Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mudroom Renovation: Part 1

After all these years living in our little bungalow (16 and a half, to be exact), we are finally renovating the mudroom. I am so excited!

The mudroom has always been my least favorite room in the house. It is a small, awkward space measuring 6' 1" x 5' 7". On the exterior wall is a door to the side yard and a window. On the opposite wall is a door to the basement and a window that looks into the pantry/laundry. And on the third wall is the doorway into the kitchen. That leaves only one wall without an opening.

If you live in a small house, you know that space and storage is always an issue. Paul and I have been talking for years about what kind of storage we could eke out of the mudroom. Because it is imperative that we maintain access to the basement (for future replacement of the furnace, water heater and other maintenance issues), we determined built-ins on the fourth wall weren't an option. We knew that whatever storage option we decided on, it had to be flexible. More on that later.

For now, we're focusing on cosmetic upgrades: a new bead board ceiling to cover the original, damaged tongue and groove, and a fresh coat of paint on the walls, trim and floor.

My husband keeps reminding me the mudroom isn't going to look like new when he's finished repairing the wood and painting it, and I accept that. The house is 93 years old, and perfection isn't my goal. I love the quirks and imperfections of our old house. I'm just OVER the peeling paint on the floor and the marks on the walls and the puppy damage from 15 years ago

I'm super excited about having a mudroom that is no longer an embarrassment when we have people over. I will keep you posted on our progress. For now, here are some photos of the ceiling, before and after. Paul has spray painted the shiny chrome schoolhouse light fixture matte black. Once the ceiling is primed and painted, the fixture will be rehung.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A New Design Book

I bought a new interior design book called American Beauty: Renovating and Decorating a Beloved Retreat. It was a book I had seen online. What captured my interest is that it is about Thom Felicia's vacation home on Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. I have a special fondness for Skaneateles Lake because my parents and I had vacationed there one summer, renting a cabin on the water. I have such lovely memories of that vacation and other day trips we took to Skaneateles Lake, which was only an hour and a half from where we lived when I was a teenager.

I rarely buy design books, mainly because we have limited space for such things in our little bungalow, but also because design books tend to become dated as tastes change over time. But every now and then I'll treat myself to a new design book, a nice little splurge. Since I had recently sold and donated several books, I figured I had some extra space in the living room for one new book.

When I received American Beauty, I sat down with it that evening and read it cover to cover. It is not only full of beautiful photos, it is an interesting read. And it really makes me want to head north to spend some time on beautiful Skaneateles Lake!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Kale, Strawberry and Pineapple Smoothie

I'm seeing a lot of green smoothie recipes lately on blogs. I guess it's that "post-holidays detox" trend, but since I didn't overindulge (thanks to a cold that left me without any sense of taste for over a week at the holidays), I'm not making green smoothies to "detoxify." My husband and I make smoothies for breakfast year-round. I love kale, and it's an easy addition to a fruit smoothie for some extra nutrition and fiber. When I make a smoothie, I don't follow a recipe or measure anything. I just throw in what looks good in amounts that seem reasonable and hit the power button. If you'd like to follow actual recipes, check out the site Hello Natural, in particular this post or this post.

To make the smoothie above, I used fresh pineapple, frozen strawberries, some strawberry kefir, unsweetened almond milk, one large leaf of kale torn into small pieces, and honey. It's delicious, and all I can really taste is the fruit. Our blender does leave tiny pieces of kale, which doesn't bother me. I like that it isn't completely liquified. Sometimes I add almonds or walnuts to my smoothies, and the little pieces make the smoothie more satisfying.

Give smoothies a try for breakfast, and go ahead and throw in some kale or spinach. You probably won't even notice it's there -- other than the color!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Pretzel, Cranberry and Toasted Coconut Bark

Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed ringing in 2015, whether you spent it at a festive party or a quiet night at home. I've never been a fan of New Year's eve, and prefer to spend it at home. When I was growing up, my parents always fixed a spread of exotic foods like pâté, salami, smoked mussels, smoked salmon, pickled herring, olives, cornichon, and an assortment of cheeses to enjoy with champagne in the hours leading up to midnight. I thought it was elegant and special, and developed quite an appreciation for a variety of foods and flavors at a young age. To this day, I like to follow that tradition (minus the pâté, which, quite honestly, I do miss).

During the holidays, I love trying new recipes, both savory and sweet. Shortly before Christmas I splurged and bought two boxes of Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate. I'd never purchased it before, mainly because of the price, but I understand the importance of using good quality chocolate when making candy and baked goods. I wanted to make a recipe for pretzel, cranberry and toasted coconut bark, which I found on a food blog called Inspired Taste, and thought it would be a good time to splurge on more expensive chocolate. I can honestly say it was worth it.

Before making the bark, I came across this video on how to temper chocolate like a professional.  Tempering is the process of heating, cooling and reheating chocolate to specific temperatures. The process prevents "bloom," which is the dull, whitish sheen that occurs when the cocoa fat rises to the surface of improperly melted chocolate. As I watched the video, I thought, "Boy, that looks tricky ... and time consuming." I had also recently visited a local chocolate factory where the owner explained to us the fussiness of the tempering process, which is why they have a fancy machine to do it for them.

Feeling slightly intimidated, and knowing my expensive chocolate bars were at risk, I reviewed the video carefully, at least twice. I wanted to give it a try, but the whole thing seemed like a bit of trouble. So I threw caution to the wind and simply melted the chocolate in a "double boiler" (a glass bowl set over, but not touching, a pot of barely simmering water), paying no attention to temperatures. I think my bark turned out okay without any bloom. I do know it looks pretty and tastes great!

A couple of notes about the recipe. I did not use unsweetened coconut flakes, as called for. Instead, I used sweetened shredded coconut and toasted it in the oven for at least 6 minutes, checking and tossing it every minute or two.

To make this treat gluten free, I used Snyder's of Hanover gluten-free mini pretzels, which are delicious (my husband and I like them even more than regular pretzels). 

Lastly, I did use the sweetened dried cranberries called for in the recipe, but I think dried cherries would also be delicious in this bark. So would candied orange peel and chopped almonds. The options are endless! 

So tell me, do you have a favorite brand of chocolate? Have you tried tempering chocolate or do you take the lazy way out, like I did?

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