Sunday, August 25, 2013

Vacation Inspiration: Loving the Western Shore of My Home State

My husband and I finally, finally got the chance to go away together for the weekend. This is our first vacation as a couple since we got married (umm, five and a half years ago . . .), so it was long overdue. On our first night, we drove westward across the Mitten to Holland, Michigan. We did the quintessential tourist activity in the town: toured the DeZwaan windmill and the gardens on Windmill Island. DeZwaan was the last historic windmill exported from the Netherlands, and although it is 250 years old, it is still in operation as a grain mill.

I love artisan crafts, and rarely pay much attention to anything else when I visit historic sites, but I found myself drawn to the Windmill Island Conservatory. I am a sucker for succulents, and I loved this birdcage with Burro's Tail growing through the bars.

The grounds are dotted with plants that produce enormous umbrella leaves. The veining on the leaves was beautiful--it reminded me immediately of marbled paper. I've read a few tutorials lately about marbling with nail polish, and these leaves might have inspired me to give it a try.

Although I am usually pretty conservative with color (in other words, I heart black), I could totally envision the vivid colors of these orchids in a headscarf, set of bracelets, or a fun coin purse.

After our first night and day in Holland, the hubs and I continued north along the coast of Lake Michigan. We spent the rest of our weekend in Ludington, Michigan. We found a great hotel right near the beach, and we were within easy walking distance to both the water and the downtown shops and restaurants. Perfect! Lounging on the beach did give me the time to do a little knitting.

Perusing the small boutiques reminded me how much I love the casual, easy fashion sensibilities along the shore. Light fabrics, fun prints, romantic-but-not-fussy. *Happy sigh.* My next project has to be a lightweight summer scarf. No question. I feel so rejuvenated after this trip. It gave me so many new crafty ideas. Wherever your travels may take you as summer winds down, I hope you'll find yourself inspired. Be creative and enjoy!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Holy Mole (say it mo-lay!): Easy (Cheater) Slow Cooker Mole

We've been in a food rut in our house lately. And by food rut, I mean pizza rut. So, I broke out the slow cooker today to try something different. Right up front, let's get the disclaimer out of the way: this isn't authentic mole. There are a number of regional varieties of mole in Mexico, but they do have some common elements, like chilis, dried fruit, thickeners (nuts or seeds), and often chocolate. Traditionally, the dish takes ages to prepare--roasting, soaking, blending, and cooking a lengthy list of specialty ingredients. 

So, yes. I cheated. I cheated and it was delicious. AND I got to use my slow cooker.

I based my dish on the Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes from Better Homes and Gardens. I did make a few changes, though. Here's my version . . .

Slow Cooker Mole with Chicken:
1 14 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes with garlic
2 canned chipotle chilis in adobo
1/2 white onion
1/4 c. raisins
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (for a more conventional flavor, you could use pepitas)
Small palmful of sesame seeds, toasted (please note, I have elf-like hands--probably 1 1/2 Tbsp.)
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. quick-cooking tapioca
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed (the original recipe called for bone-in pieces, skinned. I just used what I had in the fridge)
Cooked rice
Limes for garnish

In a food processor, I blended the first 11 ingredients (through salt) to a smooth puree. Then I sprinkled the tapioca in the bottom of my slow cooker insert; it acts as a thickener. I poured in about 1/3 of the sauce, nestled the chicken breasts in, then topped with the rest of the sauce. I cooked the chicken on LOW for about 6 hours, until the meat was falling apart. If you use bone-in chicken, you'll probably want to let it go for more like 8 hours. I served the chicken and sauce over hot rice, with a squeeze of fresh lime on top.

I would like to try this mole with a tomatillo blended into the sauce for a little bit of sour. But overall, I thought this was a good first attempt at mole, especially since I didn't have to work all day to get it! Be creative and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Giani White Diamond Counter Paint Kit

I think the single most dramatic transformation in our kitchen overhaul (see previous post) was the countertop. I love the final look (especially considering what we started with):

The Giani paint kit outlines the multi-step process needed to achieve a granite or marble look. I highly, highly recommend that you watch this video before you start, should you ever attempt this project. Step 1 is a matte black primer. It covers the entire countertop surface. After applying the primer, I had to let it dry for 8 hours.

Step 2 involves layering on the minerals--my kit had three colors: a silvery pearl, a sandy tan, and white.

Giani provides a sponge for layering on the minerals. NOTE: if you want black veining, you should save some of the black primer (and use your own brush). There is a brief mention of this in the DVD, but I thought I should reiterate so you don't have to go digging through trash bags looking for that can of primer (like I did). After the minerals dried, I sanded the surface with very fine 600 grit sandpaper, then wiped down the surface with a damp cloth.

Step 3 is the clear coat. This is the most difficult part of the process. The DVD that comes with the kit includes instructions for applying the top coat evenly. After the first coat dried for 4 hours, I sanded, wiped, and applied a second top coat.

According to Giani, the kit is enough for 35 square feet, or about 16 running feet of standard 24" countertop. I was definitely pushing that upper limit. I ran out of white at the very end of the counter. And I could have used more top coat. All in all, though, I'm so happy with how this project turned out. $70 for new counters is a fantastic deal! I hope this project helps you feel less intimidated about making a dramatic change in your own space. Be creative and enjoy!

Monday, August 12, 2013

$330 Kitchen Makeover!!

We love that our house was built in 1910, but we hate that our house was decorated in the 1970s. So, my Mom and I spent one very long weekend updating one very yellow kitchen. I have to say, I could not be more thrilled with the results. Seriously. I spent an embarrassing amount of time this evening just sitting in there, staring.

I will break the projects down into individual posts this week. But here's a quick summary:

As part of my birthday present, my parents bought me a Giani White Diamond Countertop kit to cover the yellow laminate. Since we were already painting the countertops, it made sense to paint the walls, too. The charcoal gray walls looked so good that the drop ceiling looked even more terrible in comparison. We didn't have the time or expertise to take down the ceiling and re-drywall, but we scored in a major way when we found the ceiling tiles that mimic a coffered ceiling. Once the ceiling tiles were in, though, wow did the cabinets look dingy. So we decided to paint them. That's really where the timeline went off the rails . . .

All said and done, we updated the ceiling, walls, cabinets/hardware, and countertops for $329.01 (not including accessories)! I didn't include the accessories in this total because you could spend as much or as little here as you wanted, but I added about $30-worth of new decor pieces to the kitchen. Here's a price break-down:
Tiles: 7.99 x 14 = 111.86
Cross Ts: .98 x 4 = 3.92
Acrylic Covers for Lights: 9.78 x 4= 39.12
Foam Board: 2.50 x 8= 20.00
White Paint: 28 x 1= 28.00
Satin Nickel Spray Paint: 7.48 x 3= 22.44
Giani White Diamond Kit: 69.95 x 1= 69.95
Charcoal paint: Free! (Left over from a previous project)
Window Rope Trim: 14.38 x 2= 28.76
Cove Moulding (where counter meets wall): 2.48 x 2= 4.96

TOTAL: $329.01!! (not including accessories)

Most of the accessories I used were mine already (platters, silver trays, canisters, etc.). The rest I picked up on clearance, except for the large, yellow EAT. For that, I simply spray painted cardboard letters from a craft store.
Cardboard Letters: 4.49 x 3= 13.47
Sun Yellow Spray Paint: 2.50 x 1= 2.50
Lantern: 6.79 x 1= 6.79
Owl: 7.19 x 1= 7.19

TOTAL: $29.95

Not bad at all. I can't wait to share the projects with you individually. In the meantime, be creative and enjoy!