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Hanging Bookshelves

August 10, 2011



I could be biased, but I think Boyfriend and I might have made the coolest bookshelves in the history of all humankind.

Some people look at it, cock their head to the side, and use words like “interesting” to describe it, but I personally think it could probably kick their bookshelves’ ass any day of the week.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic.  And I will admit you may need a certain vibe goin’ on in your house to pull this off properly, but still, I think they’re pretty awesome.

The idea for these bookshelves stemmed from, well, owning a lot of books and having nowhere to put them.  But beyond all the books, we only had a budget of about a hundred bucks.

Originally I was thinking a bunch of wooden crates stacked on each other might be cool as bookshelves, but they add up very quickly and we sure had a lot of books.  Next in line was the pallet bookshelf option, but our decor on a wall quite close to this one is a series of old rustic doors (to be featured in a future blog entry!), and we thought that might be a bit too much old wood rustic-ness.

Then we thought we’d just go with a more simple plan, of attaching some shelves to the wall.  When we were at Lowe’s, however, we realized that the brackets that could support the amount of weight necessary for a ton of books was quite expensive… not to mention rather ugly.  :::sigh:::

We were on our way out of the Lowe’s, feeling somewhat defeated, but I had one of my medium freak-out moments- “Boyfriend, we have to get something for bookshelves tonight! So we can make them this weekend!  So we can put our books up!  So we don’t have books all over the place when my parents come visit!”  Argh!!

That’s when he mentioned something about hanging on ropes, and the design just popped in my head.  I drew it on a sheet of scrap paper on the car dashboard, and his engineering mind went to work thinking about rope strengths and wood lengths and fancy knots, and all that jazz.  Don’t we make a great team?

We picked up all of our supplies for just over $100 bucks at Lowe’s which included the planks of wood, the galvanized pipe to wrap the ropes at the bottom, some wood varnish, and the hooks for the ceiling.  Boyfriend already had some old climbing rope to use for hanging, though we had to go back later for about $30 bucks of manila rope, as well as some darker stain then what we had at the house.

First step was to start prepping the wood, because it involves some staining and a couple layers of Wipe on Poly.  This stuff is a bit more expensive than regular polyurethane, and it takes a couple of coats, but we like it better because it goes on smoother and you don’t need a fancy brush to put it on right.     After Boyfriend cut the planks to size, and drilled the holes in each corner, I cleaned it all off and started the staining and varnishing.

While I spent time working on the wood, Boyfriend’s task was to get the hooks into the ceiling.  This part is important, as they have to hold the weight of the entire thing, which is rather heavy.  In order to do this, Boyfriend went into the attic, and used planks of wood (hijacked off some free pallets) to reinforce the eye bolts all the way up in there.  

Once we had that covered, we measured the rope to the proper length, making sure each segment was plenty long.  Boyfriend tied the ropes to the eye bolts, as you see in the picture.  Putting the shelfs on the ropes was pretty self explanatory.  We just measured where we wanted the shelf to go, marked it on the rope, and tied four tight knots below each shelf under each corner.  It is helpful to have two people for this part, so one person can hold the shelf up while the other person ties all the knots beneath it.  Once all the shelves were up, Dave drilled the galvanized pipe into the wall at the bottom, which we used to wrap the excess rope around so they weren’t swinging bookshelves.  You’ll probably have to do this a second time once the books are on it for a couple days and the weight of it all pulls on the rope.

And now, for less than $150 bucks, we have these amazing shelving units!  All we need now is a big’ol papasan next to them, for the perfect cozy reading corner.


Old Chair/New Chair

August 9, 2011


I re-covered the chairs for the dining room, and it was super easy.  Though Boyfriend and I live in a country house, the pattern on the chairs was just a bit too country for us.   Someone had also recovered them with jean fabric at some point (not pictured) but that was just a little too 1990’s.  I wanted a fabric with brown in it to add a deeper, earthy tone to the light blue walls we painted.  I also wanted a fabric that looked a bit fancy, to contrast with the old rustic doors we hung on the wall (don’t worry, that will be another post very soon)!


All I had to do was unscrew the seat from underneath, and use a pair of pliers take off the fabric.  Then, I measured/cut my new fabric, and used a staple gun to cover it.  I screwed the seat back on to the rest of the chair, and voila!    $20 bucks gave me a brand new look for my dining room.

Strawberry Caprese Salad

May 15, 2011

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while.  Moving brought out a whole list of stressors- We bought a car, I got a job, and we’re currently looking for a house to rent.  It’s an exciting time!  We’re still staying at David’s very generous cousin and her husband’s place and I simply have not gotten my act together enough to get back into blogging.  As things fall into place I plan on picking up the pace, though.

And today, I bring you a Strawberry Caprese Salad!  A few weekends ago, Dave and I headed to the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival where we sampled  Deep Fried Battered Strawberries, sucked down Strawberry Daiquiris, and purchased a half a flat of strawberries.  Since I was unemployed, I planned a Strawberry Extravaganza the next day featuring dishes such as Strawberry Lassis, Strawberry Gazpacho, and Spaghetti with Strawberries.  As you may derive from this list, strawberries have some similar flavor components to tomatoes, so there are many strawberry recipes that are typical tomato dishes.  In my search for strawberry recipes, I ran across a couple mentions of this on some websites, which referenced The Flavor Thesaurus, by Niki Segnit.  I do not own the book and have yet to read it, but it looks like a fascinating culinary book to check out.

Deep Fried Strawberries from the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival

Since I was coming across all these “tomatoes swapped out for strawberries” dishes, it occurred to me to make a Strawberry Caprese Salad.  I love fresh mozzarella and basil, but have always had a problem eating raw tomatoes.  (Gasp!) I know, I know, a vegetarian that doesn’t like raw tomatoes seems kind of ridiculous, but I can safely say that I have tried my darndest to grow a taste for them. Unlike bananas, cucumbers, and mushrooms (which I successfully forced myself to grow to love in my early twenties), I just haven’t gotten there with tomatoes yet.  Hence, it occurred to me to swap out the tomatoes in caprese salad for the strawberries.  I have to say, it’s amazing.  When family was over today for the monthly Third Sunday Lunch, I served them as appetizers and they all went pretty quickly.

I won’t give quantities for the recipe, because you can make as much or as little as you like, but all I did to make a tray was set up an assembly line of sorts: I hulled the strawberries and sliced a small spot on one side so they stood up flat.  Then, I took some large tooth picks and stabbed a bit of basil, a small fresh mozzarella ball, and a strawberry on each one before sprinkling the top with some Balsamic Vinegar.  Yum!

Panapesa: Flemish Burnt Sugar Bread from Great Grandma

March 29, 2011

Panapesa.  That’s what we call it in our family anyway.  We have no idea if this is the correct spelling, or if we’re pronouncing it properly from where it started out, but this is a recipe that has been passed down to me after many generations of women.  My mother gave me the recipe, who got it from her mother, who got it from her mother.  Who knows how far back it really goes, but it’s one of the few things that makes me feel connected to my past and my heritage.  My great grandma is from Belgium, and spoke Flemish growing up until she came to the United States with her husband Oscar.  Only my grandma now speaks a few Flemish words (mostly cuss words, hilariously), so we’re in the dark as far as a direct translation goes, but my guess is that it translates to something about it being burnt sugar bread (that really is a huge guess).  What I do know, however, is panapesa has been around in my family for a long time, and I’ve never eaten anything else like it.  I also know that it is pretty flipping amazing, but also kind of scary to fix with the frightening mixture of burnt sugar and boiling water, so be careful!

The reason why I made this recently, is for the road trip my boyfriend and I took from Southern California, to our new home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana!  Perhaps I ended up choosing this particular bread because it was comforting to have a piece of my family heritage with me as we made the trip.  It also came in very handy for breakfast along our route, after camping and staying with friends/family, so we finished it very quickly.  I hope you enjoy it as well!

Panapesa Ingredients:

½ teaspoon salt

3 eggs

¾ stick (6 Tablespoons) margarine or butter

2 cups sugar, divided

¾ cup milk

2 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 ½ cup flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup of boiling water

Panapesa Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, and put on the water to start boiling.

Mix together the salt, eggs, margarine or butter, and 1 cup of the sugar.  Beat on slow.  Add milk to the mixture and combine.  In a separate bowl, sift the cinnamon, baking soda, flour, and baking powder. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture.

In a high-rimmed pot, cook one cup of sugar until completely dissolved and bubbling.  Make sure it’s nice and brown, but do not over-cook it either or your bread will be too intense.  Cook it until its starting to bubble, constantly stirring, then remove it from the heat.  Now, this is the part that gets scary: slowly add one cup of boiling water to your burnt sugar.  Be careful!  It starts steaming and sizzling and is super duper hot.  Keep stirring.


This is what it looks like when the sugar begins to melt.

This is what the sugar looks like when it gets brown and just barely starts to bubble. See it foaming up around the edges? Keep it on for just barely a second longer before you take it off the heat.

I can't even believe I took a picture while doing this. Take your sugar off the heat, stand back, and just barely reach over to drop in a tiny bit of boiling water. Keep going until it's completely added and mixed. Remember that it'll splash and splatter, so use a high-rimmed pot, and it might even be a good idea to wear some high gloves.

































Slowly add the burnt sugar to the previous mixture, constantly stirring.

Pour batter into two greased loaf pans, and bake them in the oven for 30-35 minutes.

After it’s cooled off a bit, it’s really yummy to slice and eat as-is, or with a nice little slathering of Smart or Earth Balance.

I also tried making a vegan version, made with whole wheat pastry flour, walnuts, and shredded coconut on top.  It tasted really yummy, but lets just say, in the words of my boyfriend, it was “structurally unsound.”  I have to go back to the drawing board on that one before I post the recipe.  Part of my problem, I believe, was that I needed a bit of Egg Replacer in it so it held together a bit more, but I didn’t have any available since I had already packed it for my move to Louisiana.  (Yes, I packed Egg Replacer… what if they didn’t have it here!?)  I’ll be sure to post that one as soon as I make it.  Or, if you try veganizing my family recipe, let me know how it goes!

Katy’s Blanket: The Unemployment Sequel

March 1, 2011

After my first ginormous knit blanket, David’s mom, Katy, commissioned me to make one.  I was quite enthused, as it allowed me to continue my knitting addiction and offered another time filler for this period of unemployment.

I tried to use colors that gave a similar feeling as the last blanket I made, but were still different. I included some beautiful reds, warm yellows, and forest greens.  This one is 110 stitches across on size 17 needles. so it’s a perfect size to throw across or bed yet still manageable enough to use across the couch on a cold night.  I’ll bring it to her when I move to Baton Rouge in a couple of weeks, so I hope she likes it!

Homemade Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli

February 22, 2011

I’ve kinda been on a bit of a ravioli kick for a while.  Last Thanksgiving I purchased about four sugar pumpkins and went on a quest to use them all before the New Year.  In addition to a cheesy stuffing stuffed pumpkin and pumpkin soup, I made roasted pumpkin ravioli.  That was my first homemade ravioli-making adventure, but I used wonton wrappers instead of pasta dough.  Using wonton wrappers is super easy and quite yummy, but just a bit slimy on the texture.  Since then, I’ve been gobbling up ravioli like they’re going out of style.  Buying a couple of packages at the store and whipping up a homemade sauce to go with them can be a great save for an easy but elegant vegetarian dinner.  Besides pumpkin, I’m also a fan of mushroom ravioli (in all its umami glory!) and butternut squash (so sweet!).

Since I’m so in love with ravioli, I thought it was only appropriate that I went on another homemade ravioli adventure.  This time, I decided to do it up right and make fresh pasta dough instead of using wonton wrappers.  Besides, making fresh pasta dough was something that I have always wanted to try out.  I used Tyler Florence’s recipe on the Food Network for the pasta dough, and filled the suckers with goat cheese and beets.  To be precise, here’s the recipe:

Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli Filling


6 small cooked beets, peeled (I used the steamed ones in vacuum packs from Trader Joe’s, but you can also roast your own)

2 ounces of goat cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme


Blend beets and goat cheese in a food processor until it’s pink and creamy.  Stir in the salt and dried thyme.

It’s pretty darn easy if you ask me.  I just don’t think I’d go on another pasta adventure again without a pasta maker (a ravioli mold might help also!).  Hand rolling my dough worked, but despite all the effort I put in to make them as thin as possible, my ravioli dough was a bit thicker than the norm.

I also tried making a fancy sauce to serve them with, but in the end I was wishing I had made a much simpler brown butter and thyme sauce.  Anything more complex and you lose some of the flavors of the beets and goat cheese- which should totally be the stars of the show!

My family enjoyed my little pockets of goodness tonight alongside some thin asparagus roasted with garlic and capers, and a simple salad with a lemon vinaigrette, sliced avocados, and shredded carrot.

Tired of ravioli?  Psshhht. Heck no!


Amaretto Agar-Agar Jello with Fresh Strawberries

February 21, 2011

I love the flavor of almonds.  I will add almond extract sometimes instead of vanilla in baking, and love almond flavored beverages.  So, some time ago I ran into an Amaretto-flavored syrup by Flavorganics at  Whole Foods and decided to try it out.  In addition to being organic, it is great that they’re made with evaporated cane juice instead of high fructose corn syrup.  I especially enjoy a spoonful of it in some carbonated water (which I make in my Sodastream that David gave me for Christmas, HUGE fan btw) when I feel like a little splash of soda.

That’s why, when I was looking to make a dessert without chocolate (someone was allergic) I headed over to my bottle of Amaretto syrup and the pile of strawberries threatening to go bad on the counter, and make a vegan Amaretto Agar-Agar Jello with Fresh Strawberries.  It’s simple, refreshing, and a bit more refined than your old-fashioned neon-colored gelatin.

I would also like to take this time to sing a little praises to agar-agar.  Even if it doesn’t freak you out that regular gelatin is derived from collagen inside animal skin and bones, it’s just really cool to me that agar-agar comes from algae.  Also, if you are new to agar-agar, it has a slightly different mouthfeel than gelatin, which must be experienced first-hand.

Check it out!

Amaretto Agar-Agar Jello with Fresh Strawberries


1 1/2 Tablespoons Agar-Agar

2 1/3 Cup Water

1/3 Cup Amaretto (or other flavor) syrup

Sliced Strawberries to taste


Bring the agar-agar, water, and syrup in a pan to a boil.  Send the mixture through a sieve, then pour it into your molds.  I used small ramekins, and put them in the refrigerator until pretty darn gelatinous (at least a few hours).  When I was ready to take them out, I turned them upside down on plates for 5 or 10 minutes, then gently tapped it to get it to plop out.  Place as many strawberries on top as you’d darn like, and enjoy.