Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: Freshfoods Cook-n-Blend Baby Food Maker

I talked about my woes recently with my perfect eater turning the tables on us. Our 13-month old is disinterested in eating table food and is quite fine drinking his dinner every night. I know that as long as he's getting the nutrients, I shouldn't bother with how they are being consumed, so we've resorted to a more pureed and liquid diet for the last week. I even bought some reusable squeeze packs so I can puree up my own foods for him to eat.

Problem is, I had no purees left in the freezer. I guess it was perfect timing, because I was given the opportunity to test out a fun baby food maker that works for kids right in Benjamin's age range. The Freshfoods Cook-n-Blend Baby Food Maker suits kids from 6m-36m+ and can even be used by the whole family using the smoothie blade, for homemade applesauce, or even to make fruit fillers for popsicles. I think this will come in handy if we ever have another kiddo in our home, as I doubt I'll have nearly the amount of time I have with Benjamin to devote to making healthy foods. This machine will make that possible.
I was excited that I could both steam and blend all in the same device, which is something my regular blender doesn't have the capacity to do, and I end up using a lot of dishes. I'll list up the pros and cons of using this cute little baby food makin' machine after some pictures. I've used it twice now; once for making steamed carrots and the other for steaming/pureeing up some fruits and veggies for his reusable squeeze pouches (aka, the only thing my picky eater will ingest right now besides crackers).

The carrots were steamed up perfectly. Not too mushy where they fall apart, but perfect for little fingers. It takes 17 minutes to steam and the Freshfoods maker turns off with two beeps when finished. No overboiling on the stovetop with a busy toddler rummaging through the house.
For the puree, I cut up one regular sweet potato and one small apple. I placed them in the steamer basket, added the 7 oz. of water for steaming, and pressed the on button. 17 minutes later, I opened the container and poured it all into the nutrient-rich water and pureed until smooth.
While I could've stopped there, I also wanted to add some avocado to the mix. I threw it into the orange mixture and pureed until it was incorporated and smooth. Then I filled up four 6-oz. reusable squeeze packs for the kiddo. He happily consumed one for lunch yesterday.

- Both steams and purees in the same container... saves dishes...which saves time...and water!
- Quick and easy to fill
- Self-timer for steaming is so helpful for a busy mom
- Saves money
- Cooks, blends, reheats, and defrosts
- Don't lose out on the nutrient-rich water by incorporating that into your puree.
- Comes with two steamer baskets to separate foods
- Attractive and compact design that won't take up much space in the kitchen.
- Combinations of foods are endless
- Comes with smoothie blade, spatula, and recipe book.

- No measurements on the processor container itself, making it hard to judge how much food is being made.
- Water must be measured in a separate device before pouring it in. The fill line makes it hard to judge.
- Small capacity allowed barely 1 regular sweet potato and one small apple for steaming.
- To puree, you must hold down the lever. It would be nice to have a timer or easy-push button for that.
- No easy-pour spout. I had to use a spoon to scoop out the puree. They wouldn't pour easily from the sides.

Overall, I really liked the machine and I'll continue using it to fill those reusable pouches. I've even considered making applesauce in there for my husband's lunches as well, and I can't wait for the weather to warm up so I can test out making popsicles with fresh berries.

There are a series of accessories to complement the baby food maker as well:
Freshfoods Mash & Serve Bowl: Home or on-the-go mashing of already steamed veggies/fruits
Freshfoods Food Mill: Simple mill that grinds up hard-to-digest skins on veggies/fruits
Freshfoods Freezer Tray: 9-portion silicone covered tray for easy and quick storage
Freshfoods Stackable Cubes: Easy to use little cubes to hold baby food
Freshfoods Fill & Freeze Pops: For your homemade popsicles!

For more information about the NUK/Freshfoods brand, see their website or facebook page. They also have a $20 off coupon for the Freshfoods Cook-n-Blend Baby Food Maker, and a coupon for $1 off any accessory I mentioned above by clicking here. I'd love to have those freezer pops myself!

I was given this opportunity as part of {Green} Moms Meet. Moms Meet is an online resource for moms that encourages healthy and green parenting/living. As an added bonus, I sometimes get to share healthy, green products with friends at playdates and report back on our likes/dislikes.

Disclaimer: I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinions on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Foodie Resolution Week #12 of 52: {Lowfat} Broccoli Cheese Soup

Because they should be paying me to lavish them with praises by now... this is a Blendtec recipe but can easily be done with a high powered food processor. I receive Blendtec emails and follow them on Pinterest {they have giveaways for blenders! follow them!}, so sometimes I pin a recipe or two I definitely have to try.

Broccoli cheese soup was easily on the list when I read it had seven ingredients, most of which are optional. No cream in this soup, and it can easily be made vegan if the cheese is omitted. Frankly, adding the cheese inside was pointless because I didn't taste it over the broccoli. Instead, I'd just add it to the top and serve with grilled cheese (like I did) to really take advantage of the cheesy goodness.

I liked it, but it's obviously not the fatty Panera Bread kind. Though if you want that, just add cream, right? It was a great way to get in those veggies and a yummy dipper for my grilled cheese. I made this exactly on recipe and added 1/4 tsp. of dry mustard because I have a slight obsession with it.

Oh, and because the kiddo was napping, I totally schlepped my blender of broccoli + other ingredients down to the basement so I wouldn't wake him. I'm one of those moms now. I guess the basement is good for something... being a buffer zone for high-powered blenders that sound like lawnmowers.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

St. Kitts, West Indies Trip

There's this fun website I found about a year ago called Trekaroo. I started writing reviews and became a top reviewer, a Superoo in 2012. I'm also a big time Yelper. I don't know what it is. I love to write, and I spend so much time reading reviews when we travel, that I feel like my contributions will help people like me.  Okay, back to Trekaroo. It's a website geared toward traveling with kids. People with kids review attractions, hotels, and restaurants that are great for taking little ones.

And sometimes they have giveaways. I told my husband that they were giving away a four-night stay at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort & Royal Beach Casino and told him that if I enter and actually win, we have to go. He obliged. And you know what? I won.

We planned the trip for late winter (though as I type, it's spring and definitely still feels like January, ugh) for a getaway from the cold. We were told by Chicagoland natives that a Caribbean trip each winter is a must in order to maintain some kind of sanity with the horrid weather we deal with.

The trip was... relaxing. Fun. The plane rides... not so fun.

Day 1, March 14
He totally crawled under the seat at one point and came up between a woman's legs. Mortifying!
Marriott Resort, complimentary local brew at check-in, and baby on the ocean-view balcony which he loved. If you want to see inside of our hotel room from a video tour I took (just for fun), click here. We loved our spacious room! The ocean view didn't hurt, either.
Bath time baby. 
Day 2, March 15
Despite three cruise ships being in port, we chose to take a private taxi tour of the island. It lasted 3.5 hours and circled the perimeter of St. Kitts while stopping at some of the main attractions. Like most Caribbean islands, there are a number of universities that cater to Americans that want to become doctors. St. Kitts and Nevis are home to four of them, I think. It was definitely surprising to drive by tiny schools for Americans in a country with less than 40,000 inhabitants. And to walk around Frigate Bay and have half the people around you attending university there? Weird.
Dad/son communication on the balcony before breakfast - peanut butter sandwich & clementine breakfast on that balcony chair every morning - waiting in the lobby before our taxi tour of the island
Photos from our private taxi tour of the island:
L: Bloody Point where English & French settlers killed most of the Carib population in the 1626; M: railroad tracks used during sugar cane extraction/production that was shut down in 2005. Locals are not too happy about it; R: Green Vervet monkey butt.
We visited the Historic Romney Manor, once owned by Sam Jefferson, President Thomas Jefferson's great-great-great grandfather. Now it is a tourist destination to watch local women follow old Indonesian traditions of creating resisting dye with wax creations on cloth. You watch a demonstration and are sent into their tourist shop to buy things and get back in the taxi. While the creations were cool, the only people there were us and a boatload (haha!) of cruise ship tourists. We didn't buy anything, though we did find their work beautiful.
These next two sets were from the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park. It was designed by British engineers and built and maintained by African slaves. Cannons were first placed in 1690 and construction was done over the course of 100 years.
It was abandoned in the 1800s and in the late 1900s, it was restored. It was really fantastic to see and visit. It's really well restored, but the one-way road drive up was a bit scary! A few monkeys were spotted on the drive up as well, along with other places randomly on the island (said to be introduced by the French and not native to the island).
Sitting in our taxi before leaving the fortress. We bought a Ting drink at the local vendor along with some snacks to tide us over. Other than the three local beers (Carib, Skol, Stag) that we had plenty of because we love beer, local beers, and they were cheaper than water (!), we also loved Ting, which is a grapefruit juice carbonated beverage. We tried a Ginseng drink and Pear drink as well that were not favorites. Among the three beers, Stag was our least favorite and we really enjoyed Carib & Skol. They even give tours of their bottling plant on the island, but you must be 18 to enter, eliminating the family with the baby, of course.
Our next stop was Black Rocks, a rock formation on the northeast coast. The rocks were formed from lava flow from Mount Liamuiga, the volcano of the island. Again, it was mostly cruise ship tourists and ourselves. However, had those cruise ships not been in port that day, there would have no vendors to sell us touristy things like coconuts and sugar cane.
The donkey was a big fan of standing near us. Also, Benjamin was a big fan of drinking from a coconut. He easily took down 20% within a minute of receiving it from the vendor who cut it open with a massive machete. It reminded me of our 4x4 safari guide in the French Polynesia on our honeymoon. The guy whipped out a machete from his trunk and cracked open a coconut on the top of his Jeep. That's just who you want giving you a tour of an island in his open-back vehicle. A guy with a machete readily available.
Back in the taxi on our way back to the hotel with more snacks. They don't have carseat requirements on St. Kitts, but that wasn't stopping us from schlepping our bucket seat for him to use.
Back at the hotel, we headed to the beach. While Benjamin has touched both the Atlantic and Pacific before, he wasn't a big fan of the sand now that he's mobile. He perfected a crab walk (we saw one of those, too!) to avoid touching the sand with his knees. He did spend a good deal of time napping on beach chairs, however. This was his first of three beach naps while relaxing on our vacation.

L: For dinner, we headed to "The Strip" which is a string of restaurants about a 15-minute walk from our hotel. It also appeared to be the bar scene on the island. We caught the sunset while there and witnessed lots of American doctoral students playing volleyball on the beach and drinking at the restaurants. Again... weird.; M: Drinking a Stag at a restaurant on the beach for dinner. That sippy cup? Never made it home with us. We left it in the hotel room fridge. R: Old Sugar Mill we visited on our second day that I didn't manage to fit into the picture collages above.

Day 3, March 16:
We hired a taxi again to take us to the southernmost point of St. Kitts island looking on to Nevis, the sister island. The drive was about 30 minutes and gorgeous. When we were finished after a few hours, the taxi arrived to come pick us up again, as the area is pretty desolate.
L: Near the breakwater is our resort. They created a break so the water would be calmer for the resort. I read many reviews before our trip and everyone was complaining about the waters being so rough. When I saw that the waves were 2 feet maximum at any given time, I laughed. I grew up at the Pacific where the waves are always much higher.; R: This photo shows both the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
We had lunch at one of the most renowned restaurants on the island and one of the only restaurants at the "calm" Cockleshell Beach. I also think it was owned by an American. Smart marketer, I say. That said, the food was delicious. I had Mahi Mahi fish tacos and Ray had Mahi Mahi with pineapple salsa, fried plantains, slivered vegetables and Caribbean red beans and rice. The food was amazing!
Benjamin had some of our food, but mostly a peanut butter sandwich and goldfish crackers. That was pretty much his staple for the entire trip. He was staring at the ocean in the center picture. Not many restaurants on the island had high chairs. The first night on the island, we dined near our hotel at an Indian restaurant (that was delicious) and they had a high chair, but the kind you see in homes. Otherwise, this was the only other restaurant besides our resort that had a high chair for him, despite the massive amount of small children we saw vacationing with their parents.

We took a couple fun videos at the restaurant. Okay, the first one is just a view from where we were sitting at the restaurant. Gorgeous view. But the second? Benjamin made friends with two birds that came near us at our table and was a little excited at their presence.

Top Left Going Clockwise:
A. Dip in the water with Dad. The island we're looking at is Nevis.
B. Spice Mill restaurant beachfront. There are no private beaches on St. Kitts, but these restaurants required you eat there or pay a small fee for chair use. Again, that mostly applies for ships in port, but this day was very quiet, and we dined at the restaurant anyway.
C. Benjamin sleeping on the second beach chair. If you look closely, you can spot the rooster just above the beach chair that would've been kicked by my flip flop if he woke the baby. He crowed a few times, but the baby remained asleep. He lived to see another day.
D. Dad holding a sleeping baby before placing him on the beach chair for the nap.
We had a nice day at the calm beach, but other than to get a good view of Nevis and have a delicious lunch, it wasn't worth the steep cab-ride over. My husband might disagree, but I will admit that it was nice to see the rest of the island we hadn't visited. We didn't take a ferry over to Nevis because we knew there wouldn't be much to do there with Benjamin other than be stuck in a taxi or on another beach that was just as nice as the ones we'd been on in St. Kitts.

While having Benjamin with us couldn't have been more amazing, we would've planned our itinerary entirely different if he weren't with us. In the future, we hope to train again like we did for Mt. Whitney and Half Dome and take a Caribbean cruise hiking all the volcanoes on each day we are in port for each island. St. Kitts and Nevis both have peaks we would've loved to have hiked that take about 4-5 hours each. This time, we enjoyed the beach.
Back at the hotel... a little fun licking the dirt off the windows of our balcony doors. Delicious.

Day 4, March 17:
Out for our morning walk to the coffee shop, we saw a local scale a palm tree and drop down coconuts. These appeared to be on public property and we watched them load over 30 coconuts into his car. Can you see him in the green and brown? Perhaps he was camouflaged so no one would see him and bust him? We spent the rest of the day in the pool and on the beach. Third nap on the beach was not documented.

Day 3, March 16:
Travel Day. Not our best, that's for sure. Here's the story:

Ame.rican Airl.ines is the only one that flies daily into St. Kitts. We had to fly them because we only stayed four nights and not a week. Other airlines fly in once a week, which would have allowed for more flexibility in airline choice. The hotel stay may have been free, but the flights definitely were not, which made this whole debacle sting even more. We got up at 5:40 a.m. (which is 4:40 CST) and made it to the airport by 6:15. Around 7:30, our flight had not begun boarding for our 7:40 flight and the pilot came on the speaker to announce that we were grounded due to a dead battery. They wouldn't fly another battery in from the States or Puerto Rico and instead told us we'd be waiting EIGHT hours for the next flight to arrive with our battery. They comped our lunch and gave us free booze once we finally were on board. That's it. We didn't even board the plane until we were supposed to be landing in Chicago from our Miami layover.

They used language like, "It is what it is" and weren't terribly apologetic. We were stuck in a one-room airport for eight hours. Sure, we could've left, gone through security again, checked all our bags and explored the town or something... but then we'd smell like sunscreen, pay for more taxis, and questioned whether it was worth the hassle when Benjamin needed to sleep (and did so in his stroller). The airport was not walking distance to anything and waking a sleeping baby was just out of the cards for us. Plus, Benjamin needed to roam and if we left strolling, he wouldn't have any movement all day. So there we stayed. In the airport of a very small country. At least there was free wifi.

So when the next group of people arrived at the airport having spent an entire morning on the beach enjoying the sunshine, they boarded their plane (the one that brought in our battery from the U.S.) and took off before us to Miami. Finally, we boarded our flight to Miami and were off after them. The picture above describes how that flight went once the screaming terror baby finally decided to sleep. Not even landing woke him up!

Obviously having missed our connection by many hours at this point, we were all re-booked and on tight connections. We had to grab our checked bag (because we bought rum), go through customs, re-drop our bag off, go through TSA, and run to almost the last terminal in the Miami airport to make our entirely full flight. Benjamin was exhausted as this plane left just as he is normally going down to sleep for the night. Needless to say, this was not his best flight. One of his worst, in fact. We arrived into Chicago after 11 p.m. only to find out our bag didn't make it on our flight and never appeared on the baggage claim belt. They brought it to us the next day, but it made the night even longer because we had to file a report with complete detail with a very slow baggage attendant.

We arrived home close to 1 a.m. when we planned to be home around 3 p.m. Not a fun way to end such a relaxing vacation! St. Kitts was beautiful, though and we had a great time. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Eating Crow

It's like pulling teeth to get my once *perfect* eater to eat anything lately that isn't covered with gravy or doused in hummus. And even then? Dicey. Our go-to foods and methods are being tested and denied. He's still eating, but he's definitely no longer the poster child. No more omg this is so easy because my kid eats everything and isn't this fun!?

Those days are gone.

And remember when I wrote a few posts about traveling with kids? Well, we still follow the same principles, but heaven help me. Traveling with a nearly 13-month old kid is so very different than traveling with a 6-month old. Flying to Europe and back with an 8-month old? Cakewalk. Flying three stinking hours from Florida to Chicago with the kid now? Enough to make me take up drug use.

While I didn't mean to come off as smug, I sort of feel like I did in some previous posts about how we do things around here with a kid that is mellow as a cucumber. Never my intention... but man. I was just trying to document how things are around these parts and then the kid goes and pulls a 180 on us.

That kid morphed into a tantrum-throwing, water-refusing, flailing diaper-changer, food-launching maniac baby that's making me wonder if he has an outside terrorist coach that's providing him with schemes and play-by-play material that sends us to bed with migraines. He's teething {well he did just break through on his first lateral incisor, but that's neither here nor there}, blahdee blahdee blah. It's less than fun.

Okay, so he's also adorable and sleeps through the night and naps like a champ (oh please don't let that be cursed, too!). And I can assume that he's just so darned intelligent that his brain is on overload and he's acting out because he's learning how to assert himself and knows just how he likes his eggs in the morning. That it's better for him to be stubborn than too easygoing and in the long run, that assertive personality will definitely play out in his favor when he's CEO of a company someday.

Right? Someone tell me this is all normal and my kid might actually drink water instead of only! milk! someday. 

Also, please serve me up a plate of that {ehm, vegetarian} crow anytime now. Bib on, I'm ready.

{and while this goes without saying, I am definitely exaggerating as I would literally lay my life down for this kid we're so freaking thrilled to be wreaking such havoc on our lives.}

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Foodie Resolution Week #11 of 52: No Bake Energy Bites

Sometimes I make simple things way too difficult.

This would be one of those cases. I have an obsession with using up things in the cupboard. Maybe I have a slight case of OCD because I just hate seeing almost finished containers of anything. We had barely 1 cup of almonds left in a large bag and I figured I'd use those almonds, make a quick almond butter and use that in the recipe. Never mind that it called for peanut butter... of which I have an enormous jar of Whole Foods PB in the fridge. 

Yeah. Except, less than a cup of almonds isn't enough to make the butter, turns out. Instead, they were blended until fine and then pushed away from the blade in my Blendtec. Note to self (and you all). If you want to make nut butters, go for around 2 cups of nuts. Angry fist.

I had to buy oats because I only buy steel cut and this recipe called for rolled oats. I chose easy oats just in case I hated these bites and needed an alternative to finishing the enormous container. I didn't have regular unsweetened coconut, but I did have a bag of sweetened in my bakery cabinet that worked just fine to both toast and taste in this recipe. In fact, I love this use for the rest of the sweetened coconut I have. Must. finish. that. bag. of. coconut. immediately.

Anyway, the story with this recipe is that you put all the ingredients in a bowl, stir, roll into balls and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. That's it. 

After that nut butter debacle that finally had me scrounging for peanuts to add to the almond butter that wouldn't blend in my blender, I was over this recipe. I stuck them in the fridge and came back to check on them. I ate one. Then I ate another. They were like crack.

I nearly forgot the trouble they caused me. It's all her fault. She made them first and raved about them. She even told me to make a double batch and I didn't listen. What a fool.


In other food news... we were waiting at O'Hare airport baggage claim around 11 p.m. the other night (where our bag never showed up, but that's another story) and I went over to Starbucks to grab a quick sandwich because I hadn't eaten dinner yet. No veggie options, of course. Instead, I grabbed a salad. I think it was called Southwest Chickpea Salad and the ingredients were super simple from what I can remember: chickpeas, red onion, tomato, garlic, salt, pepper and lime. I'm just guessing on some of those. There was like 1.5 grams of fat in the whole salad. I'm kicking myself for not taking a photo, but needless to say, it was delicious and I've been thinking about it ever since! If any of you find one at your local 'Bucks, can you take a picture for me? I'm going to try and re-create it myself. I called the local store and they told me they are trial salads and may not make it to all Starbucks or ever again for that matter.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Letters to Andrew {6}

The day we arrived home empty-handed from the hospital after losing Andrew, we immediately re-booked our flights from California to Florida instead. Our California trip was scheduled for a post-baby shower and to introduce Andrew to all of our friends and family. With no baby to bring, we chose to change our itinerary altogether and booked a cruise to the Bahamas. It wasn't meant to be a vacation and we didn't look forward to it. We were far too sad to look forward to anything. I couldn't even manage to understand how I'd make it another day, let alone look forward to a trip we'd take a few months from that date.

This time, we set out for the islands again, but this time a bit further into the West Indies. Somehow, I feel connected to Andrew when we travel to that region, because he was so close to me then. He was still so fresh in my mind and it was days and not years since I'd held him for the one and only time.

On one of the days we spent on St. Kitts, we took a taxi to Cockleshell Beach at the Southern tip of the island, looking on to Nevis, the sister island and other half of the small country. The entire beach was pretty desolate as there were no cruise ships docked that day. There were other families with their children playing in the calm waters and people dining at the two restaurants. We took walks up and down the narrow shoreline and spent the time on shaded beach chairs with the only sound coming from the crashing waves and a rooster that couldn't seem to figure out his place in life.

I felt an overwhelming need to see his name in the sand, so I wrote it. A few times, actually. The waves wanted to wash it away and I needed to see it.

Beloved Andrew,

I don't shower what's left of you with kisses quite as much as I did in the earlier days of missing you. I don't cry as much... though just typing that has reduced me to big alligator tears. It upsets your brother to see me crying, so it's a good thing he's napping right now. The magnitude of losing you still catches me by surprise when I think of just how much we lost on that dreary day in December. 

I read an article this week about a celebrity who had a late miscarriage and was deeply saddened by the loss. There were comments from ignorant strangers that made me so angry. They didn't understand that an entire life and all of the plans that came with that precious life were gone. It's been a long time since I felt injustice and anger about losing you. Those feelings came right back up when I read about others trivializing that baby's life.

When we were in St. Kitts with your little brother this past weekend, I couldn't stop thinking about you. There were many children at our resort. Many that were about the age you would be now. My heart will always wonder and ache for the boy and man you should become.

We arrived back in Chicago to cold, just as we did when you died and after that Bahamas trip we took because you died. The winter chill stings my soul and mocks us with its presence. 

We miss you. There's nothing more to say about it, but I'll keep saying it. It can never quantify how much, as the words are just not powerful enough. I love you. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Foodie Resolution Week #10 of 52: Butternut Squash Ravioli

I posted on Instagram this week that I bought a butternut squash and didn't know what to do with it. I've eaten it many times, but never cooked it myself. Instantly, the ideas came pouring in.

...hash, stuff it, french fries, add to pasta, eat in chunks, smash it, salad topper, soup, risotto, homemade ravioli, casserole...

Needless to say, I had a few ideas. The one that intrigued me most? Ravioli. The idea was to use butternut squash as the filler and use wonton wrappers as the pasta! Hey, Pioneer Woman does it, too. They're a perfect size... and even more perfect? I had some in my freezer. I grabbed those out, opened the package and put them in a damp kitchen towel to re-hydrate them from being in the freezer. I seeded and cut the squash in quarters, threw it on a cookie sheet and cooked it for nearly an hour at 350 degrees. I skinned it, mashed it (with my Blendtec, obvi!) and added 1 whole diced & caramelized onion, 1/4 teaspoon sage and a few cloves of finely chopped garlic.

That left me with the {above} mashed squash. It was dense like mashed potatoes and I knew it would be a great filler. I then laid out the wonton wrappers on a wax-paper covered cookie sheet (probably unnecessary), added a heaping tablespoon to the center of each and sealed them by creating a frame of water around the bottom and top parts (like sealing an envelope) while making sure there wasn't much air trapped inside. You want the filling to be nice an snug in there.

Once all of them were filled, I put the cookie sheet in the freezer for about 30 minutes until they were frozen. This helps keep the wonton together when you're boiling them. I don't know that this is a required step, but I know that for other recipes, this does the trick. It worked this time, too.

Boiled up some water, added salt, and boiled these until they were warm. I used a slotted spoon and scooped them right onto each plate and added the "sauce" of caramelized onions, sage butter, and crackled black pepper.

Butternut squash, you don't scare me anymore.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Basement Reveal

Finally. I know. It just seemed too daunting of a task for some reason. That, and we're not 100% done, but it's functional now and that's what really matters. I'll update with changes as we make them, but right now we're burnt out from basement work, so it's going to be awhile to re-coop.

A Little Background:
Neither of us grew up having a basement at all. In fact, before we moved here, I don't believe I'd ever even stepped foot in more than 5 in my life, so the feeling of necessity to have one myself was just not there. Take it or leave it was our mentality. However, when buying a house in the Midwest, you're pretty much required to take it, as nearly all come fitted with one.

During our inspection, we were suspicious that there were moisture issues in the basement and had numerous contractors perform various tests. They eventually found a small leak in the basement shower, patched it, and wiped their hands clean. Only, there was a lot more to be found than that. About a year into living here, Ray pulled up the carpet in the corner and confirmed moisture. The demolition started right then as the cause of the moisture was shocking. Inside one of the two closets was a window opening that was boarded up with plywood and layers of drywall, but no actual window to keep moisture out. Yeah. We live in Chicago. Where the winters are brutal and water can obviously come right in. We had no idea the window well existed because we had two already (standard) and the third was covered from the outside with heavy foliage. In order to rid ourselves of the gross, Ray tore out all of the external walls, installed a window where it belonged, removed insulation, and pretty much took the basement down to concrete walls again. Our finished basement we paid $20,000 more for was now essentially unfinished again-- except for the bathroom & bedroom which were spared.

Remediation for moisture, lots of heavy cleaning, sealing of cracks, plumbing, concrete work and all kinds of professional help went down before the actual remodel part began. Demolition also consisted of removing the carpet from the entire basement (minus stairs), removing drywall, removing base moulding, cutting into other interior walls to ensure moisture wasn't an issue there, removing ceiling tiles and removing the existing bar and free-cycling it. No photos were taken of the basement before any demolition began (dang!), but I tried to take some photos during the early stages of demolition to have compare/contrast.


I forgot another box. We added a radon system to our home (hello another $1,000).
Demolition Process
This is the most depressing part of the job, because it's a lot of work, a lot of hauling, and you're not even at the break-even point yet. Also, you're literally throwing money down the drain by destroying old walls, floors, etc.
The majority of the exterior walls were taken down to the framing. That bottom right photo above? We discovered that the concrete/framed area is actually an exterior door that was closed over (properly)! The door was boarded when the previous owners installed our deck where the door entrance would be to the outside. No more mirrors or bar. Wood paneling was behind and that was also removed. We're the 3rd owners of our house and a lot of work has been done over 35 years! Imagine a pink basement before the yellow. Remnants have been found. It's like a time capsule in here!
The end of the bar, above. Patches on the walls were areas that we had to fix & electively demolished to make sure we found all of the water damaged issues before refinishing. Recessed lighting and ceiling tiles removed. We may add recessed lighting again at a later date, but we really didn't need as many as there were. They were also dated and not fire-safe. Recessed lighting did remain in the bedroom, however. All of the framing in the closets were demolished. That was the big water problem area.

Now let's get on to the good stuff. Here's where I attempt to be cool like those design bloggers out there. Except it's a basement. Basements have crappy natural lighting... so yeah.
Doorway entering the main level of our house. New lamp, fire alarm, dark lightswitch covers & paint. All lightswitches were changed in the basement.
Up close and personal with that lamp change. 1978 called and wanted their lamp back. We happily obliged.
 Base of the stairwell looking into the hallway where the bedroom and bathroom are. Added a rug here (from Target), epoxy flooring & paint. That ceiling lamp is also our change, though we did that eons ago.
Looking up the stairs from the bottom. We didn't replace the carpet. The entire basement had the same carpet before we tore it all out. From here on out, the paint color changes. Two coats of primer and two coats of paint throughout our 1,300+ square foot basement done by just the two of us. After Benjamin went down to bed for the night. Like woah. I'm tired just remembering those nights.
 Halfway down the stairs. New floors, paint, rug. 
From the very top of the stairs going down from the main level of the house. New paint.
Closets are clean and painted. We'll figure out shelving eventually, but we don't really need the space now, so we're not stressing it. It's odd to have a window in a closet, but whatever. Short of boarding it up (properly), we didn't have a choice. The closets are already framed and we are fine leaving it that way.
Staring at the beginning of the main basement area. Closets to the left. Table & chairs were Ray's cousin's table and chairs given to us for Benjamin from his Aunt Ceil. Our setup for Wii and our workout station (picture yoga mats laid out on the ground) & pictures hung on the walls.
All of those walls were hung and mudded by Ray and a really fantastic guy that works for his company. Ray worked alongside him as an apprentice for much of the basement refinishing. Those two put in some long hours. 
Notice that picture and where it's hanging. It's over the breaker box. Originally there was a custom wood door on hinges that covered the breaker box. We didn't really think much of it, but when the new drywall hole was cut too large, the door no longer fit. We got the idea to hang art over the hole that can easily be removed if we needed access. The art is shown in more detail below, but it's Many Glacier at Glacier National Park-- our favorite of all the parks. We have dreams of staying at that lodge someday. We have this one from the same national park hanging in our Foyer.
 Wood paneling is gone, new drywall, a new coat of paint, and a picture on the wall. Oh, and ping pong obviously. That table came with the house when we purchased it. That is one very heavy table.
New moisture resistant ceiling tiles and a few new lines of drop ceiling framing because we ditched some of the pieces accidentally during the beginning demolition.
A different view from behind the pool table looking toward the entrance to the main basement area and that rug from Target again.
Here's that picture up closer and pulled forward to reveal the breaker box. A few more pieces of art on the wall from Ray's bachelor pad days.
 This is the utility room. Nothing fancy, but we did clean it up a bit. It's nice that everything finally has a place.
Here's the big deal. The bulk of our cash went to flooring. We hired a contractor to lay polymer flooring. It was a 3-step process and we had plans to leave for the weekend just hours after they finished the job. It needed to cure for a week or so and it was perfect timing. We're glad we had other plans because our house smelled horrible from the fumes! Not exactly something you want your small child breathing in. Fumes are gone now and it's super clean and safe. Hooray!

We love it. We're not big fans of carpet in basements (it is underground after all) and considering the cost of flooring, this will last us a lifetime and we'll never have to replace it. It looks nice and it's extremely durable. We chose a color that resembled leather. It goes on shiny and they add a layer of matting to take away the sheen. The top picture shows where they poured a base epoxy and sanded/polished it down before adding the layer of brown. The guys had to wear special shoes to walk on it during the process.
Video of them laying the layer of brown epoxy down on day 2.
We didn't change much in the bathroom. It was already finished and the paint is the same as the original basement color. We changed out the showerhead because it was broken, hung a picture and added bath rugs. We have plans to change that mirror, but that's super low on the priority list. It may be dated, but it's functional.
The bedroom was already painted, though we did have to color-match the paint in the closet (different from the room color = annoying) because there was patching done in there and a spot on the wall that we cut out to make sure there was no moisture in the bedroom. Otherwise, the floors, bed, and bedding are new. The rug was our former living room rug before we bought a new one. Bed is Ikea and bedding is Woolrich.
And this is the reason it took me so ridiculously long to post about this... other than the fact that it might be the longest post ever. We're not done. I have plans for these areas that I was hoping would be part of the big reveal, but I can't manage to release my husband into the dungeon for anymore weekend work yet. I still haven't recovered from him being in the basement every night for months. Neither has he {as he just grumbled to me about seeing me write this post giving him anxiety}! But eventually, we will add these two projects to the list. Can you believe there was a bar in that will-be bookshelf area? And how cool would a chalkboard wall look in that far right corner? Keeping track of ping pong scores anyone? I love it.

I need a nap. Holy details. What a blog post.