3.31.2011

Our Mosaic Tile Backsplash

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@jmarq002) know that this weekend, my fiance and I quite proudly installed a small mosaic tile backsplash in our kitchen. The lack of one has bothered my h-2-b since we moved into this house two and a half years ago.  However, an overabundance of outlets led us to decide not to tile the entire area between the top and bottom cabinets but rather just add a classic four-inch border.  This way, the kitchen looks "finished" and it draws your eyes away from all the outlets.

It was on Sunday that my fiance decided "today is the day." And, when he or I decides this regarding home improvement, that means we need to proceed immediately. By the next weekend, we will have lost our resolve. So, off to Home Depot, then Lowes, then back to Home Depot we went. With the tile, adhesive, grout, and tools needed finally in hand, we headed home to begin the project.



(Our little Breakfast Station - Before)
3.30.2011

McCall's M5391 - Classic Twill Shorts

Shorts must be one of the hardest items for me to find. If I go into "young" stores, the shorts tend to be too short - a 1" inseam on a very leggy 5'10" frame just doesn't say class. If I order from other brands, the inseams are longer, 3",5", etc but they look too "mom," as my fiance puts it. They just aren't very flattering and imply that I'm older than I am. No girl wants that!

So, I've picked up M5391 and 1 1/4 yards of navy blue twill fabric from Hancock Fabrics in an attempt to make them myself. I chose view C for the longer inseam and I'm hoping I can get a slimmer, more youthful fit. Worst case scenario, I will have a custom pair of twill gardening shorts!

As always, I've started by cramming the pattern pieces as close as possible to use as little fabric as I can (although I never go back and use the scraps... but that's another story). I won't be adjusting these for my height because I don't want them quite as long as the picture shows. Leaving off the usual 2" addition should put them at the right spot. This twill is probably one of the thickest fabrics I've worked with to date and so it is the hardest to pin so far. Luckily, my wonderful Fiskers scissors didn't feel a thing.

In an effort to give a more detailed and accurate review of this pattern from the eyes of a beginner, I'm going to make this something of a series. For now, my pieces are cut but now it's back to dishes and laundry before starting dinner.

To be continued! x

Grandma's Secret Spot [non] Remover

Monday must have been the day for impulse purchases! I went into Hancock Fabrics to stock up on buttons (40% off) for my upcoming sewing projects. That's it.

Then, there was a delay at the register with the customer in front of me. Uh oh. Out of the corner of my eye, a stack of tiny yellow bottles - which I'd seen a hundred times before - caught my eye. I saw the word "rust" on the list and grabbed the bottle without thinking. The polite salesgirl commended my purchase, informing me that it really does work! So, I took it home to try on my fiance's khaki pants, which had managed to get rust on them somehow on vacation.

Along with the pants, I tried this so called miracle on two of his work shirts. One with a huge ink stain from a pen left in the wash (oops) and the other with an oil-based stain. I applied the remover generously, rubbed it in with the dispenser, let the clothes sit for 10 minutes as recommend, and threw them in the wash as normal.

Unfortunately, when the clothes came out, the stains hadn't. I couldn't believe it! The stains hadn't even faded! Determined to get my $4 worth, I decided to try again. This time, I applied the remover and then rubbed the fabric vigorously against itself. I again let it sit for 10 minutes and then started my machine.

This time, the stains may have lightened a bit but I feel I was being optimistic. Determined again, I applied, rubbed, and decided to let it soak in while I did a load of darks. This means, instead of the recommended 5-10 minutes, this stuff got to penetrate the stains for about an hour. Once the darks were out, in the stained load went. No luck this time either. Now, I'm letting the clothes air dry and will try again tomorrow. If the stains finally come out, I'll post an update but regardless, with all this washing and rewashing, I think it's safe to say that I would not recommend this product.
Sorry "Grandma"  x

3.28.2011

Heath Toffee Brownies

Never. Shop. Hungry. I've been told that a hundred times and I know better. Nevertheless, I went up and down the grocery aisles with a rumbling tummy. The result? An unplanned (but so yummy sounding) bag of Heath English Toffee Baking Bits. I don't even know how I ended up down that aisle!

Now, the mistake really lies in that I did not read the package before making my purchase. So, when I got home, and decided on the "All American Heath Brownies" recipe on the back, I didn't have what I needed. Actually, worse yet, I discovered the missing ingredient while the butter was melting. Lucky for me, finding a substitute for unsweetened chocolate baking squares was just as easy as this recipe is!

This one is a must try. I love quick recipes with minimal clean up! In case you throw your package away -like I often do - here's the delightful recipe from the back:

1/3 cup butter
3 1/2oz sections unsweetened chocolate baking bar (or 4.5 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder + 1.5 tablespoons oil)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Bits (an 8oz package)

1. Heat oven to 350. Butter bottom of 8-inch square baking pan.
2. Melt butter and chocolate in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in sugar. Beat in one egg at a time. Stir in vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to chocolate mixture, stirring until well blended. Spread into pan.
3. Bake 20 minutes or until brownie begins to pull away from sides of pan. Sprinkle toffee bits. Cover tightly with foil. Cool completely on a wire rack. Remove foil and cut into 12 squares.

Yum! x


3.24.2011

Packing Practically (Light)

Every year, every concierge and bellman compliment how few bags my fiance and I carry. I carry one tote bag (which counts as a purse) and one small duffel. He carries one duffel and one bookbag. No checked bags! After a lost luggage scare a few years ago, we just don't think it's worth the risk.
So, how do we pack everything for a week into so little luggage? Bring only the necessities. In my tote is generally my travel case (makeup, etc), our travel documents, my liquids bag, and a snack or two. In my duffel, I pack all my clothes and accessories but, I only bring enough outfits to get me through trip (plus an extra if I have room). For example, our spring vacation was a week, resort casual during the day, and dressier at night. So, I brought polo shirts, a few pairs of shorts, two blouses, an outfit for tennis, four dresses, swimsuits, coverups, and plenty of "necessities." Keep in mind, many hotels offer 24 hour laundry service, so you can pack less without having to wear dirty clothes. Now, did you notice I left out something important? Shoes!! Admittedly, I can never fit shoes into my bag. Lucky for me, my darling fiance has cut his packing down too (the boy equivalent of my items) and his bag is a bit bigger, which means he can fit two pairs of flip flops - one for the beach and a nicer pair for casual breakfast - and two pairs of heels in his duffel. I always make sure at least one pair of heels is a neutral or metallic so it goes with more of my outfits.  I wore my tennis shoes since they're the hardest to pack. As for toiletries, the hotel should supply soap, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and often shower gel. So, leave those at home and just ask housekeeping to replace them as often as needed. Then, liquids should more less be limited to toothpaste, makeup remover, face moisturizer, perfume, rewetting drops and contact solution (if needed).
Ladies, I know we all want to bring our whole closet when we travel but believe me, traveling is so much nicer when you don't. Getting ready is a snap when you already planned what to wear! He'll appreciate not having to carry your closet too!
Buon voyage! x
3.17.2011

Grilled Ham & Cheese - Our Late Night Caribbean Treat

On our first visit to Saint Lucia, we had one night where we couldn't sleep so we ventured down to the resort's late night beach grill.  We didn't want much, just a snack, but nothing junky. The wonderful chef said he knew just what to make us. A few moments later, he presented us with two grilled ham and cheese sandwiches.

A very simple combination, but one we had never thought of. They were wonderful! Now, we try our best to get one every time we go back to the Caribbean -the have the best bread there - and we make them at home for a quick lunch or a reminder of our vacation.

Here's how you make them (makes two):

6-8 slices of deli-sliced smoked ham
4 slices of cheese (cheddar and Swiss work well)
4 slices of bread
Butter

Preheat your skillet on medium-high. Cook all slices of ham in a single layer. Butter both sides of all bread slices. Remove ham once lightly browned and sizzling. Brown two slices of bread (or all four if you have a large enough skillet). Flip once the butter on the visible side looks melted. Set a slice of cheese on each bread slice and half the ham on one side. Once cheese is partially melted, take the side without ham and flip it onto the other side. Press lightly to seal. Serve. Repeat for second sandwich if needed.

Simple, quick, and very good!

3.15.2011

Classic Looks for Less

That's my [fashion] motto for this summer. My fiance and I agree that, while I do look nice in the occasional cocktail dress or trendy outfit, my day-to-day look should be much more classic. I've always been drawn to the so-called preppy look for one reason: no "what was I thinking" moments. Twenty years ago, "preps" were wearing polo shirts and khakis. Today, they're wearing polo shirts and khakis. So, you can look a picture of a family picnic and not know how old it is (by the fashion, at least). Which means, when I look back at pictures of myself ten years from now, I will not be embarrassed by what I wore.

However, as much as I love the clothes, I can have a bit of trouble finding the right style in just the right fit. (I'm still stuck in a phase trying to balance youth with classic style. Too loose=too old, too tight=too young and trying too hard.) So, my solution for this summer is to browse all my favorite sites, j. Crew, Vineyard Vines, etc, and then browse pattern books to find similar styles that I can then customize to fit my body-type, age, and personality. Then, I'll have the style I want, in the cut and I size I need, and I'll have it for much less.

Here's what I have planned so far:
M5138 in a l/s blue check seersucker, like one at j.crew
M5138 in a green & white stripe
B4443 v-neck in a navy linen
M6117 in a pink jersey, 3/4 sleeve, similar to one by Vineyard Vines
M6117 in a pink or green pique, sleeveless, like another by VV
S2246 in a cream or light blue linen
M5391 in twill and linen, in a variety of lengths and colors

That should be enough to keep me busy for a while!

The key to making these homemade items look good is buying quality fabric. Keep in mind, while, yes, you can use cheap broadcloth for most patterns that suggest cotton and polyester satin for those that suggest silk, it won't give you the high-end look that these classic stores have. They use quality fabric and pay attention to detail so, you should too.

Happy sewing! x
3.14.2011

I'm Back!

I hope everyone had a wonderful week! I certainly did!! My fiance and I spent it celebrating my 26th birthday in Jamaica!!

I apologize for the lack of posts while I was gone but it was a much needed break from all things work. But, now I'm back and I have several posts to come in the next few weeks! Some vacation related, others will be new recipes I'm trying. Please be sure to check back in the coming days!

Off to do the weekly shopping! x

3.04.2011

15 Minute Dinner

Even as a housewife, there are some nights that I prefer to cook quick, easy meals. Under 20-30 minutes is the goal on those nights. Luckily, in my search for low-calorie meals, I also stumbled on the easiest dinner idea I've had yet!

Check out your grocer's freezer section to find wild-caught fish. The variety is your choosing. We often prefer halibut or mahi-mahi but grouper, flounder, and salmon are also available here. Defrost the desired number of filers according the the package - usually thaw in a bowl of luke-warm water. Preheat your oven to the specified temperature for baking, generally 350F. When thawed, simply lay the fish on a foil-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with your choice of seasoning or drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Bake for around 8 minutes, or according to package directions. About 5 minutes before the fish is done, set halved rolls (or hoagie buns) on a wire baking rack or metal cooling rack and toast in oven. Serve over rice if desired. Alternately, you can serve the fish on a hamburger bun. This worked very well with blackened-seasoned halibut steaks.

I've done this several times in the last month because it tastes so much like going out but is so healthy that my fiance keeps requesting it! We mix up the fish, of course.

If you've never blackened fish in the oven, try this seasoning combination:
Paprika, onion granules, garlic granules, thyme, white pepper, black pepper, ground cayenne pepper, oregano, and salt. It's been a winner every time!

Enjoy your extra free-time! x
3.03.2011

DIY Eyelet D-ring Belt

When I purchased the pink belting from the previous post, I also bought a length of white canvas, not yet knowing what to do with it. I experimented with different ribbons and trims, trying to find the look that was the most "me."

In the end, I went for a feminine, slightly nautical look of white eyelet beading (leftover from my spring dresses) woven with a navy grosgrain ribbon and finished with brass d-rings.

While not quite as quick and easy as the first one - this one required sewing - I did get it done in about 30 minutes and would definitely say the finished product was worth the extra time.

All you need is:
A length of white canvas, long enough to encircle your waist, plus 6-12"
A length of eyelet beading, the width of your canvas and length of the belt plus 6"
Grosgrain ribbon the same length as the eyelet
2 d-rings slightly wider than the belting
Threaded sewing machine
Hot glue

Start by threading the grosgrain ribbon through the eyelet beading. Once done, lay the beading on your canvas, allowing the extra to hang over the end. Sew, with machine, along the edges of the eyelet. (You should find two lines that have already been sewn. Try to follow the line closest to the edge.) The scallops should look a bit more pronounced. Then, fold one end over 1/2" twice, toward the blank side, and slip the d-rings into the loop. Secure closed with hot glue. Try the belt on and trim if necessary (trim only the canvas). Once fit is determined, wrap the excess eyelet over the edge and onto the other side, tucking the end under 1/8". Sew in place. This will allow the design to show on all visible parts when the belt is worn. Done!

Just a little extra time but your talent and taste will really show in this one. Of course, experiment with various trims to suit your style. Have fun and it will look great! x


3.02.2011

The New Kitchenaid Hand Mixer

Everyone always told me that a mixer is a housewife's best friend. I'm not one for a counter full of appliances so, when I finally caved, I bought a Kitchenaid 9-speed hand mixer. Those of you who have read my older posts know how well that went. But, Kitchenaid is dedicated to their customers and as soon as I posted my disappointment on Twitter, a customer service representative immediately tried to make it right.

Cheryl very sweetly apologized for my disappointment and submitted an exchange. The QVC model was no longer in stock but she allowed me to choose from the three colors that had been carried at Williams-Sonoma, which had sold out a few weeks prior. I chose the neutral Cocoa Silver (which was the one I wanted in the first place as I don't have the best luck, it seems, with red appliances). I got to keep my mixer until the new one arrived, which took less than a week! When the new one arrived, it was my fiance who noticed that the new mixer stated "Professional," where the old one had not. I don't know it that mattered or if the red one was just a dud but, I did notice a substantial difference in quality as soon as I turned the silver one on.

Now, I can beat, blend, and stir nearly anything I want. I've made quite a few recipes with it, from blueberry bran muffins to chocolate milk, and the mixer whips it all up with ease. Every setting feels different and works the way you'd expect. Yes, speed 1 does mix! I don't have any problems with beating eggs like I did with the QVC model, nor does it choke up or fall apart when I mixing oat muffins. It's safe to say my faith in Kitchenaid products has been restored! (My faith in QVC... now, that's another story.) If you're tired of tired arms and can find a Kitchenaid 9-speed Professional Hand Mixer, I highly recommend it! It cuts my baking prep time in half (and makes delightfully frothy chocolate milk)!

Happy mixing! x