Archive for December, 2011

Laundry Room Re-Do

Posted on December 22, 2011. Filed under: Home |

I pointed out in a recent blog entry that we are in planning mode around here for some of our bigger projects. I’ve realized that I tend to write about projects after they’ve been completed and I’ve failed at sharing what things look like at present for most of our house. So here is one of the project areas that’s at the top of the list.

Gross.

Our laundry situation is less than ideal and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s the one thing I really do NOT like about our house, but a girl can’t have everything, can she? These pictures make it look even more depressing.

We don’t really have a laundry room, per se. Our laundry area is in the unfinished basement near the water heater, furnace, and all those other scary household things that go bump in the night. I knew from the get-go I wasn’t going to like it. Who wants to trek up and down 3 half flights of stairs to do laundry? Not me. But I do it because, well, we have to have clean clothes and Adam usually ruins stuff when he does laundry. True story. It happened. At least twice.

How does that saying go? If life gives you a crummy laundry room, make it less crummy? Yeah, that sounds right. I knew I was going to want to improve this space, but I didn’t want to invest any time or money into it until I lived and worked in it for a few months. That way, I’d be sure to know what I needed.

When we moved in, I put down that cheap rug that we already had (IKEA) in front of the washer and dryer so my feet wouldn’t have to touch the cold concrete floor. The previous homeowners left some shelves, so I organized all the laundry and cleaning supplies on those. That was about it. Pretty underwhelming.

After 5 months and approximately 100 loads of laundry, I have a handle on what I want. And I’ve included a very professional mock-up for your viewing pleasure.

Not quite to scale. Those pendant lights would be ginormous.

I would like a wardrobe with doors to hang clothes that need to ironed (right now they are wadded up in a bin on the floor); a shelf between the washer and dryer for detergent, stain remover, fabric softener, et. al.; an expandable drying rack above the shelf; a hamper for dry cleaning under the sink; a work sink; and painting the wall behind the appliances a rich accent color like a teal or purple with one of those laundry definition decals. None of these shelving units I’m talking about are that expensive. I’m talking fiber board, manufactured stuff that’s pretty cheap. It’s a laundry room. If I’m ever going to try to keep up with the Joneses, it’s not going to be in my laundry room. Also, I want to add some improved lighting. It’s very hard to see down here.

Some of you are thinking I’m putting lipstick on a pig. Maybe I am. Only time will tell. We might decide to add some dummy walls around the washer and dryer if it looks totally weird.

Here are some pictures I’ve culled for inspiration:

from www.decorpad.com

from Pinterest

from tip junkie

from a glimpse of the girl next door

I know our laundry area could never look like those. A) we don’t get much natural light down there, and B) we have cinderblock walls with lots of pipes. But a girl can try!

I’ve shared my vision with Adam and he’s agreed to all points except the painted wall with a decal. This is his “man area”, his “workshop”, and he will not have a purple or teal wall in its midst unless he builds me some walls around the washer and dryer. So I told him that painting the wall would be phase 2 of the project. (I fully intend to convince him that it’s the way to go before we get to phase 2.)

Sadly, the laundry room makeover will have to wait until 2012. We’ve got those Christmas presents and we’re not buying anything big for the house until after the first of the year. I’ll keep everyone posted on the slow progress. I’ve already picked out a wardrobe unit from IKEA so there is some very slow progress.

Fun fact: we have an electric hook-up for the dryer and a gas hook-up. Crazy, huh? I’d never seen a gas hook-up for a dryer before. I was born and raised in the south and I grew up in a house built in the 1980s. Such things are foreign to me.

I’m taking some time off from the blog for the holidays! Everyone stay safe and eat lots of cookies. I’ll be back in 2012!

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Say Hello to My [Bushy] Little Friends

Posted on December 15, 2011. Filed under: Gardening, Home, Purdy Things |

Um. I’m a bad blogger. I don’t have many before pictures. And I’m not quite sure we’re ready for the afters, but my little friends are producing big blooms and they cannot be ignored.

There were weekends of yard work at our house September through November. Why every weekend? Check this out:

That is a lot of leaves, my friend. And that is only a fraction of the leaves in the backyard. Oy vey!

Sometime in there I decided I would focus on this sore spot:

This area in our backyard was pathetic. It had 2 deadly rosebushes with thorns as long as my big toe. There was an annoying fencing thing-a-jig (technical gardening word, people) that caused a small cliff. Then there was a random assortment of rocks and those ugly catawampus boards trying to be a border. The dangerous roses weren’t even blooming this fall. I don’t know how to take care of roses. Honestly, I’ve never tried. I have heard from wise women like my mother and grandmother that they are very high maintenance. That doesn’t sound like fun.  And considering that they were extremely spike-a-licious, meant that they HAD.TO.GO.

Because there was no ground cover here, and those stupid boards were a barrier, all the rain water that comes around the side of the house would pool in one spot, bringing a ton of debris and pine straw with it. See that pile? Tres chic.

I clipped down the rose bushes, piling the thorny branches up for compost and began to dig out the root balls. Funny story: as I was literally jumping on the spade to get it under the root ball, I lost my balance and fell backward into – you guessed it – the pile of rose thorns. OWWWWEEEE! Luckily I had pretty rugged jeans on so it didn’t hurt as bad as it could. It was a total Wiley Coyote moment, though. Thank goodness no one was around to see it. I laughed at myself for a while.

After I got rid of the rose bushes, I tugged on the fence thing and it came right up. The boards and the rocks were a little more labor intensive. The boards actually had rebar in them securing them to the ground. I used a stiff rake and a shovel to level out the slope. I also made trips to the back of the lot with the wheel barrow to transfer dirt to help with the grading. This took a while and we finally came to the conclusion that we should buy some bags of dirt. Dirt is cheap. Regular visits to the chiropractor are not.

The day before, I went to Lowe’s and Pike’s Nurseries looking for red blooming camellias. Pikes had what I needed and they have a lifetime guarantee on their plants. I bought 2 Yuletide camellias in the smaller size. They were $30 total compared to $100 for 2 camellias in the larger size. I figured the small ones will grow and we don’t have to have mature plants on the back of our house.

Why did I pick camellias? I’ve always loved them. My mom has a beautiful camellia on the back of my parents’ house and it thrives there. We needed some foundation shrubs in the back and I wanted something that would bloom in the dead of winter. They are evergreens and fairly easy to grow.

I planted the Camellias according to the instructions and added a little of my own (via my mother):

  1. Dig a hole 3 times as wide as the root ball and to a depth where the top of the root ball will be exposed
  2. Set the camellia down in the hole
  3. Fill with water and let it drain and get sucked up by the camellia (This was advice from my mother. It ensures that the plant gets plenty of water right away)
  4. Back fill hole with a combination of organic camellia soil and home soil (your own dirt).
  5. Make a shallow trough around the root ball in the dirt so water won’t collect at the trunk
  6. Scatter wood chips on the top of the soil, but keep away from the trunk. The wood chips help keep the soil moist and cool.
  7. Water again

After I planted the camellias, we spread out the new dirt we got to level out the slope even more. Adam seeded it for grass a few weeks later, I made sure my camellias were tended to, and voila (after 8 weeks of grass-growing, but who’s counting?):

Of course the camellias are still very small. They’ll start to really grow this spring and summer. We will need to seed the grass again come spring and probably in the fall too. This area had no grass before, so we figure it will take a few times of seeding and fertilizing. (Hopefully we’ll get it where we want it in the next year or so.) We’d like to seed some grass a little further up the slope where you see that bare spot between grass and fallen leaves. There is straw on the ground to protect the young shoots since the water runoff comes around this side of the house. We also discovered that the grass did a lot better where we laid down new soil. So we plan to add new soil in the spring to the barren areas to stimulate growth. Don’t mind the AC unit. I am hoping it won’t look so huge once the camellias mature and balance it out back there. No problems with water run-off and debris piles yet and we’ve had some downpours.

The grass is fescue for all those interested. You can buy fescue sod; it’s a relatively new product. But it costs this crazy number with 3 zeroes on the end. Seed costs for our size yard were less than $100, partly because we over-seeded. We decided to try the cheap way first and it’s working out pretty well.

You may have noticed something different about this area as well:

Before… in the summer. Look at all those leaves!

Before

After

After

After

Yep, the playground is gone. It’s been gone for a while now. We took it down with the help of a friend and Craigslisted it for free as long as they came and hauled it off. Someone came the very next day. The grass is growing pretty well where it used to be. We’re excited about that!

That’s a very big oak tree in the middle of the backyard. We’re thinking about having it removed since it’s placement is a little odd and it gives the only flat area in the back too much shade. We’d like to have an edible garden. Removing a tree that large will cost a couple of thousand dollars. So it’s a decision we need to think about. If we do decide to remove it, we will plant 2 little trees somewhere in the yard to appease Mother Nature – and county law.

I’m pretty excited about my bright red flowers just in time for the holiday season.

I can’t wait until these camellias are 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, producing hundreds of blooms!

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For the Recipe Box…

Posted on December 9, 2011. Filed under: Food and Beverage, Hobbies, Home |

It’s time for another run-down on some recipes we’ve tried and loved in the past few months. I have sources listed for all and links to the recipes if they’re online.

Chicken pot pie – from Southern Living Comfort Food

½ C butter

½ C all-purpose flour

1 ½ C chicken broth

1 ½ C half-and-half

¾ t salt

½ t freshly ground pepper

2 T butter

1 (8-oz.) package sliced fresh mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste

1 small onion, chopped

1 C frozen green peas

3 ½ C chopped cooked chicken

2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

1 (15-oz.) package refrigerated pie crusts

1 T whipping cream

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Melt ½ C butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat whisk in flour, whisking until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually add chicken broth and half-and-half; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly. Stir in ¾ t salt and ½ t pepper; set white sauce aside.

Melt 1 T butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté 10 minutes or until nicely browned. Don’t over-stir. Add mushrooms to white sauce. Add remaining 1 T butter to skillet. Add onion; sauté until tender. Stir in peas. Add vegetable mixture, chicken, and chopped eggs to white sauce.

Preheat oven to 375. Fit 1 piecrust into a 9” deep-dish pie plate according to package directions. Spoon filling into crust; top with remaining piecrust. Trim off excess pastry. Fold edges under, and flute. Cut slits in top. Combine cream and egg; brush egg wash over pastry.

Bake at 375 for 30 to 40 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Yields 6 servings.

To make individual pot pies, spoon filling into 6 lightly greased 1 C baking dishes. Line dishes with piecrust slightly larger than the diameter of the dish. Top each dish with a round of dough; fold edges under, and flute. Cut slips in tops. Brush with egg wash. Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes or until browned and bubbly.

We make these in individual cocettes. It’s great to control the portions since there are only two of us. Chances are we wouldn’t eat all of the leftovers if we made a big pie. We usually get a whole chicken and cook it to eat for one meal and we use what’s left of the bird to make the pot pies.

Prosciutto and Asparagus Pasta – from Giada de Laurentiis

I love prosciutto, mozzarella, and asparagus. This recipe combines them all and it’s so easy. I will say that it doesn’t keep for very long if you have leftovers – maybe 2 days at the most.

Quinoa Salad – from Pinterest

This is so easy: quinoa, black beans, chopped peppers, lime, red pepper, cilantro, tomatoes. And you can really omit or add anything that strikes your fancy. After we make this, I always have enough to bring to work for a lunch.

Image courtesy of Eating for England

Macaroni and Cheese – from Southern Living Comfort Food

This mac ‘n cheese is different from the Peppadew one I shared a while back. It’s pretty yummy and uses a dash of nutmeg to give it an interesting depth of flavor.

1 (8 oz.) package penne pasta

2 T butter

2 T all-purpose flour

1 ½ C milk

½ C half-and-half

1 C (4 oz.) shredded white Cheddar cheese

¼ C grated Parmesan cheese

2 C (8 oz.) shredded Gruyere cheese, divided

1 t salt

½ t pepper

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Prehead oven to 350. Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth; cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk and half-and-half; cook, whisking constantly, 3 to 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in Cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, 1 C Gruyere cheese, and next 3 ingredients until smooth.

Stir together pasta and cheese mixture; pour into a lightly greased 11 x 7 inch baking dish. Top with remaining 1 C Gruyere cheese.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 15 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Yields 4 servings

Southwest Chicken Wraps – from Pinterest

This is a really good recipe and different than your typical taco night. If you don’t have a Panini press, you can definitely use a griddle on the stove.

Image courtesy of Mel’s Kitchen Café

Beef Short Ribs – from Bon Appetit

This is what we prepared when we recently had company. The best part about short ribs is that you can get them started about 3 hours before everyone arrives and then you get to LEAVE THEM ALONE while you tie up all the other loose ends that come with entertaining. Short ribs are almost impossible to mess up as well. It helps to have a Dutch oven. Also, check out your local farmer’s market for the meat. That’s what we did and we saved quite a bit of money and got better looking beef.

Image courtesy of Bon Appetit

I think we eat pretty well at our house. We make an effort to try new recipes once or twice a month so we don’t get stuck making the same meals all the time in rotation. I wanted to make an apple pie from scratch this fall but never got to it. I discovered at Thanksgiving that while I can make a mean pie crust from scratch (vodka is a secret ingredient that I got from America’s Test Kitchen), I really struggle with crimping it around the pie plate. It’s embarrassing how bad it looked. Pies are complicated and I’m not ready to try it quite yet. Anyone out there that can make an awesome pie that tastes and looks good? Want to show me how? I’ll pay you in pie.

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A Christmas Dinnuh Pahhhhteee

Posted on December 8, 2011. Filed under: Food and Beverage, Holiday, Home, Purdy Things |

Adam and I had some of our friends over for a Christmas-themed dinner party. I was very excited about decorating for the party, particularly the table setting:

I broke out the fine china for the first time. I think using it a little over a year after you get it is pretty darn good! We had dinner on our new table. The 9 of us crammed in and got real close.

I used silver chargers, china, red napkins and coasters I picked up from Crate&Barrel.

For the centerpiece, I pulled 3 glass vessels that I already owned from the Christmas decoration stash and put red candles (we already had) in them. I used some footed dessert bowls that we have, stuck a votive in them, and filled them with acorns from the yard! For the final little touch, I took 3 rocks glasses from the cabinet and casually arranged camellia blooms from our Yuletide camellia bushes in the backyard along with some trimmings from our Christmas tree. It was a great way to set a wintery table-scape with things we already had.

I was very happy with the way it turned out. I still love to play house to this day even though I guess it’s for real and not playing. I swap out placemats, napkins, and centerpieces every few weeks for the heck of it. It’s like a mini-makeover that occurs mess-free in less than 10 minutes. Can’t beat that.

Can’t beat a blog post that’s less than 300 words either.

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