Archives for January 2010

Reuse: More Projects at Our House

Last week I wrote about a few of the reuse projects at our house. Today I’d like to show you a couple more, this time in the kitchen.

When we bought our house the kitchen cabinets and counters were set up in a U-shape. The prior owners had installed new counter tops and when they did, they set up a large half-circle coming off of one leg of the U. They had counter-height stools set up around the half-moon and presumably used this as an eating area because there was no room for a kitchen table. This setup never really worked for us, though. Neither my husband nor I really enjoy eating while perched on a stool. Once our girls came along, the height didn’t really work for high chairs or booster seats and it wasn’t possible to talk to everyone seated there.

What we needed was a kitchen table. The half-moon would have to go, but even with it gone, the table would have to be longer and more narrow than the standard kitchen table. After a bit of woodworking, my husband was able to make us the perfect sized kitchen table out of some old wood he had in the garage.

The same wood that made our square foot garden boxes . . .

. . . was used to make our new table:

The table is rustic, which is what we were after, and it’s working great for us. There’s plenty of room for everyone and no one has to balance atop a stool while eating.

The second project in the kitchen is in the pantry. I’m blessed with a large pantry, but it’s so deep that getting to the things stored towards the back of the shelves is a problem — not to mention having to move everything in front of an item to get it out. The solution was some scrap wood and a few J-hooks my husband recycled from old gymnasium mirrors. He ended up building some shelves on one side wall for canned goods and more shelves on the other side for large pots and small appliances.

The pink things at the bottom are the girls' little rolling pins.

I promise, the fire extinguisher is there because my husband is safety-conscious, NOT because of my cooking. . .

Again, I’m showing you these projects not because I think they’re for everyone. Most of the things my husband makes require tools and woodworking skills. These posts are really about thinking in a more creative way when it comes to reusing items you already have. When you get ready to buy something new, think for a moment about whether or not you already have something that could be re-purposed in a creative new way.

Garden Planning

I’ve been spending a lot of time going through my seed catalog and marking possibilities for this year’s garden. Pretty soon, I’m going to need to go ahead and place my order. I can hardly wait to get started. We had so much fun with our first year of square foot gardening last summer, that not only are we going to garden again, we’re expanding. We’ve already marked off what I’m calling the “garden annex.”

But first, the seeds. I buy nearly all of my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I like to buy local whenever I can and although they ship seeds nationwide, their company is located about an hour and half from where I live. They also have a no-GMO policy and carry many heirloom varieties. I love the history that goes with these seeds. My grandmother, who is 87 at this writing, remembers a cornfield bean her family grew when she was growing up in the “hills” of Eastern Kentucky. Southern Exposure has a variety of cornfield bean this year that dates back to pre-Columbian times; they believe this particular bean was “one of the oldest beans cultivated by the Iroquois.” I can’t wait to grow some to see if they are what my grandmother remembers.

We were pleased with what we grew last year, but want to add to it. This year, we’re planning to switch from bush beans to pole beans. We’ll grow the cornfield beans, but also a row or two of Kentucky Wonders. We’re also going to add corn, watermelon, zucchini, and pumpkins to the mix.

The annex. We’ve decided to keep the three boxes in the square foot garden area. There we’ll grow our tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, herbs, carrots and radishes. We’re going to plant the corn, beans, squash & zucchini, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe and pumpkins directly in the ground in the annex. As soon as the ground dries out a bit, I’ll get some pictures of this area and post them on the site.

Our helpers in early summer 2009

As I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the pesticides on our food, and the cost of organic produce, and the emissions involved in shipping vegetables all over the country, our own garden has seemed like a better and better idea. It’s also a lot of fun. Last year, it was a great learning experience for our two young helpers and I think it will be again. They’ve already been naming all of the things they want to grow.

I’d love to know if any of you have plans for a garden this year. If so, what will you plant?

Reuse: Some Projects at Our House

I’ve talked before about reuse being even better than recycling. Recycling is certainly better than throwing something in the trash, but recycling does require energy to process. If you can find a way to reuse an item, it’s possible to do that with less energy output than recycling.

Fortunately for us, my husband enjoys woodworking and is also very creative. He consistently finds ways to reuse wood scraps and left over items from projects in our home. I thought I’d devote this blog post to a few of those things in our house. Today, I’m starting with our girls’ room.

When we bought this house in 2004 there was an icky room off of the laundry room, next to the garage. It had a stained, gray concrete floor, really dark wood paneling — generally dingy and grimy. After our girls came along and we were desperate to get some of their toys out of our living room, we decided to fix up the icky room. We painted the paneling and all the trim and my husband installed bamboo flooring. In the end, the room turned out like this:

As the girls have gotten older, we started having a problem with their shoes ending up all over the place. We finally worked out a system to get them to take their shoes up to their room each night, but there wasn’t really anywhere to put them. After a week or so of looking at the “shoe pile” in their room, my husband came up with the idea for this shoe rack. He made it out of left over bamboo flooring strips from the playroom and extra plywood he had from a train table he’d made them. I’m happy to report that the shoe rack works beautifully. They love to put their shoes away now.

Like most 4 year olds, our girls like to look at books. Books have become especially useful in the mornings when they awake at 5:00 a.m. and we’re not quite ready to get up yet. We’ve told them that if they wake up before 6:00, they may read quietly until we come to get them.

We had a large bin of books in their closet, but the books never seemed to end up back in there. I saw a bookshelf similar to the one below in a Pottery Barn catalog and showed it to my husband. He gathered some scrap wood together and came up with this. The girls love it.

Years ago a friend of mine decided she no longer wanted the wooden shutters on her house. My husband was happy to have them because he knew he’d be able to use the wood for something. He was in the process of building a storage cabinet for me and I asked him to use a pair of the shutters for the doors. We’ve since put the cabinet in the girls’ room to store some of their baby items and other mementos.

I realize that not everyone is a woodworker and that some of these projects would be very difficult to make by someone who is not. What I hope this post is more about, though, is thinking in creative ways. How can something be reused? What’s another way to re-purpose something you already have?

Stay tuned for more projects from around my house. I’d love to know what creative things you all have done.

Good Stuff

I’ve come across several good things I’d like to tell you about.

1. Diane MacEachern wrote about green dry cleaning this week. Her post is incredibly informative. She’s also provided a link to a database where you can locate the greenest dry cleaners in your area.

2. Colin Beavan, aka, No Impact Man has a great project going. He’s encouraging everyone to try a one week carbon cleanse and has put together a terrific day-by-day tutorial to help. Even if you don’t do everything he suggests, there are some helpful ideas included in his guide.

3. Check the list of 7 Foods the Experts Won’t Eat. It may surprise you.

4. I found Sprout Launch this week. They offer daily acts of kindness to keep you full of ideas. Follow them on Twitter, or check out their site.

Have a great week, everyone!

How to Cook a Grass-fed Steak

First, my apologies to the vegetarians among us.

Many of you know that we purchased a bulk order of grass-fed beef in November. Last weekend I thawed two of the New York strip steaks and set out to cook them. The result was excellent and I thought I’d share with you all what I did.

I should mention that because grass-fed beef is leaner than corn-fed beef, it needs to be cooked more slowly so it won’t dry out. Cooking the steaks was a really simple process. As someone who’s always just grilled her steaks, I did some investigating online to try to find the best method for cooking these steaks. I combined a few different sets of instructions I found for grass-fed beef and this is what I came up with:

1. I patted the steaks dry and sprinkled them with pepper and kosher salt, which I then rubbed into the steaks.

2. I set my cast iron skillet on the stove over medium/medium high heat until it just began to smoke, then I added a heaping spoonful of excellent butter. (My butter is made by the same company that makes our organic milk. There are two ingredients: cream and salt, and it tastes divine.)

3. Once the butter started to bubble, I added the steaks and seared them on all sides. Overall, this took about 5 minutes.

4. I put the steaks (still in the skillet) in the oven at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes. You’ll need to keep checking to get them to the level of done-ness you prefer. It’s best to let them rest for about 10 minutes after taking them out of the oven.

I told you it was simple, but incredibly delicious. Let me know if you try it.

For more information on cooking with grass-fed beef, be sure to take a look at Shannon Hayes’ book, The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook: Healthy Cooking & Good Living with Pasture Raised Foods.