Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Before & After: My Dining Room Makeover

Frank bought our home because it has good bones. You know, it's structurally sound, made of brick, that kind of stuff. Which means, in true bachelor fashion, design didn't really factor into his decision.

Let's start with the dining area: It featured worn-out carpet, an etched glass and brass chandelier circa 1980, and a faux stone wall. Leroy, the old owner, had painted around one of his China cabinets, leaving a faint mint green rectangle on one wall. The bleak situation was not improved by Frank's high-top table, which was a different wood than the other furniture (left by Leroy) and was the wrong shape for the space. An intervention was in order.

Step one: We ripped up the carpet to expose the wood floors (those good bones!) and ripped down the faux stone drywall. Then I replaced the chandelier with a brushed nickel fixture with a white drum shade (Lowes, $169), and installed GE Reveal bulbs, which mimic natural light. I replaced the high-top table with a farm table bought on CraigsList for $45 (what a steal!).

When we removed the drywall, we discovered two junction boxes. Perfect for sconces! I chose nickel sconces with white glass shades (Lowe's, $30 each). The new wall color is Rainwater by Martha Stewart (sold at Home Depot), which gives the space a calming, almost ethereal feel.

I found the chairs in the basement, and I liked their shape and the cane headrests. But the finish was just ugly, as was the red damask fabric. So I painted them white, and reupholstered the cushions with a light teal and beige burlap. I also stained the table to darken it and bring out the scuffs (so it looks like a true farm table). 

Then came the big project: refinishing the China cabinet. I removed the metal lattice on the glass, painted the whole thing white, then painted the backboard Magnolia Yellow by Martha Stewart. (The yellow pops beautifully against the surrounding pale teal walls.) I replaced the old hardware with cut glass knobs, and painted the hinges with brushed nickel spray paint. 

My final purchase was two tufted benches with silver legs from Pier 1. They're actually vanity benches, but I wanted something more elegant than wooden farm benches.  


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Homes of ABC's 'Nashville': Deacon's House


I'm usually not one for TV dramas, but Tennessee is my home state. So I felt morally obligated to give the series "Nashville" on ABC a try. I was hooked immediately (even though some of the Southern accents are hilariously bad). 

I love the prominence of the city itself, and in particular, the gorgeous homes (actually in Nashville!) that were selected for the series. My favorite is the one occupied by Deacon Claybourne, the guitarist and former boyfriend of the country singer Rayna Jaymes. 

His 1920's stone home is located in historic Edgefield, an East Nashville neighborhood, at 619 Boscobel Street. The house next door is the place Scarlett, Deacon's niece, rents. (On the show, they aren't neighbors, though.)

Deacon's home on the left, Scarlett's on the right

The house has 5 bedrooms, 3 baths, and about 1,700 square feet, and is valued at $270,000 by This home was last on the market back in 2002, when it sold for just $120,000.

I love the masculine details, like the dark-stained woodwork, antique bowling pin, and mounted antlers. 

The tree trunk on the counter is quintessential Tennessee. When i was a kid, my mom kept a rough-cut marble slab, found in the woods, on her counter as a hot plate.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Momofuku Milk Bar Layered Birthday Cake

The Super Bowl demands a touchdown dessert. Which is why I went to my source of reliably impressive recipes: the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. The NYC bakery's desserts are over-the-top sweet, in a candy-induced, sugar-high kind of way. They're fun and frivolous. Colorful. And brightly-hued desserts always draw a crowd. (Think about it: The taste of Funfetti is almost indistinguishable from white cake, yet the sprinkles make it infinitely more appealing.)

The one downfall of Momofuku's desserts is their complexity. Vegetable oil is replaced by rarely used grapeseed oil; ingredients like "glucose" or "citric acid" make repeated appearances. That's why I save their recipes for special occasions. This time, I decided to conquer the Layered Birthday Cake, which requires baking a cake, baking a cake crumble, mixing a whole milk soak, and preparing frosting. Then putting all of that together. I spent a good two or three hours on the endeavor. But, man, was it worth it, even though the Super Bowl isn't really that exciting.

The first slice I ate, shortly after I finished assembling the cake, wasn't that impressive. (My reaction: "Why didn't I just make a layered Funfetti cake?") But after the cake sat overnight (as the directions tell you to do), and the flavors mingled, it was divine. 

In the words of a friend, "it's so good it's almost bad." Bad, because one slice is not enough, even though it may leave you with a dull sugar stomachache. The whole milk soak imparts a density that distinguishes Momofuku's creation from boxed cake, and the frosting has a lightness you won't find in a can (even if you buy whipped!). The crumb gives it a delightful, crunchy sweetness, almost like pieces of sugar cookie mingled in to surprise your taste buds.  

Momofuku Milk Bar Layered Birthday Cake

What you need

For the cake: 
4 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 Tbsp tightly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup grapeseed oil*
2 tsp clear vanilla extract (Momofuku uses McCormick brand) 
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles
Nonstick spray

*Grapeseed is best, because it's flavorless. But in a pinch, canola oil works just fine.

For the soak:
3/4 cup whole milk 
1 tsp clear vanilla extract 

For the crumb:
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp tightly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tbsp rainbow sprinkles
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp clear vanilla extract

For the frosting:
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 oz cream cheese
1 Tbsp glucose*
1 Tbsp light corn syrup
1 Tbsp clear vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Pinch of baking powder
Pinch of citric acid (often called "sour salt")**

*You'll probably have to order this online. Or simply sub in 2 tsp light corn syrup.
**You can use a few drops of lemon juice instead, if need be. 

  Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
  2. To make the cake, combine the butter, shortening, sugar, and brown sugar in a stand mixer; cream on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, then mix on medium-high for another 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides again.  
  3. On low speed, gradually mix in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Increase the speed to medium-high for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mixture is nearly white, double the size of the original mixture, and completely uniform in appearance. (There should be no fatty or liquidy streaks. This can take a while, and that's fine.) Scape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. On the lowest speed possible, add the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and 2 Tbsp rainbow sprinkles. Mix for about a minute, just until the batter comes together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. 
  5. Grease a quarter sheet pan (I used a large cookie sheet with rimmed edges) and line it with parchment paper. Spread the cake batter in an even layer across the pan, and spread the remaining 2 Tbsp sprinkles evenly over the top. 
  6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake has doubled in size. At 30 minutes, poke the edge of the cake with your finger. It should bounce back slightly, and the center shouldn't be jiggly. If necessary, bake the cake for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. 
  7. Remove the cake from the oven onto a wire rack, and reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
  8. To make the crumb, combine the sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles, and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. Add the oil and vanilla, and mix again until small clusters form. 
  9. Spread the clusters on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes. Break the clusters up occasionally. Don't worry if they are slightly moist when you remove them from the oven. They will harden as they cool. Allow to cool completely. 
  10. To make the frosting, mix the butter, shortening, and cream cheese on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, so the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  11. Set the mixer on its lowest speed, and slowly pour in the glucose, corn syrup, and citric acid. Mix until just incorporated, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes. 
  12. To make the soak, whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small bowl.
  13. Now assemble it all: Place a piece of parchment paper on the counter, and invert the cake onto the parchment. Use a 6-inch cake ring to stamp out two circles from the cake. (I don't have a cake ring, so I just placed a 6-inch bowl upside down on the cake and cut around it with a sharp knife.) These are your two top cake layers, and the scraps are what will make up your bottom layer.
  14. Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with parchment. Use a strip of acetate (3 inches wide, 20 inches long) to line the inside of the cake ring. (Again, I don't have a cake ring or acetate. My solution: I constructed the bottom of the cake in a 6-inch skillet, then transferred it to a cake stand.) Place the cake scraps in the ring, using the back of your hand to flatten the scraps into a smooth, even layer.
  15. Dip a pastry brush in the cake soak, and generously bathe the bottom layer of cake.
  16. Using the back of a spoon, spread a fifth of the frosting evenly over the cake, then sprinkle a third of the crumb over the frosting. Spread a second fifth of the frosting evenly over the crumb.
  17. With your index finger, tuck a second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top 1/4 inch of the first strip of acetate, so you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall. Set a cake round on top of the frosting, and repeat the process for layer one. (No acetate? Just free hand it!)
  18. Nestle the remaining cake round into the frosting. Cover with the last fifth of frosting, and garnish with remaining crumbs. 
  19. Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for at least 12 hours. (I skipped this. I was dying to try the cake.) At least 3 hours prior to serving, remove from the freezer, pop the cake out of the cake ring, peel off the acetate, and transfer the cake to a platter. Let it defrost in the fridge for at least 3 hours, then slice and serve.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

How to Make Cheap Curtains Look Custom

Frank bought our house from an 87-year-old man. He apparently had a thing for pastels. And, apparently, Frank does too, because he did nothing to remedy the situation. The living room was a tricolor Easter egg of pastel peach, mint green, and cream. In other words, a nightmare. I promptly began redecorating. One of my first tasks: removing the vertical blinds (who ever liked those anyways?), which featured the same hideous trio of colors as the walls. 

I envisioned a sweeping pair of linen botanical print panels. Yeah, couldn't find those. Unless, of course, I wanted to drop a grand on the four panels the room requires. 

Curtains are tricky. I'm too budget-conscious to blow hundreds of dollars on custom curtains, yet I hate the generic look of store-bought panels. Alas, I settled on Nate Berkus curtains from Target that have an Aztec-inspired border. (I told myself this made them unique.) But when then I hung them, I realized I'd made a novice mistake: They were hovering about a foot above the ground, like flood pants. That's completely unacceptable. 

Original panel (left); altered panel (right)
My solution: I purchased muslin in the same off-white color as the curtains, sewed it to the bottom, then decked out the new addition with rows of fringe. The extra panel looks completely seamless and allows the curtains to puddle beautifully. The total cost of all four panels? $160. Not bad.

Want to upgrade your own curtains? Start by measuring the distance, in inches, from the bottom of your existing curtains to the floor. Add 10 inches to that. This allows enough for a 4-inch hem and about 1 inch of puddling, and also accounts for the seam between the addition and your present panels.

Example: 12 inches to the floor + 10 inches = 22 inches

Now measure the width of each curtain panel (in inches), add 2 inches to that (to allow a1-inch hem on either side), and multiply that by the number from above. 

Example: (54 inches + 2 inches) x 22 inches = 1,232 square inches

This is the area of fabric you need to purchase per panel. 

Now translate that to yards. One yard of fabric is 36 inches long. The width will vary according to the size of the bolt; most bolts are 45 inches, but can range anywhere from 30 to 60 inches. (Hint: Bring a measuring tape to the fabric store!) Assuming the bolt is 45 inches wide, a yard of fabric is 1,620 square inches. Divide the area of the fabric you require by the area of a yard of fabric to determine the yardage you require per panel. 

Example: 1,232 square inches / 1,620 square inches = .76 yards per panel

Whew, lots of math!

But you're not done. Now, you need to calculate the amount of fringe to purchase. Add 2 inches to the width (in inches) of each panel, then multiply that number by three. 

Example: (54 inches + 2 inches) x 3 = 168 inches (or 14 feet) per panel

Finally, you're ready to start sewing! Well, almost. Iron your fabric, then cut it to the appropriate size for a panel, making sure all four corners are completely square. (Remember, you want each piece to be 2 inches wider than the actual curtain.) Now hem it: Fold the sides over by 1 inch, pin, and sew straight across. Then, fold the bottom up four inches, pin, and sew straight across (align the presser foot of your sewing machine with the raw edge, not the crease of the fabric).

Now you're ready to attach your new fabric to the existing curtain. Spread out the curtain panel, pretty side up, and pin the unhemmed edge of the addition, pretty side down and upside down, to the bottom of the curtain. (So the front of the addition should be facing the front of the curtain.) Like this...

Unfold the fabric, iron the seam, and begin pinning the first row of fringe to the additional panel. Allow two inches of fringe overhang per row, and fold an inch around each side of the fabric before sewing. Make sure to use a thread that matches the color of your fringe. 

Not sure how to space your rows? I aligned my top row with the seam between the curtain panel and the fabric addition; then for my bottom row, I aligned the base of the fringe with the seam of the 4-inch hem. Finally, I centered the middle row between the top and bottom rows. 

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