January 2009: Around the House

January 2009: Around the House

Top table lamps

Matt Pamer, a local graphic designer with concert posters and C-VILLE covers in his portfolio, guides us to three of his favorite table lamps from Charlottesville stores.




Gargoyle lamp from Artifacts
“The combination of the plain shade and the ornate gargoyle base shouldn’t work well together, but it does,” says Matt.


Bird lamp from O’Suzannah
Matt says this lamp, made by Slip, is his favorite of O’Suzannah’s many lamps sporting “bold, graphic shades.”









Tulip tree lamp from The Artful Lodger
“I love when design draws its inspiration directly from nature,” says Matt.












Adventures in seating

Take a seat with this one. 500 Chairs, compiled by longtime furniture maker Craig Nutt, shares seats of all descriptions, and we do mean all: chairs shaped like animals, tiled with

glass and made of shredded paper. You can’t deny the artistic audacity behind a chair with an umbrella—just in case there’s a sudden downpour in the living room, of course.—Suzanne van der Eijk






Rescued images

Decoupage trays made by John Derian, which we spotted at Caspari, delight us with their antique images preserved in a no-fuss, modern format. They’re too pretty to put anything on, but we’re sure we could find a spot for them anyway.—Erika Howsare








Woolen Mills standout

A star in a neighborhood of notables, this place communicates the loving touch of someone who knows they have a gem. We love the classic Virginia shape, enhanced by bright white trim, and that glassed-in porch is so sweetly retro.—E.H.



Bellair Market’s Lentil Soup

3 Tbs. oil or butter
1 1/4 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup each chopped celery and carrots
1 qt. chicken stock, broth, or water
2 cups lentils
2 whole tomatoes, seeded “by squeezing,” and chopped
2-3 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. each thyme and oregano
1/2 bunch fresh basil
2 cups red potatoes, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 cup diced meat, if desired (Bellair suggests country or boiled ham, or smoked turkey)
salt and pepper to taste
Saute onion, celery, and carrots in oil or butter. Add stock, lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, potatoes and carrot. Simmer 45 minutes or until lentils are soft. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

As food prices continue to rise, and our local sources go dark for the winter, consider making rich meals out of legumes, grains, and perhaps a bit of meat broth or sausage squirreled away from the days of City Market. The legume of the month: lentils! Lentils of all types are rich in phosphorus, calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, and B complex vitamins—and at 16 grams of protein per cup, they offer an inexpensive yet satisfying meal, especially when combined with rice or barley.

The trick with lentils is in the consistency or “mouth feel,” which is a direct function of age and cooking time. While there is no foolproof way to tell the age of a lentil, the little guys will get “webby” looking as they get older; try to just purchase what you are likely to cook in a few months’ time. For lentil salads, or any presentation that requires whole yet fully cooked lentils, favor the French delicacy lentilles du Puy and be prepared to gently scoop them out of their cooking medium and cool them down as quickly as possible. A bit of vinegar at the end of cooking will help them keep their shape.  

Lentils that hail from the Middle East are often shelled to expose their colorful centers—these will cook more quickly than their sheathed counterparts, and will rarely (O.K., never) stay whole throughout cooking. Lentils can be spiced every which way; with mirepoix and bouquet garni and red wine, with fennel and olive oil and oregano and white wine, with mustard seed and cumin and coriander—and that’s just the beginning. One thing to remember about all lentils—do not add salt or oil to them until cooking is complete, as it will tend to make them mealy.—Lisa Reeder

Better recipe arsenal

If you’re stuck in a cooking rut, or spending too much money at the grocery store, take matters into your own hands and set yourself up for fulfillment in 2009.

Inventory and organize your pantry, and for a few weeks set a goal of using one or two

“lost” pantry items in each meal. While you do that, make a note of convenience foods that you purchase at the grocery store—prebaked pizza crusts, croutons, salad dressings, and seasoning mixes. Pick three to five items from this list, and research recipes for them, taking time to read many sources to understand the theory behind each item.

Take salad dressings, for example: A simple vinaigrette can be made and emulsified by shaking in a reused glass jar, will taste better as time goes by, and will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator. Not only will you save money at the checkout, but you may realize that your salad dressings just take a bit of tweaking to turn into marinades and dips. Find a recycled binder or shoebox or food tin to keep your recipes in; if they have food splattered on them, so much the better. That just means they’re tested.—L.R.

Keep dreaming

The gardener’s almanac wisely sets aside January for daydreaming. Better not to muck about in the mud (which is setting us up so nicely for spring), wantonly destroying soil structure, or going wild with the pruners cutting off flower buds already set for winter.

Drop the blades and walk away from those azaleas. Instead, with weeds frozen down and everything invitingly bare, use spray paint or string to lay out new beds or extend existing ones.


—Order seeds.

—Lay out new beds.

—Enjoy the hellebores.

Cover turf or weedy areas with an inch or two of newspaper or cardboard. Scalp it with a weed eater or mower first, letting the cuttings lie, and mulch with pine needles, sawdust, shredded bark or compost. By April or May you’ll be able to pop in a splash of colorful bedding plants or lay the foundation for a mixed border with a few strategic shrubs and perennials.

Seed and plant lists, the gardener’s version of New Year’s resolutions, take shape from the vivid images in catalogs and online: burpee.com is a classic; cooksgarden.com specializes in interesting edibles. For vegetables, the hard copy catalog of Territorial Seed Company (territorialseed.com) remains the standard, with comprehensive cultural advice. 

My list began last fall with asparagus crowns when I found to my dismay they were unobtainable except during the magic month of February. Purchased dormant as dried roots via mail order or local garden centers and planted in well-prepared trenches, asparagus is a classic perennial anchor for the long-term vegetable garden.

Hellebores can begin  blooming as early as January.

I cultivate this aristocratic vegetable in honor of my hardscrabble mother who tended it in a raised bed in west Texas many years ago. It was just a little square in the alley between the old ranch house and the far yard with the windmill and outdoor shower, gritty pale gray soil bordered with a thin edge of concrete to separate it from the mowed wiregrass.

When we began our garden here in Virginia the first thing I put in was an asparagus bed, right in the middle. Over the years, design considerations have moved it to the center of one of the vegetable plots on either side of the entry path. I need about a dozen more to complete a double row.

Herbs such as sage and rosemary are usually available as potted plants only in the spring. The classic everlasting, old-fashioned globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa), is a must as it’s hard to find anything in the garden centers other than ‘Dwarf Buddy,’ a blobby little cultivar that has disappointed me once too often. Jerusalem artichokes for the roadside ditch (edible roots with cutting flowers), parsley enough for a couple of rows in the new deer-proof garden and a multitude of greens round out the order.

No need to dream of spring when hellebores roll out brocades of emerald, jade and onyx through dark winter beds. Shade-loving evergreen perennials, they are impervious to deer, beginning to bloom around January. Combined with periwinkle, English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and scillas (Scilla bifolia) (check out vanengelen.com for minor bulbs), they make an interesting groundcover under inkberries and hydrangeas in a moist bed with an eastern exposure.

Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, has deep green leaves and nodding white flowers, like a single rose, that age to shades of pink. Lenten rose, H. orientalis, in purple, mauve and mint, is the most colorful of the tribe.
My favorite, the sadly defamed stinking Hellebore, H. foetidus, has dark foliage like etched tiger claws topped by spikes of pale green flowers straight out of a Dr. Seuss fantasy. It sometimes harbors just a trace of defensive muskiness if bruised. But then again, who doesn’t?—Cathy Clary

Seal the gaps

A caulk gun requires a steady hand, but it’s simple to use.

January, when the bitter wind is blowing and the illusory warmth of eggnog in your belly has subsided, is the perfect time to tighten up your house. After all, the coldest days are when you notice drafts most keenly. If you’ve never wielded a caulk gun, fear not—it’s no more complicated than making a paper snowflake. Here are the basics:

1. Make the rounds and take note of cold spots. Prime draft sites: door and window frames, spots where utility lines or dryer vents pass through exterior walls, around A/C units, and anyplace two materials meet. A lit stick of incense can help alert you to problems.

2. Scrape off any old caulk or paint where you intend to seal.

3. Trim the tip off the caulk container and pierce the seal; many caulk guns have snipper and poker tools for these purposes (they open like tools on a Swiss Army knife). Load the caulk into the gun and get a rag ready to wipe up excess.

4. Apply the caulk in a smooth, even motion. It takes a little practice, but with your trusty rag, you can clean up any messes until you become more deft.

5. Congratulate yourself on energy savings and a toastier house.—E.H.