Thursday, April 30, 2015

In the mood for summer recipes and pretty food blogs

I love cooking blogs. When I was first getting into this whole blog thing, I fell in love with Smitten Kitchen.  Deb made a wedding cake for her friends' wedding, and that's how I found her; I was doing research on how to make a wedding cake.  From Deb, I learned of David Lebovitz, an ex-pat living in Paris.   (Obviously I loved him from the start.)  He's a pastry chef, and has the best recipes for homemade ice cream.  He also writes about how quirky and weird the French are.  Like I said, love.  From David, I learned of Chocolate and Zucchini, and Lottie + Doof.  From L+D, I learned of The Wednesday Chef.  By then, Pinterest was a viable thing, and suddenly I had a world of beautiful food blogs at my fingertips.  (Have I mentioned that I love Pinterest with every fiber of my being?  Because I do.)

One of my favorite food blogs that I discovered on Pinterest is Alexandra's Kitchen.  I don't remember when, or what post did it, but I fell pretty hard.  Her photos are gorgeous, and her recipes are phenomenal.  Her Grilled Poblano and Corn Salad is one of my favorite recipes of all time.

Although Alexandra recommends it as topping for a grilled steak taco, we go full vegetarian and eat it piled in a warm corn tortilla (actually, TJ's corn and wheat tortillas are best) with Iberico cheese and avocado.  We also add a few tomatoes to round out the salad, and of course, a lot of cilantro.  The result is a beautiful medley of flavors and textures.  The corn is sweet, the poblano is smokey and just a little bit spicy, the lime juice is tart, the cilantro is so fresh, and the cheese and the avocado are creamy, but in different ways.  Because we usually eat the poblano-corn part cold (or room temp), there's also this wonderful interplay between the melted cheese, the warm tortilla, and the cold salad.  It's fresh and filling and deeply satisfying.  It's on our summer rotation.  It's the perfect meal on these long, hot summer days.

Another recipe on our summer rotation is lemon and olive oil marinated burrata with fennel.  This isn't an AK recipe, but I learned about it from her (it was linked in the same poblano post!).  

With some slices of toasted baguette, the cold, herby fennel and bracing lemon is perfect with the creamy burrata.

The fennel salad is a variation on another recipe that I love to make in summer, marinated mozzarella with tomatoes, as Lottie + Doof adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty.  

It's basically just a fancy caprese salad, which has long been a summer staple in our house.  I usually make it for lunch on a weekend, when Brian and I break away from whatever weekend project we're working on, and meet up in the kitchen to put together a quick lunch.  Then we move to the living room, where we eat lunch and watch an episode or two of something funny.  Last summer, it was fennel salad and Brooklyn 99.  The summer before that, it was caprese and Bob's Burgers.  After we're done eating, we pour out another cuppa tea and, if there's time, we watch maybe just one more episode while we digest.  Then we part ways, and get back to whatever it is that we were doing.  For the past few years, Brian's weekend projects have been school work and studying for the bar.  But that's over now!  He's done with law school and done with the bar!  What will these new weekends bring?  I can't wait to find out.

So what are your favorite summer meals, food blogs, and weekend rituals?  I'd love to hear!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

In the mood to paint my ugly laminate bathroom!

We live in a 1980s builder house.  I grew up in this house, and Brian and I rent it from my parents, which is pretty cool.  One of the cool things is that my mom did some renovating over the years.  She tore out the crappy beige carpet and put down terracotta tile.  Then she tore out the (new) (purple!) carpet (that my dad picked out!) in the bedrooms and we put down laminate floors.  She also replaced the 1980s laminate kitchen cabinets for solid wood.

One of the less cool things about my house?  The bathrooms.

Yep.  That's almond laminate, a biscuit colored sink, and a giant builder mirror.

Ultimately, my plan is to completely re-do both bathrooms from the floor to the ceiling.  But you know?  That's kind of expensive.  Even if you use Ikea.  So what's a gal to do in the meantime?  That's right: paint.

I did a lot of research on painting laminate.  There are cabinet and countertop kits specifically designed for painting laminate, but you know the secret?  They're all oil-based.  Oil based paint is the only paint strong enough to stick to laminate and not peel off.

A few years ago, I read this post on Little Green Notebook (I told you, Jenny is my spirit animal), where she painted laminate cabinets (that looked almost identical to mine).  Here's Jenny's before:

And after:

Not too shabby, right?  She used the oil-based rustoleum paint that she's always raving about in glossy black.  She cleaned the cabinets thoroughly, but she didn't sand them.  Her reasoning is "Why bother?  Just get it done."  I am 100% in favor of that reasoning.  

So, after cleaning the cabinets, I did my first coat of oil based paint in Gloss Smoke Gray.  


Look how glossy they are!

Painting with oil-based paint, as opposed to latex, is different.  Obviously, oil based paint isn't water based, so you have to use paint thinner, denatured alcohol, or acetone, to break it down.  I've done some pretty extensive research, or at least I've tried to, but there just doesn't seem to be that much information out there.  I assume that's because oil-based paints are usually used by professionals, and it's considered a little old fashioned.  Jenny's posts have been most helpful in my journey towards painting with oil based paints.  Check out Jenny's posts with her tips (1, 2).

The main thing with oil based paints is that you can't go back over your strokes to make them more smooth because you'll just mess them up.  Oil based paints are sort of self-leveling, so if you apply it evenly, it should settle in and dry smooth.  Jenny likens it to nail polish, where you just sort of place the polish on the nail and it levels itself out as it dries.  (Incidentally, Jenny's lessons on painting with oil-based paint have helped me in painting my nails.  Who knew?)  I don't love having to work with paint thinner, but I bought "green" paint thinner (not sure if that's a thing or if it's just easing my liberal guilt), and I keep my paint brush in the freezer wrapped in press-and-seal when I'm in the middle of a painting job.

After the first coat, I had a few drip marks, so I sanded before applying a second coat.  The first coat had good coverage, but it definitely needed a second coat.

The second coat gave great coverage.

So, at that point, the cabinets looked great - but what to do with that almond laminate countertop?  I had various ideas, including covering it with marble contact paper, painting it faux marble, and covering it with concrete.  I also thought about doing some kind of tinted epoxy resin project like this.  But, by the time I actually had time to address it, we were one week out from having a dinner party, and that shit had to get done!  So, after reading this and this, I finally settled on a faux soapstone look.  Although both of those projects used chalkboard paint, because chalkboard paint is latex, and because I was painting laminate, I decided to try to mimic the look with the oil-based rustoleum in flat black.  

It didn't go so well. 


You can't really tell from the pictures, but it just looked... flat.  It looked like exactly what it was: laminate that had been painted flat black.  There was none of the dimension that was present in the faux soapstone tutorials I had looked at.  In fact, it was so bad, that I needed a beer.

(Precious beer, soothe my pain.  Also, you should totally check out Cigar City Brewing - awesome local brewery in Tampa!  Represent!)

So, I decided to add a coat of chalkboard paint.  I did some research on chalk paint, chalkboard paint and furniture waxes, and decided to wing it.  Winging it is kind of my style.

(Not taping is also my style, which has been reaffirmed by the fact that I effing taped off this time all to no end!  Look at the sink rim!  Look at where the backsplash meets the wall!  This is what I get for taping off! )


Ugh, tape.  You are the worst.

So!  After doing a coat of the chalkboard paint (remember, latex can go over oil based paint but not vice versa!), I did a few coats of wax.  Apparently I didn't get any photos of that, but I got the wax from Home Depot and I just followed the directions.  And.... I ended up with this!

That brilliant blob of light in the corner is a lamp, by the way.  I like how glowy the countertop is now.  That's the wax, folks.  The wax didn't turn out exactly like I'd hoped, but it turned out well.  Like I said, I followed the directions on the can, but it took a couple hours (as opposed to 20 minutes) for the wax to "dry."  I think it was probably because the chalkboard paint had only been on for about 36 hours and hadn't had enough time to fully cure?  Or maybe it was humidity?  I do live in Florida... 

Here's another shot.  I love how reflective the cabinets are, and how the counter has a sheen, but it also has depth.

Oh, and that rug is from my ebay rug binge.  I got it for $80, and I think it's totally worth it.  It's antique and 100% wool.  It ties in the gray of the cabinets, the black of the counter, and the pale apricot of the tile floors.  I'm smitten.

I was planning to put hardware on the cabinets and drawers, but I think I've decided against it.  I ordered the brass beehive knob from Martha's Home Depot line and a brass bin pull, but it just made the whole thing look kind of fussy.  I like how sleek this is.  

So, that about wraps up my adventures in painting laminate.  All in all, it was a great project.  It is a lot of bang for my buck.  And speaking of bucks, here's my cost breakdown:

Smoke Gloss Gray paint:         $9
Flat Black paint:                       $9
Chalkboard Paint:                    $10
Wax:                                         $5
Tape:                                        already had 
Paint thinner:                           already had
Paint Brushes:                         already had

So, for less than $35, my bathroom looks completely different.  Score!

Let's do another before and after, shall we?




Isn't that better?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In the mood for hardware

So, as you've seen, I've been doing some serious rug buying/stalking on ebay.  And it's dangerous.  As my husband said, I have a (d)rug problem.  So I've had to get off the sauce.

My name is Kat, and I haven't bought a rug on ebay in three days.  (Hi Kat!)

But, in my (d)rug haze, I've rediscovered ebay.  It's kind of revelatory.  I mean, I was into it back in the day, when it was all weird and new.  And it's become more corporate, and that's lame or whatever.  But there are still some cool dealers who aren't charging an arm and a leg for their wares, and as it turns out, you can still find some fun stuff!

When you break and addiction, it's often best to have something to replace it with.  So, instead of rugs, I've moved on to hardware.

Here are some items that I may or may not be bidding on.  (Spoiler: I'm bidding on all most of them.)

Brass and bakelite drawer pulls!  I bid on these.  I'm planning on putting them in my guest bath if I win them.  They fit together in a cool way, like so:
So cool, right? So deco.  I'm painting my crappy builder-grade bathroom cabinets a glossy gray, so I think that this warm brass and bakelite will be a fantastic combo!

More brass and bakelite pulls.  I also bid on these, because, duh.

Brass lion feet!  I need these.  I didn't bid on them, because they're currently $36 and I don't have a specific project to use them with, but I WANT THEM.  

Victorian (Eastlake style) door knobs.  I bid on these.  No bigs.  Planning on using them in the guest room.  (In other news, I've been wondering what to do about my ugly door knobs, and seeing these has made me realize that maybe the solution is to buy different knobs for each door.  I mean, maybe?  I'm not trying to make it look too early-90s and "funky," but just more eclectic and not so matchy-matchy.  Also, the knobs that are available at Home Depot and such are just not super impressive for the price.  I hate the idea of spending $150+ to have all matching knobs just because that's what one does, especially when I don't super love said knobs.  Also, I like saying "knobs.")

A Victorian radiator steam release valve!  Whatever that is!  I assume it releases steam!  From a radiator!  I live in Florida, so I've never really used a radiator!  We have central heat and A/C!  Someone with a radiator should buy this already!

Hooks!  Look at those wolf faces!  I bid on this one, too.  I mean, how can I not have those wolf faces to hang Annie's leash on?  IT LOOKS JUST LIKE HER.

These are numbered cast iron coat hooks, and they're from England, which is the only reason I didn't buy them (pesky GBP, being stronger than the US dollar, how dare you, sir!), but I think they're pretty dreamy.  I like the numbers, and I like that they kinda look like hearts.

So, why hardware?  Why hardware and rugs?  Oh, I've also been obsessed with light fixtures.  I think all of these have something in common: they're all finishing touches to home decor.  If you think about it, the design process usually goes from big to small: first you decide on an over-all color scheme, and paint, and the large pieces of furniture.  Then you fill in the accent furniture:  a chair here, a side table there.  Then you move to pillows and drapery.  Then you do the accessories - the stacked books on a coffee table, the ceramic figurines on a bookshelf.  Finally, you drill down to the finishing pieces, like lighting fixtures, rugs, and hardware.  These are those final details that bring it all together, the sprinkles on top.

Now, that's not to say that you can't start with an amazing light fixture or rug and go from there.  Of course you can.  But, generally I think it's safe to say that hardware comes last.  So, that's where I am now; I've made the larger decisions throughout my house, and now I'm getting to the small details.  I'm working on the knobs and pulls and light fixtures.  It's so fun, not only because I find these things beautiful and fascinating, but because I feel like I'm learning about the design process.  My house looks better and better with each pass.  These are the steps that make home design look intentional.  And I'm nothing if not intentional.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In the mood for a great aesthetics: Making it Lovely

So, I wouldn't say that Making it Lovely is one of my favorite blogs (too much sponsored content, especially lately), but Nicole has one of my favorite aesthetics and I covet her house.  It's this big Victorian house in Chicago, and it's stunning.  But what I really love is the way she's designed the interior. She respects and honors the house's age while not getting bogged down by it.  She makes an ornate Victorian wildly modern and amazingly livable.

The house has all of this original woodwork.  It's a lot of look, and could easily dictate a fussy, fusty style, but she makes it work!  I love the ikea piece in the entry with the antique rug.

This is one half of the double parlor, and she painted it black!  It's so chic.  I really want to paint a room black.  Also?  I want a double parlor.  Like bad.

Here's the other half of the double parlor.  Nicole hired a carpenter to install the built-in bookcases to match the wood trim in the house.  I love that striped sofa so much.  I also love the pink paint that she chose.  It's the perfect shade!  It makes the rosiness of the oak trim make sense.  I only started reading this blog recently, shortly after they moved into the Victorian, but apparently Nicole is, like, known for her love of pink.  As a fellow pink-lover, I admire the way she makes pink work in a room without being totally obvious about it.  This pink is so subtle, and as she describes it, historical.  Fabulous.

Here's another view of the pink, with a peek at the entry.  That art is fabulous (she has really good art), and I love the way the chalky black of the secretary and the artwork play off the pink walls and the warm oak trim.  Somehow the mix is classic and historic, but fresh and modern.  It's feminine, but not girly.  Jeez, I just love it.

Here's how the two parlors work with one another.  It really is lovely.  I can't get enough of that pink and black.

She carried the pink into the dining room.  I love those chairs and that long table.  I also love that period pendant.  I love opaque milky glass. Yum!  

Somehow Nicole's style is kinda feminine, kinda industrial, modern, and yet period-appropriate.  But how?!  How does she do it?  After careful consideration, I think I may have cracked the code:

      long, clean lines (the dining room table, the double parlor, the trim, the ikea console, the striped           sofa) 
      soft colors (pale pink, warm wood, chalky black) 
      feminine details (flowers, leaves, soft rugs and pillows) 
      curves (bentwood chairs, camelback sofa) 
      the perfect mix

So now that we know why it works, the next question is: how can I translate it to my house?  My house is pretty much the opposite of a Victorian.  But surely there's a way I can use some of her ideas in my own 1980s-yet-midcentury house.  Surely I can incorporate Nicole's brilliant pairing of feminine and industrial, modern and antique.  Or at the very least I can bring in that pale, pale pink and the chalky, soft black, and maybe an antique rug?  Right?

What do you think of Nicole's style?  I think she's really talented!