Friday, April 25, 2014

Simplifying our Home: The Coat Conundrum

Today I am back with my series on simplifying and organizing our home. I don't know where you are from, but for us in the Midwest winter means cold, cold, and more cold with some snow sprinkled in. At least that is how this last winter turned out to be. With the cold comes coats, hats, gloves, more coats, and still more coats. Our family has a serious coat issue.
I had to remove about 7 coats to actually show you the coat rack.

Along with our coat issue we have issues hanging our coats in the coat closet. I don't know why, but we do not hang our coats in the closet. It is not that we can't. It is not like I went and electrified the door handle so I could sit back and laugh every time someone tried to open the door. That would be kinda funny, kind of like those hand buzzers, but I don't think my family would appreciate it.

Our coats always found a place hanging on the the back of our dining room chairs. I am guilty of it also, but it just drove me nuts! I don't know why, call it habit, convenience, laziness, but that is where they always ended up. I could not stand it and decided to do something about it. Actually I recruited Mark to help me. I decided that since our coats always ended up in our dining room then we needed a place to put them in the dining room that was not the table. So, I scoured the web and found a solution. A coat rack in the dining room.
Yep so it is kinda like our laundry basket in the living room Simplifiying Our Home Conquering the Moutain. I mean really who has a coat rack in the dining room? Well, we do for two reasons. Our foyer is too small to fit a coat rack and our coats always end up in the dining room anyway. Ok, so off on a tangent I felt all fancy typing out foyer, but seriously we have a little landing where we open our front door, the garage door, and toss our shoes off of our feet. I just like the name foyer better than small landing where maybe two people can barely fit. Anyway after looking online for awhile I found a coat rack that I really liked that Mark could easily build for us. Giving credit where credit is due this is where I found it DIY Coat Rack.

I was really drawn to the big chunkiness of it and knew that it would serve our family well. We decided to change up the topper by using a deck post topper instead of their original topper. We also added lower hooks so Ashlyn could easily hang up her stuff. It has really been a very useful and purposeful addition to our home. I also think Mark did a really good job. Props to you honey!

This has solved our coat issue and I now have my dining chairs back. The simple solution of a coat rack in the dining room may be a little out of the box, but it works for our family.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Chewy Chocolate Brownies

I don't know about you, but there are some most 99% of days where I have some serious chocolate cravings. My name is Angie and I am a chocoholic, OK let me rephrase that a dark chocoholic. I cannot
stand milk chocolate way too sweet for me, but give me some dark chocolate and you will never see it again! MU AH HA HA*evil laugh*. I do my best to tame the dark chocolate beast inside of me, but there are times where it cannot be tamed, thank you PMS! Unfortunately I have to say that I am 100% positive chocoholism is a genetic disorder and unfortunately Ashlyn gets it from both sides (Mark uses chocolate chips as a garnish on desserts). My proof is that Ashlyn will ask to have chocolate chips for dessert, and I will have to occasionally say yes and join her on our chocoholic journey.

Once we switched to our plant based lifestyle I was not sure chocolate and I could ever be friends again.
Sad I know. I remember when I was forced to remove dairy and soy from my diet I did not go near chocolate because every ingredient list I read contained milk. Oh what a fool I was. It didn't even occur to me back then that it wasn't the chocolate that contained milk it was the milk they put into the chocolate that I had to stay away from. I think at that moment the clouds parted and a beam of sunlight shone down upon my kitchen (think Lion King). That meant that unsweetened cocoa powder, unsweetened baking chocolate, and vegan chocolate chips were all waiting in line to be shoved into my mouth.

Brownies are a weakness for me. I love brownies, but most homemade brownie recipes that I found turned out to be for cake like brownies. The cake like brownies are good, but just not my cup of tea. If I want cake I will make cake. When I think of brownies I think of the chewy, gooey brownies that you get when you pour out that box brownie mix. Now, I do not buy those box mixes anymore (just look at the ingredient list), you may have a hard time pronouncing all of the ingredients.

So I dug around the net for a chewy brownie recipe and the best one I found came from America's Test Kitchen. Now I did not like the 2 1/2 cups of sugar or that it was made with white flour, so I did a little change up. Actually a big change up. I changed the recipe so now it is vegan which means dairy and egg free. I also reduced the sweetener to 1 2/3 cups and changed the white flour to whole wheat. This is not a healthy recipe by any means, but I like to think that I increased the health factor from the original recipe. If you like those boxed brownie mixes this one does take a little more time, but I promise it is worth the work.

Chewy Chocolate Brownies

2 Tbs ground flax (flax meal)
6 Tbs hot water
1 3/4 c white whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 c hot brewed coffee
2 oz unsweetened chocolate (Baker's chocolate) chopped fine
2/3 c olive oil
4 Tbs coconut oil (melted)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 c sugar
1 c brown rice syrup
2/3 c chocolate chips (optional)

-Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13 pan with aluminum foil. Grease the foil with coconut oil. Set your pan aside.

- Combine the 2 Tbs ground flax with 6 Tbs water in a very small bowl. Set this aside to "gel up". This is going to be used instead of eggs.

-In a small  bowl whisk together the flour and salt and set aside.

- In a medium bowl whisk together the cocoa powder and coffee. Once smooth whisk in the unsweetened chocolate until smooth again.

- Whisk in the olive oil and the coconut oil. The mixture will look curdled at this point. Add in the flax and water mixture (that you set aside earlier) along with the vanilla. Whisk the mixture until smooth and completely combined.

-Whisk in the sugar and brown rice syrup until the mixture is smooth and the sugar is fully incorporated.

-Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture and fold the two together with a spatula. Don't overmix, you just want them combined. If adding in the chocolate chips fold them into the batter now.

-Transfer your batter into your prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

-Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 90 minutes. After the 90 minutes remove the foil and brownies from the pan and place back on the wire rack. Let cool another 60 minutes before cutting.

-Enjoy your chocolate fix!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Simplifying our Home: That One Dreaded Space

Do you have that one dreaded space in your home? The room or closet or cupboard that you just dread looking at? That one place where you put all of the stuff that you don't know what to do with? That place where you close the door when company comes over? That place that drives you so crazy that you just have to keep the door shut and keep walking past acting like you don't have a dirty little secret hidden behind that door? That space that makes you feel like you should be on Hoarders? I have that space. As much as I hate admitting it our space is a whole room.

We have a third bedroom in our house that I have struggled with since the day we moved in. Nobody sleeps there and we don't own an extra bed so I really wasn't sure what to do with it. It started as the place to put stuff because I didn't know what to do with said stuff. Obviously that didn't work for long since that is a nice way of saying it was just a dumping space for stuff that we didn't want to look at. I then tried it as a sort of craft room/book and movie storage room and guess what? It ended up as a dumping ground again. Yep I had a stuff dump.

I kept the door to that room closed as much as I possibly could. I really could not stand looking in there because it made me want to pull out my hair. I seriously cannot stand a mess. OK let me clarify because I do have a 3 year old so our house does get messy. I cannot stand a mess that can't be cleaned up in 5-10 minutes. I don't mind forts in the living room or books strewn across Ashlyn's bed. What I can't stand is a bunch of stuff that is taking up valuable space just because it is so disorganized. This is what I was dealing with.

One day I had enough and just started pulling it apart. I first purged the room and closet again and was able to add to my garage sale pile. I then went through the remaining stuff and was trying to figure how to deal with it. Then a light bulb went off in my head, why not put one of my shelving units in the closet! It completely changed the way I looked at how to organize that room. By putting the shelves in the closet I was able to organize all of my craft supplies and free up the room. I then moved all of the books from those shelves onto the existing shelf on the wall in the room.

I was amazed at how much space I now had to work with. I moved Ashlyn's dresser into the room (it didn't really fit in her room to well anyway). I now had the beginnings of a bedroom. I put all of the movies into the dresser along with my sewing machine and the CD's that we have. Yep we do still have CD's. I cannot believe that before I only saw a dresser as clothes storage. I blew up the air mattress that we own and threw some bedding onto it that I already had. I actually had a functional room!

I learned a lot from this little transformation. I learned to be open to new ideas when it comes to arranging your existing furniture. I learned to use pieces of furniture that I already own to serve me even if it is not for the intended purpose. I also learned that I don't need to spend money to get satisfaction out of my house. Now I love to keep the door open and look at the simple space that I created in an afternoon without spending a dime.