Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sausage and Lentil Soup

Our family looks forward to cold weather in that it gives us the opportunity to savor and appreciate more soups than we eat in warm weather. One of our favorites that Karen prepared this week is described here in case you'd like to try it too. This soup would not be half as good without the spicy sausage, so if you don't include it because you don't like spicy food, it's not my fault if the soup is not a hit.

1 pound Hot Italian Sausage Links
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut in small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1-1/4 pound fennel bulb trimmed & cut into 1" pieces
4 large garlic cloves
1 pound lentils, rinsed
6 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes in juice
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
3/4 tsp salt

Prick sausages many times with fork and cook in 8 quart saucepot over medium heat 10-15 minutes or until browned, turning occasionally. Remove to plate.

To drippings in saucepot add carrots, onion, and fennel. Cook vegetables over medium-high heat about 10 minutes or until tender and lightly browned, stirring frequently. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute.

Add lentils, water, chicken broth, tomatoes with their juice, thyme, salt, and pepper; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat and cover; simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cut sausages into 1/2" thick slices, and stir into soup. Heat to boiling. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes longer or until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. Skim off fat and discard.

Serve soup hot to grateful family.

Construction update #25

The big news this week has been that the siding is complete and all the windows are in. Once the garage doors are on, we'll be buttoned up pretty tight. We still have trim to apply around the windows and doors, but that may wait until spring after we paint the siding.

The view from the southwest offers proof that all the walls are covered back there too.

The steps to the second floor are finished, although admittedly not child-friendly. Those with vertigo need not venture to the second floor. Boy there's a lot of steps to fall down....

One more shot of the weathervane to help us celebrate the fact that we can easily tell which way the wind is blowing again. No, this picture was not taken with a telephoto lens.

The shot from the roof of the house.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Come on in and set a spell...

We did something this year that we have never done on Thanksgiving day... upholstering furniture! After a large and delicious early afternoon meal with the Galat family, most of the family members wandered off to find suitable napping arrangements. Our family sequestered ourselves to the office where we proceeded to apply new covers to the seats of our dining room chairs. Karen and Lily had removed the old upholstery the day before and cut the new fabric to size along with more batting to increase the loft on some of the chairs. We took the fabric, batting, bare seats, and tools to Karen's brother's house so we could redeem the time.

Here are a few of the finished seats waiting to be reunited with their chair frames.

We actually recovered chairs from two different sets. The blue stripe that you see above is what we had used to cover these older chairs back in 1996. We still had some of the original fabric, so the three chairs that we have left from that set got a facelift.

We originally recovered these chairs in 2000 after purchasing the dining set at an estate sale. Eight years later the fabric didn't look too bad until it was removed and the faded portions could be easily compared with the unfaded. Ewww... they were definitely due for a fresh touch. Which makes me wonder, is eight years a long time to go between upholstering jobs, or a short time? We realize we are always hopelessly out of style, but how long has furniture fabric lasted for other people? Thanks in advance for your comments....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Did I mention our new lights?

Those that visited our house at night in October will be happy to see that we have lights at the "office" entrance once again. Since the previous light was mounted on the soffit, when the soffit came down, the light came with it. Unfortunately, it took a few weeks to devise a solution and carry it out.

Since the attic above the garage is pretty accessible, and the walls in the garage allow one access to the brick once the drywall is removed, we decided it was a simple enough project to mount some new lights on the wall of the house. Running the wires through the attic to the garage wall was pretty straightforward, and my handy 19.2V Craftsman hammer drill bored 1/2" holes through the brick mortar like it was drilling through pine. After a few wire nuts and screw anchors, we had light!

You may have noticed the soffit was not finished when this photo was taken on November 7th. Rest assured it is finished now, and if we know you're coming over we'll leave the lights on for you...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Beautiful sunsets #7 & 8

November 21, 2008, 4:45 PM

November 23, 2008, 4:44PM

Construction update #24

Encouraging results this week include more windows installed on the second floor and good progress made on the stairs in the back. Note the unfinished treads at the top of the stairs -- intentionally left that way so robbers won't be able to get up to the door!

Here's a little wider and blurrier view of the west side of the building showing the siding almost finished and the soffit and fascia complete.

No barn (or gambrel roofed house for that matter) would be complete without a cupola, and no cupola is complete without a weathervane. We've enjoyed viewing the old weathervane that still sits on top of the old shed, but it's been difficult to see as of late with the new barn in the way. Hence the new weathervane doing superb duty high above the yard. Hmmm, looks like the wind is out of the south southeast.

Finally the view of the entire building. A few more pieces of siding will complete that part of the job and then the final window panes can be mounted without fear of breaking them with the sheets of siding. I showed considerable constraint in not picking up all the loose building materials laying around the yard, recognizing that the siding crew will soon be done and I can tidy up at that time (please pardon the mess).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beautiful sunset #6

November 17, 2008, 4:19 PM
(courtesy of Gretel)

Chicken Dance

Construction update #23

One measure of a man is his ability to know when to ask for help -- and actually ask. I tend to err on the side of knowing I should ask but being too cheap to pay someone that knows what they're doing. This stage of the project seemed like a good time to let someone else stand on a platform fifteen feet off the ground while straining to work over their head. So we've hired a carpenter friend and his crew to put the fibercement siding on the walls and install the soffit and fascia.

With the scaffold up at the level of the second floor it was convenient for Gene to install windows before the siding went on. Here's a view of the east side of the building already covered to the peak with the soffit falling into place in an orderly fashion.

I wanted to get a shot of the end of the overhang so we could appreciate the artful craftmanship involved in getting all the angles to come together in a tidy way (at least I think it will be tidy in the end). And no, I was not involved in this work, so I am not boasting.

Here's the view from the house roof so you can appreciate the height of the scaffold and the beauty of plain siding as opposed to having manufacturer's logos plastered high and low. It is nice to see measurable progress, but I know I'll be wishing I'd done it myself when I see the bill!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The porch post project concluded (almost)

Back in September I filled you in on the beginnings of the porch post project, and here lie the details of the rest of the project (to date) for those interested enough to bear with me. When I last addressed this project my buddy Ken had cut the boards to the right shape and we nailed three of them together. This is what came next:

This is Varathane tinted wood filler for filling nail holes and deep imperfections. It worked pretty good as you could either squeeze some on to the board or on your finger and work it in without a lot of mess. It sanded nicely and hid well under the stain and varnish.

Here's the main post pieces after the nails have been filled but not yet sanded.

The wood filler also worked nicely on the corners of the post where the gap was not perfect.

Varathane wood conditioner is really intended for soft woods that may not take stain uniformly, but I wanted to see if it would moderate the way the red oak would take stain. I was hoping the grain would not absorb as much stain as oak normally does since I prefer a more subtle grain under the finish. I don't think the wood conditioner did much in hiding the grain.
I don't have a picture of the stain I used, but it was also a Varathane brand gel stain I had used on the doors in what they call an "Ipswich Pine" color.

When it came to the finish coat, I knew I needed something good so the post wouldn't fall apart in the weather it's bound to see, so I called my buddy Evan. Evan has been working with wood for over 30 years and does lots of beautiful work for Roecker Cabinets for his day job. I felt a little queasy when Evan told me he doesn't think wood should ever be used for outdoor projects, although he has done a few for Roecker's. Not one to rub salt in the wounds of stupid people, Evan told me about the varnish they use when something has to be outside. The Sikkens varnish pictured above is intended for boats and has so much UV inhibitor in it that the liquid is opaque! Thank the Lord for the internet as all the boating stores in the world are as close as my computer, and less than a week later we were ready to make the post as watertight as a cabin cruiser.

Meanwhile, there's plenty of work to do outside as the old post need to be replaced with a smaller substitute situated where we want the new post to sit. Actually we didn't have much choice on where the new post would sit since the main beams for the roof kinda dictated where the support should be. A couple of 2x4's nailed together and cut a fraction of an inch longer than the old post were adequate to take the weight of the roof off the steel post enough to slide it out. In the picture above I'm pushing the temporary post in with a sledge hammer.

The old post slipped right out once the weight of the roof was removed...

... and it was unceremoniously retired.

The new post is big enough to overhang a portion of the inside of the stone planter, so I thought it wise to add a small piece of stone in the corner so critters would have to crawl around the stone to get to the post. Securing the stone in the planter was a little concern until I realized there are many incredible adhesives in the world today, and some designed specifically for stone!

A lot of adhesive and a little caulk later, I have a sealed corner under the location of the new post.

Here's the 4x4 that actually does the heavy lifting of the roof now before it's adorned with the oak cover.

As another sort of moisture/rot/critter barrier, I added a sheet of copper under the post cut slightly smaller than the oak post.

In order to fasten the oak to the 4x4 post, I needed to add these "shims." You can see they are more than 3 inches thick on two sides, so I used lag screws to pull them up tight to the 4x4.

Finally, here's the (almost) finished post doing its duty on the planter. You'll notice the soffit is finished around the post, and the only thing left is adding a bit of trim at the bottom and possibly at the top.

Everything always looks better from a distance, so here's a shot from the driveway. It feels good to have the project at this point, and Karen is glad to have the soffit finished, but until all the trim is done, it's just one more unfinished project... Lest that sound too defeatist, we are glad to have most of the outdoor work finished before winter.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Construction update #22

It's been over a week since we reported on the progress on the garage construction, but it shouldn't be hard to document the changes since work days have been sporadic and most of the changes are subtle.

The most obvious change that I worked on was the cupola. On November 1 I spent most of the day on the roof flashing and cladding the cupola curb and then assembling the cupola on the curb. The picture above is kinda dark because the daylight was fading fast as I was completing the cupola construction.

This photo was taken two days later when I finally was able to climb to the roof of the house when there was enough sunlight to take a photo. If I do say so myself, I think the cupola is pretty cute (and much cheaper than all the others we looked at, but that's a story for another day).

In conjunction with the garage construction we are moving the electric meter from a pole in the yard to the side of the house. My friend Bud happens to be an electrician so I was happy to ask for his help in dealing with the relocation of the main service to the house. In the process our wires from the utility will now run underground instead of through the middle of one of our trees, and the service will be upgraded from inadequately sized to appropriately sized. In the photo you can see the new meter base and two disconnect switches mounted to the side of the house. The one on the left will serve the new garage, and the one on the right will serve the house. Bud has the house temporarily wired with the big black wires looped across the hole while we wait for Corn Belt Energy to fit us into their schedule.

Here's a look down into the hole I dug under where our sidewalk used to be. The square box is a junction Bud had to add to connect the old conduit underground to the new conduit running to the disconnect. The grounding rod next to the box is something the house has never had, but something we are now grateful for.

It's a little hard to see all the flags in this shot since we have quite a collection of corn husks in the yard, but the tall wooden markers designate the route Corn Belt intends to take through the yard, while the small white flags mark the route of the septic tank outlet tube running perpendicular to the electrical wire route.

Meanwhile, back at the garage, Gene installed the windows on the first floor, and poured some footings for the stairway and landing on the west side of the building.

Finally a shot taken at the end of the day on November 5th. You can see the side door has been added although we don't yet have the lockset installed. Thanks for visiting (and patiently waiting).