Monday, December 31, 2012

Kitchen Renovation Reveal (Happy New Year!)

I hope you're celebrating the new year in style.  I know am....and I'm about to show you why.

We've been renovating our house for six months.  The dust, the chaos, the mess...

But it's all starting to be worth it.  We're getting to some real results, people.   Results that I feel good enough about to finally share with the world.

Around Thanksgiving, we decided to renovate our kitchen.  It wasn't part of the original plan, but then there was the microwave.  We special-ordered it, but when it came it was all dented.  It was going to take at least another three weeks to get a new one (thank you, living in the middle of nowhere).  Since we had some extra time on our hands, we decided not to skip over fixing all the stuff we were being too lazy to fix in the first place: the counters, the backsplash and the cabinets.

And, since the microwave actually took almost six weeks to come, we ended up having plenty of time to get the rest of our projects done.

Since we weren't planning on doing the renovation this year, we had to keep costs as low as we could.  The counter tops were definitely the biggest ticket item in the renovation, but we only spent about $500 on the rest of the renovation: the backsplash, the paint, etc.  If new counters aren't in your budget, there are always other options; you just have to think a little out of the box.  I tried stainless steel paint on my laundry counter tops last year and really liked how they came out.


Now for some pictures. The previous owners had this two-tone yellow and white thing going on with the cabinets.  And some truly hideous orange splotchy paint.

They'd also replaced the door fronts with plexiglass and then used do-it-yourself stick-on car window tinting film in the darkest black they could find.  It was not a good choice.

This is what the stove looked like after almost TWO HOURS of scrubbing and scraping. 

 Someone had no idea how to install tiles. 

The worst part was their cabinet paint job.  They did absolutely no prep work.  They didn't even bother to clean them before they painted.  There were hairs and globs of food painted into the cabinets.  Memorialized for all of eternity under the pastel yellow latex.  Nasty.


So, I painstakingly sanded, scraped, cleaned, primed and painted them.  They're not perfect but they're SO much better than before.  We also pulled out the plexiglass and replaced it with some thin wood panels.

We tore out the old tile counters and their pink, green and purple stained grout and replaced them with Zodiaq quartz counters in white.

We pulled down the backsplash they'd made out of floor tiles that stuck out a full inch from the wall, and put in pretty glass tiles in a color I like to call Tiffany Blue.  It's subtle and chic and shiny.

 I love my cooking nook.  It makes me actually want to cook since my kitchen might be my favorite room in my house.

I also love my teapot.

Here are some proper before-and-after shots, so you can see just what a big difference it makes.
Do you see the window tinting film peeling off?

It's so bright and lovely.  And looking at these pictures reminds me just how far we've come.

Now, it's time to tackle the bathrooms.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Making Good on my New Year's Resolution: Homemade Cheese!

Nearly a year ago, I did what many people tend to do this time of year.  I made some New Year's resolutions.

I'm not going to lie, folks, I've not done too well on most of them.  But instead of letting that get me down, I decided to make the best of the two days I had left in the year and knock one of the four off my list.  And you know what, I feel pretty good about that.

Stellar, actually, because the result was delicious enough to make up for the lack of any progress on the other three resolutions.

I. made. cheese!

It turns out that to make cheese, you need a couple of ingredients that are readily available online, but sort of hard to find in the stores in my tiny town.  I'd used that as an excuse to procrastinate for far too long.  Almost 12 months, to be exact.

So my mom got me this kit made by Urban Cheesecraft from Williams-Sonoma for Christmas, which comes with everything you need to make ricotta and/or mozzarella.  Or some of both.

Mozzarella was my top choice for my foray into cheese-making, so it was perfect.

Now, I've often heard the claim "you can make mozzarella in thirty minutes!"  That may very well be true...if you're a more skilled cheese-maker than I am.  Or if you don't try to make the cheese at lunch time while also trying to feed a houseful of guests.  Even still, it was pretty easy.  Maybe next year's resolution will be to get myself below the 30-minute mark on the mozzarella making...

You start by calibrating the thermometer that came with the kit.  This step probably took thirty minutes by itself.  That might have been because I boiled a pot of water to calibrate with, then absentmindedly dumped it out before calibrating.

The thermometer in the kit comes with a handy tool thing that lets you tighten or loosen the thermometer to get it to read 212 degrees in boiling water.

These are the tricky ingredients I told you about: rennet tablets and citric acid.  You dissolve 1/4 of a rennet tablet in 1/2 cup of non-chlorinated water.  Oh....crap...non-chlorinated?  It's handy to know that before you start this process so you can run to the store.  I used distilled water.

You also dissolve 1-1/2 teaspoons of citric acid in 1 cup of non-chlorinated water.

Then you pour a whole gallon of milk in a big pot.  I used whole milk...the creamier the better when cheese is concerned, I'd say.  Add the citric acid solution and heat over medium-low heat.

Once the milk gets to 90 degrees (which happens awfully quickly, I might add), you stir in the rennet solution.  The directions say to stir it in an up and down motion.  Maybe I should have used a bigger pot.

You'll see the curds (the chunky white part) start to separate from the whey (the yellow part).

You keep heating the pot until the cheese-solution of weirdness gets to about 105 degrees.  Your curds will start to separate from the side of the pan (see the left side of the pot above).

Then turn off the heat.  Look at all those curds and whey.  Little Miss Muffet would be proud.

Next you ladle your curds into a "heat-proof" bowl.  Whatever that is.

Then you have to ladle them into a microwave-safe bowl.  I'm not sure why dirtying two bowls is necessary, except that you get rid of a bunch of the whey from the first bowl.  Also, you can save the whey and use it for lots of things.  I didn't, but I might next time.

Anyway, back to the microwave-safe bowl.  You heat your curds in the microwave thirty seconds at a time at half power.  After each heating session, you pour off the whey in the bowl and fold the curds over a couple times to distribute the heat.

I had to do this about three times before my curds reached the optimal stretching temperature of 135 degrees.

Then, you add some cheese salt (I used a little under 1-1/2 teaspoons, but you can use more if you like saltier cheese).  Once the salt is in, you stretch the cheese to make it come together.  I really doubted that stretching this blob of curdy things was going to do much of anything, but it's like magic.  All the curds turn into cheese.  (I didn't get any pictures of this since cheese-stretching is very much a two-handed job).

There's the pretty ball of cheese. was more like a glob of cheese.

And what do you do with a glob of mozzarella cheese? Why you grate it up for homemade pizza of course!

It looks like...mozzarella.  Which was the point after all. 

Then you make the super secret pizza sauce.  I love this sauce: it's a little tangier and thicker than just plain tomato sauce. Mix a can of tomato puree and a can of tomato sauce together.  That's it. Add some dried or chopped fresh basil or oregano if you're feeling really fancy.

Then put it all together with your favorite pizza dough recipe.  Or one out of a can.  I won't tell.

That, my friends, is the taste of success!

So, with 26 hours left of 2012, I've accomplished the most important of my New Year's resolutions.

What about you?  Are you making any resolutions for 2013?

Monday, December 24, 2012

12 Days of Homemade Christmas: Photo on Wood Block

Day 12! I'm so glad I made it.  Though I thought about giving up more than once, it actually seems like it wasn't all that hard in retrospect.  Maybe I can get a hang of this whole blogging thing again after all.

Several months ago, I came across this video tutorial for how to put photos on wood blocks, which I think is a pretty darn clever idea.  I've been wanting to try it, especially after our fun family photos a couple weeks ago, so I decided to incorporate it into my homemade ornament bonanza.

I love how the photos look on wood, and you'll never guess how simple a process it is.

I told my husband to cut me a shape out of wood; I left the type of wood and the shape up to him.  He brought me this:

That'll work.  I've also got my pictures printed out to fit on my wooden shape and my gel medium (bought it at the craft store in the paint supplies).  I have a regular inkjet printer, and I used regular printing paper. If you print words, keep in mind that they'll be backward on your ornament because of how this project works.  Only if you can print in mirror image will they be right.

Next, spread gel medium on your wood.  This was probably the hardest part...not because painting the gel medium on was hard, but because when I went to the craft store to get gel medium, there were about two dozen options, and I had no idea which one was right.  I finally just picked one and didn't look back.

Once your gel medium is on the wood, place your picture face down onto the ornament.  Then leave it overnight.

The next day, you'll need to scrub the paper off the ornament.  Use a wet sponge or rag to wet the paper and then rub the paper until it comes off.  Rub gently or you'll risk scraping off the ink entirely.  My camera, unfortunately didn't record the pictures during this part.

Once all the paper is off and the ornament is dry, paint over the photo with some mod podge.  Then you're done.  Like I said, it's surprisingly simple to get the photo onto your wooden shape.  

And that's it! I think this would be an awesome way to keep yearly family photos.  I might make one a year on different shapes, and by the time our little man is grown, we'll have a whole set.

I hope you're all enjoying your families and your holidays.  I'm wishing you all the best.  Enjoy!

12 Days of Homemade Christmas: Doily Treat Cone

Day 11! I'm almost there! A week ago, twelve days of blogging with real projects seemed impossible.  Now, I've only got one more day.  I've got tomorrow's ornament started, but I'm not 100% sure it's going to work.  If it doesn't, I don't know what I'll do.  Except maybe accept defeat at my self-challenge.  But I really don't want to do that, so keep your fingers crossed that it goes well.

Today is a simple doily hanger.  I filled mine with greenery, but you could put all kinds of things: fluffy feathers, mini candy canes, flowers.  I bet you could even use it to hold some kind of little gifts.

I started out by painting a doily with gold metallic paint.  I only did one coat on each side, and you could still see some of the doily paper peeking through in some spots.  But I wasn't in the mood to paint anymore, so I decided I liked a rustic look.

Cut a slit in your doily from one edge to the center.  Gold doilies are so pretty.  I might have to find more use for them in my life.

Roll your doily into a cone and glue the edge in place.

Glue a nice ribbon in an arch over the top of your cone.  Can you picture this filled with wrapped peppermints or something? So cute.  Maybe you could even use these on gifts in place of bows.

Fill it with whatever you chose, and voila!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

12 Days of Homemade Christmas: I Spy Christmas

Every now and then, I see "I Spy" bottles around the web: basically a water bottle filled with little treasures and rice. Kids take the bottles and move them around to find (spy) all the different little things inside.  So, I decided to make a Christmas version in a bulb.  I think  it's pretty neat.

First, you gather up all of your objects.  I used a bunch of Christmas buttons and things.

Then, you put them in a clear bulb.  It's worth noting that this is a plastic bulb, not a glass one.  I wouldn't give a two-year-old a glass bulb; I'm not crazy.

Make sure you write a list of all the things in the bulb so your child knows what they're looking for (and so you don't forget).

Then, fill it with rice and put a bow on it.  I didn't fill mine all the way up so there was still room for the rice to move about.  Also, I'd highly recommend hot gluing or super gluing the top onto your ornament so Junior can't pull the top off and pour rice all over your house (or choke on small things).

That's it! For a harder version, you could paint almost the entire bulb, leaving just a window for the kids to find the objects in.  I may do that at some point down the line, but for now, this version works just fine!

That's it!  Pretty easy.  And pretty fun.