Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hurricane Sandy gets in the way

I had planned on trying my hand this weekend at fortune cookies, but instead my plans are on hold while I try and prepare for the hurricane.

It's no fun being in the bulls eye section, and even if I could run west, it wouldn't help as the other storm's moving in.  My day has been busy with running around between grocery stores, hardware stores, electronics stores, gas stations, and propane filling stations.  No matter where you go, there's a line out the door.

The plus side of the running around, I landed a generator and two inverters (to run the sump pumps off car batteries to avoid basement flooding), not quite all the gas I need, and enough food to get through the initial storm.  If it were all up to me, and it isn't, I'd have at least a week's worth of canned and dry goods around, but if I buy too much, Fred freaks out, so I don't. 

When I build the future house, it will have a large walk in pantry and always stocked with at least a month's worth of extra food for long term emergencies and/or layoffs. 

I hope everyone stays safe!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Future House - Bathroom

My future house is somewhere between something "farm-y" and "English country".  I love the idea of a straw bale house coated with a specialized adobe/cement coating, and my plan is to remain rather rustic or antique considering this place will be a working farm.

I stumbled upon this beautiful tub, and it reminds me of all the old cartoons I used to watch - the barrel that always sat at the edge of the porch and caught rain water.  I'm dying to try my hand at wine making, so of course it reminds me of an oak barrel you'd age wine in.  Whatever it reminds you of, it might be one heck of a fun splurge on my end.

A Cool Conversation Nook and Oven Space

I really love the idea of a great outdoor space for my future house, and an adobe oven with a nice patio/gathering spot for conversation is high on my list.  It'd be great to have a place to not only cook, but to hang out and maybe toast a few marshmallows on a cool fall night.  I'm not sure if it's the smell, or if there's a good memory associated with fire, but a nice adobe oven where maybe some of the heat is vented out underneath the benches might be a perfect place to relax and let your hair down after a long day.

There are many styles of outdoor adobe ovens, and eventually I'll find "the one", but this could easily be a contender. 

This is a great kitchen space with an adobe oven next to a modern kitchen.  Although I love the design, it's too modern for what I'm looking to build.

I'd need more of an antique style stove like this...  It's a start, but the price is way too much.  I looked at some great modern stoves made in the antique style, but the price was still about $1,000-$1,500 more expensive.  There's one plus to the stove I was looking at in that it takes wood, so I could possibly do away with a separate wood/pellet stove, but we're back to the issue of efficiency, or lack thereof. 

This will take more searching - a baker can't do without a great stove, but where is it??  LOL

Baguette Breadmaking - Success and Failure

Recently I tried to make baguette bread after having read so many blogs about how this basic loaf is made.  It's not as "basic" as it seems, but I've learned a few tips that might help you down the road should you want to try.
  1. There's no substitute for a baguette making pan, or a proper shaping couche.  Your bread will flatten out like a pancake without either one of these tools.
  2. Knowing that it'd flatten/spread out, I thought I could improvise with flour sack towels.  Yes and no.  Yes, you can improvise with them, but you cannot successfully remove the loaves from the towels without deflating the risen loaves because no matter how thoroughly you dust/rub flour into the towel, the dough sticks to it.  This is why I'll invest in a baguette pan in the near future.  
  3. Score the dough after you've shaped and placed it in the pan; that way you don't deflate it by scoring after it's risen.  
  4. If you choose to use the couche, I found that placing it on top of a large cooling rack makes it easier to move around.
  5. The cooling rack also has another advantage; set it on top of a heating pad set on low and you've got a great place to slowly proof the dough.  
  6. If you want better flavoring, skip the heating pad and just proof slowly with loaves in the fridge.  
  7. This bread is better with lots of hydration; dry dough will result in a dry bread, and baguettes are crispy outside but soft inside.
 Sometimes you just need to be a little bit creative, and at the same time, give up your stubborn notion of being able to do something the "cheap way".  After all, it's not "cheap" to keep tossing out your failures.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Updates on Pineapple Vinegar and Wild Yeast

Well, the pineapple vinegar got poured into the compost this afternoon.  Why?  Well, with all the layers of cheesecloth to protect it, bugs still got inside it.  EWWW!!  I had little gnats inside the cover, happily getting fat off the brew.

I had a great "mother" on top of it and it was getting near the harvesting period as it had gone from clear, to murky, and then almost clear like the original recipe had stated would happen.  When I opened the top, a few gnats flew out, so that was the immediate end of that experiment.

Next time, I'll skip the cheesecloth and instead use a flour sack towel to cover it, which is a much tighter weave than four layers of its recommended competitor.  I'll wait until the spring to revive this experiment.

As far as the wild yeast goes, I tried making bread with it, but it didn't rise much.  I did add a little bit of commercial yeast to the blend and it barely got to the top of the loaf pan, but it did have great flavor!  I've tried making another wild yeast starter, and it seems to work better on warmer days (75+ degrees F) and cooler days result in a total flop, which isn't surprising since yeast in bread likes a warmer environment in which to grow and rise.

We did have a few warmer days here where I tried to make another batch, but in the end it still didn't work.  I found trying to revive starter that was put in the fridge after successfully being capture didn't work for me (you're supposed to feed it equal amounts of water and flour), but mine never proofed a second time.  What did happen was it grew mold before it got there!

So use the fresh captured stuff fairly quickly, but add in some extra commercial yeast if you want to make bread with it.  I found making sour dough starter with commercial yeast easier and more predictable in cooler fall weather.

Chalk up another set of "FAILS" for me on this, but hey...that's how you learn.  I'm not discouraged, but I'm going to have to wait until next spring when the fruit's fresh and the weather's warm enough to grow yeast to try again. 

Shut Down

There are times I forget where I am because I float around so much (work and unemployment find me everywhere but home in Houston lately), and this was one of them.  The majority of states have some sort of cottage food law, but the one I'm in isn't one of them, although it's working its way through a committee of sorts.

Anyway, someone asked me the other day at a show if I was incorporated; I said no.  Well, that got me thinking that I needed to investigate this state's rule as I thought I was in a cottage food law state (Texas is, where I'd normally be selling when I'm home).  Sorry, but the state I'm hanging out in isn't one, so while here, I decided it was best to shut down the whole thing until I'm back in Texas, or in another cottage food law friendly state.  I also shut down my Etsy and Facebook operations as well.  It's a bit of a blow, but I understand - and I can wait.

The thing that bothers me is the person who asked me this question was the person who recruited me for the show, and then her successor also gave the green light.  Although I diligently asked all the right questions, somehow neither found it important to ask if I was incorporated because this state isn't friendly to cottage food laws.  It seems table selling space was more important than the law; the woman who asked is licensed, so she should've known better and should've rejected my show application that fully disclosed what I make.  

Although it's bothersome, it only serves to make me all that more determined to "boogie back to Texas", or build the new home along the NC/TN border as fast as I can - all states with cottage food laws.

On the plus side, I have plenty of jams and jellies to give away to family, friends, and business associates for Christmas.

C'est la vie.... "If my God is for me, who can be against me?"   :)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rearranging the House

Sometimes the best way to avoid a mistake is to put everything down on paper and then spend the next few days looking at it.  In my case, I noticed I have two major mistakes in the layout of my house after having talked out a few things last night over dinner with Fred.

The main mistake is that the pantry and laundry rooms should be swapped with each other because I want to keep the plumbing as close to each other to limit the number of connections and reduce the price from long pipe runs.  This way, the kitchen, shared bath, water heater, and the laundry are in immediate proximity of each other.

My second major mistake was omitting where I was going to put the solar battery bank IF I don't build a basement, which I haven't decided if I want to OR if the land I purchase will be able to handle it (water table too high or earthquake prone, for instance).  You always need a "plan B"! 

The sealed gel filled battery cells can be kept inside, but the ones that need to be topped off with water give off gases, which require different a different storage solution.  So what I really need to do is to make an enclosed telecom style cabinet right next to front door (where the laundry room is in the old drawing), and install a small exhaust fan.  I plan on using the gel batteries for safety, but let's just assume I can't get them, they don't sell that kind by the time I need them, or funds run out and I have to buy the gas emitting battery.  Whatever the case - sealed gel or water top off batteries, I'd feel better having the closet exhausted outside.

What are my battery roadblocks?
  • The batteries perform best when they're stored between 50-80 degrees F, so an outside box is generally a "no".
  • A special outdoor locked cabinet outside wouldn't necessarily deter a thief, and to have a battery bank stolen would really tick me off, not to mention cost me a ton to replace it.
  • Batteries stored outside are subject to more maintenance like the cleaning of terminals.  At least, that's my suspicion because they're not in a controlled environment.  Batteries stored inside tend to be in better shape since it's a constant and predictable environment. 
So as time goes by, I'll keep tweaking my future house plans and learn everything I can about how to make this dream a reality.  

The Two-Toned Spotted Brown Cow

I decided I needed to get the last project finished today since I head back to work on Monday.  Instead of trying to sweep it under the rug and "pretend" it wasn't there, I sucked it up and rolled up my sleeves to complete what I'd started.

The "before" picture can be found here, and here's the piece today, sanded and unstained.  To me, it has promise for a junky piece of furniture - especially when it's down to bare wood.

And here it is stained....

I'm SO NOT digging the two-tone brown blotchy cow look to this, considering the amount of work put into it.  Fred thinks it'll look better once the polyurethane's on, but I'm not convinced.  It's the most uneven stain application I've ever seen.  I'm about ready to hang a cow bell on it and expecting the thing to start mooing at me as the application looks like spotted cow hide.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Challenge #5: Fortune Cookies

I've been struggling trying to figure out what my next cooking challenge would be, and I still had no real thought about it until tonight.  We're lucky to have a good Chinese restaurant locally, and at the end of the meal, everyone looks forward to the fortune cookie.

They're really not that tasty, and truth be told, it's rather like eating crunchy cardboard with a slightly sweet overtone.  Other than tradition, a bit of curiosity about our "fortune", and a little bit of punishment, we eat the less than tasty cookie.

Many times I've thought about how simple and tasty this remake could be, and if Fred and I didn't have dinner out tonight, I'd still be struggling to come up with one.

The next week's going to be loaded with things to do, so we'll see when I can get this one done; it might have to wait until next weekend. 

How Poor are You?

Sometimes, we're much poorer than we realize, but I'm hoping for the kind of wealth mentioned in this story in the next few years.
One day a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing his son how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from the trip, the father asked his son, “How was the trip?”
“It was great, Dad”.
“Did you see how poor people live?” the father asked.
“Oh yes”, said the son.
“So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?” asked the father.
The son answered:
“I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of the garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night.”
“Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.”
The boy’s father was speechless. Then his son added:
“Thanks, Dad for showing me how poor we are.”
I have several designs dancing around in my head for my future house, and this is one that finally made it out onto paper.  It definitely needs to be tweaked so the deck is facing south.  My other thought is to put the deck off the bedrooms, but then it's not as inviting for general use.  I can't claim the original design is mine, but the modification is.  You can find the plans for this house here

If you're into cool building styles from unconventional materials and are inexpensive to build, then you might also want to check this site for more information and tutorials as to how to build a straw bale house for yourself.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Big Bertha" is being retired

"Big Bertha" is my large 21 quart granite enamel water bath canner I purchased last year, and she's seen A LOT of work over the two summer and fall periods I've had her in service.  She's done her bid for "king and country", and has easily canned around one thousand jars worth of delicious food.

She's only 10 1/2 "dog years" old, but the ole girl is starting to look rough.  I've decided I really want to invest in a stainless steel pot that will last much longer, so I'm going to let "Bertha" live out the rest of her useful life as a planter for my hot pepper plants to make it through the winter indoors.

In the meantime, I'll look for her better quality replacement, "Bessie", and her more versatile cousin, "Ethel", the pressure canner.  The best price I've seen for this pressure cooker was on ebay, but Amazon has free shipping on orders over $25.00, so I might be purchasing from there as the shipping can run around $35-$45 on this beast.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fall Apple Basket Cake

A few years ago I saw this great cake design that doubled as a centerpiece.

It was similar in design to this one in that it had two baskets with apples, leaves, acorns, and I think even a smiling green worm popping out from one of the apples.  In this particular case, the apples look more like red bell peppers that are old and melting, but you get the idea.

I wanted to make it a few years ago, but while I was planning the cake out in my head, my work sent me to Boston for the next seven months, hence I didn't get the chance to make it back then.  Last year just after Thanksgiving work sent me to Baltimore for three months.

I'm starting to think about this cake again, but its size makes it hard to make considering there's only about 10 people who show up for dinner in the family, and this kind of cake has at least 20 servings.  OK, so people could take home slices of cake, but let's face it - it's not Thanksgiving without loads of pies!

Sadly, this may be the cake that never gets made as I don't have a reason, but would love to! 


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lessons Learned

I had my first show of the season and as with every season I show, I learn more valuable lessons.

Last year, I learned:

  • Don't make a ton of perishable chocolate product or you'll be tossing out a ton of it when it doesn't sell.  Lesson learned: list it as a "made to order" product on
  • I had a lot of folks asking for my business card, and I didn't have one.  Lesson learned:  I bought business cards.
  • Don't skimp as people want quality more than a cheap price.  The lesson was obvious even though I had sold some of the product in question.
  • Set up a better booth; another obvious lesson.

This year's lessons so far:
  • Don't put your business cards out in front of the jelly; someone's bound to dribble it all over the cards.
  • When you put down table cloths, get a clear plastic topper for a quick and easy cleanup.  It also helps to discourage the bees because the jelly doesn't sink into the table cloth.
  • For me, don't make too many products - people were attracted to the jelly, and that's great, but other items were overlooked.  Lesson learned: stick with what gets attention.
  • Don't make even small amounts of quality baked good - skip it altogether unless you're with the rest of the food tent.  Quality goods don't necessarily sell because of the pricing; too many don't want to pay those prices when they can approximate the same item with dollar store items.  It's one thing if the person is visiting a specialty bakery, and it's another when you're in a flea/craft market/bazaar.  Lesson learned: some places are more appropriate than others to sell certain types of items where pricing is expected to be higher.
  • Unique jelly and jam flavors sell.  I had suspected this would be the case, but that was confirmed at the show.  Flavors that you cannot buy on a store shelf catch attention.
  • Buy good quality items and stay simple!  Fresh items either grown or sourced at local farms gives you an edge over the mass produced cardboard tasting stuff.  
  • People know quality when you're passionate about your products.  If you've made it yourself, you know what went into it and no one can sell your products like you can.  
  • People like to know where the food comes from, and local sources means fresher raw ingredients, and results in a good final product.  
  • Taste testing is important, and you can never have too much bread.  
So in the end, I've decided I'm going to stick with selling what I know best and I'm most passionate about - jams and jellies.  The rest of my talents will be restricted to family, friends, and gift giving.  They say do what you love and the money will follow, and I believe I've finally learned that lesson.

Anyone can load second hand items on a table and they sell because they fall into the category of "wants or needs", and junk is cheap.

Jelly isn't a want or need, it's a bit of a luxury, and it doesn't sell itself.  Only the person who's made it with the best ingredients and is passionate over all aspects of the process can sell it.

I'll always be thankful to Fred for having all those brown turkey fig trees on his property in Dallas.  If he didn't want to preserve them, I wouldn't have learned the dying art of jam and jelly making from him.

There was an old comedian that went by the name of "Brother Dave Gardner", and he had this great line: "Man cannot live by bread alone...he must have peanut butter!"  Thankfully, I know how to make my own bread and jam.  I joked with a friend, "I need to skip the idea of getting a farm and raising some livestock; I need to raise peanuts and I'll be all set for life!" 

Happy Eats!   :)

Challenge #4: Homemade Marshmallows

When I recently got the craving for s'mores, I decided it was time to belly up to the bar and try making homemade marshmallows, which do intimidate me!  I've read so many stories about marshmallow disasters, so I've been very reluctant to wade into the sticky mess of marshmallow.  Not to mention I suspect the cleanup must be rather "fun".

Since I didn't have overly great luck on my very first cookie sheet/batch of graham crackers using Smitten Kitchen's recipe, I decided to give her marshmallow recipe a try.

Making marshmallow appears to be quite straight forward - you cook sugar, salt, water, and corn syrup until it reaches 240 degrees, then you pour it over "bloomed" gelatin (just a fancy way of saying you added gelatin to water and let it sat until it turned into a thick, jelly blob).

When the thermometer reaches around 200 degrees, I start beating the egg whites until they reach stiff peak stage.  In this case, the "ball" of egg whites in the upper corner came about when I smacked the whisk beater on the side of the bowl.  I added in vanilla bean paste with the egg whites before I started whipping because I wanted to make sure the flavor was mixed in very well.

If you add flavoring, DO NOT add anything that has a fat base, or else your egg whites will not whip.  I learned that lesson a few years ago on another cooking project.  It's also why cook books will tell you, "If you get any amount of egg yolk in your egg whites, throw it out."  Egg yolks are pure fat, and fat will keep you from achieving a good whip.

The temperature of the stove top sugar mix has reached 240 degrees and has been poured over the gelatin mix.  I started this on low until the gelatin mixed in, and then slowly kept increasing the speed until the mixer ran at its top speed.

Look at how beautiful this whipped sugar mix is!  If I didn't know any better, I'd say this was done, but it's not.  It sure as heck looks just like marshmallow, but it's not quite there yet.

I've added in the egg yolks to the whipped sugar base for the second to last step.

And here's the last step: spray the pan and dust it with confectioners sugar very well.  Pour the mix into a deep baking pan (9" x 13"), sprinkle/dust the top with more confectioners sugar, and then put the pan into the fridge and let it chill for at least 3 hours.

Overall, this was a pretty easy recipe.  You do go through quite a few dishes in the process, and I can't tell you how thankful I am that I got another Kitchen Aid bowl for my machine (an early Christmas present from Fred) because I used both of them to make this recipe.  The mess was minimal, and surprisingly, as long as you use really hot water, the clean up isn't bad.

I gave Fred the beater and asked what he thought.  He was in love with the fresh taste of marshmallow, and when I was about to toss the bowl in the sink, he shrieked and asked for the bowl so he could "finger clean" it.  I guess that means this is a "please make this again!!" recipe since it's "Fred approved". 

Happy Eats!    :)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Challenge #3: Homemade Graham Crackers

I've been wanting to make s'mores, but before I decided to do this, I wanted to make homemade graham crackers.  I started with Smitten Kitchen's recipe and although it started off OK, I found that the time and temperature promptly burned my cookies, but more on that later.

They're not hard to make - just time consuming as the dough needs to be chilled, and then you can only roll out so much dough at any given point because it warms up and becomes very sticky to work with.

Most bakers have a variety of tools hanging around the kitchen.  As you can tell, the round spatula has seen a lot of work.  It was actually my Mom's spatula that she gave me a few years ago, and since it's one of my fatter ones, I thought it'd work much better for this particular task.  One day I'll buy marble and French style rolling pins to add to my toolbox, but for now the old wooden one does the job.  I'm not sold on the plastic ones because they usually have molding seams that imprint your dough.  The cookie plunger I found on came in handy for making these cookies.

This is probably a better shot to show you what I'm talking about.  You get a nice uniform cookie shape with the holes to make it look cute.

Here's the first wet dough cookie tossed onto the cookie sheet, covered with cinnamon and nutmeg.  I opted not to add sugar as there's quite a bit already in the dough.

Here's where the time and temperature on Smitten Kitchen's recipe doesn't work - or at least, didn't work for me.  The cookies on the right were cooked at 17 minutes (her range was 15-20 minutes), and the cookies on the left were cooked at 13 minutes.  In the end, I found 12 minutes at 340 degrees worked better for me.  Yes, they weren't really crunchy, but they also weren't burnt (I lost around 30 cookies on the first batch).

I ended my baking experience with 107 edible cookies, and that doesn't include 30+ burnt cookies from the first batch.

Overall, it's rather fun to make these cookies, but since you can only roll out so much dough at a time, it's also time consuming.  Would I make these again?  Maybe.  If this were for a holiday cookie swap or for gifting perhaps.  If it were for everyday, I'd probably by store bought even though the homemade has much better flavor and don't have the consistency of cardboard.

Happy Eats!   :)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pineapple Vinegar Update

I must confess one thing wasn't mentioned in ANY of the recipes...this attracts gnats!  I've set up gnat traps with great success, but it's annoying.  The only really successful method I've found to deal with gnats is pouring kahlua in a shallow 6 ounce bowl and placing it on top of the half gallon jug.  So far, the gnats haven't managed to get into the brew, but that's because I was smart enough to use four layers of cheese cloth in the beginning.  It also works in my favor that the alcohol is in the open and sitting on top of the is easier to get at than the other, and gnats are lazy.   

What's true to the original recipe, the vinegar has turned a bit brown and is cloudy, but it's actually starting to smell like vinegar.  I'm not sure how much longer it'll be before the brew goes from brown to something that is clear and can be strained and bottled.

I'll have to try this again with some apples in the near future and see what kind of results I get.  I'm also wondering if this works with any fruit, not just pineapple or apple.

Happy Eats!   :)

Challenge #2: Cowboy Cookies

Cowboy cookies aren't hard to make, but they're something I've wanted to make for awhile.  The recipe always seemed to fall in between the cracks for no particular reason.  I wanted to make this for my upcoming show, so I decided it was time to whip it up!

I started with this recipe I found on and added some toasted coconut as well as chocolate chips. 

The batter really came out nice and smooth, not a heavy chunky one despite all the additions.  I think of this as an oatmeal raisin cookie with chocolate chips, pecans, and coconut thrown in.  When it was done mixing, I threw it in the fridge and let it cool off while I worked on something else.

I made a double batch, so I wound up with close to 90 cookies.  I say "close" because I ate a few, and dropped one on the floor.

I didn't put much in terms of chocolate chips; instead I sandwiched two cookies together with melted chocolate.

All that's left to do is to label these beauties...and sell, sell, sell them!  They weren't hard to make, but I didn't think they would be.  You should give these a try and see what your tastebuds think.

Happy Eats!    :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Two out of three ain't bad

I was cleaning out some files on my computer when I ran across this little gem:

While I don't agree with some things on this list at all, it's not without merit on many points.
What I strongly disagree with:
  • The use of illegal drugs. 
  • Avoiding vaccinations - that's just foolhardy and downright dangerous.

When it comes to the points I agree with, I'd modify some points slightly:
  • Being self sustainable, growing a garden, and returning to nature all go hand in hand.  It's a wise idea to be in touch with your food source and knowing what it takes to grow crops.  In my opinion, it helps you to not waste food if you know how much work it takes to grow, and solves the calls to "grow organic" and food safety as you know where your food came from.  It allows you to preserve food for winter and spring eats which saves you a ton of cash, plus your food doesn't taste like a tin can.  You can also give away extra to help feed those less fortunate than you, and that frees up additional food sources for the rest of the world.
  • Buying local is a great idea!  I'm all for "Mom and Pop" type stores and local produce because it's important to know if you can't grow all of your own food, where you can get the rest of it.  I'm also not a fan of how the "big box" stores have driven smaller stores out of business with loss leader pricing.
  • Make family a priority by turning off the TV and learning to love one another.  It's hard to connect to anyone if they're tuned into the TV, cell phone, or video gaming consoles.  Turn off and tune out of the distractions that separate you from one another.  Learn to actually chat, not text or picture message each other.  
  • I'm a huge fan of homeschooling as I believe the premise allows the adult to go deeper into subjects of a child's insatiable source of curiosity.  Feed, don't stifle that natural resource!    :)
  • Homeopathic medicine can be a first line of treatment, but don't believe it's the end all be all of the medical options.  There's plenty of snake oil remedies that don't work worth a dang, yet people can endanger their health by refusing more advanced treatment.  I think both can work together; people don't need to go to the emergency room for a sore throat or a headache - use common sense and buy the cough syrup (or drink honey lemon tea) or the bottle of Advil.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sometimes friends can be wrong

After a few days of dragging around and feeling long faced, I realized my friend was wrong about me refinishing pieces. 

My friend has been going through a bit of a rough patch lately and he's a real drag to talk to when he gets that way.  He's got a bit of a legitimate beef over his situation (I won't elaborate), but we often act as "venting boards" for each other when we're upset.  Sometimes I forget even when he's not venting, he still is. 

He suggested that I listen to a teaching audio, and when I questioned him about it (" can I apply this to my own life?") his frustration broke loose and resulted in a tongue lashing.  I'm little funny about teaching audios - when I ask a follow up question, I have this nasty habit of expecting some sort of constructive answer. 

I realize that sometimes your friends can be wrong, and my hard work isn't crappy or for nothing.  I'll let God sort him out, and in the meantime I'll keep on making a difference in another friend's life.   :)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Maybe I'm not good at refinishing after all

So far I've refinished two pieces of furniture, and in general I'm not hearing people like the completed pieces.  It's quite frustrating to put in that kind of time and effort to hear something less than flattering.
I have one friend who's opinion in such matters hold weight, and he has yet to say he's liked anything I've done.
  • He hated the cake pan cabinet on the grounds that he's a traditionalist - the piece should either be painted or stained, and you never mix the two styles.  He couldn't get past the colors to address the workmanship.  
  • The bureau he said was maybe "decent", but reserved judgement based on the fact he couldn't tell what kind of wood it was made from (it's a cheap factory veneer job), the grain was going in different directions, and he couldn't feel the piece to determine if I had done a good job.  He asked why I didn't just paint it white, totally missing the point I had just stripped off the sloppy white paint job that was on it.  It was stained that color to try and match the woodwork trim around the closet it's going to installed into and build around.
The one who was supposed to take the cabinet doesn't seem to be interested in it because of space issues, and I suspect it might not fully go with her decor although I did use oak stain so it'd go with her floors, and white usually goes with everything.  She decided to remake a piece of furniture for the same purpose as the cabinet instead, so I don't think she was too thrilled with it.

Only one other person (beyond Fred and myself) seemed to love the cake pan cabinet. 

I'm starting to question the effort I'm expending when no one seems to like the results.  My inspiration came from the images below, which I thought were fantastic examples.  Maybe I have lousy taste...or maybe I need to stop placing such importance on my friend's opinion.

The last project for the near future

I have to do something other than cook food at the moment because these "old crappy pieces" are taking up too much room.  As much as I'd prefer to be goofing around and experimenting in the kitchen, I know it's more important to regain some space and get this stuff out from underfoot.

This tall chest comes apart after you remove a dozen screws from the frame.  It has to get refinished and out of the garage because it's hiding a short, wide filing cabinet that needs to be moved out of there and down into the basement office.  Granted, there's no big hurry to move the cabinet, but as I've been on a "refinishing roll", it doesn't make sense to stop it now because I might NOT get it up and going any time soon.  Sometimes, it's best just to suck it up and finish it all off all the dirty projects while you can, then rest.

I'm pretty sure this bureau will go into the guest bedroom closet.  It could find a home just about anywhere, but this specific closet is the smallest of all the bedrooms; a tall, narrow piece might just work perfect in there.

This is the second bureau left behind by the previous owner, and it stunk to high heaven with a moldy, dusty kind of smell.  I ripped off the old back panel, sprayed it with a bleach and water solution, and repeated the process several times back in the hot June sunshine.  Pulling it out, I sniffed the piece and there's no hint of that nasty smell, which is great news!  There are some loose boards, so it'll require a little TLC, but I'm sure this is "disposable poplar furniture".

It's not a bad piece considering it'll be used as part of a closet organizing setup.  The inside closets again have those wire racks, so anything is an improvement over what's in there now.  Again, the goal is always to add value to the house through creative reconstruction.

Fred was great today!  As I was trying to take advantage of the sun with the double bureau piece, he started stripping the new piece for me.  Can you say "I'm very thankful"?   :)

The closet bureau's finished

It's good to have another project done and over with and to be honest, this one was a joy to do since the paint was over a layer of polyurethane that was eaten away with the stripper.

When I woke up this morning, the forecast proved true - it was sunny outside, which is a change from all the rain we've been having up here.  Either way, I didn't want to lose any time (I knew it was supposed to start clouding up in the early afternoon), so I grabbed the foam roller and started staining the wood.  

After a few hours of it "cooking" in bright sun and light winds, the piece felt pretty dry to the touch, so I decided to polyurethane it.  Sure enough, by the time I'd finished the work and it was dry enough to move, it clouded up so much I was sure it was going to rain!  

The piece is now sitting in the downstairs front hallway until the closet is fixed up.  It makes sense to keep it downstairs for now, otherwise it'll be under foot while the quick construction project's being done.  In a bit I'll head out to Lowes or Home Depot and see what I can find for hardware for this piece (and see what I can get in terms of wood to replace the shelves).  My mind's eye keeps seeing this as a woman's room, and therefore making high heel shoe drawer pulls, but I can't say the next owner would want that, so I have to stay neutral.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The bureau's coming along, but the work keeps increasing

Fred and I busted butt today to finish one piece and seriously make headway on the second - the bureau.  A real stroke of luck hit today as the bureau had only one coat of paint, and that was painted on top of polyurethane, so it came off like a dream!  Since it went so well, we managed to get all the sanding done...which is where the "dream" bit comes in.   :)   We're not set to stain the drawers and polyurethane the piece. 

Now I have to start quickly thinking about redesigning the inside of the closet, which means a lot of work yet to be done.  Here's what I see in my immediate future:
  1. The spot needs a light, and I'd like it to turn on when the door opens instead of a wall switch, which would require cutting into sheetrock, and I'm not a fan of patching sheetroock in a room where I sleep as the dust is incredible and takes forever to get it all out.   
  2. When I pushed the clothes to one side, I noticed that the wall had only been half painted, so the closet needs to be painted and probably a little bit of sheetrock patching.  I won't know until I really get in there and start the work.
  3. A light in the closet means new wiring, so forget the "maybe" with sheetrock; it's a definite.
  4. The metal rack shelving needs to be replaced with wooden ones.  I am envisioning two boards that can hold shoes along with a clothes hanger pole mounted underneath.  Larger items can be stored on the top board.
  5. The closet needs doors, and I keep seeing a pair of shutter style bi-fold doors as it allows good air circulation.  
  6. Mirrors...the doors had mirrors, so maybe I can pull the mirrors off the old doors and somehow install them elsewhere in the room as a permanent feature.  Hmmm...maybe reframe and hang them on a horizontal bias above the bed as part of a cool artwork installation?  I'll have to play with this idea.  
  7. My friend gave me her old headboard and a long chest of drawers that have the look of bamboo, and the bedroom is currently in the fashion of an English country garden.  Since the headboard and chest of drawers are the major pieces in the room, I need to redecorate around them.  The room needs to be redecorated to reflect something more earthy with neutral colors with hints of green.  Textures like burlap, linen, or maybe bamboo shades need to come into this space to make it work.  So bye bye garden...     
  8. The ceiling fan is old and very blah - basic white.  I might be able to replace the blades with some I've seen that look like giant palm leaves.
The work never ends, but at least I know when it's done, it's DONE. 

The Cake Pan Cabinet Reveal

The cake pan cabinet is just about finished, with the exception of door handles, which are proving a challenge to attach (they're not standard handles).  You'll have to imagine a plain, enamel white paint job and a huge grease stain...and then age it by 35 years (yep, that's the age of this piece); I did have a picture, but lost it when I closed my old Facebook page in favor of a blog setup.

This cabinet looks like an old farm piece, and I love the way it came out!  

So here goes my first refinishing job, which was meant to be shabby chic.  I deliberately left spots of paint in the door grooves and corners where they were stained over because I wanted a bit of a homey, reclaimed look to it.  I don't like perfection on such things because perfection doesn't add character, but a little bit of something that looks like a "mistake" does.  I also did that because I knew I was going to give the basic box a milk paint treatment, so the "mistakes" actually blend.  There are also nail holes and a few deep gouges in the wood that you cannot get the "white" out of it, so this treatment of a see through, distressed box and "spots" also adds visual interest to the box. 

The top drawers were actual drawers, but I decided I wanted to reclaim that room as I had plans for inside the box.  The drawers were removed and the drawer fronts were salvaged and then "married" to the doors below, and the supporting center frame was split to become part of a larger door.  The drawer fronts wouldn't allow the door to open, so we had to cut about an inch out on the hinge sides at the very top of the cabinet to allow room for the door to swing open.

The hinges, which were painted white, were wire brushed clean and then sprayed gold; I think the original color was an aged brass.  They look much better and I'm glad I didn't end up replacing them (I bought new hinges, but they wouldn't fit so they were returned).

The side "wings" were an addition; I wanted a place to hang kitchen towels, so the idea of using rolling pins made perfect sense to me since it was a cake pan cabinet, and I was going with an overall baking theme.  It's super cute!

Here's the inside of the cabinet, and and you can see, the dividers are the right height (they don't need to go all the way to the top) to hold nested sets of cake pans in place with a little bit of room to play.  The inside height of the box is 27.5" which may sound like a ton of room, I have cooling racks that are 20" long, and cake pans as long as 18" at this point, so the room will be used!  From some quick calculations, I can fit at least 30 pans in the cabinet.  Not bad!   :) 

I decided to change the inside up a little bit because the "marriage" of the drawer fronts and the doors; the whole inside wouldn't have looked right stained, even though I had done that on the outside.  The inside has strips of wood that didn't take stain well (I had to modify the bottom of the door with the same strips, so that's how come I know this), so I decided it was best to paint in this case.

The top was a huge pain in the butt and very time consuming, but a true labor of love.  I traced the letters of a poem I modified, and then went back over them with a sharpie marker, then sanded over them to distress the print and create a bit of a faded effect, then I stained the top.  The top has been treated with 5 coats of polyurethane rolled on (brushing leaves streaks) and then polished in between coats with fine steel wool.

Would I use this technique again?  ONLY FOR PAY!  LOL 

I stained the box with a honey oak stain from Minwax, and then used Valspar ultra white mixed with milk.  YES, you read that right....MILK.  It thins down the paint, allowing for a more translucent coating that allows for the grain to come through.  Don't worry - I have no pets in danger of licking the cabinet.  :)  

After I painted the box with the milk paint wash, I used sand paper and steel wool to distress the sides a little bit so the grain of the wood would show through with its natural color.  The distressing was minor as I didn't need to do much since the finish is rather translucent.  It was just enough to allow any raised grain to come through.  I wanted to see knots and imperfections in this piece.

For the first time, I understand what some have said that a piece of crappy furniture "tells" you what it wants to become once you start working on it.  All the ideas I put into play on this piece, I can't take credit for as Father God blessed me with them.

It was also His recommendation that I give the finished piece back to Diane, so I'm waiting to hear her decision.  If she decides she has room and wants to keep it, that's great and her birthday/Christmas present has been solved.  LOL  If not, then I'll keep the cabinet and then find something cool for her gift.  :)

The great thing about this cabinet is...I know how to make another one should the need arise, so this was a great learning experience!