Monday, December 30, 2013

Supply Drawer Dividers.

You may have just finished reading about my lovely Supply Drawer Reface project.  If yes, thank you and please continue reading to see where the story leads.  If you have not, may I suggest following this link to do so in order to catch up.

After refacing.

When filling up all my newly refaced drawers I took care to maintain a comfortable level of organization that would enhance function yet not force rigid guidelines on precisely where items must be put back.  Let’s face it, sometimes we just dump things in drawers.  Even you.

The two deep bottom drawers mainly store bulky and less used items like stationary, old label makers and extra boxes of safety pins, tape, and the like.  They stay fairly organized on their own and are comfortably sitting this round out.

The three shallow drawers on top are used constantly because they hold the writing instruments, scissors, tape, rulers, sticky notes, and etcetera.  Now that the supply drawers live in a shared space (i.e. not my own separate office) my husband uses it almost as often as I do and I must learn how to share it needs to function for both of us.  

Most used of all five drawers is the top one.  I wish I took a “before” photo but surely you can picture a 10x12 inch drawer filled with a mixture of pens, pencils, markers, and miscellaneous writing utensils.  The thing is, it’s always been that way; any attempted organization eventually failed, reverting it back to a single dumping drawer.  Though not ideal, it worked.  But when I began dumping them in this time, after fixing it up, I stopped and said, “No, there must be a better way.”

Those who know me are aware of my obsession making and using organizers out of old boxes.  (I’m actually in the middle of yet another said project).  Sometimes I fear this may lean towards the hoarding spectrum.  At any time you can visit and see a couple small groupings of small and medium-sized empty boxes, but at the same time you can also see where and how I've used them in practical manners.  Here is one of those stories…

Stay hydrated. 

I began with a large, clean work surface; the empty drawer, freshly cleaned and refurbished; and all the needed supplies for the project.  The boxes I used came with a popular Scotch and are made of a great cardboard that is quite sturdy for its relative thinness with a smooth, white interior.



Using a ruler that is exactly 12 inches (30.48cm) end-to-end I measured the length of the drawer.  The ruler actually fit at exactly that length at the shortest part so if I made the drawer dividers 30cm long they would fit at any point across the drawer comfortably.  The drawer height is 8.5 cm so I decided on 7cm for the divider height so it would be deep enough to hold a lot but not tall enough to impede opening the drawer (obviously).

Please be very careful using your cutting instrument of choice.

The original box is 33.5cm x 9-9.5cm (the sides have small size discrepancies common for mass-produced consumer product boxes) so I needed to trim it down.  Using the side with the longest end as the bottom of the divider (in this case, the side with the lid flap) I measured 7cm up from there on both sides.  I cut the small lid flaps off because they are not needed and just get in the way.  Then using a very sharp box cutter I very carefully cut along the 7cm marked line all the way around.  The excess just cut off is not needed in this project, I put it into recycling.

Snipping the bottom edge to make the flaps.

Now the divider is taking shape.  I measured 30cm along the bottom, marking a line there indicating where I wanted the end of the divider.  I then cut along the corners up to that line creating small flaps and folded them to the inside.  Holding them there I mustered all the dexterity I could and pulled the box up on its end in order to fold the bottom (roughly shown in the photo).  I marked a new line on the end where the side flaps came up and cut that extra part off.  At this point I pulled out the tape and started holding and taping everything together until I had the finished organizers that fit perfectly in the drawer.

A confusing photo for a confusing step.

When I started sorting the markers and pens into their new dividers I didn't like how items looked or felt in the middle space.  I worried that smaller objects may slide under the boxes and decided to make another, smaller box, to put in the middle.  Of course.

Oh, she's at it again.

Often when my husband finishes a box of cereal he will thoughtfully leave the empty box at the bottom of the pantry, next to the paper recycling, in case I want to use it.  So when I opened the pantry door that afternoon an empty box awaited me.  Destiny, it was, when I tested the size of the box and it fit absolutely perfect in that empty space.  I was so excited; it took me only a couple minutes to measure, cut, and tape the box for the middle as well as a slightly smaller one to put inside.  I was giddy at this point and couldn't wait to begin filling them.

Markers, pencils and miscellaneous, and pens.

The resulting drawer organizers are exactly what I wanted.  If the outside designs on the boxes bother me I can easily trim them down more or cover them with white paper to unify the look.  I’ll wait and see.

Top drawer.

To satisfy your curiosity, the second drawer holds scissors, rulers, tapes, and few other things.  In the center is a clear divider cut from a large Q-Tip box.

Second drawer.

The third drawer utilizes some plastic dividers I found at a thrift store many years ago and contain various things that don’t categorize well.

Third drawer.

Sharing this project seems a bit personal, as if you are pilfering through my drawers and fingering my eclectic mixture of pens (which all work well, by the way).  At least you know who you can always borrow a pen from though.

Supply Drawer Reface.

Last October I completed setup of my office space which occupies half our formal dining room (that is never used for formal dining) as shown in that story.  Though I considered my office essentially done I knew a few minor projects remained; Isn't that always the case though?

“Shoved in the right corner (under the heating/cooling unit) are my old, busted up, plastic Rubbermaid storage drawers for my office supplies.”  They sat in that same condition until recently.  I pretty much knew how I wanted to fix them up but did not yet have a clear plan.  My first thought was Con-Tac paper, but the biggest name in self-adhesive paper also seemed to be the biggest priced and online prices didn't differ much from the local selection.  At that point the project moved to the back-burner until a better solution arose.

Before: Rough shape.


After: Wow, how did this happen?


A couple weeks ago my husband and I went to a Japanese home store called Super Viva Home that carries almost everything you would use at home and then some.  While wandering around curtains and carpeting I noticed a section with self-adhesive paper and instinctively looked directly at a small stash of bits and pieces rolled up individually and priced very, very low.  I selected a small roll of white paper with a subtle wood grain-like texture for ¥39!  That’s about 39₵ if you remember that 1 yen is about 1 penny, give or take a fraction with currency fluctuation.  That tiny purchase instigated my supply drawer refurbishment.

First things always first: Clean!  I emptied the drawers and carefully wiped them completely out.  This included the laborious chore of using Goo-Gone to remove tape residue from packers who practically mummified the unit with packing tape.  After that I had to use isopropyl alcohol to remove that residue.   For certain cleaning tasks lately I've been using grease-cutting disinfectant wipes.  I know, I know, not the most environmentally sound but one wipe will outlast several paper towels and the cloth-like texture seems to clean surfaces better and dries quickly.  (I work very hard making conscious decisions regarding the environment but no one is 100% earth-friendly, we just try to do our part best we can.)  The grease cleaning capability of the wipes also helped prepare the plastic for the adhesive paper to stick thoroughly after the extensive Goo-Gone treatment.

With the hard part over the fun can commence: Time to “measure twice and cut once” as my handyman-skilled Grandpa Jack always said.  He passed that to my crafty Mom and she passed it to me.  Using a flexible measuring tape I followed the width of the curved drawer façade with a little overhang on each side, 31.5cm.  Why not 32cm?  I like the challenge.  Then I measured the height from the bottom up to the drawer pull indentation with a straight ruler, 5.5cm for the shallow drawers and 9.5cm for the deep drawers.  Before cutting the paper for each drawer I double checked the measurements.

Notice the tiny square design on the front, I'll use that later.

The adhesive paper is from a German company, d-c-fix, so the grid on the back used metric measurements making cutting (after re-checking my numbers) a breeze. 

I did not use the paper trimmer to cut, it would gum up the blade.  I set it on top to prevent the paper from rolling up.

Using my acute attention to detail I found a method to adhere the paper as centered as humanly possible.  I cut a small strip from the middle of the measured and cut piece and lined it up with a small, square design element on the front center of every drawer.  After lightly placing the sticky portion on the center I leveled the paper near the bottom of the drawer, leaving a small space to prevent accidental unpeeling over time.  When it looked straight and even I firmly pressed the middle to secure it.

Stuck on the middle square.

Taking a deep breath I entered the point of no return: the final peel-and-stick.  This is not a strength of mine, evidenced by the countless screen protectors I have ruined over the years by poor application attempts on multiple electronic devices.  The odds here leaned slightly in my favor though as the adhesive paper is flexible and doesn't easily slip from your fingers and slap down on the surface.  Using a small, stiff ruler (yes, I have many rulers) and beginning from the center cut I made previously I slowly peeled back the paper while using the ruler’s edge to lay it flat.  I repeated this process for each drawer and ne'er an air bubble in sight.

As I mentioned previously, this drawer unit is old, well used, and injured after a few long-distance moves.  Some of the drawers have damage, some repaired, some not.  I still had adhesive paper left so I measured and cut pieces to cover both sides of the damaged spots, hopefully adding some reinforcement as well.  Since these areas are on the sides I was not overly concerned about perfect aesthetics but simply made sure they were covered and protected adequately.

This fix is years old and still holding.

New damage.  I stuck paper on both sides, staying a bit from the edge to prevent peeling.

Finally the time came to re-fill the drawers.  This process was fairly simple because before we moved I carefully went through them, removing items unnecessary to bring with us and discarding those not worthy of storage.  This time, however, I realized that one drawer in particular needed organization so I left that one empty to begin my next endeavor, Supply Drawer Dividers.  Stay tuned.

Finished drawer.  Notice the slight over hang on the side an the tiny space left at the bottom.

Close up of wood-grain embossing.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Eggnog.

My Christmas enthusiasm diminishes a little each year; my love of eggnog however, does not.  In the States I seek out locally-made eggnog because it is generally better than the mass-produced, bland eggnog distributed at great distances, including overseas to military commissaries.  I am thankful it is available here at all, as many other people probably are too, but I do not settle for Darigold eggnog.

Around Thanksgiving I began researching eggnog recipes, looking for traditional and unique flavors.  I found three.

The first batch of eggnog I made was from a New York Times recipe, Nog: The Hard Way, and I followed it exactly with delicious success.  The consistency was smooth and satiny, not too heavy, and the sweetness and the dark rum hit you at once.  My husband selected Coruba Jamaican Rum that happens to harbor incredible brown sugar qualities that marry so well with the creamy nog.  I did not find fault anywhere with this recipe, it is an excellent, classic eggnog.

Calder Dairy, whose farm is located between Detroit and Toledo, has a storefront in Lincoln Park, a downriver suburb of Detroit.  If you are familiar with the area then you may know about their eggnog and may love it as so many people do.  A few years have passed since tasting it last so I forget its unique nuances, my husband remembers better.  Therefore the second recipe I made was one claiming to be theirs.

Calder Dairy’s eggnog differs in its preparation from other traditional recipes because it includes gelatin instead of egg whites to gain the thick, velvety texture.  I assume this is due to packaging, distribution and freshness retention.  It also only includes enough rum to flavor, not enough to sufficiently booze it up for a party.  Even though our Oster blender’s glass container proved a bit small for the job, I easily followed the directions.  Well, I thought I followed directions.

After chilling in the refrigerator overnight I removed the eggnog for finishing.  When I tried to stir it, however, the wire whisk merely bounced off the top.  It solidified entirely.  I must have added two tablespoons of gelatin instead of two teaspoons.  Determined, wooden spoon in hand, I continued with the recipe hoping the vanilla and rum would add some moisture.

I knew drinkable eggnog was out of the question but why should eggnog live solely in one category?  I stirred and stirred and stirred until it resembled tapioca pudding.  I laughed when scooping some into a small dish, finding the situation hilarious, and then brought it to my husband to taste.  He was really looking forward to eggnog as he remembered it so he didn't find it nearly as funny as I did.  But he approved, the sweetness and the flavor were very similar.  I plan on making it again, but probably halving the recipe and paying closer attention to the gelatin.

Butterscotch Scotch Eggnog.  Got your attention, right?  Another NYTimes recipe, this certainly looked like unique eggnog.  I prepared the first half of the recipe the evening before Christmas but the amount of eggnog in my fridge concerned me so I delayed finishing it.  A Christmas dinner invitation spurred completion of the recipe, which I followed very closely.  The only change was using 1 cup of Brandy and ½ cup of Scotch because there was not enough Scotch left.  I used a Japanese grape brandy, Dompierre by Nikka, and Balvenie Doublewood 12-year Scotch.

The recipe specifically states to use an electric mixer (which I did) and when to beat and when to whip.  Following these instructions led to lots of foam that didn't quickly dissipate, though the feedback from others was definitely positive on flavor.  This evening when I pulled the bowl of eggnog from the refrigerator the foam had floated to the top and seemed to have gone down just a bit, so I gently stirred it together.  It is still very foamy but delicious and drinkable, the Brandy and Scotch add a woody-quality that is divine.  Next time I make this I will use the regular beaters instead of the whisk.

After making the different eggnog recipes I learned that eggnog is not difficult to make.  Sure, just opening a carton is easier but for true nog joy you should really consider making it yourself.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gift Box Trick.


Absolutely, creatively genius.

I have been volunteering at a fundraising gift wrap table recently and this incredible trick was shared by a customer to another volunteer who then passed it to me.  Since then I have shared it with every other volunteer and numerous customers because of its sheer simplicity and practicality.

This is how to get twice as many gift boxes out of your current supply and/or create new sizes from what you already have.

Step one: Get a box top or bottom.

Step two: Fold one end to up to the opposite flap edge.

Step three: Fold the other side to the opposite flap edge.

Step four: Using scissors cut the creases to the box edge.

Step five: It's ready to use.  Just open it up.  To close, tuck the small, square flaps that you cut to the inside of the box.  It's really easier done than said.

This trick works great with gift boxes that get partially crunched or scarred with a tape rip.  If you do not already reuse gift boxes then I really hope you at least recycle them.  If not, shame on you please reconsider.  It takes minimal effort to reduce your consumption, reuse what you already have, and recycle what you can.  Honestly, my main reason for using these guidelines is financial because economically it just makes sense.  It just so happens that these practices are also smart for the environment.  Win-win.

(These photos were taken with an iPhone and are by no means intended to be "real" photos, just snapshots of where I was and what I saw.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Not So "Mega" Anymore.

Our household is loyal to Charmin Ultra Strong bathroom tissue, or as I refer to it, "Charmin-in-the-red".  When ever I try to save a little money and buy something else I regret it.  Once I even left a horrible 12 pack, less one roll, by the trash bins at our apartment complex.

Last night when I switched out a roll in the bathroom I noticed that it didn't fit in the holder anymore.  I compared it to a roll from the previous package that was stowed on an upper shelf and, low and behold, they were different sizes.  I really wish I noticed sooner and saved the old packaging.  I might go back and see if there are any older ones at the back of the shelf; I'm not sure if they practice product rotation on paper goods.

The grocery shrink ray is constantly at work, making products smaller through the guise of a "new look!" then charging the same, or more.  I accept this.  However, we live in overseas military housing and cannot change our built-in bathroom tissue holder that does not accept shorter rolls.

The little pegs at the end flip up and then rest inside the cardboard tube.  The upper flap lowers to keep just enough pressure on the roll to allow an easy tear of the sheet.  It's a great little unit, however it is a bit strange that the Japanese (who are incredibly practical and clever in design) didn't allow for a shrinking product.

As a quick remedy I shoved the old, empty cardboard tube inside the new one.  I may cut a paper towel tube as a better short-term fix but I will certainly be keeping my eyes open for a more sturdy core made of plastic that will last a bit longer.

Darn it, Charmin.  Why did you have to go and mess with a great thing?  We have a very small selection of bathroom tissue over here and, though I am grateful to find Charmin-in-the-red, I am very disappointed in the product shrinkage.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mint as Savory.

You know when you have the ultimate cable television package with a thousand channels yet there is still nothing good to watch?  It seems the more choices you have the higher your expectations which ultimately leads to disappointment because there has to be something better.

Hunting for wine since moving to Japan has been challenging, only because while living in the States I had plenty of access to ample selection.  I was always looking for something better and, in the process, skipped over many suitable options.

Now when I peruse the ten linear feet of wine shelving at our local shop I am frequently forced inclined to grab a bottle never considered previously, loosening many prejudices to sip with an open mind.

A few weeks ago I found a sparkling wine that looked good, a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend, at a moderate price, so I picked up a bottle.  I chilled it and brought it to friend's house for her birthday.  Turns out it was surprisingly good, not knock-your-socks-off wow, but impressive.

The next time I was near the shop where I found it (a train stop and a jaunt away) I picked up two more bottles so I could try it in a non-celebratory manner, which can alter the experience and hence the enjoyment of the wine.  And really, why should sparkling wine be confined solely to celebrations?  Live a little.  Later at home I flipped through a couple books and dug around online until I found a recipe to complement the wine, Parmesan-Herb Lamb Chops with Mint Aioli.

My experience with mint has generally hovered in the sweet arena, namely the Mint Mojito, a refreshingly delectable refreshment.  Detaching mint from sweetness seemed strange though I know it is culinarily common so I went with it.

I didn't easily find lamb chops (surprise surprise) so I picked up a package of bone-in pork chops which I use regularly because they are so versatile.  I did, however, find fresh mint at the neighborhood store (surprise surprise) and bought it despite the $4 price tag (more than the cost of the four pork chops).

The recipe is very straightforward and easy to follow.  When I tasted the prepared mint aioli I was pleasantly surprised with how well the mint married with the fresh garlic and the sel gris french sea salt.  While the oven was heating I threw in some olive-oiled potatoes to roast while I breaded the chops.

I am not including a photo of the finished pork chops because it was wasn't pretty.  The panko breading that should have crusted up while baking did not and ended up mushy, even after turning the broiler on for a bit; next time I will pan fry them as I usually do.  Before the chops became too dry I pulled them out and declared them done.

After topping off my flute with more sparkling wine I sat down to test the meal.  While not a home-run I enjoyed tasting mint as a savory herb, a new experience now urging me to learn more.  The mint seems to fall into the cilantro-basil family which moves my creative gears toward combinations or substitutions among them (strawberry-mint salsa, cilantro martini, basil ice cream).  This is why I am writing about the wine and the recipe, not because the dish was a huge success but because new doors are opening leaving me curious about what lies beyond.  Mint as savory, why did I never try?

DIY: Elastic Cuff Links.

Over the years I've discovered that my arms are slightly longer than the average person for my body type.  That or I like my sleeves to fit longer than average for my size.  Two sides of the same coin, I guess.  Nonetheless, when I find a jacket that fits well in the torso the sleeves are too short, and conversely, when the sleeves are correct the body is too loose.

One way to circumvent this is to wear 3/4 length sleeves either by design or, more often, by rolling them up a bit.  I have a few denim jackets that I love with too-short sleeves but folding the cuffs is a problem.  Folding the cuffs up while buttoned makes them too tight on my forearm and cuffing while unbuttoned leaves them loose and falling open.

At first I safety-pinned the ends but found that the pins would pop open, bend, or damage the fabric.  I needed something like a stretchy cuff link and after trying a few types of elastic and rubber bands with various methods I finally found a suitable solution, a hair elastic.  I have a handful of these pony tail holders (the term we used growing-up) from when I had longer hair and now use them all over the house for all sorts of purposes.  They are a fantastic little creation.

Last week when I grabbed my incredibly versatile, white, Levi's denim jacket from the closet I realized the sleeves weren't rolled up and the little elastics I used were not in the buttoned pocket where I like to keep them after washing it.  So I used the opportunity to document the simple process.

First, I cut an average sized hair elastic in two equal pieces and knotted them at the ends creating two loops about an inch long.

Next, I looped it through the button hole and pulled one end through itself.  Apparently this is called a lark's head knot.

Then I pulled that same end and stretched it over the button.  Easy peasy.

Lastly, two folds up of the cuff and it's ready to wear.

I used a brown elastic here because that is what I had laying around.  Someday I'll buy a package of colors or neutral tones but it's not a priority.  The other jackets I've done this with are darker and it's less noticeable, but it's hidden quite well on the back of the forearm.

There you have it, a quick and easy fix for problematic jacket cuff rolls.

[Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Everyday I think about writing for this blog.  But for some reason I just don't.

With all the time I am surrounded with the days pass quickly, unnoticed.  I accomplish very little and don't seem to care.  I have adapted some new, healthy habits which are altering my old ones and I'm unsure of the evolution.  Physical fitness and mental fitness sometimes feel like two magnets facing the wrong sides and won't snap together.  With better time management I could learn to flip them over so they'll connect, but I haven't, though I am trying to learn.

I feel that I tried so hard learning to walk that I never focused on where I was trying to go.  So I now stand directionless.

It's funny how you can listen to the same song for years and never fully feel the story.  R.E.M is on my top five all-time favorite musicians' list, I have almost all their studio albums and then some, but even after twenty-odd years some songs remain elusive.  I kind of like the mystery.

R.E.M. switched record labels in the late 1980's then released the album "Green" which was a defining pivot point in their career.  The album carried a different feel from their earlier work with cleaner sound and a more pop feel which you can love, hate, or just go with (I chose the latter).

"Stand" was R.E.M.'s second top ten single, a bubblegum pop song so different than their earlier work.  The lyrics are easy to memorize and the meaning of finding one's life direction is quite clear.  One line, however, continues to echo through my head, "Think about direction, wonder why you haven't before."  Why haven't I?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sidecar of Substitutions.

When limitations bind you it is creativity that allows you to overcome.

After learning about Demerara sugar syrup and reading the Pouring Ribbons’ Sidecar recipe in the New York Times I was determined to make it myself so I set out to find the ingredients.  This is where the “limitations” part comes in.  Finding specialty food items is challenging where we are in Japan, close to Tokyo but not close enough to have metropolitan conveniences.

First, the Demerara sugar syrup.  According to Wikipiedia, Demerara sugar is simply a “natural” form of brown sugar, like turbinado.  Surprisingly, the local commissary had Sugar in the Raw, which is turbinado, so I bought that along with some light brown sugar to add a bit more lovely, molasses richness.  I made a batch of the syrup with one cup of water, 1 ½ cups of turbinado sugar, and ½ cup of brown sugar melted together over low heat.  It is a delicious, dark, simple syrup and will keep in the refrigerator for quite a while in an air-tight bottle.

Next, acquiring the alcohols.  Since I know nothing about Cognac and our immediate selection is incredibly limited, I simply bought a tiny bottle of Hennessy, which happens to have two ounces.  I knew Curaçao would be a long shot and forget about orange bitters.  There is a large liquor store about twenty minutes away but I have precious little experience driving here (right-side driver on left-side roads) and was not going to test my skills on a rainy, Sunday afternoon.  I was a bit bummed because I was also looking for rye whisky, sweet Vermouth, and sherry, not today’s priority though.

So what follows is my variation of the original recipe with substitutions, even though I vow to make it according to the original recipe eventually.  (This is for one drink, but I split it in two to share with my husband.)

Sidecar of Substitutions:

Orange slice, for garnish
Granulated sugar, for rim
2 ounces Cognac
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 dash Campari
½ teaspoon dark simple syrup

1. Rub orange slice around half the outer rim of a coupe glass. Place sugar in a small dish. Holding glass parallel to dish, coat with sugar only the half you’ve rubbed with the orange. Set aside.

2. Combine simple syrup, cognac, Cointreau, lemon juice and Campari in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, then cover, shake and strain into the sugared glass. Garnish with an orange and enjoy.

(This photo was taken with an iPhone and is by no means intended to be a "real" photo, just a snapshot of where I was and what I saw.)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

My New Office Space.

Leaving Texas was easy.  Losing my very first, very own office space was difficult.  I finally had an entire room solely for productivity and creativity, though not always in practice simultaneously.  Other than the door that I could close when needed, my absolute favorite quality of that space was the light, I noticed it upon first walking in.  The window faced west so the afternoon sun kept the room bright and the evening setting sun flooded it with soft, golden light.  Enterprise loved the sun-warmed carpet patches and rolled with them throughout the day.  The window framed beautiful sunsets on the horizon but if you dropped your gaze any lower the ant mounds and weeds quickly reminded you of your location.

Our attached house in Japan is about as large as the one we left in Texas but it is older and laid out completely different.  It has two stories, one bathroom, and lots of walls with oddly placed and strangely spaced closets.  The largest difference though is that instead of three bedrooms (a master and two offices) it has two bedrooms and a formal dining room.  This new configuration led to compromise.

Since we have infrequent need of a dedicated formal dining room my new office shares that space.  Figuring out how to combine the two functionally and aesthetically has been a challenge, including litter box placement, wall outlet locations, and remembering that the heating and cooling unit installed near the ceiling may leak (meaning no computer under it).  I also considered lines of sight from the living room, front door entrance, as well as from outside through the front, double windows.

I’ll show the progression.

First, after assembling my new desk:

Then after the arrival of our household goods:

And the current, mostly final design:

To understand the space, the camera is set up in the back corner, at the kitchen entrance; to the right is the doorway to the living room.  There is an actual door there that I can shut if I want to block out television noise from the living room or contain my noise in my office or kitchen.  It is quite nice.

By choice, we do not have large dining room furniture.  The table you see to the right is from a restaurant booth so it is incredibly durable, cleans up well, and has a simple, central pedestal support.  The surface is a great, medium brown wood grain that fits with most décor, it repositions easily around the room, and also allows for a second work surface.

The desk is from Ikea’s Galant workspace series and, at 80x120 cm, is approximately the same size as the dining table.  The deep top is appropriate for the large monitor I have, the simple legs are fully adjustable, and the series includes many components I can add later.  It is very versatile and can work in many areas of the house if needed, especially because it is in the same black-brown color as most of our Ikea purchases.  Speaking of, the chairs (and chair pads) are also Ikea, the inexpensive Stefan style in the same color, though I see the price has increased since we purchased two in Washington state and two in Texas.  Using one as my desk chair helps unify the room.

The workhorse piece in the room is the tall Billy bookshelves from, you guessed it, Ikea, in the same color; we actually scored these off Craigslist, brand new, in the box, for half of the original selling price.  They were formerly used as my husband’s bookshelves in our last living room and are the only large shelving we brought with us.  Since our living room here has nice built-in shelves I commandeered them for my space.  Offices collect small supplies and clutter and keeping the shelves neat is a priority because of its highly visible location.  So I gathered my beloved kitchen tins to double as storage and decoration – I love it!  The small, brown boxes are inexpensive purchases from Ikea I used in my former office and the minty green boxes were displays at Nitori that I just scored for 479¥/$4.89 for the set.  The messier looking items are on the lower shelves and I still have to figure out a plan for them but for now it’s acceptable.

Secondary storage is still a work in progress.  The silver, metal Helmer drawer storage (from Ikea) holds my miscellaneous photography gear.  Shoved in the right corner (under the heating/cooling unit) are my old, busted up, plastic Rubbermaid storage drawers for my office supplies that sit atop an old, broken, stack-a-shelf drawer for my tools.  The lacquered wood piece is actually a checker board on one side and usually leans in front of them to hide the ugliness.  Since both sets of drawers are usable I am not replacing them but am hoping to somehow refurbish them, I’m thinking spray paint or Contact paper.

Hidden behind the dining table to the right are some plastic file crates, a few small boxes of unframed photos, and the few framed photos I brought are still sitting on the chair on the opposite side of the table.  Unseen to the left in the overview photo are a few black stack-a-shelves that are waiting for a clear purpose.  I also still have a couple unused white stack-a-shelves upstairs but will probably not use them in this room for aesthetic reasons.

The two black and cream rugs were purchased on super-low clearance at Sears about four years ago and only used lightly in Texas in our entry area.  I love them, they add a layer of texture to the area and also helps define the space as separate from the dining area.

The ceiling lamp is fluorescent and gives off a horrible, cool tone light.  Eventually I plan on replacing the bulbs with a set of warm fluorescent bulbs I saw at a local home store but it’s not a priority because I have the two incandescent floor lamps.  The ugly, gold lamp is a loaner but it gives such soft, warm light that it’s staying.  I am looking for something to wind up the pole and cover the gold but have not found anything yet, hopefully soon.

Lastly, I am considering window treatments.  If I put up anything it will be simple, white sheer panels which are my curtains of choice.  My hesitation is that too much light will be blocked.  The windows face north/northwest and what little light comes in is mostly shaded by the plentiful, mature trees in the neighborhood.  Light is everything so I am weighing my options carefully.

Photo three:
[Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS UD]

Photos four through seven:
[Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Creamy Seafood Linguine.

Success two nights in a row.  I’m just going to brag, so close the tab if you don’t want to hear it.

Two packages of seafood and some mushrooms from yesterday’s shopping trip remained in the fridge ready to be delicious.  Since a Spanish Chardonnay was there keeping them company I decided to keep them together because they complement each other splendidly.  Therefore I Googled “shrimp mushrooms butter” and dug into the results, selecting three recipes to work from, saving them in Evernote.

12 medium shrimp at 500Y equals about 43 cents each.

What is Evernote?  It’s an amazing tool.  Briefly I will explain the two reasons I use it, though its applications are much more vast.  First, I began using it to catalog the hopelessly large number of internet bookmarks I have on my computers.  Since it is an outside application that stores my information in a cloud I can access everything from any device that connects to the internet.  My second reason resulted from the first, actually.  I use my laptop for general research purposes and save webpages in Evernote, which I can then access through my cell phone.  This is incredibly convenient when I am at the grocery store looking for a recipe’s ingredients as well as in the kitchen while I’m cooking.  To conserve memory space I frequently save websites in “clearly” (condensed) format which only displays the minimal, pertinent information.  I mention this tonight because it affected how I cooked dinner.

Since Enterprise: The Best Kitty Ever had a routine vet appointment this afternoon, I drove my husband to work so I could use the car.  This meant that I had to pick him up from work in the evening and wouldn't get home to cook dinner until 6pm or later.  The sun now sets here around 5:15pm so 6pm feels very late and dinner preparation is rushed a bit.  I knew what I was making, had the ingredients on hand, and planned about a half hour to prepare it.  Once we got home I jumped right into it, heating up the pan and pealing the shrimp.  When I had the shrimp sautéing in butter I opened the recipe on Evernote and realized the “clearly” version only listed the steps and not the ingredient list.  No problem.

Shrimp and Mushroom Linguine with Creamy Cheese Herb Sauce” is the recipe I worked from.  If you click the link and look at the directions you’ll see exactly what I had to work with.  Obviously I improvised and I’ll attempt to briefly explain my differences.

You figure out the math.

I sautéed the cod fillet and the pealed, raw shrimp in butter with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Once done, I removed them from the pan into a covered glass dish, added more butter, and sautéed the maitake mushrooms.  They were quickly done and I added them to the same dish, covered to keep warm.  With more butter (yes!) I threw in three large garlic cloves, coarsely minced, along with the cream cheese.  I stirred it with confusion as it didn't mix very creamy as I assumed it would, but I added a healthy amount of fresh basil (that was in my fridge, a moment away from going bad) and continued stirring.

Maitake mushrooms = Yum.

At this point, I had just added linguine noodles to boiling water and scooped out some of the starchy water to mix with the cream sauce.  Without the ingredient list I had no idea how much to add so I went incrementally, whisking it together.  Once it looked like an appropriate amount of sauce I stopped adding water and stirred in a little corn starch slurry to thicken it up, then I stirred in the cooked seafood and mushrooms.

That’s it.  I drained the linguine noodles for my husband and I scooped mine over fresh baby spinach, with a small amount of noodles to see how they blended with the sauce.  The shrimp were incredibly, meaty and tender at the same time, convincing me that fresh, raw shrimp is the way to go.  I also loved the cod’s texture; I have made it before with similar results and will definitely seek it out regularly, trying new cooking methods.

The Spanish Chardonnay was lighter than the small selection of California Chardonnays I've grown accustomed to since moving here and worked very well with the light cream sauce and simply prepared seafood.  I especially liked it with the spinach because the wine’s lightness resembled that of a Sauvignon Blanc which generally pair well with greens.

I declare success.