Monday, May 30, 2011

Its for the Birds

Oriole at the feeder
We are officially old. I used to tease my parents that they were old because they were into bird watching. Well, guess what? We have gone off the deep-end over the birds. I guess we are getting old. In our defense, we have some great birds. We have hummingbirds, herons, lots of geese, ducks, gulls, sand pipers, cardinals, blue birds, swallows, turkey vultures, jays, robins, orioles, just to name a few. The orioles are my favorite. We make sugar syrup for the hummingbirds and the oriels. That is how I am working it into this blog. We have a separate feeder for the hummingbirds but they seem to like the oriole's feeder better. Actually, I just want an excuse to post some of my bird pictures!

We make two different syrups for the birds.
Humming bird at the feeder
Hummingbird Nectar

1 Part Sugar
4 Parts Water

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and then remove from the stove. Allow to cool before using. This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
A woodpecker at the feeder
Oriole Nectar 
1 Part Sugar
6 Parts Water

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and then remove from the stove. Allow to cool before using. This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Oh! An oriole feeder is different from a hummingbird feeder: it has posts for the birds to perch on and bigger holes (also it is orange).
Oriole flying away
The bottom line: Will I make it again? Yes and in large quantities. These birds go through the sugar syrup like a football team goes through pizza.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Kansas City Market

$10.00 Worth of Veggies/Fruit

We went to the Kansas City Market today and got a whole load of veggies for $10.00. Yes, they were likely trucked in but they are just gorgeous! We are still waiting to harvest anything other than herbs from our garden. Based on the weather, it is going to be awhile. If you haven't been to the City Market you are missing some great deals and a good time.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Banana Bread

Finished banana bread
I have a confession to make. I don't like bananas. I never have. I think it is a texture thing or a taste thing or the smell..... It is challenging for me to make something I don't eat. Somehow, I seemed to be surrounded by banana bread lovers so what can you do? Make banana bread that's what.
In the last two weeks, I made banana bread two times: in Nashville and right after I got home. Both times it was devoured. They told me it was good; so I will take their word for it. It was easy to make once I got past the mashing of the bananas.
Bananas ready to be mashed
 Bananananananana Bread
1/2 Cup (113 g) of Unsalted Butter, Softened
1 Cup (200 g) of Brown Sugar, Packed
2 Large Eggs
1 Cup (3 Bananas) Ripe Bananas, Mashed
2 Tsp of Vanilla
1 Cup (120 g) of Whole Wheat Flour
1 Cup (120 g) of Unbleached White Flour
1 Tsp of Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp of Salt
1/2 Cup of Chopped Walnuts (60 g) or Mini Chocolate Chips (85 g)

Preheat oven to 350F/176C/ Gas Mark 4. Grease a 9x5 loaf pan. Mash the bananas.
Mashed bananas
Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, bananas, and vanilla to the mixing bowl and beat until combined.
Mixing the ingredients
Blend the dry ingredients into the banana mixture (I do this by hand) and fold in the walnuts/chocolate chips.
Adding the chocolate chips
Pour into the prepared loaf pan.
In the loaf pan and in the oven
Bake in preheated oven for 60 minutes.

The bottom line: Will I make this again? I am sure I will. I just don't know if I will ever eat it!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Roasted Veggies

Garlic posing with my favorite garlic press 

I love garlic. I go through an enormous amount of garlic. I own four different garlic presses. I don’t think I have ever been without a garlic press. Why am I reflecting (obsessing my husband would say) on garlic and garlic presses? Well, I thought everyone had a garlic press until I went to Nashville to help work on some houses affected by the floods last year.  Yes, there are still some people that are not back in their homes.  It is amazing the amount of work that still needs to be done. It also makes my garlic press ramblings seem incredibly silly. Well, they are silly, but it is so much easier focusing on garlic than all the people whose homes were destroyed and still in the process of rebuilding (in Nashville, New Orleans, Alabama, Joplin, the list goes on and that is just the U.S. (sigh)).
I spent half of the day painting (myself and the walls) and half of the day cooking. I took two knives and some critical spices (including a nice head of garlic) but I didn’t think to take a garlic press because everyone has a garlic press. But then I also thought (incorrectly) the places we working on would have bathrooms. (A huge thank you to Judy who let us into the apartment clubhouse where we had access to a bathroom and to the lady next door who let us use her garden hose to clean up). 
Painting trim
So for a week I minced garlic with a knife.  Not that big of a deal but with the amount of work and limited time, I really missed my garlic presses. By the last day of cooking, I did not want to mince any more garlic, so I used whole peeled garlic cloves and they were amazing. (See I managed to tie the lack of garlic press to the recipe). The key to this recipe is to make the veggies as close to the same size as possible.  It looks like a lot (it fills two cookie sheets), but once the roasting is complete, it reduces by half.  

Roasted Veggies

1 Zucchini, Sliced into Rounds
1 Large Sweet Onion, Sliced
3-4 Potatoes, Sliced into Rounds
Handful of Baby Carrots
6-12 Cloves of Garlic, Peeled
Couple of Sprigs of Rosemary, Chopped
Salt and Pepper, To Taste
¼ Cup (60 ml) of Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 450F/232C/Gas Mark 8 (Convection Oven 425F/218C/ Gas Mark 7). Place the chopped vegetables in a plastic bag and add oil, salt pepper, and rosemary. 
I used the plastic bag that I bought the zucchini in
Toss to cover the vegetables and the place on a cookie sheet and roast for 45-60 minutes (convection 35-45 minutes). Turn the vegetables every 15 minutes or so. 

The bottom line: Will I make this again? Yes, I can’t wait until I have fresh zucchini from my garden. This may be a daily side dish this summer. Also I will be using whole cloves of garlic instead of mincing the garlic and adding it to the olive oil.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Noodle Bowls

Noodle bowl
Our family loves noodles bowls. Everyone gets to choose what goes in their bowl. Once again this is a flexible meal; if we have leftover roast, steak, or chicken we use leftovers instead of shrimp.  The one thing we don't change is the noodles; we all agree that rice vermicelli must be used. There is a fair bit of prep work but once the chopping is done, it is a quick, easy and healthy dinner. I usually make two different fish sauces - one with fish sauce and lots of spice (for Steven and me) and one with soy sauce and no spice (for Katie).

Fish Sauce

3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
1 Tsp Chile Paste (or more to taste)
2/3 C of Hot Water
1/4 C of Granulated Sugar
2-3 Tbsp of Fish Sauce (or Soy Sauce)
2 Tbsp of Lime Juice

Whisk ingredients together and set aside. (Or put all ingredients in a salad cruet and shake).


Make rice vermicelli according to package directions and set aside.


2 Tbsp of Vegetable or Canola Oil
3 Green Onions, Thinly Sliced
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
3/4 Lbs (340 g) of Shrimp, Peeled and Deveined
1 Tbsp of Lemon Grass, Minced

Heat oil in a large skillet or wok and add green onions and garlic. Stir fry for 2 minutes and add shrimp and lemon grass and cook for 4 minutes until shrimp are done and no longer pink. Put in a bowl.

Stir fried shrimp

Bean Sprouts
Cucumbers, Peeled, Seeded, and Diced
Tomatoes, Seeded and Diced
Fresh Mint
Fresh Cilantro
Carrots, Peeled and Cut into Matchsticks
Peanuts, Finely Chopped
To Assemble

Place the noodles in a serving bowl and add shrimp, garnishes, and top with fish sauce.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Our Kitchen Makeover

Still work to do but it is almost done
We have a house on a small lake outside of Kansas City, Missouri. It is quite and peaceful and full of wildlife.  We love it. We plan on retiring to our lake house some day. We have been slowly working on rehabbing the house and have actually made progress. It finally it was time to work on the kitchen. (At the bottom of the post are some before pictures).
The kitchen is not quite done and it has taken quite a bit of time. It seemed like it took forever to decide on what to do with our kitchen. Then it took awhile to get up the courage and time to do it ourselves. Our first choice of colors was a dismal failure. We thought we wanted a bright sunny kitchen so we painted the kitchen yellow. It was awful. It was French's mustard yellow. It didn't look that violently yellow in the store but it certainly did on our walls.
The yellow was awful!
 Then we bought a rug (on sale) for the family room next to the kitchen and everything changed.
The whippets playing on the rug that changed everything
One of the walls in the family room no longer matched the rug, so it had to be changed. The color scheme and the style of the house changed. Steven decided to take the wall between the kitchen and the family room out and the kitchen color scheme changed to brown.
Steven taking out the kitchen wall
We used our favorite color of brown paint on the walls (Benjamin Moore Valley Forge). We were concerned with using brown on the walls because we thought, incorrectly, that the room would appear smaller. It didn't. My kitchen became warm and cozy like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter's day.
We covered the existing floor with an easy-to-apply laminate. We debated putting in wood floors but I wanted an easy to clean and care for floor. Plus I love the colors in the floor. An added bonus, it was easy to install (you can cut the tiles with scissors!)
Kitchen floor
The back splash was the easiest decision. I fell immediately in love with glass tiles. Gail (artist and neighbor extraordinaire) convinced me that we could do it and we did! Part of the way through the project, Gail and I were back at the hardware store buying a tile saw so we (actually Gail) could cut tiles. I was pleasantly surprised; I enjoyed the tile work.
The back splash is done.
We went round and round on what to do about the counter tops. We finally decided on counter top coating paint. Basically it is an epoxy to paint the laminate. We read the instructions and got everything ready. We didn't think we needed sandpaper to sand the surface, because the surface is not glossy. Thanks to our neighbor Gail's advice, we bought TSP and cleaned the counter tops. Wow what a difference! All of a sudden we had glossy counter tops. Who knew? They were dingy from 10 plus years of cigarette smoke (the prior owners smoked; I could write a book on our efforts to get the smoke smell out of the house).
So we sanded our now glossy counter tops. We did some more research on how to paint the counter tops and watched a video. Finally, we could delay no longer and Steven rolled on the paint. So far it looks great. Hopefully it will look just as good after a couple of months/years of use. 

Counter tops in process
 Tips from our experience-

  • It smells. Make sure you have lots of ventilation.
  • Use a fresh paint tray. The paint will dissolve latex paint and it will come off on your roller.
  • Use a foam roller to apply and make sure you go in one direction because it will show (at least for the black paint we used).
  • Have mineral spirits on hand in case you spill and if you do spill or dip the paint, clean it up immediately!
  • Taping is extremely important. The most OCD person working on the project should do the taping.
  • When removing tape from hard to reach areas, tuck your shirt in and push up your sleeves.
  • Plan for two coats if there is a difference in the color of the surface you are painting and the paint. We ended up doing three coats. We waited an hour between coats.
  • Did I mention good ventilation? When we did our kitchen counter tops, you could smell the stuff from the street.
We still have work to do to complete our kitchen makeover. We need to buy and install under the cabinet lighting and an overhead light. The cabinet pulls need to be replaced and new copper colored switch plates need to be installed. Depending on how the counter tops turn out, I may paint the refrigerator black.

The bottom line: You decide. Below are before and after pictures.

Kitchen before

Kitchen floor (before)
Kitchen (after)