Monday, January 30, 2012

Why a Stand-Alone Pantry is a Great Alternative

I mentioned in a previous post that Brian and I modified the plans for our new home in order to omit the awkwardly placed pantry. 

At the time, I remember being nervous that I might regret that decision. But, no risk, no reward, right?

I’m happy to say after living here for a year that I am SO happy we got rid of that pantry. The added counter space absolutely makes this space so dreamy. I have plenty of room to do prep, and when we have parties, we have more than enough room to put out food and drinks.   

It was Brian's brilliant idea to purchase a closet unit (yes, intended for your bedroom) from Ikea to serve as our pantry. Yep, ladies, all of that outside-of-the-box genius is MINE. He's a keeper!

Here are the reasons why I LOVE my closet pantry:

1. It was CHEAP! Seriously, who doesn't love saving a buck? We purchased the unit in a grey-blue finish to add a subtle pop of color, and installed hardware that matched the rest of our kitchen. We've had several people ask us if it was custom-made (and, oh, that makes my heart do a happy's kind of like the running-man meets the cabbage-patch in fast forward with a lot of random high-fives and fist pumps).

2. The inside is completely CUSTOMIZABLE! My close circle of friends know that I attacked most of my kitchen with a label maker. What can I say? I love organization. While I haven't yet labeled the pantry, I do love the fact that Ikea offers a variety of inexpensive storage solutions for this closet unit. We installed three pull-out drawers (ladies, am I right in saying that pull-out pantry drawers are the BEST?) and two shelves.

3. Did I mention it's CUSTOMIZABLE? We recently added a fourth pull-out drawer with tiny compartments for organizing smaller items. Ikea has amazing storage options for this closet unit -- the only limit is your imagination (cue cheesy music).

4. The pantry is DEEP! Seriously, we can fit a lot of crap in here. Those vertical dividers are from Ikea too ($5.99 for a 2-pack) and you better believe they will be making repeat appearances throughout my home.

Are you using any furniture in a non-conventional way in your home or thinking about using it? I'd love to hear about it!


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Liebster Blog Award

I recently had the great honor of being awarded the Liebster Blog Award by two really fantastic bloggers, Eliesa at Pinterest Addict and Cate at DomestiCATE. Words cannot even begin to describe my gratitude! It's an honor that people actually read my blog (HUGE thanks goes out to my loyal readers....I love you all!), let alone want to give me an award! I'm humbled (and totally giddy!).

Click the links below to see what Eliesa and Cate had to say when they presented me with this awesome award, and make sure you check out the other award recipients while you're there:

For those of you, who, like me, had never heard of the Liebster Award before, here is what I've learned about it, courtesy of Eliesa and Cate. :)

“Liebster is a German word, meaning dearest or beloved, but it can also mean favorite.  The idea behind the Liebster Blog Award is that it is given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers in order to create new connections and bring attention to these wonderful blogs.”

It's a great way to build friendships and connections in the blog community!

The rules of the Liebster Award are as follows:
  1. Post the award on your blog.
  2. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
  3. Reveal your 5 picks for the award and let them know.
  4. Bask in the love from the most supportive people on the blogosphere... other bloggers.
  5. Finally, the best rule of all, have fun and spread the love!
I am still determining who my five picks will be, so I will post on that later, but I did not want to delay expressing my sincere gratitude to Eliesa and Cate for giving me this award. 

Cheers y'all!
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    Saturday, January 28, 2012

    To quote my husband...on God's Power

    Friday, January 27, 2012

    Truffled Shepherd's Pie and A Study in Spontaneity

    Let’s start with how the evening began, shall we? Neither Brian nor I wanted to make dinner. Brian had made pasta with frozen meatballs the past two nights, so technically I was the more obligated spouse, but that’s beside the point. Not that there is any point. Well, the point is, we didn’t feel like cooking, and like most people, we're on a budget and didn't want to order takeout. Can anybody relate?

    So, we didn’t want to make dinner. And I felt guilty about it. I love to cook, and I usually do cook, so why didn't I feel like cooking tonight? We may never know...

    Brian, being the sweet husband that he is, finally ended the collective hemming and hawing and announced that he would make dinner -- "a shepherd’s pie," he said. He grabbed frozen ground beef and a package of instant mashed potatoes.

    Now…you may or may not know this about me, but I generally have an opinion about most things food-related (unless my mother-in-law is cooking -- she has the spiritual gift of making everything taste like's true!). I have come to realize that my opinions are better received by the hubster when they are positioned in the form of a casual suggestion, punctuated with an obvious question mark. Anywhoooo….I started asking what he thought about using some tomato paste and potentially beef bouillon. Oh, and we have frozen veggies? (yep, that was a question)

    His response, you ask? A blank stare. 

    Ladies….can we speak privately? It was at this moment, I knew he planned to make ONLY ground beef and instant mashed potatoes. I had to put a stop to it. And so….I hijacked the meal.

    Today, unfortunately, I can’t share a recipe with you. But, I’ll share something that I personally find more valuable: a food philosophy and thought process. And, I’ll throw in a few of my key “always-have-these-no-matter-what” ingredients.

    {Cue gentle, yet meaningful, background music that really pulls at your heartstrings.}

    Shepherd’s pie….it’s a collection. It’s a scavenger hunt in your kitchen. Shepherd’s pie is best when it’s never the same as the last time you made it -- when it’s a snapshot in time of the life of your appetite.

    So, while my ground beef defrosted in the microwave and my frozen veggies from like, 2007, steamed on the stove (hey - we're real in this house....not everything is farm fresh, ok?), I started collecting ingredients. 

    {Big smile} This is my favorite part. The collecting. I want to point out that Brian and I desperately needed to go to the grocery store.  Part of the reason neither of us wanted to cook was because we had, as Brian says, "no food -- only ingredients." Luckily, I always keep a few key ingredients on hand that help turn meals into true experiences:    

    •  Dried shiitake mushrooms – Costco sells a tub of dried shiitakes that are a dream come true. They sell a larger tub of dried mixed “gourmet mushrooms” as well. I’ve purchased both and prefer the shiitakes.

    • Truffle oil – it’s pricey but it goes a long way (and it's certainly cheaper than real truffles)…and if anyone sees this at Costco again, you are hereby instructed to contact me by any means necessary. I repeat, any means necessary.

    • Tomato paste – while we’re on the topic of Costco, you might as well stock up on tomato paste there too. Food Network has been subtly evangelizing the tomato paste "toothpaste" style tube for years, and honestly, I prefer the can...but that's just because (1) I'm cheap, (2) I like to buy in bulk, and (3) the tubes always leak in my fridge. 'Nuff said. 

    What do these items have in common? Umami and richness – key components of a good shepherd’s pie. When you're working with frozen meat and veggies from who knows when, ingredients like these three can give your meal the boost it needs. I'll walk you through my meal prep, but keep in mind I made it up as I went and didn't keep track of measurements. I used what I already had and that is the moral of this spontaneous story.

    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 1-2 cups dehydrated shiitake mushrooms
    • 2 cloves minced garlic
    • a bunch of frozen veggies
    • 2-3 lbs (I think?) ground beef
    • flour
    • more butter
    • 57 sauce
    • whatsthishere (aka worcestershire) sauce
    • 1 big ol’ tablespoon tomato paste
    • ½ to 1 cup chicken stock (???)
    • the mushroom-y water you rehydrated your mushrooms in (straining out any debris)
    • Salt
    • onion soup mix
    • All purpose seasoning salt (or montreal steak seasoning….or just more salt)
    • Pepper
    • Instant mashed potatoes (which called for milk, more butter, water)
    • Truffle oil
    • Grated aged cheddar
    • A single, solitary beef bouillon cube (hey, why not?)

    Pre-heat the oven to 400 F. 

    I rehydrated my dried shiitakes in hot water for about 10-15 minutes. I strained the mushrooms (reserving the water....that's good mushroomy water!) and gave 'em a choppity chop. 

    I melted 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in my beloved dutch oven, and added my mushrooms, which sauteed for about 5-7 minutes until they had browned slightly. 

    I added the garlic and an additional tablespoon of butter to the pan. Once the butter was melted, I added the flour and tomato paste and stirred well to incorporate. Then, with whisk-in-hand, I added about a cup (maybe less) of chicken stock, whisking vigorously to remove any lumps. I added about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the mushroom stock, a little at a time, just until the mixture was smooth.

    I seasoned my ground beef with salt and pepper, and tossed it into the pot. At this point, I also added a splishy-splash of whatsthishere sauce and a beef bouillon cube.....and another dash of mushroom stock. I tossed in a package of onion soup mix, just before I added the kitchen sink (just kidding....about the sink).

    I used a wooden spoon to break the beef into small pieces, and stirred periodically to ensure the beef cooked through evenly.

    At some point, I added my veggies (which I had defrosted by way of steaming earlier). Once my beef had cooked through, I started the Quality Control process. I added more mushroom stock, a generous helping of this seasoning salt Brian stole in a white elephant gift exchange, more whatsthishere sauce, and healthy amount of 57 sauce. I QCed it and kept adding a little more of this or that until it tasted "right."And then I QCed a little more just for good measure. 

    I turned the pot to a low simmer, and moved on to the instant mashed potatoes. I used slightly less butter than the package called for, and stirred in 2 tablespoons of truffle oil once the flakes had magically transformed into potatoes.

    I smeared the potatoes on top of my meat mixture (in the dutch oven)...Brian cheered me along ("It's just like icing a can do it!"). We had a small nugget of aged cheddar in the fridge, so I put Brian to work grating the cheese, which went right on top of the potatoes.

    We popped this in oven at 400 F for 10 minutes.

    When the 10 minutes were up, we set our broiler to HIGH, and let it go for another 10 minutes.

    And here she is, ladies and gentlemen.....

    Now that's a happy hub!

    And so, we ate...

    ....and we went back for seconds.

    All in all, it turned out to be surprisingly delicious evening!

    We ended the night with our dog, Aybee, puking on our couch. Awesome.

    P.S. I'm linking up here:

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    Thursday, January 26, 2012

    How to Make a DIY Capiz Shell Chandelier

    Well, folks....break out the bubbly, because I've accomplished one of my first goals for 2012. I've officially replaced the spaceship light fixture in my entry. 

    Remember what it looked like before?


    I always figured it would be awhile before I could tackle this project. I don't know....I guess I always assumed that when you multiply the height of the 2-story ceiling by my desire for "awesomeness" the resulting product would equal "more money than I have."


    One day, I was innocently perusing Pinterest and discovered this post from Design Sponge. I immediately sent the link to Adrienne, my design soul sister and an avid DIY-er herself (seriously, the girl is handier with power tools and lumber than most dudes). She gave it her stamp of approval and suggested I go with real capiz shells, instead of the wax paper faux-shells the blog recommends. I was sold. The only remaining obstacle I would have to overcome was convincing Brian that this was a GREAT idea.


    I knew this chandelier was a bit more "old Hollywood" than he typically preferred. But, like a bull in a china shop, I shoved my laptop under his nose and waited.

    Brian: "Hmm. Looks nice."

    {ok, that's good but not necessarily the green light to move forward}

    Alison: "Oh, and we wouldn't have to rewire a new light fixture. I can just remove the flying saucer part and attach this to the existing fixture. No need for scaffolding."

    Brian: "SAY WHAT? Let's do it!!"


    As you can see below, the frosted saucer-y thing is attached via three hooks, allowing the base to pop right out. Score! By the way, can anyone guess what project I was working on when I took this "Before" picture? Here's a hint.


    I purchased a 20" diameter hanging basket from Home Depot, and used an old clothing rack to hold the basket. The inner liner went bye-bye.

    In order to make the basket match the existing fixture, I gave it two coats of brushed silver spray paint. 

    Two coats layer.....voila!

    Once the paint dried, it was time to start attaching my ribbon. I cut 9" length pieces.

    Using a hot glue gun, I folded the ribbon around the basket wires and secured them with a drop of glue.

    I kept adding ribbon....

    .... and more ribbon...

    ...and even MORE ribbon, until the entire fixture was full. 

    Side note -- you could actually stop here if you wanted. The basket looked great with just the ribbon. You could use wider ribbon to make it feel fuller. It would make a great light fixture this way, or you could even use it as a mobile in a nursery. 

    Once the ribbon was attached, it was time to start hot-gluing my shells on. I  overlapped the shells on each strand by about a quarter of an inch, alternating two shells and then three shells.

    By the time the first layer of shells was done, I was positively giddy.

    As is normally the case with my projects, my boxer, Aybee, was head of the creative committee. And here is my now-obligatory doggy picture. Look at that sad face...Don't you want to just cheer her up?

    More shells were attached....

    ...and even more shells. Although this seems fairly tedious, it actually went by rather quickly. The only delay was caused by the darn company that was sourcing my capiz shells.....they delayed my last order by about three weeks because they "were closed for a trade show." Um, thanks for letting your paying customers know in a timely manner!

    Anywhooo....the last of my shells finally arrived last weekend and I was able to finish my chandelier. All in all, I used just shy of 500 shells, in case anyone is curious.

    I lugged our ladder out from the garage, and officially swapped out the fixture. If you're trying this at home, make sure you have a helper who can be an extra pair of hands for you. At one point, Brian even climbed up the other side of the ladder  to steady my capiz fixture while I attached it to the existing structure.


    And here she is, folks!

    What an improvement from the old fixture! I'm so happy with how this turned out. Every time I walk by it I just stop and smile. When all was said and done, this project cost about $120. For reference, here's a smaller capiz shell chandelier (which actually wouldn't even work in my entry because the cord length is too short) that I found at Target ON SALE for $352.49:

    Needless to say, I'm feeling pretty darn good about my DIY chandelier! :)

    What do you think? 


    PS. I'm participating in the following link parties:

    Manic Mother

    Making Lemonade

     Weekend Bloggy Reading

    Home Stories A2Z

    Along For the Ride