Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mixed Emotions

Did any of you catch American Idol last night? Did any of you see Chris Medina who had the fiance who suffered a traumatic brain injury right before they were supposed to get married?

Here is the video clip if you missed it:

Man, did that hit close to home. For those of you who don't know, last June, my father in law, Mike, also suffered a traumatic brain injury(TBI). He was basically in a coma for a week, in the ICU for 2 weeks, in live-in rehab for a month, and still continues some therapies at home. His recovery has been remarkable. He is almost back to normal. If someone he hadn't seen in a long time saw him, they would probably have no idea he even had an injury, but only those of us close to him interacting on a daily basis know how much further he has to go.

So last night when Chris came on tv and shared his story, Matt and I just stopped what we were doing(I was cooking) and listened closely. When it was over, I just turned to him and said "That sure makes you feel lucky doesn't it?" "Yeah" was his reply. Then we shared a brief tearful embrace, and that was it. But, I've been thinking about her all day. I feel sad and mad that she wasn't as lucky as we were. How unfair is it that she has lost nearly everything about her life. She was 25(I think) when it happened. She never got to get married. Never became a mother. She and her fiance will never have the experiences and memories they thought they would have. They won't get to raise a family together because it'll take all his efforts just to take care of her. They'll never get to take a family vacation or have pictures of snorkeling, or hiking, or dancing, or anything. We got life back that they didn't. It's not fair.

This isn't the first time I've felt this way either. When you hear about a bad car accident and the news tells of someone in critical condition, I never really KNEW what that meant. I never really thought about it. Now I've been on the other side of it. Been, scratched that, LIVED in the waiting room of the ICU and watched everyday as new families arrive scared and shocked because their loved one was just admitted. The vast majority were in car accidents. After a while, you end up talking to the other family members and finding out their story and comparing progress reports. "Have they opened their eyes yet?" "Are they responding to commands?" "Did they have any brain swelling?" I never thought I would know so much about brain injuries and their progress and the "waking up" phase.

We even kind of felt lucky then, because the whole time, Mike was doing better and responding more than any of the other patients. New family members came in and we found out there was a bank robbery and the suspect fled and hit a bunch of cars. Several of the victims came to that ICU. One was a 60 year old woman. And one was 20....crap. Why? Why did that piece of trash have to drive his car into all those people totally ruining their life. Even if our result had been different(worse), at least Mike has lived most of his life, raised his son, and had lots of good memories. I'll always know for every Mike Kelly and Gabrielle Giffords(who is also doing remarkably well) there is out there, there are many more people like Chris's fiance that don't fair so well. So thank God for your blessings and give your loved ones a hug, because in a split second it could all change.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pasta Verde

I came across this recipe on the Martha Stewart Living website, while browsing. I'm in the facebook group and they put links to categories of recipes from time to time(like pasta recipes, holiday recipes, ect.) I've made it twice. After the first time, I guess I forgot about it and didn't make it again for many months. I really like it, so I plan to put it into my regular circulation of recipes. I follow this recipe to a T, except for the fresh basil(don't shoot me). Yeah, I know dried isn't nearly as flavorful, but it's winter, and I don't have any, and the grocery store makes you buy a huge bunch that will go bad before I can use it all. All the other veggies, you can buy by the pound. The only other thing I do differently is using any kind of whole grain pasta. It just makes it a well rounded dish with whole grains and lots of green veggies.

I serve it on the side of chicken or fish. So, there is always a lot leftover. We love leftovers at our house. It saves so much money for Matt to take leftovers to work instead of paying $6 everyday for lunch. I've noticed that the mustard vinaigrette gets absorbed into the pasta by the next day, so it starts tasting rather bland. The fix? You could add some more mustard to it before you pack it for lunch, but what I like to do is add feta cheese to it. So yummy! I guess it's personal preference whether to eat it hot or cold. I like this one hot.

Pasta Verde

Serves 4

  • 1 pound gemelli, or other short pasta
  • 2 tablespoons grainy mustard
  • 2 tablespoons white-wine or sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 sweet onion, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 small zucchinis, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 8 ounces snap peas, tough strings removed
  • 3 ounces baby spinach, (or 1 bunch regular spinach, stems trimmed and leaves coarsely chopped)
  • 1 small bunch scallions, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, cut into very thin strips


  1. In a medium bowl whisk together mustard and vinegar. While whisking, slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente according to package instructions, about 8 minutes. Drain; return to pot. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook until just softened, about 4 minutes. Add zucchini; cook, stirring, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add snap peas and spinach; cook, stirring, until bright green, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in scallions and basil. Add to pasta along with vinaigrette; toss. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Fiesta Chowder

My mom found this recipe in Southern Living Magazine and made it for her Christmas Eve Party. We couldn't attend it, but we did get to eat the leftovers. I'm not usually a beans and rice kind of person, so I was surprised by how much I liked it.

I really don't see how people manage to take pictures WHILE they cook. Or even as they are serving it. I just don't have the time...or take the time. Cooking is already multi-tasking. The pictures never turn out good anyway. I think it's the lighting in my kitchen. Food looks really unappetizing on the camera with that lighting. So here is a photo taken from the internet. Cuz if you're like me, you don't cook anything unless you can see a picture of how good it looks.

When my good friend, Mariah, had a baby last week, I started brainstorming what food to make and bring to her. She is very much a beans and rice person, so I knew this would be perfect. I did make some changes to the recipe. The store I was at didn't have mexican stewed tomatoes, so I bought regular, but I bet any canned tomatoes would do fine. I also left out olives(because I don't like them) and I used 3 chicken breasts(because that's how they come in the package). My mom had trouble finding Nacho Cheese condensed soup, so she used cheddar cheese soup. I found Fiesta Nacho Cheese soup at Super Target. It definitaly made it better. And whatever you do, don't skip the fresh cilantro and lime juice!!! They really make the dish. You might be one of those weird people genetically prone to think cilantro tastes like soap(It's a real thing! Something about the chemical reaction the smell makes in our brain. Read about it here. It says you can retrain your brain.)

Fiesta Chowder
(click on the title to link to original recipe)

Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings


  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 (1.4-ounce) package fajita seasoning, divided
  • 4 skinned and boned chicken breast halves, cubed
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 (15 1/4-ounce) can whole kernel corn with red and green peppers, drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
  • 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup uncooked instant brown rice
  • 1 (2 1/4-ounce) can sliced ripe olives (optional)
  • 1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed nacho cheese soup
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • Garnish: chopped fresh cilantro
  • Breadsticks/corn chips (optional)


Combine flour and 2 tablespoons fajita seasoning in a heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag; add chicken. Seal and shake to coat.

Cook chicken in hot oil in a large Dutch oven(or stock pot) over high heat, stirring often, 4 minutes or until browned.

Reduce heat to medium-high; add onion and garlic; sauté 5 minutes.

Stir in remaining fajita seasoning, corn, next 5 ingredients, and, if desired, olives. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 5 minutes.

Remove lid, and stir in nacho cheese soup, chopped cilantro, and lime juice. Garnish, if desired, with extra cilantro and serve with corn chips.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Our house got some BLING!

Yay for David! David is awesome! Our framer made these curved trim pieces for much cheaper than if we would have made a custom order for them. If you click back to view our original houseplan, you can see that they are in the design. He used treated pine, which won't last as long, but it's really cheap. We had the option of using white cedar, but we just can't afford to spend that much money on nonessential items. I love how they turned out. They are so beautiful.

Windows and Siding

We had a bit of a delay due to weather. Charlotte got a nice covering of snow last Monday. We got 6 inches, covered by sleet, which turned everything to ice. The roofer was supposed to come lay our shingles that Monday, but the northern(back) side of our roof is still covered in ice. So a week an a half later, still no roof.

The complication with that is that it makes the framer's job of hanging siding more difficult. The roof is supposed to be done before the siding, but he couldn't wait for the ice to melt, so our framer continued on with his crew hanging siding and windows. Our siding is hardiplank(the most common siding) which comes pre-primed in a light gray. We'll have to paint it so that it's completely protected against weather.

We ordered 32 in. wide window everywhere except the kitchen window(which is 36in wide). They sure do seem much smaller once installed. It's amazing how much space is eaten up by the window casing. I kinda wish we had gone with 36in wide windows everywhere. Too late now.

This is one reason why we wanted to do a "practice house" before building our permanent one. It still looks good and I'm sure it will be fine. Right now, it feels dark inside. But once we have a light color paint on the walls, it will be much brighter than the medium brown that it is now.

Monday, January 10, 2011

This was my Friday night...

 out the craigslist fridge that we got for $440. It still have some spills and food residue. We unloaded it at Matt's shop because I could hose it out, then wheel it inside to dry.

Oh, and the hose there hooks up to hot water.

It was 40 degrees outside.

And I needed lots of suds.

And warm hands.

Pressurized hot water really powers through messes. Like cold, dry, hardened caramel(I hope) spilled in the back of the fridge. No amount of scrubbing took it off. But the hot hose water did!!

All clean and wet!

Kitchen Paint Reveal

I realized recently that I never posted picture of a major project I took on. About 6 months ago, I posted on facebook that I was tackling our current kitchen's cabinets. In the house we are renting from my in-laws, the cabinets are original from 1961 and have gotten caked up with grease and grime over the last 50 years. I always wanted to paint them, but since we weren't supposed to be living here very long, it didn't seem worth my trouble. I also thought I had to paint the inside of them too. I have since seen maybe kitchen makeovers where they just painted the outside and front and back of the cabinet doors. That started to motivate me that I could take it on without being too overwhelmed and having a nervous breakdown midway through.

Seeing this makes me wish I had a picture of the ORIGINAL oven that we took out about a year after we moved in. And you think the kitchen looks bad NOW!

Oh wait...I do!!

Bad right? Oh and the microwave broke and the space was never made to hold an over the range microwave(like you couldn't reach the back burners), so we got it out of there and bought an oven on Craigslist.

I don't really remember how I decided it was time. I guess I just got sick of looking at the fugly cabinets and one day I decided it was time(after two years of living with it). I'd seen a lot of inspiration pictures of kitchens where they painted the lower cabinets a different color, like a pale gray. I was really loving this look. Check out these examples:

You can see why I wanted to give this look a try. It took me forever to pick out a shade of gray(and white for the uppers). Since the wood paneling that is above the cabinets was painted a bone color, I didn't think painting the uppers antique or off white was enough contrast. So I went with a more clean white called Alabaster by Benjamin Moore(color matched by Sherwin Williams). I don't remember the shade of gray I used, but as you'll further read, it won't matter.

First step was to take off the cabinet doors, remove all hardware, give them a wipe down, and lay them out on drop cloths. The hardware was grimy, so I cleaned them with industrial strength Purple Power. It was super easy. Just shake them around in a wash tub and use the hand held shower sprayer to rinse.

Here they are clean(yes, that's clean).

I was trying to save money by reusing them. Hardware can be the most expensive part of a painting project. I bought some brushed nickle spray paint and painted them. They looked bad. Like a bad arts and craft glitter project. I didn't even take a picture. They would not do at all. So, up they went on free craigslist and I got so many responses. Lowes still sells this style in black and it would be over $100. They would be great in a less public space like a garage and could be sprayed black. I was glad they got to go so someone who was in a pinch and really needed them. Lowes sells the basic brushed nickle knobs and hinges in contractor packs(much cheaper than buying individually).

Since these are kitchen cabinets that have never been painted and have lots of grease residue, it is absolutely CRUCIAL to use a good primer. I used Kilz oil based primer. Oil based stays on better and blocks bleed through better.

I'm not sure if this is paint or primer, but here are the upper doors laid out. I don't have alot of floor space right now. You can see a bunch of other cabinets stacked in there. Those are the cabinets for the house we are building right now.

I put little pieces of tape on the shelves and on the cabinets, numbering them so I could match them up with easy when they were done. I also used a mini roller for the first time. It really speeds things up. But I didn't like the "orange peel" texture it made, so I brushed over it with a dry brush. That is still faster than applying the paint with a brush.

They took two coats of paint on top of one coat of primer. Here is the kitchen with paint, but no doors.

So, we've got white on the top and gray on the bottom. The problem is...I didn't like it. Turns out our off white counter tops are PINK! I never knew that until there was light colors contrasting against it. And I wasn't liking the white, gray, pink pastel combo. I tried and I failed. Or rather, IT failed. Add to that, that our kitchen and den are darker than a cave and the gray wasn't looking as bright and clean as it should. So, the painting isn't over yet! It took 3 coats of white to cover the gray!! THREE!

The paint has to be really hard and dry before you rehang the doors. Otherwise, they will scratch and peel as you put screws in. I let our doors cure for about 2 days. Some longer, because it took me several days(not full days) to get all the doors rehung. And I had no help since Matt was working so many hours. Hanging doors is HARD! Even reusing the same holes, most of them just wouldn't hang straight.

I attached the hinges while they were on the floor(which is 3 screws each). Climb a step ladder with the door, drill/screwdriver, and 4 screws within reach. Then, line up the door and screw 4 screws in. Easy, right? Ok, now try and close(or open) the door. Most of them wouldn't fit in the door opening. I had to loosen the screws and try and wiggle it into place. Then, re-tighten the screws. Sometimes that would fix it, sometimes not. A few of the most stubborn ones, Matt showed me how to bend the hinge to make it fit without redrilling holes. Some days I would only hang one door before getting so frustrated I had to stop.

Finally, it was done. But now, the trim and crown molding(that was still stained wood) stood out like a sour thumb. And the window(which I always knew had seen better days), suddenly looked quite disgusting. The crisp new white paint only highlighted the old food and bug stains on the window seal. I painted the window by taping off each window pane(which took a while), primed and painted 2 coats of paint. I think I did a 3rd quick coat on some of the more visible areas.

The rest of the trim(in the half of the kitchen you can't see in the photo) took me a while. I just worked on it when I had the time. There are two doorways, crown molding, and a chair rail. So, it was a lot. The stained wood trim carries over into the den. That has not been painted, so the white paint kinda just stops between the rooms. I plan on getting to it eventually. It's the only room in the house that has the stained wood trim since it had the brown paneling when we moved in.

Now for the reveal(two taken with all the lights on, and one taken with natural day light):
*click to enlarge*

Total cost was $280. That was for several quarts of paint and primer, paint supplies, drop cloths, and new hardware(which accounts for about half of that cost).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Double Trouble Cookies

I'm always looking for new recipes, especially when I'm making food for other people. Although, I usually try them out myself first, in case they flop. Last week we had a Youth New Years Eve Party at church. As volunteer youth leader, we were asked to make and bring desserts for the kids. I wanted one sugar cookie that looked festive and one really chocolaty cookie. The next few paragraphs are about the sugar cookies, so if you are only reading to get the double trouble recipe, scroll on down.

For the sugar cookies, I just bought Pillsbury Sugar Cookie dough(yes, I do call that cheating, but I did decorate them!!). Somehow I got it in my head that I wanted snowflakes on them, or snowflake shaped cookies, so they would look wintery. I have a box of cookie cutters from a yard sale, but there was no snowflake.

So, I decided to put a snowflake on them with blue sugar sprinkles. I would need a stencil. So I made one. I free-handed a little snowflake onto some card stock I had. Then used a razor to cut it out. The cookies are slice-and-bake, so once they are sliced, I pressed the stencil onto it and sprinkled the sprinkles on them, and carefully removed the excess.

They were a little overdone, but so gosh darn pretty!

I found the recipe for chocolate cookies by googling "double chocolate cookie recipes" I think, and browsing through google images, and picking the one that looks the best and has the best recipe.
I used this one from someone's blog:

They were quite easy to bake, and OH MY GOSH so good!! The trick is to take them out after 8 minutes when you think they aren't done yet. Get them out when they are still gooey. They will firm up after they cool completely. Half of mine came out perfect and half I left in there a little to long and they were fine, but not as soft and chocolaty. The recipe says the dough and the baked cookies both freeze well. I'll have to try that. It would be great to have dough on hand to pop in the oven.

Here's the recipe:

Double Trouble Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes approx 3 dozen or so cookies


  • 1 Cup Butter
  • ¾ Cup White Sugar
  • ¾ Cup Brown sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 Tsp Vanilla
  • 2 Cup Flour
  • 1 Tsp Baking soda
  • ½ Tsp Salt
  • 2/3 Cup Cocoa
  • 2 Cup Chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats, set aside.
  2. Cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well again, scraping bowl occasionally.
  3. Mix flour, baking soda and salt in bowl. Sift in cocoa powder. Gradually add dry ingredients to sugar mixture, mix just until combined. Mix in chocolate chips.
  4. Place by tablespoonfuls couple inches apart onto lined baking sheets. I like to leave mine heaped or rolled into a ball for a nice thick cookie.
  5. Bake in oven for approximately 8-10 minutes or until edges and some of the middle is set…cookies will continue to bake as you take them out of the oven. Wait a couple of minutes before transferring to racks to cool.
  6. Once cool store in an airtight container.

Can you spot them?

I managed to save a few at home to enjoy myself. I'll have to make these again real soon.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

House Tour: Bigger Lens, Better Pictures

Here is the current house tour(as of the first week of the new year), taken with my new Nikon D3100. I think it looks bigger inside taken with the bigger lens. In other words, this camera has better peripheral vision. Also, I've added a tab at the top of the blog for you to quickly find the current house tour, instead of searching through old posts. First, the floorplan:

Close-view of exterior. The front of the deck will actually be at ground level. We're going to fill that part with dirt just like in front of the garage door, so you can walk right on with maybe one step.

This is under the deck storage for all sorts of yard things. Matt dug it out with the skid steer, so now it actually has over 5' of clearance, so our tractor will fit under here and be protected from the elements until the day we build an actually tractor shed.

Walking up the stairs:

From the hallway, looking down the stairs:

The above photo is from the kitchen looking towards the living area.

The photo below is from the front exterior corner(maybe the tv area), looking towards the kitchen.

From the back exterior corner, facing the hallway that leads to the bathroom and bedrooms. The kitchen is on the right, living area on the left.

From the living area, looking through the bathroom wall. The vanity will on this wall, and the tub will be about where that ladder is.

The hallway, facing the bedroom. Door on the left is the bathroom. Door on the immediate right are the stairs. Larger doorway on the right is the laundry closet. Door at the opposite end is the master bedroom.

Master bedroom. Door on the right is the walk-in closet. Bedroom door is just out of view, but would be on the far right. Our bed will go under that dormer window.

This is the second bedroom. The full wall hasn't been built yet. We're putting in a double pocket door here, so it will be a wide doorway that we can open up and get more light and generally feel more spacious. Instead of carrying the wall all the way up to the ceiling, it was Matt's idea to make a shelf here, since it would be wasted as unusable vertical wall space otherwise. If it's big enough, we'd like to keep the camping gear up there and add cabinet doors or a curtain to hide it. Funny story: Matt thought he could just put his gear up there and leave it opened. HaHa. Is he serious? And stare at it all the time from bed?....Men.

View from the living room picture window. Not very attractive right now. But it will get better.


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