Saturday Supper: Easy Huevos Rancheros

I've never been to Mexico and I can't claim any expertise when it comes to Mexican cooking. All I know is that we had this for breakfast yesterday and we're kind of dying to have it again. Maybe for dinner today.

Easy Huevos Rancheros
 serves 4

for the beans
1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 t. canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 t. cumin
1/4 t. cayenne
1 T. jalapeno, minced
1 t. garlic, minced
1/2 c. chicken stock
3 T. cilantro, chopped
salt to taste

for the eggs
4 corn tortillas
4 eggs
4 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
chopped tomatoes
sour cream

cook the beans
1. In a medium saucepan combine oil, onion and garlic and sautee until onions are translucent

2. Add beans, pepper, cumin, cayenne, jalapeno and chicken stock, cook until warm throughout and liquid is reduced. Add cilantro and remove from heat

cook the eggs
1. while the beans are cooking and working with one serving at a time, place a tortilla in a sautee pan coated with non-stick spray. When it's just browned, flip the tortilla and sprinkle with 1/2 oz. of cheese

2. Crack one egg in the center of the cheese covered tortilla. When the egg is half-set and the edges are starting to cook, flip the egg and tortilla carefully with a spatula

3. Cook with the egg side down a few minutes and invert on a plate, sprinkle with another 1/2 oz. of cheese

4. Repeate with remaining eggs and serve with chopped tomatoes, warm bean mixture, guacamole and sour cream

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We Love this Attention

It's been hot this week and while we're usually total scrooges with the a/c (and heat) I really would have liked to have cranked up the cool air these past few nights. But there's one little issue we didn't plan for - we've got 4 wide open ducts in the basement so we'd just be dumping our cool air down there and sucking in sawdust filled air in return. You know that one week at the end of July in Maine when sleeping is uncomfortable even with a fan? That's what it's felt like here. We've covered over the open ducts now and just thought we'd throw that little tip out there for anyone else thinking of tearing apart 1/3 of their home this summer. And if you don't know what  August in Maine feels like, I highly recommend trying it out this summer. It's amazing. Especially if you're from the South.

Oh and another tip on a completely unrelated note: waaaay over budget for your permits 'cause if you're expecting $400 and they're $1200 you'll be stuck wondering if you're going to have to go without a shower door just so you can actually get that second shower.

And moving on to progress. Days 6 and 7 involved more framing, more plumbing and the beginnings of pocket door kit installation. And this morning, on Day 8 the county inspector stopped by and gave our sewer plumbing a thumbs up. I think there's some concrete mixing and floor repairing going on down there right now.

Here are a few photos from last night. From the corner of the den where we not have framing on the left for the built-ins (not shown) and the hall closet.
In the corner of the den at the base of the stairs we have the pantry framed with the pocket door assembly in place.
This is from the same spot facing in the opposite direction, down the hall to what will be the bath on the right and bedroom on the left. The washer and dryer will be in a closet at the end of the hall.
The is just the opposite side of the hall. You can see the hall closet on the right and just past that the entry to the bedroom.
From where the washer and dryer will live, looking down the hall. The door to the bath will be just to the left of this photo and the door to the bedroom to the right.
And this is something pretty cool - they ran a chalk line across the ceiling and are shaving down joists that extend a touch more than others so that the ceiling is perfectly level. That kind of attention to detail is just my style.
Today after the sewer inspection is electrical and finishing up the pocket door assemblies. I walked through with the foreman this morning and figured out exactly where I want every light switch and outlet. I'm glad these guys are really paying attention to the stuff we obsess over. I'm not sure if they're this attentive to every one of their customers or just the ones who are so obviously into the whole process. We're really loving the attention - attention to detail, attention to us. Totally money well spent so far. All our fingers and toes are crossed that everything continues to go this well.

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Just in Time for Easter

I ordered a wreath from Etsy seller Elegant Holidays last week and it arrived just in time for Easter and for our shocking hot pink azalea bush to bloom for a photo.
I was never much of a faux-wreath person before this year's Christmas wreath and I never though to put anything up after I took our giant pine cone wreath down a few weeks ago. But I was out for a walk with Feeney and spotted a house with a pink wreath that looked like it was made from faux cherry blossoms. The house wasn't anything special, but the wreath made it look amazing. So I set out to find blossoms to make my own wreath. And when an etsy search brought up this funky tulip wreath, it had to be mine. I couldn't find reasonably priced small tulip blossoms to make my own and apparently the seller couldn't either. She scrounged up the last of her pink stock to make this one for me. And for that I'm super grateful.
I've only had it up for a week but the temps are hitting the high 80's during the day and I'm starting to think it's just a little bit too hot to have such obviously spring flowers on the door. I just don't want to be one of those people who has the wrong wreath up. And by "those people" I mean our neighbors who've had their faux Christmas wreath up for 18 months and counting.

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Building Pockets

Day 4 and 5 consisted of framing, replacing the upper stairs and landing and lots of discussions about the pantry closet at the base of the stairs.

When we re-used perfectly nice discarded stairs from S's parents' summer house (the stairs blocked a window at their house so they changed the run on the new stairs), we lost about 6" of space at the base of the stairs because the run was slightly longer than our original stairs. This wouldn't have been a problem if I hadn't already planned that the right-hand wall of the pantry at the base of the stairs would be for my sewing nook - and my 4' wide sewing table and shelves. A 4' wide sewing table means that the wall has to be at least 48" wide, which means that the closet needs to be 48" deep, plus room for framing. When we laid out a couple 2x3's on the floor to see how much space that would leave at the bottom of the stairs, we knew we had a problem: the new, longer stairs meant there wasn't enough space to stand at the base of the stairs and open a swinging door.

Yes, I could have put my sewing table elsewhere, but that's kind of like asking for a puppy for Christmas when you're 10 years old and getting a pink hairdryer. You just never use the hairdryer and eventually you go out and get yourself your own damn puppy. I'd never be happy with the substitution and eventually we'd be tearing down a wall to make my table fit. So dramatic.

Thankfully our contractor came up with a good solution - build a pocket door for the pantry entrance, bringing the grand total for pocket doors to four. It will take up a little bit of pantry space, but with no need for extra swinging door clearance, I'll be able to get my 4' deep wall.
Basically all that stuff in the photo above is in our pantry, which extends to the right as far as the overhead bulkhead. It's pretty big. Hopefully big enough for all our kitchen stuff. We've got lots of stuff.

And these are the lovely stairs that caused all the drama, they really are a thousand times prettier than the old ones. I'm thinking of staining the runs to match our wood floors and painting the risers white.
The guys also started framing around the HVAC ducts that will be enclosed in our built-in shelves and cabinets.
And apparently there's a little brainstorming going on for how to move some ducts that are causing the ceiling height to be lower than the 6'4" required by the county.

This is how things are looking from the corner of the den today. All the walls are framed, the stairs are done and most of the underground plumbing is finished. I think next week will bring plumbing supply lines, electrical work and framing of interior walls.
Our task this weekend is to buy the shower fixtures, a vanity faucet and tile. We've chosen a toilet, but won't buy it until the last minute, just because we have no space to store a throne upstairs, not even pulled up to the dining room table.

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Saturday Supper: Baked Shells with White Sauce

We had a container of ricotta cheese that needed using this week and while I originally planned to use it to make pizza bites, we still have a huge bag full in the freezer. We've had stuffed baked shells on the menu for months, but our grocery store doesn't sell large shells, so we're kinda out of luck. This is our rendition of baked shells, using smaller shells.
And since I don't like any kind of cooked tomato, tomato sauce and catchup included, our version uses white sauce...from a jar. The whole thing is just super easy. And delicious.

Baked Shells with White Sauce
serves 6-8

1 - 13oz.package medium shells (I used barilla wheat), cooked slightly firmer than al dente
1 c. lowfat cottage cheese
1 - 15oz. container light ricotta cheese
1 egg
12 oz. shredded mozzarella, divided
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Pepper to taste
1 jar light alfredo sauce

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2. While pasta cooks, in a deep casserole dish combine 8oz of the mozzarella, all other cheeses, egg and spices

3. Add cooked pasta and mix well to fully coat shells

4. Spread alfredo sauce evenly on top of pasta mixture and top with remaining mozzarella

5. Bake uncovered at 350 for 45 minutes until bubbly. Allow to cool slightly before serving, serve warm

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No Air, No Water

As Jamie said yesterday, our basement reno is moving at breakneck speed and yesterday was no exception. We love it. The guys were here before 7:30 AM, which is a half hour before we all agreed was a reasonable start time. They have a key to the basement door, so we really don't care when they start work in the morning, we're just super impressed that they show up so early.

Day three was to be spray foam insulation day. We decided on spray foam after doing a bit of research on its waterproofing qualities and when I saw that the installation company used an eco foam that wouldn't have any off-gassing, we were sold. To optimize the waterproofing our contractor decided to spray the foam first before framing, this way the wood from the framing wouldn't touch inherently moist concrete and the foam would get into all the pores of the concrete.

While the older Russian guy continued to work on plumbing (side story: our contractor is from Russia and his crew is made up of 2 Russians and 2 Spanish-speaking guys, only the contractor and the Russian foreman speak English. It's all very cool since my dad works in Ukraine and S's dad speaks fluent Russian - the foreman even complimented S's dad on his Russian the other day saying he sounds like he learned in Russia as opposed to a language school in California. Plus, Russians are known for their tile work and we are beyond exited for our new custom tile shower.) Anyway, while the older Russian guy continued to work on plumbing the two Spanish-speaking guys worked on scraping old paint off the basement walls in preparation for the spray foam. Apparently the foam's waterproofing qualities are best when there is no paint on the walls, especially loose paint.

Once the paint was scraped the super colorful insulation guys (colorful language, not foam...) hooked their huge construction trailer up to our 240v. circuit breaker for the dryer and got to work spraying all the walls. At the end of the day the basement looked like this:
Even though they were only contracted the spray the concrete walls up to the sill, the insulation guys sprayed all the way up onto the sill to get things air tight. As one of the insulation guys said to me as they were leaving, "yes ma'am, ain't no cold air getting in there" to which I replied, "y'all did great work." Yes, y'all's have fully crept into this northern girl's vocabulary.

They even got all around the concrete window ledges. As the older Russian guy said, "no water." Awesome.
And in one final note, you can see in this photo where our old coffin of a sink and washer and dryer used to be, the layout of the new bathroom. The beam over on the right that is covered with foam is the far edge of the shower, the center pipe that looks purple, here, will be the center of the vanity. The white thing sticking out of the ground on the left is for the toilet and against the wall to the left will be a linen closet with sliding doors. The pocket door entry will be close to centered with the vanity. It's pretty amazing how this is all coming together so well and with so little interruption to the day-to-day use of the plumbing upstairs.
You can't see it yet, but we're even going to be able to keep the floor drain from our old basement, just repositioned so it's in the new washer and dryer closet. It will definitely be a plus if we ever have a burst pipe, water heater, etc. down here. Which reminds me, we should probably ask if we can put our water heater in a tray.

Next up, framing the walls and deciding how big to make our pantry closet! We're loving this speed.

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Don't Flush

While we were working, vanity shopping and generally not paying attention to the space underneath us, our basement transformation continued. Today the plumber informed me that he was cutting all the drain lines in the house and requested that I not run any water down the drains, or, um, flush. Good thing I work alone. But by the time his 12+ hour day was finished our plumbing went from this:
to this:
With a temporary drain from the upstairs for the night. The pipes sticking off to the left are for the new washer/dryer closet, and the floor is totally gone where our new vanity will be/old coffin of a sink was. This will make up our new plumbing:

This is the old stuff sitting out in the driveway:
And this is what our old sink looks like now: 
It was a cast concrete sink, who knew!? Unfortunately it was way too heavy to move, so the guys had to break it to get it away from the wall. Bummer.

On the other side of the basement we got new stairs, which S's dad removed from the basement at their weekend house this winter. They're only about two years old and will be much easier to match to the floor color with stain, rather than having to sand down the old stairs with their layers and layers of paint.

One of the guys drove to S's parents' house, picked up the stairs, got back here after 6pm and then installed them before leaving for the night. Color us impressed.

This is the view from the corner of the den tonight. New stairs, ceiling gone, more demolition done, random electrical wires hanging everywhere. Everything should be ready for spray foam insulation tomorrow morning.
Unfortunately, the guys wrapped our freezer in a couple of layers of plastic so it's going to be really hard for S to grab a frozen meal for lunch in the morning. We might need to sneak down and get some provisions for the kitchen freezer this weekend. Until then it's leftovers and cereal for dinner.

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I'll Wash My Hands in That

Day two started with a request that we procure the vanity by first thing tomorrow morning. We went back and forth on the utility sink issue and decided that we didn't "$1700 need" a utility sink. We'll be adding a hot water spigot outside and can rinse anything that needs a really deep sink in our driveway and we do have an extra deep kitchen sink that's a perfectly reasonable spot to clean paint brushes. So we switched gears to search for 30-inch wide solid-wood vanities, looking at Lowes, Ikea and several online retailers. The other day I had bookmarked this Lowes vanity:
And a search last night came up with this possible Ikea contender:
The Lowes option with a square-basin sink would cost between $425 and $525. The Ikea cabinet with the sink shown, $279. Both significantly less than the $1700 utility sink/kitchen cabinet option. So we took off for Ikea after work today to check out the vanity and their kitchen cabinets - still hoping that we could make the utility sink in a kitchen cabinet option work.

No go on that idea - Ikea does not recommend that you install its kitchen cabinets in bathrooms, they're not made to withstand moisture. With that bit of info we moved on to the bathroom sink section and I kind of fell hard for the actual sink portion of the vanity - it's huge. And when S said he didn't mind the cabinet after all but nixing from the photo online, I was pretty sure we'd found our sink. But to make sure we headed over to Lowes, where I wanted to compare actual sinks. It was really no comparison; the useable portion of this guy was much less and it's two inches shallower:
Plus reviews said it didn't drain well, where the Ikea sink was sloped to allow for proper draining. The floor model of a similar style cabinet was really not impressive, definitely not worth a couple hundred more dollars, that we could put toward faucets or tiles instead. So we drove back to Ikea, headed straight to aisle 12, bin 51, loaded Freden on the cart and found an agent to order our hollviken sink.
Done! I think the sink will work out well. At least we really hope it does. Now we just need to find a single hole faucet that matches the style we're going for. And we need to order a glass shower door, asap.

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We're Used to DIY Speed

I have about two minutes to write right now, so I'll keep it short. Demolition started at 7:50 this morning, 10 minutes ahead of schedule and when we went downstairs after work all the walls and floors were bare. That was expected. What we didn't expect was to see this in the middle of our old utility room:
The guys were so efficient with the demo that they were able to break the concrete floor and dig down to all our plumbing, including the floor drain, which I think is stuffed with a black plastic bag right now.
It was just one guy down there digging from about 11 am on. I thought I heard sounds of breaking concrete, but it was pretty quiet all afternoon. I guess he wasn't napping down there since he managed to also dig the entire length of the shower drain too. When S got home all he could say was, "I'm so glad I didn't try to do that myself." 
Note the new plumbing plans sketched out on the walls
When we left for work this morning (and by left I mean I went to my office in the sun room) the old den looked like this, looking into the utility room.
When we got home I stood in the same spot and saw this:
The whole place looks a whole lot bigger without any walls. Open floor plan anyone?
We're on the fence between a railing with simple spindles for the stairs or a solid angled wall where the top of the wall is the railing. I guess I'll just have to start another pinterest board!

We're also absolutely desperate for vanity advice. We want a deep laundry sink in a 24-30" wide cabinet and would prefer solid wood cabinetry. Problem is, we priced out a basic option and it came out to $1700. We want to keep it under $500. I'll write a whole post about it tomorrow, but an entire evening of vanity/kitchen sink/cabinet/sink/countertop shopping was more overwhelming than encouraging. And we need the sink now, or at least the dimensions so the rest of the plumbing trench can be dug. Yikes.

So there it is, day one. It was so productive that our heads are spinning; we're just used to DIY speed!

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Saturday Supper: Baked Coconut Shrimp w/ Sweet & Spicy Dipping Sauce

During one of my recent obsessive pinning sessions I came across a baked coconut shrimp recipe that S and I made a few months ago and loved. I drooled over the photos for a few minutes, checked to see that we had the ingredients, and decided to make them again for dinner. Aaaand they were every bit as delicious as I remember.
Baked Coconut Shrimp w/ Sweet & Spicy Dipping Sauce

for the shrimp
26 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 c. cornstarch
1 t. salt
1/2 t. ground red pepper *more to taste
3 egg whites
1 1/2 c. sweetened flaked coconut

for the dipping sauce
1/2 c. marmalade
4 t. rice wine vinegar
1/2 t. ground red pepper flakes *more to taste

for the shrimp
1. In a medium bowl combine cornstarch, salt and red pepper flakes, stir to combine

2. In a second medium bowl whisk egg whites until frothy

3. Place coconut in a third bowl

4. Coat a cookie sheet with non-stick spray. Preheat oven to 375 degrees

5. Working with one shrimp at a time, first coat it with cornstarch, knock excess off, dip in egg white and then roll in coconut. Place evenly spaced on the prepared cookie sheet

6. Lightly spray shrimp with cooking spray and bake at 375 for 20 minutes, turning half-way, if desired

for the dipping sauce

In a small bowl combine marmalade, rice wine vinegar and red pepper flakes, stir well to combine.

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No Turning Back

What's that in your kitchen window? Why, that's our shiny new building permit, fresh from city hall!
Our contractor just stopped by to drop off this outrageously expensive piece of paper. Let's just say the price for a similar permit has more than doubled in two years and is more than double the cost for a permit for an entire house in Maine, or probably in 95% of the country since the city we live in is sooo not the real world. Despite the outrageous price I'm just feeling super grateful that I wasn't the one to spend my entire morning at city hall, 'cause that's never not a hassle. Happy to hire-out wins this round!

Permit in window + demo scheduled to begin bright and early Monday morning = there no turning back now.

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We've Got Plans

The title says it all. Here's the first draft of the basement floor plan:
For the most part this is what our new basement will look like. When you walk down the stairs, which will be refinished even though I just painted them, you'll be facing our new pantry. And by pantry I mean the place where all our food and 75% of our pots, pans and cooking appliances live. We want the pantry to be wider and deeper than what's shown above so that my sewing table can be placed on the wall to its right. My spice rack that's currently in the stairwell will be on the inside of the pantry door.

In the den the east and south walls in this sketch will be covered with built-ins with cabinets on the bottom and shelves on top. We need to figure out which TV will live in the den and where to put it soon so we can plan for it in the shelves. Personally, I think the bigger TV should go downstairs, but the 32" TV looks too small on our TV cabinet upstairs. Decisions, decisions. 

Under the stairwell near the base of the stairs we'll have some kind of storage space. I love stair drawers like these:
Via Apartment Therapy
But it's probably not going to happen. We'll probably end up with some sort of cubby door. However, directly across from our second storage closet in the sketch above, will be a cubby sized just right for our freezer. The freezer that houses dozens and dozens of homemade meals for nights when we don't feel like cooking. It's kind of a big deal.

The second storage closet I just mentioned will be our main storage area for anything we can't keep in our shed - off season clothes, stuff S refuses to give away despite having not used it in 10 years, craft supplies, etc.

At the end of the new little hallway will be a six-panel bi-fold door that opens to our stacked washer & dryer, with just enough room for the world's largest ironing board to squeeze in next to them. The entrances to our new bathroom and bedroom will both be pocket doors. The bath will have a fully tiled shower and a little linen closet. The bath will kind of look like this, except 100 times better:
The shower door will be one piece of glass without a metal frame. We've picked out a marble octagon tile for the bathroom floor that looks like this:
We're leaning toward white marble subway style tiles for the shower walls and would love to do the inverse of the floor tiles for the shower floor, but we haven't been able to find black octagon marble tiles with white dots. If you've seen them, let us know. We're also on the hunt for a quality, affordable utility sink that can double as the bathroom sink. We're open to suggestions there too, please!

Finally, we're creating a new bedroom in the space where we currently have rows and rows of Ikea Gorm shelving. Here's a visual:
The giant wall of sliding doors will be our access to our furnace and hot water heater. Unfortunately they need to be louvered to let air in. Oh well, at least the furnace is concealed. We're hoping that we'll be able to fit a queen sized bed in this room to use as a guest room, but we'll probably end up re-purposing our full-sized futon as a bed in here since it will be too big to use as a couch in the new den. The basement is nice and chilly in the summer, so I can see myself moving downstairs at night as soon a DC becomes the fiery pit of hell that is summer around here. Which brings me to the best news of all...this whole reno should be done by mid-to-late May. Which means that by the time my birthday rolls around on June 4, our house might be all back in order, tidy and clutter free. Which really, is the best birthday gift ever.

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We Did It!!!!

We signed a contract to have our basement re-done. We could not be more excited about the decision to hire-out the work. With our work schedules we just didn't think we'd be able to get the work done in a reasonable amount of time, so out-sourced it is.

Work begins on Monday, which means our work emptying out the basement into the upstairs and the shed (and into the back of the Big Rig for Goodwill) is in full force right now. And just looking at these Ikea Gorm shelves all over our house just makes me that much more thankful that the basement and all its glorious closets will be finished in a month and a half. That's like a blink of an eye.

Our contractor took final measurements today and we expect to see plans soon. We'll share them as soon as they're here!

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Quick & Easy Pillow Cover Tutorial

As promised I put together this tutorial for a quick & easy pillow cover. It's the same pocket style pillow cover as our new little bee pillow from Pottery Barn, so it must be good, right?

Step One
Measure your pillow width and add 1.5", this will be your fabric width. I had a 20" pillow insert so my measurement was 21.5"

Step Two
Measure the height of you pillow and multiple that by 2.5, plus 4" for seams. This will be the length of your fabric. The height of my pillow was 20" so my length was 50+4=54".

Step Three
On one short end of the fabric with the wrong side facing you, fold up 1.5" and then fold 1.5" again for a nice fat hem. Pin.

Step Four
With the folded edge facing you. Sew along the hem using your presser foot as a guide to keep things straight.

Step Five
On the opposite short end fold up one half inch and fold up one half inch again for a little hem. Pin and sew along the hem as above.

Step Five
With right side facing you fold up the edge with the wider hem so the length of the fold is 3/4 the height of your pillow. So I folded mine up 15". Pin, right sides together.

Step Six
Fold up the edge with the smaller hem so that the entire pillowcase now measures the height of your pillow. The wrong sides will all be facing you now. Pin. My measurements at this point were 20" top to bottom and 21.5" left to right. Little hem is on top and fat hem is hidden.

Step Seven
Sew each side with a straight seam and a 3/4" seam allowance. Then go over the extra fabric at the edges of the seam with a zigzag stitch for extra durability. Trim off any extra fabric being careful not to snip your zigzags.

(the extra fabric at the edge before I went over it with a zigzag)

Step Eight
Fold right side out, press, and stuff with your pillow insert.

Enjoy your new pillow!

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