Friday, February 17, 2012

Operation Dinner: Planning for Mealtime Success

Sorry for the radio silence over here. Nearly everyone in the family has been sick on and off for the past few weeks; just as one kid would get better, they'd pass it another to the other. And then to me. Luckily, we are all feeling better now and the fog in my head has cleared just enough for me to start posting again.
Photo courtesy of one of my favorite blogs for recipes and healthy living tips:

When I'm not feeling well, dinnertime (and meals in general) are a bit of a joke. Even under normal circumstances, meals can be a source of stress and frustration — especially if there are picky eaters in the household. At our house, we jokingly refer to the time frame between, oh, 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. as "the witching hour." If someone is going to pitch a fit or a full-on meltdown, it's likely to happen then.

Now, I'm no expert on cooking or meal planning. However, I have interviewed many experts for stories on everything from pleasing picky eaters to shopping for food storage to saving money with coupons. And I've even learned a thing or two or of my own.

So, here are my tips for mealtime success:

1. Plan, plan, plan. You know the old Covey mantra: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. This is true in many aspects of life, including meal planning. I don't know what I did before meal planning. Seriously, I'm wondering what the heck we ate. In college I remember going to the grocery store and adding things to my cart willy-nilly. I don't think I ever had an idea of what I was going to make. This approach isn't horrible — as long as you actually buy enough ingredients to make a meal — but definitely leads to a lot of waste and overspending on groceries. These days, I don't go to the store without first formulating a list of meals for the week, including lunch and snack items, as well as staples that we are low on. I'll put together another post on how I formulate that list to maximize our grocery budget, buy/rotate food storage items and use mainly to REAL, unprocessed food — too many details to cover here.

2. Be flexible. Although I love meal planning, I'm not a slave to it. My meal plan is typically a list of five or so meals, although with some lunch ideas and maybe a dessert. I vacillate between assigning each meal a specific day and just waiting until the day of to decide. Either way, it is important to remember how long food will last and prepare meals that include a lot of perishable foods at the beginning of the week. For instance, no matter how fresh cilantro looks when I buy it, it never seems to last more than a few days without looking slimy. So if I'm going to make a dish with cilantro, I'll plan that for the day or so after a grocery trip. Also, look at the family calendar when planning. Crazy days when no one will be home are great for using a slow cooker or doing something quick like homemade pizza or soup.

3. Do something in the morning for dinner. Thaw meat in the fridge. Prep vegetables for stir-fry. Throw together a marinade. No matter how big or small, doing part of the work ahead of time will save you a lot of time come dinner time. That's a lot of time. :)  Plus, I am way less apt to want to blow off cooking and get take out/feed my kids cereal for breakfast when I've already got dinner in the works.

4. Cook food you want to eat. This is a no-brainer, but I had to include it. Don't feel stuck serving the same meals you had as a kid if they really don't appeal to you. Seek out recipes and experiment. A caveat: try to find recipes from reputable sources. Find a few blogs whose recipes you've had success with or ask a friend whose cooking you like. Few things are worse than putting a lot of time in cooking a new dish only to have it be inedible.

5. Keep it simple. If you are a trained gourmet chef, your meals will probably be quite elaborate. For the rest of us, it's best to stick with meals that can be thrown into a slow cooker or made in an hour (maybe half-hour) or less. Quick and easy doesn't mean tasteless or unhealthy. If you want to cook a more elaborate meal, like lasagna, save it for a weekend when you have more time in the kitchen. And, while you're at it, prepare two and freeze one for later.

6. Expect distractions. You've got a meal plan and the groceries to go with it. But if your kids are in chaos mode it may seem impossible to execute your plan. I've found cooking goes a lot more smoothly when I have a plan in place for my kids. If you stopped by my house at 5 p.m. on most days, you'd find my kids watching Curious George on PBS. They look forward to it all day (I can't stand having the TV on, so they don't watch a lot), and it gives me around 30 minutes of time to cook without someone begging for a snack or offering to "help." I also keep crayons and markers on the table and we have a kitchen drawer filled with coloring books, sticker books and paper. If George is over and I'm still in the midst of cooking, I'll have them color or play with a board game or Trios/Lego. I find if I take a minute to anticipate their needs — I'm thirsty, I can't find my blanky — dinner is less likely to burn/boil over/overcook, etc.

What about you? Do you meal plan or wing it? Tell me what works (and what doesn't work) for you.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tutorial: Adding Molding to a Builder Grade Mirror

This isn't my bathroom but is exactly how my master bathroom used to look ... only instead of vinyl we still have lovely carpet.
When we bought our townhome, there were lots of features we really loved: open floorplan, large bedrooms, upper-floor laundry, good-sized closets and such. But we didn't love all of the brass fixtures and seen-better-days oak cabinets. I swore that as soon as I moved in, I would banish the brass. Four years later, there is still some brass kicking around. But this year is the year. 

For a while now, I've wanted to hide the brass trim on our bathroom mirrors by adding molding around the frame. During the holidays, I finally convinced my husband that it would look good — thanks to lots of pictures on Pinterest. He is a hard sell on most home improvement projects but always helps out and always ends up loving it in the end. 
Kids bathroom mirror before.

With his help, this project came together really quickly.

Step 1: Measure your mirror. Of course.

Step 2: Purchase molding. We bought ours at our local ReStore. It cost $8 for enough molding to cover the mirror in the master bathroom and in the kids bathroom. We lucked out in finding thicker molding, which I really wanted because the mirrors are big and I wanted the frame to seem intentional and substantial. I would recommend preprimed molding for this project.

Step 3: Set up a paintworkstation. We did this in our unfinished basement, where food storage buckets served as a makeshift sawhorse.

Step 4: Using the measurements from your mirror, cut 45 degree angles at the end of the molding. We planned on using a mitre box cutter, but the molding we bought ended up being too big for the box. However, it was easy enough to get the angle from the box and use that as a template to cut the molding. Tip: Cut from the front of the molding. That way, if your saw doesn't cut clean or causes chips, they won't be visible on the front.

Step 5: Paint. We used a sample pot I had in my paint stash (what, doesn't everyone have one?) to paint the master bedroom moldings a deep brown. For the kids bathroom, we went with same white as the cabinets.

Waiting for the paint to dry. I use semi-gloss in bathrooms for better durability.

Step 6: Paint the back of the molding. You'll be able to see a reflection of at least the top third of the molding.

Step 7:  Use Liquid Nails for mirrors to adhere to mirror. Notice that I forgot to paint the back of this one ... oops! I had to quickly slap on some paint before the adhesive cured. Align the molding in the corners as best as you can, but don't stress if it doesn't look perfectly perfect. Liquid Nails isn't an instant-cure so you can play around with it a bit to make sure it looks nice.

Tip: Don't put adhesive all the way to the top of the molding. Unless you want to see a reflection of that, too. About two-thirds of the way up was enough to hold it in place without it being visible.

Step 8: Use painters tape to hold the frame in place until your adhesive is cured. (For Liquid Nails, the instructions said 72-hours. However, it seemed pretty secure after only a few hours).

The best part of this picture is that you can see my ghetto point-and-shoot ... currently held together by duct tape!
Step 9: Use paintable caulk to fill in corners.

Step 10: Touch-up caulk with paint. I used a Q-tip but you could use a paintbrush. I just didn't want to walk downstairs to get one.

After: Master Bathroom mirror in progress

After: Kids bathroom mirror. Still a lot of work in here: new shower curtain, add beadboard below towel hooks, paint walls.
Step 11: Enjoy your beautiful new mirror. 

This was a super inexpensive and easy upgrade. Let me know if you have any questions!


Monday, January 23, 2012


On days (and, let's face it, weeks) when I don't have any time to conquer projects, I love finding inspiration for things I'll be able to do "some day"...

 I absolutely love the color of this console table. I took this photo at Alice Lane Home last spring. My sister Melody gave me a cute cabinet that I would love to paint this color. Right now it's a brighter shade of turquoise.

Love this ottoman. The rug underneath it was actually a really pretty textural leather but it has a linoleum look to it in this photo.

We have an ottoman that we got about seven years ago that has seen better days. I bought it for $20 when a large department store was going out of business. It's functional but has never been pretty. We got a new ottoman that I like much better, but I can't part with the oldie because it is really well made. I'm thinking a slipcover of this type could be just the thing to put it back into my good books.

From the 2011 Utah Valley Parade of Homes
I think this mirror is an interesting shape and just right for this size of wall. This inspires me to find interesting objects to put on previously unadorned walls.

From the 2011 Utah Valley Parade of Homes

Someday, I would love to have a kitchen with a big window that looks outside. You can't quite see it in the photo, but this window has a beautiful view of Mt. Timpanogos. I also heart the farmhouse sink.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Recipe: Whole Wheat Bread

Dough after kneading

This is my go-to whole wheat bread recipe. I learned to bake bread a few years back using the Pantry Secrets method. While I love their signature recipe when baking with bread flour or partial wheat only, I use this recipe most because it works well with 100 percent wheat flour.

I grind hard white or hard red wheat (or a combination of both) to use in the bread. Hard white wheat has a lighter taste, while hard red wheat is darker and has a nuttier taste. I have way more hard white than hard red wheat in my food storage, so white wheat is usually what I use.

Whole Wheat Bread
Makes 4 loaves

7 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cups vital wheat gluten
2 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast

5 cups steaming hot water (120-130 F)

2 tablespoons salt
2/3 cup oil (could sub applesauce)
2/3 cup honey or 1 c. sugar (I use honey)
2 1/2 tablespoon bottled lemon juice

5 cup whole wheat flour

Mix the first three ingredients in a stand mixer (Bosch or KitchenAid) with a dough hook. Add water all at once and mix for 1 minute. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes (this is called sponging). Add salt, oil, honey or sugar, and lemon juice and beat for 1 minute. Add remaining 5 cups flour, 1 cup at a time, beating between each cup. Beat for about 6-10 minutes until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The dough will still be soft and sticky.

Preheat oven for 1 minute to lukewarm and turn off. Turn dough onto oiled counter top; divide, shape into loaves place in oiled bread pans. Let rise in warm oven for 10-15 minutes until dough reaches top of pan. Do not remove bread from oven; turn oven to 350 F and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on racks. This recipe can be halved to make 2 loaves.

Straight from the oven. I'm no food photographer but thought it might be helpful to get an idea of the size of the loaves

A few notes:
 • I use PAM (not oil) in the countertop and my hands to make it easier to work with the dough. I also spray it into my nonstick pans. 
 • If you use freshly ground wheat, you may notice the dough rise quickly. When I grind the wheat and use it right away, I only let the bread rise in the oven for 10 minutes.
 • I've swapped the oil for applesauce in this recipe and the texture comes out fine. It does change the taste, though, and I think it shortens the shelf life. I usually use extra virgin olive oil. 
 • I use a knife to cut the dough into four even portions, way easier than trying to rip it with your hands
  • My kids LOVE carbs and usually eat half of a loaf as soon as it comes out of the oven. Few things are better than fresh bread! But I always freeze at least two loaves and they defrost just fine.
 • You don't have to have fancy bread pans. These cheap-y ones work great (I think they were $3 or $4 each) as long as you don't wash them. Yep, you read that right. Don't wash your bread pans. Just wipe them out with a dish cloth or paper towel.

Recipe originally found on

Monday, January 16, 2012

Upholstered Chair: Before and After

This extra grainy photo (circa 2009) was the only 'before' I could find of the chair. I took a bunch on my iphone as I was taking it apart and putting it back together .... but sadly the phone died and took the photos with it. 
When my husband and I were first married we bought a red microsuede chair (above) at a local furniture outlet for $100. It was a rocking chair, which seemed useful enough ... but never really was. It sat in the living rooms at various apartments, then after we had our first baby, we tried to repurpose it in the nursery. But the arms weren't conducive to nursing a baby, and the rocking function was really more annoying than helpful. So we just sort of put up with the chair.

This summer, after the chair was kicked out of my son''s room to make way for toys, it landed in the living room, again. We took the rockers off and replaced them with feet that we got from a chair found in the dumpster at D.I. (Don't worry, we got the manager's permission and paid for $2 for the feet).

The fact that it didn't rock and scrape the wall behind it was a big improvement, but the chair's tomato red coloring didn't play well with the calm blues and greys in the room. Late one Saturday night, I got a wild hair to reupholster the chair myself. So I took it apart!

This was my first major foray into upholstery. I made a headboard for our bedroom and have replaced fabric on a kitchen chair but nothing major. I was ready to get rid of the chair, anyway, so I figured I didn't have much to lose by trying to reupholster it myself. I should have picked an easier first project — you know, one where I didn't have to make my own bias tape and piping — but now I've tackled it and lived to tell the tale.

I used this Serena & Lily fabric — retail price is $50 a yard! — found at Home Fabrics for $5.99 a yard. (I found the DwellStudio fabric I used on my master bedroom curtains the same day. Happy day!) It is a nice, heavy canvas and was perfect for this project.

And here is the after:

A detail shot of the arm. It isn't perfect, but I am pretty pleased with the way it turned out.

Not too shabby for about $50 in fabric and supplies

This corner still needs some help. I'd love to find a perfect lumbar pillow for this chair. I will likely move the pictures above the chair when I tackle the TV wall. Oh, and I'd love to get a pharmacy-style floor lamp to get behind the chair and add some depth to the corner. Maybe this one?

For now, I'm super pleased with result and glad that I tried to revive the chair rather than tossing it in a landfill. I definitely see more projects like this in my future. What do you think? Have you ever tried to reupholster a piece of furniture? I can post some resources and tips if anyone is interested.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kitchen Plate Wall

Looking from the entrance to the kitchen. Don't mind the light fixture that will someday be switched for a pendant light.

We've lived in this house for four years, and I've always been a bit stumped with the main wall in my kitchen. See, my kitchen is fairly compact and there is really only one big wall. Everything I tried was too small.

A year or so ago, I made a DIY Chalkboard from a cheap-o picture (from D.I.) I hung that up. I have really enjoyed using the chalkboard for my weekly menu, birthday announcements and favorite quotes. But it didn't seem quite finished.

I got it in my head that I wanted to do a plate wall around the chalkboard. Despite my husband's utter confusion as to why I would hang plates on the wall  — 'cause don't you want plates on the table so you can use them? — I went for it. I love the result and the fact that the whole thing was done for less than $20 makes it even better.

This was seriously a 2-minute project.
I bought all of the plates for the wall at Savers (local thrift store) for $1 each. Funny story: My good friend Shannon came over one day and asked where I got the plates. When I told her I found them at Savers, she recognized a few of the plates as ones she had recently donated. So funny, thanks Shannon!


 For a more "collected" look, I didn't choose a matching set of plates. I think I have two pairs that match and the others are just random. There were actually a ton of plates to choose from, and I tried to stick to ones with interesting details. Love the little scalloped plate at the top.

And here is the wall that faces the plate wall, just for kicks. It's pretty much all business.  

If you need something to perk up a dining/eating space, might I suggest a plate wall? Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Things I Only Buy at D.I.

All of these books were purchased from D.I. for $1 or $1.50

Most people have go-to stores for certain items. For instance, you may only shop for jeans at Gap, gas up exclusively at Costco or maybe you always buy craft supplies at the Dollar Store. Me? I only buy books at the thrift store. Seriously.

I love to read and try to utilize my local library as often as possible. But I also love to own books. There is something about a bookcase full of books that just makes me happy. Nerdy, yes, but true. I especially like to buy books I've already read so that I can lend them to friends or re-read them on vacation.

Purchasing books full-price can be expensive, especially when you speed-read through them like I do. (I can't help it, it's genetic). My sister (and crazy-bookworm) Melody clued me to shopping for books at D.I. The first time I went to look for books with her at the Mesa Deseret Industries, I was completely blown away. The place was stocked with tons of brand-new or like-new bestsellers, many with the Costco price stickers still on them. There were multiple copies of especially popular titles, and most of the books were $1.

Now, I check the bookshelf every.single.time I go to the thrift store. If I can't find a book at D.I. or Savers, I put in a request with Mel and she can usually it for me.

Other things I always buy at thrift stores:
• corkboards (there are seriously a plethora at thrift stores and I usually cover them with fabric or paint the trim, so why buy new?)
• plates for my plate wall (I'll be posting a picture this week)
• picture frames for projects — I've never have much luck finding really nice frames but I have found ones that are decent enough to spiff up with paint
• backpacks and bags for 72-hour kits (and clothes for kits, for that matter)

Am I the only person that has go-to thrift store items? Tell me I'm not alone ...