February 18th, 2012

We love to travel, but always hate leaving our dogs behind. We are fortunate to have a wonderful friend who puppy-sits for us, so we don’t worry, we just MISS them so much! So on a recent trip, the boys went along. We were headed to southwestern Florida for several weeks of warm sunshine.

Bruce settles in for a long road trip.

Traveling with a dog is challenging. Traveling with two dogs, in a car, for two days and almost 1000 miles, might be considered by some to be insane. Well, you know the commercial that says, “Some people just don’t understand how you live?” That would be us. We are crazy about our boys and as devoted to them as they are to us.

With a little thought and preparation, it’s entirely doable and actually a lot of fun for everyone.
We packed a bag with just dog stuff: food, treats, medicines, bowls, a favorite toy or two and grooming supplies. (Be sure to bring current shot records, too, just in case). We shared our bottled water and brought plastic bags for rest stops which were timed as nearly as possible to the dogs’ normal routine at home. We tossed in a roll of paper towels in case of car sickness, which fortunately was not needed. The Orvis seat protector is always in place, so we just topped it with their bed.

Their big memory foam bed filled the backseat. After the initial excitement, both settled down for a long nap.

Plan ahead and make reservations for a pet-friendly hotel, if you need one. You will most likely pay a “cleaning fee” of about $50. for your pets. Our stop-over hotel was perfect for the boys. The window had a great view of the parking lot and was just the right height for watching cars and people come and go before settling down for the night. We would be up early the next morning and back on the road.

our temporary home

After a day of getting used to their new surroundings, Toby and Bruce settled in easily. With familiar things like their bed, toys and food bowls nearby…(and of course, Mom and Dad)…the transition was remarkably easy. Long walks in our temporary neighborhood meant meeting new friends of both the human and canine variety.

Surprisingly neither dog seemed interested in the alligator who lives in a nearby lagoon.

A day at the beach is so relaxing.

A great egret kept a watchful eye on the dogs…

…and Toby kept an eye on him.

Too much heat and sun is not good for dogs or humans. Plenty of cool water and a shade tree provided the needed balance.

It was a glorious day on Sanibel’s causeway islands…tiny islands that act as stepping stones for the bridge to the main island of Sanibel.

Not a bad way to spend a winter’s day.

February 13th, 2012

My husband and I love farmers’ markets. There is something wonderful about the fresh-from-the-fields produce presented in boxes and baskets, under tents and in the beds of pick-up trucks. Homemade jams, pickles, and breads are neighbors with hot, aromatic barbeque fresh from the smoker. The interaction with the growers, bakers, cooks and artisans is one of the reasons we enjoy shopping this way. They often offer samples of their wares and beam with pride when complimented on the beauty and tastiness.

Perhaps another of the reasons the farmers’ market is so special is that it’s seasonal, so the joys of the fresh goods and smiling faces is fleeting. In Virginia, most markets run from April through October. In the winter months, we have to settle for what the grocery stores offer…which is fine, but certainly not the same as shopping in the open air and being greeted by weekly friends.

But America is a big country, and in southwest Florida “the season” is now! On a recent trip, I searched for local farmers’ markets and found one on Sanibel, a tiny island in the Gulf of Mexico more famous for seashells than produce. It was an unseasonably cool day on the island, but no one seemed to mind. We were all thinking about the wonderful meals we would prepare with the bounty laid before us.

Of course, citrus fruit was abundant, as was fresh seafood.

A charming Frenchman and his nephew offered pate’ and cheeses.

Mama Mac’s stand featured macaroni with lobster, crab or chili, along with barbecued pork and chicken.

It was hard to resist buying an orchid, but getting it home safely would have been a challenge.

We purchased vine ripened tomatoes, a variety of peppers, Silver Queen corn, avocados, cherries, strawberries, freshly smoked bacon and sausage, a country pate and a soft, pungent cheese with a name I can’t pronounce. On our next visit, we will have a better plan and a bigger bag, now that we know what to expect.

February 10th, 2012

I have recently discovered the key to those delicious kale salads that seem to be all the rage in trendy restaurants lately. You literally massage the raw kale leaves with salt which brings them to a tender, supple state, perfect for a highly nutritious salad. I used Tuscan kale, also known as black kale or Lacinato . I suppose you could use any variety of kale, but I would avoid the coarser, curly variety for this recipe.

Tuscan kale salad with chicken, peppers and onion sausage – delicious with a glass of Chianti

You will need:
Tuscan kale – One small bunch makes two small salads, as the volume will decrease by about half as you massage the leaves.

Salt – about 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon

Juice of ½ lemon – freshly squeezed

Extra-virgin olive oil – about 1 -1 ½ tablespoons

Pine nuts or sunflower seeds– about 2 tablespoons– toast in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, tossing frequently until they just start to turn golden and fragrant.

Manchego or Parmesan Cheese, shaved

Black pepper, freshly ground

Buy organic kale if you can find it, and wash the leaves very well. Pat dry. Remove tough stems. Roll leaves and slice into approx. 1” ribbons.

Place into large bowl, sprinkle with salt and massage leaves gently with your hands for two minutes. Squeeze excess water from kale and place in another bowl. Volume will reduce by about half.

Roll a lemon on a hard surface with a bit of pressure before slicing to produce more juice.

Drizzle kale with lemon juice and olive oil. Toss, and let sit for a couple of minutes to absorb the dressing’s flavor.

Then add the toasted seeds and top with shaved cheese. Season with black pepper.
Kale is a super-food, packed with vitamins and minerals. Uncooked, you are preserving even more of the nutritional value. Enjoy this simple rustic salad as a healthy meal or as a side dish.

February 9th, 2012

Are you looking for something special for your valentine this year? If so, I have a suggestion. Take a drive through the Virginia countryside this week-end to Gray Ghost Vineyards for their fabulous Cabernet and Chocolates.

This is the seventeenth year for this outstanding event which features a dizzying array of chocolate desserts and of course, Gray Ghosts’ award-winning wines. Your very reasonable admission includes unlimited tastings of the featured reds paired with all the chocolate decadence you can handle, plus a souvenir Valentine’s wine glass.

If you want to make a day of it, pack a picnic lunch to enjoy either inside in the Mosby Lounge or outdoors, weather permitting. But keep it light because you’ll want to save room for dessert. Dress is casual, and tours of the winery will be going on all day.

Cabernet and Chocolates – Saturday and Sunday, February 11 and 12, 2012 – snow, rain or shine!

Entry to event: 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, winery open until 5:00 pm

Winery tour schedule for the weekend:
12:00 pm
1:30 pm
3:00 pm

$17 per person
$10 under 21

Gray Ghost is one of my favorite Virginia wineries. The people are friendly, the place is beautiful and the wine is outstanding. Each year their list of awards gets longer. You will certainly want to take home a bottle or two.

For directions and more information go to: www.grayghostvineyards.com

Gray Ghost Vineyards
14706 Lee Highway
Amissville VA 20106
Phone: 540-937-4869
In addition to their famous Cabernets, be sure to taste Gray Ghost’s gold medal winning Chardonnay and their late-harvest Vidal-Blanc dessert wine, Adieu.
February 8th, 2012

Here, in its most basic form, is the process I use to decorate a room. First ask questions: What do you like or dislike about the room? What do we have to work with as far as existing furnishings, art, rugs, etc.? What can be used as-is and what needs to be reworked or reupholstered? There are actually many, many more questions, but you get the idea. Assess what you have and figure out where you want to go with it.

The swatches, below, represent an actual project I am currently working on. In addition to a couple of pieces of furniture, one thing the client loves are her blue and white lamps. I agree. They are lovely. However, this woman is young, energetic and fun. Her formal living room and furniture, much of it inherited, does not suit her style. So we’re keeping the lamps and building from there. I found the contemporary floral fabric that I knew she would love (and she does). It looks great with the deep blue from the lamps and also incorporates other shades of blue as well as citrine and bronze. This fabric is our inspiration piece.

Top row: Robert Allen fabrics; Benjamin Moore paint/Bottom row: Robert Allen fabric; East Enterprises lamp; Fairfield Chair fabric

The floral fabric would be too much pattern if we used it on a large piece, such as a sofa, so we chose to use it on some lovely French chairs that the client already owns. They are very traditional so the contemporary fabric gives them a kick! The sofa, instead, will go neutral and soft (swatch in lower right). We chose to reupholster the client’s existing sofa as the lines are classic and the quality of construction is excellent.

We needed a patterned, but less busy fabric, for a large chair and ottoman, so we chose the quatrefoil design (upper left). The scale is larger than the floral,  It incorporates the citrine color as well as the neutral beige of the sofa, and the texture is nubby and comfortable.

We pulled the darkest blue from the floral fabric to use on the draperies (lower left). In linen, this fabric will be simple and casual. Finally, we chose the only color from the inspiration fabric that could work on the walls, citrine, and did it in a lighter tint (upper right).  A slightly paler version will go onto the ceiling.

Table by Fairfield Chair

We will add accessories, of course, and a few occasional tables like the beautiful one above. The warmth of the wood coordinates with the client’s existing furniture, but the lines are clean and contemporary.

Good design takes time and this project has just begun. Once it’s all complete, I’ll share the finished product with you.

The lesson here is to find your inspiration piece and build your room from there. Various textures and pattern scale keep things looking coordinated but not too matchy and boring. Then, build the next room from the first and so on. This is how to achieve flow and continuity throughout your home.

Or you could call me and we’ll work on things together!

For resources and details – www.merrypowell.com/getintouch

(1 Comment)