Friday, July 17, 2015

Simple Decoration Solutions

The new/old spare bedroom redo is almost ready for sharing - but in the interim let me share this.

I needed a little something for the corner by the bed - but I did not want a nightstand.  I was looking for something simple that would hold blankets, some magazines, and maybe a book for a guest looking to relax and unwind.  A basket.  Yes, a basket is what I needed.  Off to the Salvation Army I went, where I found this basket for $4.00.

Solid,  Dependable.  Good old wicker.

I had a can of Rustoleum on hand (Painter's Touch Ultra Colour in Satin Granite).  It was a beautiful sunny day.  Outside I went.  One coat bottom.  Two coats bottom.  One coat top.  Two coats top.  (Note - I only use Rustoleum outdoors because the fumes are incredibly strong.  Also - wicker takes a lot more paint that other projects because of all the holes.)

The basket say drying in the sun.  Then it came inside to its new home.

There it is.  Sitting in the corner full of Scottish Tartan and magazines waiting to be read.

Did I mention this cost $4.00?

For more great simple solution and frugal ideas check out the "With What You Have" series on Assortment Blog.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Total (Affordable) Closet Overhaul

The reach-in closet in our master bedroom needed an overhaul.  The closet system consisted of one shelf running the entire length of the closet.  This was not efficient.  We were shoving stuff in every possible space, and the mess was driving me a little bit crazy.  I looked into getting our closet professionally done - which as it turns out is quite expensive.  I just could not wrap my head around spending $1000,00 or more on a space that very few people aside from my husband and myself will ever see.  On the other hand, I wanted it to look good and be organized.  For a few months I spent time every night laying in bed staring at the closet (pathetic, I know) and trying to figure out the most affordable and efficient way to redo this space.  Cue inspiration.  

This is our closet before the overhaul.  As you can see it was full to the brim, to the point that stuff is spilling out of the closet and we could not even close the doors.

Step One: 
The first thing we did was remove all clothes from the closet.  Everything.  Then I went through everything and got rid of clothes that were not earning their keep.  My wardrobe has changed a fair bit since I had my son.  I used to wear dresses to work all the time - but since I am still breastfeeding I find dresses really inconvenient and I have been wearing more pants and skirts.  I got rid of some dresses that I did not think I would be wearing again any time soon.  The Salvation Army definitely benefited from this project.
Once the closet space was more or less empty, I found it much easier to envision what I wanted to do with the space.

Step Two:
Next up, my husband removed the shelf that stretched the entire length of the closet.  He washed down the walls, filled in the holes, sanded them down, then painted the walls.  We painted the walls using CIL Primer and Paint (it's a combo) from Home Depot.  The colour is Horizon.

A fresh canvas!!

Step Three:
After researching various options I decided to go with plain old white wire shelving made by Rubbermaid and available at Home Depot.  I used the Free Style shelving that allows you to move garments from end to end.  Home Depot employees will cut the shelving to measure for you in store.  (Sidenote: Apparently the Rubbermaid shelving is actually baked once the colour is put on, as opposed to being simply dipped in paint as some other brands are, making the coating on these shelves extremely chip resistant.)  I purchased the shelving I wanted (some 12 inches deep and some 16 inches deep), the wall mount, the free slide verticals, the brackets for the shelves and the related hardware.  Note: I highly recommend the Rubbermaid hardware packs that are put together with all the screws that you need to complete your project as well as end caps to put on the end of the shelves in order to avoid sharp edges sticking out.  I brought them home and my husband was able to install everything in about an hour or so.

I decided I wanted to go with three different tiers of shelving.  I moved the highest shelf closer to the ceiling (from where the previous shelf had been) in order to allow for a second shelf to be placed beneath it that would still be high enough off the ground to hand my husband's shirts on.
The shelf below does not run directly to the wall - I left about a 12 inch gap between the wall and the bottom shelf because I wanted a space to hand long dresses.

Wondering why I staggered the two top shelves instead of using one long shelf?  Two reasons:
1. Because I wanted the first shelf to be high enough to hang long dresses from and to allow space for a lower shelf that I could still hand dress shirts on.
2.  I wanted the second shelf to be low enough that I could still place storage boxes on top of it.

Here is the closet before I started putting the clothes back in.

And here we go - you cannot see all my dresses in the far left corner, but they are there.

These is a little cubby hole to the right that you cannot really see in the picture.  I have tied my scarves to hangers and they are occupying this space.  Eventually I could add some shelving there, but it is just a nice little hiding place my son loves going into and reading books.  I want him to be able to use this space for now so the shelving will wait.

These are Martha Stewart storage bins that I already had on hand (purchased at Home Depot).  You can see the end caps on the wire shelving in these pictures.  The only other change I would love to make it to buy coordinating wood hangers for the entire closet - it is just not something I want to spend money on at the moment.  When I decide to splurge, I will be ordering a bunch of these.

Let's review:



The entire project cost just under $300.00.  We are very happy with the results!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Friday Night Dinner Project: Barbecue Dinner *updated*

*UPDATED* - While going through some files on my computer, I found some of the missing pictures from this recipe.  I have added them below.

The posts in this series have been a bit irregular over the past month or so - but I am still plugging away at the Friday Night Dinner Project and I only have 8 menus left to cook.  This week's menu is the Barbecue Dinner.  I actually cooked the entire menu (minus one dish) about 6 weeks ago, but was holding off on this post until I made the final recipe, Hugh Carpenter's Grilled Tuna Skewers.  Boy, am I glad I waited.  They are amazing!  But we will get to them in a minute...

This is one of my favourite menus from Friday Night Dinners.  Everything in it is delicious (really delicious) and easy to make.  The dishes taste like summer and ever since I made this dinner I have been itching to have a summer party.  We have a large family gathering next weekend, I even offered to do all the cooking so I could share these recipes (unfortunately nobody took me up on my offer!).

Here we go:

Lime Martinis with Mint and Ginger
I made the virgin version of this (so it is more like a limeade) and omitted the ginger.  Refreshing and lovely served with ice.

Hugh Carpenter's Grilled Tuna Skewers
These skewers are divine.  I mean, they are really, really good.  The recipe can be made ahead and served at room temperature - but if you do not make it ahead there is no need to worry as you can whip up the whole thing (marinade and all) in about 10 minutes.  I did not have bamboo skewers so I simply grilled the pieces of tuna steak on my Cuisinart Griddler (we also do not have a barbecue) and stuck toothpicks in them afterwards.  Far less glamorous, but it does works well.  I did not have any preserved lemons on hand so I used the recommended substitute and just added a little lemon juice to some Hellman's Mayonnaise.  Please allow me to say again - these are so easy and delicious.

Barbecued Chicken with Lemon Chipotle Baste
The baste for this chicken provides excellent flavour.  As usual, I could not find pureed chipotles so I added some chili powder and cumin to the recipe (not the same, I know).  I used chicken thighs (no bone but skin on).  As we do not have a barbecue, I followed the instructions that allow you to brown the chicken and then bake it in the oven.  I would definitely make this chicken again, in the oven or on the barbecue.

This coleslaw has a vinaigrette style dressing, which is apparently quite good - but the recipe also offers an alternate creamy dressing.  I love creamy dressings so I decided to go with that option.  The Creamy Coleslaw Dressing is delicious.  This recipe makes quite a bit of coleslaw - it says 8 servings but I think it could serve 10 depending on the portion size.  The key to this recipe is having a good food processor to shred the cabbage.  My food processor is very small so this took me quite a while - but it was worth it. (This is a link to one of Bonnie Stern's Creamy Coleslaw recipes, although it is not exactly the same as the on in the book).

I just pulled up my picture file to upload the pictures from the rest of this menu only to discover they were not on my computer.  I checked the memory card on my camera to find out that I deleted them (obviously thinking that I had already uploaded them to my computer).  *sigh*
Well good thing this is not my job.  I'm disappointed though because this is a great menu and I wanted to share my pictures with you.  It's not the same without the evidence - but we will carry on sans photos.

Moroccan Sweet Pepper and Bread Salad
I had not idea what to expect when I made this salad.  It was a pleasant surprise - but it does not surpass the delicious coleslaw.  I did not have Argan oil so I used olive oil instead.

Sweet Cornbread
This is a great cornbread recipe - it is on the sweet side (as the name clearly states) and it is definitely not dry as some cornbreads can be.  This recipe (it is the Brother Juniper's Cornbread Griddle) gets used fairly often in our house.  I use melted butter and buttermilk in the recipe as we are not a Kosher household.  I omit the corn kernels and the jalapeno.  If I do not have buttermilk on hand I just make sour milk using milk and lemon juice.  This cornbread pairs well with so many things.  When I have leftovers I love serving a slice of this topped with a bit of maple syrup - it is like a Johnny Cake.  So good.

Blueberry Cobbler
Simply divine.  Blueberries are a perennial favourite in this house (a rule of them is that we always have enough hand picked blueberries in the freezer to make a pie every week for a year).  This recipe can be made with fresh or frozen berries.  It is delicious, amazing - whatever adjective you prefer - this is an amazing dessert.  Serve it with vanilla bean ice cream.
The nice thing about this menu is that there are two recipes which call for buttermilk (the cornbread and the cobbler) so it gives you a good reason to buy buttermilk and not waste any of it.  However, if buttermilk is not available you can make your own sour milk as mentioned above.

Get the cookbook and make this menu.  You won't regret it!

Next up will be the Greek Dinner Menu.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer Reading: Resistance of The Heart - Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany

This is not a book review - rather a quick note to any reader who might be interested -

Last week I read Resistance of The Heart - Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany by Nathan Stoltzfus.  It is not a new book (I purchased it a few years ago, but just got around to reading it now - but I highly recommend it.  Stoltzfus chronicles the actions of intermarried Aryans and Jews living in Germany during the Shoah.

This book is interesting, disturbing, and thought provoking.  It provides an excellent and well researched account of increasing discrimination against Jews living in Germany before and during the Shoah.  Stoltzfus is thorough yet concise as he examines the persecution of Jews and their Aryan spouses - his methodology is solid and it is very easy to see why this book received such wide recognition.  At the risk of repeating myself, I highly recommend it.

From the coverlet:

The Rosenstrasse Protest was the triumphant climax of ten years of resistance by intermarried couples to Nazi efforts to destroy their families. In fact, ninety-eight percent of German Jews who did not go into hiding and who survived Nazism lived in mixed marriages. Why did Hitler give in to the protesters? Using interviews with survivors and thousands of Nazi records never before examined in detail, Nathan Stoltzfus identifies the power of a special type of resistance-the determination to risk one's own life for the life of loved ones.

Next up: I am reading Aliyah by Eliette Abécassis.  (This book is not available in English).
I have to thank Laura Rosen Cohen for bringing this recently published book to my attention - it is a sort of sequel to Sépharade (un autre roman excellent si vous cherchez un roman à lire...)

Simple Summer Dinners

Well hello there.  Yes, we are still blogging.  Summer projects are keeping me very busy - but it also means there will soon be lots of stories to share.

Last week my son and I drove to a local farm where we were able to purchase wonderful, fresh, Ontario grown produce.  In fact - it was all grown and hand picked on this farm, East of Toronto, which has 150 acres of hand picked crops along with many other delicious treats.  When we got home, I sliced the broccoli, red pepper, and cherry tomatoes and then sprinkled them with olive oil and za'atar.

I threw these onto a parchment lined baking sheet into the oven to bake for about 30 minutes (at 425F).

In the meantime, I cooked a whole box of spaghetti (Catelli Smart Pasta).  After draining the spaghetti, I added some extra virgin olive oil, approximately 1/4 cup of butter, and some Parmesan cheese.  Now the pasta was ready to be topped with the roasted vegetables.

I also washed and chopped the fresh romaine lettuce I purchased and tossed it in homemade New Wave Caesar Salad Dressing (from the Vegetarian Menu in Bonnie Stern's Friday Night Dinners) along with some croutons and more Parmesan cheese.

And that's it.    It was delicious.  Our company loved it too.

Is there a better way to end a summer day then with a quick, simple, farm fresh and delicious dinner?