Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Raising the Roof, Changing My Mind

Continuing on the every-other-week (or so) bathroom renovation schedule, Saturday was Day 4 of intense activity upstairs.  I tried to capture some better pictures at the end of the day, but the view of the high and lovely pitched ceiling that I witnessed at lunch time was mostly covered up by an old gray tarp.  Still, I have a few dark and mediocre glimpses to illustrate the progress. 

They framed the upper portion of the wall that will extend into what was the attic

and revealed this.

While we've only added 21 inches of width to the bathroom, the high ceiling makes it feel like it has more than doubled in size.  We took some measurements for a skylight, which is going to open things up even more.  Raising the roof was an excellent idea.

In the meantime, I have been struggling with my tile decision.  I had been hoping to place an order for these 2 x 8 beauties (note the rough edge, and the seaglass color),

with the idea of creating a space that looked somewhat like this.
House Beautiful

But, it turns out that the rough edge is no longer available, and the 2 x 8 is no longer available, and I can get a 3 x 6 with a smooth edge, but the price has gone way up.  Sigh.

My tile consultant/mother has been telling me to check out ming green marble, and I dismissed it several times, until Saturday, when I Googled it.  The internet is a wonderful place, as the nicest image result from my search brought me to a blogger in Denver who put ming green marble subway tiles in her shower.

Hmmm.  I kind of like that. 

Glass tile is not only expensive, but the experts tell me that you shouldn't attempt to do a full shower install yourself if you don't know what you're doing.  Glass tile is tricky.  So, we were thinking of paying for the glass, and someone to install it.  We could install the ming green marble ourselves, and it is HALF the price of the 3 x 6 smooth edged green glass tile I'd be settling for.  So, I'm really thinking about this.  What do you think?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What's Your Favorite Tomato?

I know I said I wasn't going to buy any seeds, but I've been finding these lists of favorite tomato varieties, and I don't know if I can help myself. 

Lynne from NPR's The Splendid Table picked three favorites from 2011: Vorlon, Cosmonaut Volkov, and Bloody Butcher, which can all be found at rareseeds.com.

I also found Cosmonaut Volkov at The Hudson Valley Seed Library, which has lots of interesting varieties, including Green Zebra, Yellow Pear and Black Krim, some of Nigel Slater's picks that he notes in my favorite new book.

Slater also likes Sungold and Brandywine (me too!), Gardner's Delight, Costoluto Fiorentino, Marmande, Auriga, and Orange Santa.

One of the local gardening bloggers I follow grows 20 plants a year and likes Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Clear Pink Early, Black Krim, and Black Cherry, to name a few.

My original plan included planting seeds saved from last year - a friend's family heirloom, Brandywine, and Black Cherry - and buying Sun Gold from the store.  The first is a must, but I can always pick up Brandywine from a local garden center,  and we could make another trip to Vermont for a Black Cherry.  If I'm going to give this seed starting thing a try, maybe I should try to grow some things I can't buy...

I know I should be selective, because I don't have a lot of space and this is my first attempt at growing tomatoes from seed.  I'm leaning toward Cosmonaut Volkov, a sweet and tangy tomato, good for fresh eating.  Or, Black Krim?
Do you have a favorite tomato variety?  What kinds have you grown in your garden? 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's Day Chicken Mole

I've been looking for a reason to try these dried ancho chiles I bought from Penzeys, and stumbled on this recipe of Martha's.  A slow-cooker recipe was perfect for last night, so we'd have a nice dinner ready for us when we got home. 

Ancho chiles are on the mild side of spicy, but there's a chipotle in there, too, which is a little higher on the heat scale.  Make sure you buy nicely trimmed boneless, skinless chicken thighs, or you'll end up spending more time than you have in the morning preparing this delicious meal.  Good slow-cooker recipes are hard to find, in my opinion, so this one will definitely get repeated.

Slow-Cooker Chicken Mole
from Martha Stewart,  Everyday Food, December 2011

4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 12)
Coarse salt
1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed
1 large chipotle chile in adobo sauce
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup raisins
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Fresh cilantro leaves, for serving

Season chicken thighs with salt and place in a 5-to-6-quart slow cooker.

In a blender (I used a food processor), puree tomatoes, onion, ancho and chipotle chiles, almonds, raisins, chocolate, garlic, oil, cumin, and cinnamon until smooth.

Add tomato mixture to slow cooker, cover, and cook on high until chicken is tender, 4 hours (or 8 hours on low). Serve chicken and sauce topped with cilantro.  (Serves 6.)   We had rice pilaf and an arugula salad on the side.

I hope you all had a nice Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Reno Progress and Chocolate Pudding

It snowed all day Saturday, but none of it stuck, so there was no snowshoeing.  We did find a nice trail in the woods along the river to walk on.  And, I spent a ridiculous amount of time removing veneer from a chest that I will not be ready to share with you until next week.  At the end of the weekend, all I have to show for myself is my husband's work, and some chocolate pudding.

They did some more framing upstairs in the bathroom, putting a hatch at the back of the bedroom closet so we (they) can get at the shower plumbing,

and installing the pocket door frame at the new entrance to our bathroom.

See how the wall will extend to give us more space at the sink?

And, the ceiling is gone. 

Next they'll put wallboard up in the closets, and then they'll remove the beams and insulation from the ceiling so we'll be able to see just how much space we're gaining.  It's going to be about three feet at the highest point.  The bathroom feels enormous (by comparison) already.

So, on to the pudding.  This is supposed to chill for 30 minutes before serving, but I tasted it warm with no regrets and might not bother next time.  The recipe says it makes two 8-ounce ramekins worth, but I filled four of my (must be 4 ounce) ramekins, and can't imagine eating twice as much.  It's made with bittersweet chocolate, so it is rich.  And delicious. 

Chocolate Pudding
(from Gourmet)

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons corn starch (I might use less next time)
4 ounces bitterweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli chips)
1 and 1/3 cups whole milk
1 large egg yolk
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy saucepan whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch salt. Chop chocolate and add to sugar mixture. In a bowl whisk together milk and egg yolk and gradually whisk into chocolate mixture. Bring mixture just to a boil over moderate heat, whisking constantly, and boil 1 minute, whisking. Remove pan from heat and whisk in butter and vanilla.

Divide pudding into ramekins. Chill puddings in freezer, surfaces covered with plastic wrap, until cooled, about 30 minutes.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Pair of End Tables

Sometimes a project takes longer to think about than to actually complete it, and that's a good thing. (Projects can also seem easy and turn into more than you bargained for, a few examples of which are taking up quite a bit of room in our basement at the moment.)

I picked these up on Craigslist nine months ago.  The finish was in poor condition, but the top was veneer, which meant I couldn't really refinish them unless I was to replace the veneer, which is something on my list of things to never do.  I knew I would end up painting them, but I didn't know what color.  I debated and considered and waited for them to speak to me, and for a while I thought they were asking to be tangerine.  Alas, I made a very safe move and went with a basic black. 

Every room needs a little black in it, and now I can focus on the shape that originally attracted me to them, without being distracted by the damaged finish.  I used the same dark primer and Benjamin Moore enamel paint we used on our dining room table.  Enamel is supposed to be more durable than a typical latex paint.  It goes on thick, and you have to work quickly and methodically, because if you go back over an area that has started to dry, you'll make brush marks in the smooth finish.  I could show you a few spots to prove it.  When we did the dining room table, we used a roller, and repainted a few times before we got it right.  It does clean up easily with soap and water, which is nice.

I think they turned out alright, and hope that it was the right decision, though I won't really know until the rest of the room comes together.  I've put upholstering the antique chairs on temporary hold because I'm debating getting a pneumatic staple gun with an air compressor.  It's a big investment, but seeing that I have a bunch of upholstery projects lined up, it might be worthwhile.  (So much for free chairs.)  And I'm gathering supplies to make a couple of unique lamps to go on either side of the sofa. 

I promise that my next paint project is going to be much more colorful.  It's on my list of things to do this weekend, after I strip some of the wallpaper from the bedroom adjacent to the bathroom, so Matt and his dad can put up the wallboard.  We won't be heading north; it seems there's finally snow on the way, but it's going to fall in southern New England, rather than in the mountains where it counts.  Are the snow gods mocking us?  Maybe there'll be enough of an accumulation to go for a snowshoe or cross-country ski in our local woods on Sunday. 

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Seed Inventory

On a whim, at the urging of someone I don't even know, I recently bought a beautiful book.

If you don’t yet own Nigel Slater’s Tender go now and buy it!Katy Elliott said.  And so, I did.

Katy is a blogger and former domino staffer who lives in a 250-year-old house she and her husband are renovating in Marblehead, Mass.  To say I don't know her isn't completely accurate, because I read her blog, and through her posts I know something about her style and taste, and it seems she knows mine, because she was right.  I had to have that book. 

Nigel Slater is a British food writer who has divided his book into vegetables- an entire chapter on kale, one on celery root, one on parsnips.  He writes about his favorite varieties, growing the vegetables, and then how to cook them, with some delightfully simple recipes, like

Fried onions
large, golden onions - 3
butter - a thick slice
oil - a small glug

with an entire page of description on not only how to cook them, but his personal history and the evolution of his relationship with the fried onion.  There are more complicated and interesting recipes, too.  And, the pictures are gorgeous.

The book is inspiring, and has got me thinking about planting the 2012 vegetable garden.  I've taken inventory of the seeds I have from last year, and have decided not to buy any.

With what's leftover from last year, I will direct seed the following:

Waltham Butternut Squash
Diva Cucumber
Costata Romenesco Zucchini
Envy Edamame
Sugar /Snow Peas
Green Butterhead Lettuce
Rocket Arugula
Tokyo Long White Scallions
Deep Purple Carrot
Early Mokum Carrot
Rainbow Carrot
Lancer Parsnip
Bright Lights Swiss Chard
Winterbor Kale
Renegade Spinach
Red Ace Beet

And, I'm going to try to plant some seeds my mom saved from the best melon she ever tasted.  I have no idea what kind of melon it is, but if we are successful, it won't matter. 

For the first time, I'm going to try to start some tomato seeds indoors, including those saved from a family heirloom tomato my friend Sharon gave to me. I also saved the Brandywine and Black Cherry tomato seeds from last year.

I'll buy the rest from the garden center: basil, eggplant, Sun Gold tomatoes, peppers, shallots, leeks, and maybe some red onion.  We did well with things in the onion family last year, because the bugs and animals don't like them.

If we do build another small plot closer to the house (very dependant on how long the bathroom reno takes), I think I'll just spread out our plantings, and maybe add more tomatoes.  We had such an iffy 2011, I'd like to succeed at some of the things we tried and failed at last year before trying anything new (though, brussel sprouts, potatoes, and baby broccoli are on my wish list).  Just because we grew peas and edamame and cilantro and cucumbers and butternut squash and lettuce and purple carrots last year doesn't mean we got to eat them.  And, we've already got the seeds.  So, the garden should be much more cost-effective this year, and still full of new rewards.  I hope. 

Now I need to come up with a rotation that puts things in a different place than they were in last year, but still next to the companions they like best.  And, I've got to research a very low-maintenance way to start tomato seeds indoors. 

Are you planning to plant anything new in 2012?  Have you started seeds indoors?  Do you know how to attract the good bugs that eat the bad bugs? 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Build Up That Wall

Day two of the bathroom reno is now complete, with a two-week break in between.  We went skiing last weekend, driving nearly to the Canadian border to Jay Peak, VT, in search of decent snow.  We found some in the woods, but by the afternoon the groomed trails were solid ice, some of the most hazardous I've ever seen.  The snow gods seem to want us to spend this winter working on the bathroom.

We continue to use this shower, because it seems there's an issue with the temperature control on the downstairs shower.  It doesn't get very hot.  It's actually sort of pleasant showering in the open room, and when you get out, there's a nice view out the window of the reservoir behind our house. 

So, on Saturday, Matt and his dad framed out the new bathroom wall and the closets that will be added to both the bath and the bedroom.  The bedroom closet will be 24 inches deep, but we decided that would be excessive for the bathroom closet.  Instead, we'll make it 14 inches deep and put a built-in bookcase in the bedroom behind it.  I like that idea a lot.  (The partially-framed area to the left will be the bathroom closet in front, the built in behind it.)

The bedroom will be 10 x 12, which is still a decent size for a fourth bedroom, plus it has three windows, one with a water view, a built-in, and a closet.

We wound up with 21 inches of added width to the bathroom, which feels luxurious.  When you sit on the toilet, you can't touch the wall in front of you.  Big change.

Next, they're going to bump out the ceiling, and then put up the wallboard.  I can't wait to see how much bigger it's going to feel with the ceiling opened up.

What am I doing while they're working hard?  I'm shopping online for faucets and shower doors, and agonizing over the fact that the tile I wanted doesn't seem to exist any longer, and its close second has gone way up in price.  I'm also toiling away in the basement trying to turn random salvaged furniture into beautiful new things.  More on that coming soon.

We spent Sunday relaxing and biting our nails in anticipation of the big game.  I made guacamole, and an awesome brisket from this month's Bon Appetit with roasted potatoes and broccolini, which we ate while we watched a game with a very painful ending.