New Kitchen!!

Hello all:
We have now "finished" our kitchen (there it is!!). Meaning we still have a bit of trim work to do, but our kitchen has been fully functional for a few months now. It's so comforting to hear the productive hum of the dishwasher taking on a really unpopular chore. All in all, it was a learning experience. I learned a lot about plumbing, electrical, building, smashing, planning, tile laying, and drywall hanging. And probably some other stuff. Good news in other ares: our kitchen is now gorgeous (in my opinion), we spent only about $7000 (less than our big government check for buying a house during a recession), and we can wash dishes while we watch TV. Best thing ever.

I like to read blogs about people who fix up their houses and gardens, and this is when you post pictures and list where you got the stuff. So here are some pictures of our new kitchen, and a list of where we got the stuff (if you want to know):
Cabinets: Ikea
Backsplash: The Tile Shop
Counters: Poured, dyed concrete by Eric the concrete guy
Floors: Cork from Lowe's
Sink and faucet: Ikea
Dishwasher: Ikea
Cabinet pulls: Amerock Swedish Iron from the internet
Light over the sink: Home Depot
Windows: Andersen at Home Depot


Kitchen project, post 1

So, when we decided to buy our house, we were sure we were going to change out pretty much everything. Sitting in our living room right now, I am looking at floors that need refinishing and feeling the December chill through 70 year old windows. Ew.
While we were becomings owners of the house we'd been renting, we debated what our first project would be: bathroom or kitchen? Both are dramatic "befores." Kitchen: gross and falling apart. Bathroom: gross and moldy. When water started dripping under the kitchen sink and then pooling on the floor of the basement (I did say it was gross) we picked the kitchen.
So, when I told my dad we were redoing the kitchen, he said it would take 1 year and cost us 70,000. Because that's what it takes.
I like arguing, and I thought he was crazy, so I looked it up. People really spend like a year on their kitchens. And they really spend like $50,000. Which is insane. So we spent less money and less time and got exactly what we want and had some fun.
So this starts is the story of how the Jensons spent a couple of months and less than $7,000 and got a totally awesome kitchen while learning how to do plumbing and stuff.


Fall already??

Wowzas, it seems like yesterday was January, so when we needed to order Christmas cards and have started talking about Thanksgiving, I was totally caught off guard. I know everyone is busy--really busy--and life over at the Jenson house is no exception. I am afraid we fell off the blogging wagon for several weeks. School is back in full swing, and we are both studying and working and falling into bed exhausted after classes, work, debate, and house projects. We went from tons of time outside in our gardens or indoors working on our new kitchen (pictures to come soon) to hours on end sitting inside, wistfully remembering time working in our garden. Time flies, doesn't it?
We've been enjoying roasted squash and baked potatoes. I am glad to say we had a ample potato crop, although our sweet potatoes were pretty skimpy--I planted 6 vines (not seeds, but actual vines) and we only got 1 decent sized one, along with 4 or so itty bitty babies. We did plant them really late, so maybe next year will be better. Just hard to find those sweet potatoes. I am hoping to grow winter squash next year. We planted some summer squash this year, but it was pitifully overtaken by the cucumber plants. So, you live and learn.
Hopefully, hopefully, we can start working on a few projects before the time comes for a new calendar We've been working on making little changes to our house to make it more suit our needs and our style since we bought it, and next on our list is:

1. Finishing the kitchen. We are done with all of the functional stuff (!) but trim, paint, and grout needs to be finished. While it was mega-stressful, I am pretty much amazed by what we have created.
2. Hanging up the trim in the 2nd bedroom
3. Taking on the bedroom. Ever since we have started sharing a bed, we have been using some not-so-stylish Ikea furniture, which has gotten pretty beaten up with all of our moves. I am really looking forward to coming up with something a bit more comfy
4. Getting some reasonable blinds for our windows. The creepy canvas curtains i made when we moved in look terrible, but more than that, they don't even cover our whole windows--which is a bit awkward in the bathroom.

Gotta find something to do when the ground freezes!
Be back soon--I promise!
Allison and Desmond


Canstravaganza 2010, part 1

So there are 365 dinners in a year. You can take out the requisite fancy dinners that other people make, like thanksgiving, and the nights out to eat for birthdays, and you still have, something like 350 dinners to figure out. Now, I like to cook, so in the Jenson house we don't do a lot of frozen pizza or mac and cheese. That means 350 nights of chopping and peeling and cleaning and browning? NO! We do have one convenience food that we truly love: Spaghetti. Yum!
So, I had a great thought: what if we canned up some spaghetti sauce and tomatoes to use for our weekly spaghetti dinners? THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!
Then, when strolling the streets of the wicked cool St Paul Farmer's Market, my Mother in law and I came across giant boxes of roma tomatoes, for just $12. SUCH a good deal. seriously. It's like $50 of tomatoes. I had a canner and Desmond and I ran out and got quart jars and canning salt, and we figured it out. Steps to canning tomatoes (please do more research than my blog):
1. Get some tomatoes, canner, can lifter, lids, canning salt, and some water. Oh, and get some ice. Run the jars through the dishwasher to sterilize them (if you are lucky, your dw will have a sterilize setting like ours does. We are lucky)
2. Put a pot of water on the stove to boil while you wash your tomatoes. If you have tomatoes with pesticides on them, I would use that veggie wash if I were you. Tomatoes have thin skins and the chemicals will get into your food in the boiling water.
3. When the water is boiling, put the tomatoes into the boiling water. Watch the tomatoes, and pull them out of the water as soon as you see the skin split. Put the tomato into the ice water.
4. When the tomatoes have cooled a little, peel the skin off. Try to get only the outermost skin.
5. Now you have choices: can them as they are, throw a few pieces of basil or hot peppers into the jar, make some salsa, spaghetti sauce, or dice or crush them. Put some canning salt and some sugar in to each jar (2:1 sugar to salt)
6. Whatever you do, pack those jars as tight as you can. Wipe the rims and then slap a lid on that sucker and put the rim on it.
7. Fill up your canner with water and get it to boil. The canner will be huge and will sit awkwardly on top of the stove, but it will work out fine.
8. Put the jars into the can putter-inner thing that comes with the canner and then put it into the boiling water. Make sure the water covers the tops of the cans by an inch or two.
9. Put the lid on and let that puppy boil for a while. Recipes I have used have anything from 30 minutes to 1hour 25 minutes.
10. Take the jars out and let them sit undisturbed, away from drafts, somewhere to cool for about 12 hours. I would suggest setting them on cookie sheets with a lip on them to avoid water everywhere.
11. After a couple of hours, check the cans to make sure that they are sealed by flicking the tops. If they sound solid and don't give at all, you are golden. If not, use that jar right away, stick it in the fridge, or try to re-seal. We did 14 jars (our 15th didn't fill up quite all the way, so it's in our fridge right now), and we had to re-seal one. No problemo.

Pictures to come. Oh, and pictures of our new kitchen, now proudly featuring a sink, stove, fridge, and dishwasher. Nice!
Have a happy canning season!


So this is a long time coming.....

Oh man, I don't even know how long it has been since my last blog post, you guys. Way too long, you're right. Sorry buddies. We have had a hectic couple of months. We closed on our house, and we are now homeowners with a mortgage and everything. Like real adults. Seems a little weird, but I guess I am not a kid anymore. I taught summer school, and Desmond is continuing his job as a research assistant.
On the home front, we have been renovating our kitchen. So far, we demo-ed it. To the studs. Since then we have run new electrical, new plumbing, installed new windows, insulated, and widened a doorway. We are doing everything ourselves, with the help of lovely, talented family members. Well, except we are paying a guy to do our countertops. We have been hanging drywall and are hoping (praying, even) that we will get to install our new flooring and new cabinets this weekend, which is almost-brings-a-tear-to-my-eyes exciting. Renovating a kitchen is exciting, and I like being able to customize things to meet our needs, but I have been washing dishes in the bathtub for 6 weeks, you guys. I have been cooking all of our meals without a stovetop or oven. Everything we own is in the wrong place, and everything in the house, including me, is covered with drywall dust. We are working really hard and it is tiring. exhausting. Hence no blog posts. And I can't figure out how to put pictures on the blog from this computer, so sorry. No pics. I wanted to outline the whole kitchen remodel on here, so we would have a record of this project. But I am not so sure I want to remember this project when I am done--I will never renovate anything again, and we definitely have some fixing left to do in our house!
Garden-wise, I have been amazed how well our garden grows without our help....just turn sprinkler on the garden for like 15 minutes a day, and our garden continues to produce plenty for us. Mostly, we have been eating big salads, fresh from our garden. I have a grocery bag full of Kale waiting for a day with a stovetop to blanch and freeze. Our cabbage is also looking awesome, calling out for a cabbage roll (just looking for a really appealing crock-pot recipe)! And we are starting to get good tomatoes and cucumbers. If I could be friends with any produce, it would be tomatoes and cucumbers, so I am pretty excited. I have canning plans for those two buddies. My awesome mother-in-law helped me find the supplies I needed to can stuff, so again, we are just waiting for a stove (patiently, for the most part....).
So here is a "recipe" I can share with you. Since my cucumber plants are freaking insane, I harvested out all of those awesome carrots. Our half-pack of carrot seed strips netted us roughly 7 pounds of carrots--we have sandy sandy soil, which really helps our root veggies.
Creamy carrot soup, made without a stove:
5 or more pounds of chopped up carrots (I made 1/8 inch coins)*
1 quart chicken or veggie stock
1 coffee cup full of half and half (I used fat free and it worked fine).
3 tbsp finely chopped onion and garlic (just a mix of the two, to your taste)
1 spoonful of unsalted butter
1 small handful of rosemary
1 small handful of sage
*Measurements are totally, totally approximate
In a crock pot or the microwave, cook carrots in stock until softened. Stir in butter when the carrots are warmed but not yet soft.
Blend the carrots with some cream or half and half in the blender. Make sure not to blend it while it's really hot and make sure to blend it in small batches to avoid any potential danger.
Add sage and rosemary. Or, do nutmeg. Yum, that would be good. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Heat it up. Eat it and be happy.

There you go, if you grow carrots, sage, and rosemary, your soup is delicious and almost free. It makes tons of soup.

I promise we will try to write more, but I gotta say, I have a feeling I will be washing dishes that are already clean because I will be so excited to have a dishwasher. :)

Any good recipes involving basil? All three of my (store bought) basil plants are HUGE....and we have pesto for days......

Ok, until next time,
Happy planting (wait, it's August....) happy weeding!!


The fumes were getting to me....

So, as you may know from reading this blog before today, the Jensons are in the process of buying a house. In fact, we just got our official closing date of Tuesday. We have a "unique situation": 1 full time student, my not being paid in the summer, the mortgage industry people being extremely nervous about loaning money (which, by the way, is their entire job), and the tax credit (aka $8,000 worth of improvements to our little house). Our "unique situation" translated into a HUGE PAIN IN THE MORTGAGE. Anyway, we are closing on Tuesday. Officially. Yahoo!

That's just background for what I was going to write about. Our second bedroom had wallpaper from the late 80s or early 90s on three walls. Not terrible, just not really our style. So, I decided to take it down. We used spray bottles full of either 1:1 vinegar and water or 1:1 fabric softener and water. Came down pretty easily. The fourth wall was covered with plywood paneling. It was actually pretty rough to the touch, not ideal for a potential future Jenson's bedroom. So, I pried that sucker down. With a hammer. It was very good stress management for me while waiting for the mortgage people to figure out whether or not we are worthy. Glad to know we are.

Behind the paneling was the original (or what we think is the original) wallpaper the original owners put up in 1940. They pretty much just welded the paper to the wall back in the day, so it took me two days to get it down. Two days of staring at the little blue-purple flowers.

Got me thinking. We are buying this house and making some changes--renovating the kitchen and bathrooms, finishing the basement, refinishing the floors, stuff like that. We own this little piece of turf. But really, this house has a life far bigger than we are. We are more apart of it's life than the other way around. 70 years ago, a woman picked out that wallpaper. A husband agreed to it. Someone told the contractor not to add texture to the plaster walls, so they could hang wallpaper. That contractor put up wallpaper paste and attached the wall paper to the walls. Babies fell asleep staring at that wallpaper. Someone else took the wallpaper off three walls and painted them blue. Another person put paneling over the one wall and left us this weird jumbley time machine of a second bedroom. and the next owner after us, whether it's in 5 years or 50, will look at things we have done and wonder what we were thinking as they roll paint over our color choices or rip up the floor we chose. Because we are more a part of this home's history than the home is a part of ours.


Geek Gardening

Hello again garden fans,

Since we are recommending some of the best garden readings we've come across lately, I thought I would suggest an article from my favorite magazine: Wired. While many of you are the crunchy-granola, Kingsolver-reading types, some of you might be the type of person who is still pondering season six's flash sideways timeline (spoiler alert: I think it was Jack's afterlife). If you are that type, you may enjoy an article from the June edition of Wired. Geek or not, I think one and all will relish the tongue-in-cheek text and extreme plans for various sized garden plots. Joking aside, there are some really excellent gardening tips and ideas in this article, especially if space is at a premium for your veggie-plot or if you're thinking of taking the plunge and finally raising your own chickens.

A Wired Guide to Domestic Terraforming