Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Enjoying a Vintage Grape in the Library

One of our favorite places in our house is our library. This is likely because it is the most "finished" area of our house. And it may only be about 30 square feet all together, but somehow feels bigger once you are in it.

Making up the second half of our living area, with a couch as the dividing line, the library was a work in progress for most of 2012. For more info on the armchairs, the rug, the bar and the bookshelves, I dissected it for this post awhile back.

The ottoman was our last purchase for the area a few months back, which made it even more the prime location for kicking back and reading. I recently powered through Gone Girl in just a few short days in those chairs.
But there has always been one area left to do something about: the drywall white fireplace! 
Before we even moved in, we had a general color scheme idea for the library of ice blue, gray and cranberry/plum. My long ago Pinterest Project of Thumbtack balls started us off on the right foot, our Prove It! painting gave us some more shades of purple and the DIY shag rug along with our armchairs added the gray.
Looking at a few paint swatches, our thoughts of cranberry started to turn into thoughts of something a little more purple. You know, like that ACE Hardware commercial, "Puuurple."
photo source
This Memorial Day Monday we walked into Lowe's made a bee line to the paint section. Spent 30 seconds looking at the Valspar wall and both pointed to the same swatch: Vintage Grape. It wasn't even a contest, it wasn't even worth buying the sample jar for $2.50 or even bringing home the piece of card and holding it up against the fireplace.

We picked up a pint of Vintage Grape in a satin finish and got to work when we arrived home. This also gave us an excuse to royally clean the glass top to the fireplace, which was a long time coming.

Eager to start, we neglected to remember that our paint trays had been donated to a volunteer painting project Bob worked on. So we DIY'd that too. A shallow Amazon box, taped all up to ensure no holes to leak through, a sheet of tin foil (a good trick even when you have regular trays to keep them usable!) and a couple rolled up cardboard pieces taped to the inside to create some tilt in the homemade tray. Easy peasy.
Bob applied one coat and we already were feeling it. Two hours later, coat number 2 went on.
24 hours later, the bookshelves were back in place, the tape removed and the glass top reinstated.
Here's a wider shot of the room, complete with a common tableau for our household: "Cat Resting on Ottoman."
It might not be on the grand scale of painting an entire wall, but the statement is definitely made. Watch out, drywall in the perpetually white kitchen. . .you're next.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It's Greek to Me

I visited friends with brand new baby twins last weekend, which meant I arrived at their house bearing food and lots of it.

A quick perusal on Pinterest found me 2 great new recipes to try out from the same blog. Hit a home run with both and look forward to making them again from time to time!

First up, a 7 Layer Greek Hummus Dip. Hello. As is the case with most multi-layer dips, I assume, the most time consuming part of this recipe was chopping up the veggies. From there it was pure simplicity. 

The bottom layer of cream cheese mixed with lemon juice, garlic and italian seasoning was followed by an 8oz package of store bought garlic hummus.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions and kalamata olives were chopped up for layers 3-6.
Finally, feta cheese was sprinkled over the top - some may say an excessive amount was used, I say it was just right.
I don't have a great shot of the seven layers because of the type of dish I prepared this in (my "meant to travel" tupperware is opaque at best.) But you need to check out the photos from the recipe's blog, Creme de la Crumb. Yum.

I actually stumbled upon the Greek Dip after first visiting the blog for this amazing Chicken Salad recipe. Now, I already have 2 great go-to's for Chicken Salad that I've been making for years. The first involves dill, ranch dressing, avocados, cashews and swiss cheese. And bacon. The second involves celery, grapes and a healthy dose of poultry seasoning.

But this one featured a couple words I've been making more of an effort to include in my diet lately: "skinny" and "fat free."

I doubled the recipe to serve enough for our party of 4 and still have a bit leftover for the proud parents. 

The Skinny Chicken Avocado Salad started with garlic powder, seasoned salt, sugar, dijon mustard, mayo and yogurt in a bowl.
I bought my first Chobani for this recipe and now we have a fridge full of it thanks to a sale at the grocery store. The husband is hooked, and I think I may be too! Add a little bit of honey, some granola. . .baby, you got a treat goin' on!
After the yogurt and mayo were mixed in, the diced celery and green onions were added next.
I used my KitchenAid mixer paddle trick to shred up the chicken and once added I had enough for about 6 sub-roll sandwiches. I waited to dice up the avocados until I was preparing lunch so that we didn't have brown-ness on our hands. 
I actually made this recipe a few days later for ourselves, but diced the chicken instead of shredding it. I gotta say, I prefer the shredding to help keep the salad together and "in" the sandwich! Since the chunks of avocado are also of a good size, adding diced chicken to the mix just made it all the more fall-aparty.

So there we go - 2 new recipes to keep in the rotation, just in time for summer picnics! Be sure to check out the source blog for complete recipes. What are you making for your next barbeque?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Cheese Please

It was on my list of goals for last year, but never attempted. I had it in my head to attempt to make cheese from scratch, just to see what it was all about. I figured I'd start small with mozzarella, and expand from there.

There is not a short supply of recipes online, and I ended up working with this one at Heart, Hands, Home, found - where else? - via Pinterest. This recipe had me at "minimal ingredients."
After some online searching and realizing that I didn't have the time patience to order from the New England Cheesemaking Supply as so many recommend, but when I saw several mentions of Whole Foods as purveyors of rennet and citric acid I thought, "well, that's easy enough." I headed down the block and perused the aisles, finally asking if they carried the necessary products. The answer was no - they had discontinued rennet a few years ago at the store. Perhaps making cheese is not overly popular in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago?

After a few more searches, I stumbled onto Brew & Grow - a hydroponics/home brew resource center. I took advantage of our one weekend of beautiful weather that Chicago is going to apparently get this spring and took a long walk to check it out. With a husband and brother in law itching to try home brewing at some point, I think I'm going to find myself back at this store in the near future. . .
Rennet tablets and citric acid in hand, all that was left was the Cheese Salt. Definitions told me that it really just means non-iodized salt, so my Sea Salt at home would suffice.

Ingredients accounted for, including a gallon of whole milk (making sure the label didn't say "ultra-pasteurized"), I set to work.
Bringing the milk to 90 degrees was a cinch, with 1 tsp. of citric acid mixed in, though I wonder if my thermometer was a bit off, or I should have let it sit longer after the 1/4 rennet tablet dissolved in a quarter cup of water and added, as the curdling didn't seem quite as pronounced as it did in the reference recipe and blog photos. Next time I will experiment with this stovetop timing a bit more.
After leaving the milk to sit for 10 minutes, I started spooning the globs into a bowl and getting as much of the yellowish liquid out of the way. A few zaps in the microwave got rid of even more excess liquid, and then the salt was added.
Here's where my version seemed to take a turn. It never got super stretchy or "shiny" - but rather stayed a bit more crumbly. the cheese allowed me to knead it like dough, which was a good sign, but it did seem a little drier than it should have been. I added a bit of water which helped it keep its shape, but this will also be an area I look to perfect.

I rolled the cheese into a log form and then put it in an ice bath for 5 minutes to firm it up. The cheese was wrapped up in parchment paper and put in the fridge for awhile. 
In the end, the taste was a bit on the salty side and it tasted "mealier" than it should have, probably because of the more crumbly consistency it started with.
But I'm going to call it a success because it was a great first attempt - and I can only get better from here! With a pack of 10 rennet tablets, and only 1/4 tablet used for a recipe, I've got 39 more tries.

The price was certainly right for this experiment, assuming that I keep making cheese and not waste the rennet or citric acid, I'd spend about 25 cents per batch on those ingredients. The milk itself is most of the cost, and I found a gallon for $2.50 at our Walmart Express!
So, happy cheese-making to you, and good luck if you try this out! I'll be back at it soon enough. Once mozz is mastered, I can move up the cheesy food chain.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Picked Up in Peru

Continuing our tradition of decorating our home with memories of our vacations, we find ourselves with a few new items in Casa Kamicar after our March trip to Peru. These keepsakes join alabaster vases from Egypt, Shaker-style boxes from New Hampshire and figurines from Belize on our bookshelves and wall space.

First up, the item we knew stepping off the plane we'd be coming home with, one way or another - an Alpaca blanket. Now, we're not hurting for wraps in this household - we've had a steady supply of gorgeous homemade quilts thanks to my Aunt Christine, and I basically haven't put down this monogrammed Pottery Barn throw since we got it as a wedding gift a year and a half ago. (if the photo below makes no sense to you, you may want to read my Wedding Thank You Card post!)
But we loved the look and feel of these alpaca beauties - so we were on the hunt! Who knew there were so many types - mixed alpaca/llama, baby alpaca, super baby alpaca. Machine made vs. handmade. 

We ended up getting a machine made baby alpaca blanket in a relaxing blue. Baby alpaca doesn't mean they used newborn babies, but rather indicates that it is wool taken from the very first shearing of the animal which produces a cashmere like feel. Our cats are already in love.
Next up, a set of bulls in teal and white. Cuzco households frequently featured a pair of ceramic bulls perched on their rooftops, indicating good fortune and protection for the household. They face the same direction and typically had a cross between them. I loved this quote from Cuzco Eats: "There they stand between house and sky. With their snorting, stamping of hooves, and slapping of tail they bring a watchful eye and care for those who live inside." I wouldn't have minded a slightly larger set of bulls (these guys stand just a few inches tall) but we loved this color scheme the best out of all we saw.
This little burial mask represents a culture that pre-dates the Incas. The Chimu existed around 900 A.D. until they were conquered by the Incas in the 1400s. I used a mini easel we already owned to display it on the bookshelf.
Finally, our entryway got a little extra pizzazz with the addition of some framed art. We had heard that the Parque Kennedy (home of dozens and dozens of cats!) was lined with art vendors, so we made sure to walk by the strip of artists a couple times while in Lima. 

This little abstract piece caught our eye, and for around $30 U.S.D. we were able to get the frame, too! 
It seems to have found the perfect spot next to our front door.
So there we have it, a few more items to remember our travels by! What's new in your house??

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Cut Above

This past Christmas, my family surprised with a lovely gift indeed - a Cricut machine! It took me a few youtube videos last year to figure out what a Cricut actually did, and once I realized it could help me make better cards (I can't cut in a straight line and have terrible penmanship), I started hemming and hawing if it would be a purchase I needed to make. 

Here was my face when I opened the present:
And here was my face immediately after Bob dropped my camera moments later. Hi, Mom!
I had only tested the Cricut out a couple times so far, my jaw dropping when I saw how cool the blade attachment looked as it cut out my name, but was ready to use it for some real card-making last week. 
Our friends had twins about a month ago, so we wanted to send along a Congratulations card. Something is in the air - we have three sets of friends in various stages of twin-dom!

I entered the phrase "double trouble" into the Cricut and let it get to work, making 1/2 inch letters. Because of the small size of the letters and the more delicate type of paper I was using, I actually ended up preferring the cut out version vs. gluing the individual letters to the card. . .
I used my baby footprint stamp in alternating blues and pinks to create the chaotic background. Something about the shades of pink and blue seem preppy 80s to me - in a good way, of course. Is anyone else picturing twin babies in popped-up collars and sunglasses?
This small foray into Cricut-use was just that - a small start. Here's to more experimenting and youtubing to figure out all the things it can do for me! So far we've only tried out words and phrases, but I know there is a whole lot more.