Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fixing All The Things: homemade bread and roasted tomato soup

I've designated January as the Month of Fix All The Things.  If an item or situation doesn't work, I am either getting rid of it or fixing it or replacing it so that it works.  This is a William Morris post in itself, but today I will just tell about one fix-it endeavor: the immersion blender.

My kids are adamant about not eating lumpy soup, whether the lumps be beans or chicken or vegetables or any other delicious thing one might put in a soup.  Thus I have blended soups in our tiny, 2 cup Cuisinart food processor.  This tiny processor was great for making small batches of pesto, but not so great for pureeing large batches of soup.

Last month I broke the tiny Cuisinart by dropping it on the ground. I bought a slightly larger, 3 cup Kitchenaid food processor.  It pureed more soup, but still, not a lot.  And then, a light bulb went off over my head--why don't I get an immersion blender?

Yes, I pureed large batches of soup in a 2 cup food processor for seven years before it occurred to me to get an immersion blender.

So I perused the internets, which offered up this fancy and awesome immersion blender.  Last night I pureed soup in less than a minute with no mess or spilling of boiling liquids.  Hallelujah!  The technology that mankind can come up with these days!

I'm pretty sure we got an immersion blender as a wedding gift ten years ago but I think I donated it because I didn't willingly cook before I had children.

Since I now have the power to blend soup without mess (what superpower did you get?), I made a delicious roasted tomato soup, loosely based on this recipe from Ina Garten.  But I didn't have four cups of basil sitting around and I added a bunch of other stuff, so....thanks Ina Garten for giving me the recipe to build on.

Roasted Tomato Soup
10 plum tomatoes (you could use more, but 10 plum tomatoes is how many fits in my baking pan)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (that's according to Ina, I just toss in a whole bunch)
1 tablespoon salt (I never measure, I just salt till it tastes good. A tablespoon is the bare minimum. .)
1 tsp black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
1 head of garlic
1 zucchini, grated
1 package pureed butternut squash
2 tablespoons butter
1 28-oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 32-oz box of chicken stock
1 tsp dried basil (use way more if you like. I would use at least a cup of fresh basil if I had it.)
1 tsp crushed rosemary

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Slice the plum tomatoes in half, spread in one layer on baking sheet, and drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Cut off the top of the head of garlic, drizzle the exposed garlic with olive oil, and place on the baking sheet exposed garlic side up.  Roast for 45 minutes.

2. If your pureed butternut squash is frozen, defrost it in the microwave. (You could also roast fresh cut up butternut squash while you are roasting the tomatoes.  I used roasted squash last time I made it, since they were leftovers in the fridge.  This time I only had frozen stuff, so that's what we used.)

3.  In a large pot, saute the onions and grated zucchini in 1/4 cup of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter, until onions turn translucent.

4. Add the canned tomatoes, chicken stock, butternut squash, basil and and rosemary. Add the roasted tomatoes, including the liquid in the baking sheet.  Scrape out the roasted garlic from the husks and put in the pot.

4. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Add some more salt, if you think it needs it. (I do. I salt it till it tastes good.)

5. Use your fancy new immersion blender to puree the hot soup.

I think this soup would take very well to having pureed carrots and celery in it, if you were so inclined.

Homemade Bread!
Peter and Princess love this soup.  I think they really love it because I serve it with a fresh loaf of homemade bread for dipping.  We have been using this recipe from Mark Bittman.  It is incredibly easy--its flour, yeast, water and salt mixed in a bowl and walk away.  Its incredibly delicious, as long as you don't mind the fact that you have to start making it 20 hours before you eat it.

My notes on the bread--if you don't have an oven-safe dish with a lid, we have simply been making it in a pyrex ceramic pan covered with tin foil, and it has come out fine.  A bit dense, probably because the tin foil is not providing quite enough trapping of heat, but its still tasty and quite good.  We just ordered a pan with a lid since we make this bread so frequently.

I don't dust it with cornmeal or bran as the recipe suggests. Also, rather than flipping the dough onto a towel, as suggested, I just take the dough out of the bowl, flour it up, flip it, put more flour in the bowl, and put it back in.  It is much easier to clean a floured bowl than a floury towel.  It can be a juggling maneuver to take it out and then put it back in the original bowl, though, so you could easily start by flouring a second bowl and tossing it in there, rather than one-handedly flouring up with original bowl.

Mark Bittman put out a video with Jim Lehey (the guy who came up with the original bread recipe that Mark Bittman published in his NY Times column) noting that you could add a 1/4 tsp of red wine vinegar and use very warm water and decrease your rise time from 12 hours to 4 hours, which would mean you could make this in the morning and still have it in time for dinner.  The video is unclear as to whether you need to flip the bread over and rise for an additional two hours, like in the original recipe.  I tried it (with the flip over) and it came out very wet and dense (sigh), so we have been sticking to the original recipe.

We make the mix at night before going to bed, usually around 10 pm.  I flip the dough the next day around 2 pm, and put it in the oven around 4, so we can eat it around 5.  Obviously this is not a great recipe if you are not around in the middle of the day.  My inlaws make two batches on the weekend, and eat it during the week; it keeps well if tightly wrapped.

We have a lot of after-school commitments lately, so I've been on the hunt for recipes that are either short or are soups I can make in a crockpot.  Share your favorite soup recipe, if you are so inclined?

I'm linking up to Pancakes and French Fries William Morris Project.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

vintage art prints over the nightstands

I've been taking the master bedroom in a blue and white direction.  I hung the Ikea Stockholm Blad curtains in blue and white, switched out our very heavy brown winter comforter for a plain white all-season one, put a blue duvet cover across the bottom of the bed, and painted the mirror over the dresser cobalt blue.

I also bought two vintage art prints for over the bedside tables.  The Mister and I love vintage art, so it was easy to find a few prints that we liked. One is a vintage advertisement, one is a vintage travel poster. has a decent amount of 20 x 28 vintage prints, which is the perfect size for the Ikea 20 x 28 Ribba frame.  (I love the Ribba frame, but since they don't follow American standard sizes, finding the right size art can be difficult. Also, although the largest Ribba frame says that the interior is matted to 19 x 27, the posters were juuuuust a smidge too short for that frame.)

It was difficult to capture a picture of the art without glare, so here are the images from


Almost done with this room! The only thing left to do is fix the lamps.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mood board for Princess's room

Princess has let me know that she desires a "princess" bedroom.  Her monkey curtains are not making the cut, apparently.  Princess also requires that her room be an explosion of PeptoBismol pink and Disney princesses, which, um, no. 

I have thought for a long time on how to achieve Princess's wishes.  Most "princess" stuff is pale pastel pink and lavender, which is not really my thing.  I prefer brighter, more saturated colors.  I also wanted to bring in some deep grape-y purple, instead of the entire room being pink!pink!pink!

Here's the plan so far. 

The heart decals will go on the wall above her headboard.  I like that they are removable stickers, so when we move out we can take them with us.  Since we are in earthquake country they are also a good fit for art hanging over a bed.    

The ruffle bedspread meets with her approval (its pink! It has ruffles!).   Rather than add even more ruffles with the shams, I'd like to get either a monogrammed sham or a different pattern.

Princess already has the Poang children's size chair.  There are companies that make prettier slipcovers for them, but I have yet to come across one that makes a slipcover for the children's chair.  If you know of one, please share.  

Pottery Barn Kids has a number of canopies that are $69+, but Ikea has a plain white canopy for $20. I will dress this up with something....maybe a bunting, or some butterfly or flower clips.  

I included a purple lamp because I would really like to bring more deep purple into her room.  

My sticking point is the curtains.  I am undecided on what to get.  I have run all of these choices past the Princess, and she has voted for pink every time. (Grr.) I would like a purple pattern on a white background but haven't found much.  Here are some I am considering.  

I feel that the Serena and Lily purple trim and the PBK ribbon trim curtains are easy DIY curtains.  Princess has voted for the Land of Nod pink swiss dot curtains.  

The pink block print curtains are very very sheer but I love the pattern. But, very very sheer.  

My favorite are the purple block print curtains, BUT I only want the pattern on the top half of the curtain.  Where can I find that block print without all the junk on the bottom??

Thursday, January 17, 2013

baby its cold outside

A few days after New Years, the kids and I put on our vests, sauntered out into the balmy 60 degree morning (a refreshing change from the 25 degrees that we experienced in NJ over Christmas), and headed off to the park.  Our neighbor saw us and said "Brr! Don't you think its too cold to go to the park?"  I wanted to say that I had taken my kids to the park in NJ a few days earlier and had left the park not being able to feel my toes, and THAT was too cold, and 60 degrees was quite lovely, thanks, but all I said was "no, we are dressed quite warmly, we'll be fine."

California has been having "cold weather".  (If you were sitting next to me you would see that I put "cold weather" in air quotes and rolled my eyes as I did so.)  This "cold weather" has generally meant that the temperatures have hovered around 50 degrees.  I will admit that it is not warm and sunny, but it is hardly the Arctic.  Put on a sweater and a coat and you will be fine, people of the OC.

On Monday, Greg came home from school and informed me that he watched cartoons indoors at recess.  When I asked why, he said "because it was too cold to play outside."

It was 52 degrees.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor....I .....I....still don't know what to say to this RIDICULOUSNESS.  What worries me is that now I am raising children in these environs and these children will grow up to think that this is normal. GAH.

The Mister and I have always set the thermostat low, because we hate paying high heating bills.  Prior to having children we set the thermostat around 58 degrees.  When we had our first child I went nuts and set it at 68 degrees.  Since we lived mostly in a series of older, poorly insulated homes, even setting the thermostat at 64 degrees meant that we would have two or three months of heating bills hovering around $450.  Good times!

The first house we lived in together--have I written about this before?--we rented a 5 bedroom winter share house on a bay, and the entire back wall of the house was glass overlooking the bay.  I was still in law school and the Mister was working as a law clerk, so we had no money.  There was two zone heating in the house, so we turned the heat on the first floor to 54 degrees, and lived upstairs in two bedrooms, with the heat set upstairs to 60.  We were lucky the pipes didn't freeze. Even with those measures, the heating bill was more than $500 every month.

Sixty degrees indoors when the temperatures outdoors are in the 20s is not all that warm.  When I was studying in the second bedroom I had a small space heater under the desk at my feet, blankets on my lap and my shoulders, I wore two sweaters and a hat, and I had fingerless gloves so that I could type on the computer.  Sometimes we wore our coats indoors.  We even wore our coats in bed.  I can tell you that experience informed us that we were way too broke to afford a five bedroom home, even if the rent was doable.

We had a similar lesson when we bought a condo after we got married.  The condo had 20 foot ceilings and a loft.  We discovered that heating and cooling a room with twenty foot ceilings meant that the 8 foot ceiling bedrooms were roasting while the 20 foot ceiling living room was a meat locker.

This time around we also have 20 foot ceilings in our living room, and I guarantee you that the one very important item I am putting on my must-have list in a new house is NO 20 FOOT CEILINGS, as it is a challenge to heat/cool in a frugal manner.  (Yes, when I walked in the door of this house for the first time the first thing out of my mouth was "ugh, our AC bill will cost us an arm and a leg with that damn ceiling." But our housing options were limited so I rented this house anyways.)

On the other hand, seeing as we live in California, I turned the AC off in October and didn't turn the heat on (63 degrees at night, off during the day) until December 15th, so I've had a few months of less than $50 electric bills.  Wootwoot.

Where do you live, and what do you keep the heat set at? 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

living room rearranged

When we first moved in and I had a gazillion pieces of furniture, I put the tv on the only wall in the living room that wasn't a wall of windows.  That also happened to be conveniently where the cable outlet was located. Once I added in the second set of bookshelves, it became very tight.  There was just too much furniture in the room.  I played around with different ways of arranging the room, trying to keep the tv in the same place, but eventually I gave up and took a bunch of the furniture to a storage unit.  (You can see how the room looked before with all the furniture three inches apart here.)

To help with my layout dilemma, I called Kelly and Olive, sent them all of our measurements and asked them to give me some possible layouts, preferably keeping all the bookshelves, and keeping the sofa directly across from the tv.  They suggested this layout (and a few others, but we liked this one), and I have to say I'm really happy with it.

And now, the after:

You all noticed the new mythical Ikea Rand striped rug, right? I've been looking for this rug for three years.  I painted my own a few months ago, but this one is 8x11, unlike the tiny 4x6 one I painted. In fact, I took the painted one and put it in the room to see how it looked, and liked it so much that I decided to stop at Ikea to see if they had the bigger one, and lo and behold yes they did. And that was that.

This rearranging was inexpensive--I just moved around what I already had.  I bought three things for the room: 1) the rug, 2) a floor lamp for behind the mission chair since we took out the table lamps, and 3) 8 storage boxes for the Expedit, since we took off the slipcover. And voila, whole new room.

I'll be honest, although I LOVE how much more open and airy the room feels, the sofa is quite literally shoved up against the bookshelves, which obviously blocks the bottom shelves and the interior bookshelf doors. The room is only 12 x 11.  Obviously I wish the room were a wee bit bigger so that I could float the sofa in front of the shelves instead of right on top of them.  I made sure that the stuff stored behind those doors is not stuff we need on a daily basis.  Otherwise, I love how it looks and we are quite happy with the new arrangement.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

wall of bookcases

I've always wanted a wall of bookcases, and now I've got one!

Sorry, Mr. DeMille, the other side of the room is not ready for its close-up yet.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

my big toe, a pretty rug, some blue

I had high hopes of posting some pictures of the boys' room today.  I bought a Hemnes 3-drawer dresser and built it yesterday, put it in the room, and was too big.

So I tossed the partially built dresser and the remaining drawer pieces back in the car and returned the dresser at Ikea.  My receipt clearly said that assembled furniture was non-returnable, but the customer service line said that it was at the discretion of the store, and I was pleasantly surprised that they gave me all money back.  I bought a smaller Malm 3-drawer dresser and took it home.

As I took it out of the back of the car and tried to move it into the garage--it was HEAVY--I could feel my back protesting.  Rather than screw up my back again I dropped the box.

On my big toe.

I had an unmedicated birth with Peter, and this hurt wayyyyy worse.

I don't want to gross anyone out with pictures of my jacked-up toe, but imagine Gabriel Aubrey's face after Halle Berry's boyfriend beat him up.  It is excruciatingly painful.  I fear that my triumphant return to the gym next week when all my children are back in school might be delayed.

Moral of the story: avoid manual labor.

In other exciting news, I ordered this rug for my closet.  It feels so happy and cheerful.

And I've been painting stuff in my bedroom too.

Hopefully after this weekend I'll have some put-together rooms to share.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Getting Rid Of All The Things

My house feels like an enormous Rube Goldberg machine right now.  As soon as I build that dresser, I can move the bookshelf it is replacing into the garage, and then I can get all those photo albums off the floor, and then I can move that table into that spot where the photo albums currently reside, and then those lamps will come into the other room, and get the idea.  I have about five projects going on at the moment that I can't wait to share, but everything is currently a giant mess.

Number one on my Things to Do in 2013 is to Get Rid Of All The Stuff.  A few months ago I decided there was too much furniture in our living room, and too much crap in our garage, so I rented a storage unit and removed everything so that I would stop tripping over it.  Everything that went to the storage unit was furniture that I wanted to keep but didn't have room for.  I figured that we would eventually use it when we buy our next house.

I'm done with that attitude.  This is the next house. If it doesn't fit here, then I'm not keeping it.

I don't know when we will buy our next house.  Maybe next year, maybe three years from now, it depends on a number of factors that I have zero control over.  And I'm not keeping around a bunch of furniture waiting for that mythical day.  It will cost me more money to store the old furniture than it would cost to buy new furniture when that day comes.

Last week we completely rearranged the living room.  I also purged the half the garage for the 400th time--I sorted through more kids clothes bins and toys and home decor stuff, and culled seven more bins. (The other side of the garage is still waiting to be done, but there are only so many hours in a weekend.)  We donated an enormous pile to Goodwill.  When the garage was emptied, we brought everything back from the storage unit and filled it back up.  I gave some furniture to a friend.  I have listed the rest on craigslist.  If I don't sell it within the next week, I will donate it.

I feel ok with getting rid of all the furniture, except for one item.  A few years ago we bought a lovely round dining table with a pedestal base from Crate and Barrel.

It chipped if you looked at it funny, or put your silverware down, or breathed near it.  Since we paid a lot of money for it, we decided to retire it to storage until the kids were older and buy a table from craigslist that we wouldn't mind if the children destroyed.  The pretty table lived wrapped in blankets in a garage for the past three years.  Unfortunately, when we took it out of the blankets this weekend to look at it, the blankets did not do a great job of protecting it.  It is really chipped, dinged and scratched, but worse, the cable that allows the table to open for an extension leaf has snapped. Keeping this table would entail expensively repairing it, since we frequently need to use the extension leaf.  

I should just accept this as a loss.  It doesn't work, it will not stand up to the wear and tear my family will put on it, and I should just accept this as a sunk cost and move on.  But ARG I paid SO MUCH MONEY for this table.  I'm having a hard time letting this go. I could refinish it! We could get it repaired! Its a nice table that might work in the next house!

Basically I am having a hard time accepting that it was a poor financial decision and thus I will just hold on to it to make it seem like I didn't throw my money away.


I've really been quite ruthless in purging this time around.  My rule is if there is not a designated spot for it inside the house, it has to go. Can I easily replace it? Yes?  Begone with you then.  No storing in the garage. The "storage" in the garage is reserved for hand me down clothes and Christmas decor and children's bicycles.

It feels good to be getting rid of stuff.  Or it will when all this crap is out of my garage again.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

Item # 12 crossed off the list: stop the beeping

First project of the year: fix the beeping fridge or get a new one.

We've had Sears out twice to fix the fridge.  It is my problem since I live in a house with uneven floors, apparently.

We decided against getting a new fridge.  Its a big expense that should last a long time and I hate to buy a really fabulous fridge but then buy a new house next year and it doesn't fit.  Or buy an el cheapo fridge and be stuck with it in the next house. Plus, the old fridge works fine as a fridge.  It just NEVER STOPS BEEPING.  

The problem with the old fridge is that the freezer door doesn't stay shut, thus setting off the alarm.  Sometimes it lifts an infinitesimal amount off the seal, and sometimes its a good quarter inch off.  Taping the freezer door shut eliminates the beeping but makes it hard to access the food inside.  (Duh.)

So we compromised and bought an upright freezer to put in the garage.

The cheapest option would be to buy a chest freezer, but I don't have any dead bodies to store, and they are difficult to organize.  We opted for the upright freezer, figuring that we would be happy to have an extra freezer in the garage of the next house as well.

The bottom freezer in the kitchen is now taped shut in perpetuity.  And the beeping has stopped.  Blessed silence reigns.

I also started on item # 6, rearrange the living room, and it has made me very very happy.  Pictures to follow!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Plans for finishing the playroom/dining room

Thanks so much for the lovely comments on the 2012 recap post, especially those of you who have special needs kids. I really appreciate your kind words.


One of the first projects I plan on doing in the New Year is finishing the dining room.  It has been livable for a while, but I'd like to bring in some finishing touches.  Currently the dining room looks like this:

If you look closely, the dining chairs are peeling paint and every single chair seat is no longer affixed to the frame. Sit down too far forward and you might get dumped on the floor.  Although I love the lines of these chairs, and wish I could take them to a refinishing shop to have them stripped and painted....I just do not have the time or energy to invest in sanding all six of them down (and all the curvy spindles!) and repainting them.

I'd like to replace them with tolix chairs.  I'm still undecided between galvanized steel or gunmetal.

When we first moved in, I planned to put these blue Ikea Stockholm Blad curtains up in the dining room, but when I went to Ikea to buy them, I saw these much cheaper curtains.  The cheaper curtains had green in them, which I though would work perfectly with the green bins of toys in the playroom.  Sadly, I was wrong.  The yellow green of the curtains clashes with the apple green of the bins. I have not liked them since the day after I put them up, but at that point I was stuck with them for a while.

This is a valuable lesson--I knew that I really wanted the blue Stockholm ones, but I talked myself into a cheaper curtain that I didn't like as much and didn't work because I wanted to save money.  I do this all the time.  I should just keep saving my money till I can get what I really want.

Another issue is that the only light in the long space is the dining room fixture.  Although the playroom area gets light from the kitchen and the dining room, there is no light fixture within the space. Since we rent, I'd rectify that by hanging a pendant light with a swagged cord instead of paying an electrician to add hardwired lighting in the room.

The sliding glass door in the playroom and the window in the kitchen need a window treatment.  I am planning on a cornice for both.  Lastly, the green bins are falling apart, so I plan to replace them with blue bins.

Here's a moodboard of what I plan to do in the space.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

To be done in 2013

Happy New Year!

There are many many things to be done in 2013.  Many of them involve purging.  We have committed to staying in this house another year and thus I am going on a massive cleaning bender this year.

1.  Get rid of the storage unit.  I am done with hoarding furniture.  Yes, maybe some of it would be good for the next house, but whatever, I am done with holding on to stuff and tripping over stuff that I don't have a space for.  It is costing more money to store this furniture than it will be to buy new furniture when I eventually buy a house, which will be who knows when.

2. Purge the garage.  HAHAHA.  But seriously, I'm so tired of carrying all this stuff around, and organizing it every damn weekend because it is a never ending source of entropic disorder. I want it ALL GONE.

Side note: possibly do a 31 Day series on getting rid of all my stuff.  My plan is for us to sleep on tatami mats and have one plate apiece.

3. Finish the dining room/playroom area.  I went with the cheap curtain option originally instead of the curtains I really wanted, and have been annoyed with myself ever since. Our dining chairs are disgusting and dangerous to unsuspecting guests.  There is one teeny tiny light fixture that illuminates the 20 x 12 room.

4. Finish the master bedroom.  This is nearly done, I just need to spraypaint the lamps again and hang some art.

5.  Do the Princess's room.  It is a hot mess, and she is very vocal about her dislike of the (so twee! so cute!) monkeys in the curtains.

6.  Rearrange the living room.  The current furniture arrangement feels like an alley of furniture along the side walls.  This is probably going to necessitate getting rid of some furniture. (Are you sensing a trend?)

7.  Write that damn article I've been avoiding for five years. I am putting it out there now--the month of February I WILL DO THIS.

8. Get a J-O-B.  (Writing the article is step one of getting a job.) Full time, part time, doesn't matter, just get out of the house.

9.  Take the kids to Disney (Anaheim, not Orlando).

10. Put all my currently unused but expensive curtains up on ebay. Why am I so afraid of selling stuff on ebay?

11. Learn to thread my sewing machine.  I have basic competence on a sewing machine, but I cannot get the dumb thing threaded, despite multiple YouTube tutorials and my mother showing me four times.

12. Either fix the fridge or get a new one.  I cannot live with that horrendous beeping for another minute, let alone another 365 days.

13. With my luck lately, item number 13 may not have the best karma, so maybe we'll say something dumb like organize my bedside table.

14. Learn to use my camera.  The Mister got me camera lessons for Christmas, so I may actually accomplish this one.

15. Go to a blogger conference. Which one? Blissdom, Mom 2.0, Camp Mighty?  BlogHer seems enormous and unwieldy and ack too many people.  Which one are you going to?

16. Go to a design camp.  I signed up for ABChao's design camp in LA (anyone else going?).  I would love to go to Tobi Fairley's design camp, but that is two new refrigerators, and I'd rather accomplish item #12 above.

17. Redesign the blog.  I really need to figure out how to do threaded commenting, since the blogger "check here for threaded commenting" button doesn't seem to work for me.  The entire blog needs a makeover, to be honest. Do you have any recommendations for a designer?

18. Get bifocals. Sigh.

19. Get over my intense hatred of suffering through cosmetic dentistry and get my teeth fixed.

20. Organize all the photos. This is a wayyyyy bigger project than it sounds.

And you?  Share your goals for 2013.