Monday, April 29, 2013

Giveaway!!! And The Yankee Chef answers our burning questions (and gives us his favorite recipe).

Last week, I asked my Facebook friends, "What would you ask a chef, if you could ask anything?" (or something like that).  You all came up with some really great questions.

And because I love you so much, I schmoozed my way into a blog interview with honest-to-goodness chef and author Jim Bailey, who's new cookbook "The Yankee Chef" is ah-may-zing. 

Ok, I didn't really schmooze.  Jim was really obliging to take time out of his crazy schedule of trips to NY, work, writing, cooking, publicity, etc,  to come by and hang out with us and talk cooking AND he is giving one of YOU a copy of his new book (which, by the way, is continually sold out on Amazon because, yeah, it's that great). 

To enter the giveaway click this link: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jim is actually a cousin of mine, which is nifty, although I feel like I should have inherited a higher degree of cooking awesomeness. Or is that not genetic?

Before moving to Maine, I had never heard of a "whoopie pie."  For a long time I could not find ONE RECIPE for these things (until my friend's mom gave me her coveted recipe - whoopie pie's are like one of the most highly guarded secrets of life, people).  

"The Yankee Chef" contains over a dozen whoopie pie recipes!!!!

(You had me at "whoopie pie," but there are a bunch of classic New England recipes plus some modernized favorites, comfort food galore - oh my word.  Be sure to enter the giveaway at the bottom of the post if you didn't use the link to "Rafflecopter giveaway" posted earlier!)

On to YOUR questions! (big thanks to the FB friends who contributed)

What is your favorite meal?

My favorite meal
Butter Poached Lobster! 

(I know Thomas Keller is credited with being the first to create butter poached lobster during the early 90s, but I must say that us Yankees have been preparing lobster in this fashion for many, many decades. IN fact, the first Yankee Chef at his Clam Shack here in Maine, began simmering lobster in butter in the early 30s. This poaching liquid he used I am going to show you today. I recommend Maine lobster but spiny or rock lobster will do just as well.)

Butter Poached Lobster

2(3/4-1 pound) lobsters

1 small plum tomato, seeded and chopped

2 tablespoons water

1 cup sweet butter, cut into pats

Boil or steam lobster for 3 minutes. Remove from water, cool and pick claws and tails, trying to keep them in single pieces.

Over medium heat, bring 2 tablespoons water to a boil. Reduce heat to low and whisk in butter, a pat at a time, until melted. Do not let the butter come to a boil, just above scalding. Keep butter on low and add the lobster meat, making sure all lobster is covered. Poach in this beurre monte for 7 minutes.

That's it!

What is your favorite cookbook?

My all-time favorite cookbook would have to be From Julia Child's Kitchen. She is probably one of my idols because she is no-nonsense and tells it like it is (just like a Yankee).

What is the very best way to cook asparagus?

The easiest and best way to cook asparagus is by simply snapping off the tough stem part at the bottom of each stalk and peeling(with a vegetable peeler) only if the asparagus stalk is large around. If it is small, you need not peel. Otherwise add a little olive oil and minced garlic(to taste) to a skillet and saute over medium-high heat for about 2-3 minutes, rolling the asparagus so that all sides are evenly cooked. Remove to a serving plate and top with some grated Parmesan cheese.

What is the best way to cook chicken without a sauce and have it come out moist?

As for grilling chicken to come out always moist, the best thing to do is make foil packets. Simply encase whatever chicken you are cooking tightly in a large piece of tin foil(crimping very VERY well) and throw onto your outdoor grill. I always add a marinade(not much)as well. If you don't want to fuss over foil packets, always, and I mean ALWAYS grill chicken over indirect heat. Off to the side in other words. Low and slow is the motto. There are just so many different ways of cooking chicken outside, but these two are the best 'general' ideas of cooking chicken outside. 

How can I get potato wedges to be evenly crispy?

Potato wedges should be cut, oiled with a light layer of olive oil and put on the grill grates just until they are barely tender. It all depends on the size of the wedges. Start the wedges over direct heat to brown slightly then move them over to indirect heat to finish cooking. 

Add some spices if desired, but wait until the potatoes are almost completely done or these spices and herbs you add will burn and just plain be disagreeable in sight and flavor.

The Yankee Chef's hope for us:

"My focus has always been to get people back to the table to eat. 

Who doesn't have fond memories of sitting at the kitchen table with family and enjoying not only the food but the conversation, stories and love that was so prevalent while eating dinner? 

If it wasn't for those times, I wouldn't have had these great stories to share with everyone and to get them thinking about their own family gatherings and memories."

I had to ask about the pink chef's coat!  (and if I'm supposed to call it a "chef's coat" or "jacket"?)

"My pink chefs coat is not only my favorite color, and my fathers as well, but it quietly symbolizes my attention to breast cancer awareness. 

As many of you know, my mother succumbed to breast cancer when I was 18 and it is a silent momento to her and allows me to bring her with me everywhere I go."

There is more from The Yankee Chef coming later this week. 

He'll tell us another favorite recipe, 
how he can teach YOU to cook (you asked!)
and about a woman who holds a special place in his heart.

Ok, peeps, now it's your chance to enter the giveaway!!!! 
(small disclaimer: I'm using Rafflecopter for the first time, so we'll test this baby out together....And please let me know if you find any issues with it.)

The giveaway runs all week, so you can enter every day, I think!

Click the Rafflecopter link below to get entered. 
You'll see the directions for how to get MULTIPLE entries. 
(Here's some info in case you need links for my FB page and Yankee Chef on Twitter for extra entries - you'll see the ways to enter when you click below)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*I have not been compensated for this review/giveaway.  The Yankee Chef book is provided by Jim Bailey for you, and I will mail you the copy when a winner is selected.  All the opinions are my own, and I purchased the copy of the book I own.  Does that cover all the legal mumbo-jumbo I'm supposed to include when doing a review/giveaway???

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My maiden voyage into upholstering: a pictorial guide.

If it's possible to have an addiction to chairs, I think I could be diagnosable.  When it comes to chairs, shoes and crunchy peanut butter (in no particular order), I cannot get enough.

We found this great antique desk and chair set at a downtown antique shop, and it was (I say "was" as in past tense, because that's just the truth about furniture in a house with three kids and two dogs) in phenomenal shape and not very much money at all.

I negotiated a lower price, because that's how I roll.  My husband sometimes wants to leave the room when we go to purchase things - be it vehicles or antiques or even yard sale junk - because I am from a strong Yankee stock of people who just don't feel pleased about paying full-price, ok?!  My sweet husband, he just wishes I would agreeably pay sticker price, but friends, I cannot.
(He's wild about me anyway.)

So, I dis-love the fabric on this chair, and after a mere 4 years of living with it this way, my friend gave me a crash course on upholstering!!!  It's been on my 'to-do' list forever.  

Cool thing: When I wrote down that goal, "Learn to reupholster chairs," and posted it out there on Facebook, I had someone step in and say, "I can teach you!"  So there really is something to the whole "write down your goals" idea. 
This is my extremely unprofessional and inexperienced attempt to put new fabric on a chair.  
I'm sharing it because:
*It may amuse you.
*You may actually find it helpful.
*It turned out to be pretty darn cute, if I do say so myself, and I do.

Ok, off we go:

Find your fabric.  I hit Marden's, because I'm frugal and highly likely to ruin this project before it's all said and done, and I would be very irritated to have spent more than $2.99/yard if that's the case.

Wash, dry and iron the fabric. I chose a very subtle animal print, because I have a lot of pattern in my living room, so I didn't want it to be too "graphic" (as in having too strong a line, not as in being inappropriate for children to see).

Plus I love animal print.  I realize that puts me in a position of always having to ask myself, "Is this cute or tacky?" but this time, definitely cute.

And animal print is a contemporary element to add to the antique piece, which makes it feel more modern.  

Turn the chair over, and remove screws. Take off the seat.  My 85-year old grandmother came over with her own high-tech screwdriver to help me do this.  I hope when I'm 85, I am that fierce!

After the screws are out, your chair frame will look sort of like this:

You will now need:
*Staples that are not too long (so they don't poke you in the butt when you sit) but long enough to go into the wood.  
*Stapler or staple gun.  After taking a pistol class a few weeks ago, I found myself not-terrified of the staple gun, and I was able to figure out unloading and loading it as well as firing it without my husband home. He'll be very impressed, I think.  So it's safe to say the gun class was a tremendous success.
*Your fabric & scissors
*Seat of the chair
*Work surface (I used the kitchen counter)

Place the fabric upside down on your surface, and set the seat upside down on top.  (please ignore the one stray sock, the hackeysack and the coffee mug in the background)

Leave several inches on all sides, and cut the fabric. (I was a smidge generous with my borders.... AND you'll see I did not take off the old fabric.  This is because my grandmother said leaving it would "give it body" and also because it looked like a ton of work.... to be honest. The "right way" is to take off the fabric.) 

Work on opposing sides (front to back, side to side).  Start with a front or back piece, pull the fabric and staple in the center.  I remembered the part about the "center" after having stapled an edge.  Oops. 

As you staple on one side, move to the opposite side. Use a lot of pulling so it's not going to look saggy after people sit on the chair a few times.  This fabric doesn't stretch much, which I think may be good for me and my skill level.

Do not staple all the way to the outside edges, in order to create a corner. 
My corner fold defies description, so I'll show you. The important thing to remember is that you will be happiest if the corners match each other.  Also, think about how the corner will LOOK from the other side, when it's on the chair.  Do you want to have a fold showing? Do you want crisp lines? Do you prefer gathers or a pleat?

You will not hurt my feelings if you laugh.  There is a reason people put that black fabric-stuff on the underside of chairs!  For crying out loud, I don't know what on earth to do with that corner fabric.... I tried trimming it.  It's not super-cute.  I know this.

Now you're ready to re-attach your seat to the chair!!!!!!

(I did not consider where the fabric was in relation to having to use screws to go down into the seat, but I fired up the power-drill and the rest is history.)

Oh for heaven's sake... there's a little light on this thing!  Adorbs.

After much exploration, I discovered that the Phillip's Head (is that a proper noun?) end is on the other side of the flat one.  So precious.  They've thought of everything. 

And voila...

The finished product!  DIY-licious.

Now there'll be no stopping me.... 

Do you have a favorite DIY project?  Have you done any upholstery?  I'd love to know what you're working on.

How to paint old plaster walls WITHOUT painter's tape.

Our Victorian home is from the 1890's.  In addition to tremendous charm and character, it has plaster walls which are not smooth where they meet wood moldings, and there is almost nothing perfectly straight or plumb. 

The word "plumb" is not in my normal vocabulary, but I notice my husband's great displeasure when using his favorite toys - i.e. the laser level or such - at the fact that whatever plumb IS, we are not. He finds comfort at times hearing from new-house owners that they are not plumb at their house either.  

My husband is a detail guy, a perfectionist and amazing at math, so when he does projects, he uses  things foreign to me such as measurements, numbers and things like laser levels and this string that you snap to make a straight chalk line (what is that called?). 

That having been said, you can appreciate why the not-straight-or-plumb-or-level state of things in our house can be troubling for him. He levels the planters outside.  He is amazing.  My brain hurts trying to think about this stuff.

I'm an "eyeballer." In college I studied art, and I am a much more free-handed person when it comes to how I do projects.  Measuring things, trying to figure out where to put the screw for pictures, all of that - it gives me an anxiety attack.  It takes me right on back to high school AP Chemistry (which I dropped), and I can feel the cold sweat breaking out.  Oh my goodness.... I can hardly take it. 

Me with every single solitary thing in our bedroom piled up in a heap. I took photos to avoid starting work.  Nobody actually cares about seeing a photo of me doing a Vanna White in front of a big ol' mess. I know.

So we painted our bedroom last weekend, and we have this plaster-meets-woodwork issue. The walls are not smooth (or probably plumb), so precision tools like painter's tape are not terribly helpful.  

I don't use painter's tape when I paint anyway.  
For me, it's like painting trim is like doing one humongous French manicure.  

Painter's tape won't lie flat on the bumpy surfaces of the plaster, so it's not easy to get a clean, straight line.  Eyeballing it gives me better results.  I'll show you a few of the things I do to get a look I like. 

I always start with the woodwork.  

Paint the doors, because, as you can see, the white I've added is much crisper looking than the aged white on the door.  

Brush along the grain, one segment at a time.  

Extend the white out onto the edge of the wall a bit, as you see here. 
This way you'll fill the spaces and uneven places. 

Here's a great example of the woodwork and the plaster not having a really super-clean edge.  If I taped this, there would be boatloads of space for paint to leak under the tape.  Not cool. The white trim paint going onto the wall serves as a sort of "caulking" effect, visually, closing the space. Or I suppose you could actually use caulking. 

If you're right-handed work from left to right as you move through the room.  That way, you'll always be able to see your work.  

Don't overload the brush, to avoid drips. 

HGTV asked me for permission to use this Instagram photo in their #lovehome campaign! Way cool!!!  

Take the kids up on offers to help.  Just kidding.  I had to suppress hyperventilating to let her try using the brush on a totally un-harm-able part of the trim.  She had a great time. 

My grandfather used to let my mom and uncle help paint the house every year.  True story! He is a saint.  I didn't inherit that gene.  

It's something I would like to get better at, whether it's cleaning, cooking, project-doing.... I'm working on it, but it bumps into my Type-A personality with a thud. I am trying to relax, though.... anyway. 

(Notice the trim paint on the wall between the mop board and window - that's exactly how I like it when I'm starting out.)

"Cut-in" the wall color, from left to right around the trim.  
Extend it at least 1" so your roller won't hit the freshly painted trim!

You can see in these photos, that the cutting-in is where I make the really crisp, clean line. 

Keep your eyes focused just slightly ahead of where your brush IS, so you are looking at where you WANT the brush to be next.  It's a moving the eyes with the hand thing.  You'll feel it when you're "in the zone."  

Let your gaze draw the line you want.  
It sounds artsy-fartsy, but it works.

After you've done the cutting in, you can begin to roll the paint.  I work in areas that are probably 3'x3' at a time. 

We only did ONE COAT to cover the red, because we rolled really thoroughly.  Both red rooms I've painted have covered like a dream.  The navy room needed two coats of taupe paint. 

Lesson: don't be afraid to paint over dark walls.  Seriously.  It's not a big deal.  

(This room we painted with Valspar paint-plus-primer.  I like it on the walls.  I don't think it was worth the extra money on the white trim paint.  That seemed much thinner.  I wouldn't buy that again for my trim.) 

Here's another peek at the finished product.   

If you have painting questions and would like my non-professional advice, ask away!!!!
And if you have advice for us, please leave any helpful hints right in the comments or on the Facebook Page, so we can all enjoy your tips. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Master Bedroom Makeover (with Before and After photos)

For Valentine's Day, I redecorated my bedroom as a surprise for my husband. Yesterday, while the wind howled outside, he and I painted our room.  
Because we are DIY rock stars (in our own minds). 

In an Instagram frenzy, I photographed (sometimes in an endeavor to NOT start painting, because starting is the suckiest part of any DIY project) a bunch of pictures of our process and the finished product to show you. Today I'll share the "after" photos, and in a different post I'll show you a few behind-the-scenes glimpses of our work in progress and also offer a few pointers, in case you have "paint a room with hundred-year old plaster walls" on your spring to-do list. 

We did the red walls and the decor scheme you see here in our room when we got married almost eight years ago!!!  It's so time for  a new look.  I way-incredibly-loved the red walls in 2005.  We had a red living room also, which we painted over a couple years ago.  I'm over it. 

What I want now for our room is a fun, playful, inspiring space 
where we can enjoy our time together.  
So much of life is serious.  I want our bedroom to be fun. 

Everything I chose makes me smile.  
Saturated color. Sparkly sequined pillows. 
Wild floral textiles from India. Bold trellis pattern on the drapes. 
And the humongous, acid yellow gourd lamps. LOVE the lamps. 

On each night stand is a shimmery satin Ikat frame holding wedding day photos.

We are embracing all things new, but we always look back to the moments we laid the foundation of this beautiful life together. 

We have an 1896 Victorian home, and this baby doesn't have a "master suite," but we love the character in old homes here in Maine, so we roll up our sleeves and add the modern elements we love one room at a time, and we try to keep as much of the integrity of our old home in tact as possible.  
See the pretty wide plank floors?  Our other bedrooms have floating wood laminate over them, but ours we kept original.  I love it!

I'm really thrilled to see how the globally inspired textiles and colors work so perfectly with the very ornate, traditional furniture we had. The balance and contrast is interesting.  Plus it makes me not-sick-of-the-furniture, which is good, because it's what we have. Warm gray walls showcase all the colors in the room really well. 

One of my favorite things about design and fashion right now is that we can play with color, pattern, and line to make something very eclectic and chic.  We can take elements of style from different countries and different periods of design and pull all our favorite pieces to make something unique.  
(Not to mention that I'm SO excited about neon making a comeback.)

In my decor, I use a lot of symmetry, which is a traditional element (or perhaps a reflection of my Type A personality).  Maybe my New Year's Resolution in 2014 should be "Try to decorate asymmetrically." I'm think I might be getting hives just thinking about it...)  

I try to avoid "matching" things, because I enjoy finding pieces that "go" (a fashion strategy a la What Not to Wear, which I apply to home decor as well). 

Pulling together pieces that don't "match" as much as they "go" can give your space a sense of having items that have been collected over time.  No one has to know you found them all for a bargain at one marathon HomeGoods shopping spree, right?

Thanks for taking a look at my new bedroom!  I'd love to know if you have a decorating project underway and what items or colors make you smile in your favorite places.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to get rid of Mommy Envy. Plus my messy-house photos.

I'm going to tell you a little secret.
Ok, it's not that much of a secret.
Sometimes I think other moms are WAY more together than I am.  

Ever feel like that?  
We open our Facebook and read status updates from friends who have already made homemade bread, read the Bible, exercised and cleaned the house before 6:30am and without coffee.  
And we feel a little bit inferior.  

I can't remember the last loaf of homemade bread I made. 
I can't remember the last time I exercised.... was it last fall? 
It's almost 9, and I'm still in my pajamas. 
My house is not looking Pinterest-worthy.

However, I did wake up at 5, so I could read in the quiet. I've been trying to do this lately, because it's the only hour of solitude available.  It occurred to me, however, that losing one hour of sleep a day is approximately equal to losing an entire night of sleep each week.  That was depressing.

Even with my extra hour, I spend a lot of my day feeling like I'm chasing my tail. Know what I mean? 

It's like a never ending cycle.  
Clean. Turn around. See mayhem created by four-year old in nearby area, which was cultivated while I was cleaning previously mentioned space.  Clean that new mess.  Turn around. Repeat.  

If you can tell me how to bake bread without my house getting turned upside down, please leave detailed instructions in the comment section below.  

We girls put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect.  It starts somewhere in middle school, and it lingers into our mommy-years if we aren't careful.  It started for me with needing the right handbag in 6th grade (I didn't get it).  And as an adult, I felt nervous to have friends over for dinner, because I wasn't sure my cooking was super-fab.  Or if I would be interesting enough to talk to.  

And becoming a wife and mom opens a whole new world of less-than ways for us girls to feel.  Bottle or breast? Cloth or disposable? Full-time homemaker or full-time job? Homeschool or public school or private school? Is my house clean enough?  Is it decorated beautifully enough? Do I look cute enough even though I'm chasing preschoolers all day? How do all those other women do it so well, and I'm so imperfect?

So I'm going to lay it out: 

One of the best things about girlfriends is that we can be real.  
A meal shared is perfect, when it's something simple or something fancy. 
Paper plates and pizza on the couch is as fun as a "tablescape" and china. 
(I recently poured drinks for friends in the kind of plastic cups you get on an airplane, and I marked names in marker.... My husband did make fun of this.  And the marker smudged, so we used real glasses.... but you know something?  Whatever.)
Visiting with a friend in a home that is welcoming is more fun than visiting less often in a perfectly tidy house. 

I love decor, design, creating a fun and beautiful environment, and I usually have a pretty clean house.  
That being said, there are 3 (or more) kids here all the time, and this place is lived-in. 
You don't need to have Mommy Envy toward me, friends. 
Or toward anyone else. 

Even the moms who can get up and get a bunch of stuff done really early.  
The ladies we see from our perspective as super-moms or super-wives.... those are our sisters who have struggles and imperfections, too.  
We have to remember that we all have clutter piles somewhere. 

We all feel like we "should be" more than we are some days. And we all need to remember that our friends love us, imperfections and all.  In fact, I bet some of your favorite things about your girlfriends are the little imperfections that make us real and relatable. 

My friend Lauren blogged about showing the spaces we don't normally want company to see.  You should pop over to her blog, because she is a lot of fun, and she's super-real.  Her idea inspired me to show you my "real, right this minute" house.  

Would you like to join us in sharing some "real"? 
Go to the Facebook Page, and post a photo or a blog link! 

We can banish envy and encourage community by keeping it real, girls. 

Now I'm mulling over the other "real" we could share... faces before makeup.... oh heaven help us.  I don't think anyone's ready to see photos of me like that... it may be just way too much real.   

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

DIY antique desk transformation. The very, very beginning.

Yesterday, I hunted down some fabric at Marden's. If you are a Mainer, you know Marden's... if not, imagine a giant yard sale inside a warehouse, where there is some stuff that's not really great and then some things that are total treasures.

I once found a Gucci suit at Marden's for $125.  True story.

I didn't buy it, and it goes into the category of purchases-I-should-have-made, alongside the tres chic Cole Haan boots with little metal studs that I walked away from in 2009 and which my husband brings back to my attention every time I like something and tell him, "I don't think I'll get it."

His response, "Is this going to be another Cole Haan boot situation?  Just get (fill in the blank: it, them, those, that)."

So anyway, yesterday I was fabric hunting, because:
*Marden's has a killer supply of fabric.
* I have zero experience with fabric-related projects (ok, not zero, but like practically-zero... if sewing 3 handbags in 2002 counts).
* I don't like to waste money.
* Going to Jo-Ann Fabric gives me an anxiety attack, because it overwhelms me visually, and I don't know enough about what I'm doing to do anything but wander around in an overloaded stupor.

I found a black-on-black animal print fabric that's fairly subtle but modern, and I'm planning to re-cover the seat of my antique desk chair.  I have always hated the burgundy that was on it when we bought it. Not fun enough to live next to the wild yellow couch.

I had a way-amazing time with my friend last week being mentored in how to upholster, so I need to jump in while I'm all fired up.  I may paint the chair and table, but I may not.  

Lately I'm having a creativity bug. 

Winter in Maine is so long, and being a stay-at-home mommy sometimes doesn't allow for much of that quiet space for imagining and creating and making art. So I'm trying to build that back in. 
So, I'm intentionally and diligently adding "creating art" back into my life. 

Is there art in you

Unless we make space for it, it won't get created. 
Nobody else will make the art that is swirling in your imagination.  
The dreams that keep you up late and get you up early, those are your gift to yourself.  
And to us. 

So me, I'm starting with my chair.  I'm going to re-make it.  Change it into something that expresses some of who I am.  I am going to make that little corner of my living room prettier, and in doing that, my home will have a little splash more sparkle.  

Maybe it's just fabric, or just paint, but it's something new.  
A little transformation.  And that always feels good to our souls. 

What would you like to create?  What swirls through your heart, friend?  Do you make time to invest in creating?