Friday, May 27, 2011

Dining Room Phase 1

One thing we're good at is biting off more than we can chew. Enter, the dining room.

Here's what it looked like the day we did our walk through. The previous owner was pretty packed with heavy furniture, the dark greens walls kind of a sickly color.
We didn't have nearly as much furniture as she did. So it looks pretty bare. Makes the nasty green walls even more obvious. At least we lost the froofy shades on the chandelier.

First things first, that green had to go. We went with a very light shade of gray blue - it continues the monochromatic shades we have going downstairs - the dark gray blue in the living room and the sky blue in the kitchen. We were aiming for complimentary and monochromatic without being too matchy matchy. This is Behr's Cumberland Fog color matched into Glidden Flat (since I don't like Behr).

Next, we had planned to add Board and Batten to the lower half (that's why we only painted halfway down). But we couldn't find affordable, thin MDF boards to put on the wall. We considered just painting the wall white and adding the boards, but decided it would look funny with textured walls. 

Sooooooo.... we're adding joint compound to make the wall smooth (Parker's helping). Add a layer, let it dry, sand it smooth, rinse and repeat. Our house is currently covered in a fine mist of white powder. Awesome. Press on. Next up is primer, paint and the boards. We'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Duh. Pinning.

Have you heard of Pinterest yet? I'm obsessed with it.

I don't know the best way to describe it. It's kinda like delicious and a google reader. And Amazon's universal wishlist. Kinda? It's great for inspiration boards, visual browsing and bookmarking.

Basically, you drag their "Pin it!" button to your bookmarks tool bar. Whenever you're on a web page and see something you like, you click the button and choose a "board" to add it to and done.

Here are some of my boards:

Can you tell I'm obsessed? Soon I'll have a board for everything. I've found it's exceptionally good for inspiration (great DIY ideas and decorating inspiration) but I also especially love it for recipes. I read several cooking blogs through a Google Reader and star recipes I want to try. Sometimes it's difficult to find those recipes again... I either have to page through tons of recipes or hit on the right keyword to search for it. But check this out - There they all are.
I'm looking for enchiladas? I find the picture and click on it and it takes me right to the recipe. Genius.

And the browsing possibilities are endless. You can search for any word and see what other people have pinned in various categories. My fav. people at Young House Love churn out great art ideas. Janell from church shares great outfits and recipes. Sometimes I just click "travel" and get lost in all the pretty pictures.

But be warned: It's addictive. My reader may run empty sometimes, but there's no bottom to the Pinterest Pool. Check it out, follow me, and leave your name so I can follow you back.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Guest bath - done!

After almost two months of work, the half bath downstairs is done!! It was very time- and labor- intensive, but we now love the room. We re-painted it, painted the trim and door, added crown molding and swapped out the light fixture and mirror. Behold!

Color -
Before: Nasty Pea Green with yellowish trim            
Now: Beautiful Aqua with bright white trim

And a few close ups...

Source list:
Wall color - Glidden eggshell color matched to Behr's Tide Pool
Trim color - Glidden semi-gloss White on White
Hardware - Brushed Nickel from Home Goods (don't remember brand)
Light fixture - Asbury Triple Sconce from the Restoration Hardware Outlet
Medicine Cabinet - Restoration Hardware Outlet
Crown Molding - Home Depot pine crown molding

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sun dried tomato, basil and goat cheese casserole

Sounds good, right?

I really wanted to love this. I mean.... sun dried tomatoes? Yes, please. Basil? Can't go wrong. Goat cheese? Get in my belly.

But this casserole from Belle of the Kitchen was just kinda ho-hum. It wasn't bad... it just didn't blow me away. I think it could have used more goat cheese, less tomatoes and something else... something spicy, maybe. I dunno. Like I said, it was good. Good for a brunch, good to make ahead, and good if you're feeding vegetarians.

1 cup sun dried tomatoes packed in oil
8 cups day-old French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
2/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/2 cup basil, julienned
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon pepper
9 eggs
3 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350.
Butter a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Layer the bread evenly onto the bottom. Sprinkle with tomatoes, cheese, basil, salt and pepper.

In a bowl, stir together milk and eggs. Pour evenly over bread.

Bake for 40 minutes. (Can be prepared the night before, just cover and refrigerate).

Friday, May 13, 2011

More fake takeout

Since the Mongolian Beef was a smashing success, we decided to see what else we could make at home. Enter this sweet and sour chicken from Mel's Kitchen Cafe.

While not at all difficult to prepare, it did take a fairly long time to make. It's not a quick dish. But it is far tastier than I expected and we'll definitely be making it again.

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 cup cornstarch
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup canola oil

3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons ketchup
1/2 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic salt

Preheat oven to 325.
Cut chicken into bite-sized chunks. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in cornstarch, shaking off any excess. Then coat in egg.

Heat the oil over high heat until the pan sizzles when you drop water in it. Toss in the chicken and cook until browned, but not cooked through.

Transfer to a baking dish. Mix together sauce ingredients and pour on top of chicken. [I actually doubled the sauce recipe and reserved half of the mixture for extra sauce. I put it on a sauce pan at a rolling boil for 5-7 minutes and we served it on the side of our meal.]
Bake for one hour, turning chicken ever 15 minutes to evenly coat. Serve with rice.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

S'mores bars

By now, you should know of our love affair with all things s'mores. That's why I was so excited to try these S'mores bars. And yes, they're delicious. And very quick and easy to make. Let them cool before you scoop them out of the pan because they tend to be messy. Or just stick your face in it. Whatever works.

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (this was six full crackers for me)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 king-sized Hershey bars
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme/fluff (not melted marshmallows!)

Preheat Oven to 350 and grease an 8 x 8 baking pan.

In mixer bowl (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, if you prefer - I just love the excuse to use my mixer!), cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, then add in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. With mixer on low speed, slowly add flour mixture until combined.

Divide the dough in half and press half into the bottom of the prepared pan. Place chocolate over the dough - mine fit perfectly, but you may have to break your pieces. Spread marshmallow over the top. Add remaining dough on top.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Try not to burn your mouth.

Recipe from Sugar Cooking.

This rug makes me happy

Rugs are expensive. Did you know this? I did not know this. Not until we moved into a house with a cavernous living room and wood floors. It echoes. A lot. So we've been on the lookout for a good rug for months now.

At times we've had no rug.

At times we've used a dinky small, green rug that didn't really go with the rest of the room, was too small for the space and just looked old and shabby. But at least it covered the floor.

Point #2 about rugs: Most of them are also ugly. We looked all over and couldn't find one that wasn't ridiculous. Then we saw the Andalusia Rug at West Elm.
We love the simple but fun pattern. We love that the yellow color to pop against our gray walls. We do not love the price tag. So while we've been drooling over it for several months, we couldn't bring ourselves to bite the bullet.

Everytime we go to the outlets in San Antonio, I peruse the rug section at Pottery Barn. Hans hates look at rugs. He hates looking at rugs even more when it's at the Pottery Barn outlet and they're all rolled up and you have to dig through it. Tough. I kept thinking, one day we'll get lucky.

And then it happened. Last time we were there, I spied a roll of yellow peaking out from the mound of rugs. I pulled it out and behold! The exact rug I've been oogling for so long now. Hans didn't believe me. I had to pull up the picture on West Elm's website to prove it. And it was marked down 33 percent!

Giddy over our good luck, we snatched that bad boy up before anyone else could grab it. We brought it home and sigh every day over how lovely it is. The size (5' x 8') is so much better for the space and it really brings in a splash of color.

Outlet malls save the day, once again.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Skype saves lives.

Ok, maybe it doesn't save lives. But it is pretty amazing. Because this past Sunday, because it was Mother's Day, I got to Skype with AJ in Thailand! It was midnight for us and noon for him, but we were able to talk for about an hour. It was really funny watching all the Thai kids walk by in the background and stop to stare at his screen, haha.

AJ is doing really well! His Thai is very good and after having several native speaking companions in a row, his English is even a little rusty. He had to consult his companion a couple times for the correct English word and even responded to us a couple times automatically in Thai, before realizing he needed to switch languages.

Man, I love that kid. I'm grateful we got to talk and bummed we don't get to talk again til Christmas :(

Another successful retreat

Perhaps you've noticed I've been gone for awhile. Maybe not. I'm not sure who really reads anyway.

I had another big trip for work. This one was here in Austin, but felt like I was out of town. I left home at the crack of dawn Wednesday and didn't get home until late afternoon on Sunday. I worked 90 hours and slept about five hours a night. I was on my feet so much, my ankles, legs and feet got so swollen I had difficulty wearing shoes. At least I know what I can look forward to when I'm pregnant. It was exhausting. It was stressful. My brain feels fried and all I want to do now is sleep for a week straight.

But it wasn't all bad. No, in fact, parts of it were pretty awesome. Check it out:
  • Wednesday we did a bat cruise - most of our guests had never been to awesome before and it was more fun watching them see the bats come out for the first time than actually watching the bats come out.
  • Thursday we visited the Wildflower Center (beautiful!) and watched a screening of the documentary Bag It! It's about our society's use of plastic. It was pretty interesting and I'd recommend. We also ate my fav - trailer food. Yum.
  • Friday was awesome. It was a full day and involved stand up paddle boarding, yoga, walking, fitness classes, a tour of Texas Disposal Systems' gigantic recycling facility, meet and greet with animals, armadillo racing, delicious Salt Lick BBQ and a special performance by Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel. Whew. My favorite parts were the overly-friendly warthog that stuck his snout up my skirt and feeding my buddy Stretch. He loves those carrots.
  • Saturday we did a cooking class at Whole Foods (very yum) and had dinner at the home of Tom and Lynn Meredith. Tom's a former exec from Dell and they currently live in the Four Seasons Residences Penthouse. Let's just say... it's amazing.

Altogether, while I'm totally drained at the moment, I know I'm pretty lucky. How many other people get to do these kinds of things and call it work? Awesome. I love it.

Now I'm going to go sleep.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

Take a moment to take that in. Chocolate chip cookie dough cake. Hollow out the middle and stuff with raw cookie dough. Top with brown sugar frosting and chocolate chips. Um, yes please.

I wanted to break in my beautiful new stand mixer with something special and this recipe from Bake at 350 fit the bill nicely. 

I made the cookie dough filling fist so that it could chill in the fridge while I made the cake.

4 T. unsalted butter at room temperature
6 T. brown sugar, packed (I used dark - I like it better!)
1 cup plus 2 T. flour
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, approx. 2 minutes. Add flour, condensed milk and vanilla and beat 'til smooth. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour.

For the Cupcakes: 

3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar (I used dark), packed
4 large eggs
2 2/3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking power
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Using the paddle attachment, combine butter and brown sugar. Cream together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, approx. 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.

Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. 

Add the dry ingredients to the mixer, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Speed should be low.

Add Vanilla.

Fold in chocolate chips. 

Distribute to cupcake tray and bake for 18-20 or until lightly browned and springy. Allow to cool thoroughly before icing.

For the Icing:
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar (dark), packed
1 lb. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 T. milk
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Mini chocolate chips

Cream the butter and sugar using the paddle attachment until fluffy. Turn speed to low and gradually beat in powdered sugar. Increase the speed and beat until smooth. Add salt, milk and vanilla and blend. After frosting, top cupcakes with chocolate chips.

I have to say, these were a huge hit. I left them on the counter while two of the roomies were at a late night meeting and woke up to texts saying how good they were. But be warned!! They are extremely rich. I was never even able to finish one, the boys couldn't finish more than one, and someone my office-mate managed to eat two, but went into a food coma. They're a huge indulgence, but very yummy.