Friday, March 29, 2013

Blessings to You

Not much more to say than this, at least nothing more important...

Happy Easter!

This lovely piece is available in several colors for free printing and sharing in Easter Subway Art, created and offered by Jackie at Willow of Wonder.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gagg Pizza, Strike 2

A couple of weeks ago, I shared about our first use of the special Gaggenau pizza stone and element.  We weren't overly thrilled with the result... Nicely to overly brown tops, but underdone crust.  

I thought that using a 550 degree setting was too high, so planned to try a lower setting next time.  I thought would require longer baking time, and maybe give the bottoms long enough to cook through before the tops got too brown.

So this week, I tried heating the stone to 550 degrees, but when I put in the pizzas, I turned the oven down to 450.

I apologize for the less-than-stellar phone photos!
One of the kids had my camera elsewhere that evening.

At 9 minutes, the top on the first one looked nice, but I checked the underside and it was still white.  I cooked that one for 3 more minutes, and it was doughy.

The next ones I cooked for 15 minutes.  The tops got VERY brown, but the crusts never got golden brown.

I am disappointed.  I'm not sure where to go from here.

I wish I could turn the fan off in this mode, and only bake the pizzas with the use of the element under the stone.  I could do as I've done before and use the mode that uses only the lower oven element and no fan.  But that defeats the purpose of having the special element that tucks in just under the stone, so I want to look into this further.  

I think I'll contact the distributor and see if they have further advice, and I'll update you as there is more news.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I Didn't Start Bread

Yesterday I said that I was getting off the computer, and among other plans, I might start a batch of bread.  I didn't.  We weren't in dire need of bread, so instead, I decided to self-clean the oven.

I've never run self-clean on the Gagg before.  I barely needed to once or twice a year in the Wolf, so I'm not sure why this one is so dirty after such a short time.  But the distributor's rep made it a point to tell me to run it as often as needed without letting it get too bad.  I was approaching the 'bad' point, I thought, so clean it, I did.

These is the 'before' shot (Stating the obvious):

The manual said to clean the door gasket, and also the door and window, as the self-clean wouldn't target those areas.  This was in contradiction to what the showroom rep told me.  She said Gaggenau puts a special element around the doorway of each cavity, so that the door and front edges of the oven DO get clean in the process.  

I tried scrub off the burned on spatters on the door and glass, but didn't get very far.  
The instructions didn't say whether or not the black, shiny rack supports need to come out, so I removed them, just in case.  They were greasy-sticky, so I sprayed them with oven cleaner and tucked them into a garbage bag while the oven cleaned itself. --A trick I learned for cleaning my porcelain-coated rangetop drip pans.

The oven cleans at 905 degrees, and takes 3 hours.

The display shows a brush to signify the cleaning mode, also known as Pyrolysis in my manual.  You can see that I started the process at 10:55, and it was going to time for 3 hours.  The symbol in the lower left corner of the rectangle shows that the door is locked.

I guess I don't have the choice to shorten the cleaning time like I did in previous ovens.  Not a big loss.  I don't know if it's a difference in oven odor control, or maybe just the difference in the specific oven mess, but this one didn't smell as bad as when we cleaned other ovens.  The kitchen got toasty warm, and there was a smell of cooking, but not the choking, smoky smell that some ovens have put out during self-clean.

At 1:55, the timer beeped, and I turned off the oven.  The door remained locked, and I still couldn't turn on the interiors lights until it cooled awhile.

I don't know at what point it was cool enough to unlock.  But I do know that by 4:00 it was unlocked and not too warm to open and wipe out.

This is what I saw first... All the black, brown, and spills transformed into fine, white ash.  Pretty much what I was used to in other ovens.

I was additionally impressed by the door and glass.  Very clean!

So, here is the result... Ta-dah!  All clean and ready for me to dirty again...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A New Appreciation for Early

I am a late bloomer... or a slow study.  My mom always extolled the value of early morning hours while we were growing up.  She did things like threw open the curtains, and chirped about lovely mornings being wasted away in bed...  I didn't buy it, and did my best to roll over and try to go back to sleep.  I was a night owl, and decidedly not a morning person.  Although, I believed, and still do, actually, that it wasn't a decision, but a genetic inheritance for night-owl-ism from my dad.

I just knew my mom, who had spent her life 'rising early to lay out my dad's clothes, cook his breakfast, and pack his and all of our lunches, would be, at the least, disappointed to know Hubby spent most of my stay-at-home-mom years arising early by himself, making his own breakfast, and grabbing whatever he could find to take for lunch.  When the older kids got to the point of taking a few classes at the high school, they did the same for themselves.  The younger, homeschooled kids and I got up and going later.   Pregnancies, and, more recently, perimenopause, made getting up early very difficult for me.  

I didn't realize how much I had been struggling until I started taking bio-identical hormone replacement, and got my sleep back, and with it, some ability to face mornings.

I haven't adjusted my nighttime routines well enough to get me a full night's sleep, but this year, I've been getting up to make sure all those leaving the house have breakfast, and a full lunch to take with them.  Often I think I'll fall back in bed after they leave.  But I never do.  Although tired, I'm pretty awake by that time, and I know it would probably make me feel worse, rather than better, to sleep more.  Plus, I no longer want to waste those mornings away in bed!

I admit that for several months, I mostly still wasted that time by sitting in a sleepy fog at the computer.  As soon as I sat down, it seemed to be over.  If there weren't any more emails to read, I'd find something to research or blogs to read.

Taste of Home Coconut Bread Recipe
The description said everyone would be begging
for the recipe, so how could I NOT make it?!
It certainly was a hit.  Since I didn't have
coconut extract, I used vanilla, and subbed
coconut oil for the vegetable oil.  I also used
unsweetened coconut.  
But last Tuesday, I got a new lease on mornings.  We were scheduled to host our church small group that night, and I wanted to bake for that.  We had bananas that were definitely ready to become banana bread.  As I searched out a recipe in our Taste of Home Baking Cookbook, my eyes landed on a recipe for Coconut Bread, so I made that, too.  As 3 loaves of banana bread, and 2 loaves of coconut baked away in the oven, I boiled a pot of eggs, and also cooked some chicken breast pieces to use in dinner, with enough for the next couple days of lunch salads and sandwiches.  I started laundry and studied our chapter for that night's discussion. By noon, I had a lot to show for my day, and was on a roll to accomplish more.  I was amazed at what starting early could mean.

Most days, I think that since I'm home all day, I have all day to get things done, so there's 'no hurry.'  But that rarely works.  I get busy, distracted... usually, both... and often things I'd intended move to the next day's to-do list.  I'm going to admit here that sometimes those things include basics, like taking a shower and getting dinner started!  Not that we don't eat dinner some nights, but I have often had to 'punt' at the last minute, instead of preparing what I'd planned, but didn't start early enough.

Yesterday, I got up out of this computer chair early, read my chapter for tonight, then with the rest of the morning dedicated to cutting, and the afternoon to sewing, I made a robe for my mom that I'd been
meaning to make for her birthday... In September.  It was supposed to be her cozy, winter robe...   I think it'll still be chilly enough here to make it useful for a couple of months, but I could've had it to her earlier, if I'd learned earlier to make use of my earlier hours in the day!

Many of you are probably shaking your head, having known this for years and years.  I confess, I've suffered the sins of selfishness, laziness, and indiscipline.  But I'm growing, and hope I'm coming out of it.  Over half my life is behind me, and I want to do as much as I can with what's left.  Today, I've cleaned our stove while my coffee brewed, and now I've written out this post.  Usually, I would commiserate, correct, and tailor, then play with photos until it was to a certain level of perfection I expect to present of myself to you.  

Today, though, I have another goal, so I'm done sitting here.  After I shift laundry, come up with a dinner plan, and probably start some bread, I want to see if I can get the wisp of an idea that's been floating in my head for an art-tile inspired quilt I might want to make for our living room wall to take form on paper... So I'm off to do so.  Have a great day!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Designer's Questionnaire

Tina, of Life in Sketch, sent me a list of questions to answer in order for NY interior designer, Sarah Sarna, to advise me on how better to decorate our home's living area.

I hope I didn't write too much, especially since I added some background and other information at the end.  But, I just get one chance at this, and I wanted to be clear about my needs, concerns, and preferences.  

I didn't tell you the process of this gift I won...  I answer a set of questions and send photos of the space.  Sarah Sarna will look things over and get back to me with recommendations for the space within 4 weeks.  Then I can send her one email, asking questions about her advice, and she'll answer one final time.

Some of the photos I sent were shown in Saturday's post, but I sent many more, including some that showed our home's exterior, the kitchen, and entry, in order to give a feel for the style and what else we have going on.  

I had Hubby and Princess Sassy read through everything I wrote, to make sure it was clear, and communicated everything they knew me to be concerned with.  When all 3 of us were satisfied it said what I wanted her to know, I emailed it.  Hopefully, I haven't tied her hands too much!

Here are the questions and my answers.  Warning... It's long!

Life in Sketch/Sarah Sarna Consultation Questionnaire

1.    What space in your home are you interested in redesigning?
o   Our “great room.”  This is a long space, partially divided into 3 smaller spaces… Living, dining, and computer/sitting area.   If it is “cheating” or too much to address this whole area, we can concentrate on only part of it, but all will ultimately need to visually/cosmetically connect, so, from my end, I need to consider how changes in one area affect and dictate choices in the others. 


2.    What do you love about this space right now?
o   The Douglas fir trim (cut from our own trees, cut and installed by my husband and sons, and hand finished by me) and the beefy, Craftsman style of that trim.
o   The rich, wood flooring…even though I wouldn’t choose this species/color again, because of showing dirt and scratches.  It does not show light spots, as in the photo.  It looks pretty much all the same color... and is med-dark.
o   Large windows without coverings.
o   The wall colors.  (not as green as they look in the photos)
o   The lighting seems good and attractive.
o   The space we have for our table, which can extend through as much of the 39’ of room length, as necessary, for big, family dinners.  With 8 kids, someday we might need to seat 40+! 
 3.    What are you looking to change?
o   The cluttery, unfinished overall look with hand-me-down furnishings.
o   The lack of polish and cohesiveness.
o   Form should follow function, but we seemed to have stopped at function, for the most part. 
 4.    What is your budget?
o   $6K, including any new furniture and the materials for any DIY built-ins, home-sewn pillows, etc.
o   Plus $4K to add possible fireplace to the living room section, where the TV is?  But not sure of the location in regard to efficient airflow for the heat. 
 5.    What are your favorite interiors styles?
o   “Loft”:  wood, metal, stone/brick/concrete.  Organic mixed with industrial… A little edgy with clean lines, but comfortable, people-friendly atmosphere, and a punch (or two!) of color.  I can appreciate some whimsy.  Appropriate for barefoot lifestyle, and ‘hanging out,’ but also a gracious and attractive backdrop for special occasions.
o   Craftsman/Mission to go with our (21st Century) American Foursquare styled home.
o   Pacific NW… Bringing the outdoors in; appreciating the outdoor view and coordinating the interior feel, materials, and colors with the natural surroundings.
o   I like décor that focuses on architectural details, like fireplaces, built-ins, windows, and wood trim. 
 6.    What styles do you dislike?
o   Traditional, Country, Old World… or anything too flowery, cluttery, or ornate.
o   Contrived rustic--or any contrived look, really.  I’m not in Italy, so wouldn’t want Tuscan, for example.  If something is distressed, it should have been well-loved, not beaten with a chain last week.
o   Any style that doesn’t give due respect to the dignity and character of the architectural style of the home, or shows a lack of continuity from room to room, or exterior to interior. 
 7.    What are your favorite colors?
o   Aubergine/eggplant
o   Grays… Slate, dove gray, creamy grays, or gray greens.  Not blue-grays.
o   Burgundy and deep reds
o   Black
o   Espresso brown
o   Deep, clear blues with a hint of green are OK…Marine blue? Or Dark Teal? 
 8.    What colors do you dislike?
o   Rust/Orange/Peach
o   Dusty rose
o   Light or dusty blues
o   Royal blue
o   Pastels and Beiges
o   Golds in any more than a touch here and there, or a minor part of a pattern 
 9.    Do you like pattern?
o   Abstract, including, but not limited to, large-scale, simplified florals
o   Geometrics
o   Swirls, random dots, whimsy, et 
 Are there certain patterns you dislike?  
o   Traditional, including florals and formal patterns 
 10. What is the most important thing you’re looking to get out of your new/redesigned space?
o   I want the space and its décor to look intentional… Planned, as if grown-ups with a complete vision for their home live here, instead of the ‘make-do,’ one-step-up-from-college-apartment look.
o   I want a place for everything and everything in its place, but also some decorative pieces and wall art to make it nice and to make it neat, welcoming, personal, fun, and reasonably colorful. (Our daughter does ceramics and paints, and I sew art quilts, so those are possible art and display items)`         
o   I want it to look polished and finished, from floor to ceiling.

Background and other info you might find helpful: 
 We are what I call “terminal DIYers.”  This has served us well in improving homes, and in building this one.  We moved in 5 yrs ago.  (I designed and the whole family, led by my construction teacher husband, built it with little outside help.)  But it also means, that at this point, our “to-do” and “to-finish” lists are longer than the years I foresee we have left!  I am tired of a house that is full of ‘make do’ situations, using what we had from years ago or what people have  (generously) cast off to us.  We live on one income and have a large, homeschooled family (8 kids, now ages 8 to 25.  2 are married.  One married couple and our eldest son live in their own apartments in other cities, but one married couple lives with us, and we’re adding a garage with space above for them) … So ‘making do’ has been necessary, but I want to do better. 
 I am including photos of the exterior, plus kitchen and entry, which show the style of our home.  You can see that, like the entire house, the kitchen and stairway still lack some finishing trim. 
 I am also, of course, including photos of the space, which is lacking the casing around the big doorways separating the long space into 3 sub-spaces, and the French doors that could separate the living area into a quiet space.  It’s also missing a lot of the built-ins we’d planned, so I’m including some old renderings of suggested plans.  We wouldn’t want the window seat any longer in the dining room, but would do a buffet counter instead.  We also won’t do the ceiling beams that may be visible in some of those illustrations. 
 I’ll also include the main floorplan, so you can see how things flow, and the space dimensions.  You can see that we’d planned another addition to the south side of our house, which will mean replacing the large window in the middle of the space I’m sharing with a doorway to get to a larger family room. Meanwhile, though, the living room end of the space is all we have for gathering to sit and talk or watch a movie together.  We have to bring chairs from the center section of the space to have enough seating. 
 Speaking of furniture, we are not fond of much of what we have and intend to get rid of most or all.  I loved the red leather chairs, one of my only opportunities to choose and buy something that I felt was ‘me.’  But the seats have faded and a pair of kittens clawed the arms.  I think I still love the chairs and am considering having them recovered, or just dealing with the ‘patina.’ 

We also have a pair of smaller, brown leather chairs with matching foot rests that aren’t in the space currently.  Because of their simple lines and modest size, I think they might work somewhere?  The rest of the furniture is too big, and mostly not my color or style, because of coming from my in-laws’ home.  We like leather for family-friendly cleaning. 
 The dining room chairs need recovering badly.  I was thinking of a marine blue (dark blue with a bit of green tint) or deep teal to liven them up?  I’d considered a lively print, but want to leave my options open for a table runner or other table decorations, so thought the chairs should be colorful, but not steal the show.  
 I am not a fan of window treatments, especially that would cover the wood trim. Our hardware is mostly antique pewter, and our light fixtures are black.  I wanted an iron (gray metal) look. 
 The blue tape around the dining table is from considering putting a rug in there the day I signed up for Tina’s contest!  :-)  Not sure that’s the most practical solution, for cleaning and for when we extend the table, and mostly, the tape made me think a rug would overwhelm the room… 
 As I said in the questionnaire, if I’m asking too much by presenting the whole 3-section room as one space, I am surely OK with you limiting the scope to the living or dining area, and I will try to take what you’ve suggested for one end and try to utilize and coordinate with the other end.  


Now, the wait to see what she comes up with!
                               .........Excited...... Excited..... Excited...................................  :-)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I Have Hope!

I've told you before that I have been slightly frustrated with how to decorate the main living areas of our home.  There has been lots of 'making do' with things we've had for years and years, or hand-me-downs from various generous relatives, making for disjointed and cluttery surroundings.

We've had a lot of busy years, and a lot of needs, and never any extra money, so this making-do thing is just what we did for anything we couldn't make ourselves.  Decorative items were just destined to be in the way and get dirty, and, of course, were secondary to things like paying bills and putting food on the table.

But recently I've yearned for a better look to our home.  Now that we belong to a small group Bible study again, for which every couple or member takes turn hosting, we entertain more than immediate family and teenaged friends.  We also see the homes of others, as examples of how others live.  It's not at all about keeping up with the Joneses.. But it's about wanting to create a more "grown-up" and gracious atmosphere here.

Hubby suggested I consult an interior designer.  But, I had no idea how to find one whose design style might match mine in our semi-rural area, that I could likely afford, and who wouldn't pressure me to buy certain brands of items they represented.  We still don't have money to spend unless I could be certain of a positive outcome, and there seemed no way to guarantee that.

My blue-tape rug experiment.  I decided not only would
a rug be hard to keep clean, but it might overwhelm the room.

I was considering options the other day, like whether or not to put a rug under the dining room table, what fabric to put on our dining chairs, and what decor I might be able to make to tie our house into one, intentional look.  I turned to Google images to look for inspiration.  

After finding beautiful photos of living rooms and dining rooms, but in fantastic homes like I'd never seen in 'real life,' I did a search for "interior design normal house."

This search led me to the blog, It's Great to be Home.  In a fun and interesting way, Liz shares changes to their own home, as well as other (normal) houses they've bought, remodeled wonderfully, and 'flipped.'  I spent quite awhile reading and looking at her great pics.  The blog is nominated for the 2013 Best Remodeling Blog in the JDR Annual Industry Blogger Awards, so I followed the link to vote.  

On the voting page, there were also lists of blogs in different disciplines, including architecture and interior design, so I started checking out each of those blogs, too, looking for photos of a style and feel with which I could connect.

Nominated in the Interior Design category was Live the Life you Dream About, the blog of Sarah Sarna, a New York interior designer.  Her blog is like a cool, beautiful magazine, with lots to look at and read, so it drew me in.

In that day's post, she mentioned that another blog, Life in Sketch, was offering her services, a 'virtual interior design consultation,' as a prize in a drawing. So off I linked to that blog. Life in Sketch is written by Tina, also an interior designer and, like Sarah's and Liz's blogs, she writes in an approachable and interesting way, and features rooms, styles, and decor items in colorful and eye-catching photos.

To win the consultation with Sarah Sarna, readers were asked to comment on that day's blog post at Life in Sketch.  This was my comment, not that it really mattered what I said, since the winner was to be picked at random:

We have been married 28 years and finally, 5 yrs ago, realized our 2-decade dream of building our own home.. About 95% DIY with our 8 kids helping. It was a great project, and I love our modern day American Foursquare home, but feel like the decor is one step up from “College Apartment,” and I’m past ready for grown-up surroundings. I need help! Was just researching for inspiration and ideas, and wondering how to find a designer when I happened upon your contest. It could be my answer! :-) If nothing else, I’ve found yours and Sarah Sarna’s blogs through this, so that could help me find my answers, too.

As I stated in that comment, I was just happy to have found such fun and wonderful blogs that might help me in my endeavor. I didn't really entertain the thought of winning--- past the few minutes of thinking it would be such a perfect answer to following Hubby's advice, without running into the problems I was concerned about. I might have some help and some hope, in moving toward what I want for our home.

When I finally figured out how to access the wireless internet in our hotel while on our get-away in Wenatchee last weekend, I was overjoyed to see an email that began this way:
"Congrats! You won this week's giveaway, for a free consultation with designer Sarah Sarna." 

Thanks so much Tina, of Life in Sketch, and Sarah Sarna!!  
I'm so excited to see where the adventure leads, and how it might help me improve our home.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Date in Wenatchee, Part Deux

The view from our hotel room... Sunny part of the day
Since the prince's first 2 wishes for Friday activities during our get-away weren't granted, we moved onto his 3rd itinerary item... Checking out some Wenatchee stores.  That pretty much meant going to Old Navy, where he scored some new boxers, a couple of T-shirts, and a cool, front-zip  hoodie (seen in a pic below), all on major sale.

From there, he gave me permission to visit 2 sewing shops, one that he thought was 'creepy,' because we accidentally entered through the back door, so had to walk through their less-than-elegant-or-new stock area, and one of which seemed to be closed.  (We later found out they'd moved, but the store we drove to on Friday was empty.)  

And pouring rain later!
Soon after leaving the area of the closed store, Prince CuddleBunny commented on what a fun day he was having.  What a sweetie!  His major plans shut down, a couple new shirts, and dragging around to sewing shops, and he was having fun anyway!  I was a little surprised, and asked if it was just because he got new 'stuff,' and he assured me that it wasn't that at all, he was just enjoying our morning.

We needed, at that point I thought, a treat and to do something actually fun.  So we made a stop at Starbucks, where he ventured from his 'usual' (not like he gets them often) Raspberry Green Tea Frappuccino, and, on the advice of the barista, enjoyed his Green Tea Frapp with mint syrup and chocolate chips.  I stuck with my usual Espresso Frappuccino.  Then we headed out of town, toward Cashmere.

From Liberty Orchards.
Most people LOVE these candies!
The Wenatchee Valley is known as the Apple Capital of the World, and nearby Cashmere is the home of "Aplets and Cotlets."  These are confections made of jellied apples and apricots with English walnuts and coated in powdered sugar.  They are not my particular taste, and saying so may get me drummed out of the state, because they're beloved and pretty famous.  I celebrate Cashmere's success in making them, and will gladly give them as gifts, but you can have my share.

We weren't going to Cashmere for those, but for 2 bakeries I'd read about.  The first was in the historical and quaint downtown area, called Sure to Rise Bakery.  
Inside a patron and the bakery person were having a friendly discussion about family and mutual friends.  Cashmere is a small town, with a small town atmosphere and closeness.  There is an interesting article about it here, and just as interesting are the comments that follow, from people apparently more familiar with the town's history and attitude.

The baked goods looked and smelled delicious, from the wall of breads, to the cases full of pastries and cookies.  It was a humble place, with wood paneled walls, and offerings with equally humble prices.  

I got the impression that this place was meant to serve the locals, not to make money off of tourists.  Prince CuddleBunny chose a luscious Bavarian Creme pastry, we picked out an apple fritter for Hubby, and I selected a giant raspberry pastry.  Total bill: $3.50.   

From there we headed back toward Wenatchee to the bigger and more famous Anjou Bakery.  

This one sits nestled in an apple orchard, but is also located along side a major state highway, so easily grabs more attention from travelers.   It's more of a restaurant and bakery, with lots of seating, indoors and out, in an interesting building, nicely styled inside.  

A very fun and comfortable place to be with a rustic and industrial vibe.  

The prices seemed more tourist-focused, as our 'take' there (a black-bottom cupcake, a pear pastry, a scone with raspberry jam, and a tomato and goat cheese sandwich) totaled approximately $16.  The scone was just OK, but I could heartily recommend the rest. 

I'm not usually into sandwiches, or a meal consisting of an over-abundance of bread, but I am a sucker for goat cheese and had to try that sandwich.  I was so glad I did!  The French bread baguette was just the right amount of crackly-crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  The soft, sun-dried (?) tomatoes were amazing with the creamy goat cheese.  I loved it so much we stopped there on our way out of town on Saturday, so I could have another.  Hubby and the prince chose the Anjou's "ham and butter" sandwiches, and both said those were good, too.  I will NOT EVER pass that bakery without stopping for their goat cheese sandwich!

After an adequate fill of goodies, Prince CuddleBunny graciously accompanied me to a local quilting shop back in Wenatchee, where I found some had-to-have pieces for my fabric stash.  This was a great place with friendly, helpful folks, and a full array of quilting cottons.  

They intentionally cut generous yards of fabric there, to make sure the customer has a full yard, in case there is some loss due to straightening when cutting quilt pieces.  Nice!

As soon as Hubby was finished in meetings, we topped off the day with a dinner at Red Robin, as requested by CuddleBunny.  --We went there last year, and he's eagerly awaited the chance to return!  He and Hubby recommend the Red's Tavern Double burger, and I love their Bleu Ribbon burger... Yum!

As I explained yesterday, we had an after-dinner swim, and then cuddled in for the evening with a little more HGTV.  :-)  This conference weekend met all the 'usual requirements' and more.

The trip there was beautiful... scenery and weather.  The trip home had beautiful scenery... When we could see it through the weather!!

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