Friday, April 30, 2010

Half Bath Renovation: Where We’re At

I know I haven’t blogged the progress of the half bathroom in a while. I decided it was best to step back from the project for a bit to prevent harm to both myself and others.

On a good note, we have a functional, working second bathroom in the house. It has a toilet that flushes and surprisingly fits into this small space. It has a sink that both runs water from the hot and cold faucets and drains without said water bursting from the pipes onto the beautiful slate floor which is completely grouted and sealed and looks fabulous.

Yes, there have been setbacks, mainly the sink which I am convinced simply doesn’t want to live at our house and is sabotaging every one of my efforts to properly install it, but I tried to push through them so that we could decide whether or not we wanted to slate the rest of the linoleum floors and vinyl tile floors. On that issue I am quite certain a resounding yes is the answer.

However I must admit I have trepidations about removing the sink in the other bathroom after the horrifying ordeal with the one I installed in the half bath. After the bolt to secure the sink to the wall snapped in half, I decided to get the metal wall piece the previous sink was attached to and use that to keep the sink in place, which of course couldn’t just go back where it was before because the new sink is about four inches higher than the old one because it was obviously put in for little people. The only problem now is that the water line has, well, some leak issues that need to be resolved while in the off position, so removing the hose that connects it to the sink means removing the hose and letting the dribble happen. I grabbed a towel, figuring it would only take a minute to screw the plate into place and began to loosen the hose from the water line, immediately getting sprayed with a massive about of water escaping the line which was too much for the towel as it was sopping wet. At least I got to test out the sealant on the slate tile which works great, right? I triple checked the valve to make sure it was in the off position, which, by the way, yes it was, and quickly reconnected the hose to prevent flooding the house. Putting everything somewhat in place, I turned the faucet on while the valve was off and it was gushing as if on full blast. To double check that there wasn’t a surge in water pressure causing the water line valve to fail, I tested the hot water, and only a drip every couple seconds came out, which is normal for our house with the valves off.

Great, so now I have a sink that won’t stay in place and a water line that has been compromised. I decide to simply hold the sink with my body while screwing the metal plate to the wall, which by the way was no easy task as the hoses were still connected to prevent water damage so I couldn’t use a power drill, which yes, I did try to fit but there physically wasn’t enough space between the furthest point I could move the sink and the wall and I had to use a miniature screw driver with a big head that I am so glad we have. After the metal plate was completely installed, I moved the pedestal back to approximately where it was and slightly lifted the sink over it and into the drain pipe which, I am quite convinced, is where a third or fourth hand would have come in super handy. With everything set, I put the only good bolt back into the wall and tightened it into place and test out the sink’s stability and watch as the bolt wiggles out of the wall and onto the floor. I screamed various obscenities then decided to just walk away. I’d fixed the leaky drain issue, which stemmed from not having tightened the sink drain to the pipe enough and the sink was mostly secure. The only thing really I had to do was caulk around the toilet, so I did that and walked away from the whole matter until I could look at that damned sink and not think of plotting its demise.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Contemplating another Dog

A couple months ago we puppysat our friends pug while they were away on vacation at Disneyland. Ever since, we’ve been thinking that getting another dog as a playmate to our Lucy would be an excellent idea.

Let’s get one thing straight… I love big dogs, preferably Great Danes because they are much easier to block from running out the door than a little dog, albeit there may be bruised and broken bones from the process. But, Otto the Pug is a rare exception, mostly because I have had a little puppy-crush on pugs for years and Otto is quite a sweetie pie, although at times a little rambitious.

So, we had pretty much made up our minds not to go the breeder route to get another dog for a couple reasons, the least of which was our fault for not researching the breeder we purchased our Lucy from, but mostly because there are way too many dogs at the Humane Society and Rescue Shelters. We checked out the local humane society shelter in search of a small dog and found a one we didn’t anticipate finding, which was some sort of wolfhound mix and much larger than we were thinking of, mostly because we have a small house and our animals are pretty much indoorsy, with the exception, of course, being the chickens who have their own house outside. He was adorably ugly, quiet and seemed very intelligent, if a little timid. We never once heard him bark and neither had the people at the shelter, which was a little worrying that there was probably some abuse, but those issues would probably go away given time and a loving home. When we had decided to see if Lucy and this shelter dog would be a good match and brought her in to meet him, she quickly dominated him and he seemed a little scared to be in her presence. This is completely understandable for anyone who has ever met Lucy. We parted ways and made peace with the fact that it wasn’t meant to be. He was quickly adopted out, unsurprising to either of us.

Then one night my partner got an email from one of the local Great Dane Rescues saying they had a two year old male recently dropped off who was a bit malnourished and was so incredibly cute, just quite skinny, especially for a boy. He called up the rescue to get more information and got quite a bit, including an odd name, Danner, and found out he would benefit from a dominant female dog, which we already have. As much as I don’t think we could take on another Great Dane in this house or how we would travel with them, it also breaks my heart that months later he is still available for adoption, as my partner keeps telling me at least once a week… if not more. I’m tempted to suggest we take a drive and meet him, if for no other reason than to find out if he would even work out or not so I can make peace with the situation. Oh, the guilt!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Garlicky Chicken Alfredo with Broccoli

When you are having one of those days and want something super-indulgent and bad for you, chances are it is filled with high fat dairy. Okay, so maybe that is just me.

I love Alfredo Sauce. This isn’t a secret or some crazy fetish, I just really like the combination of butter, cream and cheese poured over pasta. Something about dairy overload sets me off and I go crazy, devouring every last morsel of it. However, there are sometimes limits to the amount of cream and butter I can take in during one sitting, which I’m sure you all can agree with.

Years ago I decided to try something a little different to get a full flavored Alfredo Sauce, without the full fat content mind you, and found that by sautéing garlic for a minute before adding the rest of the ingredients helped tremendously. After all, Alfredo really is nothing more than butter, cream and Parmigiano Reggiano or parmesan cheese and quite delightful without any emphasis on the light as it is also quite heavy. Starting with a white sauce instead of making a heavy cream reduction reduces the caloric and fat content a surprising amount, without sacrificing flavor.

Garlicky Chicken Alfredo with Broccoli

Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1½ cups fat-free or low fat milk
½ cup parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon nutmeg, ground or freshly grated
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon parsley, minced or 1 teaspoon dried

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter and add minced garlic, cooking until the garlic sizzles and becomes fragrant, stirring often. Whisk in flour and cook for a minute or two to make sure the flour is completely combined with the butter and garlic and being careful not to burn it. If it does burn, do us both a favor and dump it and start over because burnt garlic is just plain NASTY! Whisk in the milk, turning the temperature up to medium-high until it reaches a boil then drop it down to low and stir in the cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Continue cooking until it thickens to the consistency you want (some like it thin, some like it thick so they can dip breadsticks in it.) Stir in the parsley at the last minute and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 chicken breasts
½ teaspoon rubbed sage
½ teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper

In a sauté or fry pan, preferably nonstick, heat olive oil over medium heat and add the chicken breasts covered in seasonings to the pan, cooking until clear juices run when pierced in the thickest part, about 5 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set aside.

Boil 1 pound fettuccini noodles to package directions and during last 5 minutes of cooking time add a half a pound of broccoli florets.

Putting it all together
Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and add to the Alfredo sauce along with the drain fettuccini and broccoli, stirring to combine. Serve immediately.

This white sauce is easy to play around with, and if you prefer to use cream or half and half for the milk, go for it. It also works well for a Cajun flair by using cayenne pepper instead of black pepper in the sauce and combining it with blackened chicken, salmon or catfish or Cajun shrimp, but I’d switch out the broccoli for a summer squash or have the veggies as a side dish if going this route.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Planning a Quilt

Do you ever stare at fabric you purchased and wonder what you are going to do with it? Sometimes overthinking can completely kill creativity.

While driving around Saturday my partner and I stopped at Fibers & Stitches, a fabric and quilt shop in St. Helens, Oregon to see what they had, since it is quite well known that those small town quilt shops usually have the best fabrics. Or maybe that is just an insider secret? He decided to get a Layer Cake, which is a stack of 40 ten inch squares that are from the same collection, and I picked up a Scrap Bag, intrigued by the possibilities of using the selvage ends of what would normally be considered a Jelly Roll. I know I already went over this in Going for a Drive, but it is worth repeating.

With thirty different fabrics in the Scrap Bag, all from Moda’s Frolic collection, I tried to think of ways to utilize the yard length, two and a half inch strips. The first thing that came to mind was a simple scrappy 9-Patch, and I rearranged the fabrics into mixed threes, figuring I’ll cut each strip in half and arrange the other half differently to get a nice variety of patches once the strips are sewn and cut. Of course, part of me wants to get all crazy and try something super difficult, but I haven’t ever made a large scale quilt before and might just need to reign in my ambitions. Sure, I’ve started large quilts, but that’s as far as they go. Besides, something like these strips are perfect for a simple quilt, and I should just go with my original instinct of a 9-Patch, right?


Well, as luck would have it, Moda has a Bakeshop with Recipes for using your Layer Cakes, Jelly Rolls, Honey Buns and any other stack or roll of coordinating fabric swatches they sell. I just love how everything is food related because seriously that’s all we crafters ever think about! And also being a baker and cook, I find the Recipe Instructions quite easy to follow. Plus, Moda also has a section on their website where you can pick the fabrics you have or want and choose a pattern and it will give you the layout for whatever one you choose, which can be saved into your profile or you can print it out to start working on your project. Ah, technology is making the crafting life so much easier, isn’t it?

Now that I have an idea for what I want to do, which is a variation on a 9-Patch I found in the Bakeshop, I think it is time to just start working on building the blocks. Good thing I’ve got so much fabric from other projects, both finished and yet to be started, just lying around because I’ve got a ton of natural muslin which actually is one of the colors in the Frolic collection, and will work nicely to offset the bold colors and patterns in my chosen fabrics. I can’t wait to get started!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Planting Tomatoes and Basil

When I mentioned to somebody at church that I already had my zucchini and pumpkin seeds in the ground, she was quite shocked at how early I was planting them. I’m afraid to tell her I just put my tomatoes and basil in the ground too and may just forego having that conversation for fear of reprimanding.

About a month ago I picked up a couple tomato plants at the local farmer’s market with the intention of putting them under the fluorescent light in the garage with the rest of our tomato starts. This worked out well until sometime last week when the farmer’s market starts were quite large and forming flowers on them. Fortunately to make room in the garden box they were to be planted in all I had to do was pull out all the radishes that were ripe for the picking and plant the tomatoes in their place. Being unable to devour all of those delectable little Pink Beauties in a salad I made for a small barbecue we had with a couple friends last night, I kept the rest in a bowl of water on the counter. This will prevent them from getting rubbery and inedible.

The thing about planting tomatoes is that they really should be planted deep, however in the case of our garden boxes they only have about ten inches of soil to grow into. What is a person to do? Well, for the larger of the two plants, I pulled off all of the lower stems and planted it sideways to allow for a larger root system which will form where there were stems growing, and put the top third of the plant above the ground bending it straight up before pushing a cage around it. The other one was not so tall so I simply pulled off the lower stems and planted it deep enough to bury two-thirds of the tomato plant. A healthy and vigorous root system on a tomato will prevent many of the problems some gardeners face, such as spindly stems and base which cause the plant to fall over in a light breeze. I also threw in a handful each of crushed oyster shell we just happen to have for the chickens and Epsom salt in the hole before putting the plants in. The extra calcium in the oyster shell helps prevent root rot and the Epsom salt produces sweeter fruit. Our beds are rather nutrient rich since they are mostly compost so I don’t usually fertilize, but if you are uncertain of your soil’s vitality I’d put in a fertilizer specifically formulated for tomatoes or vegetables to prevent any number of diseases tomatoes can get from malnourishment.


Now, we had gotten five different basils from Blue Heron Herbary (http://blueheronherbary.com/) the day before and I only have one dedicated pot for basil, so I looked at the two boxes that will not be housing tomatoes and decided to transplant some of the spinach in the spinach box to the areas that the seeds didn’t take to make room for four of the basils at one end. The spinach was still small and hadn’t developed much of a root system so transplanting each of them was rather simple, just digging my hand shovel into the soil next to the plant and lifting gently was all it took to get them out, and using my hand to scoop a small hole to put them back in where I wanted them. When I had a full side emptied, I took the Cuban, Lettuce Leaf, African Purple and Genovese Basils and planted them equally spaced apart in the box, putting the Cuban on the South side because it is the smallest variety. The Variegated Pesto Perpetuo Basil I put in the pot as it can be brought in during the winter for year round harvesting and will act like any other tropical plant inside the house. The only other perennial basil we got is the Cuban, but I need to research it a little more to find out if it will be okay outside during the winter or if I should attempt to dig it up and bring it in as well. Of course, I may just decide to only keep it as an annual. Now I need them to start growing faster so I can begin using them for cooking!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Going for a Drive

When we woke up yesterday morning and saw all the various chores that needed to be done around the house and outside, we didn’t want to do any of them. We decided we were going to take the dog and go for a road trip instead.

Our reason for leaving was the Rainier Junior & Senior High School students and volunteers were putting on a reenactment of life in Rainier during the Civil War in what they called Rainier Revisited 1853. It happened to be going on where my partner grew up in Goble, Oregon at the Beaver Homes Grange, so we decided why not, it’d be good to get out of the house and do something.

At first the weather was not so cooperative as it changed from sunny to cloudy to rainy to overcast to scattered showers to sunny and repeated this pattern in no particular order for most of the morning and early part of the afternoon. However, eventually the sun made a more permanent appearance and stayed out for the remainder of the day, which was excellent since a majority of the activities were outdoors.

After about an hour at the Rainier Revisited 1853 exhibit, we took a drive along the unpaved roads of Goble to check out what had changed and what had remained the same since my partner lived there, driving by where he and various family members used to live. We took the back roads to the highway and decided to head back in home’s direction, figuring we had to St. Helens and stop by Dari-Delish to get a dipped cone before leaving the area, and ended up having lunch there too in what is a very 50s style drive-in restaurant complete with a neon sign. Lucy devoured her small kid’s cone and waited not so patiently for us to drop any fragments of our ice cream onto the ground.

As we were leaving St. Helens I noticed a quilt shop and mentioned that I didn’t know they had one there, and my partner quickly turned back to check it out as he has been wanting to make a traditional Americana quilt for years now and has yet to find fabric that he’s satisfied with. The store is called Fibers & Stitches (http://fibersandstitches.com/) and they had not only a really excellent selection of quality fabrics, but the staff was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable and within only a matter of minutes my partner had a Layer Cake of Moda fabric with vintage charm perfect for the quilt he wanted to make. Unable to not buy anything when inundated with such beautiful fabric, I saw a wide selection of Moda Jelly Rolls and some were packaged as scrap for nearly a third of the price as the regular ones because they were from the end of the fabric where the color code and fabric line is located, and got a package to make a nine patch quilt with. I highly recommend you check them out if you are in the area, or if you feel like taking a drive.

We continued our trek East on Highway 30 towards Portland and decided to go to Sauvies Island and drive around it. Well, you can’t actually drive all the way around the Island on one road, but you can get pretty close to it from a couple different ones. As we drove I noticed a sign for an herbary and wanted to check them out to see if they had any basil starts as I had been fairly unsuccessful in locating any. We pulled into Blue Heron Herbary (http://blueheronherbary.com/) and immediately were struck with how cute the garden areas were. While my partner went to check out the gift shop, I was on a quest for herbs, and was quickly greeted by the sales lady with a tray to put any plants I may find in while I looked around and told me everything was in alphabetical order. I was blown away at the sheer amount of varieties they had and I kid you not, they have 85 different kinds of lavender. However, my quest for basil seemed to be in vain until I got back to the beginning and noticed that those all started with “C” and as I craned my head there was a whole table of basils to be perused. Me being me, I couldn’t decide between the seven varieties they had available, so I picked five of them, each for different reasons. If they also had Thai Basil I would have gotten that too, but I didn’t see any. The gift shop is filled with herbs and soaps and various teas and garden ornamentations and they let their eleven Serema chickens free range around the gardens and adjoining yard, which the five roosters they had were absolutely gorgeous and they had the cutest little crow from their miniature frame.

After we left the Blue Heron Herbary, we continued our drive around the island and turned around at the parking lot for the nude beach and made our way back home. Sometimes just taking a tour of your own area can be a really relaxing way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and who knows, you may find new places you didn’t know existed to tell your friends about.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Half Bath Renovation: The Sink Gods Hate Me

Do you ever start a project with a great feeling that this will go pretty smooth? This was just that project, but then everything began to go horribly wrong.

Figuring that I should avoid the hose issue that I had with the toilet, I went back to the hardware store and picked up two faucet hoses. With everything else ready to go, I went about disconnecting the sink from the wall. Basically it is being held up by a fairly thick piece of metal with a bent curve screwed into the wall into what I would assume to be wood. It also seems to be in place by shifting some of its weight onto the pipes it also rests upon, which with metal pipes I’m sure isn’t that big of an issue and certainly not something you’d want to try using plastic. Now, from turning off the water line and opening the faucets I knew that the cold water had a minor drip, about one every three seconds, which for our house is pretty good for a shut-off valve. But it wasn’t until I disconnected the hoses that I realized the extent of this drip, which I anticipated with a towel and pitcher, which, let’s just say, wasn’t enough. I decided to connect the new hoses quickly, hoping it would alleviate some of the water seepage, but the pitcher was quickly overwhelmed and I had to grab my 12 quart stock pot to perform its duty of keeping water from getting all over our beautiful slate floors.


Using our handy stud finder, I found that the entire area was solid behind the wall. Excellent, right? So I used the drill to pre-drill holes into place and figured that if the stud finder was wrong the sink also came with drywall clamping screws as well, which meant that either way I’d by fine. The first hole I drilled started out fine, but quickly went right through the drywall, which I figured the stud must be right next to it, and so I grabbed the 5/8 inch drill bit and began boring out a larger hole… until it hit wood. What the heck? I removed the drill bit to discover that right where I needed the hole to be was smack in the middle of two not so butted up 2x4s. I put the screw between them in the gap and found that it was tight enough to hold and figured that’d be good enough, the pedestal will carry most of the weight anyway. The stock pot was full, so I dumped it in the kitchen sink as the utility sink next to the bathroom was full of stuff. Then I focused my attention on the other hole with the original smaller drill bit and I don’t know what it is with this old house but they must have dipped the wood in adamantium because it doesn’t like to be screwed. After getting the hole the right size, which by the way took about ten minutes with a very powerful drill, and having already dumped the pot yet another time, it was time to dump it again, after all, it filled up every five minutes.

With this issue somewhat taken care of, I quickly set my attention to getting the rest of the sink attached to the faucet and drain. I had put the faucet on already, and did all the prep of plumber’s taping the areas that needed to be and attached it to the existing drain, moved the pedestal roughly into place and put the sink on top and saw that there was a rather large gap between the drain and the hole in the sink where it should have been inserted to. No problem! We have a hole horde of extra plumbing pipes in the garage from other various fixes with the sinks in the kitchen and main bathroom. Checking over the stash, I grabbed two pipes that might work, put them into place, and then put them back into the bin they were stored in, grabbing another piece that was bendy since I had to not only make it a half an inch further out than it was, but also needed the thinner pipe, and when it was in place and the sink was sat upon it the fit was perfect. Finally, something’s gone right!

Working fast, I connected the leaking hoses to the sink which I apparently bought two that were too short and had to go into the garage and disconnect the ones on the old sink and use those, as well as puttied the drain opener and wrenched it in tightly and began bolting it into the wall, starting with the one that would go between the studs. It took longer than anticipated, but was in place and sturdy, so I started the other one. This took much longer than anticipated, especially given I pre-drilled holes, and when it was about halfway into the wall, the screw snapped in half, causing me to yell, with the window and doors open mind you, GDMFCSSOAB!!! I decided the first initials of each cuss word that slew from my vocal orifice will suffice for this part, as I’m certain our 90+ year old next door neighbor was taken aback by my outburst, as was our dog, Lucy, who ran up to the half bath to investigate. At this point, I threw everything down and said I was finished for the day. Okay, so I grabbed my camera, took a picture of the offending snapped off bolt and where the rest it was firmly attached to the wall, then said I was done. So, sink is in, but not very well, and the drain leaks a little. Grrr…

Friday, April 23, 2010

Half Bath Renovation: Toilet Installation

Installing a toilet should not be that complicated, especially when you thought of everything that you would need in order to install it correctly. However, it is the things you didn’t think of that have the possibility and much greater chance of going wrong.

Our house is old to begin with. Things don’t work as well as they used to. And apparently toilet bolts are not installed the same way anymore either. When my partner got all aggressive and removed the old toilet, he also took out the old bolts because they were old and gross and probably original to our 1956 Ranch Style home. I was not paying too much attention to this because, well, it is a tiny bathroom and if you put more than one person in you wouldn’t be able to open the door to get out. I’m being serious. It is really that diminutive. This didn’t really become an apparent problem until nine months later when we finally started putting in the slate tile and had to attach the bolts to the closet ring, for which we figured we’d need an extender and also had to get a new ring attachment because the old bolts were screwed into the ring and the new bolts you just can’t do that with unless you are under the house, which I was not about to do.

No problem, right? Just screw on a new ring into the subfloor over the old ring and everything will magically be fixed, right? HA!!! As I started to screw the new ring into the subfloor, and was four of six screws in, I realized the last two screws wouldn’t be going into anything because, well, there was no decking and you could see down to the bottom of the crawl space where two beady little red eyes were staring right back at me menacingly, as if telepathically communicating its intentions of performing bodily harm. Okay, so the last part might not have happened, but the crawl space beneath our house is scary as all get out.

So anyway, after the base and shoe molding was done, the ring had been installed for a few days, I decided to tackle putting in the toilet by myself as my partner has been quite busy with work and volunteering. I opened the box, put the wax ring in place after zapping it in the microwave for two five second bursts to bring it up to room temperature as it had been in the garage and was a little cold, lifted it up and set it into place. All went rather smooth and it was only slightly off level, so I opened the package of toilet leveling shims (see, I told you we thought of everything) put them into place and marked where each would need to be trimmed before cutting and putting them back. I then tightened the bolts to the toilet, which we got the easy snap kind that are supposed to snap off where the excess is, and the first one came off easily, but the other one was quite stubborn and I couldn’t get it to come off when the doorbell rang and I thought it was a solicitor so I ignored it, but then there came knocking and another ring and the dog wouldn’t stop barking, so I opened the door to the garage and saw my sister’s car in the driveway through the windows in the garage door.

After about an hour of chit-chatting about life with my sister, I went back to the evil little bolt, this time with a hacksaw, and began cutting through it the old-fashioned way, which after about half cut I grabbed my pliers again and it came off. I put the caps on, grabbed the tank, got it all attached, hooked up the water and everything was going smooth and I thought, wow, I did it! I flushed the toilet three times and checked everywhere for leaks and was well pleased that there were none then went to go eat dinner because now it was 8:30pm and I hadn’t eaten anything since 11am. When I was done eating, I went to check on the toilet again, but this time there was a problem… it was leaking. Apparently on our quest to think of everything, we didn’t think that a new hose would also be in order, and it was compromised between the hose and the nut connector. So I turned off the water supply, put a bowl under it and decided I could go get a new one the next day, which I did, and so now we finally have two working toilets in the house again!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Half Bath Renovation: Base Molding… Part Shoe

If you have carpet, chances are you probably only have a base molding if any at all. However, for hard surfaces there is usually another piece attached… the shoe molding.
 
When we set about to locate the proper base and shoe molding, we did so with the intention of replicating the look found throughout our house’s hardwood floors. This, my friends, was no easy task. Then again, it probably wasn’t easy because we were searching for the easy stuff, you know, already primed and ready to paint. It never occurred to us that the molding we were looking for was actually stain grade molding even though we knew that our original molding had been stained at one time. However, once this crisis was averted and we located the correct materials we had a whole new set of crises to deal with, like how to cut and install everything. Thank goodness for the internet!

So yesterday I wrote about installing the base molding and today is about the shoe molding. It being smaller, one might assume it would be easier to install than the base, and fortunately one would be correct in their assumption… to a point. Shoe molding, being smaller, will split if you simply nail it in. What is a person to do when faced with this particular dilemma? Find the smallest drill bit you have and pre-drill holes for the nails to go into. I found the 1/16th inch drill bit perfect as it was slightly smaller than the finishing nails and did not split the wood at all. I probably should have pre-drilled a few areas on the base molding to prevent some of those cracks, but didn’t think it was necessary until it was too late. Figures. I guess that is what painter’s putty is for, right? More on that later.


After the first piece was cut to size and pre-drilled it was ready to be nailed into place. I used a very small amount of Liquid Nails from a caulking gun to help stabilize the piece while it was being nailed in. After I had nailed the first piece of shoe molding into place I realized I only drilled holes at the studs, just like with the base molding, but neglected to drill any at either end to keep those areas in place. So with it mostly nailed in I grabbed the drill and made holes on either side to keep those sections where we wanted them. Hey, this is all a learning experience. The rest of the pieces went by in the same fashion, with the exception that I did remember to drill holes on each end as well as the stud marks, except for that last section. Do you remember yesterday I wrote about that tiny little piece of base molding that had to go into that tiny little space between the door and wall on one side? Well, the shoe molding is even smaller. Fortunately it was also way easier to put in, but is only glued on with Liquid Nails, just like the base molding it is attached to. Hopefully that will be enough to keep it in place.



Once all the shoe molding was installed and nailed in, I took a nail setter to countersink the nails into the molding before applying painter’s putty to them. After it was dry, and I used this fabulous stuff that goes on pink and turns white when it is dry so I don’t have to guess when it is ready, I sanded the putty down and using a small paint brush painted over the putty to hide the nail marks. I also painted a thin layer where the base and shoe molding meet because there were some very thin spaces in a few areas, and it would make it look like it was all one piece. Then I used a white caulk where the base meets the wall and where the corner pieces meet, smoothing it out with my fingers, and also used colored caulking, the same as our grout, to caulk where the shoe meets the slate floor.


Now the room is so close to being finished and the next step is the toilet and possibly a new sink. We’ll see how aggressive I get today.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Half Bath Renovation: Base Molding… Part 1

Do you ever start a project and wish that you’d just gone with the original plan? Hand cutting hardwood base molding definitely falls into that category.

After we had finally located base and shoe molding that matches the molding surrounding the hardwood floors in our house, I primed and painted it white to match the trim around the window and door in the half bathroom, and gave those another couple fresh coats too. Normally I am not a fan of painted wood, especially when it is a beautiful stain grade, but I was not about to strip the paint off the window and door trim, so paint I did.

So yesterday after the paint was dry I thought, should I wait till my partner gets home so we can go to his dad’s house and borrow his compound miter saw, or should I just hand cut the pieces? Logic was apparently not on my side, because I chose the latter. I guess I figured that it being such a small space with minimal cutting that it wouldn’t be such a chore, but I figured wrong. Oh, so very wrong was I. Very, very, very wrong. I mean really, very, absolutely, incredibly, exceptionally, awfully, exceedingly, most definitely wrong.

I really wanted to surprise my partner with the molding finished when he got home, but what I didn’t take into account was that hemlock is a fairly hard wood, and our cheap plastic miter box isn’t exactly the most stable of tools since, well, we don’t have a table to make the cuts so instead I was on the floor of the kitchen and the damned saw kept getting caught in the grooves at the top for the saw insert and kept making high pitched squealing noises that sounded quite like my voice after eating pineapple that one time when I was thirteen. Long story short, it was a pain in the ass and I have blisters to prove it.


But, to make this sound not completely like I didn’t have any success, I did a ton of research and found a website with a diagram quite like our bathroom and instructions for installing base and shoe molding using the “Butt and Cope” method. I know, it sounds dirty and makes me giggle like a little school girl when I say and read it too, but this looks like how our current molding was installed back in 1956 and I’ve never seen a gap at the corners so I figured that it must work. Basically you make an inside miter cut like you would for a typical forty-five degree install, but using the cut line as a guide, take a coping saw and trim off the mitered edge, leaving you with a perfect contour to butt up against the straight cut molding. And this takes time to do, but will eliminate the need to figure out the exact angle since we all know our house isn’t perfectly square, and will allow the wood to shrink and contract without any gaps showing.


While I wanted to get the base and the shoe molding up, time wasn’t on my side and I was only able to install the base molding. I know, this room is tiny and I should’ve been able to accomplish this all in an afternoon easily, and with a compound miter saw a matter of minutes, but I really took my time to measure, mark, and measure again and mark again if needed so that all my cuts would be perfect. That is, until I came upon the tiny little piece that fits between the door and adjoining wall where there is only an inch to work in, half of which is taken up by the butt joint of the base molding. This piece still hasn’t been installed because, well, I need to keep filing and sanding it down to fit because my original measurement was an eighth of an inch too big. Yes, this piece has quite possibly become the bane of my existence.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ode to Radishes

For first time gardeners and little kids alike, the simple radish is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. And when you plant something that is ready to harvest in about a month, it’s also good for the impatient too.

The taste of a young radish is, well, like something sweet with a little bit of a peppery attitude that continues to become more pronounced the older it gets. Ours have been harvestable for about a week now, but it wasn’t until last night that I finally pulled a bunch to slice and toss into a salad I was making with dinner. Of course I had to taste one of the slices as I was cutting, you know, for quality assurance, and the flavor was amazing, which meant that I had to consume the rest of the slices from that radish!


When I planted them, I did so with the intention of planting rows in between the three I originally put in, but as luck would have it almost every seed I planted sprouted and formed and are growing a little varied as it is. That is to say, some are ready to pluck and others are just baby versions about to fill out. We probably have two bunches that need to be pulled, and another seven or eight that will be ready next week, just in time to plant tomatoes!

So, what is one to do with radishes that are ready to be pulled before they split? There are options, one of which is to put them on your neighbor’s doorstep. Another is to take them to friends to enjoy. But, there is a third option I employed last year, which is to submerge the bulbs in water (not the greens) and keep it in the refrigerator. This will extend their life expectancy by nearly a couple weeks if you change out the water every few days. While in the fridge they will not grow anymore, unlike green onions that seem to be every growing if I leave them in there in the right conditions, which, if you are interested, is a moist paper towel wrapped around the base and roots inside an open plastic bag and kept in the vegetable crisper.


Ah, the ever faithful radish. Thank you for being one of the first offerings of the spring. Perhaps next week you will be joined by your lettuce friends you are sharing your box with and together will make delicious salads. But as for today, I think I’ll have to take a few of you for lunch, slice you up and put you on some Wheat Thins with a little Dee Creek Farm Chevre I picked up at the farmer’s market a couple weeks ago.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Robin and the Mirror

For the past few years we’ve had a robin that enjoys being on our cars. I wouldn’t have a problem so much if he would kindly move before pooping all over them.

I have a feeling that this particular robin really likes the way he looks. I mean really, really, really, really, really likes how sexy he thinks he is because every day he is out either on the mirror itself staring at his reflection in the window or on the narrow ledge of the window gawking at what he sees in the mirror. He also seems to have a preference for our driver’s side as the passenger mirrors and doors have minimal poo.

And yes, I’m pretty sure it’s a male robin. I can’t imagine a female bird or any animal of sorts in the animalverse that would stare at their own reflection for that long without worrying about cleaning the house, what to make for dinner and figure out how to protect her babies from hawks. Of course, this robin is probably gay and thinks he’s found a fellow gay robin to make beautiful music together with.

I mean, the sheer amount of poop this robin leaves is disgusting. He must perch there for hours at a time staring at himself and saying, “I’m so pretty! Look at me! Have you ever seen a prettier bird than I? Oh, of course not! That’s ridiculous!” I can never seem to get a picture of the bird himself perched on either of the cars, or our neighbor’s cars for that matter, but I can certainly show you what the car looks like one day after hosing and scrubbing off the damned bird’s feces.


Gross, huh? I mean, it’s sad when you pull up to the Home Depot surrounded by workhorse trucks and yours is the obvious outsider. I’m not sure how to stop this particular bird from using our cars as his personal playground, but I can’t wait for mating season to be over so he can stop checking himself out before cruising.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Avocados

I could eat avocados like apples. Well, maybe not like apples, as I wouldn’t eat the skin because it’s all hard and practically impenetrable, but, uh, whatever… so it isn’t a perfect comparison.

A ripe avocado has so many delicious qualities at the same time it can be difficult to describe all the flavor sensations. At once it is buttery, sweet, fruity, and has a smooth texture that seems to melt in your mouth. However, this window of opportunity to eat the perfectly ripe avocado is incredibly slim and if you wait too long that sweet buttery goodness turns into sulfuric rotten grossness, along with the possibility of those nasty roots swirling through the flesh. Of course, an under-ripe avocado has a toughness and gritty texture and a raw flavor that doesn’t seem to resemble any of the notes its riper version has, but more similarly a Granny Smith apple. Hey! I knew I’d be able to make an apple comparison here!!!

When selecting an avocado it shouldn’t be hard as a rock or squishy as all get out. Those are either way to unripe or overly ripe and will probably kill you. Look for ones that you can press your thumb into and it has a gentle give. Of course, even this could be a bad avocado, so if the give is right, go ahead and pluck out the little nub from where the stem was attached and if it is bright green and gives, it is perfect and should be snatched by you right away before somebody else grabs it. However, if you remove it and the color is a mucky dark olive greenish color, quickly set it down and keep looking. Unfortunately, this one is probably a day past its prime.

I’ve also found that where I buy avocados also has an effect on flavor, with the exception of last year. Usually Costco has the better variety of avocados in stock, however last summer I tried thrice to no avail… they all tasted unripe even when the got to the perfect squish stage. Low-end grocery stores can have surprises, like WinCo, but I’ve found that the ones at Trader Joe’s were much more consistently better. I’m just glad that the last couple bags I got at Costco have been perfect, and by perfect, I mean the stuff that dreams are made of. But to make avocados easily enjoyed by a crowd or just yourself and a bag of chips, you should make a batch of guacamole.

My usual recipe I came up with years ago has given way to a much tastier version with the same ingredients, just slightly different. I used to make guacamole with jarred jalapeños, powdered garlic and onion and salt. But, deciding to improve upon it, I tried a fresh version with fresh minced onion and garlic, chopped jalapeños (seeded) a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime juice and what a difference that makes! Of course, it helps when the avocados are perfectly ripe too.

Guacamole

2 ripe Hass avocados
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons onion, minced
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
pinch of salt
squeeze of lime juice

In a medium bowl, throw in a pinch of salt and squeeze of lime, add the garlic, onion and jalapeño. Slice the avocados in half and remove the pits, reserving one pit, then remove flesh from the avocados into the bowl and mash with a fork until it is chunky-smooth. I find it easier to quarter the avocados then slice through the flesh in multiple areas without cutting through the skin to make perfectly diced pieces which mash quite a bit faster. Stir to combine, throw the reserved pit back into the middle to keep the guacamole from going bad for hours and enjoy with your favorite tortilla chips!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Community Theater

We love going to live theater productions. When it is a production of a 3-part online series done by your favorite writer, director, producer of all time, we love it even more.

Last night we went to the Blue Monkey Theater Co.’s adaptation of Joss Whedon’s internet sensation Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and it was awesome! I mean, I have to admit that I was a little skeptical because this play obviously would have some areas where they’d have to really stretch the imagination, well that and it wouldn’t star Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day, but they pulled it off flawlessly.

Sometimes the ingenuity of small productions creates a much more unique experience for the audience than a big off-Broadway show, but I wouldn’t know as I’ve never been to one before so maybe I should shut my trap, but then again, this is my blog, so (nod with grimace.) I like the smaller venues where there are usually less than a hundred people in the audience, and sometimes much smaller than that even. This is the same reason I love school plays too.

This isn’t going to be a review for Dr. Horrible, but I do highly recommend going to see it if you are a fan of the show, and even if you are not, it is hilarious, complete with a few new numbers that work extremely well to give the entire cast some stage time. Just go to http://www.bluemonkeytheater.org/ for times and ticket information.

Anyway, so the real reason I wanted to write about community theater is because it is a great way to entertain your family and teach your kids about the arts. Watching TV is one thing, but there is a glass screen between them and their favorite actors on a show, whereas going to see a live show there is nothing between you and the performers. Usually after the show you can even interact with the actors which is especially fun for children’s shows.

Almost every town has at least one community theater group, or at least one nearby. We are so fortunate in the Portland Metro Area to have a ton of various amateur productions going on all year long, as well as the off-Broadway shows. I urge you to think about going to see a play instead of going to the movies next time you are looking for a family night out, or maybe just a grown up night out as I can’t necessarily recommend Dr. Horrible to kids under ten!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Unexpected Vegetable Garden Additions

I had to go to the feed store to get a few seeds and get the propane tank filled for the barbecue. What I didn’t expect to find was seeds for a pumpkin straight out of a fairytale.

Last week when I planted my Jack O’Lanterns and zucchini and green beans, I didn’t realize that I had used up all my seeds for sugar pumpkins used for making pie. This made me sad. Please try to imagine a lone tear dripping down my cheek from my hazel green eye as you visualize this. (This is an inside joke, and that’s as far as I’m taking it.) Anyway, so while at the feed store searching for the sugar pumpkin seeds I had gotten there in the past, I came across another packet of pumpkin seeds for an heirloom variety called Fairytale.


At first I thought they were the miniature pumpkins and already made up my mind to purchase them, but upon reading the back I found that this variety grew to thirty pounds and 18 inches wide! And they’re baking pumpkins, not just for carving! Bonus! However, I still wanted my sugar pumpkins because they are small and make excellent pumpkin pie, so my quest continued… until I came across an heirloom variety of bush beans that had purple pods. Obviously I had to get those too, right? And then there were sunflowers, the mammoth ten footers. Who doesn’t need those in their garden?

Eventually I found the sugar pumpkins, had them refill my propane thank and when I got home began plotting where things were going to go. I had already planted pole beans (green) and Jack O’Lanterns in a large empty space between the cherry tree and lilac, and the zucchini along the fence behind the vegetable garden. Decisions, decisions. I knew the sunflowers were going to go right along the fence between the cherry and lilac, and spaced them appropriately. I decided to put the Fairytales in with the Jack O’Lanterns and planted them in three mounds in the front of the plot, but still had a few leftover seeds and figured, heck, why not plant another mound behind the vegetable garden, so I did. I also put the purple bush beans in a row in front of the zucchini and the sugar pumpkins in front of them.

I can’t wait until summer when these two areas are filled with various pumpkins, squash and beans, and hope I didn’t go overboard. Then again, if we do end up with a back fence full of pumpkins, I could always invite friends and family to our little pumpkin patch to pick out a few for Halloween… or horde them all to ourselves because I’m selfish like that! Of course, I did that last year with the sugar pumpkins and half of them went bad from not being used, so maybe it would be better to allow other people to have a few.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pet Birthdays

Yesterday was our dog Lucy’s 4th birthday, so what better way to celebrate it than with a cake. A meat cake, that is.

Looking over the last few years we really haven’t done anything for our dog’s birthday, let alone any of our pets’s birthdays, and I figured why not make a special treat just for her. So I pulled out an old container of ground turkey I’d thrown in the freezer before it went bad… wow, this isn’t starting out so special is it? Six month old possibly freezer burnt lean ground turkey? Oh well. I put the ground turkey in the microwave and zapped it for a minute at a time until it was thawed, mixed it together with some fresh rosemary and sage I picked from the garden along with an apple, couple handfuls of carrots and celery that I finely chopped in the food processor, and three beaten eggs with a scant quarter teaspoon of salt and a couple grinds of pepper. If I was thinking, I’d have also chopped up some garlic. I baked it in two six inch cake pans until it was done and let it cool.

I also peeled some potatoes and boiled them until cooked, drained and tossed them into the KitchenAid stand mixer with the whisk attachment and whisked them with some olive oil, garlic powder and Nancy’s Honey Yogurt, which used to be known as just Plain Yogurt with Honey, and is a whole milk yogurt and very delicious. I continued to whisk the potatoes until they were smooth and frosting consistency.

After the meat cake layers had cooled, I plated the bottom layer and filled the center with mashed potatoes, adding the top layer and covered the whole thing with the potatoes in the same manner as I would do with frosting on cake. When it was done, it looked like a frosted cake too. For decoration, I added a border of peas on the bottom and cut out her name from slices of cheddar cheese before we wished her happy birthday, cut half of it out and gave it to her for dinner.


I know this seems like a lot of effort, but really, aren’t our pets worth it? They give us so much love and affection day in and day out, it seems like making them a special dinner once in a while is such a small thing to give them in return. Of course, when our dog first started showing signs of skin allergies, we decided to simply make her meals for her, which was basically a chicken stew with potatoes, carrots and peas without any seasonings. Very bland, but she loved it. However, this is not something I would prefer to do with our dog, as she is so huge I was making a batch every other day!

Our pets are such a huge part of our family it only seems logical to celebrate their milestones like we would if we had kids. I hope you think of your pets the same way.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Half Bath Renovation: Adventures in Toilet Buying

Since when did toilets get so complicated? Between the various GPFs (gallons per flush) and ranges of “white” and classes and styles, there’s also the hefty price tag these fairly utilitarian unitaskers are asking for.

We had replaced our toilet in the main bath a couple years ago with a Kohler Cimarron and figured it’d be pretty easy to get another for the half bath so they’d match. However, apparently toilets are like cars and they come out with new models every year, as well as have numerous versions of each model to contend with each other. Having so many choices from which to relieve oneself, I thought that I’d gone the safe route of picking the same model as we picked for the main bath because, at least on the outside they looked identical.


It wasn’t until I brought it home that I realized they had made a few minor improvements. First of all, the inside rim curves down at a forty-five degree angle rather than the straight ninety the earlier model has, which, honestly, is a pain to keep clean for some reason. Hopefully this adjustment will help. Also, this one came with a toilet seat and wax ring with bolts, and our other toilet did not. We’ll see how we care for the standard seat after having the quiet-close version in the main bath.

With as much as we were hoping to get the exact same toilet we have in our main bath, the most important part was that it be elongated and chair height. Those two things alone make a huge difference in the comfort of relieving oneself. I just hope that it isn’t too big to fit into the half bath because I hate returning things… really, really hate returning things. But it’ll be a few days before we can install it, as my plan is to do the final cleaning of the tiles today and the final sealing tomorrow, which means Friday at the earliest.

Of course, the biggest shocker to these new toilets is their price tag. I mean, we felt like we were getting a bargain at only spending $248 on a new toilet when compared to some of the others out on the market! Seriously? It flushes poop people! C’mon, do you really need a $700 (and up) waste extractor?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

With most of the vegetable garden just starting, it seemed odd that I still had leeks leftover from last year waiting to be pulled. Then again, they do require a lot longer than most other vegetables.

In an effort to clear out the last corner of one of the garden boxes in preparation for new plantings, I decided to make Potato Leek Soup yesterday. Now, I had never made this soup before and honestly it has always intrigued me how you could take two ingredients and make a meal out of it. So I walked up to the vegetable garden with my handy weed digger to uproot the leeks and pulled up four of them, which from being over-wintered had grown quite nice in size. Then again, they were planted a year ago.

Before bringing them into the house I washed off the roots of as much excess soil as I could with the garden hose. I snipped off all of the dark greens, sliced them in half lengthwise and submerged them in cold water to soak for about ten minutes to allow any soil that may have gotten trapped inside while it grew. This allows the dirt and sand particles to sink to the bottom, and is a must when working with leeks because of their growth pattern. And now that they were clean, I was ready to start making the soup.

Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients

1½ tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons water
4 large leeks chopped, the dark tough greens cut off
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2½ cups vegetable stock or water
¼ - ½ cup cream
salt and pepper to taste

In a 3 quart soup pot, melt the butter and water over low heat and cook the leeks until softened but not browned, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the potatoes, vegetable stock and/or water, bring to a boil then lower heat and let simmer about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Using a food processor or blender, process about three-quarters of the soup until smooth, returning to the pot, add the cream, salt and pepper and reheat until hot. Add more water, stock or cream to thin to desired consistency and enjoy hot, room temperature or cold. Recipe is easily doubled.

I also made some extra sharp white cheddar cheese bread with slices of a baguette by simply sprinkling the cheese over the baguette slices and broiling for about a minute until bubbly, which was a perfect accompaniment. If you prefer a non-vegetarian soup, make with chicken stock and add a cup of diced ham, which should pair well with the flavors.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Half Bath Renovation: Grout

Grouting ceramic tile is in and of itself a pain in the ass. Grouting slate tile ups that by a factor of a gazillion.

Okay, so, I’ve grouted before, so I know that it can be cumbersome with all the wiping and wiping of the excess grout that forms a haze over the tile that indelibly occurs while grouting the traditional way. To try to bring that particular issue to a minimum, my partner reads on the internets that you can simply fill a heavy duty Ziploc bag with grout, cut a small hole in a corner and squeeze out the grout into the lines, thus, bypassing the messiness. I must have done something wrong in the mixing process (or got distracted by the neighbors stopping by) because when I put the grout into the bag I thought to myself this is just like frosting consistency and should be a piece of cake to pipe! How misleading this was.

I snipped a hole a little larger than the grout line and started to squeeze and noticed I couldn’t even get the stuff to come out at all. So, I figured I needed a bigger hole. That didn’t work, it just looked like it was building up pressure and waiting to pop like a balloon, a grout balloon, full of sticky grey Crystalline-Entity-filled poop consistency goo. At this point, I’m pretty certain a whole slew of cusswords flew out of my mouth and the realization that I’d have to go about it the old fashioned way was quickly setting in and reinforced when my partner said it aloud. Good thing we sealed the tile first! Of course, I could have always made another batch of grout and added a little more water, but that would have been easy and seriously, when do I ever make anything easy on myself?

Using the Ziploc bag to keep the grout as gooey as it could be, I cut the hole a little larger and squeezed out a little at a time and used a grout float to fill in the lines. This process certainly sounds easier than it is, because you see, slate isn’t all smooth and perfectly level like, say, ceramic tile, and so grouting takes a lot more time. And when you’re done, it looks like you just seriously screwed up all the hard work you’ve put into the project up to this point because the slate tiles now look like crap.


After I was done grouting, I began the process of wiping off the excess from the tile and in the process smooth out the grout lines. This takes forever because of the aforementioned nooks and crannies slate tiles have that invariably are happy little hiding places for grout to reside. I ended up rinsing out the sponge about fifty times before allowing it to set for a couple hours to do the next step, wiping off the haze. Naturally, the haze began to form more noticeably on the darker tiles, but it all wiped off pretty easily, albeit slowly, during the initial pass-through so I figured the haze wipe would go nice and smooth. Who am I kidding?


When the two hour waiting period was over, I grabbed the now almost dry sponge and began wiping the haze off and the tiles looked absolutely fantastic… for about ten minutes before another layer of haze formed. This time I decided to dry the dry buff method, which seemed to get about half the tiles clean, but the other half still had quite a bit of grout in all those fine lines, so I went back over it with a now wrung out sponge and focused on those areas. This still doesn’t get everything, but almost everything, and isn’t that close enough? Well, this morning I’m running a mental debate over whether I should try at it one more time or simply allow the small amount of excess grout to stay in the nooks and crannies because it is a natural grey color that blends in nicely with the tiles and it will act as a stabilizer for those parts and prevent them from chipping, right? Oh well, I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Limited Free Ranging

Sometimes letting the chickens have free range of the yard is a good thing. The bad thing is they poop indiscriminately everywhere they go, which of course includes the deck and back patio.

A couple weeks ago my partner suggested we start limiting how much we let the girls out. I was a little worried about this since they had pretty much become accustomed to running around where they pleased in the confines of our backyard, but would hang out under the eaves over the deck and patio to preen and poop. And so now that the weather is (somewhat) nicer and we are spending more time outdoors, I have agreed to limit their free range time to just a couple hours or supervised to shoo them away from areas we’d like to remain relatively poop free.

Fortunately when we decided to implement the plan, the weather took a turn for the nasty and we had cold, blustery, windy all out horrible weather and ended up keeping the chickens in their coop the whole time. They have a pretty big open area that is covered to not only protect them from the rain, but also to keep the coop dry and practically odor free as moisture is what contributes to the major smell issues. This is why a yard full of dog crap in the summer doesn’t smell as bad as it does during the spring… not that I’d have any experience with this (lies, all lies!)

At first, I kind of felt bad about leaving them locked up in their coop, but then all I have to do is look at the makeshift coop the neighbors behind us have with their eight chickens which is half the size and they all seem to be doing fine, so maybe I’m just being overly worried about this whole thing. I mean, it’s not like we keep them confined all the time, and they are allowed out of the coop too, unlike the neighbors hens. Of course, maybe I am trying to justify our actions because of my guilt!


So, I’m thinking, and my partner and I have discussed this, of building a small uncovered run attached to the coop so they have their very own section of the yard to be in when we don’t want them all over the place, like during the spring and summer while the vegetable garden is trying to grow and we can use the deck without having to hose it off first. But when it comes to what type of enclosure, we both disagree. Hopefully we can find something soon because I don’t know how much longer I can stand seeing the girls in “lock-up.” Then again, my vegetable garden isn’t all torn up and we can walk out onto the back patio and deck without stepping in chicken droppings! Somehow, I think the guilt will slowly subside… hopefully.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Yellow Curry Experiment

Growing up, my stepmom used to make a yellow curry over rice that was absolutely delicious, and funnily it is one of two things I think of when my mind wanders to homemade cooking from my childhood. That, and my mother’s green beans covered in cheese sauce!

Rather than just simply call my stepmom and ask for the recipe, I decided to try to replicate it from memory, or at least as close as I could using the ingredients I had on hand. I didn’t have any coconut milk even though I’d been telling myself to buy a can or two for a cake flavor I’ve been wanting to make, so I thought about other ingredients that might work. Yogurt was the first that came to mind, such as Nancy’s Honey Yogurt we feed our dog to help with her digestion, but of course we had just run out that morning. Then I thought of buttermilk, which from when I made the decadently delicious yet simple Indian flatbread, naan, could be interchangeable, however that seemed like it would be a little too much tang. So instead I opted for a quarter cup buttermilk and a ½ cup of heavy cream. To get the sweet flavor that is so necessary in the background of a good curry, I decided to try a little experiment, well this whole thing was an experiment, but wanted to test a theory of caramelizing the onions slightly by sautéing them in oil with a little brown sugar melted in. Oh – my – gawd! It worked out perfectly!

Now, it is not to say that I am unfamiliar with curry, because I am not, it’s just that I’ve never attempted to make one before. I don’t know why, but perhaps deep down it was the thought of being disappointed that it wouldn’t taste like my stepmom’s curry. But once I got over that and simply tried to make something edible, I figured that it is just food, and can always be made differently next time if it was that awful. After all, I was using up chicken that had to be eaten or tossed and the same went for the chicken stock I had in the refrigerator, so if this didn’t work, I was out an onion, a couple potatoes and a couple handfuls of baby carrots. But, when it all came together and was perfectly cooked and I took my first bite I was immediately drawn back to those days of sitting around the dinner table and we all talked about our day at school or work. It wasn’t the same, but I think the essence of it was there.

Cory’s Curry

Ingredients
2 tablespoons oil, either olive or canola
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 large onion, cut in half then sliced into ¼” strips
3 tablespoons yellow curry powder (or make your own if you’re all ambitious)
2 medium russet potatoes, diced into bite sized pieces
2 cups baby carrots, cut in half or thirds
2 cups chicken stock
2-3 tablspoons fish sauce
¼ cup buttermilk mixed with ½ cup heavy cream
     *OR*
1 can coconut milk
     *OR*
1 cup plain or honey yogurt
1½ lbs chicken thighs and/or breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
1-2 tablespoons Sambal Oelek, or other ground fresh chili paste (optional)

Also
6-8 cups jasmine rice

Over medium heat in a 5 quart or larger stock pot, heat the oil and brown sugar until the sugar has dissolved and puts off a pleasant aroma. If it smells like burning, start over because you don’t want your whole dish to be ruined before you even get started! Add the onion and sauté for about five minutes until they soften slightly. Add the curry powder, stir to combine and cook for another minute or two before adding the potatoes and carrots. If you prefer to use red or gold potatoes, go for it, but I find a nice starchy potato contributes nicely and also helps thicken the liquid ever so slightly. Also if you don’t have baby carrots, simply use regular carrots cut down to size or slice them into ¼” slices at an angle, or you could always just buy the carrot chips already cut at the store too (lazy ass.) Next, add the chicken stock and choice of buttermilk/cream blend, coconut milk or plain yogurt, stirring to combine. Bring to a gentle boil then add the chicken, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25-40 minutes, or until the chicken juices run clear when pierced and the potatoes are cooked through, stirring occasionally. The time discrepancy is to account for using chicken breasts, which cook faster, and thighs, which need to cook longer. If using a combination I would cook the full forty minutes. If you like heat, you can add the Sambal Oelek with the other liquids, or if you like background heat, stir it in while the rice is resting, about five minutes before serving, which is also a good time to test for seasonings and add salt or more fish sauce if needed. Serve over jasmine rice for six to eight people, depending on appetite.

This recipe is delicious same day, but the leftovers are even better as the flavors become more pronounced and delectable. I’d even go so far as to suggest you make it a day or two in advance, refrigerate it and then reheat it right before you plan to eat!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Half Bath Renovation: Setting the Tiles

With all the tiles dry fitted and cuts done, it was time to mix up a batch of thinset and place them in. Oh, if only it was that easy.

When all the pieces were definitely where we wanted them, I decided to label them with blue masking tape using the numbers 1-25, as there were that many pieces used. To make sure they were all placed where they needed to go back after piling them up and moving them away so the thinset bed could be laid, I drew up a simple guide with grid paper. I didn’t have to refer to the grid, but that is probably because I drew one up. I’m certain the results would have been disastrous had I skipped this step!



So while I piled up the tiles, my partner mixed up the thinset, wearing the proper personal protective equipment like goggles and face mask of course, and then I vacuumed up the floor well to get rid of any dust, hair, dirt, flakey thingies that might be on the backer board and cause adhesion issues. Once everything was prepped, it was time to start spreading thinset onto the backer board. This process shouldn’t be that complicated, but somehow I managed. You see, the space is small, and I mean very small, and there are obstacles and hazards at every turn… literally. I only got ten tiles put in while I was physically in the bathroom before I had to move out of it to continue because there wasn’t room enough for me and the sink, which I don’t even know why we still had in there because the plan is to replace it, but then again, it came in handy after I put in the first tile and needed to wash the excess off quickly so I could wipe down the tile that had thinset fingerprints all over the top of it. And of course, this would also be the perfect time for the toilet’s shut off valve to decide to start leaking! Brilliant! Actually I believe my exact words were, “That’s just great!” as my partner can attest to because I said it at least a hundred times.

Okay, so, to get the best adhesion possible and to even out the tiles, I spread the thinset and notched it using the notchy side of the mortar trowel, and then spread thinset onto the back of the tile itself, trying to fill up thin areas before laying them down. Let’s just say, this works well in your head, but had varying results in the real world. I had to keep telling myself, this is only the half bath and not a large area and is practice for the laundry room and kitchen and main bath so don’t worry if it isn’t perfect. Which, well, let’s be honest… it is far from perfect. I mean, it’s difficult to make perfect grout line areas when the tiles are not perfectly square! Oh well, that is the charm of slate, and the results will not be that noticeable as we are using 1/8” spacers for that thin of a grout line. Our original plan was to simply butt them up to one another, but everything I read about that in a bathroom or kitchen was that it caused mold and mildew to form between the tiles, and with all the issues we’ve had with those fungi in our house, we decided it would be best to not encourage them to find new hiding places.


With all the tiles in place, and my hands now covered in thinset, we now have to wait for a couple days to ensure enough drying time. I believe the plan is to go to Coco’s Fine Tile and Marble and get some sealant and grout so we can finish the project. Well, the tiling part of it anyway! This has all been a learning experience so far, and things I’ve learned from thinset so far, is next time I tile I’m wearing gloves because my fingertips, after a thorough scrubbing with lots of hot soapy water, feel like they have a million tiny shards of glass embedded in them, which, of course, they probably do! Oh, and one more thing; while I did have knee pads on, they should come with a warning that in order for them to stay on your knees while doing a project, they have to be tight enough to cut off circulation to your legs, feet and toes. What the hell is that all about?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Anniversaries

Sometimes I can hardly believe that my partner and I have been together for fourteen years. Then there are times I say to myself, “That’s it?”

Today is our anniversary and what am I doing? Writing about it. We’re not going to a fancy restaurant for dinner, or a vacation or road trip anywhere, or really much of anything. Actually, the plan is to thinset the slate tiles in our half bath, and maybe go get the grout and sealant and a couple sponges and a grout float too. Sound exciting to you? I’m excited to be that much closer to done with this project!

While we’ve been together for fourteen years, it was four years ago today we finally had a ceremony at our church. Our original plan was to wait for gay marriage to be legal, but that became increasingly apparent it wasn’t going to happen any time soon, and still today isn’t a reality. And so we celebrated our tenth anniversary with friends and family and had all the traditional wedding stuffs including a ceremony, food, dancing, cake and a toast… with actual toast. Our church has a ban on alcohol in the building because of a raucous crowd years earlier, so instead of sparkling cider or something fizzy to toast with, my twisted sense of humor thought using small toasts for the toast would be funny. It still makes me giggle.

In the past we’ve done some great things for our anniversary. For our sixth, we took our first out-of-country vacation… to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada where they almost wouldn’t let me back into the United States because I didn’t have a passport or my birth certificate or anything other than my driver’s license. The seventh we decided to get rings to show our commitment to one another. On the eighth we went to Portland City Grill on the 30th floor of the U.S. Bancorp tower. And then the big ceremony on our tenth. Honestly, I think that was the last big thing we did, but I’ll hear about it if it wasn’t!

However, this year is a lot more laid back it seems. Unless we make a surprise trip to Idaho to visit my partner’s family, we probably will spend it finishing up the half bath in anticipation of having another toilet in the house again, which honestly seems like the best thing we could do together after living with only one toilet for this many years!

Hmmm… I wonder when my partner is going to start making waffles? I’m getting hungry.