Category Archives: DIY

There’s just something about nut butter that sticks around.

Growing up, I was definitely a peanut butter gal. I vaguely recall peanut butter and honey sandwiches in preschool. And peanut butter and jelly was what Mom packed for me on field trips or whenever we ran out of ham and cheese (my other staple). But I even ate just plain bread with peanut butter slathered inside, unsticking my tongue from the roof of my mouth with the most un-obnoxious suction sound I could muster. Peanut butter between Ritz crackers. Or graham crackers. In college, I ate peanut butter by the spoonful with my Rice Krispies cereal. Always store-bought. And if you must know, I was loyal to the brand that begins with J and rhymes with cliff.

Before swim practice, I sometimes bought a pack of peanuts from a vending machine, and was delighted the day a friend showed me how to stuff a bunch of peanuts in my mouth at once and chew them without swallowing to make peanut butter.

And that’s pretty much how you make nut butter.

If you prefer the kind that hasn’t been regurgitated, a food processor is the way to go.

We’re out of peanuts, so today I made almond butter using Alana Chernila‘s recipe in her book, The Homemade Pantry. I roasted some almonds (1 pound) in the oven (350F for 15 minutes) to bring out their nuttiness. After they had cooled, I whizzed them up in the food processor with a little bit of honey (a spoonful) and salt (half teaspoon). When it looked like almond meal, I drizzled in a little oil (3.5 tablespoons). It looked like bread crumbs. and then play-doh. And then. THEN.

Roasted almonds

Almonds in food processor with honey and salt

Ground almonds

Almond paste

Almond butter

When did the transition happen – the transition when you discover that the foods of your childhood are suddenly overly sweet, annoyingly packaged, or disappointingly manipulated to call forth some nostalgic emotion because it just doesn’t taste quite the same? The transition when homemade, even the simplest homemade items, are suddenly far superior and satisfying?

It’s said that as we age, our taste buds die, which explains why kids often can’t tolerate the taste of extremely bitter foods – because they’re tasting it like listening to music with the volume at 100 when 30 would be plenty sufficient. Is there something about loss of taste buds or otherwise aging that makes the homemade more appealing?

It’s also said that children smile on average 400 times per day. Adults on average smile less than 20 times each day. Making your own nut butter and savoring it with your tastebuds (dying though they may be) will definitely make you smile. Maybe even more than 20 times in one day.

Homemade almond butter

Who knew making nut butter was so simple?? I knew. And yet I only just now got around to doing it. If you haven’t started making your own, don’t wait as long as I did. You’ll be done in less than half an hour. You can alter the basic recipe to include a mix of nuts and spices, chocolate, even fruit of your choosing. (Check out this local guy’s inspiring flavors). That’s what I’ll be doing for the next couple months while we continue to hibernate through the tail end of winter.

P.S. Alana recommends storing your homemade nut butters in the fridge for up to 1 month. If it hasn’t disappeared before then.

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Foolproof Hostess Gift for the Holidays

Did you know that most etiquette books advise against bringing the host(ess) fresh flowers when you journey to their home for a dinner party? This is because your host is probably busy putting finishing touches on food, greeting guests, serving cocktails, cleaning up a wine spill, telling the kids to go back to bed, etc. Fresh flowers need to be trimmed to go in a vase with haste, provided the host can locate a vessel of a suitable size, and you can see how that might not be your friend’s top priority with the hustle and bustle of hosting. I maintain that flowers are an acceptable hostess gift, but spare yourself this party faux pas by bringing your fresh flowers already arranged and in water.

Now that you may be receiving invitations for Friendsgivings, Thanksgiving meals with inlaws, and holiday parties galore, here’s a simple, inexpensive way to bring fresh holiday cheer to a hostess near you.

Paperwhite Bulb

You’ll need:
– 0.5 gallon mason jar (or other tall vase – check thrift stores to purchase a few cheaply)
– couple handfuls of decorative stones (I get mine at the craft store with a coupon, but if you have a gravel driveway or live near a river bed, go to town!)
– a paperwhite bulb
– ribbons, twine, burlap, or other decor

Step 1. Make sure your jar is clean. Add a handful of stones to the bottom.

Step 2. Nestle the bulb in the stones. Add additional stones until the bulb is mostly (but not all the way) covered.

Step 3. Add water just until the bottom of the bulb is touching the water. See the water line in the photo below?

Paperwhite bulb

Step 4. Decorate the jar by adding a ribbon, burlap, twine, paint, etc.

Paperwhite in Mason Jar

You can purchase paperwhite bulbs at your local nursery, or order them online. You could also use amaryllis bulbs, another holiday favorite, but these are larger, and will require a container that can accommodate their size. You can start this project today and present the bulbs in various states of growth to your hosts throughout this holiday season – just be sure to keep the water level so the bottom of the bulb is just touching the water.

Paperwhites grow tall and (usually) straight, which is why I recommend a tall container, but really you can use any old container – if it’s less than 12″ tall, just be sure to tell your friend that the flower may need to have a stake to lean on once it reaches full height. It’ll take 4-8 weeks to blossom, so keep that in mind if you’re hoping to use bloomed paperwhites for a party of your own.

This gift was inspired by a woman with whom I worked in my former corporate life. She gave each of her team members a paperwhite bulb for Christmas each year. She was like my “work mom,” and so I always got one too, and loved watching the bulb grow and grow until it finally bloomed.

Whenever we are invited to dinner or an event at someone’s home, I like to take a little token to present to our hosts. Typically it’s something homemade like jam, relish, soap, Alex’s beer, or infused booze. And if I’m really short on time, a bottle of wine dressed up with some ribbons. This holiday, these simple paperwhite gifts will bring a little greenery and cheer for weeks to come, and they won’t stress out our hosts, even the most black-thumbed of them.

P.S. Don’t know what a paperwhite looks like in bloom? They’re kind of like tiny white daffodils. A quick google search can help you out.

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Here’s a little Friday funny for you. Alex likes to look through my WordPress stats – number of views I’ve had, popular posts, etc. It must be an engineer thing because I just am not that interested in the numbers, but my brainy husband finds it entertaining. Recently he gathered together 10 of the most popular/unusual search engine terms that have landed people at my humble blogging home, and I thought I’d share them with you for giggles, but also to point you to some useful information that may have been buried in the archives. (That, and you can chuckle at how my writing style has evolved. Or not).

1) “HOW TO HANG PELMETS”
Reference Post: In which I Best the Pelmet Box

New kitchen windowI’m pretty amused that this is the number one search term. First, because I don’t claim to be a home decorating genius. And second, because the method I used is sort of anti-climactic in its super low-tech-ness. But, as they say, sometimes genius is in the ordinary. (Actually, I think the quote goes “Genius is the capacity to see ten things where the ordinary man sees one.” Admittedly, I did try a couple failed solutions before arriving at the winning technique.)

Super glue.

As I described in the original post, the pelmet I made was crafted around a foam core board that I covered with batting and fabric, using heavy duty staples. The wall space around my kitchen window is limited, so I bought some small, metal L-brackets from the decking section of Home Depot and screwed them into the wall. After several failed attempts, I slathered both the fabric and the bracket with superglue, and used clamps to hold everything in place for 24+ hours. It has never yet failed me. Knock on wood.

Which would be easy to do if my pelmet box were legitimately made of wood. But it’s not. It should go without saying that this technique probably won’t work on a wooden pelmet box. I am hopeful that you would use a sturdier bracket to secure your wooden pelmet.

2) “THINGS TO DO WITH PIE CRUST/DOUGH”
Reference post: A (P)interesting Thing to Do with Pie Crust
This search term leads me to a follow-up question: Are we making pie crust and then finding ourselves to lazy/impatient to bake a pie? I mean, because the obvious answer to this inquiry would be…make a pie…right?

In all likelihood, after creating a pie, we find ourselves with a bit of scrap dough that seems such a shame to throw away, especially when it could be made into something delicious. In my post, I described a method for making a sort of breakfast pizza with the scraps. You could fill it with lots of things, really.

Alternatively, you could make hand pies! Sort of like empanadas. When I make a big batch of meat in the slow cooker, and we’re on our third day of eating barbecue-flavored beef, you just have to mix it up a little. Roll out leftover pie dough fairly thin. Cut circles with a biscuit cutter or the top of a drinking glass turned upside down. Add a spoonful of (cooked) meat (or other filling) to the center of one circle. Lay on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Line the edges of the dough with a bit of egg wash to act as glue, then lay a second circle on top, using the tines of a fork to press the pieces together all the way around. Brush the tops with egg wash to help it brown nicely in the oven. Bake at the same temperature you would for your pie, but you’ll probably only need to bake about 20-30 minutes–until the tops are a nice golden color. This is a decadent way to make your leftovers seem new and exciting and my current favorite way to “create stuff with pie crust” (which was a close runner-up in search term frequency).

And one more thought, you can update your soup with a pie crust lid! Put your soup in an oven-proof bowl. Roll out pie crust dough. Run some egg wash around the outside edge of your bowl. Place the dough on top, pressing it to the outer lip of the bowl. Brush the top with more egg wash and bake until golden brown.

3) “HOW TO HIDE A DOG CRATE”
Reference post: (2013) January Cure Re-cap, Week 3
So. You’ve probably seen some of those photos on pinterest where people tuck their dog crates under end tables in their living room. These, of course, would be for smaller dogs. A great dane’s crate might fit under the dining room table, you know, if you didn’t want to eat dinner there anymore. You may also have seen photos where people seem to design their house around their furry friends, giving them cozy nooks under the stairs Harry Potter-style, or entire drawers in the kitchen that house food bowls that can be closed out of sight when finished.

Dog crates area in living room "before" shotWe do not have any of these things. Nero’s and Rogue’s crates are both size “large,” and they are decidedly not hidden. Whoever searched for this probably landed on my blog, thought “omg this is definitely how not to hide a dog crate,” and moved on. But it was too late and so my post just keeps getting bumped up in Google’s search algorithms while the rest of the world laughs maniacally at my definition of hidden.

But here’s the thing. Don’t force it. Yeah, it’d be nice if we had a finished basement (or any basement, at all) that could be the dogs’ domain. But we don’t. Their crates occupy a corner of our living room, near the back door. When they’re especially tired, they like to go in to lie down, and having easy access is comforting to them and to me.

Instead, I think of it as like the “kids’ corner.” Some houses may have brightly colored plastic furniture, and storage baskets for stray toys. Ours is dog crates. Of course, the black metal grating can seem kind of out-of-place with the rest of our decor, so I covered the top with a blanket, add some decorative baskets to store things like towels (for wiping muddy paws), leashes, gloves, flashlights, and poopie bags. I also added an inexpensive boot tray where Alex and I keep our outdoor shoes in easy reach without cluttering the floor. Wouldn’t want Rogue to trip when she rockets out the door to chase a squirrel…

4) “WHAT CAN I MAKE WITH MEAT TO MAKE IT LOOK FANCY?”
Reference Post: A Fancy for Fancy Meat and others…
This goes back to a really old post in which I made Jamie Oliver’s ground beef Wellington (which also contains a link to Matambre). I’ll have you know that I have yet to make either of these recipes again. Both are definitely something you should save for a weekend or holiday meal when you have more time to linger in the kitchen, maybe while listening to some Latin music.

If rolled meats aren’t what you had in mind, perhaps you’d like to try a Chicken Cordon Bleu or Chicken Florentine. If you’re too tired to pound out a chicken breast flat, use the America’s Test Kitchen tip of slicing horizontally into the thickest part of the meat to create a little pocket to stuff your ingredients inside.

And if what you had in mind was more about how to make the food on your plate look good (including the meat), consider browsing my mini-series in which I worked my way through Louis Eguaras’s ways to make a plate look better. (But don’t laugh too hard – these were written in my novice days of food plating. The tips are good, even if my own photos say otherwise).

DIY Christmas bunting flag5) “WHAT TO DO WITH OLD CHRISTMAS CARDS”
Reference Post: What to do with Your Old Christmas Cards
This is one craft project that I am particularly proud of, and one of my collaborations with my friend, Carrie, the decorating genius behind Dream Green DIY and Carrie Waller Creative. We cut up our old Christmas cards and glued them to twine to make a bunting flag banner! Speaking of, it’s almost time for me to pull mine out of storage to adorn our house with holiday memories! In the post, I also describe a simple way to use old cards to make ornaments using canning rings–something that I will be adding to a adorn a lot of gifts this year since I find myself in possession of a population of reproducing canning rings.

6) “I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER THE LAST TIME I RECEIVED A CHRISTMAS CARD”
Reference Post: umm…?
I…I mean…I’m sorry? Maybe if you sent more Christmas cards, you’d receive more? I don’t know how to respond, really.

7) “WHAT IS THE FORMULA FOR SOUP?”
Reference Post: The Not-so-Secret Formula for Soup
Base flavors. Aromatics. Liquid. Garnish. Read through the post for more details.

93c7d42cd67611e19297123138203b9f_78) “HOW TO MAKE A TOMATO SOUND SEXY?”
Reference Post: The Sexiest Tomato Cream Sauce You’ll Likely Ever Make
If you want to make a tomato sound sexy, call it a love apple. If you want to make a tomato taste sexy, make this sauce.

9) “PIPE PLUMBING NEIGHBOR SUSPICIOUS WIRE”
Reference Post: ???
I couldn’t find anything I have ever written containing these five words in concert. Sounds like you may have bigger things to fry than fried chicken (one of my early video appearances!), or than the fried eggs I made on the grill after the 2012 derecho, or than arancini.

Maybe consider making a batch of these cookies, going to your  neighbor’s house, and starting with “hello.”

10) “MAGICAL PROPERTIES OF CARROTS”
Reference Post: Magical Tales of Carrots and Ginger
When I was young, my mom told me that if I ate a lot of carrots, I’d have excellent vision. I interpreted this to mean that eating lots of carrots, would allow me to see in the dark. Meaning, I’d be able to read a book under the covers of my bed without the aid of a flashlight. What a rebellious child I was!

As it turns out, the most magical property of carrots that I have discovered thus far is its uncanny ability to pair well with ginger. Whether it’s a soup or a cake, be sure to make this a flavor combination for your arsenal. (Not sure if that knowledge will help you in this game though).

And there you have it. Curious search terms that call forth some posts from the archives for your reviewing pleasure. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Weird Search Terms

Screen Printing Love: A Blogging Exchange with DreamGreen DIY

I had always thought screen printing was a really complicated process. Whenever I’d see a greeting card in our local stationery store with a “Screen printed” sticker on its protective cellophane envelope, or browsed dozens of beautiful boutique throw pillows boasting a screen print design, I’d pictured an operation on the scale of the printing press circa Gutenberg. Dozens of stencils and woodblock cuts organized in little boxes, huge ink rollers, and lots of lever-maneuvering to produce what suspiciously resembled an elaborate rubber stamp design. In my mind, screen printing was not something the average home craft enthusiast should think about tackling.

Screen print black heart tote bag

But thanks to my friend Carrie, of Dream Green DIY, and the magic of DIY screenprinting kits, I stand corrected. This art is accessible and fun, and opens up a whole realm of creative possibilities (and it has a fascinating history, which you can read about here). Last weekend when Carrie and I got together chez moi to teach each other something new (as we do a couple times a year), and while our husbands brewed some beer on the stove, Carrie showed me how it’s done!

Here’s what you need:

Fabric Screen Print Ink

Screen print fabric ink (or paper ink if you’re printing onto paper) found at your local craft or art supply store

DIY Screen Print Kit

A screen (yes, really), a template and fabric of your choosing (Carrie selected a simple heart and a canvas tote bag), and a scraper-thingie (technical term, I think it’s alternately called a fill blade or a squeegee).

DIY Screen Print

A friend to hold your screen in place (thanks, John!), plus a little muscle power to help spread the ink

The setup:

Screen Print Template

Screen Print Sandwich

Think of it like an open-faced sandwich. On the bottom, your plate (we put down some old paper to protect the table and keep the bag in place). Next, the bread to carry all your ingredients– in our case, the tote bag. Continuing to layer upwards, we have the template (cut to size for the width of the screen), the screen, and the ink.

The process:

Drag the squeegee this way...

Basically, all you do is plop a generous amount of ink onto the screen. Using firm, even pressure, scrape the squeegee over the ink and down the screen in order to depress the ink through the screen and onto the receiving medium. Be sure to go from top to bottom and side to side and bottom to top–all directions to make sure the ink has adhered. Carefully remove the stencil, and let dry. And that’s it!

...and this way

If you wanted to do multiple colors, you would simply layer them on top once your first layer had dried (and after you wash the original color off your screen). Carrie entertained the idea of making a chevron stripe template and painting it over the existing heart. For this first project, we decided simpler might be better, and Carrie hoped to hand-paint a fitting word in this black heart.

A couple hints we learned along the way:

– Fabric ink really is different from paper ink. Carrie tested the process on a sheet of glossy paper, and we were a little wary that the heart came out kind of smudgy and really uneven. You’ll be relieved to know that fabric ink performs beautifully on fabric.

Screen Print close-up

– Scrape the ink across the screen in all directions, not just top to bottom. In case your fabric has a “grain,” scraping in all directions insures that the ink has adhered. Unless you’re trying to achieve a vintage, splotchy look…

– We decided it wouldn’t be that difficult to make your own screen, if you needed a bigger one, for example. Simply stretch a piece of very fine mesh or gauzy fabric across a simple wooden frame (like an old wooden picture frame, perhaps?) and staple in place.

– Iron the fabric before you get started. Wrinkles are so uncool, and can cause your design to be a little wonky. It would be a shame to ruin a design because you didn’t take 2 minutes to iron your fabric flat.

– Print your template onto cardstock. The heavier weight paper won’t let the ink bleed through and provides more stability throughout the whole process.

Screen printed tote bag

Isn’t this a clever project? Carrie and I were pretty geeked out at how well it worked, and I can’t wait to see what she decides to do with her new bag. It might be something fun to do to make gifts for friends or an activity for girls’ night in. And you’re not limited to tote bags – how about shirts? pillowcases? tablecloths or table runners? cloth napkins?

Oh, and if you want to check out how I taught Carrie to bake a pie, check out her account of the day here! And if you want to catch up on what else Carrie and I have tackled together, check out our recaps here (or here), and here (or here).

Thanks, Carrie, for a great day of fun and learning! Now we wanna hear from you! What skills have you traded with a friend recently? Anybody interested in trying screen printing? Any screen print experts out there with more tips to share? Do tell.

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DIY Dog Puzzle Toy

Need something new (and cheap) with which to surprise your furry friend?

How about this DIY puzzle toy. Take an empty toilet paper roll. Make a 1-inch cut at 90-degree spots at each end (or at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock if that’s easier). You should now have four tabs at each end. Fold them down such that each tab is underneath one neighbor and overlapping the other. This closes the “box” without needing tape or glue.

Dog puzzle toy from a toilet paper tube

Before you close the other end, fill with pieces of food or treats. Watch as your pup devises an interesting strategy to get at the goodies inside.

Nero's strategy

Nero prefers to just take the tube head on, chowing down through the cardboard to crush the treats within. He knows that eventually, they’ll fall out, and, if he’s fast enough, he can enjoy them before Rogue scoops them up.

Rogue's strategy

Rogue is a bit daintier, inspecting the tube for any visible weaknesses, and periodically smelling it just to make sure the treats are still there.

Rogue's strategy, part 2

Occasionally she steps back to see if it will play with her before trying to torture a confession out of it.

Winter has decided it’s not finished with us just yet, forcing us inside today. My dogs love this game, and it’s the perfect thing to keep us entertained while the winter precipitation once again turns our backyard into a swamp. Nero and Rogue have both gotten faster at figuring out how to dismantle the puzzle, but it’s an engaging mental challenge nonetheless. Plus I make them practice lots of tricks before they get this big treat for a reward.

*Please, make sure to watch your dogs while they enjoy this treat. And don’t leave the chewed cardboard bits lying around.

What kinds of mental stimulation do your dogs enjoy? What other DIY puzzle toys can you think of? Do tell.

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January Cure Re-cap, Week 4

Okay, okay. I’m a little behind. My progress on Apartment Therapy’s January Cure was slowed by our mid-winter escape to Colorado. But that’s okay. Let me show you what has happened in the interim.

Assignment 14: Organize papers and files

It feels weird to take a photo of our bills and files and post it on the interwebs, so I didn’t. Incidentally, I had already started re-organizing our files before the January Cure started. I adapted an outline system that I read about in You Can Farm by Joel Salatin, of all places. I took everything out of the folders they were already in and sorted them into piles of like items. Then, using Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters, and whatever the official hierarchy is for making an outline, I assigned each folder a spot on the outline. The master list shows me everything at a glance. There are a couple advantages to this system: 1) the master list keeps track of each folder’s contents – sort of like a table of contents for our file folders. 2) hassle-free folder/tab labeling: If I no longer need a file, I can re-use the folder without worrying about crossing out the label because I will just change the title of the folder on the master list. 3) new folders can be added quickly and easily: Thanks to the outline system, a folder can be added within a category, or to create a new category. All I have to do is label it with the next available set of numbers in the outline hierarchy, and update the master list to indicate its addition. Huzzah!

And in case that made no sense whatsoever, here’s an excerpt from the master list:

I. House
     A. Mortgage statements
          1. 2010
          2. 2011
          3. 2012
     B. Real estate taxes
     C. Water bills

As such, the folder labeled “I.A.2.” can be expected to contain home mortgage statements from 2011. Neat, right?

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be grown up and have oodles of file folders in my desk that I could thumb through and push aside to access contents. I thought it would be so official and business-like. Now that I do have files, I’m struggling to find that blissful naive childhood vision, primarily thanks to the option of online payments. Are paper statements things of the past? It seems redundant to print an online statement and squirrel it away. So, as it stands, the filing system I described above goes for anything we receive in the mail and feel compelled to keep – you know, the important stuff (Apartment Therapy has a useful list of how long you should hang onto these things). Let me know if you have any ideas for reconciling the digital/paper statement divide.

Assignment 15: Wrangle cords

I haven’t done this yet.

Assignment 16: Clean out bathroom medicine cabinet

This was a humbling task. I was so sure that because our bathroom is so small to begin with, we couldn’t possibly have accumulated stuff that needed to be tossed, much less re-organized. I was quite happy with our system and was confident that I knew exactly what products were where.

One trash can-ful of expired, empty, or unused product containers, trash, and broken objects later…

Seriously! I did toss a lot of things that we don’t use anymore or were hanging onto for who knows what reason. I outboxed my hair dryer because it was taking up space and I haven’t used it in at least 3 years (I’ve probably only used it 20 times total since purchasing it back in high school!).

This afforded me time to clean everything out, vacuum the hair out of drawers and baskets, wipe down the closet shelves, and re-organize everything into their most useful and accessible positions.

Newly organized bathroom sink drawer

Newly reorganized bathroom closet

Assignment 17: Re-evaluate living room lighting

This was on my original list of projects, and one that I am still in-process with. As luck would have it, I did find a lamp in the past month–one that my mom and I loved in the store but whose price didn’t exactly have us jumping for joy. A week later, I was still thinking about it, so I went out and purchased it as an investment piece in our room. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have another warm light source in our living room. Especially because there was only one previous light source: the pendant lamp in the foyer. I am still searching for the perfect lamps to flank or top the piano…

Spot the new alabaster lamp on the second shelf...

Spot the new alabaster lamp on the second shelf…

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

Assignment 18: Get fresh flowers, deep-clean the living room, empty the outbox

Believe it or not, the flowers I have been getting for these assignments have had an average life span of 2.5 weeks! This meant that before vacation, I had 4 arrangements of flowers on display throughout the house! Cheery! But because I wasn’t here to freshen up their water for a few days, they’re all now looking a little deflated, so it’s time to pick up some new ones this weekend. I’m also mentally preparing to tackle the emptying of the outbox…wish me luck.

And here are some updates from previous assignments

exp

 1. Large appliances, canning/processing tools, and liquor hide out in the cabinet under the island. 2. Cake pans, pie pans, and other ovenware live under the watchful owls’ gazes above the stove. 3. Frying pans and saucepots in the lower cabinet to the right of the oven. 4. This drawer is conveniently situated between the stove and island for easy access to peelers and graters, spatulas and pastry brushes, thermometers, and scoopers. 5. The like-with-like theme continues with whisks, tongs, and knives above the stove. 6. This cabinet is between the stove and island and holds mixing bowls, cooling racks, and oversized frying pans. 7. I even had time to get a little crafty and hot glue two years’ worth of wine corks into a little heart wreath to adorn a corner cabinet! 8. This cabinet, to the left of the sink holds colanders, the salad spinner, the crockpot (because I usually put it on the counter above this cabinet when in use), and cutting boards. 9. Behold the functional counter space to the right of the stove with the food processor, kitchen scale, and other utensils. 10. The swivel corner cabinet holds glass storage containers, vintage casserole dishes, the rice cooker, and measuring cups.

I went a little crazy and totally re-organized our kitchen cabinets and shelving. My method? Proximity and efficiency. I wanted to keep things spatially close to where I am most likely to use them, with like items together. Frying pans and saucepots are nestled together by the stove. Colanders are near the sink. Measuring cups of all varieties are now neighbors. And so on. Further, I had deluded myself into thinking that Alex and I are the type of people who enjoy a cocktail when we get home from work (we’re really not), so this clean-out helped me realize that my scant collection of liquor on the countertop was just taking up space and gathering dust. I stowed the bottles in a different cabinet and set up the food processor and kitchen scale in their place, where they will be much easier to access and use. Perhaps the biggest change though was moving the microwave to the counter. (Where was it previously? On the floor in a corner near the dining room table…) Since acquiring our mini toaster/convection oven, I had resisted putting the microwave on the counter because I thought it looked cramped to have two boxy-appliances in such close proximity, and I had convinced myself that we didn’t actually need the microwave. We use it to…reheat leftovers quickly, melt butter for grilled cheese or soften it for baking, sterilize the kitchen sponge, reheat a mug of tea…and, well, that’s about it. But thanks to the re-organization tune I was humming, I realized we do have the space for it – the counter wasn’t being used for anything else, after all. And I can get used to having two boxy things next to each other. But most of all, I am relieved to have it off the floor where it was cluttering the already tight-quartered dining area. Phew!

Kitchen counterspace

The January Cure has officially ended, but I’ve got a couple assignments yet to finish. I’ll catch you up next week!

Read previous re-caps here:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

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January Cure Re-cap, Week 3

I’ll admit. When I first signed on for Apartment Therapy’s January Cure, I was skeptical that I would notice much difference in my home, much less feel any different. But halfway through the month and I am truly finding dozens of little things to feel happy about around the house! There is progress! There is organization! There is satisfaction! And though I’m trying not to think about it, I’m already feeling sad for the day when I don’t receive a new assignment in my inbox.

Assignment 9: Create a landing strip

I’m so glad this was an assignment because now I finally get to show off our new entryway that Alex built almost 5 months ago! As evidenced by the “before” photo below, our front entry once looked a bit plain. We had a mail sorter that I found at TJMaxx and which I spray painted a more neutral color to better match our decor. But it just looked so…first-apartment-ish. In the summer I became obsessed with DIY entry wainscotting/board-and-batten and used tutorials (here and here) to draw my inspiration. I won’t post a tutorial on how to do it because a) I didn’t take those kind of detailed process photos, and b) there are already tons of very nice tutorials out there. Luckily, Alex was totally on board with this project and kind of took charge to make sure everything came out perfectly (thanks, babe!). I was in charge of painting it afterwards. I think it adds tons of function and value to the entry of our house. What a relief!

L-R, Top then bottom: Before, we had an awkward blank wall that held our mail basket and a painting; Alex pulled out the floor molding and cut wood to fit; the top ledge drying; the finished wall in use

L-R, Top then bottom: Before, we had an awkward blank wall that held our mail basket and a painting; Alex pulled out the floor molding and cut wood to fit; the top ledge drying; the finished wall in use

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the artwork atop the wall currently includes: the wooden J, O, and Y from our 2012 Christmas card; a bridal portrait of me with the back of my dress; our wedding “guestbook” painting “signed” creatively by our guests with the phrase “EST. 2011” in wooden letters glued (and decorated) to the bottom of the canvas; and a portrait of Nero posing with a stick in Atlanta (that was impressively shot with a cell phone camera – thanks, Mike!). None of these are affixed to the wall, so we can swap them out as we please.

Making of the front entry "landing strip"

But back to the assignment. Because of the numerous hooks we added (which we use for our keys, and, as you see, jackets and scarves in the winter), I was practically halfway done with the landing strip already! My challenge was shoes. Though we try to keep the shoe pile contained – two pairs each, the rest go in our bedroom closets – it was still looking messy. I kept my two pairs on the steps that lead upstairs, and Alex kept his on the floor where they sometimes fell prey to the clutches of a playful puppy’s jaws. They were homeless shoes! (Tangent: All this talk about shoes… I just remembered that when I was an RA in college, I organized a service project for my residents and we went down to the local Salvation Army for a big “shoe sort” from shoes that had been donated and would be redistributed for a big sale to be held for folks who needed them. We spent an afternoon sorting hundreds of pairs of shoes by size inside a gymnasium. It was smelly, dusty, and I sneezed and sniffled for days afterward. It was a good cause! But I’m sure glad we only have a couple pairs to sort at the entry of our house.) To solve our homeless shoes problem, I used inspiration photos from the Cure to hunt down a nice-looking boot tray and stowed it on the floor just around the corner of the steps. I am so relieved at how much more intentional our shoe storage looks now. I’ve been practicing my “entering the house” routine with great zeal.

Assignment 10: Project progress

Crate project progress

As I mentioned last week, the project I chose to work on is the dogs’ area of the living room. As a result of yesterday’s assignment, I realized that we really have two entrances that get a lot of traffic, and perhaps I could benefit from two landing strips – one by the front door, and one by the back where we let the dogs in and out and where I venture out to the garden.

Re-envisioning the top of the dog crates as another landing strip gave me a great direction for what to do next. I sorted the pile o’stuff that had accumulated into five groups: shoes; collars/leashes; “human” dog stuff like flashlights, gloves for walking in the cold, etc.; towels for wiping off muddy paws; and stuff that doesn’t belong here (and which I promptly returned to their rightful places).

I bought a second, cheaper boot tray for our outdoor shoes. I re-sorted the baskets so that everything has its place (the open one in the back is for bags, gloves, flashlights; the fabric-lined one in the front is for leashes and harnesses; and the one with the lid is for hiding towels). And I found two simple hooks at TJMaxx a while ago which I spray painted white and had Alex help me hang. Like the hooks where we hang our jackets in the foyer, the dogs have their own spot to hang (and display) their collars. Although, let’s face it, they could care less where their collars are, unless it’s time to put them on because that means we’re going somewhere – celebrate!! Ahem. Maybe it’s tacky to display your dog collars in such a visible spot in the house, but lacking a mudroom or other more enclosed entry, this is what we’ve got. And, if we ever did want to hide them, we can simply slide that curtain over to cover them up. No problemo!

My plan for finalizing this area includes:
– considering alternative options for the blue blanket on top of the crates
– adding more art or possibly a small shelf to the blue wall, and arranging artwork accordingly

Assignment 11: Media Fast

There is no photographic evidence of this assignment because the fast prohibited me from using my phone (by which I usually instagram my progress), computer, TV, iPad, etc.

I spent the bulk of my morning working from home and researching zoning ordinances for my county. There is a little pocket of land in the middle of our otherwise “rural area” zone, and wouldn’t you know it, our neighborhood falls into that space. I did find minutes from a planning meeting last summer wherein the board was open to exploring urban agriculture options (such as laying hens and goats!), but I don’t know if anything has been done since. Needless to say, I’d had about enough staring at the computer screen, so I was happy to take time away from the computer in the evening.

What did I do instead? I went to a book talk at my local bookstore given by Jackson Landers, author of Eating Aliens (read more here). Then I came home and made a belly-filling batch of seashell pasta with bacon, peas, a touch of cream and cheese. I may have eaten two bowls! Alex got home late from the gym, so by the time he ate and we both did our dusting chores for the evening, I found myself getting in bed and reading a new book. I don’t watch that much TV anyway, and there are several nights where I just don’t feel like getting back on the computer, so I can’t say that this challenge was terribly difficult, but it wasn’t unenjoyable either.

Assignment 12: De-clutter Books and Media

De-cluttered bookshelf!

Ah. Perfect timing. I was hoping to tackle this anyway. The above photo shows how, with a little help from my friend Carrie at DreamGreenDIY (and, by extension, Young House Love), I de-cluttered and began re-styling our primary bookshelf in the upstairs office space (thanks for the tutorial, Carrie!). It’s much better organized, and I tried to make sure to have some “empty space” so it doesn’t look so crowded. Alex and I ended up choosing about 20-25 books that we were willing to donate to our local library’s used book sale so that we were only hanging onto the tomes that we really truly love, or intend to read again. I set some of my cookbooks aside in hopes that I will be up for arranging a cookbook swap, but if it doesn’t work out (i.e., if I’m still holding onto them 3 months from now, I’ll donate them as well). Now we have room for new acquisitions, including some interesting bookends or knick knacks I hope to add to give the whole thing a more polished look.

And though I don’t have a photo of it, we also pared down our DVD collection. I pulled out 5 that I haven’t watched in the past year and wouldn’t be sad about no longer owning. For Alex, I pulled out 5 and had him try to figure out what was missing. If he could identify the missing movies, he “earned” them back. Two of the movies he earned back had never even been opened! But he was a good sport about it and still chose five to donate.

Assignment 13: Get fresh flowers and deep-clean the bedroom

Fresh flowers on the piano

I have really enjoyed having fresh flowers in the house! It’s inspired me to keep my eye out for unique $1 vases at thrift stores to give me styling options. I’ve even decided to plant one of my garden beds entirely with flowers this spring so that I can cut fresh blooms all summer long!

I won’t be deep-cleaning the bedroom this weekend since a) our daily chores helps us stay on top of the big things; b) I just dusted the blinds last week when I noticed how bad they had gotten and couldn’t stand it any longer. But, I will plan to help Alex de-clutter his area of the dresser and tidy up his closet. Come to think of it, my closet could use a little tidying too.

Updates on last week’s assignments:

I have a few things to follow up on from last week’s assignments! Here they are:

Living room lighting: I decided not to add light in the dogs’ corner of the living room. However, I did purchase a unique alabaster lamp for another place in the living room. It’s amazing how much homier the room looks after two years of near-darkness.
Frame artwork...or acquire artwork first...Gallery wall artwork: Remember, I had two empty frames in need of artwork. Plans have been set in motion. The small frame will feature an old spoon that I plan to spray paint (color TBD) and affix to the frame. The larger frame will hold a food-themed 8×10″ photograph that I purchased from a seller on Etsy. Stay tuned for the reveal in two weeks.
My after-party will be in the middle of February, and I did decide to call it a “Punch and Pinterest-Potluck Party.” I’m still working on the invites but the gist is I’ll provide the party punch, guests will bring a treat to share from a recipe they’ve pinned, and then we’ll make a couple of Pinterest-inspired crafts.
Kitchen clean-out: Well, I did clean out the fridge, but I didn’t get to the cabinet organization that I was hoping to do, so I don’t have any progress to report there.

There’s still a little time left if you want to join me in the January Cure! How has it been going for you? Even if you haven’t been officially participating, what other things have you done this month to welcome your home into the new year? Do tell.

(Catch up on the Week 1 re-cap here, Week 2 re-cap here!)

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