Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fruit Salad, Yummy Yummy

I promised more recipe posts, and more recipe posts I shall deliver. 

This light and fresh salad comes from Cooking Light. It was originally included as part of a series of recipes focused on increasing your water intake outside of drinking 8 glasses a day. This is perfect for a girl like me who has to force herself to drink one glass a day (read more about how I tricked myself into drinking more by creating spa water here)

Cucumber, Pear and Watermelon with Ricotta Salata
8 servings
2 cups cubed seedless cucumber
2 cups cubed seedless watermelon
1 pear, peeled and diced
2 cups halved red grapes
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbs honey
1 1/2 tsp grated lime rind
2 Tbs lime juice
1/8 tsp ground red pepper
3 oz crumbled ricotta salata cheese for top

The fruit was mixed together and set aside, and then it was as easy as lightly tossing it with the sour cream through red pepper mixture. The little bit of pepper gave the recipe a surprising kick.
This also gave me the excuse to try a new cheese. The recipe said feta could be used as a substitute, but I found the ricotta to be a fresher taste than a typical feta.
All in all, a tasty treat for a summer weekend lunch!

PS. This post title comes from a Wiggles song that my niece used to listen to (or maybe we just kept playing it over and over and she couldn't have cared less? I can't recall).  I enjoy the intensity of the phrase "Fruit Salad!" at the end of the chorus.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tools of the Trade

Having never worked on a home remodel before, Bob and I were severely lacking in tools to get the job done. We manage to fit quite a bit in the plastic tote and toolbox that sits on the bottom of our closet floor, but mainly things for the odd job around the house: hammers, cordless drill, pliers set, no less than 4 tape measures. . .

We knew that this bathroom remodel was going to gain us some tools, but even I am surprised at how many we've managed to pick up over the last 2 months. While I'll still count them towards our overall expenses for the bathroom (I'm estimating $400 of our budget will be tools that can be re-used), the nice thing is that we can anticipate using all of these again over the years for future renovations and DIY projects.

So what sorts of things have we found a need for that we didn't already have on hand? Here's a breakdown, and I know we'll have a few more items added to this list before the end of this project!
Lantern/Flashlight ($20) - We had a great lantern that could be used as a flashlight or stood up on end to act as a light source. Originally bought for camping trips, we found it handy as we gazed into the crevices of the wall we were ripping out and the bathtub drain to find obstructions. And then we tripped and it went flying. Our broken lantern was replaced with an even better one that has a handle for hanging.

Sledgehammer ($35) - I wanted to avoid this purchase, as it seemed like our demo was going smoothly with just a hammer and mighty swing, but then we discovered we were dealing with a cast iron tub. Time to bust out the big guns.
Chalkline Kit ($6) - We used itas a plumb bob to ensure our pocket door kit install was perfectly spaced, but I am sure we'll find another task or two for this one.

A Longer Level ($15) - We sprung for a five footer once we realized our mini-level wasn't cutting it.

Chisels ($15) - We probably only needed one, but we picked up two so that we could both tackle the wall tile at the same time. The flat edges made lifting up floor tile like this a snap.
Cutting Tools ($35) - we've been slicing and dicing through wood, drywall and metal, so had to pick up the right saw for each job. We look forward to the day of having power tools - and the space for them - in our lives.

Tarp ($15) - My usual dropcloth of an old sheet got the heave-ho for the time being, replaced with something heavier duty to protect our floors. We also used it to block the cats from entering the bathroom once we removed the door and outer wall, before we were able to clean up all of the sharp debris from the tub removal.
Tin Snips ($10) - Our studs are metal, which meant a few of them had to get cut down for us to properly install the pocket door kit and create a new header.

Protection ($25) - Respirators for when we're tearing into the drywall, disposable gloves for when we're touching gross stuff (like the waxy ring holding the toilet in place), safety goggles for when tile shards are flying and work gloves to protect my hands (Bob already had a pair). I am all about the precautions so that our budget doesn't take an "emergency room visit" type hit.
2 Buckets ($5) - Not pictured, but already very useful for hauling debris downstairs and soon-to-come grout mixin'.

Frog Tape ($10) - Thinking further ahead with this one, but we'll be doing a lot of re-painting soon enough. I have heard good things about Frog Tape vs. the usual blue that I buy, so we'll give it a whirl.

Tub Drain Wrench ($15) - Designed to reach into the small space of the tub drain to remove it, we used this tool for exactly 5 seconds, but it did the trick. 
Tile Tools ($90) - grout float, tile cutter, tile nippers, mallet and trowel. We'll still need a wet saw rental at some point to take care of our 24" long floor tiles that need a beveled edge, but the 12" one we picked up for $45 should be all we need for the wall tile and shorter side of the floor tile.

Drywall Installation Tools ($20) - Since we haven't gotten to this part of the remodel yet, I have a feeling we'll still add a few more pieces to this list, but so far we've picked up a mud pan and 12 inch taping knife. 

In the meantime, we've given our hallway a bit of a break from looking like a war zone. With weddings taking up our next couple weekends, and lots of other "life stuff" going on, we're going to revisit our remodel come September!
Ahh, so much cleaner. Plus,  you get a sneak peek of our pocket door kit and tub frame! 

Wait, no! Don't go in there! Don't go in the second bedroom!!
And that's why we keep the door shut.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Salmon Jammin'

All this bathroom remodelin' has really taken a toll on our time in the kitchen. At least, that's my explanation for why we haven't been to the grocery store for a month and have been living one meal at a time for the last few weeks. Exhibit A: a dinner consisting of Kraft Mac & Cheese for Bob and Spaghetti-O's for me. Oh dear.
I finally broke out some old Cooking Lights (my 12-issue 2007 subscription still gives me new recipes each time I flip through them!) and created a grocery list fit for adults - no Spaghetti-O's allowed. First up, we made Grilled Salmon Tacos with Chipotle Sauce.

I didn't pick up any actual Chipotle Chiles, instead settled for a teaspoon or so of Chipotle seasoning. This was combined with 1/2 cup mayo, 2 Tbs minced cilantro and 2 Tbs buttermilk to create the sauce.
We also decided to mix up the call for green cabbage and stick with radicchio that was sliced up and added to 3 Tbs lime juice and 1/3 cup green onions.
The salmon called for a BBQ spice rub that was easy to make with things we had on hand already: Hungarian paprika, salt, pepper, thyme, cumin, cinnamon, chili powder and brown sugar. We didn't feel like lighting up the grill (or spending the evening sitting in our alley, which is our unfortunate necessity when it comes to grilling), so we settled for a cedar plank on our stovetop grill pan.
After 20 minutes or so, the fish was perfectly done and we flaked it into pieces for the tacos.
A layer of sauce, the radicchio mixture, salmon, diced tomatoes and a little extra sauce on a flour tortilla. Yum.
Expect a few more upcoming recipe posts thanks to our long overdue grocery trip!


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Skipping Ahead

While we take a quick break from our bathroom re-do to wait for the plumber's visit, I thought I'd jump ahead with this post and pretend we are further along than we actually are.

What's that? Wondering why we have a plumber coming when we prided ourselves on doing the whole job ourselves? Well, as obvious as it seems now, but not something that occurred to us before, our new taller tub will have some impact on what's currently set up. The current setting for the tub spout jams into the top of the new tub, which means it and the handle will have to be moved up about 6 inches. And we aren't touching that one with a 10 foot copper pipe. Welding is not yet in our wheelhouse.
Anyways, back to the future: our bathroom cabinet plans. We spent a great deal of time looking for the perfect bathroom cabinet. If we would have found something two years ago we would have snatched it up and been getting use out of it, but until now nothing struck our fancy. I briefly considered us building what we wanted from scratch, but woodworkers we 'aint. 

The dead corner space of the bathroom is perfect for a tall, thin cabinet to hold towels, cleaning supplies and guest bathroom amenities. Until now, we relied on the storage within the sink vanity and a small end table shoved into place. Our move to a pedestal sink was going to lose us half of that storage, so we figured going vertical was the solution.

P.S. Recognize my DIY Tub Decor, made in this blog's infancy? Sad news: about a month ago our Chicago poster fell off the wall, shattering the tray. RIP, Tub Decor, RIP.
My "New Home Inspiration" Pinterest board began to fill up with tall, white cabinets like this one from West Elm:
Or this one from IKEA:
I also loved the idea of a vintage armoire filled to the brim with linens, like this:
And then my sister gave me a Crate and Barrel gift card for my birthday. . .one online search plus one store visit later and our decision was made.
The Banya White Bath Tower runs a tad skinnier than we were originally looking, but I think we'll be happier without something jutting up right next to the toilet or hitting too close to the sink edge. With two closed shelves on the bottom, our extra TP and cleaning supplies can be kept out of sight. Four open shelves add ample room for storage and display. Here it is in brown:
I was still on an eBay high from our fixture purchases at a major discount, so before we hit purchase we took a look at coupon offerings. We ended up paying $19 for a 15% off coupon, which would save us $60 off of the purchase price. I will take any savings I can get with this DIY experiment, especially since the tower unit ran a little higher than the $250 I initially budgeted for this piece of the puzzle.

The cabinet is in hand and ready for assembly. I almost opened up the box today, ready to tackle something I knew would have a clear finish today, unlike our ever-growing tub timeline. 

Although it is going to be awhile before the shelf styling step, that hasn't stopped us from picking out the items that will be on display. With gray floors, chrome fixtures and white everything else, we are relying on our accessories to lend some color to this joint.

First up, our not-so-new-anymore guest towels in cheery sunflower yellow. These were on our wedding registry and for some reason I've been waiting to use them until our bathroom got re-done. Perhaps I thought it was going to happen sooner than 2 years ago when I made that call? 
Speaking of yellow, I've been waiting for this yellow wire basket to go on sale at C&B. Perfect size to hold easy to grab cleaning supplies, and with a slatted door you will be able to see some hints of color popping out from the bottom shelf.
I travel quite a bit for work and grab the hotel soaps and the nicer shampoo/conditioner sets. I probably have more than we'll ever need built up, but we'll continue our trend of setting out a matching mini set of shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion for when guests visit. I'd like to use the collection of soaps to create something like this to display:
That thinking got me searching for apothecary jars online. Crate and Barrel had a great set of three glass jars, but I ended up going with this acrylic set on Amazon.com. I figure we might eventually have a little one using this bathroom, so limiting the amount of breakable items on display seemed like a good move. So, hotel soaps in the big one, Q-Tips in the small one and TBD in the middle one.
I'm picturing one of the shelves having pretty perfume and handsome cologne bottles on display, something like this:
Finally, all of my Amazon searches have pigeon-holed me as bathroom-obsessive as of late, so I wasn't surprised when tissue box covers popped up on my "You Might Also Like." This wasn't in the original plans, but it did seem like another way to add some color to the cabinet and, dare I say, a bit of whimsy. I really liked this Umbra Casa Tissue Cover, but reviews that shared its lightweight-ness scared me off.
Then I found the Paper Pot! You can use it for either toilet paper or facial tissue, and there were plenty of positive reviews. I sprung for the yellow one and waited for its arrival - cited for almost a month later from China.
I'm an Amazon Prime member, so waiting more than 2 days for anything I order now seems like a terrible inconvenience. Oh, how spoiled we've become. Luckily, the Paper Pot arrived in just under 2 weeks. And it arrived looking like this:
What you can't see is that the shipping sticker calls it "Bomb Shaped." I'm actually surprised it got to me in one piece, looking like it did and having the word BOMB stamped across the top. We loaded in a set of Kleenex and tested it out. Can't wait to find a place for it on the shelf!
We're torn as to what to put on the very top shelf. I loved one of the display photos that shows house plants on top, but with no natural light in the bathroom, I'm not sure how they'd fare. TBD, I suppose, and probably for the best. After all, it's going to be quite some time before we're ready to create the display - plenty of time to weigh our options!
What are you shelf stylin' as of late? 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Case of the Cast Iron Tub

We knew there would be surprises along the way in this bathroom remodel. In fact, if we didn't find any I would be convinced we were skipping steps that we'd regret later. So when it came to the dismantling of the bathtub to finish up the demo portion of our renovation, of course there had to be a few kinks in our plan. 

First up, the confusion around how to get our drain disconnected. Youtube videos made this seem like pretty straightforward step, and we equipped ourselves with a $15 Tub Drain Wrench to get the job done. Hopefully this very specific tool will get several uses over the years.
The drain plug popped off easily enough, but the screw inside the drain was a tricky beast. Bob spent a good 20 minutes working it with a pliers, stripping off quite a bit of metal in the process.
It came loose eventually, and with a push of the tub we could see that the drain was successfully disconnected. The overflow cover plate was a much easier thing to tackle after that!
As Bob got the bits of drywall out of the way, we learned something else about our tub: it is cast iron. Hard to believe considering the quality of a lot of our builder grade material in this condo, but apparently they went big when putting in the tubs.

You might wonder why we don't just keep a nice 'n solid tub like this, and the answer is not just, "because we already bought a new tub." We don't love the shortness of this tub, it only sits about 13" high and our new one will be 19". We are planning on running floor tile up the side of the tub, which requires a drop-in style. And the finish has gotten quite dingy over time, even a good scrubbing hasn't really fixed it.

Everything we read about tub removal had an asterisked section that called for destruction of a cast iron tub for feasible removal. This 300-400 lb beast was not a "Bob & Lydia" kind of job.

So back to the Ace Hardware we went, this time to pick up a $35 sledgehammer. We found an old blanket and covered the areas of contact to prevent flying shards. 
With a quick prayer that our sledging would not make angry neighbors, Bob started swinging. It seemed to get easier after a few good cracks. This is also how we discovered what was underneath our tub - extra insulation, an old rag and a couple pieces of wood. Lovely.
Pieces were collected as they broke off and soon enough the tub was a manageable size for us to lift.
We geared up our trusty handcart and got the rest of the tub out of sight, out of mind and into our storage area. We'll bring the pieces to our local metal recycling location and see if we can't get a few bucks out of the deal. Don't mind us, our tub is just taking the elevator. . .
Speaking of taking out the garbage, we spent part of our Saturday at the dump. No, not The Dump (can you think of a worse name for a furniture store? But then again, I do always remember their name. . .). I mean the actual dump. Our bathroom job is small enough not to warrant our own dumpster rental, but large enough that our debris had piled up beyond what we felt comfortable placing in our condo's dumpsters. We loaded up the car with bags of tile, drywall, sink and toilet pieces and headed to the South Side. 
The unfortunate part of the story is that the minimum price to dispose of the material was $60 for the first ton. We ended up having about 300 lbs of debris, not quite the 2,000 we paid for. I'm sure with a little more digging we could have found some competitive pricing, perhaps in the suburbs, but we were ready to clear out our storage area and get the demo off of our list! 

I seriously think every person should have to visit a city recycling plant like this to get a view into how much garbage we produce. Amazing.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Pizza Perfection

A super short one today, but important to share. Folks, I think I finally found my favorite pizza topping combination. After years of pepperoni and black olive pairings, another combo has caught my taste buds and I think it is here to stay.

It all started with the perfectly rolled out dough from Whole Foods - we pick up the ready-to-go balls of dough for around $4. I don't know if it was the inclusion of our new pizza stone or how we rolled it out this time, but the dough was thinner than ever. And that's a good thing in this particular anti-thick crust Chicago household.

And now for the ingredients - cooked italian sausage (never put raw meat on your pizza thinking it will cook through in the oven!), black olives, diced onion and lightly sautéed & thinly sliced mushrooms.
After 18 minutes at 350 degrees, the color was pretty much perfect. We dug in and my new fave was born.
This pizza was done in the oven, but those interested in grilling them up should read my way-back-when post

Monday, July 14, 2014

Demo Days

It's official, the bathroom renovation is underway. All accouterment removed, shower curtain folded up and wall art taken down. This bathroom is ready for a change.
Bob and I spent a couple evenings last week dismantling the sink and toilet in order to gear up for a Saturday of tile removal. I picked up this book from amazon.com awhile back to help be a double check as we tackled these projects, so between that and a couple helpful youtube videos, the easiest part of our bathroom remodel was underway. 
We shut off the water supply for the sink, then started dismantling the vanity, starting with the corner blocks that held the top in place. After little effort, disconnecting of the drain and pipes and a razor's edge to the caulk line, the countertop and sink popped right off. 
In about 45 minutes, this corner of our bathroom suddenly got a lot more spacious.
Next up, the toilet. Water lines shut off again, with a small bin placed underneath the pipes to catch any dropped water. We followed this youtube video to a tee, first adding bleach to the water to help disinfect the bowl and then sponging out the excess water into a bucket. 
The tank was removed by simply unscrewing the connecting bolts and lifting it out. A rag was stuff in the opening at the bottom to prevent leaks, and we placed it on a mat in our extra room until we were ready to discard it with our other demo'd material. The bowl also lifted right out after the putty line was broken with a boxcutter type tool. Our second bedroom was becoming quite the showroom. . .
Then the grossness - getting rid of all of the waxy parts adhered to the bottom of the unit and stuck in the floor. The DIY book had a suggestion to use a gallon ziplock over your gloved hand to pick up all of the pieces and create an immediate container. 
We also picked up this test plug for $5 at Home Depot as opposed to just using a rag to stop the drain and prevent debris from making its way down the hole. This proved very useful as mere hours later wall tile was flying in the room.
Speaking of tile, we got up bright and early on Saturday morning ready to begin demo. And then we started watching Burning Love on Hulu. . . But by 10am we were ready to go! With the first crack of the hammer against the chisel we looked at each other surprised at how loud it ended up echoing in the tiny, empty bathroom. Now, keep in mind we live in a condo building with neighbors on four sides, not our own tucked away house where buzzsaws and jackhammers are more than welcome. We've already determined we need to find a faraway place (ahem, my sister's house) to tackle our tile cutting, but even just removing the tile proved much louder than anticipated! 
Ahh well, with neighbors properly informed of our impending work and noisy plans for the next few Saturdays, we threw on our safety goggles and work gloves and got busy. The floor tile came up relatively easy, and before we knew it here's what we had on our hands. 
Concrete lay underneath the tile, so Bob is rethinking his idea to level out the floor (if possible) so it is even with the hallway height, which currently sits a bit lower and necessitates a door threshold.
After a deserved break and a trip to the local Ace for a thinner pry bar to attack the wall tile properly, we got to work on the shower area. We got the job done in about 3 hours total, but not without some difficulty and sore arms the next day. It turns out the builder used mastic to glue the wall tiles on, which left a yellow residue in most areas and caused us to tear out some drywall in other parts - or maybe that wasn't the mastic's fault, but rather our less experienced method? 
We had the opportunity the next day to ask our friends at the Tile Outlet what they thought of mastic vs. thinset, and we were told that mastic is a time-saver that doesn't do well in wet conditions - a hotbed for mold growth. As you can probably guess, we walked out of the Tile Outlet with thinset. Here's an article with some more info on the debate.

But, we persevered through the pain and by 5pm (our building's cut off time for noisy projects like this), the walls were cleared. Yes, some drywall came with it, but we were looking at replacing some of it anyways for our wall with the pocket door and to be able to remove the tub. I even managed to complete a large portion of one wall myself - though definitely not as forceful or quick with the hammer as Bob could be.
On another note, I've been the safety queen of this project, trying to make sure we're wearing our safety goggles during the demo, but one thing I didn't push hard enough was for the husband to wear pants instead of shorts! But after Bob's legs suffered a couple nicks from flying tile, the message was received. Pants from here on out.

We decided to let the bathroom stay like this overnight and shut the door to would-be curious kitties, tackling the clean up the next day after researching best ways to dispose of our demo'd material. While I'm sure we don't have a ton of garbage in the grand scheme of construction projects, its always a pet peeve of mine to see old toilets or refrigerators dumped in the alleyway, sometimes days away from garbage pick-up, so we piled together all of our ready-to-discard material and plan on driving the bags out to a recycling center that accepts construction material.
Clean up was actually a breeze, we made sure to wear paper masks because the tile, grout and drywall dust was everywhere. We bought 18-gallon compactor bags from Ace, lined our two buckets with them and started filling. In the end, we only needed 4 bags to get the wall tile cleaned up (the floor tile had been placed in extra cardboard boxes we had on hand).
Suddenly, the bathroom was swept up, cleared out and ready for next weekend's next step: tub removal!