Trimming Your…Walls

20141214_224946 (1)Well, then.  We can just about tie a bow on this year.   Could that be right?   If the sidewalks of New York are any indicator, it feels holiday-ish for sure. There’s a frenetic vibe on the streets, and I can feel peoples’ paces quicken as they hurry to get stuff done.  I’m no different.  I love a good garland hunt, hanging lights, and an afternoon in the kitchen where I can bang out some sugar cookie dough and roll out my gingerbread men (“bite me!”)

It’s also a nice time to reflect and take stock.  Sitting here with my lovely little stump of a tree (couldn’t resist showing you my 3-foot charmer) I’m reminded that things have come together in my home this past year.

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One of my long-term projects has been finding art for my walls.  This area in particular, above my console, was screaming for a gallery-like composition.  But I didn’t want to rush it, nor did I want it to feel too cookie-cutter.

It’s finally taken shape with the help of some good – and practical – sources.  And while I’m all about investing in original pieces that last a lifetime, it’s not always reasonable (hello, mortgage!)  So I’ve corralled them below if you’re embarking on your own personal gallery mission. Enjoy!

Brooklyn Flea

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Transistor Radio by Michelle Han

This place always delivers.  The original Brooklyn Flea was set in Dumbo, and back before Brooklyn exploded, they were more focused on antique-y type dealers.  Now they’re full-fledged productions with even more space for hipsters and horticulturalists to peddle hand-made jewelry and artisanal honey.  Once in awhile you’ll find a pop-up Flea, like I did last fall in Park Slope, so it pays to scope out different neighborhoods.  I was happy to stumble upon this piece by Michelle Han, a local Brooklyn printmaker:  not only do I love the hand-carved quality of this print, but I love music and tend to get nostalgic for the days before we streamed everything.  So this makes me smile each time I see it.  14″ x 17″ Wood Gallery Frame by Pottery Barn.

Etsy:

For those of you not in the NYC area, Etsy has a huge range of art, from hand-screened prints, original paintings and custom work.  I purchased this bike print a few years ago (which is why I sadly don’t recall the name of the Etsy store), but I love it.  And framing it was an exercise in recycling:  I found a great frame at a yard sale and ditched the previous owners’ oil painting.

Then I “float-mounted” my new print on piece of charcoal gray paper so as to stay in step with my color scheme.  (I’ll revisit some more framing tricks in another post).  I think the dark background helps highlight the print.

Union Square

On Saturdays in Union Square, you can find loads of artists selling their wares.  This is my third piece from a photographer I met there, Matt Schwartz.  He creates his pieces from actual Polaroids, peeling away thin layers to give them an aged effect.

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Consider his work a precursor to Instagram.  You can find him online at SheHitPause studios.

Fab.com

While their selection is varied (read: hit or miss), they’ve got some gems.   From their series of map line drawings, I chose this Florence map, and it brings back nice memories.  Florence is the first place I ever traveled alone outside the states, and it reminds me of the many miles I walked.  For some reason, this seems a much better tribute to those two weeks, versus even the best framed photo I could have ever taken.

Florence

Etching, Map of Florence

One Kings Lane

LA-based photographer Gray Malin takes fantastic travel and aerial photography.  I found this aerial shot of a Miami beach on One Kings Lane, but you can go right to the source as well at graymalin.com.   I loved the accidental repetition of the umbrella shadows, and went large-scale with this one to hang solo on a separate wall.  I’m having this puppy framed up nice…ie, custom.  #happybirthdaytome  Check back to see how it turns out.

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Speaking of framing, I have some favorite sources there too:  AI Friedman, Ikea, CB2 and Pottery Barn – all make great quality frames in loads of sizes.  And while its tempting to order standard frames that match, it was even more satisfying to incorporate hand-me-downs and flea market frames that lend a nice a patina and sense of originality.

And just to make sure I had something original, I framed one of my practice watercolors from class.  It’s nowhere near perfect, but it’s a happy little piece, and it reminds me that some of my favorite pieces have no price at all.

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Settee, 2012

My parents, my clients

My parents are building a house at The Jersey Shore where they plan to spend their post-retirement years.  It’s not so much in Snooki territory, but in a calmer, more peaceful hamlet in South Jersey.

After 9 months:  progress!  They are getting pretty close to their move-in date, and there are finally walls up and floors down so we can get cracking on the interiors.  I’ve been scooting down there on weekends to see how they’re coming along and to lend my two cents (my favorite part!)

The biggest challenge in their case (and in any case where you’re envisioning a space that has yet to be built) was trying to get a sense of how the interior would come together, especially when they had only architectural plans to look at.  So this summer, to give them a sense of how the end product could look, I took on the living room as my pet project.

I drafted up a floor plan and suggested furniture layout, and converted it to a perspective (below).  I wouldn’t say I was given 100% free reign.  My mom had some solid ideas of what she wanted (and excellent taste, I’ll add):  a navy color palette punched up by a few accent colors, grounded by natural fabrics and woods.  But it was fun to start with a semi-blank canvas.  Here’s what I came up with:

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Living Room (perspective sketch)

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Living Room (watercolor)

My dad wanted a large sofa facing the fireplace, but I drafted up an alternative option:  two smaller sofas facing each other, both with good access to the fireplace (OK, OK…TV).  I always love this arrangement because it’s more conducive to socializing and doesn’t block off the rest of the room, which flows into an open dining/kitchen area.

We set out to pick a pale neutral gray paint color and chose Agreeable Gray by Sherwin Williams, then ordered the basics:  the two medium length Carlisle sofas from Pottery Barn, a customized wide ottoman upholstered in a navy flame stitch ikat fabric, and we’re still all over the place with the carpet (don’t ask).  We also chose a Minwax stain equal parts Jacobean and Dark Walnut for the floors.

As of now, here’s how it looks:

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The floors will be stained this week, with furniture arriving shortly after.  And I’m jonesing to make use of my felt furniture sliders (really important for protecting wood floors) and get the sofas perfectly placed.  Once the pieces are in, we’ll think about side chairs, art work, and accessorizing with some “room jewelry” like lamps and sparkly things.  Trip to Homegoods, anyone??

Greece, Revisited

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View from Oia, Santorini

I visited Greece this Spring for the first time, and like many far-flung places I’ve been to, the memories of the food are some of the most vivid, sticking with me months – sometimes years – after I get home.

So it’s only fitting that I had my fellow travel buddies over for a soiree back in the city, and we recreated our favorite dishes from Crete, Santorini, and Athens, where we found a nice mix of local tavernas and seasonal eats.

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Happy campers. Just add rosé.

I’ll admit I was giddy as a school girl getting ready for dinner:  sprucing up the deck, hanging twinkle lights, and decorating the table with white cheesecloth napkins (maybe a nod to the process of making Tzatziki?), a potted oregano plant, and lanterns.

IMG_2165But back to our travels.  Some of the best dishes from our trip were just awesome ingredients simply prepared, so we did our best to recreate them:  a simple Greek salad, grilled squid with fresh lemon, zucchini fritters, and a team favorite, feta.  While always great plain, I dialed it up a notch and recreated an appetizer we had at Floga, a restaurant in Oia, after a 3-hour hike from Fira:

We were sweaty and nasty and ravenous after the hike, so of course everything we ate at that lunch seemed incredible.  But this one feta dish stood out:  it was rolled in slivered almonds and sesame seeds, lightly pan-fried to a golden brown, and served with a pomegranate reduction.  Talk dirty!

Feta final

Golden Fried Feta

So that’s what I set out to make at home (above).  Here’s my attempt to recreate the recipe.  I’ll caveat that it was a mess to make, and certainly not for the impatient.  But after one bite into the toasted nuttiness and warm cheese, I knew it was time well spent.

Golden Fried Feta

Ingredients:
– 1 c. pomegranate juice (ie Pom)
– olive oil
– 1 square block of feta (8 oz)
– 1 egg
– 1 T. milk
– 1/3 c. flour
– 1/2 c. slivered almonds
– 1 t. sesame seeds
– Pita wedges, for serving

Heat the pomegranate in a small saucepan over high heat until it simmers; reduce to half and set aside to cool.  In the meantime, heat olive oil in a heavy pan on medium, enough to coat the bottom by about 1/3″. Beat egg and milk in a large, shallow bowl. Set aside. Combine flour and pepper on a separate plate, set aside. Pour almonds on a third plate, set aside.

Quarter your feta block into 4 equal wedges and prep each as follows: dredge triangle in egg mixture, then flour, then egg mixture. This will give you a gooey base. Sprinkle a few pinches of sesame onto the wedge, then gently press the almonds onto each side, coating as much “cheese space’ as possible. Repeat on remaining wedges.

Fry two wedges at a time, alternating sides until they are golden brown. Drizzle with pomegranate reduction and serve with greens and pita.

Mastering the Mojito

IMG_20140907_165942 (1)Ahh, the mint plant. How you make everything else in my garden look paltry.  And your versatility!  You play nice with Thai food and play a key role in one of my favorite libations:  the Mojito.

To make mojitos at home at a moment’s notice (because why not), I’ve been growing Kentucky Colonel, a spearmint variety, since spring.  With medium sun, daily watering, and trimming its flowers, it’s grown from a seedling to a full-grown shrub.  (Lest I get too proud, take a gander at the sad, underachieving lime bush to its left, above).

Preparation

Mint syrup prep

While bartenders dread making mojitos because of the muddling required, I’ve been using a gratifying shortcut to reduce the labor when serving a crowd:  creating a mint-infused syrup.  I developed the below recipe after many tweaks to others found online; I think this one does the trick.

The Mojito
This recipe serves one, but since you’ll be whipping up a batch of mint syrup, this is great for a crowd. Just adjust the recipe up. Also, limes should be room temperature; roll them under your palm a few times on the counter to get them to yield their max amount of juice.

Ingredients
– 1 1/2 oz. white rum
– juice of 1 lime
– 1 oz. mint simple syrup
– 3 oz . seltzer
– mint sprig for garnish

Fill a glass with crushed ice. Add rum, lime juice and mint syrup; stir. Top with seltzer and add mint spring and/or lime wedge to garnish. Sip, repeat.

Mint Simple Syrup
I suggest making the mint syrup ahead of time to allow it to cool. You can also use any leftover syrup to kick up your iced tea or lemonade.

Ingredients:
– 1 c. water
– 1 c. sugar
– 1 bunch of mint (stems included)

Combine sugar, water and mint in a saucepan. Heat and bring to a boil; simmer for one minute. Turn off heat and remove pan from burner. Let steep 30 minutes. When cool, strain into jar and discard wilted mint parts. You can even squeeze the mint stems out if you’d like to get all of that minty goodness out of them.

A nice variation: add fresh peeled ginger root to the syrup as it’s simmering for a Ginger Mojito.  Or of course add more seltzer to lighten up your cocktail.  Or of course more rum to…taste.

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Mint simple syrup

Summer Luminaries

It turns out I’m a lantern lady.  Actually, “luminary enthusiast” sounds better.  I’m not much of a collector in general, but my lantern count has hit double-digits.  I’ve collected some great little vessels over the years, even before I had an outdoor table (or indoor table for that matter).  My favorites are the ones found in old second-hand stores, or on the cheap.  A sampling:

I love them because they remind me of nights spent at the Jersey shore, when family dinners culminated in front porch nightcaps.  My mother would – and still does – light every wick possible until the porch glows from afar (fire hazards be damned!)

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This weekend I added to my collection with what is probably my favorite score yet:  blue glass lanterns with beautiful bronze detailing, a steal at $6.99 each at The Christmas Tree Shoppe.  (It’s not just for holiday decor!)  I stuck with the same turquoise hue as some other pieces, and I’m excited to light them.  (And to my past roommates who coined me #FireMarshallKate, you’ll be happy to know I’m still just as diligent with my extinguishing duties).

Shisito Pepper Redux

For those of you following along on my gardening escapades (all two of you), you know I’ve tried my hand at an assortment of veggies on the deck.  While I ventured into jalapenos last year – and they did well – there are only so many jalapenos one can eat solo.  Peppers, however, seem to grow well here.

Enter: shisito peppers.  I first ate them in the spring of 2011 while traveling around Spain with my dear friend Alexis.  In Barcelona, we prioritized taking in the architecture, but (naturally) also excelled at taking in some great meals, deciding against the more over-the-top foodie destinations (no foam-infusions, thanks), and opting for places where dishes were prepared simply, using fresh ingredients at the peak of their season, with minimal fanfare.

I’m pretty sure we ate shisito peppers at just about every one of these meals:  they were served charred, doused in a perfect sheen of olive oil and sprinkled with crunchy sea salt.  And as someone who loves surprises, a game of shisito roulette emerged (turns out, 1 in 10 is incredibly spicy).

Here in the city, I’ve only found these peppers in August at the Union Square Greenmarket, so I’m growing them myself, which means a much wider window of pepper-ific enjoyment.   My three plants finally produced enough to toss on the grill last night.  I went rogue and did it sans recipe and let my memory of how they tasted dictate how I cooked them.IMG_2133 (1)IMG_2141Cooking them required a quick toss in olive oil, and about 8 minutes (4 per side) on the grill.  They turned out smoky, juicy, and some Maldon Sea Salt lent a nice amount of crunch.  And yes, I got a major hot one, however I ate them so fast I never identified the little bugger.  #sabroso!IMG_2147

Scalloped Accent Wall

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One of my goals this summer is to create an accent wall behind my headboard.  I’ve contemplated a scallop motif ever since I was inspired by this image from Design*Sponge of a teal scalloped bathroom tile:

Bathroom Title (Source:  Genevieve Gorder, as seen in "Design*Sponge"

Bathroom Title (Source: Genevieve Gorder, featured in “Design*Sponge”)

While I love the repetition of the shape, there’s something about the variation in color that appeals to me; it’s anything but flat.  I’ve since seen inspiration everywhere, and just designed something that’s in line with the scale of my wall.  It turns out, the scallop I’ve been attempting is actually just an arc repeated over and over.  After drafting a few versions, I’m opting for the pattern on the left:IMG_2080

As for creating a stencil out of my drawing, I’ll leave that tedious project for another (rainier!) day.  Stay tuned…

Shoe Storage Upgrade

In my scurry to move forward on new projects, I’ve been remiss in posting some of the nice little moments that have come together in my apartment.  One of my favorite nooks is this one by my front door.  It’s a chair + crate combo that’s nice on the eyes, and also holds and conceals my shoes.

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The chair is CB2, and the wood crate is a find from Maine during a drive home from my friend Kim’s wedding.  A few of us stopped by some antique stores in Wells, and I founds this Hood Dairy crate for $28.  It dates back to…well, I’m not sure.  But it’s old.  And I was drawn to its red check pattern, and of course its crustiness.  I think this montage is a good reminder that mixing old and new is easy, as long as you can find the similarities that tie the pieces together.  In this case, the red tones do the job.  I may add wheels or sliders, TBD.

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OH and my friend Silvia scored a mink that day and we got a $20 discount for paying cash and bundling our purchases.  wooo! #effectivenegotiation

 

Fun with Seedlings

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I had a full summer in my place last year, so I had some time to try my hand at gardening.  I learned a few things, including the benefits of watering plants at night (do it) and that I’m terrible at growing roma tomatoes (I have no idea why).  Most exciting though was learning what I could grow and benefit from on a daily basis, like summer salad add-ons, like mint, basil and cherry tomatoes.

All well and good.  But this time I’m venturing a bit further into veggies, in addition to planting some classic potato vines and impatiens.  I picked today of all days to do so…not ideal given I leave for a 2 weeks in exactly 3 hours.  (I’ve have always done my best work under pressure).  Here’s what I opted for (UPDATED to reflect 2 weeks of growth).  Note the handy watering “picks” I found on Amazon; you just screw them to the top of a used soda bottle.  Or in my case…sacrificial tonic:

Before:

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Radish plantings from seed

After:

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Radish plantings from seed

Before:

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Mixed impatiens

After:

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Mixed impatiens

Before:

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Cherry tomato seedlings

After:

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Cherry tomato seedlings

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First tomato of the season

Small Details, Big Impact

Winner

Winner!

Ever struggled with writers’ block?  I think I have the designing equivalent.

It’s my master bedroom (sidenote: can I rename it?  Being “master” of your household feels odd when you’re the only one in it.)  This room has been feeling pretty basic since I moved in.  It’s got a nice bed, solid white bedding, and good floors.  But each time I try to accessorize it with teal, green and coral colors, they fall flat and clash with the walls that, lately, seem more khaki than the gray I was aiming for (I’m not a fan of khaki but I’m #alreadycommitted).  Enter: slate blue.  Blue isn’t in my apartment’s color palette aside from the turquoise I have sprinkled about.  To me, classic blues have always felt safe, nautical, preppy.  All great, but not the feeling my space evokes.  But slate blue seems to take on a new feeling.

With another successful trip to Housing Works, I found this wonderful pillow cover amid a stack of designer samples.  I love the embroidery and the pink accents.  As with many items I find without price tags, I played that game “what’s it worth to me?”  I came up with $15-$20, the price I’d be willing to pay once I got to the register.  If it was anything more, I walk.

Drumroll…it was $2!  Once home, I stuffed the cover with a castoff pillow I was tired of, and sure enough it did wonders to wake up my room.  The walls sang, the shams popped, and a new color palette revealed itself.  Now all I need is a span of one uninterrupted week to paint an accent wall behind the bed.  (A girl can dream…)