Things I Should Avoid for my Own Good

Do the lovely people at Apartment Therapy know just how much time they make me waste asking myself pointless rhetorical questions? Questions that start like, “Of course I don’t need these bloody overpriced Italian faucets. Of course not. Does that make them any less cool? Should my bathroom faucets really resemble microscopes? Of course not. Is there extraneous metal used in this design? Of course. Will it make it stupendously more expensive. Of course.”

Sigh

Design websites are EVIL.

It’s kind of like the idea that watching too much TV really screws with your psyche because everyone looks so flawless and airbrushed and pancake made-up and well-lit? Well, I’m of the opinion that there’s a truth close to that regarding the concept of design websites… too many things come together so neatly and nicely that they give you hives when you think about your own place. And don’t get me started on home transformation shows: why can’t I ever find that perfect ticky-tacky chandelier and spray paint it for immediate classy gorgeousness at MY house? Anyone else that tries that stuff, well, it looks… a bit more crafty than artsy, perhaps? Plain tacky? I dunno… Well, I’m about to get my chance to try some ‘junky to funky’ magic … my mother just informed me that she’s doing a big flea market thing on September 3… now let’s see if we can’t LEAVE more stuff there than we take away. Yeah, that would be good…

Geese A’Flyin Means Furnace A’Buyin. And other bad couplets.

This weekend I saw a record number of Canadian geese.

Because of our proximity to Bay and wetlands, that shouldn’t have made me think twice, but the oddly long rains, horrifying heat wave and deeply foggy spells, coupled with the garden going into early flower have had me wondering just what kind of a winter we’re going to have. While I’m dying to get my hands on some beautiful cabinets, if we have to burn them in a metal barrel for heat this winter (since we won’t be able to afford our electric bill) it will lessen their beauty… so it’s time for a more energy-efficient heater. I love summer power bills. They never go above $50, and this is with humidifiers and fans running practically nonstop. With a place this small, our bill should NEVER go above $50, no matter how prices swing. So! I’m going to a.) buy new blankets (maybe even a new electric throw or two for downstairs, so it’s still usable space when it gets cold) b.) price and buy a new heater.

Heaters, schneeters. The things you can’t really show off in your home remodel are nonetheless also sometimes the most expensive things you’ve done to your home. Love our new windows? WHAT? You didn’t notice them!? I guess one cannot expect to have people traipse up and look lovingly with us at our new furnace, but if the geese gatherings are any clue, we need to get on this one, and soon…

Consumer Reports did the usual piece last December about how best to heat without losing all your cash, and last year we did the first big project to cut costs, which was to insulate everything that didn’t move, and seal or caulk everything a breeze might sneak through. We programmed our thermostat. We changed our air filters. Now we need to replace our lighting with either LED’s or compact fluorescents, and get a more efficient forced air heating system and air cleaner. The ‘and air cleaner’ bit is probably important, as we’re getting rid of the carpet and the old dust, and although the air will be cleaner, forced air is still dusty and dry and we need to clean out of it what we can.

Let me tell you: furnace research is boring, deadly dull, but necessary. I have, however, come up with a wonderful find from American Standard (the same happy people who made the toilet!) and let’s just hope it doesn’t cost everything we have:

  1. Multispeed blower motor – Operates quietly and efficiently, gently warming and maintaining comfort. Handles all central air conditioning needs, too.
  2. Induced draft venting – Quietly draws hot gases through the heat exchanger, maximizing the heat transfer efficiencies of the exchanger design.
  3. Multi-port in-shot burners – Perfectly shape the flame cone for the maximum heat possible while using less fuel.
  4. Adaptive hot surface silicon nitride igniter – Starts burners electrically for safe, efficient operation. There’s no pilot light constantly burning fuel.
  5. Aluminized steel heat exchanger – Crimped, not welded, to prevent cracks from heat stress. Stamped serpentine channel offers the greatest efficiency in less space. Backed by our lifetime limited warranty.
  6. Stainless steel secondary heat exchanger – Captures more of the heat you pay for.
  7. Heavy steel insulated cabinet -Holds more heat in the furnace to better warm your home. Also assures greater durability and quieter operation.
  8. Self-diagnostic controls – Manage every function with digital accuracy. Include safety features and a built-in troubleshooting system.
  9. Sound-insulated blower compartment – Assures the quietest possible operation.
  10. 100% fresh air option – Uses 100% outdoor air for combustion for increased equipment life and cleaner air.
  11. Dual door latches allow easy access to the filter for cleaning or changing.
  12. Cleanable filter means you can rinse or vacuum it without buying replacements each time.
  13. Spring-loaded filter rack automatically adjusts for standard off-the-shelf filters.

Does anyone else know the difference between a single-stage and two-stage heating system? Does anyone else keep this kind of information in their brain for the five minutes it takes them to do a price comparison like I do? Gone, gone the way of quadratic equations, I flush this bit of knowledge down my mental drain…and now, onward to LED bulbs.

Cabinets…

For those of you playing along at home, you might want to check out Jeanette Pavini’s Best of Bay Area Bargains with special regards to Cabinets. Basically, we’ve been told that we could revamp our kitchen (cabinets, countertops, sinks) for under $1,000. While it’s true that our kitchen is miniscule (condo, after all), that’s still quite a bit less than we’d feared. So, the place to go for this fabulous bargain? It’s called KWW Kitchen Cabinets, and they’ve got several locations around the bay:

  • Kww Kitchen Cabinets
    Address: 901 King St, Oakland, CA 94606
    Phone: (510) 533-7888
  • Kww Kitchen Cabinets & Bath
    Address: 3832 Bayshore Blvd, Brisbane, CA 94005
    Phone: (415) 643-3338
  • Kww Kitchen Cabinets N Bath
    Address: 1090 N 7th St, San Jose, CA 95112
    Phone: (408) 289-8838

So, this means that we’ve got the stove on its way, and will probably be making a pilgrimage to Oaktown this weekend to investigate. Of course, everybody else who watched the show (all of 1/2 an hour ago) will probably be there as well, but we can wait a while ’til the furor dies down.

Now I’ve just got to work on a bit of marketing for the consultancy, and bring in some higher-paying clients!

(I see a white door and I want it painted black…)

I thought after the stove, we should work on the microwave… I checked on the Consumer Reports microwave comparisons, and frankly, I think we may as well simply build a sturdy shelf for the microwave in the garage, and use it. It has a turntable, it’s new-ish, and it’ll work until it doesn’t… at which time, we’ll invest in another one. AND, it’s black…

You know, I think I’m painting the fridge black.

Don’t be scared. I might not. But appliance paint is easy enough to come by… I might just do the sides and leave the doors white. Or, just do the doors…

The mind boggles with the things they come up with on Trading Spaces. And while we admit that it isn’t always something that works for long, I have been reading the “chatter” again, and, after checking with the hivemind, and looking at the chalkboard paint in DA’s house, I’m a believer… some paints do work. On the other hand, we could always take the doors to a body shop, and get them done quickly there. Or we could use contact paper. OR, we could live with a glaring white fridge and black stove and dishwasher. Worse things have happened… Much worse. And besides, if the floor is going to be blonde, natural bamboo, it’ll be very pale and yellowish.

Unless that’s not the color we choose. Unless we go with one of the two shades of carbonized.
And I guess that’s what’s left to decide about the floor. Lemony pale, or carbonized sugary brown? Straight lines or narrow planks? Should we check out stains? I guess my biggest concern is that the dark floors and dark appliances will make the kitchen… dark. When I think, though, of the kitchen banquette seating, with perhaps a bamboo veneer or a pale stained base and a brightly colored (but not light colored — can’t have light colored cushions where we’re sitting and eating, since we’re unashamedly shlobs) cushion cover, maybe something stripey to match the drapes (that company does sell fabric, methinks, if you want the same colors — after all the trouble we took to get the @#$%^&*! things we should keep them, maybe?), the whole little kitchen/dining area might not be half bad. Add to it the half wall if we cut down the pantry, adding in more light, and it might be a really nice addition… IF we can cut down the pantry wall without it impacting the electrical or the beams in the house…

Ah, decisions, decisions…

Randomly On My Mind

Subtly citrus, floral, spicy, complex. The glossy deep green leaves are used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking, and the scent and flavor combined can absolutely “make” a dish. We love our makrut lime tree. We love our makrut lime tree …maybe tree a little too much. We worry about our makrut lime tree. Probably any tree of which you actively consume the leaves, one should worry over… We worry mostly that… we’ll kill it. There are really good sauces to be made from makrut or Thai lime leaves. We made a simple sauce with pulverized leaves, garlic, shallots, curry paste, Peppers of Death Sauce (made with chile d’arbol and far too little water and corn starch as a stabilizer), a little oil, and vinegar. Others typically used include fish sauce (nuoc main or nam pla). Cilantro and ginger add their own special verve. We’re halfway through our second batch of sauce, and we have wild salmon coming fresh off the boat very soon. We’ll have to make more sauces… and make them last. Because, again, it’s a tree, of which you eat the leaves. How much eating of the leaves does it take to kill off the whole tree?! Most recipes only call for two or three leaves… at the rate we use them, it’s time to fertilize. Or buy an additional tree… or two.

Meanwhile, it’s an oldish story, but it’s back again for Round II: Eating bagged salad greens can give you E.Coli.

It’s a fact: twenty-six people in three states have recently had untraceable food poisoning through consuming bagged salad greens as recently as this past April, 2006. Many of the people who suffer are small children, for whom busy mothers prepare quick cherry-tomato-and-green-stuff salads to at least brush past the “healthy eating” requirements in their heads. But after the kidney failure and other things that have struck otherwise healthy people, it pays to heed Consumer Report recall information, and be sure and:

  • Wash Your Hands
  • Wash Your Bagged Greens
  • Chuck the Salad in the Fridge
  • Really Check the Use-By Dates

and my personal fave:

  • Grow your own freaking lettuce – All you need is a sunny window and a little time.

GOOD NEWS (for once): I found out that our local Lumber Store has both bamboo and cork! At $.99/foot, the cork flooring is quite a good deal, I think. QUITE a good deal. We’ve been rattling around in our brains the idea of doing tiles in the kitchen because we’ve read that bamboo is hard but a bit brittle, and wood in the kitchen can be prone to water damage, but a cork tiled floor can a.) be replaced in pieces if there is damage, b.) is softer and easier on the back and legs, and therefore might be worth checking into. Several people have cautioned against cork because of the gouges in soft flooring, the problem of putting coasters under furniture and the bother of not dragging appliances and furniture. The one person I know who has a cork kitchen mentioned that her cork faded slightly in the strong sunlight cast by the back door sunshine in her single-paned window kitchen, but the fading is slight, and can be refinished. At such an expensive price per square foot, and already pre-finished, this deal is a steal. The price goes up for darker stains, and larger grains in the cork, etc., to where it’s more expensive than bamboo, but it’s certainly worth further research, maybe worth doing the floors in the whole house with something soft, insulative and noise-canceling. Options, options! Hm.

Wish I Were Baking Instead of Figuring Out Logistics

I’m beginning to think we should rename this blog: ‘Wish I Weren’t Remodeling.’ Kitchens = Headaches

Not really headaches, per se, but mental gymnastics as we think of what can go wrong (everything) what we might do incorrectly (most things) and how much it’s going to cost (all we’ve got, plus). It’s something that’s causing us some oddly restless nights, and bizarre appliances dreams.

But, we soldier on.

Of course, we want to be environmentally conscious in the kitchen, so we’re doing a bit of research to make sure we do this remodel thing correctly. According to the EnergyStar people, when planning a new kitchen, one should be careful not to put the refrigerator next to any other appliances. Apparently, appliances need buffers around them so they operate correctly and efficiently.

Oh.

Let’s translate that into Wee Little House terms: SPACE is not what our kitchen has. THIS is not going to work in our kitchen.

(Maybe.)

In all of our remodeling schemes, we’ve never even thought of moving the fridge anywhere. I wonder why that is. In reality, we could put the fridge into a sort of built-in cubby hole, where the built-in microwave is now. A step saver between the sink and the fridge, one would only need to pivot to get what was needed, and then that entire corner would be open for …cabinets. And a hanging microwave. Open shelves. Cook books. A small screen TV. Hmm.

This morning’s Ponder du Jour included realizing that we have NOTHING gas related except in our garage and on the second floor for the water heater. Ah, the 70’s, when the Wee Little House was shiny and gadgety and new, and all this electrical crap was ultra-modern. Now we long for gas, and have… electric everything. Do we go ahead and punch through the kitchen floor to run gas into the room? Will it be that easy? Do we have to punch more holes in the house to get the kitchen we want?

At some point, do we acknowledge that this isn’t our Dream House or our Dream Kitchen, and make it the best it can be as it is?

Sigh.

Our stove search is centering on an electric stove. Consumer Reports this month says that the Kenmore 964 is the best for the electric smooth top models, but in researching glass-topped stoves, we’ve had some questions… A.) I’m not world’s best housekeeper; the other cook in the house is… um, worse. You have to clean glass top stoves immediately or else the stains are permanent; acidic and sugary boil-overs become part of the stove. B.) We don’t want to replace all of our pots, and though flat-bottomed is the only real requirement we’ve come across, but some folks were advised NOT to use glass pots on them, without an explanation given. In any case, the main issue is canning ware… do people can on glass-topped stoves? Yes, BUT, boil-overs can pit the glass, a heavy pot or cast iron being set down too hard can shatter it, as can anything falling on it. If the elements are painted on (which I don’t think anyone does on new stoves anymore), it can be scratched off within the first week.

I think a glasstop stove sounds like too much trouble for people who really cook, shake pans to sauteé, use cast iron, and forever have a kettle on the hob. One is supposed to use ceramic pots for glass top. Well, I don’t have any of those, so sorry. “Oh, but they’re so much easier to clean!” Um, well, that’s as may be. But if you keep a brand-new stove reasonably clean… it won’t turn into the gunky horror that came with this house. It’s that simple. It’s all about maintenance… something millions of people are apt to do very poorly.

Stay tuned as we debate whether chrome is really worth an additional $200, if black or shows fingerprints worse, if bisque is an actual color, and if the color of the floor really plays at all into the color of the appliances… or if we’ll go with bamboo all over, or with tile in the kitchen, or what we’re doing at all…

After all this talk, STILL, nothing whatsoever to do with baking, darn it.

Canning … well, eating.

Cast your votes, ladies and gents: would you believe the amount of heat that onions can hold?

OK, so I went through the first quart of the spiced, pickled onions. That would’ve been the quart from the experiment, “let’s see how much pepper we need to put in our pickled onions, and we can do that by putting, oh, say, a tablespoon of chopped Chile de arbol in each of a quart jar, a pint jar, and a half-pint jar.” Next up this evening was the half-pint jar, with the assumption that it’d be nice and spicy and would match well with the following ingredients, sauteéd:

  • 5 oz firm tofu
  • 1 oz Gimme Lean, sausage style
  • 1 cup cabbage
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • 1 small zucchini, chunked
  • 1 small crookneck squash, likewise
  • 2 Tbsp homemade Thai Lime-leaf sauce (lime leaves, chile paste, coconut milk)
  • 1 heaping Tbsp of said Pickled Onions of Doom

The result? Tears, coughing, the assertion that “nobody would believe….”

Too much hot. Which means that the single pint should be about right, and will be the recipe we use for putting up spiced onions. Standard pickling brine for onions, plus 1 Tbsp Peppers of Death per pint jar.

Things That Make You Go… Eeew

There are many fine things in this life, roasted beets being one of them. A soupçon of huile d ‘ olive, a sprinkle of sea salt, a few choice twigs of rosemary, and you’ve got yourself a simple culinary paradise. Add chevré or some arugula, and you’re, well, golden, if that’s what kind of beet you used. But if it’s not…

…just remember that you’ve eaten beets, okay?

Or you could well give yourself a heart attack a day or so later.

And we’ll draw a veil over the rest of THAT brief episode.

Last Night I Dreamed I Was in my Maidenform…er Kenmore…

We thought, for a second, of getting an induction oven.

That being said, we must also admit that we didn’t really know what an induction oven IS.

An induction oven is *NOT* just a smooth-top electric stove, although I suppose it has a smooth top and looks reasonably electric. No. It’s something else. It’s something that works via electromagnetic field, prompting people who work where phrases like Clinical Electrophysiology are common, to question whether or not people just mightn’t get radiation sickness from these fine scientifically progressive machines.

I know we might like to bake and all, but I’m not sure this one’s worth it. For one thing, Consumer Reports doesn’t carry any comparison pricing, etc., info on it, because it’s too new and not yet a really ‘finished’ product for mass production in full ranges. For another thing, it’s priceeeey just to buy the single cooker units, pricewise, it’s the equivalent of buying a single electric burner for almost $200, and I’m not sure what baking we do is worth the cost. third, there’s the whole EKG disruption, radiation poisoning thing people worry about from cell phones and all of that. Now, there’s more information than you could ever want on induction ovens on the web, and no one says the death-via-radiation theory is true, but I do wonder if the rumors didn’t start just because it’s such an energy saver appliance.

Anyway, the price checking continues. Meanwhile, something must be done soon… the range situation is dire. Lest I sounds like an obsessive one-note on the topic of the remodel, I will just say I am having dreams about Kenmore appliances. Be afraid.

Meanwhile, in more food ramblings, amusing ex-pat Chris Cope enjoys some of the best flavors of the UK… one wonders if the ox crisps are spit roasted or what.