Wednesday, November 27, 2013

DIY Colorblock Thank You Notes

Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks. This year I'm thankful for little things like apple pie with vanilla ice cream, the medium-size things like my new home and my amazing new roomie, and for the big things like a job, family & friends I love.

So, in honor of thankfulness and the holidays right around the corner, I decided to have some fun with thank you notes. Because nothing says "thank you" like a thoughtful note, especially a handmade one.

Here's what you need!
- Blank, solid-color cards (I chose pink)
- Painter's tape
- Spray paint (I chose metallic gold)
- Craft paint (multiple colors)
Step 1: Choose blank cards in a bold color you love. I'm not a huge pink person, but I thought the pink would look pretty against the gold spray paint.
Step 2: Apply painters tape to the cards in designs you like, remembering the spray paint will cover where the tape is NOT.
Step 3: Spray! Go crazy!
Step 4: Let dry and peel off tape very slowly, as to not rip the cards.
Step 5: Paint! I outlined all of the spray painted areas with a fun, bold paint color and then outlined the paint with a black Sharpi.
Step 6: Send! Whether it's for a holiday gift or just to someone your thankful for.
Super easy & fun. Hope everyone has an amazing Thanksgiving, eat lots!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Best Baked Mac & Cheese

We all know I'm a little bit of a cheese nut. Josh thinks I actually may be made out of cheese. But what can I say? I love it in all forms. Especially in the form of mac & cheese.

So I've basically gone on a quest to find the best in Boston. I've probably ordered it over 30 times in the last 2 years all over the city, which has led to some disappointments, but also some of the best meals of my life. And I want you to have them too. So here are my top 6 mac & cheese destinations in Boston to date. And if you have a favorite that's not on the list, PLEASE let me know! Can't stop, won't stop.

1. The Sinclair in Harvard Square mixes it up with bacon and asparagus. The herb breadcrumbs add a delicious crunch to the chewy goodness. ($9)

2. The Publick House in Brookline has a reputation for the best mac & cheese in Boston. So of course I had to try it. I don't know if I would say it beats out the others on this list, but it's pretty damn good. The orrechetti pasta is cooked in a 5 cheese sauce and you can pick from tons of add-ins, including braised short ribs, truffle cream, or scallops. ($11)

3. Lucky's Lounge in the Seaport is the only place you can listen to Sinatra while you eat mac & cheese. Plus they are the only place I've come across that uses radiatori pasta, which is old school but my favorite. Their mac & cheese is far from gourmet - it's super cheesy and smothered in Ritz crackers - but it seriously hits the spot when you have a craving. And at only $10 for a serving size that would feed a family of 5, you can't beat it. ($10)

4. The Local in Newton is still one of my favorite little hidden gems in all of the Boston area and was one of my faves when I lived in Brighton, They have all locally-sourced food, an awesome New England beer list, a fun, cozy atmosphere, and not one but TWO mac & cheese options (both delicious, yes I've had both): chicken, chive & bacon ($11) or lobster & 3 cheese ($15).

5. I'm putting Harvest Restaurant in Harvard Square on this list even though I'm mad at them for listing their mac & cheese on their "For the Table" menu section. Your not going to want to share this amazing dish with smoked Gouda (enough said) and lobster with the table like I had to. Trust me, get your own. Or get your own table. ($14)

6. Josh and I stumbled upon The Fireplace in Brookline last year when we were bored one night and decided to try a new restaurant. And I'm so glad we did. I'm just going to copy and paste the menu description for this one, because it speaks for itself. Cue mouth watering... ($18)


Classic Lobster Mac Rib Eye
with Caramelized Onion & Horseradish Cheese
Landaff Creamery (VT), Fresh Mozzarella (MA),
Cabot Cheddar (VT), Cave Aged Gruyere, Asiago,
Garlicky Broccoli and Lemony Spinach

 But in all these experiences, nothing has ever compared to the good old baked mac & cheese I make at home. Josh has literally been asking for it since the day he moved in, and I finally caved and we made it this week. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn't had Cabot cheddar for a while or maybe it was the massive amounts of bacon that josh added but I must say...I think it was the best batch ever. Here is the recipe!
1 box elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons salted butter
3 tablespoons flour
Black pepper
2.75 cups of 2% milk
4 cups (or 2 bags) of shredded cheddar cheese (I use Cabot Seriously Sharp)
Frozen peas
1 pack of bacon
Loaf of hard bread (I usually use french, ciabatta or sourdough)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Tear up loaf of bread into bread crumbs of desired size
  3. Cook bacon and dice into small pieces
  4. Cook macaroni al dente and place aside in buttered baking dish
  5. In large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Sprinkle flour into butter and whisk constantly until you have a thick, smooth paste (about 3 mins).
  6. Gradually whisk in milk and desired amount of black pepper (I use a TON) and continue stirring until sauce thickens and returns to a simmer.
  7. Reduce heat to low. Add 3.5 cups of cheese, peas, and bacon and stir the sauce until cheese is melted.
  8. Pour the sauce into the prepared baking dish over the pasta and mix around until well blended.
Next up? Baked mac & cheese with apple sauce and apple sausage! Um...yum.

Friday, November 15, 2013

DIY Photo Frame Gallery

 The little room under our apartment building's stairs was one of two ??? areas in our apartment when I moved in (the other was the sitting area). The room was tiny, cold and dark BUT had a massive amount of storage in the build-in cabinets, so I just assumed it would become and area full of stuff and I wouldn't spend much time in there. However, after josh set up his desk and computer and we moved and old striped rug and green couch in there, my design eye started seeing the potential in the little room. And, after some time browsing tiny office decor ideas on Pinterest, the idea for the photo wall came about. I already had a lot of photographs and treasures that I had collected over the past few years- and they really deserved to be displayed instead of sitting in my nightstand drawer. So after about a month of planning and logistics, the photo frame wall has finally come together! And we love it. Is it weird that my two favorite areas in our apartment now are the two that I thought were the most pointless when I moved in?
^ Inspiration 
Here's what you need:
  1. A color scheme: A wall gallery can make the room look cluttered by nature, which is OK. But at least nail down a basic color scheme first so it doesn't look like a mess. :) We went with black, white & green, which the rug & couch basically decided for us.
  2. Frames: I based the gallery off of 3 of these white shadowbox frames I got at Wayfair, but also used a few I already had and a few I found at HomeGoods.
  3. Art: You'd be surprised with how much you already have that would be fun to display. And if you don't have anything, Etsy will.
  4. Tools: tape measure, hammer, magic eraser, & thin nails
The really time consuming part of this project is finding the right sized frames to fit the right sized photos and then deciding on your layout. The display requires laying all of the photos down the way you want them on your floor and then measuring the wall to make sure your height and width will work. It was especially tricky for us because of the office's slanted ceilings. But after you've done that, the hanging part is easy! We thought for a long time about the best method to start hanging (josh even Googled it) but in the end our impatience kicked in and we decided to just start with the top piece as the reference point and then eye it out from there. And about 10 minutes and only two misplaced nail holes later, we were done! And at last, the office (or man cave, depending on who you ask) is complete.
^ make sure to have a magic eraser for all those inevitable wall marks you are going to make :)
^Step 1
^Step 2
^ Complete! With room to even expand on the left.
Art Sources:
1. Wooden sign with Dr. Suess quote, handmade on Etsy
2. Map of New England from the 1800s, not sure where I got this
3. "I love you more than cheese" postcard, questionable in josh and my relationship :)
4. "Keep Calm and Snuggle a Puggle," saw on Pinterest and printed at CVS
5. Black & white photograph of old shutters, taken my freshman year at UVM
6. Cardboard reindeer head, had this for a while just had to figure out how to put it together
7. Map of Boston inside a heart, printed this for my wall after the Boston marathon bombings. Boston strong!
8. Abstract lights at night, cut out of a college poster
9. "I'm so glad we both showed up here," found on Etsy
10. Handmade VT and MA wooden plaques, bought last summer at the Burlington farmer's market
11. Sunflower field photograph, bought in Amsterdam
12. Vintage golf clubs photograph, printed as a gift for josh
Art Sources:
1. Canvas VT license plate, bought at a shop in Stowe, VT
2. Picture of the prince of Bandar, my crazy family cat
3. Faux taxidermy elephant, bought in this amazing Etsy store
4. Photo of "Green Monster Seats" wall at Fenway Park, had this forever
5. Vintage postcard of the view of NY from Lake Champlain, acquired at some point during my time in VT

Friday, November 8, 2013

DIY Home Bar/Console Table

So it turns out that building your own bar is time consuming, but it's not all that hard. All you need is someone who knows a little bit about what they are doing (josh) and someone with a vision (me) to make it all come together.

Here's the bar's story...
In this case the bar actually didn't come about because our need for a bar. It came about because of our need to have a place for josh's beloved oscar tiger fish of 7 years (and his 55 gallon fish tank) to live in our apartment. Oscar the fish has lived with josh longer than I've known him, so naturally josh really didn't want to part with him when moving (and he's not exactly the type of fish you can flush down the toilet). So three dedicated building days and hundreds of dollars later, Oscar successfully made it down to Boston. I tell him all the time he's one lucky fish.

We knew we had to build an open concept bar/console table because of the fish tank, so we used this idea I found on Pinterest as inspiration when buying supplies. We really loved the shape and how great it is for storage! And if the fish ever dies (counting down the days...just kidding...not really), I have tons of other ideas for the bottom shelf, including getting big baskets for even more storage or even adding a small wine cooler. Our measurements had to be super exact because of the fish tanks' size and our limited wall space, but this bar structure could be modified larger or smaller to fit anywhere in your home.
We were also lucky that Josh's parents had all of the tools and most of the supplies, so we only really had to buy lumber and stain. This gave us a little extra budget to buy wood that we really loved with nice natural grain, and that was high-quality so that it had the strength to hold hundreds of pounds of water.

What you need:
(modify based on the size/color you want)

     1. Wood
           - 8 ft. 2x4s (6 total)
           - 6"x8'x1" pine boards (4 total)
           - 8 ft. plywood boards of you liking (2 total, we chose Aspen)
     2. Miniwax wood finish stain (we went with the "classic gray")
     3. Satin Poyurethane (use glossy if you want it to be shiny)
     4. Staining Brushes
     5. Wood filler
     6. 320 grit sandpaper (luckily we also had an electric sander)
     7. Box of 2 inch finish nails & 2 inch screws
     8. 5-10 metal brackets
     9. Tools: cordless circular saw, hammer, T square, level, tape measurer, & power drill

Total cost for the project: ~$250
^Life decisions at Lowe's. The usual. 
The steps:

Step 1: Figure out your dimensions. As I mentioned, ours were based on the fish tank so were a little funky, but you'll want to nail these down first.
Step 2: Build the frame. You'll need to cut 6 pieces at your desired width size (W), 4 pieces at your desired length size (L), and 4 pieces at your desired height size (H). Then secure the frame from top to bottom with the screws.

^ Macho josh in his Velcro shoes

Step 3: Add the shelves and bar's top. You will need to cut 2'x4" out of the shelving boards in all corners so that they fit nicely onto the frame. For the bar's top, secure the 4 top boards together with the metal brackets. Then flip it over and hammer it to the frame with nails, making sure it lies evenly over the bar on all sides. (omit this step if you opt to use the same boards for the shelves and the top, we just wanted a different look for the top).
Step 4: Sand. I'd recommend finding an electric sander for this step if at all possible - hand sanding can really wear your arms out! Sand out all of the words/stamps/bumps/splinters in the wood and fill any nail holes or wood flaws with the wood filler. Focus on the areas of the bar that will be seen (i.e. we didn't sand the bottom of the shelves or the back of the bar). After sanding, make sure to wipe the whole bar to get rid of any dust or debris before painting or staining.

Step 5: Stain. Steps 1-4 were for the most part all josh, but this was the fun part for me. Use a stain brush to cover the entire bar, making sure to paint WITH the grain on all parts of the bar. We did about three coats of stain and then 3 coats of the clear satin polyurethane to seal and protect the whole bar.

Step 6: Decorate! Once the bar, tank, and fish made the trip all the way from Vermont to Boston, we began the exhausting process of pouring the tank's water (in buckets) back into the tank through a hole we made in the top shelf. Then, after a trip to Petco the next day, we added some new pebbles and plants to make Oscar feel more at home. Finally, we filled in the top shelf with josh's glasses, added a woven basket to cover the hole and hold all of the fish food and supplies, and topped the bar with the DIY succulent box I made. And after all that, my friends, we had a bar.
^ love how the grain of the wood still shows through
For what we initially thought was a fairly pointless, unused area of our apartment, this little sitting area has almost become the main hangout when we have friends over, and I credit that to the bar. Josh and I actually sit in the chairs opposite the bar almost every night when we get home from work and just stare at Oscar and talk about our days. It was definitely a project, but we love it. So thanks Oscar. I guess.