"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
_ William Morris
, 19th century craftsman, designer, writer

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Field Trip: Chef's Toys

Yesterday I went on a field trip to Orange County, California to check out, Chef's Toys, a commercial grade kitchen store for restaurants and institutions. They will also sell to the public.

A friend who lives in a beautiful home in a posh neighborhood told me she had purchased her silverware there (with a pretty pattern and nice heft to it) at a reasonable price and I couldn't wait to see for myself.

What I found was a kitchen store on steroids, and more merchandise than I knew what to do with. Literally.

 No frills.

Think Home Depot for the kitchen. Prices were good, and if you buy in bulk they are better. 

I wandered around ogling the merchandise and could not resist taking home a stainless steel cake plate for under $15. (Look for its debut in future posts!)

As promised, I was impressed with the silverware along with cauldron-sized stock pots, jelly roll pans, chef's jackets (Halloween?), professional grade name-brand knives and gadgets that left me completely flummoxed. Martha Stewart I am not.

I was also tempted by this little plastic sushi maker! Simply pack in sticky rice and the tray performs similarly to an ice-cube tray -creating exactly the right shape. Brilliant! "We do a living wealthily happily!"  Sounds good to me.

Can you guess the function of the item below? Here's a hint: it looks like a large wooden rolling pin with a curiously carved body...

Give up? Or did you correctly answer: ravioli maker!
If so, you deserve a reward and I insist you treat yourself immediately! If you did not know what it was (like myself) you have learned something new today...and can therefore cross learn something new off your to-do list -which I believe deserves a reward!! Treat for you! (and make it a good one.)

There were colanders and strainers of every size and shape -we're talking HUGE! I'm not sure what I would use them for, or perhaps more importantly where I would store them, but they were fabulous.

Chef's Toys also featured wonderful, well-priced shiny silver water pitchers -which I tried unsuccessfully to photograph. The glass coffee pots were much more cooperative and photogenic in a rather artsy way.

When I checked out with my single-item purchase, I talked cooking shows with the associate and he enthusiastically assured me that commercial-grade tools, accessories and appliances were the way to go. "We usually sell to mom and pop restaurants, schools, hospitals, jails (sound of record scratching here)...this stuff will last." Sort of gives new meaning to serving time...doesn't it? 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Casita Style

Although Casa de las Puertas, or the House of Doors estate featured as this year's Pasadena Showcase House was a triumph of style and design, in many ways, it was the charming, eclectic decor of the property's adjacent guest house, or Casita, that stole my heart.

Designed by Mark Cutler and Alexis Roohani, of Mark Cutler Design, the team focused on the "luxury of simplicity" to create a four-room suite that merged traditional and modern elements in unexpected ways. 

In a nutshell, it looked like a cool place to stay and the only flaw I could see was the potential problem of getting the guests to leave...

 Turquoise painted floors throughout the Casita served to unify the rooms and make the space appear larger. The bold, orange sliding barn door by JW Custom Woodworks offers a clever solution for privacy without sacrificing space and style.

I also loved the artwork the team chose for the suite and how it influenced the creative color palette throughout. Cutler and Roohani describe the look as capturing "the feeling of early California and the curated eye of a collector."

The main bedroom features a vintage bobbin bed flanked by mismatched bedside tables and an industrial inspired desk (pictured above) made from aged iron and antique wood.

In the second bedroom, a hand-forged iron and glass screen by artist Philip Nimmo provides the focal point for a room loaded with personality.

And check out the night table that looks as though it has been re-purposed from the garden...great idea!

In fact, I found several ideas that would work in real life whether one owns their own multi-million dollar estate or not: a large artist's easel held the flat screen TV, mis-matched prints and patterns worked as long as the colors were complementary, supporting local artists is always a good idea, and mixing vintage with modern is not only possible -it's brilliant. Homey, updated, chic and comfortable.

Flowers by Harumi Design.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Restaurant Style: Bottega Louie Restaurant and Gourmet Market

If you ask me, the best restaurants offer great food, ambiance and service dished up with a generous portion of style. It's a recipe that Bottega Louie Restaurant and Gourmet Market, in downtown Los Angeles, serves daily.

Think NYC-cool-meets-Paris-chic with an LA crowd. Although it is obvious that even the smallest details have not been left to chance -the overall effect appears effortless. 

  I love finding inspiration worth imitating on the menu -but some things are best left to the pros. I'm pretty sure gilding fruit is on that list...

I found this lovely video of the bakery by Thalia Eats Donuts on YouTube. All dessert, no calories. You can thank me later. Enjoy:


Let them eat cake!

There is more than dessert on the menu, however, (although you might be wise to start with that) and a large open kitchen provides a gleaming stage for the stars of the show. This is LA after all...

On this visit, my friends and I shared a thin-crust, hand-tossed pizza, pancella salad and crispy calamari with tangy sauce. I am taking suggestions for next time, so fire away!

Steal this idea: raspberries as candle holders! (Happy birthday Candy & Suparna!)

The chocolate mousse was Absolute. Perfection. (and also a great way to celebrate!)

 Simple, elegant decor, beautiful flowers, excellent (friendly) service and a bakery that just won't quit. Wear something stretchy and go.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Random Act of Kindness

Yesterday, as I was putting a Ford Focus rental car through the paces of my own personal Long Beach Le Mans and congratulating myself on remembering to pick up both children from various activities while supplying (admittedly) dubious snacks and lecturing on the finer points of what being 'fashionably late' really means I squeaked into a parking space at the parks and rec. sailing center and realized the old meter only took quarters. Fongool!*

This at a place where parking is at a premium and the meter patrol circles like sharks...

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a small stack of quarters placed neatly between the slots!

It made my day.

Since the parking space next to mine had been vacated, I could only assume that the kind hearted soul had left the change in their own pay-it-forward sort of way.

What a difference a dollar can make.

I gleefully used one of the quarters, walked the kids in to their camp (almost on time), made sure they had sun screen and life jackets and signed their lives away.

As the boys sailed off (literally), I placed my own inadequate stack of nickels and dimes next to the remaining quarters. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Thank you, Quarter Fairy wherever you are. I look forward to returning the favor. Peace. Blessings and good parking karma to all.

 *I'm pretty sure this is a made-up word, but my dad says it all the time for emphasis and it does sort of get one's point across.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Happy Campers

Tents. Flashlights. Mosquito repellant. Check, check, and double check.
For the past several years, we have gone camping with a group of families at Leo Carillo State Beach in Malibu each summer. It's a tradition that has become our own G-rated, family version of Same Time, Next Year.

United through mutual friends, our unlikely cadre has bonded over ant infestations, squirrel attacks (Did you know it's possible for something to suck out the insides of a banana and leave the skin almost perfectly intact? Yes, yes it is.), rattlesnake sightings, meteor showers and lots of laughter, marshmallows, campfire stories, guitar music, Tylenol PM and starry nights.
 Not necessarily in that order.

 Sometimes it totally looks like we know what we're doing. Sometimes it doesn't.

 We're teaching the kids everything...yep. 

Okay, that about covers it...actually, I joke. 

I refer (almost) solely to my own paltry skills. Our family has the immense good fortune to tag along with other folks who could actually survive in the wilderness if called upon. (It's possible they have just forgotten to take me off the group email list and we keep showing up...)

The fact that the campsites are walking distance to beautiful beaches, tide pools and small caves is one of the reasons we synchronize our schedules and log on to Reserve America at exactly 8:00 a.m., on the first of the month, six months in advance of desired date. By 9:00 a.m., it's all over. Camping spaces at California State Parks for the targeted dates are completely booked. By 10:00 a.m., the best you can hope for are the crumbs of cancellation. It's a computer showdown. Yogi Bear-eat-bear world.

The Reserve America website has gone through several changes over the years in a futile attempt to somehow stem the madness, but really, nothing has changed. These days, when you book a site, you must choose exactly which site you would like. If you are a veteran, you may be aware of preferences. However, savvy campers, will simply grab the first spot available and pray for good luck (and perhaps pack cash and bribes as backup). If you squander precious seconds previewing available locations, you will most likely be pitching a tent in your own back yard. 

May the odds be ever in your favor.

For the past five years, however, we have found favor with the Camping Gods, AKA Reserve America, and scored a spot (a short 15-minute drive to Starbucks) under the stars.

The kids love it.

 Which is exactly why we pack extensively, unpack, pack up again, and then, finally unpack and clean up at home -all in three days time.

The stories about rattlesnakes that get bigger and more venomous with each telling, the experience of waking up on a deflated air mattress with your cheek stuck to the plastic, bug bites, sand in absolutely Every.Thing.,-great summer friends, priceless photos and campfire legends are childhood memories that will last a lifetime.

This year, as in the past, we have unanimously banned electronics in pursuit of nature, and perhaps, eye contact with our children.

However, what we will be bringing along is enough to fill a U-Haul. Since my memory and my natural camping ability are both rather low (read abysmal) on my list of personal attributes, I have Googled several check lists for camping with great success. If you have a great list of your own, please share! 

Otherwise, check out my finds:

Camp Trip, camping checklist complete with printable PDF download. Extremely specific.

Coleman Tent Camping checklist, also printable and a little more general. 

My favorite, the About.com checklist for camping gear, is not only printable, but provides little spaces for checking off as you go. Love that!

 Happy trails!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Garden Fresh: Terra Trellis

 Walking through the Dwell on Design show in Los Angeles last month, I came across the fun, fresh and whimsical garden structures of TerraTrellis -a collection of colorful steel tuteurs, arbors and wall trellises.

 In case, like myself, you may be thinking, A 'tuteur', I'm pretty sure I need one of those...what is it exactly...it is pictured in the photo above. Ah, yes...of course, we nod knowingly. Those cool looking garden pyramids perfect for climbing vines...just what I thought. And yes, I definitely want one.

In fact, Los Angeles-based landscape designer and artist, Jennifer Gilbert Asher has designed many completely covetable items.

Originally from San Francisco, Asher studied landscape architecture after switching channels from a 12-year career as a documentary television producer. In her impressive second act,  Asher teamed up with Guadalajara architect and metal artist, Mario Lopez, to form TerraSculpture -designing and creating elegant sculpture for the minimalist landscape. 

TerraTrellis is a natural extension of that experience incorporating function with artistic form and design.

 Garden tuteurs with globe-like metal finials, circular arbors and shapely trellises range in price from $279 - $840 (the large tubular trellis pictured below) and are available in bursts of color that include: petal, kumquat, berry, leaf, aubergine, cloud and oxide.

Created with sturdy steel frames, stainless steel wire and colorful zero-VOC powdercoat finishes the garden goodies can be purchased via the TerraTrellis website.

Black and white photos of the artist at work are courtesy of the TerraTrellis website. All other photos are by Bonnie McCarthy for This American Home.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Celebrate: The Maine Summers Cookbook

 Author, Henry James called 'summer afternoon' the two most beautiful words in the English language, and I completely agree.

I usually start fantasizing about summer around Valentine's Day and wear flip flops (and a sweater) trick-or-treating.

However, as much as I love the season, it's the folks who are forced to wear snow suits over their Halloween costumes, who really know how to make the warm days count.

If you ask me, there's nothing like a summer in New England.
Recently, a friend gave me a wonderful cookbook I know I will be delving into come February -but I am enjoying it just as much right now.
It's called The Maine Summers Cookbook written by renowned fisherman and swordfish boat captain (as featured on the Discovery Channel series, Swords), Linda Greenlaw and her mother, Martha Greenlaw. The book is as much about recipes as it is about summer traditions and celebrations on Maine's Isle au Haut.

If you're up for a little armchair travel to a charming seaside town where folks link up boats for a picnic on the water (i.e. rafting up) and revel in impromptu parties and gatherings -I think I've got just the ticket.

Caution: You may not lose your luggage, but you could find yourself struggling with a real craving for lobster...my advice? Go with it.

I read cookbooks for the pictures, personal stories and, of course, the recipes. This book -with fantastic photography by Jim Brezin, has got it all. Linda and Martha write like you are a new friend they are introducing around the island, and are quick to credit their neighbors for recipes and insights they share in the book. Fun, friendly informal. (Have you logged on to Travelocity yet?)

The Greenlaws call it, "Recipes for delicious, sun-filled days." I call it escapism.

In fact, I was so inspired, I have already tested a couple of the recipes for my own family.

They were a hit! Even the dog couldn't resist and ran away with a potato. Luckily, I made extra.

Here's what Daisy (and the rest of us) ate:

An excerpt from The Maine Summer Cookbook
Capered New Potatoes 

 1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed well (all I had were gold potatoes and it worked out fine!)
3 Tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
5 1/3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs

Bring enough salted water to cover the potatoes to a boil. Cook the potatoes, in their skins for 10 minutes. Drain and leave to cool slightly.

Prepare the gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat. Clean and oil the rack.

Finely chop the capers and blend with the butter. Make a deep slit in each potato and fill ilt with the caper butter.

Tightly wrap each potato in separate squares of single-thickness aluminum foil and grill for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the foil and serve immediately, garnished with parsley sprigs. Serves 4-6

 All photography from the book is by Jim Bazin.
Photo of potatoes in a bowl are by Bonnie McCarthy for This American Home.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tablescape: Magic Carpets

Happy Monday!

 Here's a table top tip that will floor you (pun intended)!

Think: small rugs as table runners!

It's an idea that came to me last Fall, while browsing the always inspiring Swedish mega-store, Ikea

At the time, I was pining for one of those trendy, natural-colored French linen table runners, but couldn't bring myself to make the spend...

As luck would have it however, I found these small (2"x4") rustic-looking rugs for less than $5-budget-friendly dollars each. They had the texture, color (and even fringe!) I was looking for.  I knew I could lay them end-to-end down the center of the table, or side-by-side cross wise.

As it turns out, I have used them for both -AND they wash well to boot!

Months later, I realize they also beautifully navigate the challenge of an umbrella pole in center of the patio table! 

Presto-chango! More style, less money. Love that!

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