Backyard - Part I

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

We bought our house in November (the above picture is us on the day of our possession!) and we had to move quickly on it because it was a seller’s market. Because it was winter we didn’t pay too much attention to the yard, status of the lawn, or other landscaping features, mostly because it was all covered in snow.
Fast forward to spring time…the snow starts to melt, we start spending more time on our deck and voila a series of issues are revealed.
  1. The previous owners never cared for their yard. In fact the neighbors have told us that the most they ever saw them do in the yard was mow the lawn. As a result there are more weeds than lawn. I started pulling up the dandelions but stopped because if I continued we would have a dirt patch where the lawn was. Sometimes you have to suck it up and bring in the professionals, which we did.
  2. There is absolutely no privacy in our backyard; we are basically on display for all our neighbors to see. The two neighbors directly behind us have done zero landscaping in their yards (no trees) and the result is a direct line of sight into their houses and vice versa.
  3. The neighborhood we bought in uses a drainage ditch system to manage storm water and unfortunately for us that concrete ditch in on our side of the fence, there are certain rules about putting in flower beds etc. near this system
  4. Lastly the landscaping/plants that were there were so badly maintained, there was quite a bit of use of plastic string to hold back branches as opposed to proper pruning etc.
The first thing we tackled was the front yard. It is the first thing people see when they come to our house and we want to make sure it looked nice. We started by removing a giant mugo pine. After that we went on to the junipers, they were in various stages of dead or dying. We decided it was easiest to pull everything out and start from scratch.
Then I took my first trip to the garden center to begin the adventure of becoming a gardener. On the advice of my mom I decided to start with perennials because they would be lower maintenance and the rabbits would be less inclined to eat them.
I planted the following:
The one thing you can't see in that picture is a hosta around the corner beside the driveway. We are also going to be putting in a mayday tree, see that dirt patch in the above photo that is where it will be. 
With the front yard in better shape than when we first moved in, it was time to move to the backyard. When we were planting our front yard, my mom and I got to talking to one of our neighbors who took us into her backyard and showed us all that they had done. This is where I discovered the Flame Willow. She showed us a tree that was at least 15ft high and said that it was only 6 years old. I knew that that tree would be the key to our successful backyard.
Currently we have one lone tree in the backyard (and some kind of lilac bush that doesn’t flower). We had it assessed and it won’t be possible to move it. So we have two choices, cut it down or move the flower bed to it encompasses the tree. We've opted to removed it, we don't want a yard that is all flower bed and I really don't want to have to look after a large flower bed. 

Below is the "before" pictures of the backyard (you can see our little flame willows and the blue columnar spuces). 

Kale Salad with Butternut Squash Ribbons

Saturday, 21 June 2014

This particular recipe doesn't really have a recipe. A few weeks ago I hosted a bachelorette party at our place for a friend. The maid-of-honor organized to have a chef come in and give us a "cooking lesson" well as you can imagine there was a lot of wine and not a lot of paying attention. One thing that I did pay attention to was this dish. I love butternut squash but I always have trouble with it because it takes so long to cook. The chef showed us a way to prepare it that meant it only needed to be in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Butternut squash ribbons! The kale salad is a very simple yet delicious combination of dressing ingredients. 

  • Small - medium butternut squash
  • Oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 bunch of kale, washed, stem removed and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • Salt and pepper (be liberal)
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400F
  2. Peel the butternut squash 
  3. Use a thicker peeler and peel the butternut squash into ribbons (I watched a youtube video about how to make vegetable ribbons to get an idea of what the best way to do this)
  4. Toss the butternut squash in a little bit of oil and salt and pepper
  5. Spread the butternut squash on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 - 20 minutes
  6. Place the kale in a large salad bowl, add all the dressing ingredients (I didn't actually measure anything, I simply drizzled all the ingredients over the kale)
  7. Massage the kale with the dressing on it, this helps break down the "meatiness" of the leaves, adjust the dressing ingredients until it tastes delicious 
  8. Once the butternut squash is cooked through, pull it out of the oven and let it cool a bit
  9. Place a handful of the kale salad on each plate and top with the butternut squash ribbons

In our house this recipe only serves 2 because it is so delicious but it can be a side salad for up to 6. This salad easily keeps for lunch the next day, the kale doesn't wilt with the dressing on it. 

Mudd, Sweat and Tears Completed!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Lately I’ve found it difficult to keep up with everything that is going on. Lots of exciting things have happened and are happening with us!
The main thing that has occupied my time as of late was training for Mudd, Sweat and Tears. The race was on Saturday last week and all four of our team members successfully completed it! Boy was it hard…this is how it went:
  1. Sprint ½ a km
  2. Army crawl underneath barbed wire (twice)
  3. Climb over a giant haybale
  4. Walk to the next obstacle
  5. Hike up a giant hill (15m+ elevation) with a 30lb sandbag on your shoulders
  6. Hike back down
  7. Walk to the next obstacle (uphill ;))
  8. 15ft rope climb (there were a few knot spacing choices i.e. harder vs. easier)
  9. First 9ft wall
  10. Walk/run to the next obstacle but intermittently have to crawl/jump over horse jumps
  11. Drag a semi tire until the rope that was attached to it was straighten out, run to the post that the rope was tied to and pull the tire back up to the post
  12. Walk/run to the next obstacle
  13. Carry a cinderblock through a pond and back
  14. Walk/run down a  large hill than back up than back down than back up
  15. Second 9ft wall (this one had hand holds)
  16. Two rails of monkeys bars
  17. Third 9ft wall (no hand holds)
Repeat again…the total distance was 9.2km… There was quite a bit of elevation gain throughout the whole thing so it was difficult to run it. One very big mistake I made was to get caught up in all the fuss at the beginning of the race and go too hard too fast. ¾ of the way up the sandbag hill I almost passed out, luckily my husband was there to grab the sandbag and carry it the rest of the way up. He was basically the only reason I got through the first loop of the race, boosting me over the walls, lots of encouraging words etc. The second loop was WAY better, we actually started to have fun, we were all warmed up and knew what to expect so we could prepare ourselves. The second time around the loop I even did the rope climb (the first time around I opted for the penalty of 15 burpees, 15 squats and 15 pushups).
This race was definitely not for the faint of heart but now that I know what it is all about I am addicted!! I can’t wait for next year and to be able to do it again :)
Next is a bunch of work related things! I am going to be moving positions into a role I’ve been after for almost 1.5 years. I start June 30th as a Production Engineer. My husband has now successfully completed all his tests etc. for his red seal designation as a carpenter, all he has to do is fill in some paperwork and he is a RED SEAL JOURNEYMAN CARPENTER. He also found out yesterday that he’ll be moving back to working in the north which means his jobsites will be 5 minutes from home as opposed to 45 minutes from home.
Things are finally starting to slow down and we are able to enjoy our house, backyard and family/friends. In fact this weekend I think I am going to look at some trees for the backyard! I have some fun projects that are in my arsenal that I will finally have time to complete (like the mudroom…)

House Pictures!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

I’ve been a little MIA lately. Work is really picking up and I’m moving positions (start date June 30). We’ve been hard at work on our yard.

Also we’ve been sticking to the workout plan so we are ready to go for our mud run in…oh my god 16 days!

Lastly we’ve jam packed every weekend full of camping and other social activities! However we did manage to find time to have some beautiful house photos taken by Blair Marie Photography

Max's Baby Quilt

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

One of the best things in the world is being an Auntie. Unfortunately for me both my niece and nephew live in Australia. However, that doesn't mean I can't still be a part of their lives. Baby quilts was a tradition my mother started for all her nieces and nephews (and other important babies in her life). It is a special gift that shows how much you love that baby. I have carried on said tradition and made several baby quilts in including this one for the newest member of our family. 

Being that his maternal grandfather is from Ireland, his mother is from Canada and his father from Australia (where they live), I suspect he will be quite the traveller!

Mudd Sweat and Tears - T-minus 31 days

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

My husband was a fairly active person when we met, he played soccer in his home town and loved it. When he moved to Vancouver he continued to play but finding a team was difficult and when we moved to Calgary our lives got so busy and there was no time for physical activities. I always tried to get him to work out with me but if there was no "purpose" like playing a soccer game he wasn't interested.
So imagine my surprise when he tells me he wants to enter into Mudd Sweat and Tears (MST), an 8 km obstacle course. A good friend of ours did MST in Kelowna last weekend and she said it was one of the best things she's ever done! She suggested that we enter with her and her husband to the upcoming race in Cochrane, June 14.
My first instinct was to stay clear of anything that could result in me being embarassed by my physical abilities or lack there of. But my husband and I struck a deal. If he trained with me for the next month I would do it. And he agreed.
Naturally...I began planning our work outs...we only had 33 days when we decided to do this. I knew right off the bat I needed to improve my cardio and he needed to improve his upper body strength was he going to lift me over the 9' wall??
Our friend that already entered gave us a few hints, she wished she had focused more on upper body strength (push-ups, pull-ups etc.) during her training but I knew if I couldn't run at least 8 km there was no way I was going to be able to complete the challenge.
We began our training Monday May 12th.
I figured out a loop in our neighborhood that was 2.86 km and I knew if I trained in intervals of that loop I would be able to increase my endurance to the necessary level.
Week 1: 1 time around the loop, 3 times a week
Week 2: 1.5 times around the loop, 3 times a week
Week 3: 2 times around the loop, 3 times a week
Week 4: 2.5 times around the loop, 3 times a week
Week 5: 3 times around the loop, 3 times a week
In addition to what I needed to do for my cardio I also needed to increase my strength.Twice a week we will focus on different areas of the body (arms, shoulders, chest, back, legs) in various combinations. A while back (3 years ago) I got into P90x and though I am not interested in being as hardcore as the typical P90x'ers they are great videos to get through a workout.
Lastly we will do a weekend workout that could be anything from a long hike to more strength and cardio.
We have completed 2 days of training and have 31 more days to go! 

Red Espresso

Friday, 9 May 2014

Over the last few years I've gone from not being able to tolerate coffee, to drinking coffee with two sugars and milk, to drinking it black. I've also found my sensitivity to caffeine has changed. If I have any caffeine (including the small amount in decaf coffee) after 12 PM I find it difficult to sleep. I see a dietician to help me maintain my weight and to keep on track with diet and so when I went to see her, her obvious suggestion was to drink herbal tea. I just don’t find herbal tea a sufficient substitute for coffee…there is something more substantial in coffee compared to herbal tea. So…I began the hunt for a hot caffeine-free beverage to replace coffee with. Some ideas I generated were:
  • Ovaltine
  • Herbal tea made with steamed milk (I thought this would be more substantial)
  • Coffee substitutes containing chicory
Ovaltine is a good choice but it does have some calories and being that I'm gluten-free I am not sure whether I would be able to handle it. Back to my earlier comment about herbal tea not being substantial enough...well I still feel that way even with milk. Lastly coffee substitutes made with chicory...honestly I didn't even try dietician told me not to bother. She said she was given some to try and it tasted like dirt so on that note I didn't want to investigate that option further.
I was telling a friend about my issues with caffeine and not being able to find a substitute and that is when she suggested I try Red Espresso. I had never heard of it, I did some reading on it and it seemed like the perfect solution to my coffee substitution problem. Last night I made my first ‘Red Latte‘ with almond milk and I was so happy! It obviously didn't taste like coffee but its consistency was definitely the same as coffee.
Red Espresso is a Rooibos tea that mimics the same full-bodied-ness as coffee. It is naturally caffeine-free and all around amazing for you!

Completed Fireplace

Sunday, 4 May 2014

We've now been living in our house for 6 weeks and loving it! I am also so pleased with how the fireplace turned out!! Back in February I did a post on the beginning of the fireplace and now I thought it was time to show the final product. I think it adds so much to our house and gives it some character. 
We chose to go with a faux marble subway tile to complement the kitchen backsplash. We wanted something that would blend in but had some detail. The tile was not easy to cut, let me tell you!! It chipped A LOT on the tile saw. 
Another thing that made a big different was spray painting the brass strips on the actual fireplace insert. We use BBQ paint (which I didn't know was a thing). It is paint that is meant for very high heats. I don't think you could use regular spray paint here. 
Also we had the fireplace mantel professionally sprayed when we had the rest of the house painted.  I think that made a huge different in the finished product. 

Roasted Eggplant and Cherry Tomatoes

Friday, 2 May 2014

A few months ago a friend of mine gave me this recipe, I was a little sceptical because I am not a huge fan of eggplant but after trying this recipe I am now!
It is really easy to prepare, just requires some time chopping vegetables. I like serving this over rice with chicken sausage.
Roasted Eggplant and Cherry Tomatoes
  • 2 medium sized eggplants
  • 2 boxes of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 head of garlic
  • Dried basil
  • 3 Tbsps of oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F
  2. Cut the eggplant into 1 inch chunks, the tomatoes in half and dice the onion into medium sized pieces. Place in a large bowl with whole peeled garlic from one head.
  3. Toss vegetables with oil and season with salt and pepper
  4. Spread onto one or two cookie sheets and bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven
  5. Sprinkle vegetables with dry basil and return to the oven for another 10 minutes
  6. Sprinkle vegetables with parmesan or feta
Serves 4 

Mud Room Design

Saturday, 26 April 2014

So today was a rare Saturday where we didn't have a ton planned so we decided to go check out tile for our mud room. We ended up picking a great 12x24 tile that is a graphite color. 
When we moved in and started the initial demolition I convinced my husband to rip out a small closet in the mud room/laundry room (laundry has moved to the basement). This mud room connects our front drive garage to the rest of our house. Now we have a blank canvas to work with and can do whatever we please. With the same thought process as our kitchen I started browsing the ikea website to see what we could do with the standard cabinets that they provide. I came up with the following design. 
 Wall A:

The high cabinet on the right will be for shoe storage and the short cabinet on the left will be made into a bench similar to what Little House Blog accomplished. I will sew a small cushion for this area and that is something we can change out depending on how I feel. Above the bench will be hooks for hanging coats and jackets. The upper cabinet above the hooks is only 12 7/8" deep so it won't intrude into the room too much.
Wall B:

 This wall is a little more complicated because we didn't want full depth cabinets, they would stick too far into the room and there wouldn't be much of a walkway. Ikea high cabinets do come in 12 7/8" deep cabinets but only 80" high. The solution to this problem is simple, make a custom shelf like our above-the-fridge cookbook shelf. The cabinets on the right will have a counter top and so that will become a cellphone charging zone and a general "drop zone" for my husbands things and keys.

The color of the cabinets will be the same as our kitchen, which makes me so happy because I love continuity!  As you can see on the floor plan drawing there is another little niche on the other side of the jut out from Wall B. For now the niche will stay empty and if we need more storage we can always add shelving. Perpendicular to the niche I will put a full length mirror so you can check yourself out before leaving the house. 

Sun-Dried Tomato, Spinach Beef

Friday, 25 April 2014

This is one of those recipes I had little hope for but it turned out delicious! I wanted to make a slow cooker dish so that I would have lots of time to get started on painting the mudroom (which I did) I like adding spinach to things because it wilts and so doesn't take up a lot of space in a dish but is packed with health.
I prepared a lot of this meal the night before. I chopped the onion and carrots and sliced the sun-dried tomatoes. I put all those ingredients in the slow cooker ceramic and put it in the fridge.
Sun-Dried Tomato, Spinach Beef
adapted from Companys Coming Slow Cooker Dinners

  • 3 tbsp. all purpose flour (I used Gluten-Free)
  • 1 lb. beef stew meat (2 packages of stewing beef)
  • 2 medium onion, chopped
  • 3-4 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups prepared chicken broth
  • 1 jar of sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and sliced
  • 2 tbsp. liquid honey
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 bag of spinach

  1. Measure flour into large resealable freezer bag. Add beef . Seal bag. Toss until coated. Put beef into 3- 4 qt. slow cooker. Sprinkle in remaining flour.
  2. Add next 6 ingredients. Stir well. Cover. Cook on Low for 8 to 10 hours or on  High for 4 to 5 hours. Skim and discard any fat from the surface of liquid in slow cooker.
  3. Stir in spinach, the heat from the beef mixture should cause it to wilt. Serves 4  

50 Salad Dressings (My Favorite 3)

Thursday, 24 April 2014

I love a simple salad of some kind of lettuce (romaine, arugula, spinach) with a fruit (strawberry, mango, grape), cheese (feta or goat) and onion (green or red soaked in water). What makes the salad for me is the type of dressing, you can really spruce up a salad with a fancy dressing.
A while back I recieved an insert in a magazine that had 50 Salad Dressing recipes and I've kept it and I use it every week (the little booklet is looking worse for wear at this point).
You can check out all 50 recipes on the Food Network website but I decided to share my favorite three.
 Lemon Balsamic: Whisk 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, ½ teaspoon kosher salt and pepper to taste. Gradually whisk in ½ cup olive oil
Truffle: Whisk 2 tablespoon each Dijon mustard and champagne vinegar, 1 minced shallot, ½ teaspoon kosher salt and pepper to taste. Gradually whisk in 1/3 cup truffle oil and ¼ cup olive oil
Classic Vinaigrette: Whisk 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and pepper to taste. Gradually whisk in 1/3 to ½ cup olive oil
I know these recipes don't seem like the most adventureous but they are easy and delicious. There are many more I want to try like Green Goddess, Asian Sesame and Creamy Blue Cheese.
I tend to whip up the full recipe and store them in a mason jar in the fridge and use them all week. 

Goat Cheese + Guacamole Toast

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

photo c/o Love & Olive Oil 
We are back from our much needed and greatly derserved mini-vacation to Scottsdale Arizona. Scottsdale has to be our go-to place as my parents have a second home there so it is a very inexpensive vacation for us.
Needless to say we had an absolute blast! My sister and her husband made the trek from Vancouver as well and we celebrated Easter all together (though my brother wasn't able to make it...Arizona is kind of far from Korea especially for the weekend).
(here is our beautiful Easter brunch set up)
On vacation things seem to become more and more simple and therefore what you eat has fewer ingreidents (also we take less and less photos, hence no original photo of my creation). This post isn't really a recipe it was something delicious I put in my mouth and I wanted to share it. I follow Love & Olive Oil and so this gem popped up on my bloglovin' feed while I was relaxing by the pool. I am obssessed with goat cheese as I mentioned in my post about a goat cheese frittata, but I am on vacation, I didn't have time to even read the recipe so I thought to myself what could I make that would be equally delicous.... guacamole and goat cheese? I think so!
Spread the guacamole on toast and crumble goat cheese over that...viola! I now have a weekend (or vacation) breakfast treat. 

Snappy Pineapple Chicken

Thursday, 17 April 2014

One of my favorite things is a slow cooker meal. Usually around 3 o'clock I'll think "What I am making for dinner?" and if I've done a slow cooker meal it is such a moment of relief that I don't actually have to do anything when I get home. This one is almost a stew but lighter. It's not something to serve to the queen but its definitely an easy week night meal.

I usually serve this over rice. Sweet, savory and easy!

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 1/4 cup gluten free all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 2 1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
  • 2 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3 or 4 chicken breast, each cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup reserved pineapple juice
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tbsp. chili sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 large red pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 (14oz.) can of pineapple tidbits, drained and juice reserved 
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch 

Put onion and carrots into a 4 to 5 qt. slow cooker. 
Combine next 4 ingredients in large re-sealable freezer bag. Add chicken breast pieces. Seal bag. Toss until coated. Arrange chicken on top of carrots.
Combine next 6 ingredients in 2 cup liquid measure. Pour over chicken. Do not stir. Cover. Cook on Low for 8 to 9 hours or on High for 4 to 4 1/2 hours.
Add red pepper and pineapple. Stir. 
Stir water into cornstarch in small cup until smooth. Add to chicken mixture. Stir well. Cover. Cook on High for about 20 minutes until red pepper is tender crisp and sauce is slightly thickened.
Serves 4. 

Above The Fridge Cookbook Shelf

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

As most people these days I found a lot of inspiration for our renovation online. When my parents started the renovation on their house in Scottsdale they used Houzz. This was the first I'd heard of it and it was definitely useful to help us get ideas. When looking through kitchen ideas I came across this photo.
 I immediately fell in love with the idea of a cookbook shelf over the fridge.
Because we did an Ikea kitchen we were limited in what we could do with premade cabinets. I looked through what ikea had available and nothing seemed like it would be appropriate for what we were after. My husband being a carpenter by trade was definitely capable of making something custom.
I began to plan (something I really like to do). Our fridge needed an 1 7/8" of space on either side and 2" above for air ciculation and to prevent it from over heating. We ended up with 1" either side which ,according to my husband, is sufficient for air circulations (just wait in a few years time I'll be writing a post about how our fridge overheated). That meant we needed a box that was 37 3/4" wide. I hadn't put too much thought into how high it should be an honestly I can't remember off the top of my head how tall we made it. What I do remember is once the box was made I realized it was WAY to tall and we needed a shelf in there (which is removeable). That is where the concept of a wine rack was born (the dividers are also removeable, made it easier on the painters). Another thing we did was add a false back to the shelf so it wasn't the full depth of the fridge. This meant things wouldn't get lost in the back of the shelf.

After it was constructed and installed we had it sprayed like the rest of the "custom" elements of our kitchen. In order to make our kitchen look non-ikea-esk we add custom valences and crown moulding.

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