Wednesday, December 28, 2016

PAIIIIIIIIINT!

Finally, finally, finally, we are painting the walls! The first coat of primer went up today. (Yes, this is what I do with my vacation time.) Since it's in a wet environment, we used Kilz to resist moisture and mildew.

This morning

This afternoon
My shoulders are pretty sore from painting the ceiling, and as usual I'm pretty covered in paint. So now, time for a long shower and a nap!

So we can be clean and awake for the next night of Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

White Christmas

I guess the endless drywall mudding and sanding has an up-side - we get a white Christmas, whether it snows or not. Inside the house.

At least I know Brett's going to be cute when he goes gray?
Coat #2 is now sanded. We're touching up spots that need a little more work, to be followed by... you guessed it... more sanding. But that should be the end of it. I hope. So I saw, let it snow!

She's dreaming of a white Christmas. Or squirrels. Probably squirrels.



Sunday, December 11, 2016

Snow!

It doesn't snow often here, but when it does, it's really beautiful. And the puppies frolic!


Video credit to Aunty Min's Specialized Pet Care.





Good thing we have plenty of inside house projects to keep us warm.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Centered on Thankfulness

We went to visit family this Thanksgiving. And while I normally like change and trying new things (if you come to my house for dinner, there's a 90% chance you'll be eating a recipe I'm trying for the first time, much to my husband's consternation), I love the traditions of Thanksgiving. My parents host, and my mother cooks a big classic  dinner. And every year, my job is to decorate the table and make the centerpiece.

This year, I wanted to elevate simple, natural materials in the colors of the season. I used various colors of lentils and beans in glass vessels, and dressed them up with twine and ribbon. Casual materials like a wicker basket and containers with clean lines keep the feeling a little modern and laid-back. Then a little sparkle - a heap of LED-lit gold, white, and red flower garlands, and single metallic gold ribbon to tie everything together - makes it festive.

Buffet centerpiece

Shot/cordial glasses and champagne flutes, with stripes of green, red, and yellow lentils and white beans.
The finished table
And while we couldn't bring Hermione with us on this trip, I'm especially thankful for her this time of year - because it's her birthday! (She's 3!) She's our little Thanksgiving gift, and we're so grateful to have this fierce little fluff-ball in our family.

We love you, birthday girl!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

How to Mud a Cathedral Ceiling

We've been taping and mudding the drywall in the new bathroom. It's really exciting to feel like we're getting close to having a major piece of the room finished!

YouTube was our friend in honing our technique for the walls and corners, but we had one big challenge we couldn't find specific guidance for. We have a cathedral ceiling. And framing doesn't actually come to a point; there's a flat beam at the highest part of the ceiling. But we could just leave it flat, because all throughout the rest of the second floor it comes to a sharp point. So we had to create the angle by hand.

That big strip with no drywall? Yeah. That's the flat beam. And somehow it's going to look pointy with nothing but drywall mud and dreams.

Brett thought about a lot of possible solutions, and decided on using a flexible metal corner to create the point.


We started by testing a short piece. We dry-fit it to get the angle right. Once it was the right shape, we moistened the tape to make it adhere better. Then we applied mud to the ceiling, put the corner in place, and smoothed everything out until the mud wasn't too thick and the corner stayed put. 


The short piece worked like a charm, and made the nice sharp point we were looking for. So we decided to go for it on the rest of the ceiling.


The larger scale proved to be more problematic. First, it was hard to get the long metal corner straight. The flexibility that made it fit so well also made it twist. So we did a lot of holding it up, taking it down, bending it back the other way, and holding it up again. (No gym arm-toning exercises for me!)

Then, once we had the whole piece up, its weight kept pulling it away from the ceiling. We ended up having to tack in a couple of brad nails to hold it while the mud dried. Even so, I think Brett spent the whole night listening for a huge crash.


But happily, no crash was forthcoming. Success! Now we just have to sand it... and add a second coat... and sand it again.... oh boy.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Joy in Mudville

Dear drywall professionals,

We tried to hire you to tape and mud for us. Truly, we did. Although both of us are avid DIY-ers, happy to lay floors, install tile, hang drywall, demolish drywall, and paint everything that will hold still, we did not want to do this ourselves. It's a mess. It takes forever. It's a horrible mess. It takes a lot of experience to do a really good job. And did I mention that it's a gigantic, hideous mess?

But since you were too busy, too expensive, or just plain not interested in our tiny project, here we are. Doing it ourselves. Like we do.

Pray for us,
A very messy couple


But despite this initial setback, there is indeed joy in mudville. Our first coat of mud is up, and to be honest, it wasn't that bad. Of course, that's because we haven't started the really messy bit yet... the sanding. Oh, the sanding.



And although we did this ourselves, we were not alone. Our good friends, people on YouTube who actually know what they're doing, were invaluable in helping us figure out the best techniques and materials.This was one of our favorites:


And of course, we're grateful for our favorite helper, who keeps us sane when she's not busy dipping her tail in the dirty water bucket.



Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Bulb a Day Keeps the Vampires Away

Happy Halloween! We're keeping our house safe from the little vampires soon to be patrolling the neighborhood with a garden bed full of garlic.

Garlic overwinters well, especially in our temperate climate. Planting it in late October gives it time to establish its root system before winter sets in, and then the tops will start growing quickly in spring.

I really love hard neck garlic, but Brett likes soft neck, so we planted both. (Soft neck is like what you get at the grocery store, with large cloves surrounding small cloves; hard neck garlic has a stiff central stem that all the cloves grow around.)

Cloves broken apart and ready for planting. Hard neck is in the paper bag, soft neck in the basket.


I prefer hard neck because it often has a more pungent flavor, and because it will grow scapes.
 
If you've never had garlic scapes - the curly tops of hard-neck garlic with a small, bulb-like bud - you are really missing out. They have a soft, mild garlicky flavor and are amazing sauteed in a little oil with some salt. If you aren't growing your own, keep an eye out at your local farmer's markets in spring; the season is short and I've never seen them in a grocery store.

To plant, we broke apart the individual cloves and picked out the largest ones to use. I planted them an inch deep, about 4-6 inches apart.

Take that, vamps!

Now we cover them over, mulch, and wait until spring to harvest and cure.

We all like to have something to sink our fangs into.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

I'm in Love with a Stripper

A homemade wallpaper stripper, that is. (Sorry, T-Pain.)

Before mudding and painting the upstairs drywall, we needed to remove an old wallpaper border that wrapped around the bedroom. I've heard all kinds of horror stories about removing wallpaper, so suffice it to say I was not looking forward to this task.



But, in a strange and unaccustomed reversal from our usual projects, this turned out to be much easier than anticipated. 

The reason? Fabric softener.

Fabric softener is the secret ingredient in homemade wallpaper stripper. A 50/50 mix of fabric softener (unscented, please) and water worked like a charm for us. Apparently, the fabric softener stops the water from evaporating as quickly, so it can soak the old adhesive more effectively.

I put the mixture in a spray bottle, sprayed down the border, wiped up any excess drips so the water didn't damage the drywall, and then walked away for 15 minutes. Then I could slide a scraper under an edge, and the whole strip came away cleanly! There were some spots of old adhesive and backing left behind, but those came up with another spritz and scrape. 



As you can see from the damage here, the stripper really made a difference - even a test scrape at the dry wallpaper took some drywall with it. And we really had to wait the whole 15 minutes to get the full benefit.


A wallpaper-free wall! It's really satisfying to see the clean strip where it peeled off so nicely. Up next: a fresh coat of paint.

As an added bonus, in order to reach the border all the way around the room, we had to get rid of all the drywall and wood scraps that have been piling up over the last couple months. Just having all that floor space freed up makes me feel one step closer to done!

Hermione lying down on the job.













Friday, October 7, 2016

Spiced Pears

Spiced pears kick-started my love of canning. Years ago, I was at the house of a friend of a friend who produced most of her own food. She had these glorious shelves of gem-like food in mason jars, waiting for winter. While we chatted, she opened up a special treat - a jar of pears in spiced heavy syrup. They were clove-y and cinnamon-y, sweet and tangy - a perfect treat on a cold day.

I was so taken that I asked for the recipe on the spot. She pointed me to what has become my canning and preserving bible, the classic Putting Food By. But although I've used many recipes from that book, I've never actually made the spiced pears.

So when our neighbors offered us some excess pears from their tree this year, I knew just what I wanted to do with them.

Pears simmer in a spice-infused brine.
I read somewhere that the best way to core a pear is with a melon baller. Fact check: this does work and produces attractive results. Related fact: I have pear guts in my hair, I think I've developed carpal tunnel syndrome, and I never want to see a melon baller again.

Just like I remember!
The recipe says these are pretty enough to win you a blue ribbon at the fair. As far as presentation goes, let's just say mine... won't. But they are delicious!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Elegy for a Drywall Screw


Once upon a late night dreary, though we were feeling weak and weary
We had a quaint and curious notion to improve our second floor -
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of my husband gently snapping, screwing drywall past the bedroom door.
'Tis the last piece, I muttered, snapped behind the bedroom door;
Only this last piece, then nothing more.

Ah, distinctly I remember a chill worse than December
As I heard the muffled shouting and the curses that he swore;
Anxiously I called upstairs - was everything okay up there?
Did something need to be repaired - repaired up on the second floor?
With the very final piece of drywall to install up on the second floor?
Silence there and nothing more.

Presently my man appeared; looking worse than I had feared
"Love," said he, "my darling, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was drilling, and that last piece was so thrilling,
That I put a screw into the drainpipe that runs to the second floor.
We'll have to call the plumber - though our budget will be sore -
We must do this, or nothing more.

Now the drywall, though it's fitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
Unfinished and unmoving in the empty second floor;
And unless the plumber calls to tell us how to save our walls,

By fixing up the punctured drain pipe that we tore
Will we ever finish the walls upon our second floor?
Quoth my nightmares, "Nevermore!"

In the immortal words of the Bard: oops.


The closest thing we have to a raven.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Cake!

The saga of the plum, installment #2.

So you've dried some plums for prunes, but you still have more. Well, you've earned some dessert, so it's time for cake!

There's a famous plum cake that is equal parts easy and delicious. It was published by Marian Burros in the New York Times in 1983, and was so popular that they reprinted it every year until the mid-90s. I used the recipe as reprinted and with comments as Purple Plum Torte on Smitten Kitchen. You'll find all the details there. But in short:

I mixed up the batter - it seriously only has 5 ingredients. Then I poured it into my trusty springform. 



Then gently press halved plums into the top, cut-side down. 



Then I sprinkled the top with lemon juice, followed by cinnamon and sugar. Smitten Kitchen points out that the 1 Tbsp of cinnamon called for in the Times was a misprint, and the topping was only supposed to include 1 tsp. But I have something of a cinnamon addiction, so I took the mistake as permission to heap on as much as I wanted. 


Bake, let it cool, then unmold. Enjoy the delicious jammy pockets of plummy goodness that have soaked into the cake! And if you can't finish it all, it keeps well and even gets better the second day. 


Yum!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Put Him in the Wall

If Brett gives me sass, I put him in the wall. Literally.



Yes, this is a long-awaited update on my very favorite childhood fantasy feature! This space is going to be hidden behind a bookshelf, but it's still going to be usable for storage. So we're drywalling inside the wall. It's a whole trippy new perspective on the universe.


It will be nice to have this as a finished space, both for any stuff we keep in there and/or so it's comfortable for me to hide in when I'm introverting. And definitely don't accept any casks of amontillado in our house.

Hermione is always welcome to come in, though. It is her house, after all.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Lavender Blue, Lavender Green

That's actually a somewhat odd refrain for a song, since as far as I know, lavender is pretty much always purple.

Or at least, the brand new lavender hedge in our garden will be!

On a whim, I talked Brett into taking me to the garden store over Labor Day weekend. It's our anniversary, so I guess he was more prepared to indulge me in far too much time and money spent cooing over various plants and complaining about the current sorry state of our yard.

We've wanted to plant lavender along the rock raised beds for a long time. It will look gorgeous against the stone, and add color and scent to the vegetable garden. It's a crop in its own right. Plus, lavender attracts bees and pollinators. I've seen quite a bit of it around, so I assume it does well here although it's not as dry and sandy as it prefers.

I wandered over to the lavender plants... just to look, of course!... right. One of the staff members helped us figure out which variety would be best for us, and then let us know that it was all on sale for 40% off. Who could resist? We bought an entire flat of 'Grosso' lavender.


We spaced them about 2 feet apart all the way along the wall. The plants are small now, but when they're full grown they'll fill in most of the gaps between them.

Lavender likes a lot of drainage, and our soil tends towards a heavier clay. So to improve drainage and keep weeds down, I mulched with pea gravel.


Schlepping around literal bags of rocks is tiring, but at least the cool fall weather is perfect for hot, sweaty outdoor work. I love fall!

And so does Hermie. 
I can't wait to watch the lavender fill in.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Plum Job

I promised some posts on what we were doing with our fruit. This year, I tried a couple new things with plums. Both turned out really well, if I do say so myself. (And I do. So there.)

I don't know the exact variety that's growing in our yard, but it looks like some kind of Italian prune plum - small, oblong, and freestone. They grow like crazy around here, and there's a point every summer where people seem to start getting a little overwhelmed about what to do with them all. My favorite kind of problem to have!

First up, super easy (but kinda slow and messy) - dried plums. (Don't call them prunes in front of my husband, or he'll feel old and refuse to eat them.)

Halve or quarter the plums, discarding the pits. The smaller the section, the faster the drying time, and the smaller and chewier the final product.

"Pop" the sections by putting your thumb on the roundest part of the outside and pushing up - basically turning the plum inside-out. The Almighty Internet tells me that this helps them to dry faster, and I figured it couldn't do any harm, so I went with it. I don't know how helpful it actually was.

I don't have a dehydrator, and let's be honest, you probably don't either. No problem! We both have ovens. Set the oven to 135F or the lowest it will go - ours won't work below 170, and everything turned out fine. I saw some sources recommending leaving the door cracked with a fan pointing in to speed drying. However, thanks to the culinary and kitchen design wisdom of my mother, my oven has a convection setting. So we just used that.

Put the plum sections on a Silat or parchment lined baking sheet, or on a tray above a baking sheet for better air circulation. Pop them in the oven.

Not gonna lie, posting this picture makes me identify a little with Georgia O'Keeffe.
Now the hard part - waiting! My trays took about 8 hours to dry. I saw estimates that ranged anywhere from 6 to 36 hours, depending on your methods, so use your judgement. Either way, I highly recommend not getting overexcited and starting this project at 5pm. Not that I would ever do such a thing.

Plum perfect! 
Drying concentrates the sugars, so the dried plums will taste sweeter than fresh. Let your prunes cool, put them in an airtight container in the fridge, and enjoy a sweet healthy snack that will make everyone else's afternoon yogurt feel jealous. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Harvest Time!

The fruit trees are ripe! Our kitchen is a cornucopia of pears, apples, and plums.
 





















So far, we've made apple cider, canned spiced pears, and plum cake! Individual posts on storing your bounty soon.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Peachy Keen

I haven't posted in a couple weeks because we've been out enjoying the summer. Our peach tree is absolutely exploding with peaches, and the apples, blackberries, and plums are ripening.



We want to share the bounty, so every year around this time we have a party and make peach fritters.  They are SO yummy! And even if you've never made doughnuts before, they're not hard at all. Our go-to recipe is from A Baker's Field Guide to Doughnuts. The sour cream batter makes them moist and fluffy, and they're drizzled with a brown sugar glaze when they're piping hot right out of the fryer.

The fritters got eaten too fast for us to take a picture, so here's a picture of the book instead. You're welcome.
After all that eating, of course you have to go for a walk.


Then you're naturally too exhausted to do any work.

Life is hard.

In all seriousness though, it is important to us to try to balance spending time working on the house  with slowing down to just enjoy what's going on around us. We haven't gotten in as much hiking, kayaking, or crabbing this summer as we have in other years, but hopefully this is the last summer we'll have such all-consuming projects going on.

Back to work!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

High and Drywall

Bit by bit, we're getting the drywall up. Right angles are something of a rarity around here, so takes extra time to wrangle each piece into just the right shape. Although it's slow going, it's exciting to see finished surfaces starting to appear!

Hermione learning how to hang drywall. She'll be available for hire soon.

One wall done! Too bad this was the easy one...
This is how I'm going to feel when the drywall is done!