Wednesday, April 25, 2012

COOKING without a KITCHEN... PART ONE

We've all been camping.  More than likely, you've stood before a campfire with a stick in your hand, waiting for the wiener or the marshmallow to cook above the heat of the fire.  It's fun, right?  I think so, too.

Now imagine that you've moved to house that doesn't have a kitchen.  It might be easier to imagine camping full-time, only in a very old house instead of a tent.  There's no oven, no stovetop, and no cabinets.  There's no awesome kitchen sink with a sprayer nozzle for rinsing dishes.  Nope... it's just you, a blank room with shelves that you once used as bookshelves, and a few basic cooking essentials.  You can have a mini-fridge and a hotplate.  And while you're at it, plug in a microwave, a crock pot, and a toaster oven--- only one appliance at a time, though.  You don't want to ruin your one working wall outlet.

Sound crazy yet?  We'll you've basically just taken a tour of our current kitchen.  

Now before you rush off to call social services, let me assure you that Hubby and I are both brilliant people.  We both have college degrees, and we both knew what we were getting into before we made the decisions that have led us to this point.  I thought this out LONG AND HARD before moving to this ole' dog-trot.  I knew that we wouldn't be able to remodel the entire house in a timely manner unless we hired people to do most of the work, and Shaun and I simply enjoy renovating WAY too much to allow someone else to come in and steal our fun.  Plus, we're dedicated to keeping this renovation AFFORDABLE, so that we can use this house as an example of what's possible for those who dare to try.  So.... with that being said.... we estimate that it will be four to six months before we finish the kitchen.  But because of awesome websites like PINTEREST and the Food Network, we can still have wonderful meals even though we don't have a stove or an oven.  You see, I decided that it would be possible to feed my family without the help of a modern kitchen. And believe it or not, I was right!

Yep.  You heard me.  I was right.  One does not need a modern kitchen.  I'll even go so far as saying that one does not need a large kitchen full of appliances as long as one has a crock pot and a toaster oven.  I've devised enough recipes to keep us eating very lovely foods until the new kitchen is finished, which should be done between now and Thanksgiving.  (It had better be finished anyhow, because I can't fit a turkey in a toaster oven!)

So how'd I do it?

Allow me to introduce you to a lovely product line called SISTEMA.  They make it easy to prepare lunches, but we're going to use these systems for almost every meal in our temporary kitchen, up until the day that our new kitchen is ready.  After that, we'll use these systems for the boys lunches for the rest of our lives, because they're just that awesome.

Ready to see a picture?  Here goes nothing.  This is my super easy meal of the week... grilled steak salad with sliced strawberries, feta cheese, and creamy balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  YUMMIE!  We grilled steak and chicken in one night and prepared awesome lunches and dinners in our SISTEMA containers.  The strawberry/feta/steak container snaps onto the top of the lettuce container, then it all snaps together with an airtight lid.  And the fork and knife are snapped onto the underside of the top container.  When we're finished eating, it all closes again and it's airtight until we visit a friend, neighbor or relative's house to wash dishes.  We should have the temporary kitchen sink in by the end of this weekend, so things will be a little bit easier for us very soon.  But honestly... how AWESOME is this SISTEMA container!  And the price is really nice as well... 4 container systems for $10 at our local Black and Decker outlet store.  




I would give you the recipe, but it's self-explanatory.  (grill steak, wash, cut and add ingredients, eat.)


Another great recipe is a crock pot idea that I found on PINTEREST.  It's now a no-kitchen-needed staple in our diet.... CHICKEN SOFT TACOS.  Want the recipe?

Add the following in a crock pot:  6 chicken breasts, 1 jar of salsa, 1 packet of taco seasoning.  Cook for 6 hours or so, stirring occasionally, and use as the taco meat.  I served this yummie chicken meat with sour cream, flour tortillas (soft tacos), diced tomato, shredded lettuce, and a mexican cheese blend.  We had it for dinner one night and then packed the leftovers (I made a double batch) in the SISTEMA containers.  I also added a cookie and a drink mix to the lunches, and I received a standing ovation from the boys.  This recipe is easy as pie!




For those of you who are seriously considering the crazy lifestyle that we now lead, which includes finding an old house and living in it while you're restoring it, allow me to show you what our temporary kitchen looks like.  Correction: allow me to show you what PART of our temporary kitchen looks like. You can't see the full room until I have an "after" photo that makes me feel better about it.  So here's a pie safe that was in our youngest son's bedroom, holding his toys and books.  Now it's one of our temporary kitchen cabinets.  CRAZY, HUH!





The wall behind this pie safe will be removed and this will become our kitchen/living room.  We'll be using an open floor plan for these two rooms, and this is the only wall that we're opening up in the entire house.  (With the exception of the currently enclosed porch, which will become an outdoor porch again.)


Last but not least, allow me to introduce you to the breakfast version of the SISTEMA containers.  These are awesome!  Two containers, one spoon, and a very easy way to allow little kids (aka Preston, age 6) to make their own breakfast without making an enormous mess.  Plus, cleanup's a snap.  And these can be used for breakfast cereal and milk... the kids just pour the milk out of the top container and then eat up!  They even like to take them to school for lunches, despite the fact that these are meant to be eaten at breakfast.  





Above is my whole grain oatmeal... one cup of oatmeal, and in the top container I add maple syrup and brown sugar.  Who needs those little packets with powdered ingredients when it's just as quick to make the good stuff in advance!


I can honestly say that I've never really been one to organize my life this thoroughly.  But in a situation like this one, where we're renovating one room at a time, organization is KEY.  I can stand living in a house with no kitchen.  I can stand taking cold showers in the days before the water heater is installed.  I can even stand being chased by the occasional skunk.  (long story!)  But there is one thing that I cannot settle on... I must be able to give my children delicious meals, or I will go insane.  And thanks to these time-saving containers, I can do that without cooking very much at all.  The kids are THRILLED.  They love their lunches and dinners, and they tell me that I'm a great cook.  Little do they know that I'm spending less time in the kitchen than ever before.  :)



DO YOU HAVE AN AWESOME, EASY CROCK POT OR TOASTER OVEN RECIPE?  
Leave it in a comment and I'll give it a try!  


Monday, April 23, 2012

Rural Routes...

The past few weeks have been an accidental history lesson for me! While "creating" our address at Sugar Creek, I had the chance to stroll down memory lane and revisit a few of the previous addresses of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK. If you've never called the post office and tried to find out how to ask for an address for a very old, unaddressed home, then you're in for a treat.

  ME: Yes, Ma'am, that's right. I need an address for my home because we don't have one and we're ready to forward our mail. 


POST OFFICE: So you live there and you don't have an address yet? You must've just built the house. 


ME: No, the house has been here since the 1800's. 


POST OFFICE: Well can't you just ask the people that lived there before you, or look at the mail box for a number? 


ME: Not really. Nobody has lived here for years and years. The family that owned the house since 1902 has the old address, but the old mailbox is gone and the address was a Rural Route. 


POST OFFICE: (Dramatic pause.) Um.... can I call you back, Ma'am? I'll need to talk to my supervisor about this one.


 The conversation made me laugh, because shock is the overwhelming feeling that most people have when we tell them we're restoring an old dog-trot. We usually get either a, "You're doing WHAT?" or a, "But why would you do want to do that?" But the Post Office handled it like a champ. When they called back, things were very simple. "Just put a mailbox up and use your 911 address. We'll take care of it. When do you want to begin receiving mail?"

So in case you were wondering if it's a difficult process to get a new address for an old house, I can say that for us the process was a piece of cake once the Post Office understood what we were trying to do. As instructed by the Post Office, we (with the help of Jackie Robinson) installed our new mailbox successfully and now receive mail out here in the country. Here's a photo of Hubby and Mr. Jackie hard at work on our new address change. How awesome is it that the Robinsons, owners of the house since 1902, are helping us put in the new mailbox? They're awfully proud of this old house, and we're awfully proud that they love it so much.




The mailbox is very special to us. The box itself was a gift from Shaun's sister Stacia and her husband Jeremey. And the post was built for THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK by our very dear friends Anita and Nelson! We had no idea that Anita and Nelson were making it until one day when they showed up with it in tow. It makes me smile every time I pull in our driveway, because 1) it's made by our dear friends and 2) it's the prettiest mailbox I've ever seen! And speaking of addresses, we now have one of the original magazines that were delivered to THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK! Hubby and I were absolutely thrilled when The Robinsons gave us a December 1937 edition of COUNTRY GENTLEMAN magazine, because the address on the cover makes us smile. This one will definitely be framed and matted, then proudly displayed somewhere in the dog-trot of the home!









If you take a good look at Mrs. Robinson's address, you'll see that it's RFD1, ARCADIA, LA. RFD is short for RURAL FREE DELIVERY, according to The 1937 Edition of LINCOLN LIBRARY of ESSENTIAL INFORMATION, an up to date manual for daily reference for self-instruction and for general culture, named in appreciative remembrance of Abraham Lincoln, the foremost American exemplar of self-education. (Yes, that's the book's actual name! It was printed in buffalo, New York in 1927.) Jackie and Debbie Robinson used the old reference book to look up the meaning of RFD, which is all-too appropriate because the book once belonged to Mintie Robinson.

I love that THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK once had a RFD address.   My roots are in rural routes. You see, I was raised on the outskirts of a teenie-tiny southern town where our streets did not need names. I lived at Rural Route 1, box 507. In those days, before 911 marched across the country and demanded that ambulances have a way to find sick people, it wasn't necessary to have street names or physical addresses. Rural Route numbers were close enough according to the US Postal Service, and they worked just fine for us "country folk." But then it happened. Our parish (we have Parishes instead of counties in Louisiana) decided that every street needed a name. I remember how strange it was to see street signs popping up all over the north end of Webster Parish. And it was stranger still on the day that we removed the numbers 507 from our mailbox and replaced them with an entirely new address. Around the same time that our address in Sarepta, Louisiana changed, the addresses all across northern Louisiana were changing. Street signs began popping up even in tiny Sugar Creek, too! But the street signs are pretty much all that has changed out here in the rural lands of Claiborne Parish. I want you to see the beautiful view from either side of our mailbox. And it just so happens that this is the time of year when red clover are in bloom along the highway. For miles and miles around us, this is the gorgeous view. I can already tell that spring will be my new favorite season, thanks to the beautiful clover and the other wildflowers that are popping up in the fields and roadside ditches around our house. Life in the country is good... and now that we can also have our mail delivered, it's even better!









Thursday, April 5, 2012

Our "Builder" at work...

Hi, y'all! This week Hubby and I learned something about our six year-old son that we didn't know before. As it turns out, Preston has really been paying attention to his Mommy and Daddy... and though we didn't realize it at the time, he learned to put together ceiling fans by watching us tinker on other projects. With that being said, let me set you up for the following video and photo of Preston.

The two front rooms (master bedroom and parlor) in THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK are going to serve as our bedrooms until the upstair has been restored, so I thought it might be nice to temporarily put up ceiling fans until the new wiring is installed. So after a quick trip to Lowe's Home Improvement, we returned and opened the boxes. Hubby climbed a ladder and began to dismantle the pull-string light and sort through the wiring. I was in charge of opening the boxes, assembling the fan blades, and handing Hubby the screws. But Preston noticed what I was up to and asked me to step aside... then he stepped in and INSISTED that I allow him to help his Daddy. I laughed and said yes, because I rather liked the idea of watching him try to help. But low and behold--against all odds--the child could actually put together fan blades! And he did it with NO coaching whatsoever!

After the first fan was installed, I decided to record the second installation. Is it just me, or do we have a Ty Pennington, Jr. on our hands? (hahaha)





After the fan blades were installed, Preston insisted on climbing the ladder and screwing in the light bulb. And after the entire fan was installed, he said that we should call him if we ever need his help again. TOOO CUTE!


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Moving to the Sugar Shack!

Moving day (and by day, I mean week!) is finally here. The boys have asked us the same question at least a million times lately... "Mommy, when are movin' to Sugar Creek?"

I finally gave in one day and admitted the truth. "Well kids, you're getting your wish. We're moving to Sugar Creek. But there's a catch."

"A catch, Mommy? What's a catch?"

Their little faces were smiling, and they had no idea what was coming. "Boys, the catch is that we've gotta pack up everything that we own into boxes and move."

"Oh, Mommy, that'll be easy."

I laughed. I guess it is easy to pack and move--from their perspective, anyway. Here they are on moving night, when we loaded down a U-Haul with furniture and headed over to Sugar Creek.






And here they are AFTER we moved the furniture. And yes, we made them help. It never hurts to teach children to pitch in and help out when there's work to be done... thus is the law of country life. And we're officially country-folk now, right?





We've had a couple of people open their eyes very wide in shock when we tell them that we're moving to THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK before it's finished. But we're really, really excited about this move. We'll be able to tackle little projects during the week instead of waiting until the weekend to drive over. And there's nothing like moving to an old house to motivate you to restore it quickly... so far we have four rooms that are mostly finished, and that's plenty of room for us to live in until the remainder of the house is complete.

I'd like to knock out the wall that encloses the dog-trot and live with the dog-trot completely open again this spring... feel free to place bets on how long we'll make it that way. I have a feeling that the wild animals running around in the woods will freak me out a bit, especially if they dare to walk down the dog-trot during the middle of the night while we're in bed. But how often does a gal get the opportunity to sleep (and live) in an open-halled dog-trot house from the 1800's? And that, my friends, is EXACTLY why we're moving to Sugar Creek before the house is ready. We want to experience life the way it was once lived in the ole' dog-trot... and then watch her transform into a modern home, one painted wall at a time.