Revisiting the Guest Room: Before & After

Our upstairs has been seriously neglected since we moved in this past summer, so Pete and I decided to give the guest room some much-needed attention this past month. We’ve tackled a ton of house revamping, but we have barely touched the second floor, so we set a goal for ourselves to remove the wallpaper and paint the walls by the time my parents visited (last weekend).

Here’s a peek of what we were dealing with before, and below is a glimpse of what the bedroom looks now, with Artesian Well by Martha Stewart and a shit ton of paisley. We aren’t really paisley people (in this photo, Pete is obviously the ginger and I’m Cameron from Modern Family), but perhaps our future guests will be. I spray painted the previous owner’s headboard bright yellow and we’ll be adding other bright yellow accents to tie the room together. Right now it’s way too matchy-matchy, but I’m hoping we can tone it down if we bring in some more neutrals and nix the ginormous lamp for something more metallic (I wish we could find the darn receipt from Home Goods so we could return it!).

Betty White approves of the changes we made, but we still have a lot of work to do to make it homey (like artwork on the walls and thrifty decor).

Here’s a photo of the room when we moved in, complete with the previous owner’s canopy, curtains, VCR, and stained mattress.

We have to figure out what to do with the antiquated air conditioning unit, which has a nice family of very opinionated birds living in it. We’re thinking we’ll have to turn it into a small window…not sure what other choice we’ll have. The furniture we inherited from the previous owner is a frightening shade of yellowed white, so we have a lot of spray painting in our future once the weather warms up. The closet could also use some white paint since the sad, hollow wood doors seriously bum us out.

For those of you who have a good eye for detail, you’ll notice we haven’t touched the wood paneling in the hallway since it was half-primed when we moved in. I guess that’s next on our list. I’m not sure what to do about the ceiling tiles (how difficult is it to replace ceiling tiles?), but I did appreciate the break from having to paint the ceiling with several coats of white.

Betty White was being very contemplative when I shot this in the bedroom mirror like a total sneak. She thinks we overdid it with the matching and the paisley, but she has faith that we can make it look better with a little love.

Tackling our last wallpapered room was tiresome, but it’s satisfying to know we can pack away the wallpaper steamer—unless we get incredibly ambitious and remove the wallpaper in our closets (yes, our closets).

Is anyone else guilty of making a room too match-y?

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Countdown to Thanksgiving

{Photo credit}

Thanksgiving is officially just ten days away, which means my entire family will be in the same place for the first time since last Christmas. It also means I am gathering inspiration for recipes for the turkey-filled day. Unfortunately, my family has made it clear that they want a big bottle of ketchup on the table, which will likely tarnish my hopes for a Martha Stewart-esque tablescape, but oh well. I have been gathering some recipes, but wanted to see if any readers have favorite sides they’d like to share before I do a recipe round-up. I’m talking to you, Kerry!

Also, the more advice for cooking a 24 lb. turkey (assuming it fits in our oven), the better! Thanks again to everyone for the congrats on Friday, you guys made us feel all sorts of special.

Upstairs Bathroom Makeover: Before & After

As you may recall, one of the goals I recently set for myself was to finally get around to painting the upstairs bathroom now that the wallpaper has been down for a few months. The pink butterfly wallpaper was painfully thick (not to mention hideous) and the hardest to remove so far. I spent many sweat-induced summer afternoons with a wallpaper steamer, cursing at the butterflies for being so impossible. Thankfully, there are no signs of butterflies in our upstairs bathroom anymore.

Here’s a look at a before and after of the progress made so far in the bathroom as of today. Eventually we’d like to install black and white honeycomb tiling, but for now we are starting off with budget-friendly baby steps. I’m excited to be able to finally hang our bathroom hardware so our toilet paper will have a home (I realize this is very geeky). This is the bathroom we use every day because the shower is much preferred, so it’ll be nice to see something other than primed walls.

This is a before and after of the bathroom when we first moved in and a shot of it from today. We’ll need to get a new toilet seat and a curtain to snazz it up a bit, but for now, I’m just happy to have fresh paint on the walls.

I definitely love the chinchilla gray by Martha Stewart—I’ve been struggling to find a gray I’m 100% happy with (since the other grays we’ve used so far have turned out more blue and mauve), so I’m really happy with the “true”-ness of it. Just as a side note, these photos were taken at sunset, so the gray is much brighter and lighter during the day.

Has anyone else been tackling home renovations projects now that the weather outside is getting frightful (aka cold enough to make me mumble obscenities like a crazy person whenever I have to walk the dogs)? Also, has anyone installed honeycomb tiling before? Should we leave it to the professionals, or is it something we can DIY on our own?

Classic Cornbread: Great Success!

In celebration of our 22nd monthiversary (yes, we still celebrate monthiversaries and I intend to until they are in the 1,000’s, so shut it!), I decided to whip up some classic cornbread. Pete and I saw this recipe while paging through the October issue of Everyday Food and he just about peed his plaid pajama pants with excitement. So, I figured I’d be a good girlfriend and attempt to bake something delicious (for once) now that our oven is back in action. Martha Stewart must have some country roots, because Pete gave the cornbread a thumbs up (which if you ask me, is reason to celebrate).

Alright, so here we go, first things first. Gather all of the ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more, room temperature, for baking pan
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow or white cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 large eggs

Start off by preheating the oven to 400 degrees! Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. In a large bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, and eggs.

Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and stir just until combined (do not overmix). If you’re wondering why the mixture isn’t looking particularly Cracker Barrelriffic, just breathe easy and put your trust in Martha. She wouldn’t lie to you, even if the bowl looks like it’s seen better days.

Transfer batter to pan and smooth top.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

If you’re wondering what to do to pass the time, consider giving your pets some much-needed attention (in the form of treats).

If you’re particularly cruel (which I just so happen to be), cackle and snap photos while your foster dog’s tail hits your little shy dog’s face repeatedly.

Oh nooooes, Betty White just got owned by Chari’s tail!

Seriously, this happens just about every moment of every day of our lives since we’ve started fostering Charsi. Poor Betty White takes a tail to the face like a champ, though.

Anyway, at this point it’s best to stop photographing your squinty-eyed dog and let the cornbread cool in the pan on a wire rack, 15 minutes, before serving. (Store cooled cornbread, tightly wrapped in plastic, at room temperature, up to 3 days). Note to Pete: You best help me eat this sheeeeeeyit by Sunday or it’s going to get moldy!

If you want to go all out, light a birthday candle and stick in the cornbread and get prepared to wish your boyfriend a happy 22nd monthiversary when he comes home from work!

Here’s a suggestion though, don’t attempt to light the birthday candle with a votive candle because you’ll end up dripping hot wax all over your poor boyfriend’s cornbread. If he really likes you, he’ll eat it anyway and say it’s good. Happy 22 months, love!

Recipe: Chewy Caramel Mystery Cookies

It’s a known fact that I am awful when it comes to all things kitchen-related. I am notorious for messing up Minute Rice, for example. Anyway, when Pete and I were flipping through the latest issue of Everyday Food, he was super excited when we came across a recipe for “Chewy Caramel Mystery Cookies.” I decided to attempt to be a domestic girlfriend for a day and bake him some delicious cookies to come home to.

Let’s start with my trip to the grocery store. I went to Giant in search of several things—caramels (such as Kraft) being the main ingredient I was lacking. I spent well over an hour staring deep into the soul of the candy, baking and Halloween aisles in an attempt to find plain caramel candies. I didn’t want chocolate covered caramel or Werther’s Original, I just wanted caramel bits, people. I even pathetically trudged around the produce area in hopes of seeing some by the apples or nuts. No such luck. So, I did what any smart person would do—I drove to a candy shoppe. I figured if shop has an extra “pe” on the end, they must mean serious business and they sure as heck would sell plain caramel.

Nope. They sure as heck didn’t sell plain caramel. They had chocolate covered caramel, vanilla covered caramel, caramel stuffed inside things, but no actual plain caramel. The employee suggested I try making my own, to which I responded silently by giving him a mouth agape “What do you think I’m made of?” face and walked away (not before buying two Cow Tales because they are my favoritest).

I decided to make a trip to Walgreen’s (my least favorite pharmacy on the planet) and managed to find Werther’s plain caramels. Not caramel stuffed chocolate, but just plain caramel! I felt like I won the lottery and flailed. A lot. I had spent nearly two hours trying to hunt down caramel. Martha needs to strongly consider putting an asterisk next to ingredients that take a half of a tank of gas to locate.

Anyway, in case you want to try to make some of these cookies, here are the ingredients (if you can’t tell, I’m thrilled):

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup caramels, such as Kraft (le sigh), about 20, halved
  • 1 cup roughly chopped assorted miniature chocolate candy bars, such as Mr. Goodbar, about 16
  • 3/4 cup small button-shaped chocolate candies, such as M&M’s, for decorating

Alright, so step 1. Preheat the oven to 350 with the racks in upper and middle thirds.

*As a side note, I’d like to point out that our oven is now functioning for the first time since we moved in over four months ago. “Why was your oven not functioning, Shannon?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Turns out that when we moved in, we had fossilized mice in the drip pan of our (the previous homeowner’s) fridge. The pan was impossible to remove, so we sold it on Craigslist like total scum (we are going to hell in a handbasket, but if we’re lucky, the basket will have delicious caramel candies inside of it).

Anyway, when we tried turning our oven for the first time, it smelled like rotting corpses and crayons. We tried to get to the bottom of the smell, but had no luck finding the source and the oven wouldn’t turn on to self-clean. We figured a gang of mice made a little home (judging from the abundance of sunflower seeds) and were mummified up in that shiz. So, we procrastinated on getting it fixed and have been creatively using our convection oven. Being the most perfect girlfriend that I am, I called some oven repair guys and got our oven back in working condition (and torched whatever mummified friends may have still been lingering). I even managed to haggle the guys to take $100 off, so I must have inherited some of my dad’s bargaining genes after all.

So, that being said, we have an oven again! We won’t have to deep fry a turkey for Thanksgiving, thank goodness.

Ok, back to the recipe. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.

In a large bowl, using a fancy electric mixer (or the one your grandparents gifted you in the early 90s that they won using comp points from Atlantic City), beat butter and sugars on high until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Beat in eggs, scraping down bowl as needed.

With mixer on low, beat in flour mixture in three additions until combined. Beat in vanilla. Or if you’re me, flip out because some asshole only left a drop of vanilla extract in the bottle (that would be me) and improvise by replacing it with almond extract instead (that’ll taste the same, right? sigh).

Fold in caramels and candy bars. If you have to search for “how to fold” on YouTube, you might want to give up at this point. Or if you’re like me, you can just get distracted by the latest episode of America’s Next Top Model All-Stars and spend the next 20 minutes getting lost in the insanity of Tyra Banks while chopping candy.

Step 2 (Martha only makes two steps in her instructions, even though each step has like 50 sub-steps…). Using a 1/3-cup spring-loaded scoop, drop dough, 2 inches apart, on parchment-lined baking sheets. This is where I said “a spring-loaded whatchamadoozer?” and promptly decided I didn’t need one. Thus, the massively oversized cookies. The recipe supposedly makes 18 normal-sized cookies, but I made 13 giant-sized ones. Tomato, tomahto.

Anyway, bake that sheeeeeyit for 8 minutes.

Remove from oven; immediately press candies onto cookies, then rotate sheets and bake until golden around edges and set in centers, about 8 minutes. So, I am getting senile in my old age and seconds after pulling out the baking sheets, I forgot which way they were originally placed on the racks and couldn’t for the life of me figure out which way to rotate them. Yep.

Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool, or just shovel them into your face. I will admit, these things are majorly frumpy looking, but I thought they tasted pretty yumtastic. I saw one of them had been bitten into and asked Pete what he thought and he gave me a guilty “It tastes like ass, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings because you just spent over an hour trying to be domestic” face. Then he tried to persuade me that he actually likes them, but I know better. He made the face I make when I realize we bought the wrong type of toothpaste and instead of brushing my teeth with fresh, minty goodness, I have to spend the next month convincing my teeth that orange-flavored, cough-drop-y toothpaste is their new favorite thing.

Oh well, I guess I deserve some points for trying (insert defeated Eeyore face here _____). I hope someone else attempts this recipe out and lets me know if they have any luck finding caramels.

Kitchen: Before & Progress

This past weekend was spent making over our kitchen, which was much-needed to say the least. My parents and grandma visited from Delaware, which was a nice break. My dad power washed outside while Pete tested out his new battery-powered weed wacker (which he has since returned). My mom and I worked on removing the last of the bunny wallpaper, patching and sanding the ceiling and priming everything. Pete and I decided to paint the kitchen Martha Stewart’s Lagoon color, which matches a lot of our kitchen accessories.

In case you need a refresher of what the kitchen looked like a month ago, here are photos from the initial walk through of the house. The wallpaper which was once bright white had turned an unfortunate shade of brown. The same can be said for all of the ceilings throughout the house, which have been taking at least three coats of paint to cover on average.

We have plans to get a new sink unit and vinyl, black and white checkered floor tiles once things settle down a bit for us. I am in the job hunting process and Pete just accepted a brand spankin’ new job, so we are going to wait a wee bit before we make any purchases for the moment.

The light fixtures in the kitchen made me cringe even more than the floor, which always looks dirty no matter how much you mop it. Luckily Pete has picked up on the handyman thing very quickly, so he has been tackling a lot of electrical projects throughout the house, including simple light fixture installations.

Here’s a glimpse of the kitchen right before we moved in—filled with painting supplies and tools galore.

Notice the wires popping out of the wall from a hideous light fixture which was underneath the cabinets. We ripped it out and Pete replaced it with a much more updated version.

Here’s one of the most unfortunate, unflattering photos ever taken. You’re welcome. This is what I look like after sanding a recently spackled ceiling. And yes, I am wearing glasses under my safety glasses.

My parents brought their dog Whiskey, who took a nap on my grandma’s shoe while she took a nap. It was definitely a priceless sight.

Here’s the kitchen in all of its patched/painted glory. I know it’s only in progress, but I think the pop of color really makes a difference in the mood of the room. The updated light fixtures seem to make an impact as well…thank god for no more florescent lighting.

The door to the mudroom was incredibly scratched, chipping and yellowed, but two fresh coats of paint made it look a lot better. We’ll eventually paint all of the doors throughout the house (we are on a budget, people!) and probably swap out the hardware for something more modern.

Pete’s sister gifted us this adorable, mosaic owl from HomeGoods, which I fell in love with instantly. Yesterday my friend Cubby came to visit and she gave me the mama version of the owl as a belated birthday gift. People sure do know how to make my owl-lovin’ self smile. The chalkboard calendar was from Shauna and Stephen of Something’s Hiding in Here as a thank you for drawing a portrait of their cute pooches for them.

Here’s a peek at some of our kitchen gadgets, which were a gift from my friend Susan a few years ago. I especially love the little veg-hog veggie brush. The “how to eat a lobster” serving tray was a find at one of my favorite thrift stores in the area, Impact.

This is our bird hook for hanging Betty White’s leash, our keys and any other randomness.

I’m hoping to be able to add more photo booth pictures to our fridge after we go to the shore in a couple of weeks with Pete’s family. It’s the little things that make me happy.

This Grandma Was a Cowboy painting is by Jason Sho Green, one of my favorite artists whose exhibition I visited at Art Star a few years back.

Quirky aprons, linens and pot holders are just the thing to cheer up a previously dreary kitchen. The apron and potholders were a gift from my brother and lovely sister-in-law this past Christmas. The tea towel below was from our friend Valerie, who shares an appreciation for all things embroidered. I’m so blessed to have such wonderful family and friends who know our style so well. I really love looking around a room and thinking of someone when I see a certain object.

Like this teapot, which was given to me by the always stylish Cubby…I like how the cherry red contrasts with the blueish green tint of the room.

Betty White approves of the new lighting since she can see the crumbs on the floor a lot better now.

Speaking of crumbs, she was dying for a Beggin’ Strip while I was taking photos, so I had to oblige. This is her smug, I-knew-I-could-get-a-treat-out-of-you-if-I-flashed-my-puppy-eyes stare. I’m such a sucker.

Anyway, this is our kitchen progress so far! We are trying to make major impact changes without putting a dent in our wallets, which is really making the place start to feel like home. What little changes did you make to your home to make it your own when you first moved in?

Everyday Food: Grocery Bag

Top (L-R): Spicy Black Bean Soup, Parmesan Chicken With Mushrooms and Brussel Sprouts, Sesame Beef

Bottom (L-R): Turnip and Sweet Potato Gratin, Chicken Cutlets With Mustard Greens and Roasted Squash, Pasta e Fagioli (recipes by Everyday Food)

*Thanks to Pete for snapping these photos with his iPhone before meals

Every month, Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food has a weekly dinner planner, which Pete and I have been taking advantage of for the past few months. We add the “shopping list” of ingredients they provide to our normal grocery list and plan a week’s worth of meals alongside the magazine’s Monday-Friday schedule. I enjoy cooking dinner with Pete this way because it steps us outside of our comfort zone of eating chicken nuggets and personal pizzas and forces us to ask questions like “What do mustard greens look like?” or “How do you chop an acorn squash?”

Everyday Food makes scheduling a week’s worth of meals simple and enjoyable and gives us time to work together after a stressful day at the office. Plus it makes our taste buds happy to try something new and exciting every month. Sometimes there are recipes that we’ve mentally marked as “never again,” but for the most part, we finish our dinners with a smile.

What are some of your favorite cooking blogs or magazines that give you inspiration?