lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

linguine with shrimp, fresh tomatoes and basil

Hallelujah, spring is upon us!  Even though it’s hardly been a brutal winter here in Northern Illinois, I’m still excited for longer and warmer days. This weekend was a much-needed stay at home treat for me, as there’ve been many personal issues that have had me more stressed than usual. lately. I’m a big believer in taking time for yourself. Physical and mental rejuvenation is vital, not only for your own sense of well-being but for also having the strength and peace-of-mind to take care of those you love. Today was that day for me. My feel-good dish of the day was fresh pasta with garlicky shrimp and fresh tomatoes and basil.

lola rugula pasta with shrimp recipe

This recipe was mostly just inspired by 3 things:

  1. I was really craving shrimp
  2. I was really craving something healthy and fresh-tasting
  3. I had some Roma tomatoes that I really needed to use

Looking for a quick and easy weeknight (or even weekend, in my case) dinner with pasta and shrimp? This definitely fits the bill.

lola rugula linguine with shrimp and tomatoes

pasta with shrimp, garlic, fresh tomatoes and basil recipe

  • 9 oz. fresh linguine (I keep Buitoni pasta in the freezer when I don’t have homemade on hand)
  • 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (divided – you’ll use 2 Tbsp. for the shrimp and 2 Tbsp. for the sauce)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped (divided – you’ll use half for the shrimp and half for the sauce)
  • 1 lb. raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 small sweet yellow sweet peppers, cut in half lengthwise, then thinly sliced
  • 5 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 1 generous cup loosely-packed fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced. Retain a few fresh slices for serving, if desired.
  • Salt and pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water for sauce.

In the meantime, in a large skillet, over medium-high heat, heat half (2 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil. Add half of your chopped garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add shrimp and cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan and heat. Add remaining garlic and yellow peppers and cook about 3 minutes, stirring often. Add scallions and cook, continuing to stir, about 2 minutes. Add diced tomatoes and their juices, and stir well. Cook for about 7 minutes, until tomatoes start to release all of their juices. Pour over reserved shrimp.

Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to sauce pan and scrape well, loosening bits from the pan. Continue to cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 3-4 minutes.

Add drained pasta to pan and stir.

Add plate of shrimp and tomato sauce to pasta and toss well.

Add fresh basil, stir and remove from heat.

Serve immediately, with reserved basil.

Easy, right? This dish satisfied me today on many levels, with the fresh tomatoes and basil bringing in thoughts of spring when I needed it most.

Pasta is so versatile – you can toss it with a bit of olive oil and so many, many things. Carbs get a bad rap sometimes but when you pack your pasta dish full of veggies and protein, you really can’t lose. Toss in some fresh herbs and you really do have a beautiful, flavorful dish that everyone will love.

Happy spring everyone!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

french flower pot makeover

This is, without a doubt, one of my easiest makeover projects ever and the results are beautiful. I’ve had these French flower pots for many, many years. I stumbled upon them at a flea market for next to nothing and knew they’d be perfect for my plethora of summer flowers.

As the years have passed, however, their colors faded and they began to rust. Here’s a shot of 2 of them from a couple of summers ago, packed with lavender from our gardens.

lola rugula french flower pot makeover original

You can see on the rim of them where they were rusting. so I took a bit of sandpaper and sanded the rusty spots down. After sanding, I rinsed them off, wiped them down and let them dry.

Then, with a few light coats of spray paint that I had on hand, I now have beautiful, bright French flower pots again.

lola rugula french flower pot easy makeover


The sage green color I used here is XO Rust gloss in Reed and the orange is Premium Decor gloss in Banner Orange.

This was an easy one-day makeover project that makes me feel like I have brand new flower pots.

lola rugula french flower pot makeover

The gorgeous flowers are compliments of my husband, who surprised me with them one night, for no other reason to except to say “I love you”.

Spray paint is such an easy way to make over small items, such as these pots. You want to start with as smooth and clean of a surface as possible, making sure the surface is dry before painting. Shake the paint vigorously for a minute or two and then always do a test spray on a piece of paper or cardboard. Then, apply the paint from at least a foot away, using sweeping motions as you paint, to help prevent drips.

Let each coat dry an hour or so before applying the next coat. These pots have 3 coats of spray paint on them.

Of course, you should always use spray paint outside or in a large, well-ventilated area.

Have you done any spray paint projects lately? I’d love to hear about them!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

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.

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

my first adventure in refinishing

I’m excited to add a new notch to my creative belt – refinishing! Though I’ve done some mini-makeovers on things in the past – think paint, spray paint and such – this was my first full refinishing project, starting with stripping it and finishing with polyurethane. I purchased my little flea market find at a local flea market last Memorial Day weekend. The seller had $15 dollars on it but after I spent a minute or two examining it, he immediately told me he’d take $10 for it. How could I possibly resist such a deal?


I was really drawn to this piece because it has a modern, contemporary style, which is usually hard to find at flea markets. Overall, I have a pretty eclectic taste in styles but I dislike most traditional and country styles, which is much more typical flea market fare.

The table was pretty scratched up when I purchased it and someone had already stripped the finish off the top, but obviously that’s as far as they got. Aside from the scratches and dings though, this was in pretty good shape.


The first step was stripping off the old finish which, though certainly messy, was pretty easy and straightforward. I placed the table on some Kraft paper that we already had, put on some safety goggles and rubber gloves and stripped the finish off  using ZipStrip Paint and Varnish Remover and a putty knife. You have to be really careful with this stuff – obviously if it can strip off old varnish and stain, it can do serious damage to your body parts. I got a bit on my arm and it burned like a mother until I washed it off. Here’s my table after stripping it:




I was quite happy to find such beautiful detail in the wood once it was stripped. That’s when I really knew this was going to be a special piece.

Then I took to sanding it, which I admit was somewhat labor intensive. Because of the curved pieces and such, I had to do most the sanding by hand. The sanding took place over the course of a few weekends since I have a full-time job aside from this that actually pays my bills.

Once sanded to my satisfaction, I began the staining process.


My goal with the stain was to achieve a brownish-tone that wasn’t red but still let the beautiful wood grain show through. The first stain I applied was much too red, so I ended up toning it down with a darker brown stain that I let briefly sit before wiping off. This took a few coats until I was happy with the results.

Then came the process of applying 5 coats of polyurethane to it. I read and heard a lot of conflicting methods of doing this; some say sanding in between coats is absolutely necessary, others say as long as the coats are applied within 24 hours of each other, no sanding is needed.

I went with the “no sanding is needed” method, though I think in the end this just caused more intensive sanding to achieve a smooth result. After much sweat and sanding, I was thrilled with my new table.

Here it is in it’s new spot in my living room.

lola-rugula-how-to-refinish-an-end-tableLooks great, doesn’t it? I’m very proud of myself for completing this project and already have a few more that I’ve picked up since. Okay, maybe more than a few. So far I’ve acquired 2 chests, an occasional chair that swivels, a mid-century modern bookcase and a wood daybed.

Hopefully, I’ll be sharing some more refinishing projects with all of you soon.

Have you ever tried your hand at refinishing something? I’d love to hear about it, whether it was a success or a failure.

Thanks for stopping by.