Monday, June 15, 2020

Hello Chickens, long time no see!  I hope you have all managed to follow me elsewhere for updates.

I am poking my head up here because I am doing an auction fundraiser as part of the national bake sake for Bakers Against Racism.


Winner must either reside in Chicago (or have a friend or family member or business in Chicago to gift the package to), or be willing to travel to Chicago to pick up monthly, shipping is not possible. 
The winner of this auction will receive over the course of one year, beginning July 2020 and ending June 2021:
A monthly package of baked goods (suitable for a minimum family of four) from a Black-owned bakery here in Chicago, which may include: Brown Sugar Bakery, Schweet Cheesecakes, Justice of the Pies, Downstate Donuts, Frosted By Ope, Cooking with Curves, Laine’s Bakery, Shawn Michelle’s or others. 
A monthly loaf of sourdough bread baked by me. (OPTIONAL BONUS: If the winner would also like a piece of my sourdough starter, that will also be included, along with my care and feeding and baking instructions.)
A copy of Cheryl and Griffin Day’s “The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook” so that you can be making your own fabulous baked goods.
A signed copy of one of my books.
A $500 value!

Go to my Facebook Author page Place your bid in the comments section. 

Bidding begins at $300.

All proceeds will support:
My Block My Hood My City
“My Block My Hood My City offers opportunities for young people in under-resourced neighborhoods to access amenities not typically available to them. Their programs encourage youth to explore different neighborhoods, cultures and cuisines. The organization also offers opportunities for young people to get involved in STEM programs, volunteering, civic engagement, and community development.”

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Please Follow me Elsewhere!


It has been long time since I have chatted with you all here, so I have no idea if any of you are even still reading.

But if you are, HI!  I've missed you.

In part I have missed you because I have been writing so much elsewhere that it hasn't left me any time or bandwidth to keep up with you here effectively.  For any of you who do not currently follow me on other outlets, I have been doing a tremendous amount of food writing for outlets like and Food&Wine Magazine and The Chicago Tribune and others.

And yes, I am also working on a new book.

Charming Suitor and I are rattling around most happily in the house and still marveling that we actually got it finished, and catching up on hosting friends and family.

I've gotten very involved in an organization of women leaders in the culinary fields called Les Dames D'Escoffier, and am proud to be serving as the President-Elect of the Chicago Chapter.

So my ability to maintain this site with any sort of consistency has been enormously compromised.

I'm not shutting it down because I want the archives to live on forever, and I never know when I might have something I need to get off my chest that requires a more personal touch. But as you can see, it is not going to be with any regularity.

But I am writing every day, and if you want to read all the musings and recipes and cooking and entertaining tips?  You can keep up with me at the following social media outlets:

instagram @stacey.ballis
twitter @staceyballis

My work for other places gets linked and often cross-posted on these.  If you want to know what I am cooking and eating in real time, Instagram is the place for that.  Facebook will always have all of my articles posted and linked for easy access as well as any book appearances.  And I'm still occasionally being snarky over on Twitter.

I hope to see you all at one or more of these outlets, and I promise, for anything really big like a new book release will still populate right here.

Thanks for being out there, and I hope you are all well.

Yours in good taste,
The Polymath

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Final House Post!


Can you even believe it??? It is the final house post.  This is it, after four years and three months, we have all made it through together.  Like college, but without the bad dating decisions and over-consumption of cheap booze.  We have graduated, and before I show you the final pics, I just want to thank you all for taking this journey with me.  It's been huge fun to have you all along for the ride.  And now that the house focus is done, I’ll be back to periodically offering recipes and entertaining tips, and whatever other flotsam floats through my little head.  If you have any requests, just let me know!  And if you are not already, please take a moment to follow me on Instagram @stacey.ballis  since these days the majority of my daily connections are happening over there.  

So, the third floor.  Or as I think of it, SANCTUARY.  When Charming Suitor and I realized that we were actually undertaking this insane project, we knew two things.  One:  we wanted our home to be a gathering place for friends and family, a home away from home for those who wander, a safe haven, and a place for celebrations large and small.  We have dear friends who sometimes need to come stay for weeks instead of days, and we are looking down the road at the possibility of having family in residence for a certain percentage of the year.  So we planned the spaces to accommodate that easily and comfortably.

The second important thing we knew we would need was a direct response to the first. 

An escape hatch. 

Because as much as we love our friends and family and filling the house with people?  We love each other more and needed to be certain that whatever insanity was happening here, we would have a place that is just ours.  While CS likes to joke that he wishes I had fallen in love with a two-flat and not a three-flat back in 1993, the “bonus floor” meant we could create an entire level of the home that has no public spaces at all.  The third floor became our focus, and we started to think of it in terms of an oasis.   We knew the bedroom and master bath would be up there, and the closets obviously.  We decided on a laundry room for ease, and then put CS’s office/music room there as well, since rocking out is a nice way for him to relax and unwind.  We put a cozy area for two to sit and watch TV, and a comfy place to curl up and read.  A beverage center, so we don’t have to go back downstairs for a drink once we have gotten into our jammies.  An escape for us is also a measure of comfort for our guests.  We are a whole floor away, so they never need to worry that if they want to watch TV late into the night, or if they are early risers that they will disturb us.  Proximity is lovely as long as you can choose it and not have it foisted upon you!

So here is our master suite level.  We designed it in the mode of a luxurious hotel suite.  We went with calming colors and soft fabrics and generous sizes. 

This is the bedroom, which is separated into three areas, the sleeping area, the TV area and the turret, which we think of as the reading/relaxing area.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had a TV in the bedroom, and while I would never want one facing the bed, it is nice to be able to cozy up and watch something before bed.  I love this soothing blue-gray color, North Star from Sherwin-Williams.  It changes with the light, getting bluer in sunlight and grayer in the dark. 

This is the top of the stairs.  

We call this the domino nook.  As in one domino fell and took the rest with it.  It started with CS needing hallway access on his side of the bed.  We realized halfway through construction that since we couldn’t move plumbing to create an en-suite bathroom, that the toilet was halfway down the hall.  But the way we did the bedroom, and the placement of the sleeping area meant that CS would have to walk twice as far to get to the bathroom just to get out of the bedroom!  Since we are middle-aged people with nocturnal needs, and that won’t lessen as we age, we realized that a second method of egress from the bedroom was necessary.  Which meant adding a door on his side of the bed.  Which I hated, because then you would walk up the stairs and be faced with a random door.  So I suggested we do one of those hidden bookcase doors.  Which CS liked.  But then we realized a random mid-hallway bookcase would also be suspect and strange, so we would need to build out a larger unit of which the secret door would be part.  Then we had this lovely unit, but in a very narrow hallway.  So I asked if maybe we could bump out the hall over the stair for a larger landing, so that we could put in a small sitting area facing the new bookshelf unit….you see what I mean about dominos???? At the end of the day it was a smart move, CS loves both the function and form of his secret door, the nook at the top of the stairs is lovely, and while it turned out to be a not inexpensive solution to a basic problem, it also became an architectural feature that we both love.  And it allowed me to hang and highlight this painting that my grandparents received as a wedding gift.

Here is CS’s dressing room.

And here is mine.  I still love getting dressed in here, it just feels like shopping at a little boutique full of stuff that already fits me!

Here is the commode room.  Two things I don’t love about bathrooms…I don’t love having to do hair and makeup in a room filled with shower steam, and I don’t love the toilet sharing space with the rest of the bathroom.  So an independent room that deals with both issues in one fell swoop seemed a great idea.  Because it is dual function, it is a bit bigger than the usual “toilet only” half-baths, which is nice, and it gives me a place to indulge in girlie primping without accidentally spraying CS in the eye with hairspray. 

This is the Master Bathroom, my personal haven of long bathtub soaks and spa-like showering, and the extra benefit of his and hers vanities.  The vanities area is special because the sink creates its own counter for seamless cleaning and the generous drawers meant no need for any other storage needed in this room, both from Duravit.  We put in heated floors in the wet area of the room, and because this section of the bathroom is all marble and tile we didn’t have to put a door on the shower. 

This is the laundry room.  As a place devoted to an annoying and endless bit of life maintenance, it is bright and comfy and has a lot of storage.

This is CS’s office/rocking out room.  We gave it a closet and a full bathroom, just in case someday we need full-time live-in help, we can convert it to a caregiver suite.

Here is the bathroom for CS’s office, we were able to use up the extra tiles from the first and second-floor bathrooms in here for a very affordable yet stylish space!

That’s it!  The whole kit and caboodle!  Thanks for hanging in there with us…stay tuned for posts about how we are actually living in the spaces now that it is finished.

Now for some thank yous and acknowledgments.  

First and foremost, our General Contractor Patrick King and Project Manager Dennis Leary.  They are family to us, and this house is a testament to their skill, passion, commitment and extraordinary hard work.  We know we couldn't have done it without them, and we wouldn't have wanted to.  Chances are if you spot a special detail anywhere in this old girl, they had a hand in devising and executing it.  

Our architects at 2RZ, Bill and Colette Rodon-Hornof for listening to what we said we wanted and giving us what we needed.  I think sometimes there is nothing worse for an architect than a client who claims they just need someone to draw the vision they have devised in their head.  And which is worse, I'd been living in this building and dreaming of this conversion for over 20 years!  But they heard us, went with us, and helped guide us to a plan that was exactly what we needed.  We'll be forever grateful, especially for the places they nudged us away from our own ideas into things far more practical!

Our friends and family, who put up with dinner parties surrounded by boxes and racks of coats in the dining room, and dusty visits, and endless conversation.  While we made every effort to have things to talk about besides the project, we know you all have put up with a LOT of house talk and we appreciate your patience and look forward to getting back to movies and TV and books and frankly anything except construction and politics.  And special love for our dear friends Amy and Wayne Gould, whose generosity can be seen in pretty much every room in the whole house!

Our guru of all things soft-goods, Beth Laske-Miller who showed up like a miracle one day to do clothing alterations and ended up in a constant stream of upholstery projects and window-treatments and ENDLESS throw pillows.  And her partner in crime Gregg Fishman and the team at Fishman's Fabrics for providing all the materials, and always finding us the perfect fabric to execute a vision.

Rachel and Rick Boultinghouse for the upholstery work on the walls and ceiling of my office...every day when I go to work it is like getting a hug from you guys!

Larry Cabay at Studio 41 for getting 5 1/2 bathrooms kitted out with just what we dreamt of, and within our budget.

Rachel Abramowitz and her team at Fine Line Tile, and New Ravenna tile company.

Kais Zaiane and Gaggenau for helping us with the warming drawers, induction cooktop and in-counter steamer.

Leah Kalemba and the team at Aga/Marvel/La Cornue for assisting with the downstairs stove and hood, all refrigeration, and our miraculous rotisserie.

Jeff Roberts, Marcy Tucker and the team at Poggenpohl for helping to make the all-important main kitchen exceed our every expectation of both functionality and beauty, and literally saving us from ourselves.  I shouldn't do math.  That's all you need to know about that.

Tom and the fabrication team at StoneMasters countertops for performing miracles, and Robert Oraha for talking me off the ledge and being the best possible lunch companion.  

All of the people we worked with at Cosentino for the countertops for all of their support and guidance, Cosentino came in on this project at the very beginning and stuck with us all the way thru.

Blanco for helping us with all kitchen and utility sinks and faucets.

Jack and Michael and the entire team at XFINITY, for getting us technologically right.  This is a complicated place, and between landlines and internet and cable and home security, with 10 televisions, and 10 telephones, and 2 cameras, and all the window and door sensors, spread out over  4 levels, all of which need excellent WiFi coverage...I know it's popular to hate on them, but they were amazing throughout this project.  

Our painter Jesse Velez and his team from Different Strokes, we know this project was complicated with paint colors and finishes and a lot of new stain work that had to blend seamlessly with stain from over 100 years ago.  We won't even mention the high gloss dining room or purple staircase.  We love you guys and your work was impeccable always.

Molly and the team at Ely-Wyn for custom furniture.

We worked closely with the following companies on finishes and fixtures, and cannot recommend them all highly enough.  Vinotemp, Bluestar, Gaggenau, Miele, La Cornue, Marvel, Aga, Duravit, Blanco, Wetstyle, Cosentino, Silestone, Dekton, Poggenpohl, World Flooring, To the Top Elevators, Sherwin-Williams, Xfinity, StoneMasters, Different Strokes Painting, Fine Line Tile, New Ravenna Tile, Kohler, Toto, 2RZ Architects, Fox Valley Stairs, and of course, King Konstruction.

If you are doing your own renovations?  You have our unqualified recommendations on all of these fine companies and their products and services.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath


Monday, March 26, 2018

House Reveal Part 3


Welcome to another installment of the final house reveal!  Today will be mostly pics, since the second floor has been fairly exhaustively covered on the blog previously, but I wanted to give a quick run-down of the main elements for you.

For starters, it is finally time to reveal the staircase!  As you all know, when this was a three-flat, the stairs were not ideal.  There was one long run going from the first floor to the second, and another from the first to the basement, and winders everywhere.  As my klutziness is well documented, winders are a very bad idea, especially as I get older and my footing becomes, god help me, even less sure.  She is no nimble-hooved mountain goat, your Polymath, and falling down the stairs is not a nice way to spend one's golden years.  And stairs are important in this house.  In terms of design, literally the one element that transforms it from three apartments into a single cohesive home is the staircase, so we needed to get it right.  And which is more, we needed it to look original. 

From a design perspective, that meant strong woodworking elements, like newel posts with a lot of trim detail, elegant handrails, and an all-wood stained staircase.  This is a complicated thing.  If you are carpeting your stairs, as most new construction homes do, the staircase just needs to be functional, the wood sturdy not necessarily pretty, and they can go up in a couple of weeks.  Not so for a custom artisanal staircase where the wood has to be gorgeous and pristine, where the stain has to be an exact match to the woodwork in the rest of the house.

Fox Valley Stairs to the rescue.  They have been doing these kinds of staircases for years, and the moment they presented their design to us, we knew they understood the project.  They were able to match the design of the original newel posts we had removed, incorporated generous width to the stairs and large landings, so no more winders, as well as lovely details like gooseneck railings.  It was very disconcerting to live with a 40-foot hole in the middle of my house for a few months, but the end result could not have been more spectacular.  Our painter Jesse and his terrific team did a layering effect with several colors of stain to match the depth and patina of the original woodwork in the house, and our flooring guys at World Flooring gave the landings some punch with custom inlaid patterns.

When it came to our part, we had one major design element to address.  Way back, in the beginning, I had said to my Charming Suitor that the grand staircase is usually where the chateaus and manor houses hang all those gilt-framed oil portraits of the ancestors.  He asked politely if I had any of those lying about, which I had to confess I did not.  He was equally bereft of Old Masters capturing his people back in the day.  But we both loved the idea.  So we started collecting other people’s ancestors to hang in the stairwell.  We were going to need a backdrop color that really highlighted them, and we knew we wanted some real depth of color in the stairs, and CS suggested eggplant purple, which is my favorite neutral.  It just goes with everything.  The color, Majestic Purple from Sherwin-Williams, really shows off both the stairs themselves and the artwork to great effect.  On both the first floor and second floor we installed these gorgeous console tables that were a gift from dear friends.  They are the perfect spot to drop the little items we are forever moving from floor to floor.  We topped it off with a large brass dome pendant light.

This is my office, the main highlight of which are the walls, which my bestie Rachel and her husband upholstered in moss green velvet.  It makes the room super cozy, and deadens all outside sound.  I confess to doing most of my work on the antique daybed.  I schlepped the stripe fabric back from Paris, and our upholstery guru Beth Laske-Miller made the cover for the mattress.  The antique hospital bed table works wonderfully for my laptop.  But despite working mostly on the bed, I do love my desk.  The piece is from the 1830s, and has all the fun cubbies and hidey-holes that anyone could want.

The den is the room we live in the most, it serves as our daily hangout spot and where we entertain for casual evenings.  I loved doing the custom sofa in the turret, it is a great spot for pre-dinner cocktails and the big gray sectional is a terrific flop around couch.  And all of our little trinkets and treasures like to live in the converted architectural file table.

This is the Paris room, our guest room for single people under 5’8”.  That’s the thing about an antique bed, people were much shorter then.  I’m tempted to put up a sign that says you have to be LESS than this tall to ride this ride.  But it is a cozy fun little room, and the people who have used it seem to have enjoyed it so far.

This is the Hampshire room, the other guest bedroom on this level, and the scale is quite a bit grander. 

Here is the bathroom on this floor, CS designed it as a meditation in white, mostly reproductions of period tiles and fixtures, and a very zen place to make one's ablutions.  The fixtures in here are all Kohler.

And of course, the kitchen, which we have covered to the nth degree here, so I will let the pics speak for themselves. 

As a reminder, on the big ticket item front, the cabinets are Poggenpohl; the countertops are Dekton from Cosentino; the ovens, gas range and hood are all BlueStar; the induction burner, steamer and warming drawers are all Gaggenau; the rotisserie is La Cornue; the refrigeration is all Marvel; the dishwashers are Miele; and the sinks and faucets are Blanco.

Stay tuned and we will head up to the fourth and final floor…

Yours in Good Taste,

The Polymath