Always, Katie: August 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2014

September Pinspired: An Excuse to Wear My New Riding Boots a Little Early

Today, I'm linking up with Shay, Sheaffer and Mel's Pinspired Link-Up.  It's been a while... like, a year!  Don't you love how "life happens" once, and then just keeps happening? ;-)  

A couple of months ago,  I got a great ruffled blouse from Kohl's on clearance with some stackable codes... basically for free :-)  As per my routine, I hopped on Pinterest and pinned a few outfit inspiration pins for how to use it in the future.  Then - ohmygoodness - I got the riding boots I've been pining for since they came in fashion a few years ago!  Also from Kohl's, also with stackable codes... about $30! 

So when Ethan and I planned a big exciting date to our local dinner theater (Mary Poppins!), I wanted to use these two exciting new pieces.  I had so much fun getting ready for our date... I made a huge mess of my closet and our bed, tossing pieces all over.  Felt like a teen again! ;-)

My favorite pin for this blouse featured Duchess Kate... again.  :-)  I can't help it, her casual styles always have an effortless class that I love to try to imitate.

My version, with my beloved new boots in place of her signature wedges...

We had a wonderful night!  I absolutely love that getting ready for a date with this wonderful man to whom I've already been married for more than five years still gives me butterflies and makes me giddy :-)  See the excitement? :-)

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Home Sweet Home: Secondhand and Repurposed Night Stands

True story: for a little while, my night stand was a toilet.  And I loved it.

When we were living with my inlaws for a few months between moving back to Ohio and buying our current home, on my side of our bed was an antique commode.  It was along the lines of this one, but prettier and more ornate. And it didn't currently have a chamber pot in it.  :-)

Courtesy of Ivy House Columbia, through My Buy Auctions
Anyway, I loved the uniqueness of it, and reusing something unexpected for a practical purpose.  When we were looking for night stands for our room, I wanted to steer away from brand new furniture store buys for a few reasons.  1)  I wanted something quirky.  Like a toilet, but taller ;-)  2) Used wood has a warmth to it that takes a while to acquire. 3) I knew we'd never match the dresser and chest from our old set that we were keeping in our room (the bed and single night stand from that set are in the guest room).  4) It's hard to find wood furniture that's not painted or blonde, cherry, walnut, or espresso!  We just wanted an oak/maple-y color to go with the other wood in the room. Didn't have to match, but the same family.  5)  I knew there was plenty of gently used furniture out there that would cost us SIGNIFICANTLY less than something brand new.  It's like a car... if it's gently used and in good shape, let someone else take the depreciation hit ;-)

Our requirements were that they be fairly tall (around 28-32 inches) because our bed is on the high side, and that they have some storage.  We found mine quickly, but scoured a local peddlars' mall and the internet for something for Ethan.  We finally found something at a store called Home2Home, which has both retail store leftovers and consignment furniture and decor.  It's pretty, it's tall, it has a ton of storage, and it's the right tone of wood.  New, it probably would've cost in the ballpark of $300... we got it for $75.  Can't hate around 75% off!

As for mine, we had driven around our town all day, looking at garage sales - there is one specific weekend in June when we do "community-wide" garage sales, so it was a particularly good time to look.  As we were cruising by yet another house, I yelped and pointed and Ethan pulled over.  I didn't know what this thing was, but it was tall and the pricetag was right!  

I hopped out and started exploring it... it was reasonably clean, just a few minor scratches on the top and very sturdy.  Then I noticed the top was hinged and realized it was a sewing cabinet.  (It's fairly obvious, I'm just a little slow on the uptake sometimes, haha!)  I opened the top and opened the front and noticed the curved piece of pressboard-type-stuff would make it so that I couldn't really use it as storage... but it looked like that piece wasn't secured in there, so it would probably be removable.  I was chatting with the homeowner who was selling it, and she said that she'd reduce the price to $10, since I'd have to put some work into it.  I thought that was awesome, as $15 seemed totally fair to me!  I hate haggling and almost definitely wouldn't have asked for a reduction, but I gladly took it ;-)

Sure enough, the curvy piece came out easily, and I gave the whole thing a good bath in lemon Pledge.  We went to Lowe's and bought a $5 piece of plywood that we had cut to the size of the inside of the cabinet, as well as some L-brackets and a knob.  We screwed two L-brackets into the sides of the cabinet, toward the front, and used those and a ledge at the back to support the plywood shelf.  Then we added the knob to the front swingy door, and I had a totally cool, repurposed night stand!  The storage inside isn't huge, but it's enough to hold my Kindle, random cords, and some nighttime low blood sugar snacks.  

I think these two nightstands are really contributing to the warm look I'm aiming for in decorating our bedroom haven, and I'm so glad I took the chance on an "unusual" piece of furniture and some TLC  :-)  These sewing cabinets are readily available at yardsales and antique/vintage malls, just waiting to be snatched up and repurposed!
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ridiculously Decadent Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cake

Ethan and I have our birthdays 6 days apart - isn't that fun?  Also within the first two weeks of August is his mom's birthday, so the beginning of August involves a LOT of cake in our family!  Growing up, his family's tradition was to get a bakery cake with BUTTERCREAM frosting (yummmm!), and my family's tradition was for the birthday person to pick their favorite homemade cake for my mom to make.  So we go back and forth with his mom's birthday (bakery or homemade), but I always make his cake.  I love baking, and I love him, so it's fun to pick out the perfect recipe to hopefully make his birthday extra-special :-)  Last year, he got a six-layer chocolate and buttercream cake... another year, I made him a dirt cake :-)

This year, he helped out quite a bit - he pinned this cake to our shared dessert recipe pinboard.  I had every intention of making it exactly as Robin at Bird on a Cake created it... but I ran into some issues.  Namely... I couldn't find my round cake pans.  And I forgot to buy sour cream.  

I had recently bought some new 9x9 square pans, but I didn't want the cake to look too short and boring... it's a birthday cake, after all!  So I decided it would have to have a third layer of something... something chocolate.  And easy, because I wasn't going to make TWO from-scratch recipes that day ;-)  I happened to have a brownie mix in the pantry.  Sold!  Now for the sour cream problem... cherry is a favorite of Ethan's, so we had some cherry Greek yogurt in the fridge.  A little shy of two individual-serving containers of that was a perfect substitute!

To make my version of this cake, follow the recipe here, substituting [1C Cherry Greek yogurt] for [1C sour cream].  Bake it in two layers, in 9x9 inch square pans.  While the cherry cakes are cooling, bake a 9x9 pan of brownies (if you have a scratch recipe you love, go for it!  But boxes are lovely...).  While those are cooling, make your ganache.  Now... if you want it to be exactly like mine, use margarine instead of butter and make a 1.5x batch.  If you want it to be better and more whippy, do it like Robin says ;-)  I stacked the cake thusly:  cherry cake, ganache, brownie, ganache, cherry cake.  Then I slathered the top and sides with the ganache... try to work quickly, as (at least my slightly off version of) the ganache set up faster than I expected!  I dipped my cherries using my Wilton Chocolate Pro after the cake had set for a while... maybe even the next day.  If your ganache is already too firm to set the covered cherries into, use a little dab of the same chocolate you're using to dip the cherries as "glue".  And good luck finding jarred cherries with stems! What's up with that? Anybody know where to get those?  My cherries weren't as obviously chocolate-covered cherries as hers were, but they got their point across. ;-) This cake made massive slices of super-decadent cherry and chocolatey goodness!  It got rave reviews, and I think I'll break it back out around Christmas if we get invited anywhere and need to bring a dessert.  It's definitely not quick and easy, but it is so worth the effort. :-)

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Home Sweet Home: Floral Grapevine Wreath Tutorial

One of my FAVORITE rooms in our house is our master bathroom!  It's nice and big (the only room in our house with ceilings higher than 8 feet, except the two-story foyer), has a double vanity and a ginormous tub.  But it has been pretty plain up until now - the only decor I'd done was to toss two curtains from our old house over a rod (doubled over instead of with the rod through the pocket, so it didn't hang in the tub).  I love the curtains, and wanted to use them as the palette/inspiration for the rest of the bathroom.

Our tub sits in a corner, with the window on one wall, and a big empty space on the other.  That blank wall has been!  So I made a wreath.  

This was a super-easy project, and very budget-friendly.  If I had paid full price for all of my supplies, it would have cost me $22.92... but of course with sales and coupons at craft stores, I didn't pay quite that much.  I think the total came to between $15 and $16 :-)  Not bad for a 24-inch wreath that matches my decor perfectly!

If you want to customize your own grapevine wreath, grab these supplies: 

  • A grapevine wreath in whatever size you desire.  Mine is a 24-inch, from Old Time Pottery.  It only cost $6.99, which I think is the lowest price I've ever seen for one this big.
  • Some flowers - I prefer fake, because I worry about colors from dried flowers running down my wall, especially in a humid room like the bathroom.
  • Twine - darker to more closely match the wreath would be great, but it's not going to be all that visible.  Mine is considerably lighter than my wreath, and you can't really tell.
  • Scissors
  • Wire cutters
  • Optional: Ribbon, other fun additions.  Fake bird? Sea shells?  Whatever!  You may need to grab a glue gun too, depending on what optional stuff you add. :-) 
Start by laying your flowers and other items on your wreath to figure out how you want it laid out.  Once you're satisfied with the layout, it would be a good idea to snap a picture with your phone so you can refer to it later.  I wish I'd done that ;-)

Set aside the flowers, except for the back-most bunch.  Eyeball where on the wreath the thick part of the stem sits (you know, where it goes from looking like it could possibly be real to obviously being a clump of plastic-covered wire!).  Ease that stem as horizontally as you can between the cords of grapevine.  If you can curve it to stay inside the wreath, that's awesome.  If it's just easier to let it poke out a ways down the curve, totally fine :-)

Do the same with the rest of the stems of flowers on the wreath or in that cluster.  Once they're in place, arrange the smaller branches of the stems and make sure you like the placement and that there won't be any weird gaps.  Grab your twine and cut a piece a few feet long.  Weave it up through the wreath from the bottom, wrap it around the floral stem and pass it back down through the wreath, making sure that part of the stem is secured where you want it to stay.  

Tie a knot in the twine behind the wreath.  If you leave one tail of the knot long, you should be able to secure a few pieces of the stems with one piece of twine.  Don't tie every single bit of the flowers down, or the wreath will look flat and fake-y.  Just use enough that the flowers subtly go the direction you want, and don't fall off the wreath :-)  Also, use the wire inside most of these stems to gently curve some of the pieces in the direction of the wreath - or against it for a more haphazard look - whatever floats your boat!

Once all of your flowers are secured, clip any stems, wires, or twine tails that are poking out of the wreath.  Add your ribbons, bows, etc.  There was already a huge hook in the wall over our tub from the previous owners, and it was perfect for hanging the wreath.  :-)

Edited to add:  We got a cute little storage bench for our foyer, and I made two new wreaths to go over that bench.  One for year-round, and one for Easter.  I'll make more seasonal ones as new holidays approach :-) 

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Home Sweet Home: Succulent Window Garden

Like just about everyone else on the internet, I am crazy about succulents!  When it comes to houseplants...  I have a very particular set of skills... skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for plants that require regular care and water.  I am the Bryan Mills of house plants.  I will find them... and I will kill them.

Credit: IMDb
But succulents!  They PREFER it if you forget to water them!  And they come in all kinds of varieties... a bunch of colors and color combos, all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Love it!  Also, I'm fascinated by the idea of propagating them (baby anything is on my mind lately, go figure), and I love that one plant (as if you could buy just one) could eventually turn in to a whole garden with its offspring. :-)  

We have this big window ledge-type-thing on the landing of the steps to our basement.  It's big and wide and empty, and it gets quite a bit of light, so I've been daydreaming of filling it with succulents since we moved in here.  I've had a Pinterest board for several months with a bunch of inspiration, as well as information on planting, caring for, and propogating them. 

When we got back from Barbados a few weeks ago, my wonderful inlaws gave us a big planter of several succulents, which really put the bee in my bonnet to fill up that window sill! Then about a week later, the tiny little succulents at Kroger went on sale for $1.79 (and $1.99 for slightly larger plants), and I had to snatch some up.  And by some, I mean... a lot.  Here was my haul from Kroger that day (for under $16!).

My mother-in-law had also been rooting some cuttings from one of her Christmas cacti, so I picked those up.  I had a few vases and other glass things I'd been hoarding to be succulent planters, so I grabbed some cactus dirt fom Lowe's (about $4-5), and two little bags of river rocks from the Dollar Tree ($1 each), and got to work.  I put a layer of river rocks in the bottom of each bowl/vase for better drainage (since none of my planters have holes in the bottom) and put a nice loose layer of cactus dirt on top. I gently pulled each succulent out of the pots they came in and shook off the (notoriously low-quality) dirt as gently as I could before repotting them in the fun, clear containers I'd prepared.  

The Christmas cactus cuttings are in a vase that I used to use when Ethan picked up flowers on the way home from work.  It was pretty crowded for even a modest bouquet, BUT I recently dug out the larger vase that we had full of glads on the altar at our wedding and promoted it to "because he loves me" flower holder.  My aloe still doesn't have a permanent home, but as soon as I can find the low square vases that held our reception centerpieces, it will live in one of those :-)  Some of the other containers came from clearance racks, Goodwill, and the Dollar Tree.  This was a really fairly inexpensive project - AND one of the succulents in the planter from my inlaws had already "had a baby" that I was able to fish out from under it... one of the ones from Kroger had THREE tiny babies that are currently in my succulent nursery, and some of the plants from the planter had leaves that were ready to remove and propagate, so I'm waiting to see how they do.  I love that my sweet little plants are already starting to "give back."  :-)

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

5th Anniversary Date - Atlantis Submarines Barbados

Ethan's and my 5th wedding anniversary was July 11, 4 days after my egg retrieval.  We went out for dinner that night, to a delicious restaurant called "Tapas" that was right at the end of the alley our cottage was on - just a stone's throw, since I wasn't up to much that day.  Dinner was great, and the ambience was stellar - sheltered, but kind of outdoors, right on the boardwalk, so we could watch the waves crash in and people strolling and jogging by.  It was exactly the change of pace we needed from the several days we spent more-or-less confined to the cottage.  :-)

But our big anniversary date was the night before we flew home, and it was EPIC!!

We went on a night-time submarine tour of some of the reefs off the coast of Barbados, with Atlantis Submarines.  Coolest. Date. EVER!!  

A shuttle picked us up from right in front of our hotel, and took us to the dock.  We gathered in the gift shop/reception area, then Ethan and I got to go to the transfer boat ahead of the crowd, since we had paid for a VIP upgrade.  I am NOT a big fan of water, typically, so the boat ride was a tiny bit nerve-wracking for me.  :-)  Because of our VIP status, we got to be the first to board the submarine, too.  So we walked across a little bridge between two rocking watercraft, and I was TERRIFIED!  Once across, we had to fight some pretty strong breezes to make it to the hatch with the ladder down into the sub... may I recommend, if you ever take an excursion like this, that you do NOT wear a breezy skirt?  Your modesty will thank you.  

The inside of the sub was smaller than I expected, and there was one long plastic bench down the middle, with molded seats on either side, facing porthole on each side of the sub.  Ethan and I had the front seats, so we could see out both sides, as well as the captain's viewport.  Best seats in the house!

We saw several kinds of coral and sponges, some cool fish (including one that wears snot pajamas!), a couple of sea turtles (I spotted the first one!), and even a (purposely) sunken ship!  :-)  Our lowest depth was 152 feet... it was surreal and incredible!  On our way back to the surface, the captain turned off all of the lights, and we experienced how dark the ocean is, even at that relatively shallow depth... then we saw the bioluminescent plankton glowing all around us... they looked like a billion tiny stars, but almost close enough to touch, streaking past our porthole.  Kind of like jumping to hyperspace in Star Wars. ;-)  On the ride back to the dock on the transfer boat, we were both awed and peaceful... very romantic!  The sub followed us back in, so we got some neat pictures of it.  

We both would highly recommend taking the night cruise with Atlantis Submarines.  Someday, when we're back on the island, we'd love to take the day cruise and see more of the critters that weren't out at night.  It was an amazing date - despite the few terrifying moments - that I am so glad we had the opportunity to take!  
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Friday, August 1, 2014

Recipe Review: Lazy Day Lasagna (Picky Eater Approved!)

So, funny story...  I hate lasagna.  I mean, I think I do.  Or I did.  

On the last day of my high school internship, I attended our senior scholarship banquet, which was a LOVELY evening of food, family, and celebrating good ol' fashioned academic achievement.  I was so proud to have been part of the school community that nurtured these kids, even if it was only for a couple of months.  But I digress.

We worked hard all day, ironing out logistics of this first-ever event at a facilty none of us were familiar with, and schlepping heavy stuff all over the place.  So when dinner time rolled around, I was HUNGRY!  And the only choices: lasagna or starve.  So I ate the lasagna.  And it was the best thing I think I'd ever tasted!  I came home gushing to Ethan about how it wasn't gritty and weird, and he said that they must've used cottage cheese instead of ricotta.  I'd never heard of this, but I put it on my mental to-do list to find a recipe like it.

Then, in Barbados, while I was dealing with OHSS and eating, like, 300 calories a day, the cravings started hitting.  (Because each of my 35+ follicles started releasing progesterone, and my trigger shot was hCG, these hormones mimicked early pregnancy symptoms. Like, all of them.  I almost hurled when Ethan brought scrambled eggs - one of my favorites - into the room where I was.  Food aversions are weird.)  Lasagna was one of my top cravings, but we didn't want to chance a frozen version that would've cost an arm and a leg there, and may have been gritty... plus, I couldn't have eaten more than a few bites of it.  But my wonderful husband scoured the internet until he found a simple recipe using cottage cheese... I made it about a week after we got home.  :-)

So, check out this recipe from "Life in my Kitchen...and beyond", especially if you have picky eaters in your house!  Odds are pretty good that I'm pickier than they are ;-)  I can't stand tomato chunks, so we picked a jar of relatively smooth spaghetti sauce, and I used extra meat. The recipe is a little strange, in that it calls for 1.5C browned ground beef, instead of a specific weight.  I browned 2 pounds, and it was definitely more than 1.5C... I didn't measure it, but I'm guessing it came out to to somewhere between 2.5 and 3C.  So, maybe try browning a pound, if you'd rather err on the side of less meaty, or a pound and a half if you like a meatier lasagna.  The tons of extra we used was delicious, but JUST barely fit in the pan.  :-)   I also topped it with more shredded cheese when it was fresh out of the oven, because there's no such thing as too much cheese!  

This recipe DEFINITELY earned a spot on my "Recipes I Love" Pinterest board!  Hop on over and follow that board (or all of them!) to see what else is making the cut in this picky-eater's kitchen :-)  
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