Challah french toast

Just like I said last time, we’re baking bread once a week. This week we baked a challah using Brian’s Grandmother Dubke’s recipe. Her recipe uses the word “glass” for cup, as in “1/4 glass sugar.”

Here it is coming out of the oven yesterday afternoon – it smelled divine!

It sat on the cooling rack for a while, making the house smell amazing all night. As you can see, it’s a little crooked – so adorable, right? Don’t you just want to eat it up?

Every once in a while we host Shabbat dinners and our friends bring delicious (store-bought) challah. We always look forward to eating the leftover challah as french toast on either Saturday or Sunday morning. So now that we had a loaf of home-made challah, we were REALLY excited about enjoying french toast! Look what I had for breakfast this morning:

Grandmother Dubke’s home-made challah french toast sprinkled with powdered sugar, accompanied by raspberries and strawberries, french vanilla yogurt, french press coffee and 1/2 & 1/2, served on my Grandma Pauline’s Danish stoneware = breakfast heaven!

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Bluebell magazine rack

A couple of weekends ago we were walking around the neighborhood when we came across a sidewalk sale. I spotted a cute little wooden magazine rack in good condition and with nice lines. The price sticker said $3 but I only had two dollar bills in my wallet – so the seller agreed to the low low bargain price of two bucks! It’s light and has a convenient handle, so Brian and I carried it with us the rest of the way home. It sat in the basement gathering dust for a couple of weeks until yesterday, when I took it out into the backyard for its make-over.

Here’s what it looked like around 1:00pm – decent but kind of blah:

I chose to paint it a lovely blue color – not quite royal blue, definitely not baby blue, brighter than navy blue – maybe it’s a blue like bluebells? I just learned that the scientific name for this flower is Hyacinthoides non-scripta. Image from wikipedia:

But before I could paint the magazine rack bluebell blue, I gave it a grey primer coat to make sure the blue would show up bold & bright:

And finally, by about 5:00pm yesterday, this is what it looked like!

 

I gave it a coat of lacquer to protect the paint job and so that it would look smooth and shiny. It’s really bright and cheerful! I can totally see it in a child’s room, holding stacks of favorite bed-time storybooks 🙂

Here’s the link to the for-sale posting on craigslist: http://newyork.craigslist.org/brk/fuo/2522880742.html

If it stayed at our house it would surely hold Islands magazine and Afar – a fantastic new magazine about experiential travel. Which books or magazines would you store in this charming magazine rack?

My friends are the best!

I was at ABC Carpet & Home last night waiting for the NYC Apartment Therapy meet-up to begin when I got a phone call from my friend Janel  – she had stumbled across a collection of free wooden chairs in Stuy Town and wanted to know if she should wait with them for me to come pick them up! She even texted me this fantastic cell phone picture so I knew what she was talking about:

What an awesome haul, right? If I wasn’t at an event that was about to start, and if I had access to a pick-up truck in that moment, I would have loved to bring these home to my basement. I can just imagine them painted white, or maybe a light blue-grey, with new, colorful seat cushions in coordinating (but not necessarily matching) fabrics. I could create such a unique and fun collection for someone’s dining room from this mis-matched, motley crew of old wooden chairs!

Janel, thank you SO MUCH for thinking of me when you spotted these chairs!! I have the greatest friends…you’re all out there on the streets, keeping your eyes out for potential furniture overhauls to send my way. Call me, text me, email me, or, for those without the technology, send me some telepathy! I won’t always be able to pick up what you find, but I’ll always be grateful for the tip.

Gardening on the stoop

When you live in the City like we do, you’re lucky if you have a fire escape on which to grow a potted plant or two. We are BEYOND lucky to share an actual backyard (it’s small, but it’s dirt nonetheless!) and a front stoop with our neighbors. I’m the only gardener among the group, so I get free reign when it comes to garden design.

After half a summer of arriving home to stoop planters filled with dried dirt and weeds, I decided it was finally time to beautify the front of our home. I went for a color combination of pink and green, in part to pick up on the pepto-bismol pink paint job on the brownstone across the street.

This house is actually somewhat well-known in the neighborhood. I can tell fellow Park Slopers that I live near “the pink house” and they know exactly what I’m talking about. Occasionally, we see tourists posing for photographs on the stoop!

For the planters at the bottom of the stoop, I chose pink petunias – pretty, bright, and hardy. We also brightened things up with a rainbow pinwheel that spins in the breeze – we have a tradition of buying a new $1 pinwheel each year at the Park Slope street festival on Father’s Day in memorial to my husband’s Dad, who was a gardener and loved bright, shiny garden decorations. The petunias are doing great so far – I just pinch off the wilted flower heads every morning as I leave the house and they keep producing new blooms!

For the planter at the top near the front door, I chose something a little more showy and with more height. This tropical trio planting includes pink begonias which will do well in the north-facing, mostly-shaded space. The stoop gets lovely dappled light all morning but is completely shaded by our building in the afternoon.

Here’s what the entrance to our house looks like:

What do you think? Does it seem to be saying “Hello, please come on in?”

Bread baking interlude

A brief departure from design into the kitchen…my husband and I have decided that we will finally do something that we’ve always wanted to do: bake bread every week! He even created a spreadsheet that we printed out and posted in on the wall to track which kind of loaves we’ve baked.

We started this week with a very basic white bread. We’re fortunate to have some good baking supplies, many of which were wedding gifts, including a beautiful and superbly informative baking book from Sur La Table, a KitchenAid stand mixer, a counter-top kitchen scale, a silicone loaf pan, an instant-read thermometer, a pizza stone and a pizza peel. I remember baking a few loaves back in middle school after learning how in 8th grade home-ec class and how time-consuming the process could be; using the stand mixer for this purpose makes the whole process so easy! And the warm, humid weather is perfect for rising dough 🙂

The whole process, from waking up the yeast to pulling the bread out of the oven, took a few hours, but required very little actual worktime. Most of that time the yeast was working its magic on its own, eating the sugars, creating bubbles, expanding the volume of the dough. Of course it smelled delicious as it was baking and it came out perfectly golden brown after 35 minutes at 400 degrees. I took these photos just a couple minutes after it came out of the oven – can you see the steam?

 

We’ve been enjoying the bread toasted with butter & honey (just like at Great Harvest Bakery where I used to work in Rockridge) and also for PBJ and turkey sandwiches. We’re excited for our next loaf! Any suggestions?

I run fast for Danish chairs!

Early one morning as I left the apartment for my morning training run, I spotted two matching chairs that appeared to be mid-century Danish chairs. The upholstery on the seats was ripped and the seat padding was poking out. They were really dusty, as if they had been sitting in someone’s basement for years. I thought they looked like excellent candidates for a furniture transformation project, but I was determined to go for my run and I worried that if I paused to bring the chairs into our basement I would lose my motivation to exercise. So, I kept walking towards the park.

The ENTIRE run I thought about those chairs. Within five minutes of leaving them behind I was furious with myself for leaving such a valuable resource sitting on the sidewalk. I was 100% convinced that they would be gone by the time I got back – it takes me a little less than 30 minutes to run around the park and I was certain that those high quality chairs wouldn’t last that length of time in our neighborhood – some other industrious scavenger would certainly snag them before I could get back.

But I was wrong! They were sitting there waiting for me when I got back home, and I was beyond thrilled. I turned them upside down and confirmed my suspicion that they were Danish – each was stamped with “Made in Denmark” and the name of the furniture maker – Aabe Christensen.

I brought them inside to our basement where they proceeded to collect more dust for several weeks. Here’s what they looked like – you can even see some of the dust on the left chair:

Once I got around to tackling this project, the first order of business was to unscrew the seat and backrest from the wooden frame, followed by the tedious and difficult task of ripping out hundreds of staples to remove the torn upholstery. For each staple, I forced a flat screwdriver head under the center of the staple so that it would pop up, and then I tugged it out using pliers. Taking off the existing black leather upholstery exposed the wooden underside and foam topside of the seats, and the wooden back and foam front of the backrests.

 

I traced the shape of the old upholstery pieces onto the underside of my new fabric – a sturdy navy cotton with a white modern botanic print that I found at Ikea. I chose this fabric to coordinate with the asian/organic theme we have in our living room – I loved the classic color combined with the modern design.

Once I had the shapes cut out, my husband helped me pull the fabric taut around the foam seat and backrest pieces so I could staple the edges of the fabric to the wooden backs using my staple gun. After a while, we got really good at a pretty little pleat detail that kept the fabric nice and tight around the rounded corners.

The seats were relatively easy – once we stapled the fabric in place they were basically done – no need to worry about how the stapled side (underside) of the seat looked. The front face of the backrests were pretty much the same – pull taut, staple, pull taut, staple, repeat, repeat…all the way around. But the rear faces of the backrests were by far the most challenging part – because unlike the underside of the seat, both sides of the backrests are visible! The wood back, covered in staples and the ragged edges of the upholstery, needed to be covered up. This challenge perplexed me for a few days (well…maybe it was weeks?!) and the chairs sat in our living room with naked backs while I figured out what to do.

Eventually I figured that I would do the best I could, even though it wouldn’t be how a professional upholsterer would do it. When I deconstructed the chair, I saw that the rear of the backrest was covered in the same black leather, mounted on a thin, flexible cardboard panel in the shape of the backrest. I removed all the existing fabric and tacks from the panel and adhered my fabric to it using iron-on glue strips. Then I attached the upholstered panel to the rear of the backrest with very small, black furniture tacks. I only used five tacks per backrest, and because they are dark, they basically blend in with the navy fabric – you can’t see them unless you get real close and look for them. Not professional, but it definitely does the trick and, really, who’s going to notice?

So, here they are in all their re-upholstered glory!

  

I LOVE these chairs! And so does everybody who comes to our home. Not only do they look sharp, they’re incredibly well-made and comfortable. Gotta love that Danish design.

Thank goodness I ran fast enough around the park that morning to snatch them off the sidewalk! You know that saying “I brake for [insert what you care about here].” Well, I run fast for free discarded furniture. What do you run fast for?

Black-Eyed Susan Dresser

Here’s another piece of trash that I found on my block waiting for garbage pick-up:

It was a sort-of bland, beige-grey color, the back panel was buckling and pulling away from the body of the dresser, and the bottom drawer was warped and didn’t close all the way. All those problems were easy to fix! I used a few extra tacks re-attach the back panel to the body of the dresser. The bottom drawer was sticking because the plywood side wall of the drawer was splitting – I used wood glue and borrowed spring clamps to compress the plywood back into shape.

Then came the fun & creative part! I wanted to create a cheerful and fun look, so I chose a pale sunshine-y yellow paint that my friend gave me, leftover from painting her living room. First I took out all of the drawers, removed the knobs, lightly sanded the visible surfaces using a borrowed belt sander, and wiped the surfaces clean. Then I used a small roller brush to give the body of the dresser and the drawers two coats of paint.

I decided that the dresser needed some sparkly new knobs to dress it up a bit, but I couldn’t decide on a color. Then, on my bedside table that night, I noticed a packet of Black-Eyed Susan seeds that I had picked up at our food co-op, and I was inspired by the black & yellow combination – think sunflowers and bumblebees!. I found shiny black glass knobs at Anthropologie in SoHo, on sale for $2.99 each, so I bought ten for a total of $30. I love how the knobs really gave the little dresser some personality!

Here’s the final product – a piece of trash transformed into a sweet, useful, unique piece of functional furniture!
 
This dresser was officially my second sale – I posted it on craigslist complete with the story about how it was inspired by the Black-Eyed Susan seed packet, and the next day a hip young woman who was moving into a new place in Williamsburg came by to check it out. She left a cash deposit and came back to pick it up two days later! The net proceeds (after paying for the new knobs) went straight into our Paris-in-October fund.

Here it is again – before and after. Do you like this flower-inspired transformation?

 

My first sale

I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where you can’t walk down the block without finding a treasure that someone left out on the stoop for a passerby to take. Occasionally, there’s a sign that says “free” or “please take,” but most often it’s just a cardboard box full of stuff (books, knick knacks, kitchen items, etc.) and locals know to look through the box and take anything that they need or want. My husband and I have found about a quarter of the books we read this way, and then we pass them on to other friends (the other three quarters we borrow, either from the Brooklyn Public Library or friends and family). This “leave-what-you-don’t-want-anymore-on-the-sidewalk” method is a super-efficient form of recycling!

Every once in a while, there are bigger giveaways, like pieces of furniture left out on the sidewalk begging for a new home. I found this giant mirror on my walk home from the subway – literally on a trash heap – the night before our twice weekly neighborhood trash pick-up. It looked like it once belonged atop a fancy wooden dresser, or maybe as an installation in a brownstone entryway.

I envisioned transforming this dark, beat-up piece of trash into a clean, fresh, bright white mirror for someone’s entryway or bedroom wall.  I wiped off the dust and dirt, removed the small wooden pegs that lined the top of the mirror, and covered the mirror with newspaper to prep it for painting. I took it outside into our postage-stamp sized backyard onto a plastic drop cloth, lightly sanded the wooden border, and wiped it clean one more time before beginning to paint.

     

I used Krylon spray paint from the hardware store around the corner in “Whisper white.” To be safe, I wore a face mask which I found really uncomfortable and hot!

     

Here’s what it looked like in the end, after a few coats of paint and some time to dry:

Then we had a stoop sale and I sold it to a nice young couple who had just moved into the neighborhood around the corner for $60! I don’t have a picture of the couple who bought it, but here’s an images of what the stoop sale looked like:

I got a pretty good return on this investment – I obtained the mirror for free, bought the spray paint for about $6, and sold the finished product for ten times that! How’s that for my first sale?

Here I am!

Hi everyone,

I’ve finally started a blog! I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long, long time. I’m going to use it as a home for all my fun design-related projects, including refurbishing furniture, photography, gardening, and interior design. Please leave your comments so I know what you think of my work and share the blog with your friends who might enjoy it, too. For now, this is a side project that I get to enjoy in the evenings and weekends, but ultimately I intend to enter this field as a career, so that I can do what I love every day.

Thanks for visiting and come back again soon!