Thursday, August 28, 2014

Things Are Looking Up: Installing Our Exposed Wood Kitchen Shelf

Guess what — we've got a new shelf making its big debut in our kitchen! We've been working slowly but surely to fill in this area of wall in the kitchen and we're really happy with how this latest update turned out.

To give a little background, we live in a 100+ year old, railroad style home where the original kitchens would have been configured in the furthest back room of the house (where our current dining room is). One of the reasons we fell in love with this house when looking was the fact the kitchen had been moved into the center of the home. When it was updated this way, all the main components of the kitchen (cabinets, oven, sink, dishwasher and fridge) were all installed along the right side of the wall, with an island in the center of the room. Given our 11ft ceilings, that left us with a large blank palette of a wall to work with. Because you can see this wall from the entry of our home, it was important for us to fill it out, giving it a little personality.

The last update we made to this space was the addition of our storage console that we built out of an old army locker (we wrote up all the details on that project in this post):

While we loved the addition of the console, we were still lacking in filling up some of the unused vertical space on this wall above it:

Throughout the year of living with the console as is, we came up with a plan to install an exposed shelf above it, allowing room to elevate the artwork, and add in some extra storage to help fill out the space better in hopes of making it feel more like a purposeful part of the kitchen. We love the look of the bracketed exposed reclaimed wood shelves we keep coming across in design publications and Pinterest, so in true-to-us fashion we decided to try and make one of our own.

Once we had the idea, it was just a matter of finding the perfect material. We considered using reclaimed floorboards, stair boards or beams from our local antique salvage warehouse, Caravatis, but never quite found that special something that worked. It wasn't until we started working to help update the 1976 Airstream camper with our friends, that we came across the perfect board for our shelf — remember this pile of milled wood from Josiah's farm?

He was kind enough to give one of them to us, especially for this project. After bringing the board back home, we cleared out the wall (that's a lot of bare wall) to measure and got down to business!

To create the shelf, we measured how long we'd need the board to be, then Tim prepped it over the next couple of days by cutting it to size, sanding the surface, applying a thin layer of Thompson's oil stain then a food safe sealer in a satin finish (to add a slight sheen):

Meanwhile, we picked out some basic metal brackets from the hardware store that were large enough to extend almost across the entire width of the board. For added security, we went with 3 brackets to disperse the board weight and measured out placement to ensure an even fit:

We weren't thrilled with the white finish on the brackets, but they were the only size and style we liked, so what did we do? We gave them a new oil rubbed bronze metallic finish with a coat of good old Rust-Oleum multi-surface spray paint, which ties in with the darker metal colors we have around the kitchen:

Once dry, Tim screwed the brackets in place on the underside of the board where we'd previously measured and marked, then we brought it inside to install:

Since the shelf was pretty heavy (too heavy for me to hold up at level while Tim installed), he came up with a little "board balancing hack" to hold it in place while locating the studs and screwing into the wall:

Immediately after installing the shelf on the wall, we were both left feeling a little underwhelmed at how bare (and small) it seemed:

Before going back to the drawing board, we decided to start decorating the shelf to see how things shaped up and man what a difference it made!

Here's how we looked after that initial styling:

We're loving how much more elevated and "present" everything feels on this side of the room now — it's done so much to add more dimension to the space and doesn't feel too small at all.

We've got a couple more updates to this space coming up that we're excited to share in our next few posts, so stay tuned!

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P.S. Did you notice how well our Money Tree plant has been fairing, even if it  does oddly stretch towards the light of the window?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kids' Birthday Cake Idea: Decorating With M&M's!

Several weeks ago my nephew, Benjamin, told me he wanted an M&M's cake for his upcoming 4th birthday. I wasn't sure what he may have been envisioning at the time, or if he'd even remember that he'd made such a request, but I was up for this challenge...and wanted to blow his 4-year-old mind.

So, like any determined DIYer unfamiliar with the world of children's birthday cakes, I took to Pinterest for some good old fashioned inspiration, which led me to this cake (anyone know the original source?), which was the perfect jumping off point for how we decided to decorate Benjamin's cake:

While I went with the number 4 (his age) as the design, I think the same concept would apply really well to both letters and shapes — wouldn't a heart or star be neat? We've been excited to share the details for how I made the cake here on the blog, so let's get started!

We used a basic cake & icing mix for this cake (nothing fancy), but you could use any preferred homemade cake and icing recipe you want. Bake cake in two greased round cake pans according to package directions. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before removing from pans, then allow to completely cool before stacking and icing the layers — we want a thick and sturdy icing base to stick all of the M&M's onto, not a messy melty one.

While the cake was baking and cooling, I went ahead and separated all of the M&M's into single colors so they'd be easier to work with when it came to decorating. It's funny how there seemed to be more of less of certain colors — brown was definitely the odd man out:

While separating the candies, you might come across some of the non-uniform pieces — this is where I'll expect you'll want to run some "quality control" sampling if you know what I mean...

Once cake layers have completely cooled, use a knife to remove the raised and rounded cake portion on the bottom layer, creating a flat surface that's easier for icing and stacking:

Place bottom cake layer on the plate or cake stand you'll be serving it on before icing and decorating. Apply a generous layer of frosting across the surface of the 1st layer, this will create that delicious icing layer in the center of your cut pieces of cake:

Stack 2nd layer of cake evenly atop the bottom layer and ice the entire outer surface. It's up to you whether or not to cut and flatten this 2nd layer — I liked the look of a rounded top, so left it as is. Make sure to apply a generous coating of icing across the top, edges and sides of the cake — doing so will give you lots of "glue" to hold all those M&M's candies in place when decorating. Don't worry about a perfect icing finish since the entire surface will be covered in candy:

Now we're ready to decorate! As you can gather, I wanted to make a big "number 4" design since it was Benjamin's 4th birthday.

I started by stacking M&M's in the shape of a number 4 as a focal point, right in the center of the cake. Benjamin has declared the green M&M's to be his favorite, so it was an easy choice for which color to begin with:

From there, it was just a matter of tracing around the number with a new row of the same colored M&M's — all one by one:

Once the "4" got large enough to almost cover the top surface, I went around it again with one more row (in yellow) that spilled over the top and down the side a little for a fun 3-dimensional effect. Then again, since the green M&M's are Benjamin's favorite, I filled in the rest of the top surface and a few rows over the side edges with green candies:

From there, I applied a single row of the blue candies around the entire base of the cake to create an edge, filling in the rest of the open cake space around the sides with orange candies:

Having a generous amount of icing on the cake was so helpful, allowing for a strong hold and a little wiggle room if I misplaced a candy — I could just move it around until it looked right:

The entire decorating process probably took about 20 minutes, but was a lot of fun and kind of methodical if you like detail-oriented tasks — we were really happy with how it turned out:

So, how did it go over with the kids? I'd say these expressions need no further explanation:

The cake turned out to be a big hit — all of the kids enjoyed getting a big piece to try. It's special moments like these we try to cherish, where a simple M&M cake can make someone's day.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Weekend Basics

We've made a routine of driving to Lockhart Family Farm on Saturday mornings to continue working on updating the 1976 Airstream camper our friends recently purchased and this weekend was no different.

We continued to work on painting the walls (with all their curves, nooks and crannies) in a second coat of white interior paint, so don't have much to show in terms of "progress shots" compared with last weekend's updates. Painting is one of those jobs that just takes time, but makes all the difference once complete. It will probably take at least one more solid visit before we call the initial paint job complete and are able to move onto the other updates we have in store — like painting the cabinets (more paint!), adding a backsplash, and bringing in some fun decor.

While Mary worked on painting, I'd signed up for and took part in the Bacon Curing workshop Josiah was offering on the farm that day.

I'm a fan of curing and have actually shared my process for doing so over on E.A.T. with part of the whole pig I purchased from Josiah last year. That being said, I'm always curious about learning new techniques, food history and more about the animals on the farm, so was excited to join in on this workshop. Just as I'd imagined, it was a lot of fun, I learned a lot and met many new-to-me faces from around the area — plus, we came home with over a pound of pork belly prepped to cure over the next few weeks!

The big event from Sunday was celebrating the 3rd and 4th birthdays of our niece and nephew, Sophia and Benjamin. Mary's sister and brother-in-law hosted a family celebration at their house that we were excited to be included in. These two are like two peas in a pod, actually born within the same year, Sophia arriving just 10 days before Benjamin's 1st birthday.

We brought along the usual suspects, giant mylar balloons in the number shape of their age (you might remember mine):

We managed to get the two adorable individual shots of the kids with their balloons above before making the mistake of asking them to pose together, which took a fateful turn when Benjamin got so excited he momentarily yanked Sophia's balloon away, running off to her great disappointment. Oh, to be siblings...

The real hit of the evening was the M&M cake Mary made for Benjamin:

We celebrated with 2 cakes, one for each of the kids, and we volunteered to bring Benjamin's since he'd told Mary he was hoping for an M&M birthday cake several weeks ago. It was Granddad's task to bring along Sophia's cake, which also did not disappoint:

As you can imagine, the cakes turned out to be a big hit, along with all the other goodies we brought along — we'll look forward to sharing the M&M cake tutorial here on the blog later this week.

With that, we'll leave you with a roundup of our favorite phone shots captured by (and with) the kids while there:

What fun! Hope you had a wonderful weekend and great start to the week — will you be watching the Emmy's with us tonight?