Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Best idea ever: Cookbook Club

My face almost melted with envy when I read about a cookbook club on Thimble. You pick a cookbook and then have a party (yay!) and make different things (om nom nom!) from it. Egads! It's genius!

Maybe I'm unhip and these are like, old news to you guys. But my world is rocked.

So, Des Moines. Riddle me this: Anyone wanna freaking do this here?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On hosting adult parties

Our deck-warming party last weekend was the first real grown-up party we've hosted at our place. Co-workers, neighbors and other assorted adults were on the guest list right next to our college friends - something that only happened at our wedding.

So, in case you haven't thrown your first adult party yet, here are some tips:
  • Grown ups bring food. Like lots of it. After a baking drought, I was hell-bent on whipping up homemade goodies last weekend (the best dip ever, soft pretzels, salted caramel brownies, potato salad (no recipe link, used my mom's recipe!) and even a wild berry and lemon coffee cake for Hubs and I). I never expected the on-slaught of guest-brought treats (Wine! Pasta! Cupcakes! Cookies! Fruit pizza! Fruit salad!)! We had food for 60 at a 30-person party.
      • College friends will bring six packs, or possibly 30 packs. Nothing wrong with this. Nothing at all.
  • You can never have too many kinds of soda. Diet, regular, caffeine-free - these were all requested. Be ready.
  • Get ready to feel like a rock star. Real adults will find everything about your little party and your little house and your little white cat great and they will tell you all night long. This alone earned them repeat invites!
  • Don't worry about the mingling. It happens on its own. I was so thrilled to see everyone chatting; I swear I could just watch parties and be totally happy. I get a kick out of it.
  • If you're going to make salted caramel brownies, label them. One neighbor thought it was some kind of meatloaf and the rest probably thought I mixed up the salt and sugar. Tasty, though!
Do you mix it up for parties or keep groups separate?

Monday, June 28, 2010

We're done! Before & After

It's official - Deckstravaganza and Patio Palooza are complete, done, kaput, finito. After two months and two days of constant scheming, hammering, crying and trips to Home Depot, it's over. We had a little par-tay this weekend to celebrate the doneness and even with 30 people on the deck, it didn't collapse, so I'd say we were successful.

Blood + sweat + tears + 1,000s of pounds of lumber and brick = 

Outdoor oasis fit for two upwardly-mobile Iowa newlyweds a king.

But, you're not here to read about how much everyone loved the Jalapeno Popper Dip I made for said fiesta, or how much the neighbors fawned over our hard work, or even how the night ended with a phone call from a friend who left his unmentionables on our fence after a dip in our awesome pool. No, you're here for the tour. Well, here you go:

That was nice right? Now, how about a trip down memory lane. Yes, friends - the before and afters!

Here's what we saw this winter from inside. A blizzard left us with a literal ice box. Not cool.
But, really, when all that ice melted, it wasn't much prettier.
Now, ohmygoshIloveitsomuch. That trellis makes my heart skip a beat.
The old view from the yard:
And the new view. This one almost has me choked up.
We used to just have these stairs. Inviting, right? They really said, "Come on up here and get tetanus and a PBR."
We kept the side stairs because they open right to the driveway, which is nice. Now, they're saying, "I like your shoes! Come relax and have a homebrew. No need to fear for your life here."
This sad little garden was under our bedroom window.
And now, it's perfect! We're going to add some cascade hops to creep up the deck and trellis, too.

Thank you all so much for following us as Hubs and I took our yard from a space we barely used to one we couldn't love more if we tried. It's been a fun ride, but man, am I glad all we have to do on the deck now is chill. Anyone else finishing a big outdoor make-over? I want to see your pictures! Because I'm nosy.

The DIY Show Off

Friday, June 25, 2010


This week, things in our little CSA box were wild. Like, real crazy, kids. Brace yourselves - we had three kinds of basil. Add this to the basil in our yard and I now have four basil (geneovese, Italian, thai, red)varieties at my fingertips. I'm delighted. Smell the pesto? That's me.

Also in the mix: more swiss chard, mint and parsley, plus a cute little stalk of broccoli. I'm thinking of tossing the mint, plus some sprigs from last week, into some sugar to make minted sugar to rim our mojito glasses. Pesto pizzas and pastas are also clearly on the menu what with this wealth of basil. I'm also going to try to convince Hubs to do something more exciting with the swiss chard than wilting it, but that man is a sucker for hot greens. Maybe we could fry it?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

One Thing Thursdays: London

I'll be honest - I'm not a fan of London. I'm not much of a hustle-and-bustle type of gal - I like elbow room and quiet and not being run over by hipsters on Vespas. Now, I only spent three days in this city, so maybe I was judging it a bit harshly. I arrived at 3 a.m., sporting both a backpack and a front pack and as my arms fell asleep, wedged between the two, my travel companion and I realized we'd been forgotten by our host and were lost and locked out, so that probably didn't help. But all that aside, I just didn't click with London. I think that happens sometimes - just like with people. Sometimes you hit it off and others you just don't.

Miss S, my travel companion and general bad influence, and I in front of a bridge in London. Not the London Bridge.

So, one thing to do there? Get to Gatwick and take the first RyanAir flight outta there.

Seven (gah!) years ago, in my own travel hey-day, RyanAir offered one-way tickets for $1euro. Amazing. These days, the lowest fare is closer to $10euro one way, but still not a bad deal. It gives you a great starting point for a cheap European trip because you can often find cheap flights to London. Sure, you are herded like cattle in the plane, but c'mon - it's cheap!

If you insist on staying in London, I have two suggestions: get a candy bar. The British know how to make sweets, so you can't go wrong with your choice. Also, see a play or something, you lame, uncultured American.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Found food

The other night, Hubs was wandering toward the back of our yard, pondering this ugly clump of bushes we've been meaning to tear out and replace with something that's a little prettier. That's when we realized that they weren't just weeds - they were raspberry bushes!
See them at the back of the yard? Waaaay back there?

Since we're just now discovering this little bounty, there weren't many left. Birds, bunnies and other jerkfaces have stripped the poor thing. We'll be keeping a closer eye on it and cleaning it up a bit so we can enjoy the yumminess a little more next year.

We've also got a nice apple tree back there. Last year, all the mini-apples dropped off around this time, but they look lovely this year! Here's to hoping we will be knee deep in apples come fall.

Net Profit

Costs (tangible, intangible) of the outdoor project:
  • One tetanus shot, for her
  • One hammer, shattered
  • One silver SUV, interioraly trashed
  • About $1500 in lumber and rentals, invested
  • About $1100 in patio-building supplies, invested
  • About $600 in landscaping costs, invested
  • Two months of weekends, gone
  • Three pairs of men's shorts, ripped
  • Three pairs of work gloves, ruined
  • One riding mower tractor, bent under the weight of patio remnants
  • About $450 in extras, table, grill, hot dogs, beer
  • Two months worth of full trash cans, full of old deck bits
  • One heirloom 1970s circular saw, dead
  • One rose bush, mercilessly slaughtered
  • One college t-shirt, stained
  • One false alarm that we were done, emotional toll
  • Remove obvious death threat and add power source for bumpin' tunes, $225 (electical)
  • Permit, $71
Revenue (tangible, intangible) from the project:
  • About 350 square feet of outdoor living space that we are not ashamed of
  • New view, lovely
  • Marital bonding, jump ahead to year three-levels of marital wisdom
  • $18.52 in Google Adsense revenue
  • Added property value, doesn't matter - we will never move
  • Deck-building, patio-building knowledge
  • Local economic growth, all major purchases made at locally-owned stores
  • Ten more years of being tetanus free, for her
  • Two egos, inflated
  • Years of grilled pizza, in our future
  • Light, won't kill us
  • Tunage, wattage
Net results: Positive, totally worth it.

You might notice the electrician's fees in there. Electric Dan is coming by Friday to hook us up with a new light that won't be such a buzzkill (get it?). Ever forward, people, we move ever forward.

We also got word from the inspector that there is a slight dip in one set of stairs, but Hubs remains confident that this will be an easy job. I bit my tongue and did not remind him that we said each little process in this big project would be easy. It's never easy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The house always wins

Since it wasn't raining the predicted cats and dogs last night, we decided to put up our $30 at Lowe's fancy new light to replace Ugly McSeventiespants.

Cheerily, we switched off the electricity and unscrewed the old fixture. And that is where the fun ended. There was no electrical box, no ground, no love to be had.

Not wanting to endanger ourselves or our guests, we knew we had to call in a pro to fix this by adding a ground and a box. So, Electric Dan (as he is listed in my cell, not his actual business name) is coming over tonight after work to relay to us the estimated cost for this new adventure.

That clearance light is not such a bargain afterall. Damn you, frugality.

On the plus side, Hubs and I readily agreed that if Electric Dan is cheap enough (not so cheap as to be scary - he's licensed and insured), we'll add a plug under the light too, so we can jam out to some smoove jazz on our new deck.

Another plus is that we got this little goodie in the mail today - a deck-completion candle holder from Hubs' mom. So, our deck isn't totally dark, just romantic. Oo la la.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Deckstravaganza: A Technical Success

I married a scientist. Scientists are an odd bunch. When Hubs' lab completed a project a few months ago, we got an invitation to a party dubbed "A Celebration of Technical Success." They had found what they were looking for, but it wasn't making the company money yet.

This weekend, we had our own celebration of a technical success. The final nail has gone into the deck and construction is complete. But, before I can really relax and enjoy it, there are some minor cosmetic projects to do (more on that in a minute). First, though, let's look at the final construction pieces we needed to put this baby to bed.

Handrails! We are praying that they are to code. City of Des Moines - your code is not user-friendly. Seriously, we got a copy of a copy of a brochure with all the requirements. Lame.

Post caps! Like little soldiers.

Rail caps, 2x6s that will be perfect for holding my next beer.

See, a technical success! Now, for the minor tweaks.

We must change this light by the sliding door. It is pathetic and disgusting. The slug of lighting fixtures.

There is a tiny gap on one of the mitered corners. We've got some wood putty to fill it in because flaws simply won't do. As I told Hubs during a  major minor meltdown moment of stress, we didn't spend two months and several thousand dollars on this outdoor project to let a few tiny problems ruin it!

Then, we've got to get the wood to match. We found ourselves running short toward the end and our wood (both pressure-treated, but one was from a lumber company and one was from a hardware store) is different colors. You tell me which doesn't belong.

So, if we can convince Mother Nature to take her party elsewhere, we can get these little projects done lickety split and then I'll give you the full before-after treatment. Exciting, ya?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day to the man who taught me:
  • That you should always order appetizers - the more the merrier.
  • The importance of doing your best at a job you truly enjoy.
  • How to make any meat a nacho topping.
  • How to sail.
  • You can put ice in your red wine at a restaurant - you don't know these people.
  • That if I'm going to do anything, buy anything, build anything, change anything - might as well make an impact (aka go bigger, better, best).
Crucial life skills, all of them. Hope you all have a good Father's Day!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Safety first!

Now that we have stairs, we needed rails! It began with the mini-rail over the main stairs.

Then, the first slanty rail on the big stairs! These were a huge pain. We had to cut the metal bars to fit. I say we, but you know I wasn't really involved. I held the metal in place while Hubs manned the saw. Teamwork!

Then, we finished the side stairs and put up the anchor posts.
I'm sure you're not counting down like we are, but just in case: we now just have three more rail sections and the trim left. Oh. YES. There is a light at the end of this tunnel.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Just a really good salad

This week, our CSA share was double-sized thanks to a generous neighbor who let us have her share while she's out of town. It was also a big week for dark-leafy greens. We ended up with swiss chard, collard greens, red lettuce, cilantro and mizouna (a green with purple stems, so pretty!).

With all these greens, I decided to go for the obvious - a salad. So, while Hubs wrestled with some post issues on the deck (more on that later), I got to work making salad accessories.

I had some whole wheat hot dog buns, so I tossed them in olive oil, threw on some salt and paper and called it a day. The croutons were actually really good. You'd probably never know they were made with semi-stale hot dogs buns except I just told you.

And then I made some homemade ranch and was so excited that it actually tasted like ranch. You need to understand what a milestone this was for me. My cooking creations aren't known for their success rates.

I also threw in some red onion and carrots, then we topped it with faux chicken tenders. I was meaning to take a picture, but it was just too tasty and I forgot. I will say this: My Nana loves salads (and this blog - aloha, Nana!). The woman can wax poetic about a salad she had once on a road trip in 1987 like it's nobody's business. Well, if Nana had been here for dinner, she'd have been in hog heaven. This was one sublime meatless chicken salad.

As far as the rest of the greens, we're set with the chard and collard greens - but this mizouna will take some figuring. Ideas, sweet readers?

Magic seeds

Our garage is a mess of late. Old deck bits, new deck bits, heaps of discarded garden pots, shovels, gloves, general dirt, pallets and other assorted yuckiness has taken over the place. But, one treasure was buried beneath it all. Hubs found this seed pallet under some bags of to-be-recycled cans and bottles:

At first, he refused to believe they were pumpkins, but they total are. And seeing as how we didn't plant pumpkins this year (but we did last year to decorate for a wee celebration), I think it is safe to dub these guys our miracle wedding pumpkins. Can't wait to decorate our first anniversary dinner table with the results!

Have you had any surprises in the garden?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why'd they spend all that time and money on their yard just to put THAT in it?

Ah, yes. I can hear the neighbors now, "They're putting that pool up again? Really? After all that work on the patio and deck? There goes the neighborhood."

Yes, the inflatable pool of dreams is back and better than ever. We had about one cubic yard of sand left over from the patio, so we moved it all to the pool area so that now, when you step in to our little swimmin' hole, your feet are cushioned by lots of sand and not stuck standing on hard mud.

Now, I know this isn't the most attractive yard ornament one can have, but guess what. We live in Iowa and an in-ground pool here does more to hurt property values that it helps. At the same time, though - it's HOT and here at the Home of Bigger, Better, Best, no kiddie pool or sprinkler will do. And with public pools basically being a place for the teenage contingent of the city to make out and squeal with arms raised when they actually get in the water while the rest of us try our damnedest to relax - just, no thank you. Further, homies be broke. Even if we had the $20,000 a proper in-ground pool would cost, we have a few other projects that would need to come first.

Maybe someday we'll have a lush, South Beach meets Des Moines pool, but for now - we're rollin' redneck.

One Thing Thursdays: Lisboa

A few years back, when Hubs and I spent a few days in Italy, I made sure to get the most bang for our buck by including a 23 hour layover in Portugal. Sneaky, right?
View from our hotel room in the fanciest Marriott in the world.

Lisbon was so lovely, but despite our long layover, we really had just six hours of usable time once we factored in going through customs twice and sleeping. So, it was a mad dash of tourism. We wandered through an old fort, saw the Christo Rei from afar, peaked into a church, accidentally stumbled into a block party and bought some new shoes.

But, one thing you must do in Lisbon? Eat chorizo.

As the sun was setting, Hubs and I found ourselves on a street that was quickly being deserted and we were getting hungry. An English pub sat across the street from us, but we weren't really looking to eat British food in Portugal, so we kept walking. As it got dark, the streets really started to clear out and we were afraid we'd wandered into a bad neighborhood. (This story is going somewhere, trust me.)

The Alfama neighborhood, where we felt nice and safe. These apartments are covered in tiles! So sweet.

My hungry little brain was racing. I wasn't really in the mood to be kidnapped by Portuguese gangsters or have my last remaining euros jacked. I wanted Hubs to find us a restaurant and fast. My eyes scanned the street ahead: coffee shop (closed), ice cream shop (closed), shady looking convenience store (open), hooligans on the corner, spooky stairs, Hermes, that stupid English pub - um, wait. Hermes - the fanciest of the fancy shops? First: big relief, we were not in a Portuguese ghetto about to be stolen away forever! Hooray! Rejoice! Second: OMG, I've never even been anywhere classy enough to see an Hermes store. I think I've arrived as a lady.

Renewed in our confidence, we decided to eat at the restaurant at the bottom of the spooky stairs across from Hermes. I've Googled my heart out to find the name of this place, but I couldn't find it. If you're ever in Lisbon, find Hermes and then find some suspect stairs and get ready to be very happy.

The chorizo was brought out with the bottle of red we ordered. It had been sauteing in some kind of hot sauce and was served in a tiny bowl that we quickly devoured. It was smoky, a little spicy and had a kind of gelatin quality. I don't even remember the rest of the meal. I think I ordered mussels, but I'm not sure. That chorizo ruined me for all other cured meats.

By the bay

Time for two things? Hail a cab. In Lisbon, every cab we used was a Mercedes and every cabbie wore a suit. Bonus points for wearing big sunglasses and carrying a high-end bag. Nothing beats playing a fancy-pants rich lady for a day!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Patio Palooza: Game over

I'm loving these before and after segments (don't worry, you'll get a full Before and After Proper Tour once the last screw has been screwed). Behold, innocent readers - the view from the pre-patio before:

Lame. Lamer than lame, this old view made me wanna throw beer bottles at it (empty, but of course). Oh, but readers! The new view! It will make your heart palpitate and your design sensibilities salivate (huh?). Fo realz.

There are four tiny, baby rosemary bushes that will grow up to cover the under-belly of this construction and of course, more hostas, as promised.

Now, lest you be slapping any one's momma over the awesomeness of these transformations, I must remind you - we ain't done yet. No, no, Ms./Mr. Reader. Another set of stairs and some final trim await the deck, but as for Patio Palooza - I declare it complete. And a success. A complete success. You may commence awaiting the super final awesome reveal with baited breath.
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