September 29, 2011

Homemade Strawberry Sorbet = Goodness

Posted by Laura

Autumn. I love love love autumn. The smell of wood burning from chimneys, the feeling of warmth when I wrap my hands around a cup of hot coffee, and the coziness of wearing slippers around the house....IIIIII love it.

Well, [long pause] this post actually has nothing to do with Autumn but everything to do with summer. Eh, I meant to post it over the summer, but didn't get the chance, so we'll pretend for a minutes that it's still summer (I mean, summer technically only ended last week, right?).

Onto the goodness - homemade strawberry sorbet! This is one of my favorite things to make. Something about it feels so wholesome, natural, and just...right. You wanna know what else is so right about homemade strawberry sorbet? Four ingredients. That's it (I scoped out the ingredients in a mass manufactured pint of ice cream the other night at the grocery store and counted twenty two ingredients, many of them unpronounceable). Anyway, here's what those four little ingredients gets you...

Strawberries + Sugar + Lemon Juice + Salt

I got the recipe from the book, The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. Here's how simple it is:

1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Pinch of salt

Equipment needed: Ice Cream Maker

Step 1: Slice the strawberries and toss them in a medium bowl with the sugar, stirring until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover and let stand for 1 hour, stirring so often.

Step 2: Puree the strawberries and their liquid with the lemon juice and salt in a blender or food processor until smooth. Press the mixture through a strainer to remove the seeds if you wish.

Step 3: Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Ice Cream Maker Attachment for the KitchenAid


David Lebovitz's book, a gift from my mother-in-law
along with the ice cream maker :)

September 27, 2011

Being Thankful for the Now...

Posted by Kristin

Even though we usually focus on planting, eating, and creating here at PEC, I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve been having lately that are very much related to the three passions we love to pursue.

I was on a phone call the other day with my mom who is in the midst of redoing the guest bedroom in my parents' house. 

My mom is using a grey-blue and black color scheme
similar to this for the guest bedroom.  Muy bonito!
(image from

My mom said, exasperated, “It seems like the more I do, the more I see around me that needs doing.” And at that point, my heart skipped a beat because she had hit my proverbial nail on its head.

Since we moved into our new apartment about 5 weeks ago my mantra has been “Just get it done and move onto the next thing.” This has applied to my work, to unpacking, to looking for a new car (our Subaru decided to blow its head gasket the weekend we moved), and to a lot of other things in my life. For anyone that knows me well, they know that I crave organization, order, and routine with a healthy dose of creativity and fun thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, moving has a way of pulling the rug out of any semblance of order in one’s life. No matter how hard you try to prepare, there are always unexpected inconveniences, expenses and times of frustration.  My way of trying to work through that has been to try to get our house in order as quickly as possible. This has only led to me going every minute of every day, finally collapsing at the end of the day, only left thinking about what’s left on my to do list.

I finally hit my breaking point about a week or so ago. We had a very busy week due to purchasing a new used car (yay Honda Civics!) that required a lot of legwork to get it registered, inspected, outfitted with a new O2 sensor, 4 new tires, and who knows what else. Along with that, PEC also filmed its first Mass Appeal segment. Both those things mixed in with hosting a birthday dinner for my dad, working normal hours, starting a new freelance design and dealing with a sick husband left me at the end of my rope.

Now back to that comment my mom made. Well, that’s all she had to say for me to hear myself saying “Kristin, you’ve got to stop running on this “let’s make the new apartment perfect” treadmill because it’s never going to end!”  Plus I’m learning that with living in an older apartment, there’s always going to be something to fix, touch up, sweep up, or re-do. So what have I tried to do to cope with this the feeling of designer’s defeat?

Instead of seeing an unmade bed, I see a bed so comfy that it demanded its
 inhabitants to stay in it until the very last second.

I’ve stopped. I’ve sat. And read. And journaled. And looked around my apartment and tried to see what I have accomplished. But even beyond that, I’ve tried to see the blessings that I already have in my new home. Vintage, hardwood floors. Airy 10’ ceilings. Great light. Ample space. Lots of fun little nooks and crannies. A yard. Friendly neighbors. Close friends only a short walk away. Being able to bike to church.

Instead of being just one more pile of stuff to deal with, I see it as a
 beautiful set of handmade wood shelves I get to hang up somewhere.

I’ve also tried to focus on a few small tasks at a time. Instead of seeing the whole list of things to do, I’ve broken it up and worked on rooms when I’ve felt inspired to. This has also kept my budget in check. When I have time on my side (which I do- the only pressure I have is myself), I often am able to come up with more cost effective solutions either using materials I have or finding inexpensive solutions. But that takes time. Time for ideas to formulate and new options to emerge.

Instead of seeing a slipcover that needs adjusting, I see a
comfy spot that invited someone to play a few tunes.

I’ve also tried to have a new perspective on patience. I read this blog post recently from Ann VosKamp’s blog A Holy Experience. Here are some of her words I especially latched onto:

My impatience is a result of my unthankfulness – I’m impatient for the children to be someone different, for the cashier to hurry up, for this to get done right now.
The more dissatisfied I am in this moment, the more discontented I am with who they are, with what is happening —  the harder it becomes to be patient, to be loving.

Patient people dare to gratefully accept people where they are. Grateful for who they are now, appreciative of works of art not yet finished, but still deeply loved.

Patient people dare to receive the present always as a present – grace.

Patient people dare to live only in the present. Because they know that is where God is.
Lack gratitude — then lack patience — then, ultimately, lack love. To be love-full, I’ll first need to be grateful.
It is true: I can love only when I am thankful for the now.

Henri Nouwen suggests that  “[t]he word patience means willingness to stay where we are and live out the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”

Instead of seeing a book I should read, I see an amazing series of stories I get to read.

So I share these ramblings for anyone that ever gets too hung up on accomplishing their ever growing list of planting, eating, or creating projects. Observe, enjoy, and be thankful for the now. 

September 25, 2011

Landing Strip Before & After

Posted by Laura

Check out this before & after from our fellow local blogger friend, Holyoke Home (take note of her hilarious writing). Great work HH and thanks for loving on Holyoke!


Catch the full post here on the details of how HH did this

September 23, 2011

Life in the Pavement Cracks

Posted by Jon

Note from Kristin: This is PEC's first guest post by none other than my brother, Jon (who you may remember from this post). I know I'm biased but I really treasure the words he wrote below. They really show his passion for the great outdoors, his ability to see beauty in the small spaces of life, and his great way of sharing his experiences in a very vivid way. I hope you enjoy!

This post—my first as a guest blogger here—is for all of you P.E.C. readers who are looking for some inspiration in the urban wild. I'm a resident of Jamaica Plain, perhaps the greenest, crunchiest neighborhood in Boston.  As far as urban environments go, we have a ton of green space (a shout out to Frederick Law Olmsted for giving us the Emerald Necklace parks).  But let's face it, it's still a city, and like all cities, a fair share of surface area is devoted to concrete sidewalks, blacktop streets, eroded hillsides, and soil-compacted pathways.  All environments that, to the casual observer, are pretty much devoid of anything green and growing.

Most days, I’m in that “casual observer” category. But last Friday morning was different. Maybe it was that golden September sun and crisp autumn air. Could be that I made an extra good cup of coffee. Perhaps it was a bit of the Spirit singing in my ear. Whatever the cause, I became a weed lover (not that kind of weed!). I suddenly noted of sprouts of green and white…bits of pink and blue…shafts of yellow and purple, where before I had seen only concrete.

Tiny flowers nodded from between curb and blacktop, tender mosses and succulents nestled in the shadows of telephone poles and mailboxes, fuzzy tufts of grass danced in the breeze.

As an avid gardener, I tend to resent weeds. But on Friday, I saw them for their beauty, not just as undesirables to be pulled up and tossed in the compost pile. And so that’s what this post is about. Learning to see the weeds and love them. The best way to start? Bring them inside. What we’re talking about here, my friends, is what I’m calling “urban bouquets.” Here’s how to do it. 

Grab a pair of scissors and some sort of container to hold your cuttings as you gather them. Then, head out into the urban wilds!

Plants will grow just about anywhere. Sidewalk cracks, the seams between pavement and curb, and the bases of telephone poles and lamp posts are all good places to look. Pay attention to different textures, leaf shapes, and flower colors. Look for architectural qualities as much as color. Keep in mind that the features of most urban wildflowers and other plants are more subtle than cultivated species, but no less beautiful. Look for the hidden potential.

A great example is this pokeberry. From a distance, it doesn’t appear to be good for much of anything, except taking over the sidewalk.

But look closer and you’ll see incredible colors and textures.

Once you’re back home, take stock of what you’ve collected. Put your cuttings in a large vase or bowl (or even the kitchen sink) while you work, to keep things from wilting. It helps to separate cuttings into groupings of the same plant, to see what you’re working with. Strip extra leaves from the base, and give each stem a clean cut, in case any dried out on the trip home.

Because colors of urban wildflowers tend to be less showy, grouping many stems of the same plant together helps concentrate color for stronger effect. Here, the muted pink flowers of smartweed gain strength in numbers and will stand out better bunched together.

As in any arrangement, using contrasting colors and differing textures creates a sense of vibrancy and movement, highlighting the characteristics of each plant.  Here, white and purple wood aster combine with smartweed, joe pie weed, a single stem of immature pokeberry, and some yellow weed I can't identify (!).

Don’t limit yourself to floral-only arrangements. Here, grasses, nightshade berries (red and green), wild amaranth, pokeberry (black/purple and green), some spotted spurge that’s turned bright orange, and spent Queen Anne’s lace flower heads combine for dramatic effect. The only real “flower” here is a tight bunch of purple nightshade flower.

This is a good time to caution that many wild plants (such as the pokeberry and nightshade used in this arrangement) can be toxic if consumed, so use caution if you have young children and pets around.

Sometimes simple is better. Here, a tall bud vase is the perfect presentation for a few simply arranged stems of goldenrod (oft-maligned as causing hay fever, when in fact the culprit is ragweed, which looks nothing alike) and purple nightshade.

The key to urban bouquets is learning to see past labels like “flower” and “weed,” and observe the beauty that God planted while you weren’t looking. If you have the eyes to see, you’ll find life and grace bursting out of every pavement crack. Now get out there and try it!

September 21, 2011

Mass Appeal Debut!

Posted by PEC

Guess what? We were on TV! We are now incredibly famous, at least in the eyes of our moms. How did this happen you might ask? About a month ago, The Great and Beautiful Elysia Rodriguez from 22News (who we met through our good friend Shane Symolon) sent us an email inviting us to be on Mass Appeal, our local morning show here in Western Massachusetts! Wait, what!? Be on TV!? We eagerly said yes (while reacting like The Wonders in the scene from That Thing You Do when they first hear themselves on the radio). The next thing we knew we received an email from Ashley Kohl, host/producer of Mass Appeal, inviting us to be on the show not once, but monthly! Wait, WHAT?! (this was followed by more silent jumping). Well, before we knew it we were in the studio filming our first segment.

We arrived around 2:30pm at the 22 News Studio in Chicopee with our arms full of props. We managed to snap this picture in the foyer before heading into the official studio.

This picture is almost dorkstamp worthy

We were greeted by Ashley and instantly put to ease. She is really sweet and fun and bubbly, and she made us feel right at home.

She led us into the studio. Wow. It was huge (although neither of us had really been in a tv studio before so we didn't know what to expect). We were met by Denise (?) who was also great and prepped us for the filming (i.e. put mics on us, told us where to stand, where to look, etc...). She snapped this picture of us on the set.

Then it came down to game time. Ashley walked us through the order of things, chatted for a few minutes, and then ROLL CAMERA!  Here's PEC in action.

Click here if video doesn't play: Perennials, Bread and Pillows!:

Laura: Ahhh I can't believe we're on TV! Kristin is definitely a natural at this. You'll notice how she gives the introduction on 'how we got started'...well, I was supposed to finish that up with a more detailed explanation of our blog. Did you hear me? Yea, neither did I because I totally froze and couldn't spit out the words. All I could do was sit there with that goofy smile on my face. Whoops!

Laura: I was originally introduced as Kristin. It happened for a brief moment so if you blinked, you missed it. haha

courtesy of wwlp

courtesy of wwlp
Kristin Thomas ??

courtesy of wwlp
That's more like it

Laura: When we rehearsed the pillow segment in my kitchen [to my dog Tillie], Kristin said [with a very serious face], "Laura and I like to change out pillows like we change our underwear". We busted out laughing from this and needed a few minutes to regain our composure. Well, you'll notice at minute 7:16 Kristin says, "Laura and I like to change out pillows, a lot" and there is a slight smile on both of our faces - reminiscing over that moment and trying not to laugh.

courtesy of wwlp

Kristin: Yes, I do have to admit my previous mention of underwear did cross my mind but I didn't feel the need to embarrass myself that much so I stuck with 'safer' words.  And hello serious face in the beginning! It wasn't until a good 15 seconds in that I actually started to smile. Next time I'll just slap a perma-grin on my face. And Laura's looking like she's working up some mischievous plot to throw bread dough in my face....hmmmmm...I may need to watch out for those evil eyes next time.

Oh those eyes look like they're planning trouble with a capital T...

Kristin: Oh and just to clarify for our readers, Laura does know that you cannot leave bread dough out on the counter for 7 days. She forget to mention the fridge part just suddenly "decided" mid-filming that she wanted to challenge me and see how well I remembered the recipe. Fortunately (thanks to common sense), I knew that the dough was meant to be in the fridge for up to 7 days not out on the counter (see the video, about 5 minutes in). Whew- passed that test! Fear not PEC followers- our goal is for you to eat and enjoy the bread, not have it come back up. Oh and last comment, I don't know what's up with the swanky music coming in half way through the plant segment- totally random!

You can check out our posts on these topics here:

Thanks for watching and keep an eye out for our next segment due to air November 8th, 2011 at 11:00am on NBC in Western Mass!

September 19, 2011

Tisane Coffee and Tea House

Posted by Kristin

I recently had a meeting for work at Tisane, a great coffee and tea house in the bustling West End of Hartford, CT.  Complete with a wide selection of teas, coffees, and baked goods, they also offer Asian fusion options for dinner and a swanky bar menu to boot. I didn't explore those options since it was only 9 in the morning but the atmosphere alone made me want to return.

Check it out:
Tisane Euro Asian Cafe
537 Farmington Avenue
Hartford, CT

On a sunny day (which this one was not), the front patio area would be perfect for a morning coffee.

Inside a sleek bar is  lined with eclectic lighting.

What first caught my eye was the gray-stained wood paneling on the walls. The custom art work didn't hurt either!

There was also this optical illusion that looks like a staircase that goes to nowhere...
These rustic shelves by the fireplace also caught my eye. Inspiration for a similar shelf in my new living room? I think so.

September 17, 2011

A&A Details

Posted by Laura

Remember Aaron and Amanda's wedding? It was perfectly located in the mountains of Massachusetts on a warm August day. Aaron and Amanda put so much work into the details and planning, and it definitely paid off because their wedding was exquisite. Their diligence and patience during the process is a reflection in the type of marriage they will have.  Aaron is a visionary, an executor of ideas, a leader. Amanda is a do-er, diligent, patient and kind, and has a deep imagination.

I had the honor of helping them with some of the handmade details of their amazing wedding. One of the projects that Amanda and I shared was to make these A&A signs.

Back in May, we went to the Brimfield Antique show and Amanda spotted a box full of these little metal letters. We sat on the booth's dirt floor for about 15 minutes picking out the perfect ones. Amanda even talked the guy down in cost, making them impossible to pass up. Then, we walked out of the booth and got attacked by a bear, sort of.


Anyway, after purchasing five sets of A&As, we brainstormed on what to do with them. We decided to loot our friends' backyard/woods (thank you McCullahs, by the way) and found four fabulous pieces of dirty old wood. I took the project over from there, lightening her "to-do" list.

After I cleaned the pieces of wood with hot water in the bathtub and let them dry in the sun, I decorated them individually, each with an A&A.

There was still one set of A&A's left. Amanda had an old wood frame lying around, so I turned it into my special little project, as a surprise.

First, I printed out a photo of them that our friend Dave took. I then cut out a piece of bright white card stock, slightly bigger than the picture, and sewed it to a piece of fabric. I secured the photo to the card stock with a glue stick.

Did you know you can sew paper? Just make sure
the tension on your sewing machine is loose.

I then hand-stitched the word LOVE onto the fabric. I lightly wrote it out with pen first, then traced it with the needle and thread.

Finally, I painted the frame white (leaving small details of the rustic wood) and nailed in the A&A.

Amanda and Aaron, thank you for letting me be a part of the planning. You will be intensely missed in Western Mass - Boston doesn't deserve you. xo

September 15, 2011

How To: Make a Pillow out of a Placemat

Posted by Laura

Featured on Mass Appeal

Back when we took over Jennifer's office, one of our projects was to make a pillow for her desk chair. Since we clearly love making pillows out of kitchen items (demonstrated here and here) it only made sense to transform a $4 placemat [from Target] into a pillow. So, take a journey with us as we demonstrate how to transform something from flat to phat. <------ yup, I really just said that.

Double Sided Placemat
Pillow Stuffing
Seam Ripper

Step 1. Rip the seam of the placemat, approximately half way down 1 side. I've made a silly little diagram for you.

Step 2. Fill the placemat with pillow stuffing, as full or light as you want (but we suggest full). Pull the stuffing apart as much as possible before filling it to ensure a lumpy-less pillow.

Step 3. Hand stitch the open seam. We recommend sewing a slip stitch.

September 13, 2011

6 Great Perennials and Shrubs for Fall

Posted by Kristin

Featured on Mass Appeal

Now that September is here, us ladies at PEC are officially starting to think about pulling out snugly sweaters, making big pots of warming soup, and in one word "nesting". But with my mind always stuck halfway between the indoors and outdoors, I'm also thinking about fall gardening- one of my favorite times to be outside.  One of the reasons I love it so much is because of the color and texture of plants this time of year: flaming reds, deep scarlets, bright yellows, and brilliant oranges are seen all around (at least here in New England) and there are an innumerable amount of shrubs and perennials that offer quite a show. Here are some of my favorites.



photo from
Sedum is a drought-tolerant, tough-as-nails perennial that requires little in the way of regular maitenance. There are a number of varieties, some with bright green foliage (such as the "Autumn Joy" Sedum above) and others with burgundy leaves. Sedum blooms in late summer through the fall and makes a great cut and dried flower. It ranges in height( up to 24") and typically spreads around 18" across.

New England Aster

photo from

photo from
New England Asters are the show-stoppers of fall with their bright colors (pink, purple, and violet-blue). They stand 18-36" high and usually for a clump 18-24" wide. They are native to New England (did ya read the name?) and are fantastic for attracting butterflies. They bloom in early fall and are fairly low maintenance.


photo from GeographBot/Wikemedia Commons
Hellenium is a perennial that really stands out in the garden. Its a tall one, up to 36", and comes in a variety of colors. Its also native to New England and aside from occasional staking, is content on its own. Hellenium blooms from mid-summer through the fall and looks great in the back of a garden bed.


Oakleaf Hydrangea

photo from

photo from
Oakleaf Hydrangea is one of my favorite shrubs because it just keeps on giving all year long. It starts out with white-conical shaped flowers spread over bright green, oak-leaf shaped foliage. The flowers eventually fade to a soft pink (as shown above) and dry nicely on the stem. This shrub really pulls out all the stops in the fall when it's leaves turn a deep scarlet.  It can range from 6-10' high and has a similar spread so make sure to plant it where there's plenty of space available.


photo from

photo from

photo from
Viburnums are another shrub native to New England and there are a number of varieties, ranging from 8-15' in height with a similar spread. Best planted at the back of the garden border or in a spot with ample space, they offer fragrant, lacy white flowers in spring and deep red foliage in the fall, often with fruits that turn a blueish black.

Common Witchhazel

photo from

photo from
Witchhazel is another native New England shrub and is known for its bright yellow fall foliage. Its also unique in that it flowers in the fall and up to as late as December, depending on the climate. It is often found as an understory species and gets up to 15' high and wide.

With so many fall-interest perennials and shrubs to choose from, its a great time of year to scope out new plants for your garden.  Its also a good time to score some killer deals at local garden centers and nurseries. Wanting to avoid having to over-winter their nursery stock, they often significantly mark down plants this time of year. With the cooler temperatures and the threat of drought mostly gone, perennials,shrubs, and trees also appreciate being planted at this forgiving time of year. So get out there and start plant shopping already!