Saturday, December 5, 2009

Screw "greening" your Christmas

Paul Anater of Kitchen & Residential Design writes this article on the trouble with "greening" your Christmas.

The same argument in favor of "sustainability" over "greening" extends well beyond the holidays. Some food for thought as we enter the gify buying season.

Monday, November 30, 2009

New Idea Monday: Going to the Edge

We live in a three dimensional world. Which creates a bit of a problem in the design world, since the majority of the work we do with presentation documents uses only 2 dimensions. As a designer I'm able to easily visualize what a 2D drawing of a crown moulding will look like once it's installed. But for a client who doesn't do this all the time, 2D drawings often leave an incomplete picture.

If you're faced with this problem for you countertop edges however, there is hope. The website has a great tool to help not only pick your countertop edge, but the colour as well. Click the edge you want, and voila, that edge is rotating in front of you in life-like 3D. Click on different colours to help you visualize the finished product.

Note: Not all edges will be offered by all countertop fabricators. Be sure to check with your designer or fabricator before setting your heart on a specific profile.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Soccer Teams

Last weekend was yet another trip down south of the 49th, this time to meet up with some old friends, do a little shopping and to take in the MLS Cup championship game at Qwest field.

The two teams competing for the MLS Cup this year, the L.A. Galaxy and Real Salt Lake come at the beautiful game from different angles. The Galaxy are all about “star power” with the likes of Landon Donovan and David Beckham giving their squad lots of notoriety. RLS on the other hand hails from the second smallest market in the MLS and relies of a more grinding type of game.

This comparison can also be made of the two of the establishments we dined/drank at in Seattle.

On the one side we have Tavern Law. One of the new “speak-easy” style of bar in the city, Tavern Law features a small tapas style menu, and a huge cocktail menu. The main room is somewhat small but very cozy. On the right side of the room (facing the bar) you’ll notice a large bank-vault door, and beside that on the wall, a phone.

This is where it pays to have friends in the know. If you phone ahead (like, perhaps a week) you can book yourself a spot in the private room. Beyond the vault door and up some narrow wooden stairs you will emerge into a room that looks like it was plucked from the prohibition era. There is a hush in the place, and a lot of happy people.

At the bar you are informed there is no cocktail menu. Instead, you tell the bartender your preferences, be they brand of liquor, flavours or even colours. Moments later you are presented with a cocktail custom-mixed for you. It’s great idea, and takes the cocktail culture to the next step. Instead of the chef creating a tasting menu, it’s the bartender.

On the other end of the food spectrum, we find The Swinery on Main. Unsophisticated, out in the open, and completely unpretentious, The Swinery is a take-out window operated by the owners of The Swinery Butcher in West Seattle. These folk are my kind of people, curing their own bacon, sausage and serving it up good and messy.

They open at 7am for breakfast, offering up breakfast burritos and biscuits along with something called a “Breakfast Waffle Dog.” That will have to wait for next time … we were still recovering from the game the day before! “Linner” (lunch+dinner) continues until 7pm.

We caught them right at the switchover (around 10) and decided on the daily special of home-made sausage with peppers and spinach on a bun, cassoulet, and home cut fries cooked in beef fat. Unlike Salumi, The Swinery branches out beyond the charcuterie genre, offering more cooked foods. Not better, just different. The only odd thing about the menu at The Swinery was their vegetarian options. I mean, really … it’s a butcher shop! Risotto is just taking up valuable menu space!

We made our way down to the UPS Gardens at 2nd and Main, pulled up a chair and dug in to a very rich and satisfying meal. Nothing really cuts the cold autumn weather in Seattle like a hot bowl of cassoulet! Too bad we didn’t find this place before the MLS Cup game at Qwest. Once the winds pick up on the Seattle waterfront, Xbox Field could be renamed Icebox Field.

And Real Salt Lake won by the way. Can’t wait until our turn in 2011!

No Man Is An Island ... But This Kitchen Is

France's Ensci Industrial Design School has come up with a clever way to save space without sacrificing storage. The cooking surface, sink space and refrigeration is combined into a sleek island along with plenty of cupboard space in between.
When not in use, the island becomes just another piece of furniture ... perfect for a loft space or even a second bar kitchen.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Idea Monday: A New Twist on Saving Energy

If your local power authority is anything like BC Hydro, you are likely being bombarded with an energy saving programme like Power Smart. We're told one of the big energy wasters in the home is leaving items like phone chargers and computer equipment plugged in.

So why don't we just unplug things? Well, for me, it's simply because of the inconvenience of pluging and un-plugging ... and the more inconvenient something is, the less likely many of will be to do it.

Enter the Plug-n-Twist. Designer Yong-jin Kim has come up with a clever way to turn off a circuit while leaving your charger plugged in. A simple twist turns the circuit on or off. This product is still in the concept stage, but is a great example of a simple solution for one of life's annoying little problems.

Thanks to Design Milk for this one.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Chipotle Off the Old Block

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But what if it gives you jalapenos & tomatoes?

Our garden was quite successful this year, and at the end of September we found ourselves with a plethora of jalapenos and tomatoes. The tomatoes are pretty easy to deal with. We usually just roast them with some olive oil and herbs, and then freeze the resulting sauce. It's a great way to enjoy the flavours of summer all year long.

Jalapenos however don't freeze so well. To sort out this little dilemma I turned (as I often do) to my smokers. Chipotle peppers are smoked jalapenos ... and as I had both smokers and peppers I took a shot at making one of my favorite Latino ingredients.  The peppers were halved and seeded, and then placed face down on the smoker racks. I also had a few leftover tomatoes and some space on the racks ... smoked tomato sauce anyone?

The smokers were kept at a constant 180°F using lump charcoal and French Oak. Tomatoes are done when the pulp is soft enough to easily squeeze out of the skins . I took the resulting pulp, and reduced it with chicken stock and white wine ...

... and served it with some home-made pasta. Easily the best pasta sauce I have in my recipe collection.

The chipotle took a bit longer since they're being dried as well as smoked. The finished product is beautiful just to look at ... the fire engine red of the jalapenos now turned to a deep black-burgundy from the smoke. I haven't cooked with these chipotle yet, but they will find their way into the rubs and sauces I'll use next smoking season.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Home Grown Hallowe'en - Epilogue

What do you do with leftover jack-o-lantern? I came up with several creative options that included gravity, flight, and demolition.

What can I say? I'm inspired by the Mythbusters.

Unfortunately, my more mature side (aka my wife) suggested a more practical solution. So, we made purée, and now have about 12 little orange bags of pumpkin mush in the freezer.

Any and all suggestions for how to use it up are appreciated! My ideas don't seem to be well received.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

New Idea Mondays - Shower Wall Radiator

Monday mornings are a drag to begin with, even more so when faced with a cold shower stall. Yes, you could just run the shower and let things heat up. Or, you could install the Shower Wall Radiator from Vismaravetro.

Slim enough to leave lots of room in any bathroom, the radiator uses a crystall technology that allows it to be installed inside the shower, warming the walls, while the water warms you.

Mondays just got a little better.

Countertops: Recycled Glass

Considering the attention being paid to the environment today, it is of little surprise that the variety of “green” building materials is on the rise. Whether it’s reclaimed lumber for cabinet doors, Energy-Star compliant appliances or low VOC finishes, there’s no shortage of ways to keep your kitchen “green.”

One of the fastest growing segments of this industry is recycled glass surfacing. There are several brands available: Vetrazzo, IceStone, EnviroGlass, amongst others. The make-up of each brand is essentially the same: The recycled material is crushed and combined with a binder (e.g. cement, epoxy) and then treated with various pigments and additives (e.g. hardeners, strengtheners).

Recycled glass countertops are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Each of the websites I've linked above will have photos of the colours they have aavailable. Do yourself a favour ... go see them in person. This is a great example of a product being improved by the use of a recycled material. The depth and shine created by the segments of glass is unique in the industry, and while the colour choice at the moment is somewhat limited, time and market share will improve that.

On the downside, recycled glass does not fabricate as well as other surfaces like quartz or stone. The fabricator has to pay particular attention to edges where chunks of glass can become dislodged. Recycled glass countertops also need to be sealed, which is not a major problem, but needs to be considered when comparing it to quartz or solid surfaces.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Home Grown Hallowe'en

Halowe'en isn't really a big deal in our neighbourhood. Which is really a shame. As a kid I can remember going door to door all evening, returning home only to empty my pillowcase full of treats. The houses that gave the best treats we visited at least twice, changing costumes up amongst my friends so as to avoid being discovered.

Hundreds of kids did the same, keeping my parents, and those of all the neighbours handing our candy until at least 9 at night. Today, we're lucky if we see 20 trick-or-treaters in an evening. Times have changed, and our neighbourhood is thin on young families. Still, every year, J and I carve pumpkins and try to keep the dogs quiet when we give candy to the kids.

This year, our jack-o-lanters came from our own garden, and even though they managed to take up a disproportionately large amount of the garden plot, the resulting pumpkins were really beautiful. The one on the right was especially pretty, developing a really deep orange skin ... along with a really thick shell. Very tough to carve, but I think you'll agree we managed alright.

Happy Halloween!
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Campfire Cooking (or: Meat. Fire. Grunt.)

One of the challenges we faced when preparing for our camping adventure was the food. Campfire cooking is all well and fine, but a week of roasted weenies wasn't going to cut it. Creativity while tenting can be tough, so in the interest of inspiring some variety in your campfire dining I’d like to share some of the better “camping” meals from our week in Oregon.

If you don't already have one, a sandwich iron (aka Campfire Cooker) get one. Essentially it’s a grilled cheese maker on a stick. You assemble you sandwich inside the iron, toast over the campfire. Grilled cheese is simple enough, but if you some bacon and crack an egg inside, you’ve got breakfast. Nutella and banana? Dessert! One word of advice: get two.

I don't think there's anything that speaks to my primitive side more than cooking meat over fire.


And I'm not talking about using charcoal either. I mean real flames. It’s like you’ve just returned to camp with your kill of the day, and it’s time to feed the family.  Or maybe that’s just me.

Still, it’s a really challenges a cook’s understanding of the heat source and the product being cooked.

On the menu tonight: steak fajitas. Preparation was simple enough, and produced some really nice photos. The steak turned out a perfect medium rare and went well with one of several bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir we opened during the week.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Resources - Kitchen Culture: Re-inventing Kitchen Design

I still turn to books as my primary resource for technical information and project ideas. For me, a book requires more research, so the information is a bit more concise than what one might find on ... oh I don't know ... a blog.

My bookshelves are full of design books; some technical, some merely of the coffee-table variety. But they are always nearby when I start a new project. In the "Resources" category on useful spaces, I'll be sharing some of my favorites and hopefully giving you a new source of inspiration.

Kitchen Culture: Re-inventing Kitchen Design

Johnny Grey is completely responsible for my career choice. Years ago when I was designing for a big box home center, I came across Grey's The Art of Kitchen Design and never looked back. Grey's ability to see a kitchen beyond the walls of the room opened my eyes to the possibilities of this field of design.

In Kitchen Culture, Grey continues to inspire us with his design, but adds his insight into the function of the kitchen. He examines different storage options for your cabinetry, different countertop materials and brings it all home presenting a number of case studies from actual projects. Beautifully photographed and illustrated it is an excellent resource for anyone considering a new kitchen project.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The S'more Challenge

A little teaser for you before I continue our Oregon tales ...

Just because you're camping, doesn't mean you can't live it up a little. Take the humble s'more for example. Sure, it's just graham crackers, chocolate and toasted marshmallow. But around a campfire under a starry sky, there's nothing I'd rather have.

We dressed things up a little for these s'mores. Instead of graham crackers we used ginger snaps (Anna's) - instead of chocolate we used the infinitely superior Nutella - and for our twist on the classic, a slice of banana. Heaven.

So what is your s'more variation? Post it in the comments section. The best suggestion will win themselves a bag of campfire ready marshmallows.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Oregon - The Beer Tour 2009

Surprisingly, this is not going to be about the Oregon Brewer's Festival. That wonderful weekend at the end of every July is how I became acquainted with the state of Oregon. These people know beer ... good beer. And so when J & I decided to spend a week camping in The Beaver State I immediately began mapping out the breweries near our campsites.  After all, one cannot live on hot dogs and smores alone ... there must also be burgers and beer ...

Rogue Ales - Newport OR

The site of the old brewery (now the pool room) the Public House in the old part of Newport (opposite side of the highway from the Lighthouse) sells Rogue Ales and paraphernalia, and dishes up some great pub grub as well.

On our table that day were some Kobe Beef Bleu Balls (Kobe beef meatballs stuffed with Rogue Creamery Oregon Bleu cheese), some beer battered onion rings (BEST onion rings ever according to J), and a Shipwreck pizza (Italian sausage, beef and mushrooms). Wash that all down with a Hazelnut Brown (J) and a Smoke Ale (me) and we waddled our way back to our tent at Beachside.

In between our campsite and the town of Newport, is Waldport. Much like any seaside town you'll find on the Oregon coast, Waldport has it's share of crab-shacks and oyster bars. After a quick peak inside a couple of them I was deafened by the "tourist-trap" going off in my head.

It's a shame really. And while I'm certain there are some very good seafood establishments in Waldport, we were too hungry to experiment.  In the old part of Waldport (north part of town near the entrance to Alcea Bay) you'll find the Salty Dawg. It's not much to look at outside ... and not much to look at from the inside either if I'm honest. In fact, any place that carpets to bulkhead over the bar should really be given a good talking too ... and I would have. Really. But the cast of locals gathered around the bar and restaurant were all in such good spirits that I figured if the carpeting didn't bother them, they were all pretty drunk and as such, damn fine company.

We'd been told that the Salty Dawg was good for 2 things (not including a great selection of local beers): Seafood Chowder in a Bread Bowl, and Mexican food. Now as appetizing as cream soup served with more gluten sounds, J has a severe allergy to certain bi-valves, so we tend to avoid such things. On the other hand, she has no such affliction with tamales, enchiladas and house made re-fried beans.

I don't know if I'd hang the tag "authentic" on this platter, nor would I call it Tex-Mex. The flavours were fresh and spicy. Just a tad too much cheese to be really Mexican. But paired with a couple Mirror-Pond Ales it was the perfect accompaniment to the discussion at the bar: Oregon college football (go Beavers!).

Ever hear of a town called Estacada? Neither had I until I visited the Brewfest in Portland. Estacada is a few miles South-East of Portland, and is home to a great little brewery called Fearless. Both J and I really like Fearless. If pushed on the subject, I believe my wife will admit to selecting our campground for the night based solely on its proximity to Estacada. Not only are their beers terrific examples of craft brewing, but they seem to have embraced the Viking ideology. Being of Norse descent, I like that.

The restaurant/bar has a very college-town feel to it. Lots of young people eating in the restaurant and working behind the bar. Nice vibe.

The beer? Well, I'll tell you right now that out of all the beers I had during out vacation, the Fearless Scottish Ale was hands down my favorite. Creamy and smooth I could have spent the evening drinking these and eating chili-fries and burgers. If you can't hang around and enjoy your beer, be sure to pick up a "growler" - a 1/2 gallon bottle you can take with you ... to your campsite for example.  That may not be anything new for some of you, but for us Canadians, the take-away growler is a revelation!

The end of our trip took us up the Columbia River Gorge to the cities of The Dalles and Hood River. Hood River is a mecca for the sport of wind surfing, so I suppose with all those thirsty windsurfers around I shouldn't be surprised that there is a big love for craft beers in the town. We've had Full Sail at the Brewfest, but we heard that the view from the Big Horse Brewery was pretty amazing.

The view was indeed amazing, and while we enjoyed their MacStallion Ale we wondered how so many surfers could crowd that narrow point of the river without continually crashing into each other. It is truly an amazing sight. Lunch was their "attempt" at pulled pork. Not nearly as bad as some I've had, but I'm continually amazed at how something so simple seems to elude most kitchens.

I will warn anyone wanting to visit The Dalles right now, there's not much there to do. Use it as a base for further travels. But don't come looking for a nightlife, or some cute bistro restaurants. They're not there.

However, if you're looking for a perfectly cooked burger ... get yourself to The Baldwin Saloon. The Baldwin occupies one of the older buildings in town. It was at one point a brother, a naval office and a coffin storage site. Thankfully, today it's a pretty decent family type restaurant. All the old-school dishes are there: Coquille St. Jacques, Veal Scallopini, Chicken Cordon Bleu .. it reads like a Gourmet Magazine history issue. My advice is to try them on another visit, because if they do them as well as they do the burger, they'll be solid.

When the server asks you, "How would you like your burger cooked?" you know know you're in for a treat. The Baldwin grinds their own Chuck beef, so cooking to medium-rare is perfectly safe. The buns are also baked on site. Bottom line: best burger ever.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Work In Progress: East Vancouver

Business is booming. Strange, since the summer months are usually the slow time of the year. You won't hear me complaining though!

One of my bigger projects recently has been a remodel of the kitchen in a 1920's East Vancouver home. It's of particular interest to me for a couple reasons ... first because I love working with homes of this vinatge, and second because these people are friends of mine, and I am quite familiar with the original kitchen.

The homeowner has graciously allowed me to link to his personal web site, where he's been documenting the process. He's got it to where we're waiting for countertops (which happen to go in today). I'll re-post when he updates.

It's an excellent overview of what you can expect during a typical reno. CLICK HERE to read on.

UPDATE: The completed kitchen can be viewed HERE [CLICK]

Some comments on Glenn's commentary:
  • The Temporary Kitchen: I can't stress enough the importance of planning for the time you will be without your kitchen. Some projects can take as long as 12 weeks! That's a lot of pizza and Chinese take-out! If you have friends and family you can visit, great. Otherwise, cook and freeze as many meals as you can.
  • Inspectors: I have no problem with inspectors whatsoever. In most situations we're exceeding the building code requitements anyway. But it's important for the customer to remember that using inspectors will add time to the project. If we have to wait for the inspector, certain things just can be completed.
  • Cabinet Storage: When dealing with a small kitchen like this one, it's important to remember to consider where the cabinets will be stored before they're installed. You just can't keep them in the kitchen and inspect to keep the installer sane.
  • Being Your Own Tradesperson: Most contractors will grimmace if you ask if you can do some of your own work. Especially when dealing with inspectors it can often mean delays that are out of the hands of the contractor. In this kitchen, all went brilliantly (the clients did their own electrical and painting), but I have been involved with those that haven't.

    So, if you want to do your own work be sure to a) know what you are doing, and b) be willing to accept responsibility for delays you may create.

Monday, September 7, 2009

PNE 2009 - Chris Isaak

Is it wrong that when I look at this picture all I think of is BBQ? The PNE started out 99 years ago as an agricultural fair, so it only seemed fitting that we spent at least some of our last day looking at the animals. The fair actually does a pretty good job of making the connection from barnyard to the dinner plate, something more folk need to learn about.

We had a number of objectives for our last day at the PNE, not the least of which was conquering Jimmy's Lunch. Jimmy's Lunch is another long time fair resident - 80 years this summer in fact. What makes Jimmy's an essential part of the fair for me is not the burgers and hot dogs they sell by the thousands. There are several places that make much better food. No, what endears this place to me is the onions.

Or rather, the mountain of onions that makes it's home on the griddle at Jimmy's on the first day of the fair, and seemingly never diminishes for the duration. As onions are removed to be put on new orders, new onions are added to the pile. And if you look closely at the bottom of the pile you'll notice the presence of meat. Burgers are kept warm beneath, receiving flavour from the onions and adding their own essence to the pile.

Jimmy's is not for the faint of heart. This is greasy burgerness at it's best, but for many it comes at a price. Indigestion is not uncommon, but is a rite of passage for the serious fair goer. I had a Deluxe Cheeburger and fries, and let my stomach rumble as we watched the Superdogs.

Dinner was something new ... considering I've never seen them at the fair before (let me know if I have that wrong). Steve-O's had been tempting me all week long, mostly because it was a good deal ($7 for a 10" pizza) and also because you could have it made to order. We ordered up a cheese pizza with Italian sausage and 10 minutes later we wandered back up to the Central Park beer garden. Aside from the crust being a little undercooked, it was a really good pizza. Nice chew to the crust, and lots of toppings.

After dinner we wandered over to the amphitheatre to take our place in the throng waiting to see Chris Isaak.

My apologies for the poor quality of the video, but as the performers got better, and the fair got closer to the end, the crowds grew accordingly. Chris Isaak's audience was only slightly smaller than the Gipsy Kings, and that was only due to a bit of rain (translation: it poured all afternoon). Thankfully the clouds cleared leaving Chris Isaak and his bright pink suit a beautiful evening to entertain the throng. This was easily the best show of the 2009 fair.

How do you finish off a great day at the PNE? Dessert of course! Round 1, Whale Tails. These are also seen around the world as Elephant Ears and Beaver Tails ... but they're all the same thing. Fried dough with stuff on them. In our case, cinnamon and brown sugar.

Dessert Round 2 was on our way out of the fair. A home made root beer float, made especially convenient with the Buckeye Rootbeer stand right next to the soft serve ice cream stand. And even through the ice cream stand sold floats, Buckeye Rootbeer makes it better. Honest.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

PNE 2009 - The Gipsy Kings

If you're looking for a lot of eating in this entry, I'm going to dissappoint you. I'd met up with a friend for lunch earlier in the day at DB Bistro and unfortunately filled up before I made it to the fair. On a positive note, I can tell you that I have not found a better Reuben sandwich anywhere than at DB Bistro. Homemade corned beaf and sauerkraut ... but I digress.

Another downer this week is that the weather has started to turn to autumn. It's still been warm during the day, but there's a crispness in the morning air that hints at cooler days to come. And as is usual for the PNE, the rain has returned. Not steady, November rain, but annoying rain-just-long-enough-to-make-the-grass-to-wet-to-sit-on sort of rain.

Lucky for us the rain stopped before the evening's concert, and there were so many people there to see the Gipsy Kings, that NOBODY was going to sit down. The group you see sitting in the picture were actually laughed at when they started asking those in front to "sit down!"

Really great show, but you could tell 90% of the people were there for "Bamboleo." It reminded me of the time I went to see The Ramones and the group around us sand "Rock and Roll High School" to every song the band played.

By the time the crowd dispursed I was finally starting to feel a bit peckish. The choice of meals was easy since the smell of the smoke from this stand had been wafting through the crowd for the duration of the concert. Henry's Chicken BBQ is another of the long-time PNE food purveyors. In fact the late Henry Schultz (original owner and name-sake) was a family friend. No PNE was complete without a visit to his stand for some chicken and potato pancakes.

Saddly the pancakes are no longer, but the chicken is still as good as ever. Cooking techniques are unchanged as well; flip-over grills are the same as Henry used, and the seasonings (13 secret spices according to Henry) are applied using and industrial garden sprayer. But as good as the food is, it's the smell of chicken grilling over charcoal that keeps me coming back.

You'll find Henry's Chicken BBQ over by the Agrodome. Walk in the Renfrew entrance and follow your nose.
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