Tuesday, January 27, 2009

When I say my house is a wreck...

during, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

See? I was NOT KIDDING. This is my kitchen right now. That back wall offended the eyes of Contractor Mike, so he removed it and is going to replace it with one that is insulated, and made out of actual lumber rather than like cigar boxes and yard waste.

Which is good, but it came as a surprise to me.

Here it is from the outside. Note sagging floor corrected.

06 24 09 006

Note also the blizzardy conditions that shut down schools in the entire Great State of Wussyland except the city (and Harford County).

And this is what it used to look like (from the inside).


Say bye-bye to the drop ceiling, the vinyl flooring, the greeny-black painted paneling, and the white cabinets. Give me some ideas what color to paint it.

What you say

Oh my Jesus Christ.

Oh actually I have a really funny story about the five-year-old swearing in Pennsylvania last week, remind me later.

Our kitchen looks a lot like a barn right now. You can see the roof, for one thing, and the inside of the outside walls if that makes any sense, and, across the back, the floor isn't there! They took it away because, well it went like this:

Contractor Mike, frowning at the back of the house: Now that the deck is gone, I'm looking at your kitchen floor, and do you see that sag?
Me: Yyyes.
Mike: Well it looks like when the previous owners enclosed the back porch and made it part of the kitchen, they took out a support.
Me: Yeah, that's always looked like that. Did you not know about that when you wrote your bid?
Mike: No, no I didn't.
Me: [Sigh]
Mike: We can fix that, we'll fix it.
Me: Yeah, I know.

So the kitchen floor is open so that they can shove a beam in there and keep the kitchen from falling into the backyard.

We spent the weekend in our house, but I took the kids to my parents' house after school yesterday and we're going to sleep there all week. The kitchen cabinets get delivered Wednesday, and they're putting them in the LIVING ROOM thank you very much, and they don't get installed until Feb 11, so I imagine we will be living out of the minivan for a while. Right now I'm living in a coffee house in our neighborhood, because my parents live clear across town and if schools are going to close 2 hours early it's not worth driving all the way back there and then back here.

You see, we're having a little snow. Really. A LITTLE snow. And this has closed schools entirely for most of the state, Baltimore City being the exception.

For a while there my husband Bob was the Director of Facilities for the Baltimore City School System, so he was one of the people who decided whether weather would close school. We used to get a phone call at 4:30am and Bob would like, roll over and look out the window and go like, "Uhhh...". He was never gonna close school. He's from Cleveland, and out there, if the snow isn't actively trying to cling to you and take you down like a swarm of attacking bees, you can't really call it weather.

On the bright side, the basement will be all but done as of beginning of next week, so maybe we'll just live down there. And until today's snow, I was hoping the deck guys would finish the deck this week. It would be nice to get the grill out of the POD so that we could cook something other than rice and toast.

Overheard from downstairs yesterday:
[scream of reciprocating saw on metal]
Contractor Scott: Ok, it's cut!
Contractor Mike: No, it's not!
Scott: Yeah I just cut it!
Mike: What did you cut?
Scott: SHIT!
Mike: That was the gas line!
Scott: SHIT!

So we may not have heat either for a while. So I am at the coffee house. Also, yesterday I developed this massive headache because I spent the morning priming the drywall in the basement bathroom, and they had this like jet-engine gas heater going down there to thaw out some lumber that had gotten wet and froze, and the fumes, they made my head feel funny.

Hee hee.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


You're going to have to bear with me. I have this tremendously earthshaking idea, and I have to rough it out visibly, because, unlike most of my great ideas, which affect only my family and sometimes co-workers and, much less frequently, my friends, who know me too well - to whom I really only have to vaguely explain an idea or, in more cases, just start ordering people around in order for those ideas to take monstrous, swaggering shape - this idea is being presented to People I Don't Know. And much as I like to think that me waving my hands around, gasping out sentence fragments, singing, and smiling encouragingly is a good presentation technique, in my heart of hearts I know I need a PowerPoint.

The Idea is a radio show that combines food and rock and roll. We like food, we like music. Blame my friend Sam, who out of the blue one morning told me that I should have a radio show with our friend Todd. I told him he was crazy - I still listen to Tom Tom Club - but maybe he's not.

Here's a combination of talking and music that might make a radio show about chili. There would also be a blog, with all the recipes online. Maybe with pictures. Me stirring shit up. Todd with food in his beard. It could be done.

Roasted chili pepper hot sauce



Red Hot Chili Peppers - Me and My Friends

It's chili season, no doubt. Chili works in winter because it's warm, you don't need hardly any fresh ingredients, AND you can make it ahead and carry it to the party. There are vegetarian versions that are perfectly fine, you can make it in a crockpot if necessary - which is kind of key at my house right now, as we are minus a kitchen, and, as I found out last week when I tried to make chili AFTER having packed up the spice cabinet, you can flavor it with almost anything.

Chili is important. No, just take my word for it. Chili is important. So instead of dealing out a whole hand of different recipes, we're going to walk through the steps involved in making chili, and trust that you can come up with your own variations. No, I'm lying. Nobody's going to trust anybody. We're going to have a batch of recipes up online.

M.I.A. - Galang

For meat chili, start the day before if you can, especially if you're using bones. Bones. Cheap cheap meat, braised for fucking ever, is the best start to chili. Pork neckbones are good, or if you're not ready for the bones, cubed stew beef is fine too. But that gelatin from between the joints is good stuff. It melts right into your stew and makes everything really soft and tender. Work up to the bones. You'll be ok.

So you start with onions in the big pot, sweated in oil. Make Todd dice the onions, he could use a good cry. You can be roasting the meat pieces in the oven at the same time, or just stick em in the pot to brown after the onions start to get translucent. Start adding chili powder now. The earlier the chili powder hits the meat, the more the whole thing is going to taste like chili. Some garlic, sweet or hot peppers or celery if you use it.

IMA Robot - The Hot Song

The next step, before you deglaze... Deglaze means you put liquid in to like boil up the crap on the bottom of the pan, it's kind of like cleaning as you go along... anyway, before you do that, sprinkle cornmeal into the bottom of the pot. Stir that around and let it brown a little. That way, when the liquid comes in, you have automatic thickening. It's always a pain to thicken chili later.

So what liquid do you use? Yes, I know, you want me to say beer. No, listen, if you haven't cracked a beer by now, my god, for pity's sake open a beer. It's definitely fun to deglaze your chili pot with beer. You just pour beer right in the pot, and it foams up and all, and you're like, hee hee I just poured beer in that pot! The plumber who installed a toilet in my kitchen this week said he steeps oregano in beer, then uses that beer, and that is some innovative shit, I think. You can't use much oregano in chili, it'll taste like pizza. But just a little, like this, that's a good idea.

But I deglaze chili with white vinegar. Maybe half a cup. Maybe more. The vinegar tenderizes the meat like a bitch, and you get this like mad-scientist roll of steam that you have to dodge out of the way of when it first boils or else if you inhale it, you go blind and lose all your hair, but after that, most of the sharp taste goes away. You taste the vinegar in the end result as just a little tartness.

Drink - The Jazz Butcher

Once the vinegar, or beer, or water or whatever boils down, but before it boils all away, put in tomatos. Two cans of whole peeled tomatos, smushed up with your hands, just stick your hand in the can and poke your fingers through the tomatos and smush them up and try not to think that they resemble testicles. Or, like, do, if that's interesting to you. Here's a good point to add more chili powder, and other seasonings.

What seasonings can you use? Well, as I learned last week, you can make chili that tastes like chili with nothing but some Taco Hell hot sauce packets, coffee grounds, and sugar. I don't recommend it. The coffee grounds are for the color, in case you don't have the chili powder. I always put coffee grounds in my chili anyway, basically just to freak people out who are watching me cook, but I swear you can taste a little bitter depth from them in the end.

Tilly and the Wall - Pot Kettle Black

I use basic chili powder - they make chili powder from specialized chilis now, like ancho chili powder, chipotle chili powder, but I find those too strong, in a way. You use that chipotle chili powder, your chili is going to taste like nothing but smoked chilis. So, chili powder, a bay leaf or two, cumin if you're a sensualist. Cumin smells like my husband's gym bag, but in, like, a good way. So use cumin if that's your thing. Add in some hot stuff now if you want - cayenne pepper, hot sauce, red pepper flakes. Some sweet - molasses, brown sugar maybe, even maple syrup - and some bitter - if you didn't use vinegar before, put in a quarter cup now.

This is your pot of chili, and you're going to let it cook really low for a long time. You have to stir it every once in a while, but if it scorches a little on the bottom, that is ok. Just scrape the scorched part up and into the stew.

Memphis Soul Stew - King Curtis & The Kingpins

IF you're using meat on the bone, come back and poke at the meat from time to time. When the bones are coming apart, turn off the heat and let it cool. You'll have to fish out the bones, and don't be grossed out, this is one of the perks of being the cook. You fish out the bones, and suck the rest of the meat scraps off 'em, and chuck the bones in the trash. Yes, it's exactly like being a zombie, if that was your question.

Heat 'er back up, and if you're using beans, put them in about 45 minutes before the end. Also corn. I cannot stress enough - if there is one secret to chili popularity, regardless of all this mess about cornmeal and vinegar and bones, it's the corn. Put one can of WHITE corn in at the same time as the beans. NOT YELLOW CORN. Yellow corn in chili looks like poo.

Basic meat chili recipe:
1 to 2 lbs meat (stew beef, pork or lamb neckbones, etc. NOT GROUND BEEF.)
2 medium onions, diced
2 T oil
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup white vinegar OR half a beer OR 1/2 cup water
2 T cornmeal
4 T chili powder
2 28oz cans whole peeled tomatos, OR fresh tomatos chopped coarsely
2 T brown sugar or molasses
something spicy
OPTIONAL: 2 cans beans (dark or light kidneys, black beans, pinto beans), drained
NOT OPTIONAL: 1 can white or shoepeg corn

In a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, saute the onions in the oil. If using bones, lay them in a baking dish and roast at 375 for 30 minutes.

When onions are becoming translucent, add the meat to the pot, sprinkling with half the chili powder. Brown on all sides. Add garlic. Do not allow garlic to brown.

Sprinkle cornmeal into pot, stir, scraping, until cornmeal is fragrant. Immediately dump in liquid and stir, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add more liquid if necessary.

Add remaining ingredients except the beans and corn, breaking up the tomatos with your hands. Set to low heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered and checking frequently, for up to 4 hours, or until desired consistency is reached.

45 minutes before serving, add beans (if desired) and corn.

Vag chili recipe:
2 medium onions, diced
2 T oil
6 cloves garlic, chopped
t cumin
pinch cayenne
4 small zucchinis, diced
1 red pepper, diced
jalapeno or two, chopped
1 cup celery, diced
3 T chili powder
2 T cornmeal
half a beer OR 1/2 cup water
1 or 2 28oz cans whole peeled tomatos
1 T brown sugar or molasses
1/4 cup vinegar
hot stuff
2 cans beans (dark or light kidneys, black beans, pinto beans), drained
1 can white or shoepeg corn
cilantro for garnish

In a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, saute the onions in the oil.

When onions are becoming translucent, add garlic, cumin, basil and cayenne. Do not allow garlic to brown. Then add zucchini, peppers, and celery and saute until zucchini is tender and celery is bright green.

Sprinkle cornmeal into pot, stir, scraping, until cornmeal is fragrant. Immediately dump in liquid and stir, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add more liquid if necessary.

Add remaining ingredients except the beans and corn, breaking up the tomatos with your hands. Set to low heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered and checking frequently, for about 2 hours, or until desired consistency is reached. Adjust consistency with water or beer and cornmeal.

45 minutes before serving, add beans (if desired) and corn.

1 c yellow cornmeal
1 c unbleached flour
3/4 t salt
1 t baking powder
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 c milk
1 egg
2 T olive oil
OPTIONAL: 1 jalapeno, minced OR half a red pepper, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 425.
Mix dry ingredients together.
Mix wet ingredients together.
Mix together.
Bake about 15 minutes.
My note in my handwritten cookbook says "Make sure you have ALL ingredients before you start."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Devil's haircut! In my mind!

Oh my god I give the worst haircuts. Luckily the boys always come out of it smiling, thanks to the Dyson.

Apologies to my colleague Queen Isabella - I know you love how the boy looks with long hair, but it was driving him crazy.

Monday, January 05, 2009

I hit it with a hammer when I cannot make it move

not tipsy yet

I am so content.

My back hurts because I just took down 34 feet of rusty chain-link fence using nothing but a pair of vice grips, a hammer, and metal snips, but I am sitting here wondering if I'm going to get tetanus from this scratch on my thumb and I am SOOO content.


There are workmen in my basement. I can hear them rumbling to each other about football, and Palestine (guess which one they're most informed about) (no don't that's sexist); and I can hear lumber being dropped on the floor, and smell them smoking, and I am HAPPY.

TWO AND A HALF YEARS AGO, when we hired architects to draw up plans for a renovation, we were pretty excited. We love our house, and making it better would just be... better! An updated kitchen. A new full bath. A finished basement! The second floor less likely to slide off into the backyard. Exciting! I had a reason to drag out the original 1922 blueprints of the house, which I had humidified, flattened, cleaned, and mounted on pH-neutral paper some months prior. Archivist geek.

But when contractors started coming around to bid on the project, they took one look at our basement floor, which is not only slanted front to back, but also side to side - and stopped nodding, stopped taking notes. The south corner of our basement is a full 19" deeper than the north corner. It was poured that way. Not because there's water, not for any reason that we can discover, just to be bitches I think. Maybe to make it easier to find ball bearings if you spilled a lot of them. Or maybe people were making hats down there and mercury fell on the floor a lot and they needed it all to collect in one place. Or maybe they were bitches.

Anyway, there's just no easy way to level that, and no contractor would touch it. We despaired. We despaired to the point that we decided fuck it we'll just buy a bigger house. We almost did! Our friend across the street was selling her house and we got very goddamn close to buying it. Our kids are still pissed we didn't. Damn empowered kids - we solicit their opinion all the time to give them a reason to think and a sense of self worth, and what happens? They think their opinions are worth something. Bah. We should just keep 'em in a box.

AFTER we decided NOT to move, we declared a moratorium on big decisions. We sat on our butts for a couple months and made no decision more momentous than "Mustard or mayonnaise?"

Gradually, we carved our initial reno plans down into something more manageable and less prohibitively expensive, called the nicest of the contractors back, and set about getting bids and a loan.

And THAT took most of a year. Jesus Christ. At one point, my voice shaking, I turned to Bob and said, "CAN YOU TELL ME THAT MEN WITH TOOLS WILL COME TO MY HOUSE AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE?!" He was in charge of the loan. He does that kind of thing. I pick out tile and countertops and cabinets and hardware and flooring and paint colors and appliances and I design the kitchen and the new bathroom and program the workflow.

Such a division of labor is acceptable to both of us. In fact, I suggest that anyone embarking on such a project sit down and devise such a division EARLY ON. It does not do to have conflict on something as ultimately invisible as faucet handles.

I mean, basically, people don't see their faucet handles. They just live with them and no longer see them. It's like singing along with Led Zeppelin - you know all the words, but if someone asked you, you probably couldn't recite them.

The exception to this is IF your faucet handles are WRONG, and then you see them every time you use them, and you hate them. Our friends Peter and Chris just recently replaced the side-swingy faucet handles in their bathroom with knobby faucet handles, because every time they turned on the water, the side-swingy faucet handle knocked over the cup. Yeah, man. That kind of thing will make you crazy.

So I will argue that while getting all the paperwork together and negotiating with bankers and lawyers and getting a loan is some shitty, boring work - my part is the part that keeps you up nights.


  • I may have been talked into the heated floor thingy in the bathroom.
  • The cabinets are ordered. They are brown wood. (ehh, we won't even see them before too long)
  • Sliding doors instead of French.
  • Our pal Lui is giving us a whole batch of slate for the floor in new bathroom.
  • Corner benches on the deck.
  • A FIVE AND A HALF FOOT BATHTUB! And no, Juliet, you may not come and bathe in my tub every night. Maybe twice a week.
  • The sink will be deep and wide and not made of stainless steel.
  • The basement room is going to look like the set of Speed Racer.
  • And I am looking for 4" ceramic tile in bright colors. I can't find it.