7.25.2011

Enter to Win a $100 Best Buy Gift Card from Samsung & BlogHer!

We're hosting a new giveaway over on our little reviews and giveaway page! Head on over for a chance to win a $100 Best Buy gift card from Samsung & BlogHer.

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7.23.2011

Saturday Supper: Prosciutto, Mozzarella & Tomato Sandwich on the Grill

Kind of hot out, no? Can't say that I love it. Don't worry, you won't find me complaining about the cold in the winter, unless say it's -10 and we're trying to ski and my boot heaters won't keep up with the cold. It doesn't happen often. I stay home in front of the fire on those days.

So when it's 101 degrees outside in a town where no one has central air and people melt at 80, it's only right to invite all your friends and their babies to swim in the pool, which dips behind the shade of several large hemlocks after 4pm. When you invite seven friends over at 5pm and ask your mom to don her life-guarding hat (or rubber cap, I suppose), you'd better be prepared to feed them all. And if you're inviting all these friends to your mother's house when it's 101 and the only "air conditioning" is a couple of box fans you brought home from college a gazillion years ago, you had better not heat up her house by turning on the oven or stove.
This, my friends, is hands-down my absolute favorite feed-a-crowd party meal. It's especially fabulous in the summer when tomatoes are in season and the grill has nary a cobweb in sight. Trust me, try it. Quick, before the weather changes and the news anchors are all "OMG the cold!"

Prosciutto, Mozzarella & Tomato Sandwich on the Grill
8+ generous servings, depending on the size of your bread

2 large loaves of fresh Italian bakery bread
good quality balsamic vinaigrette
extra virgin olive oil (optional)
12-16 ultra thin slices of prosciutto
8oz of fresh mozzarella, double if you're a cheese lover (we use Bel Gioioso), sliced ultra thin
3-5 large fresh tomatoes, sliced so you have enough slices to cover both sandwiches
several handfuls of arugula - approx 6 loosely packed cups, or one box from the grocery
salt & pepper
kitchen twine, cut to 8 lengths that will each wrap around each loaf of bread and tie in a knot

1. Preheat grill to ~350 degrees

2. Cut both loaves of bread in half. Hollow out most of the softest bread from the top half, leaving approximately half and inch of crust and bread. This isn't an exact science, you're just making room for the toppings so the arugula doesn't burn.  Suggestion: tear the leftovers into small cubes and toss lightly with balsamic, salt and pepper and bake in a toaster oven for croutons

3. Drizzle the bottom half of the loaves with balsamic and just a touch of olive oil (olive oil optional). Top with salt and pepper

4. Arrange prosciutto evenly in a thin layer over entire bottom half, repeat so you have two ultra thin layers of prosciutto

5. Place thin slices and shaves of mozzarella evenly over the prosciutto

6. Top mozzarella evenly with one layer of tomato slices

7. Fill each hollowed-out top half loosely with arugula. Don't pack the arugula too tightly or the flavor will overpower the sandwich

8. Place each bottom half in the center of 4 lengths of evenly spaced kitchen twine

9. Working with one loaf at a time, gently cover the sandwich with the arugula-filled top half. While pressing down lightly, gently tuck in any arugula, tomato and cheese sticking out the sides of the sandwich - you don't want these to burn or melt out of the sandwich

10. Tie each of the 4 lengths of twine snugly, repeat with second sandwich

11. Place sandwiches directly on the grill. Cook for 5-10 minutes on each side being careful not to let the bread burn, but making sure the cheese is heated through (and preferably not oozing) before removing from the grill

12. With a serrated knife, cut each sandwich into 6 or more pieces, serve immediately - preferably with a garden salad, potato chips and ice cold iced tea - all which won't raise the temp in your kitchen at all

enjoy!

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Is That a...

What's that? Is that a...? Yes! It's a new bedroom without a toilet in it!
No, the bathroom tile isn't finished, but we're close and since everyone's work and holiday schedules were going to make it nearly impossible for the tile to be finished-finished before the end of September, our contractor put the toilet and vanity back where they belong for the time being. The bathroom floor isn't sealed so we can't use the shower and we need to walk on the floor with really clean shoes or socks, but it's a usable bathroom. And let me tell you, having two bathrooms is amazing. We've got choices: upstairs or downstairs? It's great.

As you can see above, the bedroom has an exterior entrance, which saved us quite a bit on the renovation because we didn't need to dig and cut for an egress window in this room. The door's window combined with the window above the bed makes the space surprisingly bright during the day. Ya know, for a garden level. We have a shade for the door that matches those on the rest of the doors in the house, but we just need to figure out how to hang it on the metal door without creating a small disaster.

It's a small room, so only a full-sized bed (or twin sized bunk beds, I suppose) fits, but it's perfect for a guest room. Or for when it's 110 degrees out and you need somewhere really cold to sleep.

At the foot of the bed we have a white cabinet that I first bought for an apartment with a HUGE bathroom and no storage. It then lived in the unfinished portion of our basement with all our laundry stuff stacked inside. Now it's available for guests...til' I fill it up.

Directly across from the exterior door and also at the foot of the bed is the pocket door that leads out to the hallway. I'm in love with the pocket doors.
And because this room is also our access to the furnace and hot water heater, we have these louvered doors on the wall next to the exterior entrance. I thought I'd hate the louvered doors, but they're much less obtrusive than I expected. When you first walk into the room they're slightly hidden by the jut-out that you can see on the left, here:
That jut-out is part of the closet for the bedroom. Since S decided to sell his never-used desk, we designated this closet as his "office" and uniform spot.
The rolling basket cart and rolling file cabinet fit perfectly next to each other and still allows room for his lesser-used clothes. Of course we still need to actually unpack that laundry basket of office stuff into the basket cart. The closet is wired for a light, but we decided against one because duct work above the ceiling meant we couldn't do a recessed light and any hanging light would mean less storage on the shelf. The recessed light directly outside the closet in the room provides plenty of light. We love the halogen recessed lights down here.

We still need to hang pictures and decorate a bit. I'm thinking this will be the flying room, so S has a spot for all his flying memorabilia that seems to take up a room in every pilot's home. Think he'd be up for painting a compass or a chart on the ceiling? Does anyone use a compass anymore? Just when the GPS dies?

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7.16.2011

Saturday Supper: Super Easy Pesto & Tomato Focaccia

We have a dozen basil plants producing like mad. A few weeks ago we made a ton of pesto. And then last week we made a ton more. We've got bags of pesto on reserve for when we run out of our bags of pesto. We use pesto instead of sauce on pizza, on pasta, on sandwiches and on cucumbers (which we also have coming out our ears). So the other night while staring at a pile of basil and a basket full of tomatoes, I had the idea to try making focaccia with Fleishchmann's pizza yeast, which doesn't require any rise time. Sounds super easy, right?
Super easy and super fast.

Pesto & Tomato Focaccia

1 3/4 - 2 1/2 c. flour
1 envelope Fleischmann's Pizza Yeast
2 t. sugar
3/4 t. salt
2/3 c. hot tap water (120 degrees)
3 T. olive oil
1 large tomato, chopped or 1-2 dozen grape tomatoes
1/4 c. pesto
1 large onion, chopped

1. With the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, stir together 1 cup of flour, yeast, sugar and salt

2. Add water and olive oil, mixing until well combined

3. Switch to the hook attachment and with mixer on low slowly add additional flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough forms a ball that is slightly sticky

4. Increase mixer speed to medium and allow hook to knead the dough until an elastic ball forms, adding more flour if needed, about 5 minutes

5. Spray and 8x8 pan with non-stick spray or coat lightly with olive oil

6. Turn dough into pan and stretch to cover as much of the bottom of the pan as possible

7. Spread dough with pesto

8. Cover with tomatoes and onions and press gently into the dough

9. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until golden and cooked through in the center

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7.14.2011

The Longest Reveal Ever

Yesterday someone mentioned that this has to be the longest reveal for a basement renovation ever. No kidding! There's nothing we'd love more than to show you our big reveal. But this is what you'd see:
Our new guest bedroom with a toilet by the door and two doors next to the bed. Huh? Toilet in the bedroom? Shouldn't it be here:
Or maybe we could show you the hallway we can barely squeeze through because this is sitting in the middle of it:
Yes, Feeney shredded those paper towels the vanity is sitting on. The three in the photo were the only ones that weren't in tiny shreds when I woke up the other day. S accidentally locked him out of our room when he left for work so Feeney thought we abandoned him. Separation anxiety not resolved.
The problem is that somehow there was an issue with the floor tile and apparently someone sealed it before cleaning the grout off the tile, which was all over the tiles. In short, after everything was installed and "finished" the floor looked horrible and we were absolutely horrified that the gorgeous tile we bought looked worse than the 70 year old tile upstairs. We don't know how the mistake happened, it was probably just a communication problem between the workers. We weren't even going to mention it here because everything went so well with our renovation that this was really out of the ordinary; we just don't think it accurately reflects our contractors because they were so meticulous otherwise. But fixing the tile is taking forever and we really want to tell you why we have nothing to show!

After several failed attempts to strip the sealer and remove the dried-on grout, yesterday a tile expert came in and started to sand the floor to give it a honed finish (we chose honed over polished). First the contractor had to come in and remove all the floor trim, the closet doors, the toilet and the vanity. It looks like a mess everywhere down there, but thankfully the tile is looking much better.
Now the newly honed finish needs to be sealed and everything needs to be put back in place. But now we've got scheduling conflicts that might mean that it will be months before we're back in order downstairs. We have high hopes that everything will be finished this week, but are setting ourselves up with the expectation that it will be September. Making this truly the longest basement renovation reveal ever.

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7.12.2011

Oh! So That's Why You Buy Extra

So when you buy vinyl siding the experts say to buy 10% more than you need. And inevitably you always end up with a bunch of siding left over. So you bring it back to the store.... Well, we've learned that you may just want to keep a bit of it. Ya' know, so when you wack the heck out of it with the weed whacker and the siding cracks and shatters, you have enough leftover pieces to make a little patch.
Thankfully, we weren't allowed the bring back the extra siding from our shed project. So now the siding looks good as new again. And S takes all the credit...for the damage and the repair.


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7.10.2011

Eating My Words

I've posted no less than three times about my dislike of ceiling fans. Well, specifically how much I hated the three ugly ceilings fans that were caked in dust and covered in grime that were in all three bedrooms when we bought our house.
They were some of the first things to go. We replaced them with new lights that we loved...

But OMG if it isn't hotter than Hades around here then I don't know what is!! And the table-top fan we used all last summer just isn't cutting it this year. Someone claims I'm hogging the breeze. And maybe the problem is we still have a file cabinet, which still needs a home downstairs, partially blocking the a/c duct in our bedroom. But today I threw in the towel and I'm eating my words.

I want a ceiling fan. There. You win, ceiling fan lovers!
Of course the two I bought to choose from (there were so many on the ceiling I couldn't get a good look at either display model) are waaaaay more modern than the beauties we had before. Maybe I'll learn to tolerate love them.

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7.08.2011

Saturday Supper: Summer Lover's Risotto

It's no secret that we love to cook. And we love to cook healthy meals that are super easy to freeze and re-heat. After all S needs to keep his prized possession, his freezer stocked with individual frozen meals, filled to capacity at all times. But ever since the mercury started rising we've been less inclined to cook v. eat a quick and easy salad for dinner, so the well-stocked freezer is in a sorry, sorry state.

We've made pesto from our garden's basil but we can't eat pesto every day. So when Knorr announced their "Knorr Four Recipe Contest" I jumped at the chance to enter the competition. Knorr sent us a package of their new Homestyle Stock, which sat on the kitchen counter just waiting for a bit of inspiration.
source
The other night we must have had the a/c cranked up super high 'cause it wasn't deathly hot inside and I felt like heating up the kitchen. That's not to say I didn't have a fan set up on the counter blowing directly on me while I stirred the pot of this delicious risotto....
It's more goodies than rice; filled with shrimp, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm and peas. And the Knorr stock diluted with part water/part white wine gives it a delicious flavor. If you're a risotto lover, I promise this summer lover's risotto recipe won't disappoint you - "summer" for the fresh peas right off the vine, "lover's" for the hearts and hearts!

Summer Lover's Risotto
serves 4 - or double to have leftovers to freeze

ingredients
1 large onion, diced
1 lb. large or jumbo raw shrimp, peeled and cut into 2-3 pieces each
1 c. Arborio (risotto) rice
1 c. fresh peas
1 - 15oz. can artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped
1 - 15oz. can hearts of palm in water, drained and copped
1 tub Knorr Homestyle Stock, chicken flavor
2 c. water
1 c. white wine (optional, increase water to 3 c. if omitting wine)
1 T. olive oil
3 oz. fresh grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

instructions
1. Sprinkle the raw, chopped shrimp with salt and pepper

2. In a large stock pot coated with olive oil, cook onion over medium heat until translucent, add shrimp, cooking until just barely starting to turn pink

3. Add rice to the shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes until the rice is fragrant, stirring frequently

4. Slowly add 1/2 cup of the water and the Knorr stock, cooking over medium low heat, adding more water in 1/2 cup increments after each addition is absorbed by the rice. Once one cup of water has been added, switch to wine in 1/2 cup increments, and then back to water

5. When one half cup of liquid remains to be added, add hearts, hearts and peas to the mixture

6. Cook until all liquid is absorbed, rice is tender and goodies are warmed through, adding more liquid, if needed

7. Mix in fresh Parmesan, season to taste with salt and pepper

serve warm with additional fresh Parmesan, if desired

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7.05.2011

What a Productive Weekend

What a productive weekend. S already brought all of our pantry stuff that we'd stored in the dining room down to the new pantry a couple weeks ago since it was the first room to be finished and could be closed off while the guys finished up. And he emptied the little room of 75% of its contents so he could get at all the Ikea Gorm shelves we'd stored stuff on during construction - remember when they lined the walls of the entire unfinished half of our basement, here?
We thought we'd need to find new homes for some of the shelves on Craig's List, but this weekend we managed to put every single shelf to use in the shed. It was a huge undertaking that involved emptying everything out of the shed and onto the lawn. This was just the beginning:
And then some serious measuring and planning before we came up with an "E" configuration that basically splits the shed in half and creates a big area of shelves in the middle of the E for all those things we were really afraid we'd never find a home for again. Like lampshades. Over a dozen lampshades that S was so desperately hoping would end up at Goodwill.
On the left we have all of our tools and yard care stuff. On the right we have all our non-temperature sensitive decoration and off-season storage. We have two shelves just for painting supplies (the paint is in the house since it gets waaaaay too hot out here) and our painting outfits and a shelf just for work shoes and boots, as much as I would have liked to have half of those go to Goodwill.

Up above the rafters we have suitcases and camping supplies on one side and extra building supplies on the other. We stored the extra boxes of wood flooring (enough to put a new floor in my office, yay!) inside, under the bed in the new extra guest room downstairs so they'd be exposed to less temperature change, but two boxes didn't fit, so they're above the rafters too.
Look, the giant gardening tote my mom bought us even has its own shelf! 
 And the best part of all is that we're left with several empty or near-empty shelves so that as we slowly but surely organize the closets and storage spaces in the new "garden-level," we can bring out a few more things to make room inside for all our everyday necessities. We're definitely pleasantly surprised that we've been able to find new homes for everything. And finally S is believing my mantra, "don't worry it will be fiiiine" that I repeated over and over when he'd look around our cluttered, during-construction house and wonder how on earth we'd find space for everything after the dust settled.

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7.01.2011

This is the Weekend

The basement has been finished for about a week or two now, except for some pesky problem with the floor tiles that needs to be fixed. Apparently someone sealed the tiles before cleaning excess grout off the tiles first. It's kind of a mess, but we're assured it will be fixed soon.

Luckily the tile issue won't keep us from moving in over the upcoming long holiday weekend! We've started to bring down our furniture and we have an idea of where things will go, but this is the weekend when we'll tackle the lofty goal to empty out Feeney's room completely and find a home in the new space for everything that has been stored in there over the past few months. I can't wait.

Why did we wait so long to move in, if the space has been finished for a week or two? Well, last weekend we were kind of busy celebrating with this beautiful couple:
At this beautiful chapel:
And relaxing at this house:
With this beautiful view:
It's always nice to get away for a weekend to enjoy the chaos of too many people staying at one place at once, don't you think?

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