{FO} sparkle chucks

My youngest cousin is having a baby next month, and I wanted to make something for her.  Usually I knit a little stuffed animal for someone when they’re having a baby, but between painting, packing, and moving, I just didn’t think I could fit in a project like that this time.  But I still wanted to make something, and then I remembered seeing the baby Chucks that Julie had knitted for her daughter.  Perfect!

I used some sparkly purple yarn by Bernat.  Because every girl needs a pair of sparkly shoes!

Sparkly purple sneaker booties, for Andromeda. {raveled.}

I think these turned out super cute, and the pattern was so quick & easy…each bootie probably took about 2 hours, including sewing seams & weaving in the ends (my least favorite parts, and there were a LOT of ends to weave in with these…ugh!).  Can’t wait to make some for my own baby someday!

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the home ownership learning curve

I’ve learned a lot over the past month.  No matter how many shows you watch on HGTV, or how many issues of Better Homes & Gardens you read, or even how many other homeowners you talk to…there are just some things about owning a house that you don’t learn until you do it.  And there are some things that people will warn you about, but you still don’t really learn the lesson until you live through it yourself.  But in case you’re more the advice-taking type than I am, here’s a list of the things I wish I’d known going into this.

1.  Home inspections don’t catch everything.  The inspector will warn you of this – you’ll even sign a contract to that effect – but you’ll still be shocked to discover that something as major as a wall that is literally falling apart can be missed.

While stripping wallpaper in the downstairs bedroom, we discovered crumbling drywall, caused by major termite damage. The drywall had to be torn down, some 2x4s had to be replaced, and then new drywall was hung.

2.  Wallpaper covers a multitude of sins.  When you buy a house that’s full of wallpapered rooms, you think about the time it’s going to take you to remove it all.  And you remember all of those HGTV shows that tell you, “Oh, it’s just paint! It’s just wallpaper! It’s all cosmetic! So easy to fix!” and you think…ok, I’m not afraid of a little hard work, I can see the potential.  But what you don’t know – what you can’t possibly know – is what’s under that wallpaper.  If you’re lucky, it’s just more layers of wallpaper.  If you’re really lucky, it’s white walls that are in pretty good shape.  But wallpaper can also hide huge cracks, multicolored walls that require multiple coats of primer, crumbling drywall, or huge holes that were never properly patched.  If you’re not prepared to deal with these kind of projects, don’t buy a house with 5 wallpapered rooms.

The master bedroom. The bottom half of the wall was gray, the top half (under the wallpaper) was white, and the corners were a dark teal. There were also a couple of large cracks near the ceiling that had to be spackled.

3.  You get what you pay for when it comes to paint.  In our house, we’ve used Sherwin-Williams, Behr, and Glidden.  Sherwin-Williams is a little over $50/gallon, and Behr and Glidden are each around $25/gallon.  The Sherwin-Williams paint is thick, almost like mud, and it goes on smoothly.  We painted our master bedroom and bathroom using their Duration paint.  We didn’t prime at all in the bathroom, and we did one coat of primer in the bedroom.  We did one coat of paint in each room, and besides a few little areas that needed touch-up, we’re very happy with the coverage.  We’re especially happy with how the colors turned out, very multi-dimensional and sophisticated.  Not only did they match the color cards, they matched how I imagined the colors would look.  The Behr and Glidden paints, which we used in Flavio’s office, the guest room, and all of the main living spaces upstairs, are much thinner.  Even after two coats of primer and one coat of paint, you could still see the old color in many places.  We weren’t happy with how the Behr colors turned out in the office or the guest room, so we ended up buying new colors (a darker shade of the Behr for the office, and a switch to Glidden for the guest room).  Still, we weren’t 100% satisfied with the color in the guest room, but at this point I’m exhausted just thinking about repainting it.  Bottom line, you end up needing twice as much of the cheaper paint.  And with Sherwin-Williams frequently having 30-40% off sales, you can actually end up saving money by using their paint vs. the stuff from Home Depot.

The master bedroom (background) was done with 1 gallon of Sherwin-Williams Duration matte in Drizzle. The en suite bathroom (foreground) was done with 1 quart of Sherwin-Williams Duration satin in Watery.

4.  Pink is a really hard color to get right.  Unless you’re painting a nursery, or really love the color of bubble gum, go with the palest shade.  Beige is also a really hard color to get right.  Unless you really want white walls, go a shade darker than what you like on the color card.

The guest room was originally done with Behr Premium Plus eggshell in Pale Shrimp, but then redone with Glidden Premium eggshell in Ballet Slipper Pink.

5.  When you buy a house that somebody else has already lived in, they mostly leave you with a lot of dirt.  (Trust me, no matter how nice that carpet looks, rent a RugDoctor and shampoo the crap out of it.  And try not to puke when you see what comes out in the tank.)  But sometimes, you inherit beautiful, special things that make all of the dirt, grime, cracks, and crumbling drywall totally worth it.

A lovely little hand-painted ceramic light switch plate in the dining room.

The beautiful stained glass window in the master bathroom. I didn’t discover this until the third or fourth time we went to the house…the previous owner had it hidden behind a pair of dark, dusty curtains!

The best surprise of all! This prairifire crabapple tree was bare when we bought the house, but just erupted into clusters of the prettiest pink flowers in the last week.

I hope this post was helpful.  In spite of all of the problems we’ve come across, I’m in love with this house.  With every strip of wallpaper that comes down and every slick of paint that goes up, the place feels more and more like our home.  I’m just looking forward to finally being able to sleep in again!  🙂

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home sweet home

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  After moving three times in the first three years of our marriage, I’m very happy to announce that Flavio & I are finally setting down some roots.  A few weeks ago, we bought our first (and — fingers crossed! — our last) house.  It’s a lovely old bi-level in a friendly neighborhood on a quiet, tree-lined street.  We’ve already met most of our neighbors, and we haven’t even moved in yet.  The house needs some work…something we discovered on our third day of home ownership, as we stripped wallpaper in the downstairs bedroom and discovered a wall that had been badly damaged by termites and needed to be rebuilt.  But we’re excited to make it ours.  For the past three weeks, we’ve been busily tearing down wallpaper, priming, and painting.  Four rooms are done, with many more to go.

Today we took Zoe, our cat, to visit the house for the first time.  She’s pretty skittish by nature, but she seemed fairly comfortable wandering from room to room.  I think her favorite part of the house will be this window in the basement, which looks out into the front yard.  We’ll set up her little perch here, where she can spend all day watching the squirrels and robins do their squirrel-y and robin-y things, hidden by the flowering bushes that are planted just in front of the window.

All of the nonstop work at the house has me feeling a bit run down, and I’ve caught a nasty stomach bug, but I’m hoping to be feeling much better by next weekend so I can slap some sunny yellow paint on the dining room walls.  Goodbye, brown…hello, yellow!

Can’t wait to share before & after pictures with you all!  xoxo

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the autumn wind

Prairie summers are intensely hot. This year we’ve been suffering through a drought, one of the worst in our state’s history. A recent headline in the local paper even declared that it was too hot for ice cream. Living in a college town, I’ve learned that a year’s worth of road construction projects can be accomplished in just three months. Everything smells like hot asphalt, there are orange cones wherever you turn, and you’d better know at least three different routes between your home and the office.

But in the past week, the heat has finally broken. The pylons are disappearing, the walk to the corner mailbox is refreshing instead of unbearable, and our sleepy town is beginning to buzz with the activity of returning students. Autumn is blowing in.

My kitchen–which often goes into hibernation mode during the heat of summer–is also coming alive again. It starts with canning (salsa and blueberry jam in July, peach-plum-ginger jam last weekend, and grainy white wine mustard tomorrow). Yesterday I came home to a big box from Penzeys, full of spices for my canning projects.

As we transition from summer to fall, chopped salads and grilled salmon are replaced by bacon-braised cabbage and roasted chicken thighs. Ice cream and fruit tarts give way to crispy fairy gingerbread cookies and Bundt cakes laced with cinnamon & pecan streusel.

And that tiny hint of coolness in the morning wind makes me long for the deep chill of late autumn. The box of colorful, silky embroidery flosses is put away, and I dig out a long-abandoned knitting project.

I’ve lived in Kansas all my life, so I know that this momentary respite from the blazing heat probably won’t last long. But for now, I’m embracing the opportunity for wearing blue jeans, eating tomato soup, and enjoying some fresh air.

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Only three months have passed since Pasqua, but our life has changed so much since then.  In May, my little niece was born.  She’s perfect and beautiful, and I wish I could see her more often.  In June, the news came that my husband’s company would be closing…and July brought news of its acquisition.  Our friends and family have been amazingly supportive while we try to figure out what the future holds for us.  Where he should work, where we should live.  We’re planning to buy our first house next year, which has made the process a little bit more complicated for us.

As hard as it is for me to understand why the world doesn’t just stop when we have a major upheaval, daily life continues to march along.  Some days it’s really too much, but most of the time I find peace in the routine.  Embroidery calms my nerves more than anything.  And, of course, cooking…I’ve been experimenting more and more, building my confidence and basic skills.

On the 4th of July, we made some really delicious burgers.  I mixed a pound of 80/20 ground beef with four slices of bacon (chopped) and some sauteed yellow onion, and Flavio cooked them on the grill with a little hickory smoke.  The perfect burger…moist, smoky, lip-smackingly good.

That same week, I made an eggplant “pizza” galette.  I used one of my favorite doughs…it’s made with olive oil, and it rolls out beautifully without tearing.  I sliced an eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds and salted it to bring out the moisture.  After letting it sit for about 15-20 minutes, I rinsed the salt off the eggplant and tossed it with some olive oil and minced garlic.  After rolling out the dough, I brushed it with a simple marinara and topped it with the eggplant.  I dotted the top of the eggplant with slices of fresh mozzarella, sprinkled the top with an Italian herb blend, folded over the edges of the dough, and brushed the crust with eggwash.  The galette was done after about 40 minutes in a 400F oven.  Perfection.

More recently, I’ve been obsessed with quiche.  This post from a local chef has been my go-to resource, and her short crust pastry recipe has changed my life.  I stocked my freezer with three disks this morning, and used the fourth for a zucchini & caramelized onion quiche for dinner.  It was wonderful, but the kale, roasted Yukon gold potato, & Italian sausage quiche we had a couple weeks ago was even better.  

And to deal with the month of 100F+ days we’ve been having around here, there’s been a never-ending supply of ice cold sweet treats.  Vanilla ice cream with salted butter caramel sauce might have been my favorite, but the peach melba popsicles I made this weekend are so refreshing.  Just puree 2 cups of fresh raspberries with a can of peach nectar, and strain to remove the seeds.  Stir in the juice of half a lemon and a simple syrup made from 1/2 c. water and 1/2 c. sugar.  Pour into molds and freeze…makes about 8 popsicles.

When I’m not cooking, I’m canning (salsa last weekend, blueberry jam this weekend, and peach-plum-ginger jam next weekend!), dreaming about my future garden, and reading this, this, and this.

I hope life has been a bit less topsy-turvy for all of you.  I’m going to try to start updating more often…and pictures next time, promise!

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Pasqua, a love letter.

Sparkling strawberry lemonade and peach iced tea.  Artichokes, marinated mozzarella, olives with feta, and grissini.  Cucumber salad and deviled eggs.  Grilled eggplant, zucchini, and peppers.  Lamb chops, rosemary chicken skewers, and hickory-smoked spareribs with homemade barbecue sauce.  Strawberry-rhubarb pie with fresh whipped cream and a glass of ice-cold limoncello.  A solid week of planning, shopping, and cleaning.  And sweet friends to share the day with, as we celebrate this loveliest of seasons.

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four and twenty.

Pie has always been that thing that I wanted to learn how to make but just couldn’t muster up the courage to try. Is that weird? A lot of people make pies. A lot of people make really good pies. I just wasn’t sure I could be one of them.

I think it’s because my mom makes really great pies, but even she’s made a few that haven’t turned out well. I’ve seen her frustrated with crusts that fall apart or fillings that don’t quite set. And I think, if it’s so hard for her — with her years of knowledge and experience — why should I even bother? I can make a lot of other great desserts, and maybe pie should just be that one food I can only get when I go home.

But here’s the thing: I don’t get to go home very often anymore. And when I do, my mom isn’t exactly rushing into the kitchen to whip up a pie in my honor. The only time she really makes pie, at least when I’m home, is at Thanksgiving. And I can’t live with just one pie a year! Besides, I think it’s important not to let our family traditions die out because we’re too intimidated to try doing something that someone else does better. Tragically, this happened in my grandfather’s family, with his mother’s famous sky-high icebox dinner rolls. I’ve finally gotten my hands on the recipe, but I wish Great-Grammy was still around to answer all of my questions about kneading and shaping. How the dough should look and feel in your hands. How they smell when they’re just perfectly done. None of the instructions in my Great-Aunt Katherine’s handwriting are very clear, except for the last one: “Don’t eat too many!”

So Thursday, when Flavio surprised me with a little pie bird for my half-birthday, I knew it was time to finally roll up my sleeves and make a pie.

Let me tell you, I was so scared making this thing. And I had a meltdown once I got the top crust on because it came out so wonky and off-center. Regardless of what the recipe suggests, I will never again cut the shapes out of the top crust until after it’s on the pie! But I knew going into this that pie-making has a learning curve, so I don’t know why I was so disappointed at my perceived failures. Bottom line: it tastes really stinking good.

A note about the recipe: This is from the “Cooking Class: How to Make a Pie” article in the April/May 2012 issue of Cook’s Country. The crust, which uses vodka to inhibit gluten formation, was buttery, crisp, and flaky. It will be my go-to double-crust pastry recipe. But the blueberry filling? Meh. It tastes ok, it set up great (not gummy, but not weepy either), but I’ve got two main gripes. 1) I hate the addition of grated Granny Smith apple. The texture of it is really off-putting to me. 2) The flavor is a bit one note. I miss a warm spice, like cinnamon. I ended up making some cinnamon whipped cream to go with the pie, but it’s not quite the same as having it in the pie.

And the pie bird? Adorable. Worked like a charm! No sagging crust and no bubble-overs! Sort of want one in every color. And I can’t wait to use it again. I’m thinking there might be a strawberry-rhubarb pie in my near future…

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