April 2009: Around the House

April 2009: Around the House

Come over for coffee

Looking for the best coffee tables in town? We’ve done the hunting for you. Put on a pot of joe and dust off the biggest, glossiest book you own.

Double coffee table from The Second Yard

Hello, storage! With book and coasters tucked on the bottom shelf, the top will stay uncluttered—in theory, anyway.

Mirror table from The Artful Lodger
Silver-leaf legs and a mirrored top make this table a shiny conversation piece, and lend a modern touch to a classic shape.

Mission table from Classic Furniture
We love the warm finish and the proven style of this Stickley-inspired piece. It’ll make an understated focal point for a room.

Reclaimed teak and iron table from Quince
With its hand-hammered base, eco-approved top and industrial profile, this one says “loft” loud and clear.

Oval bamboo-look table from Kenny Ball Antiques
This luxe beauty’s got very pretty legs, brass-and-glass contrast and an urban, Euro-influenced feel.

Northern highlights

Move over, Ikea: Andrew Hollingsworth’s Danish Modern has all the clean lines and lean, economical curves you could ever desire. Showcasing classic, more-than-modern stars of Danish furniture design against swathes of white space and interesting historical tidbits, this quintessential coffee table book comes complete with coffee tables, furniture care instructions, and the little voyeuristic thrill of peeking into other people’s bedrooms.—Lucy Zhou



Scoop me up

Suckers for copper anything—lighting fixtures, pots and pans, roofs—we couldn’t help but be attracted to these ladles, handmade by Bruce Hansen and sold at Vivian’s, that combine copper, brass and silver for a coat-of-many-colors look. We also like that the utensils could do as much for the appearance of your kitchen as for its function.






Balance your portfolio

For some reason, as I contemplate the candy-colored bulbs of spring, the old warning against putting all your eggs in one basket keeps occurring to me. Diversity pays off in the garden perhaps even more than in the financial world—Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts, and a wide variety of daffodils insures against a truncated flower season.
As usual, capricious temperatures lured early Narcissus into bloom then laid them low with a couple of single-digit nights. Picked the next day, these blossoms were fine for the house, but their longer outdoor display was cut short.

Handily enough, daffodils are toxic to deer.

Scattered among varieties with different bloom times (categorized, like daylilies and peonies, into “early, mid-season and late”), daffodils don’t all open up at the same time. And though a few stalks might fall over during early arctic spells, you can count on later bloomers to come in waves through at least part of May.

Daffodils are botanically named Narcissus for the ancient drowned youth who was turned into the flower after trying to kiss his reflection in the water (those Greeks!). They grow wild in southwestern Europe, in a swath from Spain through Switzerland, Italy and Greece into bits of northern Africa, and the bulbs are adapted to temperature extremes as well as drought.

Because they are toxic to deer, squirrels and other varmints and increase over the years, unlike the more difficult tulips, daffodils play a major role here in our hollow. Flowers began this year in late February with the miniature ‘Tete-a-Tete’ blooming its little double heads off in nosegay clumps as small as 4 to 6 inches. They keep growing as they flower, ending up 8 to 10 inches tall, a far cry from the great honking ‘King Alfred’ trumpet types that max out over a foot.

I love the miniatures because their small bulbs are easy to plant and their delicate form shows up nicely against the fieldstone edges of our borders but our collection includes most of the other divisions of the genus Narcissus as well, including the star of mid-season, the lovely old white nodding species “Swan’s Neck.”

The small cupped ‘Ice Follies’ were laying on the ground after the last 9-degree night while the miniature ‘Segovia’ and later poeticus varieties, whose flowers will mark the tail end of our daffodil season, have hardly put up their first green shoots.

Explore this world in Brent and Becky Heath’s definitive Daffodils for American Gardens (Elliott & Clark, 1995).

Temperature differences are also key in the new vegetable/cutting/kitchen garden created by the deer fence. The lower bed is a good 18 inches downhill from the upper bed, and has a bit of shade, so we are presented with a cooler, moister bed for the lettuces that I hope will extend our season later into the summer for cool weather crops. The upper, sunnier bed is perfect for heat lovers like tomatoes and peppers and will give warmer soil for earlier planting.

An inexpensive soil thermometer stuck into the ground on successive afternoons, much like a meat thermometer, reveals a difference of 8 to 10 degrees between the two beds in March. My trusty Territorial Seed Catalog gives the optimum temps for germination. Lettuces can sprout as low as 40 degrees, but parsnips risk rotting in soils cooler than 55. Keeping records in our old garden notebook of planting dates and temperatures makes us feel like Thomas Jefferson.

Don’t miss Virginia Garden Week (VAGardenweek.org), April 18-25, for a chance to see stately country homes in Free Union and, on April 21, guided tours at the University’s Pavilion Gardens and Carr’s Hill.—Cathy Clary

Preen that patio

Winter’s waning, and we’re guessing that those long months of rain, sleet and snow have left your lawn chairs and patio set looking woebegone. Before potluck and barbecue season sets in, here’s how to get your outdoor furniture looking prim enough to face any nosy neighbor:

Mild detergent will clean your porch furniture right up.

1. Soak dirty cushions in a tub with detergent and water. A little bleach can do a lot of mildew-killing good for white cushions, but you’ll simply have to wash that flashy fuschia-pink set more frequently.

2. Hopefully you’ve stored your wood furniture inside for a winter siesta, but yearly cleaning will give it some extra shine. A garden hose and some mild detergent will do; give the furniture a good scrub and avoid high pressure hosing to prevent painted wood from flaking.

3. Aluminum furniture benefits from a little polishing paste to stop oxidation, but avoid alkaline cleaners, which will do just the opposite; a 1:1 mix of white vinegar and water will do the trick if your furniture is only lightly affected. You can protect both aluminum and cast iron furniture with regular cleaning and a few coats of auto wax to keep out moisture.—Lucy Zhou



Store up the sunshine

Winter is fading into memory, but it is still quite some time until local vegetables are truly in abundance; it takes the sun even longer to sweeten any fruit to ripeness, although strawberries should be making an appearance in May. 

Lemon zest can improve everything from the flavor of your French toast batter to the odor of your trashcan.

When last lingering in the produce department, the organic citrus seemed to be shining—indicating the end of the season, when ripeness is peak and price is low. Look for vividly colored rinds and fruit that yields to the touch. Citrus can be stored at room temperature, which will allow it to keep ripening, or in the refrigerator, which will keep a ripe fruit from going soft.

When you spring for organic citrus, double your money by zesting the fruit before you eat it. The zest is the outermost layer of peel—just the part that is colored, not the bitter white rind underneath. The zest can be stored in the freezer or “preserved” by burying it in salt or sugar (which also infuses the crystals with citrus oil). It adds a zesty flavor to French toast batter, meat marinades, salad dressings, baked goods, bar mixes, and chocolate truffles. Finally, adding zest to vinegar, oil, vanilla, and even booze will offer whiffs and sips of customized condiments. If you run out of ideas, you can always sprinkle some in the bath or the bottom of a stinky trashcan.—Lisa Reeder

Small but mighty

For a fine, light dusting of zest, it pays to invest in a microplane zester. This device comes with a sheath like a sword, and is indeed just as powerful. Its handled design is knuckle-saving (as opposed to the box grater), with tiny holes and sharp teeth that, when applied with gentle pressure, remove the zest from even the ripest citrus without mashing the fruit. Microplanes are also perfect for tiny curls of aged cheeses like Everona Piedmont or Parmigiano Reggiano, or for grating chocolate on top of your cocoa. Available at the Seasonal Cook (seasonal cook.com).—L.R.

Orange Bread Pudding

The Inn at Court Square gave us this recipe, a zesty winner for breakfast.

Bread pudding
2/3 cups milk
1 2/3 cups whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. grated orange or clementine zest
1 tsp. vanilla extract
24 slices of croissants, 1/2-inch thick
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Put 1 2/3 cups each of milk and heavy cream in a saucepan and add the sugar. Warm over low heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and cool. Add the eggs, orange zest and vanilla and mix well. Arrange half of the croissants in a buttered 9- or 10-inch baking dish. Sprinkle half of the pecans on croissants. Arrange remaining croissants and sprinkle on rest of pecans. Pour egg mixture evenly on the croissants. Soak for 30 minutes.

Press the top layer of croissants into the liquid once or twice. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set the baking dish in a roasting pan. Add enough water to the pan to come halfway up the side of the dish. Bring to a boil. Transfer to oven. Bake for 40 minutes or until the pudding is set and golden brown on top. Sprinkle top of pudding with sifted confectioners’ sugar. Serve with clementine syrup.

Clementine Syrup
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
juice of half a lemon
4 clementines, sliced

In a non-reactive 2 1/2 quart saucepan, bring the sugar, water and lemon juice to a boil and caramelize to a deep amber. Using caution, add the sliced clementines. Caramel will bubble up as clementine juice is released into the caramel. Reduce to desired consistency and strain through a sieve. Let cool.


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