Monday, September 29, 2014

This Dusty Kitchen: Beef Stew and Cheese Roll Biscuits

I am not a food blogger.

Well, wait a minute. That can't be entirely true, since this post is going to be about food, and I even have a whole section of this blog dedicated to the various eats that come out of my kitchen. I guess what I actually mean is that I'm not a very good food blogger. I could never dedicated a whole blog to food.

(I know. I tried.)

See, dedicated food bloggers make plans. They test recipes, some of them over and over. Me? I stumble into things. I make dinner with whatever I happen to find in my fridge. Even basic meal planning fails me. This means I also don't plan out food posts; I don't tackle dinner intending to tell you all about what we ate.


But, sometimes, if I'm lucky, I pull supper out of the oven, have a little taste, and know I have to share.

The star of this meal is definitely the biscuits. A little extra work and they're just plain fun. But the stew is delightfully simple to go with them, and fairly cheap as a bonus.

Beef Stew

1-2 lbs stewing beef
4 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion
3 tbsp flour
3-4 carrots
4-5 red potatoes
6 cups beef stock (or 6 cups water and 3 cubes beef bouillon)

1. In a pot, cook the stewing beef in a little oil until browned over medium heat. Transfer to another plate and cut into smaller, bite sized pieces. Set aside for the moment.

2. Heat the olive oil in the same pot and add the red onion. Cook until soft and translucent. Add the other vegetables to the pot, then sprinkle the flour over the mix of vegetables. Mix and cook for a minute or so.

3. Slowly, add the beef stock, stirring as constantly as possible in order to make a nice thick gravy.

4. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the stew for at least 1 hour. Longer is good too, so the beef can become nice and tender.


Cheese Roll Biscuits
From Food That Really Schmecks by Edna Staebler

2 cups all-purpose flour
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter, shortening, or margarine
3/4 cup milk
As much grated cheese as you want

While your stew is simmering, preheat your oven to 450*.

1. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

2. Cut in the margarine, using a fork, pastry cutter or, my favourite tool, your hands. Mix until it's about the consistency of cornmeal, then slowly add the milk to form a dough. I found the dough to be very crumbly, and didn't hold together all that well, so as long as you can spread it out on your counter top, don't worry if it seems a little flaky already.

3. Roll out as best you can on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with as much cheese as you want, and roll up. Cut the dough every 1 inch, approximately, and place the cut out biscuits on a grease cookie sheet.

4. Bake for 12 minutes, until the biscuit has puffed up just slightly, the cheese has bubbled through the rolls, and the whole biscuit has turned a perfect golden brown.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Three Months




Yesterday, Isabel was three months old.

This month, we had to settle into a new normal. Daycare, school. I adjusted. She's working on it. Her fussy time in the evening when I'm at class can be difficult on everyone. With no nursing to comfort her, she sometimes cries and cries, choking on her own screams, leaving the Husband with just one coping mechanism: the stroller. It works, but only for the time they're moving. We'll figure it out though, right? He'll learn more comforting strategies, and she'll grow up, and grow out of it.

Sleeping: No changes on this front. On one hand, it feels like it's starting to wear me down, the waking up every 2-3 hours. I've started bringing her into bed with me to feed her more and more, grateful for the sleep I can snatch in those dark, middle of the night moments. Some days, it's more than I can handle, and I move through the daylight hours in a bit of a haze. Other days, the lack of sleep doesn't seem to affect me at all - one cup of coffee and I'm good to go.

Eating: Again, no change. Every 2 hours, maybe 3 at the most, with a few, rare 4 hour stretches. But, more importantly, she's eating well at daycare too. Anyone can feed her and she takes a bottle well. This was one of my primary fears going back to school. Would she eat? How could I bear the guilt of leaving her if she wouldn't willingly take a bottle? But, she does, and I couldn't be more relived.

Growing: This is the first month milestone that isn't accompanied by a doctor's appointment and a weigh in. I did my own a couple weeks back, just on the bathroom scale, but I'll admit, it's a little nerve-wracking, not having that visit and the reassurance that she's growing well and hitting the milestones we need to see. What if her rate of growth has slowed down too much? What if she's eating, but not enough, and it's time to introduce a little formula? What if I'm doing something wrong?

Playing: We've got that down pat. The Husband's family blessed us with a post-baby shower this past weekend, and Isabel came home with enough toys to last her 'til she's one. She loves them. She's grabbing for things now, moving beyond staring at bright colours to interacting with them when they're dangled in front of her face.

Next week, I'm going to register her for the local library's storytime. In some ways, this is more for me than it is for her. I'm looking forward to a chance to meet other moms who are fairly close by and build a few new friendships. I'm looking forward to having a reason to get out of the house with her. But, I think she'll also enjoy it. She loves to be sung to, and she's warming up to our evening story time more and more, so I think we'll both get a lot out of it.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Off My Needles: A Baby Sweater for Chilly Days

I didn't do much knitting in the months before Isabel's arrival. Oddly, I felt a little guilty about it. I was going to be a new mother. Shouldn't I be knitting little baby things like mad for the tiny person that would be needing them? In fact, the only thing I had knitted up for Isabel was a light baby blanket, intended for hot summer days.

Back in April, looking for a simple, small project, and searching for a way to connect a little more deeply with the squirmer in my stomach, I started a baby cardigan. I stuck to a beautiful, gender neutral teal, even though by that point, the Husband and I knew the sex of the baby; we were one of those infuriating couples who chose to find out, but kept it to ourselves.

I finished the knitting fairly quickly. Baby sweaters knit up fast, partially because they're so small and partially, I think, because their construction tends to be very simple. Or, at least, this one was. I chose to use the Baby Sophisticate pattern, available for free on Ravelry. Raglan sleeves mean it can be knit in one piece, with no seams to put together afterwards, and the garter stitch collar added just enough punch to heighten the cute factor without making it overly complicated.


I finished the knitted before Isabel arrived. It should have been done, especially considering the week and a half I was overdue before I finally went into labour. But, it wasn't. No big deal - I chose to knit the 6-12 month size, knowing that she was unlikely to wear a lot of sweaters during the warm summer months of her newborn stage. I washed it and hung it in her closet with all the other clothes that are too big for her. All it needed were four buttons. Such a simple task to finish and yet, there it hung, waiting.

These days, the weather is turning and Isabel is getting bigger. She's solidly into 3-6 month sizes, and doesn't even swim in 6-9 month clothes anymore. A month, maybe two at the most, and this little sweater will fit her perfectly. Knowing this, I knew I needed to get some buttons on it. I pulled out my sewing box and dug out the baggy of vintage buttons I picked up at a thrift store a few years back. I didn't have many options. My collection didn't seem to have a lot of buttons of the right size to begin with, let alone four that matched. Eventually, I gave up and found two and two in the same brassy colour.


They were perfect. Originally, I had planned on little green buttons, a bright contrast against the teal, buttons just like the ones I had put on the little yellow baby sweater I gave my best friend and her daughter. But they had disappeared, the whole package of them, so I was forced to consider a different option, and I'm glad I did. The flowers on two of the buttons add a little femininity, a little girly-ness to the sweater, and the brass pops without overpowering against the teal of the yarn.

Isabel hasn't worn it yet. She won't for a month or so, I expect. But, I'm glad she's got it hanging in her closet, waiting for her to fit into it. I don't know when I'll make her something again, when I'll find the time or the desire. When I do, hopefully it won't take me another 5 months to sew four buttons on.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Time to Paint: Accessorizing

As soon as I finished painting and cleaned up the epic mess I caused by spending 4 days at the project, I realized my accessory situation was a little lacking. I've spent all 3 years we've lived in this house waiting for a time when we would be done renovations and could actually start the decorating stage. Now, with every patch covered and the walls freshly painted, we've finally finished. This painting project means it's time to accessorize.

Unfortunately, I have very little to accessorize with. I'm going to have to do a little collecting over the next little while, but for the moment, I shopped my house a little and pulled together a few accessories that would pop against the the pale blue-grey of my fresh walls, keeping just a few things in mind.


Pieces of furniture are accessories too. In the dining area, we already had the kitchen table, with its dark wood top and chairs to match. It went really well with the dark stain of the stairs. But, we had a little extra space in this room and it needed filling. Since I recently freed up the vintage dresser I was using as a diaper change table in the attic, I brought it down, put it in place and realized it was perfect, meshing well with all the dark wood against the bright, freshness of the wall. With these pieces of furniture in place, I felt like the space needed very little extra. 

Use the walls. This is something I definitely need to improve over the next few months. At the moment, I have very little hanging on my walls. I want more art! I think colourful, high contrast prints would look great against the grey. Perhaps I'll have to DIY something in the next few weeks. 


Tie pieces together. Not literally, of course. What I mean is, find some commonality between the pieces in a space and use it. I feel like this is likely a bit of a safe technique, but I've found it works. A year or so ago, I found the painting hanging above our television on the curb on garbage day and ran it home in excitement. From that painting, I added a few other splashes of orange, yellow and green, highlighting the orange and greens in the painting. Green throw pillows, an orange bowl, a pile of old National Geographics.  Against the grey wall, these colours really shine, and make the room feel like I've actually pulled it together, rather than getting lucky with a few random pieces. 

Love your accessories. If you love something, display it! On the flip side, if you don't love something, even if it works in a space, get rid of it. An accessory might make your room look magazine-perfect, but if it's not you, you're not going to feel comfortable in the space. 

Hence, the ampersand. I know these things had their day of being trendy, but I loved it the moment I laid eyes on it, so I was pretty excited when I hung it in the corner above my lamp after finishing my painting and realized it was perfect for the corner. It was a simple detail that felt very 'me', especially against the grey wall. 


I'm sure you can tell I'm nowhere close to finished accessorizing both rooms, but we'll get there eventually. For now, I'm loving what I do have against these fresh grey walls. Soon, perhaps, I'll start visiting thrift stores and keeping my eyes open for the perfect additions. In the meantime, I'll be scouring the Internet for inspiration. Don't forget, the Benjamin Moore website is a great resource for all things colour related! 

Although this post has been generously sponsored by Benjamin Moore, the opinions and language are all my own, and in no way do they reflect Benjamin Moore.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Time To Paint: A Makeover Reveal

Nothing spruces up a space more than a fresh coat of paint. I don't always feel like I'm either a great decorator or the most immaculate house keeper, but somehow, painting a room makes me feel like both. Recently, Benjamin Moore sent me one of their ben & ME bags to try out. The timing was perfect, considering the number of months we've lived with mud patches and paint swatches on our walls. Besides that, so much of our house hadn't been painted in 3 years and, with two dogs in the house, the walls were looking a little grubby.


I knew the space that would benefit the most from a coat or two of paint was the dining room area. Much of it had never been painted before. The yellow on the wall was the original paint colour in the house when we bought it and we still had chunks of plain drywall to cover. A couple months ago, when we painted the dark grey of the stair walls, we got a little peak at how big of a change a little paint would be.


Yeah, this space really needed some paint.

And then, there was our living room, a giant scar right through its focal point.


The whole space, dining room and living room combined, was a big job. With Isabel still napping for many hours in the day, and a ben & ME bag in hand, I picked up a roller and got to work.


The ben & ME bag came with pretty much everything I needed. Two gallons of the best paint I've ever used, plus 1 quart for the trim, a sleeve roller, a paint brush, a paint tray with a paint tray liner, a drop cloth, a paint can opener, and painters tape. Because some of our trim was brand new, we also had to make use of a couple tubes of caulk in order to close up any gaps and get a nice clean line from trim to wall.

The bag also included a how-to guide, particularly useful for DIYers who have never painted on their own before. It was full of tips, many of which I used in order to get through this huge job.

The ben & ME bag is only available for a limited time (until October 5th) and you are able to get all these contents inside for just $109* at a value of $169. Make sure you get to a Benjamin Moore store to get one for yourself.

Because a number of our walls hadn't been painted before, tip number 3, preparation, preparation, preparation was especially important. Cracks needed mudding and sanding, and fresh drywall needed at least one coat of primer. We had some cobwebs in our highest corners to sweep down before I picked up a paint brush, and wiping down the trim made painting far smoother.

Tip number 8 was a good reminder before I got started. Splatter happens. And, I'm not the neatest of painters. Keeping a damp cloth close by for drips and droplets that landed on the floor was absolutely crucial. I went through so many damp rags over the four days I spent painting, but my floors are more or less paint splatter free.

Considering the quality of the rollers and brushes in the ben & ME bag, I paid pretty close attention to tip number 14 - Clean 'Em to Keep 'Em. With some cheaper materials, I won't worry about this too much, just tossing the roller sleeve when the project is finished. These ones though, were worth cleaning immediately at the end of the project in order to keep them as immaculate as possible. As for all my leftover paint? I think I might have enough to do my bathroom yet too!


The painting itself took 4 full days. It wasn't easy, balancing getting paint on the walls and trim, and taking care of Isabel when she needed me. I woke up early, took advantage of her naps, and passed her off to the Husband as soon as he got home in the evening. By the end of the 4 days, I was exhausted and felt like I missed our snuggles and naps, but the house was finished and I was thrilled with the result.

Ready for the reveal?



The pale grey colour I chose went really well with the dark stain of our stairs, our table, and the dresser I brought down from our attic - you know, the one I was using for a diaper changing table. After the patchy yellow that was in this space before, the bright coolness of the grey seems perfect to open up our space and make it feel clean and fresh.

And, the living room?




Here, the grey seemed to go well with the green and orange accessories I already have. I'm looking forward to adding a little more to both spaces to accessorize and emphasize the colour of the walls. Maintaining the same colour from space to space kept everything feeling large and unified. The house feels amazingly fresh, just in time for me to start school and head into my own fresh start. The new paint job just feels good right now, helping me to clear my mind and get in the right headspace to start something new.

It's amazing how something so simple can have such a high impact.

Twitter Party Alert!

Join sheblogs Canada on September 18 from 7-8pm EST for the #DIYwithBen Twitter Party and win some great prizes. RSVP for the party HERE.

Although this post has been generously sponsored by Benjamin Moore, the opinions and language are all my own, and in no way do they reflect Benjamin Moore.

* With  a qualifying purchase of two cans of 3.79 l ben® interior flat K625, eggshell K626 or semi-gloss K627 and one can of 946 ml ben® interior semi-gloss K627 for $109.00 suggested retail price, receive a FREE ben® & Me tote and painting kit at participating dealers. Limit one (1) per customer. While supplies last. No substitutions. Qualifying purchases must be made in single transaction. Actual price will be determined by dealer at checkout. Offer cannot be combined with other offers, discounts or promotions, or applied toward prior purchases. Offer valid August 25, 2014 – October 5, 2014. See your local participating dealer for details. Void where prohibited.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Time To Paint: Colour for a Small House

We live in a small house. Since we added 300 square feet through our attic renovation, I can no longer say that it's a tiny house, and these days, it feels like it's quite a comfortable size, even with the addition of our little one and all the baby things that go along with her. But, it's still not large in North American terms, so when choosing paint colours, I'm very careful that my choice doesn't make my small house seem even smaller. Coupled with my difficulty in choosing paint colours, this can be tough.

Over the years, however, I've learned and absorbed a few tips and tricks to make sure that the walls help make a space feel open and comfortable, rather than closed in and claustrophobic.

Royalty free image from freeimages.com

Skip the accent wall, unless it has a purpose. Our last paint job included one wall that was a shade or two darker than the rest. It was the longest wall in the house, yes, but there was really no reason for an accent wall since it wasn't meant to be a focal point. Now that it's gone, the room feels a little more open and cohesive.

That said, this time around, I've chosen to paint the majority of the walls of our living space a shade lighter than the stair walls. Because our stairs, which we put so much work into, are a focal point, something we want to draw attention to, this makes far more sense. I also find that it draws attention to the fact that there is indeed more space in our house.

Use bright, light colours. This is by no means a hard and fast rule, but lighter, cool colours will reflect more light and will, therefore, make a room seem bigger. We have always kept the colours in our small spaces fairly bright, for this very reason.

Stick to one colour. This is a tip I haven't actually made use of in my own home, but that I've read many times while searching for inspiration for paint colours. Of course, painting the walls all one colour - and skipping the accent wall - goes a long way to making a small room look larger, but if you also paint the ceiling and trim in different shades of the same colour, you can trick the eye into thinking the room is larger. It's important to maintain the contrast in the room, but playing around with the standard white ceiling, white trim paint job may present some impressive results.

Really stick to one colour. In a space with low ceilings, it can help to paint the walls and the ceiling the exact same colour. By continuing the wall colour on the ceilings, the solid line, or boundary created by the corner is removed, making the space feel larger. We used this technique - sort of - in our attic by painting the dormer walls and peak white.


Maybe I've drawn this out too long, but this week I will finally reveal the paint job I've been talking about so much here. I hope I've succeeded in making out home feel just a little more spacious than it did, using some of these tips. You'll be the judge of that! In the meantime, be sure to check out Benjamin Moore's website for some paint inspiration!

Although this post has been generously sponsored by Benjamin Moore, the language are all my own, and in no way do they reflect Benjamin Moore.




Friday, September 5, 2014

On Leaving My Daughter For The First Time


The night before, I spent hours packing her diaper bag. What would she need? Diapers, of course. Wipes. Diaper cream, maybe, though she hasn't had much of a problem with rashes yet. Multiple changes of clothes. Blankets. An extra pacifier. Bottles. How many? One? Two? Or is that not enough? Breastmilk. 15 ozs? I'd read somewhere that she would eat way more than I expect. 5 bags? But a couple of them are smaller. Better do 6. Baby soap, because what if she has a blowout that makes it all the way up to her hair, even though such a blowout has never happened before?

I had been anticipating this day for two months. Some days, I chose not to think about it, and others, I couldn't keep my mind off it. It has loomed large on the horizon of my summer.

That morning, I zipped the frozen bags of breastmilk into a freezer bag and clipped Isabel into her stroller for the short walk to her new daycare. We've been fortunate to find a neighbour who has run a home daycare in the past and was happy to take on our itty bitty baby. To have someone so close, someone we saw on a semi-regular basis before entrusting our daughter to her care was a huge relief, especially here in the city, where daycare can be astronomically expensive or completely inaccessible.

Stepping away from my daughter that morning was difficult, but not impossible. I coaxed one last smile out of her, accepted the reassurances of our smiling neighbour and returned home, which felt suddenly empty, despite the rambunctious presence of the dogs and the excitement for the activities of the day.

Isabel was being cared for. It was time for me to just be me.

I quickly learned how impossible it is to turn the mom off after being steeped in it for 2 months. The first thought on my mind as I arrived on campus was finding the bathroom with the breastfeeding/pumping room I'd read about on the school's website, so I could make sure Isabel would have enough to eat the next time she goes to daycare. The second thing on my mind as I settled into the first orientation session of the day was whether or not Isabel had accepted a bottle from a stranger in a strange place. The third thing on my mind as the afternoon wore on was whether she was napping or spiraling into her fussy cry, the one that usually hits around 6pm and continues on and off until 10pm, When 5pm hit and my academic advisor continued talking for 5 more minutes, I got antsy in my chair, ready to bolt out the door the minute everyone else started packing up.

And yet, despite the tension I felt throughout the day, there were brief moments of an odd kind of joy. Standing in line at Starbucks with no stroller to maneuver through the doors. The bursts of excitement I felt as the faculty talked about the concentrations I'm interested in. The itch I felt to get started, to get back to reading with purpose, writing things that count for something, talking about something other than how well she napped, or the long walk we took with the dogs.

When I got back, she was awake, calm, happy to see me, even. I gathered her up, took her home, fed her and snuggled her. Despite being away from me all day, she was normal. Not fussy in retribution. Awake, but content. Asleep at her normal time. Her evening was exactly as it always is. She was fine, and I was more than fine.

It was hard, leaving her. Throughout the day, I felt a bit like I'd forgotten to put my pants on, or like I'd left home with the door wide open. But, I'll get used to that feeling, knowing that at the end of the day, we'll be together again, her, happy and well taken care of, me, mentally stimulated and excited about the new direction I'm taking, the work I'm doing. I'm sure there will be times when I second guess myself, wonder if this is really what's best for her and for our little family. There will be long nights scrambling to finish projects and long days, with the dishes piling up and the dogs missing out on their long walks as I juggle baby and school work.

But I know we can do it, now. I know it will all be ok, that we'll manage just fine and, in the end, we'll all be happier for it.