Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Simple Table

The focal point to me for any table is the centerpiece.  I found this cookie jar on sale at a discount store.  I'd just made peanut butter cookies and it looked like the perfect storage container.

   I have other cookie jars, but I liked this one and the top had a nice suction to keep the cookies fresh.  We like them soft.  Our other container houses Oreo's.

This is the other side of the jar.  It has an apple on one side an a pear on the other. The creamy color of the background will fit into any decor.

To perk up the table I created the fan napkins and used colorful plates.

 I used white souffle bowls to complement the flowery pattern of the plates.  Gold placemats complement the chargers.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies - An Old Standby

I know peanuts have gotten a bad rap in the past few years, but for me and my generation, it was a rarity to be allergic to any kind of nuts.  Stewardesses (back when they were called that) used to serve them on airplanes before the main (and free) meal.

Peanut butter was a staple in most homes and continues today.  The lowly peanut butter and jelly sandwich is comfort food, giving the right of amount of sugar and salt to satisfy the after-school kid, the college student starving in the dorm or the mom who needs a pick me up.

I was looking for something sweet the other day and nothing appealed, so I went to the my recipes and looked for something easy to make.  Peanut Butter Cookies came to mind.  For one thing you probably have all the ingredients in your cabinets.

These are staples at my house

With these already available, I could bake cookies and have them ready before the schoolbus came in the afternoon.  My recipe is an old standby from the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

You use both white sugar and brown sugar.  When you decide to use brown sugar, invariably, it will be in one hard rock.  You can soften it by putting a slice of apple in a bag with the sugar.  This requires planning ahead and I was working on a spur of the moment need.  I often decide to bake on the spur of the moment and I didn't want to open a new box of brown sugar.  That would mean I'd have more than one opened container of brown sugar getting hard in the refrigerator.  My grandmother taught me to grate the sugar until I got the amount needed to complete the recipe.  In this case 1/2 cup.

So I grated it.  I could have taken out the food processor and whizzed it through there, but that would require the same amount of time.  And I can bring a little of my grandmother in the kitchen with me as I work. 

To the sugar mixture add the egg, oil, salt, soda, and baking powder.  I add my ingredients one at a time and mix or blend them.  It affords me the opportunity to smash any lumps that develop.  In the case of brown sugar, even when grated finely, the sugar tends to lump the moment you add a second ingredient to it.  However, the oil makes,it easier to work with.  

Add the flour a little at a time and blend it well.

The mixture will become smooth and shiny.

At this point it's time to wrap it in cellophane and let it sit in the refrigerator for two hours.  I hadn't thought of this, but I did it and at exactly two hours, I was ready to bake.

I rolled the dough, which is soft and oily into one inch balls.

Instead of placing these directly on the cookie sheet, I put them on the cellophane.  This allowed me to make all the balls.  Making only enough to fit on the cookie sheets you have or as many cookie sheets as will fit in your oven is like being in front of a traffic light.  You keep stopping and going.

I put them on the cookie sheet (two sheets will fit in my oven) and using a sugar-dipped fork, I crossed them in both directions, baked them for 8-10 minutes and put them on cooling racks.

We used to make them thicker, but my kids like the thin ones.  They tend to be softer.

At this point you just add a glass of cold milk and eat the warm morsels right out of the oven.

The yield was three dozen.  And they were heaped under the dome when the school bus arrived.

Here's the recipe

Peanut Butter Cookies

3/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 shortening
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 egg (slightly beaten)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Mix sugars, peanut butter, shortening, butter and egg in a large bowl.  Stir in remaining ingredients one at a time.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll dough into 1 to 1 1/4 inch balls.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Keep them about 3 inches apart to allow for spreading as they bake.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes.  Remove from cookie sheet to a wire rack.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Office Remodel

I'm slowly redoing my house, one room at a time.  The first floor was done by professionals, but the second floor required finances above my budget, so I decided to do it myself.  Thankfully no construction was needed.  I had crown molding added, but everything else is cosmetic.  This is how my son and I converted my office.

The walls were a muted peach.  I think the former owners found a sale on peach paint and painted everything that color: the walls, woodwork, ceiling.  We redid everything.

The room is not usually this junky, but as I moved from room to room, I kept storing things in the next room.  All the junk that was not thrown out or donated to a good cause has been room to the next room.

The book case below is something I bought right out of college.  It's put together with shelves and columns.  It's still sturdy, but I removed it from the room and replaced it one that matched the other furniture.

Before I began this project, I watched a lot of YouTube videos and episodes of DIY.  I decided to paint the walls exactly as they advised, following all the recommendations.  The results were fantastic.

First, we removed as much of the furniture as we could.

The desk and credenza stayed in the room.  We couldn't moved them.  The credenza was built in the room, so I never tried to get it through the door.  Plus its weight prevented me from moving it.  We wrapped what we couldn't move in plastic.  I used the plastic drop cloths because they are huge and covered tall and awkwardly shaped things.  To cover the floor, I used the burlap drop cloths.  First, they are environmentally friendly and second they are thick enough to prevent paint from seeping through if its dropped.  When you walk they don't move like the plastic does.

I removed the fan blades and did some needed repair to the ceiling.  I'd previously had a handy man refit my fan in the ceiling and he did a poor job.

I went to Home Depot and Lowes and found the right product to repair the ceiling.  Anything you need to know about repairing something, the technicians at the stores can tells you.  Often I find a professional in the aisles who will always help me, even draw pictures if needed.  Now I take pictures and go to the store with them.

I also feel safer sitting under it, knowing that it's secure and won't come crashing down.

As every professional will tell you, preparation and equipment are key to the success of any project.  From the first room I tackled (the smallest bedroom), I bought Benjamin Moore paint, good paint brushes and rollers, painter's tape,a 5-in-1 tool, KILZ-2 Latex primer and paint trays.  I also got a good ladder.  I bought one of the Little Giant brands they advertise that can be set in many different positions.  I wanted to be able to use it in the scaffolding position so I wouldn't have to continue to go up and down.  I never did it.  The ladder is so sturdy, I could lean and reach greater distances than I expected.

 This was a trick my nephew taught me when we hung my chandelier in the dining room and there was a lot of dust around.  I covered the fan housing and taped it to keep out unnecessary dust.  After everything settled I'd have less cleanup.

 Preparation is 90% of the job.  We used lots of tape, waiting in between for the drying process to finish.  After painting, we waited an hour or two and pulled the tape off.  Do it will the wall is still wet, so it doesn't pull the paint off with it.

The color I chose was sage and this is a fair representation of the final product.

I love the painting process.  You get instant gratification at so many levels.  If the plan for the day was to paint the ceiling.  When it's done, you feel great.  You smile and think the ceiling is done.  The next day, you can go on to another section.  I would look at the walls and decide if my plan was to finish one wall or two walls or the woodwork in the room.  Often it would be only a section of the woodwork, like the doors (closet doors and room door).  It could be the windows.  Every room has either double windows or two separate windows.  Two rooms have one Anderson window, so I didn't have to paint the woodwork, but I did have to do the frames.  Most of the frames were raw wood, so we both primed and painted.  And the instant gratification was at a high.

Not only was the painting done, but the contrast with the wall color made it pop!

At this point we decided to rearrange the furniture to give me more walk-around space.  The desk was moved forward and all the stuff along the facing wall was cleared away.

We moved the bookcase back, but decided to get one that matched the other furniture pieces in the room.

I put the bookcase together.  The package said it would take two hours.  I did it in two hours.  I still long for the days when furniture came assembled.  But, again I had the gratification of saying, I did it.

 After the paint dried and the tape was pulled, we started putting the furniture back.

I bought new curtains to complement the wall color and my son even said he liked them.