30 December 2010

best of 2010

I hope you've had a great 2010! There's definitely a lot of funky energy out there in the world these days, but also lots of people doing amazing things in spite of all sorts of hardship. Inspiring stuff.

I don't know if it's because I tend to be rather future-oriented, like most planner types, or if I just don't properly appreciate all of the nice things that have happened to me, but I tend to look back on most years and think, "This was a decent year, but not so different from all the rest." But not this year. While thinking back on everything that has happened during a year that has seemed in some ways to fly by, I have to acknowledge that this has been an extremely eventful year for us. And in nearly every instance, "eventful" means not just that things happened, but that good things happened. :::This is me sending lots of gratitude and appreciation into the universe.::: We went from never having renovated anything before to completing two rooms and a fireplace and making a good dent in the kitchen. Mark and I both ran marathons. And we got waaaaay lucky with snowfall and skied loads of powder. (And we both stayed healthy, neither of us lost our job, and nothing catastrophic happened. Let's appreciate that stuff too!)

Because we traditionally end one year and start the next with a countdown ("10 seconds! Nine! Eight!..."), it seems fitting to countdown my top 10 moments of 2010, with blog links.

10. Demolishing our icky old pink bathroom (read about it)
9. Finishing our first real renovation, of the formerly pink bathroom (read about it)
8. Watching Mark finish his fourth marathon (this would have ranked higher, except that he's a total pro by now)
7. Completing the new fireplace surround (read about it)
6. Skiing amazing Utah powder at Alta and Snowbird (see the photos)
5. Hosting our second Thanksgiving -- and not screwing anything up! (read about it)
4. Spending a week eating like fiends in NYC (read about it here, here and here)
3. Finishing our second bathroom renovation (read about it)
2. Finishing my first marathon (read about it)
1. Finding the place where we are meant to live (Truckee, CA, near Lake Tahoe) during a weeklong powder extravaganza (read about the foodie adventures from that time here)

A special late-breaking event goes to number 1A: Welcoming our new nephew Niklas into the world. Hope your first 37 hours have been happy and healthy (or at least sleepy and quiet). Grattis to your whole family!

I hope you all have a wonderful time celebrating the new year! If tradition holds, we will be asleep well before 11 p.m. after skiing a hard day, and in anticipation of first chair on New Year's Day. But we're celebrating with you in spirit!


27 December 2010

have yourself a messy little christmas

If you've come to hear about a merry messy Christmas, you've come to the right place!

After months and months of talking about it, and thinking about doing it every day since we first laid eyes on our condo nearly two years ago, we have finally started ripping apart the kitchen. Just in time for Christmas dinner!

The mess started innocently enough. Just a couple of butcher block slabs in the middle of the living room.

And then more materials started spilling out.

And soon we had to start emptying the kitchen entirely, overflowing into every room in the place, the hallway, the nooks and crannies...

But let's talk more about the kitchen, because I know everybody loves a before and after. Even if the after is still a long way off.

Here's the kitchen before we started for real. What's that you say? You say it's little more than a long, dark cave? Right you are! And that's why we are so desperate to chop it to bits. (Well, not really. But we are itching to brighten it up. And get rid of the hideous yellow tile with dark pink grout. Oh yeah, and the pink countertops too. And the general yellowness of the space. That's no big deal, right?)

From the other end, you at least get some of the light from the front windows.

But before we could do anything real, we had to strip it down, label the cabinets, and give the stuff left in there a little protection. Enter the kitchen's new look: Plastic Chic. (And I love how bored the cabinets look with their newly added blue tape.)

Our major progress on Christmas was stripping out the old lights, priming and painting the ceiling, and installing the new lights. (We painted the walls too, but I'll save that for the big reveal in -- here's hoping -- a few weeks.)

The old lights.

And the new and improved versions (a steal at Home Depot), with a little fresh paint and primer. (P.S. It is pretty uncomfortable to paint under halogen lights. They get hot-hot-hot. But it's only uncomfortable when you're RIGHT up under them.)

Our other big project was stripping out the built-in china cabinet that had had its back to the fridge, but which will now serve as the base for a new bar in our eat-in area. To move it, we first had to detach it from the wall, which proved a lot tougher than expected.

Cabinet minus the doors and countertop, but still very much attached to the wall.

After quite a lot of prying and nail removal, many, many nails still remained.

Free at last.

But just look at all of that nail damage. Seriously, guys. Did you really need FORTY nails to secure one little cabinet? Did you really?!!?!

We learned the hard way in both of our bathroom renovations the value of careful wall prep, so we did a better job this time around, and you can now barely see where the cabinet and countertop used to be attached. (Hint: I think drywall compound is about a thousand times better than spackle.)

With some painting done, some lights replaced (and some electrical troubleshooting -- wouldn't be one of our renovations without some electrical glitches), and a cabinet freed, we were finally ready to do a little celebrating, even if it did have kind of a battlefield feel to it.

The green plastic sheeting cast a nice, Christmasy glow over our cramped table. But we still found space for a clearance balsam fir centerpiece and some silver sparkle.

And if you squint and only look from a certain angle, it looks like a normal (if short) Christmas tree.

I hope you all had an awesome Christmas! Despite the mess, ours was a blast. And it feels so amazingly good to be making progress -- at last! -- on the kitchen. Now it's on to the cabinets.

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23 December 2010

please don't laugh at me

So, for all of my DIY enthusiasm, I'm really not the crafty sort. While lots of ladies in the blogosphere are showing off their pretty amazing looking crafts, I'm generally banking on readymade decorative objects to spruce up our place.

In fact, I think most of my crafty attempts to date have been -- truly -- laughable.

So don't laugh at my latest attempt, please. Pretty please.

I caught the Christmas bug a little late this year. (Oh yeah, and we both caught the actual flu bug, hence the long delay between posts.) But Mark was away with his family last weekend, and I decided to surprise him with some Christmas decorations, including a DIY wreath and a Christmas tree, which we already agreed we wouldn't put up this year because it would take up space that we need for kitchen renovation staging. But I wanted to surprise my wonderful husband, so plans changed.

Here's my $6.99 wreath from Michael's, marked down 70% to $2.09, pre-embellishment.

Our dining table-turned-wrapping-station-and-crafting-room served as the staging location.

Figuring out the configuration for my $5 worth of clearance Christmas decorations, plus a full-price purple silk Dahlia. I do love the purple and metallic color scheme. Both Christmasy and non-traditional.

A little time with floral wire later, and voila!

Please don't laugh. I know it's not totally DIY, but i kinda dig it. And yeah, the faux grapes are kinda cheesy. So what. ;-)

In a slightly more ambitious (and as yet unrealized vision), I was inspired by these feather wreaths at Michael's, but I was not inspired by the price.

I bought the makings for a few bucks, but haven't yet tackled that project. Maybe tomorrow. Or the day after that. Or next year. Or never.

And then for the slightly laughable tree...

It's itty bitty, but it's full of love. Yeah, Mark laughed at it when he first saw it... not the reaction I was going for. So if you're laughing, please keep it to yourself.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

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17 December 2010

holiday countdown

What you should not subject your cute little dogs to...

I blame the stress of the holidays, coupled with the stress of renovating the kitchen -- during the holidays.

Here at our casa, we're busily preparing to host my dad for Christmas, while compiling all of the goods necessary to do our eco-friendly (i.e. keeping as much stuff as possible) kitchen renovation between Christmas and new year's. So we're overflowing with faucet gadgetry, a sink, flooring, countertops, shelving, you name it...

Stay tuned for the progress!

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14 December 2010

the healthier burger

Maybe it's the 13 years I spent as a vegetarian, but I very rarely crave a burger, as many meat eaters I know say they do. But I still find them completely tantalizing when I do have one.

No one in their right mind would ever try to convince you that a turkey burger could ever pass for a hamburger (seriously, it can't be done, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something), but I've still found some great ways to make a turkey burger nearly as satisfying as the real deal. (Note: vegetarians can apply much of this to the veggie burger of your choice.)

Here's how I make a satisfying and delicious dinner with under 400 calories, and that's super easy to whip up...

Line up some fresh lettuce, tomatoes and basil (in this case, the last spoils of the season from our garden -- SoCal is blessed with a crazy long growing season).

Cook the turkey (or veggie) patty in a little spritz of heart-healthy walnut or almond oil, with a sprinkling of kosher salt and white pepper, which is more mild than black pepper.

Prep a pita bread or your chosen healthy burger vessel. I looooooove the Alternative Pita from Western Bagel, and if you can find them at your local market, you're lucky indeed. Each full-size pita contains only 110 calories (usually between 150 and 200), contains 8g of fiber and is only made with pronounceable ingredients. Same deal for Western Bagel's Alternative Bagel, which is an equal obsession of mine.

One of the things that makes this recipe so satisfying is the fresh mozzarella cheese that goes into it, and makes it like a little caprese burger. Trader Joe's makes individually wrapped fresh mozzarella sticks, which are the size of string cheese and are 80 calories a piece. You can also cut up a regular ball of fresh mozzarella, but just watch how much you're cutting off if you're trying to keep it as healthy as possible.

Once the turkey has cooked all the way through (always check, since salmonella is no fun), let the cheese and basil get nice and melty on top of it.

Throw it into your pita with some fresh tomatoes and lettuce, and voila! A healthy caprese burger!

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09 December 2010

healthy holiday food (with recipe)

Are your pants feeling any tighter these days? After an overly indulgent Thanksgiving, a fair amount of business travel (i.e. eating restaurant food and fast food for every meal) and more than a few early morning runs skipped because of chilly weather, I am not even attempting to fit into my regular jeans.

And it's not even Christmas yet! All of the magazines and Food Network shows are still harping about all the delicious holiday food we should be making, and all I really should be eating is spa food. But since when is spa food comforting and warming? Here's one example...

This is my Thai-inspired spin on a soup recipe I found on Whole Foods' site, which I think is a big improvement over their initial recipe. Their soup is overly gingery, and when I made it, I had the idea to try to blend that ginger explosion with some Thai flavors. And given my love for coconut (and its many purported health benefits), a Thai curry direction seemed like a great way to go. The result, if I do say so myself, was wonderful! Despite the addition of a little fat from the coconut milk, the soup is still healthy as can be, super easy to make and loaded with flavor, just what anybody would want on a chilly winter afternoon. It's also vegan and gluten-free, but doesn't taste like it at all.

Thai Curry Sweet Potato Split Pea Soup

8 1/2 cups water
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 cups dried yellow split peas
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch(ish) cubes
1 t. to 1 T. of salt, to taste
1/2 cup shredded or flaked coconut (unsweetened)
1 can coconut milk (regular or light)
1-2 t. Thai red curry paste, to taste

Bring 1/2 cup water to simmer in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook about 5 minutes or until translucent. Stir in ginger and cook 1 minute, stirring. Transfer the onion and ginger to the slow cooker, along with remaining 8 cups water, peas, sweet potato cubes and coconut flakes. Cook on high until the sweet potatoes are completely tender and the peas are very mushy, four to six hours. (You could also cook on low for eight to 10 hours.) Carefully purée soup with a hand held immersion blender or in batches in (careful!) a food processor until smooth and creamy. Separately, thin out the Thai red curry paste with a little bit of the coconut milk, so that it will blend with the larger soup easily. Stir the coconut milk and curry mixture into the soup. Salt to taste and add more curry paste if necessary. Serves 8 or more.

Peeling the sweet potatoes

Dried yellow split peas

Rough sweet potato cubes... no need to get them perfect, since they'll just get blended later

"Sauteing" the onions in water keeps the fat down

Thai red curry adds amazing flavor and a little spicy kick

Coconut milk (light in this case) makes the soup taste so indulgent, but keeps it healthy

Nearly done cooking

Post-blending and with the coconut and curry added


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