I’d Rather Be Here

I'll be here.. in my dreams

I’ll be here.. in my dreams

Seattle doesn’t transition well.

When that sports-ball team won the Superbowl, there was celebratory chaos! Roads were shut down and I stayed-home like the chicken little I am. One drop of rain and people divide into two driver categories: Miss Daisy or Bat out of Hell. It is hilarious. Not. Sunshine? Oh, Lord – where did I put those sunglasses from the time it was sunny three weeks ago? Guess I’ll just squint and drive erratically.

Weather-wise, however, Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest is beginning it’s awkward transition to fall. Schools are opening their doors and stretching the halls to welcome the masses of young and old learners alike. Trees are debating if they want to change colors or just ditch those pesky leaves without much fuss. And the clouds cannot make up their minds: do we stay or do we go.

The weather’s transition to fall in Seattle is like a teenage girl trying on an outfit in the morning. It starts out with one idea… holds for a few moments and then pulls a complete 180 and tries something entirely different. It’s why we are the Masters of Layering. Not because we are cool, but because we are smart. No one wants to be that idiot still in a hoodie and jeans when it suddenly is 75 at 3pm. No, sir.

I would love to live in a place someday where Fall just happens. Not this month-long saga of will it/won’t it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still loving the final harvest in my garden and sunny evenings with Ellie in the backyard. But… the colors boasted by other regions just seem magical! To wake up one day and go “woah! when did that happen!?”.

My only consolation to this finicky weather pattern, the clothes.

I am a sucker for a scarf paired with a comfy sweater and boots. Pinterest doesn’t disappoint in fueling this love of mine and I swear my board is full of that combination in every color and season possible. I am on the hunt for a few good Seattle-worthy sweaters and a few more scarves. But first, I think I will day-dream a bit more of a perfect Fall day.

I also love any excuse for anything apple cider (adult or otherwise) and the smell of stews and bread coming from the kitchen. Thankfully, Mr. Plaid is the chef he is and can whip up an amazing stew and fresh bread to rival a restaurant.

What is your favorite part of the transition to Fall? The colors? The foods? The excuse to wear chunky clothes and cover up those extra cookies?? I’d love to know!

-Jenn

 

(photo credit to Scenes of Vermont)

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four-legged farming

It’s probably not surprising that right now, my favorite rabbit holes for inspiration are garden-related. I’m particularly, if mockingly, fond of the myriad delights the internet has to offer any time you do a quick search of “pet-friendly gardens.”

While I’m grateful for the lists of non-toxic plants this produces, it tickles me most of all to see the great lengths people go to when trying to design landscapes that will appeal to their furrier family members.

Maybe I’m a minimalist, and maybe my poor pets are woefully underpampered, but, honestly…it doesn’t seem that complicated to me. My three step plan for creating an irresistible dog oasis goes pretty much like this:

First, build some raised beds. We are trying out the ever-popular Square Foot Gardening concept this year, so 4×4 squares installed close to the house were the order of the day.

boxes

Feeling uncrafty, power-tool-pathetic, and all around lazy? These were no-tools-required kits from Home Depot for about $25 each. Small price to pay for a whole lot of easy, I say!

Next, add dirt to your newly built beds. Pretend the dog in the background is just hanging around, and not at all furtively watching your every move. If you do happen to make eye contact with the dog, you make sure and express, in word, gesture, and telepathy-suggestive brow-furrowing, that these? These newly-minted freshly-dirted garden beds? Are for VEGETABLES, not DOGS.

justadd

Notice I am saying nothing about digging down, or removing the grass. Because I didn’t. Because lazy. I did throw down some pretty spiffy weed cloth, which I plan on yanking out before next year’s planting. Because, if I haven’t mentioned, lazy.

Finally, turn your back. A second or two should do it.

garden

INSTANT DOG-FRIENDLY GARDEN, FOLKS. INSTANT. No lavish landscaping, palatial dog houses, or fancy fountains required.

Actually, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for most of us, the trick is building a pet UN-friendly garden, at least if you want said garden to produce anything other than muddy footprints. I could tell you some stories about fishing Jasmine out of the zucchini bed, and how I finally gave up and accepted that the dog just Does Not Approve Of Courgettes. However, my trials and tribulations in the land of canine trespassers and trampling have NOTHING on the excitement Jenn has had this year, so I’ll leave it to her to share all the tips, tricks, and tragedies there.

gone to the dogs

True fact: if you know, or have ever known, someone who had both a dog and a generally clean-ish, nice-ish home and/or yard, I need you to stop reading right now, call them, and tell them you’re awed by their work. Better still, go to them and give them a hug. Step back from the hug, look them in the face, tell them you understand, no really, you UNDERSTAND. Hug them again. Ask if there’s anything they can do. Fix them a drink, maybe.

We can talk all we want about the challenges we face in trying to make our homes happy, create culinary and cocktail nirvana, or piece together perfect projects. The biggest obstacles between us and magazine-ready lives aren’t our busy schedules and big dreams. No, they’re 4-legged juggernauts of destruction who meet us at our doors, with feathers and drywall caked in their smiling teeth, totally oblivious to the mangled mess they’ve made for us to clean up. Again. And again. And again.

You think I’m exaggerating? My dogs have been around for just shy of 8 years, and I’m on my 6th couch. SIX. COUCHES. Why?

couch

Yeah. That’s couch #2. Admittedly, it was a hand-me-down, but it was in damned good shape – certainly good enough to replace couch #1, which lost its will to live courtesy of Profoundly Destructive Puppyhood And A Weird Phase Of Malicious Pooping.

No joke, I switched my dogs to senior food this year when I realized that my current couch and loveseat are over a year old and only have one small tear.

There’s something magical about upholstery, I think. Personally, I’ve given up and accepted that the dogs believe a pillow’s place is on the floor in FRONT of the couch, at least until it is called home to the Great Couch in the Sky.

turd

But Jenn…well, her dogs are only just discovering the magic of throw pillows:

The insides of two Ikea throw pillows.

And hey! This is growth! Because usually, they specialize in rugs.

undertherug

They also really like to help with seasonal decoration by bringing the outdoors in:

dirtclod

sod it

And heaven help you if you try and help them on that quest. They’ll bring in plants themselves, damn you, and tell you EXACTLY what they think about your unscheduled interference in their plans:

lemoncompare

No, really. They will TELL you:

lemony

My dogs aren’t super-invested in house-plant-destruction – I have a cat, and if there’s one thing that herding-breed and livestock-type dogs respect, it’s a business model. They are, however, social reformers, which is to say, turn your back on them for a second, and they want to open doors and break down walls. Literally.

wall

 

Admit it, you thought I was kidding about the drywall, didn’t you.

As much as they may drive us to distraction – and by “distraction,” obviously, I mean “drinking” – we love them. Of COURSE we do. We love them for the memories of their squishy little puppy faces, sure, and yes, we love them for the whole companionship thing. But we also revel in their ridiculousness, like barking at their own fats, or thinking a car ride to a coffee kiosk is pretty much Disneyland wrapped up in rainbows and unicorn sparkles. So really, we don’t love them DESPITE the fact that they ruin our homes daily and our lives occasionally, we almost love ’em more because of it.

So.

We realize that “the dog days of summer” generally usually references those sticky-hot awful days in mid to late summer, when all of a sudden, strategic napping, panting, and resenting people who come to your door and make you wear pants all start to make TOTAL sense.

Right now, weather is mild enough to be universally appealing, and winter’s drudgery is still recent enough a memory that sunny days feel stolen and magical. Our yards are still fresh from springtime clean-up, and flower and vegetable gardens haven’t kicked into harvest overdrives. The big dirty projects are still easily dismissed for future consideration – plenty of summer left for that nonsense!

And that leaves us with blessedly little to do, except enjoy the outdoors with those members of our family who would happily pack up and live in the backyards if they could. This month? This temperate, relaxing month? These are OUR dog days of summer.

Clearly, I think, we’ve earned the reprieve.

First Impressions

 

When people walk into your home, how are they greeted? Is it with a pile of shoes and evidence of a busy, active home? Or are you striving for a Pottery Barn-esque entryway? As your guests walk through your home and get comfortable, there is inevitably, THE bathroom that becomes the guest bathroom. Maybe you only have one bathroom, and it serves double or triple duty. If you’re like me, there is the quintessential “powder room”. The bathroom that is maintained just a bit more, in case guests stop by and always looks ready.

My powder room started in a blah blank place. The people we purchased our home from where ‘flippers’ and they were motivated to make the house as universally appealing as possible. And while they certainly succeeded, it’s not how I would love the room. Mr. Plaid and I look to do our own reno projects someday, to the kitchen and bathroom(s), but that takes dollars and skills, both of which… well, we’re progressing on in our own time.

For the powder room, I would love to see the manufacture-grade cabinet/sink combo be replaced with a lovely pedestal sink, it would take up less space but make more of an impact.

 

 

The mirror above the cabine-sink is huge, actually takes up the entire wall on that side from left to right and sits under a row of bulb lights. We all know the ones I’m talking about. They are unflattering and a pain to clean? You know the ones?

Basic, basic, basic

Basic, basic, basic

I would replace those with a lovely pair of (flattering) lower-watt sconces that would be soft enough that could be left on during dinner parties without being obtrusive. Like these:

SchoolHouse Electric

Schoolhouse Electric

But until then, I am left with two Kohl canvas finds and a trip to the big box store on the hunt for paint.

 

My first thought was to embrace my desire for color and bold tones in the house, so I thought a goldenrod or even orange would do the trick.

Not so Golden

Not so Golden

That got vetoed. Fast.

Still trying to choose

Still trying to choose

So I went and tried to find an interesting enough color that still was vibrant and inviting, while trying to make the space feel bigger. Let me just confess something here, paint color picking, is hard for me. Not only because of my commitment issues, but because I put a lot of pressure on the color. For some of my rooms and progress with making my house a home, paint and the color I choose is the main player until more aspects of the room can be brought together. It’s not an all or nothing. Every project and DIY effort is in flux and changing. I still have plans for my buffet, or that damn bar tray. I bake Macarons at least once a month, trying new flavors and colors, getting the Pied just right and the softness perfect.

Still trying to convince him

Still trying to convince him

Anyway, I am rambling. “Waiter… more coffee please!!”

Back to my color dilemma. As you can see, Mr. Plaid helped choose a more man-friendly color, and since I wanted him to continue encouraging my décor endeavors, I obliged the blue-grey and dove right in.

Gray?

Gray?

Let me tell you, cutting in and taping that room, was a pain. In my neck, my back, and metaphorically, my ass.

Good prep does make a job easier

Good prep does make a job easier

Cut and tape

Cut and tape

But, the quick change was welcome and continues to be a bright spot.

Not too shabby

Not too shabby

Thanks for reading, we love comments and feedback!

-jenn

 

 

Lazy wins out

Sometimes, you get inspired, you make a mood board, you paint test and buy all the supplies ever. You prime, you paint and you step back and go… yup, good enough.

Sometimes, Lazy wins out.

Your inner decorator bitches at you “but you were INSPIRED” and the tired decorator says “shove it” and drinks a beer. That’s basically how it went with the master bathroom painting.

First things, a reminder:
I WAS inspired

I researched all the right and wrong ways to paint stripes, read which sheens were the best to ensure the effect I was going for and then, after test-painting what seemed like all the greens EVER, found the right hue and dove in. I went with Eddie Bauer’s ‘Stem Green’ (EB22-4) for my final color and, like the instructions say, started with my semi-gloss sheen, to ensure good protection in a humid room.

So many options

So many options

The Painted Surface had a great step by step tutorial, and just googling “tonal stripes” found me all kinds of images and links to choose from. By the time I was done reading, I was ready to hire a professional and just have it done for me. But that would defeat the point, right? So, I cleaned out the room, wiped the walls down, and taped it out.

The first coat went on nice and easy and in the time it takes to a drink a few beers, it was dry enough for a second coat. [Confession: I have little patience for things like drying paint and sprouting plants. For some reason, I think the minute I stick a seed in the ground or throw some paint on the wall, angels should sing and flowers will bloom. Unfortunately, reality dashes a lot of dreams.]

By the time I finished with the second coat, the writing was on the wall. I was not feeling inspired to wait, tape, paint and then paint again.

Horse Photography

Horse Photography

 

As I had already completed two other projects for my mini-makeover, I thought, I’ll just set up the room and see how it looks.  I don’t even know why I was pretending. I knew I wasn’t going to come back to the stripes. I wanted to, I still want to. And maybe I will in the coming months, but, at the time, ugh – I was just done. I had new towels, new mats, great photography to put up and a cute little cabinet found and re-done from craigslist.

 

A little paint and a little love

A little paint and a little love

 

As my therapist tells me, ‘sometimes, good enough, is just good enough’. I still feel accomplished and enjoy the project for what it is. Sometimes, things just aren’t going to get those angels to hallelujah and it’s not going to get re-pinned on that ever-loving website. But, it is good enough to poop in, and I guess that’s really the point. Right?

For now...

For now…

-jenn

 

 

 

 

All that glitters

So a while back, Jenn sent me a link to a tray she found instant, swoony love with on etsy. I took a peek, and had two nearly-simultaneous thoughts:

screenshot

1.) Instant, swoony love is an unfaithful beast, and we are just going to have to make this work somehow.

2.) $98? $98?? NINETY EIGHT DOLLARS? That better be real gold. It also better smell like cookies and hand-wash my laundry for me. For $98, the snozzberries sure as hell better taste like snozzberries.

Don’t get me wrong, I am usually a huge proponent of the idea that there really isn’t too high a price to pay for The Perfect Thing, but this seriously challenged that belief system.

Out with the instant, swoony love and in with the throwing of gauntlets: surely, SURELY we could make something passably similar? You know, like, for any dollar amount UNDER $98??

After our last foray into a challenge like this, Jenn insisted on ground rules, because apparently admittedly, I cheat. So, the non-negotiables:

– start with this big, basic, under-$8 tray from ikea

– make it white and gold

– make it as cheaply as possible.

We weren’t even out of Ikea before Jenn was talking technical concerns like primer. Honestly I kind of zoned out, because I knew I had more than enough leftover chalk paint from prior projects. Primer? That’s just precious. Excuse me while I just slap down some no-fail covers-anything Old White magic.

onecoat

No need for primer here!

I was blissfully unconcerned with sparse and wibbly first coat coverage because, well, first coat. This wasn’t my first chalk paint rodeo. I’ve thrown this stuff down on some of the grossest things a thrift store run has ever produced, and it never fails me. My faith in Annie Sloan was absolute.

Until.

crackalack

UNTIL!

Here’s the thing: I am not super great at reading directions. So I didn’t really stop and read the “if you have left this can of paint sitting idle in a drawer for more than a year, do the following” that was super-clearly printed on the label. Actual instructions: flip over, shake like crazy. What I did: half-assedly stirred with a chopstick, then started painting.

So, basically, my faith in chalk paint and my faith in my ability to make new and awesomely stupid mistakes pretty much daily both escaped unscathed.

In the meantime, I had a project to salvage. So…yeah. Primer to the rescue.

primed

Sigh.

I went heavy handed, mostly due to blind panic, and partly due to beer. Also, it’s very possible that I was using spray primer and in my kitchen and with no thought what so ever to ventilation. Because I am super smart.

When it came time to gild this fume-heavy melamine lily, I ditched the straight lines entirely. My reasoning was simple: this rectangular tray was going to go onto my rectangular dining table in my rectangular dining room. Any opportunity to add a soft edge and a little swirl of curve and curl was just not to be missed.

swirl

$2 paint pen at the craft store + 30 minutes of harnessing my adolescent self, who majored in swirly doodles in high school = oh. hell. yes.

golden

Total cost: new materials, tray included, $10. Primer, paint, and brushes were already on hand. So was the beer I pounded in a panic when the paint started chipping away on me, for that matter.

Net result: instant, swoony love? Not really. But I like what I’ve got. And clearly, it likes living in my dining room, where it’s already played host to condiments and salt and pepper shakers for a family dinner and served as a catch-all for my garden planning notes.

inplace

I’m a little worried about its long-term durability, thanks to the early panic, but I’m pretty sure there was some polyurethane in the same drawer as the chalk paint. Don’t worry, I’ll remember to shake it really well before I use it.

Laissez les bons temps rouller!

There’s some things in my kitchen that have, for no real reason, become irrevocably linked with certain foods.  Salads only get made in the big white bowl that was my first grown-up purchase for my first apartment.  Banana bread is never to be baked in anything other than the blue glass loaf pan.  The sangria pitcher is the sangria pitcher and the margarita pitcher is the margarita pitcher, and never the twain shall meet.

The purple Pyrex bowl serves double duty.  It’s the official mixing bowl of brownie batter, and it’s the surest sign that there’s about to be gumbo in the house.  Not for nothing, that bowl out on the counter is like a prophet of awesomeness.

veggiebowls

I’ve been making gumbo from the same recipe for so long that I don’t remember where the recipe came from originally, and don’t even refer back to the scribbled list of ingredients on the piece of oil-splattered paper shoved in the back of my 1960’s-edition Joy Of Cooking.  By and large, I make this dish from a combination of rote memory and eyeballing proportions, and trust my nose to make sure it all comes out right in the end.

I can’t promise that this is a particularly authentic recipe, but I do promise that it’s a pretty awesome recipe.

How it’s done:

Start with 2 onions – yellow, white, whichever.  Chop ’em up, and don’t worry too much about making it pretty.

Add three bell peppers.  Sometimes I’ll use all green, because for whatever arbitrary reason, they’re cheaper.  When the pretty colors go on sale, though, I like to mix it up.  Chop the peppers up, and again, don’t worry too much about making it pretty.  Honestly, you couldn’t ugly these up if you tried.

chopchop

Celery comes next.  I generally try and make sure I have about the same amount of celery as I do peppers.  Sometimes that’s 5 or 6 ribs.  Last night, it ended up being 9.  It’s possible I got slightly carried away because I like chopping celery.  Really, nothing makes you feel more like a legitimate chef like a santoku and celery stalks.

chopchop2

In a separate bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 or 3 bay leaves, and a generous 1/2 teaspoon each of black pepper, white pepper, thyme, oregano, and cayenne pepper.  It probably sounds like a lot of salt and a lot of heat, but trust me.  The salt is necessary, and as for the cayenne…we have fancy extra-hot 60,000 Scoville-scaled cayenne pepper in my house and heap that spoonful without a second thought.

In yet another bowl, measure out 3/4 cups of flour, and in yet another other bowl, add three heaping teaspoons of chopped garlic.

All the bowls are for a reason:  everything gets added at different times, and once you start cooking, there’s no time to pause for measuring or mixing.  That’s because step one is making a roux, and bringing it perilously close to scorching without actually letting anything get burned.

If you’ve made cream-based sauces before, you’re familiar with the roux-making process.  Sauces like that usually use butter, which has a much lower smoke point than the vegetable oil in this recipe.  That means this roux can take a bit more heat, and be cooked much darker, much more safely, than a butter-based roux.  However, it doesn’t have the nice, predictable seize-and-release that butter roux does, which makes it just as important, if not more so, to keep the whole mixture moving.

If you’ve never made a roux before, please just ignore everything I’ve said above, which probably makes the process mystical and somewhat daunting.  It isn’t.

First, heat a pan over medium heat. Much like the bowl, I have a designated gumbo pot; it’s a 5 quart dutch oven.  Any pan about that size will work, but if you have one with short, easily gripped handles, that’s the one you want to use.

Once the pan is hot, add 3/4 cup of vegetable oil. Heat it until you can see the heat shimmering on the oil’s surface, then dump in the flour.  Whisk, whisk, and keep whisking some more, keeping the whole thing moving, and paying special attention to the areas directly over the heat element on the stove.  It’s going to smell like hot oil for a while, and then kind of like popcorn.  That’s normal, and if you get nervous, you can use the roux once it hits that popcorn-scented stage, but let it go a little longer if you can.

Dark roux has the best flavor, but does the weakest job of thickening the final gumbo.  Light roux thickens like a champ, but it tends to be bland. I like to try and land somewhere between a rich caramel and a milk chocolate.

caramel

Once the roux is ready, dump the whole bowl of vegetables in on top of it.  Do it quickly, but carefully – I’ve sustained a few burns being careless at this point.  Switch from a whisk to the sturdiest wooden spoon you have, and stir and stir and stir til the vegetables are well-coated in the roux.

wegetables

Cook for 5 or 6 minutes.  Stir frequently, but not with the obsessive fervor you used during the roux-making.  Things should be smelling pretty great right now.  Be careful that you don’t drool into the pan.  Add the bowl of seasonings, and the bowl of garlic, and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently.

If you put your nose over the pot and suddenly have a really good idea of what heaven smells like, you’re doing great.

Add 5 cups of liquid, and stir well, washing down the sides of the pan while you’re at it.  If you’re trying go easy on the sodium, stock is going to suit you better than broth.  I use broth, myself.  Use beef, chicken, seafood, or vegetable stock or broth – it really doesn’t matter.  Mix a few together if you’ve got oddball partial cans or cartons on hand.  I usually use home made chicken stock if I have it, or store-bought beef broth if I don’t.

Bring the liquid up to a simmer; leave it there for 10 minutes or so, then add sausage or chicken.  I almost always use sausage, and vacillate between using legitimate andouille and Johnsonville beef hot links.  Honestly?  Minimal difference in the final product.  I do recommend pan-searing andouille before using it, though; it doesn’t really retain its texture well otherwise.  If you’re not interested in using sausage, chicken works well at this stage.  However you do it, just make sure you’re adding something like a pound of it.

Leave the whole mess on a simmer, stirring occasionally if you happen to be in the vicinity, for about 30 minutes, then turn off the heat and add a 1/2 teaspoon or so of file powder and a pound of peeled, tail-free, deveined shrimp.  If you don’t like shrimp, you can always just add more chicken or sausage, but I strongly recommend you seek professional help, because seriously who doesn’t like shrimp.

As soon as the shrimp is done, you’re ready to eat.  Serve over rice, and sprinkled with a more file powder.  Leave plenty of room in your bowl to mix things around in, and to justify going back for seconds.

file

Happy and blissfully literal Fat Tuesday, everyone!