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real life test kitchen: perfect pops

Juice Bar
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Mexican Chocolate

Food trends seem to come and go at lightning speed these days, particularly when it comes to sweet treats. We’ve gone from cupcakes to whoopie pies to pie to Parisian macarons – it’s enough to make a baker throw up her apron in frustration. Fortunately, the latest and greatest in sweet treat trends is as simple as can be: the gourmet ice pop.

Now, believe me when I tell you this is not the Twin Pop you remember (with great fondness) from your youth. The new generation of ice pops are packed with real fruit, exotic flavors, and even, on occasion, a bit of booze…and they are delicious. You can shell out as much as $5 for a single pop at your friendly neighborhood Farmers’ Market. Or you can pick up a copy of Perfect Pops (by Charity Ferreira, Chronicle Books) and a $3 popsicle mold, and you’ll be set for the summer.

I think my favorite thing about this new book is how easy the ice pop thing really is. No mixers, no measuring cups, no oven required. I made a batch using nothing but a cereal bowl and a mini-spatula as my “tools”. These recipes are made for winging it, and they’re all but foolproof – you’ll quickly find yourself making substitutions in your head, and the beauty is that, because it’s not baking, just about anything goes.

I got a wild hair to try the Neo-Neopolitan Pops one night, and rummaged around in my fridge to see if I could make it happen. Fresh strawberries to cook down and puree? Nope, but I had strawberry jam and a sieve…good enough. Chocolate sauce? How about melting down some hot fudge? Turns out, it worked out perfectly. And after about 5 minutes of hands-on time (spread over an hour) and an overnight stay in the freezer, they were delicious.

Next on my list are the Blackberry Iced Tea pops. Of course, I don’t have blackberries, but I have some blueberries in my freezer that are desperate to be used. And I don’t have any Earl Grey tea, but I’m thinking maybe a batch of decaf peach tea might work out perfectly. –Becki S. Click for Neo-Neapolitan Pops! (more…)

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everything you wanted to know about hammocks (but were afraid to ask)!

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When the dog days of summer hit, there is literally nothing that sounds better to me than lying in a shaded hammock, reading a magazine and sipping iced tea in a perfect summer breeze. Take a moment and picture it. Yep, it’s that good. Trust me… your midsummer naps will never be the same.

It’s not nearly as unattainable as it sounds. This is the modern age! No more are hammocks limited to those of us with plantation-style backyards, or two perfectly-spaced mature trees. Even the smallest of outdoor spaces, and virtually any budget, will set you up for total hammock nirvana.
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The easiest, of course, is the stand hammock. You’ll need a 15×8 area to set one up, and to allow room for swaying blissfully in the breeze (though 20×10 would be more comfortable). But if you have the space, the rest is child’s play. Get creative – use a side yard, ditch a dilapidated patio set, or repurpose a long front deck to house your hammock. The least expensive stands are metal, while wood is a pricier (but prettier) option. Metal also wins on durability, though; a wood version is more vulnerable to the elements. Be sure to check the assembled dimensions before you buy. And also check weight restrictions…if you want a two-person hammock, be sure your stand can handle it. Last, buy the stand separately from the hammock, and you’ll likely get a better quality version of both.

If you happen to have those two perfectly-spaced trees, of course, all you’ll need are a pair of hammock straps – webbed straps with carabiner attachments. You’ll see chain kits out there, but chains are very damaging to trees. The flat webbing is a much kinder option. You can also go with screw-in hooks, just make sure you’re using a hardwood tree like an oak or pine. Softer woods may not hold the screws over time, and being dropped on your backside does not make for good naps.
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The actual hammock is the next piece of the puzzle. Decide whether you want a two-seater or a single (I say, the more room, the merrier). Next, you’ll have a bevy of materials to choose from. Rope is the classic, of course. It’s also the least expensive and easiest to keep clean (since dirt and water can’t stick). It’s also the least comfortable. Cotton rope will yield more comfort, while polyester rope yields greater durability – it’s a toss-up. For my money, I prefer the quilted canvas versions. The colors do fade in the sun (though you can find versions in Sunbrella fabric that would reduce that considerably), and they have to be hosed off a few times a summer, but the comfy factor is unparalleled. Do yourself a favor and spring for the matching pillow.

If neither of those options work for you, don’t fear – no one goes hammock-less on my watch! Consider a hammock swing. Sure, it’s not the sexiest thing on the block, but there’s an excellent case to be made for function over form in this case. And you can hang them using either a stand or an eye hook drilled into your roof eaves or the ceiling on your porch. Enlist someone handy for an aerial installation – you want the hook installed into a stud so you don’t go flying! Again, I love the upholstered versions, and they happen to be much easier on the eyes than their rope counterparts. But they’re pricier as well – you can score a rope version for under $100. There are nylon versions out there too, but they’re so unfortunate-looking, I can’t even bring myself to show them to you.

A few final tips from a hammock old-timer: I recommend buying a couple of carabiners to attach your hammock to its stand or hooks – it makes it so much easier to attach and detach for shaking off and for storage. You can even install a large eye-hook in the ceiling of your garage or under your roof eaves and store the hammock there during the winter months, leaving the stand assembled and pushed out of the way. Also, be sure to double check length measurements of both the hammock and stand before you buy. Most are a standard size, but it’s always good to double-check.

And last, grab that magazine and iced tea before you settle in…once you’re in the hammock, you’ll be amazed at how quickly being anywhere else in the world sounds like too much work. — Becki S.

From our partners

hammocks & high tea: and the winners are…

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Okay, it’s official — the winners have been picked! THREE lucky readers have won their choice (limited to stock on hand) of beautiful drawer liners from the impossibly generous Hammocks and High Tea! Cue the drum roll…

Winner #1: Brett, who digs these drawer liners so much they plan to “remove everything from (my) drawers, place it on the bed, line the drawers and keep them open to admire them.” And now that dream can come true!

Winner # 2: Lynne, who plans on spending all Summer in shorts — AND last but not least–

Winner #3: Carolyn, whose collection of skirts and dresses will be resting pretty!

Congrats, guys! You’ll be hearing from us soon. And if you can, please let us all know your choices in the comments. Thanks to all who entered — and to the lovely Becki S. for wrangling up this wonderful giveaway for us. Be on the lookout for more soon!

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collab we’re crazy for: angela adams and egg press

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Collaborations are a dime a dozen these days, so it’s rare that one really catches my heart. But when I heard that one of my favorite letterpress stationery gurus, Egg Press, was teaming up with the ultimate rug design diva, Angela Adams, I actually swooned. Now that they’ve finally launched, the Angela Adams Egg Press collection is even more gorgeous than I’d imagined. Every single card is the perfect paper interpretation of those beautiful rugs from Adams’ collection. As it turns out, this really is a match made in heaven: Egg Press’ bold letterpress style lends itself perfectly to Angela’s retro-mod graphic styling. Plus, of course, what really makes Angela’s rugs sing is her use of texture within each pattern, which Egg Press has recreated perfectly.
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This isn’t the first time I’ve seen cards that I’ve wanted to take home and frame…but it’s the first time I love them enough that I might actually do it. The textures and colors are so vivid, I can’t help wanting to show off a few – I’m envisioning a vertical line of them down a narrow wall space in my dining room. Or, I suppose I could go the traditional route and actually send them to friends – for all the technology in the world, there’s just nothing like a handwritten note, especially for no reason at all.

With four sizes (including an impossibly adorable mini gift card), and several messages to choose from, I have no idea how I’ll even begin choosing favorites. The only solution? Get one of each! –Becki S.

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in the market for a black-thumb garden

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As some of you may recall, my little terrarium was in dire straits a few months back. It’s now become clear to me that, despite all of your sage advice, my poor little plant is not long for this world. It’s a sad state of affairs, but one with which I’m constantly plagued. I’m a black-thumbed girl with green-thumb ambitions. I’ve always wanted to be one of those women who gardens as a hobby, who has beautiful, flowering plants in every corner of her yard, who can make lemons grow on a miniature tree in her dining room. Alas, as evidenced by the fact that I can’t even sustain a succulent, I’m not that girl. I’m the girl that has managed to kill ivy, rosemary, and all sorts of other “indestructible” plants.

Yet every year, I start the spring off with hope, however unfounded. This is the time of year when I find myself desperately wanting a little something to pot and care for, but it’s clear I need to take baby steps. I’d love to plant a little boxed herb garden, but I think it’s beyond my care grade. I’ve heard that strawberries can be an easy starter plant, and the seedling sellers at my local farmers’ market tell me that basil should be nearly foolproof, but I’m skeptical.

And so, I turn to you dear Shelterrific readers for another helping hand. If you’re an expert greenie, is there something out there at my local nursery that I simply cannot kill? Or, if you’re a novice like me, maybe you’ve had luck with a species or two? –Becki S.

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