Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall and a Mosaic

By most counts, fall is my favorite season.  The weather is much more bearable, Western PA is absolutely beautiful and it's the appropriate season to break out some of my favorite foods and scents and decor items.  Unfortunately it is also my peak allergy season and the days get steadily shorter.  It's only been a few weeks and already I miss late dinners and later dog walks, eating on the porch and being able to cut the entire yard in one evening.  It's not easy settling into a new routine, but we're working on it.  Yesterday I remembered to eat early so Sadie and I could walk after dinner.  Tonight I forgot.  Poor puppy needs exercise if she's gonna be bearable inside, which she will be so much moreso in the coming months. 

To keep my mind off of both unemployment and the darkness, I decided to finally put up the mock mosaic on the "Fireplace" in the living room.  I use the quotes because it's actually a piece of furniture that burns cans of gelatinized rubbing alcohol.  It sounds silly, but it looks real and is an integral part of my big Victorian plans for our living room (which may take a while to carry out).

The first thing I did was lay it down on it's side (though I'm pretty sure this will work on something upright as well) and pick through my pieces of broken plates.  The great thing about mosaic is you can use anything you want!  Then, I laid them out in the order I wanted them. 



I decided to stick them down with hot glue, but if you decided to try this, make sure to take into account the materials of your tiles and surface when choosing an adhesive. 

Then I put joint compound in an icing bag to use as my cement. 


Then I piped joint compound into ALL the cracks, and smoothed it out. 

As it dried, I noticed cracks starting to form from shrinking compound.  I think I'm going to let it dry for a full week before filling in the cracks.  Technically, once it's dry you should coat it in polyurethane or some other clear coat.  I don't think I'm going to do that unless I have to because it tends to yellow and there's an awful lot of white. 

Cost of Project: $0 I had everything I needed just lying around.  I think I'm going to paint the fireplace eventually, but I made sure to clean the wood up of joint compound in case I change my mind.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Grilled Pizza

Friday is pizza night here at the Starosta household.  We love pizza.  I have one dough recipe that I modify as i feel, but here is the basic:

1 c. Room temperature flat beer (different beers, different flavors or wine or chicken broth or milk or water)
2 tbsp. sugar (or honey or agave)
2 tbsp. Olive Oil (or canola or melted butter)
1 tsp. Salt
2 1/2 c. Flour (White or Wheat or White Whole Wheat, and sometimes I substitute a cup of cornmeal)
2 1/4 tsp. Bread Machine Yeast

It's very flexible.  Tonight was water, agave, Olive Oil, White Whole Wheat & Cornmeal.  I had onions, Nick had pepperoni (yuck!) 

In an effort to change pizza night up a bit, I decided to make personal pizzas (as opposed to one big pie) and grill 'em!

Step 1: Roll out dough.  This is one instance that does not make allowances for sticky dough, so roll it in more flour baby!


Step 2: Spray lightly on BOTH sides (you don't want to be spraying at the grill once its on) and toss it on!  Close lid. 


Step 3: Flip When underside has nice grill lines and is sufficiently cooked enough to flip. 

Step 4: Top immediately after flipping.  The second side of the crust will not require as much time to bake and you want your cheese melted and any toppings cooked.  (I learned that the hard way, my onions were a lil raw.) Sorry about the overexposure, it was sunny out.  (And windy, I was having trouble keeping the grill lit)

Step 5: Remove from the grill & Enjoy!

Making a More Efficient Toilet

Here in the Starosta household, we have a lovely, ancient, throne.  It is by no means an efficient flusher, but it has served us well and a new commode would run at least $100.  This morning, I went on a mission to conserve water and our Water & sewage bills. 

Step #1: Overcoming my fear of the toilet tank. 


Isn't it gross? Of course, it's gross from a build up of minerals from SWPA's lovely hard water and nothing more.  Grit my teeth and carry on. 

Step #2: Get an idea of how much water it is currently using. 

As I Understand it, there is no good (free) way to do this.  Instead, to measure my improvements, I will time how long each flush takes.  From the moment I pull the handle until the water stops running is 1 min. 28 sec.

Step #3: Adjust the Spring Clip on the Refill Valve



At the very left of the tank is an arm with a wire on it.  On that arm is a clip.  The farther down on the wire that clip is, the less water will enter the tank at each refill.  Mine didn't go easily, but it did go down. 


Note the difference in the water lines?  It went from a flush time of 1:28 to a fill time of 1:07, a 24% decrease. 

Step #3: Take up the Space:

I was reading about a week ago about putting a jar of rocks in the tank to take up room and making it think its fuller than it is.  Then, when researching more closely I read about putting a half gallon full of water in the tank.  It is bigger and no glass to worry about. 

It looked like it might have enough room to hold a gallon, but I tried and it was just a tad too big.  I'm gonna keep looking for something bigger, but in the mean time, this will do.  New Flush time: 57 seconds, 64% of the old time. 

Mission: Accomplished.  Happy flushing!

For more suggestions, look here

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Getting Rid of Bathroom Scuz

I don't care for cleaning the bathroom.  Even more so, I don't like to clean the bathtub.  I usually let Nick have that honor.  But, try as he might, cleaning isn't exactly his strongsuit.  Between that and the scuzzy (and slippy) film left on the floor of the tub by my homemade soap, the tub was in bad shape and I've kept "meaning" to clean it.  This morning I discovered the beginning of red mold.  There was no more delaying it, it had to be done.  I have no idea if I'd read it somewhere or if it just came from my head but I decided to make a paste (for lack of a better word) of vinegar and salt.  The mold was no problem.  The scuz still took quite a bit of elbow grease, but the stuff really worked.  I don't know if the salt just acted as a scrubbing agent or if there was something chemical going on,  it did feel like I was inhaling some funny vinegar fumes.  Moral of the story: Clean tub, Green methods, Happy girl. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Past Projects: The Master Bedroom

This is my house:


Say "Hello, House!"

I thought I should introduce you.  I'm going to be sharing with you what we did and are doing to it.  Mostly because I'm quite obsessed with it's remodel. 

This is what the master bedroom looked like shortly after we moved in.  Pardon the mattress on the floor, I was staging a protest. 



And, on the wall opposite the bed, paneling! (which was apparently was so horrifying I never took a picture) With only one closet, barely big enough to house my clothes.  Luckily for Nick's homeless clothes, it's twin occupied the same wall space but opened to the kitchen.   Yes, his clothes lived in the kitchen.  And he changed in the kitchen.  And left clothes all over the kitchen. 

Obviously, this clothing situation just could not be, so we decided to tear down a wall! (or rather I did, Nick didn't see why his clothes couldn't live happily ever after in the kitchen) Here was the Plan(not necessarily to scale):

Bedroom Remodel

So, we removed the ugly paneling.



But of course, the floor in Nick's closet was tile and mine was carpet & that just wasn't gonna jive with the new floor plan, so we started ripping up floors.  The plan was to only remove the flooring in the closet area and we'd deal with what we found.  Worst come to worst, we'd put in those sticker tiles.  Well, there was tile under the carpet, but under the tile was...WOOD FLOORS!


So we removed all of the flooring in the bedroom, then in most of the first floor and did a 4 MONTH detour into flooring. 



The bedroom was by far the most distressed and took the longest before we gave up on the sanding and we were a little worse for the wear, but we finished it shortly after Christmas (the rest of the floors were finished in November)  Then it was time to remove the plaster from the kitchen wall, rearrange the studs and put back the studs in the bedroom, which we took out for ease of closet-floor sanding. 


This was the point where Sadie decided we were nuts. 

But the walls were cleared


And new framing was erected

And incase you wondered what we did when the Good Lord saw fit to dump 3 ft of Snow on Pennsylvania in the course of 24 hours,


We were hanging drywall! Of course!

But then we had scuffed floor boards in some spots and naked ones in others and no shoe molding anywhere.  We also had bare drywall in some spots and translucent, poorly done yellow paint in others, so we painted!  I chose Egret White for the trim (you'll hear that name a lot because I am standardizing the whites in my house to egret) and haven green, both sherwin williams paints because my uncle lets me use his business account there.  The paint itself was Duration Home, which is Green stamped, extremely low VOC and 100% scrubbable!  Oh, and Nick's parents brought in the dresser from his bedroom at their house to complete the look and his mom made us new curtains (same pattern & liner as the livingroom so it looks uniform from the street but different fabric) and roman blinds. 

When this pic was taken, the one curtain was out for alterations, but they all match now. 


His and Hers Closets! AND, I don't have any pics of the process, but that full length mirror is actually a heavy beveled number (with a crack in the corner) that my parents have had my entire life, and I'm not even sure how I wound up with it.  When we put up the studs for the closet, we placed them about the size of the mirror.  I bought regular crown Moulding & ripped divets for the edge of the mirror with the table saw and the frame is actually nailed into the wall, the mirror is permanent. 


The poor wall above the bed is still naked.  I'm thinking antique stained glass, or maybe i'll make my own stained glass, but i'm not sure yet. 

Oh, and while I may have given up closet space in the deal, I actually GAINED storage capacity, thanks to my closet organizer.  Nick opted for a bar and a shelf. 

P.S. The green looks better in the daylight then with the icky CFL bulbs in the pics, but such is life. 

Ketchup & Spring Jelly in the Fall

It is officially fall.  If my allergy sufferings weren't proof enough, the leaves are turning and I'm shocked at how early its getting dark.  That means that I have had  Violet infusion (yes, violets, those lovely little purple flowers) in my freezer for almost 6 months!  Why I put off making such a deliciously delicate pantry staple is beyond me. 

JP Overby Wild Violet.preview


2c. Violet infusion
2-3 tbsp. Lemon Juice, or the juice of one lemon
1 Package of Pectin
4 c. Sugar

First you need to pick a TON of violets.  Just the heads (as little green stuff as possible) should be about 2 c. in volume.  Let the violet heads sit in water for about an hour to make sure all bugs have evacuated and drain.  Cover the heads in 2c. boiling water and let sit for 24 hours.  After that time, you should have a jar of dark blue liquid with what looks like white lettuce floating in it.  Use a colander or cheese cloth to drain out the flower pulp.  You can then continue on, or be lazy and freeze it for 6 mos like I did. 

Mix the infusion with the lemon juice (it'll turn a nice purpley pink, its an acid-base science thing) and the pectin.  Bring to a boil and slowly add sugar, one cup at a time.  Once all the sugar is in, bring it to a heavy rolling boil for an entire minute.  Make sure you stir constantly, boil overs are a real mess. 


Scoop into sterilized jars and process in boiling water for 5 minutes. 


I did this mostly cuz i have a ton of tomatoes, so let me preface this by saying that there are a ton of great natural store-bought options, from simply heinz to organics made from heirloom tomatoes.  Buying ketchup, however, doesn't use up my tomatoes. 

9 lb. Roma tomatoes
1/2 c. minced garlic
2 diced onions
2 c. Red Wine Vinegar
1 c. Balsamic Vinegar
3 c. Brown Sugar
3 tsp. Salt

Peel & seed tomatoes.  That took me hours.  Blend or food process Tomatoes, garlic & onions.  Add everything else and cook until it no longer had that raw tomato taste, then simmer down until it is the consistency you like it to be.  That takes a while. 

I got 2 Quarts from it. 

Friday, September 17, 2010


I had been tossing about in my head making a few changes around here.  Primarily, as much as I am loving sharing my green transformation and kitchen crusades with all of you (and have no intention of stopping), that is by no means the only thing I do with my time.  For starters, I am a serial remodeler.  I am also a wife and a musician and a Child of God.  I'm no professional blogger, there is no one here to hold me to the intention I started out with.  It's my blog and I'll change it if I want to. 

Then, this week, I found myself without a job.  I'm trying not to dwell on it more than absolutely necessary.  Suffice it to say, I was caught up in a bad political situation and I don't know that I ever could have come out on top.  My job is now looking for a job, but in the mean time it means I'll probably have a little more time to share with you some of the things i haven't had time for in the past.  Maybe that's better, maybe that's worse.  Feel free to chime in if I'm bugging the heck out of you. 

Playing Catch-Up, Part 2

sorry...that's what I get for telling ya'll when the next post was coming.  Tardiness.  I hate tardiness. 


What would butter day be without buttermilk?  There are so many uses for it and never enough to go around.  My 1/2 gal of heavy cream yielded just under 2 cups of (salted, a fact I kept forgetting) buttermilk.  I made ranch dressing with half of it (still from the packet, I haven't run out yet, but it's on the list of item to be replaced).  Very salty dressing.  Apparently, if you salt the butter, the buttermilk is salty too (who'd a thunk?) 

With the other cup, I made some seriously awesome, if salty, cornbread.  Old School home-style. 

Recipe (Adapted from the Hodgson's Mill Corn Meal Bag)

2 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder (non-alumnium)
2 Tbsp. honey or agave
1 3/4 cups buttermilk (or enough to moisten batter well)(I only needed 1c.)
1 egg
2 cups Corn Meal

Put butter in cast-iron skillet in 400º F oven. Mix corn meal, baking powder, soda, salt and honey; add egg and buttermilk. Batter should be thick. Add heated shortening to batter, after swishing around pan, and put batter in heated skillet and bake in 400º F oven 25-35 minutes or until brown.

This was really savory (which Nick liked, but i like it sweet, so i'd prolly double my sweetener next time...and use unsalted buttermilk)


I was lazy this past week and didn't really go to the grocery store, so I was cooking with what I had on hand.  Here are two of my concoctions:

Pantry/Fridge Items:

Basil Linguini (Handmade from the farmers market)
Minced Garlic
Olive Oil
Diced Onions (anytime i cut into an onion, i finish dicing it and freeze it so i always have some on hand)
Frozen Zucchini Disks
Nature's Basket Chicken Breasts, which I had tossed in the freezer a while ago

I was thinking maybe a garlic butter on the pasta with zucchini & onions & grilled chicken, but I couldn't bring myself to make an all butter sauce (even if it was only going to be a light coating) so i did 50/50 olive oil & butter. 

Started Water boiling for noodles.  Melted Butter & warmed oil.  Tossed in a TON of minced garlic.  Drained zucchini & tossed in with onions, cooking til warm but not too long because it'd loose its vibrant color & freshness.  Tossed in pasta, brushed chicken with oil & grilled.  Drained pasta and tossed in oil & veggies. 

The chicken was the best part.  No seasoning or anything, just enough oil so it wouldn't stick and it was SO flavorful :)

Pantry Challenge #2:

Marinated Deer Steaks
Baby Spinach
Uncle Ben's Fast & Natural Brown Rice
Olive Oil
Half & Half (Whole Milk, Heavy Cream, or even Sour Cream will work...though the sour cream will produce more of a creamed spinach than spinach with just a hint of dairy)
White Wine

Thaw & grill steaks. 

Heat a tbsp of olive oil in sauce pot, then add rice (all at once or you'll get rice krispies).  Coat with oil and stir 'til warm.  Add liquid, substituting wine for half of water, and cook as directed.  Voila! Instant risotto. 

Heat tbsp of olive oil, toss in garlic and thinly sliced onions until onions just barely begin to carmelize or smell sweet.  Toss on a TON of baby spinach, toss to coat with oil & wilt.  Add a dash of half & half.  Remove from heat. 

Top risotto with spinach.  Much yum :)


I was in the grocery store a couple weeks ago and spotted a popsicle mold for $1.  It wasn't as cool as the one we had growing up.  That one had a little cup that gathered any melted goodness with a straw attached so you could suck it up.  No, this was very basic, but reusable and you can put juice or yogurt in it for a healthy and cool treat.  Win-Win.  I remembered it and mixed OJ and peach yogurt together.  Much yum!