29 April 2011

royal wedding jam

Alright, admit it. Who got up early to watch the royal wedding? Even though it was brutally early on the west coast (3 am), I set my alarm and watched live. I'm not afraid to fess up. :-) It was very formal, and not at all a tear jerker, but how happy do Wills and Kate look? And seriously, I could look at Kate all day. Such a stunningly gorgeous woman.

Mark is out of town skiing, so to celebrate appropriately with my party of one, I decided to make the occasion at least a little special by making some homemade jam yesterday that would be perfect with tea and crumpets (or English muffins, which I actually had on hand). I bought four pounds of strawberries last week which I really needed to use up, so it worked out perfectly.

Of course, this being the "wedding of the century," any old strawberry jam would not do. Instead, taking some inspiration from my favorite cocktail, the "Red Lady" at the Hotel Palomar in Westwood, I decided to do a strawberry and elderflower jam. Not having actual elderflowers at my disposal, I turned to Ikea's elderflower juice concentrate, but you could use St. Germain liqueur as well.

Sitting there in the pre-dawn darkness with my English muffin and jam, and a spot of tea, it was all so perfect.

Here's the recipe:

Royal Wedding Jam (adapted from Joy of Cooking)
3 to 4 cups fresh strawberries, cut up as you like
1/3 of a granny smith or golden delicious apple, cut into 1/4" or smaller cubes
2 cups of sugar or sugar/Splenda blend (I used the blend, for less sugar)
3 T. of elderflower concentrate or St. Germain liqueur
juice of 1/2 a lemon or 2 T. bottled lemon juice

Put the strawberries and apple chunks in a heavy saucepan that has plenty of extra room.

Pour on the sugar or sweetener blend and carefully stir it up. Heat the saucepan to low until the fruits to start to get juicy and completely wet the sugar. After it has juiced up, add the elderflower concentrate or liqueur.

Then turn up the heat to medium until it becomes a big boiling mass.

Do not stir anymore at this point. Set the timer for 15 minutes and stay close so that it doesn't boil over. After 15 minutes, turn off the heat to let the bubbles die down, and then gently tilt the pan to make sure that the juices at the bottom of the pan look somewhat viscous or sticky. This indicates that the pectin has cooked out of the apples to thicken the jam. If you don't sense any bit of viscosity, cook it at most another 5 minutes. Let the jam cool in the pan until it reaches nearly room temperature and then stir in the lemon juice gently. Transfer to a glass jar or bowl to cool the rest of the way.

As it cools, it will get clear and beautifully red, thanks in part to the lemon juice. Refrigerate for a few hours to help it finish setting, and then enjoy with your favorite English accroutrements!

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28 April 2011

the photo shoot

I'm still overly superstitious, but I can at last tell you that we had a photo shoot Tuesday with the LA photographer for Apartment Therapy. (!!!!!) Of course, there's always a chance that the house tour may never run, but this is one of those "it's an honor just to be nominated" sort of moments. (And I still HOPE it will run! Apartment Therapy is like the blogging generation's Architectural Digest. I think I need to add "be featured in an Apartment Therapy house tour" to my life list, and then I can check it off my list.)

Just look at that photo from Tuesday. I mean, obviously we had a photographer over. Why else would the table be set like that? We don't even set the table that way when people come to dinner. It's more like, "Here, come grab a plate!" But it looks kinda good all staged like that, huh?

So here's how it all went down. After having read before about big magazine photo shoots at John and Sherry's house, first for the Nest and then for Better Homes and Gardens, I was prepared for the photographer to come and move stuff around, change the light, or who knows what else. I did know that we would have to clean and stage everything in advance, and that there would not be a crew, so any staging was to be done by yours truly, not by an army of interns.

As of Monday afternoon, we had an enormous mess on our hands, and a bunch of totally unstaged rooms. I also knew from having looked at a LOT of house tours while preparing for ours that there are plenty of close-up vignettes featured, meaning we had to deal with the coating of dust covering EVERYTHING. That had to change, and fast. (The office was the biggest mess, and I'll tell you about that next week.)

Here's what we did in the last 24 hours, in addition to a whole lot of dusting, sweeping and vacuuming. The dining room had some extra stuff in it and was just a bit empty. So that extra table got taken apart and put into our closet (along with about half of our apartment), the vases went into the bathrooms for extra decoration, the vintage vase that Jenn gave us last year went into the corner with some big bamboo rods, and the table got staged per AT's advice.

Here's one of the vases, now living in our master bath.

We also added some bamboo to that bathroom (I know this will give it the "spalike" label, which is one of my least favorite adjectives, right after using "zen" to describe design-related things and not spirituality-related things, but that's just a pet peeve of mine).

Besides our chaotic office, which needed a LOT of work, I also wrestled for a long time with what to do about the entryway. Right now, it's one of several bars in our place, and though I kind of like how it looks, I also worried that it said "Welcome! Boozehounds live here!" And, you know, my grandma might see this house tour!

So I experimented with moving the liquor into the kitchen, atop the wine bar.

But we didn't like that. So back it went. We like to be party-ready at all times, which means a bar right by the front door, and so we decided to just own that.

As we madly swept and dusted and tinkered to the finish, the doorbell rang, and Bethany arrived. Since we needed to keep their rapidly-shed fur off the floors, and they'd just get in the way, the pups got locked out on the balcony. Poor babies.

Everything that I was prepared for -- possibly a photo assistant, any sort of lighting help, needing to move furniture -- none of that was part of what happened. It was just Bethany and her tripod, and she just kind of went about her business shooting our place. She was all kinds of complimentary, so you know I love her forever, and kept saying that she didn't need to move anything because we had done such a good job. That was nice to hear. She also pointed out (rightly) that I was dressed to match the apartment, and I told her that's not a coincidence. My taste is just consistent in home decor and clothing! (Psst. That's me, below.)

Here's Bethany, in the one little shot I snapped, shooting our bedroom from the hallway.

Meanwhile, Mark and I were working away in the office, until it was time for her to photograph in there.

After about an hour and a half, she was all done, and there we were, in our sparkling clean condo with jam-packed closets. Pretty quickly, we had to dig all the stuff out of the closets that we had thrown in haphazardly in the name of staging, and we spoiled the fun. But it's still so much cleaner than it was, and it feels pretty awesome. And now we wait for the pretty pictures to come out. And then I can die happy.

I'm pretty convinced that having a photographer come over is when of the best things one can do to force decisions and make a person finally finish all those lingering projects. And I'm sure it will be amazing to see our place photographed by an actual professional.

I'm taking bets now -- how long until our place is officially a disaster area again? I put the over/under at two weeks. :-)

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27 April 2011

what to do about the wine

The photo shoot was yesterday, and it went swimmingly. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. But in order for some of the things in that post to make sense, I have to tell you this story first...

Back when we first did the big kitchen reveal, I wasn't, well... I wasn't entirely... gulp... honest. You see, all those pretty pictures of the pristine new kitchen? There was some stagecraft going on. For the most part, the storage we've added in the kitchen takes care of our stuff. Everything, really, except for one thing.

The wine.

So. Much. Wine.

We built a wine bar into the kitchen, and you can read about what we did here. And this is the picture I posted, showing the "finished" set-up.

Look at that one lone bottle sitting there! One bottle! Hahahahahahaaaa! We have far too much of a problem saying no to wine (far more than we actually drink, mind you, hence our problem with overflowing bottles), to have just ONE BOTTLE sitting atop the bar.

Here is what the counter above the wine fridge actually looked like when it wasn't staged for the photos.

That is IN ADDITION to all of the bottles in the wine fridge just below it. And that's not mentioning the big fridge, which has a whole shelf devoted to white and dessert wine.

Okay, okay, no need to belabor the point. We have too much wine, and no place to put it. I researched a whooooooole lot of solutions, and finally Mark decided on a wall-mounted, two-deep model.

Wall-mounted rack in drywall equals recipe for disaster, especially when you're talking about heavy wine bottles. Enter our friend the toggle bolt.

Toggle bolts need great big drill holes, so we had a lot of dust to clean up.

But a little more dust was totally worth it for all the new bottle storage we got out of it.

And then we decided to pretty it all up a little more, with some framed ski cards to match our other kitchen posters, and a nicer array of drink accoutrements on the lower corner shelf. Voila! No more lies in cyberspace, since all the wine now has a home.

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26 April 2011

if something can be "finished," the bedroom is finished

You know I'm a big believer that things evolve constantly, and nothing ever stays the same. But, even with that said, our bedroom has had a certain unfinished feeling for a long time now. But no longer!

Thanks to the new surfer art, the new nightstands, a couple of cozy touches like new pillow covers sewed from clearance remnants at Joann's Fabrics, the room has a whole different feel to it. I think I've finally achieved my goal: a bright, airy feeling in the morning, and a comfy, cozy, snuggly feeling at night.

Not a lot of words today (rare, I know!), just lots of pictures. Enjoy!

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