High Protein Take-Along Tasting Chocolate (aka, What all Mommies Need in their Diaper Bag)


I first caught on to the idea of a tasting chocolate from a friend. She whipped up a rich, creamy, chocolate with a spread-type consistency using cocoa and coconut oil and a few other ingredients. I watched her eat it by the spoonful.

Flash forward to my friend Shannon, during her pregnancy and afterwards, turning to her Justin’s brand nut butter with maple syrup, or chocolate in a little squeeze tube like a ketchup packet for a protein rich treat.

I gave that stuff a try and loved it, but felt guilty about the packaging waste, and was somewhat stunned by the ticket price $1.79 on average per little packet. I guess you pay for the convenience of it. It was nice to just reach in my bag, pull one out and discreetly ingest it ( I have two kids under five years…having something for yourself means hiding and discreetly ingesting, ok!).

Eating nut butter or even chocolate in this way is revolutionary for me. Not sure why it has taken me so long to really try it out myself. I’ve had ample examples from friends over the years. I remember watching my high school buddy eating peanut butter by the spoonful, but back then I just thought it was odd. I was locked into the idea that nut butters needed to be on something, not stand alone. It’s taken me this long to get on the band wagon!

I’ve been really craving these small portions of nut butter during the day, but couldn’t bring myself to buy the packs, for the reasons listed above. I decided, I can make this myself by combining the tasting chocolate idea with the nut butter protein pack.

Last post I wrote about my DIY chocolate nut butter. This is just a little different, a little more indulgent, with a few additional ingredients and smoother consistency.

Here is what you will need (keep in mind you can make this as indulgent as you want with the ingredients you choose. Choose a Dutch chocolate for superior cocoa flavor, but pay the additional cost, etc.):

1 baby food sized container with lid 

1 heaping tsp organic cocoa powder

1 tsp coconut oil

3 heaping teaspoons creamy, non sweetened nut butter. I used sunflower seed butter (Trader Joe’s now carries a sunflower seed butter that is un-sweetened)

1 tsp maple syrup (you can use honey instead)

Optional ingredients: 1/4 tsp maca powder, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, or cinnamon powder to taste.

All of this is to taste. The approximate ratio for nut butter to everything else is 3:1. However, if your nut butter is a more thick/dry consistency (almond butter can be this way) you may want to ad more coconut  oil, a tsp at a time.20180625_084544

Combine nut butter, cocoa powder, and maple syrup and mix thoroughly. I like to ad a pinch of maca powder too but this is optional. Then add coconut oil, one tsp at a time to make it the consistency you want.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine a bit of vanilla extract would be nice, or a pinch of cinnamon. But that would be hypothesis on my part and not field tested. If you try it, let me know!

Once mixed it should be a nice creamy, slightly thick consistency that sticks to your spoon. Enjoy one spoon (or two) at a time. I like to pop the container, along with a spoon into my bag and pull it out when I need just little pick me up.

Enjoy and tell me what you think!

S

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DIY Chocolate Nut Butter


I have this thing for chocolate nut butter. It started late in life, like, after having two babies. Before that, I never really craved anything sweet, and chocolate was a take it or leave it thing. It still is often a take it or leave it. I don’t have a stash of chocolate in my pantry (most of the time), and I can go months without it. But not too long ago I stumbled upon a jar of chocolate almond butter at our local Grocery Outlet. The only reason I even considered it was because it was discounted AND the deciding factor was that the ingredients list was relatively simple.

Well, that started the slide. Not only did I really enjoy it, but my hubs really got into it too. Subsequent trips to the GroOut left us empty handed, as same stock is not guaranteed.

I didn’t grow up with Nutella. I know why, now, after reading the label. My mom was much too health conscious for that. The ingredients list reads like a horror story for any individual remotely aware of what is good or bad to put into your body.

When my hubs had asked several times whether I had tracked down a bottle of the stuff, and I kept coming up empty, I decided, what the hey, maybe I can make it myself

Turns out, I can, and for really cheap. Plus, you know what you’ve put in it, and there are no extras.

For under the cost of a pre-made jar (usually about $12 around these parts). I’d say I spent maybe $8 and the jar is larger than most of the choco nut butters you can find. So without further ado, I give you the magic ingredients:

1 jar of raw creamy almond butter ($5.99 at Trader Joe’s)- or whatever nut butter you’d like (the simpler the better, check to see if it’s just ground nuts or if they’ve added a whole bunch of junk. Also note that nut butters can cost a lot, depending on where you shop…so that’s why I gave you the hint on the TJ’s brand one- and no, they are not paying me!)

Approx imately 4 TBSP honey (I think I got mine from TJs for $6.99 keeping in mind you are only using a fraction of the jar).

2 heaping Tsps cocoa powder ( I already had it in my pantry, but let’s say around $6, more if you get organic, or the Dutch kind)

First you are going to need to mix the almond butter since it is most likely separated. Then you will have to use a bit of it to make some space in the jar for the ingredients you will be adding. I put the hubs to work on that, and he consumed several tablespoons worth on his  breakfast toast.

Now, put in all of the above ingredients and stir until fully incorporated. You should taste test it and ad any additional amounts to suit your taste. I don’t want mine particularly sweet.

You can also substitute sweeteners, maple syrup is a great alternative choice. Different nut butters are also an option. I don’t do peanut butter, but I love sunflower seed butter if you are going for a more “peanutty” flavor.

This chocolate nut butter is great on crepes, on toast with raspberry jam, slathered on a graham cracker or just by itself!

Enjoy!

Next time I’ll share with you another great guilty pleasure- tasting chocolate that packs a high protein punch!

Masala Paste from Scratch


Ok. Here I am again, posting about cooking. Let me put in a quick disclaimer: I am not a chef. I am a self taught dabbler, a mother of two and wife of one (no polygamy here). I had no interest in food until, in art school, I discovered that I needed to cook, or die. Thus began my foray into cuisine, first by frantically phoning my mom to ask basic cooking questions, and then, starting to use my gut.

If you are a details person, you like to follow instructions to a tee, measure out everything exactly, this is not the post for you, stop reading immediately and find another recipe.

If you are a person who, like me, tends to scan recipes, compile the fundamentals in your mind basket, and then go-to with wild abandon, substituting with rough equivalents where ingredients are lacking, then this might be for you, read on.

A dear friend of mine recently tried my curry from scratch and asked if I could give her my recipe. I had to answer “no”. Not because it is any great secret, but because I really haven’t the foggiest when it comes to the exact ingredients I use when making my basic masala paste from which my curries emerge. I realized that this has got to change. I really do need to lay it out once and for all. My husband is a huge fan of my curries so I make it quite regularly, however, they always turn out a little different.

Can I also preface this with…I am an ignoramus when it comes to Indian cuisine. I do not know the specifics about the different curries nor their names. I am a novice in the world of Indian spices, yet they delight and tantalize me. They have an amazing power and fragrance and in a world of less is more, the opposite is actually true of these incredible spices, just add more, more, more! It took me a while to realize that I needed to not hold back with the amount of spices I put in. My measly amounts of spices were pathetic. Now, I happily purchase bulk spices in their seed form. You can buy the pre-ground and make life easier, but I believe much of the deliciousness comes from freshly grinding the spices as needed.

So, saying that, if you are anything like me, you already want to throw in the towel. I always get overwhelmed by the prerequisites to a recipe “oh, I need that tool?” “oh, I have to get those spices?””Gaw, I’ll just eat ramen”

Hear me out. What you need is a coffee grinder if you are using the spice seeds. If you have pre-ground, give that grinder no second thought. ( most of us have coffee grinders. I now possess my own “spices” coffee grinder after one too many coffee tasting of cumin. However, coffee with a hint of cardamom is delicious!). It is also helpful to have either an immersion blender or food processors (food processors, I hear they are useful. I haven’t got one).

What you need for spices seems like a long list. It is. But, if you get hooked like I did, you are going to be using them for a long time. Heck, you probably have a few already:

  • cumin seeds
  • paprika
  • garam masala
  • cardamom (whole) or inner cardamom seeds
  • coriander seeds
  • black pepper corns
  • turmeric (I use the powder)
  • mustard seeds
  • clove
  • fenugreek seeds

 

If you don’t have all of those, that’s ok, it’s still going to taste delicious.

Other ingredients:

  • 2 med onions
  • sea salt
  • 5 to 6 cloves of garlic
  • a thumbs length of garlic (roughly two tablespoons when chopped)
  • a can of diced tomatoes or several large tomatoes diced.
  • ghee…or butter…or coconut oil.

Here we go, step by step with pictures!

  1. Get out a pan. ( If you are using powder, skip this and the next step) I love my cast iron skillets. I despise non-stick. The first will (apparently) leave trace amounts of iron in your food- good for those of us always low on iron and pregnant ladies. The latter, will leave trace amounts of mystery chemicals, especially if it’s been scratched or roughed up. A good compromise: a stainless steel pan. With pan on medium heat toss on a tablespoon of each of the following: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, inner cardamom seeds*, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and roughly twenty cloves.  Toast them in the pan. Toast until fragrant (roughly 30 seconds?) If they start to smoke, you’re done! Take the pan off the heat. This happens relatively quickly, so do not walk away. Use your expert tossing skills to shimmy those seeds around the pan as they heat.* On closer examination of this photo I realized I had no cardamom on the pan. Further sleuthing revealed that the spice lady at the shop had neglected to even sell me any. Oops. I can attest to the fact that this recipe is delish sans cardamom).

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2. Pour toasted seeds into a grinder and grind until fine and fragrant.20160816_150138.jpg

3. Chop the garlic, ginger and onions roughly and set aside in either separate ( if you like to feel like those chefs on TV with pinch bowls) or a single bowl. It is not necessary to spend time on this as it will all be blended once cooked.

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4. Begin heating a decent sized pot. It’s going to hold all of your masala, so make sure it’s not a small pot. I’d say a medium to large one. In the warm pot, add 2 tablespoons ghee (or whatever oil you’ve chosen). I like to use ghee…it makes it feel more authentic, though I can’t honestly say it is any different from butter. Coconut oil adds a little bit of flavor. In my estimation, if you are going to use coconut oil, this is the type of dish to use it in, the flavor lends itself well to curries. Sprinkle in some salt too…this is a great time to incorporate some salty goodness. Now toss in the ground spice. If this is the first time the spice has touched a pan, aka if you bought it pre-ground, I recommend putting it in first, before the oil and salt and letting it warm and “toast” briefly before adding the other stuff. It’s all about releasing the aroma and flavor!20160816_150731.jpg

5. Once the ghee has melted (it happens fast) toss in the onions, garlic and ginger. Stir well on high heat, then lower to a simmer.20160816_150813.jpg

Now make a cup of tea (preferably a spiced chai) and hold your horses while you wait for the onions to cook down. You want them to be transparent. Don’t rush this stage. If you don’t let the onions caramelize you are wasting some great natural sweetness. This could take at least 10 minutes. Breathe.20160816_151043.jpg

6. As you wait, or in your own good time, gather together the following spices, all approximately a tablespoon …except for the cayenne: that is “to taste”. (I have some incredible Birds Eye Pepper cayenne that is HOT. I used only a quarter teaspoon): Black pepper (preferably freshly ground), turmeric (this is a root, so I buy it in powder form), garam masala ( also a proprietary blend of spices, so comes in powder form) and cayenne.20160816_151555.jpg

Go ahead and add those spices to the pot. Stir well to incorporate.20160816_151623.jpg

By now the whole thing should be thickening up and gluing itself together. You will also start to worry that it’s drying out and about to burn. If the onions are still not transparent, then add a bit of water, just enough to keep it from burning. Do this periodically until those onions are soft. Then cook until dry and about to burn. Now’s the time to…

7. throw in the diced tomatoes. Fresh is best but I did not have any, so canned it was (if you really want to go the health nut way, you only use fresh, because there’s good research that shows that canned tomatoes are pretty bad for you – the acid in them leeches the plastic lining out. Yes, even if it’s BPA free lining, it’s still a synthetic lining of some kind. But if, like me, you’ve obsessed, stressed and ultimately surrendered to theses realities, you will weigh the good against the bad and just go ahead and use it anyway…if sparingly).20160816_151655.jpg

Stir. Now watch as that tomato and its juices helps to de-glaze the pan. Now you’re lookin’ at an almost finished masala paste. You just need to cook that down for a bit. I’d say roughly 15 minutes of simmering with the lid off.

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8. When you’ve cooked it down a decent amount (it should look like a thick tomato sauce) turn of the heat and let cool.

9. If you are anxious like me, sometimes, or in a time bind, you’re gonna want to blend that up right away. I advise not to. Do you like being burned by scalding hot masala paste? I didn’t think so. Hopefully, you’ve waited at least 20 minutes. Now, go ahead and blend that masala smooth using your immersion blender or whatever other fancy tool you might have for doing this. You can now use this masala paste to immediately make a massive vat of curry. Or, like me, you might choose to divide it and sock some away in the freezer for a future meal. This is how I divided mine:

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2/3 in a jar to be used the next day on a curry for four adults and two kids. The last third in a ziplock to be frozen. It will expand to make enough curry for my family of 4.

That’s it. That’s all. I hope you could follow that relatively well. Just in case not, I have handily combined the instructions without the pics and needless commentary below!

Cooking Instructions:

1 With pan on medium heat toss on a tablespoon of each of the following: cumen seeds, coriander seeds, inner cardamom seeds*, mustard seeds, fennugreek seeds and roughly twenty cloves.  Toast them in the pan. Toast until fragrant (roughly 30 seconds) If they start to smoke, you’re done! Take the pan off the heat. 

2. Grind the toasted seeds and set aside.

3. Chop the garlic, ginger and onions roughly and set aside in either separate or a single bowl.

4. Begin heating a large pot. In the warm pot, add 2 tablespoons ghee (or whatever oil you’ve chosen). Add a teaspoon of salt. Add in the ground spices. Stir.

5. Toss in the onions, garlic and ginger. Stir well on high heat, then lower to a simmer.

6. Gather together a teaspoon each of the following spices ( cayenne to taste): black pepper, turmeric, garam masala, cayenne. Add to pot and stir well to incorporate. 

7. When onion mixture is well caramelized and transparent, add in one large can of diced tomato, stir well. Set on simmer until cooked down to consistency of a thick tomato sauce. Approximately 20 minutes.

8. Blend cooled masala into a paste. Use immediately or store in zip lock bags in freezer. Makes enough for roughly two meals (for up to 4 adults per meal).

 

Thanks for checking this out. If you are curious about how I expand this into a curry, check out my next blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

Salt Brine


Ahh. This poor wallowing blog. It’s a sad state of affairs, I know, when I have no creative endeavor to blog about.

So, I will seek out the creative in my everyday, because being a mom is a creativity-on-the-fly kind of a proposition.

In recent years I’ve actually turned to cooking as a creative/relaxing-ish process. I’m in the kitchen a lot anyway, and I can’t not cook, sooo …might as well enjoy it. I approach it much like I do my painting and drawing: I do not ever use a recipe, I do use references and then piece it together, I do it all on the fly and often from random things I find in my fridge and cupboards. The less planned out, the more satisfying (my high school art teacher will be clutching his heart at this point; what, no pre sketches?!).

So, because I don’t have any methodical method to this madness, it sometimes takes me a bit to figure out the trick to something. I have to accidentally hit on it several times before the correlation between certain ingredients, time, application etc. spark recognition in me. Then, out of that comes a dish I can mostly replicate…but never exactly.

The recent discovery, people, is salt brining.

How many times have I made…or more often had chicken, or pork, that looks absolutely delicious, but when I bite into it, I am appalled by its lack of flavour?

The answer is: many. Many times. Too many times.

The problem is not even that it isn’t salted (that’s another issue I have…you HAVE to salt meat), it’s that it wasn’t salted properly.

When I bite into meat, I don’t want flavour just on the outside layer, I want it all the way through.

That’s simple, you say, just marinate the damn thing for 24 hours. Oh, you bet, that is definitely the way.

Did I mention I am now a mom of two under three? Did I mention that I am not a planner? Quite frankly, getting frozen meat out of the freezer with enough time allotted to thaw is a challenge for me most of the time. So, yes, if I manage to think days ahead, I can thaw my meat and soak it in a 24 hour marinade and it’s golden.

BBUUUUUT for all you last minute chicas and hombres out there, there is an easier way. And, even if you still want to put a 12 hour marinade on a choice piece of meat, this method I am about to tell you about is STILL an awesome precursor to that and will only make your meat of choice that much yummier.

Here’s the secret: A 30 minute salt brine.

Yeah. Look it up. I am not making this up. It’s out there.

( I know, salt is the new poison…however, I am betting that the salt content ultimately is less and definitely not more than the salt you would automatically get in a pre-prepared chicken from the grocery store.You are the one adding the salt, so you have full control of amounts. For all of you salt enthusiasts, this is for you. For those on a strict no salt diet, I am truly sorry.)

Take your thawed meat: chicken thighs, pork loin, skirt steak, whatever: place in a bowl that is deep enough so that when you fill it with water, the meat is fully immersed. Dump in roughly (I am not a measurer) 2 teaspoons of your salt of choice ( I use sea salt), then fill with water, stir, and then place your meat in it and let it sit, covered, in the fridge, for a minimum of 30 minutes (note: you don’t have to do it in that order, I often have the meat in first, then I sprinkle the salt all over and then add water then gently move the meat around so the salty water fills every nook and cranny). For chicken, especially drum sticks, 30 minutes is plenty.( You can prep your other dishes while you wait. Heck, you can be distracted by your toddler pooping on the floor and by the time you’ve cleaned that mess up, the chicken is ready.) If it’s something like a pork loin, or a thick roast of some sort, you can leave it for several hours or overnight. But you’d be amazed how just 30 minutes can be enough in a pinch.

Then when you are ready to get cookin’, pour out that water, dab your meat dry with paper towel and then season how you would normally season it. Cook it. Gaw, it will change your life.

Oh, wait! If you are going to slow cook that bad boy, don’t pour out that water, use it in the crock pot. When you’ve finished cooking that meat in the crock pot, don’t pour out the cooking juice, use it to cook rice or other grains in it – too f*&in’ good.

That’s it, my epiphany. Since I started prepping my meat that way, my hubby has only had good things to say…as well as my toddler and baby who gobble it all up.

Cheers. Happy cooking/creating.

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Tee hee , we gobbled it up so fast I had no time to take a picture of it just after it was cooked. Here are the cold left overs.

In addition:

I just discovered you can salt brine brussel sprouts. Oh yes, I did. My kid chose brussel sprouts as we meandered through the produce section of the grocery store. She thought they were cute because they looked like mini cabbages. I knew this was do or die…I had to make it tasty so that she’d want them again and again. So, same idea, salt brined those puppies, then cooked em up with garlic, ginger and tamari making sure to really brown them on each side in the pan before deglazing with a bit of rice vinegar and water. Also sprinkled it with sesame seeds and a drizzle of sesame oil for fragrance. The verdict: my kid loved them. I even got an “if I have to eat brussel sprouts, this is the way I want to eat them” from the hubs. High praise, high praise.

Joint Inspiration: Making Homemade Ricotta from Leftover Milk


So we’re not milk drinkers in this house hold. I ended up with a nearly-full half gallon carton of milk after making my hubby a birthday cake (first cake I ever made, but that’s a story for another time). I looked at him and just threw it out there: “what can you make with milk? ” and his response was to Google that exact question. The two top options were dulce de leche and ricotta. Well that started my creative cooking juices flowing. ..I had left-over pasta sauce and also a half box of lasagna noodles. ..why not make ricotta stuffed pasta? But first, could we pull off homemade ricotta?

Using the first recipe we found online we gathered these items:
1. 1/2 gallon milk
2. 1 and 1/2 lemon
3. 1 tsp salt

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I brought the milk up to “just before” boiling when it’s steaming with a few frothy bubbles

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Then I removed it from the heat, poured in the lemon juice and salt, stirred gently with a slotted spoon and waited 10 minutes. ..though you can start to see it curdle almost immediately. At this point my baby started to cry for the food only mommy can provide so hubby took over.
Using cheese cloth laid into a strainer set in an empty pot to catch the whey,  he scooped the curds into it and let it sit another ten minutes.

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Then all that was left was to fill the pasta with the ricotta. We were so amazed by how easy it was to make. Literally anyone could do it. No doubt we’ll do it again. So glad we found this solution rather than letting the milk slowly go bad and eventually dumping it out.

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Yummiest solution ever!

Dairy Free Fudgesicles


This is SO simple you’ll be laughing all the way to fudgesicle heaven. I came up with this recipe in about 5 minutes expecting to have to do a lot of doctoring and fine tuning, but it was great right off the bat.

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Ingredients list:
1 can coconut milk
3Tbs coco powder
4Tbs agave
5Tbs almond milk

Throw all ingredients in a blender and dispense into popsicle forms. Ta da!

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Aaannd with the left overs you can make a better-than-Starbucks fancy coffee by:

Adding 1 cup cold/left over coffee
1 more tablespoon of agave
And a handful of ice cubes.

Run the blender on ice-crushing mode and then serve. Yumms!

Enjoy! The hardest part is waiting for the fudgesicles to freeze!

Interior Decorating for Dummies, *emphasis on Dummy*


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I’m an artist, so I should know about colour, right?

Wrong.

News flash: interior decorating is nothing like painting on a canvas. I know…a house is just as much a blank canvas as a real canvas for the creative soul…but this creative soul is having a dark tea-time of the soul as regards colour choice for our house.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to re-invent our space, which, when we moved in was awash with a sort of piss-tinted hue throughout the entire house (A+ for consistency I suppose), not to mention a musty, smoker-lived-here smell that we were anxious to exorcise. I happily ran down to our local  hardware store, spent a few puzzled/overwhelmed  minutes gazing at paint chips ( like a kid in a non-edible candy store you might say) before going with a gut instinct for a grey-blue tone.

Excellent. No problemo. The colour went on magnificently, only it was a little too subtle. “Dang!, I knew it!” I muttered under my breath. At the last moment I had let my husband cloud my judgement and went a shade lighter than I’d wanted to. Needless to say, though we liked the colour, we agreed it was too light and  ended up repainting. No real problem, but additional time was required.

Then it came time to paint the hallway. I didn’t want a repeat of the last time. I wanted to go bold. I have this gorgeous Laotian tapestry we picked up years ago in Thailand and working from those colours I decided to boldly go purple. Crazy, I know. But I felt it in my gut, this was going to work and I would consult no one. Purity of vision and all that.

paint chips and Loatian tapestry
paint chips and Laotian tapestry

A trip to the hardware store, an unwavering finger proudly pointing at my colour swatch with the command of, “mix this”  and four hours of painting later (I could have bought the $2 sample and painted a wall, but why go the wussy way?) my hallway looked….well, it looked like …a cut of pastrami had exploded on my walls. A mix between gaudy easter purple and say, SPAM…or as my sister-in-law put it, “sort of intestinal”. Yeah, that’s what I was going for.

Back to the drawing board. Back to the paint aisle where a helpful fellow wanna-be interior decorator gave me tips on the trendiness of brown and blue after overhearing my discussion with my sister-in-law…until she saw the colour swatch I was working with already and a look of horror edged into her expression and an “oh” escaped her lips, like “oh, that kind of blue, well then there’s no colour that will go with that“, that kind of “oh”.

When all else fails, stick with the colour you’ve got and just go with shades ( I don’t know that that is a design thing, but I have a gut feeling I’m right). So that’s what I did;  a bolder shade of the existing colour. And you know what, I love it and so does hubby. In my books, that’s a success.

This interior decorating is harder than I thought. When you make a mistake, you can’t just paint over it with a big brush and a few strokes, no, you’ve got to cut in (gack) and roll for hours.

And gut instinct that works when painting on canvas does not necessarily work for painting walls. Lesson learned. I could benefit from reading a few decorating books.


After all the frustration, it is at last resolved. Now it’s time to sit back with my Winter Spiced Ale and enjoy.

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..while sitting on my Craigslist find…new home 019 Not bad, eh? But I’d still put me down more in the dummy column when it comes to decor. However, I do shoot half decent photos. So enjoy the illusion of a magazine ready home (hint: it’s all in the cropping!):

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our fireplace, now painted white with the blue-grey accent wall complete.

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Finished hallway.
Finished hallway.