Home Office Makeover

I didn’t realize just how bad our home office was until I looked at the “before” photos I took to show you.  Yikes, it was so cluttered and dark.  No wonder I never wanted to get any work done in there!  I chose that wall color when I moved into this house 8 years ago and loved it for a while.  However, as our little room got filled with more and more stuff it just didn’t feel right anymore.  Eight years is a good long time for me to live with a wall color anyway.  I’m a girl to likes to shake things up every so often.  In my opinion, there’s nothing that changes a room more than putting a different shade of latex on the walls and there’s probably no cheaper way to make such a drastic change either.  Gotta love that!

So here it is before.  No staging done for this photo… that’s for sure.

One more shot of what this room used to look like.

I really wanted to brighten up this room.  It’s not very large and my husband and I both have desks in here so wanted to make the room feel a bit bigger too if that was possible.  I chose a pale blueish green color and I also put a fresh coat of white ceiling paint up which really made the walls pop.

I completely reorganized the furniture layout too, moving my husband’s desk to a different wall and adding two new IKEA book shelves to my side of the room.  We have so much more storage space now and the room feels soooo much less cluttered.

My hubbies new side of the office…

My new side of the office…
I already had this IKEA desk and floating shelves, which I really love, so I picked up a couple of their bookshelves which match beautifully.  Typically I don’t love the whole matchy-matchy thing, but there was something about all this crisp white against the light walls that just seemed so clean and cheery.  I’m thinking my creative juices will really be flowing now!

The Chickens and the Strata

Lola, Pearl, Betty and Minnie (Ginger and Henrietta not pictured)

Last spring we got our first chickens and I absolutely love having them!  They provide tons of amusement, especially for my son who loves to chase them around the backyard and pick them up and hold them on his lap.  In addition to being totally amusing, they provide us with the most delicious, freshest eggs anywhere.  I make a lot of eggs in our house, scrambles, quiches, omelets, you name it.  I also love a good strata and often make them when we’re having company for brunch since they are put together the night before which makes for a stress-free morning.  One of my favorite recipes is super simple and everyone always loves it.  You can make this with our without the sausage.

Spinach, Cheese and Sausage Strata

  • 1 (10-oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (1 large)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (omit if using sausage)
  • 8 cups cubed (1 inch) French or Italian bread (approx. 3/4 lb)
  • 6 oz grated Gruyère (2 cups)
  • 2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)
  • 2 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 9 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/4 lb. ground mild Italian sausage, cooked and broken up into small pieces
Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible.
Cook onion in butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in spinach, then remove from heat.
Spread one third of bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other shallow baking dish and top evenly with one third of spinach mixture and one third of the sausage if using. Sprinkle with one third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice (ending with cheeses).
Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Chill strata, covered with plastic wrap, at least 8 hours (for bread to absorb custard).
Preheat oven to 350°F. Let strata stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 50 to 60 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Spinach, cheese and sausage strata

Burlap Picture Frames

We were organizing our garage a couple weeks ago and ran across a pile of burlap sacks that last summer’s camping wood was wrapped in.  Why they didn’t get tossed, I don’t know, but I figured I might as well do something with them since we kept them around this long.  Hmmm, dirty wadded up burlap sacks… what to do?  An empty space on my family room wall was crying out for some family photos so why not create some frames with them?

So here’s that pile of burlap.  It needed a good washing and drying and then a really good ironing.

I happened to have a couple of frames laying around that I wasn’t using and I picked up a third at a thrift store for a few bucks.
A coat of spray primer and a coat or two of black satin spray paint made these mismatched frames look like they all belonged together. 

I covered the cardboard that came with the frames with the burlap.  I gave the burlap a good coat of spray adhesive to hold it in place and held the edges down on the back side with tape.

I used the little staple thingies on the frame to hold the cardboard in place.

Almost done… looking good!

With a hot glue gun, I attached these bulldog clips from Office Max to the front of the frame. 

Insert some black and white family photos and presto!  Family photo wall complete.

I still have a pile of burlap leftover so watch for more projects coming soon!!

Chicken and Andouille Casserole

We had a dinner guest over tonight who likes a little heat in his food and I remembered this dish I had made a while back.  It’s delicious with a little kick but not overly spicy for those of us (like me) who can’t handle too much fire.  Anyway, this fantastic recipe comes from Emeril.  There’s a bit of prep work involved, but once that is done, it comes together lickity split.  Great dinner for entertaining because you can make it look fancy on the plate but it’s not fancy food, very down home.  Add a green salad and you’re done!
  Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon Essence spice mix, recipe follows
  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 ounces andouille sausage, chopped or sliced
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 6 artichoke hearts, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon leaves
  • Toasted sliced French bread, accompaniment

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a heavy plastic bag, combine the flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the Essence. Add the chicken and toss until well coated. Shake to remove any excess breading and reserve the remaining flour.
In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, remaining Essence, cheese, and butter and set aside.
In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken in batches as necessary (don’t overcrowd) and cook until browned on each side, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Add the sausage and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until almost browned, about 4 minutes. Add the onions, garlic, and cayenne and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft and give off their liquid, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the reserved flour and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken, artichokes, stock, cream, green onions, parsley, and tarragon, stir, and bring to a boil. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top and bake until bubbly and the top has a golden crust, about 25 minutes.  I turned on the broiler at the end for a couple of minutes to get a nice brown on the crust.
Remove from the oven and serve hot with toasted French bread.

Essence Seasoning:

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar or container.

Yield: about 2/3 cup

By the way, I know I said I was going gluten-free this month.  Well, my first goal of the year failed.  I made it 2 weeks then I caved when I went to the Mad Greek Deli and was faced with some delicious warm pita bread.  Couldn’t resist!

Small changes can make a space feel new

It’s the beginning of the year and I’m in serious re-do mode!  I rearranged the family room the other day, organized my desk (well I made a dent in it anyway), did some serious pruning in the front flower beds and bought some new art for the kitchen nook.  Sometimes I just get tired of a room looking the same every day and just need something to be different (not necessarily new).  I get an itch to rearrange the furniture or make some small changes to freshen things up a bit.  My pocket book doesn’t always allow a complete overhaul, so I think… what can I do with what already exists in the house, or what inexpensive changes can I make to give the room a new feel? 

We re-did our kitchen last year and at that time I had purchased a piece of artwork for the kitchen nook that I really liked and went nicely with our new color scheme but I always thought I needed MORE.  I could never figure out what to put on the adjoining wall that tied in with this wrought iron piece so I just left it empty.  I found a couple of paintings the other day that were too pretty and the colors made me feel happy and sunny.  I picked them both up for a cool fifty bucks at Pier 1 Imports, not bad!  So, out with the old and in with the new and I’m happy again when I walk in my kitchen in the morning! 

Out with the Old…

In with the new…

Recipe: Stuffed Acorn Squash

It’s the beginning of a new year and I find myself thinking about what I want to accomplish this year and what changes I’d like to make in my life to move towards a place of increased happiness and fulfillment.  I’m always thinking about new and different ways to do this, often without success because I’m such a procrastinator.  This new blog of mine is going to be my big motivator to try new things, and do do do this year!!!  I’m not a big believer in setting New Year’s resolutions, but setting goals throughout the year is something I can jump on board with… it just seems more doable than creating a long list of resolutions at the beginning of the year that will most likely start to lose importance by February.

This year for my first goal, I’ve decided to try going gluten-free for one month.  I give my gluten-free friends a hard time for being difficult to cook for and now here I am becoming that girl!  Anyway, no one big reason for this bread-loving girl to make such a drastic change, but I wanted to see how I felt if I were to remove my beloved wheat-filled treats from my diet for one full month.  Would I have more energy, lose weight?  We’ll see.  Seven days into this new (hopefully temporary) lifestyle, I don’t think I notice any major differences in how I feel but I have dropped a couple of pounds which feels great!  I’m feeling good about the resolve I’ve had sticking with this change as well.  There have definitely been some situations already this week that have been soooo hard to be in and not totally cave (pizza and beer at my husband’s friend’s pizza joint this weekend for example… the salad bar, hmmm, shall we say, didn’t cut it!)

One of my go-to, pretty healthy, easy dinners calls for bread cubes which of course is a big no-no for me this month.   So, tonight for dinner I substituted some brown rice to meet my gluten-free criteria and I’m happy to report, is was equally delicious.  This recipe for stuffed acorn squash is one have made many times and both my husband and I love.  Bon appetite!

 Ingredients:
1 medium acorn squash
1 tbls. butter, melted
2 tbls. brown sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 lb. ground beef
3 tbls. chopped celery
3 tbls. chopped onion
2 tbls. all-purpose flour (I substituted 1 tsp corn starch for gluten-free)
1/2 tsp sage
3/4 cup milk
1 cup dried bread cubes (stuffing mix) or cooked rice
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Cut squash in half, discard seeds.  Place squash cut side down in a baking dish, add 1/2 inch of hot water.  Bake uncovered at 350 for 30-40 minutes.  Drain water from pan, turn squash cut side up.  Brush with butter, sprinkle with brown sugar, 1/4 tsp salt and pepper.  Bake 30-40 minutes longer or until squash is tender.  Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook the beef, celery and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink, drain.  Stir in flour (or corn starch), sage and remaining salt.  Gradually stir in milk. Bring to boil, cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.  Remove from the heat, stir in croutons or rice.  Spoon into squash halves.  Bake uncovered, for 25 minutes.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.  Serves 2.

I hope you enjoy this dish whether you make gluten-filled or gluten-free.  Happy new year and happy goal-setting in 2012!

1st Sewing Project: Sweater Pillow

Since I started this blog a short time ago, the projects I’ve worked on have fallen somewhere in my comfort zone.  Today was the day that all of that changed… I don’t sew!  In fact, the last time I think I came close to a sewing machine was in my high school home EC. class when we made patchwork pillows.  Let’s just say that I’m so clueless around a sewing machine that I had to ask for help when threading the thing.  Was this lack of experience going to stop me?  No way, I’m up for a challenge.  Especially with this being the new year and all I thought it would be good to try something new.
Recently I’ve seen a few pics on-line of these cute sweater pillows and really wanted to give it a try… what’s the worse that could happen right?  I found a sweater at the second hand store since I didn’t have anything in my closet that I was ready to take the scissors to and used an old pillow that had seen it’s better days for the stuffing.  I also splurged on a couple of nice buttons to add a little decorative touch.  Anyway, it was really very easy and if I’m saying that, seriously, it was pretty easy.  I cut the sweater to roughly the size I needed leaving one side seam together then sewed two other sides to fit my pillow form.  I then turned it right side out, stuck the pillow form inside and sewed up the last side by hand which didn’t take much time at all.  I stitched on the buttons using the longest needle I could find and looky, looky, my own personally sewn sweater pillow.  This is a proud day for me!  I gained a little confidence putting this together today so watch for more sewing projects in the future!