Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kitchen Upgrade Reveal

It's done! I finally finished my kitchen upgrade. It took a long time, but it was worth it. First, a reminder of what it used to look like...not totally disgusting, but just too much orange and black.

Orange walls, orange oak cabinets, orange oak floors, plus that dark grey/slate tile and the black quartz counters. So DARK!

I had a Halloween kitchen.

But now, everything is light and airy. Light grey and white....so clean and up-to-date:

I have a few tweaks that I want to do at a later date, but for now I am enjoying the hell out of my range hood, under cabinet lighting, and backsplash.

The cabinets are the biggest change along with the cabinet build out. So far, we are very happy with how the paint quality is holding out. The upper cabinets are still curing, but the bottom cabinets, which have been finished for some time now, have really impressed us with their durability.

Also, I want to compare my original Photoshop mockup to what was really done. I think I came pretty close!

Lastly a recap of the whole process:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday


He looks so cute, but Chaz doesn't seem to like his lion hat/wig. What do you think?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ginger Apricot Jam

Happy Friday! This week has been light on posts because I have been finishing all the small projects necessary to complete my kitchen upgrade, but good news...IT'S DONE HALLELUJAH!!!  Pictures will be posted very soon.

But, more importantly, the farmer's markets are revving up and last weekend I grabbed some early season apricots. Like figs, I think apricots taste better when they are cooked down a little, but if you're lucky to find a fragrant, beautiful batch of perfectly ripe fresh apricots, eat them right there on the spot!

I've been having fun with Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry by Cathy Barrow lately. To me, this book is Mes Confitures meets Preserving The Harvest and it is chock-full of homemade goodies, to include cheese making and curing meats. Although I do use commercial pectin in many of my homemade preserves, some things just need to shine on their own and believe me, it makes a difference. Most of Cathy Barrow's recipes do not use commercial pectin, which allows the real fruit flavor to come through with only half of the usual amount of sugar. This technique does take more time and practice, but it's worth it.

This recipe is a little take off from her Apricot Jam with Ginger and Rosemary; however, I left out the rosemary as I didn't want it to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the apricots and added a little flavored liqueur. The end result is herbal, fruity, and fresh and perfect with a smear of goat cheese on a cracker.

Kathy's Ginger Apricot Jam
Recipe Source/Modified: Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry
Makes 4 half pints

3 lbs. fresh, ripe apricots
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1-2 tablespoons Grand Mariner liqueur (optional)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter

Note: You will need a candy thermometer for this recipe

Cut the apricots in half, pit, slice each half into 3-4 wedges, and place in a large bowl. Stir in sugar, ginger, liqueur, and lemon juice. Stir well for several minutes, until the sugar begins to dissolve: be gentle, so the apricots stay as intact as possible. Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 12 hours, preferably overnight, giving the mixture a stir every now and then.

Pour the apricots and produced syrup into a colander set over a preserving pot, and let drain for a few minutes. Transfer the colander to a bowl to capture any additional syrup.

Set the preserving pot over medium-high heat, clip on the candy thermometer, and bring the syrup to 220°F. Add the apricots and any syrup in the bowl and stir well. Continue to stir as the mixture reaches a boil that won't stir down. Be hyper aware, as this is when the fruit may scorch. Cook the jam at this vigorous boil until the fruit is no longer floating and the foam has dispersed to the edges of the pot. Remove from heat and let cool for 2 minutes.

Check the gel set. If the jam is still very saucy and not set, then return to a boil and cook until it reaches gel stage. Test the set again. Stir in the butter if using.

Ladle jam into prepared half pints, add prepared lids, and process in a BWB for 10 minutes.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Look at these two; they look like a pair of slippers don't they?

Chaz is the kitteh on the left and Lucy, aka "Miss Thang" is the kitteh on the right. Although they look alike, they are not litter mates and are about 3 or 4 years apart in age. The story behind having two kittehs that look exactly alike goes like this:

When hubs and I first moved up to Virginia, we rented a house. I desperately wanted a cat and asked the owners of the house we were renting if I could get one. They said. "Yes, but please keep it to one cat." So, I went out and got Chaz from the local animal shelter. He was on death row, and was going to be put down some day that week. When I went to the shelter and saw him, we locked eyes and I knew he was the one for me.

So, after about a month of having Chaz, he started pacing around the house like he was looking for something; I just had a hunch that he was lonely. If you've ever had a cat, you know they are happier (for the most part) with other kitties, so I started thinking of how I could get another cat without rental owners knowing. Then it hit me, "I know! We'll get another cat that looks just like Chaz! But it has to be a female, and it has to be a kitten." So that spell was cast.

Two weeks later, we were at Petsmart and saw Miss Thang in one of their adoption windows and we got her on the spot.

We lived in that house for two years and the rental owners NEVER knew we had two cats. They just always assumed that the one we had was very active!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Harvesting Garlic

The day before yesterday, I harvested this year's garlic from one of my front garden beds. According to Landon at Root Mass Farm, you should harvest garlic when it is 40% died off, or just when the tops of the garlic are starting to turn yellow. For me in Virginia, with garlic that was planted the previous October, that's about mid-to-late June.

If you wait any longer than that, the protective papery membrane that covers the garlic head starts to break down and your garlic could start to rot. This year's harvest went MUCH better than last year when the garlic was planted in a back bed that didn't get as much sun. This year it was planted in a front, prime sun-exposure bed and I had many heads that looked more like this than not:

They are not the super huge, baseball-sized heads of garlic that you see grown in California, but more the average-sized heads you see in the grocery store, which is perfect for cooking use. I am guessing my harvest is a mix of Nootka Rose and Inchelium Red that I grew last year, maybe even Italian Softneck...I dunno. I did a stupid thing last year and forgot to label them and now it's a mystery. Whatever they are, they are delicious and powerful!

After harvesting garlic, it needs to cure in order to save for long-term storage. You can use it right away, but if you want some for future use, you need to basically let it dry out. You don't want to wash the dirt off other than knocking off most of the clumps, as introducing water to the heads might make them rot. Landon says to hang your garlic to dry in someplace, well dry, with some airflow. My shed doesn't have any airflow, but it is dry and does the trick. Plus, fresh harvested garlic smells REALLY strong, so unless I start having problems with vampires, I'm not hanging it in my house or garage.

I gathered my garlic in bunches and hung them from twine in our garden shed. They will hang here for about 4-6 weeks and then either be braided or simply cut from their stems and stored someplace dry.

All in all, I got around 50-60 heads of garlic that will keep me happy for then next 10 months, plus give me enough to replant for next year!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Kitchen Upgrade Status: The Final Countdown

First, a little 80's hair band motivational music...

I am merely days away from having my life back. The crown moulding and trim are up on the MDF, everything has been primed and sanded TWICE, caulked, and the doors are down in the basement...just waiting for that very special moment. All this small detail work is killing me. It doesn't sound like much, but it's like trying to walk through mud up to your thighs.

I am two coats of paint away from sanity, actually one since I've put on the first coat since this picture was taken. UGH!

Hey look...my hexagon....octagon...WHATEV...THE LIGHT IS UP! A total pain in the arse, but beautiful.

But once the paint has dried, I'm not ready to open that bottle of Moet Chandon just yet. I still have the following small details to wrap up before I can fully declare victory:

  • Install door hardware and hang doors
  • Touch up paint scuffmarks on ceiling
  • Touch up wall paint
  • Paint window trim and install window apron
  • Hang 2nd ceiling light fixture
  • Fix tiling in cabinet corner


FYI, I won't post again about the kitchen until I'm completely done and can give a final reveal with before and after pics. I am so ready!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Summer Side Dish

So, with our fingerling potatoes roasting in the oven last night, I went outside and picked the first zucchini of the season with about 2 cups of my Mammoth Melting Sugar snap peas. Tucked under one of my tomato plants I spotted one of the first tomatoes of the season; wonderful!

All of this was thrown into a saute pan with some butter, salt, and pepper. It can't get any yummier than this and it's the perfect summer side dish!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

June in the Garden

Ugh, it's been hot. I mean HOT! To add insult to injury, we haven't had much rain at all. The daily storms tease us and dance all around the area, but fail to bring us love. Still, a lot has been going on in the garden:

Yesterday, I plucked my first batch of Russian fingerling potatoes. There's about a pound here and I have 2 more small beds to pick still   These will get roasted tonight with some olive oil, salt & pepper and served with some grilled hamburger patties...maybe a salad too.

Every morning when I go out to water, I pick a handful of these Bristol Black raspberries. None have made it into the house. I have to admit that although they are nice, they taste more like blackberries than raspberries. There are worse problems to have, no?

After the berries, I pick a handful of these Mammoth Melting Sugar snap peas. This makes for a nice breakfast with the raspberries.

I water the tomatoes, which are HUGE already. The bed on the back is my peas, the bed in the middle is mostly Early Girl and the bed closest to the front is my heirloom winter sowed babies. The electrical wire is back up, as the crows are up to their hi-jinks again.

I then give myself a guilt trip because I look at my WAY PAST THEIR PRIME lettuce greens and spinach that have bolted. I love these greens, but they are such a pain to clean...so they sit there and taunt me. Does that make me a bad gardner?

This huge, monster volunteer of a vine has taken over my cucumbers. They weren't that happy there anyway. What are you big, monster vine?

Methinks you are some sort of butternut squash...

The garlic is pretty much ready for digging up and drying. I didn't have to buy garlic for cooking until two months ago and this batch looks like it did much better than last year. Ironically, I have butternut squash planned to go in this bed afterwards. LOL!

This has been the first time I have ever grown hollyhocks and I love them. The pink ones are a mix of Outhouse and the black ones are Nigra. The bees love them...and so do the Japanese beetles and hollyhock rust. Sigh.

That's it for this month! All the rest of the perennials I planted are poking along...you know...first they sleep, then they creep, then they leap. I am ready for the leaping!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Miss Thang is trying to look cute on my home office floor while I work. She does this when she thinks I am ignoring her.

She is saying, "See how cute I am? Don't you want to stop what you're doing and pet me or give me treats?"

Don't let her cuteness fool you...underneath all that fluff is a diabolical scheme machine.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Super Easy Quiche

I've been on a quiche kick lately. Some quiches are really tedious to make, but really it's nothing more than some eggs, milk or cream, and whatever extra fillings you want. It's a great way to clean out the refrigerator of leftover bits-and-pieces: leftover roasted vegetables, a nub of cheese, leftover lunch meat, etc.

I love that a quiche can either be a breakfast, lunch, or dinner kind of thing. So, when I make one I feel like I am superwoman and have all my bases covered! I am using a Paula Deen recipe and just substitute the spinach, bacon, and Swiss cheese for whatever I want, although her original recipe is wonderful too. For example, I used her recipe and made:

  • Spinach, ham, and cheddar
  • Bacon, onion, and cheddar
  • Feta, olive, and pepperoni (Greek inspired)
  • Grilled vegetable and Monterrey Jack
  • Spanish tomato, onion, jalapeno, and pepper jack

I could go on and on. The possibilities are endless. I just try to keep the amounts used in the original recipe the same, although I think 1 lb. of bacon is too much. I KNOW...WHAT??!!

Spinach and Bacon Quiche
Recipe Source: Paula Deen

6 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
*1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 cups chopped, fresh baby spinach
1 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled (1/2 lb. is just fine...make 2 quiches!)
1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
1 (9-inch) refrigerated pie crust, or homemade, fitted into a 9-inch glass pie plate

*Note: Sometimes I will use up to a full teaspoon of salt if I am not including a meat that is salty (i.e. bacon, ham)

Preheat the oven to 375°. Combine eggs, cream, salt, and pepper and beat well with a fork or whisk. Layer the spinach, bacon, and cheese in the bottom of the pie crust, then pour the egg mixture on top. Bake for 35-45 minutes until the egg mixture is set and the top is golden. Cool till warm, cut into 8 wedges.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Turtle Whisperer

I have a thing for turtles. I think I have turtle karma, as they always seem to cross my path. It's like, "Oh yeah, NBD...there's another turtle". I see or find one at least once or twice a week, sometimes more, sometimes several in one day!

In Florida, there was Barry and Barbara, which always surprised me in my garden. I knew land turtles lived there, but as far as I knew, they weren't that common in suburban areas. Up here in Virginia, there are turtles all over the place, primarily the Eastern Box Turtle. My husband and I are on constant lookout to save stunned turtles from the middle of a busy road. I can't count how many turtles we have rescued. I've even found them on my property at times inside my fenced-in yard. How do they get in there?

My husband and I have a saying that goes, "One does not seek the turtle; the turtle chooses you," so imagine my delight when I saw this handsome guy/girl when I went out to water my garden this morning:

I came around the side of the house to the outside corner of my garage and there he/she was. My garage door was open and I didn't want he/she to scamper in (can turtles scamper?), so I left him/her where he/she was and closed the garage door. Apparently, he/she has somewhere important to go!

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Dreamy, Creamy Mac-and-Cheese

Stouffer's should sue me. This is as close as you are going to get to the real deal, in fact it's better.

Years ago when I started collecting recipes, you would have thought I had some sort of fetish for macaroni and cheese. Every other page in my electronic recipe file was some version of this ooey-gooey ultimate pasta comfort food. But the truth is, I was searching for this recipe. I wanted something that was like Stouffer's Mac-and-Cheese...dreamy and creamy. I found this recipe and threw all the others away.

Barbecues and potluck season is upon us and you will have people throwing themselves on the floor and kissing your feet when you show up with this showstopper. Every time I bring this, people ask me for the recipe. Unfortunately, I can't remember the site/blog where I found this specific version so I could cite it, but I want to thank them, wherever they are.

Dreamy, Creamy, Mac-and-Cheese
Recipe source: The angels from heaven

1/2 cup butter or 1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3 cups whole milk *
1 cup heavy cream *
2 8-ounce packages sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided   **
1 8 ounce package extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded  **
1 16-ounce package macaroni, cooked
4 ounces Velveeta, cubed in small cubes

* If you don't have heavy cream, you can substitute 2 cups milk and 2 cups half-and-half for the milk and cream ingredients

** I use 1 Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp and 2 Cracker Barrel Sharp Cheddar.  You don't have to use these, but do make sure you  use high-quality cheese and not just the pre-shredded stuff.

Boil and prepare the macaroni as you would normally; set aside. While the macaroni is cooking, shred the cheese either by hand or in a food processor. In a big skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Whisk the flour in slowly and continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth. Cook and whisk continually for 2 minutes. Add in salt, pepper, cayenne, and garlic; stir to combine. Gradually whisk in milk and then cream (or milk and half-and-half). Cook and whisk continually until mixture is thickened (about 8 to 10 minutes). Add in half of the sharp cheddar cheese; stir. Add in all of the extra-sharp cheddar cheese; stir until smooth. Add in the Velveeta; stir until smooth. Add 1/2 of the noodles to the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch casserole dish. Add 1/2 of the cheese mixture onto the top of the noodles and mix it all together so that the noodles are completely incorporated into the cheese. Add the remainder of the cheese and noodles and repeat.  It will look like it won't all fit in the dish, but trust me, it will. Sprinkle with the remaining sharp cheddar cheese. (Optional: if you like a crunchy top, consider topping this with some crushed crackers or crispy onions.) Bake in a 350° oven for 20 minutes or until the top is slightly browned. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

50 Great Books

Not too long ago, I came across Amazon’s list of books that everyone should read in their lifetime. Many of them I had read in the past, but many I had not. Some of these books were ones that every child should read, but as a kid I was more into Beverly Cleary and Stephen King, so I never read Charlotte’s Web or The Secret Garden. Many of the books on this list are more recent and trendy; I never thought I’d want to read the Harry Potter series. Even as an English major during my undergrad years, there were so many classics that I never got to, so I made a point this summer to get to as many as I could.

So, one evening last week, I drove down to my local library and signed up for a library card. Is there anything better than the smell of a library? I think not. Here's to a summer of great stories!

50 Great Books to Read:
(The ones I have striked through I've read so far)

Pride and Prejudice
Harry Potter collection
Lord of the Rings
The Great Gatsby
Charlotte’s Web
Little Women
Animal Farm
Catcher in the Rye
The Help
The Grapes of Wrath
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Book Thief
The Kite Runner
A Tale of Two Cities
A Wrinkle in Time
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Of Mice and Men
The Secret Garden
The Handmaid’s Tale

The Little Prince
The Giver
Anne Green of Gables
East of Eden
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Watership Down
Anna Karenina
Water for Elephants
The Secret Life of Bees
100 Years of Solitude
The Poisonwood Bible
The Good Earth
A Prayer for Owen Meany
And Then There Were None
The Glass Castle
The Things They Carried
Cutting for Stone
Brothers Karamazov
The Phantom Tollbooth
Crime and Punishment
Love in the Time of Cholera
Slaughterhouse 5
Silent Spring
The Color of Water
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
Valley of the Dolls

Monday, June 01, 2015

Kitchen Upgrade Status: Closing In the Space Above Your Cabinets

The kitchen upgrade is moving along at an incredibly slooooow pace. As I mentioned before, once things started leafing out in the yard, we've had to take a good amount of our free time to attend to that before things got out of control. We live on 4 acres, which is nothing out where we live, but it's enough to keep two people who also work full-time jobs veeery busy.

These past two weeks we've been framing and filling in the space above the kitchen cabinets. The doors are down in the basement and are ready for their final coat of paint! First, we followed Cristina's example at Remodelando la Casa and installed 1"x 2" pieces of wood to the ceiling and back edge of the cabinets.

This looks like it would be easy, but we had to make sure the wood framing pieces were aligned completely straight with the edge of the front of the cabinets. Our cabinets were 3/4" thick, so we had to find our front edge on the ceiling and measure back 3/4" inch. This actually took us an entire day to do in order to get it right.

Next, we installed our measured, cut, and primed pieces of MDF to the front of the wood frame pieces and nailed them in with a nail gun. I actually had to do a "hybrid" installation of nail gun and Liquid Nails, as the impact of the nails going into the bottom wood frame pieces would push them back from the edge of the cabinets. I tried back nailing the wood pieces to make them more secure, but it didn't work. So, the top of the MDF was nailed into the ceiling pieces of wood frame and then Liquid Nail-ed on the bottom.

This is what Cristina's kitchen looked like when she was doing this. Her pics already show the crown moulding and trim installed...

And her final result after paint...

I am SOOOO close! All I need to do now is finish priming the cabinet frames, add a little wood putty to the edges of those MDF corners, add my crown moulding and trim, and paint. In writing, this sounds so effortless, but I am determined to have this done by the end of this month!

In other news, the cleats for my floating shelves are installed and the shelves look WONDERFUL! I don't have them up in this pic as I know that once I start sanding and priming the cabinet frames, everything is going to get dusty. Just one less thing to clean.

My beloved hexagon globe light from Shades of Light came in last week and is proving to be a MAY-JOR pain-in-the-arse to install. We are on day 3 of our attempt and have made no less than 3 trips to Home Depot for additional hardware.....grrrr! WE WILL CONQUER THE LIGHT!!!

Afterwards, I will have some choice words to use in my review of this beautiful, but finicky piece of house bling.


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