Native Hedging: Pacific Wax Myrtle

Last summer our neighbors to the south underwent a massive yard overhaul. Unfortunately, it resulted in us loosing a lot of our privacy…grrr.

Since then, Matt and I have considered fencing, shrubs, evergreens and every other kind of hedge/barrier/privacy screen possible.

After calling some nurserys and doing some online digging we found the ideal plant for us: pacific wax myrtle. This native plant is deer resistant, hardy, evergreen, and grows FAST…exactly what we wanted! However, it is hard to find. We called nursery after nursery, looked online, everything was not in stock. Our island nursery said it had been over a year since they could get any in because they are in such low supply.

Then finally, I found a supplier. Local guy, super friendly, and he set aside twenty, 1 gallon pots for us. I loaded them up in the mini (this poor car gets a workout!) and took them back to the island. Since they have been in pots, they needed some trimming this first season to encourage bushing out.

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We planted them along the property line and are so excited for them to grow up and bush out over the next few years!

DIY Project Profile: Brick Hearth and Built-In Cabinets

When we bought our house nearly 4 years ago, there was a small free-standing natural gas stove in the northwest corner of the living room. It was nice, and produced good heat, and gave us the ambiance of having a fireplace. But it was never quite right. It sat directly on the hardwood floor, and was tucked off in an awkward corner right next to an exterior door. As Matt would say, you could not really curl up around it.

Upon embarking on our massive remodel, the fireplace was never really in the scope. However, after taking down some walls, and deciding that we would refinish all the hardwood floors, we knew we needed to address the fireplace. It was a now or never kind of project.

The south wall of our living room actually used to have a large fireplace. Probably brick, but we will never know. The house was built in 1925, then barged to the island and re-erected in 1978. Our best guess is that this heavy, crubly fireplace did not make the move, and was just wiped from the house. The siding is cut in a way that showed us where this historical fireplace footprint was, and the flooring did not match the rest of the room. Opportunity to restore some old vintage charm!

It was last July (agh!) when we starting blocking out a vision for a new hearth and mantle to surround our little gas stove. We started with blue painters tape to determine scale and size, which was a great way to tweak little measurements until it “fit” correctly in the room. There are some odd considerations to take into account (as typically comes with remodeling an old house) like the unevenly spaced windows and the fact that the old fireplace was not actually centered in the room. We would later realize that the windows are not even the same HEIGHT from the floor (agh!) but that was a recent development.

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Matt built a frame for the new hearth and mantle, and then the project sat idle for a while when we were traveling and focused on exterior projects.

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Finally, in December he was back to some nitty gritty details like running the new gas line and chimney. Thankfully our stove was compatible with a direct vent system so we could go straight out the back rather than have a big pipe in the living room. Win! I found some very helpful chimney supply places online that allowed us to cobble together all the right pieces that are no longer made. Hooray for not having to buy a whole new stove.

Once the gas and chimney were in, we stated on the hearth again. We had considered reclaimed sliced brick, but in the end went with a thin brick veneer (real brick, just thin and can be worked with similar to tile) that we found at Home Depot. We over ordered and mixed the boxes together (very important to mix color batches!!!) and Matt started designing. We got a mix of flat and corner pieces to mirror a true full-size brick look as much as possible. We also planned ahead and added custom forged cast iron hooks anchored behind the backerboard so they would be secure and poke through the finished brick. The brick was attached with the Old Mill Brick adhesive.

The end result is stunning. We choose to grout with a sanded grout in a medium grey shade (Dolorean Gray) and it looks great paired with the slightly grayish hued brick we selected (Castle Gate mix). Since we over ordered we were able to return a full box of each flat bricks and corners, allowing us to pick the ones that we really wanted. I was very impressed that only 1-2 bricks of the whole order were broken upon arrival!

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While the brick cures in prep for sealing, Matt has stared on building our built in bookcases. Old houses have built ins and we desperately wanted to add them back to ours. There was never a clear place until this fireplace remodel came about! Win win!

We are building these bookcases using another new tool and technique, a pocket hole jig! With so many cabinet building projects on the horizon it was worth it to learn the stronger holding cabinet technique. And it looks great! Paired with the new compound miter saw Matt is far more efficient in assembling these designs. The bookcases will have beadboard backs and more trim on the front to build up their profiles.

Once the bookcases are built we will move them out of the way and finish laying the hardwood floors, paint the cabinets and install them. The fireplace is coming together!

 

Snow Day

It is not often that we get snow on our little Pacific Northwest island. In the past few weeks, Matt has been quite vocal about that fact, beamoaning that we will NEVER get the snow that he always hoped to have in the place he grew up to live. Then, Sunday morning, we got a winter storm advisory. It promised 3-6 inches of glorious snow. Skeptical, but optimistic, I went to the grocery store to stock up on staples.

About 30 minutes after getting home the snow started. First very wet and more rain than snow. Then around 6pm the flakes started. They did not stop until nearly noon the next day! We woke up to 6 inches covering our little island world!

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The silence is my favorite part of snowfall. No cars on the road. It was magical. Matt and I walked around the property then retreated indoors for hot oatmeal and cocoa. I worked from home for the day, and he played in the snow. All was pretty great, and then the power went out. Typically we have backup heat with our natural gas fireplace…but it is still disconnected due to the remodel. Thankfully we had cranked out heat pump that AM and things coasted pretty well for most of the day.

By noon we had over 7 inches, and we could tell it was going to start warming up. Every branch was coated and drooping. It was stunning outside! Limbs were snapping all across the island, and we were lucky that the big on that broke in our yard missed the chicken coop by a few feet. Took out some of the fence but that is easily fixable.

By evening it was pretty chilly. We layered up and lit some candles. Played a few games. Watched the daylight fade from the sky. I cooked up a romantic dinner for two: salads and tuna mac&cheese with sweet pickles (one of our weird favorites). Comfort food at it’s best, eaten in a 46 degree house.

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The snow was such a treat!

Prepping for Baby

January came and went, and we made a whole lot of progress! Matt has nearly finished the brick fireplace and hearth…and it looks AMAZING! It has added an incredible amount of detail back into our little home, and looks like it was meant to be. Now we can start tackling the next step of project: built in book shelves!

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We are adding built ins next to our fireplace under two very plain windows. Book shelves will be solid wood lined with beadboard, all painted white. This will be Matt’s first real cabinet making and he is excited to try out some new tools and skills. If his track record with our prior projects are any indication this will look really awesome in the end. Working on the book shelves is the perfect lead in to the next major project: finishing the pantry and building new lower kitchen cabinets!

I am interested in taking on a little side project of my own to tackle those boring windows. (Isn’t this cool!??)

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There are still quite a few things on the to-do list (and some are pretty major…like demoing the kitchen counters and backsplash and refinishing the hardwood floors!) before baby comes in July. We are focused though and chipping away at it one day at a time.

While Matt is focused on these projects I have spent my energy researching and doing the “paperwork” side of the house. Business taxes were wrapped up by the end of January, and I am (im)patiently waiting for our personal documents to arrive so we can file ours. I have been working on buying life insurance and air lift insurance (hello living on an island!). And then there is all the research on baby registry (nearly done!) and the world of cloth diapering and babywearing. I enjoy geeking out on those last two.

February is a short month so we are buckling down and getting stuff done. Wish us luck! Baby deadline is quickly approaching!

Tea Time: Digestive Biscuits Recipe

If you have ever been to England, you probably know the tea time staple: McVitties digestive biscuits. Crisp and substantial, sometimes covered in chocolate, these are a unique treat somewhere between graham crackers and shortbread…but really, quite different from both. They are getting easier to find here in the US, but I stumbled upon a copycat recipe and decided to give it a try. Verdict: amazing. These are light and crispy and exactly what you want with tea. I expect they will be on regular rotation in our house.

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Digestive Biscuits

Makes 12-14 cookies. I recommend doubling the batch as these go fast!

3⁄4 cup whole wheat flour

1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour

1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder

1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda

1⁄4 tsp salt

1⁄4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1⁄4 cup wheat bran

5 tablespoons butter

5 tablespoons brown sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons half-and-half

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, bran, baking powder, baking soda, and cream of tartar with a pastry blender. Mix in sugar with the hand pastry blender (food processors or mixers will work, but the crumb and texture will not be as flaky in the final product). Mix in fats with the pastry blender. The mix at this point should be crumbly and uniform. Mix the vanilla in the half-n-half and add to the mix. Mix with pastry blender until it is uniform and resembles soft, crumbly playdoh. Do not overwork the dough.

Refrigerate dough for 20 minutes to make it easier to handle. Roll out dough between two pieces of waxed paper to approximately 1/8″ thickness. Cut into rounds with cookie cutter about 2 1/2 inches in diameter.

Transfer to cookie sheets with silpats or parchment. Bake 15 to 18 minutes (adjust the baking time up to dry them out more if the biscuits are too soft and fluffy), or until golden. Let cool on wire rack.

Optional: spread the backs of the cooled biscuits with melted chocolate and let harden.

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Not So Stellar Weekend

Well, it was not terrible…but not great either.

Friday afternoon I went to the pool, only to find out there was a swim meet, so no workout for me. I caught a ferry home, took one look at Matt who had been texting me about itching all day, and turned back into the ferry line to take him to urgent care. Lack of medical care on Vashon is probably one of the more serious downsides to island life. We lucked out and only waited 20 minutes before he could be seen…verdict: allergic reaction to something, and the poor guy was covered head to toe in hives. Medicine has helped but he is still fighting the itching. Dinner was take and bake pizza after 9PM, which felt super late for me. I have been going to bed before 8 most nights these days!

Itchy guy meant the fireplace brick was on pause. It sat all weekend untouched. We really just milled around, cleaned, took care of house stuff, and went to bed early. A dear friend visited the island on Saturday afternoon so we did a beach walk for sea glass and catching up. Hot chocolate on the beach: awesome idea.

All in all it was a restful weekend, but not what we had intended. The fireplace brick will need to be revisited this week, and we have grout ready to go. We also have a table saw checked out from the tool library just waiting for book cases to be cut. I am all geared up to do our taxes, but the forms have not arrived yet. I did have a win in submitting my business taxes for the first time! And we made some killer eggplant parmesan. So at least that was progress.

That is how it goes though, some things are just out of your control.

Bricks and Cinnamon Rolls

Matt and I spent a weekend at home. I literally left the house once, and that was to walk around the frosty garden.

He worked on laying brick on our new hearth while I cooked. We listened to our weekend radio shows, ate good food, and made good progress on the house. I’d say it was exactly what we needed.

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As part of our weekend food fest, I whipped up a batch of cinnamon rolls with a new recipe I wanted to try. Simply Recipes is my go to source for inspiration, and this one was a winner. I tweaked a few things and added a cream cheese frosting (we wanted something between a sticky bun and a frosted cinnamon roll) and they were epic.

Carmel Cinnamon Rolls with cream cheese frosting

Adapted from Simply Recipes

Dough:

  • 1/4 cup warm water (105° to 115°)
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast or 2 ¼ teaspoons
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk, warmed
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon. salt
  • 4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Pan base:

  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Method

1 Make the dough. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine warm water, yeast and 1 tsp. sugar. Stir to dissolve and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add milk, butter, remaining sugar, egg yolks, salt and 3 cups flour. Mix on low speed until blended. Switch to a dough hook and then, again on low speed, slowly incorporate the remaining 1 cup of flour. Increase speed to medium, kneading dough until smooth and slightly sticky (adding a little more flour if too wet), 3 to 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large, buttered bowl. Turn dough over in bowl to coat with the butter from the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour (or 2 hours if not in an entirely warm place). After the dough has risen, punch down. Turn out onto a lightly floured cutting board and let sit 20 minutes.

2 Make the filling. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Melt butter; keep separate.

3 Roll dough out into a 12″ x 18″ rectangle (or wider…wider = more swirls!). Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Starting with the long side, roll dough into a cylinder. Place seam side down on a flat surface and cut crosswise into 12 slices.

4 For the pan prep, grease sides with butter. Pour 4 oz melted butter into bottom and evenly spread. Sprinkle brown sugar on butter.

5 Evenly place dough slices, flat side down, on top of prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap, leaving room for the buns to rise, and refrigerate overnight.

6 Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature while the oven pre-heats. Preheat oven to 375°. Bake buns until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove pan from oven and immediately (and carefully as not to spill hot topping on your toes!) invert onto a serving tray or baking dish. Let buns cool slightly and serve warm as is or with frosting if desired.
Cream Cheese Frosting (totally unnecessary but totally delicious)

Cream together 1 package cream cheese, 4tbs softened butter, a pinch of salt, vanilla and powdered sugar to taste (1/3-1/2 cup). Frosting will be thick. If you would rather have icing, thin with milk and drizzle.