Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2015 Best Dinners of the Week

Last year, I had a lot of fun compiling the 2014 Best Dinners of the Week, so I thought I'd continue the tradition this year!  I didn't post as many recipes this year as I would've liked.  In fact, I didn't cook as much as I would've preferred.  I don't know if it had something to do with work, pregnancy, or life, but this year just absolutely flew by, and the dinners flew by along with it.

However, here are some of my favorite, 30-minute or less recipes from this year!  Hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
Fettuccine Carbonara

When we don't have any food in the house, we make carbonara.  It's easy to make, filling, and can serve a whole crowd.  Better yet, you can add or remove ingredients as much as you'd like -- just so long as you've got pasta, parmesan cheese, eggs, and some sort of veggie on hand, you can't go wrong (and saving some bacon in the freezer doesn't hurt, either!).

Campfire Dark Chocolate Orange Brownies

Every year, Evan and I go "camping" in our backyard -- complete with tent, camping gear, and our fire pit.  We prepare all meals exclusively by campfire, and have a lot of fun coming up with recipes that will work.  This spring, we chose to pour brownie mix into hollowed-out oranges to create dark chocolate orange brownies.  They are incredibly decadent, and the leftover scrapings of the orange and orange peel infuse into the dark chocolate, creating an ultimate treat. It certainly doesn't feel like camping when you have desserts this good!

Spicy Shrimp Empanadas

Empanadas are the perfect comfort food to me. They make for a delicious dinner, a great little snack, and the best appetizer to pass around at summer BBQs. I concocted this shrimp empanada recipe recently and it's one that I'll make again and again. This recipe is extremely versatile, for the shrimp can be substituted for any kind of meat (or go vegetarian!) and the spice level can be taken down a notch if you are faint at heart. But if you love shrimp and hot peppers as much as I do, you will absolutely love this recipe as-is.

Campfire Orange Cinnamon Buns

Another trial run with our backyard camping adventures were these cinnamon buns, which we made on the inside of orange.  They turned out perfectly gooey, and the cinnamon really played well with the orange-infused flavor.  And, best of all, since these oranges are to be emptied before you grill them, you can save the pulp for fresh-squeezed orange juice!  We loved this easy camping breakfast.

Chipotle Lager Cheese Fry Chorizo Burgers

My number one pregnancy craving this year has been cheeseburgers, which is amusing because I never liked them until now!  Here's one of our favorite recipes on how to make a chorizo burger, which is amped up with a homemade Chipotle lager cheese sauce. As if that's not enough, it's served with fries over top, as a nod to the Primanti Bros sandwich shops in Pittsburgh. This burger is fantastic for BBQs -- can grilling season come back, please?

I can't wait to experiment with additional easy recipes in 2016, and am looking forward to sharing my favorites with you as future Dinners of the Week. Stay tuned for more, and Happy Holidays to you and your family!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

2015 Year In Review

In keeping with the tradition to write a Year in Review post every December, I sat down and had a lot of fun re-reading my posts from 2015.  I didn't have the chance to complete as many projects as I would've liked this year.  This pregnancy has whooped my butt, is all I have to say!

My favorite projects from this year -- both large and small -- are below, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Each post contains a full tutorial on how to complete similar projects for your own home or others.
Every holiday season, we surprise our family with a remodeled room of their choosing.  Last year's was my mom's main bathroom.  This bathroom is the primary one that she and her guests use, and she always wanted to fix it up to make it something special.  So, we made it happen!  We first removed everything -- the peel-and-stick tile, the vanity and sink, the toilet, the baseboards, light fixture, and other fixtures throughout the room.  We then painted the walls and ceiling; installed a new ceramic tile floor, a new vanity and granite countertop, and a new toilet; installed an oil rubbed bronze light fixture, faucet, and other bath accessories; as well as installed and painted new crown molding and baseboards.  This renovation took three days to complete, and the look on my mom's face upon its reveal was worth every minute.

January: Wine Cork Monogram

I have a bit of an obsession with wine corks.  We have them stashed all over our dining room.  One day, I picked up a large "S" from Michael's for two bucks, and decided to glue wine corks on top of it.  It was a simple project that took me less than an hour to finish.  I now have the monogram hanging in our living room, and I absolutely love the way that it turned out!

January: Rustic Firewood Wreath

While my mom was in town one weekend, we decided to repurpose one log of firewood and turn it into a wreath.  To do so, I sliced up the firewood with my miter saw, and then we used a brad nail gun to attach the wood pieces to a craft MDF frame.  To add a little feminine touch, we tied faux hydrangeas and a bow to one side. This wreath looked fabulous in my mudroom all spring, and it's quickly become one of my favorites.

May: House Number Wreath

Continuing with the wreath trend, my mom and I created a simple wreath for my front door using a grapevine wreath, some faux dahlias and peonies, a bow, and painted wooden house numbers.  This wreath hung on my front door for the rest of the year.  It's beautiful and functional, and our address can be seen from the road.  I have a feeling this wreath will be our primary one in the years to come!

August: A Dinosaur-Themed Nursery Reveal

Our biggest news of the year was, after doing rounds of infertility treatments, we found out that we were expecting a baby girl on Christmas Day.  This little girl is somebody who we've been aching to meet for almost four years now, so we knew that her nursery was going to have to be just as special as she was going to be to us.  Evan and I both love dinosaurs, so we decided to go all out and design a dinosaur-themed nursery for her.  We painted dinosaur murals on the walls, decked out the closet, fixed up the flooring, and accessorized the room with as many dinosaur tchotchkes we could find.  It's such a magical room and we hope she loves it as much as we do.

August: Master Bedroom Closet Reveal

We have a huge closet problem in our house.  Each one of them was in complete disarray, overcrowded, and unorganized.  I decided to tackle our master bedroom one weekend by removing all of the junk and giving it a fresh coat of paint on the walls and ceiling to match our master bathroom.  Then, we re-arranged the existing metal shelving to make it more functional, added one additional shelf, and put together "his-and-hers" cube storage systems for the bottom portion of the closet.  To finish the project, I added baskets for additional storage, two coat racks to serve as tie hooks, and a curtain as the new closet door.  This weekend renovation resulted in a beautiful, functional closet that looks just as great today as the day we finished it.  

October: A Kid's Hallway Reveal

I had a burst of energy one Saturday afternoon, so I decided to fix up the awkward hallway space between our little girl's nursery and her adjacent bathroom.  To do so, I painted the upper half of the walls with black chalkboard paint, installed oil rubbed bronze hooks onto the existing board and batten, and hung up her ultrasound photos in a series of frames.  This project was so simple that it only took a few hours from start to finish, and I can't believe how well it turned out!

November: An Under-the-Sea Themed Kid's Bathroom Reveal

After having a blast creating Audrey's dinosaur-themed nursery, I knew that we had to do something equally special for her bathroom.  Therefore, I started with what was originally our "grown up" guest bathroom and gave it a fresh coat of paint.  Then, I used an overhead projector to paint an under-the-sea mural along of the walls.  New accessories were added throughout, as well as the installation of a GFI electrical outlet and brushed nickel robe hooks. This whimsical bathroom took all but three days to finish, and I hope it'll inspire Audrey's imagination in the years to come.


As the 2015 year draws to a close, I want to sincerely thank you for all of your love, help, and support in following my DIY adventures here at Paint Speckled Pawprints. I started this blog four years ago as a creative outlet for me to share my favorite pastime with my immediate friends and family. With this year, we breached nearly 950,000 page views and attained more than 430 Facebook likes. I hope that the blog will continue to flourish in the years to come, and all of that is truly a result of your direct help and support. I've got an endless amount of projects, recipes, and stories planned for 2016, and I can't wait to share them with you.

Thank you for following, and Happy Holidays to you and your families!

Friday, December 4, 2015

10 DIY Holiday Gifts

With the holiday season upon us, I know how hard it is to find the perfect gift for your friends and family while sticking to a budget.  Last year, our holiday funds were tight and so we couldn't afford to buy gifts for our families -- instead, we made handmade gifts for everyone!  Here's a list of my favorite projects from over the years that I believe would make perfect gifts for your friends and family.  They are DIY projects that are inexpensive and easy to make, with each link detailing step-by-step instructions on how to complete them.

For your significant other:

365 Reasons Why I Love You

I'm a firm believer that you can never tell your husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend that you love them enough.  Why not give them a daily reminder that they are loved with this simple gift?  All you need is a container, 365 slips of paper, and a pen to jot down large and small reasons why you love your significant other.  Guys, pretty sure you'd win Husbands of the Year awards if you handed your wives one of these -- just saying.

For the newlyweds:

Wine Cork Monogram

What's a better way to celebrate a marriage than to offer a personalized wine cork monogram to the newlyweds?  Purchase a wooden letter from your local craft store and use a glue gun to affix wine corks all over it -- I guarantee you it'll make a great statement in their home or on their mantel.

For the new homeowner:

House Number Wreath

Surprise your loved one with a handmade wreath for their new front door.  To do so, buy a grapevine wreath, faux flowers, and a bow / ribbon of your choosing.  Paint some wooden numbers from your local craft store and affix everything to the wreath using a glue gun.  Welcome home!

For the kids: 

Dinosaur Name Silhouettes

Using some canvases, craft paint, and a craft brush, you can create a one-of-a-kind art piece featuring your child's name and their favorite animals.  Simply trace letters and animal silhouettes onto sheets of printer paper, cut them out, trace them onto the canvases, and fill in the rest with a color of your choice.  One of these would be perfect either above their bedroom door or their bed.  

Baseball Table Lamp

Perfect for the little sports fan in your life!  This doesn't have to be limited to softball, either -- add softballs, tennis balls, or hockey pucks -- whatever will make your child's room extra special to him or her.  Buy a cheap table lamp and use a power drill to drill holes into the baseballs.  Re-affix the electrical socket and you'll be good to go!

Sports Scoreboard

Wouldn't one of these be great as a headboard?  Surprise your little sports fan with a personalized scoreboard for their bedroom or playroom.  Simply sand and paint a large piece of plywood, use alphabetic stencils to add any messages, and save some areas for chalkboard paint to make this scoreboard come to life.  To make an outdoor sign, roll on a few coats of polyurethane and you'll be good to go.

For your friends:

Wall-Mounted Faux Succulent Planter

Buy a foam craft disc, some faux succulents, and a ribbon, and you'll be all set to create a wall-mounted planter for a friend.  Simply trim the stems from the succulents and stick them into the craft disc, then use a glue gun to adhere the ribbon around the edge of the foam.  Mounting one of these is easy -- since it's foam, it can be pressed into a nail on the wall and won't budge.

Monogrammed Slate Coasters

Most craft or home improvement stores will sell 4" x 4" pieces of slate.  To make them special, use alphabetic stencils to paint your friend's initials onto the slate, then seal it with two coats of polyurethane.  Add felt backings to them and you've got yourself a great set of personalized coasters.

If you've got a power drill, you can make these candle holders in a snap.  First, take three pieces of firewood and cut them down to size using a miter saw or hack saw.  Sand them really well to remove any splinters.  Purchase a 1 1/2" drill bit and drill tealight candle-sized holes into the tops of each.  Stain the candle holders with a stain of your choice and seal them with two coats of polyurethane. Glue gun some felt to the bottoms, add tealights, and surprise your friend with a gift that'd be perfect as a table centerpiece.

Pet Silhouettes

And finally, the best for last -- these are some of my favorite gifts to offer to my friends and family, especially when you know how special their pets are to them.  Stalk their Facebook account for a good profile view of their pet, then trace it onto a piece of printer paper.  Cut it out and trace it again, but this time onto a canvas.  Use a small paint brush and craft paint in their favorite color to fill in the background, and you'll be all set to finish a piece of art that will surely make your friend smile.

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