27 January 2010

the hotel homemade challenge

The challenge:
Cook a healthy, tasty, fresh dinner for one, using only the provisions already stocked in my hotel kitchen, along with food purchased from the Trader Joe's across the street

The rules:

  1. Ingredients purchased must be in a quantity that can be used in a single dish, with no waste
  2. Any leftovers must be easily storable sans plasticware, and must be consumable in only one more dinner
  3. Ingredients must be fresh, and the dish must be "from scratch"

So far this trip, I've been pretty good about avoiding take-out, and I wanted to continue that trend last night. I went out of my way to get this whole kitchen, after all, so I wanted to get more use out of it than just stashing some yogurt in the fridge. Perhaps inspired by the mammoth amount of work I had to do and an urge to procrastinate, I decided to hit up TJ's, and see what I could find.

Unfortunately, because all the meat at TJ's is pre-packaged, it's mostly in quantities that are far too much for one.

Steaks are the only exception, but the whole point was to be healthy

Of course, meat is never a necessity, but other options carby like pasta and rice would just have put me to sleep -- not good for getting my work done. Looking at the other options, the salmon looked tasty, but was only available in big portions.

I decided on organic chicken breast, which I could buy in a portion of less than a pound

I thought about doing kind of a stewed chile verde thing with it, but the packaged guacamole kit that TJ's sell contained only completely unripe avocados. Why??? And, since they didn't sell tomatillos fresh, that would have meant buying salsa verde, and that didn't qualify in my mind as "fresh."

The tasty korma and masala sauces also offered up a tasty notion, but are nowhere near fresh

I had already bought a can of spray canola oil (faux Pam) to cook up some eggs for breakfast, so I couldn't justify buying a big thing of butter or olive oil. With the completely non-nonstick pans stocked in my hotel kitchen, that meant sauteeing was not going to be feasible. And with no oven, that meant stewing. When I think stewing, I think tomatoes, so I decided to go for an Italian theme.

Unfortunately, all of the onions were only in gigantic bags

I did find a little $1 bag of skinny green onions, though

The fresh basil was quite lovely looking

I decided to make a few exceptions: canned tomatoes (because I would have used them at home) and dried garlic and oregano (because a whole bag of garlic heads would have been too much, there was no fresh oregano, and I could take both home so neither would go to waste)

The few ingredients available in the room: my canola spray and the hotel-provided salt & pepper

(Oh, there was also a little $6.99 bottle of German Riesling back in the room that would add nice depth to the tomato base.)

Breaking Julia's rule, and crowding the pan, getting just a little sear flavor on the chicken

All those raging bubbles are from the hotel stove's definition of "low" heat (the same "low" heat that burned all my little green onions and got them tossed out)

The finished dish: Chicken a la Suite 707

The total bill: $21, including a $3 frozen meal for today's lunch. Not bad.

Perhaps the Hotel Homemade Challenge will become a recurring segment here on PoMoHo? We're staying at a Residence Inn at the base of Little Cottonwood in a few weeks when we ski Utah over Presidents' Day, so many opportunities will arise...

26 January 2010

home suite home

I travel frequently for my "real" job, and as I have written before, I will make bizarre concessions in order to make travel as comfortable for myself as possible. This sounds reasonable enough, except that my definition of "comfortable" is in this sense a little peculiar.

For example:
  • I will take a 6 a.m. flight to my destination and a midnight flight home (meaning a 20+ hour day), all in order to avoid staying in a hotel and sleep in my own bed.
  • I will drive or ride extravagant distances on the ground in order to take a direct flight and avoid connecting.
  • I will take flights at odd hours in order to get a window seat in economy plus (sadly, United is the only airline that offers this, so I am helplessly chained to them).
  • I will spend hours packing to figure out exactly the right configuration of clothing and shoes that will fit in my carry-on luggage for any given itinerary, all in order to avoid checking bags, and similarly...
  • I will take up a good chunk of my already-sparse luggage space with fitness clothing, shoes and gear and sacrifice valuable clothing space to do so, in the hopes that I am motivated and have enough energy while traveling to exercise. (Not the case this morning!)

And now my bizarre comfort preferences extend to hotel choices.

I'm spending the week in D.C., my firm's headquarters, and had a pretty full selection of Georgetown and West End hotels to choose from, including several within easy walking distance from the office, and several that are quite nice for the price. But, I decided, "I'm here for a full week, so I want to have a reasonable amount of space, and I want to be able to cook so I don't have to eat carry-out crap all week."

Of course, that means getting a full suite. And getting a suite on the company dime is not exactly the most career-savvy thing to do, especially in times such as these. So that meant getting a cheap suite. The answer: the Washington Suites Georgetown, about a mile from the office and right across the street from a Trader Joe's. Though I could be staying in much nicer places for the same price, I'm staying in a spacious though slightly ghetto suite with a full kitchen (homecooked breakfast every day!), a sitting room (one area that can stay uncluttered with luggage), a desk area (great since it's a jam-packed work week), and a big bathroom (all the better to lament the slow progress on our bathroom renovations back home). Sure, it smells a little, um... something... but it's better than staying at the Hilton, eating Chinese and Lebanese take-out every night, and having to buy restaurant lunch every day (instead of my slightly healthier lunches culled from TJ's fare).

This dated little kitchen is worth the trade-off of sleeping on 100-count sheets that smell a little funky

 It ain't luxury, but this week it's home.

24 January 2010

next purchase down

The new toilets are on order: the TOTO Eco Supreme. A mere 1.28 gallon flush and an overall tiny size, despite having a comfortable height seat. These will open up the bathrooms SO much.

23 January 2010

i'm beginning to see the light

If only that were true! I feel as though I'm in one of those "it's always darkest before the dawn" moments, and I'm really hoping that soon the final, real vision will emerge and this bathroom renovation project will just break wide open.

In the meantime, I'm looking at overhead light fixtures for the master bath. Both bathrooms have light boxes in the ceiling over the vanity, so we'll put in simple lights there. And in the guest bath, there is a box to put in a recessed light over the shower -- easy choice. But in the master, there's an unused fixture box more or less in the middle of the room, just begging for a cool fixture. Some of my current favorites, all from Lamps Plus.

Focus Contemporary 12" Wide Ceiling Light Fixture, $190 -- a straightforward, track-lighting approach

Possini Euro Floating Atom Semi-flushmount Ceiling Light, $130 -- Possibly my favorite for its nerd value

Sparkle Crystal Semi-Flushmount 12" Wide Ceiling Light, $230 -- A little more glam option (and therefore Mark's least favorite)

Possini Euro Bubbles 13 3/4" Wide Ceiling Light Fixture, $200 -- Mark finds this very loungey, but I just think the bubbles are cute in a bathroom

22 January 2010

first purchase down!

So we may still not know which flooring we'll be putting in (or even what type: cork or ceramic tile), whether we'll be retiling the showers or just reglazing, what our color scheme will be, or whether we'll for sure replace the toilets, but we finally have one purchase behind us.

After some soul searching, I decided to give up on the lovely Delta Lahara faucet series for the guest bath in favor of the still lovely but less costly Moen Eva series, in brushed nickel finish. The new faucet and shower/bath set are on their way, from FaucetDirect.com.



21 January 2010

i heart lowe's

I have a new crush in the home improvement arena, and much as I would like to say that it's some hip little specialty store, it's the ubiquitous, generic, big box store Lowe's. The closest Lowe's to us is more than 10 miles away, so I've mostly been haunting every Home Depot around (Marina del Rey, Slauson, Inglewood, Hollywood), as well as all the various specialty retailers in our 'hood. But while driving back from Mammoth on MLK Jr. Day, I insisted that we take a detour and stop at the Lowe's in Santa Clarita... and it was a revelation.

Our first day at Mammoth was gorgeous...

But then the winds started, bringing with them both tons of snow and the current monsoon rains that we're receiving in SoCal. So the drive home was a little dicey.

But then, out of nowhere, the clouds -- literally -- parted to make the visit possible

And inside, the promised land. Big, clean aisles. Great selection of higher-quality items. AMAZING prices. I'm so wishing I could get to a Lowe's here in LA without driving up to the valley or down to Hawthorne. Sigh.

Similar to the vanity we've been leaning toward, but with a legit porcelain top instead of composite, and a better price

Mark checking out a great gas range (and so inexpensive, comparatively!)

Our kitchen is a galley (meaning narrow), and doesn't have a water line on the fridge side of the kitchen (meaning it's a waste to have an on-door ice maker). This model is both perfect, and incredibly well priced.

The price on subway tiles blew me away: $1.32/sq. ft., about a quarter of Home Depot's price. I had no idea that big box stores could so significantly undercut other big box stores.

Much better flooring selection than HD (and so much easier to browse), including this great whitewashed cork

Though Lowe's lighting selection is pretty great, this just made me laugh. Who would actually buy this and install it??

All of this to say: clearly I am still seeking ideas and validation by visiting new retailers, meaning the actual bathroom reno plan is a mess. More as we start to nail down some actual decisions.

14 January 2010

the smack down strikes again

Apparently the reality check is a recurring them.

After a visit from one of many contractors clamoring for our business, all referred by ServiceMaster (hint, don't ask for a quote unless you want a barrage of calls), I've had to take expectations down another notch. Five to six grand in contractor charges, just to replace the bathrooms' flooring, install a light fixture or two, and knock out an unnecessary soffit over the master bathroom shower. That's not even to replace the tile tub and shower enclosures. And it doesn't include any of the actual fixtures or materials. Oy vey. (The contractor also took care to remind us that our job is "much smaller than the jobs they usually do." Thanks. Make us feel bad on top of it all for wasting your time.)

While this is certainly a drag, in a way it was a good moment to say, "You know, we really don't need to completely redo the bathrooms." And it's true. Even a few cosmetic and surface upgrades would make a big difference. Fundamentally the tile is in good shape. And the room layouts are about as good as they will get. But nonetheless, when the contractor left, I felt (in my second Clueless reference of the week) like Cher after she fails her driving test: "I had to get out."

And out I got, to the lovely home improvement emporia along Pico Blvd in West LA.

First stop: Lumber Liquidators, to check out the cork flooring.

Cork is very hip right now, though I'm still not sure if I actually like how it looks. But it would feel nice to step out of the shower onto soft, warm cork rather than cold, hard stone or ceramic tiles. Still, does cork actually look remotely good in a bathroom? (Please feel free to comment.)

Next stop, Euro Design, an astonishingly well-stocked kitchen and bath shop on Pico. I was especially intrigued by their selection of toilets and bath vanities, though their selection of stone and tile is really something.

The friendly TOTO toilet by the front door that opens when you walk by, as though it's saying "hello"

The toilet on the left is the TOTO Supreme, my new favorite -- it has the same low height and minimal depth as the Kohler Rialto, but is much slimmer through the hips

Many fancy fixtures

A vanity similar to the one we're looking at, but with a preferable porcelain bowl and a narrower footprint... but would future buyers find it too small?

Another option in lighter wood

A bevy of vessel sinks

Stop #3: The tile superstore across the street from Euro Design. Really an amazing selection, almost overwhelmingly so. Going in and asking for 12" carrera marble tiles is like going to Starbucks and asking for a cup of coffee. That's not nearly enough information for them. Polished or honed? Parallel striations or irregular? More white overall, or an even mix of white and gray? Are you sure you just want 12", not 18" square, or 12" x 18"? I also learned that you can get ceramic tile in virtually any faux-stone look you want. And some of them are actually very convincing. Though I still think I'd prefer either the real deal, or a ceramic tile that isn't posing as stone.

All of these tiles are ceramic, not stone

Last stop: Sherwin-Williams at Westwood and Santa Monica Blvd. I pulled every color strip with gray tones, the full spectrum of whites, as well as a whole pile of other neutrals.

The day's quary 

So we have a lot of figurin' to do now: proceed with the original plan despite the higher-than-expected price tag? Change the plan and go minimal? Stay tuned...

13 January 2010

the master plan reveals itself

The vision has arrived, and it looks like...

... espresso-toned wood vanity, with white accents...

    ... gray and white carrera marble floor tiles...

        ... brushed nickel fixtures...

            ... white ceramic subway tiles around the tub...

                ... sleek light fixtures...

                    ... light gray walls...

After much scouting of the big boxes, I believe we have a shared vision in mind for both of our bathrooms, each with its own personality but united by the fundamental elements. Mark was quite the trooper on the scouting trips because he, like most normal people, does not enjoy spending hours inspecting all of the various home accoutrements featured in said box stores. While I would not choose to spend all of my time this way, I do get a good deal of satisfaction from exploring all of the options and getting ideas. More than once this weekend, I caught him shooting me a look that seemed to say, "Who are you, and how did I end up married to such a person?"

Interestingly enough, he liked the vanity best that was the first thing I posted from my first scouting trip, the 12" deep espresso cabinet vanity with integrated sink, a bargain at $225. It's a full-size sink but with a very shallow vanity, which will free up a lot of floor space.

P.S. Get a haircut, hippie!

We went to the flooring tiles section and grabbed a bunch of samples, deciding that the white and gray carrera marble looks just swell with the espresso wood.

That was the lightbulb moment. From there, everything else comes together. Tub and shower surrounds in a combo of white subway tile and marble subway tile, incorporating recessed niches for storage. Contemporary faucets and fixtures. Clear glass shower doors. Everything very clean and crisp.

Marble subway tile isn't as expensive as I would have thought, though a shower surround requires a looooooot of it

Delta's Lahara fixtures in brushed nickel, perfect for the guest bath, and a perfect match with the brushed nickel cabinet hardware we bought long ago when the Expo store closed

Check out this super cool coordinating showerhead -- a handheld wand that clicks into a rain shower head

The master bath will get a vanity in the same espresso and white color family, but with a lighter feel.

The Godmorgon vanity from Ikea

Much as I was hating on Ikea in my last post, I really think this vanity is amazing. Those clever Swedes found a way to get the sink drainpipe to run horizontally, so you actually get full use of both drawers, instead of losing half the storage space in the vanity like with most sinks. Using the vanity above, we'll put in what I call the "compromise sink": half single sink, half double sink. If only we had a full 48" to put in a real double sink, but alas we'll settle for a single long sink with two faucets. Just to be sure it would work, we stood in front of it and elbowed each other while making Sonicare noises. It'll do.

The Great Compromise: Ikea's Braviken sink

Because the compromise sink will take away some valuable counter space, we'll put in a shelf above the faucets, like the one here

Ever the thoughtful bunch, those Ikea folks just happen to make that glass shelf in exactly the same width as the vanity: 39" and change.

For the master bath, we're considering a shinier chrome look for the fixtures, though if they make Mark's preferred fixture in a brushed finish, we'd probably opt for that instead.

This very hip faucet is Mark's favorite, the Price Pfister Vega Chrome

Though he is a bit befuddled by the packaging... "One hole or three? I'm so confused?"

It's really a great feeling knowing what we want to do in the rooms. The next step is getting estimates from contractors, so we have a better sense of how much of the work we have to do ourselves, and how much of the work that's easy to mess up (like installing a water-tight tile tub surround and laying down radiant heat coils under the floor tiles) we can afford to outsource.

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