Thursday, January 28, 2016

Let's Talk Salads!











Winter has truly arrived and along with it comes a craving for all things warm.  Our supper each night usually consists of something that comes right out of the oven hot and ready to warm us as we sit down at the dining room table.  Winter dishes - roasts, stews, roasted veggies - are one of my favorite things about this season.   Recently Justus asked me to start preparing him a salad to take to work each day for lunch though, and as I've assembled the salads each night, I've made more of a conscious effort to eat a salad for lunch the next day myself.  I've actually made this citrus salad two days in a row... it's just so, so good and the fresh produce tastes so refreshing.  I think it just makes me enjoy those hearty winter dishes even more in the evening.  

Salads are actually one of my favorite things to eat, but I think variety is the key.  If you eat the exact same salad ingredients every day, it doesn't take long for it to get old.  Speaking for myself here, a salad that consists of a huge bowl of lettuce with a sprinkling of shredded carrots and two cherry tomatoes on top just doesn't cut it for me.  

Here are some things that help me when putting together a salad:

  • Theme!  Before I start cutting up veggies, I think about what flavor I ultimately want the salad to have.  Feeling like something sweet?  How about a base of spinach with some fruit and nuts?   Feeling in a Southwestern mood?  Then I'm leaning more towards a base of romaine lettuce with tomatoes, corn, avocado, cilantro.  Think of different ingredients that can work together to add more flavor.  This also might depend on the main dish I'm making, if this is a side salad. 
  •  Use what you have!  Do you have any leftover chicken from the night before?  What about cooked veggies, say some roasted butternut squash (here's a delicious salad recipe that you could use butternut squash in, by the way). What about that avocado half that will go bad if it's not eaten?  A lot of times I'll build my salad around something that needs to be eaten, again making sure that the different ingredients will complement each other. 
  • Toppings!  I stock up on toppings when I go to the grocery store.  Nuts (like almonds, pecans and walnuts), seeds (sesame, poppy, sunflower, chia, hemp), cheeses (feta and blue cheese crumbles are a big hit with my husband), dried sweet fruit (raisins, cranberries), tortilla chips, you get the idea.  I think these can be the key to a salad... they add so much texture and flavor and leave you feeling satisfied.  
  • Variety!  I usually buy at least two varieties of greens, and mix it up the next time.  Our favorite salad greens are romaine (green and red), butter lettuce, spinach, and a spring mix.  I buy an assortment of veggies and fruits, a lot of time depending on what is in season.  (Tip to the mommies out there!  If your little ones have a hard time eating salad every meal/day because of the lettuce, chop up extra veggies for them and make a "salad" without the lettuce!  Today for lunch my girls had a mixture of chopped cucumber and bell peppers with a side of orange slices along with their main dish.)
  • Salad dressing!  I rarely ever buy salad dressings, simply because I'm very picky about ingredients.  I actually bought one last week for my husband for the first time in ages... he requested something very spicy!  (Speaking of, I found a delicious chipotle vinaigrette at Whole Foods.) On the rare occasion we have ranch dressing (usually when we have guests), I make it from scratch using this recipe. Anyway, I typically just make a vinaigrette and I have a formula I use that is so simple!  No matter how you change it up, it's delicious, easy, and healthy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             This will make about 3/4 cup of dressing, so you can either store the leftover for later, or make half the recipe.  Thoroughly mix together 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup of either vinegar or a citrus juice, 2 tsp dijon mustard, 2 tsp maple syrup (honey would also work well), and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  I always keep balsamic, apple cider, red wine and white wine vinegar in the pantry along with a few others.  There are so many delicious options!  Lemon, lime or orange juice are also delicious in place of the vinegar.  On occasion I'll omit the maple syrup if I don't want the vinaigrette to have any sweetness.  
Lastly, here is the salad recipe pictured above.  It's delicious and I hope you enjoy it.

Citrus Salad

Ingredients:
Baby spinach
Romaine lettuce 
Celery
Oranges (I used Cara Cara)
Pecans 
Raisins
Feta Cheese
Poppy Seeds
Vinaigrette (see above under salad dressing; I used 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup orange juice, 2 tsp dijon mustard, 2 tsp maple syrup, sea salt, and ground pepper)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place pecans on a baking sheet and toast for about 5-8 minutes.  Chop spinach, romaine, and celery and place in a bowl.  Peel orange(s), slice and place on lettuce.  Sprinkle toasted  pecans, raisins, and feta cheese over salad.  Add some poppy seeds to your vinaigrette and pour over entire salad. 

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Have you made any delicious salads recently?  Please share - I'm always looking for something new!  ;-)


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Downstairs Bathroom Remodel


 Well, it's only taken five years, but we can finally say our downstairs bathroom remodel is complete.  ;-)  (Or at least complete enough to take pictures - ha!)  

BEFORE


 The above photo was taken when we did a walk through on the house.  At the time, this was the only bathroom in the house and it certainly was not in the worst condition I've ever seen, thankfully, but we definitely knew we wanted to update it eventually.     


 Over the years, we made gradual updates.  As the above photo shows, we replaced the linoleum walls with beadboard planks, replaced the old sheet-rock ceiling with pine planks, updated the fixtures, installed an inexpensive vanity to give us extra storage, and Justus added some built in cabinets (not pictured).  We lived with it like this for quite a while, but all the while knowing we still had a huge project looming that needed to be completed once we had another bathroom in the house.  The tile floor (which I don't have many pictures of) was extremely un-level and the grout was crumbling and cracking in places.  When I refer to the floor being un-level, I mean that it visibly was about three inches taller than the bedroom floor.  The old cast iron tub also needed to be raised up underneath the house, and when Justus tackled that project, he had to remove the tiles in front of the tub.  If it weren't for that, we probably would have put this project off longer, because we knew it was going to be an absolute huge mess. 


 Justus had to remove five layers of flooring.  It took him hours of hard manual labor and when he finally got down to the floor joists, he discovered that they were in such poor condition from previous water damage that he had to completely re-frame the joists.  I have photos of how horrible this project was, but I actually can't bear to post them here.  :-)  But in the above picture, Justus was actually standing on the dirt floor under the house.  We had hoped that the subfloor could be put in that weekend, but it took a bit longer with all the framing he had to do first.  So we had nothing but a dirt floor for several days... I imagined all sorts of critters entering our house, so I used garbage bags and a whole lot of tape to ensure nothing could get in!  ;-) 


 Finally the subfloor and concrete board was in place and the floor was actually level - hooray!  What a huge sigh of relief!  And also reassurance that our bathroom could stand for many years to come now!  Justus and I really debated on what kind of tile to install.  When we built the upstairs bathroom, we had this same debate - should we install wood-look tile or mosaic tile?  In the end, we decided to install the wood-look tile upstairs and we absolutely love it.  It's easy to clean, doesn't show dirt (or hair), and looks great.  But neither of us could see it looking right downstairs.  When Justus was actually the one to suggest the mosaic tile, I jumped all over the idea - I knew it would be exactly the right fit! 


 Our original plan was to use light gray grout, but... after a not fun job of installing the tile and us seeing every single mistake, Justus declared we would either be using white grout or he would be tearing out the floor again. 

 

 What a happy decision that turned out to be!  When we started grouting, we immediately loved the look of the white grout against the white tile.  Perhaps the gray grout in a small bathroom may have made the floor look a little too busy.  And happily I cannot even tell you where our tile mistakes are now because it's not the least bit noticeable.  

You're probably wondering if this tile is hard to keep clean and the answer is yes!  The tile floor shows every piece of dirt and hair.  But I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I already clean our downstairs floors very frequently, so I haven't felt like I've had to vacuum any more than I did previously.  Also, I've found that giving the floor a good old fashioned scrub on my hands and knees weekly works wonders, but I've always cleaned bathroom floors like that, so again, not much additional work.  I am, however, very thankful we didn't install this tile upstairs where I don't vacuum as frequently (since the rooms aren't as high traffic). 


 While we were at it, we replaced the vanity and faucet.  With such a white bathroom, I definitely wanted the vanity to have some color.  Justus actually picked out this gray-blue vanity, which I wasn't sure about, and now he loves teasing me about how he knew best.  :-)


 I know this sounds crazy, but I think my favorite thing in the bathroom may be this faucet.  When I was looking for a new faucet, I found this one and I knew it would be perfect!  But I was informed (ah-hem) that it was sadly out of our bathroom budget... after I kept looking and kept coming back to this faucet, I decided then to do a little more digging, and I finally found it online on sale!  I was probably a little too excited!   And then Justus we chose a slightly more affordable vanity.  ;-)  (Which I ended up loving, hence the teasing I mentioned above!)


 It was so nice having had replaced so many other things in the bathroom, because once the floor was in, it really didn't take much to get the room finished.  Justus installed all new trim and I gave the walls a fresh coat of paint when I painted the trim. 


 If you look at the door here, you can get an idea of how much higher the previous floor was.  :-)  Now there's a huge gap, but we plan to replace this door with a sliding barn door down the road when we renovate our bedroom. 


 The built-in storage Justus built a few years ago for this little corner space...


 I really debated whether or not to paint the pine planked ceiling.  I actually like the look of the raw pine, but it didn't match the other wood in the house, so I decided to go with my gut and paint it white.  And I'm so happy I did.  There's nothing like white to brighten and make a room appear bigger than it is. 


This past year we also removed the previous shower surround and installed large subway tiles on the walls.  The shower still needs a little work, but it's close.  You can see I still have my red flowery shower curtain - it's nice when you love something so much that it doesn't need to be changed, no matter how old.  ;-) 

I'm sorry for my lengthy post - I feel like I have talked your ear off.  Thanks for listening!  Hope you have a great week!


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Welcome December



 The week before Thanksgiving, I found myself filled with anticipation thinking of the month ahead.  After several months of busy, busy, busy, and going, going, going, I was looking forward to special visits from friends, and special holidays, but also many days spent at home with nowhere to go.  Warm in our cozy home, holiday smells of orange and cloves and cinnamon in the air, cuddling on the couch, cutting out paper snowflakes, baking muffins and pies and simply... resting and savoring sweet moments.  

The girls begged me to dig out our Christmas decorations and we spent one fun afternoon cleaning the house, putting away everything fall, and bringing out the things that reflect a new season.  How fun it was to pull out little memories... pine cones we gathered in the yard a few years ago, pom poms Jillian and I made into garlands and and a wreath a couple Christmases ago, and even the sweet mittens we crafted last December.  

Here's a little peek into our December nesting... 














I hope you're having a warm, wonderful first week of December. Hopefully with less planned this month, I can spend a little more time here.  :-)  As always, I'm filled with gratitude for your sweet comments and for visiting here.  



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