Death to Beige – Painting Elizabeth, Summer 2009 and Winter 2010

Elizabeth is our house.  On the outside, she’s kind of pinkish, with an orange roof that leaks, and windows in need of replacing.  On the inside, she’s a cozy nest that we adore.  When we moved in, however, we were confronted with wall upon wall of the most disconcerting beige I had ever seen.  In no one’s conception could this beige be considered a neutral.  It looked to me like someone had taken a brown paper lunch bag and vomited on it, then left it for dead in the rain.

In other words, I hated it.  The Pie didn’t really care, but he’s a boy.  Something had to be done.  We had to paint.  We had an agreement with our landlord that we could paint the apartment any colour we wanted, and if she didn’t like it, then we would simply have to repaint when we left.  That is a good deal.  We had to leave the hallway as it was, because the ceilings were too high for us to paint safely, but the rest of the place was fair game.

We went with ICI Dulux Inspirations Paint for its low odor (very few of the windows in this place open so we didn’t want to fume ourselves out of house and home).

Office

Before

Because I was spending a lot of my spare time in my office, this was the first room to be painted.  I’ve always found green to be a good colour for productivity, so I went with “Kiwi Fun”:

I managed to only spill paint on the linoleum once, which was a high achievement on my part.

After: Nobody here but me and the freezer.

Bathroom

Cheers! was the name of the bright yellow I used in this tiny room.  All our fixtures are 1960s green, and all our accessories have blue in them, so it seemed only appropriate to make a tiny dark room a cheery yellow.

I taped up the toilet to avoid drips.

This was the job from hell.  This particular paint came out super thin and runny, and it took me SIX COATS to get it done, and that’s working with a tiny roller and sponge brush around all the fixtures.  I had also decided to re-do the woodwork and trim in the bathroom because years of dampness had caused it all to crack and mildew.  There’s nothing like scraping black mould out of crevices you didn’t know existed.

I had a really hard time getting the enamel to stick to the woodwork.  I think even that too four coats or so.  A smart thing I did was paint the ceiling with the same enamel, as well as the rusting out light fixture and the air vent.

I used rust paint on the ceiling.

Three lessons I learned from the bathroom experience: (1) don’t leave painter’s tape on any surface for longer than 5 days; (2) make sure the paint has fully cured before you stick stuff to it (even painter’s tape); and (3) sand the crap out of shiny surfaces before you paint them.

The sunny bathroom, finally finished.

Bedroom

I had hung curtains in this room that we were very pleased with: vertical stripes of brown, taupe, turquoise and green (sounds weird, I know, but they’re quite nice).  Having spent all that money on the curtain fabric ($250!) we wanted to paint the room to match them, as well as coordinate with our black bed and brown chests of drawers. 

Bramble Tan was the one we went with.  In the sunlight, it looks more like a warm, wet clay than anything else.  It’s relaxing and inviting at the same time, and I love it to pieces.  The consistency of the paint in this can was more like pudding than anything else, and we finished the room in a day with only two coats.

Living and Dining Rooms

Dining Room in progress.

Pie thought we should paint these rooms the same colour, so as to draw the eye to the magnificence of our kitchen, which we intended to paint a bright red.  I wanted something plain because our furniture in these rooms is a jumble of everything, and a bold colour would only make the place look cluttered.  In the end we went with Stowe White, an off-white that reminds me of cream.  It makes our hung pictures really stand out and yet it’s not a sterile white – cozy is definitely a theme in our place.

Photo stitch of the finished living room.

These rooms we did about two weeks before we left town for our wedding, so they were a little rushed, it was hot, and we had many other things on our minds.  Nevertheless, they turned out really well, and we made very few mistakes.

Stitch of the finished dining room.

Kitchen

We went with Cranberry Zing, to match the red tiles in the floor, and to make the white and black fixtures really pop.

The chaos before I began.

This room, I was determined, was going to be my pro job.  I was going to do it right, just like my dad does, and not take any shortcuts.

We had a leak in our roof the previous fall, which had since been repaired, but it had left some damage on the ceiling and the wall above the stove.  I took a wide, flat putty knife and used it to carefully lever away the damaged paint so I could assess the drywall underneath.  While spotted with dried mould and water-stained, it was still pretty solid, and so I just patched over it with Drydex.  I like this stuff because when it’s wet it’s bright pink, and you know it’s ready to sand and paint when it turns white.  It also doesn’t smell and is easily washable.

Step 1: Assess Damage
Step 2: Remove loose paint.
Step 3: Spackle!
One wall at a time.

I washed the walls down, then I sanded them, then I washed them again to remove the last particles.  I taped everything up well and I worked wall by wall, so we could still use the kitchen while I was painting it. It took three coats.  I didn’t spill anything, nothing broke, and it turned out really, really well.

I did this in January of 2010, while procrastinating on studying for my final comprehensive exam.  This is why I had the time to get it right.  I even managed to wait a week before putting all the stuff back up on the walls.

The one issue I had is one that had to do with my roller.  For some reason I can’t explain, the roller this time left bubbles on the walls as it passed, and when they dried you could still see them.  In certain spots it looks like I have sparkles on the walls.  It’s not entirely unpleasing, but it is a little weird.

In any case, we are both in love with our ‘new’ kitchen and we spend a lot of time in there.

Finally finished. My favourite room.

Classic Apple Crumble

My mother's cookbook.

You know the expression ‘easy as apple pie’?  Well this is easier.

I was born and spent a large part of my single-digit years in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.  During that time my mother and our neighbour got together and wrote a cookbook of Maritime recipes: Two Cooks in a Kitchen.  You can even get it on Amazon for about $7.  This recipe is on page 84.

I remember one summer we borrowed another neighbour’s car, a slick BMW, and drove to the Annapolis Valley to go apple picking.  At one point, I was foraging for windfalls in an orchard when I heard a rustling above me, and then my dad fell out of the tree next to me.  Ah, childhood.  We returned with bushels of apples and huge jars full of fresh honey and apple cider.  It was a great day.  Apple crisp, one of my mother’s specialties, always reminds me of that day.

The recipe calls for Gravenstein apples, but anything other than Granny Smith will usually do.  You don’t have to get too fancy with the cutting, and don’t worry if your apples are a little bruised.  I like to leave the skins on my apples, but you can peel them if you want.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  In a bowl combine one cup flour, one teaspoon cinnamon, 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup softened butter, and 1/2 cup oats.  I use a pastry cutter to mix them together.  The mixture should be crumbly looking.

Crumble mixture

Butter a 1.5L casserole dish (cooking spray just will NOT do) and sprinkle 1/3 of the crumb mixture on the bottom.

If you use anything other than butter for this someone will smack you.

Slice up 6 or 7 medium apples, and plonk them in the dish.  I press them down a little bit so everything fits.

Don't worry about perfect slices - they all look the same in the end.

Top with the remaining crumb mixture.  Again, I like to pat this down a bit just to keep everything together.

Pat down your crumbs so they don't get everywhere.

Cover the casserole and bake for 20 minutes.  Uncover and bake for a further 30 minutes.  Alternately, you can leave the whole thing uncovered – just keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.  It’s done when the top is a nice golden brown.  Serve immediately with ice cream or whipped cream.  I *may* (maybe) have eaten this for breakfast more than once (but without the ice cream, I’m not that decadent).

Serve hot with ice cream or whipped cream. My favourite!

Red Curry Quinoa

Our vegetarian experiment is drawing to a close, and I hadn’t yet made a curry.  I also had a lot of vegetables in my refrigerator that needed using.  In addition, I wanted to take advantage of my new stainless steel compost bin from Lee Valley and cut up a bunch of vegetables.  Hoorah.

I got the inspiration to make my own curried quinoa from fellow WordPress food blogger Lindsay at The Food Operas.

Dice up a medium onion, three medium carrots, three carrot-sized parsnips, a head of broccoli, a red pepper, and two stalks of celery.

Chop up some vegetables!

In a large saucepan (preferably one with a wide bottom), heat up some olive oil and chuck in your vegetables.  Cook until tender.

Pour in two large handfuls of quinoa, together with a can of coconut milk and a few tablespoons each of red curry paste and minced garlic (I like the stuff that comes in jars).  Bring to a boil and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.  Before serving, add a dash of tamari or soy sauce and some garlic chili sauce to taste.

Let that sucker simmer!

We ate it with some na’an.  Mmmm.

I love my na'an.

Ottawa Style Loves My Parents’ Garden

My parents’ garden is more famous than I will ever be.  But I’m okay with that.  Now you can see what I have to live up to in terms of DIY.

My parents' garden, as photographed by Ottawa Style Magazine

Unfortunately that’s the largest image I have, so I’ve transcribed it below:

Why:
All the exuberance of spring. Peonies, irises, lupins, and poppies.
Best Time to Visit: Mid-June
What: When Janet and John Bell moved to their grey clapboard house 12 years ago, there was no garden.  But they brought the backbone of a garden with them in plastic bins from their house near the Rockliffe airbase.  Hostas and peonies, irises and lupins, 13 varieties of thyme, clematis, lavender, honeysuckle, and pink poppies now thrive in this garden that wraps around two sides of the house.  “We started from the house and worked outwards toward the road,” says Janet, an artist who works in fine detail in pen and ink.

The garden is a history of their marriage.  The peonies, a colour card of pinks from deep to pale, were all given to the couple by the minister who married them 34 years ago.  There’s also a hosta that came from John’s father and is over 20 years old.  These plants have travelled all over Canada with them as they have moved from coast to coast for John’s work.  Irises are a particular favourite of the couple — there’s a spectacular example of the pink bearded variety ‘Beverly Sills’ — and they have grown several unusual varieties from seed.  In high gardening season, they spend about three days a week keeping up with the exuberant growth, and in fall they fertilize their sandy soil with sheep manure and peat moss.  The secret to this splendour is simple: “If it doesn’t thrive, get rid of it,” says Janet.

The Shining: This garden is a riot of colour in early summer, with peonies, poppies, irises, clematis, and all manner of perennials.  Irises (show to full advantage at right) are a particular favourite of the couple, who, over the years, have dug up and taken their favourite plants with them whenever they moved.

Bran Muffins

The Pie LOVES bran muffins.  I have never truly understood this addiction but nonetheless he persists.

Get all your ingredients out before you start.

This is a modified recipe from the Joy of Cooking (1996 edition).

Position a rack in the centre of your oven and preheat it to 400°F.  Grease 2 standard 12-muffin pans or line with paper baking cups.  I prefer to use baking cups when it comes to bran muffins because they’re extra sticky due to the honey, molasses, and sugar they contain.  It just makes cleanup easier.

Leave the bran to soak for 15 minutes.

In a large bowl (I used the bowl of my KitchenAid mixer, which I adore), combine 1 2/3 cups wheat bran with 1 cup boiling water and let stand for 15 minutes.

In another bowl (or a measuring cup, which I find is easier because it has a handle), whisk together 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Into the bran mixture, whisk 3/4 cup honey, 1/3 cup light molasses (I used dark, because I prefer the taste), 6 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and then 1/4 cup of plain Balkan style yogurt instead), 1/4 cup packed brown sugar (again, I prefer the darker stuff), and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (which I didn’t have, so it’s not in these muffins).  I also added in 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract because I generally add vanilla to everything.

I mixed all the wet ingredients together first.

Whisk in (well if you’re using a mixer, then mix in) 2 large eggs, then stir in 1 1/3 cups raisins (I would up this next time to 2 full cups).

Stir in the raisins. Use lots.

Fold in the flour mixture until just moistened.  The batter should be lumpy but still soupy.  Spoon the batter into the muffin pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 15-18 minutes.

I'm not very good at being tidy with muffins.

Let cool for 2-3 minutes then use a fork to gently pry the muffins out of the pan.  Serve hot or cool on a rack for eating the next day.

Mmmmuffins . . .

Freezing Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are rather expensive here in Newfoundland, so I’m rather loath to let them go bad if I’m not going to use them right away.

This trick I got from my mother, who, I think, got it from Martha Stewart.

Make sure your herbs are still unwashed, or very well dried.
It takes some THYME to de-stem these leaves!

Take your unwashed herbs to be frozen and remove the leaves from the stems.

Remove the leaves from the stems

Place the leaves in a resealable plastic bag and suck out all the air.

Chuck them in the freezer.  Now you will have fresh herbs on hand when you want them.  Simply grab a handful of frozen herbs and crumple them in your hand.  No need to chop!

Chopping Herbs

Instead of blindly stabbing your chopping knife into a pile of herbs, ending up with bits of leaf everywhere and uneven pieces, try this trick next time.

Put the herbs you need to finely chop in a close pile.  Scoop them over themselves so that you make a folded mass.

Fold the herbs over themselves and hold on tight.

Hold the leaves tightly with your hand and hold a sharp knife with the tip touching the cutting board with the other.

Using the tip as a fulcrum, start your chopping, making sure to always hold the leaves tightly but not, of course, to cut your fingers off.

Carefully chop the herbs while still holding on tight.

You’ll find this way is a lot quicker and you can mince the herbs more easily from this stage, if needed.