planning an IKEA kitchen – phase 1

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After shopping around and reading A LOT online, we settled on using IKEA cabinets in our new kitchen. While I don’t always have good luck with IKEA furniture (to be fair, some stuff has lasted years and years), I have read blog after blog with positive experiences and helpful tips.

We haven’t made any final decisions and won’t order the cabinets until we close on the house and the other necessary work is done (wall removal, demo, floor refinishing). But that’s part of the beauty of this. Unlike a lot of other kitchens that need to be ordered months in advance, ours will be delivered 1-7 days after ordering.

For a lot of people, the DIY flexibility is a big part of the appeal. You can bring home your kitchen from the store and assemble and install it yourself. But be warned…the amount of cabinets we’re ordering (for a small kitchen with very few upper cabinets) is estimated to be over 200 boxes. Probably something like this. Multiplied by four.

Matt and I are not handy people and we also don’t have weeks to sit there and assemble these. Most importantly, this is a kitchen, not a nightstand. There isn’t room for error because this furniture is the groundwork for the most important room in our house. Installation runs around $120 per cabinet. It adds a lot to the cost.

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I have taken a tremendous amount of inspiration and ideas from Dana Miller’s blog House Tweaking. Just the other day she shared more helpful information about the planning and installation of her family’s kitchen and it’s definitely worth a read.

So what have I done so far? Googled, emailed, pinned, and gone to the store several times. When I honed in on what I wanted, I made a design appointment with an IKEA rep. For $199 a contractor-type person comes to the house to take the measurements and then sits with you for up to three hours to completely design the kitchen. Again, there is a free version of this. Take the measurements yourself and enter the info into the IKEA software on the website. It’s the same software the designer will use to specifically select what can fit where. While I’m pretty computer savvy, I again was thinking about the importance in getting everything exactly right. The rep I sat with answered my dozens of questions and offered a lot of helpful information about ways to reconfigure and the most logical choices for certain spots. So do I think it’s worth $200? Definitely. Another thing I really liked about him is that although he is contracted by IKEA, he doesn’t actually work for the store. He was very upfront about what items he thought I shouldn’t get from IKEA (most of the sinks and faucets).

At the end of the meeting I had a 14-page document with all the info I need for our contractor to demo and prep what he needs to, and for me to order all the pieces. Here is an example of what one of the images looks like.

Screen shot 2014-07-12 at 12.56.38 PM

That whole storage/work area off to the right is up for debate in our house right now. I’ll get to that in another post…

Oh! One more thing, you need to have purchased, or at least selected the appliances you’ll be using. The exact measurements are necessary to plan the space properly and order the correctly sized cabinets.

preparing kid #1 for kid #2

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As an only child in my 20s, I had definite ideas about how I envisioned my future family. Most importantly, it involved more than one child (and Matt. Duh). I never really minded being an only child when I was a kid. I had cousins to play with, tons of friends who thought their siblings were sooooo annoying, and I was always very close with my parents. Once I became an adult and I started noticing the relationships my friends now had with their sisters and brothers, that’s when it started bothering me. Seeing my parents and husband’s parents care for aging and ailing parents also reminded me that I don’t have siblings with whom I can share that job. (Thankfully, my parents are two fresh-faced crazy kids themselves, so I don’t have to worry about that for a while. Hi Mom and Dad! Thanks for letting us live in your house!!)

So back to having more than one child. After Nolan was born, I made up my mind: I am DONE. No more kids. I had a difficult delivery, and he wasn’t the easiest baby. By the time his first birthday rolled around, I turned a blind eye to all that and remembered all the reasons I don’t want just one. Fast forward a few years and here we are, expecting baby #2!

Nolan, like most toddlers, tends to be, let’s call it…persistent. He doesn’t forget anything and he loves nothing more than to repeat himself. For that reason and a few others, we decided to wait about 4.5 months before we told him. The conversation was pretty amusing:

Me: Have you noticed that my belly looks kind of big and round?

Nolan: No, I don’t think your belly looks big.

Me: Oh, well it is. What could be in there that’s making it so big?

Nolan: Ummmm… food? Milk? Yogurt?

Needless to say, he never guessed correctly and we just came out and told him.

That was about a month ago and he hasn’t been too curious since then. He sometimes talks about teaching his baby brother to play hockey and baseball. He periodically rubs my belly and says, “There’s a baby in there?” And tonight he told me we should name the baby Moonaganna.  I think the two books we put into the bedtime rotation have helped quell his curiosity.

The first is a classic that I loved as a child, The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby.

I remembered very little about this book other than Brother Bear outgrowing his bed just in time. Upon rereading it, I was surprised to find that (spoiler alert!) Mama Bear delivers the baby alone in her home while Papa and Brother are out building a new bed. I’m still not sure if I feel empowered or degraded by that.

The next book I bought after seeing it recommended on Rebecca Woolf’s blog. It’s Sophie Blackall’s The Baby Tree.

The Baby Tree is narrated by a little boy who finds out his parents are expecting a new baby, and he doesn’t understand where the baby will come from. He asks people in his family and neighborhood and gets all sorts of backwards and roundabout answers until he asks his parents who finally explain it. At first I was worried that the book was too old for Nolan; not in the sense that it’s inappropriate in any way, but I wasn’t sure he would be interested in the story or understand enough of it. Well, I was wrong and he loves it. The illustrations are beautiful and there is even a page after the story with more specific answers to kids’ questions about conceiving and delivering babies.

How did you prepare your children for new siblings? Did you find that they were excited or did the jealousy begin before the baby even arrived?

decisions, decisions

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In buying this new house in Greenlawn, we are embarking on a project I have always wanted to tackle: buy a house that needs a new kitchen but isn’t a complete dump.

This is the kitchen as it stands:

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So…yeah.

The plan is to gut the whole thing and remove walls (or as many of the walls as we can without the second floor falling down on us) to open up the kitchen to the living and dining rooms. The wall where the breakfast bar is will be an island for more counter space, seating, and storage.

To save money and aggravation, our initial plan was to put new applianaces exactly where the old ones are. Looking more closely though at the layout, I’m wondering if it’s worth the savings. While I’m not looking to put in a 36″ double farmhouse sink, I do want a larger sink than what’s there, but with it being so close to the corner, how would that work?

With the exception of a tall pantry cabinet next to the refrigerator and an upper cabinet above the refrigerator, we won’t be using wall cabinets. Instead, we’re opting for shelving to keep the room as open and bright as possible.

Pinterest and I have rekindled a passionate (and time consuming) affair and I’ve been pinning away to my kitchen and home boards to gather ideas. Here are two that I’m really drawn to:

I love the mix of cabinets and the openness here, although I think a few shelves would be helpful.

I’m taking a lot of specific ideas from Dana Miller of House Tweaking. This is her family’s kitchen, which uses IKEA cabinets. The space we are working with is much smaller but the layout is similar. Our refrigerator area will look a little different, but the plan is to use many of the same products and colors in our house.

We’re in the process of getting estimates from contractors, but the whole thing is messy since we don’t actually own the house yet. The homeowner has let us come in from time to time with people, but it’s still sort of awkward and unnatural. Plus, the whole house smells like pee. Did I mention we’ll be refinishing the floors?

Have you renovated a kitchen? Any tips to share?

 

#YOLONOMO

My last post was in March, nearly four months ago. And holy moly, has so much happened.

Goodbye, old house!

Goodbye, old house!

1. We put our house on the market.

2. The day after our first open house, we accepted an offer.

3. The day after that, I realized I was pregnant (!!!!!!!).

4. Having no success finding a house right away, we decided to put most of our belongings in storage and move in with my very generous parents.

5. We went into contract on a new house, and are busy planning renovations, finding a new school for Nolan, and growing this big old baby in my belly. Seriously, my belly is double the size it was at this time in my pregnancy with Nolan.

Moving back in with your parents when you’re 32 and bringing your husband, toddler, fetus, and dog, might sound like a recipe for disaster, but so far it hasn’t been. We’re approaching the one-month mark since we moved in and the biggest issue we’ve had is the dogs. They play too roughly, my parents’ dog steals my dog’s food, my dog barks to get in and out of the crate where his food is kept, etc.

Staying with my parents has not only been a lifesaver in ensuring we didn’t have to settle on a house we didn’t really want to buy, but it’s also been a huge money saver, which leads me to YOLONOMO. I reclaimed the incredibly annoying acronym for you only live once, and made it fit my temporary freeloading lifestyle. YOLONOMO is you only live once with no mortgage. Now don’t worry, we aren’t really spending up a storm, but when I treated myself to iced coffee pretty much every day of Regents week at school? YOLONOMO! I have to cram this pregnant belly into a bathing suit and the only ones that fit well are overpriced? YOLONOMO!

So come on, 30-somethings! Sell your homes! Move in with your parents! YOLONOMO!

 

homemade pizza in 20 minutes

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I’m home sick today and wishing I still had some of this pizza left.  Calling it “homemade” might be a bit misleading because I don’t make the pizza dough; however, I still thinks this counts as homemade because believing that is good for my self-esteem.

Back to the pizza. I’ve made a bunch of variations but this one was my favorite.

pizza

Ingredients:

Pizza dough

Tomato sauce (if you use jarred sauce, Rao’s is my favorite)

Shredded mozzarella

Thin slices of prosciutto (about 2 ounces)

Dried figs, thinly sliced

Arugula

Olive oil

Whole Foods sells whole wheat pizza dough in the freezer section and it takes about a day in the fridge to defrost. If you remember, leave it out for a half hour or so before you make the pizza because it’s easier to stretch dough when it’s close to room temperature.  I never remember to and it always works out fine.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Spread a little olive oil on a sheet pan and place floured dough in the center. Gently stretch it out and flatten so the dough takes up most of the pan.

Spread a very little bit of sauce on the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the cheese, again leaving the border. Lay strips of prosciutto on top of the cheese.

Cook pizza for 12 minutes and then place pieces of fig on top and return the pizza to the oven. When the cheese is bubbly and the crust is lightly browned (probably another 2-5 minutes), it’s done! If you want the arugula slightly wilted, add it and return to the oven for just a minute. Otherwise, you can add the arugula just before serving.

Enjoy!

cranberry white chocolate chip cookies (plus a few baking tips)

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Snow day #4 and counting…

These cookies are definitely among my favorites to bake (and eat). The dried cranberries make me think fall/winter but obviously they’re great all year round. Deb Perelman of  Smitten Kitchen modified the standard Quaker Oats recipe and came up with my favorite oatmeal raisin cookies. I made a few changes to give them a wintry twist and I hope you like them!

cookie

This recipe makes 50 small (think two or three bite) cookies

2 sticks of salted butter, softened but not melted
1 and 1/3 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one orange
1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (regular table salt, not coarse salt)
3 cups rolled oats
1 and 1/2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup of white chocolate chips (more or less to taste)
 
Mix butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time and mix until fully incorporated.

Add vanilla and orange zest.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Gradually add dry ingredients to wet on low t0 medium speed until fully mixed.

Stir in oats, cranberries, and white chocolate chips.

Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour.  Colder dough makes thick, chewy cookies. If you use the dough right away, the cookies will be flatter and crispier (this is the case with pretty much all cookie recipes).

Preheat the oven to 350.  Scoop out rounded teaspoons of dough about two inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake cookies for 12-15 minutes until they’re lightly browned on the edges. Try really hard to let them cool a little so as not to scorch your mouth. Good luck with that.

For the ones that you’re not immediately eating, cool for five minutes on the sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack.

A few baking tips:

  • If you don’t have the time to soften butter by leaving it on the counter for hours and hours, microwave it in a bowl in ten-second increments until it’s very soft to the touch.
  • Never measure out an ingredient over the stuff you’re making. For example, don’t pour out a teaspoon of salt over a bowl of flour. Whatever you’re pouring out will inevitably spill and then your measuring is shot.
  • Make sure the baking sheet is cool before you put the next round of dough on it; otherwise, the butter in the dough will start melting before you’ve even put it in the oven and you’ll end up with weird, flat cookies.

new recipes in the rotation

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For many people 2013 was the year of quinoa and kale. I wish I could say that was true for me!  My year of cooking’s keywords would be ones like cream, braised meat, and pancetta on everything. This year I want to do more cooking but make fewer dirty dishes. Because you know what sucks at the end of a delicious meal? Doing the dishes.

Here are two meals that I made a lot last year. Try them and let me know how it goes. Or better yet, make them and invite me over. I’ll bring some wine and a crazy toddler.

chicken thighs

Crispy-skinned chicken thighs – Inspired by this recipe from Dinner: A Love Story, I have been making this (at least) once a week for the past month or two. I follow the recipe pretty closely but I omit the mushrooms and I add a veggie to cook in the pan after the chicken is done.

It doesn’t matter if the chicken thighs are boneless or not, but they definitely should NOT be skinless. I’ve been using grapeseed oil instead of olive oil for recipes like this because it has a high smoking point and is pretty flavorless (in a good way).

To add the veggies, after the chicken comes out of the oven, remove it from the pan and let it rest on another plate. In the mean time, add a veggie to the pan with the onions and thyme and saute for a few minutes. Spinach works perfectly because it wilts quickly. If you’re using something firmer like carrots, string beans, or French beans, you may want to blanch them ahead of time so they won’t be completely raw when you throw them in the pan. Brussels sprouts would be great too.

Pasta with arugula in a lemon cream sauce – Ina Garten really can do no wrong. This recipe is published in her cookbook Barefoot Contessa at Home and is a bit different from the web version because there is no broccoli mentioned in the book.

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I like to add cooked pancetta or prosciutto (bake it on a sheet pan at 375 for 8 minutes or so until crisp and then blot with paper towels to absorb any oil). I use gemelli pasta instead of fusilli because I illogically hate fusilli (almost as much as I hate rigatoni). The recipe calls for two cups of heavy cream and I’ve experimented with using half and half, or whole milk and heavy cream, and while it tastes pretty much the same, I find that using something other than cream gives a curdled quality to the sauce. It really tastes fine but the lemon juice reacts strangely and makes it a little lumpy. Also, don’t get freaked out if your garlic turns blue. It has to do with the acid in the lemon juice. It has only happened to me a few times but it was unsettling and made me think of Bridget Jones’s blue soup.

I want that immediately right now

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I’ve been thinking about this sense of immediate availability that has pervaded our culture. I think we’ve all heard a lot about the instant gratification that we have become accustomed to. Cue old person hissing, Booooo, kids today…

I notice it with students more and more each year. It appears in the general lack of attention  in class:

“Please double-check to make sure your names are printed in the books before you return them. I can’t give you credit for returning the book without your name in it. Are all your names in the books?”

Five minutes later…

“Ok, so I got back six books with no names. Who didn’t write your name in the book?”

It also comes up in their inability to stick with something. When asked to research a topic on a database with thousands of articles:

“Ugh, I can’t find anything. There’s nothing here for my topic.”

“How many articles did you read?”

“The first half of this one.”

The ugly truth is that I notice it in myself as well. When browsing through Facebook on my phone, if I tap to open a photo or video and it doesn’t open in, I don’t know, two and a half seconds, I close it. “Baaah, nevermind.”

But now the worst part is I see it in Nolan, and he’s only two and a half. Nolan doesn’t watch a lot of television and when he does, he watches the same two or three things. We keep a bunch of Sesame Street and some similar shows on the DVR so that when we feel like giving him some time in front of the tv (that’s parent speak for, sweet lord I need twenty minutes to myself), we can put on a specific episode of a show. In his mind, all the shows he likes are available all the time.

I didn’t think about that having any sort of negative effect until we were upstairs recently and I offered to put on the tv in my bedroom while I got ready. Nolan said, “I want to watch Sid.” I explained that I would have to see if Sid the Science Kid was on at that moment, and he looked at me like I was talking about astrophysics. I could see his little brain working, IF it’s on? Of course it’s on. Push buttons on the remote and pass me a binky. Needless to say it wasn’t on. After I put on something else he just kept asking for the specific shows he wanted, “I want Rosita’s grandma Sesame Street. I want Elmo’s grandparents Sesame Street.” I explained that we have those saved downstairs, but I’m fairly certain he thought I was lying to him.

Now this has spilled over onto music. He has finally taken pity on us and started asking for music other than Music Together, but the concept of the radio is totally lost on him. If he asks for “I Don’t Care,” I can play it from my phone. If he asks for “Pompeii” or “Gone Gone Gone,” I say it’s not on the radio right now. Again, totally puzzling to him.

Do I pretend iTunes doesn’t exist because I’m going to create an impatient monster, or do I embrace the availability of everything? Dr. Spock didn’t cover this in his books.

Aside

Sandy Hook

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When December arrived I was excited for the upcoming holidays, but I also noticed an uneasy tension in my chest. I knew the one year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook was approaching. I think about that day a lot, especially when I get buzzed in to drop off Nolan at daycare in the morning, and I consider that Sandy Hook Elementary’s front doors were locked too.

So it’s been a year and money has been collected, petitions have been signed, foundations have been established, and yet nothing significant has been accomplished.  I don’t mean to trivialize or ignore the considerable energy and time that so many people contributed in the aftermath. But the reality is that when these victims’ families look at our country a year after their children were murdered, has anything changed?

I spent a day talking about the Gettysburg Address with my students last month and among the terms I needed to explain was, “these dead shall not have died in vain.” When President Lincoln said it 150 years ago, I doubt it sounded as cliché as it does today, but as I clarified what “in vain” means, I found myself again thinking about the kids of Sandy Hook. Or maybe more accurately, I thought about their parents and families and how we’ve failed them over politics and over money.

A few days after the shooting, Rebecca Woolf published a really powerful post on her blog and I reread it last night. She said, “We are mad and we are sad and everywhere we look we see arms and we are so sorry. We are sorry for the children and the parents and the people who cling to their weapons as families cling to families and it doesn’t make sense.”

That’s exactly how I feel today.

S’mores Bars – Because s’mores weren’t fattening enough

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This is the second s’mores-style dessert I’ve written about, which is strange because I’m honestly not that impressed by s’mores. The first one I wrote about here and they’re delicious and cute for parties. These s’mores bars are more rustic (to use a term Barefoot Contessa loves) and very easy to make.

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I found the recipe for these via Pinterest at The Apron Gal’s blog.  I had a little mishap in doubling the recipe last time and wound up with not nearly enough dough to make the top layer, so I did the fluff layer before the Hershey bar layer, and I flattened little pancakes of dough and scattered them over the top. As you can see from the picture, there are big pieces of exposed chocolate and marshmallow, but I actually think I like that better than a smooth layer of dough. Hooray for happy accidents!

A few tips:

  • To save a little time, you can buy graham cracker crumbs already made in the baking aisle by cake mixes.
  • The dough for this is very sticky – wet your hands with cold water before trying to spread it in the pan. Then the dough won’t stick to your hands as much.
  • Really grease the pan and try to leave a border of dough without marshmallow fluff. When the marshmallow gets on the side of the pan, it hardens and is tough to get out.
  • If you can’t flatten the dough in a Ziploc bag like the recipe suggests, it’s no biggie. (I never bother)
  • Definitely stick with Hershey bars and don’t try to jazz these up with fancy chocolate. The distinct taste that a Hershey bar has is what makes these taste like s’mores.

Happy fall baking!

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