A Royal Wedding

29 04 2011

Okay, so this is not exactly Handy Homeowner related, but how could I not comment on the Royal Wedding from this morning? Who got up at the crack of dawn to watch?

I did, I did!

Now, I’m NOT a morning person, and I’ve been really tired lately because I’m having all sorts of strange dreams, but I set my alarm for 4:30am (and set my DVR for 4am) so that I could watch Kate and Wills tie the knot. And it was so worth it.

I did need some coffee to stay awake, which I drank from my fabulous Emma Bridgewater mug, a gift from my mom.  If you’ve never seen her stuff, you must check it out immediately.

This used to be my car - I loved my P MINI

But let’s be serious, I mostly wanted to see her dress.  Kate is so pretty, and has such great style, so I was excited to see what she’d be wearing.  And I wasn’t disappointed!

After the service, the couple returned to Buckingham Palace, and did the customary wave and first kiss from the balcony (though I suspect that they shared their real first kiss behind closed doors when they went to sign the marriage register).

And I managed to get some nice snaps from the tv on my iPhone:

Queenie (as my English dad calls her) looked good in yellow!

I just loved the neckline on her dress

And first kiss....awww...

I wish the happy couple a life full of love and happiness!

And apparently, they plan to live in a small house with no staff, except for formal events (good for them).  How would you decorate your home if you were the Duchess of Cambridge?

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Photos for Friday

29 04 2011

Thought I’d share some photos from around the house lately:

Lilacs - slowly but surely, they're going to bloom!

New dish towels - a gift from my mom for Easter

I finally framed the Parisian print I picked up at the airport - now to hang it up!

Three months after ordering it, my stair basket finally arrived! It's working out very well!





Raised Beds – The Beginning

28 04 2011

So raised beds – what a headache! And I haven’t even started building mine yet!

There are plenty of options out there – you can just build your own from scratch, you can get the metal stake connectors and get your own wood, or you can get a kit.  I decided that I preferred going with a kit, as long as it wasn’t too costly.

I got a gift card to Home Depot through my credit card points, and set off with my parents’.  I’d done some internet research in advance, and just wanted to see what they had there.  With my parents’ help, I found this cedar raised bed kit for about $80.

This box is heavy, by the way!

The kit comes with pieces for two four x four sections – one that is ten inches high, and another that is seven inches high – they’re connected to each other.  The section of my yard that I want to cover is about 4 feet by 11 feet – but after talking with my parents, I decided I’d start with this kit.  First, I’ll put together the taller four x four section and see how that works for the plants.  I’ll keep the pieces for the other section and add them as needed or wanted.  I can always re-seed the part that I won’t be covering, add on more beds, or put down some sod.

So along with this kit, I picked up three bags of 2 cubic feet of garden soil with Miracle Gro in it, and ten bags of 3/4 cubic feet topsoil.  (The full 4×8 bed holds 22 cubic feet)  Soil is heavy! Fortunately, my parents were there to help me!

The cedar kit is now inside, to keep it safe from the rain (not the wood as much as the cardboard box), and the soil is just over the fence, ready to go.  I didn’t pick up any additional plants, because it’s still too chilly to plant them, but I’ll get started on putting the raised beds together as soon as it looks like it will be a bit warmer and less rainy!

Hopefully by then, my little seedlings will be hearty enough to go outside as well!





A Garden Project

27 04 2011

I’ve struggled for a while with what to do with the outdoor part of my home.  I definitely can’t afford to do a major re-do all at once (and who wouldn’t love to do that!) and I’ve found that doing things piecemeal is leaving me a bit discombobulated.

So I finally decided the other day that I was going to draw up a plan for what I ideally wanted to do in the garden – what would be my perfect backyard for the space that I have?  Then, I could prioritize it, and work on doing parts  of it at a time, with the goal of completing it over a few years.

I’m really happy with what I came up with – some of it may/will change, but right now, it’s a good starting point:

Here's the plan!

It’s not drawn to scale, but it gives you an idea of what I have planned.  Here are some of my inspirations:

This would go against the shed on a trellis

I love the way these look, so I want to incorporate them around the finished yard

I love this DIY bird bath/planter from Lowes

This is a sample garden, but I'm going to use my own choices for plants

The next step was for me to prioritize the areas of the garden. Since I had already started my seedlings inside, I decided to go with the raised beds in the back corner.  I’m very excited to get them going!

So soon, this will no longer be my boring garden:

What do you think?





My First Holiday at Home – Easter Dinner

26 04 2011

So as I mentioned last week, I hosted my first family holiday over the weekend, and I’m proud to say that not only did it go well, but I kept calm the entire time (and for a type-A perfectionist like myself, that’s a big deal!).

I decided to break up as much of the prep as I could by spacing out the cleaning over the week before.  That really helped, so that the only thing I had to do on Sunday was vacuum the house, steam clean the floors (always need to leave that to last minute because of a certain drooling basset), and wash the couch slip covers.

On Saturday, I decided I’d do the Bearnaise sauce, which I could then keep in the fridge and reheat for dinner.  It was a good thing I decided to do it on Saturday, since I realized I had the ingredients for Hollandaise, not Bearnaise sauce.  (Hollandaise is better for something like Eggs Benedict).  And since my grocery store was going to be closed on Sunday, I quick rushed over there and picked up what I needed.

I had a copy of Tyler Florence’s Bearnaise sauce, so I went with that recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (I used water – you can also use chicken stock, but I didn’t want to alter the flavor at all)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a small saucepan, combine the tarragon, shallots, vinegar and wine over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half. Remove from heat and set aside. (The next time I do this, I would use less vinegar – I love vinegar, but it seemed a bit overpowering)

Place a stainless steel bowl in a saucepan containing simmering water, or use a double boiler. (I used a stainless steel bowl over a saucepan – my tips for this are to keep the water temperature in the saucepan low. Don’t let it boil, or you’re going to have scrambled eggs, instead of eggs doubled in volume.  Also, because you need egg yolks, I’d separate the eggs first and put the yolks in a bowl and once you’ve got all of them, put them into the stainless steel bowl – you need to be constantly stirring to keep the eggs from scrambling)

Whisk the egg yolks until doubled in volume. Slowly add the melted butter, continue beating until sauce is thickened. Stir in reserved shallot reduction. Season with salt and pepper, set aside wrapped in a warm spot.

The Bearnaise sauce did well in the fridge overnight, and then I reheated it on the stove in a small saucepan.

Bearnaise sauce!

For the starter, I went with my favorite pear, bleu cheese, and walnut salad.  I’d toasted the walnuts earlier in the day by putting them on the stove in a shallow pan and cooking them until I felt they were done – I like mine to be a bit on the well-done side.

Ingredients

  • 3 pears – I use whatever is in season, and I like red pears
  • 6 tablespoons of walnut oil
  • 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar – I used this because it was all I had on hand the first time I made the dish.  But the official recipe calls for pear nectar 
  • 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard (optional) – but it’s really worth adding
  • Walnuts
  • Bleu cheese

Directions

In a small bowl, combine the walnut oil, vinegar and Dijon mustard and whisk until combined. Slice the pears into eighths and arrange on a plate.  Sprinkle the bleu cheese and walnuts over the pears (it’s a personal choice to add as many as you’d like) and then drizzle the dressing over it.

Pear salad - soo good

For the main course, I made my first ever roast beef.  Everything else I’d made before, including the side dish of potatoes au gratin, but the beef was the new thing for me.  And yes, I was nervous.
But it turned out to be very easy, because I read a LOT about the timing for cooking it, and bought a meat thermometer.  I ordered the roast through Peapod, and it arrived the Tuesday before. I wasn’t sure it would be okay in the fridge (my dad assures me it would have been), so I stuck it in the freezer.  I took it out to defrost on Friday and left it in the fridge, but by Saturday afternoon, it was still frozen. So I put it in a pot of cold water and by Saturday night, it was perfect.
I did my own little recipe for this, working backwards from a 6pm dinner time slot.  I decided to act as if I was going to be serving dinner at 5:30, in case the roast wasn’t ready in time (and good thing I did).
At 2:00, I took the roast out of the fridge and put it on the counter so that it could come to room temperature.  After an hour and a half, I rubbed the roast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  I put it in the oven – first, at 500 degrees for fifteen minutes.  Then, I reduced the temperature to 375 degrees and set the timer for 62 minutes.  I’d read in one place that it should be 15 minutes per pound, and in another 20 minutes per pound, so I gave myself the time to do an hour and 15 minutes, but started with 62.
After the timer went, I checked it with the thermometer, but it was only at about 107 degrees – the meat should be at about 130 for medium.  I’m not sure what the final time ended up being, but I waited until the thermometer showed the meat at just over 130 degrees, and then I took it out.  That was just about 5:30, which gave me 30 minutes to let it rest – this is an important step so that the juices have a chance to settle into the meat and don’t leak out when you cut it.
It was a semi-boneless prime rib, so I let my dad do the cutting, and it came out great – moist, tender and very flavorful.  That gives me the confidence to try it again!
As I mentioned, I did potatoes au gratin as a side dish, and again, I mixed a couple of recipes here, but mostly working from Danny Boome’s.  Originally, I’d wanted to prepare the dish up to cooking the night before, but I read online that someone had a bad experience with this, so I left it until Sunday afternoon instead.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound baby new potatoes
  • 2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I added salt – it needed it)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. (I’d made sure in advance that this worked with the temperature of the oven for when I was cooking the beef.

Place the baby new potatoes with skins on into a large saucepan of cold, salted water, place the saucepan onto a medium heat and bring the potatoes to boil (this takes a WHILE, so be prepared). Boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes, until a knife can easily be inserted, but potatoes are not falling apart.

Drain potatoes and place them back into the pan. Using a fork roughly mash up leaving nice big potato chunks. Mix in the grated cheese, heavy cream, butter and black pepper (I saved some cheese in reserve to add to the top). Take a foil lined baking sheet and place 4 rings (2-inches wide) on top. Fill each ring with potato mixture and place in oven for 20 minutes until the top is nice and golden brown. (Instead of doing this, I used a small baking dish to cook the whole dish together.  I added the cheese on top and baked it for twenty minutes.  Then I kept it warm in a 200 degree oven, and just before serving, I put it under the broiler to crisp up the top – in future, I’d use a bit less cheese to make this happen).

Using a wide spatula, transfer the ring of potatoes to each plate. Holding the edge of the hot ring with a kitchen towel, cut around the potatoes to loosen them. Remove the ring and serve hot. (We used a serving spoon right from the dish)

Mmmm, potatoes.

My parents agreed that dinner was great – I served a sparkling red grape juice with dinner, which I thought would go well with the beef, and for dessert, my mom brought a chocolate cream pie.  Which she unfortunately left with me, so I’m forced to eat the rest.

How was everyone else’s Easter? I’m hoping this starts a new trend of hosting for me! Do you host holidays at your house, or go to relatives?





Continuing on the De-Cluttering Project

26 04 2011

I’d let the Trash it or Treasure it de-cluttering project fall by the wayside a bit and realized that my house was starting to get a bit more cluttered again.  So it was time to re-commit!

I was still working on the living room, and I think mentally, I believed I had to not only de-clutter, but also re-decorate anything that wasn’t working (i.e. paint the trim).  So that was holding me back a bit too.  But I realized that the de-cluttering side of things was far more important to me, so I just got on with it.

I had done the big scrub part of it, and waited (longer than I was supposed to) to see where clutter gathered and why certain things weren’t working for me. I didn’t have to get rid of much, fortunately, so I just made sure that any existing clutter was removed and cleaned the whole room top to bottom again.  Here’s the before and after:

Before - not terrible, just needed a bit of sprucing up

After - much cleaner!

The next room on the list is the kitchen, which is definitely a place I have trouble with clutter. I keep telling myself it’s because I don’t have a pantry, or extra cabinet space, but really, I just need to be honest about what I use, what I need, and what can go.

So the first step was again deep cleaning the kitchen, which I did yesterday. Now I’m supposed to wait a few days, and try to make the room the life center of house – cook meals for other people, try new recipes, come in and out of the garden, etc.  Then I can see clearly what works for me and what doesn’t.  I’m hoping that I can really see what that is!





Seedlings

25 04 2011

Because of all the travel and sickness this year, I didn’t start my seedlings as soon as I wanted to.  But I decided that this year, I am committed to creating my outdoor garden.  So I finally set up my seedlings a few days ago, and have been fussing over them closely.

I’m growing cantaloupe, carrots, two kinds of lettuce, onions, tomatoes, Bachelor’s Buttons, Pansies, and some seeds that came in a coupon from Old Navy last year.  I put them in these degradable rows of pots with some potting soil, and have been giving them water from a squeeze bottle daily.  They’re also getting a lot of sun.

And I’m starting to get some results:

They're coming along nicely!

It’s still fairly chilly outside and I don’t have the garden ready for them yet, but they’re coming along nicely and I’m hoping that I’ll have a beautiful garden soon! (Let’s see how my green thumb works out – any tips?)