Monthly Archives: August 2010

Refrigerator Pickles

We’ve had a plethora of cucumbers in the past few weeks. Jarrett doesn’t really eat cucumbers, and if I’m the only one eating them, we needed to come up with a way to make them last for a bit longer. I’ve done very little canning in the past, but I’ve made a few jams before. Once I made a jam with a wax seal, which didn’t require all the steps of the longer canning process, and I went the traditional route for one batch, too. We’re both big fans of pickles, so I decided to try my hand at pickling our crop of cukes.

A little internet researching through pickle recipes proved that pickling is quite an involved process and often involves waiting several weeks before eating the delicious results. A little discouraged (I want pickles NOW!), my friend told me about her family’s method of refrigerator pickles. The process is still a little involved, but, luckily, the pickles don’t have to go through the whole canning process (i.e. you don’t have to sterilize the jars, boil them, and make sure they get a good seal). It basically only requires preparing the brine, pouring it over cut cucumbers and refrigerating for a week. Definitely a better pay-off for me than waiting two months to enjoy.

I pulled together a few recipes, taking all the best parts from each, to come up with one I thought we’d enjoy, gathered all our cucumbers (and some green beans, too!), and in less than an afternoon, I had five jars of pickles and dilly beans (another concoction I discovered in my googling)!

And to boot, all the pickling spices, garlic and dill looked so beautiful together. One week later, we had an excellent crunchy pickle. Want to try them out? You can find some recipes here and here.

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College Mindset

Catherine’s parents are both college professors. They started back to school this week and are leading some freshman groups in orientation to start off the new school year. I couldn’t believe this, but the class of 2014 was mostly born in 1992! 1992! That doesn’t seem so long ago, and, of course, as students get younger and younger, their worldview is progressively changing.

Beloit College puts out an annual College Mindset list that records the cultural touchstones affecting the lives of students entering college this fall. You can find the whole list here, but here’s some of the ones I thought were most interesting:

  • “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.

  • Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren’t afraid of immigration…unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.
  • Trading Chocolate the Moose for Patty the Platypus helped build their Beanie Baby collection.

  • Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.
  • Woody Allen, whose heart has wanted what it wanted, was always married to Soon-Yi Previn.

  • Computers have never lacked a CD-Rom disk drive
  • Czechoslovakia has never existed.
  • Nirvana is on the classic oldies station

  • Rock Bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties

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Bathroom Updates: A New Floor

The basement bathroom, which we started a few weeks back, is still very much in progress, but we’re making plenty of progress. We’ve put in a new sink, and now we have a floor! You’ll remember, the linoleum floor we had in the bathroom was the same blue, yellow and white flecked linoleum we had on the back stairs:

The floor was in bad shape, stained and cracked at the edges. The concrete floor underneath is very uneven, so to lay tile (which is what we preferred) would require leveling out the floor. Not that big of a project, but we started this bathroom remodel in an effort to get it done quickly, inexpensively, and as easily as possible. We looked into a few different options, like commercial vinyl tiles, but finally landed on peel and stick vinyl tiles for several reasons. First, they’re incredibly cheap. We got the ones we ended up with for only 49 cents apiece. At only about 24 square feet, we could totally cover the floor for under twelve bucks! Second, because it would be such a cheap investment, we thought this would be a great temporary fix, and if we wanted to upgrade to ceramic or stone tile in the future, it would be no great loss. So, we settled on black glossy peel and stick tiles from Armstrong.

Before installing, I used floor leveling compound to repair cracked edges and cleaned the surfaces well with TSP (available at any hardware store).

To install, all we had to do was find the center of the floor by measuring the length of opposing walls, marking the center, and using a carpenter’s square to draw lines to the center. There’s plenty of good how-to’s online for installing peel and stick tiles, so this won’t be too detailed. Suffice it to say, we found the center, squared off a grid from that, and aligned the first tile against the center mark. Then, we bordered each subsequent tile on the edge of the first centered tile. It’s really important to get the first tile perfectly square – the rest of the tiles depend on this one being right!

Because this is meant to be a temporary floor fix, we decided not to remove the toilet and installed the floor around it. The center tiles go on easily, but then when the tiles get close to the walls and fixtures (like the toilet), they have to be trimmed to fit. To do this, we created patterns out of thick paper. This paper was left over from Catherine’s classroom, and we cut it down to a 12″x12″ size – the same size as the self-adhesive tiles.

Then, we used the patterns to lay them down by the toilet (or wall or whatever the obstruction was), and traced around to create a pattern by which to trim the tile to fit.

After trimming the pattern down, we made sure again that it fit,

turned it upside down on the back of the tile, traced it, cut it down using industrial scissors, and laid the tile back down in place before peeling the backing off and sticking the tile to the floor.

Once all the trimmed tiles were put into place, we caulked around the toilet, walls and shower basin to cover the gaps between the trimmed tile and the object. To create a clean line, we used painters tape to make a clean border.

Then, we smeared caulk into the space and peeled the tape up before the caulking was dry. It’s important to pull the tape up while the caulk is still wet to create a clean line.

After only a couple of hours worth of work, we had a finished floor – all for about $12!

Only a few more projects, and we’ll be all done.

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Our Big Basement Surprise

We’ve been holding out on this one for a while. But, many of you probably already caught on (and maybe that’s why you’re here in the first place). Our basement has recently undergone a HUGE change, thanks to one of our favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy and Valspar paint!

Back in May, we submitted our huge, outdated basement bar area for a room redo to Apartment Therapy, and lo and behold, we got picked! I guess the intrigue of redoing such a huge room with lots of interesting elements proved just the ticket. Well, all the work’s done, and the place has been spiffed up and photographed for a big reveal this week over at Apartment Therapy. First, take a look at our basement before the big change:

See? Told you it was bad. With a lot of paint, a lot of scrubbing and some great new finds brought in by Apartment Therapy, our room underwent a huge change. Check out the after shots:

Check out more at Apartment Therapy right here.

Amazing, right? While the striped pattern and bright orange colors are definitely not something we would have come up with on our own, it sort of works. Granted, the bright stripes behind the bar are a little much, but it’s definitely an upgrade. And the couch (incredibly comfortable) and furniture are such cool finds.

A big difference from the rest of our house, with much more subdued colors and furniture, but the basement bar is supposed to be fun. We’re excited for our first big party here soon. Who’s in?

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B.L.F.G.T.

You really can’t beat a good sandwich. And if you add pork products to that sandwich, all the better! That’s why a good B.L.T. is so satisfying. We’re also huge fans of one of Jarrett’s favorite southern foods from growing up in Tennessee: fried green tomatoes.

Yes, fried green tomatoes are more than just the stuff of books and movies. They’re really delicious when well-prepared and have a great salty and sweet flavor. For a recent dinner, we decided to put a spin on the B.L.T. and make B.L.F.G.T.s: Bacon Lettuce and Fried Green Tomato sandwiches. Here’s how it went down.

First, we picked some unripe but large green tomatoes from our garden, sliced them, laid them out on a plate, and salted them each pretty generously.

Green tomatoes are still pretty firm and need the salt to bring out the moisture in the tomato.

Next, we fried plenty of thick-cut bacon in an iron skillet. It’s important to reserve the grease from the bacon (as always!).

We mixed corn meal with a bit of salt and pepper and dredged each green tomato slice through the mixture and coated each well.

Then, we dropped each coated sliced tomato into the already hot bacon grease and fried them on each side for a couple of minutes.

Finally, we layered the bacon, some fresh lettuce (or spinach), fried green tomatoes, and a smear of mayo on toasted bread. A really great spin on a traditional treat.

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Bathroom Updates

Our current project is our basement bathroom. Little by little, we’re amassing all the things and completing all the projects it’ll take to finish the room off. One of the most important things we had to do was replace the nonfunctional sink:

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A few days ago, we told you about this great wall-mount sink we picked up from Jarrett’s parents:

Well, we finally got around to installing it. First task in the bathroom remodel done!

The sink definitely needed a bit of a cleanup before installing it. From the overflow valve, large chunks of rust were flaking off, so we first took it out in the yard and sprayed it with a good stream of water from the garden hose.

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That did a good job of setting loose all the chipped and flaking pieces.

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Next, we removed the drain, which was corroded and losing its chrome finish. To protect the drain for the future and to keep it looking shiny and new, we simply used a metallic Rust-Oleum and a sponge brush to slap on a new chrome finish.

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This sink came with a mounting bar. It was a bit rusty, but we just painted it with some Rust-Oleum, and it was as good as new. Using a level, I lined it up on the wall, attached it with several screws to be sure to hit a stud (this sink weighs about a hundred pounds), and finally slid the sink right in.

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Bingo! (Notice the fly on the lip of the sink. It was especially hot and buggy when I installed the sink, and that little guy was right by me the whole time). Now, we just need to clean it up a bit and caulk around the rim after painting the wall. Just a few projects more, and the bathroom will be done!

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My Go-To DIY Sources

When we tell people we’ve done the majority of the work on our house ourselves, they always ask, “How did you learn to do that stuff?”. First, I’m no expert on home repair by any means, but I grew up in a home that was under constant renovation all at the hands of my dad who is not a professional handyman. His theory was always, “if someone can do it, I can do it!,” and he worked at any needed projects until he figured it out. I picked up a lot of how-to from helping my dad on projects at the house I grew up in (running new electrical, roofing, and even finishing trim), but more importantly, I got from him that same attitude: “if it needs to be done, I’ll figure it out!”

And that’s pretty much what I do: figure it out! Figure it out, that is, with a lot of help from these favorite go-to sources:

1. Home Improvement 1-2-3

This little book from The Home Depot is my number one source for all things home improvement. It’s not an in-depth manual, by any means, and is no substitute for expert advice on many projects, but its broad subject range and step-by-step instructions make it the first place I turn when starting most new household projects. And, you can pick up an older version of this book on places like Amazon or Half.com for under a buck!

2. This Old House

 This Old House is really a tie for first when it comes to sources for DIY projects. Both the print magazine version (which we’ve subscribed to for a couple of years) and the website are always handy for detailed and clear instructions on most any home renovation or improvement project. I’ve used this for help on building our patio, painting the floor, and installing beadboard in our kitchen, among other things. I highly recommend bookmarking this site.

3. Ron Hazelton’s HouseCalls

 Another really great home improvement website that I find myself resourcing all the time. With everything from Doors & Windows (which we’ve done a lot of in this house) to Kitchens to Outdoor projects, this site will have your projects covered. And, HouseCalls has a ton of videos showing Ron actually doing the work, which for me is extremely helpful.

4. You Tube   

Not a DIY site exclusively, of course, and maybe a strange pick, but you’d be surprised by the wealth of home improvement knowledge that can be gleaned from You Tube. Here’s a small sampling of some of the projects you can tackle with a little video assistance from the many users of You Tube: install a carpet runner on stairs, add a skylight, replace a bathroom sink and faucet, even refinish your hardwood floors. Seriously, just go to You Tube, search for whatever project you’re tackling, and be amazed at the step-by-step video instructions you’ll find.

5. Blogs

Lame, I know, but if I were to list every blog I’ve used in home improvement projects, I’d need an entirely new blog just for that and a whole lot of time to recall them all. There’s a slew of home improvement blogs out there, many of which after they tackle a project are more than happy to share with readers exactly how they did it. Some our favorites are Young House Love, which has a whole “How To” tab with a lot of info on projects they’ve done around their house; Little Green Notebook if not for the mini blind/roman shade project alone; and Houseblogs.net, which is a community of home improvement blogs with great DIY advice and inspiration.

So, that’s about it. Any glaring holes I left? What are other favorite DIY and home improvement resources?

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