Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Once a Month Cooking Newbie

Let's just jump right back in, shall we?  Ok. So, I just tried once a month cooking for the first time. And I'm so excited that I can't stop telling everyone I talk to all about it. Now if you, like me, spend way too much of your free time browsing Pinterest, you probably know what once a month cooking is. But just in case, I'll assume you are more like my brother (though I don't know how you ended up here, if you are) and have never heard of it. Basically, the idea is you spend a whole day cooking up a bunch of meals for the month that you freeze, so you can pull dinner out of the freezer and all you have to do is heat it up. Way less nightly cooking and cleanup. I'd been thinking about trying it for a few months now, but it seemed kind of overwhelming to get started. And honestly, it was pretty overwhelming, but I'm so glad I did it!

Now that I have all this brand new free time, I figured what should I do with it but start blogging again? And since it's my new favorite thing to talk about, it was the obvious first thing to write about, too. I've taken away quite a bit from with my first experience with once a month cooking that I want to remember for next time. Here's what I've learned. The DOs are all things that worked for me, and the DON'Ts are things I learned the hard way.

DO plan what you're going to make, pick recipes, and buy all your groceries ahead of time. When planning the menu, I looked around at a lot of resources for freezer cooking, but most of them very meat oriented, which wasn't so helpful for me as a vegetarian. I did find a few options, but I decided I wanted to go mostly with recipes we already like that I thought would freeze well. I did try a couple of new things, but I didn't want to end up with a freezer full of experiments that we might not like.

DO figure out what containers you will use and have them ready. I just used freezer bags for everything. I don't have chest freezer, so space was a big consideration. For things that go in pans, I like to use parchment paper to line the pans.  That makes it easy to freeze the contents, then remove them from the pans to put in freezer bags. That means the pans aren't tied up in the freezer, and they take up less room.

DON'T just wing it when it comes to the order that you will cook everything. I would have benefited from a more detailed game plan than I had.

DO consider the current contents of your freezer when planning your menu. I used up some phyllo dough, two containers of cooked greens, and a bag full of bread heels.

DON'T forget to clean out your freezer ahead of time. It was a big pain to be making room for everything as I went. Time when I could have been cooking was spent sorting out and discarding ancient lumps of frozen bananas and other mystery items. I also found a few more things I would have used up if I would have known they were there when I started cooking.

DO pre-prep some ingredients a day or two before, like cooking up a pot of beans in your crockpot, baking up all those bread heels to make bread crumbs, and mixing up a batch of dough in your bread machine.

DO make good use of your kitchen equipment for multi-tasking. It was good to be able to have a batch of bread dough going in my machine, potatoes baking in the oven, and vegetables steaming in the steamer all at once.

DO group the veggies that will be used in multiple recipes and chop or prep them in a batch.

DON'T forget to do that for other like items as well. I shredded a bunch of cheese in my food processor and could have saved myself from cleaning it before shredding cheese for another recipe.

DON'T start at 3:30 on Sunday afternoon. Next month I'd like to divide it into two cooking sessions where I make five things on each day. This month I finished up five meals on Sunday, and had gotten started with four other things. I ended up wrapping up two of those Monday night and two on Tuesday, before finally getting everything labeled and the freezer organized on Wednesday morning. All this dragged it out longer than I would have liked.

Even though it took me longer than I hoped, honestly, I'm pretty thrilled with the results. I can't wait to try it again next month. I think now that I have this experience under my belt, it will go smoother and more quickly the next time.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Five Year Anniversary House Tour

Five years ago last week, James and I signed the closing papers on our house.  Since then, we've also poured quite a bit of love, sweat, and more cash into this house. We've painted every room, replaced all the flooring, and had new windows put in. So far, we've put most of our money into that big stuff, like flooring, windows, and appliances, so we still have a lot of decorating I'd like to do. We also have some other big projects we'd like to get to, but I thought I'd do a then and now tour of what it looked like when we bought it and what it looks like now.

I really didn't think about documenting it too much when we bought the house, so my before pictures are the ones James took during the inspection. I wish I had taken empty room pictures or saved the MLS photos, but this is what I've got. On the plus side, it makes the before and after pretty dramatic, because the previous owners were in the midst of packing, and there is stuff everywhere. I'd say they were teetering on the hairy edge of hoarding.. They were the original owners of the house and had lived here 19 years, so that's a lot of time to accumulate. But to be fair, they did at least have everything put away when we first viewed the house. There was still a ton of stuff, but it wasn't covering every surface like this

This is a picture packed post. I have tried my best to take photos at the same angles so you get a true before and after, even though this isn't always the best view of the room. Most of the rooms, I only have one angle, which means some of the updates we've made aren't visible in these pics. Bear with me, because these are all phone photos, which frankly isn't ideal for home photography.

Front of house, before
Front of house, now.
The guy in the garage in the before picture is the inspector. Sorry I took this pic at a completely different time of day, so the light's very different. I did think it was only fair to give an open garage view in this one, too.  As far as the changes we've made, James pulled out all the overgrown shrubs. We've replaced all the windows in the house, and you can see our rain barrel peeking out on the side in the after pic. We've planted a bunch of perennials, and they still need some time to fill in.

The kitchen, before.
The kitchen, now.
Despite the table you see in the before pic, it's not really an eat-in. And although the cabinets and counters are the same, we've actually done a quite a bit in this room so far. James tore out the vinyl flooring. We had bamboo flooring installed. Over the course of the five years, we've replaced all the appliances, including replacing the vent hood with an over the range microwave. I eccentrically chose white rather than the popular stainless. We also replaced the faucet

Kitchen/dining area before. 
Kitchen/dining area now.
We had the old door replaced with a more energy efficient new slider. It also works better for the space because it was a little cramped to have the door open into the table area. They had to put in new trim because it was much cheaper to cut the door wider than go with a custom sized door. It still needs stained, so those blue stripes above the door are painters tape--project interrupted. We also have another light fixture out in the garage that will probably go in this winter. So many projects, so little time. :-)

Dining area, before.
 Dining area, now.
The bamboo flooring goes throughout the kitchen, dining, family room and down the hall.

Family room, before.
 Family room, now.
The fireplace and high ceiling were selling points for us, but this actually is a really tricky room to arrange.

The entryway, before.
The entryway, now.
The previous owners had so much furniture in the entry that prevented the door from being opened all the way. It was like that when we viewed the house, too. James built this coat rack with shelf to my design and replaced the light fixture in the entryway. The picture above the coat rack is the printable letter art I made for a Pinterest challenge. 

The hallway, before.
The hallway, now.
The doesn't actually show much of the hallway. The main reason I included these shots is that it's probably the best before/after of the old carpet and new bamboo.

Hall bath, before.
Hall bath, now.
You can see the beautiful tile floor James put in. He tore out the peel and stick tiles and the vinyl underneath, and a friend helped him install the new ceramic tile.

Spare 'oom, before.
Spare 'oom, now.
In the before picture, you can see a small square of the old carpeting in the bottom of the picture--the greyish bit just right of center. When we bought the house we knew we wanted to replace all the wall to wall with hard flooring. We put in cork floors in all three bedrooms.  It took us a few years longer to replace the floors than we originally planned, so when we got rid of that gross, 20+ year old carpet, there was much rejoicing.
Second bedroom, before.
Second bedroom/Study now.
I felt like I had to give a wider angle in the after photo here, since we only had such a tiny slice of room visible in the before photo. Sorry you still can't see the floor very well.

Master bedroom, before.
Master bedroom, now.
The master was used as an office by the previous owners. I've written about a lot of the work we've done in this room here, if you'd like to read about the projects we've done in here.

Master closet, before.
 Master closet, now.
James installed a closet system, which is wonderful, though you can't see much of it from this angle. It made a big difference in the storage, because while it's a walk-in, it's not huge. We also took the door off. It was it kind of a pain to get to stuff on the right side with it on there. I still need to hang some hooks or something on that back wall.

Master bath, before.
 Master bath, now.
New tile in here, too! This is one of the best changes we (and by we, I mean James) have made to the house so far, because when we bought the house the sink area was carpeted. As a general rule, carpet + water  =  not a great idea. Love the tile so much! We also switched out the door that opened into the w.c. for a curtain.

So, that's our house! Hope you enjoyed the tour. Even after five years there are still so many things I want to do. One thing that's funny to me is that we've replaced the flooring and windows in all of these rooms, but hardly any of the light fixtures. Also, I'm afraid it's really time to start painting again. It will be fun to see what it looks like in another five years. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mapping things out

Once again, Sherry and Katie are hosting the Pinterest Challenge, this time along with Sarah and Carmel. The whole point to the challenge is to motivate you take a look at your pins and actually use them for inspiration to do something, you know, besides just pinning. Every time I've joined in challenge in the past, I've really been glad for the extra motivation to do some fun DIY. So far I've made a fun painting for my brother, a new headboard for the master bedroom, and some neat personalized letter art.

This time, instead of inspiring me to do a project, the Challenge is inspiring me to share a project that I finished a few weeks ago. We've actually been really busy with all kinds of DIY projects around our house in the past couple of months that I've been meaning to blog about, so hopefully this will get me kick-started on blogging all changes that have been afoot here.

This project was inspired by this pin, which I actually pinned during the Pinterest Challenges last fall.

Emily at According to Boyle decoupaged this chair with maps, and I thought it was a really cool way to revamp a tired piece of furniture. The piece of furniture I had which was desperately in need of a revamp wasn't a chair. It was this particle board TV cabinet that my husband has had since his childhood.  When I was  pondering what piece of furniture I had that I could cover with maps, it immediately sprang to mind.
Ancient and ugly, but still useful particle board cabinet
Probably most people would just have disposed of this beauty, but I hate throwing out things that are still useable, and I figured it would be a great place for my computer tower and printer.  Earlier this year when I got a new car, I spent a whole lot of time with my insurance agent. In addition to the good interest rate on my car loan, I got a couple of  "free" atlases out of the deal. James thought "Great, one for each car." I thought "Perfect, just what I need for that furniture decoupage project I pinned."  Who needs an atlas in their car when we've got GPS?

Since I didn't have blogging on my brain when I worked on this project, I didn't take any "during" pictures. You'll have to use your imaginations. I decided not to cover every square inch of the cabinet in maps. I wanted to give some places for the eye to rest, since the cabinet is a lot more flat map surface than a chair. So first I cleaned off the cabinet and spray painted the parts I wasn't planning on covering with maps. I happened to have this spray paint on hand already.  It's kind of a khaki color, and it conveniently matched the maps really well.  I painted the inside of the cabinet, the trim, and the lovely plastic "brass" handles, as well as the exposed screw heads on the cabinet. It should have taken only one can of spray paint, but I foolishly tried to spray the backing board as well. It soaked up the paint like crazy, and never did cover evenly.  I had to buy another can of paint to finish the other areas. Since spray paint didn't cover the backing board well at all, I ended up decoupaging it, too. That wasn't part of my original plan, and it added to the project time, but it looks pretty cute.

The particle board cabinet with the doors open, now painted and decoupaged with maps

Believe it or not, I waited until morning to take the pictures so I'd have natural light. #wasteoftime It's very windy and cloudy outside, thanks to Sandy. Even with all the lights on I had to use the flash.  That's a pretty small thing to worry about, though. We're barely being brushed by the edge of the storm here. I'm thinking of and praying for those affected by the hurricane.

Once the cabinet was painted and dried, I started the decoupage work. Actually, that might have been a few weeks later.  This project was in the works for quite a while.  I started with the doors, since I figured they'd be a focal point. This project could have gone much more quickly if I had just cut up the maps and randomly decoupaged them, but I decided to "fussy cut" in order to highlight places that are special to my husband and me. I even decoupaged our native cities onto each of the handles.  The whole process was pretty simple. I just cut up the maps, re-arranged the pieces until I liked the lay-out, and Mod-podged them on. I gave it a few coats of Mod-Podge to make sure things were well sealed. It would probably be smart to give it a final seal with some poly-acrylic, but I don't really expect this piece to be subject to hard wear. Plus it would be easy to fix any dings by slapping on another piece of map.

Shows the revamped cabinet with the doors closed.

The doors took a few hours to do. I probably watched couple discs worth of TV episodes while I did them. That sapped my Mod-Podging strength for a while. It was probably a month before I worked on the rest of the cabinet. The cabinet body was three movies worth of work, if I recall correctly. This was an easy, almost free project, but it was not quick.  All in all I'm really pleased with how this project turned out. Instead of an eyesore that we kept tucked in the closet, I think the cabinet a now quirky piece for our office/library. As a bonus, my printer is no longer on the floor with cords snaking all around the room.

If you want to see all the other Pinterest Challenge projects, check them out at:

Young House Love
Bower Power
Our Fifth House
The Ugly Duckling House

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Church Groundbreaking

Exciting things have been happening at my church this month. Four weeks ago we had the groundbreaking ceremony for our new building, and this week the construction began.

His Grace Bishop Anthony of Toledo presided over the service. Here you can see the foundation stone being laid:

This longer video includes the foundation stone being laid and extends on to show the site being sprinkled with holy water and prayers for foundation of the church.

If you have heavy-equipment loving children, they may enjoy seeing this video of the beginning of construction this week.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Cover Up

I've got another one of my incremental improvements to the master bedroom to share. We got a new duvet cover, thanks to a Crate and Barrel gift card from an aunt and uncle. The pattern is called Lindsey. It's no longer available, because we actually got it quite a while ago. It took me a long time to get it on the bed, because it didn't fit the down comforter. Our comforter is a queen/full size, and the duvet cover was a queen size. There is no standardization for these things, and the cover was way too big, so I needed to do a little work on it before we could use it.
You can see the naked down comforter in this picture from last year.  But mostly I'm showing this picture because I like to compare the before/after pictures. I think it's fun to see the progress we've made in the room since then. :-)
In January, (You know, back when we could use a down comforter, unlike right now with the 100ºF weather we're having.) I re-tailored the duvet to fit our comforter. I am not a particularly experienced or accomplished sewist, so I wanted to make this task as easy for myself as I could. A duvet cover is basically a giant pillow case for your blanket.  Three sides are sewn shut and one end is open with some kind of closure, in this case, buttons. The buttons on mine don't go end to end, but are inset with a placket. I decided to just cut off the end of the duvet cover opposite the buttons, and re-hem it.  I just left the sides a bit wider than my comforter, rather than have to sew any more seams. I liked the additional width it gave the comforter, anyway. Here's a diagram to show what I did. It is not to scale.
The grey box is the comforter. The blue box is the duvet cover, and the dashed line shows where I cut it.  After I cut that part off, all I should have needed to do was sew up a new seam for that end. I wanted it to be well finished so that it would hold up to use and washing, so I decided to do a French seam, which I learned from this tutorial. But just sewing up the seam would have been too easy, right?

I've had duvet covers before, and I know that the comforter has a tendency to slide around inside and get bunched up, especially if the cover's too big. I solved that problem by adding tabs with buttonholes inside each of the four corners of the cover. The cream colored rectangles on the diagram indicate the tabs. It turned out to be easier to do than I expected. I cut four rectangles from some cream colored fabric, folded them in half, and sewed the sides closed. I turned them inside out and then added buttonholes. Here's one of the rectangles and what the tabs looked like before the buttonholes.
I had never done buttonholes with my sewing machine before, but I just followed the directions in the sewing machine manual. It was pretty cool to see how it worked. You can see the buttonhole foot in the picture above. Two of the tabs I just sewed into my seam, like the one below.
The other end of the cover with the buttons had a serged edge. (I don't have a serger, so I couldn't do the same kind of finishing, and I think the French seam is nicer anyway.) I picked apart enough of the serged edge to insert my tabs, and then sewed the edge shut again. That part was kind of a pain, but I didn't want the stitching for the tabs to be visible from the outside.  Here you can see the picked apart serging. I pinned my tabs between the two edges of the fabric I'm holding apart here, and then I sewed them shut again.
I just straight stitched across the tabs, though it's a bit hard to tell that in the picture below. This is one of the tabs inserted into the serged edge. Here it is buttoned to the comforter. The tabs and buttons have worked out really well. The comforter stays put inside the duvet cover, despite the cover being a bit wide
I really like the cover a lot, too. I think it pulls together the greens, blues and browns we have have going on in our room pretty well. It has both the green from the headboard and the darker blue from the wall. One would almost think I had chosen the headboard fabric and wall colors based on the the duvet cover, but I just lucked out in finding one that was a good match.