Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Gift Idea: Homemade Irish Creme

Soo....you've got most of your shopping done, but you don't have anything for your neighbors, co-workers, or people who bring unexpected gifts?  It's Not Too Late for Handmade Gifts for Christmas...Really!

All you need is this assortment of products from your kitchen cabinet and about 15 minutes.  Or, if you don't have all these, you can purchase enough to make 10 gifts for about $30.

So raid your cabinet, go to the store, and break out your blender for this fabulous, delicious, and easy handmade treat!

Homemade Irish Creme

This bottle can be found at World Market for $4.95.
Effort Meter (1 to 5): 1 - Except for the refraining from drinking it part...that's a little harder.

Delicious Meter (1 to 5): 4 - I mean, if you like that sort of thing...and I do...with coffee...or on the rocks...or even with hot chocolate.  But maybe my mouth is just watering because I'm pregnant and can't have any of this.  Pure torture.
Serving Suggestion: I love it with coffee...or on the rocks...or even with hot chocolate.  But maybe my mouth is just watering because I'm pregnant and can't have any of this.  Pure torture! Anyway, I made gift baskets with a bottle of the good stuff, plus a pack of Christmas coffee and some homemade shortbread.
Weight Watcher Points - Really?

*makes about 2 pints or 1 qt
These small bottles are available at World Market.  A set of two is $3.99.

1C Heavy Whipping Cream
14Oz Can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 2/3C (or less) of Irish Whiskey (I used Early Times, per the suggestion of the Liquor store guy...I was in a rush to get out of there because I'm pregnant and I thought it looked funny, so the $30 bottle for a Qt did just fine for me!)
1TSP Instant Coffee (I used International Delight Hazelnut)
2TBSP Hershey's Chocolate Syrup
1TSP Vanilla
1TSP Almond Extract (Optional)


Combine all ingredients into a blender.  Blend on high for 30 seconds.  Pour into bottles using a funnel.  Refrigerate and store up to two months.  Shake before serving. Serve with coffee, on the rocks, or with hot chocolate.

One recipe will fill two of the pint bottles like shown. If you are looking for bottles, you can find the one's I used at World Market.  I bought the large bottle for $4.95, and the set of two smaller, one-pint bottles with pourer for $3.99. I added a gift tag and some yarn, for a gift that cost less than $5 each, and took less than 15 minutes to make.

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Book-Casing the Joint"

Some women prefer diamonds for Christmas.  Some want a classic pair of black Louis Vuitton's or Chanel No. 5.  Me?  I'm a little more difficult.  I want built-ins.

The finished product!  LOVE these bookshelf built-ins in our Master!

Ask and I shall receive.  That's because my husband is not only handsome, sweet, and loves to work, but because he's quite the craftsman too.  One year for Christmas, he sheetrocked an entire room of our houseboat where the drive-in boat garage used to be.

This was my present one year...a new living room where a boat dock used to be.  Josh sheet-rocked, built-in the bookcases and fireplace, created the cut-out to the den, and did all the lighting.  I painted.

Last year, he masoned the stone fireplace in our living room. And yet another year, he surprised me by bringing home a discarded Wurlitzer piano and refinished it for me into this beautiful piece.

My husband found this discarded Wurlitzer piano at a former YMCA and refinished it for me on a very broke Christmas when we first got married.

But this year, he really outdid himself.  With a baby on the way, and a space that essentially had not been touched since we moved in exactly two years ago, our Master bedroom was in much need of an upgrade.  During Black Friday, I bought a 39" tv to go in our Master bedroom, but since we had no place to put it, the bookcase project got pushed forward, and over the last week, my husband slaved to finish this beautiful project for me.

So, here's the room before.  We had no place for a tv and no storage outside of our closet.  I wanted something I could store diapers and other baby essentials, and also something that hid wires, cables, and the tv box.
The left side of the room is much larger than the right side, so I had my husband build two bookshelves (one for the left and one for the right) that were exactly the same width as the smaller right side, then built a corner unit for the remainder of the left side area, so that the bookshelves would look symmetrical, but the left side would actually be larger.

The right side is where we needed the tv to be so we could see it from both spots on the bed.  Originally, I had planned for the book cases to go up the entire height of the room, but the tv was slightly larger than the wall width, so we decided to build the shelves only halfway up, and set the tv ontop of the bookshelves, instead of mounting the tv inside.
The bookshelves would be tricky on the left side because the pocket door means no beams and nothing to attach the built-ins to.
Once we had a plan that would accommodate the space and the tv, my husband got to work! And he worked, and worked, and worked.
Bookshelf for the right side, complete with area for the BluRay player, cable, box, and DVD storage.  I left the tops see-through so that the wall color would show through and add some dimension.  A little trick I learned from way back when.

The total cost for the wood and mouldings was about $170, plus a little extra for paint and handles.
The left side of the bookshelf has one unit identical in height and width to the right side, and then an added corner unit to accommodate the extra space, and yet not compete with the symmetry.  Bookshelf units do not need to have shelves and drawers in exactly the same places to be symmetrical and unified, they just need to be the same height, width, and finish.
I had my husband build in a pull-down shelf that could be used as a spot to work from my laptop, or can store diapers once the baby is born.  Versatility is key, and with handmade built-ins, I get to choose all the features.
Josh built in slots on the back to accommodate tv, cable, and electrical cords.  He also had to cut out areas to accommodate the electrical outlet.
A coat of paint mixed to match our moldings, and a good wiring job later, and we were ready for the install.  Josh pulled all the electrical through the back, and then covered the cords with stripping painted to match that you can find at any home improvement retailer store.

Drum roll, please!  Here is the finished product.  I think it looks just beautiful.  The cords are hidden, the paint matches, and there is plenty of versatility so I can decorate for any season--or reason!

The large tv still looks a little top-heavy, but whatcha gonna do?  It's a great size for the room and there's no moving it now because the cable box and BluRay (first shelf) are pretty much built in to the unit.  If you look closely, you can see the electrical line running down the middle.  Pretty cool, huh?
I love the way this looks with the pocket door.  We choose to match the paint to our moldings and doors, and let the wall color show through.  Though this detail is lost with such a light wall color, I still think it's a nice touch.
I LOVE the corner shelf because I love how you can take a minus, and turn it into a plus.  A asymmetrical wall is now the beauty of the entire piece!
Securing the left shelf to wall was particularly trick because there is pocket door that slides behind the left side.  Luckily, the corner unit allowed us to attach the entire built in to the corner wall.
Some black and white accessories from around the house, plus a couple of black and white photos really accent the shelves without getting too cluttered.  Still have some space to fill though, but I'm willing to wait for the right pieces.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How to Un-tacky your Christmas Decor

Last year, I promised myself I would post Christmas decor pics in a blog, but I didn't.  It may seem counter-intuitive that I tend to slack off on blogging during the holidays, but it's quite the opposite.  In fact, with a three year old and growing family, it seems the holidays are the busiest time of the year, and hence, I rarely have time to blog.

But I did grab some pics from around the house so you can see the progress we've made in the holiday decor.  Just from this year to last, we've made huge strides, and now I have some tips to share with everyone.  Honestly, I am not perfect, and I'm still getting to know my house, but I have learned from mistakes and lots of practice, so hopefully you can find this helpful!

Tip 1: Find a place for the tree where there is adequate space, and it is not blocking major walkways (or the tv). Also, bigger is not better.  Both the height and the fullness of a tree can compete with your room if too big.
Last year, we got an enormous tree, and I put it in front of the window.  But you couldn't see the television anymore, and it took up about half of the entire living room.  Bad idea!
This year we moved the tree to an out-of-the-way corner of the great room, and opted for a much smaller tree (only 7').  It seems to fit the space perfectly, and now we aren't stumbling over presents or struggling to catch a view of the tv or fireplace.  
Tip 2: Start by placing ornaments you love on the tree first, and avoid clutter by opting out of hanging ornaments you don't love.  I've always thought that trees with a wide arrangement of ornaments were much prettier, and I've found you can have a variety if you tie everything in with a matching tree-topper, ribbon, tinsel, large bows or flowers, and lights.
I went with a white and gold theme, and then just added the ornaments.  It seems to have worked nicely (much prettier in person).
Tip 3: Presents aren't just for around the tree. In fact, I find that too many presents around the tree are annoying and difficult to maneuver, so we put presents everywhere.  Presents for friends go on the piano, presents for people visiting Christmas day go around the tree, and Santa's gifts go on the fireplace.

Tip 4: Hanging Christmas lights may be a man's job, but don't let them go to the store and pick out the decor.  You might end up with an explosion of tacky Christmas chaos.

This is what my husband did to the house last year...
This year, I made my husband use all white lights, and complimented his efforts with white lit trees, lit garland, and fresh leaves.  Now it accents the house, not competes with it.
For fun, I topped my antique lantern with a festive little tree.
Tip 5: Crafty is cool.  We found this craft project at Michaels.  It was just a plain wood Advent Calendar.  Everyone in the family painted a few of the boxes to their taste, including my three year old, and look how imperfectly cute it turned out.  Plus, it was a nice holiday bonding experience1

Tip 6: You can deviate from the color palate...a little.  The holiday colors in our house are white and gold with touches of grey and burgundy.  But our stockings are Oregon Duck's green and yellow.  Somehow, it works, but I think it's because both our house and our holiday colors, are pretty basic.

Bonus Tip: Use your stockings to store seasonal breakables in boxes when putting away holiday decorations.
I tied in the clashing stockings with gold garland and a wreath I made to match.  Aren't the stockings adorable? My aunt made them for us years ago and I just love them to death

Tip 7: It's the little touches that make it count, not the giant Christmas village displays.  Adding garlands to your favorite pieces, filling glass jars and votive with pine cones, and displaying gifts and ornaments on shelves and bookcases give a Christmas feel with out the tacky clutter.

I added seasonal garland in gold, green, and red, to my favorite tabletop hurricanes, and then filled them with gold pine cones.
Pinecones, ornaments, ice skates, and Christmas books all make for a nice book shelf display, and cost no extra money to buy!
Something as simple as some yuletide-looking logs can bring festive to your decor.

Tip 8: Use what you've got.  Sleds, toys, Christmas books and magazines...all these things are festive.  Put them on display and show your unique taste!

I love Christmas home and garden magazines, so I put them on display on the coffee table.  Plus, it give guests something to look at while you are busy in the kitchen.

This cute little toy of Noah's now makes for part of our Christmas decor.  This, paired with some colorful lights,  a snow globe, and Christmas books complete a holiday kids room that my son loves.

Tip 9: Don't forget the bedrooms!
Some cranberry garland and red sheets was all it took to winterize our master bedroom.

A strand of Christmas lights, a Cars snow globe, and some books about Santa were all it took for my son to fall in love with his festive room!

Tip 10: Move out what you aren't using.  Replace non-seasonal decor, with seasonal decor, and pack the non-seasonal decor in the Christmas boxes until after the holiday.  Also, move furniture and other pieces out to the garage temporarily to make room for large items, like the Christmas tree.  Less is more...especially because holiday decor is so visually overwhelming.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Make a Salmon Seafood Lover Out of You!

I happen to love salmon.  In fact, I think it's my favorite food.  As it should be!  I mean, I grew up in Portland, and what Portlander would be a true northwesterner without a love for microbrews and Pacific Northwest cuisine?

But if you--like my husband--have been a critic of salmon, let me assure you, I have a salmon recipe that seems to please the masses...even those who say they don't like salmon.  But there are a few keys to doing it right.

I've found that the majority of people cook salmon incorrectly.  They cook it way too long.  I think we have a fish phobia in the US, and forget that there are regions of the world that eat fish mostly raw.  Yet we insist on cooking it until all the juices and flavors are gone.  Personally, I recommend cooking salmon on a hot grill, using a bowl I craft out of aluminum foil.  This keeps the juices from spilling on the bbq and locks flavor in.

Finally, be sure to take the salmon off the grill when the center is still slightly pink (not like cooked pink, but the natural color of raw salmon pink).  If your grill is hot enough, it will cinge a crispy outside on the fish, while keeping it juicy and delicious on the inside.

One more thing...did you know that some salmon travel as far as Japan from the Pacific coast before venturing back to the river where they were born?  That's a long way to travel, so show them some respect and cook 'em good!

Asian Salmon with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes and Sesame Green Beans (shown here with different potato)


Salmon -
Large filet of salmon, skin on
1/4C Olive Oil
1/2C Soy Sauce
1/4C Brown Sugar
2 Packets of Sugar Substitute
Garlic Salt (a dash, to taste)

Potatoes -
4 - 5 Potatoes
Salt and Pepper
2TBSP Butter
1/2C Sour Cream
Wasabi Paste or Powder  (to taste, strength varies)

Green Beans -
1Lb of Fresh Green Beans, trimmed
1TSP Sesame Oil
1TSP of Ginger
1 Clove of Garlic, minced
2-4TBSP of Soy Sauce

Combine Olive oil, soy sauce, sugar, garlic salt, and sugar substitute in a large, shallow dish.  Add fish, and marinate salmon for 1-2 hours.

Once marinated, create a BBQ bowl out of tin foil and add fish and juices to tin bowl.  BBQ skin side down in bowl for 5-7 minutes, and rotate.  Take off grill when outside is almost crispy but inside is still slightly pink.

Meanwhile, boil and mash potatoes.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.

For green beans, add sesame oil to pan on high heat.  Add ginger, garlic, and finally green beans.  Saute over high heat for 1-2 minutes.  Add soy sauce and cook until green beans start to change color, but before they get soft.