HOME: Cozy Porch Plans and Ideas for Fall at the Cottage

Pin It We finally did it, we took the plunge and took aa step closer to our retirement plan, by buying a fixer upper lakehouse. The place is a bit of a blank slate, and we are slowly making it our own. But we need to be thrifty, and a lot of what we want to do may have to wait a few years. But as the summer season winds down, it's a great time to get some end of season sales and deals, so we have a head start on summer next year. I just bought root bound, end of season perennials at Home Depot for 60% off! I got those bad boys in the ground over labor day. They look terrible, but so does the whole garden bed. Come spring they will come up bright and perky as if I bought them at full price.

Same goes for outdoor furniture and decor. Craft stores need to make room for Christmas, so right now porch signs and even fall blankets and decor are on sale. It's the perfect time to spruce up your outdoor space and enjoy it before the snow falls. Imagine a crisp morning with a blanket and cup of coffee on the deck, enjoying the changing leaves? I cannot think of anything better.

Here is my challenge. My screened in porch as well as my massive deck is overwhelming to even think about. And I need to mention that outside of cute porch signs and blankets, hubby and I have some major structural stuff to deal with. Screens need to be mended and stapled. Wood planks need to be pressure washed and restained. Some wood planks probably need to be replaced. But regardless, there is no reason for me not to enjoy these areas and make them welcoming and usable for guests this fall. SO I stepped back and made a list of what I want each of these spaces to do. From there, I created tone/idea boards to start the "spruce up" process. Then comes the fun part... haggling for my budget with hubby (if you heard sarcasm, you heard correctly).

Let's start with the main deck. It has a rotted out picnic table, and some chairs and lounge chairs that we bought in a neutral charcoal.

Here it is:

Needs some work, right?

Here are my wish lists:

A place to put fishing poles, vests and waders, I have fisherman husband and friends (including me).
Dining areas, possible place to hold plates or serving area.
Reading (which I may need a place for blankets), side tables, cushions.
Night time lighting (candles and lanterns).
Warmth for cool evenings.

Here is a tone board. I cherry picked large pieces from arhaus.com with accents from wayfair.com, worldmarket, shabbychic.com and upcycling and refurbishing ideas from Pinterest.

My favorites are the groovy rod holder paired with a vintage bench for taking off waders or water shoes, as well as the fish with hooks to hold vests. I also love the dining table with chairs-a dining set worthy of my cooking for sure! I also love the idea of keeping cozy throws all over the place, inviting guests to curl up with a book and enjoy the outdoors.

I forgot to take pictures of the inside of the porch, but this is a view from the outside. The previous owners left some cool string lights which are really romantic at night, but other than that it is a blank slate, with a cement floor and windows on the house wall. Here is my wish list for this space.

Board or card games.
Dessert or small meals.
Warm lighting at night.
Warmth for cool evenings.

Here is an inspiration board for this porch. My favorites from this board are the porch swing piled high with pillows, and a cozy chair from arhaus to pair with the swing. I also would love a little wood stove for cool evenings, some beach glass lamps for late night reading and a shabby chic table and chairs for game nights or puzzles. I also love the outdoor oriental rug I found on wayfair.com, which this porch needs desperately because the cement slab floor is too cold and hard.

Now that I have some guideposts and color palettes, I can start haggling with "The Tower" on my budget and do some shopping before it starts to snow. You still have time to enjoy your decks for fall! get out there!

RECIPE: Upside Down Basil and Peach Vanilla Cake

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Peach season is just about over, but there are still some late harvest lovelies found in roadside stands in Michigan-so you may get lucky!

We have been up to our ears in peaches all month long. My dad, born and raised in Italy, learned how to grow things from aunts and uncles. Now in a quiet, ultra-conservative midwest suburb my Dad has grown a giant orchard in his back yard. He has yearly battles with squirrels, and each spring brings exciting news about early blooms and nerves around early frosts. Most years, the harvest is just crazy! 

Just a view of a third of what my dad gives me of the white peaches.

I am given a bounty of paper shopping bags full of peaches. I make jam, we preserve them in syrup, and I make peach pies, cobblers and cakes. One recent recipe I whipped up to use up some ripe peaches was this upside down cake. I figured it works for pineapples, why not peaches? It barely made a dent in my peach pile, however! But I was able to use up some late growing basil on my porch, too. Basil and peach go great together. If that's too avant garde for you, you can replace it with a healthy dose of cinnamon instead, or lemon zest to bring in a citrus note. Either would be delicious.

On to pumpkin and apple spice everything season! I am not sure if I am ready, but time waits for no one. Summer goes so fast. I am sad to see it go. This cake was my way of saying a sweet good bye until next year!

Upside Down Basil and Peach Vanilla Cake


3 Tbsp. of butter 
1/4 cups brown sugar 
3- 4 cups peeled, cored and sliced white and yellow peaches 
Tbsp.  of chopped basil 
dash of salt

12 Tbsp. of butter, softened 
3/4 cups of sugar 
2 cups flour 
1 tsp. baking powder 
1/2 tsp. of salt 
2 eggs 
tsp. vanilla extract 


Preheat oven to 350˚. In a bowl toss the peaches with chopped basil, dash of salt and set aside.

Use a baking pan that is oven proof and flame proof because you're going to use it on the stove top. Place pan over low heat and melt the butter with the brown sugar until bubbly. Turn off heat and place the peaches evenly on top of the glaze in a pretty, concentric pattern. Spoon any left over juices right on top. Set aside.

Now make the batter. In a small bowl mix the salt with the flour and the baking powder with a fork gently. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in a larger bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the eggs then the vanilla. Next add the flour mixture with the mixer on low until it is just combined.

Using a spatula pour the batter over the peaches in the pan make sure the batter is evenly spread out. Bake in the oven 20 to 30 minutes. Let's sit in the pan for just a couple minutes to let things settle, but don't let the cake cool in the pan.  If you let the cake cool too long in the pan it won't come out because the glaze will harden. After just a few minutes, quickly flip the pan over onto a cake platter, and remove pan. Everything should come out and if you get an errant peach that falls off just place it back in its spot. Now you can let the cake cool a little bit more. Serve with some whipping cream.

RECIPES: Weeknight Veal and Pork Bolognese Pasta

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School has started and we are still getting used to our new schedule-which has my daughter coming home from school much later these days. Weeknight meals need to be wholesome yet easy. I ran across this somewhere and have kept it in my recipe files for a while to make. Bolognese sauces are usually pretty time intensive, but this one turned out rich in flavor yet made under an hour. I did use my own tomato paste for this recipe, which I am sure helped deepen the flavor. The link to that recipe is here-and fair warning-THAT recipe takes a long time! But once done, you freeze the paste in ice cube trays and you have it all year long! We also are a fan of "Better than Bouillon" Bouillon. The flavor is much richer that typical canned bouillon.

We used this on gluten free pasta, but this is delicious on whatever pasta you want to use-even veggie "noodles" or spaghetti squash "noodles". Give it a whirl next week, and show this Back to School month that you got this!

Weeknight Veal and Pork Bolognese Pasta


1/4 cup of olive oil 
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped 
1 medium carrot, finely chopped 
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped 
1 small onion, finely chopped 
1/2 a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes 
1/2 lb. of ground veal 
1/2 lb. of ground pork 
1 tsp. of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste 
2 Tbsp. of tomato paste (I use my homemade frozen cubes) 
1/2 cups of hot water and 1/2 a teaspoon of "Better than Beef Bouillon" dissolved into the hot water 
1 can 28 ounces of peeled tomatoes in juice 
10 basil leaves, roughly chopped 
3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves torn off and roughly chopped 
1 bay leaf 
1 lb. of penne cooked according to package directions 
1/2 cup reserved pasta water, optional


In a large pot, heat olive oil and add garlic, carrots, celery, onion and chili flakes. Cook and toss until golden brown. Add the meat, salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat until the meat is browned nicely. 

Next add the tomato paste and cook until everything is brown. Next, add the beef bouillon dissolved in hot water. As you add it, scrape the bottom of the pan to bring up all the nice, juicy brown bits. Raise heat a little higher and bring to a simmer. You're gonna reduce the liquid that's in the pan down by half. Next add the tomatoes. As you do this crush the tomatoes in your hand and make sure to add all the juice from the can as well. 

Next add the basil, thyme and bay leaf. Bring the heat back up to a boil then down to a simmer. Cook until the sauce is nice and thick, about 6 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile on another burner, boil your pasta according to package directions. Be sure before you drain your pasta to reserve 1/2 a cup of water. You may need that during pasta tossing if your sauce is a little too thick. Simply toss the pasta water in with the sauce as you toss the pasta altogether before serving.

Serve with a nice sprinkling of Parmesan cheese on top.

The Italy Trip Series: A Garden Walkabout behind our Venice Hotel

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I always wondered where my green thumb came from. In visiting Italy, I came to realize it is definitely my Italian heritage. If there is a can or a pot or a piece of dirt to be planted with something pretty to look at or yummy to grow and eat, it will get planted.

Here are some examples:




Mola di Bari

Caserta gardens, Naples

Everywhere we went, things were lush and verdant. But the highlight of my garden exploration was one I found in Venice.

Venice is magical. My husband and I have been so fortunate to have visited it three times now, and we never tire of it. This last time, we were able to stay at a quaint hotel named Hotel St. Antonin that had a wonderful garden in the back. It almost felt like a secret that you stumble upon as you get your breakfast in the morning. The garden has an unassuming gate in the front, and a beautiful fountain beckons you inside. Once here you hear running water somewhere, a cat's meow and birds chirping-and you are so intrigued by all the sounds that you go exploring, What you find are small, delightful nooks and crannies to sit and read, do yoga, or chat with others.

Here I give you a little tour of this magical place. It inspired me to try some things in my own garden-with containers and seating. Hopefully it will do the same for you!

RECIPE: Red Velvet Cupcakes with White Chocolate Mousse Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting

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What can make a red velvet topped with fluffy dollops of cream cheese frosting even better? Fill them with a creamy cloud of white chocolate mousse.

Aw yeah. I won't belabor this one, I'll just get you to the recipe. 

Here it is. Enjoy.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with White Chocolate Mousse Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting 
Makes about a bakers dozen of cupcakes-but a large amount of mousse. I used the rest of the
mousse in a chocolate layer cake later in the week.


for the cupcakes 
4 Tbsp. of butter, at room temperature 
3/4 cup of granulated sugar 
1 egg 
2 1/2 Tbsp. of unsweetened cocoa powder 
Tbsp. of red food coloring 
1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract 
1/2 cup of buttermilk 
1 cup +2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour 
1/2 tsp. of salt 
1/2 tsp. of baking soda 
1 1/2 tsp. of distilled white vinegar 

for the cream cheese frosting 
4 oz. of butter at room temperature 
4 oz. of cream cheese at room temperature 
2 cups of powdered sugar 
Tbsp.of vanilla extract 

for the white chocolate mousse filling 
1/2 tsp. of unflavored gelatin 
2 1/2 Tbsp. of hot water
1/2 cup of chilled heavy cream 
1 tsp. of vanilla 
2 large egg yolks 
Tbsp. of sugar 
a pinch of salt 
4 oz. of white chocolate, melted and cooled slightly 


First make the cupcakes 
Preheat oven to 350˚. Line standard cupcake pans with cupcake liners. In a bowl, on medium high speed, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. With mixer on high speed, add the egg. Scrape down the bowl as you go and beat until all is well incorporated and has a nice lemon color.


In a separate bowl mix together the cocoa powder, vanilla extract and red food coloring to make a thick paste. Add this to the batter and mix until well combined. Be sure to scrape the bowl as you go so all the batter gets the coloring. Reduce the mixer to low and add half the buttermilk and half the flour. Scrape the bowl's sides and then add the rest of the buttermilk, then the rest of the flour. Then beat on high until smooth. Be careful not to over mix. Next add the salt, the baking soda and the vinegar. Things are going to bubble up and look like a chemistry experiment- that's okay! Turn the mixer on high and for another couple of minutes mix everything until combined well.

Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners, so that each is 2/3rds full. Bake for only about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before filling and frosting.

Make the white chocolate mousse filling 

Fair warning, this does need four hours or overnight to set, so time your recipe accordingly. In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over the hot water and let stand until softened. Meanwhile in a medium bowl beat the cream with a mixer on high until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until chilled, about 10 minutes. In a microwave safe bowl, on half power, melt the white chocolate in 30 second increments, until melted and creamy. Let sit to cool down slightly. 


Meanwhile in a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar and salt on high speed until pale and thick. While beating add the gelatin liquid, and scrape the sides of the bowl. Finally beat in the white chocolate, mixing until well combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped cream in two additions until just combined, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Make the frosting 

With a whisk attachment on your mixer, cream the butter and the cream cheese on high until well combined and fluffy. Then on low add the powdered sugar until it's all incorporated. Add the vanilla and increase the speed to mix on high,  until frosting is nice and fluffy. If you make this ahead of time and put it in the fridge, you need to give it some time to warm up at room temperature so that you can spread or pipe the frosting onto the top of the cupcakes. You can use a frosting knife, but I like to use a piping bag to make pretty dollops.


Core a hole at the center of each cooled cupcake, half way down. Save the cake piece, and if you want, slice off the bottom of the piece so you just have a flat top you can use as a "cap". Set the caps aside.

Pipe or spoon the mousse into each hole. Place a cake "cap" on top of each filled hole. Finally, pipe or spread the cream cheese frosting on top of each. Serve.

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