31 January 2014

Thriftastic | Building Our Library, One GoodWill Find at a Time

When I resolved to read more books in 2014 - and mused about turning our awkward media room alcoves into libraries - it became apparent that we needed way more books in this house to make these dreams a reality.

WAY.

Books are like a drug for me. I love the smell of a new book. I love the snap of its spine when I ease it open, ready for the first read, and I love how crisp the pages are. Most of all, I love that it's mine-all-mine (in that, I'm the first to read it cover to cover.) But being at home with the kids has its trade-offs, one being that pots and pots of money for things like brand new books don't exist. So I've turned to my new favourite pastime - thrifting! - as a cost effective solution to the puzzle of library-building.

In the past week alone, I've scored 21 books at a grand total of $18, which is less than I'd pay for a single novel, retail! I'm living in a gangsta's reader's paradise.



Book List
  1. Allende, Isabel | Daughter of Fortune
  2. Allende, Isabel | Inés of My Soul
  3. Anderson-Dargatz, Gail | The Cure for Death by Lightning
  4. Ansay, A. Manette | Vinegar Hill
  5. Baker, Kevin | Paradise Alley
  6. Ban Breathnach, Sarah | Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self
  7. Christie, Agatha | And Then There Were None
  8. Coady, Lynn | Hellgoing
  9. Fox, Arnold & Barry | Beyond Positive Thinking - Putting Your Thoughts Into Action
  10. Golding, William | Lord of the Flies
  11. Griffin, Kathy | Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin
  12. Johnston, Wayne | The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
  13. Lawrence, D.H. | Sons and Lovers
  14. Löhr, Robert | The Chess Machine
  15. McGarry Morris, Mary | Songs in Ordinary Time
  16. McLean, Stuart | Extreme Vinyl Café
  17. McLean, Stuart | Secrets from the Vinyl Café
  18. Michaels, Anne | Fugitive Pieces
  19. Morrison, Toni | Song of Solomon
  20. Richler, Nancy | The Imposter Bride
  21. Teleky, Richard | Pack Up The Moon
   

29 January 2014

Alcove Libraries | (Not Very Much) Inspiration

This is by no means an easy post to write, but I have to get something off my chest.

This week, the internet failed me.

Google, Pinterest, Houzz... all of them. F-A-I-L-E-D. Epic fail.

Here's the deal: our media room has these weird-ass little nooks that we've been debating for more than a year what to do with. When I say "weird-ass" I'm not exaggerating. What's to be done with alcoves like these?


That photo is an accurate representation, by the way, of how dark our media room is. Though it has a window, it's the very darkest room in the entire house (the window overlooks our neighbour, who is roughly eight feet away, so there's always a shadow.) Rather than fight it, we embraced the room's limitations and turned them to our advantage: we decided to make it our media room and painted it deep, dark, moody blue to set the tone for cozy, relaxing family movie nights. This photo was taken at four o'clock in the afternoon, and my ISO was set to 3200.

I took some shoots using the flash, too, which look like this:


And yes, I was watching a HIMYM rerun during the photo shoot. Can you guess which episode? A prize to the winner!*

Anyway, back to the nooks. What to do with them?

The lamps look great I think, but aren't nearly enough to fill the space. They look a little lonely in there, actually.

Initially I considered installing some artwork above them, but one of my favourite elements of this room is its plain walls. As much as I love artwork and photographs everywhere else in the house, I like the lack of distraction in the media room. I have a few small pieces I intend to get up on the wall (once I sell the arc lamp, and find a new home for that vintage lamp currently hanging out on the sideboard) but mostly I prefer a clean, uncluttered, visually peaceful look. So I was back to square one.

Then it became clear to me what I'd really like to do is build our library. Books are incredibly important to me; I love being surrounded by them. They're actually my favourite thing in the world, and to me books make a house feel like a home. I could give away nearly all of my possessions without a second thought, but books are mine to keep.

Bearing in mind my new year's resolution to read more (much more!), I decided those nooks should become bohemian-style libraries. No shelves, just books stacked side by side and on top of one another, all random and haphazard-like. Casual and comfy.

And this is where the internet failed me. When I tried to find some images to share with you ('alcove library', 'nook library', 'bohemian library', 'stacked books'), to give you an idea what I'm talking about, I came up with zip. Zero. Nada. SCRATCH.

Like I said: EPIC FAIL.

Here are a few I found that sort-of, kind-of, almost resemble the look I'm aiming for, to give you an idea (as long as you have a good imagination). Just imagine the stacks from top to bottom, all tucked in and fit together wherever there's room, and you've pretty much got the idea.


http://www.datehookup.com/Thread-591870-61.htm



 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
 

I've already started building my library, and I can't wait to see how it turns out.

*Kidding. There's no prize. But I WILL be super impressed.

28 January 2014

Foodie Tuesday | Easy Spaghetti Sauce

When feeding a hungry horde (as in, an athletic teenage boy and his food-lovin' father) pasta is good bet. Noodles are fast, economical, nutritious and delicious... everything we could want in bowl after bowl of dinner.

If we're pressed for time I don't mind doling out pasta sauce from a jar. Some of the options on the market now are super delicious (I'm looking at you, Classico.) But homemade is always my preference, even if I do rely on some canned varieties to help me along.

Our favourite meat sauce is an adaptation of my Nanny's recipe. She often made her sauce completely from scratch but with two busy kids who have us on the go literally seven nights a week, who has time for that? Not us. So I rely on a little help from Hunt's and Aylmer to create a healthy, delicious facsimile of Nan's original, and now I'm going to share it with you!

Everything about this recipe is awesome: it's quick, it's easy, it creates exactly two dirty dishes (the pot, and the spoon), it keeps well in the fridge, and it freezes beautifully. I often make a double or triple batch when I whip up one for dinner, and freeze individual servings so they can be used for lunches (Daryn) or as quick dinners before practice (the Boy.)

It really is a miracle sauce, and now you can enjoy it too.


EASY SPAGHETTI SAUCE
Preparation: 10 minutes | Cooking Time: 20 minutes + 2-3 hours | Makes: 12 cups
    
Ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
  • 2-3 tbsp minced garlic
  • 3 lbs extra lean ground beef
  • 1 (28 fl. oz.) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 (680mL) cans Hunt's Thick & Rich pasta sauce
    I use two flavours (Roasted Garlic & Herbs + Spicy Red Pepper & Chilies) but you can use whichever combination you prefer
  • 1 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 tbsp dried thyme leaves
  • 3/4 tbsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • salt & pepper
      
  • pasta of choice
      
Cooking Directions:
  1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; saute 1-2 minutes until onions begin to turn translucent.
      
  2. Crumble ground beef into pot. Season generously with salt and pepper.
    You'll need to season three times while the meat is browning: when it's first added to the pot, again when halfway cooked, then a final time when fully browned.
      
  3. Cook beef, stirring occasionally to break up large chunks, until fully browned.
      
  4. Reduce heat to low. Add remaining ingredients (diced tomatoes through chili flakes) and stir thoroughly to combine.
      
  5. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 hours. Serve over your favourite pasta and garnish with fresh Parmesan cheese and basil leaves.
  
I did say it was easy, right? I never lie.

With the Tabasco and chili flakes the heat level is tangy but not overpowering; both my kids are pretty spice-averse and they both love it. However if you need to, the spice level is completely customizable -- add or reduce the hot elements as you see fit. It'll still taste great.








NOTES | ONE-POT-WONDER, KID-FRIENDLY, EASY, FREEZER-FRIENDLY 


Other Foodie Tuesday pasta recipes you might like:
  

24 January 2014

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Last week I asked you guys to take a look at four sink and four faucet options we were considering for our kitchen makeover project, and give us your opinion.

We were choosing from these...


and these...



And you did! Thanks, everyone, for contributing your two cents. We took your opinions took heart and it really helped us narrow the field to our final choices.

So which did we settle on? Are you dying to know? (I know you're dying to know.)


The sink - Ikea's Bredskär model - was an easy choice. It's quite a looker, wouldn't you agree? And a perfect compromise between my affinity for sleek, modern angular lines and my mum's preference for a more traditional profile + easy cleaning.

The offset bowl sizes may present a challenge and will definitely take some getting used to; we currently use our second (equally sized bowl) to drip dry our hand-washed dishes. (I have absolute faith that if the Universe intended for me to dry dishes, I would have been born with towels for hands.) With a half bowl rather than a full one, this will have to stop.

OR, I'll need to slip a counter top drying rack past security my mum, and clean out a spot under the sink to hide it when not in use. We'll see. <steepled fingers> Oh, we'll see....

The faucet is a more controversial selection. I think exactly.... oh, that's right: NONE of you voted for it. The general consensus seemed to be: April, please, anything but that one.

Poor little Banbury. Nobody loves you!

OK, I hear you. And aesthetically, I'll grant you it falls a little short in comparison to the others. But I love the matte black colour (no finger prints!) and it's height is perfect. You see, our kitchen window is outfitted with California blinds that swing open from the centre, which gives us only 101/4 inches of clearance. No.3, it turned out, was just slightly too tall to work (sad face), and I felt that no.4 was just too thick and broad at the spout for my taste. So it came down to options 1 and 2, and the first edged out the second only by the slimmest of margins. It was the black rubber hosing on no.2 that tipped the scales: we decided that despite its awesomess, the industrial look would be too much out of place in our mostly traditional kitchen.

Ergo, faucet #1 it is! But without the deck plate. That's just not cool.

We're happy with our selections, and thanks again for weighing in. I love your opinions! And I love that you'd take a moment of your (very busy) day to leave me a message or a comment or a tweet. It's appreciated.

Sending you all great big internet hugs!

 

23 January 2014

2014 Task List (or, "what will make me crazy this year")

I've made no secret of the fact that while there is much I love about the new Money Pit, there are elements I find dissatisfying in equal numbers.

Or, maybe not dissatisfying. Possibly that's the wrong word. Maybe instead: on my wish list to change. Room for improvement. Crying out for my personal stamp.

I'm a "list" kind of gal. I like things neat and tidy, and I especially like things organized in an orderly, logical, and preferably numerical, fashion. There's also an incredible sense of accomplishment (and a wee bit of smug satisfaction) in crossing tasks off a list. In saying "Yeah. I did that. Because I'm just that awesome."

You know what else is awesome? This cat.


  
So herewith is my official Money Pit task list for 2014. I'm sharing it with you because, 1) it's Money Pit related and therefore obviously of great interest to friends of the Money Pit (ha!); 2) I honestly believe that publicly declaring my intentions is the best way to "inspire" action (as in: shame and fear of judgement are excellent motivators); and 3) this is my blog and I can do what I want.

Oh, and 4) I like lists.

Are you comfortably seated? Relaxed? Maybe a cup of tea in hand? 'Cuz this is going to be a long'un.

Brace yourself.

Kitchen
  1. Install new counter tops
  2. Install new sink
  3. Install new faucet (sidebar: these will all be completed at the same time, but I feel really good about myself, the more I can cross off a list)
  4. Install pendant lighting over the island
  5. Paint walls (white)
  6. Hang artwork (I have the perfect piece that I can't wait to get on the wall: shout out to my friend Lindsay of Little House Blog/Penny Paper Co. for being awesome and creating these fab prints!)
Living Room
  1. Finish painting the other three walls white, and apply the second coat to the fourth
  2. Affix the mirror to the wall above the fireplace
  3. Adjust the centrepiece painting to eye level (right now, it's floating near the ceiling on a hook installed by the former owners, who apparently were 8 feet tall)
  4. Find the perfect (perfect!) coffee table(s)
  5. Spray paint floor lamps (which are currently stainless steel or aluminium or some other silver metal material) matte black
  6. In a perfect world, new sofas
Media Room
  1. Build alcove libraries
  2. Repaint with the same colour, but NOT in flat paint (Worst. Idea. Ever.)
  3. Include the baseboards in the painting spree
  4. Hang artwork
  5. Bind rugs together
  6. Install new light fixture
Dining Room
  1. New dining room chairs (our current ones are totes uncomfortable)
  2. Curtains
  3. Paint the whole shebang white
  4. Finally capitalize on the free rug I won from Flor, and create a custom dining room carpet
  5. Find an awesome sideboard (or a pair) for storage
Powder Room
  1. Wallpaper
  2. Replace tap with a more modern (maybe brass?) model
  3. Update light fixture
  4. Frame mirror
Hallway
  1. Paint that bad boy white! ALL WHITE!!
  2. Figure out what the frack to do with the weird front door alcove. Maybe a custom storage unit? We'll see.
  3. Hang artwork
  4. Organize front closet
Office
  1. Paint (again, white)
  2. Buy a desk
  3. Paint the sideboard/hutch in a fab new colour
  4. Build bookshelves
  5. Create storage for my out of control magazine collection
  6. Find and install new light fixtures
  7. Hang artwork, including my favourite kilim
Master Bedroom
  1. Install new light fixture
  2. Hang artwork
  3. Purchase (and reupholster as required) a bench for the length of the foot of our bed
  4. Reorganize the closet - it's not functioning the way I want it to
The Girl's Room
  1. Paint (can you guess?) white
  2. Frame cork board
  3. Paint 2nd cork board with chalkboard paint, and also frame
  4. Edit her wardrobe
  5. Spray paint chandelier
  6. Install light fixture
The Boy's Room
  1. Reupholster arm chair
  2. Purchase - or build - a desk
  3. Hang his collection of medals
  4. Finish painting (inside his closet)
  5. Spray paint chandelier
  6. Install light fixture
The Basement
  1. Hire a designer to create a floor/renovation plan
  2. Forge some awesome partnerships with some awesome companies and start pulling this renovation together!
Exterior
  1. Edit and organize the garage
  2. Update the porch light with something a little more fashionable
  3. Centre the house numbers on the front of the garage
  4. Paint the porch, railings, front door and garage door
  5. "Landscape" (which really means: rip up the lame bushes we currently have, and replace with ones we don't need to groom, water or otherwise care about)
  6. Plant a couple of trees in the back yard
  7. Have the gas guys come to hook up our barbecue
  8. Plant a porch garden and grow my own veggies and herbs
  
You know, I'm reviewing this list before I hit 'publish' and I'm laughing at myself: this is ridiculous. Seriously, it's already the end of January and I haven't done ANYTHING yet. Ha! This ought to be interesting.

See the ball, be the ball, right?

Your job is to keep me honest. Kick my ass. Ask me every now and again how the list is coming along. Maybe not-so-subtly imply that we'll have to break up as friends if I don't complete at least 50% of it. Be supportive, but in a judgy, sort of threatening way. I work best under pressure (unless I crumble under it, which is roughly half the time.)

Most of all, keep your fingers crossed for me. I'm going to need all the good vibes I can get.

   

21 January 2014

Foodie Tuesday | Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Tournament season is in full swing, and I've been baking up a storm to keep up with the boys' voracious appetites for banana bread.

For those of you who don't spend every waking minute locked in a gym with a small tribe of young male athletes, you may not know how awesome banana bread is as an after-finals snack. It's the perfect combination of sweet, moist and chock-full of potassium, which their bodies require after exertion to replenish muscle tissue. Don't get me wrong: a slice of chocolaty-delicious banana bread is no substitute for an actual banana (they eat those too) but it's a filling slice of homemade goodness that tastes like a treat but doesn't hit their stomachs exactly like one.

And it's not just the boys who like it. The Girl spends much of her time shaving off slices to munch on each time she passes through the kitchen, and the team parents have been known to scavenge from the pan once the boys have had first crack. And maybe... maybe... it's happened once or twice that Daryn and I have sat down to a big, thick slice (heated in the microwave, slathered with butter) for dinner a late-night snack.

The thing about homemade banana bread is that it's dead simple to make, even for a faker-baker like me. Honestly, 10 minutes and a few simple ingredients are all you need to make the freshest, moistest, most delicious bread you've ever tasted, and it's way healthier for you than any store-bought variety.

Way. Waaaaaaaaaaaaay. Really a lot healthier.

So the next time you've got a few bananas kicking around that are looking a little sad and brown, and past their prime, give this recipe a whirl and let me know what you think!



CHOCOLATE CHIP BANANA BREAD
Preparation: 10 minutes | Cooking Time: 50-60 minutes| Serves: 12 slices

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar (I use slightly less)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 cups smashed bananas (2-4 bananas, very ripe)
  • 1/2 cup salted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup milk (I use 2%)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • cooking spray

Cooking Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
      
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine first six ingredients (flour through salt). Whisk thoroughly. Add chocolate chips and stir to combine.
      
  3. In a separate smaller bowl, combine next five ingredients (bananas through vanilla extract); mix thoroughly.
      
  4. Add wet ingredients to the dry; stir just until blended and all ingredients are moist.
      
  5. Spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray, then pour in the batter and spread evenly. Bake in centre of the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
      
  6. Remove from oven. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto the rack to let cool completely.

Removing it too quickly from the pan makes it fall apart (learned that from experience), so be sure to let it sit the recommended amount of time.

Enjoy!!

NOTES | NUT-FREE, KID-FRIENDLY, EASY
  

 

17 January 2014

"What Not to Wear" featuring My Kitchen

When we first toured the new Money Pit during an open house one weekend last summer, I was what can only be described as "underwhelmed" by the kitchen. Until that point, in nearly every one of the 56 houses we toured, the kitchens at our price point offered some fairly standard features across the board: upgraded cabinetry, stainless steel appliances and granite counters. And while I'm actually not a fan of granite, I had come to expect it.

But the kitchen in this house was a huge disappointment: meh-coloured cabinetry; ugly yellow/beige floor tiles; a back splash of decent tiles that was inexpertly (read: shoddily) installed; low grade sink; cheap-o faucet. And possibly the worst aspect of the whole thing: crappy laminate counter tops (adding insult to injury, the awful laminate is an even worse colour: yellowy-brown. Think "rotting banana" and you've pretty much got it.)

The overall effect looks like this:

View from the foyer / dining room
View from the living room






space 
Ugh. Far from lovely. And a real barrier to my loving the house.

I caved, obviously, and we purchased it anyway, despite my objections. The rest of the house was too good - and too well suited to our needs - to pass up on account of counter top material. Apparently.

Immediately after moving in we considered replacing the whole kit and caboodle, but there were other more pressing tasks to take care of and no funds with which to purchase the solid surface counters I was ideally looking for. So we put it off, and I made temporary peace with the whole "ugly kitchen" situation. It's big and roomy and well-suited to cooking, which had to be good enough.

Then two weeks ago I spotted a new counter top design at Home Depot that got the whole ball rolling again. We reopened discussions about the merit of replacing the ugly laminate with nicer laminate - an interim solution until we can afford quartz - which snowballed into a new counter/new sink/new faucet extravaganza!

I won't ruin the whole surprise by sharing everything today; I'll save our counter top selection until the big reveal. But once we settled on the colour and pattern for the counters, there were decisions to be made. Such as: do we get a new sink, or re-install the old? And what of the faucet that all of us, collectively, can't stand? Replace that too?

The answer was a resounding yes, and last weekend we narrowed down our contenders.

SINKS -



1 | 2 | 3 | 4

FAUCETS -


1 | 2 | 3 | 4

   
So if you were me, which would you choose? Opinions are welcome!

  

14 January 2014

Foodie Tuesday | Epic Lasagna (fo' realz)

One time way back during one of our first holiday seasons as a family, I was inspired of an afternoon to make homemade lasagna as my contribution to a festive pot luck that evening. And when I say "homemade" I mean HOMEMADE: every ingredient was from my own two hands, from scratch. I blanched, peeled and chopped tomatoes, then stewed them with red wine and fresh herbs until it cooked down to a perfect red sauce. Added that perfect red sauce to beef and Italian sausage browned with onions and garlic, which simmered on the stove for hours and made our house smell freaking incredible. Mixed the cheeses, boiled the noodles, laid it out in my French White in a pleasing criss-cross pattern and baked until golden bubbly.

Daryn said it was the best thing I'd ever cooked; the best thing he'd possibly ever eaten. So naturally in the fifteen years since I've never made it again.

Until now.

Among other goals for this year, 2014 is going to be the year I kick my kitchen's ass. I mean it: I'm a decent enough cook as it is, but this year I'm going to knock it out of the park. I'd like to take classes, to experiment (even) more, to push the limits of my abilities and my palate, and to finally get my kids to eat Brussels sprouts. It's going to be epic, and what better way to kick it off than with the most amazing (mostly) homemade lasagna.

I cheated a smidge: I didn't make my own red sauce. I used tinned tomatoes, etc. because let's face it: we're all busy. Not everybody has time to skin thirty tomatoes and cook them down to a cup of sauce. So I've made it easier on myself - and on you, too. All without sacrificing any of the flavor.


EPIC LASAGNA
Preparation: 30 minutes | Cooking Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes | Serves: 8-10

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 lbs extra lean ground beef
  • 4 large sweet Italian sausages, removed from casing
  • 1 Spanish onion, finely diced
  • 2 heaping tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3/4 cup red wine (your choice; I used a Yellow Tail Shiraz)
  • 1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained well
  • 2 (6 0z.) cans tomato paste
  • 1 (13 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 2 tbsp. white sugar
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. onion salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. chili flakes (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 18 whole wheat lasagna noodles
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 21 slices mozzarella cheese
  • cooking spray

Cooking Directions:
  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 3-4 minutes until onions begin to soften.
      
  2. To the pot add ground beef and sausage. Cook, stirring frequently; break up any large chunks into small pieces.
      
  3. When the meat is browned completely, add the next 14 ingredients (red wine through ground black pepper). Stir thoroughly. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
      
  4. In a separate pot, bring lightly salted water to a boil. Add lasagna noodles and cook until just al dente. Remove from heat and rinse with cold water to prevent sticking.
     
  5. In a medium mixing bowl, crack two eggs and whisk until scrambled. To the eggs add ricotta cheese; stir to blend thoroughly. Then add parmesan cheese and stir again. Ensure the cheese is fully combined for best results.
      
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
      
  7. Grease a deep baking dish (14"L x 10"W x 3"D) with cooking spray. Scoop 2 large ladles of meat sauce into the bottom of the pan (approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups). Shake slightly to settle the layer. Lay 6 noodles lengthwise on top of the sauce; each needs to overlap the other by approximately 1/2. Spread half the ricotta/parmesan/egg mixture over the noodles (I use the back of a spoon, and keep in mind the layer doesn't have to be exactly even; variations in depth are OK.) Add a layer of mozzarella slices: two lines of 3 1/2 slices (7 slices per layer). Top with 2 more ladles of meat sauce.
      
  8. Repeat these layers again (noodles, ricotta mixture, mozzarella, meat sauce) then top with a final layer of noodles, top with meat sauce, then the final (top) layer of mozzarella, and that bad boy is ready for baking!
      
  9. Cover the lasagna with tin foil, either tented (to ensure it doesn't touch the cheese) or sprayed first on the underside with cooking spray, to prevent sticking. Either option works.
      
  10. Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes, then remove foil and continue baking another 25-30 minutes until the cheese is browned and bubbling. Allow to cool for 10-20 minutes before serving (to let the sauce "set". We make it a classic "Italian restaurant" feast by serving with Caesar salad and toasty garlic bread. 

Be forewarned: this is a dish that takes some time and effort to prepare, but the results are oh so worth it. Girl Scout's honour.

Oh, and that extra meat sauce in the pot? Freezes beautifully, and is fantastic on spaghetti.


NOTES | KID-FRIENDLY, FREEZER-FRIENDLY
  
   
Other Foodie Tuesday pasta recipes you might like:
    

13 January 2014

Late Arrival | 2014 Resolutions

http://inkygirl.com/wwfc/

I suppose it's a bit late in the day to finally be getting around to making my new year's resolutions, but change has been weighing heavily on my mind lately and I wanted to give it proper thought and consideration (after the holiday crazies) before I committed to a new chapter. In the past I've taken my resolutions pretty lightly - everyone does, I think. But this year I wanted to make promises to myself that I intend to keep. It's not so much a new beginning as it is taking firmer steps on a path I'm already travelling.

Which really makes the whole thing sound much deeper and more profound than it is. Because I assure you: these are not deep. But they are personal, and important in their own way. And worth a public declaration.

In 2014, I'd like to...

Read more (and watch less tv.) I've seen very impressive numbers posted by some of my blogger friends, of books they've consumed in a year (more than 100, in one case, and very close to triple digits in several others.) I have no illusions around being that ambitious (I'm not), but I'd like to rekindle my romance with literature; I'm ready to fall in love all over again. Thus far, I've finished To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) - my very favourite novel of all time - and Alice Munro's The Love of a Good Woman. I'm two-thirds of the way through How I Paid For College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship, and Musical Theatre by Marc Acito; it's a decent, entertaining read. Next up is Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath (a departure for me; I'm an English Lit snob at heart.) This is to say: what I'll likely lack in quantity will be more than made up in quality.

Become more deliberate in how I love my family. I think it's pretty obvious by now that I love my family like absolute crazy - I'm totally mad for them. We're closer than we probably have any right to be; we frequently refer to ourselves not just as a family, but as a really small gang. It works for us. But just because you love someone doesn't mean you always love them in the way they want or need to be loved. With the kids growing older and their needs changing (now that hugs and kisses aren't as well received, and are no longer a cure-all for what ails them), the way I love them should change, too. This year I will try to listen more carefully to what they say - and what remains unsaid - and more consciously cater my attention to each of them and their individual needs.

Watch the Oscar contenders, BEFORE the Oscars. Every year I watch the Oscars start-to-finish, and most of the time I have no idea what movies they're even talking about. We don't get out much. This year I'd like to keep up with the buzz, and then actually watch the movies being buzzed about. It'd be a nice change of pace not to feel so out of the loop on Awards night.

Create more magic in my kitchen. I'm an adventurous cook, relatively speaking, but this year I'd like to kick it up a notch. If I can swing it, I'd love there to be Thai cooking lessons in my very near future. But barring that, I'd like to become more technical and exacting in my cooking. I can whip together some pretty good eats, but precision would go a long way to taking my meals from everyday to gourmet. Also, if I could get the art of timing down, I'd be a happy girl. Having all the elements of a meal fully cooked and ready to serve at the same time is a skill that eludes me. I'd like to finally nail it this year.

Make like Ross and Rachel, and take a break from my main man, Tim Horton. I love steeped tea. Like, LOVE IT. When I am out of the house - and even sometimes when I'm in it - I'm rarely seen without an extra large in my hand. I spend obscene amounts of money on liquid that, if I'm being totally honest, I literally flush down the toilet. I get headaches if I skip a cup or try to go without, and it's just not right that I experience withdrawal symptoms from Tim's. So I'd like get this monkey off my back and wean myself off the Horton smack. My goal is to get me down to one tea per day.... which ought to give you a good idea how far out of control this situation really is.

Reach the halfway mark or more toward our basement renovation savings goal. When we amalgamated households and my mum moved in with us, it was always our intention to renovation the basement (or lower level, as we try to call it) into a private apartment for her. The profit from the sale of our house was initially intended to fund the renovation, and when we took a dive on the price and realized very little return, it was made impossible to design and build her apartment on our original timeline. Now that we're back on track (financially and otherwise), it's time to start saving for realz. We'd like to keep the reno budget between $40 and $45 thousand, so by year end my goal is to see roughly $23K in the bank.

There are a few others I'd like to work toward: saving to buy my dream car by year end (not what you'd think, unless you think it's a pre-loved recent-ish model Honda Element, in Incredible Hulk green, in which case it's exactly what you'd think); kick-starting my stalled real estate and interior design courses; keeping my little mole paw hands in as good a shape as possible and committing to bi-weekly manicures... but those things cost dolla'bills, y'all. They're love-to-have's, but not need-to-do's.

'Tis the season for making significant changes in our lives, and for promises well-kept, well-intentioned and sometimes wildly unrealistic to ourselves and others. What resolutions have you made for 2014 that you're determined to keep?

 

10 January 2014

Colour This Pit Pretty

People, I am not trendy. Even though paint is one of my favourite decorating tools and there's nothing I like better than flipping through fan decks feasting on the smorgasbord of colour and possibility, I'm not what you would call a "slave to fashion". Thanks, Pantone, for letting me know what colours are 'in' every year, but I like to go solo on my colour choices. Han Solo. I'm thinking of changing the Shih Tsu's name to Chewy.

Anyway.

Being so hopelessly unfashionable makes it easy for us to pick palettes. We just do whatever we want!

In the case of the Pit, we were drawn toward the blue spectrum, which is a first for me. Historically blue has never been my favourite hue, but upon walking in the house the first time I knew it would factor heavily into our decorating scheme.

Why? Who knows. Just one of those things.

And after all these months (14 of them... more than a year!) it occurred to me I've never shared our specific palette picks for the house*. Whoops ~ how remiss of me! And requiring of correction ASAP.


Media Room






The Boy's Room
Main

Accent



The Girl's Room**
Main (at 50% strength)
Ceiling
Bathroom (at 50% strength)



Master Bedroom






M's Room
Main
  Accent



Family Bathroom






Everywhere Else***



*Full disclosure, we still haven't painted the entire house yet. We keep thinking we'll do it, and then we find something -- anything! -- else to occupy our time. See, I like the effect of painting, but I don't love painting itself. Or, I do like it, but it's one of those things that I don't like until I'm actually doing it and getting to the actual doing it part takes forever because I procrastinate on account of the not-liking of it. It's complicated.

**If you're wondering whether I see the irony of having painted my kid's room in what basically amounts to Radiant Orchid, considering my rant earlier this week, the answer is: Yes. Yes I do. Read on to discover this won't be a conflict of interest for much longer. I hope.

***Anyway, the house still isn't fully painted. We have the paint, we just haven't put it on the walls yet. So when I say "everywhere else" I mean, eventually. Eventually everywhere else**** will be this colour. Or non-colour. Or tone. Is that right? I can't remember... Colour Theory class was a long time ago. Whatever. It'll be white; this white, specifically. All over.

****Kitchen, dining room, living room, hallway, stairwell and office, is where I mean by "everywhere". Our master bath and walk-in closet are already painted. The Girl's room will be updated to this colour also (the purple is just sooooo strong even at 50% saturation. I can't take it.) The powder room's going to be papered, which I'll share plans for a little later!

 

07 January 2014

Foodie Tuesday | Cottage Pie

If you're wondering what the heck Cottage Pie is, you're probably not alone. Quick answer: Cottage Pie is the lamb hater's Shepherd's Pie.

Apparently (and I only recently discovered this foodie fact; until this year I'd been walking around calling this dish Shepherd's Pie like a fool) the "Shepherd" in Shepherd's Pie refers to lamb. If there's no sheep in your dinner, no shepherds need apply. Which makes a certain amount of sense, I guess. You never see a be-smocked, be-sandaled dude with a crooked stick hanging around a field of cattle. Cows can pretty much police themselves in the fields, and probably don't look as appetizing to wolves. If sheep are a wolf's cuppa-soup, you have to think a cow is a nine course meal. Who has time for that? Not wolves. So shepherds are in pretty short supply around your average cattle farm.

Anyway, I digress. My point is: if you're not using lamb, you're not having yourself a real Shepherd's Pie. You're having Cottage Pie instead (even though cottages and cows don't go together with any more sense than shepherds and cows. It's all a weird mystery.) And since I positively hate lamb and religiously practice the art of No-Cooking-Of-Lamb-In-This-House-At All-Ever, we live and die by this all-beef recipe.

However, if you are a lamb lover and don't feel good about ostracizing the shepherd from a dish he arguably invented, just split the meat requirements 50/50 between the two (beef and lamb.) I'm sure it'll be just as delicious, if you're into that kind that thing.

When you scroll down you're going to see about a hundred instructions (it's really only 17, but at first glance that will seem like a LOT). It is a bit of a time commitment, I won't lie to you. This is a dish that requires patience, and preparation. I like to line up all my ingredients on the counter first so I have them at hand, and do all my chopping and dicing, etc. so all my veg is ready and standing by. I don't like to play catch up since once you start the cooking process, time flies pretty quickly.

It's also not the best looking dish you'll ever make. The juices bubble up and over, and it will look sort of sloppy. That's OK. It's damn delicious, and quite frankly won't stick around on anybodies plate long enough to worry about a beauty prize. This is just down-home, hearty cooking at its very best.


COTTAGE PIE
Preparation: 20 minutes | Cooking Time: 30-40 minutes + 1.5-2 hours | Serves: 8

Ingredients:
Mashed Potatoes

  • 8-10 medium red potatoes
  • 4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 glug-glugs of milk
  • sea salt & pepper

Ingredients:
Meat Mixture
  • 3 lbs extra lean ground beef
  • 1 large Spanish onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 ears fresh sweet corn (substitute: 2 cups frozen corn)
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 2 heaping tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 can (5.5 fl.oz.) tomato paste
  • 4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine (we use Jackson Triggs Rich & Robust, or Meritage)
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt & pepper
  • cooking spray

Cooking Directions:
  1. Rinse and lightly scrub the potatoes. Cut into equal sized pieces, and place in a large pot 2/3 full with cold water. Season with salt, and place on high heat to boil.
        
  2. Dice onion and carrots; set aside. Slice corn from the cobs.
    If you've never removed corn kernels from a cob, it's super easy: Break off any remaining stem on the cob, then stand it stem-side down on a cutting board. Using a short, sharp knife, begin a half inch below the tip and slice downward toward the cutting board. If you meet with hard resistance, you've dug into the cob itself; back your knife up and adjust your angle. Cut down the remaining three sides, and discard the core. Just be aware: kernels do tend to scatter! Cobs can be sheared in a wide bowl, also, to prevent any kernels from getting away from you. OR, frozen corn works marvelously and is a smidgeon of work.
       
  3. In a large, deep pan or heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.
       
  4. To the pan add onion; sauté one to two minutes. Add carrots; sauté until carrots begin to soften and onion begins to turn transparent.
       
  5. To the onions and carrots, add garlic and ground beef (crumble this into the pan by hand.) Season generously with sea salt and pepper, then stir to mix thoroughly.
      
  6. Brown the meat while stirring regularly and breaking up large chunks with a wooden spoon (your goal is a fine mince). When meat is completely browned, add corn, thyme, rosemary and Worcestershire sauce.
      
  7. Cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
      
  8. To the contents of the pan, add tomato paste, red wine and bouillon cubes. Mix to combine thoroughly, and to dissolve the bouillon. Cook down, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes.
      
  9. Meanwhile, the potatoes should be about done (when the skins begin to peel away from the potato quarters, and a fork can be inserted easily into the larger pieces, they're done.) Remove from heat and drain.
       
  10. Return potatoes to pot, and to the potatoes add Parmesan cheese, sour cream, milk, salt and pepper. Mash coarsely*. Set aside and keep warm.
    *I like my potatoes more than a little lumpy... who knows why. You can mash to whatever consistency you like best.
      
  11. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
      
  12. Returning your attention to the meat mixture, take a taste-test at the end of 5-7 minutes cooking. Add more salt and/or pepper, as required.
      
  13. Remove from heat. Add peas; stir to combine.
      
  14. In a small bowl, combine corn starch and water. Stir to dissolve, then add to the meat mixture. Mix thoroughly.
       
  15. Spray a 3-quart lidded casserole dish with cooking spray. Fill with meat mixture, then spread the mashed potatoes on top in an even layer.
       
  16. Cover and bake on middle-low oven rack for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on your oven.
    There is every possibility that the pie juices will bubble up and spill over during cooking. To prevent setting fire to your kitchen, wrap a large baking sheet in tinfoil and place it on the rack directly beneath your casserole dish. This will capture all the drippings and keep your oven clean (and your house from burning down.) When done cooking, just strip off the tinfoil and tuck away the baking sheet -- it will still be clean as a whistle!
      
  17. Serve with a crunchy side salad, crusty bread and a big ol' glass of milk for a hearty, balanced and (mostly) healthy family weeknight meal!

This dish is a rarity for me in that it's not great when frozen. You can do it, for sure (may I suggest in individual servings, since it would take forever for the entire pie to thaw?) but I don't love the texture of the potatoes after they've been thawed. We prefer to keep it in the fridge and snack on leftovers for the next day or two rather than freeze it.

If you have your heart set on freezing it, however, you should know the meat mixture does freeze beautifully. You could easily prepare it in advance to freeze, then add the potatoes and bake it whenever you want. What I'm trying to say is: You've got options.

Finally, if you prefer a teetotaller approach or have a young(ish) family who doesn't care for the flavour of wine, this recipe can be easily modified to accommodate. Just replace the wine with chicken or beef broth and add 2 or 3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar for acidity, and you're good to go.

Enjoy!

NOTES | KID-FRIENDLY
 
  
Other Foodie Tuesday down-home favourites you might enjoy:
   

06 January 2014

Pantone Colour of the Year | WTF?

When Pantone announced their 2014 Colour of the Year in early December, honestly I was flummoxed. I loved Chili Pepper (2007), Blue Iris (2008), Turquoise (2010) and Emerald (2013). I didn't love - but accepted their expertise without question - Honeysuckle (2011) and Tangerine Tango (2012). I even stood by them during the unfortunate Year of Mimosa (2009).

But Radiant Orchid? In livable decorating?? I just... it's... well, it's awful, is what it is. I mean, Pantone: I respect your right to pick whatever colour you like but really... WTF?

Then I thought: they couldn't have made this decision in a vacuum. (could they?!) It couldn't be that the Colour of the Year is the most impossible colour with which to decorate. (could it?!) So naturally I turned to that most prolific of resources to ferret out the truth: Pinterest.

Turns out, Radiant Orchid is maybe more livable than I first thought. While I still don't love it (and would pretty much prefer to see any colour other than this in decorating... even poor old Mimosa), I acknowledge where it might hold a certain appeal, if you're into that sort of thing (that sort of thing being: vibrant, in-your-face colour; you'll see in my post on Friday why this does not apply to me.) And I totally see how, as an accessory and in small doses, it actually might be sort of nice. Paired with soft greys and creamy whites and maybe an oatmeal here and there? Yes, I can definitely see the appeal of that.

Here are a few of my favourite looks...

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You know what? Maybe those good folks at Pantone are really on to something....