Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cottontail Dinner

Megs is always hounding me to “take pictures for the blog, take pictures for the blog”. This event was no different but she did add the caveat… don’t make it gruesome. Although I think hunting helps to sustain a healthy habitat, the act is not for the light of heart. So when I showed Megs the action shots of cleaning said animal she was concerned for our viewers. Please note that this blog post contains pictures and descriptions of responsible hunting and if you are not interested please join us again on our next posting!

A few months ago Megs and I started to notice a trend. When I was able to get out early on Saturday morning for some “woods” time, I was a lot more enjoyable to be around during the rest of the weekend. I love my job but it comes with a lot of desk time and I really need to get out into the fresh air as much as possible to balance my sanity.

One of my absolute favorite spots to spend time outdoors recently is my buddy’s mom’s place. It is 120 acres of rolling woods and fields, northeastern Iowa cliffs and river valleys. It is a great spot all year round. My buddy AA introduced me to squirrel hunting last year and I have grown to love the activity. Most people, including myself would never dream of eating the garbage-fed tree rats in the city suburbs, however around here country squirrels are considered free range in most people’s minds.

Not an attractive woods selfie, it doesn't get much better
The idea is to get out to the woods in the dawn hours and find a grove of oaks to sit quietly and wait. Getting out early is important because you want to be in place before the squirrels wake up and come down from their nests because once they are on the forest floor they are impossible to see or shoot.

I have been out to hunt squirrels 8-9 times but only have come back with a squirrel in hand once or twice. There are always squirrels out there but grey squirrels are small and not worth the effort for the most part. Red squirrels are where it is at, but more accurately, the hunting part of the event is overshadowed by sitting quietly out in the woods and watch the world transition from night to day. Birds start to chirp, turkeys cackle, deer grunt and spit (not a majestic creature the deer), and all the nocturnal animals head to their dens.

On this outing the weather had turned cold and not much was moving around, including the squirrels. I was the only idiot not tucked up in their respective beds staying warm and dry that morning. After about an hour of meditation I stood up, stretched and decided to take a meandering valley out of the woods and back to the car. Bushwhacking through scratchy terrain is most people’s idea of torture, especially my sister, but I was having fun. Suddenly there was a flash of fun nearly under my feet. During my heart attack I realized it was a decent sized rabbit… good enough for dinner. Pop!

Once ol’ fluffy was bagged up I headed home. Megs always told me she was fine with my hunting as long as I didn’t bring anything home. Rabbit, however, is one of those animals that show up on high class menus so I thought I could swing it, and to my excitement Megs was on board. She even picked the recipe, beer braised rabbit with rosemary gravy. I set out to prep the beast for cooking. Some water, gloves, my knife and a plastic bag for the offal. I decided to lay down a spare scrap of house wrap to catch all of the what-have-you’s and keep my shop floor clean. I won’t go into detail how to clean a rabbit, you can look online…I did.


Once prepped and washed thoroughly in the sink, I cut it in 6 major components then drenched it in egg and rolled it in flour.  I heated some olive oil in our favorite La Cruset dutch oven and browned the rabbit chunks, in batches on both sides. Once that was complete I added all the chucks back into the pot and covered it with salt, pepper, rosemary, a bottle of dark beer, and a container of chicken stock. An hour later yielded a cooked rabbit, and it was now time to use the cooking stock to make gravy… I love you gravy.  Make a rue, add it to the stock, ka-pow, gravy!

Looks a little more store bought now

I liked the rabbit flavor and the gravy this recipe made was outstanding but I think the cooking instructions for the rabbit made it tougher than it could have been. We all ate it but I was the only one who ate the leftovers. One of the ladies at work makes a rabbit “McNugget” that are fabulous and I will plan that for my next foray into loveable edibles. My next foray could fairly come soon as I just found a rabbit superhighway in the back part of our property.

Stay tuned to hear all the antics of my first deer season and the 3 projects I am behind on writing about!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Decorate Hard: With a Vengence

Christmas is in full swing here on the acreage.  We are shopping, baking and wrapping, all while watching our favorite holiday movies including "The Ref", "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "Die Hard".  Our definition of what qualifies as a Christmas movie is a bit broad, meaning it must have a Christmas scene in it at some point.  We have visited Santa (E asked for a water tower... we have no idea where that came from) and had a family outing to see "Frozen" in the theater.  All while this is going on, I have been decorating our home.  Last year, we didn't delve too deeply into decorating with a 2 1/2 year old and 4 month old so this year I was excited to make our little farmhouse feel festive.

Our first task was to get our Christmas tree.  One of the traditions Andy and I started when we had our first house in Dekalb, Illinois was going to a tree farm to cut down our own tree.  Growing up, my family usually had an artificial tree and on the rare occasions we had a real tree, it would come from a grocery store parking lot where the YMCA was holding their annual tree fundraiser.  Once we moved to Dekalb, we had the opportunity to go to a tree farm and we were hooked!  Now that we are in an even more rural area, there are several tree farms to choose from.  We usually go to pick out our tree on the weekend right after Thanksgiving and this year was no different.  In the years we have gone to cut down our own tree, weather has ranged from sub-zero temps to snowy to raining.  This year we lucked out, picking a beautiful, sunny, 40 degree day.  Our destination was Holiday Pines- a family-run tree farm right outside of town with an abundance of trees to choose from.  We picked up our saw, we headed up the hill to find "our" tree.

As we came to the first patch of trees, we saw it.  Perfectly shaped, sturdy and the right height.  Similar to wedding dress shopping though, I felt like we couldn't just cut down the first one we saw. Not that I didn't think we would end up with it, I just thought we needed to do the "experience" a bit more, walking through the trees as a family, really the start of Christmas in my opinion.  So, much to Andy's frustration and confusion, we continued to search for a few minutes more. E was pointing at EVERY tree saying, "This is the one!"  We turned back to our first tree only to find a couple sniffing over it.  Keeping Andy posted close to the tree, waiting for their final decision, I walked around with the kids a bit more, getting nervous that "our" tree would be taken and I wasn't finding anything I liked as well.  Over the trees, I heard a familiar "Caw, Caw!" (the Peterson signal for finding another family member in crowded areas) and I went racing back to the original tree.  Thankfully, the couple had moved on so it was ours!

A few back and forths with the saw and we were on our way home with the tree.

E helping to carry the tree down the hill
Unfortunately, this house doesn't have a great spot to put a tree so we move our dining room table out of the dining alcove and put it there.  I spent the afternoon stringing lights and putting up ornaments we have collected over the years with help from E.
E putting the angel on supervised by F.

I love putting up ornaments because I can remember where each one came from. We always buy ornaments when we travel- the lederhosen man from Austria and the cotton angel from South Carolina- and I always get ornaments for Christmas from my sisters- the set of 12 spoons each with a verse of the Twelve Days of Christmas stamped on.  I even have a collection of red birds which were gifts from students during my years of teaching at Wredling Middle School (school mascot- red hawk).  I have never done a "theme" tree (colors, etc) and never plan to- I love my ornaments.
Sneak peak of our newly painted white window trim and door!  More to come later!

Throughout the house, I have several pockets of decorations.  A garland over the living room windows which is a piece of trim strung with hooks across the windows with paper trees, decorated with stickers by E several years ago, held on with clothespins.

On the desk in the living room (which I will be posting about soon!), I have a few of my favorite nativities and some various decorations picked up at Michaels or Hobby Lobby over the years.

Above the desk is a mirror that is there year round, but during the holidays houses all the Christmas cards we receive.

Attached to the light and fan in the living room are several vintage glass ornaments.

Outside, next to the front door, I placed a potted evergreen on top of a stool we found in a shed.

I also decorated a faux-evergreen wreath I have had for years with some flowers I picked up at Walmart.  I redecorate the wreath every year depending on the style I want by picking up flowers/ribbons at a local craft store and cutting apart, placing, etc.  I use picture wire to hold everything in place which is also easy to take apart the next year.

I used ribbon to hang the wreath to the door- tacking the top of the ribbon down over the door with a small nail.

I think the wreath looks fantastic on our newly-painted front door!  I would have really liked to add more greenery outside the house but I guess that will go on the list for next year!

Finally, our biggest DIY project was creating a faux fireplace to hang the kids' stockings on.  Unfortunately, this house doesn't have a fireplace, so no obvious place to put stockings.  Last year, I just put the stockings randomly on a wall, held in place by 3M hooks.  This year, I was determined to do something more special since E is really starting to get into Christmas.  Going along with our standard operating procedure, I told Andy to build a little mantle on a wood board that I could paint up.  Continuing with the SOP, Andy took these vague directions and planned out a fantastic design.  Oddly enough, that day when reading my favorite blog, Young House Love, they had created a faux fireplace in a similar design!  Taking our two designs, this is what we ended up with.

The terrible artist that I am, I pretty much copied the flames from the Young House Love design- which was much more artistic than my plan- using basic craft paints in grey and orange-red.  While Andy was out hunting, I sent him on a mission to bring home some good sticks and as usual, he didn't disappoint.  He cut the sticks in half so I was able to hot glue them to the board (update: they are not sticking very well so we are going back with wood glue so they don't fall off).  I painted the outside trim and mantle in beige and used small tacks to attach the kiddos' stockings to the mantle.

When E came down the next morning, she immediately saw the new feature and asked, "Will Santa come down there?"  "Yes baby, of course he will." ;)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Colorwash Sugarplums

If you have been reading our blog, you probably have recognized a pattern in our work- Andy builds and I paint.  The new bookcase Andy built for the bedroom was no different.  A couple of months ago, I took a basic furniture painting class at Adourn, a fantastic furniture rehab shop in Chatfield, Mn.  I have one of their pieces already- a farmhouse table which is now in our kitchen.

I love how the owner updates antique pieces with well placed paint and excellent distressing.  I learned three painting techniques in the class:

Basic Painting and Distressing with Sandpaper
My finished piece after the class
Colorwash Technique
Use a really wet brush and dip into paint to water out color
Practice board with colorwash
2 Color Technique
Paint one color and let dry, with a really dry brush, paint over with a complementary color
Practice board with 2 color technique
The gleaming-ly new wood of Andy's bookcase build was staring at me and calling out to me to try the colorwash technique.

This technique is great for fresh wood and lets a lot of the grain of the natural wood show through.  Since Andy ended up using a nice wood (as opposed to mdf), I thought it would be silly to paint completely over the wood.  I really liked the design idea from Lowes which had the inside of each box painted a different color with the outside of the boxes and the dividing shelves in white.  With this concept in mind, I headed to the cavern (our basement) and grabbed the random bits of paint we had in purples, blues and greens to complement our dark blue bedroom walls.

I covered my painting station (the coffee table in the living room) with plastic because the colorwash technique creates a lot of splattering and set out a paper plate, a bowl of water and a bowl of paint.

After wiping down the wood really well to get rid of any sawdust, I dipped my brush first in the water to get it really wet.  I dipped it then in the paint and then back in the water.  I checked my paint to water ratio by tapping the brush on the plate a few times.  Going in the same direction of the wood grain, I brushed over the wood.  In places that were not translucent enough, I used a paper towel to wipe away some of the paint.  When my brush got too dry, I went through the routine of water-paint-water again.  This technique was really fast and generally easier than basic painting- you just have to watch out for drips.
One coat of colorwash
Naked wood

Once the paint was dry (which takes longer than usual since there is so much water in the mix), the color was very translucent and showed all the grain and knots in the wood.  Choosing to be lazy as opposed to thorough, I decided not to clear coat the pieces.  I will probably go back later and give the bookcase a quick clear coat of satin sealer since all the water in the paint makes the wood more porous.

The complete result- an extremely functional bookcase with a lot of character added with the paint.  I am excited that the design of the bookcase makes it easy to move and alter the size depending on what room we want it in.  If our book collection grows, it is easy to add another level without building a completely new unit.
Now that I have successfully painted a piece of furniture with my new techniques, I can't help but eye a few older pieces of furniture with thoughts of rehab... The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of furniture rehab danced in their heads.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hard Cover Hexahedron

Floor down, closet organizer installed… why stop there. Megs and I have long treated our bedrooms as a place to sleep and well, that’s it. We always wanted one of those bedrooms with lounge seating, vaulted ceilings, and storage a plenty for all of our neatly arranged books. One thing we could do in normal land is to organize our ever growing book, magazine, and photo album collection. The latter had been stored in boxes, tucked away in the basement or hard to reach places ever since E started getting into all of our stuff at 5 months, and we really missed looking through them.

Once again Megs hit the internet and This Old House back issues hard. Her inspiration came this time from a Lowes Idea Book about multi-sized storage cubes stacked in rakish fashion to create the harmonious storage Zen. Lowes actually had the whole project mapped out, but being me, I rejected their build ideas almost immediately for my far superior genius. (I had to sound out GE-NI-US to spell it right just then… yikes) Before E was born, Megs had me build some similar storage cubes to hang on the wall in our old house to increase usable space of the tiny room from zero storage space to minimal. Megs insisted that the one we brought with us in the move could be the starting point for the rest of the cubes. It made from cheap ¾” MDF and painted white, and although they were 500lbs apiece and build like a Soviet era tank, it was not my finest work and I would not be using it. I did however shake my head and agree, because I had already tried to talk her out of it once and got a face and a talking to about spending money unnecessarily. 
Onward, I went with one Megan Peterson original design sketches in hand to create my material cut list. 

This design was less insane than the closet build so I had faith. I could sneak in a newly built cube to replace the old behemoth junk pile and still have plenty of material to make all the other sizes she wanted. This build demanded two sheets of ½” birch plywood, one sheet of ¼” plywood, three 10’ 1x8’s and one 8’ 1x4. Like my favorite British motoring enthusiast show presenters proclaim… we found our shop and cued the music!

I cut all the ½ and ¼” plywood sheets down to rough size with my straightedge and circular saw and finished with my table saw. I set up my stacked dado blade to cut a rabbet into one side of each piece of ½” ply therefore accepting a piece of ¼” ply which would act as the back or 5th side of each cube. These boxes required 4 good looking sides, and in order to hide all the plywood edges I would have to cut a 45 degree miter all long running axis. I set my table saw blade and rip fence so that I could make all the cuts in 3 setups for the 3 different lengths required to make the boxes. The more you monkey with moving and measuring the worse off the final product will be. Cut all like size pieces when you can once and then even if they are off  of your plan, they will all be off together, making them technically right… still with me?

All sides were now mitered and ready to be glued up I busted out a very handy shop tool… blue painters tape. I laid out each 4 sided box on the floor of the shop and applied glue to each miter joint. Carefully I pushed two miter joints together and secured them with painters tape. You can put a lot of force into the tape latterly before it will fail and if the joint shows a gap, rip off another piece of tape and close it up. When all 4 sides were taped, I applied glue to the rabbet joint, dropped in the back and secured it with some ¾” staples. I then completed the other 5 boxes in the same fashion.

With the boxes drying I turned my attention to the 10’ 1x8’s. The design called for platforms to be created between each tier of cubes and what cheaper and stronger way is there than to cut in half, rip one clean glue side to each piece, apply liberal amounts of glue and Kreg pocket screws I ask you? (I ran out of finer breath with that run on) NONE is the answer, boom… three platforms in short order. The bottom platform however received a built in leveling kick plate for good cabinet grade measure. If you haven’t figured out by now, Megs wanted this to be a simple project, and this my friends, is as simple as I get.

The next day I ripped down the 1x4 I bought to make face frames for all the cubes. I mitered the corners to match the cube joints and tacked them in place with some brads and glue. Once dry, everything got a sanding with 150grit paper and I turned them over to my lovely painting assistant to finish the job. 

All in all I am extremely happy with how they turned out and I think Megs painting ideas, and class she took, are going to turn these from beautify to splendiferous. Stay tuned!


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hunt Day Recipes: Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls and Garbage Energy Bites

Today marked day one of shotgun deer season here in Iowa.  Our previous life in Illinois did not include any hunting (unless you count the night Andy stuck his BB gun out of our bedroom window to ping a rogue raccoon that had climbed up on the roof).  Once we moved to Iowa, we quickly learned (much to Andy's delight) that it is pretty much the norm where we are at.  Our first experience with shotgun season was a year ago- a few months after we had moved here.  Andy was excited to head out on his first 'hunt', though he hadn't gotten his license yet so he was just going as a spectator.  I remember the day clearly- shotgun blasts ringing across the fields all day long which had me convinced the zombie apocalypse had finally happened while deer frantically ran through our property with a frenzied look in their eye looking for a safe haven.  Deer hunting always makes me think of "My Cousin Vinny" when Mona Lisa Vito (played by Marisa Tomei) is outraged at Vinny Gambini's (Joe Pesci) nonchalance about going hunting.  "Imagine you're a deer. You're prancing along, you get thirsty, you spot a little brook, you put your little deer lips down to the cool clear water... BAM! A fuckin bullet rips off part of your head! Your brains are laying on the ground in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck what kind of pants the son of a bitch who shot you was wearing?"

Now, I am a pretty typical, meat-eating American and I am very aware of where the meat that I eat comes from.  I don't love the idea of hunting, but I also realize it is a necessity in many areas and won't get all outraged at Andy's interest in hunting.  Despite this, though, I have put my foot down on Andy bringing home a carcass.  I literally have no interest in eating deer so our deal is, if he catches one (my terminology for shooting because it sounds less gruesome) he will donate it.  There is a local food bank that will take the deer and give it to needy families in the area.  A win-win in my book.

So, Andy has been preparing for his big hunting adventure all week.  He was like a boy at Christmas, laying out his clothes, sewing hand-warmers, checking with his hunting buddies that they had their plan down.  It was pretty amusing how confident he was that he would catch something.  Looking at the weather forecast for today, the high was going to be a mere 11 degrees.  I was actually a bit gleeful at the cold weather as I think it evens the ground a bit for the deer but I also was concerned about Andy keeping warm and staying well fed.  So I devised a menu for hunt day to supplement the food that would be a the base house (pancakes, eggs, chili, lots of white bread, etc):  Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls and Garbage Energy Bits.

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

For the Dough-
1 cup sourdough starter (we were just given some from a neighbor and it is like having a tamagotchi pet again- you have to remember to feed it and care for it but so far it is worth the trouble)
3/4 cup milk 
2 T butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 t salt
1/4 c granulated sugar
3 1/4 c bread flour
1 t instant active dry yeast

For the Filling-
1 T butter, melted
2 T granulated sugar
2 T brown sugar
1 T cinnamon

For the Frosting-
2 1/2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3 T milk
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

For the dough, warm the sourdough starter and milk until just simmering.  Remove from heat and whisk in the egg.  In the bowl of a food processor with the blade attachment, mix the salt, sugar, flour and yeast. 
Yes, that IS E's foot on the counter.  My trusty helper is sitting on the counter pressing the pulse button when needed.

 Pour in sourdough starter mixture and butter and pulse until just combined.  It will be really sticky and moist.  Dump onto a floured towel and sprinkle some flour on top.  

With floured hands, kneed quickly into a smooth ball.  

Cover with a towel and let rest for 15-20 minutes.  After the dough has rested, roll into a 15x24 rectangle. 

 Brush 1 T melted butter on top.  Mix the rest of the filling ingredients and sprinkle evenly on top.  

Starting with the long side, roll up the dough, pinching the seam to shut.  Cut the rolls into even 1 1/2" sections. 

 Place rolls in a greased 9x13 pan, leaving space in between each roll.  

Cover and put in a warm place for at least an hour until they puff up to touching.  
My secret weapon is putting a heat pad under any bread I am trying to rise

Preheat oven to 350 and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Let cool (or if you are like me, spread frosting on hot rolls which will cause it to fall off but allow you to eat piping hot cinnamon rolls-yum!!)

For the frosting, whip cream cheese until fluffy.  Beat in milk and powdered sugar until smooth.  Spread over rolls and serve immediately.

Notice the 2 rolls I took out before Andy took them on the hunt for breakfast for myself and the kiddos at home.  YUM.

Garbage Energy Bites
Adapted from

When I knew Andy would be out in the cold, I had imagine him needing a snack to really stick to his bones.  In my mind, I imagined making him the craft kids make as a bird feeder- seeds stuck by peanut butter on a toilet paper roll.  While Andy found this amusing, he did not find it appetizing.  So, I went back to the drawing board and found a great recipe for Trail Mix Energy Bites at  The site has a ton of variations but I decided to use the peanut butter based one.  I call mine garbage bites because I basically took whatever nuts we had on hand and threw them in.

1 cup puffed rice cereal
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 T chia seeds

Stir all the ingredients until coated well.  

Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours.  Press into a greased baking dish and cut into granola bar size pieces or roll into balls.  Keep in fridge to maintain shape (though they don't have to stay in the fridge for freshness).

My snack plan seemed to work because Andy came home tonight (empty handed) with a full tummy and generally pretty warm and comfortable!  Success!