1.26.2014

Handybook (Because Sometimes a Honey Do Is Really a Honey Don't)

Did you ever have a task hanging over your head for so long that it almost seemed insurmountable?  The kind of thing that should be easy to do but somehow it takes on a life of it's own and makes you miserable?

Well for the last month or so I've had two of them:  

The first was a monster armoire that needed to be moved from our second floor down to the first.  Having witnessed the movers carry this behemoth up the stairs when we bought the house, I knew my husband and I couldn't do it on our own.  It was huge, heavy, and needed to be maneuvered down a narrow staircase with two hairpin turns.  

So for six weeks it sat on our second floor landing while I wracked my brain looking for a solution.

The second was a giant mirror that needed to be hung over the fireplace in our den.  When I purchased it online I had no idea that it weighed roughly a zillion pounds.   While my husband and I might have been able to hang it on our own, it had the potential to be a nightmare.  (Hanging any picture with my husband is a nightmare.  We have one of the most solid relationships around but if you ever hear that we're getting divorced you can be pretty sure that a level and a stud finder are at the center of the dispute.)

So I did what any good procrastinator would do:  I propped the mirror up against the armoire and tried not to look at them when I walked past.

I know what you're thinking, "Why couldn't she just get on the internet and find someone to do this stuff?" And the answer is that I could have. I could have paid a fee and joined a website and read through lots of reviews to find someone who would meet my needs. Alternatively I could have used a free website and hoped that whoever I found was capable and trustworthy.

Instead I opted to close my eyes whenever I walked down the second floor hallway.

Then, in almost fairy godmother-like fashion, I was approached by the website Handybook.  It's probably worth mentioning that I'm frequently approached by companies asking me to review their products on`a casarella.  As you can probably tell from the number of sponsored posts that I've done (three in the last two years), I usually turn them down.  That's because I will never write about anything that I wouldn't be willing to write about unprompted.  Let me assure you, if I had known about Handybook before they found me,  I would happily have written about them all on my own.




You see, Handybook is a site that enables you to book pre-approved cleaners or handymen with the click of a button. Beyond that, they do all the heavy lifting (pun intended) for you:  they find the service providers, they do rigorous background checks, they schedule the appointment according to your needs, and they even handle the billing. 

Holy convenience, Batman!

So when they asked if I had any jobs that needed doing you can be darned sure that I said yes!

But I'm not going to lie.  I was still little worried.  This was uncharted territory for me and I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

Apparently what I should have expected was greatness.  I kid you not.  These guys were fantastic.

After booking my appointment with Handybook I received a "Meet Your Handybook Professional" email with all of the relevant details and contact information.

Russ and Luis (henceforth known as my new best friends) were the professionals assigned to my job.

They showed up on time in their Handybook uniforms with all of the equipment they needed to get the job(s) done right, starting with the mirror.  I had set up a template of sorts showing them where I wanted it hung.  Using their own tools and supplies, they had the mirror up and straight in under five minutes.  It was exactly as I wanted it.  (Or so I thought, but more on that later.)

Remember my last post when I told you all about my improved photography skills?  Well, obviously this shot doesn't count, okay?   

Next they turned to the armoire.  Despite their obvious capability I kept blathering on about how heavy it was and how they didn't have to do it.   They assured me that they were fine.  Then they set to work removing the doors and shelves from the unit to make it less unwieldy.  Even the professional movers who brought the armoire up in the first place hadn't removed the doors.  Once they did that, they strategized the best way to get the unit down the stairs.  This was the part I'd been dreading, but they executed it brilliantly.  They got the armoire safely into my garage with no damage to the unit, the banisters, and most importantly, themselves.  (They also reattached the doors and shelves.)

But let me tell you about the best part.  While Russ and Luis were preparing to move the armoire, I decided to examine the mirror...

...at which point I determined that it was about four inches too high.

This, my friends, this is when my husband would have (justifiably) lost his marbles.  But Russ and Luis?  Do you want to know what they said when I told them??

"No problem!"

And that?  That is when Handybook earned a well-deserved spot on my bookmark bar.

Are you interested in learning more?  If you have a house that needs cleaning, IKEA furniture that needs assembling, or any other household tasks, click over to Handybook's website where you can read all about their company and book yourself an appointment today!

Please note that while I have been provided with product compensation for this post, all opinions are my own.

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1.24.2014

Photography Advice from Photography Novice


Boy that title really drew you in, didn't it?

Seriously, why would you want to take advice from someone who is, by her own admission, a novice?

Well, sometimes, when I'm new at something, I like getting the advice of someone who is equally new (or maybe just a few steps ahead of me) in the same process.  Somehow it's less intimidating:  I know that person won't judge my lack of experience, silly questions, or all around cluelessness.

So I'm here today to tell you about a recent discovery that (I think) has taken my blog photography to a new level.

Now I'm not claiming that my blog photos are anything great, but they sure have come a long way since I first began.  (Feel free to check out my archives if you don't believe me.)

Given that most of my posts are about crafts and recipes, I often find myself taking close-ups of small items.  I personally love the look of a nice blurry background when I take such pictures and, after reading up on the topic, decided to get myself a fixed 55mm lens to do the job.

Now I must reiterate here that I am no photography expert, but I think the pictures that I have taken with this lens speak for themselves.  Here are just a few shots I've taken since making my purchase.  Some have been cropped, and maybe one or two were edited slightly, but the time I spent on any one picture was probably less than five seconds.

Lavender at the farmer's market in Santa Barbara

Pickles the fish.  Read more about him HERE.
Succulents in thrifted milk glass.  Read more HERE.

Flowers at my sister-in-law's house


Jam at the Santa Barbara farmer's market

Swiss Chard at the market

Gerberas
Brussel sprouts.
Aren't those nice?  I'm taking the pictures just as I usually do (mostly on manual) but I find the pictures to be crisp (where I want them crisp) and colorful.

Writing this post is kind of risky.  I imagine more experienced photographers might be tempted to pick these images apart and tell me a million things that are wrong with them.

In the end, however, I find them really appealing and I know that some other folks do too.

So, if you fall into that latter category, you can check out my new fixed portrait lens HERE.  And if you don't?  Well, feel free to move along.  Nothing to see here...


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1.22.2014

Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppadews with Balsamic Glaze

A few weeks ago my daughters and I ventured into a Macaroni Grill.  We had never been there before and I have to say we were pleasantly surprised.  

Especially surprising was a tasty little appetizer that all three of us loved: goat cheese stuffed Peppadew peppers topped with a balsamic reduction.  


A few weeks later, while shopping for Christmas dinner, I noticed that Whole Foods had Peppadews in their olive bar.  (I've also seen them at Fresh & Easy.)


I filed that tid-bit of info away and bought some Peppadews on a more recent Whole Foods excursion.

I also bought some goat cheese.


When I got home I dug out my bottle of balsamic glaze (which is a tasty little condiment if you've never tried it).


Then, I did what I assume the people at the Macaroni Grill do*:  I filled those babies up with tasty goat cheese!

(*Mind you, I have no idea what the MG people really do to make their peppers, but I will say that mine were equally tasty.)


After stuffing the peppers I stuck them in the oven.


I cooked them for 12 minutes on 375°.  The only reason I picked that amount of time and that temperature is because they were sharing oven space with a take-and-bake pizza.  That's right, I continue to keep things classy around here.  


When the peppers came out, I drizzled on the glaze.


It's worth repeating that they were delicious: the warm goat cheese is the perfect complement to the spicy-sweet peppers (and even sweeter glaze).

And of course they go great with a take-and-bake pizza!  ;)

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1.17.2014

Healthy Recipe Collection on LooksiBite

I have a confession to make.

In my entire life, I have only kept one New Year's Resolution.

(The rest all bit the dust somewhere around the second week of January.)

The one that I kept?  Well that was when I resolved to start a blog in 2012.  That's right, `a casarella is now two years old.  Who would have thought?

For those of you who made food-related resolutions for 2014 (especially those of you who are poised to ditch those resolutions) I'd like to offer up some support:  In an effort to make your lives a little easier, I scoured the internet for some of the tastiest, healthiest (and sometimes prettiest) fare I could find.  Whether your resolution is to eat lighter, eat more protein, eat less (or no) meat, or just to eat more "real" food, there's a little something for everyone in my Healthy Recipe Collection going up on LooksiBite today.

Enjoy!


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1.06.2014

Trader Joe's Three Ingredient Lentil Dip

Happy New Year, everyone!

For my first post of the new year I'm sharing my latest obsession:  this ridiculously easy, incredibly delicious lentil dip made from three simple ingredients.   I first tasted it at a neighborhood potluck.  One of my neighbors brought it to share and everyone was raving.  (She had been given the recipe by another neighbor--because that's the type of recipe this is: the kind that goes "viral" at a neighborhood potluck.)

As soon as I tasted it, I knew I would be making it again soon and wouldn't you know that I made it about four times over the holiday break.

And each and every time I did, people raved.  

And then they went off to make their own.  

And wow their friends.

(Who then made their own... you see where this is going, right?)

With all of this sharing and raving and wowing there was no way I wasn't going to blog about it.  After doing a little research I determined that the recipe originated with the people at Trader Joe's.  It's one of those recipes they make in the store and give out as a sample.  I figured they wouldn't  mind my sharing it given the fact that you will need to go to TJ's to buy the ingredients.  (Seriously, get the car keys right now.)

Speaking of the ingredients, there they are pictured below.  


Yup, that's it:  a pack of refrigerated lentils, a container of Bruschetta sauce, and a container of crumbled Feta.

There's no cooking involved.  (Heck, there's barely any thinking involved.)

Just open your lentils and dump them in a bowl.


Then add the Bruschetta...


Stir to combine...


Add Feta (to taste--you can use the whole container or less depending on how Feta-y you like things).


Combine the Feta with the other ingredients and you're done.

(Seriously!)

And the best part is that it is delicious.

It's like crack.

(But with more fiber!)

Which reminds me, you can serve it with any type of cracker you'd like.  I've used pita chips, rosemary crisps... pretty much anything that gets the dip from the bowl into your mouth will work.

(You can even eat it straight out of the bowl with a fork... not that I've done that or anything.  I've just heard people talk about it.)

Okay, so you can go to Trader Joe's now.  But when you get back and try the dip you need to leave me a comment and let me know what you think.


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