.

Saute the Stems and Onions
Add the Swiss chard leaves and the chicken stock.  Stir to distribute the ingredients.  Cover the pan and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the Swiss chard is wilted and tender.

Adding the Swiss Chard to the Pan

 Remove the cover.  Stir and add the cooked bacon.  Grate a little bit of nutmeg into the pan, toss and serve.

Savory Swiss Chard Topped with Bacon

This same recipe works well with other greens with the cooking time adjusted based on the tenderness of the greens.  Get the printable Savory Swiss Chard recipe by clicking the link.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Basics of Pinterest

Have you heard about Pinterest?   The Pinterest site explains that Pinterest "lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes". I think of Pinterest as my personal magazine. It gives me a space to create storyboards reflecting my personal interests, favorite things, places of interest and things I want to remember. If you connect with me on Pinterest you'll be able to see my boards. As I write this I have twenty two boards in various stages of development.

At first I wasn't sure I would like Pinterest.  I didn't really get the point. Then I figured out one good way to use Pinterest would be as a substitute for bookmarking Internet pages in my browser.  I have many, many pages bookmarked that I want to remember or refer back to.  Instead of bookmarking a page, with Pinterest you "Pin It" using the Pin It button.  Pinning pages allows me to organize like pages into themes and have a visual reference when I am looking for something.  This seems to work really well for me.

Pinterest has the added feature of allowing you to follow others and lets others follow you.  Like Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest encourages you to create a community.  When you pin something to one of your boards, that pin becomes visible to others who are following you.  That makes Pinterest a great way to share your favorite content with others.  When I log in to Pinterest I can see the recent pins from the other pinners that I follow.  Below is a portion of a recent login page on Pinterest.

By hovering over any pin on the page I have three action options:  Repin, Like, or Comment.  You'll see how these options appear by looking at the top of the picture below.  These options give me a quick way to repin the pin to one of my boards, add the pin to my "Likes" or add a comment to the pin.

By clicking on the picture I am taken to the pinner's board and a larger view of the pin.  I can go to the original post from there by clicking the link in the upper right corner of the pin.  Below you can see Lisa's original pin of the melting snowman cookie and on the left there is a picture of her GRANDkid cuisine board.

From here I can go to the original cookie post at Crazy Domestic by clicking the link where it says "From".  I can also decided to repin it to one of my boards, like it or comment on the pin from here.  If I want to check out the other pins in Lisa's GRANDkids cuisine board I can do so by clicking on any of the pictures at the left of the page.

Doesn't this sound like fun?  I warn you, it can become addictive.  I find visiting Pinterest is a lot like flipping through the pages of a magazine, never really knowing what you might find of interest.  Do you want to give Pinterest a try?  Pinterest is a site you can join only by invitation.  If you would like me to send you an invitation to join the Pinterest community just send me a request by email at

Once you join Pinterest you'll want to download the Pinterest bookmarklet to make your pinning easy.  It adds the Pin It option to your browser's toolbar like this:

Sometimes you'll find the Pin It button on a site.  Here at Just One Donna I have added it just below the title of the blog post.  Having the Pin It bookmarklet on your toolbar makes it easy to pin from pages that don't have the button.
There you have it.  These are the basics to get you started on Pinterest.  If you have other questions once you have joined Pinterest be sure to check out the Pinterest Help page.  I hope to see you on Pinterest soon.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Cream of Mushroom Soup
If you are a fan of mushrooms you are most likely a fan of mushroom soup as well.  No, not the kind of mushroom soup that comes in a can, but the kind you make lovingly yourself.  It's a special treat.

Do you think it is hard to make cream of mushroom soup?  Not at all.  It's actually a pretty quick soup to whip together and takes just a few simple ingredients.

The star of the soup, of course, is the mushrooms.  I used a mixture of white button mushrooms and baby bellas, the small version of portabellas.  You can use whatever you have on hand or even use a fancy wild mushroom mix.  Whatever you choose, it is going to be good.  Trust me.

Gather together your cast of characters.  You'll want to be sure you have a little sherry on hand.  No, you can not use cooking sherry.  I'm sorry if I'm sounding a little bossy here, but this, my friends is the secret love ingredient.  Sure, you can leave it out, but it just won't be as good as it could have been. 

Are you ready to make some soup?  Let's do this, shall we?

Cream of Mushroom Soup
Cream of Mushroom Soup Ingredients
  • 1 pound sliced fresh mushrooms, about 5 cups
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • a good pinch of dried thyme, about 1/8 teaspoon
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 tablespoon sherry
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, optional

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter with the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, mushrooms, salt, pepper and thyme.  Cook until the mushrooms have browned slightly and the onions are soft and tender, about five minutes.

Cooked Mushroom and Onion Mixture

Add the chicken broth to the mushroom mixture.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer.  Simmer for five minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat to cool.

Mushroom Mixture and Broth

Once the mushroom mixture has cooled a bit, remove about a half cup of the mushrooms and onions to set aside.  How much you set aside really depends on how chunky you want your soup to be. Pour the rest of the mushroom mixture into a blender and puree.  Set aside.  In a saucepan, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and then add the flour, stirring to blend well.  Cook the flour mixture a minute or two and then add the half and half, stirring to combine well.  Add the mushroom puree and the reserved chunky, chopped mushrooms and onions. 

Heat the Cream and Mushrooms Together

Heat until hot and thickened.  Remove from the heat and add the sherry and nutmeg.  Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper as needed.  Serve.

Ready to Eat!

It's yummy, right?  Oh, so good.  You can get the printable cream of mushroom soup recipe by clicking the link.  Go ahead and make some today.  You'll be glad you did.


Friday, February 3, 2012

DIY Refinishing Oak Stars-Part 2

Last week I told you about a brand new toy, my orbital sander, and that I intended to put it to good use refinishing the stairs in my house.  Well, today I am happy to report that the project is well underway.  When last we left this saga I had completed three hours of prep work on three of the twelve stairs needing refinishing.  I chose the flight of three stairs above the landing as my starting point thinking the landing was an appropriate separation point for the work.  I'm expecting this project to take a few (maybe several) weeks to complete.  It makes sense to divide the work into multiple parts.

Those three stairs got another hour and a half of sanding and then some dings and holes in the treads were filled with wood filler.

Not being certain about whether my prep work was sufficient, I decided to go ahead and stain just one stair as a test.  That way I could assess how the stain would take to the wood, whether the stain color would be satisfactory, and if I needed to sand some more.  I crossed my fingers, hoping I was good to go.

The stain was applied easily and evenly with a cotton rag and the color was just right.  The water-based polyurethane went on smoothly using a nylon brush.  The stain I used was Zar, #119 mocha.

I've moved on to finish the other two stairs in that section of the stairway.  They are looking very good and I am breathing a sigh of relief that I didn't start a project that was too much for me to complete.

One thing to remember about refinishing stairs is that your plan needs to allow for you and your family to access the area of your home usually accessible by the steps.  If you are staining and coating your steps with polyurethane you want to allow plenty of time for the finish to dry and cure.  In my case, the stairs lead to the bedrooms so access was critical.  I handled the challenge by refinishing every other stair.  That's why you see the "Walk Here" sign on the stair in the picture.   This approach also extended the timeline for the project,  I allowed for a week of dry time for the polyurethane on each tread.

Now I'm ready to move on to complete the main flight of nine stairs.  That is going to take me a while, but I believe I have worked out the kinks in my process.  I have learned some things in this project so far that I'd like to share with you in case you are planning a similar project.

Tips for Refinishing Projects
  • Research is important.  Talk to as many people as you can find who may have done this work before.  If you ask for advice from associates at local hardware stores, paint shops or the Home Depot be sure to ask them if they have actually done the work,or used the products and tools you are purchasing.  YouTube videos can be very helpful.  Take the time to check them out.
  • Gather your tools. Assemble all the tools you will need for the project before you get started.  You don't want to be running to the store every half-hour once you start the project.
  • Remove non-essential items.  Refinishing stairs is dirty work.  Remove household items from the area where you will be working.  There will be lots of dust.
  • Clean up as you go.  You'll want a dustpan and brush handy.  Keep a shop vac and damp cloths within arms reach as you work.
  • Pace yourself.  Plan your work schedule to give you adequate time to fully complete a step in the process and clean up each day.  Don't try to do too much at one time.  You'll only get frustrated.
  • Don't rush the prep work.  The quality of your end product is dependent on the quality of your prep work. 
I'll be busy working on those remaining stairs over the next few weeks.  Wish me luck!