Wednesday, January 13, 2010

bless me, for I have sinned...

I have a confession:  When I first started this blog, I wanted this to include both home improvements and cooking.  With the cooking part being the surviving aspect after the house is done.  Oh who am I kidding, the house will never be "done"-done.  Maybe just dormant.  Yeah, that's the ticket: cooking keeps the party going & becomes the host while renovation is napping.

So, with that said, I have another confession:  I am bad at following recipes.  Except for baking, (and even then I get liberal on my spices,) I can't remember the last recipe I followed to a "T".  Every time it's "substitute red onions for yellow" or "add cumin" or "this needs double the heavy cream"....  What I am good at is improvising and making my own recipes.  So, I am turning over a new leaf (though, I can't remember turning over an old leaf... I must have?) and writing down my recipes.  This will 1) allow me to re-create any successes again and again instead of just reminiscing about that great-dinner-that-was, 2) review good recipes that I actually follow, and 3) share my cooking with the two people who read this.*

My apologies in advanced for not measuring.  I try to eyeball the amounts, but have yet whipped out the ol' cups and spoons to get precise.  Shame on me.

*I find it immaterial that the two people that read this are also the two people I talk to daily about what I cook

Quick & Effortless Spicy Tomato Cream Sauce

Serves 2:

½ box pasta
2 packages cherry tomatoes (16 oz, total)
1-2 tsp rosemary
pinch fennel (crush between fingers)
½ tsp minced onions
1 tsp Italian seasonings
~¼ c heavy cream
2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
½ tsp red pepper flakes
~¼ c sugar

Though I have never made my own tomato sauce from scratch, (a fact that astounds pretty much everyone,) I have read about it.  A lot.  And when I found myself with not one, not two... but THREE containers of cherry tomatoes, something had to give!  At first I thought I would do a basic pasta tossed with broken tomatoes, but then I saw the almost-gone-but-still-lingering-around carton of heavy cream, and an idea was formed!

Starting with 2 rounds of olive oil, I threw in the garlic for about a minute (don't let it burn!), and then added the red pepper flakes.  Tossed in the tomatoes & coated with the garlic, olive oil, and flakes, cooking for about 3 minutes. 

Then comes the fun: Mashing!  We do the Monster Mash!!  Taking a masher (preferably one with small holes and more plastic instead of one of those wire wavey-thingamabobs,)... mash!  It's best to slowly press down and NOT vigorously stop as tomatoes? they are juicy.  And they burst.  So, after making mush, add the rest of the spices and let simmer for, oh, 5 minutes. 

Then mix in the tomato paste and simmer for at least 10 minutes to thicken (when you swipe a spatula through, the sauce will not overtake the streak of pan left behind.)  Now, even though you should have been tasting & adjusting as you go, taste.  And add if needed (like more salt! more red pepper!)  

Now, for the pièce de résistance: Cream!!  Add in the heavy cream.  Heat through and let simmer if you'd like for it to thicken more.


And, after alil' bit of this:

And alil' bit of Parmesan, you get..............

I am telling you, this was delicious.  It was quite spicy, (I scaled down the measurements in this post,) because I kinda spaced out when I was sprinkling in more flakes, only to realize I had been sprinkling for a while... Oops.  STILL GOOD!  Still good.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

we are entering the age of aquariums!

...age of aquariUUUMMSSS!!!

As I posted before, there is a bit of a transformation going on with the fish tank. The tank is from my mom, who has had it for almost as long as I can remember. We've used it, first, for fish and later for a lizard. This is what it first looked like:


As you can see (or maybe you can't?) it's a basic & very flat oak stain with not much pizazz. And I, I am a girl of PIZAZZ!!

So I started staining:


I believe I used an Antique Pine stain, but who can be sure? The rest of the can is all the way downstairs and my feet are cold, so a guess is all you will get. But here we are, 1/2 done. 1/2 Pizazz, 1/2 Un-Pizazz.

Now, a wise woman would have done this with all the windows open. But it was cold outside!! Well, actually, I guess a "wise woman" would have taken the entire stand outside to stand in the spring or summer.... details, details.

After filling up the tank gradually (to check for leaks) and then adding the gravel.....


TA DA!! I love it. Nope, no fishies yet. I need to get filters and silly stuff like that. But that is neither here nor there- LOOK AT THE AQUARIUM! The dark color matches my house much better and is more of a statement in this stand-out stain. Sadly, the "wood" surrounding the actual tank is a plastic-faux-wood, and wouldn't take the stain. Whatevs, it's better this way. Two-toned, and all.

I would also like to say that this has been done for quite some time (over a month, I think!) But I just... I... I didn't have a picture of it. Sorry and sad excuse, I know. Many apologies.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

shh! no talking!

Library Update!

Though not completely finished, it is oh-so-close! Unfortunately for everyone, I don't have a "Before" picture. This room, (which is located off the rec room) was originally a small kitchenette for the first level. There was a cherub border around the top, an extremely narrow door that I could barely walk through, and a window that was replaced with a vent-fan for the stove. Now, the actual kitchenette was gross: old cabinets, dirty, broken & rotten egg in the fridge, dirty, grimy, small and dark. And dirty. So, Day 1, all of that was torn out. Then, I had my drywaller widen the doorway and wall-in the heat duct that ran along the ceiling. Which, brings us to....


See the border? Also, the lovely linoleum. In excellent shape, of course.

The guts of the kitchenette. Complete with mold, thrown in for good measure. And you can see the original door molding and that blasted vent-fan.

Though there were those that advised me to keep the kitchenette (which would make a downstairs apartment more rent-able,) I chose to make it another living area. When it comes time to sell, could be listed as a library/playroom/office. My thought was that I didn't want to deal with replacing all the appliances, counters, and cabinets and the increase in utilities that comes with it. Also, I like the feeling of a single-family home, instead of two separate living levels.

Widening the doorway! Though I would have loved to widen this more to make one open great room, this would have required a lot of work to maintain the structural support of the house if we took out the studs. So instead, just widened the doorway as much as the wall studs would allow. Still good! And, as a bonus I hadn't thought of, keeps this room kind of private for the times when I have a lot of company, and need to use it as another guest room.


Installed flooring in the library and removed the bottom foot of drywall where there was damage.

And removed the tile backsplash and wall (more damage) from the kitchenette. Only to find the previous owners did not use proper insulation (no moisture barrier for being against the concrete external wall.... D'OH!)

New insulation! And you better believe the leftover insulation will be put to use in the attic! Also, surprise surprise, not only are these studs not spaced the standard 16" apart, they aren't spaced equally, either!

Then comes the drywall. And then......



I used the same color as the rec room, for a seamless transition, making both feel bigger. I ended up painting all walls except the back alcove. Here are some more pictures during the painting process:


I chose the floral rug for this room. It kinda matches in a ridiculously-perfect way.... it's the exact seafoam blue-green as the walls, the mid-brown flows seamlessly with the floor color and the dark brown will (eventually) be the same color as the coffee table.* And, at some point, I will get a new futon color, probably in a light tan. See? PERFECT!

I ended up choosing this one over the blue because it blends in, and essentially "disappears" in this room since it matches so well. So, even though some may argue it's a "busier" rug with a design, the fact that it has the same colors as the wood floor and the walls means your eye doesn't notice as much. The blue rug, being a different color "pops" out at your eye. In such a small room, I prefer to have something that blends rather than makes a bold statement.

*I am going to stain the coffee table. It'll be the same stain as the fish tank stand.

And, what would a library be without.....
Bookcases! ...FINALLY!!! Plans to pick up these bookcases were delayed about 178,980 times by snow, sleet, rain, ice, more snow, and a couple tsunamis, but tenacity prevailed! I'm super excited to move my books into these and truly finish the room, which would open up the upstairs closet for more storage and clear out the boxes and bags of books littered around the house! SO EXCITED!! But, I'll be patient and wait until the molding is installed so we don't have to try to move full bookcases when the time comes... See? Thinking ahead!

These two fit in the alcove perfectly! Such a built-in look (which, to be honest, was not my initial idea for furniture arrangement, but darned if it doesn't work better this way.) My aunt & uncle were nice enough to give me these bookcases since they were done with them, and I am absolutely thrilled with them!!

So, to finish this room:
  1. Floor molding (shoe & quarter-round)
  2. Doors for under-the-stairway storage
  3. Paint the blue weave (white? tan? ...other??)
  4. Hook up/run Fios cable to TV
  5. Oh, and one other little thing..... trash the vent-fan and re-install the window! Let there be light!!
You see? Not much. BASICALLY done!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

you could go with this... could go with that!

Christopher Walken needs to be in more music videos.


In the epic battle between two rugs, only one can be the champion!! Sale at the Pottery Barn outlet means amazingly beautiful and plush rugs for cheap. Now, I have to decide which to use in the library!


Hard to tell with the camera/lighting/computer display, but this is pretty much a perfect color match. I can't tell you how much this surprised me, as the wall color was a weird color-creation at the paint table. But it works! It also has a great design in 4 different browns. I actually saw this rug on a decorating blog months ago and liked it, and lo & behold- it's now in my house!

One of the medium browns really matches the floor well. The coffee table will be stained a dark brown, which will be close, if not exactly matching, to the darkest color in the rug.


....... what is that??!??! Is that a Vanna White impersonator?? you see, this is what happens when you try and get things accomplished with your "hilarious" brother around. Hardy-har har har.

::le sigh::

Anyways, as I was saying...

TA DA! This is a dark blue rug that is insanely rich in color and awesomely thick and plush. I love the way it feels under foot, and the blue is beautiful. It has a bit of texture to it (better seen in the next picture, though the color in that picture is a bit too light and cobalt-y.)

So, the question arises: Rug 1 or Rug 2? The blue rug is more of a statement piece in the room and would really stand out, whereas the pattern rug would blend in to the room as it matches the wall and existing wood.

Stay tuned to find out which one I pick!! (I know, the excitement is just TOO great. I can barely stand it!)