Kitchen Chemistry: Taking it Outside

Hi All! Adam is  back today to discuss one of our favorite summertime activities...

To me, outdoor cooking occupies a special, enigmatic place in the world of cuisine. It's a cultural experience. It can localize family and friends and attract strangers, even to the point where a community congregates with cult-like fascination to watch flame and smoke yield up their charred offerings.

Barbecuing is quite a phenomenon. It's easy to do well, yet difficult to do perfectly. It's often the domain of those normally uninterested in the culinary arts (read: men), and is performed under close scrutiny by those with lesser experience than the "grill master" holding the tongs ("so, you think those are ready to turn, huh?").

As Elizabeth's Dad advises, "fire on bottom, meat on top."

I find myself drawn to everything about grilling: the preparation of food and fire, the execution, and of course the delicious aftermath.

Elizabeth and I have no grill of our own, so this process becomes even more of an adventure. The nearest grills are located at Live Oak Park several blocks away. Our weekend mornings are often spent shopping, trimming, marinating, and packing supplies at home before setting off into the Berkeley wilderness. Luckily the park people are usually roasting and smoking (this or that) themselves, so we fit right in. Lighting our fire, cleaning the grill, and cooking our food takes more watching than doing, so plenty of time is left over for true weekend leisure: Elizabeth makes friends with random animals and takes pictures, we talk and drink beer (technically illegal, shhhh).

We typically make full use of our coals, grilling several flank steaks (cheap) or batches of frozen chicken until the coals run low. In this way we keep the afternoon economical as well as luxurious.

The grill lies at the intersection of public and private space. The park provides elements of nature, yet at the same time is the epitome of hearth and home. The method itself is ancient and universal, yet also urgent and personal. The eventual dish is unfailingly classic and also unique to the time, place, and person executing it. The experience is raw, archaic, and crude, yet as rich and rewarding as any other in the culinary world.


Announcing my New Etsy Shop: Rappaccini's Garden

Dear Friends! With no more suspense (but a little more ado), allow me to present...

Rappaccini's Garden will feature vintage and handcrafted adornments for yourself and your home. The collection takes inspiration from the Gothic tale Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: a dark romance spiked with mad science and a poisonous flower.

Rappaccini's Garden will open on Etsy next Monday, September 6th!


Announcement #1: New Camera!

That's right! Thanks to some birthday donations from my wonderful family, I was finally able to retire my not-so-trusty point-and-shoot and bring home a new Nikon d3000 DSLR camera.

I had become so accustomed to the limitations of my old camera that I'm still marveling at the d3000's capabilities.

I can capture beautiful light...
or scenes in low light...
texture & color...
minute details...
and fleeting moments...

This camera makes it possible for me to share so much more with you here on the blog: my explorations in California, the progress on our apartment, and Adam's culinary creations. Photography will also be playing a large role in an exciting new project... which I'll be announcing on Monday!

(Amateur) Kitchen Chemistry: Peach Crumble

Because the internet failed me yesterday, I've got two posts in queue today! This one's about dessert, but I'll be posting a real treat this afternoon... Happy Friday!

Adam's not the only one who plays mad scientist in our kitchen/laboratory. I've been conducting research of my own and making important advancements in the field of baking.

I'll have you know I suffered goggle lines for the sake of this corny picture!

When I bake with strawberries or apples I use the bruised, overripe, mealy, or otherwise homely fruit that doesn't make the cut for raw snacking. However, an icky peach makes an ickier pie (and don't even get me started on canned peaches). One of the perks of living in California is the abundance of gorgeous organic peaches. After last week's trip to the farmer's market I found myself with more ripe fruit than I could eat- so I decided to stage a peach crumble experiment.

The texture of a fresh peach is just as lovely as the flavor, so it's a terrible waste to reduce it to jam in the oven. My solution was to halve each peach, placing one half in the center of the dish and filling the gaps with slices of the remainder. I then poured in a mixture of sugar, flour, and a few drops of lemonade- just enough to coat all of the fruit and pool a bit at the bottom. The resulting filling was just like a bite out of a sun-baked peach. Success!

I used pyrex lab glass for my observation, but standard ramekins will work nicely.

Half of any good fruit crumble is the crumble, so I tested several formulas. The Classic Crumble featured an oatmeal cookie topping similar to the one that I used on my Strawberry Rhubarb Pie- substituting even more cinnamon for the ginger and lemon. The Honey & Ginger variation had a light and spicy topping consisting of flour, honey, sugar, baking powder, and plenty of crystalized and powdered ginger.  The Oatmeal & Maple crisp was my Eureka! moment. The topping is merely a packet of Quaker instant maple & brown sugar oatmeal!

Of course, my favorite part of any baking trial is the taste test (it was all very scientific, I assure you). My findings? The Honey & Ginger was innovative and the Classic Crumble yielded an impressive amount of "yum" per bite... but the Oatmeal & Maple crisp is a Nobel Prize contender.


In Suspense...

Good afternoon, my patient readers. We're having some ongoing internet issues, so I'll be having a productive chore day offline (or moping around with Matilda and obsessively checking twitter on my iPhone).

Be sure to check back in- remember the big news I hinted at earlier? I'll be sharing one part with you tomorrow morning, and making a big announcement on Monday!

See you then...


Potential Trend: Vintage Alphabet Plates

Last month at the flea market, I found a child's alphabet plate and thought, "vintage font and patinated metal... why haven't these caught on?" Seems like just the thing for type nerds!

Alphabet plates are available in materials to suit any decor (or outfit, apparently). While I prefer the rustic, timeworn look of aluminum, I've also spotted a wide range of colorful ceramics and pressed glass. I love the sparkly caned pattern on this one- very Hollywood Regency glam!

Image via eBay

I found this one on eBay and snapped it up for myself!

For now it'll be cute as a catch-all, but I think one day it'll find its way back into a nursery. These plates were made as learning tools for kiddos, and they haven't lost their value: not only do they teach the ABCs, they're a lesson in flea market style!


Decorating for Two: Heavy Metal Duet

If I were to say to my boyfriend, "I think we need more metal in our apartment" he'd probably respond by cranking up Tool on the stereo. Not exactly what I have in mind. 

As we've learned in previous experiments, sometimes Adam and I are just singing different tunes when it comes to home furnishings. His version of metal decor is heavy and industrial, like the rusty circular saw blade that he once rescued from the street and hung on our wall. As for me, I'm all about Victorian iron curlicues and delicate wire forms. 

You'd think our styles would clash...

Home of Fred & Wendy Testu in San Francisco Style
Photographed by David Duncan Livingston, Scanned by Shock the Bourgeois

But then again, there's something dull and matchy-matchy about harmony, isn't there? This bedroom is a fugue of masculine and feminine notes, riffs on a theme of patinated metal. It's just discordant enough to keep things lively- and isn't that what every couple wants?


Kitchen Chemistry: Waking Up Breakfast

Happy Monday, friends! I'm pleased to welcome back my favorite guest blogger: my boyfriend/live-in chef, Adam. Bon appetit! 

Adam here. Good morning from my kitchen/laboratory. Now that the algae stains have been scrubbed from my range (long story), I would like to announce that my research into the science of food and the psychology of eating is back on track. As usual, I will be analyzing the biology, technology, physiology, and sociology of food from various angles. At the same time, I aim to make intelligent changes to proven formulas with an eye toward progress and innovation. Learning, having fun, and eating enough to fall asleep comfortably (read: pass out) are also goals.

What makes the traditional American breakfast so good? Is it the richness of cream, butter, eggs, and animal fat? The sweetness of maple syrup and fruit compote? Or the soft textures enjoyed in a half-waking stupor? I hypothesize that breakfast food appeals to our most primitive, infantile cravings. In the dawn of consciousness, we want something warm, soft, rich, and bland. The irony is that this meal does everything to prepare the human body for life except wake it up!

There's only so much that can be done to jazz up breakfast. Go bigger, go cheaper, go healthy, or go back to sleep. My objective is to break the breakfast mold by adding texture, color, fresh ingredients and a full flavor profile to an otherwise classic dish.

Tier 1: Crispy hash browns seasoned with salt & pepper

Tier 2: Pan-seared spiral-cut ham

Tier 3: Egg sunny-side up (raw eggs will do also, for a more gelatinous texture)
Cook under the broiler (425º F) for 3-10 minutes, depending on egg strategy

Tier 4: Bull-Fight Corn Salsa
  • Sauté 1 sweet onion & 4 cloves of garlic in 4 teaspoons of vegetable oil
  • Add 1 orange bell pepper & 1 red bell pepper (diced)
  • Add 3 ears bull fight corn (oven roasted, grilled, sliced off the cob)
  • Sauté mixture briefly, add the juice & zest of 3 limes, drain & cool
  • Add 1/2 bunch of chopped cilantro, salt, pepper, chili powder & ground cumin to taste

Top it off with chilled salsa and serve. The tartness and spice of the salsa is decidedly anti-breakfast. The corn and bell pepper should provide a fresh crunch, while the deliberate layering forces the diner to deconstruct the dish and pay attention to their food. Elizabeth and decided to further flout tradition by eating this at 7:00... PM.


A Curious Memento

Our Phineas has grown so much since we introduced you to him in May. He's now quite a lapful, and strong enough to make Tildy think twice about tackling him. And he's losing his baby teeth!

I know, this probably elicits as many "ewwws" as "awwws," but I'll be keeping this tiny relic of Phinney's kittenhood in our cabinet of curiosities. I can't help being sentimental! I just adore every tooth, whisker, stripe and spot on this cat. He's something special- so here's to hoping that he doesn't grow up surly like Matilda!

Happy weekend, friends!


PB is Flipping Out Too

My Mom sent me this link in an email, saying, "look at the books above the bed!"

Handsomely styled, Pottery Barn- and nice catch, Mom! Everywhere I look, it's backwards books. It's a sign- today I'm going to turn my library around.


Here & Now: Vintage Patina

Seems I'm always bringing home neglected antiques. I can't resist a rusty orphan with a story to tell.

All Images by Shock the Bourgeois 

These pictures are also a hint about not one, but two pieces of exciting news that I'll be sharing with you soon... !!! 

I'll leave you to puzzle over that in suspense :D 


Dare to Dream: Parisian Perfection

Sometimes, I can let a picture do all the talking (with a musical French accent).

Photograph by Gilles de Chabaneix, Scanned by Shock the Bourgeois


Reversing Our Books (Again?)

This weekend I scored a copy of San Francisco Style for only $5.99 (hurrah!), and amongst its glossy pages I found the home of Oly & Ironies co-mastermind Brad Huntzinger. If I were one notch creepier I'd be combing the Oakland Hills and peering in windows to see the interior of his house for myself- really, it's that good.

I was particularly in awe of this little library bedroom. It's a snug reading nook, but feels calming and airy- thanks in large part to the unorthodox spine-in shelving. Can you imagine how claustrophobic this room would be if the books were right-way-out? Can you imagine trying to enjoy a passage of delicate prose with Tolstoy, Milton and some crime drama breathing down your neck? (Hypothetically, of course...)

This concept isn't anything new for me. Just last week Sara of The Steampunk Home shared my own spine-in shelving experiment on her blog (thanks to Sara and her readers for such a great discussion!). 

You can see the full original post here.

My original reverse-shelving trial was staged in our old Wallingford apartment, and since then several things have changed. We've moved to a smaller apartment in Berkeley, we now have an entire wall of our living room devoted to our library, and we have more books. If our collection was colorful and distracting before, it's a cacophonous disaster now. I'm thinking that I'm going to take a page out of Mr. Huntzinger's book: round two is in order. 



For the Birds (and for Matilda)

Perhaps fellow bloggers and freelancers out there can sympathize with being tied to a computer all day. I try to make my desk space as conducive to work as possible, but I still find myself staring out the window from time to time... (right about now, for instance).

Luckily there's plenty outside to keep me entertained. A steady parade of passersby, a squirrel who watches the cats and I like we're his favorite sitcom, and a very bossy hummingbird. I'd prefer to keep the hippies at a distance, but I'd love to get a closer look at my tiny bird friend. I'm thinking a feeder outside my window could do the trick.

These are certainly dramatic- I wonder if our hummingbird prefers red or purple?

I like the antique aesthetic of this glass bottle feeder, but we've only got one bird, and this is like a sugar-water big gulp. Maybe it would encourage our little guy to bring some friends to the party?

This one might be the winner. Sweet, petite, and a good way to bring my vintage style outdoors.

My real motivation for setting up a hummingbird feeder? Matilda's enjoyment, naturally.

Back to daydreaming and birdwatching... happy weekend, all!

EDIT: I've switched out the lame blogger video for YouTube- I hope this makes viewing my video easier!


Ikea Style

There's something about Ikea that makes me want to fill myself with Swedish meatballs and fill my trunk with flatpack furniture. I'm not really one for primary colors, so it thrills me that the Ikea aesthetic seems to have matured over the years, embracing subtlety and traditional shapes. Look at all the goodies in the new catalogue!

The Närhet glasses for dessert wines, champagne, whites, & reds are a toast to sophistication.

The Gislev rug is a lot of graphic bang for only 20 bucks.

I can envision either of the new greige-stained Hemnes glass-door cabinets in my bedroom. 
Maybe to showcase a shoe collection?

I wonder if a clever crafter could customize the Florö slipcovered bedframe- perhaps with upholstery studs or ribbon trim?

The new catalogue also boasts some beautiful styling. As if I wasn't tempted enough by the low prices, they have to make everything look so magazine-fantastic.

This is exactly how a nightstand should look!

This is my favorite spread of all. The styling is so of-the-moment, and I love the over-shelf gallery. 

And look: curiosities!

Anyone else crushing on the new catalogue?