Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pantry Door Makeover

A couple of weeks ago we went to Nick and Laura's house for brunch to see their new house. Nick, a former member of Spouses on Sabbatical, is no stranger to house projects, and Laura is pretty crafty too. They've put a lot of work into the house already and it looks great. One of my favorite features is the chalkboard calendar in the kitchen. When Dan saw it he asked if we could do something similar in our house. Another excuse to play with chalkboard paint? You don't have to ask me twice! It's not like I have a slight obsession or anything.*

This is a super simple project that is low cost, low time-commitment and makes a big impact. Here's what you'll need:

  • Mini-roller and pan
  • Rust-Oleum black chalkboard paint
  • Painter's tape
  • 2 inch brush
  • 150 grit sandpaper
  • Touch up paint for the door
The first thing to do is pick out a spot for your new chalkboard; I chose the outside of our pantry door. The door is basic builder-grade quality, but I like the framed out arch. If you have a plain door with no architectural features, consider making some. Use craft paper to create the shape you want your new chalkboard to be and use that as a template to give your chalkboard a little more character. Just tape the paper on the door and lightly trace with a pencil. Then place painter's tape on the outside of the lines and paint inside. 

If your door already has a natural frame like mine, place painter's tape on the outside edges. Press hard on the tape to ensure it has a good seal. Pay special attention around curves. I removed all the hardware from the door because the handle jutted into the area I needed to paint.

Next, lightly sand the surface to help the paint adhere better. I used 150 grit.

Gently mix the paint and pour a small amount into your pan. A little goes a long way, and you want thin, even coats. I did three coats and barely used 1/5 of the can. I let each coat dry for at least two hours before re-coating. 

First coat

Second coat

Remove your tape while the last coat is still wet. It helps to prevent paint from peeling off with the tape.
Third coat

I have to say I am a little disappointed with the ScotchBlue tape. My edges were not as crisp as I had hoped. The arch was actually terrible. I'm sure that is partly user error.

Hopefully you can skip this step, but after my last coat was dry I taped around the inside of my chalkboard to touch up the edges. This time I used Frog Tape and a 2 inch paintbrush.

The hardest part of this project came next: waiting for my chalkboard to cure. I waited three full days to make sure it had time to harden. Then it was ready for seasoning. This is a really important part of the process. Seasoning makes sure that you don't end up with ghost writing, where your writing is still visible after you erase it. I learned this the hard way from my mistake in my chalkboard platter.

To season your board, take a piece of chalk and rub it vertically, then horizontally all over the board. The goal is to get into every nook and cranny. This is a pretty dusty affair, and I went through a couple of pieces of chalk. When you're done coating the board, wipe away with a dry paper towel or cloth. If you want the board to look like new again, wait a few days and then use a damp (not wet) towel.

Now it's ready for the glorious art (ha!). I wanted a calendar up top and a place for Zoey to draw on bottom. I went to my best friend Pinterest for some inspiration and came up with this. I am pleased as punch with it and can't wait to update it every month. Hopefully I'll get better and more adventurous with my chalkboard art. I'll keep you posted!

I can't get over what a big impact it makes for less than $20! I am still building my supply stash back up after leaving some things in England so I pretty much had to buy everything for this project. I imagine most people will already have a lot of these supplies.

Budget breakdown:
  • Wooster Pro Mini Roller Kit: $8.35
  • Rust-Oleum Chalkboard Paint: $4.83 (scored at 50% off with a coupon)
  • ScotchBlue Painter's Tape: $0 (already owned)
  • 3M Pro Grade Precision Sandpaper in 150 grit: $3.97 
  • 2 Inch Paint Brush: $0 (already owned)
  • Latex paint: $0 (already owned)
  • TOTAL SPENT: $17.15
* You'll tell me if this is starting to get out of hand, right? I can't help it. Chalkboards are so easy and fun!

Previous chalkboard projects:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Food for Thought

I came across an interesting article earlier this week that I couldn't wait to share with you. It's called "Death to the Chicken Finger: How we created an entire generation of unsophisticated, picky eaters — and why we must stop the tasteless cycle."

The premise of the article is that North American children are increasingly becoming picky eaters because we, as a society, are allowing them to. Through the prevalence of kid's menus at restaurants, limited choices at school cafeterias, and "fun" snack foods, the author, Adam McDowell, argues that by automatically assuming what types of food children will and will not eat, we are limiting their cultural experiences and potentially harming their future relationships with food.

Dan and I love food. We love eating it, cooking it and talking about it. We've tried to raise Zahara with a similar appreciation. Though her first introduction to solid foods was puréed sweet potato, she quickly told us that she preferred to eat what we were eating. And so began our journey with baby led weaning.

By the time Zahara had turned a year old, she had already sampled foods that many adults would shy away from: raw mackerel, pickled herring, beets, curried chicken, sushi...the list goes on.

I am fully aware that every kid is different and that we got lucky with our wonderful, adventurous eater. And I realize that even a great eater will generally go through a picky phase at some point. In fact, McDowell brought up a really interesting point I had never heard before about why toddlers will often begin refusing vegetables. He says it is a remnant from our hunter-gatherer days: "Children who are just learning to walk are also mobile enough to start grabbing a fistful of wild plant material to jam into their mouths — which could be poisonous..."

Despite the article's title, McDowell doesn't advocate ending all "kid's food." The problem, as he sees it, is that when restaurants put the same basic foods on every kids menu, they are automatically assuming that kids will only eat those foods. And that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If kids see that they are only supposed to eat chicken nuggets and mac and cheese, they may reject "adult" food without even trying it. Instead, he encourages parents and schools to advance their children's palates the way the French do:
Here are some rules for French children, as enforced in the cantines scolaires (school cafeterias) that are standard throughout the country...: A child is not forced to eat any particular food, but won’t get an alternate choice. Parents and educators don’t make a big fuss when children refuse; they just take the dish away and try again another time. When the next meal comes, the adults figure, the kid will be hungry enough to try anything. And if the next meal is dinner, the child is likely to have at least one parent there to help him or her along. The French also avoid scheduling children’s lessons and activities for weekday dinnertimes.
Again, I recognize that each child is different and, knowing from the personal experience of my best friend, not every kid will eat when they are hungry. Parents should make the best choices for their children. But, as a whole, we as a society should encourage our kids to explore the world through food.

I don't think the solution to a generation of picky eaters begins with reforming restaurant menus; I think that change needs to happen at home. However, why can't restaurants make a better kid's menu? There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of a kid's menu. Smaller portions at a smaller cost that comes with a toy? Great! But, instead of offering the same few choices, let's add a roasted chicken drumstick or a chickpea curry. Good food doesn't have to come in the shape of a dinosaur.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Snow Day!

This weekend we were treated to a big, fluffy snowstorm! This was the first big storm of the season for DC, though it paled in comparison to what our friends in Boston have been getting. Still, by midday we had several inches of snow and Zahara couldn't wait to explore. She literally dragged me by the hands yelling "snow!" and "outside!" The girl knows what she wants; who am I to stand in her way?

I thought she'd only last a few minutes outside, but she was having the time of her life. Even when she fell tush-first in the snow, she held out her arms for me to pick her back up, and on we went. We were ill-equipped for snow though. Our first outing was to our neighbor's house to borrow some boots (thanks Sarah and Kai!). The boots definitely helped, but her legs were practically frozen solid by the time we got back in. Our second trip out was to borrow a snowsuit from another neighbor (thanks Gary and Rebecca!). She was much warmer and drier after that.

This is the stuff memories are made of. We had so much fun out there. Sadly, all the snow melted by the next morning. Maybe it will snow again soon? I hope so!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Easy Weekday Dinner: Fish Tacos

I had the best fish taco of my life at El Molino Central when Dan and I were in Sonoma last year. It was crunchy, spicy and full of flavor. You could just taste the freshness. Every now and then I am nostalgic and want that taco. These aren't really a substitute, but they hit the spot. They're quick enough to make on a week night and will make you think of warmer weather. Grab a cold beer and dig in.

Easy Fish Tacos

  • 1 box crunchy fish sticks
  • Flour tortillas (small size)
  • Pickled cabbage (see recipe below)
  • Guacamole (we usually make it, but we cheated this time and got boxed guac)
  • Ranch dressing (or this if you can find it--it's amazing!)
  • Hot sauce
  • Cilantro
  • Cook fish sticks according to package instructions
  • Spread guacamole on a tortilla. Add two fish sticks and cabbage. Drizzle ranch dressing, hot sauce and cilantro.

    Quick Pickled Cabbage
    Original recipe from here

    • 1/2 head of cabbage (red or green)
    • 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
    • 1 cup white vinegar
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 1/4-1/2* cup sugar
    • 4 tsp salt
    • Use a food processor to shred the cabbage. Place cabbage and dill in a large bowl.
    • In a small saucepan, bring vinegar, sugar, water and salt to a boil. Stir until sugar dissolves.
    • Pour over cabbage mixture and stir to combine. Cover and let stand for at least one hour, then drain. 

    * Adjust the sugar based on your own preferences. I like it a bit sweeter, especially when paired with salty and spicy components. This cabbage is also fantastic on shwarma and falafel!

    Monday, February 16, 2015

    Sunny Get-Away

    I've got to say, I am loving the fact that my in-laws recently retired and moved to Florida. There is absolutely no hardship in leaving the freezing cold Washington, DC winter and spending a few days in the sun. It's just icing on the cake that Rose and Yakov watch Zahara while Dan and I get a few days to relax.

    It was a short visit--only two full days--but it was just what I needed. While Zoey was off playing with her grandparents, Dan and I spent the day in South Beach. This is one of my favorite spots in the world. The beach is perfect white sand against the stunning turquoise blue ocean. It was a little too windy to lay out, but it was perfect weather for strolling and people watching.

    As soon as we got out of the car, we stumbled upon the most ridiculous thing: a beach volley ball tournament sponsored by modeling agencies. That's right. tons of gorgeous models--both men and women--wearing next to nothing while running and jumping in the sand.

    It was actually a fun event. There were a lot of booths giving various things away, including Jimmy Johns sandwiches, Evian water, and a protein shake company that let you blend your own shake with a bicycle. That was neat.

    We ate delicious, but expensive sushi at Sushi Samba. If you go, I recommend the Ezo* roll and the Samba Juice. I loved the fresh watermelon pieces soaked in booze. Just a warning, the juice is stronger than it sounds.

    That night we went to a fun cocktail party at my in-laws' condo. Sitting by the pool drinking free cocktails and eating free kosher food...does it get any better?? Zahara even made some friends. It's so fun to watch her play with other kids her age.

    The next day we ate a big, delicious breakfast at Sage Bagel and Deli. The whitefish salad was amazing. The Challah French toast looks very unappealing, but don't let looks deceive you. The deep-fried outside is crunchy while the inside is nice and creamy.

    We were lucky enough to spend some time with Dan's cousin Avi and his wonderful girlfriend Dina. We don't get to see them nearly often enough, so this was a real treat.

    All-in-all, this was a fantastic trip. I can't wait to do it again soon!

    * Ezo: soy-marinated salmon, asparagus, onion, chive, sesame, tempura flake, wasabi mayonnaise, soy paper.
    Samba Juice: Bacardi Razz, melon and crème de banana shaken with açai, fresh watermelon, passion fruit purée and guava. Served long and topped with Prosecco.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2015

    Mini Lasagnes

    There is something so comforting about eating a hot, cheesy lasagne on a cold winter day, but I don't always want the heaviness. These mini lasagnes are the perfect size and really hit the spot. They are packed with tons of vegetables, which make them a great meal for my little toddler too. Zahara loves them so much we always keep a few in the freezer.

    Mini Lasagnas

    • 48 square wonton wrappers (1 pack)
    • 12 ounces ricotta cheese
    • Italian seasoning to taste
    • 1/2 jar pasta sauce
    • 2 cups mozzarella
    • 4 carrots*
    • 2 zucchini
    • 1 small head broccoli
    • 1 red pepper
    • 1 bunch spinach (fresh or frozen)
    • Shred your vegetables using a food processor or grater. I julienned mine by hand, which worked well, but took a lot longer. This will look like a massive amount of vegetables, but they will shrink down.
    • Sautee your vegetables in a large pan until most of the liquid has been released and the vegetables are soft.
    • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Add Italian seasoning to ricotta and mix well.
    • Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray and place one wonton wrapper in each cup.
    • To assemble the lasagne, add a dollop of ricotta cheese to each wrapper. Then add a heap of veggies, a small spoonful of sauce and a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese. Add another wonton wrapper and repeat the layers once more.
    • Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until edges of wonton browns and the cheese is bubbly.

    * The best part about this recipe is you can put in any veggies you want. Play with the proportions. Add in mushrooms or onions. The sky is the limit!

    Thursday, February 5, 2015

    Things I Love: Johnny Rockets

    There are some things in life that are just so perfect that nothing could make them better. For me, that's a Johnny Rockets vanilla coke.

    So simple; so delicious. It doesn't take much to make me happy. What about you? What simple item makes you happy?

    Tuesday, February 3, 2015

    A Rare Gem: Profile of Hani Moula

    I finished a morning meeting and was on my way to have lunch with a friend when I had to run one quick errand. Dan's watch battery died and he asked if I had time to replace it. Conveniently, I found a jeweler right in the metro, so I asked him if he'd be able to do it. No problem, he said. Give me five minutes. An hour later, I was just getting an inkling of this fascinating man's history.

    Hani Moula is an unassuming, gentle man who owns M&J Jewelers in the Rosslyn Metro station. We struck up a conversation because I asked where he was originally from. With a thick middle-eastern accent, and a store filled with the types of jewels and ornaments that might be more comfortable in a souk, I guessed Turkey. Wrong, he said. Egypt? Nope. Jordan, he finally told me. Ah, Jordan! I've been there! We chitchatted for a few minutes about the country and how good the food is. He said he was going in May, when it will be very hot. I don't mind the heat, I told him. I'm from Texas. Suddenly, his eyes lit up and he shook my hand. I am also from Texas, he said. 

    Hani left Jordan in 1972 to pursue additional education in America. He was 19 and well educated, but did not speak English. His cousin, the Prime Minister of Jordan*, encouraged him to get a western education at the University of Texas in Austin. Because of his good looks, foreign intrigue and political connections, Hani did well in Austin. He learned English, met some good friends and lots of beautiful women. Thanks to his strict father and his Muslim upbringing though, he "didn't know what to do" with these women. 

    After a few years, Hani moved to Dallas to continue his studies at Southern Methodist University. He became fast friends with Greg Miller, grandson of legendary real estate mogul Henry S. Miller. The Millers all but adopted Hani--driving around in their Cadillac, eating at five-star restaurants, and introducing him to American football from their luxury suite at Texas Stadium. Hani was having the time of his life.

    Soon he met a beautiful woman. Her father was half-Indian and half Palestinian. Her mother was Palestinian from Jerusalem. Hani said she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Hani wanted to show her all the good things in life. He wined and diner her, using borrowed money. Unlike his friend Greg, Hani had very few funds of his own. 

    As the relationship progressed, she told Hani of an offer to work for the United Nations from an office in Washington, DC. The pair decided to move together to the east coast. Still maintaining his traditional values, Hani found a two-bedroom apartment for them to rent. Without a job or his wealthy friends in this new town, Hani could no longer maintain the lifestyle to which his girl had become accustomed--he could barely afford rent. Angrily, she demanded that he call the government of Jordan to secure additional funds. He did and was able to float by for a few more moths. When she realized that her gravy train had dried up, she left him. This betrayal hurt Hani to his core; he was a changed man.

    On his next visit home to Jordan, his aunt cornered him to express her concern that he was in his 30s and not yet married. Still nursing his broken heart, Hani agreed to an arranged marriage. Twenty-two years later, I asked Hani if he and his wife would have found each other on their own. No, he says. But he loves her and always has loved her. "She's the mother of my children," he says. 

    Hani is a man caught between two worlds. He misses his home country and would love to move back, but he knows that his grown children would not move there with him. His choice, he says, is to live in Jordan and miss his children, or live in America and miss Jordan. He chooses the latter.

    * Hani did not tell me the name of his cousin who was prime minister of Jordan, but he did mention that he had a second cousin who was also served as prime minister. I believe his cousins are Mudar Badran (1976-1979; 1980-1984), and Adnan Badran (2005).