This week has been full of new windows (yay!), pollen (yuck), my crazy stupid brain, yelling at the TV while watching Married at First Sight (but seriously, if you haven’t already, you need to get in on this show), paying taxes, and Elementary Honors Chorus.
Here’s a snapshot:
I’ve been wondering if I’m really an introvert, or maybe just an extrovert who hates most people. This is partly why.
There’s an organization that I’ve loosely partnered with for some years now and more recently developed a website for. On aforementioned website, they have an entire page dedicated to their “core values”, which is a phrase I find more than a little amusing, though I’m not entirely sure why. I guess I just think it’s funny to sort of rank values. Like, obviously there are values that aren’t core, and are therefore less important.
Through this whole foster care licensure process, Joel and I have really started to notice our own core values. I often find that core values are made obvious by how we spend our time, energy, and money. A few worth noting: animals, food, sleep, books. That last one in particular is one I’ve become acutely aware of.
For one, we’ve already purchased books for our unknown future adoptive children. That’s not weird. The furniture in our bedroom is basically just a bed, a dresser, and several bookshelves. We’ve got even more bookshelves in living/dining area. And then, we’ve got six crates of books stacked neatly in the corner created by our desk and filing cabinet which sit perpendicular to each other. Books are definitely a core value in this house.
And in keeping with the idea that our home needs to work for us, we decorate (I use this word loosely) with crates of books. They sit right by the window, which happens to have the best afternoon light in the whole house. … so I take photos there.
Over the weekend, I picked up some Boom Chicka Pop Lemon Drop Kettle Corn buried deep within the Easter 70% off bin at Target. It did not disappoint. Honestly, this is my first time trying anything but their classic kettle corn, so I was a little bit nervous. I think it’s safe to say that I have jumped on that bandwagon, now!
This week has been full of silly children, report card prep, and a whole lot of leftover Easter candy. My sister-in-law is visiting this weekend, and the weather is supposed to be incredible, so I’m looking forward to some long walks with the pups. In the meantime, here are some things to get you thinking…
Personally, I’d like to be dumped in the ground, no casket or anything. But since that creates a legal nightmare, I’m very interested in alternatives. Not to start on a morbid note or anything…
Last night, at Costco, I watched the man ahead of me in line buying the hugest strawberry danish in existence. Since I can’t have that one, I’m very interested in what Nicole Hunn has cooked up over at Gluten Free on a Shoestring.
If you didn’t already know, I am very much a morning person. I wake up at 5:30 each morning, without a whole lot of effort. If you want to keep me up past 10p.m., though, well… good luck.
I’m far likelier to do laundry before leaving for work (which I do between 7 and 7:30 each day) than after I get home from work (between 4 and 6). I’m far likelier to do dishes before work than after. And… I’m far likelier to make breakfast than dinner. Truth.
I’ve got a rotation of warm breakfasts I like: eggs, oatmeal, waffles, but my favorite is definitely these muffins. They’re simple, and now that I’m comfortable with the recipe, I can whip them up and let them bake while I hit the shower in the morning.
Loaded with ground flaxseed, these give you energy that won’t quit. And they are incredibly moist despite the fact that they have no butter or oil. But my absolute favorite thing: the recipe makes a half dozen, so I can bake them in the toaster oven, and it’s not so much that we’ve got muffins around the house all week.
Banana Flax Muffins
1 medium banana
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. ground flaxseed
1 c. flour*
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
Mash the banana, and mix in the egg and sugar. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until flour is just moistened. Batter will be thick. Spoon into greased muffin tins, and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
*I used a cup-4-cup blend I made from Gluten Free on a Shoestring’s recipe. Other high-quality gluten free flours that measure cup for cup with regular all-purpose flour will do as well. That said, I’ve also made it with a more typical all-purpose flour blend (King Arthur’s, Bob’s Red Mill, and one I made myself). All turned out fine, but you will want to go a little lighter on the flour, more like 3/4 cup rather than a whole cup.
Sometimes, your mother tells you things that don’t really seem true at the time, but you figure out that, as usual, she was right in the long run. One such lesson is “that’s what works for me/my family”. She tells me I should say this anytime I feel judged. And she reminds me of this idea anytime I’m tempted to judge others.
Example: I sometimes feel a wee bit judged when it comes to my work ethic or my ability to participate in meaningful outside of work/family activities. But the thing is, I’m really stingy with my time. This is mostly because, as an introvert, I am at my best when I spend most evenings at home, and a good chunk of the weekend, too. My job requires a lot of extroversion, and I need plenty of quiet downtime to recover. Too much in the way of extracurriculars, and my energy and disposition go downhill fast. I’ve learned this about myself, so I’ve stopped pretending like it isn’t true. One outside activity a week, thank you. And some weeks, even that’s pushing it. I’m not a shut-in, I swear. It’s just that I really believe in living life to its fullest, and for me, the only way to do that is to get plenty of alone time. And then the judgment. That’s when my mom suggests I just respond with, “that’s just what works for me”.
And obviously, there are plenty of times when I’m prone to judge others, and I have to remind myself “that’s just what works for them”.
On a related note, I’m kind of addicted to the Awesome Etiquette podcast from the Emily Post Institute and the Infinite Guest Network. Seriously, get on that. I’m finding that an appropriate response in at least half of all the etiquette questions they feature could be, “that’s just what works for me”. Geez, mom…
Speaking of being tolerant…
A couple months ago, I was wandering through Costco. I find this can be a good strategy for discovering new gluten free goodies, but also sometimes wreak havoc on my wallet. I discovered Tolerant red lentil rotini. Made with red lentils, one serving boasts 21g of protein and 13g of dietary fiber. Whoa.
I put it back down, figuring it probably tastes pretty disgusting. So I hopped on the internet and started reading reviews, which were, surprisingly, overwhelmingly positive.
And then it sat in my cupboard, because who wants to eat red lentil pasta? During the great kitchen purge of 2015, I felt a twinge of guilt at hoe many expired food items I threw out. So I finally cooked it tonight with some leftover meat sauce from the weekend.
There’s something about spring that gives me all kinds of new energy. Maybe it’s having a whole week off from school, but there’s a little more bounce to my step, regardless. I’m just sure of it.
Our yard is positively overgrown with weeds. I’m having a hard time caring as there such adorable weeds. Reminds me of a song by Five Iron Frenzy (likely my favorite band in high school): She sees love where anyone else would see weeds.
But a lot has been happening in this brain of mine. Some of it connected, much of it not. So here’s my attempt at a new series here on the blog: Saturday Sentiments. I’ll be sharing the more noteworthy of the random thoughts I’ve been thinking.
I’ve long thought middle class, based on usage, was an incredibly broad term, applied to everyone from those who just barely make ends meet (although they can do that) on up, stopping just short of millionaires. Pew Charitable Trust takes away a bit of the mystique in their definition. Obviously, they don’t account for how many people are in the household, but still an interesting guideline.
It’s not enough to divide the world by extroverts and introverts, labels that are increasingly difficult to pin down around here, as Joel and I both reside somewhere in the middle though for different reasons. Now, you can also figure out which of the 4 kinds of introverts you are.
I’ll go ahead and say it now that Suze Orman is off the air and won’t publicly judge me for it: sometimes, the full 8-month (or whatever rule you follow) emergency fund can seem a bit daunting. This helps put it into perspective.
A few weeks ago, I wasted a Saturday morning on zillow. At first, I wanted to see what our neighbor’s house sold for. But then it turned into something else entirely. A little backstory…
Joel and I eventually plan on adding on a bedroom and a bathroom, possibly even an additional living space. We actually planned on doing this during this past year (pre-children and all), but some unexpected expenses and other priorities meant putting that plan on hold. Which was fine. Since then, somebody close to us has urged us to consider selling and moving, rather than adding onto this house.
Now, I’ll be honest. While selling and moving sounds tortuous to me, remodeling and adding on to the house right off our kitchen (as this is the planned location) while we have children actually sounds worse. So there I was on zillow…
We adore our neighborhood, but there are a few other neighborhoods on our side of town that have a lot of the same things going for them. These, unfortunately, are tremendously out of our budget (like 2 to 3 times our budget). So our neighborhood it was. And I looked at basically every home in the neighborhood, starting with the ones that were actually for sale, but then moving on to the ones that weren’t. Most of the houses in our neighborhood are much like ours: 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom. We want something at least 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, which limited things a lot.
There is literally only one house in the whole neighborhood that fits this description and is in our budget. Literally one. And I don’t even want that one. Because one of the bedrooms was in a converted attic, meaning that my husband could not have stood up in it. Moreover, one of the bathrooms was also in said converted attic, and my husband could not have stood up in that, either. But okay… that bedroom/bathroom is for the kids. Still no good, because the dining room (and there was no space for a table in the kitchen) could have barely seated two people at a table. And even if we didn’t love hosting people for meals, we also very much enjoy having people over for board games, which necessitates a large dining room table. I’ll take my house any day.
And in truth, it was a good lesson in being content. Because the grass rarely is actually greener. And sometimes, the only way to remember that is to spend some time inspecting each individual blade. So I love my home. But I’m also looking for ways to make it work for me. That’s what this is going to be about…
This is currently sitting on the peninsula, directly ahead of you when you walk into the kitchen. Immediately to the left of the entrance, the peninsula connects to the wall, but without any under counter storage. Over time, I’ve been able to get two different shelves that just barely fit under the counter. One holds kitchen appliances. One is like a rolling pantry for all the costcos* of food we like to buy. The basket holds drinks (lately Costco has had our favorites on special, so we really stocked up) and old towels to clean up Ramona when she comes in from the backyard on a muddy day. To the right, you can see a plastic bin that holds a costco* of rice.
This is the peninsula I keep going on about. I love this vast counter space, especially now that everything has a home and things don’t get left on the peninsula for days/weeks. Pumpkin artwork courtesy of my brother.
Foster coat of arms, as that’s a family name on my husband’s side. Beneath that, I have a decorative rack (a gift from my mother) for holding my beautiful measuring cups (a gift from my grandmother). Handily placed, as below that window, you’ll find…
This rack is sized exactly right to fit into this nook, with just a few inches clearance on either side. It connects to the other under counter storage on the other side. This little rack houses my entire chemistry set, with a vast selection of flours, starches, grains, nuts, and gums. Less used baking supplies and larger containers of said flours, starches, grains, nuts, and gums are in the cabinet just to the left. It is deep and therefore rather cumbersome to find things in, so having this handy cart has made baking tremendously more enjoyable. I’ve had this cart for awhile, though I did revamp the way it was organized a bit. It’s incredibly sturdy, and I loved it so much, I bought one for the pantry space on the other side of the counter.
Side note: If you’re into uniformity when it comes to containers as I am, mason jars can be a great way to go. They’re fairly affordable, food safe, and easy to come by so if you ever need more, you know you’ll be able to find them.
To the right of the peninsula, there’s a stretch of counter from wall-to-wall of the room (excluding where this stove is. Like I mentioned in the previous post, I absolutely adore this little section between the sink and the stove. It’s exactly the right size for a standard size dish mat.
I know a lot of people don’t like to have a dish rack out on the counter at all times. I’ve sort of resigned myself to this, as we don’t have a dishwasher. It’s not the most beautiful, but it sure is practical, and if it keeps me doing the dishes more regularly, it works for me.
The stove is an electric stove that was here when Joel bought the house. It works fine, so I can’t complain, but we hope to upgrade to gas at some point. There’s a ledge behind the stove that houses salt, pepper, vinegars, oils, etc. Above that are my baking dishes. We have some others (primarily, the ones small enough for the toaster oven), but these are the ones I use constantly.
And to the right, you can see our new pegboard.
Joel and I are a wee bit obsessed with magnets. We switched our spices into these magnetic canisters (uniformity and whatnot). When we were brainstorming how to mount a metal panel to place them on, we got the idea of a metal pegboard instead. It’s opened up TONS of storage in the kitchen. All of my favorite utensils are right there, rather than being cluttered in a crock on the stove. My favorite cookware, probe thermometer, and my favorite cutting board.
Putting a lot of the regularly used supplies on the pegboard allowed us to condense some of the cabinets (e.g., cookware and bakeware are combined in the cabinet now), without having to sacrifice space. This also allowed me to get some more regularly used things down to a shelf or cabinet where I can reach them. I’m sure I’ll be playing with the layout of this in the coming months, as I figure out what I need it to do for me.
All of that to say… there’s no perfect house out there. Expecting that from the house you have will undoubtedly leave you feeling frustrated and discontent. On the other hand, look for the small ways that you can tweak what you have to get it to work for you. And even though full remodel might seem like the most obvious choice, you might be able to get just a couple new things to minimize the flaws you’re seeing. For me, it was all about maximizing storage in this kitchen. It had the space, but a lot of it was wasted.
I know this kitchen will never be featured in a magazine. Most kitchens won’t, really. But this kitchen works for our family, and I can’t help but love that.
* “Costco”, while obviously a store, can also be used as a unit of measure meaning a relatively large quantity of this item. Obviously, “a costco of cinnamon” might be small compared to “a costco of rice”, but relative to the quantities you typically see, both are extremely large.
A message I need to hear. Constantly. I’m so quick to find myself discontent, with almost no reason to.
A little history…
I married into my home. While Joel and I were dating, he made the move from Carrboro to Durham, where he and I both worked. I had the privilege of helping him with the house hunt. Realistically, this could have been a disaster for our relationship. Luckily, Joel and I have similar values when it comes to homes: 1) Old charm, 2) Location, 3) Long-term Potential.
Check, check, and check. We live in a home built in 1950, located in a quiet neighborhood with loads of conveniences (huge park, dog park, community center with pool and gym, children’s museum, another park, and loads of trails in and around the neighborhood) that’s within 15 minutes drive of both of our jobs. We can also walk to the best Peruvian food around, objectively the best tacos in the area, and Pelican’s. … so the location is basically the best. In terms of long-term potential, this house is small (2 small bedrooms and 1 bathroom), and that’s definitely a downside when it comes to having children. On the other hand, it sits on a large lot, and we live in a neighborhood where adding an extra bedroom/bathroom would definitely pay back in terms of return. That’s definitely in our long-term plan, and until then, we are happy to know we have a well-built home.
So I have about a thousand reasons to love the home I have. But I don’t always. I focus on the things we don’t have: a dishwasher, a pantry, a paved driveway, a ventilation hood over my stove (I pretty much only mind this one when I’ve burned something), storage… I could keep going.
But I’m trying really hard to love the home I have. And really, what’s the point of listing my home’s shortcomings, when it has such a long list of things I love about it.
And while I loved my home when I first moved in, I have to say, that I enjoy it a whole lot more now than I did then. For one, it actually feels like my home now. For two, Joel and I have been steadily fixing this old house up since two months after we got married when I woke up to water dripping from the ceiling in the kitchen. It’s gotten a new roof, tons of new pipes, a little bit of new paint, a whole lot of cleaning. It’s gotten new furniture, new ceiling fans, and new-to-us kitchen faucet and fridge. But more than any of the new stuff, I’ve gotten to know the house better. We’ve established a life here, and it’s like we’ve gotten to know the house better, and it’s gotten to know us better.
Over at The Nesting Place, Myquillyn talks a lot about making your home work for you. I’m figuring out how to do that, and I’m loving things so much more.
Last spring, I redid our living room for less than $150. While I’m fully aware that $150 is still a lot of money, considering the purchase of a new couch and the reupholstery of two chairs, I’m pretty happy with that. In general, these days, I’m pretty thrilled with our living room. It works for us practically, but is also pretty enough I can relax in it. The bedrooms, though nothing tremendously special, work for us as well. We’ve figured out how to store our clothes and books just perfectly to still give us plenty of room in our bedroom. And we’ve finally cleaned and set up the second bedroom in preparation for our foster children, which we’re expecting to be licensed for late spring/early summer. And our bathroom, ugly as it is, is veritably massive for a 1950’s home, boasting double sinks, a large tub, and plenty of room for several people to get ready at once. This home is really starting to work for us.
Except the kitchen. It’s spring break, and my mission is to change that. But in the spirit of loving the home I have, let’s talk about what I really do love about this kitchen.
Number 1: this peninsula
This peninsula gives me miles of counter space. Seriously, I’ve never seen a kitchen this size with so much useable counter space.
Number 2: a standard-sized stove
I know this seems like a given, but I can’t tell you how many older homes Joel and I looked at where it wasn’t. I’m so incredibly thankful for this stove and oven. And I’m also thankful for the fact that it has a gas line going right to it, because eventually, I know I’ll get a gas stove. Woot!
Number 3: this spot right next to the sink
This little spot of counter right there sandwiched between the stove and sink. Yep, it’s exactly the size of a standard drying mat. Love.
But no kitchen is without its failings. This kitchen primarily has a problem with storage. With few upper cabinets, and even fewer lower cabinets (the peninsula has almost no cabinets beneath it), this is a major issue. Also, the funky shape of said peninsula means I can’t buy standard shelves to go beneath it because of all the odd angles. Lack of storage coupled with my Costco obsession means I’m going to need to get creative to keep all those extra cans of tomato paste accessible. And then there’s also the issue of my giant supply of gluten free flours (Joel refers to it as my “chemistry set”). I’ve got my work cut out for me this week.
First, this blog is undergoing some changes. Many posts are missing, temporarily. This is getting fixed, and I apologize for any inconvenience in the meantime.
For now, know this: this place will be changing. It’ll probably broaden a bit in its scope to include more lifestyle posts, but recipes, as always, will continue to be its heart and soul. I look forward to spending more time with you.
Before there are groceries, there are meals. There’s a plan. Built on the weather, what’s fresh at the farmer’s market, what’s cheap at the supermarket, and whatever my/my husband’s work schedule looks like this week. I always try to plan the more complicated meals earlier in the week, because I know I’ll have more energy. Warm meals should coincide with cold nights. Grilling with warm nights. And these days, North Carolina is getting both in the same week. Plan a salad for Tuesday instead of Thursday, and you might seriously regret it.
Completely unrelated, but I fell asleep while watching Scandal last night, which means I was watching what I had missed this morning, and I just spent the last 5 minutes with my hand covering my mouth, gasping repeatedly as things became more and more intense. Why did I think this could be a chill watch-as-you-write-a-blog-post show this morning?
And that’s how we ended up with shepherd’s pie planned for this last Monday. Monday was supposed to be cold. I had come across a picture of shepherd’s pie on pinterest, and very much wanted to eat it. Joel has been requesting shepherd’s pie basically since we got married. I didn’t grow up with it, and thought the whole concept was gross. But oh, that picture. I wish I could find it again, but well… you know the internet.
I didn’t even realize Monday was St. Patrick’s Day until I got to school that morning and saw my colleague’s shamrock tie. But even then, I didn’t put together that shepherd’s pie was a good St. Patrick’s Day dinner. And if I’m being really honest, Monday was a rough day for me. I got home and made a huge mistake. I sat down. As soon as I sit down in the evenings, I don’t get up. Knowing this, I sat down anyway. I browsed instagram. And whoa… St. Patrick’s Day was happening in a serious way. It was all soda bread and Guinness.
The coincidence was irresistible. To the point that I actually got off my hindquarters and made it.
In the end, it was a whole lot easier than I expected. Here’s how it went down:
1 1/2 pounds red skin potatoes, chopped with skin on
3 T. unsalted butter
1/3 c. milk
1 t. salt
For the filling:
1 medium onion, diced
2 small carrots, diced
1 lb. ground beef
1 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
2 T. corn starch
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
2 t. tomato paste
1 t. gluten free Worcestershire sauce
3/4 t. dried thyme
1/2 c. frozen corn
1/2 c. frozen peas
Get the potatoes in boiling water. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large (preferably oven safe) skillet, cook the onion and carrot in olive oil over medium heat until the onion is just barely translucent. Add in the ground beef. Cook until browned. Add salt and pepper. Stir the cornstarch into the chicken broth until mixed completely. Set aside. Add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and chicken broth mixture to the ground beef mixture. Continue to cook until just barely thickened. Add corn and peas. If your skillet is oven safe, you can use that. If not, transfer to a casserole dish.
When potatoes are cooked through, drain. Add butter, milk, salt, and pepper. Mash. Spread over the filling, beginning at the edge and working your way to the middle.
Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until potato topping is just starting to brown.