Archive for February, 2011

Late Winter/Early Spring Garden

There hasn’t been much action in the garden in the last six weeks or so (at least on our part…the birds and the mole have still been busy). The broccoli and brussels sprouts we planted then are doing well.

The weather has been a little bit funky and stormy lately. Just a few days a go, we got a surprise early-morning dusting of snow.

We’re supposed to get another cold spell later this week, but we decided to get a few more things in the ground anyway. We planted bok choy seedlings, and snow peas, celery and carrots from seed. It was so nice and sunny today. This photo has some funky lens effects, but it does capture the intensity of the sun today.

Starting with the bed John’s kneeling at, and working clockwise, here’s what’s in the four regular beds:

Carrots (2 rows)
Celery (1 row)
Bok Choy (half bed)
Brussels Sprouts (half bed)
Broccoli (full bed)
Garlic (3/4 bed)
Mole Trap (1/4 bed)

The long bed on the left by the fence has:

Red Onions (first planting, 1/5 bed)
Shallots (2/5 bed)
Red Onions (second planting 1/5 bed)
Walla Walla Onions (1/5 bed)

I’m going to get some herbs and tomatoes started from seed indoors in the next week or so, but those won’t get planted for another couple of months. It’s a slow garden time! Any suggestions for more things to plant now? The Back Forty is empty, and we don’t have any plans for it until May or so…

Update: The sunset today ended up being kind of nice, too!

Before and After: Kitchen

We’ve made a lot of improvements since we bought our house in 2006. One of the biggest changes has been in the kitchen, which was dark, dated, and just plain sad. We changed the counter tops, sinks, and fixtures; added a back splash; redid the walls with venetian plaster; renovated the island; replaced the microwave; replaced the cabinet doors; and redid the ceiling and lighting (which I wrote about here and here). I’m going to write about these changes in detail in the coming weeks, but I wanted to start with a straight-up before and after. Here’s what the kitchen looked like before we moved in:

And here’s how it looks today:

It’s a small kitchen, so we have to be creative with storage (more about that later). But we have a lot of counter space, and it’s really efficient to cook in. It’s also open to the dining area and living room, so it’s nice for our informal style of entertaining. With the changes we’ve made, I really love it! I’m looking forward to sharing the details of our kitchen transformation!

P.S. This was my third round of “after” photo attempts, and the first time I got results that really did it justice. I’m experimenting with the manual setting on my camera, and am using the auto-timer to get more stable shots. Hopefully, my photos will be improving as I learn more!

I Came Home to This…

John surprised me by setting the table for dinner. He got me a red rose at the Thai restaurant where he ate lunch (they were giving them to customers), and even lit a candle. You can tell by the presentation of the wine that he really made an effort. 🙂 This is my favorite part:

He tied pieces of Shop Towels around the bottles to stop drips. It’s a little bit sophisticated, but a little more redneck. Just like my husband, and I love him for it!

Hope you all had a sweet Valentine’s Day!

Espresso Maker Troubleshooting

Yesterday, I found what I now know to be a Bellman CXE-27 espresso maker at a local thrift store. Some people apparently consider these to be more of a Moka-type machine than a true espresso maker, but if it makes some type of coffee and also foams milk, it’s good enough for me.

Bellman CXE-27 Espresso Maker

Although the stove-top Bellmans are pretty common, there’s surprisingly little info out there on the electric models. Anyway, it didn’t work. The heating element didn’t come on, even though the machine was getting power. After a little quality time with my multimeter, I figured out that the problem was a busted thermostat. The thermostat is supposed to have a very low resistance when it’s cold, so it completes a circuit that allows the heating element to get power. Once the temperature reaches a certain point, the resistance increases enough to basically break the circuit. The purpose of the thermostat is to turn the heating element off when things get hot enough. Because this thermostat is broken, it has a really high resistivity when it’s cold and the heating element never gets power. I contacted the thermostat manufacturer to see if I can get a replacement.

That little round black thing is the thermostat.

In the meantime, because I am a complete and utter fool who you should never, ever take advice from, I jumped (used wiring to bypass) the thermostat to see if the heating element worked. And it did, like a champ! Unfortunately, once the pressure builds up, water leaks where the heating elements enter the water tank.

Water leaks around the heating coil in the bottom of the tank.

To make things worse, the water leaks out right onto the wiring for the machine and forms a nice puddle. And although I’m stupid enough to bypass what is essentially a safety mechanism, running electric equipment that’s sitting in a pool of water seems like a bad idea. At this point, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’m thinking of getting some high-temp gaskets to install at the heating element outlets, to see if I can stop the leak. Or, I could return it to the thrift shop. There’s a good return policy on electronics, and this doesn’t work when you just plug it in. I’m undecided. Care to weigh in? Can you tell that I really, really want this to work? 🙂

Recent Thrifted Finds

I wanted to share a few of my recent thrifted finds. REOlistic and I have a standing weekly thrift-shopping date, which has really brought back my thrifty mojo!

Desktop Organizer

Flower Pin and Earrings

Western Print (I love the colors in this)

Paint by numbers? Love these!

I also found a vintage espresso maker, but I’m in the midst of troubleshooting a few problems with it. We’ll see how it goes! I also love to thrift sewing notions and vintage patterns. And I’m always on the lookout for old sewing books, cool paintings, lamps, and well-designed furniture. Anything else I should add to the list?

House Tour – Master Bedroom Preview

I’ve been slowly taking photos of our house for a house tour, and I am quickly learning that I have a lot to learn about photography. The lighting in our house seems fine in real life, but as soon as I try to take photos, everything is screwy! So progress on the house tour is very, very slow. Here’s a not-perfect preview of our master bedroom.

The wall color is a pale, dusty blue. I love the mix of the ornate prints, sequined pillow, and graphic bedding (I can’t resist ’60’s-style Americana). I also really like our bedside tables. I’m not crazy about the lighting. I love the lamp on the left, but I think the shade is a bit small. The lamp on the right is kind of boring and the shade doesn’t fit tightly, so it’s always askew. I’m planning to make an upholstered headboard out of some dusty tan cotton velvet I bought for that purpose. And there’s more to this room; once I can figure out this photo thing, I’ll show you the rest.

Honestly, I have so many questions. Why are our pillows so much wrinklier than the photos I see in other blogs? Where do people put their Kleenex (or are we the only ones with allergies)? Where does the bedtime reading live? Am I just too much of a realist? I mean, I’m willing to tidy up before taking a photo, but I’m not going to move stuff that is actually there all of the time! Why does the room look so different in photos than it does in real life? Those are the mysteries of my time. Or at least, of this morning.

Meal Planning Tip – Weeknight Chicken Soup

A couple of weeks into my adventures in meal planning, I’ve found something that really works for me, and I want to share it! It’s super easy, but I’m stoked about it! 🙂 Basically, you make soup and end up with leftover shredded chicken (or turkey) – two meals in one! Here’s how it works:

• Start with defrosted chicken and remove the skin and any visible fat.

• Toss the chicken in a pot and add some flavorings. Just rinse the flavorings and add them in. There’s no need to chop them up, as long as the fit in the pot. Here are some ideas: carrot (1-2), celery (1-2 stalks), onion (1/4-1/2), bay leaves (2), garlic (as much as you like), fresh herbs (1 small sprig), salt, and pepper.

• Cover with water. If you are using boneless cuts, they’ll pack in pretty tightly and you’ll need a few inches of water above the chicken to have enough for soup. If you’re using bone-in cuts, they have more open area, so you may be able to just cover them with water.

• Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Leave the lid ajar and turn the heat down to the lowest simmer you can get – you just barely want a few gentle bubbles.

• Cook the chicken until it’s done – the cooking time varies a lot, but it’s pretty quick (typically less than half an hour unless you’re using really thick cuts).

• Dump the pot (slowly!) into a strainer set over a clean bowl. You’ll have stock in the bowl and chicken/cooked veggies in the strainer.

• Pick out the chicken and discard the other stuff (which won’t have much flavor left after cooking). At this point, set aside the chicken you want to use for soup and freeze or refrigerate the rest for later use!

• Put the stock back in the pot, add all the rest of your soup ingredients, and cook until everything’s almost done. Add the chicken back in at the end to heat up. Here are a couple of good options: (1) sliced mushrooms, frozen corn, canned hominy; and (2) chopped collard greens, diced sweet potatoes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. I sometimes add unsweetened soy milk to the stock to make a creamy soup.

Creamy Chicken-Veggie Soup (with Frank's Red Hot)

I love this technique because it’s quick and easy, and makes a healthy dinner with leftover chicken, which I then use in curry, pasta, tacos…the possibilities are endless!

Taco! Chicken, spinach, onions, Cotija, sour cream, mustard, yum.

If you have any good tips for easy meals that make good leftovers, please let me know!

Kitchen Ceiling Redo: Before and After

A couple of days ago, I talked about the process of redoing our kitchen ceiling. I finally got some decent lighting to take “after” photos. Here’s how the ceiling looked before, and how it looks today.

John and I love the wood beams and never seriously considered painting them. Our house is in the foothills and has a bit of a rustic, cabin-y feel, so the wood beams fit in really well with the house. We also think they add a lot of character, which we didn’t want to (literally) white-wash away. You can see from the before and after photos that we did remove and/or paint a lot of dark wood trim, though!

Here was the process for the ceiling redo: we removed the fluorescent light fixtures, removed all the trim and wood paneling, painted the panels white, removed the framing for the drop ceiling over the old fluorescent fixtures, reinstalled the paneling and trim, put in conduit to conceal the wiring, and installed new track lights. Phew, it makes me tired just thinking about all that work! The good news is that our only costs were paint, conduit, and the new lighting. Here are some closer views of the way we ran the conduit:

What do you think? Big improvement, right? Would you have painted the beams? Is the exposed conduit too industrial, or does it add a touch of what I like to call “miner cabin chic?”

Redoing Our Kitchen Ceiling and Lighting

I’d like to present this “before” picture of our kitchen without comment.

Yeah. There was a lot to tackle. I’d love to say that this was the original 1979 kitchen, but the previous owner had actually attempted some upgrades. Faux granite sink, check. Improperly installed microwave, check. But the worst part was original: the ceiling and light fixtures. The ceiling was all dark wood paneling, with horrible fluorescent lighting that made a headache-inducing buzzing sound.

The fluorescent fixtures were mounted on a drop panel that looked like the other wood panels, but was about four inches lower, forming a soffit of sorts to conceal the wiring. This panel (and the wiring) presented a lot of problems. We wanted to raise the panel to the height of the others for aesthetic reasons, but we weren’t sure how to tackle the wiring. Here’s an embarrassingly staged photo of me, showing the framing above the drop panel along with the wiring. The wiring is routed through the beam in the upper right corner of the photo, so there’s no easy way to move it.

We had an electrician come out and look at it; his quote was over $500 and would have left us with open walls needing repair. We decided we would definitely tackle the project ourselves, but we’re no electrical experts. We needed a solution that would look good, but was easy enough that we could do it ourselves and be confident it was done right. Well, right enough that our house wouldn’t burn down from faulty wiring. Since I love industrial design, I came up with the idea of leaving the wiring exposed, but putting it in conduit. It ended up working fabulously well, if I do say so myself. First, we removed the framing behind the drop panel. John had the brilliant idea to reuse all the panels, and just paint them white. We even saved and reused all the trim! It saved us a ton of money and effort over trying to replace them with something else.

Painting the panels white had the added effect of highlighting the dark wood beams, making them look like more of an architectural feature. You can see the holes from the previous light fixtures, but those will be covered by the new track lights. We decided that one row of track lights wasn’t going to be enough to make our kitchen nice and bright, so we installed two. We had to drill perpendicularly through another beam so we could run new wiring to a second section of our ceiling. Here’s how the conduit looks:

We painted the conduit and boxes to match the ceiling and beam, so they blend in pretty well. And they have the nice, clean, utilitarian look that I love. I couldn’t take any “after” photos tonight because I can’t photograph the track light when it’s on, and it’s too dark to get a good photo, so that will have to wait for tomorrow. Of all the projects we’ve done, I feel especially proud of this one. Once we came up with the idea, it was cheap, it was pretty easy, and I think it makes a huge improvement!