Friday Faves: Summer Grilling

With Fourth of July festivities behind us, summer grilling season is officially in full swing. And nothing quite says summer like the unmistakable smell of dinner on the grill after a day in the summer sun. So…. who’s grilling this weekend? We are!

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So let’s take a look at what’s cooking, good looking. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the all-time favorites from our Lockers to Littles summer grilling menu.

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Dry Rubbed Baby Back ribs with Raspberry Chipotle sauce

These are the only ribs we will ever make in our house ever. again. They are total summer perfection with all the flavor and just enough kick. The rub is from Food Network chef Jamie Deen (Yep, that would be Paula’s son, so you know he’s legit. You can link to the original recipe here.) We give it our own twist by teaming it up with Raspberry Chipotle sauce for the perfect blend of spicy and sweet.

For the rub:

  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 4 lbs baby back ribs

For the sauce:

  • 1 bottle BBQ sauce of choice
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries or raspberry preserves
  • 1 can chipotles in adobo sauce

OR

  • Robert Rothchild’s Raspberry Chipotle BBQ sauce

In a small bowl, stir together all ingredients except the ribs. Rub mixture all over both sides of the ribs. Wrap ribs in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 (or up to 12) hours.

For the sauce, I love this Robert Rothschild prepared raspberry chipotle bbq sauce made with simple, fresh ingredients, or you can make your own raspberry chipotle sauce by adding raspberries (or raspberry preserves) and chipotles in adobo sauce to any BBQ sauce and adjust the heat to taste with red pepper flakes and honey.

When ready to cook, preheat the grill to medium heat. Arrange the ribs on the BBQ and brush generously with raspberry chipotle sauce. Reserve any extra sauce. Grill for 40 to 45 minutes, turning occasionally (and sipping requisite summer beverage of choice). Cook until the meat is browned and crisp on the outside. Serve with remaining sauce on the side (and lots of napkins).

Recommended Bev Pairing: A light wheat Beer such as Hoegaarden or Bell’s Oberon

lobster

Grilled Lobster with Garlic-Parsley Butter

If you like lobster in the slightest, stop what you are doing right now and make this recipe. Credit for this recipe is fully given to Saveur, and we have changed nothing because it’s perfect.

  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 1 12 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 lobster (about 1 to 1 12 lb), halved
  • 14 cup olive oil

Combine butter, parsley, chile flakes, garlic, lemon zest, salt, and pepper in a bowl; set aside. Transfer lobster halves, shell side down, to a baking sheet; crack claws and place them on the baking sheet. Drizzle halves and claws with oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Heat a charcoal grill or set a gas grill to high; bank coals or turn off burner on one side (see “Grilling 101”). Place lobster halves, flesh side down, and claws on hottest part of grill; cook until slightly charred, 2-3 minutes. Flip lobster over and using a spoon, spread lobster with the garlic-parsley butter; continue grilling until lobster meat is tender, 3-5 minutes more.

If you’re dealing with live lobster, learn how to humanely prepare your lobster here. Please don’t boil.

Recommended Bev Pairing: A crisp Sauvignon Blanc, or a smooth Unoaked Chardonnay

 Tyler Florence has always been a go-to for me in the grilled meat department. He nails it with this bacon wrapped scallop recipe. The spicy Sriracha Mayo is the perfect sweet heat compliment to the saltiness of the grilled scallop with bacon.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pound large scallops
  • 1/2 pound thin-sliced bacon
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup good quality mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup hot chili paste (recommended: Sriracha Hot Chili Paste)
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • 2 heads Bibb lettuce, washed
  • 3 avocados, sliced

Instructions

****Pssst…the recipe calls for a broiler but the smoky flavor that the grill can add to the scallop is divine!*******

Heat a charcoal grill or set a gas grill to high; bank coals or turn burner to low on one side (see “Grilling 101”).

Wrap each scallop in a piece of bacon and secure it with a toothpick. Place the bacon wrapped scallops onto grill, drizzle them with olive oil, and season them with salt and pepper. Grill them away from hottest part of grill for about 10 to 15 minutes until the bacon is cooked through, turning halfway through.

Make the spicy mayo by combining the mayonnaise, chili paste, lime juice, and chopped cilantro. Stir well and refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve, carefully peel away the lettuce leaves and line a large platter with the lettuce cups. Top each with a bacon wrapped scallop, 2 slices of avocado, and a spoonful of spicy mayonnaise. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Recommended Bev Pairing: A crisp and light Rose to compliment the heat of the recipe

Proscuitto-Wrapped Grilled Brie with Pineapple

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Photo from Food Network

Hold the phone, Food Network. You’re grilling cheese with pineapple and wrapping it in Ham? Holy delicious sweet gooeyness, this app will tell the other cheese on your cheese board to step up their game. My favorite grilled appetizer recipes comes from the Food Network’s Show: How to Win Summer

Ingredients

  • One 1-inch-thick slice pineapple, peeled and cored
  • One 8- to 12-ounce wheel Brie or Camembert, cut in half horizontally
  • 8 slices prosciutto (about 8 ounces)
  • Crackers and bread, for serving

Instructions

Prepare a grill for direct and indirect heat: For gas grills (with 3 or more burners), turn all the burners to medium-high heat; after about 15 minutes turn off one of the side burners and turn the remaining burners down to medium. For charcoal grills, bank one chimney starter-full of lit and ashed-over charcoal briquettes to one side of the grill. Set up a drip pan on the other side to avoid flare-ups. (Be sure to consult the grill manufacturer’s guide for best results.)

Grill the pineapple over direct heat until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Let cool 5 minutes, then place on the cut side of one of the cheese halves. Place the other piece of cheese on top with the cut side touching the pineapple. Lay the prosciutto slices out on a work surface so they overlap in the middle and look like the spokes of a wheel. Put the cheese and pineapple round in the middle of the prosciutto and bring up one slice at a time to cover. The cheese and pineapple should be fully wrapped in prosciutto.

Grill over direct heat until starting to turn golden and crisp, about 3 minutes. Flip with a spatula and cook until golden and crisp on the other side, about 3 minutes. Move to indirect heat and cover the grill. Cook until hot throughout and gooey, 5 to 8 minutes more depending on your grill. Serve immediately with crackers and bread.

Recommended Bev Pairing: A deliciously smooth white wine blend or if you’re a beer person, try a Farmhouse Saison brew such as SmartMouth Alter Ego.

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Photo by Foodie Factor on Pexels.com

Grilled Asparagus with Curried Dill Sauce

We are rounding out the end of asparagus season depending on your climate and this one makes an excellent grand finale for the spears.

  • 1-2 bunches of medium to thick speared asparagus
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon (set aside other half)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

*As soon as you get home from the store: Trim bottom 1/2 inch off asparagus and place in a bowl of water in a sunny window. This will plump them up so they’re crisp. If you’re on a time crunch, use warm water. Can be left here for 1 day.

Combine all of the above in a gallon baggie or in the bag in which you brought the asparagus home. Squish around to mix. Make Sauce (see below)

Heat a charcoal grill or set a gas grill to high; bank coals or turn burner to low on one side (see “Grilling 101”). Place spears crosswise to the grill on the low side; cook 2-3 minutes and flip. Cook until just starting to char, 3-5 minutes more. Remove to platter, do not cover.

Curried Dill Sauce

  • 1/4 C good quality mayo (we love Sir Kensington’s) or Greek Yogurt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried dill – crushed in your hand before adding or 1/2 tsp fresh finely chopped dill
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mix together and chill. Serve with Asparagus. Works equally well as sauce for steamed artichokes, fish, or broccoli rabe.

Recommended Bev Pairing: A crisp Sauvignon Blanc (a Sancerre if you can find) or Pouilly Fume

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Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

Grilled Peaches with Creme Freche

This is one of the universe’s most delightful summer desserts and it’s not even that bad for you! Winning!

  • ~6 medium firm, but not hard, free-stone** peaches (1 per serving)
  • Avocado oil or coconut oil
  • 1/2 pint Creme Freche (or plain whole milk yogurt if you can’t find but you’ll need to add more honey)
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon or lime plus ~1Tbs of juice
  • 2 TBS Finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/8 C good quality honey

**free stone peaches will twist off their pits when halved – as at the store if they know which ones work, or if they’ll cut one for you to test

Heat a charcoal grill or set a gas grill to high; bank coals or turn burner to low on one side (see “Grilling 101”). Halve peaches and remove pits. Brush skin and face with oil (if using coconut, you’ll have to warm it to liquid). Grill peaches over high heat face down for 2 minutes. Turn skin side down on low heat area of grill and cook until softened and skin is starting to easily pull away – about 6-8 minutes more.

While peaches cool, combine Creme Freche with juice and zest. When peaches have cooled to room temp, serve with a dollop of Creme, sprinkle of mint and generous drizzle of honey across the top.

Recommended Bev Pairing: A mellow chardonnay, Fume Blanc or sweeter dessert wine if you like them.

Eat, drink and be very, very merry friends!

xoxo, Lockers to Littles

At Home with Christiana: Our Daily Bread

When I started this post, it was just going to be my favorite homemade bread recipe, which I am frequently asked to share. But as I started writing it, I wanted to share what led me to begin baking my bread at home, whenever I can.

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For the Love of Bread

After spending a glorious year living in Europe, I fell in love with bread. Like Oprah-style shout it from a mountain-top type bread love. Yep, you heard it… the food that almost every diet-conscious American has been told to break up with, is. my. jam. And while I can agree that a bread-centric diet is not a good idea, I’m going to rebel against the system here and argue that bread, REAL bread can be a part of an otherwise healthy and balanced diet. 

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The Scandinavian Effect

I lost my Americanized fear of bread about 15 years ago, when I was living and studying in Denmark. Scandinavians are some of the healthiest, happiest people on the planet and I observed them eat bread (really good bread) all. the. dang. time. Now, the Danes typically ride their bikes or walk to the bakery … things we Americans could for sure do a little more in our lives. But they eat bread nonetheless. And, another key observation was that Danes went to the bakery for bread. Fresh out of the oven, you can smell it from the sidewalk, real bakery bread. NOT pre-packaged, preserved, pre-sliced, pre-everything bread from the grocery store. This led me to a hypothesis. Maybe the worst part about our bread isn’t actually the carbs but all the other STUFF, the stuff that really doesn’t need to be there at all. 

Pre-packaged bread additives

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While I love bread, I don’t love the growing list of unrecognizable additives on most of the pre-packaged bread on our grocery store shelves these days.  Traditional homemade bread is made from very simple ingredients; flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar. Commercially-made bread, though, often includes a long list of additional and potentially dangerous ingredients including, to name a few:

  • azodicarbonamide – a chemical compound also used to make yoga mats, shoe rubber, and synthetic leather, gained publicity after a food blogger petitioned Subway to remove it from it’s food in 2014. Also found in hundreds of packaged baked goods including breads from Starbucks and nearly every other fast food chain.
  • potassium bromate – a dough strengthener banned by every industrialized country except the US and Japan, a suspected carcinogen, shown to cause cancer in lab animals.
  • ammonium sulfate – like the cleaning and fertilizing ammonia kept in the child-locked poison cabinet, ammonium is often used as a bread preservative/dough conditioner in packaged bread.
  • sulfur dioxide– regularly used in packaged bread as a preservative and bleaching agent. Increases bread shelf life. May cause asthma symptoms. 
  • L-Cysteine – an amino acid which shortens baking time of commercially made bread. Sometimes derived from human and/or hog hair, and feathers. Barf.

Along with mono- and diglycerides, artificial sweetenters, a variety of dough conditioners, and other bread-making shortcuts that provide pre-packaged breads with quicker manufacture times and longer shelf lives. Basically, while we weren’t looking, bread in this country became an industrial success and a dietary disaster.

Back to the Basics

Once I started to research my hypothesis, I became completely freaked out by packaged bread. None of us really want the additives, the preservatives, or the whatever-ives… we just want the basics. You know, real bread.  But unfortunately that’s often not what we’re buying. 

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Photo by Flo Maderebner on Pexels.com

So I started looking for easy, accessible ways to make my own bread at home.  But bread can be notoriously time consuming and gadget laden, with bread-maker and bread-hook and 3 hour prep-time recipes galore. That doesn’t usually jive with the busy lifestyle of modern families. After years of searching, experimenting, I give you my go-to homemade bread. It is based on a Genius Kitchen recipe originally, but modified a bit. You’ll have homemade bread on the table in one hour or less, start to finish. 

This is literally the easiest, quickest, holycrapwehavecompany bread, EVER. No lead time required. No yoga mat chemicals, guaranteed. Homemade bread on the table in one hour – start to finish. Grown ups love it, kids love it, (my kids even request the nutrient rich “green stuff” on top). Win. 

Nani’s Herb Bread

(Serves 8. Makes two large baguettes)

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Ingredients:

For the bread:

  • 2.5 cups warm water
  • 2 Tbsp yeast (regular or quick-rise)
  • 1.5 Tbsp unbleached sugar
  • 2 tsp table salt
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil (reserve 1 Tbsp for topping)
  • 6 cups unbleached all purpose flour

For the herb topping: 

  • reserved olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, basil, parsley, oregano, thyme
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic (if desired)

Directions:

  1. Pour warm water into a large mixing bowl, then sprinkle the yeast and sugar on top of it.
  2. Let it sit for about five minutes, until the yeast mixture looks frothy on top. (as pictured.)img_6876.jpg
  3. Add the flour, salt and oil and stir until combined.
  4. Once combined, knead the dough until it forms and comes away from the sides of the bowl easily. Add a bit more flour if it’s sticky. It should look something like this. IMG_6877
  5. Cover and let the dough rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t completely double in size.
  6. While your dough rises, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and gather your herbs.  To make your herb topping, roughly chop herbs and garlic (if desired).  Add reserved oil and garlic/herb to mortar and mash with pestle. Dried herbs can be used if fresh are not available.
  7. With floured hands, remove the dough onto a floured surface and divide it into two equal balls. Hand stretch them into baguettes or create the loaf size/shape of your choice. Place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Spoon oil/herbs over bread. Bake both loaves for 35 minutes, or until golden brown. 
  8. Serve warm. We love to slice ours into thick hunks and serve with dipping oil.  MANGIA! MANGIA!img_6883.jpg

fullsizeoutput_658Christiana is a Navy wife and mother of 3, attorney and former realtor, world traveler, home renovator and decorator, yogi, fitness enthusiast, and recipe and fine wine explorer.

Friday Faves: Margo’s Go-To For Working/Busy Moms

Hi friends!

I want to throw some things out there (like my besties did) that I have found to be stellar items as a working/busy/tired mom.  (Brad Pitt dancing has nothing to do with this but I liked the gif, so there you go.  Happy Friday!)

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1. Pumping on the go Accessories.  Before I even start with this, please know that FED is best.  So, while I personally loved breastfeeding, I have no judgements about how you feed your kids.  If you are a breastfeeding mama, I have a suggestion that changed. my. life.  One of the hardest things for me was finding time to pump.  Enter: hands-free pumping in the car (while I was driving, YES!). Working mamas who have jobs that require you to be out and about meeting with people and SAH mamas who spend their day driving kids around, running errands, and being a superwoman alike can benefit.

I put my Medela Pump on the passenger seat, zipped on my hands free pumping bra, plug in, put my cover on (to avoid peering eyes) and voila!  I was driving and making/storing milk.  HOWEVER, I noticed that I was going through a TON of batteries, and sometimes the pump batteries would poop out on me at the worst moments.  No bueno.

So, my husband set me up with a plug in the car.  Game changer!  Never again was I mid-pumping and realized I had no more power in the pump and ended up engorged.

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(Note: Do not do ANYTHING dangerous while driving.  I always set up the pump before I left my parking spot. Also note:  One time I got pulled over while pumping, but that’s a funny story for another time.  The only thing you need to know is that the police officer was super nice to me and I didn’t get a ticket for speeding!)

2.  Cooler cooler: Once you are done pumping?  Get that liquid gold on ice!  I used a small YETI Hopper cooler because it kept my milk SUPER cold, even in the summer, and for me was worth the investment.  I even did this all on a plane once (Southwest Airlines rocks!) and a male passenger chatted me up about how awesome it was to use a YETI to store breastmilk.  Now that I am done breastfeeding, my husband uses it for beer – Win, win for everyone.  Easy peasy, tata squeezy.  What did we do without/before technology?

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3. Kid Tracker.  You may think I am crazy for this one, but what the heck!  Judgement free zone, right?  I got this GPS tracker and watch for my each of my two kids.  I. Love. Them. I can see where they are at all times.  I can set up a perimeter and it will notify me if they leave that area (like my yard).  There is also an alarm if they try to take it off (or if someone tries to take it off of them).  It has two-way communication, and it has an emergency number they can dial.  It will also listen in on conversations (creepy I know) but if you are worried about an adult trying to approach them inappropriately in a public place like a large playground, this helps.  I have a big yard, you guys.  I want to be able to sit in the sun and let my kids run around.

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 6.09.29 PMOne day, before I had this, my son decided to visit a neighbor’s grandma who he loves (inside their house) without asking for permission.  One minute he was riding his bike in the driveway and the next minute he was gone, and the bike was laying at the end of my driveway.  Scariest five minutes of my life when I couldn’t find him.  I was running down the street screaming his name.  I had the police on the phone.  I legit thought someone had stolen him.  Not interested in that experience ever again!

4. Help with cooking.  Have I mentioned I am not very good in the kitchen?  Understatement of the century.  I have a dear friend (Hi Jennie!), though, who helps me out with this by getting me access to super awesome and necessary tools, like the Ceramic Egg Cooker.

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My Ceramic Egg Cooker makes me feel like SuperWoman in so many ways. I can enjoy a hot wrap with a perfectly Scrambled Egg (Who knew I was capable of that?), or make each kid a personalized order of Gluten Free Oatmeal (I didn’t even know what this was before Jennie)…  

This product is so multi-functional, and at only $15.50 it definitely gets it’s money’s worth!  Jennie made a page for our readership here: Pampered Chef Fundraiser.  Since May is Whip Cancer Month, a portion of anything you buy gets donated to American Cancer Society!  Getting this stuff has made it SO much easier for this tired, time-crunched and not-so-talented-chef mama when it comes to feeding my family.

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HAPPY SHOPPING!!!!!!

At Home with Christiana: Grout redemption!

As a follow up to my earlier backsplash post (more on that here if you missed it), I want to highlight a quick fix for what can be a frustrating aspect of a backsplash project, or of tile anywhere for that matter. Grout. Like the constantly dingy-looking, never comes clean, “I think it used to be white but now it’s just gross” grout.

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You can fudge up grout color in a project, or you can simply inherit some yucky stuff with your house. Either way, I. HEAR. YOU. And I am here to help you fix it! Once and for all. In one afternoon. (Don’t worry, this is not a “magic” cleaning method involving a tootbrush and too much of your time. Whole lotta nope.) Welcome to your grout redemption!!

Let me explain how I got to this point. We had awesome marble basket-weave tile floors installed in our hall bath, which is primarily used by our kids, buuut is also frequently used by guests since it is located in our front hall. (Basically, it is not a room you can just close the door and pretend doesn’t exist.) We chose light gray grout for the installation based on the package color sample. Which looked great. Until it dried. And our “light gray” grout was in fact not gray at all but… drumroll please… white. Womp, womp. Who wants to clean white grout in a kids’ bathroom? That’s right, no one. We weren’t pumped, we didn’t get the contrast we wanted from gray grout, but okaaaay we thought, it’s not awful. (Not yet.)

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Noooo! We white-grouted our bathroom floor!

Buuuut, fast forward through potty training two little boys, 1,000 grimy kid (and dog) baths, and SURPRISE! The grout was no longer an okay white-ish color. In fact, it never looked clean, and most of the time was a shade of icky beige which made our very recently installed floors look old and dingy. SHOOT.

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These guys make a mess?! No way…

After I discovered became obsessed with DeLorean Gray grout and used it on pretty much all of our other projects, I had a hard time refraining from adult tantrums about our bathroom floor situation. I actually contemplated re-grouting the whole floor until I figured out that for starters, it would entail chipping old grout out of approximately 5 million tiny joints with an itty bitty diamond coated blade. Uhhh no. 

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Fade-Resistant and available in something like 40+ colors. This stuff is legit!

I had pretty much given up when I stumbled upon Grout Renew during an early morning hardware store run. And praise to all the high powers it was available in Delorian Gray. For less than $20. Um, excuse me. Whaaaat?  I was pretty sure that it was too good to be true and most likely wouldn’t work, but what the heck did I have to lose?

So, that afternoon, my husband I found ourselves with a napping baby and two fairly distracted children and decided to give it a shot.  Per the package, you simply apply the solution evenly to all of your grout joints with a toothbrush, wait 30-60 minutes and wipe off. Easy peasy, right??

Actually yes, with one caveat.  Work in small sections and work quickly. Make sure you wipe your tile before the solution dries, which happened way faster than we expected.  DO NOT ATTEMPT this project when your children are only fairly distracted and might want a snack, OR when a certain baby might wake from nap time early. (Say, our whole lives right now.) Set your timer for 30 minutes and attach it to your person. Getting distracted and missing your clean-up time can derail this project in a major way and leave you with our pretty little situation below. But don’t worry, even that can be fixed.

 

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Dang nap time sabotage!

While scary, even the holy-crap-there-is-dry-grout-paint-everywhere situation was not unsolvable! Just way more difficult than it needed to be. (Luckily you have us to try out the more difficult route for you. You’re welcome!) But really, just a lot of extra scraping with One of these multi-tools (which I recommend everyone have on hand for clean up after any and all paint, tile, adhesive, anything projects), and the tiles cleaned up perfectly.  No more icky yellowish-white grout! Instead, perfect, easy-to-clean gray. Fist pump.

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After Grout Renew: Clean and gray!

In sum, use this stuff! Just don’t don’t make the same mistake we did.   (Unless of course you want to skip your arm workout and scrub tiles instead…) Here’s to happy grout!

 

Kristy, Au Naturale: Home delivery S.T.E.A.M. projects for parents who can’t DIY

If you have a kid like mine: an active, energy-filled seven year old boy, you can commiserate with me on how hard it is to get them to sit still to do…well… ANYTHING. My son, OG we’ll call him, can literally sit still for only three, maybe four seconds before fighting the urge to make a musical beat, a funny noise, or to try and make us laugh with his latest made up karate move or a full sentence in his made up language.

Talk about trying to focus on homework in the first grade? Nope. Nopes. All the no’s.

He has always been able to focus, however, on things involving art, science, technology, adventure, and music. He’s developed an affinity for math in his Montessori school (a skill he definitely doesn’t get from me) so we longed for a way to incorporate all these things into a parent/son project at home.

S.T.E.A.M. if you don’t already know, is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics.

Engineering? WHAT? For a kid who likes to throw things just to see how many pieces they will break into against the wall? The one who likes to pull apart his whole room in order to create an elaborate fort/putt putt course/cookie stand all in one that he drew in his blue prints the day before….BINGO!

Welcome to our sanity (other than a crisp Nobilo Sauv Blanc).

Kiwi Crate:    https://www.kiwico.com/

Kiwi Crate is a monthly, age-based home delivery project kit. All the parts and pieces come inside the themed box, (Thank you sweet Lord for me not having to lug two kids into Michael’s without having multiple panic attacks and visions of a bull in a china shop) along with the instructions for three projects to do throughout the month. Our son has built everything from kites, to robot arms, to sewing and stuffing felt organs to paste on a full size paper person to teach human anatomy!

When my husband said he was subscribing to a monthly project system I admittedly did an eye roll thinking “you think he’s gonna sit still long enough to warrant spending that money?” To my surprise, that’s exactly what he did. The first crate we got was building a full working pinball machine out of rubber bands and cardboard.

Which he Maguyver’ed the eff out of, following the instructions, all by himself! No help at all. And the best part was…he focused! He had a blast, too. I was SOLD. Onto the next and the next…finally coming to his favorite one: The Spy Kit….(pictured below)

Ok enough gushing about my amazingly awesome kid’s productivity…

How it works.

If you’re like me and you’re too lazy to go to the website above I’ll give you the rundown.

  1. Pick a line based on your child’s age: 0-16plus (yes, they even have one for toddlers and a newborn pack!)
  2. It will ship to your home once a month
  3. Watch the excitement on your child’s face when the box arrives and its for THEM! Now they can have some independent or parent led learning time at home.

How much is it?

Packages vary depending on if you buy one month at a time or more, up to 1 year at a time. starting cost for a month is $19.95 – The more you buy the less you pay.

$19.95 and what do we get?

The benefits are many. Your child can feel a sense of being:

  • productive
  • accomplished
  • creative
  • engaged and connected with you
  • independant
  • successful in learning a new task
  • inventive
  • oh….need I say more?

And you can either help, or lie back and smile with your wine glass full snapping photos of how much of a kickass decision you made to watch you kid’s mind grow and explore.

I wonder which one I chose to do 😉 #noshameinmygame

https://www.kiwico.com/Refer?i=MichaelW131 you can click here if you want to try and give us some referral credits!🤙🏻

At Home with Christiana: In search of spring break sanity

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If you’re like me and you live somewhere that the weather is slightly less than spring-y (ahem, thanks ENTIRE east coast) you may be about midway through your kids’ spring break and about to go insane. Or maybe you went crazy on Monday… no judgment.

Either way, today was rainy, my boys were bored, and I needed like 5 seconds to shower without someone hanging from a light fixture. Enter … custom Star Wars coloring sheets!! And quiet boys. Like off-and-on quiet and sustained interest for HOURS. This is not something that comes easily in a household with a three year-old that yells “SMASH!” before beginning most tasks, and a five year-old whom his pre-K teachers dubbed “not an art guy”.

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Even little sister can dig it.

I know this may seem like a common sense idea, but it took me five years to think of it, so I’m going on the assumption that some of you haven’t tried this yet either. Basically, take a book that involves whatever your kids are interested in  obsessed with at the moment (For my boys it happens to be Star Wars despite the fact that they have seen zero Star Wars films, gee thanks Disney marketing!). Ask them to pick out some favorite characters, scenes, vehicles, etc. Trace said character, scene, or vehicle with a pencil (because if you’re like me you’ll have to erase the fingers that don’t line up a few times — why are the hands ALWAYS wonky?!) Label it, or have your kiddo write a caption for the image if they want. You don’t have to be artistic, or even creative, this is seriously just tracing. Trust me, I don’t craft!

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Traced sheets ready for copying

Once you have a traced original that all parties can agree on (you know you better make sure you get Elsa’s dress right! Good luck with R2-D2’s buttons…) take your traced original over to your printer/copier and show the kids how it can scan the image and print out copies magic coloring sheets!  As a bonus, if you let the kids make the copies, they get a major kick out of pressing the buttons on a machine they’re usually not allowed to touch.  Thats it. Literally.  Just be prepared that they will want to make approximately 500 copies. Each.

This super simple activity is free, improves fine motor skills, encourages creativity, and reinforces color and reading comprehension. And gives a parent enough time for a mimosa. I mean shower. BOOM! Happy (un)Spring Break!

Custom Coloring Sheet Supplies:

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  • Printer paper
  • Favorite kids books
  • Pencil
  • Printer/Copier
  • Crayons, colored pencils, or markers
  • Optional: Mimosa

At Home with Christiana: Back-splash Low Down

Installing a tile back-splash is one of the first projects we took on early into our reno days, and I think it’s a great place for beginners to start. It’s fairly quick, fairly simple, and provides almost instant gratification. WIN! This post may seem long at first glance, but don’t be intimidated – EVERYONE can do this in ONE. WEEKEND. This post contains a complete shopping list of all the materials you need to get started, along with step-by-instructions to get you a back-splash-beautiful kitchen in just two days.  

**Recommendations and opinions are all my own, no sponsors.**
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Our first DIY backsplash in progress. If we can do it- you can!

Before you get started, A couple of things to note:

  1. The budget and difficulty of this project can vary greatly based on the type of tile that you select. 
  2. Soapbox moment: a back-splash is best when it complements without overpowering the kitchen. From my real estate experience, if a buyer leaves a house and all they talk about is the back-splash, it’s always for the wrong reasons. Please no tile ocean motifs, unless you plan on never moving, like ever.

STEP ONE: SELECT YOUR MATERIAL

If you’ve already picked your tile, great! Measure twice three times to make sure you buy enough material, then add at least 10% to account for mistakes or faulty tiles and skip to STEP TWO!

If you’re still on the fence about what to use, allow me to introduce some of my back-splash favorites, ranked in order from the easiest to most time consuming material. All of these looks are equally timeless and beautiful… the hard part is choosing which one you like best.

(1) White subway tile: Beginners rejoice! White subway tile is a classic beauty that installs with ease. No patterns to match, super durable, easy to clean, and a look that never goes out of style. Need I say more? Well, I will, because it gets better. You can install this tile without using tile grout spacers, since the tiles have nifty ridges built into the side which will give you 1/16 grout lines without any extra work. Boom! This tile is also great for beginners to work with because it can be easily cut with a manual snap tile-cutter as opposed to the pricier and more complicated wet saw required for larger tile and natural stone projects. I have an indiscreet obsession with white subway tile that has earned it a place in many of our renovated spaces.  

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Our white subway tile-clad kitchen.

Subway tile also comes in a variety of styles like the cool, modern bevel; and sizes such as the popular mini subway sheet mosaic. Trim pieces, such as bullnose tiles, are available to use if you will have exposed ends of your backsplash to give it that “finished” look.

Best for: Beginners, budget, classic style, messy cooks (like me)

(2) Encaustic or ceramic imitation: Equally stunning and costly, genuine encaustic or hand panted cement tile, is famous for it’s bold and beautiful patterns.  Lucky for us, there are some great ceramic encaustic-style look-alikes on the market these days. These tiles are popping up ALL OVER design sites right now, but with roots pre-dating the 16th century, this historical look is anything but a trend.

 

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Minton encaustic tiles, US Capitol, installed in 1856!

While ceramic encaustic-style tiles are not quite a hand painted piece of history, they are pretty, budget-friendly and easy to work with. I’ve ranked these as more complicated than subway tiles for two reasons. First, the tiles are generally larger in size and thus require a wet saw.  Second, these tiles ALWAYS, ALWAYS require a design plan. Patterned tiles must be arranged thoughtfully to achieve the desired pattern and overall effect. Even if you want your tiles to appear ‘random’ you need to make sure you don’t group tiles of one type together. Also if the spacing or alignment is off AT ALL at any point, it will be very noticeable because the patterns will not line up correctly.  In short, layout your project before you begin, use tile spacers and check your level lines and you’ll LOVE the result. I have personally installed the extremely affordable black vintage Merola tiles and the Faventia ceramic blue shown below, and I love the look, price, and durability they provide without sacrificing style!

Best for: Beginners, statement look, global style

(3) Marble: There really is nothing like the natural beauty of marble, which is available in several varieties, colors, and price-points. And don’t believe the “you can’t have marble if you have kids” nonsense! I have now maintained beautifully resilient marble in two heavily used kitchens and two constantly used bathrooms (including bathroom floors with potty-training boys… if you know what I’m getting at). And LOOK AT IT. So. pretty.

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Carrara marble mosaic. 

If marble is prepped and handled correctly it will weather your kitchen for longer than you can live in it. I promise. Let’s not forget there are actual buildings made out of marble that have been sitting there looking gorgeous for centuries. When installing marble, I suggest three additional steps for function and aesthetic.

  1. First, it is critical to inspect and sort the tiles to remove any chipped, cracked, or discolored pieces before you get started. When working with any natural material, some tiles will crack. Natural stone is much more prone to chip and crack than man-made materials such as porcelain or ceramic. Color and movement can (and likely will) vary greatly between natural stone tiles, and marble is no exception. Be familiar with the return policy of your retailer as you will likely have a number of tiles you won’t want to use.  
  2. Second, seal the marble according to directions on your marble/tile sealant of choice BEFORE you install it. Grout and adhesive can stain porous stone if it is not sealed correctly. Allow tile to rest for the prescribed time before proceeding with your project.
  3. Third, arrange the marble tiles to achieve your desired color and movement in a template BEFORE you begin to install any of them. This holds true for sheet mosaics as well as individual tiles. (TIP: Use painters tape to attach guides on each corner of your layout such as Top L, Top R, Bottom L, Bottom R. Particularly if you’re not working alone, orientation can be easily confused. You’ll be glad you did, just trust me on this one). At this point, you’ve already taken the time to seal your pretty stone, so don’t fung it up by installing all the dark tiles together in one “blob” under your cabinet!  DON’T DO IT. This step can be time consuming but is so worth it, and is often the difference between a professional or amateur looking result.

Best for: Patient beginners or experienced DIYers, adding luxury to a space, natural beauty

STEP TWO: GATHER YOUR SUPPLIES

Once you’ve selected your tile, there are a few more supplies you need to purchase before you get started.

(1) Tile saw: You can use a manual snap cutter for most small ceramic or porcelain tiles. (like pretty white subway tiles! Woot!) For larger tiles or natural stone, you’ll need a wet tile saw. Wet saws range in price anywhere from $100 for a basic saw to $1000 and up for contractor grade standing wet saws. Depending on the complexity and frequency of your projects, different tools will best suit your needs. We have used this pretty basic $189 Ridgid for several years now and it’s withstood all of our projects pretty well. You can also rent tools from hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowes if you’re not in the market to buy.

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(2) Adhesive: If you are installing a backsplash in your already finished kitchen, you are likely installing over drywall or plaster. (This makes for easy tiling, hooray!) My favorite adhesive for the job is this pre-mixed mastic. It comes off the shelf in a premixed, resealable tub so there is no messy mixing and no rush to finish the job if you have to take several breaks to say… pick up certain rascals from soccer practice. Available at most hardware stores. 

(3) Trowel: You will need a trowel to spread your adhesive, and for wall tiles up to 8″ you’re looking for a 1/4″ square notch like this one

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If you selected any of the recommended tiles, I’ve included my favorite coordinating grout colors here. For both subway tile and marble installs, I love this perfect not-too-light-not-too-dark Delorean Grey color. I advise against white in almost all situations, but particularly in one where you will be potentially splattering your red wine and bolognese in the vicinity of this grout. With blue encaustic-style tile install I love this Italian Stone color by Stainmaster, and this charcoal grout by Maipei is perfect with bold black patterned tiles.

(4) Grout: Grout comes in two varieties, sanded and unsanded, and is available in a mind-numbing selection of colors. Backsplashes are typically installed with narrow grout joints, meaning grout lines of 1/8 inch or less. In this case, unsanded grout will get the job done. (Sanded grout is required for flooring projects and wall installs with grout lines greater than 1/8 inch wide.) You can buy grout in a pre-mixed tub, or for a bit less money you can buy it as a powder and mix it yourself. Grout can be mixed by hand if you don’t mind putting some muscle into it, or a mixing attachment like this can be purchased for your drill, if you have one. The drill option saves time and sweat, which is always nice.

 

(TIP: Once you select the grout for your project, please please take a picture of the package in case it gets discarded by an unassuming spouse (not that this ever happens…) or gets too gunked up to be read clearly. Take my word for it, there are too many brands and too many colors at too many different stores to simply go back out for more of “that grey-ish” grout when and if you run out.) 

 

 

(5) Caulk & Caulk Gun – You’ll need caulk to seal up the seams between your counter and cabinets or shelves. It is available in colors to match grout, or clear is always a safe bet. A caulk gun is used to press the caulk out of the tube and apply it along thin seams. You won’t be able to use the caulk without one! Enjoy a reason to make lots of Caulk jokes. 

(6) Grout float: Buy more than one of these if you want someone to help you grout! 

(7) Grout sponge:– Same as above!

(8) Tile spacers: (if needed) As mentioned above in the case for subway tile, no spacers are required for subway tile install with 1/16” grout lines. However, almost EVERY OTHER project needs tile spacers. These little guys keep your tiles evenly spaced, and your grout lines straight. I suggest 1/8” for backsplash install. These come in a few styles, but my favorite is this plastic type with a stabilizing ring.

(9) Tile nippers (optional) – I would suggest these if you’re going to work with ceramic or porcelain as they can help you make a small notches in tile if required to accommodate an outlet or cabinet. Skip them for marble or natural tile, as they tend to crack natural material too easily.

(10) Bucket (optional): For rinsing  your grout sponge. If you’ve got an old bowl lying around you can use that too!

(11) Level: For drawing a reliable center line and sanity-checking those grout joints.

(12) Measuring Tape: You’ll need to measure tiles to cut and fit accurately along walls, around outlets, and under cabinets.

(13) Grout sealer (optional): If you don’t heed my warnings against white grout, help me help you, and seal it. Application is easy with something like this

STEP THREE: PREP!

Yep, the boring, but oh-so-important step everyone wants to skip. DON’T!!  I promise, backsplash prep is really not too involved, and it pays dividends.

(1)  Clean up! Ensure the wall for tile install is clean and flat. Bumps will make tile uneven and adhesive doesn’t stick well to dust and dirt. Wipe off that kitchen grease behind the stove! I see you! A simple multi-surface cleaner is fine. Dry the area before tiling. Remove any electrical outlet covers in your tiling area. Move your range forward and out of the way. Now is also the time to clean and/or seal your tile if necessary (Marble people, I’m looking at you.)

(2) Measure and Layout: Measure the wall area for install and, if desired, create your backsplash tile layout on a table or floor area nearby. (TIP: DO NOT do this on the counter. While it might seem convenient, it will be super annoying when you accidentally glop adhesive on it!) This step is especially critical if you selected a natural stone or patterned tile (see STEP ONE above).

(3) Select and mark your starting point. Depending on your kitchen layout and the surface to be tiled, your starting point may vary. However it’s important to note that the best place to start your backslpash is usually NOT along one wall or the other. If you have a focal point on your soon-to-be-backsplashed wall, use this as your guide. For instance, often the center of the cooktop, pot filler or vent hood is a good place to start. Mark the direct center of the focal point, and draw your center line using a level or straight edge starting at just above your countertop. This is where you will center your first tile. You will always complete the bottom row of tile first so tiles can rest on the counter, and then, each other.  Otherwise, tile will sag – gravity is a thingIf there is no counter surface behind your range for your first row of tile to rest on, you can either (a) screw a ledger board into the wall to support your backsplash tile. A ledger board can be any scrap piece of wood (as long as it’s straight!) screwed directly to the wall in line with your countertop height to maintain a level bottom tile line; OR (b) run your tile to the floor for easy wipe-down cleaning behind your range. Up to you!

(4) Set up your saw. For a manual snap cutter, this pretty much just involves getting it out of the garage (yay!). But a wet saw requires a power source (think extension cords) and cool water. Follow the instructions on your saw for proper set up, please! If you grabbed tile nippers, it’s good to have those on hand too. You don’t want to be searching for tools while your adhesive dries.

STEP FOUR: START TILING!!

Yes! The fun part!! You’re here!!! Pop open that adhesive like a bottle of bubbles and get this show on the road! 

(1) Spread your adhesive. Using your trowel, dip into that adhesive! Using the notched side of the trowel, spread your adhesive across the wall from your starting point to create a “striped” look across the wall surface. It doesn’t have to be thick, just enough to ensure full coverage of the tile. Make sure your center line is still visible before you get too carried away, and drumroll please… Press your first tile firmly into the adhesive, centered on your starting point, and place a tile spacer under the tile so it doesn’t rest directly on the counter. (You’ll caulk that space at the end of the job.)  YES! A tile is on your wall!! Do your happy dance and continue by applying more adhesive in small sections just large enough to apply a few tiles at a time so the adhesive doesn’t dry before you get the tile up. Place a tile spacer between each tile as needed, to ensure proper spacing.

(2) Cut tiles to fit. You’ll hopefully get through at least most of one row before you have to cut a tile to fit around an outlet, wall, or cabinet. When you reach the end of your first row, if you can’t fit a whole tile, simply measure the remaining space (accounting for your grout lines), measure and mark on your tile, and cut the tile to fit with your manual snapper or wet saw by following the tool’s instructions. (TIP: If adhesive starts to gunk up your trowel, you can use water to rinse with a sponge in a utility sink, bucket, or bowl.)

Keep at it until you’ve filled up every last inch of that backsplash! If you’re using trim pieces, don’t forget to place your bullnose tiles at the exposed edges. Now revel in your beautiful tile!!! (And go to bed.) Wait 24 hours before you move to STEP FIVE.

STEP FIVE: GROUT

Alright, by now you have a legit looking kitchen with a fancy tile backsplash. Time to fill in all the perfectly straight and evenly spaced (because you DID that! Woot!) tiny little joints with grout. Wait at least 24 hours after tiling before grouting your new beautiful backsplash. Get your grouting tools out: Float, sponge, bucket of water, and rags.

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Our freshly-installed DIY Carrara marble backsplash.

(1) Mix grout per instructions on the bag to a toothpaste or peanut butter consistency, or open your pre-mixed grout.

(2) Remove all of your tile spacers and bag them up for your next project! (TIP: Label the bag with the spacer width, so they don’t get mixed up with others as you take on more of these exciting tile projects. Yep, see what I did there?)

(3) Scoop grout with grout flout and apply over the tile at a 45 degree angle, working evenly into the grout lines between tiles.

(4) Fill your bucket or bowl with water and grab your sponge. Wait 10 minutes.

(5) Use a damp sponge to remove excess grout from your tiles. There will still be residue, called a “haze” left on your tiles. This is NORMAL. Don’t try to get it all of right now. (Wait 2 hours. See next step!)

(6) After your initial tile-wiping, wait 2 hours. Use a slightly damp, clean sponge or rag and wipe remaining haze from your tiles, and celebrate. YOU. DID. IT.

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STEP SIX: FINISHING TOUCHES

Let’s be real – you are pretty much done-zo. Hopefully you are loving your result and can get this baby over the finish line with a little caulk.

(1)  Wait until tile is completely dry and use caulk to seal in the gaps below the tile and above the countertop, as well anywhere cabinets meet your backsplash. Caulk gives flexibility for material expansion and won’t crack easily. 

(2) Wait 7 days after tiling and sponge on a grout sealer, if you like!

(3) Fill previously mentioned wine glass, have friends over and impress them with your swanky new backsplash. Your kitchen value just went up and so did your DIY street cred. BOOM!

CHEERS until next time!

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