Make-It Monday: Mural update

Laying in the color is a fairly quick step. The details will take much longer.
Laying in the color is a fairly quick step. The details will take much longer.

This work in progress will probably remain in progress for the foreseeable future, as I have a small part of a very large mural project booked for next weekend, but I’m hoping by the end of winter, I’ll have my bathroom finished. The faux-stone look isn’t difficult, but it’s time-consuming, and I’m having to piecemeal it as time allows — an hour here and a half-hour there.

More color laid in and a little detail work started here and there.
More color laid in and a little detail work started here and there.
Here's the section directly below the part I showed you last week.
Here’s the section directly below the part I showed you last week.
And here's that small section below the (nearly) completed part to give you a sense of where it's going.
And here’s that small section below the (nearly) completed part to give you a sense of where it’s going.

I’ll post occasional updates on my progress so you can see the technique. If you like it, feel free to try it on your own wall. It requires more patience than anything else. When it’s all done, I might put together a tutorial.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: The Doctor is in

I had a long list of stuff I planned to get done yesterday. I did some of it, but I ran out of steam by the end of the evening and decided it was time for a break, so I let a candy cane and three marshmallows melt into a cup of hot cocoa while I settled in for an appointment with the Third Doctor.

I can think of much worse ways to spend a cold evening than sipping cocoa and watching the Doctor’s most elegant incarnation protect the Earth from Silurians, Autons, and rogue Time Lords while my dogs sleep on the floor beside my chair.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Reusable produce bags

I read an article the other day that said reusable shopping bags are harder on the environment than their disposable cousins, mostly because they take a lot more resources to produce and would have to be used anywhere from 26 to 327 times, depending on the material involved, to make up the difference. That’s unfortunate, given that most people use them a couple of times and then forget about them.

Case in point: A couple of weeks ago, I bought a shopping bag that was supposed to be unforgettable because it’s designed so you can turn it inside out, cram it back into its little built-in pocket, and stick it in your purse or use the attached carabiner to clip it to your keyring.

I bought it, used it, poked it back into its little pocket, stuck it in my purse, and walked out of the local health-food store today with a disposable plastic bag full of groceries because I forgot I had my “unforgettable” bag.

Even though I had to move said bag out of the way to get to my credit card.

While standing there thinking what a shame it was I didn’t have any bags with me because I’d made a spur-of-the-moment decision to stop at the health-food store on my way to the lumberyard.

File that one under Midvale School for the Gifted, I guess.

With all that in mind, I certainly wouldn’t have spent money on reusable nylon-mesh produce bags, but I got a set free when I bought the Mother Earth News archive a couple of weeks ago, so I figured I might as well use them.

Action shot of one of the bags.
Action shot of one of the bags.

They’re a nice product — well designed, with a little drawstring at the top — and I like the fact they’re made of a fine mesh that lets air circulate around whatever’s in them, meaning leafy greens are less likely to turn into slime overnight.

This is a lousy picture, but you can see the approximate size: Four of the five bags in my set are big enough to hold standard-sized bunches of cilantro, parsley and green onions.
This is a lousy picture, but you can see the approximate size: Four of the five bags in my set are big enough to hold standard-sized bunches of cilantro, parsley and green onions.

That said, even if you’re much better at remembering your bags than I am (which is likely), I’m not convinced they’re worth $4 for a set of five. Especially not when those awesome little Clementine oranges are in season right now, and they almost always come in plastic mesh bags you can save and use in place of disposables. I’d recommend doing that. I’d rather have $4 worth of oranges than $4 worth of bags I’ll probably forget and leave in the car, y’know?

Emily

Vegetarian Friday: Jalapeno soup

For several months, I’ve been seeing recipes on Pinterest for something called “jalapeno popper soup.” Some of the recipes looked better than others. None of them really impressed me, but the concept was solid enough, I decided it was probably worth making my own version.

The results were pretty good. I have an idea for a substitution, which I’ll include below. (If you’ve read this blog much, you probably already know what it is.)

Ingredients

1 pkg. cream cheese (I use Green Mountain’s Greek yogurt kind to boost the protein and cut the calories)
2 c. veggie broth
2 tbsp. butter
1 smallish onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. flour
About 1 c. of canned jalapenos, chopped coarsely
1 c. shredded cheddar
2 tbsp. taco seasoning (click here for a recipe)

Nuke the cream cheese in 30-second bursts, stirring after each, until it melts.

Dump the melted cheese into a pan.

Nuke the broth until it’s hot through.

Whisk the broth into the cheese, a little at a time.

Saute the onions in butter until they become translucent and start to brown. Add the garlic, stir once or twice, and then add the olive oil and flour and stir constantly until the flour browns to make a roux.

Remove pan from heat and whisk the roux-onion-garlic mixture into the cheese mixture.

Whisk in the jalapenos, taco seasoning, and about a cup of shredded cheddar and bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.

Garnish with jalapeno slices and serve with crushed tortilla chips.

Yes, I basically just ate an entire bowl of queso with a spoon. Don't judge me.
Yes, I basically just ate an entire bowl of queso with a spoon. Don’t judge me.

The Pinterest recipes claim the soup tastes “just like a jalapeno popper,” which is obviously a lie, because jalapeno poppers are either breaded or battered and deep-fried. I’m sorry to be the one to break this shocking news, but soup is never going to taste like deep-fried fair food. It’s soup, not midway fare. Get with the program.

What this soup will taste like is a pretty good queso. To make it taste like a really good queso, I’d swap the jalapenos for roasted green chiles. (You saw that coming, right?)

Feel free to disregard that suggestion if you really, really like the taste of jalapenos. I don’t. I can eat them if there’s no other hot pepper available, but I can name a half-dozen other varieties I like better. (Which reminds me: One of these weeks, I need to give y’all a tutorial on cooking with habaneros. They’re magic.)

Emily

Folk Thursday: Judy Collins and Ari Hest

I had to post this after seeing the list of Grammy nominees this week and discovering that Judy Collins and Ari Hest were on it for their recent album, Silver Skies Blue.

It delights me to no end that my beloved folkies refuse to slow down or retire. They just keep singing and writing and reinventing themselves and discovering new talent and making political statements and just generally being awesome into their 70s and beyond.

I want to be just like them when I grow up.

Emily

Mission accomplished

We finished paying off our dead Subaru this week.

*Breaks finish-line tape*

*Spikes football*

*Circles bases while pointing at sky*

*Does touchdown dance in the endzone*

*Sends a “Dear Subaru: t(-_-t) ” note*

Now that we’re all done paying off a station wagon that doesn’t run, we can pour those resources into retiring the loan we took out to replace the sewer line last year after the roots of the neighbor’s tree grew into it and clogged it up. (I still don’t understand why I am legally responsible for damage caused by somebody else’s tree, but I’d like a word with whoever made that rule.)

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Over-the-door basket

Yet another product-review-type post: I was at the hardware store the other day and found a nice assortment of cabinet organizers of various types, including some fairly elaborate slide-out racks and trash bins and drawers that looked promising but way more expensive and elaborate than I felt like messing with just then. (File those under “worthy of further research.”)

I couldn’t spare the time or money to buy any of the fancy organizers, but I found a great little wire basket that hangs over the back of the cabinet door next to the stove, allowing me to reclaim yet another underutilized space. It’s not a huge basket, but it’s big enough to hold a couple of water bottles, my apple corer and slicer, and my small bamboo cutting board, which I use all the time. (It’s not in the picture because I’d just used it, actually.)

Reclaimed a little space with this basket and got those bottles up off the bottom of the cabinet so they'd stop tipping over and falling out every time I opened it.
Reclaimed a little space with this basket and got those bottles up off the bottom of the cabinet so they’d stop tipping over and falling out every time I opened it.

I got my basket at Lowe’s for about $12, but I’ve seen similar products elsewhere and can’t imagine one would really be much different from another.

Emily

Disclaimer: As always, I just posted about this product because I found it useful and thought somebody else might, too. Nobody paid me or gave me free products or anything.

Make-It Monday: I paint because I’m lazy

Longtime readers will recall my adventures in drywall repair last winter, necessitated by the slipshod home-improvement work done by the previous owner of this house.

The drywall in our bathroom was installed as poorly as the drywall in the rest of the house, and the paint job was even worse — drips and cracks and alligatored spots everywhere.

I could retape the joints, sand everything down, and repaint the walls in there with some textured finish that would conceal any flaws, but I’m not going to, for two reasons:

1. My projects earlier this year in the bedroom and office taught me that I haaaaaaaate working with drywall in tight spaces and rag-painting around obstacles.

2. I need a sample of trompe l’oeil mural work to show prospective clients, as most of my murals — with the exception of my faux-neon pieces — are done in a more cartoonish style.

With all that in mind, I decided to make the cracks in the bathroom wall look purposeful.

This is a work in progress, obviously, but here’s what I’m up to:

Preliminary sketch.
Preliminary sketch.
Closeup of a section that's about 95 percent finished. I need to come back and soften up some of the mossy patches on the stucco, but this is the upshot.
Closeup of a section that’s about 95 percent finished. I need to come back and soften up some of the mossy patches on the stucco, but this is the upshot.

It’s not perfect, but neither is the wall. Intentional imperfections, rendered in careful detail, seem infinitely preferable to imperfections created as a result of someone’s sloppy attempts at home improvement, and hopefully the end result will be realistic enough to earn me another paying mural gig or two somewhere along the line.

I’ll post an update when I finish the project.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Christmastime Is Here

Maybe it’s the election.

Maybe it’s the way people treated each other in the months leading up to it, or the way they’ve behaved in the weeks since.

Maybe it’s the weather.

Maybe it’s the usual seasonal depression settling over me.

Maybe it’s some combination of the above.

Whatever the reason, I haven’t had much enthusiasm for the holidays this year, and I really considered leaving my Christmas tree in its box in the garage and letting December go by more or less unacknowledged.

I considered it. But that tree is aluminum, straight out of the late 1950s, and it’s got a color wheel to light it up and a set of matte-finish red and green ornaments to hang on it, and for the first time since I bought it, I have a living room full of furniture that goes with it. How could I possibly pass up a chance to see how that Marshmallow sofa looks with a real mid-century aluminum Christmas tree glittering beside it?

And if I’m going to take myself back to the era immediately preceding my own existence, shouldn’t I have period-appropriate music to listen to while I assemble the color wheel?

Yes. Yes, I should.

tiltshiftchristmas
Behold the magic of a mid-century modern Christmas.

So I downloaded the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, set my iPhone inside a coffee mug to amplify the sound, and let Vince Guaraldi soothe my frazzled nerves and erase all the grown-up worries and fears and frustrations from my mind.

“Christmastime Is Here” is one of those songs I took for granted for years. It wasn’t the sort of Christmas song you’d hear at church or sing in school or hear on the radio stations that switch their format to “all Christmas, all the time” during December. But it was always part of Christmas, and the older I get, the more I appreciate the way it strikes a balance between grownup melancholy and childlike wonder.

This year, finding that balance has been more difficult than usual, and I’m grateful for Guaraldi’s help finding it as I settle into a replica of a rocking chair that predates the Peanuts gang’s first animated special by several years, sip a cup of peppermint cocoa, and listen to piano and triangle and children’s voices mingle with the hum of the motor on the color wheel turning gently behind the tree.

Christmastime is here.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Use the right burner

If you own an electric range, here’s a way to use just a little less power without expending any effort at all:

Use the correct burner.

This seems like a small thing — and it is — but it takes zero effort, there’s absolutely nothing to be gained by not doing it, and if it shaves a penny or two off your power bill, why not?

Most electric ranges have four burners — two large and two small.

If you’re cooking something in a big skillet or stockpot, use one of the big burners. If you’re cooking something in a small skillet or saucepan, use one of the little burners.

If you’re not sure which size is best, before you turn on the stove, set your pan on a big burner. If you can see the burner sticking out around the bottom of the pan, move to a smaller one.

If you’re using a large pan, it makes sense to use a large burner. You want the bottom of the pan to heat evenly, and you don’t want to end up throwing food away because it didn’t cook right. But when you use a small pan on a large burner, you end up heating more of the cooktop than you need. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s website, SmarterHouse.org, using a six-inch pan on an eight-inch burner wastes more than 40 percent of the electricity produced by the burner. (Bonus points if you can figure out how they arrived at that number.)

Food won’t cook faster or taste better if you heat an inch of empty space all the way around the pan. That hot surface protruding from under the edge of the pan just wastes energy and creates a hazard in the form of an exposed hot surface.

SmarterHouse offers several other good tips on saving energy in the kitchen, such as using an appropriately sized pan (putting a big pan on a big burner to cook a little bit of food is no better than putting a small pan on a big burner), keeping your appliances clean and well-maintained, and considering which appliance is most appropriate for whatever you’re making. I’ve touched on some of that in previous blog entries, but SmarterHouse goes into more detail. I think it’s well worth the time to click on over to their site and look around.

Emily