5.29.2011

That Was Easy

Like I said yesterday, we didn't make any big plans for the long weekend because we thought we'd be moving back into our basement this weekend. We could have packed up and gone to S's parents summer house, but one of the carpenters was working yesterday and we didn't want to risk leaving the house unlocked when he left at the end of the day. So we stuck around and spent a little time with our friend Google....

And discovered that tiling is super easy and really not that expensive at all.
We bought the tile for our kitchen backsplash weeks ago and toyed with the idea of having the guy doing the tile downstairs also do the backsplash for us. We thought that since they'd have all the tools already, the cost might end up being a wash. Their quote to tile 25 sq ft of kitchen backsplash was right around $300 (not including the cost of tile). The cost for our supplies was $75 and that doesn't count the bag full of stuff we didn't use and can return. We borrowed a wet saw, which cut out the $90 rental fee.
We didn't really have an in-depth discussion about doing the tile ourselves. S mentioned it in the morning and I said, "we're at our budget for the basement, so saving $225 might be nice." We also have a few other small, but imminent house expenses and we could really use that $225 elsewhere - like upstairs where we want to install a set of pull-down stairs for access to our attic and it's vast storage potential.

Given how much we (S) usually mull over every single decision around here, I was a little shocked to walk in at 4pm and see S, covered in tile dust, smiling at the two foot section of wall he'd just completed since starting at 3:30. "Oh thank goodness you're here," he said, "how do you want me to cut the corners?"

Well then, I guess we chose to tile ourselves.

I became the corner calculator and the master tile spacer. You'd think that sheets of mosaic tile would just stick up and be just right, but the long straight lines between the rows needed to be carefully adjusted under at least half of the tiles. I am positive that any person we hired to install the tile would not have been as compulsive about spacing the tile as I was. It was easy, but a little time consuming.

S cut and stuck, I adjusted and Feeney guarded the tile.
I'm not sure if you can see on the boxes here, but I marked them A, B, C and D so that we could alternate boxes as we made our way around the kitchen. Apparently rotating through all the boxes helps to conceal the color irregularities between each box.

We were super lucky that the counter to cabinet height was exactly one and a half sheets high, so we didn't have to make any horizontal half cuts of tiles as we circled the room until we got to the window. We had to cut for the outlets, which involved cutting so the longer end came as close to the outlet as we needed and then filling the short space with tiles cut in half vertically.
S got a call for work at 9pm that needed immediate attention, so we stopped for the night just after rounding the second corner, near where we keep our toaster oven. Even though we were super tired and getting pretty cranky with each other, S still proclaimed that tiling and easy and I'm pretty sure he threw out a "fun" in there too. Fun; that could be a first.

We got up this morning, had some eggs (clean pan on the stove got covered with tile dust) and got back to work where we left off - our goal being to finish by noon.
Mission accomplished.
We decided to go straight across at cabinet height when we reached the window, and to continue at the same height on the left side. The other option was the end just at the little shelves and then continue at the under-window height. We called for a vote and my parents, brother and S all voted for straight across. I think it looks pretty good.
And the straight across at cabinet height works well because we also did the same at the end of the wall before the island/peninsula. It made sense to go full-height here because this is the nook where I do most of my cooking and the wall can get pretty dirty when stuff is a' flyin' out of the Kitchen Aid.

We're really happy with how the marble tile we chose blends with the counters and the cabinets. I wanted to down-play the creamy yellowish tones in the cabinets and bring out the gray in the granite counters. We weren't convinced our plan would work from the small 4x4 sample we brought home, but we chose it because it was the closest we could get without blowing our budget. The tile definitely does what we want. It has just enough off-white tile that it matches the cabinets, enough gray to bring out the gray (and downplay the brown) in the counter, and lots of white to neutralize everything. We really couldn't have made a better choice for the colors we were working with.
We need to let the mastic dry for at least 24 hours before we grout, but we think we may let it dry longer. When we were tiling this morning I was still able to easily adjust tiles we put down last night, 12 hours earlier. I guess 12 hours is only half the time needed to dry, but maybe we'll just make grouting next weekend's project. Hopefully that's just as easy as tiling.

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5.28.2011

Houston, We Have a Problem

So obviously since we were deciding on flooring Thursday night our basement renovation wasn't finished yesterday. Am I disappointed? Yeah, a little. I really wanted the three day weekend to be able to move our stuff back in downstairs. And we didn't make great plans for one of the summer's three three-day weekends because we thought we'd be moving. Oh well. Apparently there were lots of angles, which made plastering take longer. Not really sure how we ended up with more angles than the plans...but I do suppose they boxed out a lot of ducts in closets, etc. Is it the end of the world? Not in the least bit.


So the new estimate is that we'll be moving in next weekend. Do I believe that? Nope, not at all. Cause we've got a problem, Houston. The flooring we chose is out-of-stock and won't be in for two to six weeks. Um, that's either a week off from the new estimate or forever away. And by forever away I mean we have visitors coming in two weeks and we NEED our rooms upstairs back before then. We think we may have found a vendor that will price match and deliver the floor in a week and a half, but they're closed this weekend so we'll have to wait 'til Tuesday to find out if they're our solution.


Despite the delay and the floor drama, they're making good progress downstairs. Yes, plastering and painting has taken forever and a day, but it's really looking good. Here's the latest from the corner in the den taken on Wednesday:
The cubby under the stairs to the left is where our freezer will live and the cubby with the angled opening will have a door so we can use the under-stair space for storage.
Here you can see the storage closet across from the freezer cubby, which has a pocket door that's already installed, it's just kind of hidden in this photo. I suppose that's the point of a pocket door, no? The door down the hall on the left goes to the little bedroom, it also has a pocket door that's pocketed in this photo.
At the very end of the hallway is the laundry nook, which got a regular six-panel door later in the week, and to the right directly across from the bedroom is the fabulous new bathroom. With its fabulous new tile...
TA-DA! Marble basket weave tile for the floor. We bought in on a total whim and we love it! The grout is scheduled to go in on Monday, so we expect that we'll have a fully functioning bathroom by mid-week. We'd better buy a toilet this weekend.

And finally, yesterday they started building the built-in shelves in the corner of the den. They're going to be amazing! (You can also see the color we chose for the walls...yes, gray).
We're going to have cabinets at the bottom and shelves on top on the left and right sides of the corner where we used to have our TV. The whole set-up makes use of area that used to be dead space behind our furnace, we just boxed out the ducts and steel beam near the ceiling. The crazy thing is that even with the cabinet portion sticking out into the room, we still have more space in the room than we did before because we pushed the whole wall back into the old cavity on the right and left. 
We couldn't decide whether we wanted to put our TV on the right or left wall, so we ended up splitting the difference and making a corner unit so the TV can sit on the cabinet top. The corner shelf is sized to fit our 32" TV perfectly. We thought we'd bring our big TV downstairs, but when we realized just how big that corner shelf would have to be to fit a 46" TV, we scraped the idea.
We'll have fixed shelves behind the TV to hide all those aviation books that will never be read again, but just can't be given away and to the right and left of the corner section, the shelves will be adjustable. The progress today is even more impressive, but it was too dark to take photos by the time I went downstairs.

So with the rest of the schedule up in the air, we'll just have to wait until Monday or Tuesday to figure out what will happen next. As things get closer to being finished we just get that much more anxious for things to be done. These guys are great, but I just want them out of my house. Well really, we just want all our stuff back where it belongs. And we want to vacuum, dust and wash the floors...without a fine dust settling down twenty minutes later. Thank goodness we didn't tackle this whole project alone, the end would never be in sight if we had.

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Saturday Supper: BBQ Chicken Pizza

S has been begging for pizza for weeks now, so the other night when I was faced with a rotisserie chicken that had been sitting in the fridge, uneaten, for five days, I decided to make him a chicken pizza. At first I thought I'd make a buffalo wing pizza until I realized we have no Frank's Red Hot sauce. Bummer. So even though I find BBQ sauce rather repulsive, I decided to make a BBQ chicken pizza.
And that's when I discovered that BBQ sauce on a pizza is not repulsive at all. It's phenomenal! I'm so glad I made two pizzas because we ate it for three meals in a row - unheard of around here.

BBQ Chicken Pizza

Use our go-to quick and easy no-rise pizza crust recipe for the crust

1/2 - 1 rotisserie chicken or two skinless, boneless chicken breasts
~2 c. BBQ sauce - our favorite is Sweet Baby Ray's
1 small onion or 1/2 of a large onion (red is delicious if you have it), sliced into thin half-circles
8 oz part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese
Fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Make crust and spread into pizza crisping pan prepared with a generous coating of non-stick spray. Spread with 1/2 c. BBQ sauce

2. Cut chicken into small pieces, toss in a bowl with remaining BBQ sauce until well coated. Alternatively you can roast the chicken breast with a little extra BBQ sauce in a 350 degree oven for ~ 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through

3. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the BBQ sauce covered crust

4. Top with BBQ sauce soaked chicken, dolloping on any remaining BBQ sauce too. Cover evenly with onions

5. Sprinkle with remaining cheese

6. Bake at 425 for ~12 minutes until cheese is bubble and crust is golden

7. Remove from oven and immediately top generously with chopped fresh cilantro

Serve warm

adapted from the Pioneer Woman

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5.26.2011

Floors

We're in the process of choosing flooring for the basement. And by in the process I really mean we need to make a decision within the next two hours. DIY is so much better suited for hemming and hawing than this ;)

We initially thought we would use Allure flooring. It's a vinyl peel and stick plank flooring that's supposed to be well suited for basements. It looks like wood rather than vinyl tile and was within our budget.

After deciding on a color S picked up a box of planks so we could lay them out and see how it looked in real life v. on a 4x4 sample. And that's when we started to waver on our decision. The stuff stank. Like a cross between walking through a chemical plant and the schnastiest BO I've smelled since riding a un-air-conditioned bus after a high school cross country meet.

We went online to look at reviews and found several people ended up having to remove the flooring because the off-gassing never stopped. A few too many reviews for our comfort level.

With wood out of the question because it's not suited for basements and carpet off the list because of a severe phobia of carpet in basements, we turned to tile and laminate.

I have a weird fear of falling and knocking my teeth out. It might stem from when I fell as a kid and, you guessed it, knocked my front teeth out. But I can't be the only person with this fear, can I? I just imagine going to sell our house in a few years and having people with kids cringe at tile in prime playroom space. Remember that we put hook-ups for a gas dryer in the laundry nook even though we have an electric dryer? We're trying to appeal to the masses.

With tile out (much to S's chagrin since it's kind of perfect for basements) we started looking for laminate. My main criteria was to find a brand within our budget created with materials (glue, etc.) that meet or exceed the EU chemical standards. The EU excels really well in a few areas of consumer protection and their chemical standards are usually quite a bit safer than the US. Our contractor recommended Robina floors for their price, durability and thickness of the floor, which means a bit more warmth. They met our chemical requirements and the samples didn't stink.

Of a dozen samples, we've narrowed the color down to these three.


The two on the left are super shiny and smooth. I had to use the point of scissors to make a scratch (it's pretty hard and keys didn't work) but once scratched, it was noticeable. On the right is a "deep emboss" sample, which is less shiny and has wood grain like textured lines in it. It's the only of the deep emboss samples that doesn't look like plastic. The color on the right obviously matches the floor upstairs the best, but we're just not sure which one to go with.

Anyone with laminate floors have any thoughts or advice for us?

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5.21.2011

Saturday Supper: Lemon Blueberry Pancakes

My parents have embraced sugar production at their farm in Maine. It started with honey bees several years ago, which did amazing things for the gardens and fruit trees in addition to producing tons and tons of honey. This winter they added maple syrup production to their list of hobbies, known as maple sugaring.

Sugaring is an incredibly labor intensive process and the yield from tens of gallons of sap is shockingly small. But the payoff for all that work, oh the payoff! My parents brought us a mason jar of syrup when they visited earlier this month and we tried it for the first time this week on these amazingly delicious lemon blueberry pancakes (also made the blueberries from Maine). The syrup was better than any I've ever bought. Definitely worth all their effort and definitely hidden in the back of our fridge only to be brought out for special occasions. While you probably don't have access to maple syrup fresh from the gentleman's farm where you grew up, you've got to try these pancakes with whatever farm's maple syrup you have in your fridge. I promise, these aren't your average pancakes.
Lemon Blueberry Pancakes
serves 3-4

3/4 c. Whole wheat white flour
3/4 c. All-purpose flour
1/4 t. Salt
1 T. Baking Powder
3 T. Sugar
1 1/2 c. Milk
Juice from 1 whole Lemon
1 Egg
1 1/2 t. Vanilla
Zest From 1 Lemon
1 c. (heaping) Blueberries, fresh or frozen
Maple Syrup

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients

2. In a second bowl, whisk together milk, egg, lemon juice, vanilla and zest

3. Begin to heat large skillet over medium-low heat

4. If using frozen berries mix them in with dry ingredients, skip this step if using fresh

5. Mix wet ingredients into dry, just until combined. Add berries, if using fresh

5. When a few drops of water sizzle when sprinkled in the pan, add a small pat of butter and spread to cover pan

6. Use ~1/4 c. scoop per pancake, cook until bubbly then flip. Repeat

serve stacked high with warm maple syrup
adapted from the Pioneer Woman


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5.20.2011

You Want Hot Water Outside?

One of my favorite little things about the basement renovation is the addition of a hot water faucet outside. Wait, are you looking at me like I have two heads just like our contractor looked at me when I made the request? Well ya'll may think I'm crazy, but Feeney really appreciated his nice hot shower last weekend.
Yes, I wear foul weather gear while washing the dog
And I really appreciated how I didn't have to clean the bathroom afterward. Just 'cause the Feens is a non-shedding dog doesn't mean he doesn't get a bathtub dirty.... Plus the water pressure on the exterior faucet is way more impressive than our shower head, which cut shower time in half, at least. And when you give your dog lavender shampoos every other weekend like I do, cutting down actual washing time is a huge plus. Even the dogs know they smell good.
Lexi got outdoor lavender showers during her two week visit from Maine too
Exterior hot water faucets are also fabulous for things like washing cars in the winter to prevent premature rusting without getting frostbite (a habit picked up from my dad's obsession with keeping his cars salt-free in the winter. Need milk and it's snowing? You're going to be waiting 4 days 'til the roads are dry again.)

Not to gush on about our contractor's attention to detail - but when they drilled through the wall for the new faucet, the only logical placement was to the right of the current cold water faucet. Hot water is supposed to go on the left when you have two faucets; even though these are just outside utility faucets the guys re-routed the water inside to change the existing cold water faucet into a left-hand hot water and made the new right-hand faucet cold. It's our first big contractor experience so maybe everyone would do that, but we're impressed nonetheless.

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5.19.2011

A Tile Splurge

We have drywall and tile going up downstairs this week. And as I type, one of the guys is just outside my window cutting wood for the built-in shelving - the end is in sight!

We decided to splurge on marble tile for the bathroom. We're only going to do this bathroom once, so we decided to take the plunge and allocate a little extra budget for tile. We initially found tile that we liked at a local tile shop, but when we found similar tile at Lowe's for nearly half the price, we had to go with the more budget-friendly option. We were a little concerned that the quality might be a bit less in comparison, but have been assured that we chose a quality tile. Let's hope so, 'cause there's no going back now.
We chose a smaller sized subway tile for the shower walls, but not quite as small as the 1x2 tile we're planning to use in our kitchen (we haven't forgotten about the kitchen backsplash project). Each mostly-white tile is 2x3. The floor is very cool and not the hexagon tile we planned on initially! I expect that they'll start the floor within the next day or two, so we'll have photos soon. I know I have at least one blogger friend who used the same tile in her bathroom....

Between the floor and shower walls I think we bought somewhere around 350 sheets of tile. And just because I'm a little neurotic and wanted to make sure we didn't choose any tile with too much yellow or brown tint, we went through every single box and every single sheet before loading it into our cart. It took forever. It was exhausting.
In other news this week, we had the guys plumb the laundry room for a gas dryer, in addition to wiring for the electric dryer we currently own.
We're really making an effort to think of how we'll use the space and how a future owner might use it. Like we said, we're only doing this once, so we want to do it right.

Finally, we'll leave you with last night's shot from the corner in the den:
Our contractor said they should be finished by next Friday, which would give us the long weekend to move back in. Three cheers for that! If they finish Friday that will total 4.5 weeks of work, only .5 weeks longer than they estimated. And that extra half-week was totally out of their control since they lost two or three days of work while they waited for the insulation guys to come spray more insulation per the building inspector's request.

Up next, choosing paint colors...two guesses on what color we'll choose.

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5.18.2011

I'm Human

We don't usually tie Feeney up outside, but tonight we tied him to a tree to keep him from following us into the basement and its sheetrock dust covered floors. When we came back outside we found this:
Our dog, who isn't allowed on furniture or beds, camped out on a lounge chair, hanging out like the human he thinks he is.

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5.17.2011

De-Squeaked

We have squeaky floors. Had squeaky floors. Last night before the contractor put up sheetrock on the ceilings today, S went downstairs while I jumped around in our kitchen and dining room and he de-squeaked our floors.

The whole process was super simple. I bounced around, S drew a circle from below where the squeak came from and then gently hammered a shim in between the subfloor and closest joist until the squeak stopped. Cut a 2x4 and screw through it and through the shim to hold it in place (but no so far you reach through the finished floor, I suppose.)
Repeat for all the squeaks, which was a "this isn't fun anymore" number in our old house. 

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Tuesday Treats: BIG Crumb Rhubarb Coffee Cake

I love, love, love rhubarb. My parents have a huge rhubarb plant at the edge of the vegetable garden that has to be as old as me and every year during rhubarb season, my mom would make the best rhubarb crisp. A few years ago I discovered this rhubarb coffee cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen and it and my mom's crisp have me looking forward to spring every year.

The other day at the grocery store I saw a woman with a huge bag full of rhubarb in her cart. The crisp and coffee cake craving kicked in so I made a beeline to the produce section and snatched up every last piece of rhubarb. And then made this coffee cake the minute I got home.

BIG Crumb Rhubarb Coffee Cake 

for the filling:
1 pound rhubarb, chopped to 1/2" pieces
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch
1/2 t. ginger

for the BIG crumbs:
2/3 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger
1/4 t. salt
3.5 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. butter, melted

for the cake batter:
1 c. sour cream (light or fat free is fine)
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 T. vanilla extract
2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c.  butter, at room temp

prepare the filling
1. In a medium bowl toss together all filling ingredients, cover with plasic wrap and set aside

prepare the BIG crumbs
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients until well incorporated

2. Add melted butter and mix until evenly moist, set aside

prepare the cake
1. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add eggs and yolks, beating well

2. Sift together dry ingredients and add them to the butter and sugar mixture alternating with the sour cream in two or three batches

assemble the cake
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease the bottom and sides of a 9x13 baking pan

2. Spread two-thirds of the cake batter evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan, set remaining batter aside

3. Toss rhubarb mixture well and spoon evenly over the batter in the pan

4. Spoon remaining cake batter over the rhubarb, spreading around a little bit but it doesn't need to be even

5. Using your hands or a mini cookie scoop, pack the crumb topping into half-inch balls and place evenly all over the top of the batter - I usually space them widely at first and then fill in the gaps with more BIG crumbs just so I don't run out halfway through

6. Bake at 325 for 45-55 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Cool before serving

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

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5.15.2011

The Most Boring Major Breakthrough

Let's just say we're super excited for this basement project to be finished. I'm literally holding my breath not just because it's going to be AMAZING but because I cannot wait to have our dining room back again. It's like a bomb went off in here. Granted, it's organized, but holy cow extra stuff and messes stress me out. If we weren't so busy otherwise, I'd be combing the shelves for stuff to throw/give away. Watch out Goodwill. We've got just about two weeks to go, maybe three if you factor in a little extra time for painting. And all I can say is thank goodness we're not doing this whole project ourselves. Hiring out is still the best decision we've made all year.

This week we passed the plumbing and electrical inspections. We failed the building inspection because the inspector wanted to see even more spray insulation on the walls. Our guys were a little baffled, but this particular inspector has been nothing but odd and we're not arguing with more insulation. So the colorful insulation guys showed up again on Saturday to fill in low spots. A single drop of water will never make it through the waterproof closed cell insulation on those walls now. Second best decision of the year.

Work was slow on Thursday and Friday because the guys needed to wait for the insulation crew to show up, they were able to put a little drywall up on the closet walls and in a few ceiling areas. But while they waited they built a playset in our neighbor's back yard. These guys don't do idle.

And earlier last week we had the most major breakthrough to hit the hive since we moved in. My dad and S managed to separate off the upstairs bathroom from the one circuit that was feeding half of the house. We know, it sounds pretty boring until you realize that they have spent at least 100 hours mapping out the electric in the house and figuring out how to break up the one circuit that was nothing less than a fire waiting to happen. The final turning point was having the ceiling removed from the old den, revealing a key junction box, which was a total mess of wires before the contractor pulled out the tangled mess, only keeping what was necessary.
S and my dad pulled out a bit more, rewired with heavier gauge wire, and in the process also split a heavily-loaded living room outlet from the major circuit. This is big. End-of-the-day toasts over beer and cheese big.
And in order to fish the new wire up to the living room, S got to use the sawzall I gave him for Christmas, back when I anticipated that there was no way we'd be able to afford to hire out our basement reno and would be spending long nights and all our weekends destroying and rebuilding.
Building our tool collection and having the right tools for whatever project we happen to tackle on any given day is the third best decision this year. Especially since as I type, S is using the hammer drill I also gave him for Christmas to drill a hole through the foundation to bring electricity to the shed.

So in a year and a half we've gone from having solid general electrical knowledge: knowing how to wire a light, how to change outlets and install dimmer switches, to installing recessed lights, rewiring entire circuits and rooms and adding new circuits to the breaker. All because we decided we'd figure out how to be handy. And invited our dads to guide us (or at least be willing to be on speed-dial) with all the knowledge they've acquired as they've figured out how to be handy over the years. Now that's the best decision ever.

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5.14.2011

Saturday Supper: Chicken Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

Oh my goodness, where the heck did the first half of May go? We blinked and it flashed by. Actually the first week of May was spent laying on the beach in the Bahamas celebrating the wedding of friends. We made a vacation of the event and had an absolute blast. I made good friends with that float in this private pool.
I was very sad to part with my new friend at the end of the week. But when we arrived back at the beehive, my parents were waiting for us. They drove all the way down from Maine to take care of Feeney for part of the time we were away. We were super grateful that our neurotic dog with the crazy separation anxiety had good humans to keep him company all week. So of course as a thank you we had to cook my parents an excellent Mother's Day meal.

We contemplated fish tacos or shrimp or steak, but when I read that Annie of Annie's Eats, who rarely cooks the same thing twice in a month, made these chicken gyros for dinner twice in one week, I knew we had to try them.
They were delicious. Definitely a new favorite - I had leftovers for lunch and dinner the next day. You have to try them.

Chicken Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce
serves 4

for the tzatziki sauce:
16 oz. plain greek yogurt, drained
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
2-3 large cloves garlic, crushed with a garlic press
1 t. white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1 t. extra virgin olive oil
 
for the chicken:
4 cloves garlic, crushed with a garlic press
Juice of 1 lemon
2 t. red wine vinegar
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 heaping T. plain yogurt
1 T. oregano
Salt and pepper
1 1/4 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed and butterflied

To assemble
Pita bread or Mediterranean flatbread
Fresh tomatoes, diced
Cucumbers, thinly sliced
Red onion, thinly sliced
Romaine lettuce, shredded
Feta, crumbled

Prepare chicken
1. In a shallow baking dish, combine all ingredients except chicken, mix well

2. Spread seasoning mixture evenly over chicken, cover entire dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour

Prepare tzatziki sauce
1. In a food processor on the pulse setting chop cucumber until finely chopped. Squeeze excess liquid from chopped cuke with paper towels - you want to remove as much water as possible

2. Add all other tzatziki ingredients to the food processor and pulse until well combined

3. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or more to let the flavors meld

Grill Chicken
1. Grill chicken on medium heat or cook under a broiler until cooked through

Assemble Gyros
1. Spread tzatziki sauce on half of one pita, add chicken, lettuce, cucumbers, red onion, tomatoes and crumbled feta. Top with more tzatziki, if desired
Dig in!

Adapted from Annie's Eats

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5.12.2011

Get Your Shovels Ready

Last week we brought home tons of free stones from a stone wall to edge our driveway. This week we brought home a gazillion pounds of patio stones.
Look at the size of these things! Some of them are more than two inches thick. Definitely a score at $0.
S hauled all the stones with a little help from my dad earlier this week. At first we intended just to take as many as we needed for an 11'x12' patio, but since they were going to go to waste if we didn't take them, S decided to bring them all home. I think there's enough for at least a 20'x20' patio. That's huge. Now they're just waiting to be placed in their final home.

We're planning to build the patio in the corner of the yard next to the cute shed we built, here:
The yard is a little sloped so we're either going to level it out or make the patio have two tiers with a step somewhere in the middle. I think the tier option will be easier, but we'll see how things go, S is our master digger and yard-leveler after all.

Estimated cost for this project is a few hundred dollars for sand and crushed stonedust, a far cry from the thousands of dollars we estimated when we pushed the project from the to-do list to the wish-list a few months ago.

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5.07.2011

Saturday Supper: Baked Egg Rolls

I love all kinds of foods with wrappers: dumplings, pieroshki, fresh rolls, egg rolls, you name it. But usually foods with wrappers are also deep fried or cooked in a ton of butter and deep fried food just isn't something we eat around here. So when S asked if I could make egg rolls for dinner, I decided to try baking them instead of drowning them in a pot of oil.
Perfection. These taste every bit like an egg roll and the wrapper even has a bit of crunch. Plus, since they're not subjected to the rigors of deep frying, you can stuff them a little fuller and not risk having them fall apart while cooking. I wish we had leftovers.

Baked Egg Rolls

1 lb. ground turkey
2 t. fresh ginger, grated


3 T. oyster sauce
2 t. cornstarch

3 c. cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, shredded ~1/2 c.
1/4 lb bean sprouts
4 green onions, chopped

1 package of egg roll wrappers
salt, to taste

Prepare a cookie sheet with non-stick spray

1. In a large skillet combine ground turkey and ginger. Cook until meat is no longer pink

2. Mix together cornstarch and oyster sauce, add to meat mixture

3. Add cabbage and carrots, saute for 3-5 minutes until just beginning to soften, mix in green onions and bean sprouts, remove from heat

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a cookie sheet with non-stick spray

5. With the wrapper facing you like a diamond, spread a few tablespoons of mixture two inches from the point. Fold the point up over the mixture. Dip your fingers in a glass of water and lightly moisten remaining points and sides. Fold two sides in and then fold top down toward you

6. Arrange on the prepare cookie sheet with an inch between each egg roll

7. Spray tops with non-stick cooking spray and bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until tops are golden

serve with dipping sauces - we used plum sauce and duck sauce

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5.05.2011

Free Stones

We've never really had a master plan for our landscaping. Last summer we put in a fence to create a back yard from our side yard that sloped to the street and offered no privacy. We removed bushes, built a raised bed for vegetable gardens (that we have yet to plant, mom?), added lots of free plants from Craigs List, jackhammered up part of our driveway and covered our yard with mulch in a huge effort to grow a lawn of grass, not weeds. All our efforts have definitely made a big difference, but the one thing I've wanted that we still don't have is a patio. We don't have a place to put a picnic table, no obvious place for our lounge chairs. It makes the yard more of something we look at, not use.

When we were at S's parents house for Easter they mentioned that their neighbor's house, which sold weeks earlier, was going to be bull-dozed at the end of May. They said that the builder gave them permission to take whatever plants and landscaping materials they'd like and suggested we walk over to see if there were any shrubs we'd be interested in digging up. Dig up a 60 year old shrub? No thanks, but holy cow if there wasn't a 12x20 foot slate patio and two stone walls up for grabs. Yes please!

We haven't brought the patio stones home yet, but last weekend S filled up our Big Rig with an entire stone wall in only two trips.
He set to work edging out the gardens in front of our house with the giant stones, basically covering the black plastic edging we installed last year. 
And when I say that this happened on a weekend, it happened on the day S had off, which happened to be a Monday...which means I had the luxury of staying inside and working while he did the heavy lifting.
I did manage to pop outside a few times to deliver bottles of water and popsicles and to take a few photos.  
Next week we'll go back for the slate patio, which we plan to transplant to our backyard to the right of our shed. For now we're liking the new chunky edging look and I even caught a neighbor do a double-take, turn, step back and then do a full-on inspection with a head nod. I think he approves.

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5.03.2011

Tuesday Treats: Tasty Trail Mix

We've totally slacked on Tuesday Treats lately, but listen, when there's hammering, sawing and whatever on earth they were doing that was SO LOUD this week going on directly under the kitchen, it's just not a place you want to be. We've gone treatless.

But, like I mentioned yesterday, we've got family coming into town and plans that may  include sightseeing, touring, and doing stuff that could leave you dying for a baggie of something in your purse at 4pm. So I mixed up this trail mix with goodies from the pantry and stashed it in a few ziplock sandwich bags. Totally tasty treat to get us through from lunch 'til dinner. Or at least until cocktail hour.
I just used what we had on hand, plus a bag of M&M's. You can create whatever combination you like, just add a little low-sugar, high-fiber cereal to give the mix filling power and vary the textures of your ingredients for a little interest. Yum.

Tasty Trail Mix

1 medium bag M&M candies
1 medium jar of peanuts
1 medium container of raisins
1 sleeve of Fiber One cereal
1/2 c. mini chocolate chips
1 box of Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, chopped

Combine everything in a large bowl, toss to mix. Portion into individual ziplock baggies.

This is also a great trail mix for traveling - S often takes a big ziplock bag full with him on long distance flights, which can last ten days or more!


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5.02.2011

Floors and Framing and Headroom

Things are really starting to take shape downstairs. I think the framing is nearly complete. They need to put in the assembly for one more pocket door and one HVAC duct needs to be framed out, but that's it.

On Thursday we passed the sewer inspection, which meant that by Thursday afternoon we had a new concrete floor in the bathroom where we've had a big hole for two weeks.
By tiny-old-house-in-the-city standards the bathroom is pretty spacious. On the right you can see just a bit of the white drain pipe sticking up for the tile shower, and the thing on the floor in the center-left is the hook-up for the toilet. The studs with the metal casings are where the pocket door actually pockets. And the white pipe on the left in the foreground is the floor drain, which will be outside of the bathroom in the laundry closet. My parents' second floor washing machine has flooded a few times when someone forgot to shut the water off after doing a wash. Something to do with frozen drain lines or some such cold-related thing. It's a mess. I have an aversion to messes. So even though we live in the South and freezing here is like a balmy winter day in the North, we're still counting on the floor drain to come to our rescue, even though, knock on wood, we're really hoping for no washing machine emergencies.

Moving on.

Thursday night HVAC subcontractors worked until 9pm moving duct work to ensure the code minimum 6'4" ceiling height throughout the basement. They're basically the same size ducts, just turned 90 degrees so they're running horizontal instead of vertical, if that makes any sense. All I know is that even with flooring and sheetrock on the ceiling, S will have plenty of headroom.
We also have all of our rough electrical - as much as is needed for an inspection Monday morning. Some of the more interesting outlets include this one under the stairs for our freezer, and outlets inside each of the closets. When we lived in Florida we had these bugs called silverfish that ate paper, glue and any kind of natural fiber clothing. Apparently they don't like light, so we had nightlights in our closets. We don't have silverfish here, but we stuck outlets in the closet anyway, just in case they suddenly migrate to Virginia. So the theme of today's post seems to be how to outfit your renovation based on somewhat irrational paranoia.
They also started to frame out the sides of the stairs. We were given several options of how to finish this area and went with the option to have sheetrock to the top of the edge of the stairs, a finished wood cap on top of the sheetrock and some wood trim under the cap, which I'm hoping makes much more sense when it's finished.
We'll have under-stair storage with an access door right where the washing machine sits in this photo, however, since we'll likely only access the area twice a year to swap out off-season clothes, we might stick S's desk that he's never used along this wall. I'm not totally sold on the idea, but the desk is huge and won't really fit anywhere else, so we stuck an outlet under the stairs, just in case. Meanwhile I'll continue to lobby for selling the desk to put toward his new laptop fund.

And finally, we're starting to see walls go up. Here, the closet at the base of the stairs got one of its walls, which looks like a perfect spot for a big mirror to me.
The view from the corner in the den at the end of day 10:
The guys also worked on Saturday, day 11, to get ready for the electrical inspection on Monday, so we have several more blue outlet and switch boxes and a bit more sheetrock than this photo shows. We have family coming into town this week so construction will stop for a few days, but our contractor told us that once they start up again next week, they'll only have 2-3 weeks left. By my calculation that means we'll be moving in by my birthday, which is perfect timing to ask for a new couch for the den. Maybe one with a lounge thingy. Or a tiny sectional. In gray. Dark gray.

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