Top 5 Projects of 2010

It's hard to believe we are wrapping up another year! It's funny...I keep telling myself I need to blog more. Do more projects. Cook more. But, looking back on this year, I nearly doubled my posts from 2009 and we have quite an impressive line-up of completed projects. Here are my top 5:

5. I'm starting with this project, because in my mind it still isn't done. In fact, you will see it in next week's post, titled "Top 5 Projects on the 2011 To-Do List."  Here is what it looks like today:

4. Sadly, we hardly ever use our dining room. Does that matter? Heck no! A fresh coat of paint and a chair rail gave it a whole new look.

3. I had two home office reveals this year, but this one remains my favorite room to stretch out and blog, surf the web, and pay bills.

2. Getting rid of the playground in our backyard and adding this was one of the best ideas we had in 2010. I can't wait for the snow to melt and weather to warm up...it's now one of my favorite places to read!

1. By far, my favorite project of the year was our bathroom makeover. It's blue. It's coastal. It's just plain cute.

Top 5 Recipes from 2010

I can't neglect the Vanilla Bean kitchen in my year-end round-ups. So, here is my top five recipes from 2010. I did alot more projects around the house than time in the kitchen...I'll work on that for 2011!

5. I started the summer with big dreams. "I'll write a Burger of the Week series," I said. Well, that lasted about three weeks...four at best. This was one of my faves from the series (can it even be called that?). Mostly because I was contemplating renaming the blog Vanilla Beef. I crack myself up sometimes.

4. I know it is the end of December, but, this little guy is so cute...it makes me puke. I could just gobble him up. If only I didn't have 4 pounds of chocolate sitting in the kitchen.

3. I must have a gazillion recipes for fish tacos -- all sitting unused. I finally took the plunge and made this recipe. It's quick and easy. And tasty.

2. Paella is a favorite in the VB kitchen. It makes a great "date night" dinner. This recipe from Rachael Ray subs pasta in for the rice and it is still to-die-for. You can quote me on that.

1. I know I just mentioned this recipe to you yesterday, but I can't say it enough. If you like scallops, you will love this. If you hate scallops and like candy, you'll still love it. We made this last year for NYE and we'll be having it again this year.


Got Bubbly?

With just a few days left before we count down to 2011, I'm sure most of you already have a bottle of bubbly on ice. If you don't, here are a few of my faves:

Sophia Blanc de Blancs by Niebaum-Coppola Winery, owned by film director Francis Ford Coppola
Approx. $15-20 for four cans.

It comes in a pink can. With a straw. Need I say more?

Segura Viudas Cava Reserva Heredad

We had a bottle (or two) of this champagne the night we got engaged at Bailey's Chocolate Bar.

Schloss Biebrich
$4-5 at Trader Joe's

There is no reason one can't drink champagne every day of the week. Not that I recommend that. But, should it be, say, a Wednesday evening and you feel like some sparkling, this is your guy.

Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs
Approx. $30

The Gloria Ferrer Winery was our last stop when we took a trip to Napa/Sonoma in 2008. I remember it for the fantastic view, delicious bubbly and spicy nuts. Not necessarily in that order.

Now, you have all this bubbly -- what else are you going to do with it? Might I suggest this recipe?


A Coastal Christmas

Since we are stuck live in St. Louis, the chances of us having a coastal Christmas are slim. So, I decided to bring the sea to us this year!
First, I headed to Hobby Lobby and bought this bag of shells. And, using my 40% off coupon, I got the bag for $6 instead of $10. Making this a Thrifty Coastal Christmas.

Next, I put Mr. VB to work and had him drill small holes in each shell. He took it upon himself to tie some hemp string to each shell. He's turning into a little crafter before my very eyes.

Extra shells are mixed with pine cones (left over from last year) and garland (I got 30 ft. for $10 at Home Depot) in with the decor throughout the house. On the mantle...


In the dining room...

And, in the breakfast room.


I think the tree is missing something...so, in my eyes it isn't done yet. Yes, I understand that The Big Guy comes next week. Knowing me, I'll probably be adding the finishing touch on Christmas Eve.

But, by the looks of it, others in the VB household think it is just fine the way it is.

See the larger shells placed on the tree skirt? Well, that was Jeff's idea. "It looks like they are laying in sand...like a beach," he said. I've got to keep my eye on him...I fear there may be a Vanilla Bean takeover any day.


Vanilla Bean Takes on Williams Sonoma

I just got home a few minutes ago to see the latest Williams Sonoma catalog in the mailbox...and what's on the front cover? Peppermint bark!

Then I began to worry. I blogged about this recipe a couple of years ago and gave you a spot-on identical recipe. But, what if my loyal readers didn't know that and went out and spent nearly $30 on the store variety?

I would be devastated.


I immediately ran up here to tell you all about it. So, here I am. Telling you to read this post and make this bark yourself.


Because it's better than the stuff in the store.

Why is it better?

Because it's made with love.

That's right. I said it. LOVE.

Now, go and tell your friends.


A Vanilla Bean Office Reveal

Happy Monday! It's my first day back in the office after more than a week off and I am feeling refreshed, recharged and ready to start decorating (and baking) for Christmas. Mr. VB and I were able to spend some time with my family, then headed to Charlotte, NC to spend the holiday with my brother-in-law. We had a fabulous southern Thanksgiving and even took in a tour of the Biltmore Estate (Here I am, posing in front of my new pad. Just kidding! I can't imagine trying to decorate this thing).

I wanted to share with you the recent photos of our new office, before I got knee-deep in garland and lights. Two weeks ago I gave you a peek of the new room....well, here it is!

I am absolutely in love with it. We made a collage out of the assortment of old windows, shutters and screen doors we found at a local antique store (each was about $9-11 each). A piece of jute is stretched across the window and shutter, making it a great place to hang my favorite vacation pics and postcards.

Remember this piece of furniture I showed you last time?

Well...here it is now! I put in some shelves, painted it white and distressed the edges. The knobs were found at Hobby Lobby for about $3.

Last, but certainly not least, is this little guy. My mom embroidered this from a drawing I did when I was 4 years old. If you ask me, it is the star of the room!


Home Office Sneak Peek...Again

You've probably noticed, but I've definitely been in a blogging/decorating rut lately. For the last several months, work around the house and in the kitchen has been almost nonexistent. I'm trying my hardest to change that...so hang in there with me!

With that said -- I am super excited to show you a peek at my new home office. I'm sure you remember, but not too long ago, I created a home office/blogging area. Well, I am finding myself working from home a lot more now, and I decided it was time to renovate one of our spare rooms.

This was a quick and dirty makeover. I didn't hate the color of the room (it's basically tan), so I decided to stick with it. The three major things we focused on was building a new desk, transforming my Grandma's secretary hutch (I'm sure that's not the technical name...but it sounds good to me) and decorating.

The Cast of Characters

I knew I didn't want a standard desk. So, I asked Mr. VB to build me something simple...this is what he came up with:

 It's hard to tell in this picture, but it is huge! About 6 feet by 3.5 feet. The old chair is something Mr. VB has had since we first moved in together. It's old and worn and I love it. You can buy a "newer" version at Pottery Barn for $399.

Then there was this guy. It was my Grandma's. And, I think was in my mom's room when she was growing up. When I was younger, I remember playing with it, putting stuff in the drawers, and using the little writing desk. I struggled with how I should transform it (without stepping on any toes), but I really love how it turned out. But, you can't see that yet ;-)

As promised, here are a few shots around the office now. A full report will be up soon. I promise!


Shepherd's Pie

Chili. Butternut squash soup. Mac & Cheese. Fall is here...and it's time to break out the belly-warming foods! Here's another one to add to the list: Shepherd's Pie. My favorite shepherd's pie is from McGuire's in Destin, Florida. They have a Wild Irish Raspberry Wheat beer that is to die for. It doesn't get much better than 2 for 1 happy hour raspberry wheat beers and a bowl of shepherd's pie.

But, if you're like me, and McGuire's Pub is a good 700 miles away, grab a Schlafly Raspberry Hefeweizen and make this recipe:

Recipe adapted from Family Circle
2  tablespoons  vegetable oil
1 pound of hamburger
1   medium onion, chopped
2   ribs celery, diced
1  cup  baby carrots, sliced
1  cup  chicken broth
2  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
1/4  teaspoon  salt
1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh dill (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1  cup  frozen peas, thawed
1  pound of potatoes
2/3  cup  milk
2  tablespoons  unsalted butter
1  tablespoon  chopped fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/2  teaspoon  salt

Heat oven to 350°.
Boil the potatoes until tender and mashable, about 25 minutes.

For the filling: Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute onion, celery and carrots. Cook 5 minutes. Remove from pan and brown the hamburger. Drain grease from hamburger and toss the meet w/ the veggies.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk broth, flour, salt and pepper. Pour into saucepan with hamburger and veggies and bring to a simmer. Simmer 1 to 2 minutes, until thickened. Stir in dill and peas; cook 1 more minute. Pour into a greased baking dish.

Mash potatoes with butter, milk and salt until smooth. Dollop onto filling and gently spread to dish edges.
Transfer to oven and bake at 350° for 20 minutes, or until bubbly. Cool slightly before serving.


Backyard Reveal

As I was enjoying our "new" backyard this afternoon, I realized I haven't posted the big reveal yet. Shame on me! As you know, we got rid of the playground in our backyard and planned to make it more adult-friendly. The transformation was done in a weekend...so, let's begin!

Here's a before pic of the concrete slab. If you look closely, you can see I like to use it as a backdrop for my spray painting projects.

We picked up a gallon of concrete stain and a sprayer from Home Depot.


Next, we sprayed it on the slab. Please note, these are not my legs. Mine are much more shapely. And not as hairy. Well, usually.

We weren't thrilled with the color at first. Before we made any drastic decisions (like paint it a different color) we decided to finish the project first. We're always thinkin'.

We headed back to Home Depot and loaded up the Jeep with about 45 edging stones.

Landscape fabric went down first and then some stones from a local landscaping company.


Next, it was back to Home Depot for 20 bags of pea gravel.

At the end of the day, this is what we had. Not too shabby, huh? The concrete stain blends in perfectly with the edging and walkway stones.


Jeff was determined to have a built-in fire pit. Since our existing pit was only a year old, I didn't think it was necessary. He found this video from Lowes and convinced me otherwise. Our pit is placed on top of the stones. Genius!

We added some fountain grass....and here it is!

As you can see, it's a great place to relax with a glass of wine and old copies of Country Living and Flea Market Style (which is exactly what I did today).

 And, what's even better...it works!