Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How To Make a Picture Wall That Doesn't Look Like a Catastrophe

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DIY photo wall

Has this happened to you? You open up Potterybarn magazine and see a beautiful display of family photos, arranged haphazard, yet orderly; subdued, but not bland; not too many photos, but not a lack thereof, either.

You want this...

But you get this...

Building a photo wall or college is more of an art than a science, I've discovered.  I've spent hours hanging and rehanging frames, printing and reprinting pictures, adding and subtracting pieces; but it's finally done!  Ladies and gentlemen...my family photo wall (up the staircase to boot!).

My stairway family photo wall No. 1

My stairway family photo wall No. 2
 Because this was such an arduous process, I've decided to share with you what I've learned about the hefty task of creating a photo wall collage.  Here are Amber's tips for creating a photo wall.  Now, I'm not a designer, so these are meant to be tips for amateurs.  Please chime in if you have some of your own advice to give!
Stairway Photo Wall

  1. Hang the center line at eye level.  This means that if you are going up a set of stairs, your photos will have to climb, too.
  2. Uniformity is not required in size shape, or even color of your pictures/frames.  But there has to be some element that keeps it consistent, like overall height of the entire collage, equal horizontal spacing, or photo sizes.
  3. To make things look organized, and not haphazard, make sure top and bottom, and left and right of your picture collage are equal aesthetic weight.  This means you have to balance out large frames, bold photos, or heavy matting with equal visual weight on the other side.
  4. Put portaits in the middle because they become focal because of the tightness of the shot.  Putting tight shots on the outside makes them feel like they are floating away.
  5. Break up the monotony by adding framed objects such as clocks, mirrors, and artwork to the mix.  I've seen people add all sorts of things to their collages...anything flat or framed will do!  I'm not much of a risk-taker, so I chose a clock, but let your creativity shine!
  6. Be prepared to move and remove photos.  It's nearly impossible to get it right the first time.  It's better to just make small holes.
  7. When printing your pictures, make extra copies in different sizes and finishes, so you have lots to choose from.  Sometimes it's not the frame that's throwing off the arrangement, it's the photo, so switching it for another can bring unity to your picture wall.  Note: I bought framed artwork from Ross for around $20 with pictures that were 20" square then cut open the frames and put in my own prints.  I got the enlarged prints from Persnickity Prints online, and for less than $30 for each picture, these look like the real deal.
  8. Choose your photo finish and coloring.  Decide ahead of time whether you want your photos to be matte or glossy; black and white, bold color, or muted antique/sepia tones.  I chose to do a combination of black and white, sepia, and antique finish (matte), but all the photos have muted color.  This is a risky choice, because it's harder to create unity.  It is much simpler to choose all black and white, or all bold color.
  9. Find your line.  You need to select one visual line that the eye can follow throughout your collage.  It can be a horizontal center of gravity line, like in my collage, but other options include: 
I chose to use a horizontal center of gravity visual that followed the pattern of the stairway banister... 
However, it got a little tricky, when wrapping the corner.  Still need to work on this.
You may also opt for a horizontal line through the center
A vertical line
A horizontal line on top, bottom, or (like here) both
Or, I call this the "center of gravity" line because the visual goes right across the center, even though no negative space exists there.
 Finally, to ensure the best visual for your picture wall, you can trace the frames onto large sheet paper, cut them out, and tape the arrangement on the wall to get a visual.  Just be aware that this does not take into account the frame width, matting, or imagery, so you still may need to adjust the arrangement after 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kudos for Cous Cous and Curry

Some kids ask for "pop." Some want "candy." My kid asks for both of those...but he also asks for "trees" (i.e. "broccoli"), "balls" (i.e. "peas"), and his new favorite..."Cous Cous." Yes, he's developed quite a taste for the yummy little carbohydrate balls. But so have we all. He nearly jumped out of his high chair screaming, "Cous Cous Mommy!" when he saw Sunday's dish hit the table, and then he ate nearly the entire bowl (although he wouldn't touch the curry).

I've heard a lot of people say they don't like Cous Cous. I say, "try it from the bulk section." I swear, you won't even recognize it as the same stuff. The packaged stuff is sticky, mushy, and flavorless. Reminds me of boxed mashed potatoes. Now you wouldn't eat boxed mashed potatoes and compare it to delicious fresh garlic mashers, would you? Then try the bulk Cous Cous. I promise, you'll like it!

I got this recipe via the Savory Spice Shop. I grabbed it along with a package of Lemongrass Green Curry. I've adjusted the recipe a bit, but all and all, it was quite tasty, and low in Weight Watcher Points.

Thai Green Chicken Curry with Lemongrass


1 lb. boneless skinless chicken, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric (I didn't have any, so I used yellow mustard)
2 cups coconut milk
2 tbsp. Thai lemongrass green curry powder (from Savory Spice Shop) mixed with 2 tbsp. of fish sauce
2 cups eggplant, zucchini or yellow squash peeled and diced
1 tomato, quartered
1/2 cup water
6-8 fresh cilantro sprigs


In a large bowl, toss cubed chicken with turmeric until coated and set aside. In a large skillet, heat coconut milk over low heat for 5-6 minutes. Thoroughly mix in Thai Green Curry paste, add the quartered tomatoes and continue cooking over low heat for 5-6 minutes. Add chicken and cook, covered, over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining ingredients excluding the cilantro sprigs, stir thoroughly, cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Add cilantro and continue cooking, uncovered, for 3-4 minutes.

Serving Suggestions:

Serve over Cous Cous with warm tea while listening to the "Slum Dog Millionaire" Soundtrack.

To prepare the Cous Cous, I combine 1 cup of bulk Cous Cous and 2 cups of water into a rice cooker.  Once ready, I mix in a couple tbsp of Olive Oil, two green onions and salt.  Pour Curry over the top.  Eat.  Enjoy.  Eat some more. Package left overs.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Supercalifragedelicious! Mediterranean Chicken

It may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised.  Surprised at what, you ask?  Surprised at how many people throw dinner parties with bad food.

On the other hand, when you go to a dinner party where the food is good--real good--then be ready to jot down recipe a few dozen times.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were invited to a dinner party for a person I work for.  It was lovely.  In fact, I would have been completely happy with just the delicious wine and cheese spread.  Little did I know that the hostess had such wonderful cooking skills.  She made a Mediterranean Chicken dish with Cous Cous and claimed it was "very simple."

After a week or so of begging, I got the recipe.  I sure hope this wasn't a coveted family recipe, because I'm posting it online. Bravo, Jill and thanks for the recipe.

Why I like this recipe:
  • It's easy
  • Prep time is about five minutes
  • You can make it a day ahead of time (in fact, it's better that way!)
  • It's original 
  • The flavors burst in your mouth
  • 1 chicken breast, 1/2 cup of sauce, and 1 cup of cous cous is less than 10 CORE Weight Watcher points
  • It looks harder to make than it is
  • It's colorful
  • You can make it for a ton of people
Convinced yet? Ok, here's the recipe:

Mediterranean Chicken with Cous Cous

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Refrigerate the following ingredients in a pan (about a 9x13 or larger) overnight or several hours.  Massage the chicken and turn it over a few times in a 24 hour period.
4 pounds  of boneless, skinless chicken
1/4 c. oregano
1 head garlic chopped (or 4-6 oz. of garlic already minced in jar)
Pepper (to taste)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup or more pitted prunes (cut in half)
1/2 to 1 cup Spanish (green) olives
1/2 cup (or more) capers
6 bay leaves
Combine and pour over when you bake:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.
After half the bake time on the chicken, make the cous cous.  I found large-grain, whole wheat cous cous in the bulk section of Fred Meyer.  It was by far the best tasting, and cheapest cous cous I have ever bought.  I combined one cup of cous cous with two cups of water into my rice cooker for a 1/2 hour.   

When the cous cous was done, I mixed in three diced green onions, a tablespoon of olive oil, garlic salt, salt and pepper and stirred.  

When everything is ready, serve chicken with 1/2 cup of sauce from the pan over 1 cup of cous cous.  Enjoy!