Posted by: Lance Vaughn | April 26, 2008

6 munths old

yay i’m a haf yeer old i found this piksher can u find me im hiding in the flowrs -blv

Posted by: Lance Vaughn | April 20, 2008

im taking over

i figered out how 2 use da camera so im gonna take over dis blog lets c how long it takes 4 mom and dad 2 notice -blv

Posted by: Lance Vaughn | April 9, 2008

u got a problum?

look mummy and daddy r a little bizzy rite now and will be back to blogging soon if you got a problum wit dat you go thru me -blv

Posted by: Lance Vaughn | March 2, 2008

Rice Cereal… Woohoo!

Benjamin partakes in his first gourmet culinary experience!

Posted by: Lance Vaughn | January 31, 2008

Benjamin Photos

Benjamin had his first professional photo shoot a few weeks ago and we just received the hi-res digital proofs. We’ve uploaded them to Flickr so all of his admirers can bask in his cuteness. We feel bad for all those parents in the world who think their baby is the cutest ever. 😉

Posted by: Lance Vaughn | January 9, 2008

Spice Rack 2.0

Just over a year ago, Kristin and I decided we were tired of digging for spices while cooking or, worse yet, discovering at the last minute that we didn’t have what we needed. It was time for some serious organization. I let my obsessive compulsive nature take over and worked up a pretty good system. In the process, we freed up a lot of valuable kitchen cabinet space, but as time passed, we decided my first attempt at a homemade spice rack was a bit too cumbersome. It was a great learning experience and one that I have recently leveraged when I went back to the drawing board for Spice Rack 2.0.

As you can see in the photo below, my previous solution (Spice Rack 1.0) was definitely a step in the right direction. No more spice cabinet mayhem! I used four metal cases, each of which held fifteen individual spice canisters. The spices were sorted alphabetically within each of the metal cases, which were stored conveniently nearby. The main drawback of this design was having the spices divided up into the separate cases. Every time we cooked, we’d have to get all four cases out and open them up to find the spices we needed and then put the cases away. The spice canisters that were left in the cases would then shift around, which meant when the cooking was done, we’d have to get the cases back out and reorganize everything again. In hindsight, this really didn’t save us any time or hassle. We had just traded one problem for another.

For Spice Rack 1.0, I had selected canisters, or tins, from Lee Valley. I initially thought I liked the smaller one ounce canisters, but over time I came to the conclusion that they were just too small. We were constantly refilling them and digging through our reserve spices, which we had stashed away in a box on the floor of the pantry. With Spice Rack 2.0, I opted to go with canisters from Kamenstein which are three times the size. Not only do we have to refill them less often, but most spices come in similarly sized packaging, so we don’t have nearly as many spices stored in the reserve box. When we went from Spice Rack 1.0 to 2.0, we reduced the number of spice jars in our reserve box from more than thirty to a small handful.

As soon as I got my hands on one of the Kamenstein canisters, I was immediately impressed. They were sturdier and had the look and feel of a quality, finished product. The Lee Valley canisters are delivered to your door with unfinished edges, scratches all over and metal shavings floating around in them. The compression fitting for the lids are inconsistent, with one tighter than the next. And if you hold them too tightly while putting a lid on or taking it off, they bend, making the process even more difficult. The Kamenstein canisters are made out of a thicker, polished aluminum and the lipped edges provide additional structural support. Also, the Kamenstein canisters are so clean out of the box, you almost feel like you’re wasting time wiping them down.

By no means am I trying to slam Lee Valley or their products; I just think their canisters are meant for a more industrial or workshop setting. After all, they are called Watchmaker’s Cases. The Kamenstein canisters are obviously manufactured for kitchen use. They have holes around the top for pouring your spices: four small holes for sprinkling and one larger hole for more liberal application. Finally, the Kamenstein canisters have magnets on the back of them, whereas the Lee Valley canisters do not. One could easily glue a magnet to the back of the Lee Valley canisters or even apply some velcro if you wanted to go that route, but when considering the quality of the canister itself, I just can’t recommend it. Pay a little more for the superior product and you’ll be happy you did.

When I originally brainstormed Spice Rack 1.0, I pondered the idea of labeling them to make it easy to find things. But once I started putting our spices into the canisters and marveling at the idea of being able to actually see the spices through the clear canister lids, I decided it might be cool to leave the label off the front. Over time, I thought, we would learn to identify the spices by sight, and a label on the back would allow us to double-check things just to make sure. And having them filed alphabetically as we did certainly helped with this learning process, but I can tell you the novelty wore off pretty quickly. Sometimes when you’re cooking, you’re simply not in the mood for guessing games. You need the cumin, and you need it now.

So, for Spice Rack 2.0, I bought a label maker — something I’ve always wanted anyway. After standing in the isle at my local office supply store for nearly thirty minutes, I opted for a slightly more expensive product (Brother PT-1280) designed for Small Office use, rather than Personal use. This product uses a different labeling tape than the cheaper models and is really two tapes in one. It prints onto the white tape and then applies a clear tape to the top before ejecting it. This gives you a water-proof label that will never smudge or smear, and that’s perfect for the kitchen!

After manually cutting the first few labels with scissors to get them to fit nicely onto the canister lids, I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t I just be able to tell the label maker how long I want my labels?” Sure enough. Within a few minutes, my label maker was producing labels 1.8 inches long. In the picture below, you can see the two dots to the left of “Wasabi”. Once the tape is ejected, all I have to do is cut the label where those two dots are and I have a 1.8 inch label with my title perfectly centered.

So, that’s the canisters, but there were a few more important decisions to make. I hit the Internet pretty hard looking to see if I could find someone else with a good DIY do-it-yourself solution. Here is a blog I found that was really helpful, mostly for all of its comments. After reading this post a few times and contemplating everyone’s ideas, I came to the conclusion that a magnetic dry erase white board was the best possible solution for storing the canisters. The biggest benefit is that it works for any arrangement or personality. You can arrange your spices in whatever order or perceived grouping you want. This was huge for me, because after going through what I went through with Spice Rack 1.0, I really wanted flexibility, first and foremost. If after awhile I decide I have a better idea on how to organize our canisters, there’s nothing holding me back.

In addition to having the flexibility of grouping spices and moving them around, a white board also allows me to mark on it, of course. I can indicate which spices are running low or keep a list of any new spices (or other groceries) I want to buy. If I want to draw lines around related or complementing spices, I can do that. Total freedom for creativity! Having this ability to mark up my spice board is, in my mind, what makes this a better solution than a velcro rack. Sorry, Alton. You’re still my hero!

For my initial stab at arranging our spices, I came up with three general groups: spices, peppers, and seasonings (spice mixes). At first, I was just going to have all our peppers in their own group pushed over to the side or circled with a red marker, but then I happened to run across some of the Kamenstein canisters at World Market that were painted red. Perfecto! I know this goes against my original argument of flexibility, but back in my Spice Rack 1.0 days, I had grouped the peppers separately from all the other spices, so I knew I liked it this way. (You can see all our peppers in the lower right of the Spice Rack 1.0 picture.) I haven’t been able to find these red canisters available anywhere online, otherwise I’d point you to them. As for our seasonings, I decided to store them beneath the peppers, using the red canisters as a divider.

As you can see in the photo below, my initial arrangement is rather orderly. The spices are in alphabetical order starting in the upper left corner going down. Once I got down to the peppers, I started back up at the top and ended up with three columns and a little room to grow. For those spices for which we had multiple types (Paprika, Roasted Paprika, etc.), I put the two side-by-side. This approach creates a lot of white space and makes things easy to find. You can see the peppers near the bottom separating the spices from the seasonings. If you check back with me in a year, we’ll probably have a totally different arrangement. That’s the beauty of it!

You’ve probably noticed by now that I opted to mount the white board to the back of our pantry door. This keeps it out of sight, mostly in the dark and away from the heat of the stove. The 24×36 inch white board fits perfectly onto the back of the door. Now, when we cook, we just leave the pantry open and we have access to virtually everything we need without having to constantly open and close doors.

The final piece of the puzzle was how to mount the white board to the door. We have a new house, so I didn’t want to drill any holes or mark anything up in any way. Hanging it from the top of the door wasn’t an option either, because I didn’t want it swinging around or knocking against the door. This got me thinking about adhesives. The problem with adhesives is that they can leave residue behind when you remove them or possibly even pull away paint.

After a bit of research, I found a product by 3M called Picture Hanging Strips, part of their Command Strips product family. When you remove these strips after adhering them, you pull down on them in such a way that, according to 3M, keeps them from leaving residue behind or pulling off paint. (Notice the little tabs at the bottom of the velcro-style strips in the picture below.) Now, I haven’t tested this to be sure, but in the end, it was the best solution I could find. The Picture Hanging Strips have two parts that snap together sorta like velcro so that I could reposition the board if I didn’t get it up straight the first time. This also will allow me, when I’m ready to take the white board down for good, to pull the board down and then carefully remove the adhesive strips from the door. It’s a bit of a leap of faith on my part, but I am happy with the choice I made. I placed twelve of these around the back of the board, held it up firmly against the door for 30 seconds and let go. Voila! Board mounted!

So, there you have it. Spice Rack 2.0! Coming in at just under $200 (including the label maker), it’s certainly not the cheapest option. After all, just leaving your spices all jumbled in your kitchen cabinet doesn’t cost you a cent. But, for those of us who love to play in the kitchen, the joy of having our spices organized and easily accessible is, well, priceless!

. . .

Answers to some common questions:

  • No, I haven’t seen Alton Brown’s spice rack, but have heard it is similar. I’m not claiming to have “invented” anything here. I am merely sharing the details of my thought process and experience in hopes of helping others who are interested in a similar spice rack solution. Spice rackers unite! 😉
  • Yes, I’ve tried slamming my pantry door several times, and the magnets held perfectly.
  • I bought the canisters at the Container Store. They were $4.99 for 3. I bought sixteen packages for a total of $80. The red ones were $2 each. I bought eight of those for a canister total of $100. The white board was $50. The label maker was $35. I also bought an extra package of labeling tape and some markers. So, yeh, $200.
Posted by: Lance Vaughn | January 8, 2008

New Year’s Resolution

How are you doing on your New Year’s Resolution? I skirted it again. Third year in a row now. Eh, child’s play. Meaningless. Whatever.

In yesterday’s post, I spoke of baby steps and of the delight that we take in watching Benjamin develop a little each day and how we can actually see the tangible results of his development. Are we adults really all that different? When did we stop taking baby steps and start floating around in the abyss of adulthood? Maybe getting our feet back on the ground and getting on the baby steps routine would be a good New Year’s resolution.

Well, whether it’s New Year’s or not, personal resolutions are obviously a good thing. And, what the heck, today is just as good a day as any to put that proverbial stake in the ground. But where do we start? Well, if you’re a fan of Rick Warren, you may enjoy his thoughts on the subject. It’s quite simple, it seems. Just affirm your commitment to the work of the Great Commission and view this declaration as a covenant with God, promising him that from now you will do whatever it takes: anytime, anywhere, anyway.

A Call to Radical Commitment, by Rick Warren

Today I am stepping across the line. I’m tired of waffling, and I’m finished with wavering. I’ve made my choice; the verdict is in; and my decision is irrevocable. I’m going God’s way. There’s no turning back now!

I will live the rest of my life serving God’s purposes with God’s people on God’s planet for God’s glory. I will use my life to celebrate his presence, cultivate his character, participate in his family, demonstrate his love, and communicate his Word.

Since my past has been forgiven, and I have a purpose for living and a home awaiting in heaven, I refuse to waste any more time or energy on shallow living, petty thinking, trivial talking, thoughtless doing, useless regretting, hurtful resenting, or faithless worrying.

Instead I will magnify God, grow to maturity, serve in ministry, and fulfill my mission in the membership of his family.

Because this life is preparation for the next, I will value worship over wealth, “we” over “me,” character over comfort, service over status, and people over possessions, position, and pleasures. I know what matters most, and I’ll give it all I’ve got. I’ll do the best I can with what I have for Jesus Christ today.

I won’t be captivated by culture, manipulated by critics, motivated by praise, frustrated by problems, debilitated by temptation, or intimidated by the devil. I’ll keep running my race with my eyes on the goal, not the sidelines or those running by me.

When times get tough, and I get tired, I won’t back up, back off, back down, back out, or backslide. I’ll just keep moving forward by God’s grace. I’m Spirit-led, purpose-driven and mission-focused, so I cannot be bought, I will not be compromised, and I shall not quit until I finish the race.

I’m a trophy of God’s amazing grace, so I will be gracious to everyone, grateful for everyday, and generous with everything that God entrusts to me.

To my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I say: However, whenever, wherever, and whatever you ask me to do, my answer in advance is yes! Wherever you lead and whatever the cost, I’m ready. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyway.

Whatever it takes Lord; whatever it takes!

I want to be used by you in such a way, that on that final day I’ll hear you say, “Well done, thou good and faithful one. Come on in, and let the eternal party begin!”

What does this mean?

Today, I affirm this commitment to God and submit to his plans and purposes for my life, no matter what it takes.

Posted by: Lance Vaughn | January 7, 2008

Baby Steps

Now that the Holidays have passed and things are beginning to settle back down, we thought we’d post a new Benjamin video. We’ve gotta tell you, we’re having a lot of fun watching him grow up a little bit each and every day. We all know about “baby steps”, but witnessing your very own baby grow up right before your eyes is truly an amazing experience. In this video, Benjamin wakes up from a nap in his swing (this was just too cute to leave out) and then shows us how he can raise his head and look around and smile and kick and coo and interact with his new best friend the lion and then, this morning, seemingly out of nowhere, he starts using his hands… even turning his wrist. Baby steps! How fun!

It should be relatively obvious at this point that all we do now is stand around and stare at Benjamin, and it’s actually quite delightful. Wow. How times have changed. =)

A quick production note on the video: The clip with Benjamin on his tummy by the tree was taken in mid-December when he was only seven weeks old, while all the others were taken within the last few days. Even though he’s only three weeks younger, you can see how his face hadn’t filled out as much and he was still working pretty hard to keep his head up. Also, if you look close, you can see how I keep moving the camera to where he’s looking instead of him following the camera. That’s why I really love the clip where he’s waking up from his nap, because you can tell he’s really aware of his surroundings and is able to focus on a particular object and study it. Do I sound like a proud Daddy?

Music by Aaron Shust and Feist.

Posted by: Lance Vaughn | January 3, 2008

Heads Up!

Benjamin will be ten weeks old tomorrow and is fast approaching twelve pounds. As you can see, he already has good head control and is really beginning to enjoy more focused interaction with his surroundings. He has experienced a few trips to Central Market, a trip to the mall, a stroll around Town Lake, and even went out to lunch with Mom and Dad. In between his four or five naps a day, he’s keeping pretty busy: He has a photo shoot scheduled for this weekend and an appointment next week with the Executive Producer of his upcoming cooking show, Cooking with Benjamin. Stay tuned!

Posted by: Lance Vaughn | January 2, 2008

Southwest Fried Oysters

We had some raw oysters left over from Amma’s masterpiece last night, so we decided to fry them up. We used one of Bobby Flay’s recipes for inspiration. After a quick test run, though, we decided the corn meal needed a little something, so we added several pinches of chipotle powder and other southwest seasonings to give it more oomph. We essentially turned the sauce upside down… We replaced the anchos with jalapenos, added a whole red bell pepper, halved the vinegar and tripled the honey. We also ran it through the food processor with a couple tablespoons of oil to get a more dippable texture. Good stuff!!

Oh, and Happy New Year!

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