Progress has been happening on the house. Don and I have been working our butts off - busy busy all day at work, then go to the house and work until 10, grab some food on the way to the apartment and sleep. Repeat. And weekends have been marathons to get as much done as possible. Despite some minor surprises, and the regular complications that come with renovating, we're still on schedule. Countertops, heat and hot water going in today. We will be moving in this week! Here are a couple of photos, with more to come soon.
There's been a perpetual mess for about the last month...
Last week's big milestone - appliances and cabinets!
Last weekend's big milestone - sanding and getting a coat of finish on the floors!
Part of the appeal of buying an old house was the potential to discover charming bits of the past. While our bungalow doesn't have any of the unique built-in elements of most Chicago bungalows, it did come complete with its own bit of charm. Here are some things we have discovered:
There's a safe in our basement! It's really old and we don't have the combination and I'm dying to know what's inside. Don is sure that it is empty, but I'm banking on rubies and maybe some severed heads. I bet a gangster totally owned our house in the 20's.
The basement stairwell is lined with old wine crates. I'm still trying to decide if Pigeon Zinfandel would be delicious or pigeony.
And super fun discovery - our exterior walls on the first floor have zero insulation!!!
We bought a foreclosure. Which is great for a bargain but not so great for our sanity. Lucky for us, this house was in the best condition of any we saw. There's a minimal amount of work to be done. I thought I'd share the 'before' listing photos with you, to bring you up to speed.
First, the exterior:
Front, which you saw already. I'm pretty excited about those original planter box brackets beneath the window. Not so excited about the white paint on them and the window sills, or those hedges...
Rear, original screen porch has been enclosed (yay for my new sewing room!) The window in the brick portion is the kitchen.
Back yard and garage - sad, sad little garage. You might as well call it a carport.
Living Room - original floors, trim, doors & radiators.
Not so happy about the 1 coat of white paint over the original wood...
Gigantic dining room
Front bedroom - will serve as the guest room for a while and is missing a radiator...
Back bedroom - our bedroom for now. It's hard to see, but yes that is a fire engine red radiator!
Hideously oaktastic bath... we're going to try to live with this crap as long as possible...
Kitchen with cheapest oak cabinets money can buy. What you can't see is the water damage in the ceiling above, and the fact that the floor is plastic. This room is being gutted. It makes me itchy.
So the listing agent and the appraiser called this a bedroom. You might notice that the only window is beyond that door. In a closet... We've got two of these spaces in the attic, which I might mention you access via completely illegal and non code compliant stair.
Attic bathroom - we're adding a sink, but this room will look like this for a while. But thank goodness for a pooping toilet, am I right!?!
There's also a semi-creepy basement which just had the moldy drywall removed this week. That's where the laundry will be...
As you might imagine, we've already got some project under way and a lot more planned for the future.
At noon on Tuesday October 19, 2010, Don and I became the official owners of this classic Chicago bungalow. After nearly giving up on what is quite possibly the most incompetent mortgage bank ever, we are so excited and relieved that the loan process is over! I can elaborate on the ins and outs of that later. But for now, we are celebrating and getting down to business. Demolition has begun!
I made our first pot of soup for the season on Sunday evening, and it was so delicious. I miss soup during the hot months and it was certainly too warm this summer for soups! Don and I have a typical formula for making soups from almost any veggie in the fall/winter months. It usually involves squash. We also find it is a great way to stretch your CSA ingredients. For this soup, I whipped up a bit of a variation and it was a big hit with Mister Donald. I looked in the fridge and saw the following: kale, corn on the cob, green peppers, spicy peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, onions. And I started thinking about this terrific gazpacho I had in Michigan a couple weeks ago with great almost crisp chunks of veggies in it. We don't really use recipes, but the method is very flexible. So I thought I would share it, plus our typical method, for super simple, use-up-the-stuff-you-have soup.
Lentil Soup with fresh zucchini and green beans
1 big or 2 small yellow onions, diced
garlic if you've got it (I didn't)
2-3 cups lentils
bunch of water (4-ish cups)
box of broth (I used chicken)
2 small zucchinis, chopped into small pieces
couple handfuls of fresh green beans, ends trimmed
small bunch of chopped fresh basil
various seasonings - for this batch I used a yellow curry powder, garlic salt, pepper, red pepper flakes
Saute the onions and or garlic in a pot with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Once the onions start to change color, add in the lentils and curry powder. Cover with water and let simmer for a bit (depends how mushy you like your lentils). Pour in a bit of the broth, and your chopped zucchini and green beans. Once the green veggies start to soften a bit (this is also based on your preference - I wanted a partly crunchy soup), add the chopped basil and red pepper flakes, as well as additional broth if it's not liquid-y enough for you. Once the green veggies are softened to your liking, serve it up!
Our standard variation of soup is almost the same:
Saute onions and garlic in pan with olive oil. Season at will. Add in the veggie of your choice (we usually pre-steam some squash just to soften it a bit) and let it brown a little bit. Add in broth and simmer until everything is nice and soft. Blend together with hand blender. Red pepper flakes are almost always a must with this, too.
So that's my un-recipe-ish recipe for making super simple soup. Can you tell I'm enjoying this cooler weather and looking forward to fall? What's your favorite soup?
A little glimpse into my current kitchen - it's small and it's a rental, but it's been pretty sufficient for the last 2.5 years. This photo is in the middle of making Dilly Beans - dill pickled green and wax beans. Sooooo tasty. Don says he likes them better than pickles.
Maybe you can see my shorthand recipe on the chalkboard - vinegar, pickling salt, dill seed and weed, mustard seeds, snipped beans, and spicy peppers in a couple of jars. Cook down the salt in the vinegar on the stove, group beans and seasonings into sterilzed jars, pour in the brine, then process. Couldn't be easier!
And this is the first major harvest from our garden - was a while ago but I just think our eggplants and peppers are so fantastic.
We're growing several varieties of peppers, eggplant, tomatilloes, kohlrabi, basil, mint and sage this year. What's happening in your garden?
Recent events and the suggestions of a couple of friends have me thinking about a new brand/topic/direction for this blog (or a new one linked to this). As you may have noticed, I write about whatever strikes me - sustainability, clothing, baking, the city, grievances, poking fun at tourists, etc. But I feel like a specific direction would make my blogging better and more interesting. I've been considering it for a while, but haven't really had that catalyst to actually decide and then come up with a new blog design.
First, Don and I have been working for some time on launching our own brand, Semple Goods, to market and sell a few of his woodworking pieces (and maybe some of my fabric designs). I haven't shared them with the interwebs yet because we are actually working towards copywriting/patenting. Eventually we plan to have a whole website dedicated to this (http://www.semplegoods.com/) but we're just not quite ready to go live.
Second, we're buying a house! And we'll be doing most of the work ourselves over time and I've got all these ideas coming to me. I don't have many opportunities for design in my current job (ironic), so this house will be a really great outlet for reviving and utlizing my residential design talents.
Third, I'm also clearly obsessed with food and baking and eating and sustainable farming. When I'm not thinking about design, there are recipe ideas going through my head. Don and I are serious cooks and love great drink, so I think there would be plenty of material.
So, my dear, loyal, 12 readers, leave me a comment voting for one of the following:
An all-things home design blog, centered around our new house, featuring lovely domestic things (and incorporating Semple Goods as it evolves).
An all-things food blog, centered around my baking and eating and opinions of foods [maybe titled "The Real Life Adventures of Suzie Butters"].
Keep the random mash-up but make it prettier and the postings a little more regular and concise.
Yeah, I know. I've been pretty scarce around here. I've still been baking all the time. And working. And doing all the household chores because Don had a deadline that kept him at work 7 days a week for 3 weeks. Oh, and I put together 2 different bids for houses. So I've been a little busy. ARE studying has been postponed until Don's project is done in October. I'm hoping to get you some new fabulous posts to read soon. But August is shaping up to be even busier than July, but all for good reasons.
Please excuse the crappy lighting in my office - but I DID take this with my phone (5mp!)
That's right - cookie dough + cupcakes.
I make all the birthday treats for my office. Each of my coworkers gives me a list of things they love and hate in a birthday dessert, and I surprise them. May saw 3 birthdays in our office - carrot cake for the first, Mexican chocolate ice cream with homemade graham crackers for the second, and I made these chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes for the final birthday of May. This coworker told me that she loves cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies, so when I saw this recipe on Annie's Eats, I knew it was meant to be. Plus, Annie described it as life changing, so I just HAD to make it. (The life changing may or may not be in regards to your cholesterol or blood sugar levels after consuming these cupcakes, but sweet Moses they are worth it!)
The eggless cookie dough filling is really a thing of beauty. Mix, refrigerate, and you've got tasty cookie dough. The filling could definitely be used in a cookie dough ice cream, and since I've got leftovers, that's likely what will happen (it's in the freezer awaiting further adaptation).
I skipped the mini cookie decoration. Had it been for a full-on party, with more time to prepare, I may have gone for it. But I am proud of myself for using my giant decorating tip for the frosting. That inspiration came from the lovely Laura of Oh For Heaven Cakes! (Although I could still use some help in that department...)
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups light brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (semisweet or bittersweet)
To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners (24 total). In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and brown sugar. Beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir together to blend. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl on low speed, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, mixing each addition just until incorporated. Blend in the vanilla. Fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cupcake liners. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the filling:
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tbsp. light brown sugar, packed
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
To make the cookie dough filling, combine the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the flour, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla until incorporated and smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the mixture has firmed up a bit, about an hour.
To fill the cupcakes, cut a cone-shaped portion out of the center of each cupcake. Fill each hole with a chunk of the chilled cookie dough mixture.
For the frosting:
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
3½ cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. salt
3 tbsp. milk
2½ tsp. vanilla extract
To make the frosting, beat together the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until creamy. Mix in the confectioners' sugar until smooth. Beat in the flour and salt. Mix in the milk and vanilla extract until smooth and well blended.
Tiny chocolate chip cookies
Mini chocolate chips
Frost the filled cupcakes as desired, sprinkling with mini chocolate chips and topping with mini chocolate chip cookies for decoration.
Also - if you haven't checked out Annie's blog, you must. First, she is a wonder woman - doctor, wife, mother, who makes tasty food and blogs about it EVERY DAY. Second, tasty food. Seriously tasty food.
Underwhelmed. That's how my clafoutis left me feeling. Despite its composition full of things I love - strawberries, crepe-like batter - it just didn't have much to it.
Now, I've never made or eaten a clafoutis, so it's quite possible that I did something incorrectly. Maybe it was underbaked? Maybe I let my batter sit in the food processor too long while I ate dinner? Maybe I was expecting something more like Nigella Lawson's Rhubarb Grunt? I was going to send the larger pan with Don to his office, but we both decided it's not fit for public consumption. I'm going to see if a few more minutes in the oven tonight renders a more favorable result.
Butter and I are the best of friends. Thus, you can imagine why I like croissants oh so much. Flakey. Buttery. Yes please.
Although a bit intimidating at first, I was really excited that The Maiden Metallurgist chose this recipe. I also acquired two new pastry tools, which made this endeavor extra exciting (I love accessories) - a marble pastry board and a new rolling pin. The fabulous Don made the rolling pin and scored the marble board for free from a stone supplier!
I first set out to make these in the middle of the month, but realized that I wouldn't have enough time. So I had to wait until the next weekend. Even though the process was lengthy, I really, really, really enjoyed making croissants. There's something about having the opportunity to fold and rework the dough several times that is almost calming for me. I can't quite describe it.
I made half the dough into croissants, and saved half to use to make a chicken & broccoli braid to take to work for lunch. (My coworkers must not realize that the process took 20 hours, because they didn't seem very impressed when I told them I made the dough from scratch. Or they're just getting used to me telling them that.)
Next time I make this recipe, I will plan out my timing a little better. They would actually work well to make the night before and the finish up in the morning for a brunch.
I love lemon desserts. Of all kinds. 2 years ago, when I went to visit the Lovely Lady Baker, I was on a mission to try something tasty from the legendary Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. I chose the lemon tart. I loved the lemon tart. So you can imagine my thrill when this recipe was posted.
You might also be able to imagine my thrill when I realized that I now live some place where one could acquire Meyer lemons for making the lemon custard. (No? You can't imagine that?) For years, Martha Stewart has been telling me I need to use Meyer lemons in lemon desserts and I've never been able to find them in Kansas. Thank goodness for Whole Foods. I finally had those elusive Meyer lemons and was ready to make some lemon bars!
I'm also pretty picky about the flavor of my lemon curd/lemon custard. Sometimes it just has the wrong mix of acid and egg yolk flavor - you know? I was pleased to find that this recipe was just right. At least with the Meyer lemons it was. The crust was exactly like the Tartine crust, but a bit too hard and crunchy for my taste. When I make this again I will probably make a slightly softer crust.
You'll have to forgive me for not getting better pictures of this dish. Don and I were so excited that we promptly cut and ate as much as possible. They were delicious!
Update: Don made this recipe for my office birthday treat. Since I've started making all the treats for my coworkers, he thought he'd relieve me of that responsibility for my own birthday. He even did a pretty good job.
I was talking to Don about yesterday's post, and I realized I should have prefaced it with this: We've done a lot to green our lives, but most of it has financial savings as well as environmental benefits. Not having a car = cheap. Using less power = cheaper electric bills. Subscribing to a CSA = less grocery store shopping = less impulse purchases & less wasted food (plus I really hate going to the grocery store). Blowing your nose into paper kleenex = throwing away money. (I seriously think about that every time I do it.)
Anyway, it is Friday. I am happy about this. I could really handle a 4 day work week. But then I would probably just want a 3 day work week. If you give a mouse a cookie...
Today is the 40th Earth Day. Maybe you've heard something about it. Well what am I doing to observe the preservation of our planet today? Same things I do every day. Don and I have spent the last 4 years working on greening our lives. Clearly selling our car was one of the biggest decisions we made in this category. Besides recycling all we can (if you're not doing this even a little, you have no excuse these days. Start!), we've changed shopping, eating, and living habits to try and be better environmental stewards. I could go on and on about this, because honestly, it's something that's pretty important to me. But I'll try and keep it brief.
For the last year and a half, we've belonged to a Community Supported Agriculture group. If you've got a CSA in your area, I highly recommend joining one (go here to find out). You order or buy in to shares of produce from a local organic farm. In doing so, you share some of the risk that the farmer takes due to weather, etc. Every week, we get a delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables from a farm in Wisconsin. The produce is organic, not packaged in plastic, and seasonal, not to mention delicious. We also get fresh eggs (most grocery store eggs are 6 months old...). Our particular CSA (Harvest Moon Organics) is really amazing. Not only did they work with Don and I to set up a pick up in our neighborhood this winter, but they've expanded their offerings to include a cheese share, beef and chicken shares, and a fresh, organic flower share. We're participating in all, and I am especially excited about the flower share (traditional flower farms are one of the dirtiest growing industries). When we can't get a CSA share (right now) we shop at farmer's markets and pay attention to where our food is grown and how it's packaged.
Besides buying local and organic, we've started making a lot of our own foods to avoid factory food and the junk that is in so many processed foods. Movies like Food Inc and books like Michael Pollan's have helped educate us on exactly what is in those processed foods. In addition, we are avoiding genetically modified foods (corn, corn, corn). Our CSA farm works hard to propagate heirloom seeds to fight against the terrible things that companies like Monsanto are doing to our crops. And we'd rather just support local farmers and vendors instead of large corporations and factories.
Other 'greeeen' stuff we do:
walk or bike to work
buying less, recycling more!!!
CFL lightbulbs. duh.
reduce the amount of plastic we buy, since it can only be 'down-cycled' (we buy the milk in glass bottles that you return to the store, etc.)
compost our fresh food scraps (yes you can do this in the city and all you need is a galvanized trash can)
reduce internet shopping and shipping
shopping in our neighborhood whenever possible
cancelled magazine and catalog subscriptions
online billing and paying!
we have 2 people living in 650 square feet of a 4 unit building in which we don't have air conditioning (also don't need it)
unplug stuff when we're not using it, turn lights off
base purchase decisions on how much packaging waste is created & started buying things in bulk in reusable containers
support business that make sustainable and eco-friendly decisions
purchasing products produced in the united states, from sustainable materials'
buying recycled products
changing cooking and baking habits to use things like silicone mats instead of parchment paper
eating less meat, and when we do eat meat, we make sure it is ethically raised, grass-fed and responsibly slaughtered. If it were practical for us to hunt our own animals right now, I would let Don do that.
washing clothes in cold water, and hanging more things up to dry. It's better for the clothes, anyway.
using cloth napkins instead of paper. We're working on going 100% paperless in the kitchen (that's right, no paper towels). I'm working on hankies instead of kleenex. Not quite extreme enough to go without toilet paper... (but when I have babies they will wear cloth diapers)
disposing of toxic items appropriately (paint, electronics, etc)
water saver shower head (allows both of us to take hot showers in the morning!)
washing and re-using ziplock bags (yes I am turning in to my mother...)
making shopping lists on my cell phone instead of using a piece of paper
oh, and obviously we take our own bags to the grocery store
Now, I know my decisions aren't practical for everyone. I'm not bragging or saying I'm better than anyone else for the decisions I am making. And I know some of these things are luxuries only available to educated, middle class urban dwellers. I'm doing what I can at this moment. I could certainly be doing more. Everyone could be doing more. I encourage you to take a look at what you can do to make every day a little more 'earthy.'
Now, if only I could start buying wine by the barrel instead of the bottle...
I've been working on a post about my wedding. It's taken me a long time to put the post together. Not because I didn't want to share, or because I'm totally over the wedding thing, or even because there's so much content, but it's taken me a while to really be able to externalize the whole planning and throwing a wedding thing. It has also taken me a while to decide what I wanted to share about it here on a non-wedding blog. But I think I've got it narrowed down. Bear with me.
The year and a half long process took a lot of energy out of me, and it's been really hard to redirect the energy I have now back to that. During the planning time, I would pour over dozens of wedding blogs every day (see sidebar). Just looking at them now exhausts me. Weird, huh? I find it insanely liberating not to be thinking about wedding stuff anymore. (Don't get me wrong - we had fun in the process, it was just soooo much work.) We would have been decent candidates for an elopement. Analyze that however you wish. But, we threw a wedding, and we did it our own way (isn't that the point). And it was like 300% fun. So I guess all that work was worth it.
It's coming soon. By our first anniversary, I swear.
I have not been sleeping well for the last few nights. Naturally, I am really tired. I even took a sleep aid last night and still managed to have a fitful sleep. I don't get it. Either my subconscious is anxious for something to happen (best friend about to give birth at any second), or I need to settle some chaos. Who knows.
I am generally always a busy person - I dont' really like lazing around (except when I do so very intentionally). So I am used to having a lot going on. This lack of sleep is making me feel really overwhelmed. Like the next person who gives me something extra to do might witness a seriously ugly cry.