From Barbie House to Bookcase Dresser “Hutch”

bookcasedresserhutch

Last Christmas, we made our daughter a Barbie “dream loft” out of a bookcase. Less than a year later, The Bear was over it. “Barbie is soooo bored being in the house all day, Mom…” (Coincidently, Barbie overcame her agoraphobia around the same time our daughter started going to preschool five days a week.) Barbie wanted to see the world. To get out on the town. Paint it pink.

No arguments here. I was sick of The Bean, now 14 months, constantly trying to snack on tiny hairbrushes and shoes, which were always haphazardly left lying about the doll house. (Between me and you, Barbie is a freaking slob.)

littlesister.png

The Bear was also tired of her little sister ALL UP IN her stuff. When I suggested we turn Barbie’s loft back into a bookcase, The Bear pointed out that we needed to put it higher on the wall so Mini Godzilla didn’t terrorize the books. Agreed.

The solution was simple. A bookcase dresser “hutch.” Say whaaaat? Yeah, we will get to that. But first, I had to dismantle the doll house. If you check out the original post, you’ll see that I foresaw the diminished attention span of my preschooler and knew this Barbie house was only going to be a fixture in our lives for a short bit. It seemed like such a waste to convert that $10 bookcase into Barbie’s dream loft only to throw it away when Barbie was ready to head to the ‘burbs. So I attached all the “wallpaper” and accessories with double sided tape so it could be easily removed when the time came. I forgot to take pictures of taking the paper off the “walls,” so please use your imagination for that part of the demolition.

barbiehousedismantle.png

After removing the door, “elevator,” and hook that hung the “TV,” I set those items aside for another project. (Yes, I will find a way to reuse a Dollar Store pink vase elevator–spoiler alert: I’m working on a wicked busy board for The Bean for Christmas this year.)

bracket.png

The next step was to attach the bookcase to the stud with a bracket. The corbels were already attached to the dream house to mimic a roof, but it’s almost like I knew we were headed towards a bookcase dresser hutch!

books.png

With the bookcase secured, it was time to settle the books into their new home. I put the books we read from most often, and the books The Bear would most likely want to look at on her own on the bottom two shelves. I saved the top shelf for the chapter books that we only read before bedtime.

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The final touch was reusing one of the push lights that lit up Barbie’s loft.

bookcasedresserhutch.png

If I have to be honest, this project was just my attempt cover up more of the “Botticelli Angel” pink walls we inherited in the move and ARE NOT allowed to paint over per the insistence of our oldest half pint. Just kidding… as pink walls go, at least I didn’t have to paint them.

Fall 2016 Vegetable Garden

beans

Our new home is centrally located the heart of Jacksonville–close to shopping, close enough to Rocksteady’s work, and in a good school zone. Somehow, we managed to find a largish (1/3+ acre) lot with a conservation preserve in the backyard that affords us privacy. The preserve takes up most of the backyard though, so our outdoor living and gardening space is much smaller than I hoped. I just keep reminding myself it’s less to mow…

backyard veggie garden.png

This picture captures the right half of our backyard, and you can see we tucked the garden off to the far side. When we moved in a month ago, the fence actually cut across the middle of the backyard. It ran directly out from where you see it turn 90 degrees. After reviewing our property survey, we realized the preserve starts about fifteen to twenty feet deeper than the fence line. So we took down the back run of the wood fence and plan to install a black aluminum rail fence a little further back, which will give us a better view of the forest.

Rocksteady thinks the fence project is way down the road. I forecast it happening early winter when we realize all the conservation beasts are attacking the garden… and dear husband gets nervous that I’ll start attacking him if we don’t take steps to protect the vegetables.

The plants in question range from tomatoes to sugar snap peas to beans and stir fry brocooli.  There’s even a bok choy seedling that survived Hurricane Matthew.

beans

There are two 4’x4’ beds, and the one pictured above has two patio cherry tomato plants with a smattering of carrots in between them and a lot of green, yellow, and purple snap beans. The other 4’x4’ bed has a few cauliflower plants (that aren’t looking too good after the hurricane) and several dill plants.

raised vegetable beds

The long bed, pictured right, is about 20” wide and 16’ in length. There are three Golden Jubliee heirloom tomatoes and a ten foot row of sugar snap peas. When it gets a little cooler, we will transplant lettuce and greens in front of the peas. I’m actually surprised the peas sprouted. The Bear (our four year old daughter) and I harvested those seeds from the spring crop at our old house. Check out this post to see how to harvest sugar snap seeds.

broccoli brussels sprouts

The last bed, 4’x8’, has a row of beans (sowed two weeks after the first batch and not pictured), nine stir fry brocooli plants, four Brussels sprouts, and one wee bok choy. This raised bed extends over a natural ditch that transitions into the preserve. Rocksteady recycled some of the old fence posts he took down to build up the backside of this bed, which is three times deeper than the front.

Wish us lots of sun, rain, and no more hurricanes! And of course, stay tuned for fresh and healthy recipes from our fall garden.

The Dining Room Do-over

dining room makeover

Hi again. This post has been months in the making. (Not the dining room makeover part, but the back to blogging part.) After months of hotel living, home selling and buying, and de-crustifying the new home, we are finally starting to get settled. And I’m stoked to be growing, tasting, and creating again!

The dining room was the first room in the new house to get some Rocksteady and Bebop love. Here’s what we started with:

before dining room

Note: This is the picture from the listing, so this isn’t actually our furniture.

I’m not sure how to describe the color… mauve, dark rose, rusty blood? In any case, it wasn’t our taste. We briefly considered doing another crazy mural accent wall like we had at our previous house. Yet, the features of this room—the wainscoting, wood floors, arched window—are traditional.  We decided any sort of accent with paint would look too busy above the chair rail.

We played around with some sexy neutrals like Sherwin Williams “Sea Salt” (a light blue green grey) and “Peppercorn” (a dark charcoal). Ultimately, we decided those neutrals made the room feel too traditional. This room was begging for some pop, some drama, and a bit of funk. But whatever color(s) we chose had to coordinate with the formal living room directly across the foyer.

flowerpainting

We used the color scheme in the painting over the couch for inspiration. Six samples of paint later, we settled on the dining room paint color—“Ocean Soul” by Valspur.

Valspur Oceansoul

Onward to decorating. As many of you have gleaned, we are fantastically frugal. (Stay tuned for a post on a bookcase turned Barbie house turned bookcase dresser hutch. Say that five times fast…) However, the Lowe’s chandelier we fell in love with was $250. Ouch! That’s a far cry from the $20 pendant shade we used in our last dining room. It’s okay though. It’s super gorg.

blingchandelier

A little blingish, but traditional in materials. I like that the oval and teardrop shapes coordinate with the curves of the arched window.

However, splurging on the chandelier meant we needed free or really cheap art. Something about the traditional features of the room, especially the rectangular wainscoting trim screamed: BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO COLLAGE.

chandelier photo collage

Luckily, I found the frames for $6/each at Michaels. Then, I raided my go-to pile of black and white beach prints. I’ve been using different combinations of the same 24 photos for at least a decade now. The prints were cut out of two calendars by a local Florida photographer, Clyde Butcher.

clyde butcher

You can’t beat calendar art for decorating on a budget. Featuring nature prints from our home state is just a bonus.

diningroomart

We pulled from the stack of art that we rotate house to house to complete the look. (Did I mention that this is Rocksteady and my ninth move together in ten years?) The lighthouse and row boat were in the family room at our last house, but they accompany the Clyde Butcher prints really well.

dining room makeover

Dining room makeover, check!

chandelier drama

Drama, yes please!

All that’s left is opening a bottle of wine and baking a pile of nachos… who’s coming over for dinner?

Caprese Sandwich

caprese sandwich

Light and bright, these Caprese sandwiches are perfect for a easy bistro style dinner or lunch. I crave them in summer when it’s too hot to think about standing at the stove or turning on the oven to cook. They come together in minutes thanks to prepared pesto. All you have to do is slice, spread, and stack!

caprese sandwich

Caprese Sandwich

Serves 2

 

4 slices dense bread, such as sourdough or ciabatta

8 oz fresh buffalo mozzarella

1 large beefsteak tomato

2 Tbls prepared pesto

2 Tbls mayo

Handful mixed greens

Balsamic glaze or balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

 

To make, toast the bread until golden brown. In the meantime, combine the pesto and mayo. Slice the tomato and mozzarella into thick slices and season the tomatoes with salt and pepper. When the bread is done, spread the pesto mayo onto each slice to coat. Then stack two slices with the mozzarella, tomatoes, mixed greens, and drizzle with the balsamic glaze. (You can substitute balsamic vinegar but go easy or it will be a wet sandwich!) Top with the remaining two slices of bread. Serve with a simple mixed greens salad or fresh fruit.

caprese sandwich

Needing a heartier meal? Add your favorite deli meats or grilled chicken or steak for super sized caprese sandwich.

Backyard Planters for Spring

backyard planter

When I picked up this sad clearance shelf sweet potato vine last fall, I wouldn’t have bet on it surviving the month, let alone the season. So what I did I do? I took that root bound plant and chopped it into three. Because I’m cheap, and three sad sweet potato vines for $2 sounded a whole lot better than one. Here’s one of the planters this spring.

sweet potato vine

Rock on, sweet potato. Looks like $2 well spent, especially since my goal for transforming our dilapidated overgrown suburban jungle (aka backyard) was zeroscaping. As in I wanted to spend ZERO dollars on yard improvements. The giant palmetto bush in the back was uncovered by clearing out the five foot tall weeds. The pinkish ti plant (and its eighty seven brothers) was relocated from the side of the house. The croton in the foreground was memorialized from my grandfather’s funeral arrangement.

Come spring and the miraculously thriving sweet potato vine inspired me to look for ways to add more color and texture to the backyard. I went to the nursery looking for thrill and fill to add to my sweet potato spill–the trifecta formula for gorgeous containers. (Or so I’ve been told. My containers usually look like “thirsty” and “worse.”) I came home with some 97 cent annuals in yellow and purple. At least this way when they die a slow humid death mid-summer, I won’t regret dipping into the college fund.

To plant, we first added some dirty rocks to the bottom of the pot.

container garden

I pretend these are for improving drainage, but really they are the mistake I call “trying to get rid of the moldy rock mulch in the front beds.” Tip: you can never get rid of rock mulch. It just burrows deeper. It’s like freaking quicksand unto itself. I dug up a few buckets full before giving up and covering the beds with wet cardboard and pine mulch. Relocating those buckets into these containers just meant I didn’t have to figure out how to throw them away.

mulch planter filler

Then, we added mulch mulch as filler. It is way cheaper than soil and will make the pots much lighter. (I know I will end up dragging them around the yard a few dozen times before finding the perfect spots.)

sweet potato container

We added our plants and some soil, then repeated the entire process times the two remaining containers.

planter

Color? Check. Texture? Check. Remembering to water… wish me luck.

Painted Concrete Patio

The past few weeks have been crazy hectic, but at least it’s for a good reason. Rocksteady got offered a great job opportunity in Jacksonville! We are stoked to be moving back to where our love story began, the city of seven bridges. But first, we have to sell our house, find and arrange temporary living, tour and select a preschool, and transport life 1.5 hours north. No biggie. This will our TENTH move together. We’ve got this.

In preparing to list our house, we have taken on a multitude of smallish projects improve the property, including updating the fireplace with mosaic tiles and replacing the half window back door with a full window back door. Of course, as soon as we put in the new glass door, we noticed how crappy the back patio looked.

peeling concrete patio

A peeling, cracked surface practically adjacent to our newly remodeled kitchen and family room was not going to fly. Especially since the reason we wanted a larger window on the door was to enjoy the gorgeous backyard views.

backyard lake

Painting the concrete was an easy and affordable way to clean up the patio. We borrowed concrete etcher from my dad, which helped prepare the pathetic looking patio for paint.

concrete etcher

The concrete etcher was easy to use. Just clean the surface, then scrub the concrete with the etcher. Wait about 10-20 minutes, then spray off the surface to remove the etcher. Once the concrete is dry, you are ready to paint.

painted concrete patios

What a difference just one coat of paint made! The light tan color we chose, Valspur’s “Hopstack,” looks great against the white exterior of the house and next to the green grass. It’s a little darker than it appears in these pictures.

painted patio

For $26 in paint, this project now lets us enjoy the million (or at least hundred) dollar view without the distraction of an eyesore patio. Hopefully, the next homeowner will love it as much as we do.🙂

 

Barbie No Sew Koozie Dress

barbie no sew koozie dress

When my daughter needed new outfits for her Barbies (because heaven forbid her dolls just trade outfits with each other), I looked around the house for some inspiration. I wanted a no sew dress that was quick to make but also easy enough for The Bear to dress the dolls herself. That eliminated any sort of outfit that required tying.

First, we made a sock dress.

barbie sock dress

It was super simple to make—just cut off the top of a toddler sized sock. But it seriously lacks pizzazz. I mean, Fashion Barbie has low lights. If I wouldn’t be caught dead in a knit tube dress, there’s no way she’s wearing it.

In the kitchen, I struck gold. I found a zebra striped beer koozie. It was just one of the zillion koozies junking up the drawer. Obviously, we attend a lot of weddings. Right…

The koozie already had two slits on either sides that I figured would work as the arm holes, so all we needed was the neck cutout. I used a quarter to measure as I cut.

koozie no sew barbie dress

And voila! A little avant garde, don’t you think?

no sew koozie barbie dress

It was so chic and easy, we ended up making two.

barbie no sew koozie dress

What are your no sew solutions?

The Perfect Veggie Burger Formula

veggie burger green bean fries

Warning: these veggie burgers are killer. Adapted from the recipe used at a restaurant I used to work for, they are NOT your one note burger. They have texture, complex flavors, and just the right amount of moisture. My favorite part is how easily you can swap out ingredients and get the same results—an absolutely delicious burger. I’ve broken the recipe down into a formula of ingredients types. That way, you can tweak the burgers with your favorite flavors for endless combinations of drool worthy meatless Mondays.

The Base

I use grains and beans as the base of these burgers. For the grains, I use two or three types, usually a combination of brown rice, lentils, barley, and quinoa. You could also try farro, couscous, or split peas depending on your preferences. It’s a great way to use up the last ¼ c or so of a bag. For the beans, I prefer black beans, but in the burgers pictured, I used cannellini since that’s what I had on hand. Don’t skip the step where you dry them out in the oven. It takes the mush out of the beans and creates the perfect texture for adding to the burger.

brown rice lentils barley veggie burgers

The Sticky

A great veggie burger holds its shape while cooking and while you’re chowing down. These burgers are sturdy enough that you can slap them on a greased grill next to the meat eaters’ fare. I like to use a part savory part sweet sticky mix in a 4:1 ratio (1 cup to ¼ cup). Two of my favorite combinations are beets/prunes and sweet potato/golden raisin.

The Earthy

Here’s where the fresh flavors come in. Use mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, shredded zucchini or carrots. Then add fresh herbs to brighten up the burgers. I love to use lots of parsley or basil, but you could use cilantro, oregano, tarragon, dill…

mushrooms veggie burger

The Binders

While the sticky ingredients help keep these burgers together, I also use egg and panko breadcrumbs. The egg is added to a still hot grains mixture so it cooks when incorporated. There is no need to “cook” the burgers later, just heat them until warmed through.

The Spice

The last layer of flavor comes from whatever spice blend you choose. I’ve done everything from using Cajun seasonings to adding pesto. When in doubt, a little chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and salt will do the trick every time.

spices cumin paprika chili powder

Bonus: These burgers freeze beautifully. I keep a stack of individually wrapped burgers in the freezer ready for a last minute lunch or dinner.

 

Veggie Burgers

Makes 8 patties

 

¾ c grains (I used a mix of brown rice, barley, lentils, and quinoa)

1 ½ c water

1 c canned beans, rinsed and drained

1 c savory sticky, like cooked sweet potato or roasted beets (you can cook them in the oven next to the beans)

¼ c sweet sticky, like chopped golden raisins or prunes

½ c earthy ingredients, like sautéed mushrooms, shredded zucchini (salted and drained in a colander), sun-dried tomato, chopped spinach, kale, etc

2 Tbls chopped fresh herbs, like parsley or basil

About 2 tsp total of dried spices, such as ½ tsp each of chili powder, salt, cumin, and garlic powder

1 egg

½ c panko breadcrumbs

Buns and burger toppings

 

Step 1

Combine the grains and water in a large pot and simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 20-45 minutes depending on the grains. (A mixture with brown rice will take the longest.) Add more water if the grains start to dry out.

Step 2

Meanwhile, spread the beans (and sliced canned beets or cubed sweet potatoes) on a sheet pan. Cook at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Sauté mushrooms or other veggies if necessary.

beans mushrooms veggie burgers

Step 3

When the grains are tender and the water is absorbed, mash the beans and sticky ingredients into the grains until the mixture becomes tight. To do this, the mixture needs to be HOT. Then, add the rest of the ingredients and stir really well to fully mix.

sweet potato beans mushroom veggie burger

eggs panko veggie burger

Step 4

Divide and form mixture into 8 patties. These burgers come out about 3 ½” in diameter, perfect for a brioche or some other small bun. Individually wrap and freeze any you don’t plan on using within a few days.

Step 5

To cook the burgers, heat a nonstick skillet to medium high. Cook the burger until golden brown on each side. When the burger is browned, I like to spread some kind of sauce like barbeque or teriyaki on the burger and top with cheese. This helps the burger stay moist. Add whatever toppings and condiments you prefer and enjoy! (And don’t feel bad about adding bacon on top–we do it all the time.)

veggie burger green bean fries

This burger was served with tempura green bean “fries.” This is what healthy looks like at our house. At least we skipped the bacon today!

Six Scrumptious Tomato Recipes

tomatoes banana peppers green beans

Nothing says May in Central Florida like tomatoes galore. In our garden this spring, we have eight tomato plants: one Italian cherry tomato, one Black Krim, one Homestead, one Mountain Gold (which is almost dead), two Tasti Lees (planted from seeds harvested from store bought tomatoes=wild card), and two San Marzanos.

san marzano tomatoes

The San Marzano bush (to the right of the sunflower) has been giving us 1-3 tomatoes a day. Here’s what I picked this morning…

tomatoes vegetable garden

…to add to what we haven’t been able to eat or give away. Time to get cooking!

tomatoes

When the garden (or market) is overflowing with ripe summer tomatoes, try one of my “go-to” tomato recipes.

  1. Roasted Tomato Salsa by Once Upon a Chef

This is our newest favorite tomato recipe. I could drink this stuff, it’s that freakin’ good. It’s very easy to make–just chop, toss, and broil for 10-15 minutes before pulsing in the food processor. The slight char on the veggies takes this salsa to a new level of smoky fresh goodness. It’s delicious hot, amazing cold. I would eat it in a box with a fox.

  1. Baked Salmon in Foil by Giada de Laurentiis

Yes, salmon smothered in tomatoes, shallots, lemon, and herbs. You haven’t tried salmon until you’ve tried this recipe. The tomatoes do something magical to tame the salmon, keeping it moist and flavorful but not fishy.

  1. Crustless Caprese Quiche by Fresh April Flours

This quiche is simple enough to whip up for quick dinner and fancy enough to serve at a brunch party. It is fabulous hot or at room temperature and reheats well the next day. The only tweak I make to this recipe is to toss the onion, garlic, tomato mixture with a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs. This helps absorb some of the moisture from the tomatoes. If you are looking for a new meatless main or impressive party dish, whip out your eggs and tomatoes and get capre-zy!

  1. Stuffed Tomatoes by Sunny Anderson

These light and bright stuffed tomatoes feature breadcrumbs, garlic, and parmesan. A perfect side to grilled or roasted meats and veggies, these stuffed tomatoes are stellar hot out of the oven and at room temperature. Substitute your favorite herbs and cheeses in this extremely versatile recipe.

  1. Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup by Ina Garten

I don’t know about you, but tomato soup is one of the first things that comes to mind when spring tomatoes start rolling in. It’s already in the 90s here, so I have to crank up the AC to trick Rocksteady into wanting soup for dinner. I have tried many a tomato basil soup recipe. Most I find too acidic. Ina adds carrots to this one, which really balances the tomato flavor. The only downside to this recipe is that it doesn’t make nearly enough. If only I had a pot big enough to make a 5-gallon bucket worth…

  1. All’Amatriciana Sauce (Bacon Marinara) by Giada de Laurentiis…she sure knows her way around a tomato!

I grew up watching my Italian mother and Nana making spaghetti sauce from scratch, talking to the pot as they added this and that. Suffice it to say, I know my way around a marinara. But I’m not going to lie. Giada’s recipe is ridiculously good and super easy. It only takes 15 minutes and tastes like it was cooking all day. The linked recipe includes meatballs, but feel free to stop at the sauce. Your noodles will thank you.

tomatoes banana peppers green beans

What do you like to do with a big pile of tomatoes? Please share your favorites with me—these recipes are only going to last us about six days!

Mosaic Tile Fireplace Makeover

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

The nicotine stained, faux pink veined marble on our fireplace had to go. It was the last trace of 90s “model home” in the main living area. Once we completed our open concept kitchen renovation, the fireplace seemed to mock us with its ugliness.

fireplace makeover

Luckily though, it has good bones. We like the trim and mantel, and figured tiling directly on top of the faux marble would be an easy way to update the look. We decided the small 1”x1” square mosaic tiles mounted on mesh would be the simplest to install since we could just cut the mesh pieces to size with scissors. No need to bother with a tile saw!

Our budget for this project was $100, and we ended up spending $104 since we splurged on a new trowel. The mosaic glass tiles we found at Home Depot, called Ivory Iridescent Glass, were only $4.99/sf which was a really good deal. Most of the comparable mesh mounted tiles we saw ran between $10-15/sf.

ivory irdescent glass

fireplace supplies

In addition to the tile sheets, we purchased ceramic tile adhesive, non-sanded grout (for up to 1/8” spacing), a grout trowel, and a sponge. (We already had a bucket and a grout float.)

mosaic tiles fireplace makeover

The Bear was thrilled to open the tile packages, using her big girl scissors, while we laid out the bottom row of tile.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

For the first tile, we made sure to line up the upper right corner cut out of the tile with the bottom left corner of the fireplace box. We had to cheat the tile away from the outside edge slightly to line it up. If we hadn’t done this though, we would have had to cut the tiles with a wet saw. Later, we will fill in any gaps around the perimeter with while caulk (the same color as the trim) so it shouldn’t be noticeable.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

With the bottom row of tiles ready, Rocksteady spread the tile adhesive.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

I quickly applied the tile sheets across the bottom row, while Rocksteady spread adhesive up the left side. I made sure to press lightly so the adhesive didn’t come up through the cracks too much.

We used a small spatula to spread the adhesive all the way to the edges. Using leftover cut tiles, we filled in the last few inches of the row.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

We tiled up both sides first, instead of working clockwise. That way, the top row will line up with both sides and be level across the top.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

We were lucky that the tiles fell even with the top of the fireplace cutout! After finishing the top row, we let the adhesive dry for a few hours before grouting.

Next, Rocksteady mixed the grout, and I taped the cardboard backing from the tile packages on the floor to protect the floor tile from spills.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

We spread the grout over the tiles, working quickly so we could sponge up the excess. It’s easy to remove the grout from the tile surface when it is wet, but much more difficult once it dries. (I should know. When we first bought the house, we scraped the popcorn ceilings and refinished the surfaces with drywall mud where needed. We were too lazy, too frazzled, too excited? to cover the floors first. We ended up with about a gallon of drywall mud in golf ball sized drops dried across our kitchen, foyer, and bar area tiles. It took weeks to scrape, scrub, beg the dried mud up! Although that had nothing on the “toddlers let loose on brownie pan, adults let loose on beer pong” party disaster…)

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

It took a few passes of grouting and wiping to fill the cracks completely. Once the tile was all grouted, we stood back to enjoy the view.

mosaic tile fireplace makeover

We still need to add caulk the outer edges where the tile didn’t quite reach. Too bad it’s 90 degrees here. I’m in the mood for a fire tonight!