Sunday, March 27, 2016

DIY: Tiki Torches

Custom Made Tiki Torches

Repurposed Liquor Bottles with Plumbing Supplies


We thought we were really smart when we splurged for the extra-large Tiki torches at Target. We bought the Island Kings and they were not cheap, and we needed at least seven of them for strategic placement around our deck.

Yes, they looked nice that first summer and we were completely enamored with anything that we could come up with that made our deck a nightime oasis. But over time, the honeymoon period ends and you realize you have a problem.

Tiki Island Torches  Purchase
There are many problems with them. . . things you figure out after you make your first purchase and realize how you could do things differently:

1. It doesn't matter if you buy the special stakes to keep these secure when you have sandy ground under your lawn. These poles are never straight, especially over time.

2. Having a large reservoir is fine and dandy but if you can't tell when it's empty, or that you have overfilled it, it's really a pain. Overfilling leads to ridiculous flares and sizzling that is scary around a wooden deck (as well as plant life, bird feeders, kids, etc.).

3. Metal containers rust.

I could go on. I really did like them when we bought them but we knew we needed something different. Our first prototype was completed today and it's been a work in progress. For right now I just have a couple of snapshots but I plan on really zooming in and providing some more pictures as we continue in our quest to make ten of these and get into the details of this project. 
While I will continue to update this in the next few weeks let’s start today with some of the basics.


I like using that word every once in a while but I guess “container” would do. We really thought long and hard about the bottles we were going to use. The original plan was to use wine bottles but we realized that we would either have to put a layer of shellac on top of the labels or come to terms that once the labels came off (rain and sun would be hard on them) that the bottles themselves wouldn’t be all that unusual. A wine bottle is a wine bottle after the label is gone.

We decided for liquor bottles instead. The thought was that some of the markings are etched on the bottle and the shapes of each kind of liquor  would make them all a little bit different beyond just the color of the glass. Before you go and comment that I must have a problem with having all of these at my disposal, I must tell you I have a friend who waits tables at a local comedy club and was kind enough to get me these. I didn’t drink all this liquor to start this quest!


I live with MacGyver. I don’t know exactly how he figured this out but we used different plumbing supplies to create the attachments and posts. We have a piece of ¾ PVC pipe (about 1.5 feet deep in the ground, that was then surrounded by concrete. I don’t want to have wavy poles every again! We even used a post level when we drove them into the ground. To make this easier, we sliced a 45 degree angle on the bottom to drive this in easier with a mallet.

To this base, we added a PVC female adaptor to “receive” the copper poles we made out of copper ¾ inch pipe.
PVC 3/4 inch female adapter

The bottom of the copper pipe has a copper ¾ inch male adapter to fit into the PVC.
3/4 inch male adapter

On the top of this copper pipe is another ¾ inch male adapter that screws into a floor flange that is attached to the bottom of each bottle with silicone glue.

Floor Flange


We used glass pebbles inside each bottle purchasing them from Michael’s with a weekly coupon deal (30% off all regular prices merchandise this week!). We had a more limited selection due to the size of the neck of each bottle but were able to purchase some peach, clear and silver pebbles. The glass pebbles were important to fill the bottom of each bottle so that the torch fuel isn’t at the bottom where the wick can’t reach.

What’s nice about these bottles is we can see when we fill them and know ahead of time when we need to refuel.


We bought wicks for the Tiki torches at Lowe’s in two packs. These are “Long Life Fiberglass” wicks that should last a long time. To fasten the wicks into the bottles we placed through a copper ½ inch to 3/8 inch reducing coupling. This allows the wick to be pulled out through the coupling, and the whole piece sits on top of the bottle opening. We did put a couple of layers of Teflon tape around the bottom section of the coupling to make it more snug as this will prevent water from getting in when it rains. We also added a ¾ inch copper end cap to fit on top of the wick when not in use, again for protection against the rain. We will have to figure out how to leave these somehow attached to the bottle.

Restaurant Review: Cheesecake Factory at Twelve Oaks Mall

3 Hour Wait?

Is it worth it?

We attempted to go to Cheesecake Factory two weekends ago, due to a birthday request, but the wait was at least three hours. Now, I will go somewhere, put my name in, and come back, but this wait included a "check in" an hour in, and that's too much in terms of logistics. So we bailed that time and went to Buddy's Pizza instead.

This past weekend we had a plan. You have to come up with a plan when a birthday wish is involved. . . My husband stopped by the mall on his way home from work, and put our name in. At that time there was an estimated 90 minute wait, with a 45 minute check in. Traveling the rest of the way home, and then BACK to the mall, got us at about 55 minutes. By the time I checked in, I was notified our table was being cleaned off!

I have been to Cheesecake Factories before, including Indianapolis and Chicago, but it was years ago. . . This was the first time for the rest of my family. Our fifteen year old likes cheesecake as this was his birthday request, but I'm not certain that was why he requested it. I'm thinking it had more to do with Penny and Bernadette working at Cheesecake Factory on Big Bang. . . Let's start by saying the set on Big Bang is NOTHING like the restaurant. Actually my son described it best; he said it looked like a casino to him. Being that he's fifteen, he must have this impression from television shows, but I think he's right about the opulence.

I started with a cocktail. The menu is extensive and even the drinks are overwhelming. As I like grapefruit, I tried the Ruby Red Sunrise. This featured Tito's Vodka, Fresh Grapefruit Juice, Lime juice, and St. Germaine, all over crushed ice. It was light and refreshing, and a good salute to the upcoming summer weather we are looking forward to. Next time I may try one of their margaritas as they had a few to pick from.

Fresh bread was brought to the table. There were two varieties. One was really good dark bread, similar to Outback Steakhouse. The other one was more of a sourdough with cracked wheat. While the bread was soft and warm, it was disappointing that the butter pats were frozen. It took us a few minutes to defrost them with our hands to use on the bread, while the bread was cooling.

We ordered calamari for an appetizer. If you can wait, I urge you to do so. The calamari was delicious but there was so much food, I wish I had waited. The calamari had a light batter, and came with a really good garlic dip as well as a cocktail sauce that was not the usual one from a bottle. Really nice flavors and the calamari itself was a combination of the tentacles and the rings which is always a nice surprise.

We ordered very different dishes. We had a Pasta Carbora which was good but nothing extraordinary. There were very nice chunks of bacon in it but the noodles were spaghetti and it was just plated by sticking it in a bowl. I'm not sure how they could have made it more attractive but it was just there. It was a generous portion but quantity can't be a selling point. . .

The bacon hamburger was really delicious. The bacon made it . . . thick slab bacon with a peppery hint along with a brown sugar crust. I could have eaten a plate of just the bacon. This was a nice size burger and it also came with fries that were nice and crisp.

The chicken and biscuits was very different than what I imagined. This is no Cracker Barrel! The chicken was pounded very flat, like a scaloppini, and came with hearty gravy filled with really fresh vegetables. Large juicy mushrooms and carrots were featured prominently. I don't do chicken but my daughter said it was delicious. I can tell you the vegetables, red skin mashed potatoes, and the biscuits were really good.

I ordered a crispy shrimp sandwich. The bread was like a brioche, a soft texture that played very well with the very crispy shrimp. The shrimp was loaded on this sandwich and reminded me of a Po Boy. However, I should have asked for the Siracha on the side. It should have said "SPICY Crispy Shrimp Sandwich" because for me, that overpowered the remoulade. I would try this again without the siracha just so I could enjoy the shrimp fully. I also ordered this with a salad instead of the fries. I love Caesar but this one was really drenched in dressing and I didn't eat it after one bite.

Cheesecake? Well I'm not a super cheesecake fan and would have preferred one of the other desserts but it was a birthday celebration and two kids had other ideas. The fifteen year old loves classic cheesecake. He's a purist and ordered it with a fresh strawberry topping. The eleven year old is not a classicist and she wanted lots of chocolate. She ordered the Black Tuxedo Cheesecake which has mascarpone cream and cookie crust. Both were decadent and both were completely devoured.

If you are going for the cheesecake it may be worth the wait and the drive. There is also a lot to choose from, varying from healthy options such as complex salads to down south kind of comfort foods. By the time we were done I was full and unpleasantly stuffed even if I left more than half my food to take home. I think I would pace myself better next time and make the small plates part of the menu my friend. . .

This wasn't a cheap meal and while it was fresh and good quality, I can personally think of several restaurants I like better if I'm going to spend that type of money. . . It's definitely an experience but not something I would do on a regular basis.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Home: Kitchen Makeover Phase 1

Rustic Farm Kitchen 

Phase 1 - Wall Color

For years, I have had a Mexican cantina theme in my kitchen. Think adobe colored walls, fun and festive chilies, and a good dose of kitsch. Many of our kitchen elements came from our former home and because it still worked (largely because the walls of the new kitchen were a similar color) we continued the decor. I am a firm believer that there are some advantages in delaying painting until after you have moved into a new house because it takes a while to see what you may want to do. I know that if I had painted before we moved our own belongings in here, and made it our home, I would have regretted it. Blank canvasses don't speak to me and it wouldn't have had our personal touch until our objects made the move.

Now its two years later and I'm ready to tackle this kitchen. Say goodbye to hanging chili peppers and old bottles of decorative cooking oils. I want a completely new look. Inspiration? Sometimes Pinterest, combined with Facebook, provides that first spark. I recently came across this pin on a friend's Facebook page and it just resonated. Who knew I wanted a country kitchen? Really, I have decided I prefer "Rustic Farmhouse Kitchen" but there are a lot of the same elements.

My favorite boots.
If you knew me, you might be shocked that I want this kitchen. I'm not country in any way unless you count my love for overly decorated cowboy boots like these. It's funny but somehow, along the way, we have managed to collect a few chicken related items that have ended up in our kitchen, along with an old depression style glass butter dish with a cow. How did this happen? I'm not really sure but as I looked around my "before" kitchen I did notice that a lot of farm elements had crept in over the last two years. We have more than one vintage scale in our house, doubling as candelabras, as well as a metal basket that alternately holds bread and root vegetables, so I decided to embrace it. It is kind of ironic but when I saw the original posting of our house when it was listed, there was a huge rooster in the dead space behind the kitchen sink that I sort of made fun of. Now, since I'm embracing this whole new look, I have bought my own rooster to go in that same spot. Mine's cooler by the way, he even has red Christmas lights in him so he glows. Incidentally, because I have been toying around with this for a while, we have begun adding red accents in the kitchen already. . .

Now this kitchen makeover is going to be a big project with at least two more phases. The largest and scariest part of this is going to be painting the kitchen cabinets. This really is the catalyst to all of this. These cabinets are completely serviceable and overwhelmingly boring. My plan is to paint them much like the original pin, so that they are a dark bright red. I am unsure how those in the picture were painted but I know that I'm going to use chalk paint and it's going to be an adventure. One other funny thing to note, I was going to go out and get the magazine issue that was referred to in this pin but realized later that this was a magazine issue from 2010! It is not likely that I could find it. . .

Because we know we are going to be using chalk paint I decided to really strategize how to take on this project and I decided the walls would be our first step. That might seem counterintuitive but I thought the walls were equally important and I didn't want to put painter's tape on those cabinets once they are completed to mask them for the walls. Because of this I painted the walls first and will wait at least a month for them to completely cure before I tackle those cabinets.

As you can see from my "Before" and "Phase 1" photos, I decided to go for a bright color called "Pageant Green" by Behr in their Marquee line. I was going for a Robin's Egg Blue and this color really did it for me. I actually had painted the inner panel of a cupboard to test out chalk paint colors and took that with me when I went to look at paint swatches. Of course you won't be able to see my vision with the red cabinets until it's completely done (next phase) but you will have to trust me on this.

Now you may wonder why I didn't go with a buttery yellow wall with these planned red cupboards. . . After all that kitchen in the pin was pretty nice and those colors did look good together. Two reasons: 1. I just can't copy someone else's kitchen even if we have a lot of similarities. I couldn't do it. 2. My daughter commented that red with creamy yellow looked like McDonald's. While I don't think that is quite the McDonald's decor, I couldn't get that out of my mind.

I did want to add that the Behr Marquee paint was worth the extra money for this project. One coat of paint covered those adobe walls. I was able to do this whole kitchen with less than one gallon of paint because it had such good coverage. I chose an eggshell finish as a gloss would look a little out of place with the chalk paint shabby chic cupboards we have planned. I honestly think we spent more money on frog tape than we did on the paint (3 rolls!).

I do think that the kitchen looks better already. I like color and there's a little more of it without having adobe walls with wood cupboards.  Cupboards are definitely next and we have done a lot of research that I will share in our next post about this project. Stay tuned for Phase II that should be sometime this spring. It's going to involve a lot of chalk paint, tape and brushing!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Restaurant Review: Yuzu Sushi Co.

Fast Food Sushi? 

This is not your average California roll


It was a snowy day in Royal Oak which meant that driving down Woodward, rather than taking the freeway, was a more prudent choice when heading towards Pontiac. I happened to notice a new storefront announcing Sushi and I was intrigued, making a note to come back later. 

Yuzu Sushi Company is in the old “Big Salad” location and is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. I am always up for sushi but this is not what the typical sushi place. This one is quite different. First, it’s more of a take-out place (there is some seating) and it’s kind of like a fast food joint in that you order your items at the counter and they will get them to you quickly. I think of this in line with a subway or Q-Doba in terms of “fast” but not like a McDonald’s where it is really made ahead of time.

There is a lot of variety in terms of items with different ingredients but the mains are classified in three different categories.

1. There is a sushi roll. Call it a GIANT sushi roll. They aren’t how I am used to seeing sushi. Rather than six delicate slices of morsels, these are the size of a good wrap sandwich, split into two equal parts.

2. Sushi rolls can also be ordered as a “bowl”. Think of this like a naked burrito, where the wrap is taken off, and the items are put in a bowl with all the ingredients that make the burrito delicious without the convenience of the wrap.

3. Poke. What is poke? I asked that question and apparently this is the first version offered in Michigan. It’s like a sushi salad, and is of Hawaiian descent and really did look delicious. That’s going to be my next trip.

Carrot Ginger Salad
Of course there are sides which include things like carrot ginger salad, miso soup, and many of the items you would traditionally associate with a sushi joint.  

During my visit I ordered a Unagi Roll but they were accommodating about making changes. The Unagi roll was designed to have BBQ eel, Tamago (omelet), eel sauce, cucumber, carrots and seaweed salad. I hate eel. I love eel sauce but hate eel, so they were more than happy to let me substitute tuna in this roll. It was delicious. 

As I mentioned these are huge and I gave half to a friend. 

Combos are available that include a soda fountain drink and a side. I chose a carrot ginger salad. It was fresh and flavorful but nothing that stood out in terms of any other salad I have had at a sushi place. Next time I’m trying that Poke!