Cindy’s Summer Sangria

Can you tell I’m itching for summer? Two summer food/drink posts in a week!

My mother in law makes the best sangria. The first time she served it at a family party, I was feeling pretty good after only one glass. How could this be? Usually a glass of wine watered down with a mixer didn’t have that effect on me.

When I asked for the recipe, I was surprised at the alcohol punch her sangria had. You’d never taste it. Good and bad for the summer months.

I’ve served this sangria at a few of my gatherings, and it’s always been a hit. So many people have asked for the recipe that I thought I’d share it here for all the blogging world.

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Ingredients:

1 bottle of wine, the sweeter (and cheaper), the better

1 quart of mixer (Sprite, lemonade, ginger ale, 50/50, etc.)

1 cup vodka

1/2 cup triple sec

Fruit

 

Did you notice that sneaky vodka and triple sec? That’s what gets you!

I really like that this recipe is it’s so customizable. For wine, I’ve used moscato, riesling, and even fruit wines like pear and rhubarb. I pour in whatever mixer I have on hand, which is usually a lemon-lime soda of some kind. And for the fruit, I’ve used fresh apples and strawberries mostly, but in a bind (or when I’m too lazy to cut up whole fresh fruit), I turn to frozen fruit and add it to the sangria pitcher right out of the bag! One thing I’ve never tried is using flavored vodka, but that’s mostly because we don’t usually have it. I’m sure any fruit flavored vodka would be great.

Now, many sangria recipes call for you to make the sangria, then let it sit and steep for a while. That’s why I like this recipe so much – you just add everything together and serve. In face, don’t prep it early because your mixer will lose its fizz. I’ve found that as long as you have your wine and mixer in the fridge, this sangria is pretty cold and ready to serve when made. Frozen fruit really does help keep it cool while it’s sitting out, but I guarantee you that if you make this sangria, it will disappear before it gets warm!

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Grilled Eggplant Caprese

Were you looking for a kitchen post today? I know you’ve probably come to expect it. I finished the series on Friday, so the next time you see something kitchen-related, it will be a small project, or better yet, a recipe!

I didn’t make eggplant caprese in my kitchen (though you could). Instead, we made it outside on our grill – perfect for the coming summer!

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Ingredients:

1 whole eggplant

kosher salt

5 tablespoons olive oil (to brush on for grilling)

1 log (16 oz.) fresh mozzarella (I use the Bel Gioioso kind)

3 roma tomatoes

balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning (or fresh basil) to taste

I started by removing the skin from the eggplant. You don’t have to do this step, but it takes away some of the bitterness in the eggplant. A veggie peeler didn’t work well for me, so I went ahead and just cut off the skin. Then, cut the eggplant into rounds about 1/2 and inch thick. You can make them thicker, but keep them as uniform in size as possible so they will cook evenly.

Next, weep the eggplant by sprinkling a good amount of salt over each slice. Let sit for 10 minutes. I always wipe the eggplant with a paper towel, pushing down a bit as I do, to get as much moisture out as I can. Flip the eggplant over and do the same thing on the other side.

Now, it’s grilling time! Dan usually starts grilling while I finish up the rest of the chopping. Generously brush the eggplant slice with olive oil, then place of the grill. Try not to move the slices around too much, so you’ll get great grill marks. While Dan grills, I’m cutting the tomatoes and mozzarella log into even slices.

Cook the eggplant slices about 4-5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 4-5 minutes. When the eggplant is done, place them on a plate, but don’t stack them. Top each slice with one round of cheese and one piece of tomato. To finish, sprinkle with the Italian seasoning (basil is better if you have it, but I didn’t), salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.

I served the eggplant caprese with a small side salad of arugula greens with green onions and just a bit of balsamic vinegar dressing.

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This was a healthy, easy (and tasty) meal. I know we’ll be enjoying this dinner many more times throughout the summer.

What You Need to Know When Remodeling a Kitchen Yourself

This post isn’t meant to scare you off from a DIY kitchen remodel, it’s to prepare you for what’s in store if you do.

Remember, we were able to turn this kitchen

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into this.

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If we could do it, you can do it too. I’m hoping this post will give you the basics on how to go about planning a kitchen remodel, or at least, give you some good ideas on how to start your renovation.

Before we re-did our kitchen, I scoured pinterest and all the home decorating blogs I knew to see if there was some definitive list of what to do, in order, for a remodel. Most of what I found was something to the effect of: 1. Set a budget. 2. Hire a contractor. I knew we wouldn’t have a  general contractor to walk us through the process, but I needed the steps to do broken down for me.

I never really found a good list of to-do’s, so I thought I would help you guys out by making a list of my own, based on what worked and what didn’t in our own remodel.

1. Look at A LOT of pictures of kitchens.

Go on pinterest. Read home magazines. Search real estate listings. You will want to know what you like and what you don’t. I’m a visual person, and have trouble imagining how something would look in my head. Seeing images of different kitchen options was crucial in deciding what I liked best.

2. Decide how big of a remodeling job you’re willing to take on.

Are you taking the walls down to studs or are you adding a backsplash? If your cabinets are in great shape, but you hate knotty pine, maybe you refinish the cabinets and get new countertops. Or, if you kitchen still has goldenrod appliances, like ours did, maybe it’s time to bring the kitchen into this decade.

3. Set a budget, knowing you will almost certainly go higher.

There’s your real budget, and what you will actually spend. The two are rarely the same. I would suggest being completely realistic about your budget, and allowing yourself an extra cushion at the top, once you’ve priced everything out. I debated whether #3 should be setting a budget or starting your research, but the two go hand in hand. How can you set a max budget without knowing how much new cabinets cost? Believe me, cabinets can wildly vary in price. My suggestion would be to set your budget for the whole kitchen, but understand that as you get more into the phase of picking out materials, that your budget may have to shift.

4. Research everything.

Visit at least three cabinet shops. Same goes for all of the big buys – countertops, flooring, even furniture. You want to have a good handle on what’s out there and what’s available to you. For me, this was one of the hardest steps because I’m the kind of person that wants to have all the information possible before making any decisions. A few times, I felt stunted from the sheer amount of options. That’s when you have to just stop your research and go with what you already know.

5. Decide on all the big items and where they will go before you even remove one old cabinet door.

This is completely where we went wrong. We destroyed the entire kitchen without having a game plan in place for the items we would need. All this does is leave you kitchen-less, and in our case, we were sans kitchen for close to four long months. Please, learn from my mistake and know what you need! This also includes any lighting you want to move. Don’t forget the lights!

6. Understand there is an order of how things are installed.

You can’t order the countertop if you haven’t decided where you appliances will go. There is a distinct order of how items are put in to a new kitchen. This part applied to us because we gutted the space, but if you’re ordering any new item, you will definitely want to see where in the installation order it goes. Here’s how it worked for us: Floors first. Then cabinets. Next, install the appliances. Finally, order your countertop (you’ll need to have a sink picked out before ordering). Everything else, in my opinion, is peripheral. You can use a kitchen if the backsplash isn’t up. You can switch out a pendant light later. Focus on the main items that will get you a working kitchen ASAP.

Make sure you have what’s needed for the next step. If you do, you won’t have a long gap in work, like we had.

7. Realize a remodel is a process.

Like I said at the beginning of the post, we’re STILL working on the kitchen. Not everyday and certainly not as difficult of projects, but we’re still working to customize the space, making it into a room we love for our home. I read somewhere that no room in a home is ever “finished,” it’s always evolving into an even greater space.

And there you have it – our kitchen renovation journey. I’ve tried to chronicle it all from demolition day to our current 95% finished kitchen. I hope that by the end of Kitchen-palozza 2015, you are convinced that you too can update the old kitchen you’ve been wanting to re-do for years.

 

I’ll end this kitchen series with a final thought. The kitchen is the heart of the home. Guests will congregate there to grab a tasty appetizer or to freshen up their glass of wine. I’ll make blueberry pancakes there while Dan gets the coffee going a few feet away. You will absolutely be using your kitchen every day. Make it into a space you love.

It’s the Little Things

You thought the kitchen posts were finished, didn’t you? Nope.

I wanted to share with you the easiest way to save money on your kitchen remodel – bargain shop the finishes!

We identified the areas of the remodel where we thought we could save some money, and looked for low-cost options.

1. Lighting.

Our industrial lighting, the three pendant lights, and the big drum light over the pedestal table (not shown) are all from Ikea. The little guys were $14.99 each and the large one was $19.99. The small fan with a light over the island is a Hunter Orb fan that retails for about $150, but we found it at a thrift store for about $10.

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So, for around $75 + the cost of retrofitting the fan to what we liked (new light), we lit our whole kitchen. Maybe down the line we’ll switch out the Ikea lights, but even if we do, I think we still came out ahead by choosing inexpensive lighting during the remodeling phase.

2. Kitchen furniture.

All the furniture we have in our kitchen is second hand. You saw how we acquired and re-did the pedestal table, got a great deal on tabouret chairs, and painted the island.

We even purchased an additional display cabinet via craigslist for $90 not too long ago.

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I’m loving the extra storage, and I finally found a home for all my cookbooks.

3.  Hardware.

We knew we wanted stainless steel bars as hardware, but quickly discovered how expensive it was. We went to Home Depot and purchased a few different cabinet pulls in different sizes. Our plan was to bring them home, hold them up to the cabinets, and decide what sizes we liked best. Well, for the cabinets, we liked the over 6 inch long pull, which cost almost $10 a piece!

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Yikes! I did some research, and was able to find a similar, slightly larger pull, for $2 a piece! Sure, you had to purchase 25, bringing the total price to $50, but since we needed 13 of the pulls, it was way cheaper buying in bulk. We do have some extras, and that came in handy when we bought the kitchen cabinet and changed out the hardware and used three of the extra pulls. Always shop around for hardware. Unless you’re obsessed with something that’s really, really unique, you can probably find it cheaper online, especially on Overstock.

4. Sinks and faucets.

Overstock and Amazon are your best bets here. I was fairly set on the kind of sink I wanted: stainless steel for easy cleaning, and as big as I could get for the space. I bake a lot, and I hate having my cookie sheets soaking on the counter. They get bumped, and water goes everywhere.

The sink we went with is a 32 inch undermount. We bought it on sale, had a coupon code, and got free shipping, so it came out to around $250 or so. When our counter guy was over measuring, he asked to see the sink. When I showed it to him, he commented that it was a great sink and asked where I got it. He said he sells the same one for about $500 at his store. I think he might be sourcing his sinks from Overstock now.

5. Accessories.

Definitely have fun, personal items in the kitchen, but don’t break the bank. The runner I use for a rug by the sink was $10 from Urban Outfitters. The old timey scale is a $12 thrift store find during a birthday road trip to Michigan and the pineapple on top is a spray painted candle holder from a thrift store near our old apartment.

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A yellow owl timer I keep on the stove is a birthday gift from a dear friend. The vintage cutting board I have displayed on the stand-alone cabinet was my grandmother’s. The accents are fun, some have sentimental value, and they all help make the kitchen more inviting, playful, and less like a sterile space solely for food prep.

 

Well guys, this kitchen remodel series has been a fun ride. I have some bad news though – there’s only one post left! Check back in for my last renovation post where I’ll take you through a timeline of how you can DIY your own remodel as quickly and as pain-free as possible.

Let There Be (Under Cabinet) Lights

I always thought under cabinet lights would be nice to have, but it wasn’t a “must” for me when we were designing our kitchen. My house growing up didn’t have under cabinet lights, and neither did our apartment. I mean, how dark could the counter really be? Well, usually, not too dark at all. But, there was one corner where the mixer lived that did get pretty dark. I think the light just didn’t have a great path to that one corner. It made late night cake baking (which oddly happens more than you would think) a bit of a challenge.

I mentioned this to Dan, and he immediately went into planning mode to install some lighting. Here’s the end result:

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To start, Dan did his research to figure out what he would need. He decided to order these supplies:

4 20 inch strips

1 12 inch strip

2 power supplies

2 3 foot connectors

Dan picked a plug in system that all linked together with mini USB connectors. We also had some outlets behind the cabinets already, which certainly made the job easier, but involved a lot of drilling. Plus, we had always planned for eventually adding the lights, so when we ordered the cabinets, we also ordered light rail. The light rail basically hides the lights from being seen, as they fall reach lower down than the lights. The rail had been sitting in our garage since the cabinets were delivered, just waiting until we finally got to this lighting project.

I’m glad I wasn’t home when Dan drilled into our new, all wood, expensive cabinets to connect the power cord to the lighting. I would have had a panic attack! What if the hole wasn’t drilled correctly? We couldn’t ruin our new kitchen already.

Luckily, Dan worked like an old pro getting the wiring figured out and attaching the lights and wire under the cabinet with some staples. He put in two light switches – each on the front rightmost side of two of the cabinets, which makes the switches really easy to reach.

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The only downside was the light rail makes the mixer fit pretty snuggly in its little corner there. I can’t just pull the mixer out to use it anymore; instead, I have to sort of tilt it to get it out from underneath the cabinets. We talked about installing some kind of mixer lift, but I’m not sold on that solution yet. I would have to give up a cabinet, and that may not be a sacrifice I’m willing to make just yet.

Even with the unforeseen mixer difficulties, I’m still extremely happy with our roughly $150 (not including light rail) under cabinet light upgrade.

 

 

 

Built In Kitchen Nook

One of our last big kitchen projects was making a built in bench for our kitchen nook.

I want to remind you of the before. This is how the space looked on inspection day (sorry for the bad lighting and off center photo).

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Here’s how the space looks today.

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What a difference!

Since the post is about the built in bench, maybe I should give you a close up of it.

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I have to give all the credit for this project to Dan. He consulted a ton of tutorials on building bench seating, measured, re-measured, and came up with a rough design for the L-shaped seating. My only ask was that the seat lifted up and allowed me even more storage space.

Dan made it happen, even with the complication of there being both an electrical outlet and an air duct where the seating was. For the outlet, it’s still in there. We just don’t usually use it. For the vent, Dan cut some ducting and extended the duct to the front of the bench, where he installed a new register.

Hinges allow the seat to lift up, where I put in a bunch of storage totes I purchased at Target to hold miscellaneous, and not often used, kitchen supplies like seasonal cookie cutters, specialty baking pans, and the like.

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We made the seat cushions ourselves as well – can’t you tell from the photo? We started by cutting plywood to the length needed. We cut 2 inch foam to the same length, and glued it to the plywood with Liquid Nails. Then, we flipped each cushion over, laying some batting underneath. We pulled it tight (I even stood on the cushion, smushing down the foam, to get the batting as tight as possible), then used a staple gun to secure it. We did the same thing again with the fabric.

We knew we’d need the cushions to be moveable from the bench, so we could get into the storage. I was concerned the cushions would slide around if we didn’t attach them though. Dan thought up a great idea and used velcro tape on the bench and the cushions, so the cushions would stay put.

For now, I put some grey and white pillows (from our apartment bedding set that we no longer use) in the corner of the bench. Eventually, I’d like to get more matching pillows so the eating area is cozy and inviting. Maybe I’ll even make a cushion for the back part of the bench, so you’re not sitting against the hard wall without any padding.

So do we actually use the seating? I’m happy to say that we do. Not everyday, but we seem to find ourselves enjoying our weekend coffee and breakfast sitting in the nook, catching up from the past week, and just taking our time in the morning before our day begins. Plus, whenever we throw bigger family parties, relatives (especially kids) find their way into this cute little space.

It’s a comfortable little corner of our kitchen that I’m so glad we took the time to build.