Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kitchen Renovation - Before

Let me preface this with two things:

1. I realize that renovating a home is a real luxury, and that all my complaints about the inconvenience, cost, and hassle of a renovation is truly a first-world problem.

I am extremely grateful for the modern conveniences I enjoy in comparison to most people in the world.  I spent 2 months cooking for a Junior Forest Rangers camp in the forest one summer.  Cooking for 15+ people everyday required a generator to be started, water hauled in and out and determining how long our fridge & freezer would keep things cold without electricity.  I had no toaster and no small appliances. I did everything by hand - chopping, mixing, etc. So I don't take for granted the ability to walk into a room and flip a light switch or turn on a tap for drinkable water.

2. Yes, I've read this blog post about kitchen renovations. We're renovating anyways.

We always knew that we would renovate our kitchen someday.  We bought our home because it fit our three most important criteria:

1. It was near our children's elementary school - from our oldest starting kindergarten to our youngest finishing grade 6, we have 10 years at this school and we wanted to be near enough to walk.
2. Three bedrooms on the same floor.
3. The kitchen looks into the backyard and the back door opens into the backyard, not a side door.  I wanted to be able to see the kids playing as I worked in the kitchen.

We (by we, I mean my husband, Mike) have already completed an extensive list of upgrades, repairs and customizing in our house such as replacing eaves troughs, new hot water tank, new baseboards through much of the house, painting... the list could go on and on.  But we knew the day was coming when we were going to have to bite the bullet and do the kitchen.  We also knew that we weren't going to do it ourselves.  As handy as my husband is, he had no desire to come home from his full-time job and then spend every evening and weekend working on our kitchen for months and months.  And I had no desire to live in a construction zone for months either.  So we met with contractors and got estimates and hired a contractor and wrote a giant cheque.  Then we spent what has felt like an eternity making decisions.  I'm down to picking a window (after our original choice fell through) and choosing between 2 knobs, then I'm done.  I've used up all my decision making skills for about 5 years.

We're looking at starting demolition of the existing kitchen in a week.  It can't come soon enough.  I have nightmares about the renovation every night, mixed in with content from the show "The Strain" which makes for some very disturbing nightmares. I've agonized over almost every decision after researching it to death.  Sometimes I think life would be easier without so many options.

Anyways, here are our goals for the new kitchen:

1. Increased storage.  When we looked at the house before purchasing, I thought that the cabinet space looked adequate.  It wasn't until I was unpacking that I realized that the person we had bought the house from was a bachelor who owned a restaurant - of course it had looked spacious, he didn't have any small appliances because he didn't cook!  I also had failed to account for the fact that our house in Castor had 2 pantries and this house had none.  I keep a lot of stuff in my downstairs storage room and every cupboard is crammed full.

2. Increased counter top work space.  I don't even have enough counter space to properly roll out cinnamon buns.

3. Cupboard and countertops with better functionality.  The cabinets we have are shallow and have awkward styling that makes it difficult to access the contents easily.  The countertops are shorter than standard height, which might not make a difference to some people, but I'm 5'10" and my husband is 6'2", so I often end up with a sore back after spending a day in the kitchen.

4. Better flow between the kitchen and dining room, and more space for a larger table.  Right now we have a table in our kitchen.  We were using the dining room as a playroom until just recently.  We will be removing the wall between the kitchen and dining room and will use our dining room for it's original purpose.  We currently don't have the room to host many people for sit down meals, we're hoping that this renovation will change that.

The following "before" pictures are not staged, so what you see if a fairly accurate depiction of our kitchen most of the time.  I haven't cleared away the rubble, or removed things so that it looks nicer.  The only thing I did do was wait until my husband was at work and my kids were at school to take the pictures, otherwise there would be crumbs, keys, dishes, papers from the school, discarded socks, lunch bags and backpacks EVERYWHERE!

Also, what you can't see in these pictures is the gouges in the laminate flooring, the rippled edges of laminate where water obviously sat for too long (don't put laminate in a kitchen!), the grout between the tile that comes out in chunks if I'm not careful when wiping the counter, the big gaps in the countertop melamine, the easily seen brush strokes on the walls that were painted with two different finishes of the same colour, satin and then patch jobs done with glossy!

Hopefully within a month or so I'll be able to show you some after pictures.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Creamy Rice Pudding Recipe

Remember when I said in my last post that I felt guilty about buying certain foods that I knew I could prepare myself?  That guilt propelled me into making one of them. It helps that it only requires 3 ingredients. Yes, you heard me correctly, just 3 ingredients that most people will have in their kitchens anyways.

This recipe for rice pudding seems crazy.  You only use 1 cup of long-grain white rice for 2 litres of milk. The trick is that you add the milk in stages, much like risotto, and the rice just keeps getting bigger and bigger. The first time I made it I had to call my Grandma Strom and ask her if I had copied the recipe down incorrectly, it seemed impossible.  But, my terrible handwriting, while nearly illegible, was accurate.

Creamy Rice Pudding

1 cup long grain white rice - I use Thai Jasmine rice as it's my favourite and I always have it in the house.
2 litres of homogenized milk
1/2 cup of sweetener - I like to use local honey, but you can also use white sugar.

Rinse and drain rice until the water runs clear.  In a thick bottom pot combine rice and just enough water to cover the rice.  Bring to a boil and cook until the water is absorbed.  Add 1 litre of milk.  Let simmer until milk is almost absorbed, then add the remainder of the milk.  Stir frequently.  The longer it cooks, the more milk will be needed.  In the last half hour of cooking (you'll have to guess at this point, who knows when it's the last half hour of cooking until it's the end of cooking?!) add the sugar and continue to stir.  Remember that it will thicken as it cools.  I like to put mine into individual size Tupperware containers and store in the fridge for my kids to grab when they need a snack.  The pudding also freezes well.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Home-made Guilt

Things I feel guilty about not making from scratch when I know I can make them better, more nutritious, and cheaper than buying them:
• bread
• naan
• frozen waffles
• yogurt
• rice pudding

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kitchen Renovation and Playroom Clear-out

We are entering that dreadful time pre-renovation when we have to start making permanent & definitive decisions and purchases relating to our kitchen reno.  I hate it.  It's totally a first-world problem, but I am filled with anxiety and dread about every decision I make.  They are all costly and for the most part, a permanent part of our foreseeable future.  We plan to live in the house indefinitely and I highly doubt we'll ever undertake a renovation of this magnitude in here again, so I want to make timeless and wise decisions.  Once it's done we can no longer say, "What were they thinking when they did that?!" - because we will have been those people not thinking.

Today was the very first major decision.  We went and bought two of the three new appliances we need.  I feel very confident with the fridge purchase, but a little bit uncertain about the stove.  The reason the fridge purchase is so weighty and necessary now is because unlike stoves, there is no "standard" size for refrigerators.  So in a complete renovation like ours, the fridge size will determine the cabinet size & placement.  No pressure or anything.

This is only the start.  If you are interested to see a glimpse of my vision for our kitchen, check out my Kitchen Renovation board on Pinterest.  You'll probably be able to tell very quickly which direction we're going.

Part of the preparation for the renovation is to clear out our existing playroom, which will become what it was originally intended to be, a dining room.  This is what has gotten me fired up tonight.  I first had to clean my 6 year old's room so that I could start incorporating some of the toys into her bedroom space (which is terribly small in the first place, just shy of 10x9 feet.)  Cleaning my kid's bedrooms & playroom always ends up making me so mad about how much stuff they have and how spoilt they are.  Today was no different.  After I finished the bedroom, I headed down to the playroom to try to winnow down her collection of toys.  She doesn't seem to understand that she doesn't need two of everything; two doll strollers, two doll beds, and literally 20 baby dolls (she likes babies). I'm not sure how I'm going to talk her out of some of these toys and we don't have many options for where else to put them as we have a moderately sized home: 1132 sq. feet with only a 1/2 size basement due to our house being a 3-level split.

I know I shouldn't complain, preparing for a big renovation is really a luxury, but a stressful one nonetheless, filled with buyer's remorse and self-doubt, at least for me.

Our playroom when it's clean, which isn't very often.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bits & Bobs

I don't have anything of much importance to report at our house.  Just a few odds & ends, hence the title of this post.

A Swiss Chard forest!
1. My garden is finally producing food.  Today was the first day I harvested anything, Rainbow Swiss Chard, which was promptly made into a garlicky chickpea curry and eaten with naan.  The tiny yellow zucchinis are growing at last (I anticipate eating them within a week) and the beans are flowering, a surprising pink flower.  The carrots still look very sad. I'm not including a picture of them as they look so poorly.

2. How is your summer going?  I swore I wasn't going to overbook myself & our kids this summer, it always feels like I do and before I know it the summer is past and I'm standing there stunned in the school supply aisle thinking, "How did it get to be the end of August?!"  Yet, somehow, it's already July 16th and I don't feel like I've relaxed at all.  The kids were done school on June 25th and since then we've:

  • Camped on the Saskatchewan side of the Cypress Hills with friends.  We were supposed to be there 4 nights but were rained out and came home after 3.  Mike loved it though and can't wait to go back. Unfortunately the inverter/converter (I don't know what it's called) quit on our trailer so we had to order a new one and Mike will be replacing it before the next camping trip. I also discovered a new favourite artist, Geoff Phillips, purchased a numbered print of his painting "Camp Harding" at his studio/home while driving back through Maple Creek, and am excitedly planning a collage wall centered around it above my living room sofa.
  • Had the girl's annual eye exam - they're both heading to glasses sometime in the next year, but for the opposite problems. The 9 year old is nearsighted and the 6 year old is farsighted.
  • The 9 year old went to St. Albert for a week to stay at her grandparents with her cousins from Ottawa.  We went up last weekend to pick her up and visit as well. Unfortunately two of us came back sick.  I spent the last three days in bed only to get up to drive kids to events. Today is the first day I did any food preparation since Monday.
  • The 6 year old has started 2 weeks of swimming lessons. For some reason this has caused me to start having nightmares about her drowning.
  • The 9 year old is in a week of science camp at Medicine Hat College.  I'm loving it because they are doing all the messy experiments that I see on Pinterest, so I don't have to! (Does that make me a bad mom?)  It's a bit disappointing to see that there are only 2 girls in the group.

3. What's coming up? I'm hoping to be completely recovered from this stomach bug before Saturday's Chili Cook-off!  Sunday is the Medicine Hat Horticultural Society's Annual Garden Tour, then next week is Stampede, the parade, the midway...  Such fun! (my new catchphrase - see below.)

4. I've discovered a new-to-me hilarious British comedy, Miranda.  I binge-watched all three series (only 6-30 minute episodes in each series, so not THAT much watching).  Mike was embarrassed by how loudly I laughed, he said he could hear me all the way in the garage while his music was playing.  I've never denied that I'm a loud laugher.  Some things are worth the belly laugh, find joy where you can!  You may recognize Miranda if you watch Call the Midwife, she plays "Chummy". I highly recommend it if you enjoy light, silly comedy.