At Home with John Newman

- Refined Living -

Thursday, August 17, 2017

I Received the Pet Care Cards and Key Tag

They arrived in the mail one day this week.  I think this is such a good idea that I'm thinking of giving these as Christmas presents to all my friends and family who have pets.

It arrives very innocuously in a plain little white envelope, tucked away with all the other correspondence in the mail.

I ordered one key tag and two emergency contact cards.

The key tag goes on the key ring with the greatest of ease.

For the emergency contact cards, I used Avery 5165 full sheet labels to make text boxes with the name and address and phone numbers of the emergency contact.  (I will not post that information here for obvious reasons).  Then I cut out the text boxes with a pair of scissors, removed the adhesive backing, and placed the label on the card.

This is such a great idea and I feel much better knowing now that if something happens, it will be brought to someone's attention that Baxter is home alone and needs care.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Replanting the Pots on the Front Porch

Our summer here in the mid-Atlantic has been bearable this year.  We had a week or two with high temperatures and humidity, but for the most part it has been a rather pleasant summer.  What has been different this year from recent years is the amount of rain.  It has rained rather regularly all throughout the summer, which is very unusual for us.

Rain or no, flowering pots usually start to look a bit "bedraggled" at this time of year.  Such was the case with the two pots on the front porch.

These beautiful sherbet colored petunias were quite stunning in the early spring when I first planted them.  And they stayed lush for five long months.  But they were starting to look a bit worn.

This pot was looking even worse.  This did not make for a very inviting entrance and did nothing at all for curb appeal.

When I planted the petunias, I added a liriope in the center of each pot to bring some height to the arrangement.  This one was, in a word, unhappy.  I do not know why.

The liriope in the matching pot on the other side of the porch did well.  It even bloomed.  You can see the little purple conical flower buds in this picture.  But they were starting to fade as well.  The whole thing was no longer working.  Time for something new.

I decided Compact Japanese Holly were what we needed.  I prefer evergreens in the landscape over flowers.  They give a beautiful, consistent look and they are less fussy.

These lifted right out of the plastic nursery pots.  This is the case with most nursery plants.  Very seldom do I need to cut away the plastic pot.  But remember, the root ball cannot be left like this.

You need to loosen the root ball from the nursery pot before replanting.  Sometimes you can achieve this by grabbing the shrub at the base of the trunk and hitting the root ball on the ground.  Not so this time.  I used a piece of one by four to loosen it up and to remove the potting medium that was used at the nursery.

Then into the pots with a good potting soil.  Miracle Gro or Sta Green are both very good brands of potting soil.

I simply replaced the plantings in both pots on the front porch with these holly shrubs.  I have had good luck with evergreens in pots.  Sometimes they will last forever.  Sometimes you need to remove them and plant them in the landscape.  But they are so beautiful in these weathered clay pots.

Again I sprinkled a little Miracle Gro Shake 'n Feed on top of the potting soil in each of the pots.

As we did with the Mandevilla towers, just a couple shakes is all you need.  Don't completely cover the soil with this fertilizer.  I believe that would only have disastrous effect.  This is a time-released fertilizer which slowly feeds the root system over the course of three months.

Compact Japanese Holly is so pretty.  I hope you will use it in your landscape projects.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Freshly Peeled Grapefruit as Dessert

Sometimes you want something really simple and delicious after dinner.  Here is an idea.  Freshly peeled grapefruit with a light sprinkling of sea salt.

I love this as a treat after a meal or really, at any time of the day.  I eat this a lot on the weekends when I'm home and have time to prepare.  The secret to getting perfectly peeled grapefruit is to remove the outer rind and then to completely remove the membrane between each wedge.  This will give you a beautiful container of grapefruit.  I rather like it at room temperature.  Or maybe somewhere between refrigerated and room temperature.

A very light sprinkling of sea salt adds a bold flavor.

This picture will give you an idea of how much sea salt to add.  Not a lot.  You do not want to douse it with salt.  Just a light shake.  Now grab a fork and enjoy.  This would also be excellent for breakfast with a slice of undressed toast.

Monday, August 14, 2017

We're Off and Running

I took this picture on Saturday of one of the Mandevilla towers we planted last week.

They are already starting to vine up and around the cages.  This may actually go faster than I expected.  We've got nearly three more weeks in the month of August and then all of September for these to put out new growth.  Depending on the weather, I may bring them inside in October.  We sometimes have frost around the end of October.

I decided to add a sprinkle of Miracle-Gro Shake 'n Feed All Purpose plant food.  I have used this over the years and it really is a great product.  I used this on the two topiaries I bought for the front entrance in the spring and they are a beautiful lush green.

It just takes a little.  A couple of shakes on top of the soil in the planter and it sets about feeding the roots.  I am very encouraged so far.  Let's see what happens.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Quick Chicken Caesar Salad

It's Friday!  Which means very soon, it will be Friday evening.  You are tired.  It's been a long week. But ya' gotta have dinner.  Should you stop and pick up burgers or tacos or fried chicken or Chinese. Or maybe a pizza.  Yeah, you could.  But don't forget.  That appointment for a check up with your doctor is next month and the bathroom scales are not coming back with a number that is suitable for that visit.  Let me give you an idea for dinner tonight.

We are going to make a chicken Caesar salad that is quick and delicious and filling.  And you will be one meal closer to getting the bathroom scales to register a better number the next time you step on.

Here is our Chicken Caesar Salad kit.  Very simple.  And once you are done preparing your salad, you will ask yourself "why haven't I been making these salads?!"  They are that delicious and easy.

Start with 4-1/2 - 5 cups of iceberg lettuce, roughly chopped.  I remove a leaf from the lettuce head and cut it crosswise in about 3/4" widths.

Croutons.  You can make them, if you have that kind of time.  The store bought are just as good. Chose the flavor you want.  These are a generic garlic and herb Safeway brand crouton that are quite delicious.  One and a half cups croutons.

Chicken.  These are breaded chicken tenders, from Safeway also.  They come prepackaged in the deli department in the refrigerated section.

I used all three tenders for my salad which comes to about two cups of chicken, allowing for a taste or two for myself and the same amount for Baxter.  Just slice them in about one-half inch strips.

Parmesan cheese.  One-quarter cup Parmesan cheese of your liking.  I like the Kraft Shredded Parmesan for this.  You could use freshly grated or even shaved Parmesan.  Maybe you would prefer Parmesan and Romano cheese.  Make it yours.  Just keep it simple.  It's Friday night, ... remember.

We will start building our salad.  Into the bowl with the coarsely chopped lettuce.  On top of that, add the croutons.

Add the sliced chicken tenders.

Add the Parmesan.

Add the dressing.  You will see from the first picture I am using Marzetti's Supreme Caesar.  In my opinion this is the very best Caesar dressing I have ever had.  I honestly don't know if I could make a better Caesar dressing myself, and that's not something I normally say.  But I have to give credit where credit is due.

Give all of this a good stir and make sure the salad is completely dressed.

One last thing before serving is to add some lemon juice.  Cut a lemon in half and remove as many of the seeds as you can see from one half.  Use a teaspoon to remove the obvious seeds in the middle. Then, holding the cut side upward and with the stem end in the palm of your hand, hold the lemon half over the salad and lightly squeeze.  The lemon juice will run out over the rind of the lemon and into the bowl.  This way if there are any more seeds, you can see them and remove them with a spoon rather than letting them invite their way into your salad.  The juice of one-half of a lemon with do. Wrap the other half and use later in iced tea and vodka tonics on the weekend.

Here, our delectable salad with a good, hearty sprinkling of lemon juice, ready to serve.

Grab a plate and enjoy a serving of your delicious Chicken Caesar Salad.  This recipe will serve two hearty dinner salads for you and a friend or partner, or four small salads served, possibly, with a big bowl of steaming spaghetti and lightly toasted and buttered french baguette.

We have made this as a quick and delicious Friday night course.  If you wanted to serve this to guests, which would be divine, chill the plates in the freezer for a few minutes before placing.

I hope you will give this a try.  I made this one night recently and I know it did not take more than 10 minutes to assemble.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Mandevilla Towers

Mandevilla is so pretty.  It is a tropical vining plant, usually with pink flowers but they can also be white.  I picked up two of these beautiful and vibrant plants recently and had an idea that I hope turns out as nicely as the picture in my mind.  I decided I wanted to assemble two mandevilla towers using two planters I bought at Crate & Barrel outlet about a year ago.  I never really found anything suitable for these planters so they have just been sitting in the basement waiting for something to inspire me.  Mandevilla turned out to be that inspiration.  Take a look at this project.

Here are the two planters from Crate & Barrel.  They call them "Bronze Tapered Planters" due to the bronze highlighting along the edges.  They are a matte black with bronze highlights.

I did not want to fill these planters with soil.  They really are not intended for that.  There is no drainage port, so they are more decorative then actual "planters".

I bought two large, black, plastic "planters" to set inside of the Crate & Barrel planters.  We will plant our Mandevilla is those.  You see in the picture above that they are a little bit larger than the opening on the decorative planters.

A little pressure exerted on the bottom of each planter takes care of that.  They fit just perfectly inside.  And, they sit far enough inside each planter that you cannot see them once the Mandevilla are planted.

To add some weight to the planters, and drainage, I used lava rocks this time.  Most times I use pea gravel in the bottom of planters, but I went with lava rock this time.  Why?  Basically, the bag was much lighter.  A bag of lava rocks is much lighter than a bag of pea gravel.  And it will do the same thing.

Actually, lava rocks serve many purposes as you see printed on the bag.  Who knew!

In with the lava rocks.  Both planters got an inch or two of lava rocks added to the bottom.

I used Sta-Green potting mix this time.  Normally I use Miracle Gro, but I had a bag of this in the shed that needed to be used, so I used it for this project.  This is another very good brand of potting soil if you cannot find Miracle Gro.

Both containers now filled with potting soil.  Next up, planting the Mandevilla.

As you can see here, I got the hot pink variety.  I like the flowers but I also like the shape and texture of the vines.  Dark green, glossy leaves on rather sturdy vines.  That will make for a really lush tower when they are fully mature.

Into the planters with both of them.  As I said earlier, they sit a little low in the decorative planters, which I prefer.  I do not want to see the plastic planters once these are mature, so this will work perfectly.

Now to the support system to make our towers.  What better than these wonderful tomato towers? You are all familiar with the traditional round, conical shaped tomato cages that we use in the garden to give support to the tomato vines.  Well, these are rectangular.  And that is exactly what I was looking for.  I want eventually to have two rectangular towers of flowering Mandevilla.  When these towers are completely covered in the vine and they are flowering, it will be spectacular.

And here we are with the Mandevilla planted and the towers in place.  The width of the towers is a tiny bit larger than the opening of the Crate & Barrel planters, and that is a good thing.  It helps to keep the towers secured in place.  If the towers were smaller than the opening in the planters, we would have had to find a way to keep them from moving around.  We were lucky that it turned out this way.

And here they are, tucked away on the deck.  They will get afternoon sun in this location.  We will need to keep them watered, but not soggy.  I believe we will see rapid growth for the rest of the summer and then slower growth as we move into fall.  They can stay outside in our zone until the temperature reaches the 50's.  I would not leave them out once we get into the 40's.  In other words, bring them in before there is talk of frost in zone 7.

I have a great vision of how this will look as time goes by.  We will revisit this in a few weeks and see how they are coming along.  If you want to try this with me, run over to Lowe's Garden Center this weekend and pick up a couple Mandevilla.  Mine were $11.98 each.  You could use two black plastic square planters from there also.  That way you wouldn't need to have a planter in a planter like I did. That will save you a few dollars.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Summer Egg Salad

I'm going to share a recipe with you today for a delicious egg salad that would work beautifully at any event or for lunch at your desk during the week.  This is a simple recipe that can be thrown together in very little time.  I think you will really enjoy this one!


6 hard cooked eggs, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp minced radish
1 tbsp minced fresh dill
1 tsp sliced green onions
1/2 tsp kosher salt


Stir all ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours.  Enjoy on your choice of bread or delectable crackers.

We start by hard cooking six extra large eggs.  I prefer brown eggs, but you may use white eggs if you like.  There is no hard and fast rule here.  I also prefer to cook my eggs in this wonderful Krups egg cooker.  I stopped using the water method on top of the range several years ago.  I find when I cook the eggs using the Krups egg cooker they are easier to peel.

No need to set a timer with the egg cooker.  Simply add the required amount of water to the basin to hard cook six eggs, place the eggs and turn on the machine.  When the cooking period is done, the machine turns off.  At that point, you can remove the eggs to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking. Fifteen to twenty minutes will be long enough in the ice bath.

Here are all our ingredients which I have listed for you above.  As usual, you want to use the freshest and highest quality ingredients in all your cooking.

We will start by adding the mayonnaise to our bowl.

Two radishes should give you two tablespoons, minced.  And make sure they are minced.  You do not want any large pieces of radish in this salad.

Add the minced radish to the bowl.

Add the dill.  Again, make sure it is as finely minced as possible.

Add the sliced green onion.

And finally, the salt.

Give this a stir to incorporate and then sit the bowl with the dressing in the refrigerator.

Remove the eggs from the ice bath and peel, then roughly chop.  Do this in a separate bowl.

Add the chopped eggs to the dressing and stir to incorporate.  Place the fully prepared egg salad back into the refrigerator and let it set at least two hours or overnight.

For this post, we served our egg salad on french baguette, lightly toasted on one side only.

A delectable treat indeed.  I did not add mayonnaise or mustard to the bread, but you certainly could. Or any type of special sauce that you may like.

This egg salad can be easily put together on a Saturday or Sunday morning and refrigerated until ready to use.  It would make for wonderful canapes on a  tray for guests.  Or a hearty sandwich for lunch. Use it as you see fit.  But try it and I'm sure you will agree that it is delicious.

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