Author Archives: themiddlek

Bathroom version 2.0

I don’t think I ever shared my first attempt at my bathroom renovation, but I’m sure you guys can guess what it involved? That’s right, removing wallpaper! After I stripped it, I painted it a cool blue color but nothing really got done in the room. A few lost shelving units got hung up and a random piece of art thrown on the wall, but over time the room just kept disappointing me. Here’s what it looked like before:

So a few days ago, I decided to lighten up the room!

Here’s the after, if you can call it that – of course I’d love to re-do the tile, the light, the window, etc, etc. But since I’m working on a small budget this will have to do for now.

The yellow is leftover paint from the hallways and living room, so the whole house has a much more cohesive feel. My favorite part is the homemade open shelving – just a few pieces of wood I screwed together, painted and then anchored into the wall.

Like the art?? Well, you’re in luck! We’re selling it on MINT Studio’s etsy right now, along with some other great typography prints!

This is behind the door – I wanted to start hanging towels there, but wanted some unique towel hooks. (Also, has anyone ever noticed how expensive a few towel hooks can be!?) So instead I went to our local recycled home resource store and found some vintage doorknobs! Just glued them together then screwed them into the wall.

I love using unexpected containers to hold things! A few teacups hold bobby pins, nail clippers, tweezers, etc. Glass jars hold q-tips and cotton swabs. While it’s not a crazy makeover, it really proves how much a coat of paint can really lighten up a room! I feel like my mornings are much brighter these days…

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Mushroom Mondays – Beef Stir Fry

I realize that many of my “recipe” posts are a bit subjective. I like to think of them more as guidelines and inspiration for you to maybe try something new or revisit and revamp an old favorite. I know I do some things a little strangely but don’t we all? I love learning new tips and tricks from others, and I just hope to teach you all something useful through all this nonsense.


  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Carrots
  • Bell Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Bean Sprouts
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Stir Fry Steak
  • Rice or Rice Noodles
  • Soy Sauce
  • Rice Wine (Optional)
  • Sesame Oil (Optional)

Please don’t feel that you have to go out and buy those last two ingredients for this – straight up soy sauce is all I usually use but I had bought these to try out a homemade terriyaki sauce recipe and they do add quite a bit of depth to the sauce, I will say that.

Slice your onions and carrots into long thin pieces and start to saute them in a little olive oil. Season with pepper and red pepper flakes and very little salt. Remember that we’ll be adding soy sauce later, which has a very high salt content. Unless you want to drink a gallon of water with your dinner, cut down on the salt when seasoning your veggies.

Do the same with your bell peppers and add them to the pan.

Then slice up your mushrooms and add them in with a little butter.

Once these are all mostly done cooking, I like to add the broccoli cut into pretty small florets – they don’t need too long to cook or they can get mushy and just start to dissolve. ugh.

Here’s a little trick I like to use. I think that ground ginger is a bit intense and like to use the real thing whenever possible so I bought a big knob of it about a month back and yup, you guessed it, stuck it in the freezer. Now whenever I make an Asian style meal or something needing a little fresh ginger flavor; I take it out and saw off a little piece.

That’s probably about 1/4 inch thick. I also don’t really like pieces of ginger, so I don’t chop it up like I do garlic. Instead, I put this whole thing in and let it do a little melting to get just a hint of ginger flavor. Just make sure you fish it out at the end! Nobody wants to chomp down on this thing.

Next I add the bean sprouts and some chopped garlic. You’ve probably noticed that I like to add garlic at the end of my veggie cooking in all these recipes and here’s why – garlic can burn and turn bitter if it gets cooked too long so minimal time on the heat is better.

Sometimes I’ll make brown rice with stir fry but we both really like these rice noodles. Whichever you choose, plan out your timing and cook according to the package instructions.

Just before adding the meat, I’ll pour just a TBS or two of the rice wine over the vegetables (“sweet cooking rice seasoning”) and let it cook out for a minute. Then a few TBS of soy sauce and a couple drops of sesame oil. Really, this stuff is strong, a couple drops will be plenty.

I always get so intimidated buying beef – I need some sort of cheat sheet for what cuts are used for what kind of cooking…so if anyone has some tips I’ll take them! Sometimes I luck out though, like when I came across “stir fry steak” that was pretty inexpensive and already cut into these nice little strips. Love it when they make it so easy for me! I have learned that with cheaper meats, you need to be very careful about over-cooking or it can become very tough and chewy. So as soon as the pink is gone – you’re done!

When the noodles are done cooking, I like to add them into the stir-fry pan and stir it all around to get them nicely coated in the sauce; much like you would do when making spaghetti. If your sauce looks a little thin – just add more of each of the 3 ingredients (in the same proportions as before).

Time to serve! I like to add a few sesame seeds to the top and a couple extra drops of soy sauce. Someday I might actually invest in a wok and then I can make some REAL stir fry.

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Mushroom Tuesday…? – Stuffed Manicotti

Better late than never, am I right?

One of my least favorite meals growing up was lasagna. Somehow I was the one kid that didn’t think gooey cheesy messy towers of pasta were a good idea. What was I thinking!? I decided a couple months ago to give the old classic another shot and man do I love lasagna now! I think the problem was the ricotta cheese. Used to hate it but now I’m obsessed with the stuff! I purposely buy the largest container possible when shopping to make lasagna just so I have to find some more recipes to use it in. Watching the Food Network one day and seeing this recipe got me excited to try a stuffed pasta dish as a fun variation. Now I followed this recipe very loosely. I made the fonduta sauce mostly as described (I used Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese instead of the Romano) so I won’t add the details of that here but it was simple and really made this manicotti extra creamy and special. Definitely keeping that in the back of my mind.


  • Milk
  • Heavy Cream
  • Fresh Basil
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Spinach
  • Olive Oil
  • Sweet Italian Sausage
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Mushrooms
  • Ricotta
  • Manicotti Shells
  • Marinara Sauce
  • Mozzarella Cheese
  • Parmesan Cheese

Somehow I missed taking my ingredient photo so we’ll just get started.

Get a nice big pot and cook your manicotti (I think this would be perfect for stuffed shells as well) according to the package then drain and let cool off. Mine got a little stuck together since I let them sit for a while after, I would add a little olive oil to the water next time. I totally forgot that step until I tried to peel them apart 30 minutes later.

Here’s my Fonduta sauce in the works:

Soften your onions in a little olive oil for a few minutes and then begin browning the sausage. I did one chicken and one pork Italian sausage and I actually really liked the combo. I’ve never used sausage in the casing before….a little bit gross to peel it out of there and get it in the pan but I managed and it’s nice that it has so much flavor already in the meat. You need to break it up with your spoon/spatula to get it into smaller pieces.

Season with salt and pepper then add some sliced mushrooms and chopped garlic.

Once those are nicely browned, season again and then add a bit of frozen spinach (or fresh if you prefer and have some on hand). I also threw in one of my parsley muffins here.

As soon as the greens are no longer frozen, add some of your fonduta sauce and a big ol’ plop of ricotta.

After I stirred this all in, it just did not look even close to being creamy and cheesy enough for me so I added more! And some parmesan.

I probably about doubled the amount they used in the recipe but again, it mainly just gave me the idea to go off of and the sauce recipe but as you can see, I changed most everything else. Next step is to assemble! First coat the bottom of your pan with your favorite marinara sauce.

Then stuff your manicotti with that delicious filling. The instructions here say to ‘spoon’ it in but that just doesn’t work out too good for me. I always end up breaking the shells or not getting the filling all the way in the middle so I applied something I do every day working in a bakery. Take a large ziplock bag and open it to fold the top edges over your hand, spoon the filling in (let it cool off a bit first!) and seal it up.

Cut off a little bit of one corner.

Then just squeeze it right into your shells. Please ignore the giant mess on the counter…

Line them all up in your baking dish.

Cover with some more marinara sauce and then spread out the rest of the fonduta over the top.

Top it with cheese (Mozzarella and Parmesan) and drizzle a little olive oil on top.

Then bake! (350 for about 30 minutes or until it’s super hot and bubbly)

Look at the layer of cheese on top. Oh so good.


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DIY – Plush Letters

I love the trend of typography as a design element – but even more as something fun and playful. I knew I wanted something in my kitchen that spelled out “EAT” – but did I want wooden letters that I painted? A framed triptych of a great font? Or something even more fun? Of course I went with the last one! With the work we’ve been doing at MINT STUDIO regarding fleece and plush items, I had a few ideas stored up and plenty of material to work with.

Today I grabbed a few extra pieces of a great mustard yellow and decided to plush out my chosen word. They were super easy to make – I just made sure each letter was 7 inches tall and 4.5 inches wide at the widest point. I hand drew my letters on the fleece but if you have a favorite font, print it out to size and cut from the pattern! I made sure to leave an opening while sewing each letter, turned them inside out, stuffed them with polyester fiberfill and hand sewed the opening shut. No, they’re not perfect but that’s part of the charm!

I made these not really sure where I’d hang them, so they got a few test runs in a friends’ kitchen. Hanging over the door?

Leaning on the corner of the kitchen table?

But when I got those mustard letters into my own kitchen against the newly painted gray wall…. Well, let’s just say it was love at first sight.

It looks a bit silly just floating in the middle of the wall, but I have two long shelves that are going up there in the future, which I’m sure will help the overall balance. Is there a better color combination than white, gray and yellow though? Not in my book! To attach these letters, I actually just used push pins that went through the back, and straight into the wall. Barely leaves any mark and allows  tons of room for rearranging! (Or even spelling new words – who knows, maybe this will actually mark my tea storage!?)

These were super quick and easy to make, and there are so many options regarding the letters! They’d also be cute with a striped fabric or chevron pattern. Spell any word you want for any room, make a child’s name or first letter for their room (or for them to play with!), or even make some letters for a recent engagement! How cute would a their two first letters and an ampersand be?

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Mushroom Mondays – Portobello Risotto

I discovered risotto a couple years ago while working at a local restaurant during the short time we lived in North Carolina and seriously fell in love. My food knowledge grew by leaps and bounds over the months I was there. I have since become much more ambitious and excited to try new recipes and branch out from the norm. Risotto is a little intimidating at first but it’s actually pretty easy and has come out great every time I’ve made it. The main rule is just don’t abandon your rice while it’s cooking. So let’s get started, shall we?


  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Portobello Mushrooms
  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Arborio Rice
  • White Wine
  • Chicken Stock
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Parsley

As usual with these recipes, step one is to soften up your onions in a little butter and olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. I made about 6 servings so I the majority of  a large yellow onion. (And 3 portobellos.)

These portobellos were pretty big so I cut them all in half before slicing. Look at these guys – they must have been at least 5 inches wide. Huge!

Add to the onions with a bit more butter. Stir and let them cook down.

Add some chopped garlic and season again with salt, pepper, and red pepper.

Now time for the rice – Arborio rice is a specific Italian short grain and it’s really the only rice to use when making risotto. No substitutions here guys! Measure according to the package for how many servings you need (1 1/2 cups for me to make 6 servings) and add to your pan then stir and let it toast up for a few minutes.

Next, pour in a bit of white wine – enough to coat the bottom of the pan and so that you can stir it around and all the rice gets a little coated before it all cooks out. I probably used about a cup.

While you are doing all this – you’ll need to heat up your chicken stock. I usually just throw it in the microwave for a couple minutes as I’m chopping veggies but some people prefer to use the stove. As long as it’s hot when you add it in, either way is just fine. Add about a cup of chicken stock and stir pretty consistently until it is mostly absorbed.  (FYI – I used a little over 4 cups)

Continue adding in small increments and stirring until the stock is gone and the rice is very tender. I’m convinced the taste test is the only way to really tell…

Last step is to add a chunk of butter, some parmesan cheese and parsley. This is one of my frozen parsley ‘muffins’ – they are perfect for this! So much better than dried and still so convenient.

Stir this all in and dinner is served. Top with some more parmesan cheese if you want – and who wouldn’t? Awesome with my favorite grilled chicken here and some steamed broccoli. YUM!

I love any kind of risotto. Super creamy rice with butter and cheese…how can you go wrong!? Lemon risotto is fantastic – so bright and summery. Or butternut squash, of course perfect for fall. But I think the portobellos make this my favorite. They are so flavorful and meaty that this one dish is satisfying enough to be an entire meal. Even my meat and potatoes guy agrees!

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I’m here with a big announcement! I mentioned in my last post about a project my friend Molly and I have been undertaking and I’m here to tell you guys all about it. Molly and I actually went to high school together – we then both went away to school for graphic design for a year before returning to our hometown to study media arts. So not only are we in the same position school-wise, we both have a crazy similar passion for design and crafts. This summer we decided to open our own design studio and start sharing our work with the world. We currently set up shop every Saturday at a local craft market, which is a really fun experience – have any of you done craft shows?

Our logo in the bottom right corner, and we made a sign out of paper-mache letters from a craft store. We hust painted the front of them mint and punched holes in the side to string wire through them to hang in our booth.

Our display includes lots of wire baskets, vintage suitcases, wine crates and a really great old tin bread box. We just used some simple burlap fabric for a table cloth and even had a candy jar to lure people in. (Is that considered cheating?)

Some of our plush sewn creatures and prints with our branding. We’re using a really nice brown paper for all our tags and signs that I just love.

So I’m here to announce MINT STUDIO! We’re still working on getting our site just the way we want it, but it’s a brief overview of our portfolio  Even more exciting, we have a shop on etsy! ShopMintStudio is where we sell our various crafts, including plush dinosaurs and robots, Montana pillowcases and unique watercolors (a taco wearing cowboy boots? Yes please!). We’d be honored if you gave it a look!

The best part? We do custom orders on both crafts and graphic design. We focus on branding, identity and motion design, but we can also do illustrations, web design and even banners for your own blog! So don’t mind my shameless promotion, I’m just so excited to share our current adventure with you all! Thanks for looking!

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Mushroom Mondays – Italian Wedding Soup

I am definitely a soup person. I would be happy to have soup every single day of the year, yes even with the 90 degree days we’ve been having recently. I still love it. Italian Wedding Soup is one of our favorites and I’ve been working on this recipe for a few years trying to make it better – the first time I made it there wasn’t much flavor and it was just a bit disappointing. The biggest thing I changed and now make sure to do every time is to really season the meatballs and cook them first and then add back to the soup later. The original instructions I tried said to just plop balls of raw meat into the boiling broth at the end and let them cook up that way. But ugg how boring! It’s so much better this way even if it does take a few extra minutes.


  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Fresh Spinach
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Chicken Stock
  • Ground Beef
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Orzo Pasta

To season the ground beef I add a whole bunch of stuff and I’m pretty sure it changes every time but usually includes salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, chopped onion, garlic powder, and some kind of hamburger/steak/grill seasoning.

Mix this all together and form into little meatballs (I like to make mine about 1/2″ big) to brown up in your soup pot. I made a big pot this time so I did my meatballs in 2 installments – this is only about half of them.

Once they’re nice and browned I take them out and set them on a plate with a paper towel to drain and relax while I get the rest of the soup ready. Another reason I like to cook the meatballs first is that all that deliciousness on the bottom of the pan adds so much flavor to the veggies. Add a little olive oil and or butter if you need to and soften your onions and carrots. Then add the mushrooms and garlic. Don’t forget to season well with salt and pepper.

Once everything is nicely browned, add your chicken stock.

Now crank the heat up because we need this to boil. You can add the meatballs back in now to heat back up and finish cooking. While we’re waiting, it’s time to get to chopping some spinach. I have kind of a funny way of doing this. I pluck off any huge stems and make a couple piles….

Then I roll each pile up and cut into thin strips.

Now I know this looks like a LOT of spinach, but it cooks way down so don’t get too nervous.

Once your water is boiling, add in a couple handfuls of the pasta and cook according to the directions (9 minutes I think).

With about 5 minutes left I throw in all that spinach and do a quick clean up of my dishes.

Once the noodles are soft, it’s ready to eat!

Top with some parmesan cheese and eat up!

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Frozen Freshness

Yes I realize all I’ve been posting about recently is food…and I really don’t care! Actually, I love it so I sure hope you do too. I absolutely adore being in the kitchen trying out new recipes and organizing my pantry. I keep telling Adam that maybe I need to quit my job so I can just stay home and cook all day. Haha, wouldn’t that be the life!?

In the past couple months, I’ve been getting better and better at using my freezer and someday I’ll do a post about how I have it all organized and more tips (it’s all about the rotating!) for less food waste. But today, we’re talking about freezing herbs! I love using fresh herbs in my cooking but they always come in such large bundles and it’s hard to use them before they get wilty and gross.

I do use a lot of dried herbs as well but fresh parsley and cilantro and basil are just too delicious so I buy them when on sale or for a special recipe and freeze the extras. Here I’ve got some parsley I bought pretty cheap for my most recent attempt at lasagna.

Take your herb bundle and get rid of the stems then chop it all up nice and fine.

Pile a tablespoon or two into some small muffin cups (I looooove these silicone ones!) and just barely cover with olive oil. When doing cilantro, I like to use a water instead. Or you even could do vegetable oil.

Then let them set up in the freezer for a couple hours or overnight.

They pop right out and then get thrown into a labeled and dated ziplock bag and stocked in the veggie section of my freezer.

These are so handy when making a soup or pasta or risotto or any other dish that calls for some parsley, all you have to do is grab one of these out of the freezer and let it melt on in. This big bundle of parsley cost me $.50 and will last at least a few months.

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Mushroom Mondays – Wild Rice Pilaf

Up until about 2 years ago, it was pretty much impossible for me to cook rice. I’m still not quite sure what I was doing wrong…I knew all about the 2:1 ratio and the Rule of No Peeking but it would just never come out right. There were always way too many crunchy pieces on my plate and way too much disappointment in my heart. Then one day…success! A nice fluffy bowl of tender grains with veggies can really just hit the spot. Now we have rice all the time and I feel oh so accomplished. I have two favorite types to make: this wild rice pilaf and a couple variations of risotto. I still get a little nervous with plain old white or brown rice but practice makes perfect and I am not giving up yet!


  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms (Button and Baby Bella)
  • Wild Rice (I personally love this blend of Texmati White, Brown, Wild, and Red – plus it cooks in 15 minutes!)
  • Whole Wheat Spaghetti
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • White Wine
  • Chicken Stock

Chop up your onions and get them to softening in a combo of olive oil and butter in a saucepan on medium to medium-high heat. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not so good at measuring and the veggie part of the rice really is all up to personal taste. This is about half of a large yellow onion in 1 TBS each of olive oil and butter. (FYI – this all made between 3 and 4 servings.) Season with salt and pepper.

Then I like to chop my carrots so they’re a similar size. First peel and julienne them (which really just means to cut into matchsticks) and then chop into little cubes and add to the pan with the onions.

Next the mushrooms! I love a mix of button and baby bellas. I have started buying one package of each when I go shopping to have a supply on hand to add to pretty much everything. The button mushrooms get nice and tender but the baby bellas hold up a bit more and are actually pretty meaty. I usually add another little chunk of butter with the mushrooms to help them brown.

Then chop up a garlic clove or two and add some more salt and pepper and I’m becoming a big fan of red pepper flakes so I like to shake a few in now as well.

Once the mushrooms and other veggies are tender and cooked down like so…

…measure out how much rice you need according to the package (I think it’s usually 1/4 or 1/3 cup of dry rice per serving) and then take a handful of the wheat spaghetti and break it up into about 1/2 inch pieces. This is my 1 cup scoop to give you an idea.

Add this to your saucepan and stir in with the veggies then let it toast in the oil/butter for a few minutes.

Then add about 1/2 to 1 cup of the wine to your rice and stir. I just love how it sizzles and the way it smells!

Just let it cook down until the liquid is mostly gone and add about 1 1/2 cups of the chicken stock and stir.

Then I just let it cook down, stirring occasionally. I know you’re technically supposed to boil then reduce the heat and cover and simmer and let sit undisturbed but this works so much better for me so I go with it.

Once most of the liquid is gone I’ll take a little taste to see if it’s cooked enough. If there’s still too much crunch, simply add some more chicken stock and repeat until the texture is just right. Then you’re done! This rice can go with all kinds of chicken and fish meals. I especially love it with grilled salmon and broccoli or green beans. Sometimes I’ll bake a chicken breast in the oven then shred it and stir it right in to the rice at the end. This time we had homemade chicken tenders – yums!

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Sweet Succulents

Just like everybody else these days, I can’t deny my love for succulents, especially in small containers. So when a friend and I teamed up to sell stuff at a local market next week, I couldn’t resist this idea as part of our inventory. We picked up a few tins from the dollar section of Target, and a few different sized and patterned teacups from second-hand stores, then went on the hunt for small potted plants.

Our arrangement of cups and cacti. We put a few red lava rocks on the bottom of each cup for better drainage, then some cactus potting soil and started re-potting.

I’m not sure I can actually part with these, I’m so fond of them!

They’re currently sitting in an old wine crate, which just adds to their charm. Wouldn’t they look great bunched together on a sunny windowsill?

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