Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Powdered Milk Magic

So, things got kind of weird last night. I wanted to make English muffins since I had picked up a new set of muffin rings this past weekend at Kitchen Collage. I'd made them before for a very ill-fated birthday breakfast for poor Hubs. One of the ingredients in the Alton Brown recipe for English muffins I use is powdered milk, which is apparently sold only in tonnage.

As I made the muffins and eyed the four tupperwares full of powdered milk that I own, I got a brain flash: why not make cheese with fake milk? I shall be the Kraft of This Humble Home, I crowed, eager to get the fake milk made and into cheese before Hubs noticed because I was 99% sure he was going to be skeezed out by powdered milk, just like I would be if I thought about it too much.
So I just got to steppin'. I mixed up a gallon of fake milk, using a half pint of whole cream I had lying around and tap water, plus 5 1/3 cups fake milk.

Then, I followed my regular mozzarella-making steps while the English muffin dough was rising. Aside form the fact that it had to sit off the heat about twice as long as regular milk mozzarella, it seemed to be going just fine.

I was pretty frantic between stirring the cheese curds and flipping the muffins, but I survived by the skin of my teeth.

When I finally finished, we had English muffin pizzas with the new cheese. And they were delightful.

The verdict? I'll totally make fake milk cheese again. Since I have to buy the fancy milk in glass bottles to make real milk cheese, the cost per ball ends up at about $2.50-$3.00 per ball, same as Bel Giosso at the store. But with fake milk, I can get my mozz fix for $.50-$.75 per ball (all I need to buy is the whole cream). Perfect for this cheapskate!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tentative, cautious spontaneity

My brain has not been in Iowa for the past few days. It's busy ambling down cobblestone streets, sipping blonde ale and savoring the best damn croissant a brain has ever had.

You see, dear blog, we are plotting another vacation.

After last year's horrendous bout of me being too persuasive and impulsive for my own good, it is understandable that we are cautious creatures when it comes to cementing our plans. The last thing we need is to frittle away another few hundred dollars and rattle our nerves when they are so tender from months spent underground hammering things. 

We hatched a plan last Thursday, amid two liters of homebrew, to visit Paris and Belgium - of course for more beer. We've been researching, pondering, mulling it all over. I've been to Brussels before and (unlike our ill-fated escape to Panama) can already feel the good vibes of the countryside calling our names. I've never been to Paris because frankly, it sounded a little too artsy-fartsy and high-minded for me. Maybe I'm getting snobbish in my old age or maybe I was always wrong, but now I'm 100% totally stoked to France this shiz up.

All signs point to yes.

We bought some CDs to help us parlez the vou and a guidebook for Belgium, but we're holding off on making actual commitments until we're quite, quite, quite positive on this (but holy heck, you guys. I have my eye on the most beautiful and perfect itinerary of all time - no flights before 9:00 a.m., no 12-hour layovers, arrivals at perfectly normal times of the day and best of all - it's out of our very own DSM and somehow does not cost arms, legs, first borns!). It seems not going to Panama changed how we travel just as much as going might have. 

So, there you have it - proof positive that I am quite old and hardly any fun anymore. But, I promise that once we actually buy the plane tickets and get there, I will do my best to dig deep and find adventure.

So, any tips for seeing Paris or Belgian breweries in ways that don't make me feel like a fuddy duddy? (First tip to self, don't ever say fuddy duddy again. Sick.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Good thing I didn't see this one year ago

Click to enlarge       Envirolet MS10
Somehow, I stumbled upon a site that sells composting toilets, which sound equally terrifying and intriguing. I didn't read too much about how they work because a quick glance used phrases like "rake bar", "Click here to watch the Bowl Trap in action" and "mulcherator." These nuggets of information were more than enough, thank you.

But what really got my semi-green brain whirling was that these potties don't need to be tied in to traditional plumbing, making them perfect for basements since you don't need to bust up the floor to lay pipe.

See how this might be intriguing to a woman who spent the first half of 2011 underground and had to forgo a second bathroom due to everyone's unwillingness to bust floors?

I don't think these thrones are in our future, but I did want to pass them along in case any of you readers are brave enough to be this decidedly hippie. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Didya see us?

Our garage-painting project popped up on Offbeat Home yesterday!

How cool is that? Our formerly dumpy garage is Internet Famous! I'm so proud.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Casualties of looking this good

Like every other Pinterest-obsessed blogger, I too have tried (and been won over by!) the no heat curls via headband.

Hello, vapid side eye. 

I did have one issue with this method:

See that massive forehead dent? Yep, I lived with that for about an hour after taking the headband off. Pinterest never warned me. But I have warned you, dear blog. I'm considering it my good deed for the day.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Decade of DeMo

Dear Des Moines,

Ten years ago today (ish), I packed up my bags, put on my very best Good Charlotte t-shirt and moved here. Sure, I skipped out on you for a summer or two, and ran off to Europe for a few months, then New Zealand for a few more, but I always came back, Des Moines. You grew on me in a way I never expected.

In honor of our tenth year together, I've compiled a list of my ten favorite things about you, you nutty little city, you.

1. You're where I met and married Hubs. Yeah, the house we met at was torn down and most of the bars we frequented back in the day are closed, but we both oddly ended up in the same place, at the same time and that place was here. Eventually, we hauled all our people out here and threw a real crackerjack of a wedding. It gives this town a little family history it wouldn't have had for us transplants otherwise.
2. You're where my favorite little house is. I own .75 acres of you and have made that little section of your city a cozy home with bright paint and lots of cat hair.
3. You have surprisingly good BBQ. And I appreciate that.
4. You still surprise me. Since I'd never had a decent bike or a desire to run anywhere but my little neighborhood stretch, I had no idea how awesome your trail system was until this summer. Having rarely ventured south of Grand, I didn't realize what awesome pizza was waiting for me at Tavern on Army Post Road. Someone is putting in an adult playground with a Tony Little-style Air Walker behind the Franklin Library for reasons beyond my comprehension. I'm glad you keep me on my toes.
5. You have good veggies. I'm sorry, but as a non-native Iowan, this whole gorge-yourself-on-sweet-corn-while-the-gettin's-good season is just precious. What could be more adorable than one cute old guy selling veggies out of his truck? Hundreds of them - one on every corner. Adorable, Des Moines.
6. You have good napping weather. This is crucial to my happiness. You provide me with excellent, snow-bunny napping weather during blizzards and sublime sunny-day snoozes, too. You got it all.
7. Tenderloins. I know it's wrong to eat a breaded pork tenderloin bigger than my face, but it feels so right.
8. Fifteen minute commute that I can do via bike once the Neal Smith Trail is done being resurfaced. Oh, holla!
9. You're a small pond, in a good way. In such a cozy little city, it's easy to get to know the folks running the show and easy to make a name for yourself. Who doesn't like that?
10. You're just pretty.

Here's to us, Des Moines! Thank you for being a damn fine place to be.

With snugglies,

Friday, August 19, 2011

Growin' like a weed

The patio garden is so close to being spectacular. I'm just waiting for my zinnias to fill in a smidge more and the morning glories and moon flowers to start popping off blooms. Here's what we got going on:

Love my hydrangea tree, HATE that fence. Loathe it.

"Here, tiny flower, let me show you the ropes."

Zinnias like fireworks.

The morning glory vine. Can you even imagine how awesome it will be once it blooms? It's taken over the whole stairs.

Last but not least, Hubs' hops. He's building a drying screen right at this very moment so he can harvest these, dry them and use them in a brew. Isn't he a clever guy?

Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Smashing hat, darling!

I felt compelled to share this blurry photo of me in my adorable new felt hat from Target, which always seems to have exactly what I need to whittle my dollars away. They had a purple one, too. But I'm not sure I'm a purple hat kinda gal; are you?

I'm now ready for blustery days. Waft my way, autumnal breezes!
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lazy girl's delight

I realized last week that this summer is Hubs' and my first season without a life-consuming and soul-crushing project. And these past two weeks, I've been really slipping back into some very lazy ways. It's liberating.

Aside from keeping the house clean and planting a few things we scooped up with a garden center Groupon a few weeks ago, there have been not only no projects done, but no projects even spoken of. Not even a whisper.

The bags set we hoped to make for our big end of summer party? Eh, we sewed one little measly bean bag and decided to do something more fun.

We're winding down the summer with serious bike rides (27 miles to a country party, flippy cup and then 14 miles home the very next day. Who's your champion?), runs through cemeteries (I admit, I tend to walk because I just love reading tombstones like a total weirdo), books like you wouldn't believe (read The Paris Wife and thank me later), low-to-no effort dinners (burgers and tots, y'all?) and lots of homebrew to keep us in fighting form.

Is the end of summer kicking you into high gear or are you a big and deliciously lazy bump on a log like myself?

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I'm willing to be that if you had a room full of PR professionals and asked them what they are currently reading, you'd get a room-ful of non-hesitant, truthful answers. If I had been in that room, I'd have gotten red faced and sweaty and been racking my brain for a semi-current answer.

I hadn't read a book for leisure since 2005 and the shame of being a communicator and writer who got annoyed with reading was immense. Growing up, I was so intensely nerdy and book wormy that I actually took my copy of Gone With the Wind to the first day of middle school because I was convinced it would be just aces for my popularity. (Note to soon-to-be middle schoolers everywhere, this strategy does not work).

As much as I loved the feeling of waking up early just to get in an extra chapter or two, sometime (conveniently around age 21) I stopped wanting to read for fun. A good book was just to hard to find and happy hour specials were not. I've never been the type who enjoys a good challenge when it comes to my hobbies.

Turns out, I'm super picky about what qualifies as a good book.

  • No aliens. (Thanks to a traumatic trip to the planetarium when I was 6, this is an across-the-board rule for my life. No aliens ever.)
  • No end-times talk. 
  • No stuffy biographies.
  • No crime or legal drama. 
  • No characters or places or situations that are vaguely described in the beginning, so I picture them one way and it turns out in Chapter 4, they are further defined into some one/place/thing that hardly resembles what I imagined.
  • Preferably no sappy sadness. I'm looking at you, Nicholas Sparks.
  • Definitely no scenes so violent and disturbing that I'll be scared for life. (True story: A friend was telling me how good Hunger Games was and her simple two-sentence description left me with night terrors for a month.)
  • Lots of funny.
  • Lots of pretty sentences. Not flowery-pretty, but well-written pretty.
So, I'm a high maintenance slacker with an expired library card. Or, I was. (Still have the expired library card. Do you know how embarrassing it is to walk to the counter to re-check out the basement finishing guide for the third time and be told you let your library membership lapse two years ago?)

Then I realized my phone has a Kindle app. Hello, best invention ever, how are you today?

Since June, I've been spending all my lunch money on books again. 

Reality-Based Leadership was a work read. Priceless got me through some very bumpy plane rides. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl helped some long car rides fly by. Bossypants was over and out before I knew it. The Help was way better than I expected it to be. I'm just a day into The Paris Wife, but whoa nelly, it's a good one.

I've been keeping a little list of what to read next based on reviews from NPR and pals' recommendations, but I want to know what you guys are reading? Anything that fits my staunch list of requirements?

Also, this was a really long way of saying, "No, blog, I haven't done any DIY projects lately. But I'm trying. Do you know how hard it is to find time to paint an old mirror when you just want to figure out why Miss Celia lounges around the house all day and never leaves? Even though you kinda suspected why since the beginning? It's rough, man."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Trust the cheesemaker

I have made cheese. I am a cheese maker.

Making cheese is a tall order for a gal who has a physical inability to read a recipe from start to finish before starting to cook/bake/cheesemake. It's technical business, but I have succeeded (with zero cuss words!).

Hubs, being the thoughtful, cheese-loving soul he is, bought me this book a while back, but with the basement and the recovery period after the basement, I just wasn't in a cheese-making state of mind.

The local homebrew shop recently expanded and now has all the supplies needed for making all kinds of superfun cheeses. This, coupled with an intense need to make stuff, led to my Monday night cheese making party for one.

One ingredient in almost all cheeses is cheese salt. Can you imagine a single ingredient more dear to (and bad for - so we're talking moderation here, people) my little heart than cheese salt? It's like when people who are into social things and music things can see their two favorite bands in one concert. Cheese salt is the small-scale Lollapalooza of my world.

Anywho - makin' cheese. It's easy and I used a recipe from the book for 30 minute mozzarella, which is so delicious and easy, I don't know why anyone would even make the more complicated mozzarella, but whatevs.

You start by heating up whole milk (I used a local gallon of Picket Fence since it isn't Ultra-Pasteurized) and then you drop in some citric acid solution. Science!

It heats up and you stir, stir, stir while trying to keep the cats out of the trash and eating that milk gallon topper. Next, you drop in some rennet (that's the inside of a sheep or cow's stomach! I'm not vegetarian, but I used veggie rennet because frankly, I'm squeamish about stomach insides. Call me kooky.) and let the whole thing set and form a curd, which you'll cut down with a knife to make the next step easier.

Then, you stir and heat the curds and whey. Eventually, you're done stirring and heating up and the party moves to the microwave. You nuke and knead the curds until they look like mozzarella. It's pretty easy to tell when you're done because the cheese will pull and stretch like taffy. If you've got something that looks like mozzarella and pulls like taffy, good work!

I ended up with about 3/4 of a pound of cheese which tastes better than it looks here, in the ice bath they sat in for a half hour to get the right consistency.

I told you to trust the cheesemaker! She's a better cheesemaker than she is cell phone photographer.

We had some sliced over a grilled pizza last night. Bellisimo!

Have you tried making your own cheese? It wasn't as hard as I thought!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Weekend Update: My Blue Heaven

This has nothing to do with anything, but it's enjoyable:

What has everything to do with everything is the title of the movie from whence this clip came: My Blue Heaven. You see, I muscled my way into a little kitchen updating this weekend and spent the better part of Saturday layering blue paint over blue paint over red paint because I, dear reader, refused to prime the kitchen walls.

The project began magically enough. I went to Ace to scoop up the Benjamin Moore Hemlock paint we were going to use and lo and behold - I found the EXACT SAME COLOR on the mis-tint shelf.

Is there anything better than getting fancy $30 paint for just $10 a gallon? Oh, no. There isn't.

The magic continued when Hubs and I went to get a ceiling medallion to cover a few plaster cracks around the ceiling fan.

Yes, that's a butterfly, alighting on a paint chip. I'm married to Snow White, in dude form.

Once we had our supplies all in place, it was time to kiss the Before goodbye!

The ceiling fan had horrible blonde wood blades and I was trying to decide if we should paint them or if that'd make the whole thing worse. This fact is important for later.

Doesn't that red make you sad and tired? I know red is a popular kitchen color, but it was just not working for me.

Sadly, my camera had a serious malfunction, so there are no action shots of us taking down the ceiling fan, pondering rewiring a few things, putting up trim in places where there was none or slapping on what felt like 50 layers of Hemlock.

But there is this:

Say what now? The fan has reversible blades with a rich, dark wood on the opposite side and it's super easy to flip the blades over? Well, heck. I don't know much about fans, but this seems like genius and if it's not standard practice for fans, it should be. I mean, take a gander at the after:

 In this shot, the blue looks much darker than it is. Above that window, there is a weird outlet that we will cover up with come plates and we still need window coverings. But! Don't you feel happier with all this freshly spruced up trim and happy Hemlock?

I especially love how it makes our dining room room look more gray. It's like living in Instamatic.

Someday, I'll replace the uppers on this side so they go to the ceiling and I don't have to over-compensate with cute kitchen-themed knick-nacks.

This spot had no trim before! Now, it matches the opposite side and all is right with the world.

So the red kitchen is no more and that means only two rooms remain that we have not painted. Office and bathroom, you're next!
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