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Eclecticisms: May 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Wall Paper Removal Saga (Part 1)

I got a little farther with this blog than I expected to tonight!

I almost didn't even want to write this blog, because I wasn't sure I was quite ready to re-live this project. And what a project! After bruises, messes, stress, chemicals, etc., I'm done. HURRAY! (I just realized that description can almost apply to a crazy rock concert. This was not like a fun concert.).

In case you missed my constant blabbing about this project over the past month or so, here's the DL. Both bedrooms on the first floor have (well...had) very old wallpaper (possibly original, we're talking 50-85 years old) that had been painted over. I'm thinking the room I did was only one coat, but the other room (where my bedroom used to be) has at least 2 or 3 coats of paint so I'm sure that one will be even more fun to do than this first one was. (In case you didn't catch it, that sentence is dripping with sarcasm.) In my usual delusional way, I had originally thought, "Pft. I can get these two rooms knocked out in a weekend." WRONG. Hours and hours and hours later (with the help of others... thank god!) my room is FINALLY done and I'm so excited! This one has way more privacy and just a more overall cozy feel. As I've mentioned before, my bedroom is my sanctuary. No TV, no smoking, and I keep it as calm and comforting as possible. This set up just... well, works.

Here are a few before pictures...

The room was pretty much storage; Just a papasan, a couple bookshelves, a cat box and an exercise bike. Oh, and dust.

Peeling ceiling!

I decided to finally start this project just before my brother moved in. I needed more privacy and it was something I'd been debating on doing for months anyways. After researching online, I found that a ton of sites and people (including a guy from This Old House) recommend using one part liquid fabric softener and one part water when you're working with old wallpaper. You apply it with a spray bottle to a small area (maybe 2' x 2') let it soak a bit, and start scraping. I found the least smelly fabric softener (lavender) and got to work with my brother.

So, we soaked it...

and scraped...

and scraped...

...and scraped.
For 4 hours.
One wall.

Actually, I take that back. We didn't even quite finish that wall because we were totally spent. See how the paint was coming off before the brown remenants of the wall paper? It was taking FOREVER.

I took another hour the next day to work on it and realized there HAD to be an easier way. Apparently steamers can be quite dangerous, as can heat guns. Heat guns can set a fire inside of the plaster wall that can spread quickly and be hard to get to, in order to put it out. Not my idea of something I wanted to risk, so my Dad checked out a paint store, and the guy there recommended DIF gel and a Paper Tiger scorer.

We gave it a try. First, we scored the paper, which makes a HORRIBLY high pitched sound, but you do what you have to do. Then you use the WARM gel mixture (I forget the exact measurements, but you don't use much gel) to spray the wall- about a 4' x 4' area- and let it sit for 15 minutes. Repeat. To keep it warm, you can set the bottle in a pot of hot water (don't leave a flame on or anything) while it soaks. Then you come back and scrape.

I cannot put into words the excitement I felt in my heart on the first scrape. It came off in a chunk! Take a look at that chunk hanging in the picture... now it still took several more hours to finish the entire room, but this stuff saved a LOT of time and frustration, though my hands weren't insanely soft, smelly and soapy anymore. (We had to use gloves and masks with this stuff.)

I also got VERY excited to find out what the wallpaper had looked like when I took off the outlet cover. We also found writing on the wall (measurements) while we scraped. My brother tried to convince me it said "Help me". Ha... nice try!

After some time (I actually lost track of the hours spent) we finally finished but then had to go back again for anything we missed. That was another afternoon. Then... the washing. The guys did most of that, while I scraped wallpaper goo off the floor and swept up. You can see where they stopped the first day... what a difference! If I didn't have help I swear the room would still look like this.


Ok... so the walls were clean and bare now, but the plaster had cracks that needed filling. I want to mention how awesome it is to work on plaster and not drywall. You don't have to worry about it getting too wet (the drywall paper will soak up the liquid and possibly get ruined), which really helps considering how much I soaked those babies.

Get some spackle, fine grit sand paper (I think I used 150?) and a good putty knife. It's super easy to apply. Don't use too much, because you are just going to sand off the excess later. What's most important is that you fill the crack(s) completely and smooth it as much as possible, for easier sanding and better results. Any large cracks or holes you fill will obviously take longer to set.

 Once dry (the kind I had turned from pink to white when it was dry...yay!), sand the patch work.

After you sand,  you're ready to prime and paint! I'm saving that for another post... along with the pictures of how my room turned out.

Oh... and the best music to work to? The deluxe soundtrack to The Big Chill. I was jammin'.

Bed time!

In the Meantime...

I'm finally getting around to getting the pictures together from my big wallpaper project while I watch the American Idol finale. (I normally HATE reality TV, but I'm pretty damn hooked on this show.)

Other than a batch of delicious cupcakes that I made when my aunt was in town, I haven't done much baking. Between her visit, my friend Sarah coming to town, and just getting the house in order (and work) I've just been pretty busy. Not to mention, the warm weather doesn't exactly make me want to set my stove to 300-400 degrees for an hour. (I don't like this heat and humidity we're having... I prefer 70's and sunny!)

So, I haven't posted a blog in awhile and wanted to get something posted and thought it was a good time to celebrate the gorgeous rosebush in my backyard. This bush is super old, and was around for years and years while Marge was alive. My Mom pruned it a lot and it's bursting with flowers right now! Here are three I picked (and put in my coke bottle from Mexico that one of my favorite waiters brought back for me) which, I think, look great together.

Here's a not so great picture of the bush from one or two years ago, before my Mom cleaned it up.

More blogs soon...promise!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More Rhubarb! Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumb Bars

In my humble opinion, these bars are... well, fantastic. With a slightly cakey bottom, juicy fruity filling and a streusel topping, the combination is just perfect! With plenty of rhubarb in the yard and a pint of strawberries that needed to be used up, I decided to bake last night, despite the fact that I was so tired I could have went to bed at 6.

For this one, I used a Martha Stewart recipe that I found in my purse. Is finding a recipe in my purse a sign that I have taken this obsession to the next level? Maybe, but who cares, right? :)

Here's the link to Martha's recipe. I often wonder how many of the recipes on her site are hers, and how many are from readers or editors, or whoever.



6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus room-temperature butter for pan
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt


1/2 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
*I used half rhubarb and half strawberries. Because I don't have a scale, I estimated and used about 2 cups of fruit, which worked out well. Not too juicy, not dry at all.
1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter and flour parchment and pan, tapping out excess flour. This step felt totally overkill to me; so much so, that I re-read it about 4 times before I started. The cake turned out quite well, but I'm tempted to not butter the pan pre-parchment next time.

Pre-heat oven to 350.


Whisk together butter, brown sugar, and salt.

Add flour and mix with a fork until large crumbs form.

Don't over or under mix! Over mixing causes the streusel to become too fine, almost like graham cracker crumbs, while under mixing will leave you with giant chunks. After mixing a bit, I used a sort of stabbing motion with my fork to break up the larger chunks, and get it just right. Refrigerate until ready to use.


In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup flour.

In another medium bowl, whisk 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl (this is a lot of bowls...), using a mixer, beat butter and confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. With mixer on low, beat in vanilla, then flour mixture.

Spread batter in prepared pan (it will be thick and smell delicious!).

 Sprinkle with fruit...

 ...and top with streusel. The butter chunks should have become firm and will be easy to spread.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 45-50 minutes. My oven tends to take a bit longer, so I cooked it closer to an hour. Martha says to let it cool completely in the pan, but after about 30-45 minutes I got curious and took it out to try a piece. Nothing catastrophic happened. Using paper overhang, lift cake from pan. Cut and serve!

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Blueberry Yum-Crumb Bars

Oh, it's so good to be back and trying new recipes for all my lovely guinea piggies out there! My room is done... FINALLY... and (I think) it looks fantastic! Can you tell I'm excited? I'll eventually blog about the whole experience, along with what really works best in that sort of project, but in the meantime, BACK TO THE BAKINGS!

I used a slight variation of a recipe off and must say, these turned out quite delish! (Oh my, I am using a lot of exclamation points. I will try to refrain! Oh, crap. There's another one.)

*Note: I used frozen berries, which worked perfectly fine. I prefer fresh, but the fresh berries were $2.99 for HALF A CUP, and I was not about to pay $24 for some blueberries. Holy cow! I'm all about saving when I can. See that cute littly bowl in the picture? $1 at TJ Maxx. Yeah, you heard me right. (!)



1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup shortening
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch ground cinnamon


4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (AKA poohberries. I miss you, Leslie!)
Zest of 1 lemon (opt)
1/2 cup white sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
Raw Sugar for sprinkling

Grease and flour a 9" x 13" pan. Pre-heat oven to 375.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

Use a fork to mix in the shortening and egg until the dough is crumbly.

Press half of the dough into the pan and set aside.

Put the blueberries and lemon zest in another bowl, and gently stir in the sugar and corn starch (which serves as an emulsifier). The original recipe calls to do this in reverse, but I think it requires less stirring if there is no powder hiding on the bottom of the bowl. 

Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berries.

(I started forgetting to take pictures at this some steps are half done already in the image. Oops. What can I say... I'm out of practice!)

Sprinkle raw sugar over the top, sparingly. I forgot to take a picture of that part. Instead, here is a collage/painting I made for someone many years ago.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 50-55 minutes, or until top is golden.

 Cool completely before cutting into squares. I cut a couple of squares while it was still warm and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was afraid this recipe would be messy and have dry crust, but that's NOT the case at all! I am wondering if using shortening instead of butter gives the crust a better "hold". Any thoughts? 



Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kind People- (New recipes coming soon!)

I feel like it's harder and harder to find genuinely kind people out there. I open up too quickly probably, and have become a bit jaded about people in general. I need to be more open to letting them show me how wonderful they are and I've been working on doing that for quite awhile, despite my set-backs.

This morning, I had a cab driver who absolutely made my day, and reminded me that there are good people out there. It might not seem like a big deal, but here's how it went.

I get in the cab, and after I gave him the address he asked, "Which is the best way to go? I'm not going to lie, I've only been doing this about 4 weeks." I laughed, and told him the best route to take. I  saw someone had forgotten their umbrella in the back seat, and he looked so incredibly sad! He told me, "Oh no, I should have checked!". What a great guy. He actually made me feel like if I wasn't in the cab already he would have hunted this guy down.

He told me that he was starting off downtown and learning the streets before venturing to other areas of the city, and pointed out his "waiting spot" to me, where "a lot of very nice peopel work!". Halfway to work I pointed out a curve he might miss. He said something like, "Look at you! You know where you're going and you're not afraid to speak up! Thanks!"  That's me for sure. :)

We made small talk the entire way, which normally I am not a fan of (if you live in Chicago and take cabs, you'll probably understand why). He's from Memphis and told me about how he grew up a mile from Graceland. He has memories of driving past on the way to his aunt's house as a kid, when Elvis was still alive.

He also told me about how he really loves his job (especially meeting new people) and works 16 hours days (except his 7 hour Sundays!)- and his only "eh" was that he has no health insurance or benefits. We talked a bit about reform. After I told him that I work in Accounting, he mentioned that he was concerned with tracking all his receipts, so I told him what Excel was and how it can help him track mileage, expenses, etc., and he was SO excited. His words, "Shit... they say ... this job has no benefits? THIS is a benefit!"

He then asked if I was married or dating... I told him no, and he was like (not in a pervert way) "You're a sharp and a beautiful young lady! Wow! That's crazy!" That was a much needed compliment, as my self esteem has been a bit low, pretty much my entire life I guess. He said it in a genuine way too... not perverted or creepy, unlike the cab driver who once said he would waive my cab fare but wanted to come in for coffee. Haha... that was a fun night. I obviously declined, but he still didn't take my money.

The trip this morning was $7.65- he said "just give me $7". I gave him $10.

Mr.Cab Driver, I am sorry I didn't get your name, but where ever you are, thank you for being amazing and putting a smile on my face at 8AM on a rainy day.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Handmade Recycled Wrapping Paper

Happy Momma's day! In case  you  haven't wrapped your present yet, here's a fast project that will help you to personalize your gift.

You know when you go to a store and they wrap up your item in tissue paper, or when you get a gift and the bag is brimming with it? As much as I love and appreciate the way this looks, I used to have a secret "Oh shit. I won't be able to put this in the recycling bin because it's too pretty, but now it will sit in my craft room for 5 years because I NEED to reuse this." Pardon the French. If you know me, I speak a lot of it, and I don't mean the "Oui, oui, moi" kind of French either.

Anyways, here is a perfect, fast, cheap and EASY way to reuse all of that lovely paper! Hopefully your giftee will be able to reuse it as well.

All you need are some stamps, ink and a little imagination! This would be a great craft for kids, too. They can draw designs or use stickers, and will feel fabulous knowing they created something of their own.

First, flatten out the paper as best possible. Remember, you will be using this to wrap a gift or fill a bag, so some wrinkles are not a problem. In fact, when using tissue paper in crafting it is often better to crinkle it up. Doing so breaks up the fibers and makes it less likely to tear. It might even look cool for this project... nice and rustic!

Stamp (or draw) using your giftees favorite colors, designs, images, etc. 

Once done, go ahead and wrap your gift! Use pretty ribbons (and even some charms!) to gussy tyour present up even more. I went with a nature/garden theme for my Momma's Day gift. You can get cheap ribbon and charms at craft stores. Look for sales. (As if I needed to tell any woman that...). I got a spool of this lovely lace ribbon at Franks (waaaay back when they sold crafts) for only 39 cents.

Voila! A personalized gift makes it that much more special.

Before I head off to clean the house and primer my new bedroom, here are my brother's kitties, who will be living here for a few months. The growling beteween them and my cat has subsided for the most part, but they're still a little leery of each other. My dog has been AWESOME, but is starting to look a little sad and left out. Poor, Foose!

This is Pickles...


And this is Pillow! (Yes, they look a LOT like my cat. It gets a bit confusing.)

Have a wonderful Sunday!

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rhubarb Cobbler

Sooooo, the last few days have been quite hard on me. My boyfriend and I broke up so I haven't exactly been productive. Yesterday AM I woke up and thought to myself, "baking will solve this funky mood!" but I wasn't up for a super complicated recipe. Enter Rhubarb Cobbler.

I have rhubarb growing in my garden that was Marge's (the woman who lived in this house all 88 years of her life) and since I wasn't a baker last year, my Mom was the only one to use it. Not so, in 2010! I plan to blog about Marge one day soon. She was one fantastic lady and I loved her dearly. For now though, I am going to share the recipe that allowed me to enjoy her rhubarb.

Before we begin, let's go over rhubarb. First off, the leaves are toxic. Do NOT use them in any recipes and don't keep them where your pets can get to them. (Look how huge those leaves are!)

I also did a bit of research and found out a couple of cool facts. Is this plant a fruit? A veggie? Wikipedia says: "Rhubarb is botanically classified as a vegetable, however, in the United States a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was used in the United States as a fruit it was to be called a fruit. A side effect was a reduction in taxes paid." Taxes? Pft. This grows in my garden. Taxes, schmaxes.

I got this recipe from,1837,149168-253203,00.html and although it turned out pretty good, I have some plans to tweak it next time. Here's how it went...


2-3 c. rhubarb (pieces)
1/4 c. water
1 c. sugar
2 tbsp. flour
Nutmeg (This is listed as optional, but seriously. Who would omit this yummy spice?)


1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
4 tbsp. Crisco (The recipe calls for lard. Gross! If that's your thing though, go for it!)
1/2 c. milk
Pinch of salt

Dice up the rhubarb into desired size. I recommend not making the pieces too big here. (I'd like to throw in some strawberries next time too... I just didn't have any.)

Add rhubarb into a large bowl. Stir in water, flour, sugar and nutmeg.

I always use a wooden spoon, so as not to bruise the fruit (or veggie, you decide!).

Add mixture to either a pie or 8" x 8" pan. Set aside.

Using your mixer, combine flour, baking powder, crisco, milk and salt.

The topping will be a bit thick and gooey. I poured it on and then spread it out with a spatula, but next time I might even try to roll it out on some waxed paper (that might be inviting disaster...) or just sort of drop it on in glops so it's more evenly spread out.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Use tin foil under the pan... once again I had a juicy mess on  my hands and my kitchen got a bit smokey. Luckily, it didn't affect the taste.

All in all, this is a good recipe. The topping was too thick in the middle for my liking, but other than that, I think this turned out pretty good! Next time, I'll use strawberries and be more careful when pouring the topping on.

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