Overstock.com Rug Fail

Well, I was brimming over with optimism about my kitchen rug order from Overstock.com. In hindsight, it was doomed to failure. I have difficulty making aesthetically or tactilely-important purchases without seeing/touching them first. Things like books, electronics, and music I have no problem with. But the rugs were a bit of a stretch. Nevertheless, I was excited. The rugs shipped promptly and arrived undamaged. I opened the Heritage Bakhtiari rug first because, I’ll admit, it was already my favorite. I unrolled it onto its spot on the kitchen floor and stepped back to give it an admiring look. It looked good. But wait. There was a spot of…something….

Dude! There were totally obvious manufacturing defects! It was missing pile in several spots like the one above! I couldn’t believe it! I was truly astonished at the apparent total lack of quality control by the rug manufacturer and/or Overstock. When I took a closer look I noticed that, aside from the damage, the rug colors were really uneven and the fibers were coarse and fraying. You can sort of see what I mean in the photo above – look at the blue color and you can see white-ish patches in it. The rug that will not be named was undamaged – but similarly poor quality – and just didn’t look right in the kitchen.

Anyway, through my profanity-laced rant tears of disappointment, I managed to undertake the very easy return process. I got a full refund, including shipping (allegedly – it hasn’t posted to my account yet). Packaging the rugs back up was the biggest hassle, and John was nice enough to do that. I was disappointed in the whole experience. My naive optimism was crushed. There are only a few things that can cheer me up under these circumstances. Watching/listening to Mark Knopfler is one. Check out around 4:38, and keep in mind that he doesn’t use a pick.

Seriously, our stupid Comcast Crapfinity internet went out multiple times when I was writing this post, so naturally I was trying to watch this video, which kept stopping and reloading. I’m seriously going to change cable internet providers. Oh, wait…I don’t have any other cable internet providers to choose from. Thanks, deregulation.

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Chicken Math – How Much Meat is in a Whole Chicken?

In my turkey math post, I found that 60% of a whole turkey is meat parts. Naturally, I had to know if a chicken had the same composition.

I bought a 4.2-pound chicken for $0.76 per pound on sale, at a total cost of $3.20. Chicken thighs and legs usually cost about $1.30 per pound in my local stores. The price for boneless/skinless chicken breasts ranges widely, but I think I pay an average of about $4.00 per pound. Anyway, when I cut up the chicken, here’s what I got:

24%: 1.0 pounds of leg and thigh (skin on/bone in)
07%: 0.3 pounds of wings (skin on/bone in)
31%: 1.3 pounds of breast (skinless/boneless)
24%: 1.0 pounds of useful carcass (all skin and excess fat removed)
14%: 0.6 pounds of skin and waste

So, 62% of the chicken was meat parts. Considering measurement error, whole chickens and whole turkeys have about the same proportion of meat to waste. I’m kind of surprised. I thought the turkey would have proportionately more meat, since the turkey’s breasts and thighs seem relatively bigger than the chicken’s. As with the turkey, I actually use the carcass for stock, so it doesn’t go to waste.

Let’s evaluate the cost. Since I don’t ever buy chicken wings, I’m going to ignore them. So, I paid $3.20 for 1.0 pounds of leg/thigh and 1.3 pounds of breast meat. If I had bought that meat as parts at the local prices I mentioned above, I would have paid $1.30 for the legs and thighs, and $5.20 for the breasts, for a total of $6.50. Cutting up the chicken myself saved me $3.30. But, I wouldn’t have saved any money if the whole chicken had been priced at $1.55 per pound.

Conclusions:
1. It’s not worth it to me to cut up a chicken for parts. I’ll try to stock up on whole chickens when they’re less than $1 per pound, but I’ll probably just cook the chickens whole (either in broth or by roasting).
3. I’m not going to worry so much about buying chicken legs and thighs when they’re on sale. They’re still a pretty good deal at $1.30 per pound.
4. I’m going to be extra diligent about buying chicken breasts when they’re on sale, since they’re relatively expensive. If I can’t get them on sale, I’ll just cook a whole chicken.
5. It’s worth it to me to cut up a turkey for parts. Although it’s a bigger project to cut up a turkey than a chicken, it doesn’t take that much longer, and I get 3.5 times more meat from a turkey than from a chicken.
6. I have an odd desire to quantitatively analyze poultry economics, but I think it might now be exhausted. 🙂

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Kitchen Rug Search

I’ve been trying to find a replacement for our kitchen rug for a while now. We need a rug to protect our wood floors around the sink and stove, but because it’s a high-mess area, any rug has to be pretty food-spill-friendly. The current rug is a yard sale find that my Mom gave me, and although it’s served us very well for the last five years, it’s just stained and nasty. The formerly-white fringe has been especially hard-hit.

One of the challenges is that we have a pretty bold rug under our dining table, which is also in the kitchen. I actually like the fringe on this one! The new rug has to look good next to this one without being “matchy”.

The first option we considered for a new kitchen rug is the 100% polyester Room Essentials Circle Rug from Target.

There were a couple of problems with the Target rug. First, like other reviewers noted, the thing is super cheap-looking (and feeling). It was on clearance at our local store for $40, marked down from the current web price of $69.99. I would NEVER have paid that much for this rug. But, I like the design and I would have been willing to deal with the poor quality. Unfortunately, John and I agreed that this rug was too light to deal with our spills and would soon be destroyed by our messy ways. I also felt that it was a little too graphic and didn’t provide enough aesthetic contrast with the dining-table rug. I like the colors, though. By the way, I swear that I recently saw a high-end rug that directly “inspired” this design (naturally, I can’t find it anywhere)!

After doing nothing for a few weeks, I was finally motivated to skulk around on Overstock the other day and found a couple of likely candidates. I was hemming and hawing over which one would be best when John said, “why don’t we just order both?” Words of wisdom. So, I ordered the lovely Heritage Bakhtiari Rug (4′ x 6′) . I love the traditional look of this rug, and I think the colors and pattern are subtle enough to work well with our dining-table rug.

I also ordered the ridiculously-named Handmade Rodeo Drive Deco Splash Beige Wool Rug (3’6 x 5’6). I seriously love the idea of putting a splash-print rug in an area where it will be routinely subjected to food and water splashes. I’m not sure this rug will work with the dining-table rug, though. We’ll see.

Both rugs are 100% wool, which I like because I have found that wool rugs are durable, easy to clean, and don’t hold stains too badly. We have had an old version of the Ikea Andrea Rug in yellow-green in our living room for a couple of years, and it’s been spilled on a LOT and still looks brand new.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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? 🙂

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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?

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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.

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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!

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