Thursday, July 2, 2015

Closets, Closets, Closets

With news of Baby K on the way, my excuse to nest got a whole lot stronger. In no time at all I had created a mega-list of organization needs to find space and storage in every possible nook and cranny of this 2 bedroom condo - not only did the craft room need to be dismantled and re-distributed, but we'd need to find cupboard space for all of the non-bedroom essentials (ie. bowls, cups, spoons, toys, books. . .)

Since we moved in, I had visions of converting our hallway coat closet into something with a little more storage. We definitely had enough coats to fill the length, but with more than half those on display only being used a few months out of the year, we figured storing the out of season outerwear wouldn't bring any harm.
After picking up a couple extra under-bed bins from The Container Store (surprisingly, best price found there, beating Target!), I saw we could cut the "coat" part of the closet to half and install shelving up the other side. Options for shelving included hiring out a California Closets type company to come in and install or attempt to Do it Ourselves. Guess which option we chose? 

My challenge was how to find shelving in the exact right sizing, without power tools here at home. The standard white shelves at the local Ace didn't run exactly as we needed, with the longest shelf option being 48 inches. I found some on Amazon that were close, but no cigar.

Then, after months of Lowes and Home Depot visits because of the bathroom model, we found ourselves in a Menards for the first time during all of these home projects (a tip from a fellow Home Depot customer on door options sent us the Menards way). I found white slabs of shelving that they would cut to size, the longest option being 96 inches! Perfect! We went back home to do some measuring and determine how many shelves and how many cuts we'd need.

A series of crude drawings determined we could comfortably fit in four 24" shelves with 10 - 15 inches of space between each and at least 20" up from the bottom to fit in our toolboxes. One long 55" shelf across the top at 72" up would hold the closet rod at the right height for coats. We also picked up the heaviest duty white brackets we could find and a couple boxes of anchors and screws.
After clearing out the closet, removing the wire shelf ("No. Wire. Shelves. Ever!") and patching holes, Bob painted the inside of the closet with the same green as our hallway. For a flashback, check out this post detailing our original paint choices upon move in!
The measuring twice/drilling once process began and within no time we had the pieces in place. 
Since the Menards cuts were not super exact, there were a few instances of sanding needed, especially to get the vertical divider piece to stay level, but once everything was screwed together you couldn't really see any imperfections.
The shelves were quickly filled with games, art supplies and bins that were previously housed in the second bedroom closet, now displaced by baby sized hangers, a newborn tub and colorful storage containers. But that is another post altogether. . .Our vacuum cleaner (which had been out being serviced at the time of the rehaul) also fits snugly underneath the coats to fill up the left side. We are loving the organization and the crisp white against the green background.
In retrospect, I wish I would have added a couple more inches of height to the bottom, and made the small shelves 25 or 26" wide instead of 24", as our toolboxes and bins are pretty well jammed in, but the sizes we went with definitely maximized the shelving we purchased, so it was probably the right move after all.

It felt great to get this project started and finished across just 2 weekends - especially when the bathroom took us just about as long as as this baby is taking!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

CS A+

Well, that hiatus was a bit longer than I intended it to be! Back in the fall I was realizing how behind I was in posting and decided to take some time off of the bloggin' to focus on some other areas of life - of course, in the meantime I've completed many a project just perfect for sharing that I'll need to catch you up on. 

The main reason for both the blog absence and the extra projects? Baby Girl Kamicar is soon to be making an appearance in our household! That has meant mucho organization, nursery decor creation, purging to create more storage areas and - of course - a finally finished bathroom remodel! We are super excited for the new addition to the family and all focus has been on getting ready for baby. 

Here's a sneak peek of the nursery (goodbye for now, craft room!) 
Until I get my thoughts together on some of the bigger initiatives like a coat closet rehaul, a 50 step organization list and more purchased furniture than our credit card would like to admit, let's start with something small: FOOD!

Part of preparing for baby has meant stocking the freezer and figuring out the best ways to plan out healthy, filling and easy to put together meals when cooking in the kitchen will be the last thing I want to do. We've taken advantage of Dream Dinners, made an extra batch of Breakfast Burritos, found 2 for 1 meat sales at the store and froze a couple additional pasta meals. But in the meantime, we wanted to also focus on fresh ingredients that would help us plan out meal options. We tried out Blue Apron for a few weeks and loved it - great tasting meals that never took more than 30 minutes to put together, made with ingredients we probably would never pick up on our own. We'll probably pick this back up in the fall/winter timeframe, but we saw some overlap with another plan we had just committed ourselves to for the summer: farm fresh veggies ready for pick up!

We had been talking about joining a CSA for awhile now, so when a recommendation and discount code popped up on my Facebook feed from a friend we decided to pull the trigger. We signed up for Angelic Organics and chose the "every 2 weeks" option based on feedback from someone who said getting a box a week was more than they could realistically get through. We pick up every other Saturday at a location just a few blocks from our house.

We are on Box #2, after starting to receive our fresh veggies in early June. And they weren't kidding - the fridge is stocked with lettuce, arugula, dill, pea shoots, beets and more! 
We are having fun reviewing the list of incoming items and finding recipes to match, and I can honestly say I've eaten more vegetables in the last few weeks than I have in a long time!

Box #1 included radishes, but rather than just slice them up for a salad, this vegetarian sandwich was too good looking to pass up. And this is coming from an ardent carnivore who loves her some turkey sandwiches.

Avocado, Radish and Snow Pea Sandwich
We skipped the red onion included in the original recipe, and this prego girl missed out on the goat cheese that I mixed right into Bob's avocado spread. However, mashing up avocado to use as a sandwich spread instead of globs of mayo may be the next big thing for us. I ate these three days in a row for work lunches.

Also made with CSA items in the last couple weeks:
- BLTs, thanks to our new abundance of lettuce
- Kale, Pineapple, Banana Smoothies
- Vietnamese-Style Stir Fry, using pea shoots, broccoli and left over snow peas from the above sandwiches
- Choy and Apple Slaw - 
- Parmesan Zucchini Rounds
- Too many arugula salads to count

Box #2 arrived with 3 heads of broccoli, so we got to work finding recipe options. When Bob brought up the idea of making a cream of broccoli soup, a quick Pinterest search gave me exactly what I was looking for before I even knew I wanted it: Copycat Panera Broccoli Cheese Soup. Oh my yum - I love getting that soup at Panera (along with the Bacon Turkey Bravo on an Asiago Bagel) and was looking forward to making our own little bread bowls of goodness.

Copycat Panera Broccoli Cheese Soup
Makes 4 servings

  • In a dutch oven, saute 1/2 yellow onion in 1 Tbs of butter. Set aside.
  • Wipe out dutch oven and melt 1/4 cup butter, mix with 1/4 cup flour, stirring constantly for a few minutes.
  • Slowly whisk in 2 cups half and half; 2 cups chicken broth. I ended up adding another 1/2 cup or so of broth later to cut the thickness of the soup a bit.
  • Simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Add 1 head diced broccoli, 1 cup of julienned carrots and the onion. Simmer for 25 minutes or until veggies are tender.
  • Add 1/4 tsp nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste and 8 oz shredded cheddar. We used a mixture of cheddar and jarlsburg, when sharp white cheddar wasn't available.
  • Mix in to melt the cheese, then use immersion blender to get rid of some, but not all, chunks. 
  • Serve in bread bowls!

Whole Foods had 2 size options for our bread bowls - ginormous or mini. So we decided to get the mini versions and use regular bowls for the majority of our soup, with the bread added as a special treat.
Next up in the CSA adventure: finding recipes for beets! I pinned this beet chip recipe - what do you think?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Countdown is On

So. . .I'm going to go ahead and chalk up my month long absence to my 'lil blog to a lotta travel and a less-than-inviting computer room (where I do my updates). Yes, the 2nd bedroom is still torn apart and we are still in bathroom remodel mode. But we're getting closer! Wall tile is almost done and after that it is really just finishing touches and putting the door frame back up. Houseguests are coming up for the holidays so our deadline fast approaches.

One thing I can cross of my list? A craft project I wanted to do about 2 years ago but was stuck for exactly how to execute. Suddenly, a solution dawned on me a few weeks ago and I got to work.

I picked up this printer's drawer from eBay with the hopes of creating a perpetual advent calendar for December's countdown to Christmas. I pictured perfectly sized blocks of wood with the date on one side and a holiday image on the other when it gets turned around. However, I was at a loss for how to cut perfectly sized blocks of wood to fill all of the spaces. So the drawer sat in the closet for 2 years untouched, until this Halloween when I came up with a way to use it for some scary mantel decor.
Perhaps it was seeing the drawer out and being used that drew inspiration, but I realized that I still had a ton of one-inch blocks from un-created Every Holiday Block sets. 
The single blocks fit nicely in the small spaces, and by mod-podging together a set of blocks, I could fill the other spaces neatly enough. 
I went with red, green and white painted blocks and mix 'n matched the number sticker colors for variety. 
After that step, I hauled out all of my holiday scrapbook paper, stickers and stamps and added some cheer to the back of each numbered block. 
I patiently waited for the fall to end so I could tear apart my Halloween display and replace with the advent calendar. Last Sunday was decorating day in our household, which meant I got to dig through all of my decor and find small items to fill the remaining spots. I used the same approach as Halloween - a little bit o' scrapbook paper, a few stamps thrown in....and this time I could use a couple small ornaments to fill spaces, too.
The advent calendar is joined on the mantel by a blanket of "snow," our Santa's Sleigh stocking holders, a blue and silver themed hurricane (to help prevent said advent calendar from falling forward), a couple wintery St. Nicks and our new pride and joy: a 2 foot tall Santa we bought last February at the Biltmore in Asheville, NC. 
Now I just can't believe that I'm already turning around block #6 - where is time going? I have a lot left to do before the 25th rolls around!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Cold Weather Comforts

The temperature is dropping fast here in Chicago which means we're bundled up with sweaters and trying our best to avoid turning on the heat for as long as possible. (Update: we turned it on at 10:00am today, November 2nd...)

Cold weather recipes to keep you warm are the best - and you probably won't find many people who argue against tomato soup being one of the best remedies for winter blues.

Although I made this homemade soup from America's Test Kitchen, slightly adapted, in the heat of the summer, I've been thinking about it for the last few days and gearing up to make batch #2 soon.

Cream of Tomato Soup
8 servings
3.5 Tbs butter
2 28oz cans diced tomatoes, drained with the juice reserved
1 onion, chopped
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 Tbs flour
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper

Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add drained tomatoes, onion, brown sugar and tomato paste. Cook, stirring until the onion is soft and the tomatoes start to caramelize. 
Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly stir in the broth and the tomato juice. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes.
I used my immersion blender to puree the soup which meant I didn't need to dirty up the food processor or regular blender. At this stage, I packaged half of the soup for the freezer, with a note that said "add cream" so we wouldn't forget when we pulled it out a few weeks later.
I used 1/4 heavy cream to the half that was left and brought the soup to a brief simmer before removing from the heat. After a quick salt, pepper and cayenne seasoning it was ready to eat.

And was it good. Very creamy, robust flavor and the perfect consistency. Definitely on the make-it-again list.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Get on the Floor

One step closer: The floor tile is in place! 

We are finally home a few weekends in a row, which means the (at last count) 17 more steps we need to take to get this bathroom remodel done-zo is going to see some headway. We changed the landscape of the room a couple weeks back by finally getting our floor tile into place, and I have to say that completing this step really helped us kick things into high gear with seeing what the finished product could look like!

We chose charcoal gray, 12x24 tiles from Lowe's, written about in this post. The dark colored floor pops nicely against our lighter gray walls and we can't wait until our shimmering ice wall tile is up to complete this picture. And, boy, was the price right - we spent no more than $100 to complete our look.
As should be the case, we spent the majority of time measuring and testing out layout patterns before we ever got to cutting. 
Our chalk line tool came in handy, and the pieces of paper helped decide exactly how many tiles we would need to get the job done.
We used 1/8 size spacers, which would allow enough space for our grout in Polyblend Dove Gray to show through. 
Although those extra few inches somehow doubled our costs, we decided to pick up a 24" tile cutter for about $100 as opposed to buying a smaller one for the majority of the cuts and renting a wet saw for our longer cuts. We figure the investment is worth it for future projects and it also gives us the flexibility to not have to finish everything in one day with the $60 rental.
After a couple tries - and a slight finger injury before we decided to wear the gloves - Bob had the tile cutter down. We also picked up a pair of tile nippers to create the edges needed for the hole where the toilet would sit.
Once we had everything laid out, Bob spent a day with the tile thinset, getting everything locked into place. He used a knife-like tool to get rid of the extra thinset the grout went down.
The next morning we tackled the grout and then wiped everything down with a damp sponge.
Wonderful! Just a couple final steps before we can cross this one off the list: we picked up grout sealer that needs to be applied after we run tile up the side of the tub. Our biggest hurdle there? Unfinished edges on the tile mean we need to figure out how to make beveled edges on the top of the tub tile. We may end up renting that wet saw after all.....
In case you are thinking the grout looks a little light in the photo above, we find ourselves with a steady stream of drywall dust as we finish up projects - our floor needs a good mopping before the grout sealer goes on to ensure we get the color we intended!

Here's a shot of how the floor looks from the entryway. And, hey! Is that a toilet going in? Stay tuned for the story of that fateful morning - when rookie mistakes came to a head and we found ourselves in a sitcom-like situation involving buckets of gushing water!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Golden Nuggets

In an effort to find new and exciting recipes to try, I somehow stumbled on ideas for homemade chicken nuggets. Now, this being my favorite option through the McDonald's drive-thru, I had to wonder if we could create something that could compare to the deliciousness of a McNugget dipped in Sweet and Sour Sauce. . . I'm deciding to ignore the fact that I almost always feel a little gross after eating McDonalds and just focusing in on the chickeny goodness. . .

We picked up ground chicken, apples and spinach to round out the rest of the ingredients we had on hand to fry these up. They were super tasty - to the tune of me eating six in one sitting.

Apple Chicken Nuggets
1 pound ground chicken
1 1/4 cups diced onion
1 cup apple, peeled and grated
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried parsley
2 cups frozen spinach
1 cup dried bread crumbs
2 cups oil for frying
Mix chicken through spinach together and form small patties (we got about 12 large-ish nuggets). Put the bread crumbs in a shallow dish and press the patties into the bread crumbs to coat them. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, cook a few patties at a time, about 3 minutes per side. Lay on paper towel to dry and cool. 

To bake instead of fry: 425 for about 15-20 minutes. (But let's be honest: fried foods just taste better!)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Goodbye Tension, Hello Pension!

My Aunt Christine retired in September after a long career in Madison. My sister and I decided to throw a little shindig in her honor to celebrate the next chapter of her life. It was just family, so not a big blow out to plan, but that didn't stop us from getting a little Pinspiration for decorations and activities. 

We created a secret board on Pinterest that we could both contribute to, and pretty quickly had our plan in place. My sister took care of all of the food planning, which left me with the decor. I didn't go overboard, especially since this was just a casual late lunch in the 'burbs, but it was fun sifting through ideas outside of co-workers throwing the party.

First off, I used my Cricut machine and some scrapbook paper to create a banner that read "A Sweet Ending to a Long Career" for over the buffet (where the desserts would be placed). I played around with the settings until I had large enough letters and circles and used glue dots to secure the letters to the backgrounds. White yarn was used to attach the banner together, and in retrospect I could have done a cleaner job trimming up the ends! 
To separate the words, I found two cupcake images in my Cricut shapes and cut out a few. I realized afterwards that I could have also just created more space between the words, but it didn't occur to me until I had the whole thing together! 
Speaking of desserts, I used this party as an excuse to make Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. Love this recipe, written about here. I have to say, this was my best batch yet for how flat the cake parts came out - I think it was because I used a little less pumpkin than usual. Typically my pies turn out to be ball-shaped and don't sit flat very easy, even with a whoopie pie pan, but these were near perfection.
I loved the card I found on Pinterest that read, Goodbye Tension, Hello Pension. Rather than print it out as it was, I used the Cricut again to create the 8x10 and threw it in a white frame.
For a table centerpiece, I filled a lazy susan-style tray with broken sunglasses, smashed USB stick, an old cell phone and a dead iPod, among other sad items. I'll admit that I hit up the dollar store to buy the sunglasses, a wind up toy and a stapler with the sole intention to bust them up. Along with a photo of Aunt Christine was a sign declaring what all of these items have in common: We Don't Work! My old flip phone was an instant hit with the 5 year old niece, Ella, who promptly grabbed it from the tray to make some very important calls.
Finally, Christine's Bucket List gave us all a chance to write in our ideas for how she should be spending her time now that she has more of it. I made a sign out of scrapbook paper and various travel/vacation/activity stickers or chip board pictures I had on hand. 
Christine read the submissions out loud after dinner. The ideas ranged from small ideas like going to the zoo (Ella's idea) to philosophies like Eleanor Roosevelt's "Do One Thing Every Day that Scares You." 
What sorts of things are you looking forward to taking on when you retire? Me? More travel and then even more travel.