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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Friday, September 16, 2011

Apparently you do wanna see my kitchen. Here are some more shots, per Brad's request. Taken with a Blackberry...sorry about quality.

The much talked about sink.

The baking center.

I keep my bowls in drawers -- everything goes in drawers. Much easier to find and take sutff out than rooting around in cabinets.

My cooks tools are in an old tool&dye holder which keeps them straight. Notice the crumbs on the floor. The cleaning team comes next week.
The cook top, which I prefer to a range (though if you gave me a Viking I would happily accept.) That allows you to cook things undisturbed on the stovetop while your Thanksgiving turkey is tended by someone else.

My pantry. It's about 7 feet wide, 2 feet deep. Makes good use of mason jars. Vastly more space than 8 feet running of cabinets would be.

This I particularly like. It's an old coat closet. Most of it was used for the wall oven and microwave on the opposite side but about 6 inches was left. So I had shelves installed, painted it Bronze Gold, and use it to store my glasses. I love it. It feels like I'm walking into Williams Sonoma everytime I have wine. Which is a lot. I used to work at Williams Sonoma and ironically I got repeatedly scolded for not dusting the glassware well enough. Can you tell my favorite libation is champagne? I think I have 22 champagne glasses.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to Stock a Dinner Pantry

OK, we did the baking pantry, so you can make pretty much any dessert or baked good you can imagine without having to run out to the store provided you've got butter and eggs. So now we're onto a dinner pantry... the things to have on hand so when you just don't feel like going to the store you've got something delicious to eat, and when you bring home fresh ingredients you have myriad options for how to prepare them.

Most dinners of course require something fresh -- I rarely make garlic and oil pasta without a fresh lemon to zest over the top -- but you'll be able to feed yourself directly from the pantry in a pinch: black beans and rice, risotto, lentil soup, pasta with a great sauce of oil and garlic or a quick tomato sauce, chick pea stew

I will break this up into categories that make sense to me:

Pasta/Italian Dinners
olive oil (extra virgin, cold pressed)
hot pepper flakes
pastas in all shapes and sizes
jarred sun dried tomatoes in olive oil
jarred pesto, unless you make your own and freeze it in the summer.
Sundried tomato paste in tubes (or tomato paste in tubes.) (or cans)
San Marzano plum tomatoes in cans
arborio rice
stock (beef, chicken veggie, veal)
bread crumbs
fennel seed
dried coriander
coarse salt
pepper and grinder
truffle oil for finishing a risotto
bay leaves
real parmesan cheese

Asian Dinners
fish sauce (mixed with lime juice, brown sugar and fresh grated ginger, fantastic dressing for noodles)
cocnut milk
soy sauce
toasted sesame oil
sake (with brown sugar, white miso and mirin, an unbelievable marinade for sable or chilean sea bass,which you shouldnt buy but you do, oh well. me too)
bean thread noodles (fantastic in the fish sauce sauce mentioned above, with or without fresh julienned veggies, scallions and cilantro and mint)
udon or ramen noodles (easy soup with stock and a few veggies and aromatics)
black vinegar (perfect on its own as a dipping suace for dumplings)
spring roll wrappers (you never know when the desire will hit)
jasmine rice
fresh ginger (keep it in the freezer)

Mexican sort of

black beans (canned or dry)
basmati rice
white beans (canned or dry)
dried chiles -- guajillo, japon, ancho
canned chipotles
canned tomatillos
corn tortillas (fresh)
tortilla chips
salsa of some sort
chili powder
coarse salt

garbanzo beans (chick peas).. with tomatoes and onions and saffron and garlic, an excellent stew
tahini (right there you have hummus)
lentils (green de Puy)(for soup or cold or room temp salad in a vinaigrette)
walnut oil
canola for making popcorn
popcorn kernals (easy to make, and easy to make kettle corn or caramel corn when you need something sweet in a hurry)
smoked paprika
rosemary (fresh is better. grow it on your window sill)
curry powder (or your own mix of garam masala)

nuts: walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds
dairy: sour cream, heavy cream, greek yogurt
meats: as you wish to keep in the freezer, but I like grass-fed beef flat iron steaks -- they defrost quickly -- frozen line caught wild salmon and tuna, pastured chickens (whole for roasting, and parts. chicken breasts are easy but we eat way way too many of them), grass-fed hamburger (grassfed is better for you, for the environment, and certainly for the cow).

One of my easiest dinners is a salmon filet, covered in coconut milk with a minced jalapeno and a grated knob of ginger, and a good sprinkling of salt. You bake it till the salmon is done -- 10 or 15 minutes at 375 or so -- and serve with rice and haricots verts. The vaguely indian sauce (I learned it from the wife of the Indian press attache in DC) is great on the rice and beans too...

Wanna see my kitchen?

Interesting things to note:

Because I am tall I had my terrible very bad awful human builder lay down 4 X 4s on the floor and then install my Kraftmade cabinets, which I like much more than the builder. I got them delivered unfinished so I could stain them myself. I hate hate hate the shiny plastic finish on cabinets. Why buy wood then cover it in plastic? My house is funky and old, and new cabinets would look totally out of place. So I stained them and gave them a beeswax finish.

The kick plates are extra tall because of the 4X4s, so I put mirrors on them. Its awesome though my cats go crazy. They bounce a lot of light around and they make the cabinets look like standing pieces of furniture. I highly recommend this treatment of your kickplates.

I used pieces so of my wall studs (that I removed to make a doorway) ... 150 years old if they are a day -- to make "legs" for the cabinets.

My dad is the tile and marble king of Florida, so I got to cut my granite counters myself. The ragged edge you see as a backsplash were the trimmings from the original slab. The sink was a total triumph: I designed a granite apron front sink and my dad built it. And then drove the whole mess (with my bro) up to DC from Florida (16 hours) with everything in a van. The sink fit to within 1/16th of an inch (we just shaved the wood base cabinet a bit. The install took 12 hours. I f eel like I've told this story on this blog before...

I know I've told you I hate upper cabinets. They look like buckteeth and I believe I've shared when the cabinets in the law office I was working in as in-house chef pulled from the wall and fell on me on my first day of work. So. No upper cabinets for me. I have a large pantry -- 2 X 8 - in the hallway next door. Not pictured are my fridge (SubZero. I grew up with them, and everything else just doesn't feel like a real fridge to me) and my microwave and wall oven (Kitchen aid). The fridge is next to the pantry.

Anyway, that's my kitchen. It functions pretty well for being 10 X 10.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jeanette's Old English Moroccan Safari Basement with Mexico in there too, somewhere.

My friend Jeannette has just had her basement redone (during a hurricane and flood, which is fun). Dug out the foundation, reinforced the underpinnings (good thing because the earthquake would have been very interesting otherwise), added a bathroom -- the works.

The contractor now is trying to convince her NOT to paint the cabinets (which are made of furniture grade plywood). I oppose on all fronts. Its going to be the millennial version of that horrible 70s paneling in the basement. However, contractor promises to paint it over if she doesn't' like it stained. I will do my damnedest to make her not like it because what kind of life runner would I be if I let people decorate willy nilly without a thought to the final product?

Not a very good one.

So I spent an hour or so putting together a mosaic of furniture choices for her. The Lazy Boyz are a must, apparently -- bad backs all around. The couch is 9 feet long and covered in velvet. My couch is velvet and so far its resisting stains pretty well.

The room is painted a buttery yellow.

So: two leather LazyBoyz in a reasonable design -- she originally wanted the basement entirely paneled with bookshelves and books, and to be a library, and I think these recall that look. Something she can snuggle into with a cup of tea. There is a wet bar; I want 18 inches of Moroccan tile as a back splash (no wee back splash. let them make a statement), with a faux animal head above it. there would be a shelf above the tile -- hard against it, no gaps -- for blue hand blown glassware (the kind they sell in Tijuana). The niche above the tile would be painted -- either green or gold - something drawn from the tiles, and something that will make the head pop.

She really wants something zebra, so some pillows I think. Maybe a zebra rug from west elm across the room under the game table. More on that in a second.

On the floor, two 5X8 rugs (so 10 X 8) from West Elm.

Two mismatched blue poufs to bring the blue from the tile into the room and get out of the earth tones for a second - additional seating, or to put feet up on. Some cocktail tables here and there -- I like the rough-hewn wood one. One or two rush ottomans -- these are 24 inches diameter and -16 inches high. They are on wheels which is important because there is going to be yoga done. The coffee table needs to be easy to move.

The glass lamps are great looking, tie into the Mexican glasses over the bar, and go with anything, anywhere.

Across the room from the tv area will be a table for games and puzzles. It needs a strong downlight and this Moroccan silver one is AWESOME. Its about 18 inches I think -- so a great size.

A good round oak table -- antique and sturdy, bringing us back to the English library for a second.

Sparkle and light in the form of Mexican tin mirrors -- a bunch of them , maybe over the couch. Clustered, wherever they are -- not spaced out. They need to be clustered.

She needs a huge photograph -- something modern and wonderful -- maybe over the couch too. (Its a big couch). Something has to break up all this Out of Africa thing and bring it into 2012.

Finally a big tin bucket for newspapers and magazines... a receptacle.

I did a slightly altered second mosaic -- new rugs (West Elm and Dash and Albert) to take in some of the colors she likes (golds and orange), a new sided table-- more leggy and airy, and a new zebra element - a long bench.
If you're interested in this stuff I can tell you where to find it. Hit me in comments.

And if you want me to do a mosaic for you, let me know! Tell me the function of the room, the size, and the style you think you want -- and send me a link to a photo of a room you love and you want to inspire your room. It keeps my occupied while I am waiting for my art director to finish his work.

Friday, September 9, 2011

How to Stock a Pantry: the first in a series

Between the earthquake, hurricane, tornadoes, and epic flooding, clearly end times are upon us. This is a good time to stock the pantry, because when zombie hordes are in the streets, you won't want to have to run outside for baking powder.

It is my strong opinion you should buy lots of mason jars with tight fitting lids. They look nice, and they keep out pantry moths which are a living HELL.

So first: How to Stock a Pantry for Baking

Here's what you need. If you have all this in the pantry, plus some butter and eggs and maybe milk and heavy cream, there's almost nothing you won't be able to make at a drop of a hat (or zombie attack to distract you lululu).

  • flour (large bags, in a large crock with a tight fitting lid that is big enough to dip your baking cup into)

  • whole wheat flour

  • baking powder

  • baking soda

  • yeast (envelopes are convenient. you can get a jar to keep in the fridge)

  • corn starch (you can use this to make your flour into cake flour. Google it)

  • sugar (extra points if you get organic cane)

  • light brown sugar. dark too if you're felling fancy

  • powdered sugar

  • sanding sugar (the large crunchy kind, perfect for Naked Scones)

  • honey (for bread and granola bars)

  • corn syrup (for pecan pumpkin pie and spiced nuts)

  • molasses (NOT blackstrap)

  • salt (kosher or sea, fine grain)

  • salt (sea, large crystal)

  • cocoa powder (dutch process and the other kind, if you are particular. I don't really notice a difference)

  • good vanilla

  • vanilla beans (for fancy times)

  • almond extract

  • rose water (nice to have! and keeps for ages. ditto orange water)

  • baking chocolate squares -- a must for homemade brownies

  • oatmeal

  • dried cranberries

  • walnuts

  • pecans

  • sliced and or slivered almonds

  • oooh, almond meal

  • chocolate chips

  • raisins

  • currants

  • ginger

  • allspice

  • fresh nutmeg (ie, the nutmegs themselves and a grater)

  • cinnamon

  • cardamom

  • cream of tartar in case you make snickerdoodles, about the only possible use you could have for it. that and a souffle.

what am I missing?

next: a dinner pantry

A Few Random Notes

Remember BLT on a stick? My friend Laura H. made em for a party using thick-sliced bacon (no slabs to be found... I'm telling you people: Eastern Market. Don't make me say it again). SHe said it made her a hero. So now you guys go make it. Thanks for the pic laura!

And: lurkers please explain why, consistently, in the top 10 Google searches that lead you to this site, your search term is "Nate Berkus feet."

Nate Berus Feet. Nate Berkus Feet. Nate Berkus Feet.
(driving page views)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Neelish's New Pad : Decorating, part 1

So Neelish just moved back to DC from Afghanistan and has a new apartment to decorate and no idea wehre to begin. Enter... ME.

These are the parameters: mostly western light with great windows. Several pieces of Cuban art -- paintings mostly -- emphasis on red. A bedroom, living room, study. No furniture currently.

Red is hard to live with as a color but as an accent it's awesome sauce. I lurv red. So that is going to figure into the room. I'm recommending a warm gray for the walls, white trim. It's masculine and neutral and will be good with the red.

The study should be a deeper shade of the same gray.

I'm still dealing with the parameters on the bedroom -- he has a navy blue and sand silk chinese duvet that I havent seen or wrapped my head around yet. So we're just going to address the living room in this post.

Neelish doesnt have or want a TV. He wants to entertain, cook, have cocktails... he's in a happnin downtown neighborhood so is a potential first and last stop for nights on the town.

With that in mind, I found these pieces at Miss Pixies and Good Wood online -- not sure if they are still available, but are a good guideline to what he should consider. Masculine, with personality.

Every room needs a great mirror. Any of these would do, but I especially love the standing silver mirror in the back. The foxing -- the spots -- are awesome.

This floor pouf is excellent. Gray, to work with the walls, soft. Looks like an old timey medecine ball. Can be used as a foot rest or sat on or leaned against. Multifunctional, plus a great patina. Good Wood.

Everyone needs some instant relatives in the form of weird old paintings. I love this one. Good Wood.

Masculine objets: can be hung on a wall or balanced on a table. I like mixing up art -- not all paintings. And these industrial molds or whatever they are are cool and speak to action and industry. Very manly. Good Wood.

These are in a random order -- sorry. Here is a great bench -- either to cover with stacks of books against a wall or as a coffee table. Picks up the red in the painting. I want most everything else to be neutral. Miss Pixies.

This fabulous cart would be the most EXCELLENT bar/cocktail mizing station EVER. Miss Pixies.

I cannot resist white pleather, and this chair looks weirdly skeletal and great to me. A good side chair for a sofa. I'm suggesting something leather, from the Restoration Harware outlet in Leesburg.

You need cocktail tables for all those cocktails you'll be mixing up. These can flank a low sofa, or go next to the cool chairs.

These are the cool chairs. Miss Pixies. The mushroom color, the tubular 70sness -- masculine luxury. It's good to buy things in pairs -- not too many pairs. But you can never go wrong with a pair of great matching lamps, chairs, cocktail tables. Gives a room rhythm and serenity. Then you can do some really strong art and weird objets, and it all makes sense.

MEn need poker tables. This can also be used for dinner parties. Looks to be about 48 inches. You can fit 8 friends around it.

Now -- we just need lamps, a great rug, a couch, and some dining chairs. He'll be good to go.