2023: Our House Goals for this Year!

It’s that time of year again – time to plan out this year’s house projects! And with January behind us, we seem to have a better grasp of which projects we can reasonably tackle in 2023.

I am not big on making new year resolutions (why set myself up for failure…) but, every year, I do like to take inventory of all my home to-do’s and try to plan out where we will focus our energy. I made my first to-do list for our current home last year (here) and I think we did a pretty good job at sticking to it (you can find our final review of the year here).

Having now lived here for a full year, I can honestly say my wish list has grown exponentially. Not because there is anything wrong per se with our current space but, rather, because I am always looking at how to better a space (be it aesthetically, functionally, etc.) and since our current home is a new build, it has so much potential. But, alas, while the ideas are endless, the budget is not… So here is what I think we can realistically expect to tackle in 2023…

1) Hallways

There’s something about a lot of blank walls that makes a space feel unfinished; that’s how I feel about our hallways. I am not a fan of displaying family photos in our home – a few photos strategically placed here and there is fine but I don’t want our walls to be a shrine to us. Instead, I am hoping to breathe some dimension into our space by adding wall moldings throughout the home (to create a cohesive look) and will likely hang art in the main areas. I’m hoping to snap some fun photos of the boys this year and will hang those in their hallway.

This hallway is nice but it’s missing a little something on the walls to make the space more lived in and to tie in the other hallways in our home…

2) Playroom

We may have been a little too ambitious to think we could tackle both of our unfinished spaces (playroom and gym) in our first year of living here but I think we have our priorities straight this time around. We use the gym everyday and the potential in there is amazing (I have a long wish list for that space) but we are adults and we can live with the exposed wires and nails for a few more years.

The kids’ playroom is another story… They have a lot of toys in there but, for safety reasons, we don’t want them to be in there unsupervised. So this will be one of the first spaces we tackle in 2023. We already ordered the framing wood and drywall in 2022 and have our electrician lined up but it will still likely be a year-long project before it is truly complete. Next on the budget is ordering flooring, baseboards and trim.

3) Mudroom

The one item that is at the very top of my wish list is the mudroom.

We currently have a dedicated space which I call our “mudroom” right off of the garage. It is in the same space as our laundry room. It has a bench and coat hooks, so it is fine… just fine… It has no storage so in the winter the hats, gloves, etc. are sprawled all over the place and the mess is just repeated in the summer but with beach bags, towels, sun hats and flip flops.

Our mudroom is small – it was supposed to be a walk-in coat closet but we removed the coat closet from the plans and kept the same layout. It’ll be comprised of two walls (since it is open to our laundry area and is too narrow to build out on all three sides). So I will have to be creative but I really think that, when done, it will change the way we come in to our home.

4) Outside

If 2022 taught me anything it was that our outside space will never be “done”. The hope is that each year it will be better than the previous but, with a 2 acre lot and way too many Pinterest ideas, I would be setting myself up for failure if I tried to make this one big project. Instead, we’ll tackle it in numerous very small stages.

The goal for 2023 is to work on the front and side of the house. We are hoping to add an interlock path leading to our front door, add some plants and boxwoods below the windows, plant some cedars along the one side where we have a neighbor and seed the entire lot in hopes that we start getting some grass. Sounds ambitious when I write it all out so I’ll try not to be too hard on myself if we don’t do it all but the desire is there and I think both Paolo and I are committed to make it happen.

5) Luca’s Room (maybe…)

This is a bittersweet “maybe”…

Luca was one when we moved into this home. I decided at the time that I would keep his room simple – I felt that there was no point in creating a nursery but also it was too soon for a big boy room… While I haven’t touched his space, I have a lot of ideas for it. The driving force to design this room will be when he is ready to transition from a crib to a bed. Theo had just turned 3 years old when he started showing signs of being ready to sleep in a bed. Luca is turning three in October 2023 so if he follows in his brother’s footsteps then we may be looking at tackling this space towards the end of this year. But I won’t be rushing him – Luca’s my last little baby and I’m not sure I’m ready to let that stage of life go just yet… (plus, he’s totally the type of kid who will get out of his room at 4am and wreak havoc in our home)…

6) Guest Bedroom

I wasn’t planning on having the guest bedroom on this year’s project list but sometimes unexpected events help shift your priorities… Luckily, this one is a good shift.

When we built the house, I opted to remove the closet in our guest room and just leave the nook (where the closet would have gone) as empty space. I did this because the closet area was pretty wide (for a small guest room) and I preferred to have a smaller built-in closet and a desk area combined.

Up until now, our guest room has only ever been used by my parents who live about 2.5 hours away. They usually come down for only 2 days at a time, so there’s no need for a dedicated closet. But this year, in August, Paolo’s mom will be visiting from Italy! The last time we saw her, Theo was only 10 weeks old, so it will be 6 years since we’ve been together. While she will be splitting her time between ours and Paolo’s sister’s house, I still want to make sure that she has enough storage in her room here to be comfortable.

And as if the above was not already a lot to tackle, I am forever hoping, dreaming, planning of little things I can do around the house, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I sneak in a few un-planned projects onto the list along the way…

But, in a nutshell, this is what we have planned for 2023. Stay tuned to see what we actually get done!


2022 In Review

I am not quite sure how we got here but, somehow, 2022 is done and now it seems like the wish list for our home projects in 2023 is endless (if only the budget was endless too…).

After living here for over a year, we’ve come to know our space and we definitely have a deeper understanding of what projects need to be tackled first. But, before delving into what is to come, I always like to look back at what we set out to do at the start of the year and what we actually accomplished.

If you missed it, in January 2022 I posted my Home Project intentions for the year – you can find that post here. Now let’s see where we are at…

1. Theo’s Room

Theo’s room was my very first DIY in 2022. We had promised him a big boy bedroom as soon as we moved in to the new house, so I intended to make good on that.

Fast forward to January 2023 and Theo still loves his room (thankfully!!!) and it is still one of my favourite spaces.

You can see more of Theo’s space (before the rug and chair arrived) in our Home Tour Series post here.

2. Foyer Built-In

Originally, I planned on getting a seat and back cushion made for this space. I was going for a tufted banquette style but the cost for custom upholstery for such a small space was more than I was willing to spend. So I improvised…

I used a Twin bed headboard that came with the wall mounted bracket and covered it in a neutral (but still stylish) upholstery fabric. I made a 2″ seat cushion using the same fabric and added shiplap to the back for some visual interest.

While we rarely enter by the front door, we do need to walk past our foyer every time we go to our boys’ bedrooms or whenever I go in to my office and, each time, I look over at my little creation with pride.

While Theo’s room is one of my favourite spaces for sentimental reasons, my little foyer bench is one of my best DIYs to date!

3. Closet Glow Ups

Calling what I wanted to do to our closets a “Glow Up” might have been a little far fetch… Our closets (ours and the boys) are very builder grade and I knew I wasn’t going to be in a position to tackle those in our first year of living here. So I set out to make them just a little more functional by adding extra shelving (since there was a large space between each shelf).

My intention was also to get an Ikea Pax system for each of the closets with drawers for some more contained storage but Ikea has had a rough year in terms of supply. Every time I thought of getting a unit, the frame and/or the shelves/drawers were always out of stock. So, now, I think we will hold off on buying anything until we’ve designed the whole space (one closet at a time, of course) so that we can have it all fit in at once.

4. Landscape

Talks of landscape consumed most of our summer this year. We had several contractors come out for quotes and each seemed to have a different idea of how we should go about getting grass and hardscape. Ultimately, drainage issues on one side of our house took precedence and we had to hire a contractor to dig, bury a perforated pipe and create a swale.

We brought in several loads of fill to level out some low spots and pruned as many of the trees as we could. We made our first ever brushfire (and a few other ones after that too) and have lined up our trades for (hopefully!) some hardscape and landscape in 2023.

So while lots seemed to happen behind the scenes, our actual lot still looks the same…

5. Phase One of the Unfinished Parts of the Basement

The unfinished parts of our basement are areas that both Paolo and I were excited to tackle but there ended up being no room in the budget for it this year.

Currently, the framing wood and drywall have been purchased for the playroom and we’ve had an electrician come out for a quote – so stay tuned for at least some developments in that space in 2023!


Am I grading myself too generously by giving an (A-)? Maybe to some but I am happy with what we have accomplished in our space this year. In addition to the above list, I installed shiplap in the dining room, built shelves in the guest bathroom, had some fun art projects and invested in all the usual organization essentials that are required in the first year of living in a new home.

My to-do project list seems to grow longer everyday so I find that setting these realistic goals at the start of every year and then looking back on them periodically throughout the year has been really helpful in keeping us grounded. Stay tuned for our 2023 Project List coming out shortly!

L2C Challenge – Fraiche Food Full Hearts

Well this review took a lot longer than anticipated. If I’m being honest, my Learn To Cook Challenge has taken a backburner over the last several months – everyday life has just been all-consuming to think about making new recipes. But, alas, I promised a review on the Fraiche Food Full Hearts cookbook and here it is.

If you’re new here, I started the L2C Challenge in 2021 as a way to get me into the habit of cooking different meals and, if I’m being totally honest, as a way to justify my cookbook obsession. You see, I’ve always loved cookbooks. Each time I get one, I go through it from cover to cover and mark up all of the recipes that I want to try but that I likely will never make. So with this challenge, I pick one cookbook per month and make at least one recipe from that book per week. At the end of the month, I give my honest review of the recipes I tried and of the cookbook in general.

In case you’re interested, here are the cookbooks I’ve tried thus far…

Salad Samurai

Half Baked Harvest Every Day

Eat With Us

Beautiful Boards

Mandy’s Gourmet Salads

Jamie Oliver 7 Ways

Skinnytaste One & Done

Half Baked Harvest Super Simple

If you’re like me, you have probably heard of Jillian Harris and her cousin Tori Wesszer on social media. I, personally, am a fan of both of their Instagram pages. So a few years ago, when they started sharing the journey of the making of this cookbook on their Instagram stories, I became invested. I knew long before the book was actually released that I would no doubt be getting it. I was a little disappointed when they announced that a lot of their focus was going to be on vegan options, seeing as we are not vegan, but am pleasantly surprised at how they’ve been able to incorporate a vegan alternative for every recipe but not make each recipe vegan per se.

Most of the recipes that I documented below catered to my baking and sweetness cravings but the book is also full of hearty meal options, many of which remain on my to-try list!

Paul’s Bircher Muesli (p. 78)

Super easy to make, delicious and surprisingly filling! I suppose most people have muesli as a breakfast but I’ve actually made this one for myself for lunch quite a few times. I followed the recipe exactly (no substitutions) and wouldn’t change a thing!

Vanilla Cherry Scones (p. 83)

Making scones has been on my baking bucket list for quite some time. Something about them has always sounded intimidating to me but I am here to tell you that there is nothing complicated about these scones! My entire family loves them and for a while these were a staple in our house.

The only substitution that I made was that I used strawberries instead of cherries and that’s just because I tend to have the former more readily on hand.

Sunshine Muffins (p. 86)

The sunshine muffins were another hit at our place. The ones pictured here have walnuts but I’ve made several batches without nuts so that Theo can bring them to school. Everyone loves them (and not once has anyone commented about the zucchini or the carrots – so mom win there!).

These freeze and thaw really well and are so convenient to have on the go.

Garden Bolognese (p. 158)

The Bolognese was probably the one recipe that I was most looking forward to and it was a total bust for us.

The recipe itself seems fine – the problem was very much a user error on my part. This recipe calls for a lot of mushrooms which no one in my household likes (Paolo will eat them but he can take them or leave them whereas the kids and I won’t touch them). In retrospect, I probably should have found a substitute for the mushrooms but I didn’t. Instead, I just didn’t use them. This meant that there was nothing in the recipe to soak up the acidity and sweetness of the tomatoes. Fast forward to us sitting at the table and there were a lot of sour faces as we tried to eat this.

However, since it was my mistake, I can’t actually review this recipe. So use my experience as a lesson but don’t take my word on this recipe.


I guess the one good thing about my procrastination in completing this review is that I actually did make some of these recipes more than once! I also made others (like their fluffy pancakes) that I didn’t photograph and I still have quite a few pages earmarked for the future. So, needless, I give this book a full five stars! The book itself with its neutral linen binding and vibrant photos is beautiful (which is a must if it wants to remain as a permanent fixture in my kitchen). Each chapters offers a full menu for different occasions (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc.). The recipes are clearly laid out and I like that the recipes are for the everyday diet (each recipe contains substitutes to make it vegan but this is not a vegan cookbook, which I appreciate). Tori and Jillian have already announced the release of their second cookbook (likely not until 2024) and I will definitely be getting that one once it’s out.


Honestly, after some reflection, I am retiring the L2C Challenge for now. When I started this challenge, we were in the midst of building our home and I was on maternity leave and living in a rental. At the time, I wanted a “project” that would push me out of my comfort zone but still serve a purpose for our family – this was it and it was great.

Now, however, I am back at work, we are living in our new home and I have a ton of DIY projects (current and future) to fulfill the creative side in me. Over time, the need to make a different recipe every week became more about fulfilling my commitment to a Blog post and less about the actual purpose of this Challenge. And that’s how I knew that it was time to move on.

That’s not to say that I may not share a cookbook or a recipe every once in a while (especially over on my Instagram stories) but for now the Challenge has ended.


To date, I’ve designed three kid spaces of my own and helped friends design spaces for their little ones as well. I only have a few rules when planning out these rooms…

1. Be cohesive

I once read that most people spend an average of 87% of their lives inside a building. How those spaces are designed affect how we feel and behave. I adopt that way of thinking to all of the spaces in my home, including the boys’ rooms. It is important that there be good flow in the room so that they’re free to move around and, most importantly, I want the room to still feel as though it is a part of the rest of the house. One way to ensure that Theo’s space is an extension of our home and of who we are is to use the same muted and natural color palettes in there as we have elsewhere.

In Theo’s nursery (in our last home), for example, I had done a two-tone striped design on all four walls. The lighter color in the pattern was the same greyish/white paint that we had used throughout the entire home and the darker grey stripe was still neutral enough that it matched our whole color scheme at the time.

2. Remember your audience

Theo was too young to ask for much in his first room but, in this room, his list of must-haves seemed to grow by the day. While my initial instinct was to flat-out say no when he asked me to paint the walls rainbow; I also tried to listen to what he was really asking for – a little bit of color instead of mom’s usual white, black and neutrals. I was careful to not dismiss any of his requests because this was his room – I kept reminding myself that he was the intended audience.

So while I did not give him rainbow colored walls (they are still very much the beautiful crisp white that I have throughout the home), I did ensure to add color through the accessories with green drapes, blue bed, books, art and toys.

3. Good time but maybe not long time…

This one can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much you love your kid’s space when it’s done.

Essentially, if you like it but don’t love it, then rest assured, you won’t be stuck with the design of that room forever. Kids grow, their personalities develop and, if we remember #1 and #2 above, their space also needs to evolve with the times. So while there are certain aspects of Theo’s room that I don’t intend on changing (such as the very detailed wall moldings that we did), I am fully prepared to revamp his furniture and the layout sometime down the road.

The fact that a kid’s space will evolve with time is also something to keep in mind when deciding on furniture and accessories. I remember seeing the most beautiful (and really expensive!) cribs when I was designing Theo’s nursery and it was hard not to fall in love with those pieces but I opted for a simpler and more economical crib since I knew it would have a very short life span in his room.

Now for the actual Home Tour Series part… here’s the latest rendition of Theo’s big boy room. I’ve linked as many of the sources as possible but feel free to leave a comment below if there is anything that I missed.



Light pendant

Wall sconces

Desk and chair (Facebook Marketplace)



Duvet cover

Bed sheets

Decorative pillows (Pehr; discontinued)

Alphabet pillow (LD Shoppe; discontinued)

Bean Bag

Book shelves

Shark head (Home Sense)

Toy basket (Home Sense)

Name banner

Be A Nice Human sign

Wooden Hanger

Wall basket

Art frames

L2C Challenge – Salad Samurai

Epic Fail… That’s the only way I can describe this month’s Learn to Cook Challenge. It is by no means a reflection of the Salad Samurai cookbook; rather, a series of events, including my own misunderstanding, meant that I was only able to make one recipe from this book…

If you’re new here, I started the L2C Challenge in 2021 as a way to get me in to the habit of cooking different meals and, if I’m being totally honest, as a way to justify my cookbook obsession. You see, I’ve always loved cookbooks. Each time I get one, I go through it from cover to cover and mark up all of the recipes that I want to try but that I likely will never make. So with this challenge, I pick one cookbook per month and make at least one recipe from that book per week. At the end of the month, I give my honest review of the recipes I tried and of the cookbook in general.

In case you’re interested, here are the cookbooks I’ve tried thus far…

Half Baked Harvest Every Day

Eat With Us

Beautiful Boards

Mandy’s Gourmet Salads

Jamie Oliver 7 Ways

Skinnytaste One & Done

Half Baked Harvest Super Simple

First off, this is the perfect example of why you should never buy a book for its cover… The full title of this book is – Salad Samurai 100 cutting-edge, ultra-hearty, easy-to-make salads you don’t have to be vegan to love… I didn’t realize when I chose this book that it is actually a vegan cookbook (had I taken a moment to read through the recipes, I would have noticed that very quickly…). While I have no issues with vegan cuisine, I have no interest in cooking with ingredients such as Tofu and Tempeh (it’s just a personal preference, please don’t hate…). So, right off the bat, I struggled to find recipes that I wanted to make.

Alas, because I am committed to this challenge, I did manage to find 4 recipes that I thought we would enjoy (although I planned to substitute the protein alternatives with actual meat). Since these are all salad dishes, I planned to make all 4 recipes the same week to make use of the fresh produce that was repeated in each of the salads. I bought all of my ingredients, cleaned and stored them in the fridge with the intention of cooking up a storm during the Victoria Day long weekend. Then… out of nowhere… the Ontario storm hit. We lost power and had no running water for 4 days. All my fresh meat and produce were no longer fresh. After that, if I’m being totally honest, I didn’t have it in me to go out and repurchase ingredients for recipes that I was not really excited to make in the first place…

So here is the one recipe I did make before our city shut down, as well as the recipes that I had planned to make…

The BKT (Bacon, Kale, Tomato) Bowl (p. 75)

While this is called the BKT, I omitted the cherry tomatoes because no one ever eats them in our house. So, really, its the BK bowl… The recipe calls for Tempeh Bacon but I used the good ol’ regular stuff. You can’t tell from the photo but there is actually avocado and red onions included in here. The star of the dish is the tangy vinaigrette – a mix of Dijon, maple syrup, vinegar and a few other complementary ingredients. It was more creamy than watery, so I doubled the recipe to make sure every inch of kale was covered in dressing. D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S!

The Ones that Didn’t Make It….

  • Seitan Bacon Wedge (p. 101)
  • Tempeh Taco Bowl (p. 147)
  • Overnight Oats (p. 167)


In the circumstances, it wouldn’t be fair to give this book a review. No cookbook should be judged based on one altered recipe. I will say that the one dressing that I did make was fresh and delicious and the steps were easy to follow. I think if you are vegan or interested in cooking with vegan substitutes, definitely look in to this book. I, however, will be giving this book to a friend who could likely put it to better use than I ever will…


Full disclosure – I’ve had the Fraiche Food Full Hearts cookbook since the moment Jillian and Tori released it back in 2019 but, like all my other cookbooks, there are still plenty of recipes in there that I have earmarked to try and never gotten around to…

That’s about to change and I can’t wait to dive more into this book next month!!!

Easy Wall Hanging Dupe

I’d been searching for a while for a way to bring texture to our great room walls. I knew I didn’t want wall moldings in here because I have lots of plans for different wall finishes throughout the house and want to leave the main areas simple. So I started looking in to getting an oversized wall hanging and, guest what? The really nice kind are also really expensive! Since I want to keep the option to change things up in our main living spaces throughout the seasons/years, I couldn’t justify spending close to $1,000.00 CAD on a wall piece, so I improvised…

Inspiration – $600 USD (plus tax and shipping):

If it’s within your budget, I say always go for the real thing. Here’s the Blacksaw hanging that got my wheels turning:

Dupe – $30-$60 CAD:

Materials Needed:

  • Throw – Must be the width and length that you want for your hanging. Ideally it doesn’t have any tassels or fringe but, if it does, you can simply cut those off as I did (just remember that the overall length of the throw will change when you cut off the tassels).
  • Wood for mount – You can use maple if you’re wanting to stain it or MDF wall trim will work if you’re looking to paint it instead. It will need to be the width (horizontally) of your throw PLUS 2 inches (one inch overhang on either side) and should be around 2-3″ high. Depending how much you want it to protrude from the wall, anywhere from 1-2″ thick is good.
  • Double sided tape
  • Nail gun
  • Level
  • Knitting yarn and needle (only if you are cutting off tassels and need to add a border to the throw)
  • Iron and ironing board
  • A second person to help hold up the hanging when mounting


1. Before hanging anything on the wall, map out where you want your art to be (I used a pencil and level to draw it out on the wall and then just cleaned it off with a magic eraser). Be sure to look at your design from different angles in the room to gauge if the hanging is the right size/height/location/etc.

2. Once you’re happy with the approximate lay out, measure it and that will give you an estimate of the size of throw you need (plus or minus a few inches). I purchased a 50″ x 70″ decorative throw from Home Sense; the height after I cut off the tassels was 64″.

If you don’t have any tassels or fringe, you can skip to Step 5.

3. Lay out your throw flat on the ground. Using sharp scissors, cut off the tassels on both ends of the throw. Since one end will be covered by the mount, you only need to worry about stitching the bottom side.

4. I used knitting yarn from Michael’s that I had on hand from a previous project and a yarn needle to stitch the edge. I chose to do a blanket stitch since it is the kind of stitch that looks good when done with thick yarn and gives the fabric a finished look. If you’ve never done a blanket stitch before, Holiday Crafts and Creation has a great tutorial here.

5. Once your edge is nicely stitched up, you’ll need to iron the throw to get rid of all of the creases. I thought I had been thorough with this step but the fold lines are still very visible on our hanging, so be sure to really iron and, if possible, steam every inch of the throw (also, if your throw is machine washable, consider washing it to get rid of the new-blanket folds). If you still see creases after you hang it up, like we do, all you’ll need is a good steamer, something plastic to place behind the throw while steaming (to avoid damaging the wall) and a lot of patience.

7. I happened to have a long piece of trim that my millwork company had left behind when they installed our kitchen. It was already stained the same brown that I’ve used throughout the house, so all I had to do was cut it to size.

You can either use two boards to “sandwich” your throw in between or mount the fabric to one piece of trim and apply directly to the wall like we did.

Here is how the “real” (expensive) hanging is mounted – with one maple piece on either side and the throw sandwiched in the middle.

Here’s how we mounted it with one piece only. I debated adding a simple MDF flat stock piece to the back but I prefer the thinner profile of just the front mount.

8. Once you’ve figured out the width/length/stain of your trim piece, use double sided tape to attach the fabric to the mount. This method won’t “stand the test of time” in terms of staying power but it should keep the throw in place long enough for you to either sandwich it with the second piece or hang it directly to the wall (depending on which mounting option you choose).

9. Enter Person #2 (i.e.: your helper). With each person holding one end of the mount (and holding the fabric as well so it doesn’t unstick), place the hanging against the wall, at the desired height. Use a level to make sure it is straight and then use a nail gun to secure the hanging to the wall.

10. I intended to drill three black screws with washers to the trim once it was hung to give it the finished look that the inspiration piece has; however, once it was up, I liked that the finishing nails were not visible and it just looked like one solid piece of wood. It’s a matter of personal preference at this stage; just be sure that if you do want to add decorative screws, you are careful not to split the trim piece (this is especially important if your wall mount is only a couple of inches high).

11. Step back and take in your new (seriously less expensive) work of art!

That’s it! Since I had everything except for the throw on hand, this project cost me $35 and took about 1.5 hours to do. It may not be a designer piece but it’s definitely a unique one!

Hope this tutorial inspires you to make a hanging of your own. Feel free to ask any questions below and be sure to tag me (@casa_cres) on Instagram if you do make one – would love to see what you create!

L2C Challenge – HBH Every Day

My very first book in this challenge was by Tieghan Gerard and it fueled my desire to keep going; so, it is only normal that I would purchase her latest cookbook Half Baked Harvest Every Day as soon as it was released!

If you’re new here, I started the L2C Challenge in 2021 as a way to get me in to the habit of cooking different meals and, if I’m being totally honest, as a way to justify my cookbook obsession. You see, I’ve always loved cookbooks. Each time I get one, I go through it from cover to cover and mark up all of the recipes that I want to try but that I likely will never make. So with this challenge, I pick one cookbook per month and make at least one recipe from that book per week. At the end of the month, I give my honest review of the recipes I tried and of the cookbook in general.

In case you’re interested, here are the cookbooks I’ve tried thus far…

Eat With Us

Beautiful Boards

Mandy’s Gourmet Salads

Jamie Oliver 7 Ways

Skinnytaste One & Done

Half Baked Harvest Super Simple

I feel like I don’t need to praise this book the way I do others – you know by now that, in my eyes, Half Baked Harvest can do no wrong. Her latest book did not disappoint! We were out of town for the Easter holiday, so I didn’t get to try as many recipes as I would have hoped but the ones I did were all delicious (I’ll be making minor adjustments to them in the future but that’s due to personal preference, nothing wrong with the recipes as they are)… So here’s what we ate this month:

Salmon Cobb Salad (p. 84)

I’ve been wanting to cook more with fish and figured a salad that had both salmon and bacon might be a good place to start! This salad was hearty and the dressing was absolutely delicious. The directions said to cook the bacon and the salmon on the same tray, which I didn’t even know was allowed… Both cooked perfectly – bacon was crisp and salmon wasn’t dry – in under 20 minutes.

My only alteration is with the cayenne pepper. I don’t like spicy food but I figured a 1/4 teaspoon would give it a nice kick without making my mouth burn. I was wrong; I’ll either omit the pepper altogether next time or just add a dash.

Mongolian Beef (p. 210)

This recipe has the potential to be delicious! I had made a beef recipe from the previous HBH book, so I know that anything beef from her is usually tasty and mouth watering.

The reason I say “potential” is because the recipe calls for 1 Tbsp. of crushed red pepper flakes – I basically had a clear nasal cavity and a burning mouth after eating this dish. Even Paolo, who loves spice, said it was very hot. Not sure if the quantity is a typo or if it’s intended to be that spicy but, either way, this is definitely good enough to make again without the pepper.

Sheet Pan Meatball Pitas (p. 218)

As far as actual meals go, this one is my favorite so far! I got two thumbs up from everyone – including the kids!

I never realized how easy it was to make pickled onions – I’ve made it twice since making this recipe. Paolo even said it needs to be a staple in our fridge.

The meatballs were delicious when fresh out of the oven and just as good reheated the next day.

Salty Chocolate Pretzel Rye Cookies (p. 254)

Ok, so cookies are probably not part of my “Learn 2 Cook” challenge but I HAD to try these – and so glad that I did!

I would forgo lunch or dinner and just eat these if I could! We shared with friends and family and they got rave reviews all around.

I froze a batch and would take 2-3 out at a time for snacks – they thawed perfectly and tasted just as fresh. Such a great twist on the traditional chocolate chip cookies.


100% you need to get this cookbook and, if you don’t have the other two Half Baked Harvest books (Half Baked Harvest and HBH Super Simple), then you need to get those too!

I’m always mindful, especially when it comes to food, that different people have different tastes. So I wouldn’t emphatically say you must get a cookbook unless I truly meant it because you may not like what I like and I would hate to disappoint. But this book (and anything HBH) will not disappoint – the recipes are incredibly easy to follow (even for a novice cook like myself) and there is something in there for everyone.


I know there are those who do not accept that a salad can be a meal but, for us, it totally can!

I’ve actually had the Salad Samurai book by Terry Hope Romero for a couple of years but have never gotten around to making any of the recipes. I figure with summer around the corner, a hearty salad is always a good option (especially when you want to leave room for ice cream!), so I’m going to get a head start to the season and try out some different salads in May!

The Best Curtain Rod Hack

Ever get your curtains stuck on the extender piece of your rod? For me, that was an Every-Day-Struggle. Each time I pulled on the curtains and they would snag on top, I’d brace myself for the whole thing to fall (luckily that never happened)…

Recently, I was researching buying custom made curtain rods – one long rod as opposed to using an extender piece. I can only assume it’s a pricey investment but I actually couldn’t find anywhere near me that advertised custom rods. So I had to be creative…

First, I wrapped the end pieces of our extender rod with black electrical tape to see if that would provide a smoother transition for the curtains to glide – it didn’t work. Next, I thought of going to Home Depot and getting a long 1.25″ thick pipe that I could spray paint and use as a rod – that might actually work but I was trying to use what I had before buying anything else… And, since I already had a rod with brackets in place, I started searching online for a solution that wouldn’t require me to take anything down and that’s when The Best Curtain Rod Hack came to light!

Here’s how it goes:


  • A curtain rod the width of your window (plus extra for overhang on either side);
  • Brackets;
  • Curtain rings (if applicable);
  • Measuring tape (Dollar Store kind is fine because you will be cutting it);
  • Super glue;
  • Scissors; and
  • 2 people (preferably)


1) Install your rod, extender, curtain rings (if using them) and brackets at the proper width/height (Note: the reason I installed the rings at the onset is because it’s easier to slide them in now then after using the glue);

2) Cut the end of the tape measure and hold on to it (so it doesn’t wind back in to the case);

3) Hold the cut part of the tape measure at one end of the rod and extend to the other end – this is where having a second person comes in real handy! *It’s important that you measure from one tip to the other because the curtains will snag on the tape measure if it’s too short;

4) Cut the other end of the tape measure at the appropriate length;

5) Using super glue, run a generous (but not dripping) amount along the rod and press the tape measure down until it is stuck and dry;

6) Turn the rod so that the tape measure is facing the back wall (and not visible);

7) Hang your curtains and never get stuck again!

I can’t take credit for this hack since I’m not inventing the wheel here but, I will say, that all of the tips I found online suggested using this method before installing the rod. I tried it with the rod in place and I actually think it works better because I knew exactly how long I needed it to be.

Some may think I am being a bit dramatic but, honestly, this hack has made my morning routine so much easier. Some days I didn’t even open the curtains because I didn’t want to fight with them and now, with just a $3 tape measure and some glue, my curtains feel and work just like custom curtains do (at a fraction of the cost).

If you try this, let me know! Would love the hear how it’s working for you.

L2C Challenge – EAT WITH US

As promised, this month’s Learn to Cook (L2C) Challenge cookbook was Eat With Us by Toronto couple, Philip Lago and Mystique Mattai.

If you’re new here, I started the L2C Challenge in 2021 as a way to get me in to the habit of cooking different meals and, if I’m being totally honest, as a way to justify my cookbook obsession. You see, I’ve always loved cookbooks. Each time I get one, I go through it from cover to cover and mark up all of the recipes that I want to try but that I likely will never make. So with this challenge, I pick one cookbook per month and make at least one recipe from that book per week. At the end of the month, I give my honest review of the recipes I tried and of the cookbook in general.

In case you’re interested, here are the cookbooks I’ve tried thus far…

Beautiful Boards

Mandy’s Gourmet Salads

Jamie Oliver 7 Ways

Skinnytaste One & Done

Half Baked Harvest Super Simple

Now on to this month’s pick! Full disclosure, I bought this book for its neutral colors and thought it was a nice addition to my kitchen décor (the beautiful photography was an added bonus). But, in keeping with the purpose of this challenge, I chose it as this month’s pick in order to justify my purchase and I’m so glad that I did!

The book is divided into lifestyle chapters. The first is food for simple, every day times; the next being all about comfort food; another chapter is about hosting for special occasions; outdoor dining, etc… What I really enjoyed about the chapters is that each one starts with a “Menu” which is essentially a collection of recipes for different meals – i.e.: Breakfast; Board; Appetizer; Salad; Main and Dessert. So the Chefs provide a breakfast recipe for the everyday meal (aka the “Simple” Chapter); a heartier breakfast in the comfort section; a fancy breakfast in the lavish chapter; and so on. So there is a lot of variety in this book.

While I limited my testing to just four recipes this month, I have a lot of other pages earmarked to be tried in the future. Here’s what we ate in March:

Blistered Sugar Snap Peas with Ginger, Garlic and Sesame (p. 23)

Ok, this one is obviously not a dinner dish but it’s a healthy side! I actually made it for lunch and had it with some Costco rotisserie chicken for protein. Super quick and easy to make but it smelled great and tasted fancy. I can see myself making a larger size of this side the next time we have guests over for dinner.

Mac Daddy Nachos (p. 95)

This was the first recipe that I tabbed when I first went through this book – I mean, it’s a Big Mac but nacho-style, so of course I’m going to try it! It was absolutely delicious and a true comfort food dish. Paolo came home as I was making it and he said it smelled of Big Mac as soon as he walked in. I got thumbs up from all of my boys for this one!

Hot Maple Crackling Chicken Thighs with Fried Bread and Quick Coleslaw (p. 42)

The big win in this recipe was the quick coleslaw – it was quick (obviously) and absolutely delicious! It will definitely become my go-to coleslaw recipe.

The big fail (for me anyway) was the fried bread. You’re supposed to fry the bread in the same pot that you cooked the chicken but mine never actually “fried” – it was just soggy and tasted of chicken fat. One bite was all that I could handle and I will not be doing that again!

The chicken thighs were delicious but they were just maple (not “hot maple”) since I left out the chili peppers because of Theo (and because I can’t handle hot peppers either). Still, it tasted great!

Chopped Cucumber Salad with Mint, Feta and Chilies (p. 32)

This needs to become my summer dish – it was so light and fresh. I love any salad that has mint in it. The recipe does call for chili peppers – I included one (thinly sliced) for Paolo; he said he loved the kick that the peppers added.

I had some roasted chicken left over in the fridge. We chopped it up, warmed it and added it to the salad to make it a meal.

I will say that the recipe says this salad yields 4 servings. For us, it was just enough to feed two adults (mind you, I made a salad meal, so maybe it would serve 4 if it was served as a true side dish instead).


Ok, needless to say (because I’ve already said it…) that the recipes we tried were delicious, but that’s not the only reason why I will use this book again and why I would definitely recommend it. For me, it’s the layout of the book – I know exactly what chapter to look in depending on what lifestyle occasion I’m cooking for. Many cookbooks are divided by events – Christmas, Easter, etc. – but not for the everyday, which is what this book offers. If we have some close friends coming over and want a chill meal, anything out of the Simple or Comfort chapter will work. If it’s a work event or something more formal, maybe I’d try something from the Lavish chapter.

In addition to the ease of reference, the Chefs include helpful tips that are… well, helpful! Like how you should cut an English cucumber lengthwise and then remove the seeds before adding it to a salad so that it’s less watery – who knew!?!

All in all, the “design aficionado” side of me loves this book for its neutral and aesthetically pleasing cover and the “I do not cook” side of me appreciates the ease of each recipe and the thoughtful insights provided.


I am so excited for next month’s book!!! When I started this challenge, the very first cookbook that I knew I wanted to try was by Tieghan Gerard. I had been following her on Instagram and literally wanted to try everything she makes! Her last book, HBH Super Simple, was published in 2019 and has been a staple in our home. Her latest book, Half Baked Harvest Every Day, was released 2 days ago (March 29, 2022) and I knew I had to get it right away – April is sure to be a delicious month around here!!!

Custom Home : Choosing a Builder

I first started writing this post over a year ago, back when we were still very much in the midst of building our home. I stopped writing it then because I realized I should probably wait until I’ve at least built one home with a custom builder before deciding if I had any valuable insight to offer when it comes to choosing a builder…

Now that we are all moved in, I can honestly say that I am so grateful that we went with our gut and had the builders that we did. While we definitely had some rough patches during the process (which I now know is to be expected), they managed to build our home during a pandemic and they did it all on budget (not to say that we finished on budget but that’s because we added things, not because of anything our builder did) and with only a 2 month delay (which I also learned is not even considered a true delay in these trying times). Not only did our builders deliver on their promises, but their after market service has been impeccable. Does that mean that we have no outstanding issues with our home? No, of course not – there are thousands of details that go in to building a house, so things are bound to go wrong – but great after market service means that I can count on my builder to address the deficiencies properly and quickly.

So while I am so grateful not to have any building horror stories, I still like to think that the steps we took prior to choosing our builder helped match us with a company we knew we could work well with. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a custom home builder:

  1. Reputation within the Trades

Online reviews can help narrow down the choice for a builder but not every client will write a review; in fact, I think that unless a builder specifically asks their clients to write a review, most wouldn’t even think of doing it.

What we found to be really telling is how the trades spoke of our builder. We happen to know a few trades people in the industry and asked them if they’d heard of our builder. While none of our contacts had worked directly with them, they knew of the company and were able to ask around for reviews – all of them came back really positive.

My top recommendation when choosing a builder is to put in the leg work and ask around for honest reviews. If you don’t know anyone in your area that has the inside track into the construction world, show up at your potential builder’s job sites and see if you can get some insight from the trades that are there. Typically, a reputable builder will have their own “go-to” subcontractors that they always work with. You want to avoid the builders that hire any random trade because, without the benefit of longstanding work relationships, they can’t honestly vouch for the quality of work from that trade. So, if you show up on a site and find out that that was the first time the framers/roofers/plumbers/etc… were doing work for this particular builder, I would take that as a warning sign and do some more digging.

2. Timelines

Timelines are a really important factor, especially if you are looking to sell your home around the time that your new build is scheduled to be ready. Unfortunately, most builders won’t give you a precise timeline due to all the unknows that can occur during construction. Those that do give you a timeline, will usually include a bunch of non-liability clauses into the contract in the event that they can’t meet the deadline.

So when I say to consider timelines, I mean to consider it in the context of assessing your potential builder’s credibility. We met with several builders and general contractors before choosing ours. Some quoted us 6-8 months to build our home, others 8-10 months, one even said he could get it done in under 6 months (we wrote him off right away)… If anything, we knew from speaking to several builders that a realistic timeframe was in the 8 month-ish range (of course, at the time, no one could have predicted the impact of the pandemic).

Our builder actually came back with the longest timeframe – 1 year. While some would think that it would be best to go with someone who can get the job done faster, we appreciated the extra time because we figured it would minimize the possibility of further delays since they were already giving themselves a cushion for unforeseen events.

3. Communication

Communication is huge! If your potential builder says he’s going to send you a quote today and then a week goes by and still nothing – take that as a warning. While there may be a legitimate explanation for the delay, if a pattern of poor communication is shown prior to choosing a particular builder, you can almost be certain that it will only get worse with time.

We had one potential builder that took a month to send us a quote and when we emailed him with follow up questions (almost immediately upon receiving the quote), he took another month to respond! Needless to say, we didn’t give him a second thought.

During our build, we sent out builder a lot of emails and text messages (a lot!) and while we did have some communication issues, for the most part, they answered every email and message without us needing to follow up for a response. That is a true sign of a company that knows what they are doing and that values their clients.

4. Organization

I am a very Type-A person, so I have a deep appreciation for all things “organization”. Personally, I really believe that being organized is a non-negotiable requirement for home building.

A builder who is on top of their projects will know exactly what is happening at the location at any given time. They have their trades lined up, they give the client ample notice about deadlines for design selections, etc.

At the onset, one way to tell if a potential builder is organized is with how he delivers all of the requested information to you. For example, in our case, during one of our preliminary interviews with our builder, they suggested that we look at floor plans that they had previously done to see if there is anything there that we could work with (this would have cut back on design time). After that meeting, within less than a day, they sent us an email setting out all of the things that we had discussed and attached the floorplans.

While most would think this is standard practice, some of the builders that we met with didn’t even bring a pen and paper to our initial meetings. They didn’t remember what we were looking to build or where, even though I had set it all out in emails to them prior to the meetings. So there are definitely ways to gauge if your potential builder is organized enough prior to going with them, that will show you if they will be on the ball during the actual building process.

5. Compatibility

Maybe the one factor that you can control and that doesn’t rely on information from or observation of others is how you vibe with your potential builder.

In our case, our builders were European, like us, with similar cultures and traditions and they had young children. So I didn’t have to explain to them the need for a formal dining room, they just knew it had to be there. They knew we needed a finish space in the basement with guest room, play area and a bathroom. They understood the need for at least two freezers, a pantry and a pot filler. They just knew us. And, in turn, we felt like we knew their character as well. All of that “compatibility” was established before we signed the contract.

Signing a custom home build contract is essentially agreeing to being in a professional relationship with a builder for several years. Not only are you working with them to build the house, you also need to know that you can trust them to address any shortfalls once the house is built. You want to make sure you get along with that company before committing.

While I am sure there are much more specific factors that would appeal to each individual, these were the initial ones that we were looking for each time we met with a builder. Feel free to leave a comment or question below if there is anything else you’d like to know about hiring with a custom home builder.