July 2009: Around the House

July 2009: Around the House

Color cups

Need some indestructible cups, for kids or clumsy guests? Want to make sure your style’s equally unassailable? ’50s-vintage melmac cups and saucers from Antics bring cheery hues and retro flair to your kitchen, all mid-century-like.




Smart reductions

Little books for little spaces: Mimi Zeiger’s Tiny Houses is seven square inches of “microgreen living,” showcasing homeowners the world over who are simplifying and shrinking their lives to fit into homes under 1,000 square feet. Get ready for wee floor plans and mini-innovation, from treehouses to boathouses, and prepare to feel positively gluttonous about that walk-in closet.—Lucy Zhou







The lush (and selective) life

For those of us who were around when the great drought began half a decade ago, it’s been a treat to see a little mud during this remarkably rainy season. But Nature is two-handed if she is anything, and the boons of moisture and moderate temperatures (albeit with the ambiance of Mumbai) have also fostered abundant foliar diseases.

Abundant rain this year also means abundant foliar diseases.

Copious rainfall and high humidity mean fungal spores will splash and paint alarming blotches all over the leaves of dogwoods, photinias, roses, witch hazels and tomatoes. It’s just that kind of year. It’s way too late to spray fungicides after symptoms appear.

Although they’re bad news for plants that are mostly foliage, fungal diseases in general do not do long-term harm to trees and shrubs, merely disfiguring their leaves for a season and freaking out the anxious gardener.

For the long term, keep it clean at the base of susceptible plants. Remove debris and re-mulch each year so spores don’t over-winter. Avoid pruning dogwoods and witch hazels when leaves are wet because it spreads diseases and further stresses the plants. Wait for winter dormancy to thin for good air circulation. Pull yellow leaves from the bottom of tomatoes on a dry afternoon (smokers, wash your hands to avoid spreading tobacco mosaic disease) and mulch thickly with clean fluffy straw.

This lush season brings to mind Jefferson’s remark that in the new world of America, “Gardens may be made without expense. We have only to cut out the superabundant plants.” Seedlings abound—annual larkspur, poppy, cleome, cardinal vine, tassel flower and verbena left to go to seed last year are popping up like Chia Pets while perennial hosta and hellebore have skirts of hardy babies at their feet.


-Don’t mind the spots.
-Thin the annuals.
-Weed it.

In late summer I’ll prick off the little hostas and hellebores and transplant them a foot or so apart, but annuals need to be thinned early. I learned this lesson well with radishes which I sowed early enough, but neglected to thin to the recommended 1-2 inches, thinking, “What could go wrong with radishes?” Gargantuan top growth overwhelmed meager taproots which supplied hardly a decent tang worth harvesting.

Yet the gardener resists culling tender shoots, not only from innate indolence, which is a factor for some of us, but because a nurturing habit is the kernel of gardening. For myself, as long as I have a compost pile, I have little compunction in discarding plants. Let them rot and feed the soil. When you’re dealing with diseased foliage, however, burn or otherwise discard it rather than composting.

With flower and vegetable seedlings come also chickweed, henbit, mugwort and other weeds which must be eradicated before they choke out our favored pets. Large uniform plantings of groundcovers like grasses, junipers or spireas can be mulched with landscape fabric (which, unlike black plastic, allows water to permeate) or newspapers (which allow soil amendment) topped with a couple of inches of shredded hardwood. But mixed borders where plants have varying habits and cultural requirements need to be cultivated by hand.

Done properly, hand weeding can be therapeutic, even Zen-like. Yanking the tops off five-foot weeds growing in baked hardpan will definitely turn you off. But if you time it right—moist soil, small weeds—and have the proper tools—soil knife, trowel, customized kitchen implement (no gloves; you need finger contact)—and suitable stool, kneeling mat or strong back, you can clean up a bed in short time with immediate results and no harm to the environment. Top it with compost to amend the soil.

Chisel away the excess and the garden will emerge.—Cathy Clary

Canned heat

Up to your eyes in Jersey Boys or Beefsteaks? While popping open a jar of store-bought tomatoes might be easy-peasy, you’d be surprised at how simple and rewarding at-home canning can be. Grab your biggest pot, and your biggest, reddest bushel, and get ready to can-can your surplus Romas away. Believe us—you’ll be thanking yourself come December.

1) Pick fresh, fleshy tomatoes. Even though they’ll be cooked, this isn’t the place for mushy runts—quality canned tomatoes call for quality produce, period. Romas are recommended for having less skin and water, and thicker, meatier walls.

2) Sterilize, sterilize, sterilize. The dishwasher will do, or you can toss your jars, lids, and rings in a pot and get boiling. You should also start heating up your tomato juice as well as your canning pot (filled half-way with water), lid on.

3) They make for chewy sauce, so take the skins off after a quick one-minute dip in boiling water and then a dunk in a bowl of ice.

4) Fill the jars leaving a quarter-inch of headroom, add two tablespoons of lemon juice to ward off spoilage, and fill to the brim with hot tomato juice. Use a spoon to get rid of air pockets, then close it all up. Always use new lids!

5) Arrange the jars in your canning pot, cover with at least an inch of water, and boil for about 40-45 minutes. Once done, lift them out and let them cool overnight in a draft-free place, then check that the lid is sealed. If it pops, it’s not, so refrigerate and use quickly. No pop means your juicy reds are ready for stowing.—Lucy Zhou

Fragile fruits

Once cherries have appeared at City Market, set your alarm clock and watch the sky for crows—the tree fruit is coming in! Small tree fruit such as apricots and plums can be very difficult to grow and sell in Virginia—even under the best of circumstances, they are extremely perishable, and don’t take kindly to late frosts nor wet weather. For that reason, most orchards in Central Virginia tend to focus on peaches and apples based in part on lengthier seasons and heavier fruit. If you see apricots or plums, snatch them up and eat them quickly—they won’t be around for long!
If competitive fruit shopping isn’t your thing, taste the fruits of the season with Jam According to Daniel (accordingtodaniel.com) on Saturdays at the City Market and Tuesdays at the Forest Lakes Market. Daniel scours the countryside for fruit and herbs to transform into artisan jams such as White Peach + Hibiscus, Damson + Italian Plum, and Lemon Apricot; buy a few extra jars to push to the back of the cupboard for those seasons without fruit.—Lisa Reeder

Sleek street face

We’re always drawn to siding alternatives other than plain ol’ vinyl or wood. This aluminum-clad wall turns what could be a forgettable rancher in Meadowbrook Heights into a real head-turner.

Abundant rain this year also means abundant foliar diseases.

Prospect Hill Plantation Inn and Restaurant’s Tart Apricot

Shortbread Crust:

1 egg
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
dash of cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup apricot preserves, heated and strained

Beat egg and sugar in mixer until fluffy. Add vanilla, cinnamon and small amount of butter, then fold in flour and butter a little at a time until mixture forms a ball. Knead dough a few minutes and press into a buttered 12-inch pie tart pan. Bake at 375 degrees 15-20 minutes or until firm and golden. Do not over-bake. Set aside to cool completely, then brush with jam.

Mascarpone filling:

1 egg
1 cup sugar
16 oz. mascarpone cream cheese
1/2 tsp. almond extract (or 1 Tbs. Amaretto)

Whip egg and sugar until fluffy. Add extract, then cheese, a little at a time until smooth. Spread cheese filling evenly onto crust, then top with your choice of any of the following: peeled apricot or peach halves, peeled and sliced kiwi or apple, berries, halved strawberries (or any combination of the above) and fruit preserves to match. Firm fruits such as apricots, apples or pears need to be cooked in simple sugar syrup to soften. Arrange fruit in pattern all over cheese and glaze with melted, strained jam. Chill at least one hour. Serves 12.

Bird is the word

A professional knife kit contains many old friends, such as peelers and sharpeners and Band-Aids—but it may also contain some lesser-known tools. Until researching this article, I didn’t know the name of my “peach knife”—that is, the small, sharp paring knife that can skin a peach, peel an apple, pit a cherry and split a plum right in half.

One name is the bird’s beak paring knife, so named for the curved blade with a sharp point at the end; it is just the tool for peeling ripe fruit as the curved blade hugs the round contour of the fruit, causing fewer bruises and drips. The bird’s beak is also great for hulling strawberries, and (with a bit of practice) will yield smooth peeled potatoes of every shape and size.

The newly relocated and retooled Happy Cook at Barracks Road Shopping Center offers reasonably priced bird’s beak paring knives with cheery, painted handles by L’Econome. The new, larger location (just across the way from the old location) highlights artisan kitchen products of all types; it also features a demonstration space that will showcase local chefs and food producers. (See thehappycook.com).—L.R.

Your best side

As the recently departed Ed McMahon amply proved, everyone loves the sidekick. Give your sofa or easy chair a supporting act to be proud of with one of these side tables from local shops.

Ebonized tea cart with mirrored shelves, c. 1940s, from DeLoach Antiques












Mid-century-style metal and wood table, from a set of three, from Patina











Beverly side table with Greek-motif legs and wedge-shape inlay from Kenny Ball Antiques












Cherry side table made locally by Dan Mauro, sold at The Artful Lodger, $700