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  • Kate

So sorry for the radio silence, friends. To say things have been a bit chaotic would be a laughable understatement. As we are learning all about the joys of renovation, we are also learning that nothing (and we do mean, nothing) goes quite as one plans. More on that later, because today we want to share with you the progress of our ceiling. You may be saying to yourself that ceilings typically come complete and therefore only require maybe a bit of paint. Not ours. That would be silly.

You see, we discovered that our ceilings happen to be dropped by 14 3/4 inches, which means there is more than a foot of space between the ceiling you see in the photo above and the original 1915 ceiling height. More than a foot.

The ceiling was dropped, we believe, to act as an open plenum, which draws air throughout the house while the lowered ceiling can help conserve on heating costs. We were hoping it was used as a hiding spot for lost treasures or big bags of money, but alas, it was nothing but a bunch of hot air.

After removing the ceiling, we were happy with the new height and wanted to leave it just as it was (maybe paint the green). And we could have ... if we didn't want to get a closer look at the load-bearing beam above the stairs. Since we are hoping to expose the staircase, this is pretty important stuff. Typically, it would mean removing a small section of ceiling and replacing it with drywall once finished. But, that doesn't work quite so well with plaster and lath, as it makes matching drywall incredibly tricky. So, the whole thing had to come down.

Thankfully, we have a friend who was willing to jump into a Tyvek suit and help Christopher remove it all. The aftermath was what we would assume would look like if zombies had kill rooms, all within into our happy little home. The good news is the exposed ceiling will make it easier for the electricians -- that is, when they finally arrive to replace all of the wiring in the house. 2 weeks, they said. Sadly, the Money Pit, has lost a bit of its charm (though we still adore you, Mr. Hanks.)

One thing we would be remiss not to mention about removing walls or ceiling in an old home is there's a good chance you will encounter fiberglass insulation. Now, we say this with all seriousness, it is invented by the devil and it will bring you to your knees in itchy misery faster than Chicken pox, which is a freaking POX. Rinsing doesn't help. Brushing it off does nothing. Washing with acid or bleach just makes it angrier. The tiny glass particles penetrate the skin and make you their bitch.

We can attest to its evilness because Christopher first attempted to remove a section of ceiling without a shirt on (did we mention we had been doing all of this in a heat wave? Oh yeah, that happened). Poor guy turned a color red that is solely reserved for angry cartoon characters, and his chest looked like it had been through a meat grinder. The only thing we could think to do was to use duct tape to wax the tiny demons away. It didn't take all of them, but it made life more tolerable. {Sidenote: This is the real romance of a renovation, folks, and we plan on sharing it all.} Good news, however, is we've learned that pantyhose works surprisingly well if you should ever be unlucky, cursed, enough to encounter the horrific insulation.

That is all fiberglass insulation ... Save yourselves.

And, lastly, a fence update. I realize this seems like ages ago, but the city director did come by our house (seriously, so impressed by that) and we came to a compromise that best serves everyone. As you can see from the photo below, we were allowed to build a 4-foot solid cedar fence. Christopher is then going to add 2 feet of cedar slats and cap it off. Plus, we agreed to set it back from the sidewalk to give a more spacious feel for pedestrians, and will plant something wonderful along its edge. All ideas on what types of flowers, grasses, bushes, or plants are welcome.

Though the stovetop still works (yes, the one in the photo below) and even has sensi-temp settings for pancakes, weiners, hamburgers, chops, and more--I know, amazing, right??--I knew it wouldn't be here long, and it was no place to bake (the wall ovens were removed first thing).

I decided I needed something I could cook a variety of things in and that wouldn't take up much room. Enter the Cuisinart toaster oven/air fryer (by no means an advertisement, just the model that offered a lot of options when one has no kitchen to speak of).

As my first foray into cooking with a toaster oven (never even owned one in college), I decided to try something I know and love: cookies. I have baked dozens upon dozens of all kinds of cookies, so I felt somewhat confident in creating something that would resemble a sweet treat.

After visiting the McMinnville Farmer's Market (which has made Thursdays one of my favorite days), I found the inspiration for what type of cookie I wanted to bake. A local jam maker, Alchemist, makes a Morning Marionberry Jam, made with local berries steeped in coffee beans and mixed with cacao nibs. Marionberries scream Oregon to me so I knew I wanted to incorporate them into a cookie somehow, and the jam added in one of my favorite elements: coffee.

I then turned to one of my all-time favorite cookie recipes, which comes from my dear friend, Sarah Pascarella. Her oatmeal cookies are infamous, with a mixture of toffee, chocolate chips, and cranberries, and are incredibly comforting when I feel lonesome for my life back in New England. These are "the cookies," and is one of my most cherished recipes that I make time and again.

I hated to change one thing but I did have to alter the recipe slightly for these particular cookies since I was using jam and need the cookies to hold together. I thought the toffee might clash a bit with the jam, but still included mini chocolate chips and dried blueberries and cherries. They may not be Sarah's exact cookies, but they are certainly inspired by hers and I hope I did them justice.

The first thing I learned about toaster ovens: they cook things fast and heat up really quickly. This makes it super easy to cook something with very little forethought, since you can just pop it in and immediately start cooking.

To test properly, I made two batches of dough. One for the freezer and one for the fridge. Both placed in respective places overnight. I was secretly rooting for the freezer batch because I love having freezer cookies on hand, and the toaster oven is the perfect way to cook a few at a time (as it can only bake six cookies at once).

I started with the fridge dough, and set the temp for 350°F. I expected the cookies to bake quickly, but they got really dark ... within four minutes. Ok, so this thing is like baking cookies in the mouth of an angry dragon. Oh, and I also had the rack set in the wrong position. Do not follow the photo below. Baking belongs on the bottom rack (chalk it up to things you should always do: read instructions first!).

Attempt number two with the fridge dough: I turned down the temperature to 325°F and put the cookies on the proper rack. Seven minutes later, I had cookies that were dark with jam seeped through to the bottom. Not good. Final batch, I turned the temperature down to 300°F and watched the cookies like a hawk. After nine minutes, they turned golden and, though some of the jam seeped through, they were baked well.

Onto the frozen batch, I used this newfound knowledge of temperatures and started at 300°F. The cookies baked in 11 minutes, but didn't get the right crispness I was after. So, I decided to try a new approach. I started the cookies at 325°F for four minutes and then lowered the temperature to 300°F for the remaining 5 minutes it took to turn golden. Success! The jam didn't seep to the bottom and the cookies had a nice crisp outside and a buttery inside. I prefer the freezer dough, because the cookies hold together better in the hot oven, but the fridge dough can work just as well in a pinch.

These may not be the prettiest cookies I have ever baked, but they tasted better than I could have hoped, as they mixed wonderful memories of our old life with elements of our new home.

Freezer Oatmeal Chocolate Chip and Morning Marionberry Jammies

These cookies are pretty flexible with add-on ingredients, so have fun playing with the flavors until they make your heart happy. If baking in a traditional oven, set the temperature to 350°F and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Makes 32 cookies

Hands-on Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 8 hours, 43 minutes

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup cane sugar

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup mini chocolate chips

1 cup dried blueberries and cherries

1/2 cup Morning Marionberry Jam (or your favorite flavor)

Directions

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda.

2. In a large bowl, blend together butter, cane sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Carefully blend in flour and baking soda. Fold in oatmeal, chocolate chips, and dried fruit.

3. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, drop dough by tablespoon (scoops can be close to one another as they are going into the freezer. Using your thumb, make a small indentation in the center of each cookie scoop; be careful not to go too deep as you don't want the jame to seep through. Place a teaspoonful of jam in the middle of each cookie. Cover cookies and freeze at least 4 hours or overnight. Once frozen, store cookies by keeping in a zip-top bag in the freezer. Bake a few whenever the mood strikes. Cookies will last up to 3 months in the freezer.

4. Bake cookies by placing 6 on a silpat-lined baking sheet (one that is either made for the toaster oven or fits inside. Place in toaster oven. Set the temperature to 325°F on "bake" mode. Turn the oven on and bake for 4 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 300°F and bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes more. Remove from oven and let sit on the baking sheet 5 minutes before moving to a cookie rack to cool.

  • Kate

One thing is for certain when you renovate an old home: you never know what you might find buried within its walls. You hope for treasures--the sparkly, crinkly, or rarer-than-rare kind--and pray for nothing creepy or crawly, but, more often than not, you discover insight into the previous owners that either is endearing or sometimes frightening. In our last house, we found old pharmaceutical samples buried in cinder blocks (because that's what you clearly do after 40 years as a pharmaceutical rep, clearly). That was more unnerving than the perplexing and strange things we have uncovered so far.

A child's toy gun, a comb, vintage candy wrappers (those toffee rolls sound like they are jam-packed with awesomeness), and the recipe for Easy Oven Stew printed on a Hunt's Tomato Sauce matchbook were found in all of the normal places, such as buried in what was once a bordered-up closet and in the base of a wall.

SIDENOTE: The recipe was such a happy find for me, and felt like a nice nod from the universe. I considered even trying to make it, but the title of the recipe (almost mockingly) reminded me that I am currently without oven (sigh) so maybe save for a later date. But back to the truly odd discoveries...

While removing the bulkhead in the kitchen, Christopher uncovered a 1938 bible from the neighboring town, Newberg. The pencil markings belonging to its original owner are barely legible, but the year and town are crystal clear. One has to ask, though, why was this bible hidden in the construction? Was it considered a blessing to the home? Did our previous owners always want to know where to find it ala Maude and her ring.

As if that wasn't perplexing enough, in the bulkhead across the kitchen, bullets fell from the ceiling as he removed the drywall. One live ammunition and the others the shells of a day at the range. Once again, we are left with questions about why these were placed within the ceiling? They couldn't simply have fallen into the bulkhead before being drywalled.

These were intentional hiding spots for both the bible and the bullets. Two things that may have been important to the original couple, mayhaps? We will never know. We are, however, open to any and all speculation. For the time being, we continue our search to unearth whatever stories the house chooses to reveal. And we will keep you posted on what we may find next.