Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Light-as-Air Semolina Rolls

A year ago, when I was desperately wanting to make some homemade pasta, I searched all over for a large bag of semolina flour. I found some. It just happened to come in a bag with 49 pounds of friends. The look on my wife's face was precious when I came into the house with a 50 pound bag of flour. 

One year later, we still have semolina in our deep freeze. And our pantry. I continually look for ways to use it up. So I came across this recipe for semolina rolls. After tweaking it, adding to it, changing it, and modifying, modifying, modifying, hundreds of rolls later I am happy to present to you a wonderful, easy recipe for Light-as-Air Semolina Rolls


1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
1 Tablespoon yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon honey
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups semolina flour


1. Combine warm water, yeast, sugar and honey. Leave for 10 minutes until bubbly and foamy (if it is not bubbly and foamy your yeast is not good and your bread will not be happy). 

2. In a separate bowl, mix flours and salt. 

3. Add oil to foamy yeast mixture. Then, stirring with a dough hook, add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until mixture is smooth. Continue to knead with dough hook (or your hands if you're trying to impress Paul Hollywood) for 10 minutes. 

4. Allow to rise for one hour. 

5. Shape into small rolls or bread sticks and place on parchment paper covered cookie sheet. If shaping into rolls, tuck the outside into the bottom inside to make a mushroom-esque shape. 

6. Allow to rise for 30 minutes more. While rising, heat oven to 400. 

7. Bake 6-8 minutes or until top just turns brown. 

8. Take plate of warm rolls, along with some butter and jam, and hide in the bathroom to eat them so your kids don't know you're having something delicious. 

Monday, November 30, 2020

Eight Tips and Tricks for Holiday Exterior Illumination

Originally published in November, 2018. Updated in 2020. 

When my wife and I bought our first house, I was so excited to decorate the outside for Christmas. In reality, my lights probably didn't amount to much, but I was proud of my little house and the decorations we had. That first year, I bedazzled the house with about 750 lights. In my mind, I blinded my neighbors and caused the nuclear power station to flip the switch to the backup generator a la Christmas Vacation.

In the years following, I have shopped after-Christmas sales and added to my stockpile of decorations. From 12,000 lights in 2018 to 18,000 lights in 2020, it has gotten to the point that I need to begin putting lights up at the end of October in order to have the job completed by Thanksgiving Day--the day of the big reveal.

Over the past 20 years, I've not only accumulated a lot of tiny lights, but also learned a few things that I can share with you. So here are the Renaissance Dad Tips and Tricks for Holiday Exterior Illumination.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Turning Dead Palm Trees into Christmas Decorations

The summer of 2020 in Phoenix was absolutely brutal. We broke almost all heat records, with new records in days over 100 degrees (144 days), days over 110 degrees (53), and days over 115 degrees (14). We also broke a record for the highest low-temperatures, with 28 nights not dropping below 90 degrees. Needless to say, this summer was intense.

So it's not surprising that all around the Valley of the (Intense) Sun, people had their palm trees crisping up and dying. When two of my queen palms started looking like something out of an Indiana Jones desert scene, I thought they were not getting enough water. Then I noticed that palm trees throughout my neighborhood looked the same, so I knew these were deader than a Monty Python Norwegian Blue. 

I hesitated to cut them down, since each Christmas I wrapped them in red and white lights and made them look like candy cane sticks. But I also didn't want to have dead palm trees throughout the holidays. 

What's a boy to do... 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Adding a Closet to an Upstairs Landing

When my wife and I first saw our house, we knew it was the perfect house for us. It had everything that we could ever want - enough bedrooms, a huge yard, a workshop, not too many square feet. It was lacking nothing! 

After we moved in, we realized that, while we still loved our house, it had one quirk. It had weird closet space. Every bedroom had a closet, the master bedroom had two (we converted
one into a desk space), but there were not common closets. No coat closet, no linen closet, no junk closet, no central closet. Nothing. Nada. Zip. 

After years of trying to figure out which wall to knock out to add a closet, we decided to add one at the top of our stairs where our 1980's cabinets and countertop were rocking out. We ended that dance party by tearing out the cabinets. This was about the same time I got my new Greenworks 24V driver and impact driver set. Demo and construction were a great way to break these tools in, and I was really impressed with the light weight and power. From start to finish, these two wonderful tools got the job done. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Four Ways to Find Free Firewood

This time of year, as the weather begins to cool off, there are few things that I like more than having a cozy fire in the fireplace on a chilly evening. Yes, I live in Arizona, and our chilly evenings are not the same as the frigid nights that we had when we lived in Chicago, but nonetheless, I like fires. Crackling logs, the fragrant smell of the wood burning, the flickering glow of the flames. It is the perfect background for reading a book, watching a movie, cooking, cleaning, or doing just about anything.

But I'm cheap. For years I would buy cords or half cords of perfectly cut and stacked firewood. This wood was usually more than what I wanted to spend on something that would just be burned up in my fireplace. Then I turned into Scrooge, putting as few logs on the fire as possible. Just enough to give me the glow and the smells and the feeling, without actually being a roaring fire. But this didn't satisfy my desire to have regular fires in the fireplace. So I started looking for cheaper ways to enjoy everything that comes with a fireplace fire.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Use Up Leftover Paint with a Little Creativity

I recently converted a space in our house into a closet (full article on that next month). It was another If You Give a Mouse a Cookie project, which started with wanting to paint the upstairs landing and ended with gutting cabinets, framing, and drywalling. As with any house project, go big or stay home!

I was working on using up the grey paint that I used on most of our house, and after 1200 square feet of various shades of grey I started to feel like I was in a Tim Burton movie. Don't get me wrong, I like the colors that we used in our house. But after months of painting with it I was ready for a little splash of color.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Try These Little Firecrackers: Homemade Jalapeño Poppers

When my wife and I were first married, we decided to try gardening in our yard in the Chicago suburbs. It was an extremely fertile plot of land, so the two tomato plants and one jalapeño plant gave us an abundant crop. In fact, the jalapeño plant was too proficient, and I could not give the peppers away. So my father-in-law and I decided to try canning them.

We sat down at his kitchen table with two very large bags of peppers. We donned our rubber gloves (because, after all, with that much jalapeño chopping we didn't want to irritate our skin). About ten minutes into what ended up being a two hour ordeal, the acid from the peppers leached through the gloves and our hands started  burning. About 30 minutes in, pepper-infused sweat was pouring down our faces and our eyes were tearing up. So here we were--two grown men at a kitchen table, griping about jalapeños with tears streaming down our faces, and in walked my wife and my sister-in-law. Then, to make matters worse, when we canned the peppers, we ended up with two half-pint jars of mushy paste that we decided to throw away. I have never again attempted to can anything. So the question has plagued me for more than a decade: What does one do with an over abundance of hot peppers?

Here's the solution: Homemade, good for you (okay, how about 'not terrible for you?') jalapeño poppers. These are really simple to make, and even turned my (self-proclaimed) wimpy wife into a jalapeño junky.

Start with the peppers. I have used jalapeño, anaheim, serrano, and whatever hot pepper I can get my hands on (a big thanks to Ed and Shelly for being my constant supply of hot peppers that I don't grow in my yard). Cut the peppers in half and scrape the seeds into your compost pile.

In a small bowl, mix equal parts grated cheddar cheese and cream cheese (you can use neufchatel for a lower fat option). Scoop the mixture into the pepper halves, place on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven at 350ish (or on the grill) until the cheese is bubbly and slightly brown. Please note that the cheese will melt out of the pepper and will cause a moat of bubbly goodness surrounding the pepper. These can burn rather quickly, so keep an eye on them.

These are a festive appetizer, and frankly, one of my favorite things about them is that the kids don't like them. This means that on jalapeño popper days I will get at least one thing that I can eat without a kid at my elbow saying, "Daddy, can I have a bite?"

Isn't that worth at least a little bit of heartburn?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Yardwork with My Tween

It is currently 350° in Phoenix (no hyperbole or exaggeration here), and today I had a lot of yardwork to do. With temperatures exceeding most oven broiler settings, the idea of being outside for more than a fraction of a second is not as alluring as it is in the fall with the perfect 75° weather. 

But I have a secret weapon. It's my tween. My tween has been working with me to learn to mow, and she is now on auto pilot. This means that instead of me having to mow and then move into the rest of the yardwork, my daughter does the mowing (and trimming) while I get to tackle the rest of the work. She earns money, I get to spend less time with my skin baking off my bones, and we both get to commiserate about the heat together. 

So today I had to tackle trimming my palm tree. This tree is massive, and it has these seed pods that serve two purposes: to clog up the pool vacuum and to sprout hundreds of baby palm trees all around the pool deck. Additionally, when the pods are cut off, they weigh between 25 and 50 pounds, so they are a real treat to haul to the rubbish pile (heavy sarcasm here). 

Normally I don't trim this tree until the seed pods start dropping (after telling myself for weeks to do it before that). And in the past, it has taken me about six hours with a hand saw to trim the fronds and pods. By then I’ve melted into a pool of lava and am too scorched to do anything with the carnage, so I leave all the debris on the ground for a few weeks until I can muster up the energy and willpower to go back out in the heat and deal with the trimmings.  

But today I used my Greenworks pole saw. The reach was perfect, and instead of taking six hours to trim, I had the tree trimmed in 35 minutes. Then I had another (heat)stroke of genius and hired my 8-year-old to pile up the fronds for me. I tossed them over the wall; he dragged them to the driveway and stacked them up. He earned two bucks, and I earned a free afternoon in the AC.

Two hours, beginning to end, and the lawn mowing and tree trimming were done. We were able to once again retreat into the blissful joy of our air conditioning. And while this may seem like an advertisement for Greenworks tools, it is nothing but glowing appreciation from somebody who is grateful for as little time in the baking Arizona summer heat as possible. I got nothing from Greenworks but a pole trimmer and the joy of spending time with two of my kiddos doing yardwork. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Greenworks 60V Gen2 String Trimmer: Clean Up That Messy Line

Here's a story that most of us are familiar with. You have spent a few hours doing yard work. All that's left is trimming the edges of the yard and then blowing off the hardscape, and you're ready for a shower and a cold beverage. You start your string trimmer, get a small percentage of the way done, and then your string line runs out. You're faced with the dilemma of spending the time fighting with the trimmer to refill the line. I know I'm not the only one who has filled up a dual spool trimmer line, gotten it tightly wound, and then went to put it on the trimer head, only to have the line jump bounce out, unwind itself, and get tangled.  At that point, I'm thinking that the edge of the yard doesn't look that bad and can be taken care of the next time I mow. My neighbor doesn't say anything, but I see him eyeing those sloppy edges.

That happens to me every. Single. Time. It never fails. When the trimmer string needs replacing, it's at the tail end of my yard work but never as I swipe that last blade of grass.
Gen 1 (top) and Gen 2 (bottom)

Enter the Greenworks 60V Gen 2 String Trimmer. Any loyal Renaissance Dad reader

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Patio Bar Rehab for Less Than $200

I tend to be a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, which is especially beneficial in the year 2020. So while there are so many things going on right now that are not great (one of my favorite current sayings is, "Look out the window and see which chapter of Revelation we're in today"), some things have been beneficial. I have gotten to spend a lot more time with my family. I have walked hundreds of miles on all of my conference calls/phone calls/virtual meetings. And I have been extremely productive with house projects.

One project that I have been putting off for a few years is refurbishing my patio cabinets. The cabinet doors wouldn't close and were hanging off the hinges, the drawer bottoms were falling apart, the veneer was peeling off, and I was getting weekly calls from the '80s asking for their mauve back. So once I finished painting my downstairs, laying bricks around the border of my yard, and installing new banisters in my stairway, I figured it was time for me to slay this beast.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Quarantine Home Projects: Get the Kids to Help

For the past ten weeks or so, my job as a principal shifted significantly, as did the jobs of quite a few people in the world. I went from interacting with hundreds of people every day, shifting gears every five minutes, and bouncing around my school for 11 or 12 hours per day, to mainly doing one of two things: sitting in front of my computer monitoring online classes or doing my normal email tasks, or having my headset in on a webinar, conference call, or phone call. Rather than sit all day, I walk during conference calls. I spent so much time on the phone walking around either the park or my school that I completely wore through my shoes, and then could not find anyplace to purchase shoes because of the quarantine order. Needless to say that at the end of the work day I was ready not to sit on my computer or in front of a screen.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Kale Chips: Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables

When I was a kid, I had no idea what kale was. In fact, I'm pretty sure that kale didn't exist back then. The first time I saw it, I was an adult, and I thought it was some kind of lettuce. The first time I tried it, I thought it was pretty disgusting lettuce. Although I know it's an important source of vitamin whatever and pure essence of kale, I really wasn't sure why God decided that we needed it.

But lo and behold, if you add a little salt and oil and bake the kale, it goes from disgusting to magical. It is so tasty that your kids will not want to stop eating it, and you will need to hide some away if you want any. Here's the recipe:

1. Wash the kale and pat or spin it dry.

2. Pull the leaves off of the stalk. Some pieces will be larger than others; that's okay.

3. Drizzle oil over the leaves and toss them around. Spread the oiled leaves on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Do NOT allow the leaves to overlap.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Unclog Your Drain in Three Minutes (with No Drain-O or Chemicals)

Long hair was not part of my childhood. I have four brothers, and we spent much of our young lives with buzz cuts. It was cheaper for my mom to cut our hair, and we spent so much time in the pool that it was just easier not to have hair when you're in and out of the pool all day.

Fast forward to today. As a dad of two girls with long hair, there are so many things that I didn't experience growing up. Gobs of hair wrapped around the vacuum cleaner beater bar, hair bands and clips on every surface and under every chair and couch cushion, hair getting stuck to my beard (not that I had a beard as a kid...). Okay, so many of the things that I didn't experience growing up have to do with hair. More specifically, long hair.

And with long hair comes drain clogs. But before you grab that bottle of harsh chemicals to try to speed up your drain, here is a quick three-minute fix to unclog some of the slowest drains.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Hope for the Future Found in My Garden

Every person has the first big world-shattering event that they remember. For me, it was when I was in second grade. My teacher was Mrs. Loving, who also happened to be the older sister of Marlon Brando (hence my love of The Godfather). We were sitting in class, working on our handwriting, and Mr. Clark, the fourth grade teacher, came into our room, whispered something to Mrs. Loving, and left the room.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Ten Things for Your Kids (and You) to Do Now That They're Not in School

In case you didn't notice, the world is going crazy right now. And whether you're a toilet-paper-hoarder, a COVID-19-conspiracy-theorist, or a hide-in-your-bathroom-with-a-glass-of-wine-person, your life is probably pretty different right now than it was two weeks ago, especially if you have a child. And especially if your child's school has been shut down for the next two weeks or longer.

So I decided to take my educational expertise, my Renaissance-Dad skills, and my parenting foibles, and come up with a list of things for you to do with or for your kids in order to keep your sanity for the foreseeable future. While events, sports, movie theaters, and other businesses are shutting down right now, there are plenty of low-cost and free things that you can do together as a family, as well as things that kids can do to keep their brains sharp while school is not in session.

Outside activities:

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Greenworks 60V Mower: Generation 1 vs. Generation 2

Six years ago to the week I posted a review of a Greenworks 40V Twin Blade lawnmower that I had been using for quite some time. At that point, I thought it was the best mower that I had ever used. Three-and-a-half years after that, I got to test out the new version, a 60V Self-Propelled single blade lawnmower. I was such a fan of my 40V mower, I didn't see the need to upgrade. But the 60V mower won me over with its long run time, wide cutting path, and its overall power.

Last fall Greenworks announced a second generation of their 60V mower. Just like last time, my first reaction was to stand by my trusty old mower. But looking at the list of new features made me want to see how the 2nd generation 60V mower stacked up to the 1st generation as soon as it became available.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Grill Tool Rack Made From Scrap Materials

In case you missed the point in the post about my Weber Performer, I love grilling. There is something about fire and vegetables and meat and cooking that is peaceful and relaxing. The perfect burger sizzling away, corn on the cob roasting, slices of grilled pineapple warming over the flames... I'll have to finish this post later. I'm getting really hungry.

I'm back.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Renaissance Dad's Ten Favorite Products of 2019

The year 2019 has come and gone, and as we enter 2020, I can't help but think that the Jetsons steered me wrong. While I don't think there was ever a specific year mentioned, I'm disappointed that 2020 hasn't given us flying cars, food conveyor belts, or sassy robot maids. While there will be many amazing things in the coming year, I certainly won't be holding my breath on that list.

But this has caused me to pause and think of 2019 and some of my favorite things that I discovered or rediscovered during that year. I made some fantastic discoveries in 2019, and I would like to share my ten favorite products of 2019, in no particular order. Please note that none of the companies gave me products or money, but I am simply so happy with my experiences that I wished to share them.

1. Home Master Artesian Reverse Osmosis System - I didn't want to change out my reverse

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Homemade Limoncello: Put Your Lemons to Good Use

Years ago I had a parent of one of my students bring me a gift. It was in a tall, skinny bag. She told me that I probably wouldn't want to open it at school, which meant that it was a great gift. It was a bottle of homemade limoncello. For those of you who don't know what limoncello is, it's like adult lemonade. It's like liquid sunshine in a glass. It is fabulous. So if you happen to read this article, Tammy, this one's for you.


-16ish organic lemons (you use the rinds, so it is very important that the lemons are organic. The trees in your yard or the neighbor's yard are probably perfect)

-a bottle of vodka (if you can find 100 proof vodka, that is preferred. If not, choose your favorite. I like Skyy vodka because the blue bottles are great for storing the limoncello)