Yearly Report Card: 2014

We have made it a tradition around here to make a post in the first week of the year about what projects we’d like to get done over the course of the year. They are our very favorite to look back on (and sometimes laugh about) because although we have a general plan and timeline of things to do, it rarely happens that way. The second part of that tradition is to look back at that post and the projects we had planned and see how we did and report back. Since we have family coming into town on Monday, we are done with hardcore projects for the year–it’s time to clean up!–so we thought now would be the perfect time for our yearly report card. (I’ve put the text from January 3, 2014′s post in italics for reference sake.)
1. Picture me wincing while whispering, the floors. In the first quarter of this year, before baby girl gets here in April, we’ll be tearing up all the tile and carpet on the 1st floor (all 1700 square feet!) and laying new flooring. It will be messy and hard and time-consuming and it will be absolutely worth it. We just keep saying that–It will be worth it!
We did it! And we survived to tell the tale! Although it was our hardest DIY to date, and earned the nickname Tilemageddon, we love our new ceramic wood floors. I don’t have to baby them or worry about them. And when Charly comes barreling  to the front door every day when Chris gets home from work, it all feels worth it. A few of you asked if we were still staining the grout–the one aspect of the floor that didn’t turn out as planned. After I wrote this post, I received an email that said wait to wait one full year before staining the grout as it will naturally darken because it is not sealed yet. The grout dye we got is a stain and sealer in one, so after a year if we still think it needs it–we’ll do that. Put it on next year’s list!
 2. The nursery, of course! The nursery is on the first floor and will be receiving the same new flooring treatment as the rest of the square footage surrounding it, but also, you know, other decor. It’s a very blank slate after its recent paint job, but I just ordered an area rug today as a sort of jumping board for the rest of the room and will share a mood board, soon!
Huzzah! A+ It’s really weird to think that Faye just joined our family in April. Her and her room came a long way this year. You can see more details right here.
nursery after
 3. Greta’s room is also on our list this year. So far, we have plopped her bed in place. Her room is downstairs and although it desperately needs new carpet, too–we are just not sure it is in the cards this year. That won’t stop us from sprucing the rest of the room up and injecting her personality into it. She has been through a lot lately and we want to make sure she has a special place just for her.
Well, we didn’t get to replacing the carpet downstairs, but her room did get some attention in the fall. She is finally old enough to have real, solid, unwavering opinions about what she likes and it was a blast working with her to make her room a place that reflected just that. We’ll give ourselves an A- there, since we didn’t get to the rug. :) If you missed it, you can read more about her room here.
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4. Call it the year of the bedrooms if you must, but our room is getting some attention this year, too! We’ve never done a proper full makeover on our bedroom–ever. We need that. A sort of sanctuary to come to at the end of the day. I think everyone needs that, right? Our room (like so many others, I’m sure) is always last on the list, so knocking it out our first year here seems like a good idea to us. We like our nightstands and mattress, but pretty much everything else will go. So say your goodbyes to the bed and pathetic, old bedding.  Ha!
 Is there something below failing? Somehow we managed to make this room look WORSE over the course of this year. Now we have wall missing and baseboard gone in addition to the pathetic, old bedding and eyesore ceiling fan. 2015 has to be your year, bedroom! Bonus: We did do the guest room this summer.
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5. We. can. not. WAIT. to tackle the lighting (and lack thereof) in the great room. This will most likely be a first quarter project as well. The fluorescents in the kitchen, bad but also off-centered dining chandelier and outdated and low ceiling fan in the living area are all getting the boot. We’ll be adding recessed lighting throughout the space, with room for a new fixture in the dining room as well as some pendants in the kitchen (when the time comes). We tackled recessed lighting ourselves in our last home’s family room, but are really thrilled we’ll have attic access to work in this time around. Really. Can’t wait.
Oh, F. The good news is, that ceiling fan that was dangerously close to our heads and didn’t work in the living area is gone and the dining room chandelier got updated, too!
great room progress
The other good news is, despite our nearly failing grade on this one, we’re bringing in a contractor to see exactly what it would take to vault the ceiling in here. I’ll give you a minute to let out squeals to echo ours. … So many things are riding on that assessment right now (kitchen, lighting, foreverness in this house) we’re anxious to hear what they have to say and crossing our fingers it’s doable! We’ll address this in our 2015 projects to look for post and hopefully have answers by then.
6. When we painted the great room, we didn’t extend the paint into the adjoining staircase because it required a little more effort. For starters, a ladder at scary angles. But also, the removal of some awkward accent-wall wainscoting? We want to tear that down, paint the whole thing, add a new chandelier and hundreds of family photos. Or a few large pieces of art? We’ll see.
Ahh, we were so close on this one. And funny how things change, huh? We ended up painting the banister a glossy black and the wainscoting, trim, and walls all the same color and it improved the whole look!
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I am still working on finding a new fixture for here and pondering about photos, too. We’ll be seeing more evolution happening here, soon.
7. Add a fireplace in the living room. Hanging our fauxdenza in the living room was always a sort of placeholder until we figured out how to put a fireplace on that wall. And, well, we figured it out. Now we are just gathering ideas for the actual look we want to go for before we pull that project plug. 
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Boy, am I glad we didn’t get to this project this year. We only recently decided a fireplace would be better on the inset wall in the living room instead of the wall the art ledge is now on. Sometimes procrastination (or a lack of time) pays off. Still planning on this one.
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8. And lastly, by the end of the year, we want to have a plan in place for a kitchen remodel in the beginning of 2015. Our kitchen is a good size and has a lot of potential, we think, but the current layout just isn’t working for any of us. The pantry is in the dining room. The island is large, but an odd shape (we’ll actually be tearing that out before we do the floors). And the appliances are sadly on their last leg–here’s hoping they can hold on just a little longer! Our last kitchen took us several months to plan so putting the planning on the calendar this year will hopefully give us a good start into an actual renovation next year.
The appliances are still hanging on by a thread. There are literally wires coming out of the top of the fridge! The kitchen got a little makeover this year to tide us over until the big renovation.
kitchen progress
We’re still crossing our fingers we can pull it off in 2015. There are a lot of other big things on our to-do list for next year already, but I suppose that post is coming up the first of the year. Per tradition. :)

The Perfect, Traditional Pot Roast

I think every home cook goes through a period of complexity. I partly blame Pinterest, but I’m sure there’s something deeper, too – superiority complex or need for change or something like that. I’ve gone through my own period of complexity, thinking that every dish needed to be new or different. And don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy trying new things and playing around with flavors. But lately, I’ve found myself aching for simplicity. Not just with my cooking, but life in general.

Long-time readers know that blogging is not “what we do.” It’s a side-gig. Jules focuses on being a mom (and rocks the house at it, I might add) while taking a few marketing and writing jobs on the side. I spend my days as a mild-mannered marketing guy for a home care research firm. The end of the year typically slows for me at work, but 2014 has proven to be different. Last week I found myself working from 7am until midnight several days in a row, trying to finish projects before members of my team head out of town to spend Christmas with their loved ones. We built a baby gate on Saturday, and while the gate itself was quick and simple, finding the right type of boards required a lot of driving between small Idaho towns and ate up most of my day. It was just one of those weeks where you feel like your time is spent fulfilling demands, and those weeks are exhausting. You know how that goes.

So Saturday night, after the girls were in bed and Jules was on her way there, I decided to go to the store and buy a few things to make a pot roast for Sunday dinner. I don’t know why pot roast specifically, though I’m sure it has to do with simplicity. A lot of recipes nowadays go too far in their quest for uniqueness, I feel. I honestly love the fact that, after a long and difficult week, my appetite was begging for simplicity. This recipe is exactly what I needed, and maybe it’ll be what you need at some point, too.

The Perfect, Traditional Pot Roast

This is enough for 6 people. Here’s what you need:
• 3lb Pot roast
- quick note on choosing a roast. it’s important you pick something with a lot of marbling. when you cook a pot roast, it cooks for a long time – well above the 165 “well done” point. if you use a lean roast, you’ll be serving jerky for dinner. the fat slowly melts as the roast cooks and keeps it moist and tender. my favorite cut for pot roast is the chuck (pictured above).
• 
12 red new potatoes
• 3 leafy celery stalks, finely chopped
- I like the inner stalks for pot roast because the stalk itself is slightly bitter, but the leafy parts have a more fresh flavor. the combination is perfect with a slow cooked beef roast.
• 2 large carrots, peeled and quartered into 2-3 inch lengths
• 1 onion (I used white), diced
• 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (you can use dried, but it’ll be a lot better with fresh)
• 1 tsp dried fennel seed
• 1 tsp dried oregano
• 1/4 tsp dried thyme (careful with this – thyme can easily become “too much thyme”)
NOT PICTURED
• 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
• 1 quart beef stock
• 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
• 2 Tbsp tomato paste
• kosher salt & black pepper
• 2 Tbsp cooking oil

The first thing you do with any pot roast is sear it. You’ll hear people often say this is to “lock in the juices,” but that’s not correct. At least not for pot roast. Searing locks in juices when you’re using a dry heat cooking method like roasting. But a pot roast cooks in liquid, often past the point of 200 degrees. No amount of searing is going to lock juices in from that. As mentioned above, the key to a moist, tender pot roast is choosing the right cut of meat.

Why the searing, then? Flavor. Texture a little, too, but mostly flavor. You sear the meat in the pan first, then you cook your onions in the drippings from the beef, building flavors all over the place. A good sear sets your pot roast up for success.

Preheat your oven to 300. Then heat a decent sized pot (one with a lid – I prefer cast iron for pot roast because of how well it holds heat) on medium heat. Before searing, pat the roast down with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Not completely coated, of course. But for a 3lb roast, you’ll use 1-1.5 Tbsp of kosher salt. Once the pot is heated, add your cooking oil and sear the meat well on each side.

The Perfect, Traditional Pot Roast

Once seared, remove the roast and set aside. Kick the heat down to medium low and add the chopped onion to the oil. Add the dried spices and garlic, and sauté for 5 minutes or so, stirring things around frequently to prevent burning. Add the beef stock, balsamic vinegar and tomato paste and whisk together. Bring to a simmer and let it boil for another 5 minutes.

The next step is optional, but I recommend it. After the onions simmer in the stock for awhile, I use my immersion blender to blend it all together until smooth. The reason I do this is because I think it creates a more velvety sauce. But if you don’t have an immersion blender, you don’t have to do this. The flavor will be the same.

The Perfect, Traditional Pot Roast

Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper if necessary. You’ll know it’s seasoned properly when it tastes like it could pass off as a soup. Next, add your chopped celery to the cooking liquid, then your beef roast, carrots, rosemary, and potatoes. Cover the pot with a lid and put it in the oven for 5 hours. Before going in the oven:

The Perfect, Traditional Pot Roast

After:

The Perfect, Traditional Pot Roast

The smell of rosemary will reach every corner of your house, in the best way imaginable. The potatoes are silky, the carrots tender, and the beef… well, it will take you home.

The Perfect, Traditional Pot Roast

As Jules can tell you, the way of taking care of people that I’m best at, is through food. I like cooking meals for people, and boosting their spirits. We all need it from time to time, and it just so happened that the person I needed to cook this for this weekend, was me. And though I can’t be there to cook for you and your family, I hope you’ll allow us to come to your home, through this recipe, so we can spend a meal together.

Happy Holidays, friends. And Merry Christmas.

The Perfect, Traditional Pot Roast
Servings: 6
This is a classic, traditional pot roast. It's easy to make, but the flavors are deep and rich. This is not the dish you make when you want to show your friends and family what a good cook you are. This is the dish you make when you want to show your friends and family that you love them. The Perfect, Traditional Pot Roast
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 hours
  • Total Time: 5 hours, 15 minutes
  • Ingredients

    • 3lb Chuck roast
    • 12 red new potatoes
    • 3 leafy celery stalks, chopped
    • 2 large carrots, peeled and quartered into 2-3in lengths
    • 1 white onion, diced
    • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
    • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
    • 1 tsp dried fennel seed
    • 1 tsp dried oregano
    • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
    • 1 quart beef stock
    • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
    • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
    • 2 Tbsp cooking oil
    • kosher salt & black pepper

    Instructions

    1. Preheat the oven to 300. Heat a medium-sized cast iron pot (one that has a lid) over medium heat on the stove.
    2. Sprinkle the roast generously with salt and pepper. Add the cooking oil to the heated pot and sear the meat on all sides. Remove from the roast from the pot and set aside and reduce the heat to medium-low.
    3. Add the onions, fennel, oregano, thyme, and garlic to the pot and sauté for about 5 minutes.
    4. Add the beef stock, vinegar and tomato paste to the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for another 5 minutes.
    5. Using an immersion blender, blend the liquid until smooth and silky.
    6. Add the chopped celery to the liquid. Then add the roast, carrots, fresh rosemary, and potatoes.
    7. Cover with a lid and place in the 300 degree oven for 5 hours, until the meat is fork tender and falls apart.
    http://www.chrislovesjulia.com/2014/12/the-perfect-traditional-pot-roast.html

    Free Printable! | Blank Family Tree

    Last year at this time I posted about a family tree I made as a DIY gift idea. You can see the whole post here. I just used black india ink to script the tree:

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    And then filled in my family members’ names with a black gel pen.

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    The wood frame (from Target!) really makes it gift-worthy. Since that post, I have been receiving requests to put the blank tree in my Etsy shop. Although I feel confident you, too, could make this tree with ink and a small brush (I believe that so much!), I decided to make it available as a free printable. (Merry Christmas!!) It will print up to a 24×30, but I suggest keeping it around an 8×10–or just print it in standard paper size right from home and use your best penmanship to fill it in with your family names.

    blank-family-tree

    You can download the pdf right here —>>  clj blank family tree

    Happy Handwriting!