Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Life for a Little Old Lady

So, Monday was a snow day for us (a rarity this winter) and we made the most of it. Benny was off too, so we decided to tackle two of our projects that have been in the basement for waaay too long.

The mission: give new life to two old dressers desperately in need of some love. See Exhibit A.

The players: Benny, myself, and a ReStore dresser we moved into the basement when we built the house and a little dresser that was my great, great aunt's (it's got her signature on the back) and was mine as a kid.

The first is the little lady that was mine as a kid. It's solid construction, though the runners of the drawers needed a little paraffin (we had none so resorted to bar soap) to help them slide better. Originally, it had painted wooden knobs that had a few coats of paint that had seen better days, so I knew these would go. It also needed some serious sanding since the backs of the drawer fronts had been painted and had adhered to the dresser front after years of storage in my mom's attic. And, of course, it needed to be primed and painted. It's got this cute little apron front detail and is a nice small scale, perfect for additional linen storage in our kitchen. (It seems you can never have enough storage in the kitchen.)

I should mention here that I'd been drooling over this cool paintable textured wall paper that they now carry at Boone Paint and Interiors where Benny works. Since we're not the wallpaper on our walls type of people (too many horrible experiences removing the stuff after people didn't prep the walls properly), I kept trying to come up with a way to use the stuff. These projects ended up being the perfect fit, since they were pretty plain pieces without any ornate detailing on the drawer fronts or anything. (Plus, the ReStore dresser had a horrible finish that had been poorly scraped off leaving the sides very distressed, and not in a pretty-I-meant-to-make-it-look-like-that way.) So, Benny brought home the book and I chose a modern circle pattern that was the right scale for the pieces.

So, on Monday, we took these babies up two flights of stairs to the office to paint them, after they'd been prepped and primed earlier in the basement. They both got wallpaper pasted to the sides, which we measured and carefully cut with a razor blade. The wallpaper paste ended up being free from a painter Benny knows (it's great to have him work in this business sometimes). The painter recommended that we thin down the paste with some water and mix it with a kitchen whisk, which was perfect. (We did spend all of 94 cents for a new whisk so that we didn't risk mucking up our good one for baking.) We rolled it on with a disposable foam roller, so that made it really easy. Then we carefully smoothed down the paper and pressed out any air bubbles. This part was a little tricky with the textured paper to see all the bubbles, but once we got the hang of it, it was pretty quick work.

After pasting the paper and letting it set for a while (we went downstairs for a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches... yummy, one of my favs that Benny makes), we painted each one with paint we had leftover from other projects. The little one got white Aura (this is Benjamin Moore's low VOC stuff and it covers great... one coat!) trim paint and the taller ReStore one got some paint we'd color matched to go with the aged white paint on the furniture in the guest room. This way, if we ever need another dresser in the guest room, it will be the same color and we won't have to paint it again. The drawer fronts on the little lady for the kitchen got painted out in leftover blue Aura paint from our living room to help tie the two spaces together a bit more. We applied the paint using the red feather mini rollers left over from another project, and since we didn't have any roller tray liners, we used plastic grocery sacks (which somehow inexplicably make their way into our kitchen, even though we use reusable totes whenever possible--even to the extent that if we forget them and leave them in the car, we'll go out of the grocery store with an armload of produce and cereal and the cashiers think we're nuts).

Once we finished with all the painting, we came downstairs and ordered the hardware for the dressers from . We searched out an online coupon code for the site and found one that would work for our order and gave us 5% off. (There were better ones, but we didn't have a big enough order.) One trick with this site is to order all your hardware from one manufacturer to save on shipping, otherwise it's an additional cost per manufacturer. We ended up paying about $60 for the hardware (10 knobs, 4-3" handles/pulls, 3-5" handles/pulls), which was above my $50 goal for the hardware for both, but still pretty good when you compare to retail prices. The hardware should arrive tomorrow and I'm so stinking excited! I can't wait to put the jewelry on my little lady in the kitchen! (I'll put a new pic up when I get the hardware on.)

Last night, I lined the drawers of the new kitchen linen chest (little lady sounds so much sweeter) with some wallpaper we found at my grandmother's house that was what used to be in her kitchen. I think it's so neat that this piece has so much family history and is getting used again after a lot time in storage. It's such a nice addition to our kitchen and really helps to clear out some of the areas that were just too full. I love that I can now store all our cloth napkins right in the kitchen, along with our dish towels, place mats, and table runners. (These used to take up a good portion of the bottom shelf in our bedroom closet... we so did not plan enough storage in this house.)

The ReStore dresser is now kind of in limbo in the office waiting for us to finish up some more cleaning out and finish some other projects before there's space for it. It's going to look great in the office and will provide some much needed storage in there for our winter items (scarves seem to multiply around here with me, and hats) and office supplies.

So, here's the estimated total, for those of you wanting to know:

"little lady" kitchen cabinet: free (gratis as Benny would say)

ReStore diamond in the rough: $10-15 (I can't quite remember, I bought it like 4 years ago)

textured paintable wall paper: $15 per roll (we only needed one)

primer/paint: free (leftover from other projects)

wallpaper paste: free (gifted by painter)

whisk to mix wallpaper paste: 94 cents

sponge rollers: $2.50

cabinet hardware: $60 (including shipping)

Total: $93.44 for two dressers

So, what do you think? Have you been up to any painting projects lately? How have you saved a buck (or saved something from the landfill) and still added storage to your home? I'd love to hear from you!

** I'll be back with pics later. I just couldn't wait to post this! :)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Adventures in Bread Baking

Over the past week, we've tackled making some breads I never thought I'd try. A few years ago, they would have seemed too daunting... the idea of making a yeast cinnamon cranberry bread totally from scratch or taking a stab at the traditional fry bread naan would have been totally overwhelming. I would have just looked at the recipe and said, "Self, this is beyond your area of expertise. Move on to the next page in this cookbook you're browsing."

Well, the great thing about the bread machine is that it's given me the confidence to try some of those yeast breads I wouldn't have otherwise. Add to that the expertise of my kitchen diva aunt (who suggested I use a thermometer to measure the "warm water" temperature that so many bread recipes call for in the sponge step... don't know why the scientist in me didn't think of that!). And that of our new friend who is a fabulous cook and makes wonderfully flaky pastry and pie crust and has invited us over for dinner and pie crust lessons (the menu was quiche and apple pie for dessert). Let's just say that I've been fortunate to gain some confidence in this area of baking and have taken the "if it looks ugly, we'll still eat it" approach with a lot of meals. Most bakers will tell you that, as with most things in life, you get better with practice.

So, this week, we made this fabulous cinnamon cranberry swirl bread from the latest issue of my new favorite magazine Cook's Illustrated. The bread was totally from scratch, as is everything they write up, and was by far the best cinnamon bread I've ever tasted (no lie!). The only draw back was that it's a little more hands on than most breads I make, so it's definitely a Saturday bread for us and not a weeknight one. One of the great things about Cook's Illustrated is that they now have these short video clips available for a time to supplement certain articles. The one to go with this bread really helped me get the technique down for shaping the bread, which was a little tough for me to get just from the written directions (though their written directions are very clear, I was just being a bit obtuse at the time). Of course I had to riff on the recipe a bit and use dried cranberries instead of raisins (we didn't have any in the house and we like dried cranberries better anyway). Yum!

Last night we took a break from our standard homemade pizza date night and tried a vegetable curry from the More With Less cookbook. Generally, I don't care for curries, but this was was awesome! (We'd also had one similar with our friend who's the self-taught pastry guru and she made the naan we tried too.) So, while the curry cooked, we tried our hand at making naan, having observed these friends making it earlier in the week. It really was as easy as they made it look! We had to play with the temperature of the skillet a bit, but overall, it was a breeze. I even goofed and used all purpose flour instead of bread flour and it was fine. (I also added some soy flour and wheat germ for added protein and minerals.) They were fabulous with the curry, but would also make wonderful individual pizza crusts or yummy sandwich breads in place of pita or a tortilla.

So, what culinary adventures have you been up to lately? Are you doing more of your own baking to get high quality breads that fit your budget, instead of getting ones that are pricier from the local bakery or settling for the pre-sliced supermarket stuff? I'd love to hear from you!

Here's the recipe for the naan, from the companion to More with Less, Simply in Season. Let me know how it goes!


1/4 c warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
Mix in a small bowl until dissolved.

1 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1 beaten egg
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons salt
Mix in separate bowl. Stir in yeast mixture.

5+ cups bread flour (up to half whole wheat)
Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead 5-10 minutes. Place in greased bowl. Turn to grease both sides. Cover with damp cloth and let rise one hour. Separate dough into golf ball-size balls. Roll each into 1/16 inch thickness (they cook best when thin). Preheat frypan or iron skillet to medium high heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon butter to frypan and allow to melt. Place one round of dough into pan at a time. Cook on each side until lightly browned and puffy (approx. 2-3 minutes per side). Wrap in a towel to keep warm while cooking remaining breads.

Makes about 16 breads; serves 8-12.