A Tiny Laundry Room

 

img_0332The final part of our kitchen remodel was finishing up the attached laundry room. When conceiving of the layout, size was the biggest consideration. This is a very narrow space that was certainly not built with the size of 21st century appliances in mind, so the very first decision we made was to stack the washer and dryer, instead of having them side by side. We knew we wanted to de-emphasize how far the washer and dryer extended out, and wanted to have a visual divider from room to room, so we put a curtain in the doorframe to create a soft separation from the breakfast nook.

img_0336We were able to make the most out of this small space by having a custom cabinet built by Martin Cabinet Designs, who also built our kitchen cabinets and breakfast nook. We gave them details on how we wanted it to look, and they created it to fit the space and our needs perfectly.

img_0345Our kitties, Titan and Atlas, have their own private doorway to enter their litter box, and the bottom of the cabinet rolls out for easy cleaning.

img_0339On the opposite wall from the washer and dryer, there was just enough room to put up some hooks that I use to hang a few small purses and scarves.

img_0337A couple of small shelves on the wall complete the room by giving us a little extra space for storing items. It may be tiny, but our new laundry room fits all of our needs, and the kitties seem to be pleased with it too. It just goes to show that you don’t need to knock down walls in order to make a space more functional.


Brooklyn

img_0235After having visited Manhattan two years ago during the Christmas season, we decided that this year we would take a trip to Brooklyn. We have some friends who are living in the borough, and it’s one part of New York City that we had never explored before.

img_0229I had walked across the Brooklyn Bridge during school field trips, but James had never had the opportunity. We bundled up and braved the winds to cross over from Manhattan.

img_0230From the Brooklyn Bridge, we had a great view of James’ favorite bridge, the Manhattan Bridge.

img_0237This hilarious sign, which has not quite deterred lovers from vandalizing city property with their padlocks, was a warm welcome to the borough’s personality.

img_0243img_0245We spent the night at a hotel right across the street from Borough Hall (formerly the seat of government for the City of Brooklyn), which we had a great view of from our room window.

img_0274After crossing the bridge and settling into our hotel room we took to the streets for the day. Not far from our hotel was the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which gave us a chance to see other landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, locations that we would like to visit on later trips to New York.

img_0272img_0288The highlight of the trip was strolling past all of the 19th century brownstones that line the streets of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill. It was very reminiscent of our recent trip to Boston, where we saw an abundance of row houses on Beacon Hill.

img_0279img_0280Many of the residences were tastefully decorated for the season.

img_0299img_0308img_0304Park Slope offered another pleasant residential neighborhood to walk through, right across from Prospect Park.

img_0295We also visited the Brooklyn Central Library, which is part of a completely separate library system serving only that borough, not affiliated with the New York Public Library.

img_0317We then headed towards Green-Wood Cemetery, which feels like a storybook setting. Many of the most famous (or infamous) New Yorkers have been buried here, such as “Boss” Tweed. Here is the gothic gate that serves as the northern entrance.

img_0324img_0328The cemetery is a vast collection of statues and mausoleums, in addition to the expected headstones. Meandering through the curved pathways is a very peaceful experience.

img_0331We had a wonderful stay in Brooklyn, and were so glad to finally explore the area. We will continue to travel to New York City when we can, revisiting the boroughs that we have seen, and exploring new ones as well.


2016 Holiday Cards

This year for our holiday cards, we went a different route and decided to print one design, as opposed to previous years, where we crafted individual cards for each family.

img_0183When brainstorming ideas for the cards, we knew we wanted a holiday appropriate design that would also be representative of this past year. Since this year has been very focused on remodeling and really settling into our home, we decided on featuring our newly finished fireplace and hearth.

img_0181We started with a pencil sketch, and then digitally did some cleanup, and added color. I love that the cards have the hand sketched look to them, making them warm and inviting. Happy Holidays!

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Kitchen Remodel

img_0108After a full year of planning and saving, we have finally completed the first major remodel in our home: the kitchen. As soon as we bought our house, I knew that the kitchen had to be one of the first major projects. Not only do I spend a lot of time in the space, but the previous kitchen looked unappealing and was hardly even functional. The changes we made compliment the texture palette of the house, provide functionality and organization, and give the space the charm that it was begging for.

before_and_afterAs you can see from this before and after, we mostly kept the layout of the kitchen the same. However, there are some major differences in the sizing and features of cabinets and appliances. The previous cabinet doors were very small and poorly spaced, making it almost impossible to store anything larger than a medium sized pot. Most of the drawers were either broken or didn’t open, the faucet was turned to one side and refused to budge, the vent did not function, and the teeny oven couldn’t even fit a standard cookie sheet. These were all very frustrating issues for someone who cooks as much as I do. We had our custom cabinets built by Martin Cabinet Designs, who were able to construct everything just as we envisioned.

concept_artEven before we bought our house, I had a general idea of how I wanted the kitchen to look. Once we had the measurements, James created this concept art to help us figure out exactly how it would all come together. Though some changes were made to the final version, the feeling you get when you see something you designed come to life is nothing short of exhilarating.

img_0086img_0087The biggest change to the layout was opting for open shelves above the stovetop, instead of cabinets like it had before. This change has been so impactful not only visually, but also functionally. I absolutely love that the tile goes all the way up to the ceiling, and now I can display more items while keeping common pantry items organized and within reach.

img_0106The small oven was one of my biggest complaints, so after a lot of consideration I decided to go big and add not one, but two standard size ovens. I have always loved the look and flexibility double ovens provide, and I’m already so glad I went in that direction.

img_0081img_0084Going with butcher block countertops was one of the very first decisions that we made. We picked out this beautiful acacia wood that has a wonderful variety in color. It’s perfect for the the galley layout of our kitchen, and adds so much warmth and country charm.

img_0080img_0093One of my favorite features of the kitchen is the wall mount faucet. The butcher block counter top dictated that the faucet not be mounted to the counter, so it created the opportunity for it to come out of the tile instead. For the farmhouse sink, James insisted that the apron absolutely had to be fluted to breakup the large white front, and I couldn’t agree more.

img_0097Aside from the kitchen galley, this remodel also included the breakfast nook corner. The same team that made our cabinets made this built-in bench with a top that lifts for extra storage.

before_2Here’s a look at the corner before the remodel.

img_0071We kept the original built-in corner cabinet which we always liked, and just gave it a fresh coat of paint to match the new cabinets.

img_0076img_0074There are a few items in our new kitchen from our trip to Guatemala that we previously had on display in our old apartment. Not only do they work well with our terra cotta floor tile, but they provide a sense of continuity with our first home together.

img_0098We felt that it was very important to incorporate a variety of patterns with these pillows to liven up the breakfast nook.

img_0120We also added several new plants throughout the space, which are a simple way of adding life to any room. I made these macramé hanging planters using twine to fill in some of the space above the bench without feeling too heavy.

img_0089I am so pleased with how the entire remodel came out, and relieved to have such a large project completed. I have already been busy using the new space, and look forward to many delicious meals that will be cooked in our lovely new kitchen.

 

 


Gingerbread Mini Bundt Cakes

img_0061 The holiday season is in full swing, so I have been baking to my heart’s content.  Gingerbread is a classic holiday baked treat, and this recipe is for the true gingerbread lover. The flavor is ultra rich with a perfect amount of holiday spice, which pairs wonderfully with unsweetened coffee and tea. Making the gingerbread as individual sized mini bundt cakes not only makes hosting easier, it also helps for saving them for later – and these mini bundt gingerbread cakes get even better a few days after making.

img_0051Ingredients: 1 cup oatmeal stout, 1 cup molasses, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 Tbsp ground ginger, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground gloves, 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup white sugar, 3 eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil

Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Butter and lightly flour bundt cake pan, shaking out excess flour. Place in the refrigerator. Add oatmeal stout and molasses to a saucepan and bring to a boil, then add baking soda. Let stout/molasses mixture sit and cool.

img_0058Beat together eggs, sugars, and oil, then add molasses and stout mixture. Add flour, baking powder, and spices and continue to mix until fully incorporated. Pour batter into bundt cake pan, filling to nearly the top.

img_0062Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into cakes). Remove from pan by flipping it upside down onto a cooling rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

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Apple Dutch Baby

img_0028After our apple picking adventure, we came home with five pounds of apples just waiting to be enjoyed in various ways. Naturally, one such way had to be warm and sweet, so I decided to bake up a simple apple dutch baby – perfect for autumn mornings.

img_0017Ingredients: 3 small apples, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, pinch of nutmeg, 4 Tbsp butter, 3 eggs, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup milk, 1 Tbsp granulated sugar

img_0018Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Peel and slice apples into thin pieces, then add to a bowl with cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg. Stir to combine. In a cast iron skillet melt 2 Tbsp butter and add apples. Cook until apples are becoming tender (about 3 minutes).

img_0022Remove apples from skillet, and wipe clean. Place skillet in hot oven, and let it heat. While skillet is heating in oven whisk eggs, flour, milk and sugar in a bowl.  Add remaining 2Tbsp butter to hot skillet and melt. Once the butter has melted add cooked apples to center of skillet, then add batter. Cook at 350F for 10-12 minutes, until the batter rises and edges start to crisp.

img_0032Serve immediately with syrup, and fresh apple slices. Best enjoyed with a cup of hot coffee for an even more comforting breakfast meal.

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Apple Picking

One of the things that amazed me about California when I first moved out here was the varied terrain. It really is true that you can find desert, ocean, and snowcapped mountain landscapes all within driving distance. Last week James and I took a drive up to Oak Glen, California to adventure around the lovely farms hugging the San Bernardino Mountains.

img_9970img_9965We went apple picking at Willowbrook Apple Farm, which was filled with Stayman Winesap apple trees that were over one hundred years old.

img_9966A lot of the smaller apples were within a hand’s reach…

img_9975…but a lot of the big red ones were very high on the trees.

img_9979After picking apples, we headed to the farm’s cider press station where you can fill a basket with apples prepped for cider. In order to get a good balance of sweet and tart, they had both Winesap and Fuji apples.

img_9980We were able to use the press ourselves, and fill up a container with deliciously fresh cider.

img_9968The day made for a perfect autumn outing, and a new tradition that we plan to repeat every year.

 


Spanish Flan

IMG_9936Flan might be the dessert I had the most when growing up. My mother makes it in many flavors such as coconut, orange, and raspberry, but my favorite may be this simple flan with a hint of lemon. The amber colors remind me autumn, and adding a caramel candy garnish gives this humble dessert a touch of elegance and fun.

IMG_9939This recipe isn’t too eggy, and I used a shallow pie dish, resulting in a thin flan that is rich, creamy, and has a perfect balance of flavors. I recently served this at a small dinner party, and even a friend who doesn’t like sweets went for seconds.

Ingredients: 1 14oz can condensed milk, 1 12oz can evaporated milk, 5 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 cup sugar

Instructions: Place a large baking dish with a 1″ lip in oven, and pre-heat oven to 350F. The dish should be large enough to fit a second round 9″ baking dish inside.

Place sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and let it melt, stirring occasionally, until it has completely melted and become an amber colored sauce.

While the sugar is melting, add the condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest to a large bowl. Whisk until all ingredients are completely incorporated.

IMG_9931Optional: Once the sugar is ready, make a candy garnish for the flan by drizzling some of the caramel sauce over a metal ladle. Let cool for a couple of minutes, then gently remove pieces from ladle.

IMG_9928Pour caramel into a round 9″ baking dish, and swivel around to completely coat the bottom.

Pour batter over caramel sauce, and place this smaller dish in the center of the baking dish in the oven. Add water to the large baking dish, until it comes about half-way up the sides of the flan dish. This water bath will help the flan cook evenly. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes.

IMG_9930Remove flan from oven, and let cool completely. Once cool, loosen the edges of the flan with a butter knife, then place serving platter over the flan dish and quickly flip over. The flan should come out cleanly, with caramel oozing from the top.

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IMG_9937Garnish with caramel candy, then let chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.


Our Little Garden

IMG_9885At the beginning of this summer, I wanted to find some room to plant some vegetables in our yard. Eventually we plan on having large wooden planters built, but for now, we are using a small strip of dirt on the side of the house.

IMG_9806There were some extra bricks lying around behind the garage, so we were able to use those to set up separate beds.

IMG_9815IMG_9805When deciding on what to plant, I went with vegetables I tend to use the most in my day to day cooking, such as peppers, tomatoes, squash, shallots, and a variety of herbs.

IMG_9875IMG_9959IMG_9876It’s fascinating to watch them grow from tiny buds into colorful delicious produce.

IMG_9878It can be very difficult to grow plants in the perpetual drought of southern California. Some of our vegetables started to cook when temperatures reached 110F. Others, like this cucumber, never grew larger than an inch. However, new cucumbers have started to grow, and we’re hopeful this batch will do better.

IMG_5138We haven’t had any squash fully grow yet, but we have several squash blossoms that we hope will yield fruit in the autumn. Though we’ve only harvested a small amount, it has been very exciting to cook with produce from my very own garden, and I’m certainly looking forward to expanding it in the future.