Monday, October 15, 2012

Pumpkin Spice For Everything!

Really.  One of my favorite things about fall is all of the pumpkin spice things come back and stay till around Christmas.  In August the family took one last trip to Hershey Park for the summer and there we discovered that the new Kiss flavor is pumpkin spice...and oh my they were as delicious as you're imagining.  Our bag lasted till about eleven the morning we opened them and unfortunately they aren't out in any stores here yet so I've been craving them which brings me to what I did this morning.

The best fudge recipe ever, in my opinion, is also the easiest and it's totally adaptable so that's what I used as the basis for this morning's candy making.  Basically you take whatever chocolate chips you want and melt them with a can of sweetened condensed milk, add a dash of salt and some vanilla and that's it.   There's no messing around with a candy thermometer and it's incredibly creamy.  Did I say adaptable?  You can either just cut it up as fudge or roll it into about inch balls and then in something else (like powdered baking cocoa) to get something vaguely truffleish.  This batch I'm going to cut into fudge sqaures.  I used 18 oz of Nestle White Morsels, one can of sweetened condensed milk, a dash of salt, a teaspoon of vanilla, a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice, some butter and a double boiler.  I don't actually have a double boiler so I used a glass mixing bowl over boiling water and buttered it with a REALLY thin layer of butter so the fudge slid out more easily.  I also lined an 8x8 baking dish with waxed paper. 

I started with this.

Bring some water to a boil (make sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl you're going to use) and put the bowl over it.  Pour in the morsels or chips and the condensed milk and stir frequently.  The morsels will hold their shape pretty much until they're totally melted but once they break down you need to stir constantly till the mixture is smooth.  Then take it off the heat (just move the bowl, I set it on the next burner) and working quickly add the salt, vanilla and spice and stir till it's smooth again and the color is consistent throughout.  Pour it into the prepared baking dish, gently shake it till it's more or less level and there are no bubbles.  Take another piece of waxed paper and gently press it onto the surface then refrigerate it till it's solid.  When it's done, take it out and let it sit for about five minutes, take it out of the baking dish and cut it up. 

I tasted some of the melted fudge that hadn't scraped out of the bowl while it was still warm and it was still pretty overwhelmingly white chocolate but tasted again after it started to set up and the pumpkin pie spice flavor was a lot stronger.  We'll see and I'll let you know what the kids think as soon as they taste it.  What's your favorite easy candy recipe? 

UPDATE:  The verdict is that "it is soooo amazing!"  It's really rich so I'll cut these into smaller pieces but yeah, it's good. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Soup, Glorious Soup

A couple of weeks ago it was stock, now it's just straight up soup.  One of my favorite things about fall is that it's soup season, just throw everything into one big pot and let it simmer for a while and you're done.  Easy, right?  The easiest soup I've ever made is the one I made last night which I hadn't made in a long time but I have about 42 28 oz cans of tomatoes in my pantry and I really need to use them up. 

How did I wind up with 42 28 oz cans of tomatoes?  There's a grocery store local to me that gives gas points for buying bundles of things, for example buy 5 cans of tomatoes and get 20 points, which equals 20 cents off per gallon.  From that particular deal we wound up with 50 cans of tomatoes and had $2.00 off per gallon.  We haven't actually paid at the pump for gas in about a year but I have a ton of tomatoes to go through and I don't want to just make sauce with them because from another deal we still have 27 jars of sauce (and we eat pasta once a week...did I mention the 15 bags of gnocchi I still have in the freezer?).

So...this soup recipe calls for a single 15 oz. can but since all I have are huge cans I just doubled everything else in the recipe.  I found it in a Betty Crocker "Simple Soups and Breads" recipe booklet I bought at the cash register of some store years ago.  You'll need

1 2lb loaf of Velveeta, cubed (yes really and trust me on this one)
2 15 oz cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
2 15 oz cans of corn, drained
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes and chili peppers, undrained
2 cups of milk

Throw everything in a pot over medium-low heat, stir it frquently and as soon as the Velveeta is smooth and melted you're good.  No, really, it's that simple.  The only thing is that it takes a loooong time for the Velveeta to melt (about 20 minutes for the double batch I made last night) but, honestly, that's it.  One tweak for my family is that I used plain tomatoes because that's what I had on hand and my husband and son spiced theirs up with Red Hot sauce but that was just as well because my younger daughter won't eat anything even remotely spicy hot.   She crumbled corn bread in hers.  These amounts made 8 servings and I have some left over for lunch today (it's really good the next day, IIRC...we'll see!).

So, that's it and it's gluten free, too, if you're concerned.  What's your go-to easy soup?  Comments are open...have a great day!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dining Room Redo, Part 1

Hey, how are you guys?  I know, it's been a couple of weeks but I really hadn't done anything else to The Little Cabinet That Could and had nothing else going but plans.  Oh, did I have plans.  I told you guys about how I pine for a dining room and when my Darling Husband finished our basement space into a living/family room I was one step closer.  We cleared all of the living room stuff out and were left with a gas fireplace, an old dresser that I go back and forth about and the bigger brother of my little cabinet, a four-shelf two-door pantry that's currently holding a bunch of kid related stuff. 

It sat that way for months because we couldn't decide what to do with it.  When we moved in here over ten years ago one of the first things we did was repaint everything a different color.  I mentioned that my grandfather's decorating ideas extended to, "Eh, Ivory/Cream/Beige goes with everything," and so we went colorful:  the kitchen and our bedroom were pink, the two extra bedrooms were peach and the then-living room, entry way and hall were the most gorgeous shade of sage green.  The full effect of all of that didn't hit me until one day when I was sitting on the end of my bed putting my shoes on and I looked up and could see my room, the hall and one of the extra bedrooms all at once and it looked like the inside of a doll house.  Yikes.  What made it worse was that we'd used flat paint on everything which was a pain in the behind to clean.  Because of this experience I backed off and let my husband pick paint colors and luckily he has great taste.  The sage green was beautiful but didn't really work in our space (it looked like a cave) so he repainted the living room, entry and hall a lift-your-spirits sunny yellow that is so much better but is ultimately really safe.  We kicked around maybe putting up blue and white curtains, which is a classic color combo but not quite as warm as I wanted.  I wanted cozy and colorful but not doll house and I was still trying to figure it out when I cleaned out my purse one day.  This purse.

Isn't that beautiful?  I got it a couple of years ago as a birthday present and I love it not just for the print but also because that color combination is just stunning.  That yellow there?  That's almost the exact shade that we have on the walls in the dining room.  That's the kind of warm I was thinking about and it was on my shoulder the whole time.  I passed it by my husband who was perfectly okay with whatever I wanted to do as long as it didn't involve him having to repaint anything.  I found some really pretty colors at Lowe's but before I had a chance to show my husband what I was thinking about we started talking about the fireplace mantle.  He's been considering taking the whole thing out because it clashes so much with the floor (which was not as noticable when we had an area rug in front of it) but I love it so I asked if we could maybe paint it and again he said that as long as he didn't have to do it he was fine with whatever I wanted to do.  When pushed he said he'd like it to be sea foam green.  Sea foam green you say? 

So I planned and I waited for my husband to take the kids to his university's homecoming this weekend and then I went to Lowe's, didn't listen to my intuition and the universe delivered an expensive lesson in ALWAYS listening to my intuition.  This has nothing to do with the actual redo but if you're reading this and your inner voice clears it's throat pay attention to it.  I locked myself out of my house three times this week.  The first two times were because the back door latch is touchy and sometimes just breathing on it, let alone actually shutting the door, makes it lock when that wasn't what I intended.  The first time it was easy enough to get back in because the plate holding the latch was loose and I just had to jiggle it to get it open.  That freaked me out a little bit so I tightened the plate and problem solved, right?  Nope, the latch was still touchy and still dropped when I went out to play with the dog.  That time I had to call my father-in-law to come and let me in because I'd tightened the plate and jiggling it didn't work.  While I was at Lowe's yesterday getting paint I passed the key making counter and thought to myself that I should really get an extra key and hide it outside somewhere but put it off because I was on a mission.  Inner voice whispering to you yet?  I got home with all my paint supplies and headed out the front door to our shed and because my brain registered that I had keys in my hand I automatically locked the door as I went out.  I realized my mistake as soon as I shut the door.  Husband and kids a hundred miles away, father-in-law with them.  *Sigh*  I went to my neighbor's and called a locksmith and twenty minutes and $80 later was back in my house.

Okay, so here's the mantle that I started with.  Please excuse the glare.


Nothing really wrong with it and it's in excellent condition but again it clashes with the floor.  I took inspiration and direction from Kate over at Centsational Girl.  The mantle redo she did for a friend is so beautiful but not quite what I was going for so while I followed the same basic steps I did a couple of things differently.  For example, I wasn't really going for a totally smooth professional looking finish so I didn't worry about the primer I used filling in the grain.  For this project I used an edger, an angled paint brush, a four-inch foam roller, a 60 grit sanding sponge to scuff the surface, a 320 grit sanding sponge to smooth it out between the primer coat and the first coat of paint, tack cloth to clean up the grit, a Sharpie Paint marker in Gold, Kilz Latex white primer and Olympic Interior Latex Semi-Gloss in Sea Sprite.  Oh, and about a pot of coffee, a call to my real life best friend for encouragement, another call to my brother to recount the trauma of being locked out and a surprisingly delicious store brand Mandarin Orange Chicken frozen meal.  Maybe I was just hungry.

I have no pictures from the actual process because I keep forgetting to do that but here are the steps I took.  First I wiped it down to make sure there were no candle wax drippings or smudges or anything.  Then I lightly scuffed the surface with the 60 grit sanding sponge, just enough to take the protective coat off and give the primer something to grip.  I cleaned up with a tack cloth and have you ever used one of those?  I had a cat once who got stuck playing with a roll of masking tape and let's just say that I feel her pain.  Then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I couldn't return the paint and started priming.  I used a really light touch because like I said I wasn't going for totally smooth professional looking and I wanted the grain to come through.  Kilz lives up to it's "dries-in-an-hour" marketing so I sanded again and used the tack cloth again and as soon as the first brush stroke went on I knew I was in love.  Seriously.  Again I used a really light touch and the first coat went really quickly.  As soon as I was done I put a wet paper towel over the paint still in the tray (a tip I learned from my husband), wrapped the roller, brush and edger in aluminum foil and stuck them in the refrigerator (a tip I learned from my sister) and went to bed.  When I got up this morning I put on a second coat and let it dry and could barely contain myself waiting because I wanted to do the fun part. 

My husband had patinaed (is that a word?) the shiny brass metal trim around the fire box as soon as we bought it because it was just too 80s looking.  When I was first contemplating painting the mantle I realized that I wanted the medallion to stand out a little bit and considered giving it a faux treatment but when I was at Lowe's ignoring my intuition I couldn't find anything that I liked that was under $20.  While I was talking to real life best friend I happened to spy a Sharpie Paint marker my daughter had used for a school project and as it turned out it was the perfect tool.  The tip is thick enough that it kind of outlined the carvings rather than getting down in the grooves which is exactly what I wanted and was dreading trying to do with a teeny paint brush.  It's imperfect but that's why it's so charming to me.


So here's the finished mantle.

I have some touching up to do but it turned out better than I'd hoped.  Like I said, it's not perfectly smooth professional looking but I wasn't going for perfect, I was going for beautiful and as we all know those can be two very different things.  My husband hasn't seen it yet, I'll let you know his verdict.  What are you working on?  Comments are open.

UPDATE:  My husband may be a chemist by trade but he's an engineer by nature which means he's a perfectionist in most things, especially home improvement.  One of the reasons he loathes painting is that he sees all of the flaws when he's finished.  I once got up for a drink of water in the middle of the night and found him staring at the ceiling in the soon-to-be dining room, beating himself up for all the roller marks that only he could see.  I'm not a perfectionist, I'm a make-it-prettierist.  So I approached this project with a certain amount of trepidation, wondering what he'd think of it.  When he brought the kids home from camping last night I made him go in and look because I figured if he really hated it that it was better to know right away.  He LOVED it and thanked me for saving him the headache of doing it.  My older daughter was thrilled that I'd used her Sharpie, my son wants to "detail" his dresser with a bright green Sharpie now and my younger daughter didn't even notice because she barely had her eyes open and went straight to bed.  This morning she said she liked it.  I have enough paint left over (and I so love the color) that I think I might use it on The Little Cabinet That Could, too.  Have a great day, whatever you're doing!  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Chicken Stock For The Soul

One morning last week I had to move four take-out containers full of left over grilled chicken to get to the milk and I thought, "What am I going to do with all of that?"  Then I saw a pepper that I'd intended to slice up for the kids for snack a few days earlier and behind that I saw some carrots and celery and I thought, "I know exactly what I'm going to do with all of that!"  It'd been a while since I'd made chicken stock but I had all the stuff and the time and it was a little chilly so why not?  I wound up making Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup on the stove top and it was soooooo good.  I used a recipe from that I cannot for the life of me find right now but made several tweaks to it. 

3 cups of chicken stock
3 cups of milk
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of flour
2 cups of cooked rice
2 cups of cooked chicken, cut or torn into bite sized pieces
1 cup of frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
Old Bay seasoning

The original recipe called for a bunch of spices but I'd already spiced the stock with everything the soup recipe called for so I called that one done.  In a large saucepan (I used a dutch oven) make a roux with the butter and flour over medium heat and then add the milk and chicken stock and stir it till it's smooth.  Add the frozen vegetables and chicken, bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes.  The orignal recipe called for onions but I knew our dog would wind up with some of this somehow and onions aren't good for dogs so they were out.  In the last 5 minutes add the rice and adjust the seasoning.  I added so much Old Bay seasoning that the surface of the soup was RED but it was just the kick it needed.

Anyway, when I was making the stock I posted on Facebook that my kitchen smelled amazing and a dear friend commented that homemade soup is her quintessential symbol of love.  I get where she's coming from though for me it's baking.  I might make cinnamon rolls tomorrow.  If I do you'll hear about it.  What food for you = LOVE?  Comments are open...have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bedeviled, Bothered and Bewildered

Okay, I have pictures but in a minute.  Like I said, my house was owned by my grandparents and they both had very strong ideas about decorating.  My grandfather's idea was "Eh, beige is good for everything" and that was the case in most of the house except for the kitchen, which was my grandmother's domain.  She had very grandmother taste:  two patterns of pink and white wallpaper, pink and white curtains, pink carpet.  Did I just say carpet?  Oh yes I did and it was as much of a mess as you're imagining.  It was really nice for about a week before the first spill. 

So with huge plans and some elbow grease we stripped wallpaper and installed a light colored (I think it was called Applewood) laminate floor and repainted the walls and cabinets, uh, pink.  It was a TOTALLY different non-grandmother pink, though; it was more of an Inner-Teenager-Who-Was-Never-Allowed-To-Paint-Her-Walls pink.  The counter that we chose was a pink-and-lavender-and-blue-and-cream beauty and the pink came from there.  The mistake we made was that we used flat paint, which is impossible to keep clean.

There was also a lot of Stuff in our kitchen.  We had a small table and chairs but a huge free standing pantry and a smaller free standing cabinet in the same finish that we got at Lowe's.  In our first house after we got married (which my DH owned before we met) we had a dining room and I found myself pining for one while I was stumbling around all the crap Stuff in the kitchen.  We really needed a bigger table and couldn't we maybe convert the living room into a dining room?  Yeah, I get these ideas every once in a while.

My DH, meanwhile, had ideas of his own.  He was so done with the pink walls and cabinets and the impossible to clean flat paint that he started looking at paint samples on his own.  The tricky part was that we weren't going to switch out the counter top so whatever he came up with had to go with that.  What he showed me was a gorgeous combination of lavender and gunmetal.  Seriously, it was beautiful but ultimately bedeviling.  Why?  Because the paint refused to dry.  Enamel can take longer than flat to cure, plus it was November which meant we couldn't keep the windows open to speed things along and of course it was the very humid kitchen.  It was tacky for weeks and then it started peeling almost immediately.  The worst was my little free standing cabinet.  The kids have unfortunately found the soft peeling texture irresistible and have done quite a job on it.

 I hear you asking, "What the hell is that?" and I'm there with you.  The piece of wood leaned between the cabinet and the stove is the shelf that's supposed to be in it but has fallen out more times than I can count.  And where's the door?

There, of course.  It's still in good shape because it's spent the last two years leaned up against my dresser instead of on the cabinet.  So let's get started saving this poor thing.

The gear I used is all from Lowe's, clockwise from the top:  personal protection (long cuff chemical proof gloves, dust mask and chemical splash goggles), after wash, plastic scraper, short handled brush, stripper.  I chose Citristrip because it doesn't smell as bad as other stippers (although it still wasn't fabulous) and because it's a thick gel that wouldn't drip down the sides if the cabinet was standing up.  I got the short handled brush because I mistakenly thought it would be easier to control but the gloves made it really difficult.  Once the gloves were on I didn't take any pictures so we're going to jump to just about and the end of the process.  Oh, and a blooper.

Okay, see the white bits?  That's bad.  That's where I didn't put the stripper on thick enough and it dried before it did it's job.  I added more and waited the 30 minutes and then started scraping.

As you can see on the left I still didn't get it on thick enough in spots but what I was able to scrape off looked pretty good.

 It's ultimately taken me two tries to strip the cabinet totally and while I wouldn't call it fun it was pretty simple and I have plenty of stipper left so now I'm looking at an old dresser that's seen better days.  I'll be using the after wash on the residue in a little bit and I'll post pictures of that process later this week.  What new process are you learning?  Comments are open.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Household Inventory, Part 1

As I said in my first post, we live in the house where I grew up.  The neighborhood is one of those places where people grow up and move out but then they move back to raise their own families and really put down roots.  Take my kids' busstop, for instance.  One parent I've known since first grade; one grandparent has known my next door neighbors for over fifty years.  This morning another grandparent offered us shelter in her car when the light drizzle turned into a sudden downpour and as we chatted we discovered that she lives four houses away from my step-mother and her husband and her husband knew my dad.  Everyone on this block has been here at least ten years.  My next door neighbors moved into their house three days before my grandparents moved into this one and that's where the story of my house starts.

Actually it starts a little before that.  My grandfather spent most of his adult life working for the Pennsylvania Railroad.  He worked his way up from shovelling coal to Yard Master mostly in my hometown (and if you know anything about railroading I probably just gave it away) but eventually he was promoted to Pittsburgh as an engineer (the blueprint kind, not the driving the train kind).  My grandmother was so impressed with the movers that she frequently told the story of how she'd left a piece of toast on her dining room table before they started packing up and when she walked in the front door of their new house two hundred miles away the piece of toast was on the same plate, in the same position on the dining room table.  They only lived there for a few years until some family issues called them back to their hometown.  The house they found was in a new development, so new the streets hadn't even been paved, and they were the second family after my next door neighbors. 

About the house itself, it was built in 1966 and is a three bedroom, one and a half bath split level.  It sits on a huge corner lot that would be fabulous if it was flat but instead is weirdly graded and hilly.  It used to be the garden that belonged to my childhood neighbor across the street (Mrs. G) but the back of the property was wooded and used as a dumping ground by the people on the next block.  I could probably do a post about stuff we've dug up over the years but that'll have to wait.  For now, I have a small freestanding cabinet upstairs waiting to be stripped of the awful paint job someone who is not me did to it a couple of years ago.  Photos forthcoming if I don't damage myself or it.  Till then, have a great day!    

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hey There...Uh, Again

Okay, some of you know me from FunkyBlueDandelion and you know full well that I'm a little off my rocker, right?  This is a totally different blog than that one.  This one is about...are you ready for it?...decorating.  Let that sink in for a second.  No, there will be no how-to's about turning your old records into clocks because a.) that's cheesy and b.) do you really think I'd be able to do that to a perfectly good piece of vinyl?  My grandmother did that to a box of jazz 78s and I cried for a week. 

Anyway, you know how when you're growing up you think about all the things you'd do to your house if you were in charge?  As it turns out I live in the house where I grew up and I'm now in charge so some of those things are going to be happening.  I don't think I'll be able to pull off the overhead aquarium in the secret passageway (architects just don't plan for secret passageways in the average split level, the philistines) but there are some things that I'd like to do to make the place a little cosier and you're welcome to come along.

So where did this come from?  My secret (okay, not secret now) addiction is DIY decorating blogs and about a week ago I stumbled across this tutorial about painting dining room furniture.  I have a dining room table in my kitchen that I love (it's oval and beautiful and did I mention I love it?) but it's definitely seen better days and is in desperate need of refinishing before it's moved into our currently empty dining room that used to be our living room.  Our living room is now downstairs (DH remodeled it last winter) and things are just changing all around.  Another change?  My birthday is coming up and while last year I asked for a marimba and a Bat Boy bobblehead this year I want a Lowe's gift card.  Dude, I'm scaring myself. 

Okay, so, I'm going to start off with refinishing a small free standing cabinet in my kitchen this week so prepare yourselves.  Any questions or comments, feel free to email me at funkybluedelphinium (at) gmail (dot) com.  Have a great week and barring any chemical burns or major disasters I'll post the before and after soon.