Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Kitchen Library Part 2

Progress!  We have made such progress!

First, the fabulous M turned the old sad bland off-white room...

Into this festival of delicous!

The room is a deep dark brown that is the exact color of bittersweet chocolate.  I swear, I have the weirdest compulsion to want to lick the walls!   The ceiling, which you can't see here, we did in a very pale soft dove gray.  It turned out exactly as we imagined, and lit a fire under us to keep going.

R&R and Amazing Goddaughter came over to help us move a couple of pieces over from Charming Suitor's house, and to assemble the shelving.

And also for some cuddles with the Wonder Boy.

By the end of the night we were full of chili and beer and lemon tart, and the room was full of...

Shelving and cabinets and island and rug and OH MY!

The liners on the shelves are pewter gray, and the rug is full of deep jewel tones on a cranberry red base, and CS's gorgeous antique hutches keep it from feeling like a warehouse.

Stay tuned to see how it gets filled up!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, March 28, 2011

Stennifer Does Dallas

You may all remember back last summer when I was holding a contest connected to the release of my book Good Enough to Eat where the winner got lunch with me and my BFF Jen Lancaster in their hometown.

The winner, Alyson, with her bestie Bertta were very patient with the Stennifer schedule, and finally last week we headed out to Dallas to have our special lunch.  We were very lucky on the way there, no delays and an upgrade to Biz Class, making the journey enormously pleasant.

We arrived in the early afternoon to 80 degree sunny weather, a very welcome difference from the gray 30s we've been enjoying in Chicago.  We headed to our hotel, the very lovely Warwick Melrose, and got settled, and then shared a quick cheese plate in the bar.  I knew I wanted to try a restaurant I had read about, Lucia, and called for a reservation.  The message on the voice mail said they were full up for the evening, but in my experience, while travelling, concierges can be your best bet.   Our hotel didn't have one.  What is a Polymath to do?

Simple.  I called the Ritz Carleton and asked for the concierge.  Kenny was very helpful, but unable to get us into Lucia.  "They have some availability in May..." he offered.  "But nothing for tonight.  I booked you at Villa O instead.  And I have a wonderful place for your lunch tomorrow, Toulouse, a classic French bistro."  Thank goodness for Kenny. 

Also?  Remember to make reservations well in advance if there is a nice place you want to try....otherwise you may not get in, even on a Tuesday.  Lucia will have to wait for the next trip.

Once we had fortified ourselves with cheese, and finished mooching off the Ritz concierge service, and after I e-mailed Charming Suitor to ask him to look over the wine lists and send me some recommendations, we grabbed the courtesy car at the hotel, and headed to DryBar.

What on earth is DryBar you may ask?  Oxymoronical? Not at all.  It is a salon where they only do blow-outs.  No cuts, no color, no manis, no pedis.  Just shampoo, blow out, and go.  Flat fee, with an option to add a scalp massage for an extra ten smackers.  Five options of styles. Ipod/Iphone charging docks at every station.  Cocktails and little sweet snacks if you want them.  GENIUS!

I knew I had wanted to do a little something special for Jen for being my partner in crime on this contest, so I thought we'd go for a fun little hair date. 

Shampoo?  Glorious.  I love when someone else washes my hair.  Massage?  Yummy.  Really made my scalp tingle and got all the airplane knots out of my neck.  Blow out?  50/50. 

And by 50/50 I mean that I got a fantastic head of shiny Breck girl straight with just the teeniest bit of flip at the ends. 

And Jen?  Got insane Shirley Temple Sticks Her Finger in a Socket Enormocurls.

Sigh.  I know with gifts it is the thought that counts, but when the gift is a spa treatment, it is the execution that matters.  Jen learned a valuable Chicago when you want volume, ask for Texas hair.  In Texas?  Don't order the Southern Comfort Blow Out.  It will look like your head exploded.  For two days.

Oh yeah, she tried to tamp it down, but it was UN-TAMP-ABLE. Welcome to ponytail Jen for the rest of the trip.  Ooops.

We headed to dinner, where we sat on the patio which was so lovely for our Chicago bones, ordered a bottle of Chardonnay on CS's rec, which was bright and juicy, and had a dinner that was entirely, um, unmemorable.  Except for the green beans, which had so much garlic they were inedible and we sent them back.  But we didn't really care, it was perfectly passable, if not spectacular, and it was just so nice to hang outside and drink wine and be together.

It had been a long day, and we hit the rooms as soon as we got back to indulge in some quality PJ time.

Alyson and Bertta picked us up at the hotel the next day, we gave them their giftie bags full of out-of-print books, promotional items, cupcake holders

(couldn't deliver on baked goods, but at least now their cupcakes won't go squishy in their lunch bags),

and some of my favorite teas from Tea Forte

I packed them in  Baggu bags, in Jen approved neon 1980s colors. 

We headed to lunch at Toulouse which was just wonderful.  All the food was delish, the champagne cocktails and the wine (another CS pick, he is King of the Wine List!), and most importantly, the company and conversation, all so wonderful.

Truly, just magical.  I think we all felt like we were old friends catching up.  I'm not going to share any other deets, after all, the lunch was just for the four of us, and some things get to be private.  But I feel very blessed to have met them both, and suspect we will see them again.

After lingering over desserts, we did have to say goodbye, and headed back to the hotel to grab our gear and hit the airport.  This is where things went a little hooey.

First off, Dallas?  Um, you need to get your airport in order.  Having two lines for security only really makes sense if you also have two people checking IDs, and two Xray machines and two metal detectors.  Otherwise what you create is two lines constantly merging into one large f*** of the cluster variety.  Seriously.

We suspected that we were unlikely to get upgraded two flights in a row.  We did not suspect that our flight would be delayed by over two hours.  Had we suspected that, we might not have headed to the airport two hours early in an attempt to get on an earlier flight.

What Dallas airport lacks in security genius, it makes up for with an AWESOME Admiral's Club.  But the best AC in the world does not prevent Stennifer Punchiness after four hours.  We laughed a lot.  We got irritated at the loud celery crunching girl near us.  We drank a lot of free orange and lemon flavored water.  And finally got on our flight.

Despite that last little snafu due to snow and ice and ick here in Chicago, we got home in one piece, having had a terrific time, both with each other, and our new pals.

It reminded me that no matter what your situation, you should never forget to make time to get away with your BFF now and again.  Does the heart good.

The hair?  Not so much.

The Ladies Who Lunched

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kitchen Library

Today was a great day.  We met with my very great friend M who, amongst all his many lovely qualities, has been an extraordinary house painting artist for over 20 years.  I say artist because M doesn't just come in and slap a new color on the walls.  He wants the walls to sing.  He repairs the cracks, smooths the rough patches, makes things stronger than they were before.  He can guide you on colors and finishes, and which is even more impressive, he is honest about what can and should be done.  He doesn't tell you it is a two day job if it is a four day job.  Nor does he imply that an easy job is harder than it looks.  Craftsman and artisans like M are harder and harder to come by, so if you are lucky enough to have one in your life, treat them well.  Don't haggle with them on prices, and don't fight them on the important decisions like choice of paint brand or finish.  You will be so much happier in the long run.

We thought that we would start with two key rooms when it came to our fresh new paint, the Kitchen Library, and the room that is going to become Charming Suitor's Dressing Room.  The Kitchen Pantry, while showing the natural wear of a room in a 105 year old house that has not been painted in 18 years, is in fairly good shape.  Poor Charming Suitor's Dressing Room, however, has a wall in need of major repair before a lick of paint can even be contemplated.  Plaster and lathe is a cruel mistress, and time, humidity, steam radiators and badly hung heavy artwork can mean that a wall needs some serious TLC before you can gild it up with a shiny new color.  M looked me in the eye and told me so.  Told me that he wouldn't just paint it without restoring it first, even if we asked, because it would ultimately cause even more damage to the wall.  On the one hand, sad, because I really wanted to make that room fresh and nice for CS before he moved his stuff in, and now he will have to live with it for a while longer.  But on the other hand, I love M for protecting my wall, and not letting me make a big mistake.

In anticipation of the painting that is to begin Tuesday, CS and I turned this....

Into THIS:

AREN'T YOU AMAZED AND PROUD? Well, don't be.  Meet my new dining room.

YIKES!  Good thing we aren't having any dinner parties anytime soon.

But even though the dining room looks like a tornado hit it, knowing that this room

which I have not seen empty since January of 1994, is going to be all smooth and fresh and a sassy new color in three little days makes my heart go all pitter pat. 

Anyone else have a major project they are excited about these days?

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March Madness and No Apologies

First things first.  I am not going to apologize for not posting.  Not now, and not ever again.  I recently read a piece about this phenomenon that really resonated with me.  And the gist of it was this...the contract you and I enter into with each other is that I will write about things that I am passionate about, that interest or upset  or amuse me, or provide some sort of interesting content.  You will read it when inclined, comment when you are so moved, and understand that this is the relationship.  I don't guarantee a certain amount of content any more than you guarantee a certain amount of time spent reading me.  I don't want to write out of pressure or from a place of being uninspired any more than you want to read what I might force out of my brain when I am in that place. 

I am a professional writer, but not a professional blogger.  This site is important to me, and rewards me in all sorts of ways, but it does not support me financially.  So there will be times when paying work takes precedence.  It makes me feel good to be out here with you all, but it doesn't cuddle or make me tea or have lunch with me or pick me up at the airport.  So there will times when Charming Suitor and our families and our friends take precedence. 

And sometimes, I?  DON'T WANNA. 

I tend to forget now and again that I am a grown up, and while there are certain responsibilites that cannot be avoided or put off, there are places where if I don't wanna, I don't haveta. 

Mostly?  I wanna.  Boy how I wanna.  I can tell you that in the scheme of things I'd rather be doing this than a whole lot of things.  I dream of a day when all I would have to do is write my books and write this blog.   And who knows, someday that may become a reality!  But for now, there is work, and looking for work, and the piles of everything else.  And since I know that the vast majority of my Chickens also have way too much to do and way too few hours in which to do it, and since you are all people of taste and discernment, I think we will just agree that I will write as often as I can when there is something to write about, and you will remember when I am not posting that it is because life happens to all of us.  Some of my most favorite bloggers write only once or twice a month....but what they write is compelling and fabulous and I am always glad that they did and I don't think ill of them for not writing more, so why would I assume that it would be any less okay for me?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, how the heck did it get to be MARCH????  Really?  With the whole time speeding insanely by, really?

You might think that the crazy round here these days is basketball related, but no, not so much.

What we have here is your basic Holy Moley month of work, more work, wedding plans, travel, health issues, purging and merging, tax prep, and what Charming Suitor and I refer to as "paperwork".

Usually in a relationship, one person is more adept at paperwork than others.  For us, paperwork refers to anything logistical.  Researching products. Booking airline tickets.  Knowing where the Groupon is. Making the dinner reservation.  Dealing with sending back the 13 quart Le Creuset with the cracking lid for a new one.  Not losing the concert tickets. 

CS and I determined early on that in our partnership, I am in charge of paperwork.  And getting married is a bucket of paperwork.  Insurance to be re-issued and updated.  Wills and medical power of attorney and advance directives.  Contracts with the various wedding entities.  Enormous piles of paperwork, both literal and figurative.  And I FREAKING LOVE IT.

My skills in this area are related to my nearly obsessive interest in PLANNING.  I love to plan.  I love to plan almost more than I love to execute.  Did you ever see this commercial?

I am these guys.  It is what makes me a good consultant.  I can see the big picture, find the way out of the maze, create the road map.  I'm a natural problem solver, so I genuinely LIKE to track down the best stuff at the best prices, and figure out which hotel in Paris has a real king sized bed and not two twins shoved together, and who carries a DVD copy of Who's Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, because CS never saw it and it isn't on Netflix.  This can sometimes be, um, spectacularly annoying to the people around me. Because I love to plan things RIGHT NOW.  It doesn't matter if we do not NEED a plan for months and months, we could talk about all the possibilities TODAY.

My planning is mostly aspirational.  When I am planning something, especially something way far away, something not even promised, I am living the fantasy.  I'm the crazy girl with the serious plan for how to handle winning eleventy-gajillion dollars in the lottery.  I'm always grateful that in the early months of our dating Charming Suitor never caught me surreptitiously measuring his furniture while he was in the bathroom, planning the home I hoped we might make together someday.

In my defense, as much as I love to plan, I am still very much a go with the flow kind of girl, so when plans need to change due to weather, or circumstance, or mood, I am quick to shift...and....wait for it....MAKE A NEW PLAN!  Double the planning, double my fun.

Last week, all of these things merged.  Monday night CS and I chose to become Dance School Dropouts.  We had signed up for a local 8 week class of basic ballroom steps that can be useful at weddings and bars and such.  We aren't having a dancing wedding, it was just something different and fun to do together that was also active.  We went to two classes.  We learned a lot.

We learned that bad teaching is pretty obvious, and really annoying.
We learned that "pointy toed shoes" are the reason for someone stomping upon my feet, and we are sticking with that theory.
We learned that I have something of a problem letting someone else lead, but also that I have more fun when I do.
We learned that when things around us are maddening, our first instinct is to bond together and make each other laugh, and not get snipy or snarky at each other.

We learned that neither of us wanted to continue and since we didn't need this credit to graduate and also did not give a flying fig what anyone else in the class including the incompetant teacher thought of us,  we skedaddled, dropped out, and asked for our money back with our heads held high.

We had a plan, and then we changed it.  And we didn't apologize.  Sounds like March is shaping up just fine.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Yes, Chickens, I am very aware of my absence, and I do apologize most sincerely.  To say that I have been busy is beyond understatement.  Between regular work and work on the new book and planning a wedding and trying to figure out how Charming Suitor and I are going to shoehorn all of our various belongings into one location in an attractive and organized manner....I am somewhat overwhelmed.  Uberwhelmed.  Whelmed beyond all reason.  (But I do hate to abandon you for such long stretches, so I promise to try and be more diligent, even if it is just to post a quick recipe.)

Lucky for me, all of the things taking up my time are very good problems to have, and it has made me think about how some of what we are going through might serve as inspiration for all of you.

I am very fortunate to inhabit a fairly large apartment.  It is in a Victorian building, and having been built in 1906, has a back kitchen area that includes a butler's pantry, a small closet-sized food pantry, and a small room that would have been a maid's bedroom.  When I originally moved in, this room was set up as an office, but for the last 10 years it has served primarily as a dumping ground.  A huge junk drawer, if you will. 

Periodically I would go in and sort and organize and clear the decks, but then life would get away from me, and it was always so convenient to just throw things in there and shut the door.

Which is how you end up with this.


I recently watched the show Hoarders for the first time, and it made me feel so much better about that room.  Especially since 1)  it is just that back room that looks like that, and not the whole house, and B) I know for a fact that there is not a single petrified cat carcass in there. 

However, it still makes me crazy.

One of the smartest things Charming Suitor and I did when making decisions about housing, was to really look at our lifestyle.  And since we both love to cook and entertain, and since we spend a great deal of time either preparing meals together for ourselves or hosting friends and family, and would like to do even more of that, we made what is to some a surprising decision about that back room.

We are going to make it a kitchen library, to house most of our combined kitchen equipment, all the cookbooks and small appliances and serving pieces.  All of the bakeware, and pots and pans....everything that is not food.  We realized that while most people might set this room up as a home office, den, or extra guest room, our life doesn't need any of that.  We both work on laptops, and don't need a whole designated room to work in.  We prefer to hang out together, and the living room works very well for that.  We will be putting CS's television in the room we are calling his "dressing room", so that if I am having a desperate need to watch a procedural during March Madness, he has access to a second watching area, but a full-time den would be wasted on us.  And that same room already has a comfy day-bed, so on the rare occasion someone is visiting, there is still a designated guest room.

In the same way that I have often recommended to friends who never entertain that they turn their formal dining rooms into office spaces or playrooms or art studios, I highly recommend to all of my Chickens that you not feel hampered by your spaces.  Just because the real estate agent called it a sunroom, doesn't mean you can't serve food in it.  It might be listed in the classifieds as a three bedroom, but maybe for you it is a one bedroom with a den and a clog dancing room.  That guest room might need to be a walk-in closet if you hate having company.  Once CS and I embraced the idea of the Kitchen Library, it suddenly became one of the most interesting spaces in the house.  We are waiting to get it painted before we tackle the project, which I will keep you posted on as we go along.  But we did begin.

I gave two enormous shelving units to my trainer for his new house, and we ordered chrome Metro Shelving to go around the room.  Once the room is cleared out and painted, hopefully in a couple of weeks, we will have a Metro Shelving building party with those of our friends who are skilled in these things, and then we will have space in which all of our combined gear can cohabitate happily.  Because if you are going to be a Two Kitchenaid Mixer Household, your house better be able to effectively hold two Kitchenaid Mixers!

Some things we have learned in the process we affectionately refer to as the "Purge and Merge", that might be of use to you:

For starters, if you (like me) are merging with someone, and they are making the supreme sacrifice of moving into your space, it is going to be essential that you make room for them, literally and figuratively, physically and emotionally.  It is stressful for everyone, but let's be honest, most stressful for the person who is moving in, so if you won the coin toss of whose place to make home, then you have to be willing and eager to make it a happy and comfortable process for your partner.  For us, this meant adhereing to the following...

1) The person moving in has to know that anything that is important to them will have a place in the home you are making together.  I don't care if it is a couch or a teacup, work around it.  You get to stay in your space, but you have to work to make sure that the contents reflect both of you.

2) Remember that the "story" you have told in how you have decorated your space is no longer the most current story, and therefore you don't have to worry about keeping it intact.  Just because you searched for five years to find the perfect thing for that little niche doesn't mean that your partner won't have something equally perfect to go there.  I don't mean you need to be willing to chuck out your grandmother's antique dining table.  But you do need to recognize that not every item in your place is a sacred cow.  Tell a new story, choose your battles wisely, and never underestimate the bonding power of giving up and letting go.

3)  Family heirlooms ALWAYS trump non-sentimental items, and if by chance you both have heritage items that are fighting for the same space (two china hutches for example) then choose honestly the one that looks best in the space and either store the other, or see if there is another family member who might like to have it in their home for a while.  In my family, we either "borrow" or "share".  If you "borrow" something, the other party can ask for it back at any time for any reason, and it needs to be returned graciously and quickly.  If you "share" something, it belongs to you until you do not want or need it anymore, in which case the original owner gets right of first refusal on taking it back or regifting it to the person of their choice. 

4)  Be generous.  You'd be surprised how gratifying it is to see your personal items find new homes with friends and family.  So much nicer than trying to sell stuff on Craigslist or having a yard sale, not to mention easier.  Make decisions about what items need to go, and then take a few pics and e-mail your people.  Anything that they don't want, donate.  Here in Chicago, places like the Howard Brown Health Center's Brown Elephant store will come pick up donated items, and give you a form for your tax deductible donation.  

5)  Don't lose the plot.  The whole point of this move you are making is towards a happy life with someone.  Having fights about who has better taste in lamps is just a waste of time.  Be willing to focus big picture.  This is the place where you will be making memories for years to come, don't start off with sniping and bickering.  Listen to each other.  And be open to flexibility.  Lots and lots of flexibility. 

6)  Try to have fun!  For all of the parts of this process that are a pain in the butt, there are many things that can be enormously enjoyable if you let them. 

As much as the whole Kitchen Library project is daunting, and I am tempted to focus on how much there is to do, I try to keep thinking about how much it will change the way Charming Suitor and I cook and entertain together for the better. 

I think about the counter space it will create in the kitchen, and the breathing room it will create in the food pantry.  I think about having everything organized and accessible, and how much it will make everything from setting the table for a dinner party to getting Tuesday dinner together easier and better.  So every part of it which is potentially annoying becomes a postive step towards what will be those new happy memories and moments. 

Am I looking forward to going through all those bags and boxes and making sense of them?  Not really.  And I am fairly sure that Charming Suitor is not terribly excited about the logistics of packing up his entire kitchen and schlepping it over here.  But we both agree that once the icky parts are done, it will make us both happy, and we can see what the end result will be.....a lifetime of laughing in the kitchen, and putting out beautiful food for each other and our friends and family.

What about you?  Any great tips or tricks to share about merging households? Or funny anecdotes or stories about your own experiences?  Do share with the class....

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath