Sunday, July 6, 2014

California Wine Country (Spit) Bucket List

18 Preston was never meant to be a travel blog.  We’d like it to be a place where we can share our lifestyle which is heavily focused on home improvement and cooking great food.  Lately though, where we’ve traveled has been on our minds.  So we bring you Our California Wine Country (Spit) Bucket List.  (See what we did there?)
We packed a lunch just about every day.
  1. Enjoy a picnic lunch in a vineyard – This can really be done just about anywhere.  Either make your own or pick up a boxed lunch.  About halfway through your wine tasting day enjoy a picnic at one of your stops.  Be sure to ask permission first. We found most vineyards were happy to have you and will sell either a glass or bottle of wine for you to enjoy.  Gundlach Bundschu was just one of the vineyards we’re picnicked at.
    View at Sequoia Grove Vineyard.
  2. Try a really expensive cabernet – Although all the wine is good, California Northern Wine Country is known for two varietals.  Cabernet Sauvignon is one of them.  Tasting fees can add up, but try plan one splurge and taste something in one of those crazy price points for a comparison.  We checked this off our list at Sequoia Grove Vineyard.
    This chardonnay was from Tricycle winery.
  3. Find a Chardonnay that tastes like butter – Chardonnay is the other grape Sonoma and Napa grow a lot of, especially in the Carneros region at the bottom of the two valleys.  We never order Chardonnay because it has such a large range of flavor.  The spectrum starts off very light and can end up where you feel like you just licked an oak tree.  The trick is finding that perfect taste when the oak tastes just like butter. We found it at Bouchaine, tasting their Bouche D’Or.
    Enjoying champagne during our honeymoon in 2009.
  4. Tour a Champagne Cellar – Yes, Champagne is not just made in France!  Take some time to learn what Champagne really is.  It’s a region of France, but it’s also a very specific method of making sparkling wine.  We recommend the tour at Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma.  (We’re even club members!)
    Another must stop restaurant is the Fremont Diner.
  5. Dine at an amazing restaurant – And it doesn’t have to be The French Laundry, unless you’re rich.  In that case please dine there and report back on how it is.  We’ll likely post again since we found so many awesome spots!  But since this post is very Sonoma inspired why don’t you start at El Dorado Kitchen.
    #nofilter #unedited #Napaisbeautiful
  6. Drive the Silverado Trail – we happened upon this by accident while killing some time before a dinner reservation in Yountville.  The lighting ended up being magical.  I could have just watched forever from the spot we pulled over to take in the view.
    We rented bikes on our own and rode to a vineyard for lunch.
  7. Visit the wineries by bike – we’ve logged three vineyard trips by bike in our visits to wine country and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.  Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley bike tours offers perfect group excursions which all include the most amazing picnic lunch.
    Our snacks enjoyed at the farmer's market.
  8. Experience the Sonoma Farmer’s Market – Sonoma square is kind of like Vegas, you’re allowed to drink in public! Ok, other than that, it's nothing like Vegas.  The locals know how to do it right.  If you’re visiting grab a blanket from  your hotel (we won’t tell!) a bottle of wine (glasses optional) and head to the square to gather dinner during the farmer’s market.
    These grapes are just about ready for harvest in August.
  9. Bring home some wine – Depending on where you live this will either be super easy or a bit more of a project.  Being from Massachusetts it is very expensive to have wine shipped home.  Instead, we collected 12 bottles and purchased a shipping box and checked it as luggage on the flight home.  We’ve done this twice without incident.
    Matt loved the tour at Lagunitas.
  10. Drink beer in wine country – Do you know what makes good wine?  Great beer! Take a day (or two!) to scope out the craft breweries in the California wine region.  Or just hop on the bus and they will find them for you!  Can’t say enough good things about North Bay Brewery Tours.  We’ll follow up with another post more specific to #drinkingbeerinwinecountry
    Another #nofilter #unedited #Napaisbeautiful
  11. Spend a lazy day on the river – If you have some time during your wine country trip and love the outdoors, make a point to boat down the Russian River.  It’s very lazy and a fun way to relax. Don’t forget your picnic lunch and beer!  These guys have great boats for those new to boating. Russian River Adventures.
    The massive wine cellar at Robert Mondavi
  12. Meet a wine maker – Either make a point to attend a special dinner hosted at a vineyard or stop by a very small place and meet the people who make the magic happen.  One of our bike tours brought us to McKenzie-Mueller where we met Samantha Mueller.  She hosts the tastings, bottles the wine, drives the tractor, and of course helps with quality control!

Number 13 and 14 are two things that are still on our California Wine Country (spit) bucket list.  Next time we visit (after saving lots and lots of pennies) we really hope to take the iconic hot air balloon ride and actually spend our time staying in a room on a vineyard. 
13. Take a hot air balloon ride
14. Stay on a vineyard

Have you even been to Napa or Sonoma? or another reigion's wine country?  Anything we missed?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Meg gets a Craft Room

We may not blog often, but I hope you at least enjoy when we do.  Today is the story of how Meg gets a craft room.  We updated one of the upstairs bedrooms last year and began tacking the second upstairs bedroom (there are two) over the winter.  This was a particular fun project for me because I didn't have to consider Matt's tastes at all.  When your someones partner, the majority of your home reflects you as a couple.  And when you combine a lumberjack and a contractor, girly details become very lost.  The craft room became s a place I could share my feminine side.

Enter the first obstacle:  #oldhouseproblems

One of the major design components for my new crafting space was the utilization of this flat file we scored for free due to Matt's office moving.  People would kill for this piece!  It had to be used.  at 4' x 5' this monster did not want to play nice getting up our old house stairs.  After these photos were taken all the carpet was ripped out, TWO stair risers and treads were removed, the door frame was taken off, the flat file was cut, and the walls received some pretty big holes.  But - it made it to the craft room.

And now... some before and after shots of the almost finished space:
The big changes included lots and lots of paint!  A coat of primer, two of wall cover, and three different colors for the stencil which we'll get to in a minute.  I still need to find a good replacement light fixtures for this spot and possibly add some curtains to the windows. 
Sources: Chair: Target, Ottoman:Target, Pillows: HomeGoods
I told you the flat file made it!  I probably should have included a photo of the amazingness that is the storage of that thing.  Maybe another day.  And yes, that's a 48" paper cutter also scored for free.  Gotta love engineering offices.  We added a sanded and urethaned piece of plywood to the top.  I liked using plywood and even picked out a sheet with the stamps still on the wood.
Ah! My little triangles, I love them.  I've always loved orange and thought the dark minty green was a fun vintage way to add a second color to the otherwise very neutral room.  Let's talk colors:
Wall Color: Benjamin Moore Lacey Pearl in eggshell finish
Trim & White Triangle Color: Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace in semi-gloss finish
Orange Triangles & Closet: Glidden Juicy Cantaloupe in Satin
Green/Blue Triangles: Martha Stewart Duck's Egg Blue
Stencil: Etsy  (we can talk more about how to another day)
I got so much storage out of this place!  The closet renovation was a huge transformation.  I don't have any before photos, but I basically took a closet that hasn't been touched since 1950, cleaned it, painted it, and added carpet.  To the left in that image, the closet it actually about 2' deep and Matt added shelves and I organized my supplies in tons of storage boxes.  Though I think they are a bit expensive, I added the obligatory Raskog cart in this craft room.  I'm using it for my sewing needs.  When it's time to sew I can put that right next to my work table.

I'm in love with this space, and have already not had many chances to use it.  Have you ever had the rare opportunity in  your adult life to design a room just for you?  Any favorite parts out there?  My favorite are the triangles.  I also love that though this is a craft room, the storage I'm using puts everything away.  I feel craft rooms often look cluttered.  Confession: I only have 2 rolls of washi tape... so maybe that explains it.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Growing Hops in New England

If you follow us Meg on Instagram you've recently seen an update on our hop vines.  I'm hoping that if you're reading this post, we don't have to explain what hops are - just that we live in New England and we have a few growing on the side of our house.  As home brewers and gardeners, growing our own hops was a natural progression in the "farm to table glass" movement.
We've asked many people, and read many articles about growing hops, and wanted to take some time to share what we've learned along the way in our now five year hop growing adventure.  This post is not a tutorial on how to grow hops.  We just want to provide honest answers to help you in your own hop growing process.  

"In New England, hops rhizomes must be started indoors" - BUSTED
During our five year hops adventure we started the rhizomes inside twice.  We started them inside perfect 2 gallon buckets, just like the home brew store told us to.  We lost all of these hop vines after transplanting them outside.  Just get them outside - our third attempt we went directly outside, and those are the hop vines we still have growing today.  Also - see below at the speed these guys grow.  Do you have room in your house for "seedlings" that are 7 feet tall?!

"Rhizomes need to be ordered ahead of time" - PLAUSIBLE
We've ordered Rhizomes twice, and just picked them up once.  This all depends on your home brew store and how they like to run the show.  Since the rhizomes need to be refrigerated until planted, most will only order what they know their customers will purchase.  To be on the safe side, put a reminder in your phone to call your home brew store the end for FEBRUARY and ask.

"You have to start hop Rhizomes in March" - BUSTED
Early March is typically when home brew stores receive their rhizome orders.  And then they will likely tell you to start them indoors as soon as you get home, see above.  After picking up your rhizomes keep them in your refrigerator in a zip lock with a wet paper towel and plant directly outdoors once all chances of frost are gone.  Again, this could be April, and that's OK.

"You can watch hop vines grow, they grow so fast" - CONFIRMED
After your hop shoots peek up from the soil they will grow fast!  Sometimes 1" - 3" a day!  Which is just about fast enough to watch them grow.  Or at least measure them ever hour and see a noticeable change.
What the hops are looking like right now - early May.
"After three years, we can finally use the crop to make our own beer" - PLAUSIBLE
We're on year three, so we can't confirm this quite yet.  What we can confirm is that year one and two didn't yield much.  We enjoyed them as an ornamental plant and hope to see a bigger yield this year.

"They must smell amazing in your garden" - BUSTED
This our favorite one.  Hops only smell great when the oils in the cones are crushed up and they only get crushed up when you pick them to make beer.  So no, our garden does not smell like a brewery.  (At least not until we add spent grain to the compost bin.)

"Hop vines love and need lots of sun" - CONFIRMED
If you're going to grow these guys and want to eventually make some beer with them, give them the love they deserve.  Hop vines should get the spot on your property that gets sun all day long; tomatoes and basil will have to take a back seat.  Our vines get shade half the day, but we plan to move them once we can add a pergola and believe that will increase the yield once they can finally have their full sun.

"Hop vines can grow up to 20' tall!" - CONFIRMED
Be prepared for this.  Hop vines will travel clockwise around a twine guide - we attach ours to the roof.

So are you going to do it?! or do you already have hop vines growing in your own garden?  I'd love for you to share your own hop growing myths either confirmed or busted.  Especially if your are a New England hop gardener.  Cheers!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Travel - A Weekend in Newport, RI

Just about every March/April Matt and I get "the itch."  Our New England winter has been long, work has kept us away from each other much more than 50 hours a week, and we desperately need a way to recharge.  Last year we took a long weekend in Vermont after "the itch."  This year we headed back to a familiar favorite, Newport, Rhode Island.

Matt and I met in college at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI.  And though we don't visit there often, we still enjoy coming back to one of our favorite Rhode Island towns.  We've also discovered that the off season is a great time to travel here to beat the Newport summer crowds of popped collar, Sperry wearing, tourists.  You can also score some excellent rates on hotels, and we timed it with restaurant week to try more of Newport's great restaurants at more competitive prices.

We want to share our travel stories more often - to share what we like (possibly don't like) and hope you can take some of our tips on your own trip!

Where to Stay: So far we have two favorites from our stays in Newport, and once learned the Best Western is a no go! Don't do it!

The Attwater: This trip was our first time at The Attwater, a Boutique Lark Hotel close to downtown Newport and we're in love!  We scored 30% off their regular rates by spotting the Hotel on  This place is a blogger's dream!  The room was large and everything was spotless and so comfortable.  They include a small breakfast which was just enough to get our day going and not spoil a restaurant week lunch.  We also took full advantage of the mid afternoon treats and lattes.  Another win for Newport - this hotel includes parking! Year round!

The Hotel Viking: We've stayed here in the past, but only if we could find a discounted rate.  They are also part of a Boutique Hotel group - Noble House Hotels & Resorts.  We like the Viking, it is a very historic part of Newport.  Hanging out at the hotel bar makes us feel part of the swanky Newport.  If you're staying here, we recommend the newer hotels rooms, and not the historic suites.  They also don't commonly include parking or breakfast, but you can ask!

What to Do:  There are so many great things to do in Newport, the beaches, Cliff Walk, the mansion tours but we don't want to overwhelm anyone headed there just for a weekend so we'll share our favorite highlights.

Newport Storm Brewery & Newport Distilling Co:  Our relationship was built on Friday night dates to Newport Storm Brewery for beer tastings in college.  They are Rhode Island's only microbrewery and make some extremely great beer in their new facility.  If you're not into beer, they also offer a Rum tasting - distilled in house! AND featured on Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe!  If you go ask for Brent and tell him Meg and Matt sent you.

Newport Vineyards:  I don't know what it is about vineyards, but we just love to visit them.  Newport Vineyard is nothing like what you'll see in a big wine country, but it's pretty impressive that they grow all of their own grapes for their wines.  It's worth a stop for a tasting and perhaps a tour.  They have a wine variety for everyone, and they are excellent.

The Armory Antiques:  A trip to Newport is not complete for us without a stop in The Armory Antique store.  Most of their goods are nautical because of the location.  

Thames Street Shopping: Downtown Newport is full of both main stream (Banana Republic) and eclectic shopping.  And if you're in town before May 1st, all of the metered parking is free!

Norman Bird Sanctuary:  We didn't stop here on this past trip, but if you have a hike in your schedule, the Norman Bird Sanctuary is nearby and you can hike to some pretty amazing views of the beaches.

Ocean Drive & Fort Adams:  Looking for your dream home?  Exploring Ocean Drive and Fort Adams is a quiet drive, perfect for Sunday morning before you need to head home.

Where to Eat:  There must be over 100 restaurants in Newport and the surrounding area and honestly, about 75% of them are really good.  We're highlighting our favorites:

Perro Salado: Open for dinner, Perro Salado is located in an old home and serves rustic mexican.  This is a great spot for a romantic dinner if you like spicy food and amazing cocktails.

Midtown Oyster:  We ended up here for lunch, where we had the Midtown Burger, a quality cheeseburger with fried oysters.  If fried seafood or a classic pub burger is what you're craving head here.  The beer list is extensive.

Fluke wine bar & kitchen:  If you looking for something romantic, but don't want to end up with the "yuppie" crowd at Bowen's, try Fluke.  The menu was extremely eclectic and worth the trip if you want to eat something you'd never attempt cooking at home.  Fluke also has a great wine list and cocktail menu including some great non alcoholic options.

Brick Alley Pub:  This would be the pub to visit with a crowd!  The menu has lots of variety and everyone loves the salad bar.  

Aidan's:  Now we're venturing outside of Newport.  Aidan's is located downtown Bristol and as long as you avoid it after 10pm you won't run into too much of a college crowd.  Aidan's is always full of locals who just want some great Irish pub grub.  And again - they feature an extensive beer menu and long tap list.  (do you see a trend?)

West Main Pizza:  In between Newport and Bristol you'll find West Main Pizza.  They won't tell me the recipe, but the crust makes this pizza the best we've ever had.  Even when we're not hungry we stop because nobody else does it like them.  Our favorite is the Blue Cow Pizza - topped with hamburger, bacon and blue cheese sauce.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2014 Goals Update

The first three months of 2014 have come and gone.  And I'm completely fine with that because they have been COLD!  I know winters are cold and snowy in New England, but I feel like the winter of 2014 was colder for a longer period of time and I think everyone is ready for sun, warmth, and good old New England humidity!  

I wanted to do a three month check in on our goals.  Mostly to keep us accountable, but to share in case you follow our blog and are curious.  You'll see we haven't made progress on everything, but I'm OK with that.  We've been through some "stuff" these past three months that I'd categorize as "big life stuff." And through it all, we're still standing and happy, and that's an accomplishment that I'm very proud of.  Add to that the goals we were able to start and I'd say we're going to have a very strong 2014.

18 Preston Goals
- Complete our exterior painting project - We're still waiting on the weather.  Hopefully we'll get started mid to late April.

- Hire an electrician (and our first official contractor) - Another item waiting on the weather.  We haven't tackled many big home improvement projects in these first few months of 2014.

- Share 52 blog posts this year (anyone notice the little face lift!) - We've been pretty slow on this one, but have lots of great ideas in the pipeline.  Now is just time and motivation to share them with all of you!

Matt's Goals
- Complete an obstacle race - Hasn't signed up yet, but boot camp starts soon!

- Finish a basement overhaul - Began the planning phase.  Once it warms up and we can move items to the garage for staging during the basement overhaul we'll get started on the execution phase.

- Have our first Tag Sale - Another item waiting on that warm weather, but we're super excited for a yard sale to purge!

- Workout every weekend - Been on a few runs, but again, the weather the beginning of 2014 hasn't been very motivating.

Meg's Goals
- Practice Yoga - Excited to stay this is on track.  Got off to a slow start, but now that I "get it" I practice 2-3 times per week.

- Finish converting the upstairs room to a craft/office space - Excited to also confirm this is pretty much done!  Some small items are left, but for the most part the room is completely redone and functioning as a beautiful crafting space.  

- Have our first Yard Sale (for those of your who didn't grow up in Connecticut) - Another item waiting on that warm weather, but we're super excited for a yard sale to purge!

- Workout every weekend - This didn't start in January, but my yoga practice has me at the yoga studio every weekend and now that nice weather is starting to peek out here and there we've managed a few long neighborhood walks.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

2014 Vegetable Garden Planning

Everyone else has said it, so I will chime in too.  This winter has been awful and I think it's taking a toll on myself and everyone I love.  Everyone is so cranky!

So, in the spirit of looking forward I started my vegetable garden planning this week. 

This will be the third year for our vegetable garden and so far we've gotten mixed results.  2012 was amazing!  The garden just flourished and we were eating tomatoes, zucchini, and squash for weeks.  Last year the tomatoes and peppers did pretty well, but everything else completely crapped out.  Gardening takes work, so I change the game plan slightly each year in an effort in making my hard work to go good use.

2012 Vegetable Garden
Garden Bed: I garden in a 4' x 10' raised bed built from landscape timbers that usually go on sale at Home Depot in March or April.  They are fastened together with some pieces of rebar that go through and into the ground.  The bottom of the bed is lined with chicken wire and landscape fabric.  The first year we had the dirt delivered (and of course the truck just couldn't reach to dump in right in the garden bed,) and each year we now add compost and fertilizer in the spring and till the soil frequently until we can plant.

Seeds or Plants?  I start just about everything by seed.  It's worked in the past, it's cheap and easy, and honestly, the process of seed to plant to fruit to belly is as close as I've had the chance to get to the miracle of child birth.  And it's magical.

Pepper plants - 2013
Planning: Year one was a free for all, whatever fit where is what I went with.  At times the garden may have looked a bit overgrown, (see above) but it did so well!  Last year I tried the square foot gardening technique and swapped everything around since (apparently) rotation is important and we had a less than stellar year.

In 2014 I happened across this little online planning tool,  and I'm going to go with some of their suggestions, specifically with my timing.  We are a Zone 6 area (to get technical on you) and their website does a great job visually showing me when to start what and where.

I totally would have started the basil indoors too soon, and transplanted way too early.  Because we had such a crappy winter I'm likely going to stay on the end of each scale provided.  So in the basil example, I'll seed mid April and plan on transplanting to the garden the first week of June.

What are you planting?!  This year I'm sticking to what has been easy for me in the past, plus a few experiments.  Below is a rough idea of the plan in the space I have.  I have a large perennial (aka, low maintenance!) herb garden somewhere else that we'll talk about in another post.    
2014 Garden Plan
Tomatoes: who doesn't plant tomatoes in a home garden?!  I've gone both the plant and seed route with these guys before.  
Cherry Tomatoes: I will likely buy a plant, so I can eat them very very quickly!
Sweet Grape Tomatoes: I've had great success with seed, so going that way again
Yellow Pearl TomatoesI've had great success with seed, so going that way again
Notice I stuck to the small varieties. We'll eat them the most, and I know then ripen quickly and produce all summer with proper pruning.  I don't want to waste space with big guys that take all summer.

Greens:  I've done all kinds including romaine, mixed greens, rainbow chard, (literally just for it's looks) and arugula.
This year I'm only going to plant what we eat - Mixed Greens, Kale, and Arugula.   Greens are super easy and fast growing, I'll start from seed directly in the garden in May.  The sun in my garden faces from the top of that diagram, just about all day.  It's good to know where your sun is.  In my plan I know my tomatoes will block that sun and create shade for my greens!  Greens to best in the spring when it's still cool around here and with partial shade during the day!

Carrots: I've failed at these twice so far, but I'm not a wimp and I'm hoping the third time is the charm.  (Does anyone have any carrot growing tips?!)

Annual Herbs:  I love perennials because they are low maintenance and lots of herbs are actually perennials in our zone.  For annual herbs I typically only plant the basics.  
Basil:  This the only herb I'll start indoors.  Since it will eventually have a big stock like a tomato I will give it a head start.
Cilantro: Last year I discovered this lasts through the first frost?!
Parsley: I'm really just hoping it's going to serve me well through a frost like the cilantro!

Cucumbers: pickling variety only.  These have been a struggle for me.  Though, I got new seeds and I'm going to make another effort.

Squash: Year one I picked squash the size of my leg out of my garden!  Last year, I think I got two, total!  We can make entire meals of this veggie during the summer. I'm really hoping they do well.  I think I'll start them inside and then milk carton green house them just after the transplant.

Beans: Last year I planted these just so my neighbor's daughter could have something to take care of.  They love my garden.  But they were so delicious and I'm really just planting them to be a snack during all my hard work.

Garlic - 2013
So that was a long winded post!  Who hung in there?  Let's do an ice breaker, if you could plant one veggie and be guaranteed it would flourish, what would it be?  

Please at least take away the tip of finding your sun and playing with it and different height veggies to make a small garden work for you. 

And I pick giant pumpkin!

Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 House Update - Dining Room

Continuing some of our home updates in celebration our 2 year homeiversary.  We shared our kitchen updates a few weeks ago and we're moving onto the dining room.   

First, the inspiration for the room started on Pinterest, of course! 

And while it is still quite the work in progress, we've certainly come a long way from our yellow walls with nine paint pot samples to pick from!

Moving the coffee and espresso machines was another Pinterest inspiration.  Matt has quite the collection of coffee brewing methods including the espresso machine percolator, french press, and his current favorite, the Cold Brew Tody system.  

Let's run down the list of goals for the dining room and take note of where we've come in the past two years:

Dining Room
Paint walls - We used Behr Scotland Road
Dining Room Gallery Art Wall - we're still switching out the art about twice a year
Add Coffee bar with hanging hooks for mugs
Find a rug - we went with FLOR tiles
New Chandelier
Upholster the inside fabric panels of the china cabinet (I even bought the fabric!)
Extend the china cabinet into the kitchen so it's two sided
Purchase new kegorator (current would move to future deck)
Add custom millwork surrounding kegorator with wine storage.  Similar to this idea.

And after all of these updates, we hardly even use this room!!!  Does anyone else just walk by the dining room and never actually eat in in?  The plus side is that this is the cleanest room in the house!