1.28.2011

weekend wonderfuls

This weekend the hubs is out of town so I'm staying away from the saw and drill (I like to have a ride to the hospital on standby at all times when I build), but I will definitely still be doing some fun DIY. Lately, I've been so focused on creating furniture for our house that I haven't spent any time working on projects just for fun. So this weekend I'll be pulling out the old sewing machine and giving my new sewing table a try.

The project I want to focus on is making a new scarf with blue and green tones. I'm really loving soft, feminine ruffles these days and originally I thought I'd crochet my scarf out of some gorgeous royal blue yarn I picked up over Christmas. But then I saw this flannel version at Make It and Love It and really liked how simple the design was. So I'm off tomorrow to track down a the perfect flannel print to make my own.

My second project is in the kitchen. No, my Amazon muffin cup purchase hasn't come in yet, and yes, I did end up buying three kinds of those beautiful, bright muffin cups just because it was my birthday last week and I could. Speaking of my birthday, my gifts this year were amazing! My MIL has an uncanny knack for remembering something you mentioned six months ago and getting it for you. This year she surprised me with the grain mill attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer. After hearing the praises of white whole wheat flour sung on My Kitchen Cafe, I decided that I wanted to try some. Unfortunately, it's only available at one grocery store locally and five pounds costs as much as 20 pounds of the regular all-purpose. Now I'm super excited to get busy grinding my own flour...that is, if I can find somewhere to sell me wheat berries. Number 2 on the to do list for tomorrow.

pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

Just thought I'd share the muffin recipe from yesterday's muffin cup post.


Don't they look scrumptious? Mmm... I might just have to go snag one right now and eat it.

I made these muffins using my family's pumpkin bread recipe with a few adjustments to make them healthier. I'm usually not a sharer of family recipes (stingy, I know), but this one is so simple and delicious that I wanted everyone to be able to try it.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 t salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 t baking soda

1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup water
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 t cinnamon
cloves to taste
1 t vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, mix together pumpkin, oil, eggs, water, vanilla, and spices. Slowly add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture. Fold in dry ingredients just until everything is moist, a few dry spots are fine and mean that you haven't overmixed the batter. Add chocolate chips. Pour batter into greased muffin cups. Bake 15-20 minutes or until the top of a muffin springs back when touched. Remove from oven and let cool for 1 or 2 minutes, peel off silicon muffin cups as soon as possible to avoid sticking.

1.27.2011

kitchen gadgets: muffin cups

Here is my favorite new kitchen accessory! These little silicon muffin cups are so simple to use and easy to clean up that I want a dozen more.


As self-proclaimed lover of all things muffin, the fact that I hate (detest, can't stand, and generally roll my eyes at the thought of) muffin pans has been a trial. I would make muffins once and then the pan would sit in the kitchen for days soaking and waiting to be washed. A veritable hotbed of bacteria and general grossness. But days of soaking was the only method that would get the thing semi-clean. I know, I know, you're thinking "doesn't a regular paper baking cup elminate this problem?". And, no, it doesn't because I'm messy and constantly spill batter all over my pan. And while I know that there is probably some batter-pouring tool out there that could have solved my problems, my muffin pan had already suffered the effects of too many burnt-on-food episodes.


Enter the above muffin cups. I LOVE them. Not only are they super easy to clean, they are super easy to fill since you can just grab one and hold it over the bowl while you spoon in the batter. They even hold their shape perfectly while baking, a litte tidbit that I had my doubts about before I tried them. And, unlike their paper counterparts, these little cups don't stick to your muffins/cupcakes at all and leave a beautiful, crinkly ring on the bottom, something I could never accomplish before. Not that it's my goal in life to have perfect muffin bottoms, but I have this thing about waste and when you practically have to eat the paper too just to get the bottom of your muffin out of the cup, that's taking things a bit too far.

The one downside is that these bad boys are a little spendy compared to your regular old $5 metal muffin pan. I think I paid about $10 for six of them at a local kitchen shop called The Pot Rack, but if you go online you can pick up a 12-pack for about that same price. And while you're there why not grab some of the minis and maybe even these fancy-schmancy square ones too? Just don't go crazy when you see that there are triangles too. I need to stop shopping now. 

1.25.2011

inspiration: art collages

Now that our bedroom furniture has found homes and the guest room is semi-in shape (after all I did hang two whole pictures up and rotate the bed), I'm moving on to obsessing over what I want to put on the two huge white walls in each room. I'd show you a pic but my hubby has the nice camera for the day and the travel camera is MIA so I'm fresh out of options.

My first thought was to put together a picture collage. I've always loved the ones John and Sherry have over at Young House Love, especially the one that was up in their old guest room and later nursery (you can see it here on their first house tour, just scroll down to the after photos of the dining room/third bedroom/nursery). I also really like this one from The Design File.


I love the way it uses different colors and styles of frames as well as canvases and doesn't the little green guy on the bottom right look like a print placed right on the wall? The frame/canvas/print fusion gives it a really cool dimensionality that you wouldn't see in a normal all-framed collage. The only problem with this design is that it's all art and I really think I want a mix of diy art pieces and photographs.

Of course, I could always ditch the artwork and go just with frames. This empty frames collage has been in my "to diy" file for a few months now.


I love the clean, simple feel of it especially with the color contrast and it would really pop on my uber-white walls. It also helps that I could make this project from the growing pile of 1x2 scraps currently stored on the floor of my guest bedroom. Did somebody say something about two birds and one stone?
Ana-White.com has some awesome barnwood frame plans, that would make the whole project a cinch.

I'm still not sure though. I'll probably end up with a mix and match of both these ideas, some empty frames, some art/photography, and maybe even a little guy like this in the mix.


Isn't he cute?

1.24.2011

Meatless Mondays: Falafel

Don't tell my husband, but we're going meatless on Mondays in the second half of January...and maybe on Mondays that come after the second half of January. Heck, if I had my way we'd be meatless all the time. Every time I look at a grocery store receipt and see the price I'm paying for meat, I think about how many pounds of potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and beans I could have gotten for the same amount. It's disgusting. And let's not even begin to discuss how much the price goes up if you want to have a steak sans hormones/antibiotics. Really? These cows were eating grass, a naturally occurring substance, how can they possibly cost more than the cows we injected with growth hormones which we had to first produce in some factory? Had I worked harder in my economics class, perhaps I would understand.

All this to say: "Yay, for meatless Mondays!" But, seriously, don't tell my husband. He has this equation in his head that goes something like this:

Meat (and only meat) = the energy needed to live another day

Now, this is not to say that my husband doesn't like vegetables. He loves vegetables...accompanied by meat. If I'm honest, most days I can actually get away with serving mostly veggies with a side of meat, but take the meat away all together and somebody's going to be digging in the fridge for a little lunchmeat garnish to add to the meal. I know, I know, I should be counting my blessings that he actually enjoys a heart healthy diet meaning we'll probably live to a ripe old age together, but I'm greedy, I want more. Thus, the introduction of meatless Mondays. My goal here is to make the meal so good, my husband won't notice that one missing ingredient.

The recipe below definitely lived up to that requirement. In fact, the best part was half way through the meal when my husband said, "Wow, there isn't any meat in this and it's so good." and then continued eating. And that, my friends, was my first flicker of hope that this could actually work. So here is one killer falafel recipe for you to enjoy.


Falafel
originally inspired by Budget Bytes

1 3/4 cups garbanzo beans
1/2 yellow onion, coarsely chopped (although I think red would be better)
large handful fresh parsley
large handful fresh cilantro
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp cayenne or ground red pepper
7 to 10 tablespoons flour (I used whole wheat)
canola oil for pan frying

Place all of your ingredients except the flour in a food processor and process until everything is mixed together but not completely smooth.

Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in the flour a few tablespons full at a time until you have a nice dough that will form into patties without sticking to your hands too much.

Shape your falafel into patties or "meat"balls. Use about 2 tablespoons of dough for each patty and 1 tablespoon for each "meat"ball.

Once all of your dough is shaped, heat oil in a large skillet until very hot, about 3-4 minutes on a gas stovetop, longer for electric. Add falafel to the skillet and lightly fry until the outside is brown and crisp on all sides. Remove from pan and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Serve inside a pita with spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, and some sour cream and balsamic on top (unconventional, but delicious). Or if you're like me and would rather make the whole meal yourself (pitas included), but are short on time, serve the falafel wrap-style in these homemade tortillas. Mmm, mmm, good.


A couple of quick notes:

1) The original recipe suggests that you let the falafel mixture sit for four hours to allow the flavors to mix. Like I said above, I was short on time so my mixture only sat for about 30 minutes (while I mixed up and rolled out the tortillas). The flavor was still delicious, but might be that much better if you had the time to let it ruminate.

2) I doubled this recipe and froze half of it for a quick meal later on. Follow the recipe through shaping the falafel and then place your individual pieces on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer. After about 30 minutes they should be frozen enough to transfer into an airtight container without sticking together. When I cook them, I'll probably pull them straight from the freezer and throw them into a hot pan like you do with storebought frozen falafel.

1.22.2011

Weekend Celebration


This weekend is the first weekend my husband and I have had off together in more than a year. Wow. It's the funny thing about life that you don't always notice the tough stuff when you're living it, but it definitely makes you extra grateful when positive changes come around. Joe just started a new job this week and along with a significant raise and better hours, he will have every weekend off! Can't wait to see how many more fun DIY projects we'll be able to tackle now that we actually have some time to do them together. Of course, that will all have to wait for next weekend. This weekend we're just going to celebrate having some time together for the first time in such a long time. See you on Monday!

1.20.2011

Build-It-Yourself: Sewing Table

So I suppose I should probably get around to detailing how my last weekend of projects went before this next weekend sneaks up on me. Having Mondays off = lots of time for fun projects, but not enough time in the next week to blog about them. So, here's a fast recap.

Joe picked refinishing the dining table and reorganizing the bedroom as his top two projects for the week. How did it go? Well, we definitely revamped our bedroom, but the table project got pushed to another weekend when I ran into some major problems with building my sewing table. As for my projects, I got two out of the three done. I ended up skipping out on my ReStore time this weekend because of the sewing table problems, um, and the fact that it's winter and rains a lot where I live. I'll save the paint buyig and using for a later (warmer) date.

Now, back to that sewing table. When I first saw this table at Ana-White.com, I was so excited! We live in a small two bedroom townhouse so extra space is hard to come by and furniture that doesn't serve at least three purposes is out of the question. Because this table is expandable it fit all my criteria for a perfect craft table/extra dining table when we need one.


Since it was cheaper, I ended up skipping out on the hardwood plywood and picking up some MDF from Lowe's. MDF is a fiberboard (that means it's basically sawdust and an adhesive pressed into a 4'x8' sheet) that builds just about like plywood but can cost significantly less. My sheet was about $10 cheaper than the equivalent sheet of plywood, however, as I soon learned, building with MDF can be a trade-off. Sure you save some money, but you also end up with one h-e-a-v-y piece of furniture (thank God, this table is on wheels). This is because MDF is significantly more dense than your average piece of plywood and doesn't have a whole lot of give. A lot of woodworking websites don't advise screwing into MDF because of this density, since the tiny shavings that come off when you're putting a screw in really have no way to compress into the rest of the board and can often split it. I used a Kreg Jig for my project and didn't have any problems with splitting, but I would advise you to pre-drill every hole before you try to put any screws in and to use glue (which I never do with the Kreg Jig and wood).

Here's what I started with. See all my pocket holes there on the left? Oh, and yes, I was building inside and that is an old shower liner on the floor. It was raining outside. What is that saying about deserate times?


For the most part the project came together like it should. Our only significant setback was that I had Lowe's cut all of our boards since we don't have a space/car large enough to support a 4'x8' piece of MDF (not to mention there is no way I would have been capable of getting that big thing into the house). Unfortunately, we had two boards whose cuts weren't perfectly straight, a fairly typical Lowe's problem. I didn't discover this until about halfway through the project, at which point I put it on hold until Joe could come home and brainstorm solutions with me. The angled cut was causing the whole thing to be off square, meaning that none of the corners were making right angles and it looked like everything was leaning to the left. The kicker was I had already screwed and GLUED the offending pieces together. Ugh.

Doesn't it look so unassuming in this picture? You would never guess that Joe and I were going to spend the next four hours trying to fix the problem and at one point involve a hair dryer, squirt bottle, screwdriver and hammer to pry the whole thing apart.


Eventually we realized that the only option was to start fresh by undoing all of the work I had already done. Going into the project knowing that some of the cuts were off made it easier to compensate for the problem earlier in the building and we did eventually get an almost perfectly square box (the middle shelf is about three degrees off of level, but no one will ever know).

Here's me, blowdrying the water off of our MDF after we pried it apart. For future reference, water and heat can often help soften wood glue (we were using Titebond) and let you get a joint apart.


All in all, the project was a lot of learning, but very worth it. I can't wait to get the table finished and ready to sew on! Now to pick paint colors. Any suggestions?

Hiding White Walls: Fabric Wall Art

White walls, what a plague! But most of us at one time or another in life will be renters, which means that we'll be stuck trying to bring some spice to boring old white walls. Now don't get me wrong, I love the bright airy feeling that some well-placed white brings to a room, but having every wall in your home the same shade crosses over airy and starts playing with institutionalized (think hospital or 1990s public school). Our living room seems especially white to me and I didn't help it by choosing neutral greens and browns for most of my furniture and decorations. So, I set out to find some art that would bring a little excitement to our over-the-tv corner. And when I saw this print, I just knew. Then I found it in the remnant pile for less than half-price. It was love.


Our couch is reading a super muddy green in this picture, but in reality it's more of a forest color (and oh so comfortable) and the fabric, while having a lot of the same brown undertones, wasn't so matchy that it simply blended in without adding anything to the room.

I left the fabric on the couch for a few days to see how it liked the room. I still wasn't sure what to do with it until I ran across this tutorial at How About Orange and this one at Make It and Love It. The idea was perfect for showcasing my fabric.  I couldn't wait to get started.

I chose to go with the How About Orange method, since this was before my building days. I picked up the canvas stretcher frames for a great deal at our local craft shop and went at them with a mallet and a staple gun. Here is the result:


I really love the elegant feel of long panels and these two were perfect to fill up the wall above our tv. I even had enough left over to make something else...more art, a pillow, who knows...it's still in the scrap pile upstairs. Until next time.

1.19.2011

A little piece of heaven: Simple Beach Vase

For me, no other place compares to the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The scenery is breathtaking, the air always cool and sharp with the smell of the ocean, and you never have to worry about sunburns or swimsuits.

Last October we spent five days on the Olympic Peninsula, relaxing and exploring (and if I'm honest, getting thoroughly wet, we were tent camping in the rainiest place in the US after all).  During our trip I decided that I wanted to capture just a bit of the almost surreal peace that I always feel at the coast and bring it back to live at our house. So here's what I did. I gathered up some round beach stones and some driftwood from one of the beaches we visited and mixed it all together in a simple vase from Ikea. It was the perfect memento from the trip and makes a great little art piece for our guest room bedside table.
Rock and driftwood beaches have always been a favorite of mine and the beaches on the Olympic Peninsula certainly didn't disappoint. We were even blessed with a rare sunny day on our first visit!

 Alright, so maybe not perfectly sunny, but I think this partial sun was quite a feat for the peninsula to accomplish and after spending the night with a river running through our tent, we were thankful. And yes, that is me showing off the two driftwood "knots" that I found for our vase.

P.S. We got the picture behind the vase from Ikea also for only $10! And the bedside table, which is a yard sale find of my MIL's, is actually an antique sewing table complete with a really awesome thread storage system. Gotta love multi-purpose furniture!

1.18.2011

No more paper towels, please.

I would love to say that my husband and I ditched paper towels out of some devotion to the preservation of the earth, but we didn't. If I'm honest, most of the positive changes we've made in reducing our "footprint" have been primarily motivated by saving money. And I thought being green was going to cost me more!

Joe and I were never big paper towel users to begin with, and eight or so months ago when we ran out of our Costco jumbo pack, I just never replaced them. It took six months before I was willing to admit that the paper towels were gone for good, a moment symbolically marked by the removal of our decorative holder from its permanent spot on the counter next to the sink. Now we have more room to store the dishes that I never wash immediately after a meal. We all need vices.

What surprised me most about giving up paper towels, is how easy they were to replace. It had really never entered my mind that almost every job I once used a disposal towel for could just as easily be accomplished with a regular cleaning cloth. Microfiber works especially well for cleaning counters and mirrors, and I particularly like waffle-weave dishcloths for cleaning up kitchen messes.

I recently read this article in Sunset magazine and was excited to hear that someone else had a similar experience. Of course, this family gave up all other trash-producing convenience products too. I'm just not sure I'm ready for a compostable toothbrush quite yet. Give me time.

1.17.2011

Homemade Laundry Soap 101


Homemade laundry soap is one of the simplest changes I have made that not only saves me money (it quite literally costs tenths of pennies per load), but also lets me live a little greener by elminating some not-so-nice chemicals from my weekly routine. This became extra important to me a few months ago when I realized that my skin had become very sensitive to regular bathroom soaps and detergent. Ouch. When I went to research my options for replacing our current products with something less aggravating to my skin, I couldn't find an option that was natural, and hopefully more gentle, while at the same time fitting my budget. Enter homemade.

 Homemade Laundry Soap
1 cup 20 Mule Team borax
1 cup Arm & Hammer washing soda
1 bar Ivory soap, finely grated
 Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Store in an airtight container. Use 1 tablespoon of laundry soap per load of laundry (2 for extra big or extra dirty ones).

That's it. Really.

 I do have one word of caution. Be sure to grate the soap extra fine. I use this grater and it works like a charm. Grating the soap very fine is important because if you don't the soap flakes won't fully dissolve and will leave little white flecks on your clothes (especially if you're a cheapy like me who loves to wash all her clothes on the cold/cold cycle).  Your clothes will be clean, just a little speckled.

Also, please feel free to use other brands of borax, washing soda, and 100% pure soap. I've included the exact brands that I use because whenever I try a new homemade cleaning recipe I'm always in a panic that it won't come out right unless I know the exact brands the original recipe called for. I've been known to stand in an aisle for twenty minutes debating the pros and cons of name-brand vinegar over generic (I mean, this is chemistry, right? Something could potentially explode). Hopefully, you don't overthink as much as I do, but if you do then go with the 20 Mule Team, Arm & Hammer, and Ivory. They work. I promise.

1.14.2011

Do-It-Yourself Weekends

While I might be DIY obsessed, my husband is not. He humors me and rescues me when I'm caught between a rock and a hard place a miter saw and some pallet boards. But building furniture or making homemade cleaners is not his idea of a relaxing weekend. So we compromise. This week I left my hubby a honey-do list with a twist. I listed out five DIY projects that have been living on my after-the-holidays list for months and asked him to rate them 1 to 5 from "this will be great!" to "say, what?". Hopefully, we'll accomplish his top two choices on Sunday when we're both off together. And maybe I'll do the other three Saturday when it's just me at home. What did I tell you, I just can't enjoy life unless I have something to do.

Here are the two project Joe picked to tackle on our day off together:
1) Re-building the tabletop of our dining table. Our current tabletop is tiled and the novelty of that wore off a long time ago (can you say never-ending dirty grout? Ew.). Fortunately, thanks to the amazing Ana White and my beautiful Kreg Jig , Joe and I should be able to build a brand new top for less than $20 in just a few hours. Lowe's here we come!

2) Joe's second pick really surprised me, since he was voluntarily choosing to clean and reorganize our bedroom. Why is it that the rest of your house will get cleaned regularly, but your bedroom never seems too? Well, hopefully that will no longer be true after this weekend of moving things around and trying to create some organizational and storage solutions. Wish us luck!


And here's what I will be doing Saturday and Monday while I'm on my own (since I work with schools, I get an extra day off this week):
1) Building this sewing table from Ana-White.com, which will also be able to double as a larger dining table for us when we have family in town.

Post image for A Sewing Table for Small Spaces

I'm picturing a nice big tablecloth to hide the shelving in the middle and strategic seating so that no ends up banging their knees while sitting down to dinner. This picture doesn't really do the table justice. I'll have to post pics of it once I'm finished for you to really get the full effect.

2) Heading out our local ReStore to buy some paint and maybe scavenge for some used cabinets to install in our strange dining area.  If you haven't checked out a ReStore before, get it on your to-do list asap. ReStore is a Habitat for Humanity home improvement center that is open to the public. They accept donations of appliances, furniture, sinks, cabinets, light fixtures and pretty much everything else you can imagine needing for your home or apartment, and then resell it to the public for a fraction of the cost. All of their proceeds go to support the construction of Habitat homes within their community. Not only do you get to reuse and recycle by frequenting your ReStore, but you are also shopping local. Click here to find a ReStore near you!

3) Finally, I'm hoping to really get to work on creating some homemade art for our guest room. We're trying to focus on using calm, relaxing colors throughout the room. Mostly blues and greens, with splashes of sunshine yellow to keep things interesting. So far we've purchased this piece from Ikea on a Portland trip and I put together a fun little beach rocks piece for the bedside table, but the walls need some more color. I'm thinking some more fabric wall art like the set in our living room and maybe some of the super popular text art in the mood of the "Keep Calm" prints that keep popping up everywhere.


If we make it through all of that I will be truly surprised, but I like going in with a big goal and seeing if I can meet it. See you all on Tuesday!