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Monday, July 25, 2011

DIY Dining Chair Makeover

Before we were married my husband and I managed without a dining table. We ate off card tables and coffee tables. At one point we even had a muddy wooden picnic table that we covered up with a red-and-white checkered table cloth. Shortly after we bought our first townhouse, we finally decided to invest in a grown-up dining room set. I was only in my early twenties and hadn't developed my decorating style yet. So when a modern Swedish expandable model caught my husband's eye, who was I to protest? It had a hidden compartment that not only stored the leaves but also had a mechanism that allowed the leaves to be lifted and unfolded. It was a transformer table! How could he resist?! Of course we bought the six matching blonde-wood chairs with black-velvet seats.

Fast forward a decade later and I was ready for a change. But each chair had cost $200 and they were really comfortable. I couldn't justify giving the chairs away and buying new ones. I tried slipcovers but they looked messy and just plain suspicious--what were we hiding under those skirts? I decided to break up the dining set and give the chairs a makeover so I could reuse them with a round kitchen table.

Once you master this method, you can update dining chairs you find at garage sales or on eBay. If you can use a screw driver and a staple gun, you can tackle this project.

Fine-grade (220 grain) sand paper
Dust rag
Spray paint (12-oz can)
Spray paint attachment (optional)
Fabric (1/2 yard)
Staple gun and staples

Step 1. Remove chair seat from chair frame. If you turn the chair upside down, you will find that this is just a matter of removing some screws.

Step 2. Sand the chair frame with a fine-grade sand paper. Dust with a rag or old sock.

Step 3. Because my chair has a ladder back, I decided to spray paint with a matte finish to ensure uniform coverage. I used Rust-oleum satin in heirloom white from Home Depot. The paint only cost about $4/can. I ended up using about a can for each chair but a more experienced painter may be able to get by with less. Spray in a steady back and forth motion to prevent clogging the spray attachment. Let the first coat dry. Then spray a second coat and let that dry. If you want a slightly weathered look, you can go back and sand a few spots around the corners of the chair.

Step 4. Cut a piece of fabric roughly the size of your chair seat, leaving a two-inch overhang. I only needed 2 yards of cotton material from JoAnn Fabric and Craft to cover four chairs (plus extra in case I ever need to redo one) but you should bring your chair seat in to measure. My fabric cost less than $10! Using a staple gun, attach the fabric to the chair seat with one staple in the center. Then go back and add staples along the entire edge of the chair seat, pulling the material taut. Leave the corner for later. Do the same thing with all four sides.

Step 5. When you get to the corners, pull the material taut and staple neatly with a series of pleats. 

Step 6. Screw the chair seat back to the chair frame.


I've been enjoying these chairs for the past two years and have received many compliments from guests. Best part: I don't have to feel guilty about giving away good furniture.



Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nondairy Peanut-Butter Blondies

This recipe uses only peanut butter and olive oil as its fat. You can substitute almond butter or soy butter if you have a peanut allergy. Not only is it Phoebe friendly but it's also become a family favorite. Note to other moms: teach your kids to bake. It's an "activity" for them and one less thing for you to do. Chloe's been making these once a week this summer. Phoebe knows how to make coffee. I'm set.

Peanut-Butter Blondies
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

1 cup flour
1 t baking powder
1/8 t salt
1/4 c old-fashioned creamy peanut butter
1 T extra light olive oil
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 T vanilla
1/2 c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt) in a small bowl. Whisk wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just combined. Add chocolate chips. Spread thick batter into a 8-inch square pan that has been lined with foil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick comes out clean.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to Make Ribs in the Oven

A few weeks ago at the Target check-out, I noticed that the beefy man behind me had only two things in his cart: about ten cartons of eggs and a pile of ribs. I thought, Hmmm, are ribs cheap here? Yesterday I found that they were on sale for $2.50/lb. These are St. Louis-cut ribs  (the longer ribs, not baby back; go to http://www.amazingribs.com/recipes/porknography/pork_cuts.html for all you'll ever want to know about pork). Each slab is about 3 or 4 lbs, just the right size for my family of four.

This was really a cooking triumph for me, and so easy! I've never made ribs before. I'm really not a big meat person. If it weren't for my meat-loving husband, who craves it, and my children, who need protein, I would not bother. Before, having ribs would involve asking the husband to make them. He would have to get them from Costco (which sells them in a package of three slabs) and fire up his charcoal barbecue. The whole production could take hours considering the wind in Foster City. Usually by the time he produces the ribs, I've filled up on potato salad and am over the whole rib thing. No more. Ladies, take the husband out of the equation and make the ribs yourself!

Oven-Baked Ribs

3 lbs of ribs
salt and pepper
1T olive oil
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t celery salt
3/4 c ketchup
2T apple cider vinegar
2T soy sauce
2T molasses
1/3 c orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Split slab of ribs in half. Rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. Lay the ribs fat side up on a foiled-lined sheet pan. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes.

Prepare the barbecue sauce: Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add garlic powder, cumin, and celery salt. Heat for about 30 seconds. Add other ingredients and whisk over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Let sauce cool and thicken.

After the initial 45 minutes, transfer ribs to a large (9" x 13") casserole dish. Arrange ribs in a single layer (you may need to cut one of the half slabs in half again) and pour sauce over the whole thing. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. Baste the ribs with sauce twice during the hour. Then remove foil and bake another 15 - 30 mins.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Nondairy Upside Down Cake

It's hard to believe that just a week ago I was immobilized by the heat wave, afraid to turn on the stove for fear of raising the temperature in our little cave. We dined on no-cook summer suppers: smoked salmon on bagels, chopped salad with supermarket rotisserie chicken, watermelon, peaches, plums. This week Phoebe's been freezing her little buns off at swim lessons in 59-degree weather! Time to fire up the oven. I adapted an upside-down apple cake from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine to use up some of our leftover plums that had gotten too ripe. Mine is Phoebe friendly but you can of course substitute butter and milk for the buttery spread and almond milk.


Upside-Down Plum Cake

4 plums (halved, pitted, and cut into about eight slices)
2T Earth Balance buttery spread (or 2T butter)
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1 c flour
1/2 c whole-wheat pastry flour
1-1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/3 c toasted, chopped walnuts
2 eggs
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 t vanilla
1/4 c + 2T extra light olive oil (or 1/2 c butter)
1/2 c almond milk (or 1/2 c low-fat milk)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch round cake pan with the buttery spread. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon over the buttery spread. Arrange the sliced plums in two concentric circles. Set pan aside.

Prepare batter: Whisk together dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt) in a small bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients (eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla, oil, almond milk) in a medium-size bowl. Fold dry ingredients into wet.

Pour batter over the sliced plums. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes or until a wooden pick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cake and invert onto a plate.

 . . . And then there were two.