Saturday, June 29, 2019

Living Life Thankful

Living life thankful: the new name of our blog. It seems appropriate that we'd create a new name, given that it's been forever since we posted anything which makes it sort of like a new blog. This first post under our new name is a simple one. I just want to express my gratitude for God's goodness and faithfulness, which I hope encompasses the spirit we aim to convey with this blog going forward.

The past couple of years have been busy, seeing Jackson nearing close to graduating from college and Hunter heading off to college. Mitch is about to enter his senior year of high school, and Chloë is preparing to start 5th grade in the fall. Colette and I are busy juggling our schedule around all the kids' activities, while Colette continues to squeeze her art in where she can and we work through the never ending home improvement list, one project at a time.

In between all this, we continue to discover some truly amazing restaurants and see some really cool new places and, of course, strive to park our butts at the beach every possible opportunity we can!

Through it all, I'm so thankful that the past couple years have by God's grace been marked by good health and joyful celebrations as we progress through some of the beautiful transitions of life that God in His wisdom so eloquently ordained for us. Reminds me of this passage of scripture:

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven...
God has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in our hearts...
I know that nothing is better for us than to rejoice,
and to do good in our lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. Ecclesiastes 3:1,11-13

Personally, I'm so incredibly thankful to be married to and sharing this adventure with the absolute love of my life, and that we are blessed with 4 terrific kids who are great people. And, of course, for 3 unique doggies who remind us that laughing and barking and enjoying a good bone or afternoon car ride will endure as some of the most lasting and memorable moments we enjoy on this merry-go-round of life!

Happy 4th of July!


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

To Re-finish or Not to Re-finish: What to Do With Your 40 Year Old Wood Floors

Our kitchen now, after refinishing the floors!
Our wood floors have been bugging us for a while now. They're old floors, which we knew when we bought our home 4 years ago, but they were in decent shape at the time so not a lot of thought was given to least until after several years of our ball-loving Sheepadoodle Irie leaving her "mark" (literally") all over our kitchen floor...Irie's favorite thing in the whole world is playing ball, and who are we to deprive her of that God-given joy? But over the past few years of ball throwing, followed by dog running and sliding and skidding all over the floors, we could no longer ignore or overlook....this:

Long story short, Colette and I discussed and researched every possible solution from the simplest DIY options to complete professional floor replacement. There's almost too much information available online on this topic, and at the end of the day it can easily all leave you flat-out confused and unsure about what will and won't work in your situation.

Should you do a complete sanding down to bare wood, and re-stain and re-finish? Will chemical etching and refinishing work? Will buffing/screening and refinishing do the trick? Or are your floors too bad for all of those and you need to either live with them as-is or completely replace them? And how do you know?

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure what the absolute best option was for our floors, but after picking one and then diving in and doing it, I feel like we made the right choice. Wheww....
The biggest obstacle was trying to pick a solution that would make a notable impact for dog-scratched (and just plain old/worn) floors. Most of what we read made it seem like complete sanding or replacing were the only viable options. But at long last we decided to give screening and refinishing a try and we are very happy with the results!

So what is "screening" (or buffing as it's sometimes called)? Basically it's just a form of sanding that doesn't go all the way down to bare wood like a belt sander does. To screen a floor you rent a floor buffer and load sanding "screens" (basically just a special kind of sandpaper disk) onto the buffer and start sanding. (Note: We used 100 grit sanding screens and that seemed to work well.)

The idea is to sand off as much of the polyurethane finish as needed to make a notable improvement in the consistency and texture of the floor. This technique will remove most surface/superficial scratches (not down to or into the wood) and many other imperfections that don't go too deep. Screening won't do anything for dents in the wood or scratches that penetrate past the finish into the wood. So in other words, if you're looking to make a 40 year old floor look brand new, you probably need to just replace the floor - or at a minimum do a ginormous super sanding project that likely will leave you wishing you had replaced the floor.

So onto our project. We started with the kitchen floors. First we removed all the furniture and then covered everything with sheet plastic (large box from Home Depot). Then we did a thorough vacuum and mop of the floor.

Next I rented a floor buffer at Home Depot and went to town. Warning up front: a floor buffer is a hard machine to operate - but after a little trial and error and learning to control the machine by brute force it's pretty easy to use. Took me about 20 minutes and a couple YouTube videos to figure out how to keep the machine from racing all by itself across the floor every time I turned it on.

I went through 4 100-grit sanding disks on this floor. Probably could have gone through 6, but after a couple hours of sanding the whole floor (and sanding the really bad spots again and again and again and again) Colette and I looked at the floor and decided enough was enough. (Note: we also used a pole sander and 100 grit screens to sand the edges all the way around the room).

Next step was to do tear down all the plastic. Then came a thorough vacuum of the floor, after which we mopped it and vacuumed some more and then mopped and vacuumed some more. There was a decent amount of dust, but it wasn't horrible and was nothing like what we would have had if we'd done a complete sanding of the floor.

After the floor was completely clean and dry it was time to put on the polyurethane. (Note at this point we could already tell the floors were in a lot better condition.) We used Varathane quick dry polyurethane in semi-gloss.

We chose Varathane mainly because we've used their products before and found them easy to apply and quick-drying which is a huge plus. And Colette, being the truly beautiful artist she is, as well as our undisputed resident expert on all things color/aesthetic, quickly determined that full gloss would leave a super pretty shine but would also magnify every imperfection (the last thing we needed), so we decided that semi-gloss was the way to go.

It took 3 coats of the polyurethane to do the job. The 2nd coat goes down a couple hours after the first, then you wait a day and apply the third coat.

To apply I used a special synthetic mop head designed for water based finishes from Home Depot which attaches to a painter's pole. You basically start in the farthest closed-in corner of the room and "paint" your way section by section all the way into the opposite corner until the whole room is coated. It takes a little practice to get the hang of the mop and polyurethane to make sure you're applying it evenly and not blotchily, but once you get the hang of it it goes quickly. Make sure you don't apply too thick of coats though (we learned that lesson the hard way here).

So after about 2 days worth of work, here is our new kitchen floor which we couldn't be happier with!

Thanks for reading!


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Update for last years Backyard Shed Makeover

It's warm, the suns out & we're ready to enjoy our pool area. Last year Dave did a blog
on remodeling our shed.

I am updating with a few pictures now that the wisteria is in full bloom.
We added a fish from Pier One, hooks I got at Marshall's & solar lights from Target.

Loving how it turned out & very excited to make some fun memories in this area!

Happy Sunday!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Chilling with Steak Tips, Cauliflower, and Chocolate Cake

My beautiful wife Colette is so remarkable in so many ways. I am a blessed and infinitely thankful man! Colette invests so much of her time and herself every day into taking care of our large, busy family and keeping everything organized and running efficiently. She amazes me with the truly remarkable job she does, and how she does all she does with such excellence! But last night it was it was time for the tables to turn as I cooked dinner for Colette while she spent the evening relaxing and enjoying a very well deserved break!

When I venture too far outside my culinary comfort zone of pizza and grilling, things can get a bit risky. But to accompany the main course of steak tips, I took on the extreme challenge of making a side dish of cauliflower gratin with goat cheese topping and a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. If I'm being honest, I would have preferred just grilling the cauliflower and cake, but all in all I think everything turned out OK, so I thought I'd share here for anyone else who may want to take a similar stab!

First, I baked the cake. Thankfully I got some expert help from my extremely capable sugar-toothed assistant, Miss Chloë! We worked together and made the following cake.

Basically just followed this recipe as written. It's pretty straightforward. The only notes I'd add is that we didn't bother with the parchment paper, and also the cake took 5-10 minutes longer than listed to cook for some reason. Otherwise, things went pretty smoothly.

We made the cake, let it cool a bit in the pans then let it cool some more out of the pans on a wire rack. Then we made the whipped topping frosting with this recipe. We let the frosting chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes, and then I let Chloë work her magic frosting the cake!

Next, I tackled the cauliflower dish, using this recipe. Once again, pretty much just followed the recipe, although I'll admit it took me a while to figure out exactly what the heck "florets" and "steaming baskets" are...

A warning note about cauliflower in general. It's like scallops--tastes great, but smells absolutely horrible while cooking. So don't be alarmed. Couple other notes on this recipe. I used fresh thyme and just chopped it on a cutting board. Also, I used a blender instead of a "food processor." Once again, I found that this dish took a little longer than listed to cook (i.e., to get lightly browned on top). And finally, we skipped the bread crumbs.

After the cake was made and frosted, I put it in the fridge until we ate it. I prepared the cauliflower dish so it was just ready to stick in the oven, then turned my attention to the steak tips. As far as how I prepared the steak tips, I used the following homemade rub I came up with a while back for smoking meats. (Amounts are not measured, just throw it all together.)

       1-2 cups of stevia
       Hefty amount of chili powder
       Hefty amount of onion powder
       Garlic powder (little bit less)
       Ground cinnamon (little bit less)
       Paprika (think I put small amount in)
       Pink Himalayan salt (smaller amount but generous)

Mix in bowl and then rub steak with lemon juice and rub dry rub on both sides and let it marinate for at least 5 hours.

I applied the rub to both sides of the steak tips and left in a pan to marinate overnight (about 24 hours total).

I put the steak tips on the grill and then after about 5 minutes or so I put the cauliflower into the oven.

In hindsight, I could have started the steak tips and caulifower at the same time and the timing would have been perfect. But the timing still worked out pretty good and I think all in all things turned out pretty good.

I had a really fun time making dinner for you, Colette! :D

Until next time,


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Cherry Chocolate Kisses & Dishpan Cookies

We had fun baking up 2 Valentine's cookies the other day. Both were delicious!
Cherry Chocolate Kisses are from a recipe in the book, The Ultimate Cookie Book.
They are a bit like a shortbread, soft & buttery with great almond flavor. Dishpan Cookies, (recipe on my moms card below) remind me of a chewy oatmeal cookie & they are so, so good! I left out the nuts & raisins & put a thing of Wilson's Valentines sprinkles & a cup of chocolate chips in.  It was was hard to eat just one of both of these... the struggle is real, right?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Holiday Toffee Bars

Doubled the recipe to fit on a 9x13 or larger pan & first lined it with parchment for easy cutting & clean up.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Gluten-Free Pizza Cooked in the Outdoor Pizza Oven

We love food. Our whole family does. Enjoying food together is a regular highlight of many of our family activities, whether it's going out to eat somewhere cool or at home enjoying one of the many scrumptiously savory food delights Colette blesses our family with day in and day out. My culinary responsibilities in the family consist mainly of eating and doing dishes, but I do pitch in with the cooking from time to time in a few specific areas: grilling meats, smoking meats, and making pizza (all of which take place on the back deck, so I guess that makes the deck my own personal backyard kitchen) and with Christmas around the corner, I am feeling especially festive & festive = pizza in our house!

Pizza is the food topic today. I love to cook for Colette, so she can kick her legs up and be served for a change. I like to be able to give Colette a much-needed break from the kitchen, and to make her something she really enjoys. Thankfully pizza is one of those things! I experimented with something new yesterday -- pizza with a gluten-free pizza dough, baked in the outdoor pizza oven. It turned out great!

Here I am getting the project started with my very capable cooking crew...

I used to make pizza indoors in the oven, but no more! Ever since Colette gave me this Pizzeria Pronto outdoor pizza oven as a gift, I can hardly bring myself to cook pizza the "traditional" way anymore. This awesome pizza oven cooks on a stone at a very high temperature just like a wood fired pizza grill, and the results are off the chart amazing -- especially if you like neapolitan style pizza crust.

So back to the gluten free pizza. For the most part I followed this recipe from King Arthur Flour as described, but I made a few slight departures from the exact ingredients and steps listed. I'll walk through the whole thing here.

First I made the dough. I measured and mixed all the dry ingredients in a bowl, then added the wet ingredients and mixed by hand.

Dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups gluten-free brown rice flour (instead of the brown rice flour blend listed in the K.A. recipe)
2 tablespoons buttermilk powder or nonfat dry milk powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon glucomannan (instead of the xanthum gum listed in the K.A. recipe)
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup stevia (or whatever sweetener you choose, note this is more sweetener than listed in the K.A. recipe)

Wet ingredients:

1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil

With reckless abandon, I completely disregarded the dire warning in the K.A. recipe about not mixing the dough by hand. That seemed silly and it mixed just fine by hand using a large spoon. The "dough" is really more of a batter at this stage - a wet, sticky mess that in almost no way resembles pizza dough. But just keep on keeping on, it all turns out just fine in the end.

Next came another of the recipe departures. I didn't let the dough sit as instructed. Instead, Colette came up with the great idea to treat the dough at this stage like she does cookie dough, spooning it out and rolling it flat between two pieces of parchment paper. What a great suggestion and I learned something new to add to my cooking repertoire!

I spread out a large piece of parchment paper on the counter, sprayed it with Pam, then sprinkled corn meal all over the parchment paper. (By the way, corn meal and the outdoor pizza oven are an unbeatable combination. I've always used corn meal to keep my dough from sticking to the pizza peel so it slides easily into the pizza oven, and the added texture and taste it brings to your dough is so good!)

Next I spooned the dough/batter onto the middle of the parchment paper and then laid another large piece of parchment paper on top (also sprayed with Pam and sprinkled with corn meal). So at this point I had a dough and parchment paper sandwich. Then I took a rolling pin and flattened the dough out, rolling over the top of the parchment paper. This is the step where you get to decide how thick you want your dough. So roll it out as thick or thin as you like!

Next we stuck it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. This step is key, because freezing the dough a bit takes it from a sticky unworkable state and turns it into something more resembling pizza dough that you can actually work with. After you take the dough out of the freezer you peel away the parchment paper and lay the dough down in a greased baking sheet.

One lesson learned here. I should have left the dough in the freezer a little bit longer than I did, because when we peeled away the parchment paper it peeled easily off the edges but the middle of the dough was still fairly sticky and tore apart a bit. Freezing it longer would have left the middle easier to work with. The length of time you have to freeze probably also has a lot to do with how thick or thin you roll out your dough.

Stick the baking sheet in the oven at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes or so to firm it up and get it ready for assembling and baking.

One other lesson learned - the next time I make this pizza I'll roll out the dough thinner and try to get it to turn out almost like a crunchy, "crackery" crust (which is what Colette really loves). I think the amount of dough you get from this recipe is good for 2 medium sized pizzas, with thin crust, or one with regular crust thickness.

Before getting to the last steps, actually making and cooking the pizza, I'll share with you the pizza sauce recipe I used, in case you need one:

5 cans tomato sauce
3/4 cup oregano
3/4 cup stevia (or sugar)
1/4 cup garlic and several hefty shakes of salt (or just use garlic salt)
1/4 cup parsley
several hefty shakes of pepper
1/4 cup of onion powder
**Note: I usually don't measure the ingredients when making the sauce, so the above measurements are approximate.

Mix all this together in a bowl. Taste, and adjust as needed to suit your taste. Note: this is fairly large amount of sauce. If you're only making a few pizzas, you can halve this recipe.

The last step is to spread corn meal onto your pizza peel, then lay the dough down onto the peel and build the pizza: sauce, cheese, then toppings. Here we topped with green and red peppers, onions, and jalapeno peppers.

Slide the pizza into the pizza oven at about 700 degrees, and it should cook in about 10 or so minutes, depending on how crispy you want it to be. Make sure you rotate the pizza (using the peel) inside the oven a couple times while it cooks so it cooks evenly.

And then enjoy!

Thanks for reading!