Everything but the Kitchen Sink


In our 60-year-old house, big DIY projects can take a while. Our patio project from this spring was an unusual example in efficiency, pushed along by impending family parties.

Our current Kitchen Project is more like one of our typical DIY projects: slow and full of ripple effects.

I gleefully pulled off the first of the wallpaper in late May or early June. Then, the summer got going: gardening, family, dog-jumping-through-front-window, and heat. Our kitchen also faces west and can become almost unbearable in the summer—not good conditions for completing a kitchen makeover by a fair-weather DIYer.

So, now we face the core of the lengthy DIY kitchen project. In October, I managed to strip the remaining wallpaper. I have to admit, my mom and I did a great job putting that paper up 15 years ago. It sure didn’t want to come down!


Familiar Beige soffit pairs beautifully with our original refinished cabinets. The 3″ soffit bottom is in Pearly White. Love the 1950s brown tiles? Me neither. 

We also can happily announce the walls were painted before Thanksgiving arrived, with the exception of one spot over the pocket door. After contemplating too many color ideas (thanks, Pinterest), we finally settled on our main color: Sherwin-Williams’ Familiar Beige. It’s been on the walls for almost a month, and I love it!

As for the trim and cabinets: My mom refinished the original base and upper cabinets about 16 years ago, and those are still in great shape. All they need is a good scrubbing.  However, the trim and the “new” cabinets must be repainted  (the cabinets and counter that we added to the north side of the kitchen about 15 years ago, which are still differentiated from the original cabinets as “new”). For that post-New Year project, we are using Sherwin-Williams’ Pearly White. We also are using the Pearly White on the 3” underside of our existing soffit. It works well with the original cabinets and the Familiar Beige that is on the front of the soffit.


What Was Old Is New Again

Only two families have lived in this 1954 house: the original owners and our family. Many times, I have scraped and scoured only to realize that under the “sell the house” white paint is a similar color to what we are about to use. This project is no different. Under our kitchen wallpaper was the cheap “sell the house” white enamel. As I steamed off the wallpaper, some of the enamel paint bubbled and steam off as well. Under that paint was a peachy color, about two or three shades lighter than my Familiar Beige. It was a perfect 1960s retro color and would have paired nicely with the previous brown stain on our original cabinets as well as the brown (I like to say “terra cotta”) tiles.  


Space created after removal of the giant exhaust fan system from above the stove. The open vent above will require a cover.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, my husband completed one huge, icky, long-needed task. He managed to wrest the 50-year-old, inoperable exhaust system out of the cabinet above our stove. It looked like the innards of an old submarine and took up the entire right side of the cabinet.

Capping off the wiring was no big deal. Creating a bottom shelf isn’t hard either—but time consuming. We purchased wood from Home Depot, and David got to use his new cordless circular saw. Of course, the circular saw battery died Sunday as the sun set, so no new shelf until this weekend.

Next up: Countertop renovations and glass-front cabinet doors.

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Our New CSA Membership


I’m one of those people who just never win anything–not even my $1 back on the occasional lottery ticket. One time, long ago, I did win a door prize at a nursery school silent auction fundraiser: for free pole dancing classes. The gift certificate ended up in the trash because none of my friends would touch it, either. That’s the type of luck I’ve had, until last month.

Last month, I was one of 11 people selected by Mango Health to receive the wish I had entered in their Mango Wish contest. My wish was for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm membership at Angelic Organics. Mango Health is a free app that I use to remind me when and how much to take of my vitamins and prescription meds. If you take several meds or vitamins/supplements at different times a day or on different days a week app, this the app for you!  You can find a link to the app here. I also agreed to guest blog about my CSA experience. Here’s a link to my guest blog at Mango Health.

About CSAs

More than a decade ago, I banned trans-fatty acids from my kitchen. From that one small step, I have taken other steps in an attempt to eat as nutritiously as we can afford. For a family of five, including two hungry teenage boys, buying fresh all-organic produce rapidly surpasses the grocery budget. And as you know, my little container garden, while pretty and fun, can’t make a dent in our vegetable consumption. Except for zucchini–anyone want any zucchini?

One way to buy organic for less is to purchase a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. In a CSA, a local farmer opens a number of shares (also called memberships or subscriptions) for upfront purchase by the public for a set number of weeks (usually 20 to 24, running May through November). Each week, members pick up a box of mixed seasonal produce from a nearby location, usually a volunteer’s garage. The upfront investment has been my barrier to a CSA subscription. When the cost is averaged out over 12, 20, or 24 weeks, it is significantly less than buying those organic vegetables at a grocery. However, it’s been difficult saving that lump sum and justifying it without ever having tried it.

The upfront investment supports the farmer’s cash flow, and the farm works to provide a full box of produce each week. Members incur shared risk with the farmer. If the growing season isn’t productive, members are not reimbursed. The rewards, though, are greater than the risk: fresh-from-the-ground organic produce packed with nutrients; the challenge to cook seasonally; increased support for small local farmers; and, opportunities to visit and volunteer on the farm. Depending on the farm, CSAs may offer different types of shares, such as produce, fruit, or meat.

Our Initial Experience with a CSA

On Sept. 2, I picked up my first 12-week Late Harvest box from Angelic Organics, my local CSA of choice.  I couldn’t wait to open my box when I got home and see what was in it. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning!


First produce box from my CSA.

My box contained plenty of produce for a family of five: an acorn squash; dill; a green cabbage; a huge yellow onion; a green pepper; a head of broccoli; a 5-lb. bag of Yukon Gold potatoes; a large heirloom tomato; a 3-lb bag of small slicing tomatoes and cherry tomatoes; heads of romaine and red leaf lettuce; and, a bag of pea shoots.

The pea shoots were a new to me. At first glance, I thought I had received a big bag of baby spinach. When I cleaned the veggies, I realized that this tangle of vines was definitely not spinach. Luckily, the farm newsletter pictured a worker harvesting pea shoots. I made a snack of yellow tomato, pea shoots, a little onion, parmesan, and balsamic vinegar. The shoots are slightly sweet and taste like snap peas. Yum!

Week 2 Produce Box features a Sweet Dumpling Squash, Kale & Eggplant

Week 2 Produce Box features a Sweet Dumpling Squash, Kale & Eggplant

This week, my box again included a green pepper, a large heirloom tomato, a larger bag of medium tomatoes, and another 5-lb bag of potatoes. It also included a large bunch of basil, an eggplant, a large bunch of curly kale, several large jalapenos, and a large bag of chard. A clear sign that autumn is here: the box also included a little sweet dumpling squash and a cooking pumpkin!

The Angelic Organics produce has been part of all of our home-cooked meals for more than a week, from main course salads, stir fries, and sides to my lunches and a delicious potato salad on Labor Day.  The taste of each vegetable and green is sharper and more pronounced than any supermarket vegetable.

I’m so excited to be cooking with pretty much exclusively organic produce–as well as cooking seasonally and supporting local farmers.


Be sure to check out my Ratatouille recipe, which is perfect for an early autumn dinner, whether here in Chicago or in Provence!

Here is the recipe for Broccoli, Tomato, Onion & Chicken Stir-Fry, which I included in my Mango Health guest blog.


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Ratatouille Moderne


Ratatouille is perfect for early autumn dinners.

Ratatouille is perfect for early autumn dinners. (Picture is from before baking.)

Our second week in our 12-Week Late Harvest membership in Angelic Organics CSA included lots of tomatoes, a vibrant green pepper, and a beautiful eggplant. When grouped with our giant summer squash from our own organic container garden, making a Ratatouille for dinner one evening was a no brainer.

This ratatouille recipe is a bit different than traditional stove top recipes: it roasts in the oven. bly sacrilege but definitely an easy dish once all the vegetables are sliced.

Ratatouille Moderne
(based on a recipe by Clotilde Dusoulier in Chocolate and Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen)

6 medium tomatoes, sliced
2 large summer squash or zucchini, sliced
2 medium onions, sliced
2 medium bell peppers (green, yellow, orange or red), sliced
1 large eggplant, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Spray a large casserole dish with an oil spray, like Pam. I used my vintage yellow Dansk paella pan. It’s perfect for dishes like this.
2. Slice the vegetables and arrange in rows or in circles. I start with the larger veggies and work my way inward in circles. So, squash around the outside, with eggplant next in, etc. I place the onions between the eggplant slices and the green pepper rounds on top of everything.
3. Sprinkle minced garlic across all of the vegetables.
4. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil over all of the vegetables (maybe 1/4 c to 1/3 c).
5. Shake rosemary and thyme over the vegetables (about 1-2 Tbsp each, depending on your preference). Then add ground black pepper, again to taste.
6. Cover tightly with foil and back for 45 min. Remove foil, then back for another 30 min.

Optional: serve over white or brown rice.

Serves 5 when served over 1/2 c rice.






Posted in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Eggplant, Food & Recipes, Tomato, Vegetarian | 1 Comment