"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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Monday, January 28, 2013

Rainy Day Baking: Milk & Cookies

I love to bake when it rains.

Wet, rainy outside + warm, cozy inside = sweet!

 The way the weather's been lately, I should be opening a bakery any day now...

The most recent drizzly day yielded something new: a double batch of Betty Crocker's peanut butter cookie recipe topped with a heart-shaped chocolate instead of the usual Hershey's kiss. Think of it as an early Valentine...xo   

According to the Farmer's Almanac more cookies are in the forecast with an occasional loaf cake and a sprinkling of muffins...you heard it here first!


 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter or margarine softened
1 egg 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
additional granulated sugar
@about 36 chocolate hearts

1. Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, beat 1/2 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, peanut butter, butter and egg with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with spoon, until well blended. Stir in flour, baking soda and baking powder until dough forms.
2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in additional granulated sugar. On ungreased cookie sheets, place about 2 inches apart. 
3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Immediately press 1 milk chocolate candy in center of each cookie. Remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack.

     Makes about 3 dozen cookies!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

You Bird? iBird

 I've never thought of myself as a birder per se, but my obsession with the backyard feeder and those bird call whistles I supposedly bought for the kids indicate otherwise...

It's a hobby I didn't see coming, but one that's definitely come home to roost.

So when I recently became aware of the free (cheap! cheap!) birding app, iBird -I was thrilled. 

Available for use on iPads, iPhones, Androids and mostly recently the desktop, Windows 8 version, iBird offers a free service as well as an enhanced, paid subscription for "pros". 
The app is designed to identify birds in North America, the UK and Ireland, and prompts you to note characteristics such as: beak shape or length, primary and secondary color, size, sound, etc. The list of suspects gets increasingly shorter the more information you provide.

It's definitely something to tweet about!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Playing With Food: Snacktime Snowpeople

In an effort to amaze and delight my visiting nieces I decided to break out the marshmallows and attempt making Rice Krispy Treat snowpeople.

It was an easy (albeit, sticky) project, and just like real snowmen...the results disappeared quickly.

Here's how we did it:

We made Rice Krispy Treats as usual (see recipe below) and then laid down wax paper, "buttered our hands" and rolled the mix into small balls to make snowfolks. We stacked 3 balls on top of each other inside a cupcake liner.

* Note: I did not specify sizes for the "snow balls". This was a mistake. What size snowman do you think a kid would make? Exactly. We had some pretty hefty snow people and the treat mix was used up very quickly! Next time, I will suggest approximate sizing...and see where that gets me...(I'm guessing revolt, but might be worth a try...) 

To keep it kid friendly, we went very basic with our decorations: Mini M&Ms were buttons, stick pretzels were arms, and pre-made "eyes" purchased from the baking section made the peepers. We used a squeeze-bottle of decorative frosting as "glue" for the eyes and buttons, as well as whatever other details were deemed necessary.

It was our own little Brigadoon -or for the uninitiated, a vanishing village. I am guessing with some imagination the possibilities for Krispy sculpted snacks are endless...Rice Krispy Treat Zombies anyone?  

 Rice Krispy Treat Recipe

  • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 package (10 oz., about 40) regular marshmallows
  • - OR -
  • 4 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 6 cups Kellogg's® Rice Krispies® cereal
1. In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.

2. Add Rice Krispies cereal. Stir until well coated.

3. Next, allow mixture to cool slightly for safe handling, then butter up your hands (to prevent sticking) and roll into ball shapes!

OR, To follow regular directions: Using buttered spatula or wax paper evenly press mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Cool. Cut into 2-inch squares. Best if served the same day.

In microwave-safe bowl heat butter and marshmallows on HIGH for 3 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Follow steps 2 and 3 above. Microwave cooking times may vary.

-For best results, use fresh marshmallows.
-1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow crème can be substituted for marshmallows.
-Diet, reduced calorie or tub margarine is not recommended.
-Store no more than two days at room temperature in airtight container.
-To freeze, place in layers separated by wax paper in airtight container. Freeze for up to 6 weeks. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Field Trip: Hike to the Hollywood Sign

 It's January in Southern California, when the stars shine their brightest and the eyes of the world look to Hollywood. Awards season.

If, like me, you were passed over for nomination (again), consider a different approach for climbing your way to the top A hike to the legendary Hollywood sign itself.

Unlike the road to Oscar, this one is relatively well paved and rather easy. No agent required. 

Thanks to helpful information and reviews from online Yelpers, we plugged the address: 3350 Deronda Drive, Los Angeles into our navigation device, gassed up the car and hit the road.

Before you do the same, be aware that this address is a private residence and should only be used as a general point of direction. If you park along one of the narrow, winding streets in this hilltop neighborhood you will be close to the entrance of the trail.

Signs posted in the area warn of "no access" to the Hollywood sign, and in a way, it is true -you cannot touch or get near the sign itself, but you can hike up close to it.

I am willing to bet the residents of this area absolutely despise all the cars parking around their tiny neighborhood streets, so I would advise demonstrating the utmost courtesy and respect when visiting. Also, be sure to take note of parking signs & don't ruin a fun experience by finding your car hitched to the back of a tow truck at the end of the day. 

 Once you have secured a legal parking spot, walk to the top of Deronda Drive and look for the white, arched doorway pictured above. It is next to a large driveway with a locked, gated entrance. 

Shortly after going through the arch, you will come to a fork in the path. On the left is a sharp incline with signs warning against entry. Do not go that way. Instead, veer slightly right, to the lesser incline.

Next, another fork. Our Yelp reviewer posted the following: Keep going straight if you want to see the back of the Hollywood sign. Go to the right if you want to see the Hollywood sign from a distance.

We decided to hike straight and see the back of the sign. 

Basically, you hike up a service road that provides access for work trucks servicing the large electrical equipment situated on the top of the hill. The big old anteannas, etc., are not in the least bit charming or photo worthy, so ignore it all and focus instead on the amazing vistas. 

We were lucky to visit on a relatively clear, cool day and had amazing views from downtown to the coast.
(*Be warned: not all days, unfortunately, are as clear!) 


Continuing on our short hike up the hill, we discovered we could see Burbank, Glendale and San Fernando Valley on the other side.

Stopping frequently for photos, the hike took about an hour round trip. Although it is not a strenuous walk, it is still an uphill grade (on a road with loose gravel). Our Yelper friend wrote: "Very easy hike. If a pretentious guy wearing an Argyle sweater vest and walking two chihuahuas that are also dressed up can go on a walk so can you." Okay, then.

Still, the activity does require mild exertion, there is no shade, spotty cell service and no benches for resting. It may not be suitable (or fun) for everyone.

Once you get to the top, you can view the sign from behind a cyclone fence (my tall husband got back-of-the-sign photos by holding the camera over the fence!) -which was cool, but might be disappointing if you were expecting more. 

However, like so many things in life -it's the journey that makes this adventure worthwhile. Bring a friend or two, or several, a camera, and possibly a bottle of water and choose your path to the top. 

Dark sunglasses and acceptance speech optional.

Home Colors Bookazine: In Stores Now!


It's a banner day at This American Home! The Home Colors bookazine featuring an introduction, feature article and photos (10 Lessons from A Designer Showcase House) by yours truly has hit news stands from coast to coast! And it looks fabulous! (Can you tell I'm excited??)

The 130-page publication presents an insider look at some of America's most beautiful mansions and estates with tips, expert interviews and tons of photos to help all of us translate the designer color ways and decor from show house to our house. 

Below is a sneak peek at a couple of my favorite layouts from the new book. 

It was so much fun to be included in the project!  

You can find Home Colors at Target, Barnes and Noble, CostCo and other large news stands.

In the meantime, stay tuned! I will be working on an exciting new bookazine over the next few months -and although I can't spill the beans just yet, I think you're gonna love it!

(Selected photography from Home Colors: Kitchen photo from The Tobias House by Anne Buskirk; Photography from The Pink Ribbon House by Wade Blissard, Jud Haggard, Agapito Sanchez.)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

L.A. Landmark: Philippe's Original French Dipped Sandwiches

Although the restaurant opened in 1908 in a different location, Philippe The Original, Home of the French Dipped Sandwich at 1001 North Alameda Street in Los Angeles hasn't changed much in 105 years, and that's just the way Angelenos like it.

You line up, order your french dipped sandwich and find a seat at one of the long, communal tables

In 1951, Matt Weinstock, a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News wrote ". . . Philippe's was something special. It had sawdust on the floor and cracks in the wall but you didn't care. You went there for the luscious French-dipped sandwich, the boiled eggs, the hot mustard, the potato salad, the cole slaw, the immense hunks of pie, the always hot mugs of coffee. You also woke up at night, maybe thousands of miles away, yearning for one of those sandwiches."

Legend has it, in 1918 the restaurant's original owner, Philippe (pronounced Fill-eeep) Mathieu was making a roast beef sandwich for a cop on his lunch break when he accidentally dropped the bun into the roasting pan still filled with hot juice. The congenial patron said he would take the sandwich anyway. He returned the next day with his friends who all asked to have their sandwiches "dipped" -and, as it goes in L.A., a star was born.

Today, a French dipped sandwich at Philippe's costs $6.50, and a jar of their signature hot mustard sells for $5.

The family-owned restaurant welcomes approximately 25,000 customers weekly, and serves up between 2,200 and 4,500 French rolls daily.

Not in the mood for a sandwich, consider joining the more than 300 customers each week who come in for the pig's feet.  

Whatever you do, don't forget the pie! 

The busiest times at Philippe's are between 11:30-1:30 Monday through Friday, all day long on weekends, and will be filled to capacity before a home game at nearby Dodger Stadium.

In a city whose soul is sometimes (okay, often) called into question, it's places like Philippe's that remind us who we are and where we came from. 

Viva la French dip sandwich!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Simple Giving: DIY Hose Basket

It is always extra special to receive a gift that has been handmade by someone you love, and that is exactly what I unwrapped, first thing, Christmas morning.

 More specifically, beneath a tremendous amount of wrapping paper and tape sat a super-cool, super surprising garden hose basket!

It was love at first sight.

Evidently, my 12-year-old son, Ethan, was struck with inspiration on a visit to a friends house when he noticed several garden hose baskets decorating their wonderful, creative home. That he set out to make one for me immediately, is testament to how well he knows dear, old mom.

Coiled from a garden hose and held in place with zip ties, the idea is clever and fun.

I must have been very good last year...

He may not have realized it at the time, but his craft was paying homage to Denver, Colorado artist Chase DeForest, who created the original concept and has gone on to use humble garden hoses in her equally fantastic lawn furniture.

As a gift idea, it's a good one! Imagine how cute a pink or red hose basket would be for Valentine's? 
Or a palette of pastels for Easter! The possibilities are endless!

Chase DeForest's baskets and chairs (below), are absolutely wonderful -and available for sale through her website!...but I wouldn't trade my own piece for the world.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Great Escape: Crystal Cove Cottages

Dotting a 3-mile stretch along one of the most desirable beaches in Southern California, the historic cottages of Crystal Cove sit like a string of inherited pearls. Classic, sentimental -and yes, handed down.


You see, in 2006, the charming clapboard and shingled ocean front cottages became available for rent at bargain prices through the California State Parks system. In a way, they belong to all of us. Did you know you had a beach house on California's Gold Coast? 


The small slice of coastline is home to 46 cottages (including shared-use, dormitory-style digs and ADA approved sites) that date from the 1920's (when they were used as film sets for silent movies) through the 1950's. 

Until recently, 17 of the cottages stood empty awaiting funds for restoration. This year, however, the Crystal Cove Alliance, the non-profit organization responsible for saving the cottages from demolition and developers, report they have raised the necessary funds to restore the rest of the colony. 


Reasonably priced rates (we're talking steps to the shore!) offer one of the best deals around, but there's a catch: reservations are as elusive as Willy Wonka's Golden ticket. But not impossible (ever the optimist...).

 Like all state-operated campsites and lodgings, reservations for the vintage cottages become available through ReserveAmerica on the first day of every month for the upcoming six months.

Since the most popular state park sites (i.e. Crystal Cove Cottages) book up immediately (like within minutes of becoming available), the first day of the month allows would-be travelers the opportunity to grab newly-released dates six months out. It's a cyber free-for-all, sort of like one of those door-crasher wedding gown sales...but with surf, sand and relaxation at stake.

Bottom line: If you are looking to score a cottage in August, you and your flying fingers must be at a computer keyboard and ready to strike at 8am on February 1st.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Winterscape at the beach. The quiet season.

It's never too early to start planning that next getaway...

 Check out this comprehensive video from the Crystal Cove Beach Cottages website:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy 2013: Wagon's Ho!

 "Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” _German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I used this quote to begin my blog about a year ago, and (for me) it continues to provide powerful inspiration for the new year ahead.

Or, to paraphrase a friend's Facebook post: endeavor to do something every day that you will thank yourself for in five years (if not sooner).

Take a vitamin. Have coffee with a friend. Walk the dog. Brainstorm an outline for that book proposal you've been meaning to write, or jot notes for a small business idea. Volunteer for an hour. Give blood. Sign up for an art class or a trapeze experience (really!). Little stuff.

The kind of stuff that makes the world go 'round and brings joy and friendship, health, happiness, love and fulfillment. Big stuff.

Because I am an optimist to the core, I usually do make new year's resolutions, even though my track record mocks me and suggests the whole shebang is an exercise in futility. At least it's exercise, right?

Anyway, this year, I thought instead of calling them "Resolutions", I will think of them as my "intentions" for 2013...sort of a snappy, new, self-to-self marketing twist.

Here's the rationale: Resolutions (capital R) seem to suggest a rather unforgiving, all-or-nothing approach, while kinder, softer Intentions appear to allow room for being human, i.e. occasional back sliding and, of course, the fantastic crash-and-burn-type unseatings from the top of the perfection wagon.
 In my mind anyway, I am hoping it will be easier to hoist my bruised pride and clumsy strivings back up onto the Intention wagon.

I hope you'll join me. There's plenty of room, and I'd love the company.

To Hope. Joy. Potential. Adventure

Wagon's Ho!

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