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  • Have a Spooky Halloween!

    Cheddar Witches Fingers - Cheese straws in the shape of fingers, complete with a black almond "finger nail." Delicious and totally spooky.

    Candy Apples - You don't need to go to the fair to get my favorite treat because you can make these at home. Black food coloring gives them a festive touch.

    Pumpkin Caramel Sauce - Having a not-so-scary Halloween party? Serve ice cream with this pumpkin infused caramel sauce on top.

Monthly Archives: October 2013

Kitchen Renovation: Timeline & Demo

You’ve likely seen pictures of our kitchen renovation on InstagramTwitter or Facebook. I thought I’d share some of our progress and experiences along the way. To follow along with us, just check out the hashtag #diylikeachampion on Instagram. This is Part 1 of our renovation series, and I’ll try to keep the rest of them shorter than this one. 

The backstory:
The reason for our renovation started a couple months ago, when we discovered a leak in our kitchen. I noticed water damage on one of our base cabinets, and a few hours later, a plumber was here repairing a leak behind our washing machine (which is in a closet just off our kitchen). A small area of the kitchen floor had water damage, too, and we had an insurance adjuster come take a look. He recommended we rip up the entire floor in our kitchen/eat-in area, dry that area of subfloor and put in new flooring once the subfloor dried. Being the DIY people we are, we decided to tackle this ourselves.

This is what our kitchen looked like before we started the renovation. The cabinet in the background is the one that had water damage, and unfortunately it affected the area under the stove, too. 

Our house is a foreclosure, and, let’s just say that it wasn’t taken very good care of by the prior owners. Worse than that, the contractors that handled the repairs before the house was sold did a really crappy job. Imagine me, more than seven months pregnant, sitting on the floor cleaning up a house that had been vacant for some time (and was really, really filthy). And just so you get an accurate picture, you should also imagine me cussing. A lot. It was not a happy time. Sure, there was new paint and carpet, but the house was pretty disgusting overall.

The kitchen was the worst, and the amount of stains and gunk on and inside the cabinets was awful. I cleaned them and promptly lined the insides with cork because they still didn’t feel or look clean. We decided that, sometime after Clara’s birth, we would paint the cabinets. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that last year wasn’t the easiest year for us, so it didn’t happen. Honestly, after everything we went through, thinking about painting the kitchen cabinets was far from our minds.

The plan:
Once we found out we needed to replace the kitchen floor, we knew that it would be the perfect time to paint the cabinets. Eric took a week off work, and we figured out a timeline. This is a simplified version, but it gives you an idea of what we had planned.

Friday night, Saturday & Sunday: Remove cabinet doors. Clean, sand and prime cabinet boxes and doors.
Monday: Remove old floor.
Tuesday: Use rented fan to dry subfloor. Put first coat of paint on cabinet boxes and backs of cabinet doors. Flip doors and paint the fronts.
Wednesday & Thursday: Put second coat of paint on cabinet boxes backs of doors, then put second coat of paint on door fronts and start laying floor.
Friday: Finish laying floor.
Saturday: Clean door hinges. Add quarter-round and thresholds.

Eric’s favorite part of the renovation was growing a beard for the week. :)

With cold brew in hand, we got so much accomplished over the weekend. Everything was going fine until Monday when we started pulling up the floor. (I’ll go into detail about the cabinets in a later post.) We’ve already ripped up the carpet in the rest of the downstairs, and we kept talking about how taking out the vinyl would be so much easier (not as many floor staples, or so we thought). We knew there were several layers to pull up because we’d seen them when replacing the floor in the adjacent rooms. The layers were: vinyl, thin plywood, vinyl, thin plywood, subfloor.

Much to our dismay, each layer of plywood was stapled like crazy into the layer beneath it. This meant we had to pull up the floor one layer at a time. It was hard work, especially considering the size of each sheet of plywood. The thing that worked best for us was using a crowbar to get under the wood and then prying it up enough to lift it with our gloved hands the rest of the way. There were

floor staples
We used pliers to pull these up, and there were some celebratory high fives when we pulled up the last one.

By Tuesday, we got to the area we knew had water damage and discovered there was still a leak. Apparently, the plumber we hired back in August fixed a leak, just not the leak. We moved the damaged cabinet and found that the drywall behind it was also wet. I remember saying to Eric, “Oh look, it’s a mildew rainbow.” We were both pretty shocked, and I may have even laughed because it was either that or cry. We halted, called a plumber, and kept working on the areas that weren’t affected. While upset, we were trying to stay positive and decided to end the day on a good note at one of our favorite restaurants. A cheese and hummus plate + wine is one of the best ways to cheer me up.

This obviously wasn’t what we were hoping to see when we moved the cabinet.

The plumbers were at our house for more than four hours on Wednesday, and when they left, we had a hole in our kitchen ceiling (where they went in to fix the leak) and a giant hole in our wall where the drywall was removed. (Side note: RVA people, Robinson’s Pluming was awesome and so, so helpful.) We had also seen a good amount of the day go by where we couldn’t accomplish anything. This is where I started to feel pretty defeated.

After cleaning and drying the water damage, it looked a lot better. Sadly, we were way behind schedule and still had more floor to pull up. We also had to replace the insulation where the leak was because it was totally soaked through. We discovered that the leak in our laundry room had also caused damage to the subfloor that needed to be cleaned and dried AND there was water damage from a leak in our kitchen sink (which we knew about and repaired when we moved in). It may have even been there when the contractors covered the floor up with new vinyl. I spent most of the day Thursday thinking “You’ve got to be effing kidding me.”

The moment we realized this was under our floor for an indeterminate amount of time. Eww.

So, to sum it up – four layers of flooring, three leaks/areas of water damage, two deflated home cooks/DIYers and one kitchen that looked like this most of last week:

This was after pulling up the first two layers. You can see the wet subfloor in the background.

We spent the rest of the week pulling up the floor and then pulling out, by hand, each and every one of the staples from the subfloor. By Sunday, Eric had laid enough flooring for us to move our washer, dryer and stove back into place. So that’s where we are now – a partially floored kitchen, primed cabinets with no doors on them and a hole in our ceiling. Things are looking better, though, and I know that we’re going to love our new kitchen once we finish it.

Lessons learned for next time – wine and ice cream should totally be included in the renovation budget. Also, even the happiest of people can get frustrated and annoyed with each other in situations like this.

Stay tuned to read about the cabinet prep and painting and to see pictures of the final before and after shots!

Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Pumpkin Seed Pesto

You may have seen on Facebook or Instagram that Eric and I are in the middle of a kitchen nightmare renovation. Last week, I felt like we were on an especially bad episode of Renovation Realities. One thing after another went wrong. I won’t go into too much detail since I’m planning to share more about our renovation this week, but the important thing to know here is that we were without a working kitchen most of last week. For people that like to cook as much as we do, it really sucked not to have a working stove or oven and no counter space to even prep something to make in the slow cooker.

Needless to say, we haven’t been cooking, well, at all. I had the pumpkin seeds for this recipe in the oven almost as soon as we put it back in place yesterday. Of course, thinking the renovation would be done, I had planned on spending the weekend baking in our newly renovated kitchen. That didn’t happen, but I still managed to make this pesto for our neighborhood block party. I had a bag of pumpkin seeds at home (leftover from a dessert that you’ll see this week on Simple Bites), and this recipe seemed like the perfect way to use them. It’s incredibly simple and tastes amazing spread on a slice of baguette. I’m totally trying it in place of the basil pesto I use in my goat cheese terrine next time I make it. The other great thing about this recipe is that it’s nut-free, dairy-free and vegan, so it’s suitable for all kinds of diets.

Because I’ve gotten several reader questions about using a blender instead of a food processor, I decided to test out this recipe in my new blender. I’ve been making smoothies and icy drinks in it since September, and it does a fantastic job with those (I accidentally pulverized ice the first time because the blender works so well. Oops!). That may seem like no big deal, but I had to add a lot of liquid to my last blender in order to make it blend anything, so not having to make my smoothies runny makes me very happy. This recipe has two cups of pumpkin seeds, and I figured it would be the ultimate test for my blender. I’m happy to report that I made this pesto in it without any problems. I had to stop and stir it a couple times, but I usually stop and scrape down my food processor bowl too.

Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Special thanks to KitchenAid for sending me this blender to try out. I opted for the silver one, but it comes in a rainbow of pretty colors. As always, all opinions expressed here are purely my own, and I was not compensated for this post.

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Pumpkin Oat Bread

Pumpkin Oat Bread

In case you haven’t heard, we’re in the  midst of an unplanned kitchen renovation. Not having a working kitchen has been a huge pain, and it’s even worse because this is my favorite time of year to bake. I can’t even catch up on blogs I read because my post-renovation list of foods to bake is getting increasingly long. Things may be quiet around here for a few more days, but you can keep up with the renovation progress on my Facebook page.

Thankfully, I managed to bake this bread before all the renovation madness started. Back in the early days of my blog, I made a dessert-like pumpkin quick bread. About the only thing it has in common with this one is that it also is a pumpkin quick bread. The taste is totally different, though. This recipe uses whole wheat flour and oats and is sweetened with maple syrup instead of sugar. It’s sweet but not “I’m eating a piece of cake that’s shaped like a slice of bread” sweet, if you know what I mean. The oats add a wonderful texture to the inside of the bread, then additional oats and nuts are sprinkled on top, giving each slice a bit of crunch. I used pecans, but walnuts would be equally delicious. This is a quick bread that I don’t feel guilty about having for breakfast with a cup of coffee (that’s actually cold brew in the picture because I’m weird and don’t like hot drinks). And although Eric is usually at best tolerant of pumpkin baked goods, this is one he really loved. Clara also enjoyed her fair share of this, too, so I can tell you with certainty that this recipe was a big hit.

If you need something to whip together in a flash, this recipe doesn’t even call for a mixer. Bake it tonight and have it for breakfast tomorrow. You won’t regret it.

Pumpkin Oat Bread


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Tex-Mex Chicken and Rice Casserole

Tex-Mex Chicken and Rice Casserole

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word casserole? For me, it’s Thanksgiving and the green bean casserole I always refused to eat (though I would always steal some of the canned fried onions; I still love those things). Canned green beans and canned cream of mushroom soup. That’s my childhood memory of casseroles. Though the green bean casserole Eric and I make now is a far cry from the kind I grew up with, I still think of icky combinations of canned stuff when I hear the word.

These days, I’m discovering a new love for casseroles. There’s something homey and warm about a whole meal baked in one pan, don’t you think? My friend Josie is the casserole queen, and I mean that in the best possible way. I think I’ve saved every single one she’s posted. These aren’t the casseroles from my childhood, either. They’re colorful and flavorful and made with fresh ingredients.

This casserole has Tex-Mex influences, so you know I loved it. It is a bit spicy with the jalapeños and chipotles but not so much that we held off sharing with Clara. There’s so much texture between the black beans, corn, crunchy tortilla chips and creamy chicken and rice mixture that it doesn’t even give the feeling of being a casserole. We try to expose Clara to a lot of different flavors and textures through the food she eats, and this one was a home run. She loved it, and so did we. We don’t typically make casseroles unless we’re serving a lot of people, but this one freezes beautifully and turned into several meals for us. It will most certainly be making an appearance on our meal plan very soon.

Tex-Mex Chicken and Rice Casserole

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Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken

Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken

I think you guys would laugh if you could hear some of the conversations Eric and I have, especially in regards to blogging. While working on this post, I was telling Eric that my chicken looked darker (because it’s dark meat and not white) than other photos I’ve seen of this recipe. Eric’s response? “Pssh. Thigh meat is where it’s at, especially with Asian food.” I love how he can change my perspective, even on issues as simple as the color of my chicken. I tend to obsess/worry about things (sometimes needlessly), and I’m thankful that Eric is there to remind me that “it’s probably not that big of a deal.” Indeed.

You know what is a big deal, though? My slow cooker. I feel like we’ve rekindled our love after a too-long hiatus. I know I was just talking about it recently, but I seriously want to cook everything in it. I love being able to start dinner at some point before dinnertime and not have to worry about it again. This leads to more snuggle/storytime with Clara, more playing, more coloring, more pushing Clara around in the laundry basket (her new favorite thing to do), more time hanging out with Eric before we get into our evening routine. The way our house smells while the slow cooker is working its magic definitely doesn’t hurt, either.

This recipe has become pretty popular in our house. We first made it when two neighbors had babies, and we needed something we could take both families for dinner. It was fun knowing that all three of our families were enjoying the same dinner that night. Eric and I made sliders with ours the first time and obviously served it over brown rice this time around. Either way you serve this chicken, you can’t go wrong. It’s juicy and flavorful, and it cooks up quickly and easily in the slow cooker. In addition to swapping out thighs for breasts, I upped the amount of Sriracha. It’s still not spicy but gives the sauce enough heat to cut through the sweetness of the honey. I think it was the perfect balance.

Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken

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