Summer House Projects 2015 — Part III – House Painting

This is the 3rd and final installment in my “what I did around the house this summer” series…the first two can be found here (garden project) and here (driveway project).

Project #3 – Repaint the House

This was a project that revealed itself the first winter we lived in the house (we’ve been there 2 years and some change now).  On the north side of the house, the first couple times we got torrential autumn rains, the paint started bubbling all across the siding.  Once the weather dried out, the bubbles slowly went down, but it made one thing abundantly clear–there was a problem with our paint job.  It wasn’t too bad over the winter, so we figured we’d scrape the siding and repaint the next summer, but we never got around to doing that since it wasn’t too terrible…probably a poor choice in retrospect, but we’re new at this!

The second winter revealed even more paint issues on that wall.  The paint that bubbled the year before started peeling and cracking off in large sheets (some as large as 6-8″ pieces–crazy!), and it only got worse.

Here’s the worst side, just after we power washed. All the white/brown you see is where the paint bubbled off. Grrrr.

We decided we absolutely would have to redo the paint in our second summer, especially since we knew the house had last been painted sometime between November and February (the flippers only had it a few months before we first saw it).  That timeframe is really terrible conditions for exterior painting (it should be at least 55 degrees out, and I can prettymuch guarantee that doesn’t happen in Minnesota in those 4 months).  So the root of our problem was likely a paint job that happened when it was too cold for the paint to adhere properly.

We have a friend in the paint business, so we borrowed a color book and mulled over different color schemes–we figured while we were at it, we might as well paint the house a color we like better (neither of us is big on yellow).  We settled on a dark charcoal grey with a bright red trim.  When John lived in Norway, he really loved the traditional houses there that had cedar shake siding covered in pitch with red trim–and I agree, it’s very pretty, especially when it snows.  However, we have cementboard siding, not cedar shakes, so covering the house in pitch wasn’t really an option.  Charcoal grey paint sounded like a good compromise, though!

The first step was getting all the old paint off.  We decided instead of scraping the siding, we’d power wash anything that was loose off, then use a bonding primer that would essentially glue all the remaining layers of paint to the cement board.  This saved us a good bit of work, and since we don’t know what the makeup of our siding is (some cementboard has asbestos, & we’re pretty sure ours is in that group based on the age), we wouldn’t risk inhaling asbestos as we scraped and sanded. Pressure washing took us an entire day (and it was soooo cold…it was mid-August, but the day we rented the equipment dawned windy and 55 degrees…and it didn’t get much warmer).  We survived, though, and got a ton of loose paint off the house.

John up on the ladder on a cold, cold, August day.

Our next step was the primer.  We decided to prime everything: siding, trim, gutters, soffit, flashing, you name it.  We were lucky enough to have a variety of ladders and a few friends to help, but we had to use brushes and rollers because our paint sprayer wouldn’t handle the bonding primer (seriously, that stuff was the consistency of instant pudding–soooo thick and gloopy).  So it took a while (a 3-day weekend) to get all the primer applied. We were really fastidious about getting it anywhere we’d had issues with peeling paint, less so everywhere else.


And of course, in the process, we uncovered a few minor repairs that needed doing while we were at it.  Chiefly, the windows on our house, which appear to have been trimmed with a series of poor decisions.  Instead of brickmould and drip guards, the upper casings were just 1×4 boards nailed up to cover where the window guts/siding meet.  We didn’t like the look of that when we bought the place, so we knew we wanted to replace them with some proper trim at some point.  However, some point became NOW since the windows were also installed without any dripsills, so the 1x4s turned out to be quite rotten from water running down the siding and behind the “trim” boards (which we discovered by looking down at the window tops as we were up on the ladders powerwashing…it made me so cranky!).

Something’s rotten in the state of Minnesota.

John pulled all the rotten bits off and replaced them with recycled lumber (which is amazing stuff–essentially wood pulp suspended in epoxy, which means it will NEVER rot!) and vinyl brickmould for the upper trim (which also will NEVER rot!), and dripsills to protect the actual wood behind the trims.  Of course, unplanned repairs took a couple days more than we were hoping (and it seemed like every time you prized off a rotten board, the one under it was bad, too!), but we still got it done well before we wanted to start the actual painting.  I won’t lie, though…it was super frustrating to have ALL your windows turn out to be installed bass-ackwards.  Especially when drip sills (which would have prevented all of the rot) cost about 25 center per foot!)…no excuses!

Dripsills. Use them, people.

Recycled lumber FTW! (Pay no mind to the chips missing from the siding…John got a little zealous prying things off the house.)

We also went around and caulked our windows, and we installed a gable vent in our garage front (the garage had zero ventilation, so it got really hot in the summer and got quite musty and dank from time to time).  A 14″ x 24″ vent should help with those issues, and we got to patch the random circular hole in the siding, to boot!  (Someone maybe had a light fixture or something there at one time, but when we bought the house, there was an 8-inch hole that someone had nailed some plywood behind–it didn’t look very nice, and was (of course!) wildly off-center).

Note the weird hole on the left. I suggested we install the vent, then paint the circle yellow and add some rays and call it a sunburst. John was not amused.

John was really happy to have that patched up!

All better. John squared off the hole and used a little patch of recycled lumber board to fill it in.

And it wouldn’t be an exterior home project if we didn’t find at least one wasp nest, right?  Of course.  We found a sizeable nest of yellowjackets in the eaves on the back of the house, so we busted out the chemical warfare and sprayed them (not a fan of that stuff, but it does work).

I will say that painting your house is a fantastic way to get better acquainted with the building and spot all the little things that can be fixed now, before they cause massive problems down the road.  Just for that reason, I’m glad we decided to paint the whole house instead of just touch up the peeling north side!

Fully primed!

Finally, we got to the painting!  John was really excited to bust out the big guns–we picked up a professional-grade paint sprayer for the occasion, which made everything go SO much faster (if only we could have sprayed the primer on, too)!  We did a bit of the trim by hand (around windows and doors, just to avoid having to tape everything off or scrape overspray off the glass), but we sprayed everything else.  The hand brushing took a while, but I like painting with a brush, it’s kind of zen, so I didn’t mind.

Painting the dormer was the most nerve-wracking bit since our upper roof is pretty steep, but we got a couple ladder hooks and laid the extension ladder along the roof for purchase on either side, and to get at the front peak, we anchored a ladder to our window frame to keep it in place as we worked.  I’m not sure if there’s a better way to do it, and I feel obligated to add the “don’t try this at home, kids” disclaimer, but it worked pretty well for us (though it did make me hella nervous while we were up there.

Dip dyed–a good look, no?!

All in all, it came out really well.  I mean, it was a TON of work.  I totally get why people pay thousands of dollars for someone else to do all the heavy lifting.  I do.  I think it was good that we did it ourselves, though.  We were able to fix a few things that needed fixing, and it’s really empowering to know that we can tackle a HUGE project like that and come out the other side relatively on time, on budget, and with a satisfactory quality job.  Go team!  (And if you made it this far into the post, I would like to offer you a virtual brownie for your perseverance!  Thanks for staying with me on this one!)  And next summer, I am going to lounge in my backyard with tasty cocktails…I think I’ve met my quota of massive house projects for the time being!

[pic collage of finished job]

And just in case anyone is interested, here’s some of the stuff we used that I would totally recommend if you are in the market, so to speak (and I’m not getting paid to say any of this–these just worked really well!)

  • Valspar Reserve exterior latex (in Mark Twain Gray Brick, Cut Ruby, and Turquoise Tint)
  • Valspar Bonding Primer
  • Purdy Colossus 3/4″ nap rollers and 3″ sash brushes–high capacity rollers so you aren’t constantly scampering back to the paint tray, really solid brushes that don’t shed bristles, gum up, and wash up fantastically so you can reuse them a lot!
  • Graco Paint Sprayer – worth every red cent for all the labor it saved us, and it gave us a very even finish once we passed the learning curve (which was, mercifully, short!)
  • Werner ladder stabilizer – made the up-high work much less terrifying as it really does stabilize the ladder and get you out away from the eaves a little so you have room to work.

Some Sewing, at Last!

I’ve gotten a bit more sewing in lately–a quick sweater for my little niece, another cardigan for me (in a sad fabric choice), some leggings, a dress that was supposed to be a tunic, and a couple other tunics!  (Yes, basically I locked myself in my sewing room over the weekend and didn’t come out till I was in a much better mood!)  I have been almost exclusively sewing with knits lately, and I find it suits my wardrobe pretty well–seeing as 99.9999% of the clothes I wear day-to-day are knit tops and jeans.  However!  With the advent of my knit sewing craze, I have also added a few pairs of leggings into the mix and I think I’m a convert!  Not sure I can get away with wearing them to work (or that I’m gutsy enough to try) unless maybe under a dress (egad, but then I’d be wearing a dress to work!  so much crazy talk)!  But I’m warming up to the idea.  (Of leggings AND dresses, oh my!).  Of course, Nightmare Before Christmas print leggings might be too far, so now I’m on the hunt for opaque nice quality knit in solid neutrals.  We’ll see.

I am also dialing in the fit on a few patterns–I’ve had the Lacey Slope Tank/Hoodie in my stash for a while and some of my favorite me-made tees had been from that pattern, but I’m not a fan of the hi-low hem, so I struck out and tried the Seamwork Mesa for a longer, elbow-sleeve tee.  I graded between the 2x in the shoulders/bust and 3x in the hips based on my measurements, and I love the way it nips in at the waist (I have a waist!?!  Who knew!?), but I’m not crazy at the fit across the back (a bit of back flab shows up under the tighter versions, which, while not the end of the world, still vexes me a bit).

Oh the things you learn sewing knits, though.  Fabric choice became the watchword of the day almost immediately–I’ve now made 3 versions, all in different fabrics, and all with totally different results:

  1. A super drapey lightweight teal cotton jersey that hangs about 3 inches lower than the pattern measurements would suggest it would (aka the teal knee-length dress), and which has issues with the neckline growing ever wider (though it is now stabilized with clear elastic, so hopefully that puts the kibosh on that).
  2. An abstract black & purple floral slightly too-tight rayon slub knit version that I shortened by 4 inches (and now hits close to where it ought)…unfortunately the horizontal stretch is a little lacking in the fabric, so that version is for under cardigans only (cute from the front, but not very flattering in the back!).
  3. A lavender rayon jersey dipped hem version that is approaching the mythical “just right”.  I kind of winged the hemline (the Mesa has a straight hem with side vents) and for this iteration, I drew a gentle curve from my low-hip area on down to center on front and back pattern pieces.  The shape is really nice, and the fit is good through the torso.  I do think it’s just about 2 inches too long still, as worn by itself, it totally looks like a nightgown (waa waa waaaaaaa).  But it’s comfy, the back is snug, but not too tight, and I like to fabric–very soft.

So fabric choice–same pattern, 3 fabrics, very different results.  Also, I should note that these fabrics are literally whatever was on sale on when I decided to sew a bunch of knit stuff, because I figured I’d need a few tries before I got it down.  So cheap fabric.  And I’ll be shocked if any of these survive the whole winter.  But at an average of $3/yard, not a bad way to learn.

I’m also noticing that either I’m a cutting layout wizard, or the suggested layout/yardage on Seamwork patterns is very generous–it claims I’ll need 2.75 yards for each tunic, and I’m consistently using about 1.5 yards (less for the versions I shortened).

Anyhow, I have a couple pictures to share!

The tiny cardigan I made (Jalie Cocoon pattern) for my niece out of scraps from my Oslo cardigan:

Aforementioned “Teal knee length dress” and the Nightmare Before Christmas leggings:

Speaking of cocoon cardigans and fabric choices, I made myself a version of the Jalie Cocoon in some cheap black ponte I’d picked up from Joann’s for experimentation…let’s just say that while the pattern says it’s good for “firm knits”, this ponte was too firm.  The hem band stands up unfortunately stiffly, and the sleeves are almost too tight…definitely feels constricted.  And the main portion of the garment has a lot of body and not a lot of drape.  I’m not convinced it’s a complete loss, but I’m not happy with it (though I feel like a nice 2-way knit with no vertical stretch, but nice drape–that’s the ticket for this…maybe french terry?  that’d be cozy!).  Soooo many possibilities.  All fabric choice.

Byzantine Captive Beading, or Chain Maille by any other name would smell just as pinchy.

ooh shiny pretties!

Friends!  Romans!  I have found a bead store!

I know that shouldn’t be super surprising, but the bead store I really liked closed a few years ago (or so I thought), and I hadn’t really found another local source for good beads, just a few antique shops that occasionally had the odd strand of mislabeled jasper or “Check glass” beads (insert facepalm here, please).  So imagine my surprise and utter thrill when I was driving around the west ends of town one Friday and discovered the bead store I thought was closed had, in actuality, just moved from St. Paul to Minneapolis!  Hooray!  Of course I stopped in immediately and came home with *ahem* a few new beads.

I used to do a lot of beading when I was younger (believe it or not, there was an awesome bead store in my hometown that one of the highschool kids opened when I was in middle school, so it was one of the few hobbies that didn’t involve a trip to another town for supplies!)  I still have quite a few beads, but my now-30 something self doesn’t have quite the same taste that middle-school-me did (though I will always love those little stone polar bear looking beads–you know the ones…adorable!).  So I haven’t done much with beads lately and even if I wanted to, my supplies were kind of…scattered.  In that “I have one of everything and can make nothing” sort of way.  But now that I know a good bead store just down the bike path from me–well, let’s just say I see more beads in my future.

But!  You don’t want to know about future beads!  You want to see now beads, yes?!  Of course you do!  My first beading project in a long time was a pair of earrings for myself.  I like long, dangly earrings, but I’m really picky.  I found a lovely pair of giant silver-tone cutout leaves at the bead store and built my way up from there.  I knew I wanted them to be really long (think collar-bone length), and the leaves are about 2.5″ on their own, so I just needed an inch or so between the leaf and the ear wire–and while I was wandering around looking for the perfect 1.5″ bead, I stumbled upon some very cool black & white round beads, but they were only 6mm across.  Not quite the size.  But they looked super cool–black on one hemisphere, white on the other.  So I added 4 of them to my horde and kept looking.

That’s when I spied a sample pair of earrings on display with this cool interlocking jumpring setup holding smallish beads inside.  And it appeared that the beads were not in any way attached to the earrings, just held by the intersection of the jump rings–so cool!  I surreptitiously took some notes (because the earrings in question were pretty expensive), then found some 8mm giant jump rings to try it out myself when I got home.

And that’s where the needle-nose pliers come in.  And where the pinchy bits start (needle nose pliers + my fingers + stubborn jump rings =  ouch).  I knew how I wanted to hold the bead in the rings in the end, but I had some trouble getting my fingers to make it happen, so I turned to google to find out how to make captive beads in jump rings.  Turns out, it has a name!  Byzantine chain maille, to be exact.  And once I could see how it was done, it was dead easy (I was, of course, over complicating things trying to get all the rings set up and closed before I put the bead in–no wonder it wasn’t playing nice!)  Much easier to close the rings over the bead and then add the top jump ring to keep everything closed and in place.

And so I finally made myself what I think are pretty neat earrings!  Once I figured out the method, it only took about 15 minutes to get everything assembled!

I love how these turned out, and they are exactly the length I was going for!  I get lots of compliments (and a couple requests for copies!) when I wear them!

Fall Wardrobe Sewing Update – A Cozy Oslo

Remember with me, dear readers, all the way back to the gilded days of summer.  Those ambitious hours spent hiding away from humidity and heat and dreaming of fall fabrics and sweaters.  Ah, yes.  Take a pull on your frosty mint juleps or G&Ts (or whatever your summer beverage of yesteryore happens to be), and recall, if you will, my grand fall sewing plans.  And then chortle along with me as I snicker at how my “plans” all came to a screeching snails pace thanks to massive end-of-summer-outdoor-house projects (aka painting the damn house).  Instead of painting for a couple weekends, then sewing for the remainder of September, I ended up painting nearly every waking moment in September and early October (except for one golden, glorious Sunday that John told me to go sew something because I was way too crabby to work with–ah, love.  He gets me, that one.)  So in short, I am waaaaaaaay behind on my planned fall sewing (but my house looks amazing…a blog post on that to come).

To date, nearly 2 months to the day that I settled my plans and ordered my fabric, I have sewn…….drumroll, please……..1 cardigan.

Yup.  And it’s awesome!  So let’s talk about it, shall we?  One of the fabrics I ordered for fall sewing was a great abstract-ish grey & white giant houndstooth print on a “medium weight” (according to the fabric seller) jersey.  Medium weight is…a generous descriptor.  I’d call it lightweight, myself, but then I suppose since I don’t really deal with sheer knits, on the grand spectrum it may well be medium weight.  It drapes really nicely, and is the perfect weight for layering over a tee or tank at work, which is all I really ask for in a cardigan.  And the pattern is great.  From a distance it reads giant houndstooth, but up close it’s a bit deconstructed and brushy.  I love it, and paired it with an Oslo Cardigan from Seamwork/Colette.

I made an executive decision after taping my pattern together and just cut out the 3X, assuming that since my last known measurements were pretty close to that for the hips, it’d work just fine.  Two problems with that assumption, right off the bat.  1) I think chest/upper body measurement is probably more appropriate in this case for determining size, since it’s a loose-fit boxy shape and seems to have lots of ease at the hips.  2) The pattern is written with bulky, heavy-weight knits in mind, so when drastically changing the fabric used (say, going from bulky heavyweight stable knits to a light/medium weight jersey), one should probably size down a size (or maybe two?) to avoid a humongous garment.

As I said, executive decision was made.  Size 3X was cut.  Resulting garment was comically enormous.  I wish I’d snapped a photo…the sleeves were 4-5″ too long and a good solid 2-4″ too big around the girth all the way to the armsyce.  It was amazing.  Did I mention that I was sewing this up the afternoon before John and I were going to see a play with his mother?  Of course!  (Coincidentally, if any of y’all are around the Twin Cities, go see Sweeny Todd at the Ritz–Theater Latte Da does an AMAZING rendition).  So I’m on a bit of a timeline here.

Luckily, this is a super fast sew.  From cutting to all sewn up I think it took about 2 hours?  Of course, then I tried it on and had to shorten the sleeves, take in the width, and trim in the side seams, so all-in-all, it was an additional 45 minutes before it fit.  But still in time for the play!  I think I ended up shortening the main sleeve by 2.5″ overall, and drawing a wedge from the armsyce to the newly shortened sleeve that took out 2″ overall by the time it reached the cuff.  Side seams came in about 1/2″ each, and I took a solid 2″ out of the wrist cuffs because I want those suckers to stay put when I push the sleeves up my arms.  So I basically made something between 1X and 2X when all was said and done–and here’s an object lesson in the effects fabric choice can have on the finished garment!  Yippee!

I do really like how it came out, though.  And I enjoy the finish on the shawl collar and cuffs–very nice overall effect.  So.  Without further ado, here’s a few pictures of my handiwork (hastily snapped in the gloaming before we hopped the train to the theater).

And just look at those seams, all lining up and whatnot…

I skipped the buttons, figuring that the knit was too stretchy/drapey to bother with them, and I’m glad I did that on this version.  I do think a ponte or maybe heavy thicky cozy fabric version would look really nice with them, though.  Overall I’m really happy with this little make.  Now here’s hoping I get to the rest of my very long list before spring rolls around!

Rushcutter Dress

I’m super excited to be able to publish this post!  I tested this dress a while ago, and I’ve been patiently waiting for the Rushcutter pattern release from In the Folds so I could talk about it!!  I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I first saw the view I was going to test–view A, a super loose A-line long sleeved dress.  I don’t wear dresses super often, so when I do, I like them to be both flattering and funky (a tall order, I know!).  When I first saw the line drawings, I immediately saw the potential for funkiness, but I wasn’t convinced it’d be super flattering on my figure.  But I was game to try, and I’m so glad I did–I might just have a new favorite dress pattern!

I used some cotton lawn from my stash that was a fun orange paisley.  I toyed with the idea of doing contrast fabric for the side panels and yoke, but in the end, decided to try it all in the orange paisley on the first go–I was a little afraid that contrast fabric would take the dress too over the top (all I could find in my stash in a similar weight was a gingham-printed orange check–clearly I need to go fabric shopping for lawns again!).  I really want to do a version highlighting those amazing huge side pockets in the near future (I mean, pockets that’ll hold a trade paperback, on a women’s garment, that I didn’t have to draft myself!?!?!?!?  AMAZING!!!).  I also really appreciated the wide size range–I made the top size and didn’t have to alter a thing (which isn’t the end of the world, but sometimes you just really want a pattern to fit out of the gates, you know?!)

Printing, assembling, and cutting out the pattern went super smoothly.  It is quite a few pages to print, but Em has added a printing guide to the finished pattern so you can print just the pages you need.  And everything lined up perfectly.

Speaking of lining up perfectly, can we talk about the notches for a moment?  A huuuuuge pet peeve of mine is sewing pattern notches that do not perfectly line up.  I mean, as I’m sewing, I don’t want to take the time and bother putting notches in the pattern pieces if they’re not going to line up perfectly and actually be useful!  The notches on all the pattern pieces in the Rushcutter?  PERFECTION.  Not only did everything line up, but it didn’t need any tugging, easing, cursing, or cajoling to do so!  Really top notch (sorry, couldn’t help myself!).

Another thing I really liked about the pattern is it has the standard “tutorial” format for instructions, but it also has a quick & dirty “cheat sheet”, which I admit I prefer!  It’s nice to skip the explanations of how to insert a zip and just do it, but for folks who aren’t as confident/experienced, it’s great to have the details available at hand.  Really nice feature!

As I mentioned, I had some doubts about view A, but after sewing it up (which was super quick!), I discovered I really liked it!  It’s super comfy just as is, and looks really nice with a belt to nip in the waist.  I do prefer the sleeves rolled up, but I don’t generally wear long sleeves anyway.  Here’s my “wearable muslin”:

…it does occur to me that you can’t really see all the lovely panels on this one, so here’s another version I made (it’s mostly view B, but instead of the button-up back, I did the zip from view A):

I made the view B-ish version out of poly crepe de chine (I don’t often sew with that fabric, but I really like wearing it!).  I was originally going to use the cream for the side panels, too, and add the pockets in the flamingo fabric, but the cream turned out to be a bit more sheer than I cared for, and in the interest of time, I nixed it and the pockets (was making this to wear to a wedding the next day, otherwise I’d have just lined the side panels and run with it!).  I do really like the way the dress flows in the crepe de chine!

So there you have it–a new favorite dress pattern for me (I’m imagining the possibilities of fall plaids–am I crazy?!).  If you’re looking for a funky, fun, comfy dress with lots of possibilities, go check it out!

Disclaimer: I did receive a copy of the pattern for my testing efforts, but as always, opinions are all mine.

No Food, Only Ingredients!

This is the bane of my existence…I’ve got nothing ready to pop out of the fridge and eat on a busy (ahem…lazy) weeknight, but I’ve got tons of great ingredients, if only I weren’t so lazy/pressed for time/unmotivated to cook.  For a long time, if nothing jumped out at me after staring deep into the soul of my refrigerator, John & I would decide that nobody felt like cooking any of the food we had–maybe we should just order pizza.  Cue a complete lack of logic (when did scrambling eggs ever take longer than waiting for delivery?) and some wicked unhealthy meals (because Pizza Luce’s buffalo wings are delicious, and obviously need to accompany any pizza into my life).  Not a horrible decision every once in a while, but when you find yourself contemplating how likely it is the same pizza dude will ring your doorbell for the third time this week?  Bad news bears.

So hubby & I decided to clean up our acts, pull out our Adult Cards, and start eating home-cooked food on weeknights.  (If we made new year’s resolutions, that’d be it.)  We have been going strong since late December (only five delivered dinners so far in 2015, and we’re already through August!).  That’s not to say we always hit the healthy mark, but we’re eating so much better than we had been (and our wallets are much happier not paying for take away all the time, too!).

One thing that’s been really, incredibly, helpful?  An arsenal of quick, easy, staple meals–things we always have the ingredients on hand to make, and that don’t require a sous chef, an array of cooking pots, and 5 to 6 hours to put together.  (You may think that last bit is hyperbole, but I shall direct your attention to weeknight boeuf bourguignon.  It’s happened, on more than one occasion.  Though it might better be termed “how to eat dinner at midnight”!)

We’ve come up with a few hits on our own, but I’ve also been leaning pretty heavily on this 2007 article from Mark Bittman: Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less.  It’s got tons of ideas (some super simple, like #101 – beans & hot dogs, and some pretty decadent, like #12 – boil a lobster, serve with butter).

And I’ve discovered the joy of soups!  WhatchaGot Stew (comprised of, you guessed it–whatever you have on hand) happens pretty regularly.  A few variations:

  • Root veggies + broth + maybe some meat + canned beans + maybe some cream = tasty winter soup.
  • Loads of sliced onions + beef broth in the crockpot = slow cooker onion soup, just add swiss cheese & croutons!
  • Raw beets + raw cucumber + stale bread + tomatoes + vinegar + olive oil = gazborscht (a hybrid of gazpacho & borscht that’s really quite awesome hot or cold!)
  • Raw corn sliced off the cobs + cobs + onions + carrots + beans = sweet summer soup, great hot or cold (obviously, pull the cobs out before serving).
  • Lamb soup bones + barley + onions + a little cream = pure cold weather comfort soup (just pick the lamb meat off the bones before serving).

This summer, we also learned how to make a pork shoulder roast on the grill (I know, how did we make it this long missing an essential life skill, right?!), so now quite often we will make a 4 pound roast on the weekend, then turn it into dinners for the week: sliced roast to pulled pork to tacos to soup (with the bone and whatever summer veg we have lying around).  We also learned how to make pizzas on the grill (future post coming on that!)–outdoor cooking is awesome since it doesn’t heat the house up, and you get to sit around the grill (perhaps with an icy adult beverage) while everything cooks, so it mostly feels like you’re just relaxing in the back yard–win win!

Anyhow, this post is getting a little rambly, but I thought it might be fun to share some ideas!

Autumn Pork Chops & Apples

Every fall, I find myself shifting away from the tomato-intensive summer garden dinners and looking for something more “fall-ish”, but that still ticks the boxes for easy, fresh, and fruity.  September in MN brings some falling leaves and color shifts, but the temperatures remain pretty warm, just to remind you that summer may not be done roasting us for the year just yet.  Which means all the lovely stews and braises and roasts of fall really must wait for October chills before I break them out.  But I want to eat fall food NOW!  So what’s a girl to do?  I word: broiler.

A funny aside.  For the first 2 years we had our stove, I truly (and somewhat irately) believed that some dumb quack had made a stove without a broiler.  There was no broil element in the oven, and, while there was a “Broil” button on the keypad, the manual stated “Not all features may be included with your model”, and then didn’t have any diagrams of where the broiler would be if it WERE included.  I ask you, what gives?!  It wasn’t until we were attending a party at a friend’s house and someone stuck a tray of hors d’oeuvres in the bottom drawer to melt the cheese that it dawned on me.  You see, I grew up with an electric stove, so that drawer was dedicated cookie sheet storage, and I’d been using it as such on my own (gas) stove.  Duh!  Turns out we had a broiler all along…sigh.

So, the broiler.  The magical cook-anything-before-you-heat-the-house drawer.  It’s my solution to wanting tasty fall foods when it’s still just a smidge too hot out to fire up the oven or slave over the stove.  One dish I’ve been making constantly (as in, multiple times per week, which if you know me, you know is totally out of character!) is broiled pork chops with apple-port sauce and sauteed sage squash bits.  It’s delicious.  It’s low maintenance (seriously, you stir the sauce a few times, cut up & saute a squash, and broil chops…what’s not to love!?

Broiled Pork Chops in Apple Port Sauce

  • 4 pork chops, at least 1-inch thick, bone-in or bone-less is fine
  • 2 large mackintosh apples
  • 1 cup chicken broth or water
  • 1/2 cup cooking port*
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt & pepper to taste


  1. Season chops with salt and pepper.
  2. Core both apples.  Chop one apple very finely.  Slice the other into 8 equal rings.  Set aside.
  3. In a large skillet (12″ is a good size), combine remaining ingredients with diced apples.  Stir briefly, then let simmer down over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, till most liquid is gone and you have what looks like chunky apple sauce.  Season to taste.
  4. While sauce simmers, pop pork chops onto a broiler pan.  Scatter apple rings around chops and broil on high for 5 minutes.  Flip everything over and broil an additional 3 minutes, till chops are cooked through and apple rings are lightly browned. If pork chops are bone-in, remove apples and cook a couple minutes longer if needed.
  5. Plate & serve, because dinner just cooked itself while you stood around stirring!

*And by cooking port, I don’t mean grocery store “cooking wine”…Cook with something you would drink, but that doesn’t cost an arm & a leg to replace.

A great, easy side dish – before you start on the chops & sauce, peel and dice a small butternut squash (1/2″ cubes).  In a 12” skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter.  Add squash and sprinkle with dried sage (or throw in 3-4 leaves fresh if you have it).  Toss to combine, then spread squash in a single layer.  Partially cover and cook over medium low heat for 20 minutes.  Do not stir.  Do not disturb.  The bottoms will caramelize (yum!).  About the time your chops are done, you squash will be done!  Season with salt & pepper to taste.