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wood bench makeover

It has been a busy summer of projects for me and this was one of my easier ones. This handmade outdoor wood bench was given to us by a friend a few years ago and because it was unfinished, it quickly started to dry out and age from being exposed to the elements.

lola-rugula-how-to-refinish-an-outdoor-wood-benchAside from being exposed to the rain, cold and heat, one of the biggest problems we encountered with letting this unfinished bench sit outside were the wasps eating away at it. The wasps made sitting on the bench for any length of time almost impossible and finally demanded that action be taken.

This project took about 2 weekends for me to complete, doing it in my spare time and allowing for drying time. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Hose down well to remove loose dirt, sand and grit
  2. Let dry completely
  3. Sand well
    1. I used a combination of rotary sander and hand sanding to get this job done. The sides to the slats are the most tedious part of the job but don’t be tempted to skimp out…sanding is important! I started with about 120 grit and ended with around 400, especially in the seating area
  4. After sanding is complete, rinse well again and let dry completely.
  5. Brush on a healthy coat or 2 of a good wood conditioner and let sit for 24 hours.
  6. Stain using a brush or cloth, adding a few coats if necessary to reach the desired color. Let dry.
  7. Check for any final rough spots – sand if needed and wipe clean.
  8. Apply an outdoor polyurethane and let dry. Repeat at least 3 times.
  9. Smooth any final rough spots with a fine sander
  10. Done!


Isn’t she beautiful?

My husband was thrilled to see the final results of this bench, as it was one of his friends who blessed us with it. And I’m happy to report that I can finally go outside and enjoy sitting on it with a good book and glass of wine without the wasps driving me batty. (battier?)

I hope you all have enjoyed your summer. I’m in a bit of denial that it’s almost October but at some point I believe life has to wind down and recharge. Are you ready for it? I sure am.

salmon and cucumber bites

I am buried in a myriad of projects right now and am rushing to complete them as the days grow shorter. I know it’s not technically autumn yet, but once Labor Day has passed us by and NFL games are officially part of my Sunday routine again, I have to admit defeat and call another summer over. I get a bit depressed this time of year because I truly, truly despise the snow and cold. Mostly what I hate though are the short days, when it’s dark when I wake up and dark again before I leave work.

Tending to the last of my vegetable garden is always a bit sad, too, as the wilted squash plant is pulled, the tomato, eggplant, bean, and pepper plants begin their decline and the last of the fennel and kohlrabi are pulled from the earth. Cucumber plants are wilting too, after a bountiful summer which seemed overwhelming at times. Dill, which I planted (intentionally) a few years ago, now shows up every year, much to my husband’s dismay. It’s really not too bothersome though – easy to identify and pull up before it goes to seed again, but I love having it on hand for pickles and such.

One of the ways we enjoyed our fresh cukes this summer was these incredibly easy salmon cucumber appetizers. My husband was the inspiration for these (have I mentioned how much I love that he loves such a variety of food?) and they work perfectly as both an easy appetizer and a light lunch or dinner. I”m sure there are probably thousands of similar recipes out there for these so please customize them however you wish.

This isn’t really a “recipe”, as I’m only going to give you the ingredients – the quantities and portion are really up to you, depending on what you have on hand and what the occasion is.


lola-rugula-easy-salmon-appetizerssalmon and cucumber bites

  • Cream cheese, softened
  • Small capers, at room temperature
  • Cucumber, at room temperature
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Smoked salmon
  • Fresh dill weed

To make the assembly of these as easy as possible, have the cream cheese, capers and cucumbers ar room temperature. If any or all of them are cold, it makes working with them very difficult, as they’ll chill the cream cheese and make it seize up and stiffen. If needed, you can chill these once you’ve assembled them.


  • First, mix together some of the softened cream cheese and capers in a small dish. I like mine heavy on the capers but don’t go too crazy – you don’t want to overpower the salmon.
  • I like to peel my cucumbers leaving small stripes of its dark skin on – I just love the way it looks, plus taking away some of the skin reduces the bitterness of the cucumbers. Slice the cucumber into 1/4 inch slices and arrange on a serving platter.
  • Using a small spoon, scoop just a small bit of the cream cheese and caper mixture onto each cucumber slice.
  • Add a bit of thinly sliced red onion, using it to flatten the cream cheese mixture a bit.
  • Top with smoked salmon and finish each appetizer with a tiny sprig of fresh dill weed.
  • Try not to inhale them all at once.


Beautiful and, of course, the salmon is heart-healthy, so you can’t feel too guilty for indulging.

For me, a 5 oz. package of smoked salmon, 1/3 of a brick of cream cheese and 1-2 cucumbers are about enough for 16-18 bites or so.

You now have an easy appetizer to add to your holiday menu or, if you’re like me, to just enjoy on a late summer day.

spicy dilly beans

Green bean overload happens every year in my garden, so it’s a good thing they freeze well. Another great way to preserve them is to pickle them in a spicy brine. Bloody Mary. Red Beer. Hot Tomato. Michelada. Bloody Caesar…if you like your vodka or beer with a bit of tomato juice and a touch of heat, these spicy dilly beans are calling your name. But even if you’re not enjoying an adult beverage, these are good in salads, antipasto platters and straight out of the jar.

You can ramp up the heat with these a number of ways, depending on what you have on hand when you process them. I made this batch 1/2 with crushed dried pepper flakes and 1/2 with hot jalapenos from the garden. Be creative here – fresh and dried peppers both work. The level of heat is also in your hands, so make these your own.

Although this is a recipe for canned dilly beans, you don’t have to process these to enjoy them. Just simmer them for about 10 minutes in the brine, let cool, pop into a covered jar or glass container and refrigerate them. Because of the vinegar, these will keep in the fridge for a few months, no processing required.

This makes about 6 pint jars.


spicy dilly beans recipe



  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 4 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt

Per pint jar:

  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 large fresh dill head
  • 1/4 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes OR sliced fresh jalapeno
  • 1/8 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • About 2 cups fresh green beans, cleaned and trimmed (enough to pack the jar)

Sterilize jars, lids and bands for 10 minutes. Leave in hot water until ready to use.

In a large pan, add water, vinegar and pickling salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

In each sterilized jar, place 2 cloves crushed garlic, dill head, dill seed, hot peppers and peppercorns. Pack with green beans.

Pour hot brine over green beans, filling jar to 1/4 inch of rim. Wipe rim clean and seal with lid and band. Repeat for each jar.

Place packed and sealed jars into a boiling hot water bath, making sure water level is at least 1 inch above jars. Cover, reduce to low boil (but make sure water continues to boil) and process for 10 minutes. Carefully remove jars from water and let sit, undisturbed, until cool.

Store for at least 4 weeks before enjoying, to let the flavors really come together.

Any jars that don’t seal can be stored in the fridge.

I can seriously eat a jar of these by myself, that’s how much I love them. And feel free to switch this up with apple cider vinegar – it’s just as delicious, with a little different tang.

These little beauties also make great gifts, so something to keep in mind as your garden is winding down.


no-churn salted dulce de leche ice cream

July is National Ice Cream Month, so I want to share my latest ice cream concoction with you – No Churn Salted Dulce de Leche Ice Cream. Yeah, it’s as good as it sounds, though I will say right off the bat that this first go-round was a little sweet for me. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, though I do have my moments, but next time I make this it will have a little more salt or some salted nuts mixed in. I put some salted cashews on a serving of this and they put this into one of my favorite ice creams ever. My favorite is still my no-churn coffee ice cream, but I’m a bit of a coffee fiend, sooooo….there’s that.

Now, classic dulce de leche is made with milk and sugar, with vanilla often mixed in. The lazy way to do it is to caramelize a can of sweetened condensed milk. I went the lazy way, though it still requires some babysitting. Now, if you do an internet search of dulce de leche made from sweetened condensed milk, you’ll find most people put a sealed can right into a pan of water and simmer it. I, being the clumsy, accident-prone person I am, was not willing to risk life or limb or sweetened milk all over my kitchen, so I opted for the safe double boiler method. And, since I knew this was going to be an hours-long process, I cooked up two cans because it stores well in the fridge.

This is a pretty involved process (sarcasm), so try and follow along.

Pour a can or two of sweetened condensed milk into the top pan of a double boiler. Fill the bottom pan with water. Cover. Bring water to a boil and then reduce to a steady simmer. Simmer until the condensed milk thickens and darkens. 2 cans took me about 4 hours and required little effort except for an occasional water check and milk stir, to make sure it was staying creamy and condensing down.

Ta da! Behold, my dulce de leche.


Now, you can reduce this so that’s it’s lighter or darker, depending on your preference. But you definitely want it to darken and caramelize. If it gets too thick, it will then become impossible to do much with. I was afraid mine was too thick but it ended up mixing in nicely with the can of sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream that I made the ice cream with. If you make this ahead of time and refrigerate it, you’ll want to bring it to room temperature before making the ice cream, otherwise it may be too stiff to work with.

On to my recipe.


no-churn salted dulce de leche ice cream

  • 1 cup dulce de leche
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 pint heavy (whipping) cream

In a large bowl, stir the dulce de leche, condensed milk and salt together until completely blended and creamy. In another bowl or stand mixer, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Take a couple of big dollops of the whipped cream and stir it into the dulce de leche mixture, until well blended. Then, gently fold in the remaining whipped cream – you want to keep the fluffiness of the whipped cream here, so be gentle.

Pour the mixture into a freezer-safe container, cover and freeze for at least 6 hours.

The real beauty of ice creams made with sweetened condensed milk is they’re typically no-churn, meaning you don’t need an ice cream maker to make and enjoy them. Bonus, yes?



no churn coffee ice cream revisited

It’s been pretty warm and steamy in my neck of the woods recently, so what better way to cool off than my easy, no-churn coffee ice cream? Coffee ice cream is a favorite of ours but all you really need as a base for no-churn ice cream is heavy cream (I’ve used half and half on numerous occasions and it works great, too) and sweetened condensed milk. From there, the possibilities are endless.

how to make homemade ice cream dunkin donuts

In case you missed it above, here’s the link to my recipe:

Stay cool and enjoy!

easy to grow flowers part two

In case you missed my recent post, it was part one of easy to grow flowers here in zone 5…at least for me. Currently, the crocus and daffodils have already bloomed, while the tulips, lilacs and bleeding hearts are all blooming here in early May. Just getting ready to strut their stuff are our very short-lived but beautiful alliums. These are sun lovers that don’t take up a lot of space but stand tall and beautiful on their own. They only bloom for a couple of weeks, but they’re so much fun and they’re part of the onion/garlic family so therefore, I love them.


Also, just getting ready to pop is all of our columbine. Columbine spreads, so be warned, but it’s a beautiful perennial that’s available in a wide range of colors. Bonus for me is that they are shade plants, though they do well in partial sun also.Wet, dry, cool, hot…once columbine has started to grow and bloom, it doesn’t seem to care very much about the conditions.

lola_rugula_purple-columbine lola_rugula_columbineHow can you resist their unusual flowers and colors? I sure can’t. My columbine bloom for a month or so but, because I have so many of them, it goes on longer than that, due to varying stages of their plant maturity.

Just a week or two away from blooming is my clematis. I love clematis but ours blooms only briefly due to the fact it gets only afternoon sun. Clematis likes lots of sun and can be a bit of a water hog if it’s quite dry, but its show blooms are worth it. Try and plant yours in a sunny spot and leave it…it’s not partial to being moved around but you’ll reap the rewards when you leave it be and let it do its thing.

lola_rugula_clematisAll of the above flowers are perennials for me here in zone 5. Some annuals that I love and that are easy here are cosmos and zinnias. Find a sunny spot, loosen up the dirt, toss in a little compost and then sprinkle some seeds around. You barely need to cover them; I sprinkle just enough dirt over them to keep them in their place. Keep damp for 5-7 days and you should see some sprouts. Then, just keep watered enough to keep the sprouts going and before you know it, you have flowers that go on and on and on and on. Trust me on this one.



I love cosmos and zinnias for their long lasting, colorful display…you really can’t go wrong with them.

Of course, for another perennial, coneflowers are beautiful and do well in all sorts of soil and light – I have a lot of luck with them in a few different areas in our yard.


Our irises are just a week or two away from blooming and they’re always a showstopper, especially in flower arrangements. lola_rugula_irises

Irises need to be divided every couple of years, so keep that in mind when planting them. If they become overcrowded, they won’t bloom as prolifically and will often push their bulbs out of the ground, due to crowding.

Our moonbeam coreopsis is another perennial that does really well here in Zone 5. I have some in full sun and some under some pine trees in partial sun and they all do really well. Their bright yellow flowers are a joy to see and they will spread if left in one place long enough.


Back to annuals, my final favorite for now is nasturtium, which is not only beautiful but edible, too. Oh, that’s right. You can eat nasturtium, fresh off the stem. We enjoyed their blooms in salads for their colorful and spicy kick. Just make sure that the nasturtium you pick has been grown in organic conditions and not treated with anything. Here’s a shot of a patch of it we grew last summer:

lola_nasturnium and salvia

In case you’re wondering, that’s purple salvia alongside it. I’m not a huge fan of salvia, althought it does well here in Zone 5. My complaint with salvia is that it grows too quickly and too tall, so I’m stuck with a big, broken circle of foliage very early on in the season. It doesn’t make for a very pretty presentation, although I admit the flowers themselves are beautiful. Well, really, what flowers aren’t beautiful?

Tell me your flower and zone stories…I’d love to hear what does well where you live and what doesn’t. Thanks for stopping by and happy planting!

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