Friday, January 29, 2010

Wolf moon

According to Native American tradition, the January full moon is the "wolf moon," evoking images of wolves howling in midwinter moonlight. Tonight, the wolf moon rose in the sky, enormous and bright, the largest full moon of 2010.

I desperately wanted a good photo of this wolf moon. Unfortunately, it was something like 15˚F this evening with wind chills approaching -10˚F. In other words, really darn cold. Stalwart photographer I am, I braved the cold with my silly wool hat and my puffy down coat. No gloves though. After two stints outside, my photos were no darn good, and my hands started to go painfully numb. Can something be both painful and numb? Yup. My bare skin in the freezing cold. Maybe I could handle the camera with gloves. Kneeling in the ice. Grumbling and snapping away.

End result?



Okay. This is the result of some amateurish post-production work. Apparently getting a really good moon photo (with surrounding landscape) involves a bunch of toys that I don't own. (But the size/scale of the moon is right.)

And some lagniappe: other photos I've taken during the past two days.







Yesterday's snow was amazing. The snowflakes came down light and enormous and fluffy. The smaller ornamental trees looked like they were covered with white blossoms. Like dogwoods flowering in winter.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blues

A quick run to the Benjamin Moore dealer and we're back home with a fistful of Affinity color chips. Ahhh...this isn't easy, even with the pared down Affinity color range. Imagine if I had the entire Benjamin Moore fandeck. Wait. I do. Two of them. I could stare at blues til I go blind.

I leaned the little papers against the wall. Solitude and Exhale were immediately struck off as too dark. Serenata may be too blue. Tranquility (the leftmost sample) is a possibility. It's a nice blue-gray with the slightest hint of red to warm it. Crystalline and Constellation are also contenders. Both are very, very pale. Perhaps too pale? Crystalline goes a bit green like sea glass. Constellation leans a bit lavender. Decisions. Decisions. A couple of photos. Almost impossible to catch the true color in the dingy bathroom light. The eye perceives something between those two photos.


without flash


with flash

I also love Farrow & Ball's Skylight. A very pretty grayed blue. The thought of spending Farrow & Ball dollars on a basement bathroom most used by the ten and under crowd...well...this doesn't excite me.

Don't you love color names? Would we buy these colors if they were named Very Light Blue Green and Very Light Blue Purple?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mud

After a good thaw with lots of rain.





Good New England mud. Not a lot of mud in Austin. Arid climate + heavy, clay soil wasn't a good equation for mud. My two little hogs were in mud pie heaven.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Seeing the world in color

One of the things we decided early in the kitchen design process was that we wanted a colorful range. Not stainless. European manufacturers seem to embrace color more than their American counterparts: AGA from England, Molteni, Ilve, Bertazzoni, and Fratelli Onofri from Italy, and from France, Lacanche and La Cornue. The Americans offer Bluestar, American, and Viking. Another thing we quickly discovered was that color was expensive, ranging from pricey to...well...let's just say that the La Cornue Chateau is priced in line with its name. But then...just look at these beauties.


Ilve Majestic Collection from AJMadison


Close-up of the Fratelli Onofri Royal Chiantishire from AJMadison


La Cornue Chateau from Purcell Murray


Lacanche Cluny


Bluestar in one of the 190 available RAL colors

On a colorful side note, I just discovered that Dell offers their laptops in shades of your favorite OPI nail lacquers. Tagline: Match your nails to your e-mails. Of course, do you then change your Dell laptop every season? You don't want to be sporting a "You Don't Know Jacques" laptop (great color, by the way) when you've moved on to a "La Paz-itively Hot." mani/pedi. I'll bet the Dell executives hope so. I'm a bit relieved not to be faced with that choice on top of all my other color dilemmas. I'm an Apple gal.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gray

Or "grey" if you're British.

Today was a gray, gray day. Devoid of all color except for the color of rain. And wind.

I was snuggled with the girls and reading Blizzard of the Blue Moon (Magic Tree House series) out loud. I glanced up and was caught. The trees outside looked...ethereal. This sounds ridiculous. But really. They were evocative of so many unnamed emotions. I tried to wrestle my attention back to the book, but after a few pages, I leapt to my feet and ran for my camera. (I read the girls a couple more chapters afterwards. They were very forgiving.)

Here are a few of my attempts. (Disclaimer: I love photography. However, I've had no formal training and really no informal training. In other words, I'm as ignorant as dirt. If I sound like I know what I'm doing, well, it's just an accident.)







The last is my favorite of the moment. It's shot at 1600 ISO and reminds me a little of an Edward Gorey. One day, when I'm feeling particularly brave, I should toss my photos up on Flickr and run them through some critiques.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Official

It's official. We're on our way.



Not the kitchen. That's still being researched, designed, obsessed over.

This is a much smaller, DIY project. The basement bathroom. Over the holiday break, we started to remove the festive early 70s wallpaper that was plastered on every single surface. Not every single vertical surface. No. Somebody loved this wallpaper. So much that it was installed on literally every inch of wall, ceiling, soffit. Even the inch of ceiling between soffit and shower. I don't even know how they accomplished this.

Here's the wallpaper. It looks almost charmingly retro in the photos. But really. Imagine it crawling over every inch of space in a tiny basement bathroom with no windows. Plus there were some mildew issues. It really had to go.





Note how the lighting strip was installed so close to the soffit that it scorched the drywall above. I'm pretty sure that was a fire hazard.

We'd toyed with the idea of using our single IKEA Domsjo sink in this space. But it's a deep sink, and this is a small space. So we punted on that idea and chose the more appropriately scaled 24" Lillangen from IKEA. It still retains something of the Domsjo's retro farmhouse vibe, but is much less deep.


IKEA's Lillangen sink

I'm envisioning a retro/slightly industrial/farmhouse space. That sounds pretty ambitious for a small dark basement bathroom, doesn't it? We'll see how it goes. The plan is to install white wainscoting similar to the beadboard in the powder room. The flooring will be white and black dot octagon tile. I still need to decide paint (I'm thinking a pale blue gray) and a light fixture (probably a small single rustic sconce from Barn Light Electric). For now, we're finishing cleaning the walls. Next, pull a box for the light fixture and float the walls in preparation for paint.

Thoughts on paint color? Sconce?

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Lolly, Lolly, Lolly,

Get your adverbs here."

I was reading the New York Times online this afternoon. For some reason, this sounds somewhat pretentious...like I'm the kind of person who would eschew pickup trucks in favor of a Volvo. Yes, okay, we own a Volvo. Anyway, I was reading the New York Times when I came upon this headline: "Woman Reportedly Found Alive in Haiti Wreckage." Which is wonderful. And remarkable. Even miraculous. All sorts of positive adjectives.

Then it struck me. "Reportedly found." Now that's an odd state of being, right? Not "actually found," but "reportedly found." According to this headline, this poor woman is in a state like Schroedinger's cat, in a superposition of found and unfound.

The Schoolhouse Rock lyrics kept running through my mind:
"An adverb is a word
(That's all it is! and there's a lot of them)
That modifies a verb,
(Sometimes a verb and sometimes)
It modifies an adjective, or else another adverb
And so you see that it's positively, very, very, necessary."

This is the point at which I gave myself a headache. Two Tylenols later, grammar quibbles aside, I pray that this woman was actually found. And that unlike poor Shroedinger's cat who suffers in a sad limbo, she is indeed alive. Even the tiniest glimmer of hope is something to be embraced.

Here are some links, in case you haven't already given, to organizations who're working in Haiti. Donations are not reportedly needed. They're urgently needed.
Partners in Health
American Red Cross
Doctors without Borders

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Falling for a pickup line

"Hey, baby. What's a classy voter like you doin' in a state like this?"

In Texas, pickup trucks were ubiquitous. It didn't matter that most people didn't haul daily loads other than their own derrieres (with rare weekend Home Depot trips). Pickup trucks were king. They spoke to Texan values: rugged toughness, forthrightness, a willingness to do hard work.


Photo from the White House archives

It wasn't a surprise that as President, George W. Bush was often seen driving a pickup on his Crawford ranch, even taking foreign dignitaries along on drives. After all, it was this down home, "aw shucks," cowboy-next-door quality that helped to get him elected. He ran as a pickup-driving Texan, not as a Connecticut-born Yalie.

When I left Texas, I thought I'd left pickups behind. They were rare here in Massachusetts. Those who own them seem to actually use them in their daily work. Contractors and such. Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case. Pickup trucks and pretty boys. They always score big in Texas, and it's now obvious that liberal Massachusetts isn't immune to those charms.

According to Reuters, Scott Brown stated in his victory party, "I'm Scott Brown. I'm from Wrentham. I drive a truck. And I'm nobody's senator but yours." According to USAToday, "Brown put his 2005 GMC Canyon pickup with 200,000 miles on the odometer front and center in the campaign, showing up at campaign rallies in it and using it in television ads." He understood the power of a symbol. A symbol of honesty, humility, hard work, of simpler times and American values. He understood how many people yearned for those simpler times, even the left-leaning voters of Massachusetts.

And so...Massachusetts fell for a pickup line. Let's hope it doesn't lead to a hungover morning after.

Review: Hansgrohe Metro kitchen faucet

Now that I've had my Hansgrohe Metro kitchen faucet installed and in use for a couple of months, it's time for a review. I purchased this at my local Costco for well under $200. Great price for a kitchen faucet. Installation? Installation went smoothly and easily. Usage? I'd read that there were splashing issues with this faucet. We have butcherblock counters surrounding our sink so I'm very sensitive to water overspray. No problems here. In fact, the Metro splashes much less than our previous faucet (an ancient white Kohler). The pulldown works smoothly and latches back easily. No drips or leaks. The single looped handle is very easy to operate, even with the back of one hand, say after cutting up chicken breasts. Aesthetically, the faucet is probably a bit modern for our 1935 traditional Colonial, but not enough to be jarring. Besides, the stylistically appropriate choices are either incredibly expensive or are not pulldown faucets.

My final thought: I'd definitely buy this again. Any questions I haven't addressed, let me know, and I'll do my best to answer.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ice ice baby





Not what you want to see. An endless sheet of ice draped from our gutters. Those are not just little icicles. That entire wall that you see is ice.

So is this a dreaded ice dam? Later, through some magical combination of meltage and breakage, the ice was gone. Disaster averted, and plaster saved.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Vote

Today marked the first time I voted as a Massachusettsian...Massachusettsite...whatever. A citizen of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

A couple of random election thoughts.

1. It feels odd to support a party that actually has a shot at statewide office. Rarely happened in Texas.

2. Where does the Republican Party find these white guys with the chiseled features and good hair? Rick Perry...Scott Brown...It's like they stamp them out of a mold. Secret cloning lab? Kidding.

But really. See?














Voting was done with paper and ye old standardized test fill-in-the-oval method. I could hear the voices of teachers past ringing in my ears...admonishing me to keep my marks inside the oval and not to make any stray marks. The result of this election will be far more important than any SAT, GRE, MCAT, or LSAT. We'll see.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thaw

Today's lesson on living in New England: the meaning of the word "thaw."

So this is January thaw. Unexpected. Temperatures into the 40s feel downright balmy.

Perfect time to go for a nice hike, right?

Lesson learned. Apparently "thaw" does not mean that the snow melts and goes away. Thaw means that the snow melts and refreezes into sheets of ice.

Today I learned that hiking after a thaw is not what I'd expected. No striding athletically on vanishing snow. More like gingerly stepping and slipping on what felt like the world's largest slip-n-slide. To make matters worse, dogs had unerringly chosen the rare patches of grass for their potties. Dog owners had not removed the solid results of their pets' pottying. It was quite an obstacle course. Jump from grass patch to grass patch, (look out for the dog poo!), and skid down the perilous ice sheets. Around me, my children merrily skipped like goats along the ice.

I blame my boots.

Darn Sorels. Should have gotten LLBean.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Potato latka

Today, I'm an official northeasterner. I ate my very first potato latka. It was large and dry, a bit crumbly. After the first bite, I felt it needed something. Gravy? Everything's better with gravy. Instead, I ate it with ketchup. Better...but probably not authentic.

Along with the latka, I had the very best Reuben sandwich ever. Ever. It will haunt me in my dreams. I'll be sending my poor husband out to Barry's Village Deli at all hours of the day and night. Okay. They're not open very late. More accurately...all hours of the day and evening. The bread. The corned beef. And the best part. Where the swiss melted on the griddle and became a slightly chewy/crunchy shell on rye with the perfect soup├žon of Russian. Mmmm...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Trivial

Anything I have to say...

about our new boot trays at every door (to corral the slush and salt)...

about the frustratingly vague permit requirements and our basement bathroom DIY redo...

about kitchen thoughts...

about anything at all...

pales in light of the devastation in Haiti. Pales in light of what people endure every single day. It should not need a tragedy to remind people to open up their hearts and wallets.

Yesterday, I was working on my kitchen plans. While doing so, I started researching kitchen hoods. You know, those things over the range to vent smoke and grease and smells. You would not believe how expensive vent hoods can get. Amazing. I briefly toyed with the idea of buying one of these stylish kitchen divas. But I could not. It felt...inappropriate. So I am designing and redesigning so I can use the $200 deal I found off of craigslist.

This morning, I made a contribution to Doctors without Borders. I tried to make a contribution to the Red Cross too, but their website was overloaded and failed to complete the transaction. I'll try later.

It shouldn't take a disaster, but it does. For me too. To open my heart and my wallet. To give to people who would think that my unremodeled space, duct tape and all, was a palace. A sanctuary. A place that's warm and safe. Home.

I didn't make any new year's resolutions for 2010. So belatedly, here are my resolutions. To stay open to all the hurts around me and to give as best I can in whatever way I can. Also, as a friend said on Facebook, "to delight in the 'ordinary' blessings of my comfy, safe, little extraordinary life."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Easy cheesy polenta

Any recipe that's both easy and cheesy is a-okay with me. This is our own amalgam of several polenta recipes. Sorry there's no photo. The polenta vanished into our tummies before I could take a snap.

Easy cheesy polenta
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups skim milk
2 cups polenta (coarse ground cornmeal)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar

Bring liquid to a boil. Whisk polenta into liquid slowly, making sure there are no lumps. Reduce the heat. Simmer and stir constantly until thick. Remove from heat. Stir in cheddar.

A warming comfort food on this cold day. It reminds me a bit of cheese grits which just harkens back to my southern upbringing. I think next time, I'll pair it with roast brussel sprouts for a vegetarian meal.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cotton

The fabric of our lives.

Today, we gathered up our snow gear and headed for a nearby park. Will and the kiddos discovered a steep sledding hill that was glazed with slick, icy, packed-down snow. Perfect for high speed sledding runs. I gathered up my snowshoes and headed for the trails, giddy with anticipation. Miles of trails. Lots of snow. Silly me. Just because there's snow doesn't mean there's snowshoeing. The well-trodden trails meant that the snow was firmly packed down. Easier just to walk.

I hiked along, snowshoes in one hand and poles in the other. Feeling a little ridiculous as walkers passed with their dogs. So I was a little over-excited about my snowshoes. I am from Texas, after all. Snow is exciting.

Gorgeous, deeply chilled day with a crystalline sun. My face was uncovered, and it was cold enough to make my exposed skin hurt. After awhile, I got the call. My kids were cold. Time to head in. I was pretty far out on the trails and started trotting back. Did you know that you can sweat and freeze at the same time? I found out today.

It really hit once I got into the car and started cooling down. By then, my damp, sweaty cotton shirt had sucked the warmth right out of my bones. And the shivers hit. Cotton may be the fabric of our lives, but cotton doesn't wick. And doesn't dry quickly. And is definitely not the best underlayer for exercising in freezing temps.

I placed an REI order this afternoon. Quick-drying polyester. The fabric of our (new) lives.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

High/low

A fabric that I'm currently obsessing over is Schumacher's Katsugi. Designers are abuzz about this fabric, especially in the gold/mushroom colorway. In my kitchen, I can just imagine the Blues or Link and Sepia framing my kitchen windows. The downside to this piece of textile fabulosity? Schumacher fabric is available only to the trade, and the only price I've been able to uncover is $98/yard. Gulp.

Today, I was at IKEA. While rummaging through their fabrics, I discovered their Patricia fabrics. Certainly not as detailed or sophisticated as the Schumacher. Far, far from it. But it has a similar feel (though not a similar scale) at a mere $7.99/yard.


Schumacher Katsugi in gold and mushroom




IKEA Patricia fabric

The IKEA photos from its website are unfortunately far from the best. However, it may be worth checking out this fabric next time you're at the store.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Icy photo



I saw this ice pattern on one of my windows and had to take a photo. Isn't it beautiful what nature creates? Design-obsessed that I currently am, I immediately thought of this:



This is snowflake glass from Bendheim Cabinet Glass. Lovely.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lentil soup with ham

Great for these cold winter days. Loaded with veggies, it's both warm and filling without being heavy. As an added bonus, an excellent way to use up the end of your holiday spiral-cut ham. Thanks to Will for the recipe.

Lentil soup with ham
1 lb dried lentils
1 large onion diced fine
2 large carrots diced fine
3 stalks celery diced fine
3 cloves garlic minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups water
end of small spiral-cut ham (with bone)

In a large pot, saute onions, carrots, celery, and garlic in olive oil until the onion is tender. Add basil, thyme, oregano, and pepper. Saute another minute. Add chicken broth, water, bay leaf, lentils, and ham. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour until the lentils are tender.

Remove ham from soup. Pull meat from bone, dice the meat, and add back to the soup. Stir. Serve.



We ate the soup with this cornbread.



Delicious.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year (Texas-style)

Howdy, y'all. Welcome to the new year and the new decade.

We welcomed 2010 with tamales. They weren't the delicious tamales hand-made by my mother-in-law. (She'd made tamales for every New Year's for the past few years.) They weren't the southern traditional collard greens and black-eyed peas nor the Korean traditional duk gook (a bland soup with flattened ovoid dumplings). They were our family's own tradition, and felt very appropriate in light of our move.

So here they are. Our tamale assortment from the Texas Tamale Company in Houston, Texas.





In Texas, our children disliked tamales. Today, they enthusiastically gobbled them up. Maybe they miss Texas a bit too. At least they miss Mexican food.

Perhaps we'll welcome 2011 with tamales home made in our renovated kitchen.

Happy New Year! May it bring you great food and many happy times spent with family and friends, new and old.