Thursday, March 29, 2012

Year of the House - Half Bath Update, Part 2

By now we should be done with our half bath, right? Wrong. Seems there was a little measurement issue that I may or may not have warned Andrew about. And that measurement issue may or may not have turned out to be as I had suspected. Thus, our toilet did not fit back into the half bath and was off by a quarter of an inch. Crap. (Did you think that pun was as funny as I did?)

There was also the small part about water leaking from the sink water hookups under our new cork floor. And the part about a fan air drying it for a 24 hour period. And so Andrew was back at square one, re-hooking up the sink, with not a minute left in the weekend to start worrying about moving the pipe for the toilet.

Now the sink is back in its place and we have been leak free for another 24 hour period of time.

Andrew is now busy fixing the piping under the toilet, so that we can finally move the toilet out of our living room and back to its proper location. First, he moved the drain collar over about 2 inches, which meant doing a little cork floor patch for the adjustment as well. This is what it looks like in the bathroom:

And this is what it looks like in the basement in our laundry room:

Yes. That is a gaping hole in the drywall that had to be opened in order to get everything back to working condition. So as I traipsed down to the basement to do some laundry the other night, I found Andrew sitting on the dryer with some PVC pipe in hand, getting some serious work done. And by serious work, I mean making a telescope out of PVC pipe.

Finally, after the fun was over, he got back to work. Lilah decided it was best if she stayed out of this mess this time around and opted to be lazy in her bed instead.

Hopefully all will be finished in the next few days so that we can finish up the rest of the original project, which was to install the horizontal wood panels. Here's to hoping that the next time I update you, the half bath is at least back in working condition with little left to be done!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Beef Tenderloin with Potato Risotto

I'm not one that usually needs meat in my life, but Andrew is part Irish, part English, and grew up with meat and potatoes on a regular basis. Aiming to please once in a while, and wanting to try something new, I decided to go the meat and potatoes route the other night. This beef tenderloin, accompanied by potato risotto, is a recipe that worked perfectly for a Friday date night at home. The tenderloin was seasoned just perfectly, and the potato risotto was rich and creamy-- a perfect side that I'll be sure to use with other meals.

Want to have a go at this delicious (and fairly simple) gourmet dinner? I'm happily passing on the recipe below.

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices, then 1/8-inch cubes
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 2 6-ounce beef tenderloin steaks
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
Directions for the Potato Risotto

Melt butter with the onion in a large deep sauce pan. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until the onions are clear. Add the cubed potatoes and cayenne pepper, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the burner to medium heat and simmer until the potatoes are almost tender (about 8 minutes). Add cream and continue to simmer for about another 10 minutes. At this point, the potatoes will begin to hold their shape. You'll want to continue stirring the potatoes so they do not stick to the pan. Finally, stir in chives and the Parmesan cheese.

Directions for the Tenderloin

Sprinkle coarse salt, pepper, and thyme on both sides of the steak. Rub the spices into each side of the steak. Heat the olive oil in a skillet on a medium-high burner. When the oil is heated, add the steaks and cook until they are done as desired. I found that for a medium steak, each side needed 4-5 minutes.

This meal went fabulously with a red glass of wine and the best chocolate cake ever. We enjoyed a bottle of La Posta Cocina Malbec with the meal which ended up being the perfect pairing! What have you been cooking up in the kitchen lately?

P.S. I know a lot of you have been requesting my black bean salad recipe, so stay tuned for that recipe in the next few days! :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

Nope. Not talking about the Wilco version of I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. In fact, I'm going out on a limb here and saying that this cover of the song is by far better. The original just feels so dead to me. And, quite frankly, I'm kind of tired of the "Wilco is the coolest band ever and I'm so cool because I love Wilco b.s." Sorry if you're a Wilco fan. Not trying to put you down, but I think I warned everyone long ago that I'm a pretentious music snob.

Needless to say, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound really put a great spin on this song. A spin that gets me dancing. The band out of Chicago has a lot of other really good songs as well, my favorite being Sister Ray Charles which you can listen to here if you have Spotify. I would have put that video on here. However, the only video I found of the song was a live version that also had an annoying drunk couple dancing. So I wanted to spare you all. Oh heck, I guess I could at least give you the link for the video since you're probably curious about the drunk couple now. But don't say I didn't warn you.

What have you been listening to lately that makes you dance? Let me know! I need some new dancing-in-the-kitchen-while-cooking music.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I Finally Admit It

Last Thursday night I busted out a super cute outfit for school that was perfect for the arrival of spring. I pulled out a pair of wedges that I'd been dying to wear again, but was waiting for the right weather and outfit. I got home, kicked off my wedges at the spot where we leave our shoes and enjoyed the rest of my evening.

For the last hour of the night, I decided to be lazy on the couch and watch some tv. As I came up our basement steps and into the living room while heading to bed, there on the living room rug, I saw Lilah sitting with both of my wedges, munching on the back of one of them. Immediately, she knew she was in trouble, and she ran down the basement stairs to her daddy, Andrew, to be consoled. Andrew, realizing what had happened, was not going to have it, and upon Lilah realizing her predicament she went right to her crate for bedtime.

I went upstairs, infuriated, and literally threw my shoes into the closet hoping that maybe the next morning the leather would magically be healed with no sign of a dog's destruction. And then I cried. Yes, I cried over that pair of shoes. And, yes, I finally admit it, this is not the first time I have cried over shoes. I cried the first, second, and third time previously that Lilah destroyed a pair of my shoes. She seems to especially like my shoes. Not Andrew's. Only mine. But she hadn't destroyed either of our shoes, or anything for that matter, for over a year. Thus, I thought I was in the clear.

But there is a happy ending to this sad, sad story. And that happy ending comes in the form of not one, but two new pairs of shoes. And again I must make an admission, that maybe, just maybe Andrew is right in calling me Imelda.

And then I got this super awesome package in the mail at school the other day.

You may have seen my joyous remarks about said package here and here. And now if you're in love with these just as much as I am, you can get yourself a pair (or two) as well. Just click through the photos to get to the shoes (if you're not a big fan of yellow, there are other fun colors as well!).

Any new pairs of shoes you just love these days? The best part of both of these is that they are super comfy! What types of shoes are you shopping for lately?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Happy Hour at Home

What better way to enjoy a Friday evening at home on the roof top deck with your own little happy hour. While it's fun to meet up with friends after a long work week, sometimes it's more enjoyable to kick back and relax. And that is just what we did this weekend. On the menu was homemade crostini and crab dip, a black bean salad with tortilla chips, and a couple of home brews. A pup by our side and a chance to enjoy the sunset over Baltimore City made this may favorite part of our weekend.

What was your favorite part of the weekend?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Shibang Designs

Just happened to stumble upon this lovely shop, Shibang Designs, that has beautiful textile pieces in bold vibrant colors. Clutches, iPad sleeves, cosmetic bags, home decor, and other such things all are appliqued with brightly colored flowers that come in some of my favorite hues.

What are some of your Etsy favorites at the moment?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chocolate Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting

When I was in high school, I used to bake desserts for the coffee shop in my hometown called The Electric Brew. I would spend the day at school and the afternoons and early evenings baking. In that time, I baked hundreds of cookies, muffins, cakes, quick breads, brownies, and other assorted things. And I got pretty good at it. I had a lot of experience going into it all considering that my mom is a baker and owns the best European-style break bakery in the area (I'm not being biased!) called Rachel's Bread.

I asked Andrew last week if there was anything in particular that he wanted to eat for dinner this week, and his response was just, "Desserts. You make the best desserts." So on a quest to come through for him, and with the excitement of getting back to what I'm truly the best at in the kitchen, I scoured the web for a new recipe to try. And what I found was the most delectable chocolate cake I think I've ever had. Mind you, it may be incredibly rich and take a bit of time to make, but in the end, I guarantee it is all worth it!

Ingredients for the Cake
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
Ingredients for the Frosting
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces and softened
  • 8 oz milk chocolate, melted and cooled (I used a little under 2 Lindt milk chocolate bars)
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

Directions for the Cake

Pre-heat the oven to 350. In a stand-up mixer, cream sugars and butter until nice and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Incorporate chocolate and vanilla until smooth. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Mix in flour mixture and buttermilk alternately. Pour the batter into 2 greased, round cake pans and bake 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cakes cool in the cake pans for about 10 minutes and finally invert the cakes onto a wire rack.

Directions for the Frosting

Begin heating the milk until hot, but not boiling in a small quart-sized saucepan. In a bowl, combine egg yolks, flour, and 1/3 cup confectioners sugar along with a pinch of salt. Pour milk into egg mixture and whisk continually.  Put mixture back into the sauce pan and bring it to a low boil while continually whisking. Reduce the heat and continue whisking until the mixture becomes a thick custard. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and let cool for 45 minutes to an hour.

Once cooled, add vanilla and remaining amount of confectioners sugar and mix well. Beat in softened butter until smooth and creamy. Finally, pour in melted chocolate and beat the frosting until nice and airy.

Directions for Assembling the Cake

Using a serrated knife, cut each cake into two horizontal layers. Use about 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of frosting between each layer and then use the remaining frosting for the top and sides of the cake.

The cake turned out very light, moist, and fluffy, yet extremely rich. We enjoyed a piece of cake along with some of our homemade mint liqueur. This is most definitely not your every day cake and would be perfect for a special occasion or surprise.

Needless to say, this must be the best chocolate cake that I've made to date, and would highly recommend trying it! Do you have any special dessert recipes that you'd like to share? I would love to try them!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Little Talks

I think I overestimated others on their scale of love for music based on the non-participation of my Tuesday Music Party (waaaaaaah wow). So instead of a linky party, I'll just post what I love and hope that you love it too. And if you want to share what you've been listening to, feel free to leave it in the comments-- because seriously people, I always want a few new things to slap on the record player, or stereo, or iPod (whatever you like to use the most... just fill in the blank).

As of late, I find myself wanting to listen to Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men over and over again. I wake up in the morning with it stuck in my head and feel the need to get it out of my system. So I play it once thinking that will do the trick. Instead, I want to hear it again.

And in case you were wondering, this Icelandic band has a lot of other really great songs too. What do you think? I think I may just have to walk my butt down to The Sound Garden on April 3 when their album, My Head is an Animal, comes out.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hello Spring

I love spring in Baltimore. Between fall and spring in this city, it is so hard to choose which I like better. Both provide beautifully temperate weather in the 70s, sunshine, and low humidity. When March rolls around, one day will suddenly jump from temperatures in the 40s to temperatures in the 70s and then there is no looking back. It happens just like that. And the best part? We get to enjoy this beautiful weather for about three months before the dog days of summer arrive.

Spring also means time on our roof top deck in the evenings with great views of Patterson Park and the rest of the city.

And it means lots of outdoor time for Lilah. Even she likes to spend time up on the deck where she can sniff out the neighborhood smells and talk to her dog friends down the block.

And along with the time spent on the deck also comes longer walks in the park, grilling on our (now usable!) patio, and general relaxation outdoors. Have you been enjoying beautiful weather like we have in Baltimore? What are some of your favorite activities to do once the weather warms up?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

An Orange St. Patricks's Day

While you're supposed to wear green on St. Patrick's day, we spent our day in orange. Saturday was quite the eventful day and I'm ready to enjoy a less productive and more lazy Sunday. We started our day running our normal Saturday errands to the bank and post office. Then we donned our orange and headed to the local Syracuse alumni bar, Dog Watch Tavern, for some March Madness basketball. Syracuse ended up beating Kansas State to go on to the Sweet Sixteen!

And if that wasn't enough Syracuse Orange action for the day, we then took the five minute drive up to the Johns Hopkins campus for a lacrosse game. Syracuse was in town to play Hopkins which only happens every other year. It was a beautifully sunny day to be outside and enjoy some lacrosse. Unfortunately, we were not as victorious in the lacrosse game as we were in the basketball game.

From the lacrosse game, we headed back home, quickly changed out of our orange and hopped back into the car. We drove a quick few minutes into downtown to the Hippodrome. A friend of ours had tickets to see The Addams Family, but couldn't go, so Andrew bought the tickets for some last minute fun on Friday afternoon. I'm glad he did. The show was hilarious and the perfect thing to end a busy day.

Our last stop for the night was Matthew's Pizza to pick up some very late dinner. Matthew's is possibly my favorite pizza place in Baltimore. In an East Coast city where thin crust pizza is king, Matthew's is the closest you'll get to the Chicago deep dish style pizza I'm used to in the Midwest. After a very busy day, it was perfectly satisfying.

How was your St. Patrick's Day? Did you stick with the traditional green? Or did you have other plans like us?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Shop Update

I spent a large majority of last weekend working on some designs for my shop. I was incredibly productive in one day and came up with some stuff that I absolutely love! With Mother's Day approaching sooner than later, I've listed some new cards for such occasion.

I came up with a few paper cut note card sets.

I worked on a set of thank you notes based on a hand drawn image.

And finally, some save the dates, that are super simple and fun.

The save the dates have already been popular with one order in the works. You may have seen me tweet about progress with this order since the color scheme is just slightly different. I love the new colors just as much!

How do you like all of the new designs? What sorts of projects have you been working on lately?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Year of the House - Half Bath Update

This past weekend Andrew worked away at installing maple panels in our half bath. Wood paneling doesn't always sound so lovely, but remember this post about our final goal to have a Frank Lloyd Wright bathroom? This is what we're going for. Not that old 70s wood paneling you're thinking about.

In order to get a clean, nail-less look, the first step in the process is to mount something on the studs called a z-clip (because it's shaped like a z).

After these lovely clips were installed, Andrew used a router to create a reveal that would show between each panel. Yes, he bought a ridiculously expensive router just to do this. (Cue in Tim the Tool Man Taylor grunts and sounds). And there's a back story about this router that I won't get into that may or may not have been the reasoning behind these flowers. But in order to spare him of anymore embarrassment, I'll leave it at that. Plus, I'm getting way off topic.

So next is to screw the other half of the z clip onto the back of the panel. Then the panel just locks into place. These clips are supposed to withhold some ridiculous amount of weight and help create a seamless look with no putty holes-- a definite bonus.

Two more rows of panels will be added along with a final cap on the top row. The next step will be to stain and finish the panels. Once all of that is done, the sink and toilet can go back in, freeing up space in our living room. Though as I've said before, the sink and toilet hanging out in our living room right now sure makes it looks classy.

And of course, none of this work would be getting done if it weren't for our stealthy contractor, Finn.

I've yet to witness it, but I've heard he's pretty handy with a hammer. What do you think of the progress thus far?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Music Link-Up Party - Move By Yourself

I heard this song by chance on our favorite radio station a few weeks ago, and I have since been unable to let it escape my mind. Come to find out that professional surfers apparently like to make music. This song is written by Donavon Frankenreiter, a professional surfer and good friend of Jack Johnson. Though if I were to compare, I'd kind of have to say that I like this funk-laced song a bit more than his friend's tunes. And the video itself just makes me want to move to California. Sigh. I truly am a West Coast kind of girl stuck on the East Coast. Maybe some day...

What have you been listening to lately? Grab a button and link up below! Don't forget to link up using the direct URL for your post rather than your blog homepage. I look forward to hearing what you've been loving and sharing some music with you! :)

Row House 14 Music Linkup Party

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Real Reason

We didn't decide to turn our spare bedroom into a studio and reading room for any old reason. Sure, working on stationery, cards, and architectural drawings in a dingy basement is certainly not good for getting the creative juices flowing. And curling up in a comfy chair in a bright, sunny room is the best way to indulge in a good book. But I forgot to tell you the real reason we decided to make this room what it is. Maybe it's not my reason, but Finn would sure like to argue that it's the best reason. I mean, with sun like this and comfy chairs with lots of pillows and cozy blankets, the real reason was for Finn to have an excellent napping place.

It's no secret that this is his new favorite place in the entire house. And with cute little paws like that it's hard to think his reasoning about our studio space is wrong. Has he convinced you? ;)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Year of the House: One Step Closer...

Right now our studio/reading room is a bit messy while we work on getting rid of some things we've had in storage since we moved into our house. We're doing better than our last move. At our old apartment, we'd been there for a little over two years and had boxes that had yet to be opened. For now, we're one step closer to finishing this room as I work on transitioning my huge collection of paper, shipping supplies, and other such things into this empty half of our closet.

And see that lovely pile of crap in front of the closet. That's off to Goodwill. It feels amazing to purge the stuff that's been sitting around for a few years. In the meantime, remember this half bath project? Andrew has been diligently working away at this the whole weekend. Things seem to be going a bit more quickly today than yesterday and hopefully I'll have an update for you soon! In more important news, maybe the toilet and sink that have been sitting in our living room for the past six week will finally find themselves being reunited with their appropriate space.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Checking in on My Goals

At the beginning of the new year, I made ten goals that I wanted to accomplish by the end of this year or throughout the year. Seeing that we're almost halfway through March, I thought I'd check to see how I was doing. I know that there are some I'm not doing so well with, so I revisited my list to find out if I'm at least making headway with some of them.

1. Have 200 designs in my shop.

This has proven to be a bit more difficult that I had thought. Since a lot of my note card sets are one of a kind sets, if I sell one I'm not making progress forward in this department. Rather, I take one step back and have to replenish the one that was sold. In addition, a lot of my sale items sold during my February Sale Event, so that didn't help me out with my goal of 200 either. I'll soon be adding some more made to order designs which hopefully will help me out!

2. Double my sales for the year with 400 sales.

I'm making good progress here thanks to this Valentine's Day card. I sold about 100 of them and since the beginning of the year have had about a total of 150 sales. So that means I'm about a third of the way to reaching my goal.

3. Complete my first craft show.

This hasn't happened yet, but I probably won't be able to work on this goal until summer vacation comes around.

4. Design a website other than Etsy to sell my cards.

Nope. Still haven't looked any further into this. And still wondering what others use for their websites if they have one.

5. Design at least one new design per week.

This is a bit spotty. On average, I probably design one thing per week. Some weeks I just don't have time, other weeks (like this one) I design five or six things in one day. Either way, I feel as though I'm staying on track with this one.

6. Finish setting up my studio.

I haven't given a studio update on my blog for a while because there hasn't been much going on in that department lately. Last weekend, I emptied out the closet in that room in order to provide space for my paper, crafting supplies, and shipping supplies. I'm hoping to continue working on this today and tomorrow. There is progress happening and I'll be updating you soon!

7. Complete at least three blog posts per week. (I'm trying not to let this blog fall between the cracks).

I did a great job with this in January, blogging almost every day. Then February came around and it was an extremely busy month, socially. One week I even realized that I had spent 6 of the previous 10 days with other people. People overload. This month I've been able to balance the social life with personal time and have gotten a little back on track with the blog this week. I'm finding that making lists of blog ideas in a notebook helps me stay on track.

8. In that same grain, I want to work on gaining more followers-- maybe up to 300!

Right now I'm at 91 GFC followers and 98 subscribers. However, I'm realizing more and more that this doesn't matter a whole lot to me. I'm going to blog no matter how many people are reading (I've done it for the past year or so haven't I?) so if I end up at 300 by the end of the year then it's just a bonus! :)

9. Create a new packaging concept for my cards and stationery-- something that looks more professional than just a cellophane sleeve.

Progress is being made here. I have some clear boxes that I've been using as trials for larger sets of stationery and so far, I like the look. I want to work on making some labels for the boxes next.

10. Create one treasury per week to amp up exposure.

I think I'm going to scratch this one. In the new year, I've made 2 treasuries and that's it. I've realized that I'd rather put my energy into something else that feels a little more worthwhile. Thinking of something to replace this goal... hmmmmm.

Did you make goals for this year? Are you making progress with them? Also, and I'm open to any suggestions you may have to help me improve on some of my goals. Sometimes all we need is a good swift kick in the butt! :)

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Few Things for Friday

1. Yesterday my students participated in a final "Hunger Games" for a cross-curricular unit we based on the novel between Language Arts and Gym. It was basically a glorified version on tag, using flag football flags. Before the games began, students were hugging each other and telling each other that they loved one another as if they were really going to die. They created intense alliances and strategies to help them "stay alive." They told me that they were scared and that they didn't want to "die." Once they games began, some of them truly ran as if they were running for their lives. They plotted with each other about who to "kill" first. They betrayed each other in their alliances. And some had the sole purpose of doing whatever it took to keep a friend "alive." Before the games began, one of my 8th grade students said to me, "Ms. Shenk, I know that this isn't really for real, but it feels like it's real and I don't want to die. And second of all, I need to thank you for the best thing I've ever done in school. It is the most intense thing I have ever experienced." Sigh.....

2. On a less serious note, so glad to know that you all think that this fart card is funny. Makes me feel a whole lot better and made my week to give everyone a good laugh. In case you wondered, I still cackle out loud when I see it.

3. On Monday, Andrew came home from work with a bouquet of roses and lilies and a chocolate and strawberry torte. Little surprises like that every once in a while are nice. :)

4. I'm not one to drink pop that often. Yes, I call it pop. Despite living in Baltimore, my Midwestern roots are my reasoning behind the FACT that it's called pop. No, it's not soda. And definitely no, all pop should not be clumped under the term coke. Ok. Now that we got that one out of the way, I have to admit I've been finding a nice afternoon pick me up in a can of vanilla coke. When I do drink pop, I usually go for the lemon-lime varieties, not being a cola person, but man, that vanilla coke is just perfect. But not for long. Once I drink the final can from that 12 pack, it's back to water in the afternoons since we only buy pop on very rare occasions as a special treat.

Hope you all had a lovely week! What made your day (or week) this week? What little pick me ups have you been craving this week?
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