In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

How Not To Make Donuts for 14

it all turned out well in the end, but only due to my caution and cleverness and tendency to overdo things. i shall start out at the beginning.

18-year-old daughter of my handsome boyfriend asked if she could bring her friends to my house for brunch (14 of them) and then for a walk to Eastern Market. I agreed because I recently became intrigued with the notion of making donuts.

I made yeast donuts and buttermilk, and thank god I did because the yeast donuts were a MESS. I've been up cooking since 7 am ON A SUNDAY so I'm too tired to lay it all out for you. But don't cover your yeast donuts with a tea towel while they rise, or you will have problems of sticking.

And then god help me if you are trying to regulate your hot fat on a gas burner. Not easy.

But the end result was pretty nice.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Official Underpants of How To Run Your Life*

Bali Barely There Boy Shorts. No visible panty line, no wedgies. (I try and try and can't wear thongs. They HURT me. I think it's my hip-to-waist ratio, which is generous). Stock up, report back.

Your tax dollars at work! (Edited for spelling and punctuation. My blog is like the cobbler's children)

Or not as it were. When I worked on Capitol Hill, I had nothing but time to write my blog. Now that I am employed in the private sector -- for which I took a 70 percent pay cut, but because of which I am 900 percent happier -- I'm actually slammed all day...but with good wonderful things, like food and wine and farmers.

(I make $10,000 more than Abraham Lincoln's secretary of war, NOT adjusted for inflation. best move I ever made, by the way. But if enough of you subscribe and you really really should I could get a raise!

Anyway, "working" cuts into the blogging, and for that I apologize.

That said, I have begun my side career as bad ass reupholsterer -- you may recall my New Life Resolution to that effect.

I have a terrible sickly pink velvet wing back chair ("flesh toned" in Crayola's early racist parlance) that I am recovering with striped remnant fabric ($4.97 a yard, 10 yards) and my staple gun. It is half-assed crafting at its very best. It actually looks pretty good so far. Staples will be covered in black seam tape and much hot glue. If you come over don't pick at the chair, please.


It's that monstrosity between the windows. It's extremely comfy though, and has a nice presence at the dinner table.

By the way, I'm selling those battered leather club chairs. They are the real article -- just don't fit into my house anymore. Cough up $1,500 for the pair and we'll talk (new, horrible replicas from Pottery Barn cost $1,500 - 2,00 a piece, and Restoration Hardware has sold out and discontinued it's line, which looked very similar.)

Mine are SUPER battered, so you must love the lived in look.
I'm calling this the Brother Where Are Thou Chair, because of the prison stripes See?

I'll post After when it's done!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Industrial Table How-To: The Premiere of the Half-Assed Craft!

hopefully this mess will all make sense to you in the end.

I got this note from an Apartment Therapy reader, and I am providing my answer here for everyone. It's an AWESOME half-assed craft, and takes not terribly long if you attack it with optimism and good humor.

"I'm not sure how to e-mail you my question so hopefully you won't mind a random, unrelated-to-post- comment. I found your blog via a post on an industrial table on Apartment Therapy ( and you mentioned you had created, what seemed to be, a smaller industrial table. I was all set to build the table as shown on the post but with smaller dimensions. I would love to see pictures of the table you made as it sounds just as easy but petite enough for my apartment. Would you have any pictures/diagrams you could forward to me?"

Sorry, I don't have pictures -- but I've diagrammed it above. It is going to sound a lot more complicated than it is. This table is WAY easier than cutting and screwing together a bunch of random lengths of pipe.

You need:

(4) 4x4 inch cedar posts (cedar is better for you and the environment than pressure-treated wood, and they are readily available.) Cut to 29 inches tall. I found mail box posts that did the trick.

(12) 3-4 inch inch metal pipe flanges -- they are flat discs with threading that allow a pipe to get screwed in, and they affix to a surface with screws. Go to the plumbing section and ask.

(4) lengths of rigid electrical pipe of the same diameter as the flanges so you can screw in the pipes. The length of pipe will determine the dimensions of the table, so choose wisely. You'll need 2 of one length and two of another (or four equal lengths for a square table). Choose already-cut and threaded pipes that have threading on both ends. You should be able to find various lengths from 24" up to 6 to 8 feet.

To repeat: 2 in length X pipes for the ends, and 2 in length Y for the sides. (X and Y can be the same, or not, as you wish -- depends on if you want a rectangular or square table.)

I used two 24-inch pipes and two 6-foot pipes to make the table base for a 3 X 8 foot table.

Now: get 2 more pipes in length X. These will be used to anchor the table legs.

Also: get 4 short pieces of pipe, about 2-4 inches. Make sure they are threaded on both ends. They should be the same diameter as the other pipes.

And get (4) 90-degree elbow pipe fittings of the same diameter as the pipes.

Do yourself a favor and screw these things together in the store to make sure they all fit. Will save you from committing suicide later when you discover one of your fittings is too small or large.

You're going to need wood or a different material top too. More on that later.

And lotsa screws and a good drill with screw bit attachment.

Step 1: take your four top pipes (2X and 2Y) and twist on the flanges on either end of each of the pipes. Don't get clever and decide to screw your flanges to the wood before affixing the flanges to the pipes. Trust me on this one.

That should leave you with: four flanges, 4 elbow joints , and six other pieces of pipe (4 that are 2-4 inches long, and two X lengths. Make sense?) Set those aside for now.

Step 2. lay one of the cedar legs flat on the floor. Place a Y-length pipe and flange on a long flat side as close to what will be the top of the table leg as possible. Screw in the flange.

Step 3: Stand up the leg, and place the opposite end of the pipe and flange against another standing cedar leg. Screw in the flange in a mirror image of the first, close to the top. Make sure the flanges are level with each other or your pipes won't fit and you're table will be wonky. When you are done you should have a contraption made up of 2 standing cedar legs with a long pipe horizontally separating them. We'll call that Side A.

Step 4. Get a third cedar leg, and screw in another (X length) pipe and flange the same way you did the first one. So you'll have one cedar leg with one pipe hanging off it at a right angle near the top. Call that "end A." Now attach the flange on the end of that pipe -- the one hanging off your lone leg out there -- to the Side A. It will be attached to the inside of Side A -- a quarter of a turn from where the other flange is, so you will have the two pipes going off at right angles to each other, anchored by three pipes. This will all make sense as you go, I promise.

Step 5: repeat with the other cedar leg, attaching it to other cedar post at the opposite end of Side A.

Now you'll have a U shaped contraption that should stand up. Take your final Y pipe with flanges, and screw it in on both ends to the inside of the cedar legs of End A and End B and close the U. It will look something like this, but with wood posts in the four corners, and flange and pipe. This is offered here so you understand what the shape should be .... roughly.

You're almost done! this should really take you less than 30 minutes if you are handy with a screw driver. It should look like a table base now.

Step 6 is for added support: twist elbow joints on to one end of each of the shortest pipes you have. This will make them turn 90 degrees. Now twist in your remaining X pipes so each end of X now has an elbow joint and a little stubby pipe on it. You should have a flat U. Twist flanges on each end of the U, and attach flanges to the inside side of End A, as close to the bottom as possible. Do the same with your remaining pipes and End B.

Step 7. Take a break!

Step 8: You now have a table top yay and you can make a few fun decisions. What will you cover it with? Easiest is 3/4 inch plywood or medium density fiber board cut to extend over the table base by at least 4 inches on each side. So measure from the outside edge of each cedar leg to the outside leg opposite. Add 4 inches all around. That's what size your top should be.

Go get the top, drill pilot holes in each corner where the top will attach to the cedar leg below (place the wood on top and drill right through. This is called a dry fit, sort of. Then use a proper sized screw to attach. Don;t glue things. You'll never be able to get it apart). You can paint or not, of better yet cover the top with zinc sheeting before attaching to the legs. Check out for supplies and directions. How cool would THAT be? zinc top, cedar legs, metal pipes.

Or leave the top plywood-- spend a little extra to get furniture-grade plywood -- and seal it, or paint it like RoyMcMakin might have leaving some unpainted and some exposed. Observe the genius.

And while we're on McMakin, let's pause for another AWESOME idea. How easy would this be to totally jack? A couple of flea market chairs, a can of paint and a large canvas? Steal it, I command you.

But back to the table... alternatively, you can make a wood top from lumber cut to your specifications. and attached together on the underside with 3 cross pieces (you need 3 to keep the top from racking, or going all diagonal on you). It's pretty simple to do and will look like a picnic table (I'm presuming you're not skilled in joinery, which is why you are reading these convoluted directions). Flip over, finish as you wish, then attach to the base. Make sure your cross pieces aren't too deep or wide that they interfere with the pipes or legs.

You can make benches this way too, just make the legs shorter and the base only 12 inches wide on end.
The end.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Let's do a little Before and After on Alison's Panamanian Place

And if any of you have become attached to her (you should! she will totally pick up a half-digested mouse that your cat vomited and throw it out for you) I am proud to report that she has already gotten her next Foreign Service posting assignment.

If you recall, when she was preparing to take the Foreign Service entrance exam, she went off to Turkey for a few months to learn the language (I still have her hand drawn flash cards around the house). Well, girlfriend is going to Istanbul in 2013!

So now when I get done surfing here:

I can go visit this:

So: Alison's apartment went from this:
To this:

and these:

to these:

she's all growed up. Though I think there are some lighting issues. And she is still accessorizing. But a lifetime ahead of travel will fill in the blanks nicely.
So proud!


Monday, February 7, 2011

How To Wow Them With an Appetizer

these are not chicken wings.

So I had a small dinner on Saturday night and it seems my appetizer -- the only one I made -- was a hit.

Couldn't be simpler or more sophisticated, in a rustic Italian way.

Fried Artichokes

1. Get either large globe artichokes with stems still attached, or bebbeh artichokes. If large, snap off all the leaves till you are down to just the heart, choke, and raggedy green stem. If using baby artichokes, just snap off the outer leaves, leaving the remaining ones.

You know those things they call artichoke hearts you get marinated in a jar? Don't use those. Use raw artichokes. Those are baby artichokes anyway. What we are after is what you will find in cans called "artichoke bottoms." But don't use the cans either.

2. Slice the little ones in half -- if there is a choke remove it with a knife and/or spoon. There is definitely a hairy choke in the large ones, so either remove the choke with a spoon from the whole denuded artichoke heart, or cut the artichoke into quarters and then eighths -- the long way, so you get some stem and some heart in each piece -- then dig out the hairs. It looks awful, like some beast from the original Star Wars that lives underground and eats you like a worm. Get rid of it. Then peel with long stem with a pairing knife, and trim off raggedy leave bottoms.

This guy can show you how to do it:

I like to make these into quarters or eighths so they cook fully without burning.

3. Now you should have fuzz-free, limp green things. Toss them in a bowl of cold water with lemon juice squeezed into it. Just give half a lemon a squeeze. Keep the other half for later.

4. Heat up good olive oil -- cold press extra virgin.. it makes a difference -- in a pan over medium heat. Dry your artichokes and drop them in the oil. Don't crowd the pan. I did about 8 1/8 artichoke pieces at a time.

5. Fry them on one side until golden brown, about 3 minutes, then flip them over and do the same. Fish them out and park them on paper towels or brown paper to drain. Salt them with coarse sea salt.

6. Now while they are still hot, and you are frying the next batch, put them on a plate for your guests to eat with their fingers and squeeze the lemon over them -- just a few drops.

7. Serve with champagne. Artichokes are notoriously difficult to pair with wine. They seem to inhibit some kind of flavor on your taste buds and can ruin a fine wine. A good dry champagne cuts right through that -- you get the bubbly texture, and that contrasts well with the slick rich olive oil.

8. DO it. report back. I'm serious about this. This is a version of Carciofi alla Giudia -- artichokes Jewish style. I have no idea why it's called that -- something about Jews in Rome being awesome artichoke cooks, I guess.
By the way, the rest of the menu was:
faux carpaccio of beets and arugula with orange-dijon vinaigrette (faux because I actually roasted the beets before slicing them. carpaccio normally refers to raw foods sliced thin)
chipotle short ribs with coffee and maple syrup (check out epicurious for a recipe. definitely degrease it, and I added some ground baking chocolate for a little extra complexity -- it tasted too sweet to me. I took that cue from a Mexican mole)
mashed sweet potatoes and sauteed beet greens (off the beets)
roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon
the best part of the menu was that everything - meat, sweet potatoes, beets and sprouts -- all went into the same oven. Unbelievably easy.
There's this new service that will apparently send you menu, wine pairing, invitation and decorating ideas for $100. I'll do it for free... hit me in comments! Tell me the occasion, number of guests, food aversions, date of dinner, and your comfort with cooking.
In the meantime, make the artichokes. Prepare for accolades. Act humble.