Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New options for rustic cabinet hardware

It's nice to see an expanded selection of rustic-styled knobs and pulls by Top Knob.

Any of these have that heavy earthy quality that looks at home in the Pacific Northwest:

From Top Knobs,  Finishes shown: Cast Iron and Natural Rust

Top Knobs has updated their website, but I was disappointed to find it kind of clunky to navigate. Their products can be pricey, but they make solid, rather than hollow pieces.

You can request up to 3 free samples, for a $5 shipping charge per sample. That's a very good idea since finish colors vary greatly from one decorative hardware manufacturer to another. Be aware that color batches can even vary slightly from the same company.

Your decorative hardware can be an small investment; do make sure the finish works with your cabinetry and other materials.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Locals work for a better Uganda (Pt.2)

Continued from yesterday’s post.

Ugandan President Musevini sat down with Hornbeck, Rawlins and Clay in September 2008. Hornbeck calls Musevini “an economist by education who understands the farmer-owned concept as long as they have a market.” Janet Storton of Sisters was also at the meeting and presented President Musevini with a quilted fabric bag made by the Kapchorwan women she trained through her Sisters of the Heart project – another off-shoot of SCC’s broadening relationship with Kapchorwa.

Last month, Rawlins and Hornbeck put the finishing touches on what Hornbeck calls a “real economic partnership” and KaBuM International (Kapchorwa Bukwo Mild) was launched.

Future Wash. Station Prop. 

Future Washing Station Property


“This year we hope to begin construction of the first farmer-owned washing station,” says Rawlins. “We have a core group of best practices and top farmers in that region. The difference is we let them own the means of production so no middleman can exploit them.”

Farmers will pay off private loans for the infrastructure within five years, out of coffee sales. “Then the Ugandans will own title to the washing station,” adds Hornbeck.

That washing station could be ready in time for this fall’s harvest, and the beans available for sale locally as early as September.

KaBuM boasts a specialized computer system that tracks bean micro-lots by GPS co-ordinates, allowing consumers access to the cupping ratings and personal stories behind their brew.

Like the story of Janet Chemonges who was deserted by her husband years ago. One of a number of female coffee farmers, Chemonges expanded her farm, hired more pickers and received training in new practices with a micro-loan. She’s now the Ugandan representative to Women In Coffee International as well as the mother of two university graduates and two more children who attend Testimony School. She recently rode on an airplane for the first time.


Hornbeck and Rawlins are having no trouble connecting farmers with new buyers who attach value to these personal stories, and facilitating true direct-trade relationships. Sisters Coffee Company is one, eager for a second relationship like the one they’ve developed in Guatemala.

Justin Durham of Sisters Coffee says they are “so psyched to bring in Ugandan coffee.” Durham plans to start by purchasing small quantities, then “hopefully growing it into a sustainable long-term relationship. We want the few we have to be really deep relationships.”

The Ugandan farmers are benefitting on all fronts. The large buying corporations are being held to higher standards, paying better prices. “Now they know. By educating the farmers, they’re becoming liberated,” says Rawlins.

Hornbeck and Rawlins’ stake in KaBuM ends when the loans are paid off. Then, says Rawlins, “We’re out.”

They’ll remain only as consultants and member farmers. 3000 acres were secured on this past trip, an investment in Ugandan coffee for its value as a renewable resource, with profits cycling back into Testimony School. “We’re not interested in making money from coffee. We are interested in making money for Testimony School,” emphasizes Rawlins.

Kapchorwa School Dedication 012

Rawlins points out the higher costs involved in supporting students through secondary school, and he envisions scholarships for Kapchorwan students who show the aptitude for a university education.

Uganda seems to be opening its eyes to future possibilities and its doors to the western coffee culture. Since 2003, Rawlins and Hornbeck watched at least eight attractive coffeehouses spring up in the capital city of Kampala.

In the same period, the faith of the Sabiny tribe grew and some members of Christ Glorious Church even risked their lives to make peace with their life-long enemies. They built a well for – and offered forgiveness to – the machine gun and machete-toting Karamojong raiders who killed their loved ones and burned their homes. Women from both tribes cried together.

A whole lot of Sisters folks took part in the planting and watering of seeds of change in Uganda.

Today, it appears those seeds are taking root, as emboldened farmers are poised to harvest more than just coffee beans this fall. The hope of an educated and revitalized Africa hangs heavy and pregnant from the limbs of countless thriving coffee trees on the dense slopes of Mt Elgon.

Meanwhile, sitting at a table in Sisters Coffee Company, Hornbeck leans forward and his gentle eyes seem to spark as he says, “If coffee enables the country to develop economically – that’s everything. That’s what will change Africa.”

For more information on the outward projects of Sisters Community Church including child sponsorships, contact Paul Rawlins at 541-549-1201 or email

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Locals work for a better Uganda (Pt.1)

2007 Hornbeck at Testimony School dedication

John Hornbeck at Testimony School Dedication 2007

Like a great cup of coffee, the now full-bodied relationship between Sisters and Uganda began with fresh water.

Seven years ago, a team from Sisters Community Church led by pastor Tim Kizziar in cooperation with All Nations Ministries, ventured to a desolated village in Eastern Uganda to offer clean water and spiritual hope.

This fall, coffee aficionados right here in Sisters may get a taste of some unexpected fruits of that journey, simply by brewing a pot of locally-bought coffee.

Amid the steep, lush canyons that camouflaged violent tribes, Kizziar’s original group prayed for healing of the land and its people. And they began the slow work of growing their new friendship with the warm, open-armed Subiny tribe.

“Africa is built on relationships,” says John Hornbeck of Sisters. Hornbeck, an unassuming, retired attorney just back from his latest trip to Uganda, and Paul Rawlins, SCC’s energetic Outward Pastor, are buzzing with excitement over a new coffee-related endeavor that they believe could be a dynamic agent of change for Uganda.

Hornbeck and Rawlins represent hundreds of church members who embraced a long-term commitment to give a leg up to the people of Kapchorwa village in their fight for survival – and revival – under harsh conditions.


Murderous cattle rustlers, AIDS and waterborne diseases are just some of the miseries that decimated the farming community – leaving many homeless, fatherless and vulnerable.

Kizziar partnered with Pastor Godwin of Kapchorwa’s Christ Glorious Church back in 2003, and began exploring ways to help Godwin help his people.

First, SCC provided a well in a soldier-guarded Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camp and medical teams to remedy health issues.

Then they addressed the children’s future. Says Hornbeck, “Their young people have a great desire for education and to excel; they have aspirations.”

Today, just up the mountain from the IDP camp stands the newly built Testimony School where, according to Rawlins, 450 children now receive an education, health care, shoes and a daily meal through SCC’s child-sponsorship program. Back in Sisters, many of us display photos of the eager, bright-faced Kapchorwan boys and girls who we support and correspond with.

Garth with our "son" Daniel 

Our Sponsor Child, Daniel

They saw the need for the community to become self-sustaining.

In 2005, an SCC team noted that the only large building in Kapchorwa was a coffee mill. When asked about the quality of their coffee crop, farmers eagerly showed off their beans, and a my husband (who had connections to Starbucks) had the coffee analyzed.

As it turned out, the high altitude and tropical climate along the western slopes of Mt. Elgon yield the ideal growing conditions for quality Arabica beans. Mt. Elgon straddles the border of Kenya to the east and Kenyan coffees typically garner top dollar.

Despite the fact that in the world economy coffee is the second largest commodity next to oil, these simple farmers seemed surprised by the level of interest. Uganda, historically, was a British colony; most Ugandans drink tea.

They sell most of their crop locally, or to large multi-national corporations who pay bottom dollar then market the beans as “farmer co-op.” Rawlins says, “The term is deceitful; consumers don’t know the difference.”

Those corporations further control the farmers because they own the only bean-washing station. According to Hornbeck, “They’re just farmers, with no access to direct buyers and no ability to market.”


Rawlins and Hornbeck explored several scenarios to improve the farmers’ bottom line, but came up dry until two years ago, when they got some help from an unexpected source. Hornbeck’s sister, a member of the board at Michigan State University, connected Hornbeck with Dan Clay, the head of the school’s Institute of Agriculture.

Clay, along with a native Rwandan grad student, had created the PEARL project (The Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages) which played a key role in the redevelopment of Rwanda from its devastation by genocide. Hornbeck says that under Clay’s program, “one washing station grew to like a hundred and forty, and coffee became the chief export of Rwanda and the most important economic factor in their recovery.”

When Michigan State performed a diagnostic on coffee grown in the region around Kapchorwa, its high characteristics were confirmed: Arabica, mountain grown, volcanic soil, shade grown. And Hornbeck and Rawlins’ hopes were confirmed that, using Michigan State’s model, they could have a similar success in Uganda.

I’ll post Part 2 Tomorrow.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Major Dishwasher Recall Due to Fire Hazard

The danger of fire hazard has prompted Whirlpool Corp.’s Maytag division to recall approximately 1.7 million dishwashers.

Twelve reports of damage or fires caused by electrical failure in the heating element motivated the recall.

The following brands are included: Maytag, Amana, Jenn-Air, Admiral, Magic Chef, Performa by Maytag and Crosley. Serial numbers involved are listed below.


Here is where you can check your dishwasher’s serial number:

Serial #

You are advised to stop using the recalled dishwashers and to disconnect the electric supply by shutting off the fuse or circuit breaker controlling it.

Consumers can schedule a free in-home repair or receive a rebate of $150 or $250 toward the purchase of select new Maytag dishwashers. The amount of the rebate depends on the type of model to be purchased.

Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for complete information.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Don’t Cry Over Spalted Wood

On a recent trip to the sawdust-laden shop where Ben and Craig turn hunks of wood into fine furniture and cabinet boxes, I peer around. I survey several work benches where carcases in various stages lay like patients on gurneys. I ask the guys, as I always do, “Whatcha workin on?”
They tell me who they’re making a bookcase for and how they plan to detail a coffee table. We discuss a hutch project we’re collaborating on.
“Hey, I want to show you something,” says Craig suddenly. He fishes a 1x4 out of a pile. “What do you think? I got a bunch of this stuff from a guy in Southern Oregon.”
I can’t identify it, but I like the fine-grained sample with auburn streaks laced with fine brown and black veins. “Rustic Maple?” I ask.
Turns out, Craig has a pile of Spalted Tanoak. And I’m told it’s most closely related to Beech.
Here’s a piece with some clear lacquer on it:
I discovered that the term spalted comes from an old loggers’ term for “spoilt.” Fallen, decomposing trees are lifted from their final resting places in forest beds or fished out of marshes for eager woodworkers.
Spalted is the term for the coloration that happens when fungi set up housekeeping in dying wood. The large discolored areas are one type of spalting: pigmentation or sapstain. Those lacey black and brown lines are called zone lines and they’re not actually a fungus, but an interaction zone in which different fungi have erected barriers to protect their resources.
Considered a link between the Chestnut and the Oak, Tanoak (lithocarpus densiflorus) is an evergreen hardwood. It has flowers like the chestnut and acorns like the oak, and grows best on the humid moist slopes of the seaward coastal ranges.
                                  moss-covered branches on Tanoak along the Jedediah Smith River near the northern California coast tanoak_range
Back in the 1800's, when the fur trade was a booming business in Oregon, roads were built through the forests in order to log Tanoak. The tanin they produce was and is still used for treating furs and hides. Douglas fir trees were cut as a secondary use species while they were logging the Tanoak. Today that’s reversed, and tanoak is logged only because the Doug Fir trees are being cut. 
My woodworking friends and I may use Spalted Tanoak for the Craftsman-styled hutch we’re collaborating on. Spalted wood also inspired these gorgeous projects:
spalted beech
I think its simple, rustic beauty makes it a fit for Central Oregon. Can you picture other uses?

Monday, April 19, 2010

On Blues, Bundt Cake and Benevolence

In a barn, on a meadow, in the middle of a pine forest, Sisters locals gathered on a mild April night to help out a friend.

Some folks know Gary Oldham from church; others ride with him on the Sisters Cycling Team. Still others were helped into a home mortgage over the many years that Gary has provided that service to the community. Grateful teens, better off for being fed and mentored at the Oldham home, sat front and center.

All were devastated that their gregarious friend suffered a broken neck while snowboarding at Hoodoo Ski Resort on April 1st. 

   Pine Meadow duskbarn interior 2 

They came to The Barn at Pine Meadow Ranch on Friday night to offer encouragement and financial support to the Oldham family. The rustic venue hummed with the down-to-earth acoustic strains of several astonishingly talented Sisters High School Americana students . Inside the converted farm building with its rough, wide-planked walls and uneven floor, the organic rhythms of guitar strums and sweet vocal harmonies seemed just right.

On a futon draped with a Pendleton blanket, I sat with my husband on our date night. Wicker chairs and wooden benches placed at casual angles accommodated others. Candles flickered; old and new friends mingled. Barbecued burgers, brownies and Kahlua-infused bundt cake were laid out. Oldham, in a full upper-body brace and using a walker, took the stage briefly to thank the community and “to reflect on how awesome this place is that we live.”

Outside, under a thin silver smile of a moon, a ranch dog barked and a baritone chorus of frogs crooned across the meadow.

   Photo Courtesy: Kyle Rood PhotographyPhoto Courtesy: Kyle Rood Photography 

When popular local singer-songwriter Anastacia covered Gillian Welch’s wistful Elvis Presley Blues, this blogger was mesmerized. She paid a moving tribute to the memory of local developer Gary Sokol with a soaring ballad, written for him and unveiled for the first time in the venue that was his brainchild. Sokol died in a tragic accident nearly two years ago. Applause rose when event organizer Melody Youngblood, a senior at Sisters High School, announced that about $1500 had been gathered in offering for the Oldhams.

Miraculously, Gary is alive and he is not paralyzed. Translating that miracle into a full recovery will take arduous months of rehabilitation and possibly more surgery. It’s heartening that this small community still rallies to aid one another in tough times. As Anastacia sang in Elvis Presley Blues, “It blessed my soul … yes it blessed my soul.”

I witnessed hope ascending last Friday night—up and beyond a canopy of unrefined beams, from inside that old dairy barn, on a meadow, in the middle of a pine forest in Sisters, Oregon.

Tax-deductible donations to help with Gary Oldham’s medical expenses may be made via Rotary Club of Sisters. Phone (541) 977-6545.

Full Story: Nugget News, April 21 2009.
Photo Courtesy: Upper L: Author  Upper R:  Bottom L & R: Kyle Rood Photography

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reclaimed Barnwood from the Pacific Northwest

Like a weathered old man leaning on a cane, ancient barns seem to whisper sit down, I’ve got stories to tell if you’ve got time to listen.
I’ve admired the tasteful use of reclaimed barnwood from the Pacific Northwest in stunning custom homes built by Gary Norman. But I can be sensitive and skeptical. Even as I looked forward to meeting Gary, I wondered if he was actually the villainous type … you know, the Hollywood character who wouldn’t blink at mowing down a historic monument or threatening an endangered species in the name of progress.
“…Like the scary tractor in Fern Gully," Gary joked and I knew he understood and shared my sensitivity. Gary was recently asked to take down a very large barn out of Reedsport, Oregon and simply refused. “The building was very sound, set on the site pristinely and just needed a little love to last another 100 years plus. It is not appropriate to dismantle a perfectly sound structure.”
Contrarily, he’s excited about the wonderful 1x12 siding and 3x12 flooring recently reclaimed from a barn in Tidewater, Oregon. Built in 1912, the structure was used as a theater house in the 30’s and 40’s. “We will make the 3x12’s into outrageous plank flooring,” says Gary.
To be considered by Barnwood Inc., a division of Gary Norman Custom Homes, a barn must have a rich history, an ample supply of timbers of useful size and character, and accessibility. Instead of being burned and destroyed, this lustrous wood is given new life in the form of fine furniture, cabinetry, siding, flooring, exterior door systems and interior doors and trim.
It takes a heap of craftsmanship but only a scant amount of a water-based finish to re-purpose this treasure. Natural weathering has made its durability integral. You can watch a video of the process on the Barnwood Inc. site.
It’s what Gary Norman calls a “feel good business. Nothing can replicate the character of hundred-year-old wood that’s been out in the elements.”
To contact Gary:
Phone: (541) 312-1187

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ode to Color Joy

It snowed here on Easter. Egg hunts were moved indoors at the last minute. Yesterday was a sunny 60 degree mood-lifter. Today the ground and sky are a matching shade of white. Another perfect April day in Central Oregon—for scanning old family photos and writing blog posts!

Woodburn tulips-mtn

A hop, skip and a jump over the Cascades, the Woodburn Tulip Festival is blazing. If you’re craving a color fix as I am, put on your mud shoes and load the kids in the car. Until April 30, the festival offers wine tastings and wooden shoe makers, art classes and antique steam tractors. Kids will happily slosh through the mud for cow train rides, ducky races, hay pile, pony rides, horse swings and exotic rescue birds.

If you find yourself on I-5 between Portland and Salem, this is a quick and happy diversion just a few miles to the east. Check the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm website for a list of upcoming activities and live entertainment.



woodburn tulips

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Review: Blogophobia Conquered

Fear not, dear almost-blogger.

These are the soothing words of Laura Christianson in her worthwhile e-book, Blogophobia Conquered.


I wouldn’t consider myself a blogophobe, really. More like over-confident and under-informed.

Laura’s book will serve you well if:
  •   you are trying to determine if you need a blog
  •   you have fears about your abilities to blog successfully 
  •   you just want to get started, and need a guiding hand to hold.
Or perhaps, like me, you launched a blog in typical I-don’t-need-to-read-the-instructions, I-can-figure-this-out-myself fashion. Now it’s time to go back and fill in the gaps left in the wake of your exuberance.

In her friendly tone—comparing blog hosting services to ready-made pie crusts—Laura provides practical encouragement rather than stuffy technical jargon.

Most helpful for me, she emphasizes the discipline of time management. (C’mon guys, am I the only one who struggles with this?) Scheduling, for a creative type, is a party-killer! After a few months of winging it, I concede that I must set clear goals and make a plan. Here are some of Laura’s suggestions:
  • Commit to a set time period (a year) to experiment with your blog and build your brand.
  • Decide how often you will post and set “reasonable, attainable goals.” She points out that burnout is your worst enemy.
  • Act like a real Editor! Make a schedule, calendaring the days and topics you will post.

You can download the first chapter of Blogophobia Conquered for FREE, and there’s much more to check out over at Laura Christianson’s site, Blogging Bistro. If you seek a more confident and successful approach to social media, she may become your new best friend.

Monday, March 8, 2010

And The Gold METAL Goes To…

In the spirit of the Olympics and last night’s Oscars, let us honor some high stylin’ cabinet hardware that deserves a moment on a podium. Or, at least, a shining moment in the blogdom.

The Bronze Metal goes to 

         Avante Ironcraft Pull Avante Sq Knob

       One of my favorite decorative hardware collections is Ironcraft by Avante. I’ve seen these lend a tasteful rustic splash to a simple contemporary kitchen with stunning results.


The Silver goes to

   Alno Hickory Cup Pull Pol. Ant           Alno Polished Antique

Do you agree that these sweeties from Alno in Polished Antique would be exquisite on white painted cabinetry? Proof that decorative hardware truly is the jewelry your kitchen wears.


Roll out the red carpet . . . The Gold Metal goes to . . .

RMHdwr sink

RMHdwre Coffee Bean Tile

              RMHdwr Knob          

  RMHdwre 12 inch rail pull

OK. These pricey Rocky Mountain Hardware gems are out of reach for most of us. But we’re just window shopping here. And I’m only suggesting that we can find a way to tastefully gild a kitchen without resurrecting polished brass.

Rocky Mountain’s Silicon Bronze is an alloy of copper, silicon, and zinc. Even a little splash of the resulting coppery-gold patina would go a long way to bling-ify a room.

Kind of reminds me of Sandra Bullock last night looking as golden and statuesque as the Oscar statue itself!

sandra bullock oscars 2010 

NY Daily News

Yay or nay on Silicon Bronze for cabinet jewelry? Leave a comment or just thumbs up/thumbs down.

Monday, February 22, 2010

2010 Home Buyer Tax Credits

Here's a really helpful info-graphic to determine eligibility for 2010 Home Buying Tax Credits:

Click the image to enlarge
Home buying tax credits
Source: FixR

Friday, February 12, 2010

How A Granite Countertop Is Made

I love this video demonstration from the good folks at Solid Rock Granite.

Were you, like me, one of those rock hound kind of kids who collected promising pebbles then put them in water to watch them transform from dull to shiny, humble to glorified? When I was nine I double-circled a photo of a rock tumbler in the JC Penneys Christmas Wish Book and dog-eared the page; Santa was good to me that year!

If you have trouble loading the video, HERE is the link. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More Kitchen Trends 2010 (NKBA)

Last week I revealed some results from the National Kitchen and Bath Association's annual Design Trend Survey. In case you missed it, you can go here to learn about current trends in kitchen cabinetry styles, wood species, finishes, countertops and flooring. And now for the rest of their findings:

Faucet fashion:  Pull-out styles are most in demand. The top finish choice is brushed nickel, followed by stainless steel, satin nickel and finally, polished chrome. Extra-tall Pot filling faucets are gaining popularity, creating convenience at the cooking center.

Delta's Pilar Faucet with Touch20 Technology. Messy hands? Use your arm to touch on/touch off.

Brizo's Florio Pull-Out faucet. Their fashion-forward designer lineup is refreshingly chic.

The go-to cooking appliance is still the Range, but the combination of a Cooktop and Wall Oven is gaining steam. Home owners still crave a Gas Cooktop, but they are beginning to appreciate the energy-saving advantages of Induction Cooking.

There is growing enthusiasm for Drawer Dishwashers, but a full, standard Dishwasher continues as the best-seller.


Consumers will continue to be wildly infatuated with Bottom Freezer Refrigerators, with or without French Doors, while Side-By-Side is still a popular choice. Refrigerator Drawers are coming in vogue, as are Undercounter Wine Refrigerators.

This graceful kitchen features a number of trendy appliances including the ever-popular range, undercounter wine refrigerator, warming drawer and undercounter microwave. Cabinetry by Fieldstone.

I encourage you to read a comprehensive and entertaining review of Delta's Pilar Faucet from Susan Serra, The Kitchen Designer, here.
Susan Serra also provides insight into Brizo's fashionable faucet line-up here.
Read Kitchen & Bath Professional Laurie Burke's inside look at Brizo's fashionable faucet line-up here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Kitchen Trends 2010 (NKBA)

Design trends ebb and flow. The popularity of kitchen styles isn't subject to sudden, dynamic shifts, so when the National Kitchen and Bath Association reveals the results of its annual Design Trend Survey we designers don't expect to fall off of our swivel chairs in amazement. But we do pay attention.

Fieldstone Cabinetry featuring Shaker doorstyle inset into traditional face-frame. Hardwood floors and dishwasher drawers are riding a wave of popularity also. 

This is a national survey of Kitchen Designers, so allowance has to be made for regional tastes. What most appeals to folks on the East Coast often differs from what is desired in the Pacific Northwest. Architectural styles vary from one place to another. Vacation homes may require a different aesthetic appropriate to their settings.

Overall trends are useful to track, if only to reassure timid homeowners that the choices they favor will maintain value for the foreseeable future. Here are some of the NKBA's expectations for 2010:

Traditional cabinetry styles will continue to be most popular;  Contemporary style will be a close second.
Shaker is making a strong resurgence in popularity.

Cherry is the most favored wood species;  next is Maple;  Alder is trending upward on the list.

Medium to Dark stains and glazes are prevailing over lighter, natural finishes.

White and Off-White shades are still the major fave in painted cabinetry. Aside from beige and brown tones, other colors are on the decline, as are distressed finishes.

Hardwood is, more than ever, the lead flooring choice, followed by ceramic, porcelain and natural stone tile.

Granite is still in highest favor for countertops, but (and this excites me enough to do a happy spin in my swivel chair!) quartz is expected to "nearly catch up" in popularity. Backsplashes will mostly be adorned in tile, including ceramic, porcelain and glass.

Cambria Quartz countertops with a glass tile backsplash. Medium stain on cabinetry.

See what national trends the NKBA survey predicts for faucets and appliances in Part 2. Then I will report on how the Pacific Northwest is trending by comparison.

We just wrapped up a Give-Away Contest for a $65 gift certificate to All Modern.
Now to reveal the lucky winner ...
By the way thanks for all your entries...
Also by the way, glad you enjoyed visiting the All Modern website. Isn't it great?!
Oh, right, and the winner, by random integer selection, is...
Alycia Wicker

Alycia is an Interior Designer from Eastvale CA. Visit her cool site Casa Moxie here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

All Modern Give-Away

As I mentioned the other day, I'd like a new citrus zester. It's not that I can't get by without one. I can and I have. I just feel more competent with good tools.

How would you like to win some new kitchen stuff for free?! Here's your chance.

All Modern is a colossal and cool online resource, part of the vast CSN network of stores. The website is arranged by room spaces. In their Kitchen section you'll find an emphasis on form and function; the Alessi product line features modern designers from Phillipe Starck to Michael Graves. Check out their Dining Room section for linens by DwellStudio and dinnerware from iittala and Working Class Studio.

All Modern wants to give one lucky High Desert Home Companion reader a $65 shopping spree! Be sure to enter by midnight on Sunday, Jan. 31. The winner will be announced Monday, February 1st, 2010. Here's how to enter (Each option gains you another entry):

*Visit the All Modern site and window shop a little then post a comment below, telling me about an item or two that you like.
* And/Or, become a fan of Cocina Designs on Facebook here.
*And/Or, Twitter about this contest, including a link to the site.

Have fun, but don't forget to come back and leave a comment here!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Giada and The Case of The Contraband Oranges

Glowing Giada
I confess that sometimes while cooking I imagine myself a winsome celebrity chef like Giada De Laurentiis. Skillfully I prepare Capellini Piedmontese while impressed onlookers take notes and smile appreciatively. My charismatic alter-ego vanishes, however, as I rummage ungracefully through drawers for the right whisk, peeler or pastry brush to put to task. So it seems that until I invest in a few stylish kitchen gadgets or some new Rachel Ray Cookware, the celebrity chef gig is kind of on hold.

Last month I was preparing Savory & Sweet Spiced Walnuts to give as Christmas gifts. The recipe called for orange zest and my blessed husband made a special trip to the store for the two navel oranges I required. I don’t own one of those slick zesting tools, but I managed well enough with my all-purpose grater. When I was through assaulting them, the oranges looked, well, sort of forlorn (I will hereafter refer to them as for-lor-anges) but I slipped them each into a plastic baggy for later snacking.

While packing a cooler the next day for a family trip to California, I grabbed those disfigured forloranges thinking one of us might enjoy them on the road. Just past the Oregon-California border on Highway 97 is a sometimes-mandatory Agricultural Checkpoint that is notorious to my children. It was here that a full, two-pound, clamshell box of juicy Costco cherries was surrendered last summer. The kids have not yet extended grace to the officers who took those cherries and in fact, they are convinced that the officers confiscate fruit randomly, according to their own personal cravings.

CA state line
So this time, as our car approached the official in the khaki uniform, three voices from the backseat pleaded “No! Don’t tell them we have fruit! They’ll take it!” My husband politely greeted the female officer who, of course, asked if we were carrying any fruit with us. Hubby turned to me for the answer. “Bananas, apples and, um, oranges,” said I, seizing the opportunity to model honesty isn’t always convenient for the children.

“May I see the oranges?” asked the officer. From the cooler I hesitantly produced one of those pitiful forloranges in its plastic sandwich bag. She looked as surprised as if I’d handed her a dirty diaper but she inspected it dutifully.

Awkward silence. I said, “I zested it.”

“Hmm. Well, there’s still a little bit of skin on it,” she said as she pointed to the orange splotches left by my not-nearly-as-professional-as-Giada zesting technique. “We’re concerned about oranges; but without the skin, well, I don’t know...” For what seemed like a long minute she appeared dumbfounded but never dropped her professional demeanor. “Does the other one look like this?” she finally asked.

Upon learning that it did, the befuddled produce officer, with the apparently unprecedented case before her, decided we could keep them but with the following mandate: “Be sure to eat them soon”. As if that settled the matter. I persuaded my son to eat one right away, but the other forlorange flew under the radar all the way to Central California and I still feel some guilt about that.

I’m not sure there's a moral to this story, but I know this: I'd like a new zester. And if you too could use some newer kitchen gadgetry, be sure to stop back on Thursday when I will announce a FABULOUS GIVE-AWAY! You won’t want to miss it! Oh, one more thing: always eat your cherries before you get to the Ag stop! They take their work very seriously there.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Primo! Polenta (With Lotsa Options)

Gourmet Gayle has always emphasized that when it comes to food presentation, color is paramount. If you plate something green with something red and something yellow, you have achieved that delightfully dynamic culinary combination that typifies mediterranean cuisine.

Polenta provides a sunny yellow foundation for a variety of sauces. Here are two ways to prepare this creamy dish. Gayle and I prefer traditional cornmeal over "polenta" style cornmeal (simply means it has been ground finer). Gayle recently experimented with doing it in the crockpot and reports that it comes out perfectly, requires less of that naughty butter and cream and is more hands-off! Woo hoo!

Gayle is sharing her go-to fresh sauces with us also or you can use your favorite ready-made sauce. If you've got 'em, fresh basil leaves add a lovely touch of "green" for your platescape!

Basic Polenta
(Serves 3-4)
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil with ½ tsp. salt. SLOWLY whisk in 1 cup of corn meal. Turn heat down low enough that the polenta doesn’t pop.

Keep stirring and cook for about 10-15 minutes. You can do other things, just keep passing by and stirring. Polenta will become thick like Cream of Wheat.

Add 2 T butter, ¼ c Parmesan and 2 T cream (you can substitute sour cream or plain yogurt for the cream).

Serve warm with fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce or Porcini Mushroom Sauce.

Crockpot Method
4 cups boiling water
1 tsp salt
2 tsp butter
1 cup corn meal

Put everything in the crockpot and stir. Place lid on top and cook on high for 5 hours. Turn to low and cook as long as you want. Stir it occasionally as you walk by and think how yummy it will be. Add 1/4 parmesan before serving, if you like.

Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce
2 or 3 T olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 medium ripe tomatoes, cut up
¼ cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
Optional: 2 T capers and/or 2 T pine nuts (add after tomatoes and wine have been cooked)
Lots of fresh black pepper
Salt to taste
2/3 cup torn basil leaves
grated parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil. Sauté the tomatoes and garlic in the oil for no more than 2 minutes. Add the wine, chicken broth, capers (optional), pine nuts (optional) and pepper and cook for another minute. Season with S & P to taste. Add the basil leaves just before serving and serve with cheese on top and a few decorative basil leaves.

Porcini Mushroom Sauce
½ cup dry porcini mushrooms
3T olive oil
1/8 of an onion, chopped (it’s about ½ cup)
6 cups sliced white mushrooms (or crimini or whatever you want)
1 clove garlic, minced
2T flour

 Soak ½ cup of porcinis in ½ C boiling water. Let them soak at least 30 minutes or longer (shorter if you are desperate).

Meanwhile sauté the onion just until it starts to get brown. Add the regular mushrooms and sauté a few minutes (keep turning them). Then add the garlic. The liquid should start coming out of the mushrooms by then.

Add ¼ tsp. salt and 2-tsp. flour. Add porcinis and their liquid and let cook 3 or 4 minutes. Add 3 or 4 T cream.

Cook on low for no more than 3 minutes. Serve over pasta or polenta.

As an Appetizer or a hot day meal:
Add sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, chopped green onions, red peppers, grated Parmesan cheese, fresh basil and/or oregano.
Line a spring form pan with plastic wrap and spoon polenta into pan. Refrigerate.

To serve: Flip onto a plate. Pull plastic wrap off and slice into wedges. Warm it, grill it or serve it at room temperature.
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