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May 2017

Worth the Splurge? I Review, You Decide…

I decided to start a regular blog series titled Worth the Splurge? I Review, You Decide where I’ll review items that I view as splurges. I’ll list what I like and don’t like about it and you can decide if it’s worth it. So…what should be first? In one of my first blog posts, I mentioned that I would do a review on my kitchen appliances in a later post. I have posted a number of recipes in the past few weeks, so maybe my kitchen appliances deserve first honors.

Kitchen for the Win!

Our kitchen appliances were installed almost exactly a year ago. You can read the blog posts about the kitchen remodel HERE and HERE. I did several months of research and made countless visits to see cooktops before I chose my range top. The difference between a cooktop and range top is that a cooktop is flat with the knobs on top, and a range top wraps around like the top portion of a commercial range with the knobs in the front. The cooktop or range top, to me, would be the cornerstone appliance of the kitchen. Having a commercial-style range had been my dream for many years.

 

Our new home had the cooktop in the island, so we maintained that concept with the remodel. It was an electric cooktop, though, and my biggest desire was to have gas. I was really pleased when the contractor said they could make that happen.

 

Worth the Splurge

The Splurge

I consider the Thermador range top a splurge because it was about twice the cost of a regular 36” gas cooktop. There are two reasons why I choose Thermador over other brands like KitchenAid, Viking, Wolf, and GE Monogram. The first reason is that the burners are elevated, so they’re easier to clean under. That might not be a big deal to some, but my husband and I are messy cooks. The burners on our old stove top were really difficult to clean around. The other reason was that the star-shaped burners allow for a wider cooking area under the bottom of the pots and pans. The other brands had definite appeal. KitchenAid was about 2/3 of the cost, I loved the look of Wolf’s red knobs, and Viking was very similarly rated. But, the reviews of Thermador were very good. I was able to attend a lunch and learn event where I was to ask questions and sample food made on the very products I was going to buy, and they were offering their 1,2,3 Promotion.

So, what do I think after a year of use? Well, every time I see my range top it still elicits a sense of admiration. It is a beauty. And a workhorse. I rarely use the high burner setting because the flame is wider than most of my usual pots and pans. It is great for boiling water, though. My husband and I both use the X-LO (extra-low) setting regularly. The burner cycles on and off, and it’s adjustable for a longer or shorter cycle. At the lunch and learn I attended, they had a heavy-duty paper plate with chocolate chips warming on the X-LO burner.

The Good

Here are the top three things I like about it:

  1. It is so easy to clean. I’m still messy, but I just spray on a little Thieves cleaner to sit and it cleans right up. Same with the burner grates. It usually takes me just 5 minutes to clean the whole thing.
  2. It heats so quickly! Even a big pot of water is boiling within minutes. The oil in my cast-iron skillet is smoking hot in just a few minutes, as well.
  3. I didn’t even mention the griddle before, but mine has a griddle in the middle. It makes great quesadillas, toasts buns, pancakes and French toast, and heats tortillas.
Worth
Easier cleaning
The Not-So Good

Of course, there are a few things I’m not crazy about:

  1. The plain look of the stainless knobs. They sell blue replacement knobs, but they’re pricey.
  2. How long the griddle takes to heat up (it’s electric).
  3. When cleaning the top, which is black enamel, it is hard to avoid leaving streaks. I have taken to using Weiman cooktop wipes to leave it streak-free, though I’m afraid to look at the chemicals the wipes have in them.

    Worth
    Blue knobs

So, it is Worth it?

What do you think? Yay or Nay? You Decide…post your replies below. Remember to subscribe to my blog! Once we reach 20 subscribers I’ll have a give-a-way to celebrate.

Pasta for Dinner

Pasta seems to get a bad rap these days, but I think everyone needs pasta in their lives now and then. I read somewhere that pasta made in Italy was less likely to cause gluten issues. I have no idea if that is true or not, but the argument they made sounded reasonable so I have been buying Italian pasta since then. These pasta noodles turned out really big and soaked up the meat sauce. Guess what? It’s pasta for dinner tonight!

A little over a year ago, my husband retired and we informally share cooking duties now. Before he retired, he did all the grilling (and still does). When it comes to grilling and smoking meat, my husband is a real pro. I was the queen of the kitchen. As funny as it sounds, it was hard learning to share the kitchen with someone else. I’m a meal planner at heart and my husband is the “hey, I saw this recipe and I want to make it for dinner tonight” kind of guy. I just love it when he finds a great new recipe and makes dinner for me. We have learned to peacefully co-exist in the kitchen.

Pasta for Dinner Prep

During my stop at The Market earlier this week HERE (where I meal planned on the fly) I picked up pasta for the meal I’m going to share. I knew I had ground beef in the freezer and canned tomatoes in the pantry, so I planned on making a pasta dish.

The night before, I looked through my cookbook collection and found Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Pasta Recipes. I adapted their Simple Italian-Style Meat Sauce recipe for this. I decided to swap out using canned tomatoes for fresh tomatoes. You might notice in my photos below that the sauce isn’t quite as red as it would have been if I used canned tomatoes.

Pasta for Dinner

I started early on the tomato portion of the recipe to let them cook down. I quartered the tomatoes and set them on medium heat for about an hour. While they were cooking down, I chopped the onions.

Pasta for dinner

Once the tomatoes softened, I used an immersion blender to break them down. Then put them back on the stove to thicken them up.

Browning the onions.

Mixing the panade (a paste of milk and bread) and ground beef in the food processor.

Adding the ground beef mixture to the onion mixture.

Below is what it looked like after I added the homemade tomato sauce. As you can see, it needs to thicken up some. I set the burner between low and simmer. While it was cooking, I put the water on to boil for the pasta.

Between the above picture and the below one, I removed about 1/3 of the sauce for my daughter to take home, and let the sauce cook down for 30 minutes. I added the parmesan cheese and reserved oregano.

Just waiting for the pasta to finish up and then…

Dinner’s Ready!

Rather than post the recipe here, I’m linking it for you: Simple Italian-Style Meat Sauce recipe. For reference, I used 3.5 lbs of tomatoes in place of the canned tomatoes. Buon Appetito!

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Top 5 Safer Products Share

Ever since I became aware of the number of unsafe chemicals in most health and beauty products, I’ve been on an awareness and educational quest. That quest led me to Beautycounter. Thanks to their safer products, I don’t have to choose between product effectiveness and my health. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever loved a product line this much.

So, I thought I would share My Top 5 Safer Products with you:
Safer Products
  1. Hydrating Body Lotion in Citrus Mimosa. Hands down, this is my favorite Beautycounter product. I noticed results within days. Before I began using it, my lower legs were dry and flakey and now they feel smooth and look hydrated. My skin looks great 24/7, which is especially important during the summer. We all want to look great in our shorts and short-sleeves. This product delivers. The light scent, from real citrus oil, is divine. I just can’t get enough of this lotion. $24, http://bit.ly/2g8MZVp
  2. Body Wash in Citrus Mimosa. The Beautycounter Body Wash to me is perfection. The light scent, like that of the hydrating body lotion, is from pure citrus oil. It leaves my skin feeling great, never dry and tight. The consistency of the body wash is thick and it’s concentrated. An almond sized amount is all I need during my shower. A bottle will last you months. Love this product! $24, http://bit.ly/2qluvCv
  3. Rejuvenating Toner Pads. Within a few weeks of using these toner pads, I noticed that I had less facial redness and a more consistent skin tone. I also noted the pores on my nose and chin were visibly smaller. I can’t believe how quickly these pads changed the texture of my skin. The container closes tightly to prevent it from drying out. I use both sides of each pad so I get about 3 months out of each container. $45, http://bit.ly/2n9NvCy
  4. Tint Skin Foundation. Beautycounter’s Tint Skin is one of the best foundations I’ve ever used. And it’s so much safer than the other foundations I’d used! I have a hard time getting a good match to my fair skin, but Linen was the perfect shade for me. It goes on smoothly with Beautycounter’s special retractable foundation brush, and lasts all day. Just remember to set it with a touch of the Mattify Powder and you’re good to go. $41, http://bit.ly/1lUwpRn
  5. Cleansing Balm. This is a miracle balm. It removes makeup, is an overnight mask, smooths dry feet and cuticles, acts as a highlighter over makeup, and so much more. A little goes a long way. I use a pea-sized amount at night to take off my makeup. Don’t let the price of it deter you. The jar will last months, likely more than six months. I bet you’ll find even more uses for it than I’ve listed. $80, http://bit.ly/2bmnxdz
So that’s my Beautycounter Top 5.

It’s taken me a little while, but I’ve swapped all my skin care, beauty, and body care products to Beautycounter.  I absolutely love all of the products – with one exception. That’s the Sea Salt Spray. When I use it, my hair tends to get a little too “crunchy” for my liking. Are you ready to give Beautycounter a try? There’s no better time because now through Monday, 5/29 is Beautycounter’s Memorial Day special:

Memorial Day Special! Get your choice of a free product with your purchase of $150. Now, that’s a deal! Hurry because it’s only good through Monday, 5/29. Take advantage of this offer through this link: http://bit.ly/2qpH40w.

Planning Ahead and Meals

The Market

I stopped at my favorite grocery store, The Market, on my way home from another appointment yesterday. I really like this smaller, more personalized store for a number of reasons. They have a nice selection of specialty foods, their deli is extensive with an area of gourmet cheeses, and they have a wide variety in their meat department. The Market isn’t in my neighborhood, so I usually only go there once or twice a month. While I was there there yesterday, I mentally planned the rest of the meals for the week and purchased what I needed. I like to plan my meals and shop based on that, but for some reason I have gotten out of that habit lately. I’ll admit that I was pleased when I was able to put up a list of this week’s meals on my fridge yesterday!

So, I’m sharing this week’s meals with you.

Tonight’s Meal

I started prepping for tonight’s meal, Black Bean and Kale Soup, last night by soaking the beans overnight. This morning, I put them in the crockpot, along with chicken stock, smoked ham shanks, carrots, shallots, lime zest and juice, and spices. They’ll stay in the crockpot all day. This afternoon I’ll add the kale, a little more lime juice, and check on the seasoning.

meals

Black Bean and Kale Soup

  • 1 bag of dried black beans, soaked overnight
  • 500 ml of chicken stock
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 shallots or 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 cup of carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1-2 smoked ham shanks
  • 7 oz. can of mild diced green chilies, drained
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (add more if you like it spicy)
  • A bunch of kale, chopped or ribboned

For garnish: Cilantro, diced tomato, hot sauce, grated cheese, sour cream

After rinsing the beans that soaked overnight, place the beans in a crockpot and add 500ml of chicken stock and 2 cups of water. Add diced vegetables, smoked ham shanks, green chilies, lime zest and 1/2 of the lime juice, and spices. Cook on low for 8 hours. Check for seasoning and adjust as needed. Remove ham shanks, cut off the meat and discard the bones. Add the kale and let cook about 1 more hour. For a thicker soup, use an immersion blender. Just before serving, add the last of the lime juice. Place in bowls with your choice of garnishes, and serve.

This Week’s Meals

So, what do I have scheduled the rest of the week? Here’s what’s on my list:

Wednesday: Pasta Bolognese, Green Beans, Garlic Bread

Thursday: Stuffed Pork Chops, Farmhouse Salad, and French Bread

Friday: Skirt Steak, Baked Potato, and BBQ Ranch Salad

Saturday: Grilled Chicken Breasts, Rice, and Green Beans

I know our veggies look awfully redundant. Sadly, salad and green beans are usually the only “greens” we eat around here, though I did add kale to our bean soup. I try to sneak kale and spinach in where I can. Eating better and healthier is always a work in progress in my house.

How do you meal plan? Plan then shop, just shop then cook from that, or plan on the fly? Share in the comments below.

 

A New Dining Room Rug

I originally posted A New Dining Room Rug as a page instead of a post, so its being moved to the proper location.

A Little Background…

Nearly two years ago, we bought the home we are living in now. Buying this home was the beginning of a huge transformation in our lives, which I’ll talk about in a future post. A year ago, we remodeled the area that included the kitchen, dining room, and game room area. You can see it HERE and HERE. We used an interior designer, Tiffany, who helped us with design and decor and introduced us to the contractor who oversaw the job.

When the remodel project was complete, I wasn’t sure about a few items. One was whether we needed a rug under the dining table. My husband didn’t want one but I thought we needed one for aesthetic reasons. I remember that moving the chairs around on our old rug was a pain, so I shelved the idea for a while.

Time for photos!

The reason I’m telling you all this is that last week I ordered a sisal rug from Pottery Barn. It’s being delivered today. I am going to post before and after pics and see what you think of it. I think that the rug will be thin enough (it has a latex backing) to let our chairs slide easily and that the light tones will help break up the dark-on-dark tones we have going on between the table and floor.

Dining Room Without Rug

Dining Room Rug

Dining Room with Rug

Dining Room Rug

So what do you think?

Which looks better? With or without? If I keep it, should I scotchguard it? I don’t even know if you can scotchguard sisal?

Let me know in the comments below and follow my blog! As soon as I have enough followers, I am going to start having some great give-a-ways.

2nd Annual Mother’s Day Trip

image credit: Hotel Valencia

Mother’s Day Weekend Trip!

My daughters, Danielle and Heather, and I had our 2nd Annual Mother’s Day Trip over the weekend. This year, seven-month-old Makenna joined us. Our destination for the weekend was Santana Row in San Jose. Once we arrived there, we met with another three generational group, my friend Melanie, her daughter, and two granddaughters, for lunch.

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Auntie Heather and Makenna at Pizza Antica

Did Someone Say Pedis???

After lunch, we headed off for our pedicure appointments at a local nail spa. There was so much going on that Makenna enjoyed looking around and cuddling with her mom.

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Bubbles!

After our pedicures, we hobbled in our post-pedi flip-flops over to Hotel Valencia to check-in.

IMG_3554 Trip

Naptime

The adults rested while Makenna took a nap. After resting and changing, we decided to head out for dinner. Unfortunately, our first restaurant choice had a two-hour wait so we decided to walk around to find another venue. While walking down Santana Row, we lucked upon this great Mexican bistro. We ordered a pitcher of Sangria and table-side prepared guacamole & chips while we perused the menu.

IMG_3556 Trip
Sangria and Guacamole (you can see a peek of it off to top right)

There were so many delicious looking entrees, it was hard to decide. I went with carnitas, which is my turn-to-favorite and my girls had the fajitas for two (it actually could have fed three!). Dinner ran longer than we expected, so Danielle and Makenna left as soon as they were done eating. She wanted to get Makenna ready for bed. Heather and I decided to go a little shopping before heading back.

At Sur La Table, I picked up this cute Staub knob for one of my Staub dutch ovens. I must confess, I am a recovering rooster addict…I still love them but my kitchen is no longer exclusively rooster themed!

Trip

Sunday, Mother’s Day

The next morning we slept in a little late and had a great complimentary breakfast at the hotel.

IMG_3573 Trip
Heather’s breakfast

Us girls did some shopping after checking out. I posted a Style Reveal on something I picked up at the Gucci store HERE, so be sure to check that out. One of my favorite places to go on Santana Row is The Container Store! I love getting my “organization on” there. When you’re organizing with such pretty containers, it doesn’t feel like a chore at all.

Our 2nd Annual Mother’s Day Trip was a wonderful weekend and I can’t wait for next year!

What did you do for Mother’s Day? Do you have any family traditions? Leave me some comments below!

*I receive absolutely no compensation or discounts for any of the brands I discuss in my blogs.

Gucci GG Blooms Reveal

A Beautiful Addition to my Closet

The first time I saw the Gucci GG Blooms pattern, it was love at first sight! I love anything pink and feminine, and especially cherry blossoms or peonies.

GG Blooms

But that’s not my Style Reveal!

When I saw the Gucci store on Santana Row, during our Mothers Day Trip, I knew I would be checking out the GG Blossom goods. While shopping the next day, I went into Gucci and right off saw the GG Supreme Canvas hobo. It didn’t have the blossoms on the monogram, but I loved the style of the bag and the double zip at the top. When I slipped it over my shoulder, it fit so perfectly against my side. I sure wanted that purse…but I managed to take it off my shoulder and set it down on the counter.

My main goal was to look at shoes, though, so I continued on through the store. After trying a number of shoes on, I decided on these beauties…

Oh So Beautifully Bagged and Boxed

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Here they Are!

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Not only beautiful, but espadrilles are perfect for spring and summer! I love, love those flowers on the tan monogram. I do wish the piping along upper foot area was a lighter pink, versus a mauve, but I still think they are perfection.

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In order to justify buying these shoes, I told myself they were only a fraction of the cost of the purse! *wink* I am so looking forward to wearing these all spring and summer long. I have so many outfits that they will look great with.

Of course, they would look even better with this purse

Light-GG-Supreme-canvas-hobo

*sigh* but I a girl’s gotta pace herself! Look for a new post on our 2nd Annual Mother’s Day Trip on Wednesday or Thursday.

What do you think? Have you bought any splurge shoes lately? Or do you have a favorite pair that you look forward to wearing when spring or summer arrive?

Leave your comments below, I would love to see them!

Safer Products for Everyone

We Deserve Better!

Until recently, I didn’t realize how many harmful chemicals are in the products I that use daily. Every time I put on lotion or sunscreen, used body wash or shampoo in the shower, or applied lipstick, I was allowing toxic chemicals to enter my body. I assumed that because we live in a highly regulated country, the products I used must be safe. After all, doesn’t the FDA monitor the ingredients the companies that use?

Then I watched a video about the amount of toxic and harmful chemicals in skin care and beauty products. I found out that when it comes to the personal care industry, there are minimal regulations. In fact, while the European Union bans the use of over 1400 chemicals, the U.S. only bans 11! What this means is that we first need to educate ourselves so that we can protect ourselves and second, we need to lobby for stricter regulations.

We deserve better! So, I’m sharing this video with you, so that you can educate and empower yourself, too.

What’s in Your Products?

So, I decided to start looking more carefully at the labels of the products I use. It was eye-opening!

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This was my favorite Lavender hand wash that I had in my bathroom

As soon as I read the ingredients on the bottle, I threw it away. Luckily, I had this one to replace it with:

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Much safer ingredients!

What a difference on the second picture! I love the natural coconut fragrance better in this one anyway.

Over the next few weeks, I became more aware of the chemicals in my favorite products and decided to start replacing them with safer products. I hope you will do the same. Observation and awareness are always the first steps to making positive change. Next week, I’ll share another video. This one was on Good Morning America in December. One of their correspondents did a feature on the chemicals in personal care products and even underwent lab testing and shares the results.

To learn more about Beautycounter products, visit my personal webpage HERE

Post some pictures below of product labels you’ve found in your home. The good, the bad, and the ugly!

Our House – Kitchen/Dining/Family Room Reveal

A few days ago, I posted about last year’s remodel of the kitchen, dining, and family room. The biggest surprise when planning the project was the importance and cost of lighting! There is little natural light into these rooms, and only in the morning. They replaced and added to the ceiling lighting plus we added the post and wall sconces. I never thought I would spend over $5,000 on lighting, but it was well worth it.

Issues, You Say??

The demo took place in early April and the project was complete by late May. We had hiccups along the way – for instance during the appliance installation, we discovered that our lower cabinets were a little shorter than standard with wood flooring butting up to them. We had just assumed they were “normal” height, so when they were installing our slightly taller dishwasher and beverage fridge, they didn’t fit! After discussing the options, we wound up having the wood flooring taken up in front of each appliance for the installation and replaced. We were so thankful that the previous owners left us a partial box of wood flooring so that we could order more. We kept enough to do the same procedure if we need to remove either of those appliances. Here are pictures:

Taken after they put the appliances in, but before they had to chisel out the planks to replace them with new ones. See the top of the page a post-chisel pic.

Drum Roll, Please…..

Now for the Reveal

 

As you walk into the three room area. Speaking of lighting, I just realized that I forgot to turn on the lights under the cabinets and above the sink *shakes head*

 

Thermador 27″ Masterpiece convection steam oven and 30″ wall oven (top and bottom left) and Kitchen Aid counter-depth side-by-side fridge (right)

 

36″ Thermador Range Top with griddle

 

 

The former family room area is now a game room and bar area.

 

 

The bar area of the room. It is still a work in progress. I need to move our glassware (from the dining room buffet) into the lighted display area and we need to get the shelf for the alcohol display area.

 

Home Remodel
The dining room area. I did a post on the new rug recently.

 

Remodel
In the design plan, this area – around the wall scones and above the buffet – is framed out with molding. We are waiting until we have the walls in the living room re-textured (in the next few months) to have them done a the same time.

 

In case you forgot, HERE is the before. I’ll be doing an appliance review on my Thermador appliances in a later post. My beloved 36″ Thermador range top with griddle was the one appliance I had to have. And, yes, that is a steam oven above the wall oven.

What do you think? Leave your questions and comments below. 

Our House – Before

When we relocated to our new city, we’d known for a few years that we would be moving here. My sister’ lives here and our daughters came here for college. We’d lived in a really small town before, so our girls loved how much a big city had to offer and they settled here after college.

My sister, Rachelle, was our realtor and we’d been very casually looking at homes during our visits for a few years. My husband and I started to get serious about looking in early 2015. Rachelle and I came together to look at this house first, and within 5 minutes, I knew my husband had to see it. He loved it as much as I and we put in an offer right away. The house became ours around Father’s Day that June. We didn’t settle in here full-time until November.

It’s Ours!! What Now?

As much as we loved our new house, especially our neighborhood and landscaping/outdoors, there were some things we didn’t like.The red paint against the cherry cabinets in the kitchen did not appeal to me. Several of the rooms had walls painted bright colors and I’m more of a neutrals colored person. We decided to do the kitchen modifications first – replacing the appliances, counter tops, enlarging the island, and repainting. We got a referral for a great interior designer, Tiffany, and decided to have her help us tackle the kitchen, dining room, and family room design.

Initially, our ideas were fairly simple, but as we got into actually planning it, the project grew (of course). We found a contractor to oversee the remodel and got started. These photos are of the kitchen, dining room, and family room when the house was listed for sale:

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Kitchen, before

 

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Island, before
Kitchen, before
Let’s Do This!

Eight months after we bought the house, the remodeling began. Here is the early demo (sorry for the poor lighting):

 

 

I really, really wanted a gas range top and I am so thankful they were able to run a gas line into the kitchen! You can see it in the pic below:

Well, that’s all for now. Look for more of the remodel and the “after” reveal later this week! What do you think so far?

Leave me comments below!