Monday, January 31, 2011

this little piggy went yum yum yum yum all the way home

I often buy pork loin pieces (would they still be called chops?) from the grocery store.  I like pork and these are always so pretty.  Nice and lean, pink and shiny - how can a girl resist?  But they're also very thin - maybe 1/2 an inch?  And pork is a toughie because if you cook it too long it gets, well, tough.  But if you don't cook it enough, it's a bad thing.  Not as bad as pork used to be and not as bad as undercooked chicken, but still.  You have to be in a safe range.

Well, tonight I think I solved the mystery.  I cooked up my little pork maybe-chops and they ended up divine.  No real recipe since ATK only has stuffed, smothered or thick-cut recipes.  I actually borrowed the method loosely from a Marion Cunningham cookbook.  She has a recipe for chicken thighs cooked in red wine vinegar that is possibly my favorite food ever.

I made it with a side of spinach, wilting it in the leftover pan juices, and got all artsy and arranged the spinach in a ring around the pork.  It was very pretty.  Too bad I forgot to take a picture. 

It would also be lovely with some couscous.  Maybe let the pork rest on top of the couscous so it'll absorb all the extra juices...  Anyway, on to the recipe.

* Heat up a non-stick pan over medium-high heat until it's super hot
* Spray with Pam
* Salt four pork loin pieces on both sides, add to pan
* Leave in place for 3-4 minutes until nicely browned on one side
* Flip over and let brown for about 30 seconds to a minute (the time it takes to fill the measuring cup for the next step)
* Add 1/2 cup (ish) of water and a tablespoon (ish) of red wine vinegar
* Turn down heat a little and cover pan
* Let sit for a little bit, like the amount of time it would take to run upstairs and change into pajamas (I'm just sayin')
* Come back and check internal temperature
* If at least 140, remove from pan
* Let sit for 5 minutes (very, very important - if you cut into the pork too soon, the juices won't get a chance to redistribute and you'll end up with tough meat. plus you need to let the internal temp rise a bit more)
* Shove into mouth

So freaking good. Really moist and tender and richly flavored. Seemed almost like semi-poached pork, but I guess it was a quick braise? Either way, I'm a fan and will be making it often.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

pretty pantries!

Not for me, but for my friend, Shelly.  She's the one who helped (read: did basically by herself) wallpaper my powder room.  She's planning on turning an extra closet in her dining room into a pantry, which I think is a fabulous idea - mainly because I would LOVE to have a pantry of my own!

In my shelter blog browsing today, I saw two different pantries that I wanted to pass along to Shelly.  And since I haven't posted here in a while, I decided to make a blog post instead of just emailing them to her.

First up was the pantry of House of Smiths that I found by way of her guest post at Centsational Girl.  How great is this gray and white pattern?  And it's not wallpaper or even stencil - it's vinyl cut-outs.  So clever!

Now, Shelly is a wiz at all things crafty and I can see her doing the stencil version of this, but maybe she wants something a little cheaper and easier. 

And then, browsing through Brooklyn Limestone, I saw The Stories of A to Z's reorganized pantry (and she was inspired by House of Smith's pantry, too!):

Love the bright color in the back. What a fun place for a color that really makes you smile but would be too intense somewhere else! Something bright and happy to greet you when you go to grab a box of pasta.

Shelly - getting any good ideas?  You know I'm up for helping you with this!

I love guest blog posts because they lead me in such fun directions!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

weekend projects, part 2

So with the spice racks nicely hung, I moved on to my next project - art for the powder room.

Almost as soon as the wallpaper was on the ceiling, I had an image of the walls covered in vintage postcards, pretty plates, little mirrors and random crap in shadow boxes.  Kind of a gallery wall on crack.

I knew my mom had old postcards so I asked her if I could use them, promising to not ruin them.  She agreed and we had a great time going through all of them.  Not only does she have postcards sent to our immediate family, but also ones to her aunts, uncles and parents.  The oldest one that I took with me (I left gobs back at her house) was from 1924.

Then there was this one my uncle sent to my dad:

Best part was the message on the back:

"Can you picture me doing this? Well I'm not."

How hysterical is that?  I almost wanted to frame it message-out, but then the embroidered (!) front is pretty darn awesome as well.

My mom sent her parents tons of postcards in college and afterwards.  My favorite was a HUGE one of the UN with basically a book on the back.  And it was just this rambling, meandering message full of a lot of nothing.  Think about the emails you send your parents.  Now think of your kids reading them 40 years later.  Part of me is glad that postcards and letters aren't as common now, but part of me is sad for the missed opportunities of hilarity!  My mom and I laughed so hard over this card that we cried.

I found the postcard I sent home while in Iowa for Odyssey of the Mind.  I love seeing my 6th grade handwriting! 

My dad didn't travel much for work after my sister and I were born, but he went to New York and Paris in 1982 and sent home lots of postcards.  I love that he would send separate cards to my mom and to us girls.  Just so cute.  This is one he sent to both me and my sister, but he would also send us our own.

And you know how you marry your father?  Well, my grandfather also sent my mom postcards.  I wonder which painting he was talking about here?  Maybe it's one that I have hanging on my walls.

I spread out all of the cards, picked my favorites and started arranging.  I had to replace some faves for others that fit better, but that's okay - I have so many that I could easily do a second collage.  Finally I came to an arrangement I really liked.

There were a few gaps and my 5th grade math teacher taught me that one should never, ever have blank space in a collage, so I filled in those gaps with leftover wallpaper.

what, you didn't do art projects in math class?

I decided to put it up above the toilet.  I thought about putting it next to the mirror - and still might  move it there later - but for now, this gives the most impact.  I just love it with both the rug and the wallpaper!

I still think the gallery-wall-on-crack idea would be better, but I already owned this frame and I like free!  And now I'm thinking about the idea of mini-collages instead of individual pictures.  I love a project that makes me think of other, better ones!

weekend projects, part 1

My goal this weekend was to fully clean my first floor.  I'm throwing myself a birthday party this coming weekend and need to get my Christmas decorations back in the attic.  But then my sister invited me over for brunch.  And then my best friend got some weird infection and had to go to the hospital (seems like she should just have to be there for a few days but will be fine) so I went to hang out with her.  And so nothing was cleaned.  At all.

But I wanted to feel like I was at least a bit productive around the house.  I had a bit of time yesterday morning before visiting Amy so I decided to do a couple projects I've been putting off.

First up was hanging my spice racks.  An ex-boyfriend of mine gave my mom this spinning spice rack for Christmas once-upon-a-time.  I thought it was a stupid gift, but apparently he knew better because she loves it.  And retired her old, straight racks to the basement.  I rescued them because I was sick of hunting for a spice on the too-high-to-see shelf where I was keeping them.  First she could only find one and that was great, but it was a little too small for all of my jars.  Then she found the other one, whose racks are a little more narrow and short do don't fit everything, but they're great for food dyes and boxes of toothpicks and such.  I'm so excited to have more storage space!

I'm toying with the idea of painting them.  The more usefully-sized one I have no qualms about.  It's kind of country-ish and not in a good way.  But the other one is a little more tricky.  It's this old, beat-up wood and has great vintage charm.  And it has an eagle at the top and two little stars at the bottom. 

They'd be super fun highlighted in another color or just made shiny again, but would it then be too generic?  Or would it be like those Federal mirrors that are even cooler when painted all white? 

Ahhhh - I'm probably overthinking it all.  But for now, both are staying brown, even though they do take up a lot of visual space that way.

Next up - postcard collage

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

bedding for the spare room

No, I haven't fully cleaned it out yet and the bed is still at my mom's, but I can still dream, right?

I feel like this room is calling out for purple.  I have some purple faux flowers and they're just so pretty next to the cucumber green walls.  And that's a good thing because the walls would be impossible to match, black would be too graphic for me and white could end up dingy since this isn't a room I would use that much (I'm using my black and white Liberty shade in here come hell or high water).

I don't want a pretty lavender because that would make the room too girly and sweet and that's not the look I'm going for.  But I don't want a solid because that would make it not girly enough.  And a print would be hard to coordinate with my impossible-to-coordinate lamp shade.

Then I saw this duvet.

It's from Urban Outfitters and just might be perfect.  A strong purple but all ruffles.  The reviews are a little mixed so I'm not going to run out and buy it now, but I'll keep it in mind for once I'm ready!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The M Project: finding inspiration from other bloggers

I love Good Bones Great Pieces.  They have a fresh take on all of the current design trends and a way of making what could be trendy timeless.  I also love that every so often they'll throw in something on fashion or entertaining, but still keep the focus on design.  The combination is great for providing inspiration.

And they just did a post that relates so much to the M Project - what to do with a big, black leather couch.  They were asked for advice on how to recover two chairs to go with as well as detract from the couch.  M & J don't have existing chairs, but are open to the idea of getting a new chair or two so this could be good inspiration for them.

I really like GBGP's second option for my project:

Since they don't have chairs to recover, I went to La-Z-Boy to see if I could find something there.  J likes his current reclining chair, but it's just too big for the space.  I want something a little sleek, but still super comfortable.  The Riley fits the bill nicely.  There are over 1,000 fabrics available (including some really great prints), but keeping with GBGP's idea, I went with Linato/C949462.

It's a nice taupe that should blend nicely with the black couch and also with the blue/gray they're thinking about for the walls. It's a shade that would go with a lot of different options for their future house and also be easy to decorate around for their current one.  Plus it will look nice with the trunk coffee table.

Hmmmm - I'm starting to see pillows dancing in my head...

Friday, January 14, 2011

new stuff at Target

I went to Target last night to pick up a new hairdryer and some toothpaste.  But instead of turning right and going straight to the drugstore section, I went straight, which took me into the homegoods section.  Bad Debbie.  But I'm kinda glad I did because there's SO much good new stuff!  I'm super excited.  And I only bought one pillow.  Well, out of the new stuff...

They have these huge, gorgeous lamps.  I ALMOST bought the beet juice one for my spare room (it's more pink than it is here), but stopped myself.  I already have two lamp bases for that room, I don't need another.  I texted my sister a picture of the blue one because it's pretty close to what she wants for her living room and is only $40!  It was darker in the store.  I didn't see the green one in my local store, but I could have missed it.  Though it's so pretty I doubt I would have passed it by.

I also really liked the idea of this LED candle/vase combination, but as I couldn't immediately think of a place to put it, it stayed on the shelf.

There was lots of Smith and Hawken faux greenery.  So pretty and I love that they wouldn't die on me!  Someday I hope to have a green thumb, but I definitely don't have one now.

None of these items are available online and I couldn't even find a picture of the yellow pillow I bought, but I imagine they will be soon.  Until then, check out your local store!

pink couches

I have wanted a pink couch for forever.  Well, at least 5 years.  Basically ever since I first imagined one.  You get the idea.

But they don't exist.  At least not in real life.  Sure, you can find them once in a while in design magazine or on a blog somewhere, but not even Ballard Designs carries a pink fabric for COM so forget about somewhere as transitional as Mitchell Gold (their selection is overwhelmingly beige).  Heaven forbid Pottery Barn carry pink!  Now, Room & Board does carry a pink couch, but I'm not sure about the style.

It's not bad AT ALL, but is it me?  That's what I'm questioning.  I do like the idea of a tuxedo or otherwise squared off couch, but it's a little lighter (at least on my screen) than I have in my head.  Plus it's only offered in 96" or 75" and I was hoping for something 80-85"-ish.  Perhaps I need to make another trip down to 14th St.
So I'd have to go custom, but I can't afford custom.  As the fabulous Annie from Bossy Color points out, reupholstery is expensive.  If I found a dream couch for $50 at Salvation Army, maybe.  But whenever I'm there, their selection is overstuffed and lumpy.  Much easier to find a sleek little chair than a pretty couch (that is also not too low or too deep).

I do see a pink rainbow on the horizon, though.  Since honeysuckle is this year's color and everyone's gaga over it, maybe mass retailers will wake up and start offering pink couches?  Ooooh - or maybe some cool pink print curtains?  Supposedly those are back in style, too and I loooove them.  In the meantime, I'll just gaze at these lovely couches and keep dreaming.

Those last two shots are SO not my style, but I love the statement of the pink against the modern white and the green painting that you can see better in the second picture whose placement makes it seem almost like a window.  Isn't it all just fab?  It's pink without even a drop of sweet.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The M Project: working with what you have

Since M & J do plan on buying a bigger house in the near future, they've decided against buying a new couch.  Totally get this.  Couches are a big purchase and often are very specific to a space.  A sleek little sectional might be way undersized in a new-development house.  Or may block passage to the living room in a 60's rancher.

They do want to update the coffee table, window treatment, TV stand - all the accessories that can more easily be repurposed either in the future living room or some other room in the house.  So that's what we're going to focus on now.

I just came across this living room on Houzz:

Selected Projects eclectic living room
eclectic living room design by new york interior designer Interiors by Francesca

That beige couch is practically the overstuffed fraternal twin of M & J's black couch.  But with the graphic painting and the cool lamps, you don't really notice it.  Or at least it's not the first thing your eye sees.

Now, my plan for her living room is to have the couch underneath the kitchen pass-through.  But we could jazz that wall up - maybe something hanging above the opening?  Or maybe having a really cool gallery wall on the long wall will help redirect the eye.  Also, if the kitchen is painted a different color from the living room, that will also help draw the eye away from the black hole that is a ginormous leather couch.

I'm also on a big glass coffee table kick right now, but I think a solid or almost-solid one, like in the above picture, would be a good thing.  A visual block before you get to the couch.  Maybe a cool trunk where they could store afghans and board games. 

Hmmmm - I like this idea.  Here are a few I found at easy-to-shop places, but this could also be something hunted down at antique shops and Salvation Army. 

The first two are from Pottery Barn.  The third is from Crate & Barrel.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

current fave - this kitchen

I really, really like this kitchen and wanted to put it somewhere better than my big folder called "Rooms I Love."  So here it is.  It's from Houzz.  I'm not redoing my kitchen anytime soon (probably never), but if I did, I would use this one as inspiration.

Colorful Kitchen traditional kitchen

I think I'd go with white, black or dark gray counters, but I do like the concept of these (supposedly they're as sturdy as granite but look like glazed pottery).  I also think I'd go with stainless or black or white handles and drawer pulls, but maybe it's funkier IRL.  And I'm not crazy about the yellow & white combo on the solid cabinets.  I would have them all white.

But I'd definitely keep that fantastic copper hood, the glass-front upper cabinets, the brass/gold pendants (love that there are two different designs!) and the cool mosaic-y backsplash.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

crab cakes & resolutions

I like to center my New Years resolutions things I wish I did more of anyway.  One year, it was to not skip a concert at 9:30 just because I don't have someone to go with.  9:30 Club is a friendly place and it's easy to go by yourself and not feel alone.  It was a fun resolution to keep and easy to keep up after the year passed.

This year I decided I would go to more restaurants.  Doesn't have to mean going out to eat more often, but when I do, to try different ones.  Sure, I love Marvin's mussels, but what else is good on U St?  That sort of thing.

I'm also not opposed to starting a resolution late in the game or getting a head's start.  My second resolution has become to make as many recipes from my new America's Test Kitchen cookbook as possible (and to generally use my cookbooks more).  I had some leftover crab meat from Christmas Eve and decided to make crab cakes.  A good Marylander, I first looked at the side of the Old Bay container, but then remembered that ATK had a crab cake recipe.  And since they also call for Old Bay (a must in a good cake), I decided to give them a whirl.

In the past year or so, I've been very good about my mise en place.  No more forgetting an important ingredient and I love using all my little ramekins!

Crab cakes are great because prep is so quick.  Dump everything into a mixing bowl and then combine with a spoon or your hands.  Couldn't be easier than that.

I originally was making these as appetizer so used one of my scoops to help make them all the same size

and lined them all up on  a cookie sheet before smooshing them into little patties.

After a day's rest in the fridge (was only going to be a few hours, but then my friend called with a design emergency), I took them over to my sister's so I could share them for dinner.  My brother-in-law then took over the cooking, browning them to perfection under the broiler.

I forgot to take a picture of the end result, but my empty plate speaks volumes!

I doubled the amount of Old Bay because I love it - and I don't really trust Yankee tastebuds for a Maryland dish.  It would have been great as an appetizer, but as a main dish, I think I wouldn't have added quite so much - especially because I also put some in the tartar sauce.  I used low-fat mayonnaise and the full amount of bread crumbs and shallots instead of green onions since that's what I had on hand.  But I think I'd do it exactly the same next time because I love shallots.  The recipe calls for a "green herb" and I used parsley.  I'm not opposed to fancified crab cakes, but I was looking for something authentic.   

Overall, I'm really happy with this recipe and with my New Year's resolution!

Monday, January 10, 2011

new camera!

Did you notice that the pictures in my last post were a heck of a lot better than my pictures have been?  That's because I have a new camera!

My fabulous sister bought it for me for Christmas.  It's just a point-and-shoot, but it's sooooooo nice.  12 megapixels, HD video and this great Intelligent Auto feature.  You just press a button on the top and it will select the right faces in the picture and use flash if necessary.  And it makes switching from flash to non super easy - I keep flash off in the overall setting  and then just hit the little button when I want it.  And the adjustment period for the AI is quick, which was great when taking pictures at Emerson's birthday party - girlfriend never sits still!

retro cake

Yesterday was my niece's 2nd birthday party.  For her birthday, I gave her some college-fund money, $2 fun money, a party dress and made her a cake.

Someone said that it looked straight out of 1986 and I totally agree.  I just said that it was retro - much better than saying that my cake decorating skills are limited.  Plus, who doesn't love those hard little candy decorations?  They were always my favorite part of birthday cakes so I had to include them on Emerson's!

The color is because Emerson's favorite color to say is purple.  The two Ps make it very fun.  Pur-ple.  Try saying it yourself - you'll love it. 

The cake itself was a semi-fail.  It tasted pretty good, but the layers didn't rise enough (the recipe had an option for a hand mixer, but I think I really needed a stand mixer to get enough air in there) so I ended up using three layers to make a decent-sized cake.  And then the cake itself was just a little too dry for my taste, but then I'm a hard judge of my own food.  If it was someone else's, I would have been praising it.  The icing was really nice - just a simple buttercream, but not very sweet.  It was a pain in the butt to make and even with the heat on full-blast, my kitchen was too cold and needed some heated towels to help it get smooth, but I liked the end result.  Both recipes are from America's Test Kitchen.

My sister prepared a great spread for the afternoon party.  Little heart-shaped sandwiches (PB&J, ham & cheese), macaroni and cheese, fruit and vegetables, Rice Krispy treats, chips and juice boxes.

It was a book-themed party with books stacked up on the buffet table and as a garland on the stairs.  Super cute.

Emerson had a great time playing with her cousins and friends.  She was great about sharing all of her toys and had a lot of fun opening her presents.  She loves books so would stop and "read" each one as she opened them.

And then it was time for cake!  This picture is a little blurry, but I love it because there are three generations of hands in it - my mom, my sister and Emerson.

I'm behind the camera, but am represented with the cake!