Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Small Space Inspiration: Windsor Terrace

I read dozens of interior design magazines every month, and after pages and pages of home inspiration, it is rare that a house or an apartment really strikes a chord with me. This month's issue of Dwell grabbed my attention with its small spaces coverline. Inside I was disappointed to find that many of the "small spaces" were actually people's guests houses or other auxiliary structures. However, one apartment really caught my attention.

This one-bedroom apartment in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn belongs to a family of three (soon-to-be four), and it has completely changed my thinking about where we might live next. This apartment makes me believe less is more. I love the renovation solutions this couple employed -- and the spirit that guided that their choices. You can read the full story on Dwell.com.

A floor-to-ceiling sliding wall panel divides the parents' "bedroom" from the main living space.

Custom built-in cabinetry hides the couple's queen-size Murphy bed. (I am a BIG believer in the magic of Murphy beds, by the way--and I speak from personal experience.) 

The Murphy bed in action!

A view from the bedroom looking out to the living area.

The apartment's kitchen is a clean and simple galley design. I love the idea that you can splurge on materials like a marble counter, if you opt for a smaller space. 

Find more of the space after the jump.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

DIY Inspiration: Denim Quilts

I saw the photo above in Martha Stewart Living years ago, and I have been saving my worn out jeans ever since in the hopes of someday making my own denim quilt. After collecting for several years, I think I may have gathered enough to make one. However, my only quilting experience is a group project my Girl Scout troop made circa 1988, but I think I can manage it, especially since I'm most inspired by somewhat rustic-looking quilts, like the one below.

While Martha provided a gorgeous inspiration image, the directions are a little scant on details. A little sleuthing online lead me to a tutorial on the blog Little Birdie Secrets. I'm not crazy about the contrasting top-stitching she chose, but if I tried it with denim-colored thread, I think it might be a workable technique. However, I like the way the Martha team laid out their quilt: They made strips that run the full-length of the bed and stitched them together (the other blogger, made strips that were the width of the quilt instead).

Does anyone have any experience quilting with denim? I'd love to hear any advice! Here are a few more denim quilts that I find inspiring.

I love the bleached crosses on the one above and the dots below. I think the bleached denim technique might be a nice way to add pattern to the quilt. Note that Martha's version had sections of ticking stripe fabric and what appear to be dish towels to break up the sea of indigo. 

Photos from Martha Stewart Living, Jared on Flickr, Jo Simmons on Flickr, Mazama, and Tumblr.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Chicken Dinner for Four

Yesterday was such a beautiful day, that it got pretty late before we had a chance to shop for dinner fixings, and our friends (one of whom has some food allergies we needed to accommodate) were coming over in a little over an hour. My plan to make a simple roast salmon was foiled by the $25/lb. (!) price tag on the salmon at our nearby market. Thinking on my feet at the meat counter, I remembered a chicken recipe from Lidia Bastianich that I'd made a few times before, and decided to make it instead.

I bought about three pounds of thighs and drumsticks (I would have gotten breast too, but there were only skinless ones, which didn't seem right for this recipe) and used the full amount of the rest of the ingredients in the recipe. We served the chicken with Ina Garten's "melting tomatoes" and a green salad. (Ina Garten's simple-but-delicious recipes continue to win me over.) Next time, I would up the quantity of tomatoes on the side dish by half. All in all, I think the flavors all paired nicely together.

To kick off the meal, my husband mixed up what he calls "funny cocktails." In this case, it was pomegranate juice, vodka, sparkling wine and a twist of lemon peel (loosely based on the Holiday cocktail we'd had at Buvette a few days before)--delicious! Appetizers were simple a big bowl of pistachios, and dessert was a chocolate cake our friends brought. It was a lovely Saturday night meal; here's Lidia's chicken recipe:

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Turkey Chili for a Crowd

Last night, a bunch of work friends came over for a weeknight gathering. I wanted to cook something that was easy, casual, relatively healthy, wallet friendly and fit for a crowd (a tall order, I know). I've recently fallen in love with Citarella's turkey chili (it's really delicious and a bargain at $5 for a hefty serving), and it inspired me to make a batch of chili for the gang. I couldn't find a recipe that seemed like a close match for the Citarella version, so I made up my own. I still have a ways to go to match the Citarella version, but mine was good enough to share with you here.

I served the chili over brown rice ( with a bunch of garnishes for my guests to choose from. I also baked some cornbread (Jiffy!) in a cast-iron skillet to serve on the side. This recipe makes A LOT of chili. It woudl be great for a party or if you want to freeze some for later consumption.

Turkey Chili for a Crowd
Serves 8+


4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 yellow or red bell peppers, seeded and diced
2 to 4 chipotle peppers in adobo, minced, plus 2 tsp. sauce
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 pounds ground turkey meat
2 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn kernels (I used dehydrated, but fresh, frozen or canned is fine)
Salt and pepper

Garnishes: diced avocado, lime wedges, sliced scallions, grated sharp cheddar, chopped fresh cilantro, sour cream

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper and sauté until tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
2. Add chipotle peppers, their sauce, and dry spices, and sauté for 2 more minutes.
3. Add ground turkey, breaking it up into small chunks with a spoon. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir frequently until meat is no longer pink, 6 to 8 minutes.
4. Add beans, tomatoes, and corn to the pot, and stir well. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for at least one hour to let flavors meld. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
5. Serve over brown rice with garnishes, like diced avocado, lime wedges, sliced scallions, grated sharp cheddar, chopped fresh cilantro, and sour cream.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Ultimate Lunchbox

Most days I bring my lunch to work--I always have. As an editorial assistant, it wasn't a choice: I brought cans of soup, apples, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because that was all my budget afforded (I hadn't yet truly embraced home cooking). These days, it's a choice, and I'm happier for it. In midtown Manhattan, lunch will almost always run you $5 and most often costs something more like $8 or $10. I figure bringing me lunch saves me hundreds, if not thousands a year.I use up leftovers and I know what goes into my lunch. The only drawback is that on a busy day, I often won't leave my desk at all.

Lately, I've worked on perfecting my lunch-bringing routine, and I wanted to share a few products and tips for brown bagging your mid-day meal. Here are some of the things I have learned and products I adore:

A dish towel is a great lunch accessory: Use it to wrap fragile fruits like bananas and peaches while they are in transport, then use it as a napkin for your meal. IKEA's Elly dish towels are a bargain at $1 a piece--we have tons of these at my house, but any cloth towel will work.

I was mightily impressed when I received some samples of Klean Kanteen's food canisters to test last year. They are as lightweight as plastic tupperware, but so, so much better. Because they are metal they don't absorb odors or flavors. Plus, they're more attractive and nicer to eat out of than a piece of plastic. I personally prefer the non-insulated version because they are lighter (and my purse is heavy enough as it is), but if you need to keep your food hot, or cold, the insulated ones could be handy. Klean Kanteen Food Canisters, $18 to $35, kleankanteen.com.

In the photo business, you'll often come across miniature jam jars in the catering provided on shoots (you'll also find them in nicer continental breakfasts at hotels). I soak the labels off and use them as the tiniest of containers, and they're super-handy for lunches to-go. I keep a mini jar of kosher salt in my desk drawer and fill others with salad dressing when I bring a salad for lunch.
Photo: Sweet Paul

I found two of these SIGG lunch boxes at a thrift store for $1 a piece, and bought them on a whim. Now I bring my lunch in them nearly every single day. Like the Klean Kanteen canisters, they are super lightweight and don't get smelly (hurray!). They're also pretty darn spill-proof. The price seems high, but I promise, these are a worthwhile investment. SIGG Aluminum Box Mini, $32, mysigg.com
If you want to tote coffee with you on your commute, this is my new favorite travel mug (with one caveat!). Of all the travel mugs I have tried Contigo's is the most spill-proof of the bunch: You can literally throw it into your purse because it's natural position is sealed shut and you must push a button to release the coffee. It's also easier to clean than other models and again, I like the aluminum's impermeability. The one drawback of this mug is that it does not fit into the cup holder of my 2002 Subaru (that said, Subaru has terribly-designed cup holders!). West Loop Stainless Travel Mug with Open-Access Lid, $21, gocontigo.com.

Don't use the plastic cutlery in your office (wasteful and so unpleasant to eat off of), don't bring your home flatware to work (you'll likely lose it) and don't go buy any fancy camping flatware (save your money for that SIGG lunch box. Instead, poke your head into a thrift store and buy yourself a single fork, spoon and knife, which will probably cost you less than a dollar.
Photo: Faire Notions

This is not the water bottle I use, rather it is the more attractive model of the one I use. I like Klean Kanteen's water bottles because they are simple and they fit in the aforementioned cup holder of my car. If you're using your water bottle to work out, opt for a model with a "sport cap," but if you're tossing this in your purse or bag, don't tempt fate, opt for the sealed-tight at all times top. (I actually have both a loop cap and a sport cap for my bottle so I can switch between the two.) The Reflect Kanteen, $35, leankanteen.com. 

What about you? What do you recommend for bringing your lunch to work? I'd love to hear your comments.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Vegetarian Cookbooks

I told you about going mostly vegan, and now I want to share some of my favorite cookbooks for vegetarian recipes. These are not vegan cookbooks (or strictly vegetarian, for that matter), but they have plenty of recipes that will inspire your cooking:

Super Natural Every Day is a great cookbook all around. Swanson does use a lot of dairy (and fat) in her dishes, so this isn't a health food book, but it is full of great, vegetarian recipes. I love, love, love her white beans and cabbage recipe--try it, if you need convincing that vegetables could replace meat as an entree.

Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi is a killer cookbook that will inspire anyone who loves to cook. My only complaint is that many of these recipes require a lot of prep work, so it's not the best choice for weekday meals. Try Ottolenghi's recipe for leek fritters for an introduction to his food.

A relatively new-to-my-collection book, Vegetable Literacy, is an amazing book and a true labor of love. Deborah Madison is the mother hen of vegetarian cooking, and this new book will really make you think about vegetables. I recently made her cauliflower with saffron, and it was a lovely recipe. Madison's Greens Cookbook is another long-time favorite of mine.

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is one of those cooking reference books that any cook will find incredibly useful. The recipes aren't eye-opening, but if you have a vegetable that you're not sure how to cook, Bittman has ideas and recipes to help you out.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mostly Vegan

A few weeks back, I looked up and I realized I'd been on a red meat bender. Two dinners out had featured steaks, a special dinner at home had been a rack of lamb, and a cold, miserable day at work had lead to a delicious meatball lunch--you get the idea, I was eating a ton of red meat. While I love a nice steak here and there, I believe that meat of any kind should be eaten as a treat, not as an everyday food. My carnivorous behavior made me stop and consider my diet, and I decided I needed to make a change.

I'd heard about Mark Bittman's vegan before 6 pm concept (I interviewed him for New York Runner magazine a few years back), and decided I might give it a try. I even bought his book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good to help motivate my switch to plant-based mornings and afternoons. The book didn't offer me much menu inspiration, but I'm already an avid cook and not a big meat eater (it's definitely geared towards someone whose diet is further away from a vegan diet). However, I really like that Bittman includes a section called Building Blocks, which encourages readers to cook big batches of things like grains and beans to use as the base for many meals. While the book is packaged as a diet book of sorts, I think that Bittman really believes everyone should be switching towards a more plant-based diet, both for our health and for the health of the planet, and he thinks that a mostly vegan diet is something most people can manage--I agree.

After a week and a half, I can say that the VB6 concept is easily sustained for anyone willing to do a moderate amount of cooking. For breakfast, I ditched my usual yogurt for soy or almond milk (though I cheated with a dash of real milk in my coffee, which Bittman confesses he did at first too). Oatmeal with fruit is just fine without milk, and toast with jam or nut butter, is a vegan-friendly pantry breakfast. For lunch, I made many meals, but I also bought meals both to-go and in restaurants and had no trouble finding vegan options (admittedly, I'm located in cosmopolitan New York City). Vegan soups and salads are pretty easy to find anywhere.

I did notice a few interesting things that happened while sticking to a vegan diet before dinner. First, it became a lot easier to choose the healthy option when dining out. When out to lunch, I wasn't tempted by the cheeseburger on a menu; instead my eyes went to a slow-cooked black bean dish. Second, I found myself working more variety into my meals, instead of just the usual apples and oranges, I picked up some kiwis at the market. When cooking oatmeal, I decided to switch things up with some dried apricots and strawberries, instead of banana and raisins. As a mid-day snack, I made myself some popcorn with olive oil. Finally, I found myself more ecologically aware; when ordering a vegan lunch or shopping for plant-based meals, you're consciously making an effort to help save the earth, so I found myself saying, no thank you to the plastic spoon offered with my soup or the plastic bag to carry my groceries. (I try to avoid disposables like that on a regular basis, but I've been more vigilant  recently.)

So, for now, I'm sticking with Bittman's rule of eating vegan before dinnertime. Of course, there will be times when I'll break the rules, but that's the beauty of the concept: It allows for flexibility. What about you, could you go vegan most of the time? Why or why not? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Refinishing a Dresser With Oil-Based Paint

Sometimes I joke that all of my furniture is either used or from IKEA--and it's true! Aside from our couch, I really don't own any new furniture. Buying furniture second-hand means you can usually get higher quality pieces at a fraction of the cost of their new counterparts. However, used furniture often needs a little TLC. So I thought I'd put together a post detailing how I have refinished several pieces of furniture. 

This dresser was priced right at a mere $20 at a yard sale, but it was in sorry shape with many gouges, scratches  and water marks on the wood. I decided that painting the dresser would be the best way to revive it. Here's how I went about it:

First, I used a putty knife and Elmer's Wood Filler fill the worst of the scratches and gouges. After letting it dry, I sanded it with a fine-grit sandpaper to smooth the putty. Next, I used a barely damp rag to wipe off the sanding dust from the dresser's surfaces and let it dry.

Remove any knobs or hardware, and remove the drawers to paint them outside of the dresser. I covered the entire dresser with KILZ Latex Primer. I like KILZ (and also BIN) because it does a good job of blocking stains, and I prefer a latex primer, since it dries faster and is easier to clean up. Priming is an essential step for painting any piece of furniture--it cannot be skipped! My preference is to use a paintbrush, not a roller, as I hate the way a roller looks on wood. When you paint, go with the grain of the wood. Don't worry if the primer looks streaky and sort of messy--you won't see your brushstrokes once you paint it. Let the primer dry according to package directions before painting. 

To paint the dresser, I used Rust-Oleum's Gloss White. In general, I find Rust-Oleum's pre-mixed colors to be pretty good (check out this post from Little Green Notebook for examples of the colors). Oil-based paint gives a much nicer finish than latex paint, and I really think it's worth the extra hassle. Yes, it's a pain to clean up, and yes, it takes forever to dry, but trust me, it will give you excellent results. Use a high-quality paintbrush that is labelled for use with oil-based paints; it'll make the job easier. I used two coats to get a nice shiny finish on this dresser. Again, paint with the grain of the wood, and if the first coat doesn't look totally perfect, don't worry, the second coat will smooth it out into glossy perfection. Keep an eye out for drips as you work.

Last, I polished up the knobs on the dresser, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover they were copper! I used Noxon Metal Polish because it was what we had on-hand. This product is nice because it works on so many different metals, but be sure to use it in a well-ventilated space, as it's rather noxious. Some of the drawers didn't open smoothly, so I rubbed the glides with a bar of soap before putting them back in the dresser.

I've refinished many pieces of furniture with white oil-based paint, and it's a surefire way to make an old piece look brand new. Give it a try!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Familiar Vegetables, New Tricks

Recently, I've tried out two recipes that treat familiar vegetables in new-to-me, yet simple ways, and I wanted to share these smart, fresh ways to prepare winter veggies.

Back in December, New York Times columnist David Tanis ran a recipe for mashed butternut squash that I tried and loved: You peel and chop the squash and roast it in a foil-covered baking dish with water. A not-so-healthy dose of butter makes it truly delicious. We paired it with seared duck breasts, and they were a lovely combination.

Another new technique I've discovered is "glazing" potatoes, which I discovered through a recipe for Olive-Oil Glazed Potatoes from the The Gourmet Cookbook. In this instance, peeled, sliced potatoes are sautéed on the stove in a pan of water and oil (I used a cast iron skillet). As the water evaporates, the potatoes are left with a glaze of the oil--they're insanely rich for a dish that only uses two tablespoons of oil. The second time I make them I added fresh pepper and a handful of chopped, fresh parsley for color and a little herbal lift.

Mashed Butternut Squash 
From The New York Times

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons butter

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put squash cubes in a shallow, wide baking dish. Season with salt and pepper and toss with hands to coat. Pour water in, to a depth of about 1 inch. Dot surface with butter and cover dish tightly with foil.

2. Bake, covered, until squash is tender, about 1 hour. Crush squash to a rough consistency with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Stir to incorporate cooking juices and check seasoning. May be prepared ahead and reheated.

Olive-Oil Glazed Potatoes with Parsley

1 lb russet (baking) potatoes (about 2)
1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
handful of chopped, fresh parsley

1. Peel potatoes and halve lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices.
2. Combine potatoes with water, oil, garlic, and salt in a 10-inch nonstick skillet and bring to a simmer. Cover skillet and briskly simmer, shaking skillet occasionally, until potatoes are tender and most of water is absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

7 DIY Christmas Gift Ideas

The holidays are just around the corner, which has me thinking about gifts. If I had all the time in the world, I would make handmade gifts for all my nearest and dearest. Here are some easy, do-it-yourself gifts that would make great holiday gifts:

This mason jar soap dispenser is probably the most popular craft I ever made. Get the how-to instructions from Country Living's website.  

All you need to make this pretty necklace are some leftover fabric, wooden beads, and a needle and thread. Follow my step-by-step instructions for how to make your own. 

I've always loved books with compartments hidden within. Better Homes & Gardens shows you how to make a book box. 

Turn and old pair of jeans into a super-chic lunch bag following the instruction from Between the Lines.

The Purl Bee blog is chock-full of amazing projects you could make as gifts. I'm particularly fond of this pom-pom scarf--you can sew your own scarf with these directions.

You could spend $500 on a Hermes tassel key chain, or you could make your own with DIY directions for a tassel key chain from Lovely Indeed.

Got a drill? Your friend's cube would look a whole lot cooler with this clever pencil holder from Strawberry Chic. 


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