Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When In Doubt, Clean It Again (With Bleach)

Today we're going to play "What's under the 50 year-old contact paper?"

I'm sure someone thought this was awesome when they put it down in 1960something. Now? In 2009? Not so much.

When we move, getting the bedroom in order is always the number one priority. This way, we can have at least one room that isn't piled high with boxes. And, it's nice to wake up to some sense of normalcy before you open the door to chaos. And trust me, that's exactly what is on the other side of the door. Chaos.

Second on the list is the kitchen. You know I like to cook and bake, so getting things put away and usable is of the utmost importance. When I opened the drawers and cabinets in the kitchen, I saw what you see above: roses and bees, slightly rotten, with a touch of mold and just a pinch of foul-smell as a bonus. We did pay someone to come in and clean the place top to bottom last week, and it took her about 9 hours to do the whole place. (Because I will clean up after myself all day long, but refuse to clean up after other people, especially if I don't know them.) She was a hard worker, but I truly don't think anyone could have gotten this place completely spotless in that short amount of time. So, when I opened the drawers and found this, I was disappointed, as well as adamant that there was no way I was putting anything in there until I cleaned them again with some strong chemicals.

You may be thinking this is incongruous with other behavior you have seen from me. Just let me say this: for day to day maintenance and upkeep, I DO use environmentally friendly cleaning products. But for nastiness and crustiness, only the harsh stuff will do, especially when food is involved. I've tried the "green" stuff. It just can't do the job. So, we removed the contact paper and this is what we found:

Pink, yellow, and brown!

White! (sort of)

Pink and mint green!

Pink, white, and natural wood!

So we scrubbed and scrubbed, and scrubbed some more, and I still didn't feel quite confident enough to put my eating utensils in these. So, what did we do? We bought more contact paper! Because I'm anal, OCD, and a germaphobe. And, because I'm also just a little bit white trash, we got this:

The look of "natural" wood.

See? Much better.

No really, this is the most normal looking contact paper they had at Fred Meyer. I've only been to a Fred Meyer like twice since I've moved here (one of which was just yesterday). I thought it was like the "Wal-Mart" of the Pacific Northwest (because they don't seem to really have Wal-Marts here). I said that to someone, and they emphatically disagreed with me, that Fred Meyer is waaayyy better than Wal-Mart. So, now I don't know what to believe. I'm sure I'll find out, though, because there's one pretty close to our new house and it seems to be where all our neighbors go for stuff.

Anyway, after scrubbing, bleaching, and putting down new contact paper, I can confidently say my dishes are put away. There isn't quite room for everything yet, and there's no pantry so right now a lot of stuff is still in boxes. But we'll get there. I'm panicking a little bit, but we'll get there.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Moving In

Alright, we're in! It was painful, but here we are. Our internet just got hooked up like an hour ago, and I'm excited to tell you what's been going on. I'm tired, so I'm not going to give you all the gory details just yet, but here are a few updates.

Painting? Yes, we painted some of the new place. Namely, all the trim (crown molding, baseboards, window trim, etc.) in the living room, dining room, and master bedroom. You want to see? Okay, here you go:

Sorry, it's the best I can do right now. I promise I'll put some pictures up, just as soon as I get all this sorted out and can actually walk into the living room to even take a freaking picture.

I mentioned that there were no outlets in the bathroom. Honestly, I don't understand how a family with 4 kids lived in this place. No outlets in the bathroom? Oh, and only one (yes, ONE) outlet in the kitchen. And, guess where it was:

Really? Really? Really? How am I supposed to use that? I can compromise, people, I really can. But you have to give me something to work with. I can just see myself wrangling with an extension cord all over this kitchen to try and cook one freaking meal. I think my rice cooker would fit really nicely over there on the floor, as well as the coffee maker and the toaster. I could just make that whole nook area "appliance land".

Sounds amusing for about 2 seconds (not really). So, we called an electrician to add some outlets (a.k.a. "receptacles" in electrician-speak) and to ground the fuse box because it's so freaking old and it's not grounded which is totally freaking scary. He did all this last week while we were painting, and then the city inspector came out today to approve the work that he did. Well, guess what? Umm...the electrician forgot to connect the new ground wire to the fuse box. He ran it all the way inside, and then just left it cut off. I don't know crap about electricity, but I do know that a ground needs to be connected to something. As a result, our house failed the inspection. So, the electrician has to come out and fix it, and then the city has to come inspect it again. Good times.

Oh, and check out my new stove:

Oh yeah, double oven baby!!! And, it was super cheap on Craigslist. What you're seeing is a vintage Kenmore, I think probably from the mid 60s. I was totally psyched to bring it home, but when we got it here and plugged it in, only the lights worked. No burners, neither oven. Luckily we asked the electrician when he was here...turns out it was just a fuse issue. Yes, it's so old it has fuses. Is it energy efficient? No. But is it totally awesome? Yes. I just used it for the first time to make my lunch (ramen). Am I in college again? No. But is all my food packed away in boxes? Yes. It cooked my ramen just fine, and I can't wait to make something even way better than that. I owe our neighbors some baked goodies because they brought us food when we were over here working until all hours trying to get this place move-in ready.

Oh, and by the way, if you want to lose a little weight and get in shape, here's a tip: refinish about 1000 square feet of hardwood floors, tape, prep, and paint some trim, and move yourself all in 2 weeks. Justyn and I have both lost about 10 pounds since we started all this. I probably didn't need to lose any, but I definitely feel stronger than I did a month ago, and that's a good thing.

That's all for now... I have to get some more boxes unpacked so Justyn doesn't think I've been sitting around blogging and eating ramen all day.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Food Friday: Vegetable Risotto

I'm on a rice kick, what can I say? Risotto is a great way to still get your rice fix, while still changing it up a bit. This is a super-great recipe to get a lot of veggies into your diet, and this makes a good main course without needing a lot of other bulk to make it feel substantial (a tough quality to find for those of us who don't eat much meat). It's a great dish for spring and summer when corn, zucchini, and peppers are in season. I think, technically, that this can't be called a "risotto". Those Italians are very picky about how risotto must be prepared, and I think for it to be called a real risotto, it has to be stirred clockwise like 400 times while constantly pouring in your stock, and maybe thrown in a dash of blood from your first-born child. But, who has that kind of time? This way only takes like 30 minutes and that's just fine with me.

You may notice the recipe below says to saute your veggies in water, not oil. This is an excellent tip for reducing fat in your diet. I do it all the time and it works great. I would recommend that you chop and add the basil immediately before serving, not sooner. And, let each person get their own. Fresh basil is good, but can be a bit overpowering if you're not used to eating a lot of it. This is a fairly easy preparation except for the chopping, which takes a little bit of time. But, get your wife or husband or roommate in there to help, and you'll knock it out in no time.

I don't know if you can tell, but this is one of many dishes I've made in my Le Creuset dutch oven!

Vegetable Risotto

3 1/2 cups vegetable broth (see my note from last week's post about veggie broth)
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup water
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cups broccoli florets
1 cup finely chopped zucchini
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

1. Place the broth in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Sitr in the rice, reduce heat, and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the broth is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, place the water in a large nonstick frying pan. Add all the vegetables, except the basil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Combine the rice and vegetables. Stir in the basil Season with salt & pepper.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Big Reveal

After almost 120 hours of manual labor, 60+ gallons of sawdust, and lots of aches and pains, we have finally finished the floors of our new house! And the verdict is: I will never ever refinish my own floors again. It was definitely the most taxing physical work I've ever done. But, that being said, we actually had a pretty good time and it is one of the most rewarding things you can do to a house, I think. Each step is tedious, but you can see clear progress with each goal, and the finished product is so gratifying. It went pretty smoothly, except that I ran over the cord with the drum sander and ripped it down to the bare copper wire (oops), and at one point I forgot to empty the dust bag (the point of which I still don't really get, because it is SO dusty even with that attached). I was cruising along, sanding the floor, and it got so heavy it fell off and a ginormous cloud of dust exploded all over the room. Not fun.

To recap the steps for you, this is what we did in 5 rooms (1000 square feet), plus some of the stair landings: sand with 40 grit, edge with 40 grit, sweep, vacuum. Repeat with 40 grit again, because we're anal. Fill entire floor with wood filler (by hand, with a plastic trowel) to seal cracks, gouges, etc. Sand and edge with 60 grit, sweep, vacuum. Repeat with 60 grit again, because we're anal. Spot fill the floor with wood filler for any places you missed. Sand and edge with 100 grit, sweep, vacuum. Get a 1 1/2" paint scraper to scrape out the corners you couldn't get with the sanders, sand by hand with 100 grit. Buff with 120 grit, sweep, vacuum. Sweep & vacuum again, then wipe all surfaces (floors, walls, baseboards, windows) with a damp towel to remove ALL dust. Apply oil sealer to fir, water-based sealer to oak. Let dry overnight. Buff the fir with 120 grit, sweep, vacuum, wipe all surfaces again to remove dust. Apply first coat of water-based finish to all floors. Let dry overnight. Buff the oak with 120 grit, sweep, vacuum, wipe all surfaces again to remove dust. Apply 2nd coat of water-based finish to all floors. Walk away very, very slowly so as not to stir up any dust. I'm so not exaggerating, my friends. It was brutal. But check out how great they turned out!

Here's a reminder of what they used to look like:

The landing has been refinished, the stair treads are what the floors used to look like.

Here's an action shot of me applying the oil sealer to the fir floor in the master bedroom. You have to use an oil sealer for fir floors because the wood is softer and needs a little more protection. We used water-based on the oak (living room and dining room) because we like the look of it a little better, and it's not so fume-y.

I have intentionally refrained from commenting on the pink and green paint in this room. (Not to mention the mysterious sticky drips of unidentifiable liquid on the baseboards.) I don't want to talk about it, but it will be addressed. Trust me.

This is the finished master bedroom. It's not a great photo, but you can tell it looks better than it did.

Finished guest bedroom # 1 (notice, no more burn marks - yay!)

Finished guest bedroom # 2

Finished living room

Finished dining room

Another action shot of Justyn buffing the floors (after we applied the sealer). You can see how dusty it is... I couldn't keep the lens clean long enough to snap the shot.

So, I mentioned that Justyn has done a lot of construction, remodeling, etc. We were sitting around on one of the last days of this project and I said, "Honey, please tell me this is as hard as it gets." He was like, "Oh, yeah, this is definitely the hardest I've worked in a long time." And I was thinking, Whew, what a relief! Then he said, "I think hanging drywall might be harder, but luckily we don't have to do that." (Plaster, people. Our house was built in 1925.) Then there was a pause.... and he said, "Painting. Painting trim especially sucks, and is a lot of work, too."

Fabulous. That was next on the list, and we had about one day to rest before we had to start prepping for that project. I'm sorry, but I refuse to live in a place with mysterious crusties on door frames and baseboards. Also on the agenda before move-in: buy a stove, have the place professionally cleaned with the strongest chemicals ever made (I know, I know...I should be ashamed), and get an electrician out to remedy the fact that there are no outlets in the bathroom (among other electrical issues). More on these projects coming up, but right now I've gotta start packing!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Food Friday: Sesame-Ginger Rice

I think I must've been Japanese in another life, because I seriously could eat rice for every meal. And, just plain old rice, too... no seasonings, flavors, or any special ingredients. Just rice and water. Up until about 6 months ago, I have been a die-hard white rice fan my whole life. Which is weird because I know it's not as good for you as brown rice. But, I've had brown rice at PF Chang's, and I don't like it. It's too.... chewy... or something.

The rice we usually eat at home is basmati. If you've never had basmati rice, I strongly recommend you investigate it further. It's super tasty, and has a nice subtle fragrance and flavor to it. It's mostly commonly used in Indian dishes, but don't be scared. It's still just white rice.

Anyway, considering how much rice we eat around here, I figured I should try and open up my mind and make the switch to brown. After all, every other grain I eat is brown (whole grain bread, I use whole wheat flour when I bake, etc.) Then I was roaming around New Seasons (the amazing local grocery store here in Portland), which I really love doing from time to time, and I saw in the bulk bins that they had brown basmati. Until this point I did not know such a thing existed, although if I had used my brain a little bit I probably could have deduced this possibility. Like I said, my brown rice experiences hadn't been good so far. So I bought some, and have been loving it ever since.

So, the recipe. Back in September I went home to Nashville for a visit, and to take care of my mom who had just had a bad car accident. Some of our really great friends had me over for dinner, and cooked this rice for me (using white rice). I loved loved loved it (like I said, I have a thing for rice) and asked her for the recipe. When I got back to Portland and bought the brown basmati rice I figured this recipe would be a great way to break me into the texture. I knew I liked the rice, so hopefully it would help me get over the texture thing.

Bottom line, this is SO unbelievably good. The sesame and ginger flavors aren't overpowering, and you can serve this as a side to almost any main course. It adds a really nice bulk to an otherwise exclusive meal of veggies, which is an important quality to me for obvious reasons. Try it with brown rice, pleeeaaassse? I promise you won't even tell the difference. (FYI, I've fully converted to a brown rice eater, and am now happy to eat just plain ol' brown rice instead of plain ol' white rice. And trust me, that's saying something.) The other great thing about this recipe is that I almost always have everything on hand already. So, it's a nice recipe to throw down at the last minute (minus cooking time, of course) if you don't have time to go to the store.

A couple of recipe notes: I use toasted sesame seeds and Imagine brand "No-Chicken" Broth. If you're going to use veggie broth instead of chicken, then I strongly suggest you get this kind. It's the best veggie broth I've found that doesn't taste like... well.... vegetables. Don't get me wrong, I like the taste of vegetables and all, but sometimes I don't want all my dishes to taste like vegetable soup. Anyway, this is a fantastic chicken broth substitute. If you're sensitive to salt, you might find this dish a bit salty (it depends somewhat on the brand of broth you use, I think), so cut back on the salt measurement if you're not sure. You can always add it later.

Another bonus: Brown rice is lower on the glycemic index than white rice, which is a good thing. The only down side to eating brown rice is that it takes longer to cook. Brown rice still has the germ and inner husk so it takes longer for the water to soak through (they remove this to make white rice). Or you can pre-soak your rice and it will cook the same as white. But, I always thought that was kind of stupid. I mean, it's not like it really saves you any time because you still have to invest the same amount of minutes, plus another step. But anyway, I digress. Here's the recipe. Make it.

Sesame-Ginger Rice
adapted slightly from Southern Living
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice (brown basmati, people!)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (see note above)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (I use this if I have it on hand, but sometimes make it without. It's not critical to the recipe, in my opinion.)
Fresh lime wedges (again, sometimes I do, sometimes I don't)

1. Melt butter in a 3 1/2-qt. saucepan oer medium-high heat. Stir in rice, and saute 2 minutes or until rice turns opaque. Stir in sesame seeds. Add broth, salt, ginger, and pepper; bring to a boil.
2. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook mixture 20 to 25 minutes (40 to 45 for brown rice) or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender; fluff with a fork. Garnish, if desired.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Daniel-san, Show me 'Sand the Floor'.

I casually mentioned on Friday that we were planning to refinish the hardwood floors in our new house this weekend. We had high hopes to finish it all up in one weekend, but now we realize that's crazy. It's a looong, complicated process: Sand with 40 grit, edge with 40 grit, sand with 60 grit, edge with 60 grit, sand with 100 grit, edge with 100 grit, buff with 120 grit... and that's as far as we got. Now we have to clean up all the dust, seal them, let them dry, put one coat of finish on, buff again, clean up the dust from the buffing, and put one more coat of finish on. Why, on earth we thought we could finish all this in one weekend is beyond me.

You see, we had someone come out and look at the floors to give us an estimate on refinishing. They said, "These are in such bad condition, they really aren't worth refinishing... you should just have them replaced." Too bad replacing them would have cost $15,000. Sorry, floor people. We don't have that kind of cash sitting around without a name on it. Anyway, these people also offer classes on how to refinish your own floors, which Justyn and I both attended a couple of weeks ago. It was really great, because they let you use the drum sander and edger to get a feel for what they're like, and you can practice on some floor samples they have. Anyway, if you're going to refinish your own floors, I'd recommend finding a class like that and taking it. It was $40 but totally worth it.

Part of the reason we didn't finish in one weekend (but not the only, let me assure you) is that our floors were NASTY. After we did the 40 grit, there was still some of the old finish showing, some weird stains and streaking, etc. So, we did the 40 again. And then after the 60... same thing. So we did the 60 again. We're overacheivers, Justyn and I. When we took our class and they were listing the steps, they said "DO NOT SKIP STEPS!!" Because, really after the first round of sanding, your floors already look a lot better, and it is tempting to just be like, "Eh, that's good enough." But noooo... not us. We add steps because we're just like that.

Anyway, like I said, we're totally not done yet, but I wanted to give you an update and show you some 'before' and 'during' photos.

Living room before sanding

Living room after sanding

Dining room before sanding

Dining room before sanding

Dining room after sanding

Master bedroom before sanding

Master bedroom before sanding

Master bedroom after sanding

Guest room 1 before sanding

Guest bedroom 1 before sanding (note the big black burn marks)

Guest bedroom 1 after sanding

Guest bedroom 2 before sanding

Guest bedroom 2 after sanding

That's it for now... gotta go start sealing these bad boys. More pictures later this week.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Food Friday: Raspberries & Oranges

Today's post is going to be short and sweet, because I have to get to work and then start this weekend's daunting job of refinishing 1000 square feet of sadly distressed hardwood floors in our new house. It should be interesting, because Justyn has a ton of experience with tasks like these, and I have zilch. By the way, sorry for the crappy pictures today. I don't know what my problem was when I took these, but you'll get the general idea anyway.

This is a made-up concoction... one of my many attempts to creatively use leftover food before it goes bad. You see, I had some leftover raspberries that were so good, and some mandarin oranges I had used for a salad. I also needed to find a home for about half of a small carton of whipping cream from something else. I don't use heavy cream very much, so when I buy it, I like to get my money's (and fat/calorie's worth).

So, I just plopped my fruit in little mini-bowls, topped it with the whipped cream, and voila! Easy, fresh dessert. My favorite. Plus it only took me like 5 minutes which is also awesome. A couple of tips: when I whipped up the cream, I added sugar (of course), a splash of vanilla, and some lemon juice. Mmm!

You may notice that my whipped cream is a little lifeless. After my last experience with it, I think maybe this time I didn't whip it quite long enough. But whatever. It was still tasty.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Cherry Blossoms

I told you I would find some.

Hello gorgeous.

Nice to see you.

I've been looking everywhere for you.

Reunited, and it feels so good...

But oh, wait one second. This one seems to be having problems:

What is it with me and dead cherry trees? It's okay, though. I love you anyway.

I love you, too.

Don't stay away so long next time.

Monday, April 6, 2009


I had a hard time choosing the title of this post. On one hand, I could be a "glass half full" kind of gal and call it "The Promise of Spring". Or I could go the other way and call it "The Early Bird Gets Nothing". While I did decide to go with the down-side for the overall post, don't worry. It's not all bad.

I'm referring to the First Hike of the Season, a.k.a. Cherry Orchard Trail. I read about the hike in this month's issue of Portland Monthly (an excellent resource if you've just moved here... I highly recommend it). It sounded perfect: sweeping views of the Columbia River Gorge, ponds swarming with butterflies, a wind-swept meadow and blossoming cherry trees. Pair that, with the fact that it was sunny and 75 degrees this weekend, and I mean, come on! Who could pass that up? Not me, that's for sure.

A little background: we signed all the papers for our house on Friday (yay!) but I guess here in Oregon that doesn't count as a "closing" so we didn't get the keys. I, personally, was glad because I knew the weather was supposed to be nice and I didn't want to be stuck inside doing a bunch of chores the whole weekend. Plus, the cherry blossoms in the city are at their peak, and I just knew it would be a perfect time to start our hiking season. Nevermind the fact that this hike was 4.5 miles out and back, and there was an elevation gain of 1500 feet in the first 2 miles. And nevermind that the last hike we went on was around Thanksgiving. I knew it would be tough, but I also knew that it would be totally worth it once we got to the top.

It's not a super-popular trail, which was good because it was so amazingly beautiful that I'm sure it would've been very crowded if it were more well-known. The way up was extremely steep, and parts of it were covered with scree and gravel, making it pretty tough to get your footing. Plus the trail goes right along the edge of the cliff in some places, and for someone who hasn't been hiking in 4 months, it's pretty scary. By that time you're gaining elevation pretty quickly, and I tend to look at my feet a lot (for obvious reasons) so when you look up it's easy to get a little vertigo. I got dizzy a couple of times, and almost lost my balance once (at this stage we discussed turning back, because nothing is worth Stephanie falling off the edge of a cliff into the Columbia River Gorge, cherry orchard or not.) It was also pretty windy, and you know that I have trouble with this, so I stuffed some tissue in my ears (a trick I learned at an Alice in Chains concert) and I was good to go.

After you go through a series of switchbacks, the trail starts to level out and goes through a whole bunch of scraggly looking trees:

Once we got to this part, the rest of the trail was pretty easy... still some up and down, but nothing like the first mile and a half or so. The article I'd read said, "At approximately 1.5 miles, you'll see a pond known for attracting swarms of fluttering butterflies." Another website had touted the pond as "a small, seasonal pond that's just packed with butterflies in the early spring". Well, we found it:

No butterflies in sight. Hmph. Disappointment # 1. But, by then we were through the hard part and only had another 3/4 mile to go. Plus we were hungry and anxious to eat our avocado, tomato, spinach & cucumber sandwiches. Mmm. At the end of the road we came to the meadow, which was pretty neat. It had beautiful views of the river, so we sat and had our lunch.

Oh, Where's the cherry orchard, you ask? That's an excellent question, and one I'd love to know the answer to. We didn't see any stinking cherry trees. The article said, "The few remaining trees, which sprout snow-white blossoms each April, line the eastern edge of the meadow." But we didn't see any. Not even one. And, apparently (after doing some more research this morning) there is only one. Another source says, "Once upon a time, the Lyle cherry orchard was just that. But when farmers stopped irrigating, the orchard died—save for one tree, whose survival no one can fully explain. Look for the cherry tree on the eastern edge." My only guess is that maybe it died? Disappointment #2, not to mention quite a tragedy, if it did, in fact, die.

But on the way back, we did see more signs of spring (aside from the gorgeous weather.)

Spring blooms just waking up.

But don't get me wrong... it was totally worth it. No pain, no gain. I mean, where else can you get a view like this, and all from your own leg work?

I'm extremely sore today, but I feel great. All in all, I still think it was a perfect way to start off Spring, regardless of the disappointment. I can't wait to get some more hikes under my belt and share them with you!

And, P.S. I'm going to find some damn cherry blossoms if it kills me. Pictures to come.