23 November 2011

the best thanksgiving leftovers recipe

I've been saving up this post for an entire year, because this recipe is that awesome.

If you're like every household in America, you have a pantload of leftover turkey staring you down come Friday morning, and if you're like me, you are not a big fan of sandwiches. Even if sandwiches are your cats pajamas, you'll probably still get sick of them before the turkey runs out. But fear not. Enter the versatile, crack-like cream of turkey soup. Yes, crack-like. Perfect as a rich soup, or as a topping for rice, quinoa, barley, or whatever else floats your boat.

  • Leftover turkey, chopped small (about 1-1 1/2 cups chopped)
  • 1/2 a small carrot, diced
  • frozen peas, handful
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/4 c. white flour
  • 1 cup of cream (or half and half)
  • 6 cups chicken or turkey stock (homemade is always better, but not required)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The most important ingredient in this recipe is flavorful stock, so if you only have bouillon cubes or canned stock, add some chopped onion (sauteed first) and some dried herbs to the mix.

In a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter and saute the carrots until soft (onions too, if using). Whisk in flour to make a roux (add more flour or butter if necessary to make a paste). Stir constantly until the roux darkens in color to a tan or medium beige. Whisk in the turkey or chicken stock, add the chopped turkey and peas, and cook until heated through. Stir in the cream (or half and half, if going the slightly healthier route), salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle some over rice and tuck into this ultimate comfort food.

If you've done anything fancy with your turkey, like rubbed it with truffle butter as we did last year, you will definitely taste it in this magical soup.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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14 November 2011

family room progress, and more questions

Question: What is the sight that will make me, an otherwise uncheerleaderlike person, start jumping up and down and clapping?

Answer: The Crate and Barrel delivery truck pulling up in our driveway.

Nevermind that we'd been using a not-very-comfy or loungey futon as our primary family room seating.

It is a little crazy how happy I was to receive our big, deep, plush, downie, oh-so-comfy new couch.

The pillows are just placeholders, of course, until we can sew a whole bunch of new ones to liven up the room (stay tuned for more on the Great Pillow Project), and so is the furniture arrangement.

Next up is the hard part: figuring out how to arrange the furniture, and then actually moving it. The sofa came in two pieces, carried up the stairs by two very strong fellas, but then they clipped the two together, and now I don't know how to separate it back into two pieces. Way too heavy for me to move by myself, even on the carpet. Thank goodness for husbands.

But heavy lifting aside, we first have to decide how to arrange the actual room, which will then determine how big a TV stand we should get, and what size and shape of coffee table to buy. Rather than try to move everything a million times, I'm a big fan of the floor plan.

In our LA condo, we put together a fancy-pants floor plan using free online software, when we were in the running for Apartment Therapy's Small Cool contest:

But as befits a mountain home, we went low-tech in Truckee: graph paper and cut-out furniture pieces.

Fortunately, all of our furniture is very low, so we don't have to worry too much about sightlines in the room. Did you know there are an almost infinite number of furniture arrangements for a single room, with the same set of furniture? Don't believe me? Just keep scrolling...

Now the real muscle work begins. Move a lot of furniture, see what feels right, and then plop our tired butts down in our heavenly new couch.

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11 November 2011

guest post at budget blonde

Happy 11-11-11! And thank you to every Veteran who has served to protect us.

I have a guest post up today over at Budget Blonde. The subject: How to serve a foodie-worthy Thanksgiving feast on a dime. It's not as easy as 1-2-3, but it's as easy as 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. (Yes, I do crack myself up.)

Check it out here. Thanks, Cat, for the guest post invite!

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10 November 2011

is whipped cream a food group?

Can I tell you one of my absolute favorite things about having a "ski house"? Well, okay, the photo above already gave it away.

The waffles.

I was never a huge waffle person before I started skiing (in my mid-20s), but to me the two are now inseparable. I'm sure it's because so many of the places we've stayed on ski trips have waffle bars, where you make and top your own Belgian waffle. Such a tasty way to start the day. And since you're going to be skiing all day, the not-so-healthy toppings aren't that big a deal.

Of course, when you're making waffles at home all the time, it's a different story. But whipped cream is a healthy food group, right? Right?!

Here is our new favorite appliance, the Waring Pro double Belgian waffle maker, purchased refurbished-but-perfect for $40 from Overstock.com (now O.co), plus a five percent rebate.

We've been thrilled to feed tasty waffles to all of our guests, often using multigrain pancake mix as the base (so don't tell me it's not healthy -- ha!).

And the waffles were our first official "dinner" in the new house. (Notice the bottle of Champagne to the left of Mark. Waffles and Champagne. We're classy like that.)

This is what I find myself daydreaming about when we're back in LA. Soooooo good!

P.S. About a year ago, I blogged about all of the things we might like in a mountain house. Other than a view of the slopes and a foosball table (which wasn't for me, anyway. I'm more of a Wii kinda girl), we pretty much made all the rest of this happen. 

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07 November 2011

gratitude and guilt

This is a hard post to write. Not because it's hard to think of things to be thankful for. Dude... it's hard to think of things not to be thankful for. This is a hard post to write because it's a hard topic to talk about.

This month, November, is the month when we traditionally give thanks, or as I'd say in yoga class, a time to practice gratitude. (I do think "practice" is the right word. The more we practice being grateful, the more naturally it comes, and the more truly appreciative we become.)

Mark and I have been enormously blessed. If you ask either one of us, we'd describe our lives as semi-charmed. At least once every day, one of us will say, "We're so lucky," and the other one will vigorously agree.

But it feels weird to share that publicly. It feels like bragging.

There are so many people who are out of work right now, or who have lost their homes. Poverty is rampant across most of the world and much of the U.S. And a lot of people practice thriftiness every day out of necessity. Not to mention a whole host of non-financial hardships and illnesses that also afflict plenty of people. We come face-to-face with that reality every day in our work, around LA (it's not all like Beverly Hills), among our friends, in the news, and on the blogosphere.

And we feel guilty.

I love sharing our lives with you on this blog, but I find myself constantly trying to downplay certain things. Oh sure, I can talk about how I shop with coupons and try to save money whenever possible, how hard we work to build up our savings account, or how I buy only a couple of pairs of shoes a year and all of Mark's clothes are nearly a decade old. But the truth is that we didn't get to buy a second home, in California, because I clipped coupons (though that did help us buy it sooner). Part of it is just being a little farther along in the careers we've worked hard at, a huge part is not having kids and all of the accompanying expenses, but the biggest part is sheer luck.

I ain't saying we're rich. We're not. But I'm still sure millions of Americans would be thrilled to trade places with us. Not to mention everyone in developing nations. And we don't like knowing that. We almost didn't send out moving announcements for our new house, because we thought it sounded too braggy or entitled.

So even though we feel kinda guilty and don't like bragging, we're also super excited and feel lucky absolutely every day for what we have. Not only the house, the condo, and the stuff. Those are nice to have, but they could all be gone tomorrow; the constant threat of earthquakes and wildfires in California makes it hard to forget it. We're enormously thankful for the relationships we have -- with each other, with family, with amazing friends -- for the opportunities we've both had, for living in a place we love, for getting to work from home in jobs we enjoy, for our shared life goals, for the sunshine and blue sky we wake up to (nearly) every day.

I don't think we acknowledge that out loud enough. But I think not voicing our appreciation makes it sound like we sit around saying, "Oh, woe is us! Our life is so hard because we feel guilty that we're so fortunate!" And that's definitely not how we feel.

We're so thankful. Every day. And we try really hard not to take our life for granted, or to believe that we "deserve it" more than anyone else. Because none of us deserves anything more than anyone else does. Plenty of people work extremely hard throughout their lives, and still have very little to show for it. Or their lives are struck by tragedy. Some of us are just lucky enough to have had more opportunities, to have been prepared throughout our lives to take advantage of those opportunities, and to be spared from tragic events. To forget what a big role good luck has played in our lives would just be delusional.

If you're still reading, thank you. If you have any reactions to share, I'm all ears (or, um, eyes)! 

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03 November 2011

a dining table fit for crowds

Having room for a giant dining table has always been at the top of my wishlist for any house. And when we went looking for our place in Truckee, it was atop the must-have list. If I can't fit 12 people around the dining table, I'm not happy. So even though our little LA condo dining room is pretty, it's highly unsatisfying since it can fit -- at very most -- six people.

But -- hooray! -- our Truckee dining room can definitely hold a 12-seater table. That means, of course, that we needed to procure said table, since my sad little Ikea flip-open table is really a four-seater.

I'll spare you all the details of my exhaustive online and bricks-and-mortar search, but I finally found a beautiful, unfinished alder wood table made by Whittier Furniture. The bad news? The only online retailer was based in New Jersey and told me, "It's not worth the money for us to ship it all the way to California." (And I was not a fan anyway of the fact that the table would be made in Oregon, shipped to New Jersey, and then shipped to me in California. Way too wasteful.) So I went onto Whittier's website, and found that a store in Grass Valley, about 50 miles from Truckee, carries Whittier's line. So I called the Grass Valley folks at Country Wood Furniture, and spoke to Shoshana, one of the nicest store owners I've ever talked to, who offered me a discount and promised to work with our timeline. (Final cost: $800 plus tax, minus a discount for a small dent in the leaf. It ain't nothing, but I think it's a great price for a seriously well-made piece of furniture that will withstand wear and tear for decades.)

So last week we got our new table! And you can see it up at the top of the post in its unfinished form. Since we'll mostly just have the two of us at the house, I wanted an extending table that would not seem huge when it's just us. So it's a standard six-to-eight-seater that can expand to hold up to 12.

The big question, of course, was how to finish it. Kind of a big decision. The dining room can feel a little dark, so I wasn't inclined to go super dark. But I did want a rustic look that lighter finishes rarely achieve. The final requirement: I did not want to use polyurethane on the table. I don't really know why I decided that, but I just didn't like the idea of any sort of toxic poly on our eating surface. (Mark reminds me that we do eat off of PLATES, not directly off the table, but still.)

Time for some test swaths...

That's the underside of the table (above) with test swaths (from left to right) of Danish oil in dark walnut, Sherwin Williams stain in pickled white, teak oil, and Briwax in light brown. I had high hopes for the Briwax, but it just looked really dull, and didn't bring out any of the wood's richness. The pickled white stain was also pretty meh. So our two finalists were the Danish oil and the teak oil. As we quickly figured out, Danish oil's color is hugely dependent on how many coats you do and how long you keep the product on. (With both oils, you brush them on, let them stay on for some amount of time, and then wipe them off completely, and they harden within the wood, not on the surface.)

So we decided to do bigger tests, on the undersides of the two leaves.

The teak oil was pretty, and showed a lot of nice wood grain, but it was a bit too yellowy for what we wanted. So the tentative winner was the Danish oil, in one light coat only. But to be sure, I also tested it on the dog bed we have in our family room, taking it from this:

To this:

And we had a winner.

As a wonderful bonus, it's crazy easy to use, and fairly forgiving. Brush a bunch on very liberally, wait a few minutes (total of about 10 minutes in our case), wipe it off, marvel at your handy work. Hard to imagine how it could be any simpler.

Some in-progress shots:

So pretty, right?! I have often been caught petting furniture, and you can bet I have been petting this table a lot. We are loving how it looks in the getting-there dining room, especially under the wonderful new pendant light.

Note: That reddish tint is just a reflection of the pine on the ceiling and walls. It's not at all a reddish color on the table, but instead a truly brown walnut tone.

But the story with the teak oil is not over. We still really like how the teak oil brings out the richness of wood without darkening it, but just didn't think it was right for the table. In a smaller dose, though, it is fantastic.

Enter our dining bench, actually the first of two (the second is on order).

I know dining benches are trendy, but I think we'll have benches forever. Mark prefers to sit in a chair, but I love sitting on a bench, and I love how having benches around the table makes the whole vibe more casual, and practically begs guests to put elbows on the table. Elbows on the table are required in our house, and I'm always glad to lead by example. But back to the bench...

I think the teak oil and the parawood bench get along swimmingly. The unfinished areas look so much more drab than the oil-stained parts.

The bench top all done...

Maybe a few years down the road, the different wood tones will drive me batty, and then we'll change it up and restain things. But right now we love it. We don't want anything too matchy-matchy in our casual mountain house, and the different wood tones give everything a slightly more collected vibe.



Up next: updating the wall color with a fresher, brighter, warmer tone, and sprucing up the sitting area next to the dining room. A little preview...

Stay tuned!

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01 November 2011

the crafty copycat gets framed

Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but I swear in the blogosphere craftiness is next to godliness. So please don't hold it against me that DIY crafts don't really come naturally to me. I didn't grow up in a crafty household (though I did accompany my mom to a cake decorating class when I was three, and still remember all of the praise I received for basically piling a bunch of frosting on top of a cake. Come on, people. Even I knew it was ugly, and I just squirted all that frosting out because it was satisfying to make a big, pink mess. Apparently I could tell when people were patronizing me from a pretty early age. But I digress as usual.)

Enter good old Pinterest. Now people like me, to whom crafty ideas don't naturally occur, can see things we like and say, "Oooh, I can make that."

And so I did.

I came across this photo on Pinterest, and pinned it to my DIY ideas board, and then kinda forgot about it.

(Source: Kevin and Amanda. I resolve to be better about providing actual sources, not just saying Pinterest is the source, since it's only fair to give people credit.)

But then after a few months, I noticed that I had actually printed several variations of the same thing, from different sources. And so I had to accept the inevitable conclusion: It was time to find a funky old frame and make an earring hanger.

I'm slowly figuring out that most DIY stuff is actually super easy, and the only trick is actually doing it, which is about 99 percent more effort than most people are willing to put into things. It's like getting an award for good attendance. But that's really encouraging to non-craftily-inclined persons such as myself. And this project was really easy too.

The hardest part was picking the color for the frame, and I used a bunch of little Benjamin Moore testers to decide. I also opted to use hemp cord instead of picture frame wire, since I wanted a softer, more natural look.

I finally settled on a nice, soft, sagey green from the craft store ($.50, which is a whole lot cheaper than testers of latex paint from the big box).

I used a foam brush, and put on several coats, being sure to get into all of those little crannies in my $5 flea market frame.

And that slightly glossy finish? That would be thanks to some low odor Krylon.

As for attaching the cords to the back of the frame, I'm both embarrassed and proud to tell you that I used a stapler. Not a staple gun. A desk stapler. And though it took more staples than a staple gun would have taken, it did the job. (This is what happens when you're trying to commute between homes. You're crafting in one city, but your tools are in the other place. And you find ways to make do.)

I used triple strands of the hemp cord to give the earrings something more substantial to hang from, and I'm really glad I tripled up. I love how it turned out, and now just have to decide whether to take it to Truckee or keep it in LA. I know. Bourgeois problems.

But I didn't stop there.

I saw this really cute idea in Better Homes and Gardens to make a Thanksgiving message board where everyone who is at Thanksgiving dinner can post what they're thankful for. (I haven't been able to find a picture of this on their website, so will scan in the magazine page soon!) Since Thanksgiving is my most favoritest holiday in the whole world, I was all about that idea.

Using another $5 flea market frame, a few coats of craft paint, and a coat of low odor Krylon clear finish, I had the neutral frame I wanted. And I made the backing out of some linen from the remnant bin at the fabric store, some foam board, and a little spray adhesive.

Popped that into the frame, and voila. An autumn-appropriate message board for posting notes of thanks. This one we will definitely take up to Truckee for our Thanksgiving dinner, even if it ends up being a feast for two. We'll still have tons to be thankful for.

So, all you crafty people, you. I'm dying to know. Where do you get your amazing craft ideas?

Like Ashley at Domestic Fashionista who does So. Many. Ridiculously. Cute. Projects. None of them hokey or tacky. All this inspiring blend of sophistication and homeyness. Or Rita. Or some of the talented bloggers Lindsey features at Better After. Please tell me that I'm not the only one out there "borrowing" other people's cool ideas!

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