Friday, December 23, 2011

Top 10 Most Ridiculous LTHForum Threads of 2011

I wrote this post for entertainment purposes, with no agenda to even any scores or to out anyone's behavior. That said, I am not so naive to think that nobody will be hurt or angered by it. The volume of links coming to my blog from an LTH sub-forum that a system message tells me I am "not authorized" to read lets me know that behind the scenes, people are already watching this blog with, well, let's call it "interest". After writing this I seriously considered not publishing it, but in the end I decided that there's nothing here that I would not say to anyone in person, and this post is just the stuff I'd be writing on the forum itself if the regime would tolerate it. I'm also comfortable with any repercussions that may come my way; heck, what's one more kennyz removal from an LTHForum member's Christmas Party invitation list?

Without further adieu, the top 10 most ridiculous LTHForum threads of 2011:

10. Owners of New Restaurant Condone Rape and Murder
In this astounding thread, a poster makes the case that by choosing the ubiquitous-in-Belgium name "Leopold," these innocent, hard-working restauranteurs made a grave, revolting choice. More astounding is that a number of people actually agreed with him. (link to thread)

9. The NBA Plays on Christmas, and Slow Foods Holds an Event in September
At first I thought the second post in this thread was written with tongue-in-cheek, but as the thread progressed it became clear that the now-part-owner of LTHForum who authored it was serious in his self-aggrandizing stance about Slow Foods holding an event on the same day as the admittedly fun, but hardly major-news LTHForum picnic. I still do a double take when I read this one. (link to thread)

8. My Mother in Law's Friend's Maid is Polish, so I Know Good Pierogi and Yours Suck!
OK, this thread isn't about maids or pierogi; it's about Big Jones, which a particularly annoying poster claims is to Southern food what Red Lobster is to seafood. He offers little to no evidence, but tries to bolster his case by bragging about time he spent in low country. It's an all-too-common and all-too-annoying practice on LTHForum, but this poster takes it to another level. The Big Jones chef responds thoughtfully and passionately, which eventually brings the thread back to something less ridiculous. (link to thread)

7. LTHers Enthralled By 3rd Grade Math Problem:
This thread starts boringly but innocently enough with a complaint about automatically-added gratuities, and rapidly devolves into a discussion dominated by a poster who is bizarrely riveted by some of the most mundane things that happen in restaurants. As they often do, Moderators join yours truly in a hypocritically snark-heavy response that seems to go right over said poster's head. (link to thread)

6. "Reader Real Deal" or "Raw Deal" for LTHForum and it's Readers?
This one really irked me. I'm sure the dude who started this thread is a nice guy, but he posted one useless "deal" after the next. He did not have his facts straight about the restaurants involved, and could not answer even the most basic questions about what the offers involved. Why the Moderators allowed (and continue to allow) him to post this drivel without at least collecting some ad revenue is beyond me. (link to thread)

5. Next Thread Please
I'm not going to post a link to this one. My readers don't deserve to be treated so poorly. The monstrous Next threads (yes, there are several) are complete debacles, devoid of usefulness. You can find pages and pages of scintillating comments like "just emailed my request, waiting for a response," or "clicked the button 5 times and nothing happened." Good luck trying to locate something of interest on LTHForum about the food or experience at Next. This was a case where the Moderators needed to take a firmer stance about what would be tolerated, and by failing to do so they allowed the whole forum to be dominated by useless fly-by posts for weeks at a time.

4. Newcomer Gets Off the Deal Train Quickly, but Not Before Laughable Missteps
For pure deal site ridiculousness, the Reader Real Deal thread was no match for the one started by a company called Bunchbite. The thread's only one page, so read it all the way through. It speaks for itself. (link to thread)

3. Dear Michelin: Winnetka is our Napa
I find just about all Michelin star discussion ridiculous, and this LTHForum is a perfect exemplar. All kinds of time-wasting prognostication here, but the real hilarity comes in the form of a long time frequent poster's case that 40+ additional mediocre restaurants should get stars, and that the Chicago Michelin Guide should treat suburbs like Winnetka with the same reverence as San Francisco's Napa Valley. (link to thread)

2. Hypocrites Attack Well-Intentioned Chef
I hesitate to write this one, because in it I'm directly calling out people that I like and respect, but their behavior in this case disturbed me enough to note it here anyway. Moderators and one prominent poster who is also an experienced chef acted in a mean-spirited way towards another chef trying to get a thread going about his place. The worst part was the grossly hypocritical claims by this chef, supported by his Moderator friends, that Chef Foss was being "manipulative". This insult came from the same chef who had invited LTH friends to a free preview dinner at his former restaurant, and then watched those friends/ LTHers write glowing pre-opening reports. It's the same chef who also just saw a friend of his - a prominent local food writer and LTHForum Moderator - start a thread about his newest venture. I know and like the main actors in this thread, but I was bothered significantly by the suggestion that such overt LTHForum manipulation is somehow less troublesome than the very honest, straighforward way in which Foss approached things. (link to thread)

1. Cleaning out Coupons, but Dirtying LTHForum's Reputation
My snarky responses in this thread, a fraction of which still remain, nearly got me booted from LTHForum for good. Here, an LTHer begins planning a particularly disturbing, regularly scheduled gathering where a single, modest coupon will be shared among a table of 8 or so participants who will try to make sure they don't spend more than a few pennies. They'll end up reserving a large table at prime dinner time, then they'll share just a few dishes and spend a tiny fraction of a normal per-head amount before handing the coupon to the server. Oblivious to how rude this is, the event planner and Moderators didn't much like it when I pointed out the ridiculousness of the behavior. The planner made the reservation under "LTHForum", and the manager of this place - who knows me and my involvement well - shared with me how this behavior seriously damaged his formerly-positive view of the forum. And to the Moderators I was the bad guy. Oh well. (Link to thread and link to next thread)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Laing at 13 Pins

I don't think I'd ever tasted taro leaves before sharing some at Thirteen Pins, an odd, clubby, Filipino "tapas" place on Irving Park Road just west of the Kennedy. They're the main component of a dish called laing, which I gather is fairly popular/ common in Filipino restaurants and homes. A little googling suggests that laing is most commonly served over white rice, though at Thirteen Pins the concoction is placed atop white-bread crostini instead.

If the dish my companion and I shared last night is representative, then taro leaves have a very strong taste that may be hard to like for people who didn't grow up eating them. The taste is incredibly earthy - muddy, really - and the aroma is like that of a a barnyard or freshly-laid fertilizer. Upon first whif, I was instantly taken back to my one and only visit to Paris Club. Laing is cooked in coconut milk - perhaps to remove some of that challenging character - but if that's the intent, it did not work. There's also some fish sauce or shrimp paste, in case the greens aren't funky enough for you, I suppose. The mushy, loose texture under the dark lights at 13 Pins probably don't help counter the feeling that you might be eating bird excrement. Especially after taking a walk under the pigeon-filled Kennedy overpass to get to the restaurant.

None of the above is to say I did not like the laing at 13 Pins. It has many of the same traits as great cheeses I seek. The first time I tasted a ripe epoisses, I almost spit it out; now I can't get enough of it. The jury is still out for me on liang, and I definitely plan to try it at least once more, though I'm not sure it will be on a return visit to 13 Pins. I thought the food was actually quite good, with the laing and some crunchy fried pork skins served with an acidic, spicy dressing being the highlights. But the drink selection is pretty bad, and the vibe is an odd combo of romantic/ disco-clubby that didn't work for me. My liang-eating partner and I did eat later than I usually do, so perhaps I'd like the place more at my more typical 5:30PM dinner hour.

Thirteen Pins Tapas and Bar
4202 West Irving Park Road
(773) 283-6626

Sunday, December 18, 2011

3 versions of Naem Khao Tod, and The Winner Is...

This post on the wonderful She Simmers blog got me thinking about Naem Khao Tod, which, despite loving it on many occasions, I hadn't had in a year or two. So without really trying, I ended up doing a mini Naem Khao Tod a-thon, trying versions from 3 places over just a couple of days last week.

First up was the Naem Khao Tod at Dharma Garden, which I posted about a few weeks ago and had again last week. The highlight of this version was the house made pressed ham, which was offered in very generous proportion and was pleasantly more sour than any of the other versions. The salad as a whole was dressed well and the ingredients were in good balance, with the one low light being the mushy rice croquette pieces, which I'd guess were fried earlier in the day and/or fried in oil that wasn't hot enough.

My next version came from Sticky Rice, where it was offered as a whiteboard special. At Sticky Rice this usually means it's about to become part of the regular menu, so I expect it to available there for a long time. Unfortunately, as much as I love Sticky Rice, this dish was a disaster and I won't be having it again. The peanuts tasted off, which was bad enough to ruin the dish by itself. I could forgive spoiled peanuts and give the dish another try, but in this case the biggest problem was that there was WAY too much dressing. It created a half-inch deep pool at the bottom of the bowl and destroyed any chance of the croquettes retaining crispness. The dish was a sour, soggy mess.

The clear winner was the one everyone talks about. At Spoon, it seemed that the pressed ham was more of an accent, with the rice croquettes playing the lead role. That's a fine thing, because these were some spectacularly crispy, tasty bits of deep fried rice. Dressing was applied lightly but provided plenty of flavor, and all of the ingredients tasted fresh. The Spoon Thai version of Naem Khao Tod was all about the fantastic rice croquettes.

Leela from the She Simmers blog rightly suggests that Naem Khao Tod is the kind of dish that you want to order when you eat Thai food at a restaurant. "If your local Thai restaurant has this on its menu, by all means, get it," she writes. It is indeed a tasty dish, and with one notable exception I support following Leela's suggestion.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Party Like It's Next Year

We hosted our annual Christmas party at our house on Saturday.  It was the most calm I've ever felt during a party, from that weird time from 6:30 when I realize I'm not going to have everything ready on time, to about 7:30 (30 minutes into the party) when everything is finally out and taken care of.  This time was no exception and 7 pm rolled around and ALL the food plates on the table were empty and folks were knocking at the door.  I think our timing would have been better but we woke up to the heater not working and waiting for the heating guy and we were pushed back about an hour and a half.

But I was calm and I'm usually so frazzled.  It took a good 15 minutes to get forks on the table, even that part wasn't done (!) and when I realized my giant bag of plastic silverware contained about 150 knives and 4 forks I didn't panic.  Spoons seemed kind of a dumb alternative but you have to do what you have to do.  At the new house our kitchen is completely open to the rest of the house and let me tell you the kitchen was the fullest room in the house.  I was still trying to get things out of the oven and dishes cleaned and folks all around in the way.  The living room, meanwhile, was vacant, it was so weird.  Crowds and crowd behavior amazes me, as an aside.

But everything made it out and everything was wonderful.  A really great party.  At one point I was in the kitchen with my favorite person (I have a friend-crush on one of Brian's friends) and a very sweet lady who loves my decorating came to join the conversation.  They were talking about stress at work and it eased into stress at work and infertility.  I immediately thought of working for my step dad and having my first miscarriage at work and how completely certain I was that the miscarriage was due to the stress of working for him.

And yet I was frozen, I never chimed in.  She said she and her husband had been trying for 2 years with no success, they had been to the doctor and they both checked out okay and still I said nothing.  I'm a veteran at this and I was mute.  I let my friend-crush do all the talking, assuring her everything was going to work out and hopefully she'll be pregnant next year at the party... all the good things you're supposed to say when you aren't Hans Solo frozen in carbonite waiting to wake up either a miracle mom or content as a family of two (plus four cats).  I was thinking what I always think which is I know you aren't going to end up like me because no one ever does.  I don't know anyone like me and I probably never will.  Everyone I know ends up with the baby, I could start a list of blogs but it would be too long.  You're going to be just fine even though that sounds dismissive (god knows, it used to to me) it's not.  Have you tried acupuncture?  I almost said that and then wanted to kill myself on the spot.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I'm starting a DIET on January 1st.  It's so cliche.  And I've already told my husband and now I've told my 8 readers and I'm pretty much now doomed to fail.
Or, maybe not.  I want to write more about that too.  Lots more, hopefully like months and months worth.  That would be great.  Back to my roots.

We hosted our annual Christmas party at our house on Saturday night.  I noticed while I was getting ready that Fox (the cat) was sleeping on the sofa and not following his usual routine (mostly following me around getting in my way) and the party started and he was still asleep on the sofa with people pouring in.  Finally I saw him walking across the room and he was limping.  We had a cat named Bella who started limping one day that turned into radial nerve damage and she ended up dragging both her legs behind her if she ever came out from under the bed.  We ended up having to put her to sleep when kept continuing to lose use of her legs, her front one was starting to go and she would not leave under the bed to even eat.  The other cats were ganging up on her, it was just a very awful experience all around.

Fox is my favorite cat and I can't even begin to describe to you the fear and panic that set in when I saw him limping across the floor.  Brian made me wait until the party was over (it was agony) and then we took Fox to the emergency vet (still our vet, he will come in after hours for emergencies).  Fox had a bad fever and the vet was certain it was a cat bite.  I found a mark on his lower back that the vet shaved and cleaned but we never found anything on his leg.  The vet gave him a antibiotic injection, an injection to reduce his fever, and gave him some fluids.  Fox was no longer limping the next day but walks a little woozy when he first gets up.  I took him back to the vet on Monday and his fever was back to normal, his sore looked like it was healing, and he examined his legs closer for injury (nothing was found). 

We aren't sure if he was bit by one of our cats, perhaps Andy in their crazy daily tussles that went too far or he got out on Friday night for about 1/2 hour before we noticed he was missing, maybe something happened then.  I was raining that night but Fox looked extra "rough" when we got him back inside.

Last night we went to a surprise birthday party and we were talking to this couple who was about our age.  They thought Brian was kidding about us living in the hood.  At one point the woman turned to me and asked if we had kids.  This is a common question.  I do find it funny that it was the first question directly straight at me and while my mind fills up with the 1000s of infertility experiences I've gone through I have to answer, "no," with no sense of sadness and despair or feeling like a leper or a weirdo.  It's harder than it looks.  I'm lucky I don't drink because that answer would have filled her ears with a personal history of my infertility.  "First I had an hour long internal ultrasound, then I had an MRI with IV dye, then they cut open my stomach, and cut out all the fibroids on my uterus, my recovery nurse was mean to me and I'll never forget her as long as I live, then I had an HSG in front of 6 people that hurt like a motherfucker, then I had an SHG, then I had 10 IUIs.  I gave myself shots in the stomach, one day I gave myself 3 shots in the stomach in one day!  Then a lot of time passed and I wondered if my fibroids came back so I opted for another HSG that also hurt but all was clear. Then I was told I'm a poor responder, and donor egg would be my best chance, even that wasn't guaranteed and it would have to be in New Jersey and we can't afford it anyway.  Adoption is too expensive too.  Foster parenting is out of the question because I have attachment issues because I come from a broken home, being attached and ultimately separated from a baby that would go back to a parent that abuses him and takes drugs would probably kill me at this point, probably at any point, actually... So, how many kids do you have?"

And when I say, "no," with all the enthusiasm and confidence I can muster up from inside of me, the woman always does the same thing, every. single. time. she turns away and the conversation is over.  It's like she's lost all sense of ever being able to connect with me so why bother.  So each and every time my confidence gets hit in the stomach in anticipation of the head turn away from me.  It's so sad, I wish mothers knew they did this to women without kids.  Certainly we are all more than our offspring.  Certainly you have more, anything else to say about life than your kids.

So, do you have any cats?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Broccoli and raisins

Anyone who's been to as many Wisconsin potlucks at rented out bowling alleys as I knows that broccoli and raisins are a classic combination. Mixed with Miracle Whip and Bacon Bits, the pairing perhaps loses some of the culinary appeal of its Sicilian roots, but for me it's still something quite magical. One need do nothing more than eat a piece of broccoli with a couple of golden raisins out of the box to see just how well these two ingredients complement one another.

My understanding is that in Sicily there are countless ways in which broccoli and raisins are used together, many of which turn into sauces for pasta. Pasta is what I do, and my favorite method is a simple one: puree the pair with roasted walnuts, cheese and olive oil to make a pesto, then serve it over long, thick pasta. In the most recent case I used pici, which I love for its substantial chew and long cooking time, which enables me to start it before putting my daughter to bed and still have time to read The Cat in The Hat and sing 2 lullabies before it's done.

The walnuts, oil and cheese make this a rich dish. Sometimes I just leave that alone, but this time I topped it with some homestyle* breadcrumbs that I fried with lemon zest to give a little acid balance. I also emboldened the richness with a dollop of creamy ricotta.

I cook mostly vegetarian food at home, and this is one of my absolute favorite rib-sticking, wintertime home cooked dishes.

*chopped as best I could by hand so as not to let the noise of a food processor wake the little one.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Not Going Back to The Slurping Turtle

The Slurping Turtle's shumai were a disaster. The wrappings were way too big in proportion to the miniature filling, creating starchy, way out of balance things with little flavor. The top third of each dumpling came to the table hard and dry, as if it had cooled too quickly or been handled improperly before assembly. These were the worst shumai I have ever tasted or could ever imagine tasting.

"Silken" tofu was relatively smooth, but nowhere near the wondrous texture that spoiled me in the Gras era at L20. Unlike Gras' simple serving method which added one complementary element that really made the tofu the star, the Slurping Turtle added an I-can't-remember-now array of strawlike, discordant ingredients. The one garnish I do remember with clarity was some julienned kombu that had been marinated in sugarry soy sauce. It was plasticky and way too sweet. Though not the same level of disaster as the shumai, this dish did absolutely nothing for me.

With a green tea and two tiny portions of food that were memorable for all the wrong reasons, lunch was over 20 bucks. It is perhaps too soon to judge a place, but for me the Slurping Turtle is off to a very bad start and I can't imagine ever returning.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cai: a new favorite for dim sum

If dim sum restaurants opened at 6:30AM, that's when I'd be there. As it is, I'm pleased that Cai and a few other places open at 8, when most other Chicago restaurateurs are still asleep (along with a more disturbing number of "modern" butchers, bakers and wholesale grocers). I mention that because the early hour affects the type of food I want to eat, and I think that's the type of food where Cai shines. While other places may serve more robustly seasoned, exciting preparations, nobody betters the technical execution and subtlety one wants out of early morning cuisine.

Papaya with custard cake, which I understand is called Ma Lai Go on some menus in reference to its Malaysian origin, emblemizes what I love about Cai. It's the lightest, spongiest of sponge cakes, with just a whiff of sweetness to let the rich egg flavor shine. The papaya is in almost too minuscule a proportion to even notice , so perhaps it's there just for color. No matter, I crave the pure custard aroma wafting from that piping hot bamboo steamer for days after I eat it.

BBQ pork turnover is a baked pastry that I've had at a number of places, MingHin most recently before Cai. None are even close to a match for Cai's perfect pastry execution, creating multiple layers of very flaky, delicious crust. The bbq pork filling is nothing special, and they could leave it out entirely as far as I'm concerned. Or swap it out for some almond paste to make the best damned almond croissant south of Logan Blvd.

I've ordered congee at much-loved dim sum places, and I never understand the appeal. Whatever the fixins, it always tastes like nothing - a massive bowl of mushy, unseasoned rice. More knowledgeable congee eaters than I suggest that the blandness is intentional, and that diners are supposed to season it to their own liking. They're probably right, but if so Cai's perhaps-inauthentic, well-seasoned congee that's cooked in flavorful stock instead of water is what my Gringo palate wants. In particular, the one made with homemade fish balls and greens is not to be missed.

I should disclose that I probably get special treatment at Cai. My family and I dine so early that we always have the entire massive restaurant to ourselves, and the staff adores and dotes over my curly blond 18-month-old little girl. Show up at 11:30 on Sunday to wait for a table with a crew of hungover hipsters, and the experience may be different.

2100 S Archer Ave Ste 2F
(312) 326-6888

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bar Toma

In one of the gazillion media pieces about Bar Toma, a representative was quoted as saying that the pizza is not Neapolitan style. Instead, the Bar Toma rep said, it’s “Bar Toma style,” which he or she explained was based on some life changing pizza that their research team had in Rome. Or something like that. Whatever they want to call it, toppings aside Bar Toma’s pizza is much closer to what one might find at a mid-scale Italian restaurant in Tulsa than anything I ever had in Italy. Though some of the toppings might challenge your average Oklahoman tourist, if she stays with something that sounds familiar she’ll be pleased with the recognizably bready, structurally homogenous and boring pizza she’s had for much of her life. I chose the bianco, which has lardo, rosemary and way too much of some kind of grating cheese that was applied before baking and therefore came out with a chalky, dry texture and sharp, salty taste that distracted from the luscious and mild lardo.

Trippa alla napoletana was OK, but while my favorite versions have a relatively even balance of sauce to tripe, this one was basically a giant bowl of good tomato sauce with a scant scattering of relatively tender, mild tripe. Inoffensive but not very interesting.

Silky and intense lemon sorbetto was the best thing I tasted, followed closely by a “Spreetz” unlike any Spritz I had on my relatively recent trip to Venice. Bar Toma’s was more balanced, without the over-the-top bitterness that overwhelmed all of the versions I had there. It was served in a wine glass, which I found odd.

I suppose one should evaluate Bar Toma on its own merits and in doing so it’s probably a good place. It’s better than that if you compare it to most options in the immediate vicinity. But I couldn’t help but compare Bar Toma with the pioneer of real food on the Mag Mile - The Purple Pig, In the end I couldn’t help but conclude that Bar Toma is playing it safer, and I’d strongly recommend the Bannos’ joint over Mantuano’s.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The New Dharma Garden

The recent changes at Dharma Garden are the most exciting thing to happen to the Chicago Thai food scene in years. After Heather Shouse published this article in August touting the fact that for her preparations of authentic northern Thai fare, the new owner earns the admiration of Thai cooks and staff at favorite places such as Aroy and Sticky Rice, I would have expected the Thai-obsessed eaters at LTHForum and elsewhere to flock to Dharma Garden, which just happens to be right around the corner from me. Instead, there has been virtually nothing of interest written about the place anywhere since Shouse’s article. Dharma Garden is now a special place that deserves better than the sparse or non existent crowds I see there daily.

I’ve gotten through only a tiny fraction of the Thai menu, a translation of which is available for the asking. My favorite dish so far is Gang Som – a thin, sour curry that’s available at a few other places around town. Dharma Garden’s is a richer broth that’s a bit more sour than others, and it’s served with perfectly crisp and moist pieces of delicious fried catfish. The soup’s abundance of vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower is perhaps a Western touch, and I enjoyed it.

Nam Khaow Tod, a dish made famous among internet foodies at places like Spoon Thai here in Chicago and Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, is also very good at Dharma Garden. Unlike Spoon, Dharma Garden makes its own pressed ham for this dish (and every other cured meat/ sausage on the menu). The pressed ham in this version seemed more tart than at other places, and that lent a delicious burst. It’s a terrific dish at both places, and Spoon wins on the extreme crispness of the rice croquette pieces. At Dharma they were good but a little soggy. For what it’s worth, I had the opposite textural problem with Dharma’s sausage, which seemed to spend to much time reheating in a deep fryer, rendering it palatable but dry. Great flavor nonetheless.

The translated Thai menu at Dharma Garden is 3-and-a-half pages long, and I look forward to enjoying a lot of it.

Dharma Garden
3109 W Irving Park Rd

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why am I Blogging Now?

In this blog I expect to write about three main subject areas: (1) the food I eat in restaurants; (2) my criticism of what food writers, bloggers and LTHForum posters are saying; and (3) perhaps a wee bit about the mostly Italian cooking I do at home. I plan to write very little here about myself, but in this post I will indulge my desire to say something on that front.

I have written 4,791 posts on the food discussion website, LTHForum. Among members who have never had any behind-the-scenes role, I think that places me (kennyz on LTHForum) second all time in posting volume. It's been a significant part of my life for several years.

I loved being part of LTHForum. Many of its members were among the most knowledgeable food people I'd ever encountered. I got to know a good number offline in real life, and we became friends. Some of my enjoyment - I must admit - also came from a certain voyeuristic trait. I like having an audience. When I wrote something I thought was particularly insightful or funny, I enjoyed the feedback I often received confirming my probably-too-lofty opinion of myself at that moment.

In the paragraph above, I struggled mightily with the verb tense. Most of it is written as if my feelings are in the past, and I guess that is largely correct. A few links in this grubstreet piece allude to what one might call a battle I waged against changes that I saw happening at LTHForum. It was a smaller place when I started, and seemed more targeted at a higher level of food discourse - whatever that means - than Yelp or other similar sites. I saw that slowly start to unravel, and my perception was influenced by two factors.

First came the constant battle LTHForum moderators waged with me regarding what they thought were my overly snarky posts. The moderators would confide that they personally found these posts amusing and they acknowledged that in general my posts were interesting and filled with rich, useful content. I am being honest when I say that I really never believed any of my posts to be particularly personal or hurtful toward anyone. But the Moderators were making the case that my posts might make the Forum seem like an unwelcome place for newcomers. I began to sense a desire on their part to expand LTHForum's reach, even if doing so meant watering things down.

Next, many of the LTHForum contributors I found most interesting starting dramatically decreasing their participation or ending it entirely. Each surely had his or own motives, some to which I'm privy and others to which I'm not. But the fact remained that a significant percentage of the members who had been writing the most interesting stuff either weren't doing so at all anymore, or were doing so in other venues. As a whole, though there are certainly exceptions the content and the posters at LTHForum simply became less interesting to me, which - as pretentious as this may sound - gave me less of a desire to be among them.

So, I'm blogging now because I have loved writing about food and the "food scene" for many years, and the venue in which I used to do it doesn't feel like the right fit for me anymore. If they'll still have me I'll probably participate here or there in LTHForum discussions I find interesting, but this blog is what I'll use for the bulk of my own content. No doubt this will make some people over there happy. I'd be lying if I said I harbor no ill will toward any of the people I believe prompted me to make this move, but I do like and respect others that are currently involved, and I wish them well. I have no illusion that my blog will garner even a tiny fraction of LTHForum's readership, so that voyeuristic side I spoke of above will just have to work with what I get.


Finally, tomorrow the shelves in the kitchen should be put up.

This is the final piece in my original design of the kitchen.  To add later: larger island, pot rack (?) maybe, fix the issue with the refrigerator door (handyman thinks leveling the fridge will fix that - I have my doubts, maybe have a divider built to hide the washer dryer, one day purchase a Mod Kat litter box that all 4 cats will love and replace a standard (ugly) litter box. Who knows...

But I will be able to get all my dishes organized and then I can organize the china cabinet and all the organization just makes me giddy inside.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Best Pizza in America. No Waiting.

People describe Jimmy's Pizza as selling NY-Style slices, and in fact Jimmy himself describes his pizza that way. To me, this pizza - especially the white pie - transcends geographic labels and is in fact the best damn pizza anywhere, period. The crust has well-developed ferment and a dark, ultra-thin but audibly crisp layer that gives way to soft, airy bread that's foldable but not without significant exterior cracking. Toppings are applied judiciously, and what stands out to me most is how perfectly seasoned everything is. Well-salted but not overpoweringly so, and a generous quantity of black pepper - an ingredient that's often lacking but is an especially needed component of a great white pie. And garlic. Lots of garlic, in fact - but it's sweet and incredibly well balanced among the rest of the seasonings.

Jimmy and his mom also sell freshly fried beignets, which I found to be just as good as those at famed Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. Which is to say that they were fine. I don't get people's love affair with beignets. The perfect espresso that Jimmy's mom made me, on the other hand - with its thick, long-lasting crema and sweet, nutty aroma - was something quite special.

Jimmy's Pizza Cafe
5159 North Lincoln Avenue
773) 293-6992

WTF is David Tamarkin talking about?

This review of Al Dente is more than a month old now, but I haven't yet gotten past the insulting and outlandishly inaccurate description of a unique neighborhood restaurant. Reading this review, I genuinely wondered whether Tamarkin had ever even been to Al Dente.

In the second paragraph, he writes that "...the neighborhood has already embraced it: People descend in big groups..." I walk by Al Dente nearly every day, often at prime dinner time and at least 3 times on a Friday night. The unfortunate truth is that there is almost never anyone in the place excepting the chef and a couple of staff members who look longingly for a customer to cross through the door. Perhaps by pretending that Al Dente is the latest trendy hot spot, Tamarkin seeks to make the pretentious case that his trained palate knows better than his hoards of imaginary Irving Park simpletons "congregating over Perez’s ... solid food".

Even more bizarre is the fourth paragraph, where Tamarkin makes the befuddling case that Al Dente's menu is an also-ran copycat of legions of other Italian joints. He writes that "gnocchi with boar rag├╣ is a dish that seasoned diners have seen again and again—probably at Spiaggia, Tuttaposto or Cibo Matto. To that end, very little, if anything, is surprising on this menu." This is where I not only wonder if he actually visited the restaurant, but if he even bothered to read the online menu. The chef at Al Dente is Mexican, and his menu is a Mex-Italian fusion unlike any other I've come across. Grilled calamari are marinated in guajillo; a Romaine lettuce salad has cilantro dressing; fries are served with habanero aioli; salmon is served with Oaxaca-style adobo negro sauce. For Tamarkin to leave readers with the impression that Al Dente is just another neighborhood Italian place, and to not even mention the Mexican influence on the menu, does them a terrible disservice. For God's sake, there's queso fundido on the menu.

Did David Tamarkin's intern accidentally write down the address for Leona's instead of Al Dente?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bai Cafe - Kazakhstani hidden in plain sight

For an ethnic restaurant that's been open in the heart of Lakeview for 9 month not to capture even one Yelp or LTHforum post is remarkable. Will my little blog contain the place's first-ever online review? From the looks of the clientele and half-dozen cabs parked under the el tracks just next to Bai, I gather that the place caters to a fairly narrow base. The owner told me that though he's been open awhile, he just added storefront signage a couple of weeks ago. It looked like an abandoned building before that, he said.

The menu is uninteresting: a couple of soups, some grilled meats, chicken wings, rice, etc. Perhaps the cook/ owner sensed my quest for something more exciting when he motioned for me to come into the kitchen, where he showed me a couple of simmering pots of "today's specials". With the exuberance of an old school French waiter, he lifted the silver colored lids off of the pots and said "Voila" as he displayed what looked like potatoes in tomato juice. When I asked him what it was, he said "potatoes in tomato juice". "Is it good?" I asked, to which he replied "very authentic". Then he lifted a lid off of another pot and said "This is special lamb". I told him to give me both, and then left the kitchen for a table in the dining area.

"Potatoes in tomato juice" was served as a soup. It was salty and had some defrosted vegetables and chunks of difficult-to-chew meat along with very soft potatoes. "Special lamb" had the same potatoes and tire-textured meat, though it also had some robust lamb jus which made a decent dipping sauce for the stale pita with which it was served.

I can only assume that Bai Cafe fills some void for Kazakhstani cab drivers longing for a taste of home. They probably go there for the same reasons I continue to frequent places in Chicago that sell shitty "NY Pizza by the slice".

Bai Cafe
3406 N Ashland Ave,
Chicago, IL.
(773) 687-8091

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Almost There

The house is almost, almost done.  I'm waiting on a bill for the screen for the slider.  And I'm waiting for shelves to be installed in the kitchen.  Also, there's an issue in the kitchen.  When we put in the pantry cabinet we (the handy man and myself) thought it would be a good idea to pull it forward so it would line up with the refrigerator and not sit back.  But in doing that now when you open the refrigerator door the pantry door stops it from opening all the way.  So to fix that I scooted the fridge over right next to the stove.  Except now when you open the microwave oven door it gets stuck on the refrigerator and won't open all the way.  I temporary fixed the problem by pulling out the refrigerator a bit so everything will open but you can see a gap behind the fridge when you look at the stove.  So, in essence the handy man has to unscrew the pantry cabinet and push it back.  Of course I caulked it so all that caulk has to be removed and then I think we'll have quarter round issues at the bottom.  The quarter round problems never stop.  I hope one day to break out the various costs of quarter round and installation.  Every time I turn around there's more quarter round that needs to go somewhere.  But anyway, moving the cabinet shouldn't be a big deal (lots of caulk to clean up), but it does need to be done.  I'm trying not to bug the handyman though because I had him almost exclusively for a couple months and he's catching up on other jobs.  I was hoping he'd send the screen bill and I could remind him of the shelves and tell him about the pantry.

Oh, also I had shelves installed the back bedroom closet and they are awesome.  Now I want some in the front bedroom too.  But then that's it.

Favorite things: the new window.  I'm a convert, I didn't think it was possible.  I've always loved the old wooden windows even when they are rotten and don't open but now I have this window that opens, even from the top (great for kitty cats who eat screens) and you can fold it open from the inside to clean it.  The kitchen window was new from the initial renovation (when was that? 2006?) and it needed to be cleaned desperately and I was thinking oh well, eventually I'll get a ladder over on that side of the house and clean it and then I remembered from the handy man showing me how to use the new new window that was replaced in the front bedroom and I tried folding the kitchen one down and it worked and I cleaned it and it was like 100% improvement for the kitchen.

The washer/dryer.  I thought I loved the set I bought for the yellow house.  It was my first front loading washer and stackable but we got a smaller size because the kitchen is so small.  And I was always doing laundry, like half the week.  Small loads and the dryer seemed to take hours.  And it shook the whole house and moved around the kitchen (I'd have to push it back in place from time to time).  The new set is so big I haven't even been able to fill the machine even with the sofa slip cover!  And it doesn't shake at all and the dryer is faster than the washing machine!  Unheard of!

The Pax closet units from Ikea.  We each now have these huge closets and everything is so organized.  I can't wait to get photos of this for the blog.

Dark floors.  I like that they show more dust.  I can tell when I need to vacuum.  Also my furniture looks better against the dark floors.  The living room rug is so much better.  I was going to replace it but over here I like the way it looks.

The slider.  I still think I made the right choice not getting french doors and going for the slider.  It leaves space to decorate the deck and not have swinging doors in the way.  Also the screen is great for fresh air but I'm so paranoid about the cats (Fox!) biting the screen and making a hole.  I'm thinking of a solution for that, maybe a baby gate?

New curtains.  The curtains were a huge expense even though I was very budget conscious.  I really love them, they are fresh looking and clean.

New light fixtures.  The fixture over the sink in the kitchen turned out to be one of my favorite things.  I like to keep it on at night up until we go to bed.  It sparkles and shines and looks dainty.  So cute.  I also love my outdoor fixtures in the front and back.  They look exactly like what I envisioned.

Open concept.  Totally worth the expense.  Everything is one big room.  I can talk to my husband while I cook or do dishes.  I can't wait to have a party and see how much extra space we have in action. The downside, of course, is all the dishes will be exposed so we'll have to be extra aware of that.

No litter box in the bathroom.  This bathroom for some reason is just smaller than our old bathroom (closets are smaller too) and there was no room for the litter box.  I put it in the kitchen and it's so much easier.  We used to constantly be stepping on litter and it gets wet and gross in the bathroom.  Now I sweep the kitchen twice a day, something I'd be doing anyway and there's hardly any litter to be any trouble.  Having the box in the kitchen isn't my favorite aesthetically, I'm still working on that, but functionally, it's so awesome.  Obviously if there was a room like a laundry room I'd have it in there.  I have to work with the small space I have and this is the best option for us.

Pantry cabinet.  I love having this one place where ALL the food goes.  And for that matter, tons of drawers.  Oh, how I missed drawers.  We only had one small drawer at the old house, I had the silverware in cups on the counter.  I still try to reach for the silverware on the counter, it's pretty funny.  It's very handy to have silverware on the counter.  But it's nice having it tucked away in the drawer.  There is so much more storage and organization here.  I really like that. 

But anyway the whole point of this post is so far the renovation has cost right around $17,000.  My goal was $10,000.  I thought I'd end up around $12,000 so I'm interested to break it all out to see where I went over budget and what additions and surprise issues can do to a budget.  Coming soon...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ikea Made Me Cry... Again

Ok, I can't find any help anywhere on the internet.  I cannot believe I'm the only person who can't figure out how to get the stupid Komplement drawers installed in my Pax wardrobe.  The instructions have conflicting information and I can't find any help.  And now I'm crying and I want to break the stupid $40 drawer with a big hammer.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

True Cost of Renovations

Hey, I think I forgot to write about my injury.

When I started grouting the 200 square feet of kitchen I used two 10 pound bags.  It didn't hit me until I almost finished with the float that I had almost half the floor of almost completely dry grout.  Also, I swear this to be true, I think unsanded grout is much harder to work with than sanded grout.  Either that or 35 to 40 is the biggest wimp age gap of all time.  Also, I've only used white grout and gray grout, even what dries as a pretty light gray, Pearl Gray, goes on in a smeary charcoal gray.  Also, because it wasn't easy to work with I had an extra thick layer pretty much covering the whole tile.  Oh, working with mosiac.  My guess is this is just not the problems one faces with 12 inch square tiles. 

So I got to work.  I had a bucket of water and a large sponge intended for grout with built in scrubby side.  I just got in there scrubbing the heck out of the dries grout to get it to come up.  And what I ended up doing is pinching a corner of the large sponge with my thumb and my pointing finger and a little with my middle finger and scrubbing and scrubbing until I got to the end of my mess.  I think it was over 2 hours, I really lost track of time while tiling.

You're probably wondering, hey where was Brian during all of this.  Well, that week, my poor husband was very sick.  First he was just changing out buckets for fresh water.  Then, I sent him out for more sponges because I thought maybe my sponge was just getting too dirty and I noticed that when I squeezed out the sponge, it really hurt my hand.  He came back with the wrong sponges but we found if you didn't wet the new sponges and just rubbed them over the almost clean tile, it would perfectly clean them.  So, he was behind me cleaning the tiles to almost perfect condition while I was still scrubbing hard to loosen the layer of grout that was drying (almost dry) on the tile.

I noticed that night that my hand and fingers really hurt and come one, who wouldn't expect that.  But the thing is, it never went away, in my fingers anyway.  My thumb especially and then my pointing finger and lesser but still there in my middle finger, completely numb all the time.  At first it was off and on but now it's all the time.  And it doesn't so much hurt as become distracting.  Anything that requires pressure from those fingers in my left hand is very uncomfortable.  So typing isn't so bad because you don't need a lot of pressure, using the mouse like a crazy person like I do when I have over 1000+ showing in my google reader, hurts, but I've been using the mouse in the right hand for that or using the ipad which requires little pressure.  The remote really hurts my thumb.  The other night we had hot wings for dinner and I could barely eat them.

I also sleep on my stomach and sadly feel most comfortable sleeping on my left arm, which occasionally will fall asleep even before I got hurt so if my fingers fall asleep it cues me to switch my position but now it's asleep all the time so I sleep very badly.  I'm still working that out.  I found out if I sleep with my fingers curled around my thumb, like a bump fist, then I can't feel that my thumb is asleep and I sleep better.  It has gotten better, I think, or I'm just more used to it.  I have a Gyn appointment next Friday and I'll ask her about it but I don't want to spend a bunch of money to have someone tell me there's nothing that can be done.  I tried on a brace at the grocery store and it didn't do anything, it's not in my wrist but in my fingers.  I can tell when I rub the inside of my wrist where are the veins are I get these shooting sensations that are quite weird.  So if she says I should go see a specialist I will.

So, once again, I tried to save money and now I have chronic pain.  And it's a great way to start my 40s with such an odd ailment.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shambles, I Say

My house is in shambles but I did want to mention I finally finished tiling the kitchen floors. Today I used a dehazer and got every little tile buffed and cleaned as best as possible. Then, I started scraping the walls and ceiling of the kitchen and stuff, disgusting stuff, got all over my cleaned floors. This is just how it goes with renovating. I ran out of spackle, I used an entire quart and couldn't finish the room. I'm ready to continue on tomorrow.

Painting the kitchen will be huge for the house but it's such a big job, second only to the tiling.

We are still waiting for the countertops that we ordered a week and a half ago so our kitchen is in disarray with no countertop or sink and faucet. That will really make a difference when that is in.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

We Can Do It, Yes We Can! (or something like that but less optimistic)

Okay, so below is a list of what's left.  Of the original quote only 2, yes, 2 things are left but of course things come up.  Like total window rot on one of the front windows.  Duct work needs to be replaced in two spots (one doesn't even have duct to the vent).  And all the extra crap I keep adding.

For me, I am so very doubtful all this plus the yellow house's stuff are going to be done by Monday. 

They are installing kitchen cabinets as we speak, 2nd day of cabinet install.  I tiled the floor on Saturday and all day on my 40th birthday on Sunday, I seriously wanted to die, I'm never ever tiling that big a job again, small bathrooms only.  I bought 20 boxes of tile thinking I'd have left overs and return and we went through all 20 boxes! That's 200 square feet!  I still have to grout it!  I grouted last night after the handyman left and grouted for 3 hours and did about 1/3 of the room.  I'm in so much pain!  I also have to build a giant closet armoire thing from Ikea for our bedroom and 2 large dressers for Brian's parents.

It's also been raining for at least 2 weeks straight, maybe 3 weeks.  It's off and on but mostly on.

I just don't see how we are going to get done with everything.  I think the plan is to finish the cabinets, then do all the stuff that needs to be done here and then finish our house up to when we move and after we move.  It will not be done by the time we move in.  I also still have to paint the dining room and kitchen.

Part of original estimate

7. Move 3 selected light fixtures over to the house. $90.00
8. Install kitchen cabinets, sink & faucet and permanently install dishwasher. $460.00

Don't forget washer outlet

Additional Items

Install window in front bedroom
Install duct work in two spots
Install 2 ext lights
Swap 4th fixture in houses
Install outlet in living room, move cable from dining to kitchen
Exchange bedroom window a/c outlet for regular outlet
Install cablevision line in kitchen
Hook up ice maker
Order countertop
Install toilet
Replace screen on front door
Install new door knob and lock on front door
Remove trash from backyard (old cabinets)
Tighten drain under bath sink (it seems to only leak when I use it)
Shorten interior doors (1 inch each?)

Yellow House
Install shower surround with railings
Install railings on front steps
Secure railings back steps
Discuss toilet railings
Secure kitchen faucet (it's wobbly)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mini Pendant

The pendant over the sink at the Blue House did not survive the demolition.  You would think finding a replacement pendant would be easy but I kept thinking "school house" and then I'd look at Schoolhouse pendants and think the ceiling is a school house fixture, do I really want the same thing.

I also had a budget, as always, had an idea of an amount that I didn't want to go over.  I ended going over that amount but I didn't break into the crazy amount.  I used a coupon code too, that helped.

One day, you'll get to see this dazzler over our new kitchen sink!

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Ok, so these are the brackets I ordered from Anthropologie for $24, each.

Then today I got an email from Van Dyke's Restorers that had these for $13 each.
1. The aqua is questionable on the Anthropologie ones.  How many different shades of aqua does a room need?  I don't even know if they are going to match.

2.  You notice on the cheaper shelves on the top part of the bracket there are holes to screw the shelf into the bracket.  Anthro's brackets, as similar as they are, do not have these holes.  I was going to have to rig something to secure the shelf to the bracket so it doesn't slide off with all my (Anthropologie) prized dishware.

3.  Seriously Anthropologie?  It's exactly the same.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Interior Black Doors

I'm strongly considering painting the interior doors black.  I just think this looks so freaking awesome.  The interior doors are new cheapy ones and need something so they look different.  Such a big job though.  If I paint the insides (where the rooms are) then I have to paint the closet doors too.  I really don't want to do that.  Hmmm.

I'm posting iphone photos regularly on flickr (see the side bar).  I wish I had more time to put together some detailed entries but I just don't.  Blogger takes forever to load photos, I just don't have the time.  Please keep an eye out on Flickr if you're interested in my progress.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Saturday morning I went over to the blue house with my gallon sprayer of new bug spray concentrate. I went around the perimeter of the inside, like I do at home but even more consistent because there's no cats to worry about or furniture in the way.

Then later that day Brian and I went over to start taking apart the kitchen. Appliances had to be moved out of the way first. We started with the stove, or he did. And of course there were bugs behind it running for cover. I had brought over my can of bug spray that my mom gives me, the same stuff Terminex uses. And he sprayed and I squirmed standing outside the backdoor on the deck. Next he went to pull out the refrigerator and there was water under it and from what he described, I didn't see it, hundreds of bugs. He sprayed and then we had to deal with the refrigerator. The tenants left an open bag of ice in the freezer and then the power was shut off. I called on Friday to have it turned back on but they can't turn the power back on until Tuesday. So the ice melted and there's an opening in the back of the freezer and it ran down inside the refrigerator and out the bottom. We ended up turning the refrigerator on its side to empty all the water, there was a lot, and a couple more bugs. I ended up using the gel on the bottom of the refrigerator. I didn't want to spray because I don't know what the spray will do to the electrical parts.

We mopped up the water (and bugs) with a towel that we threw out. Brian started ripping out the cabinets. The vibration of beating on the cabinets would make more bugs come out. There was a spot on the floor behind the refrigerator where a lot of bugs ran into. The upper cabinets weren't too big a deal but the bottom cabinets really sucked. Did you know the bugs can hang out in your quarter round. They're just wedged in there unsuspecting and obviously not bothered by whatever I sprayed this morning. Brian would pop the quarter round off and one or more would run out looking for a hole to run to. The sink was problematic. Brian removed the sink and a bug was running around the bottom of it while he took it outside. It was hard to remove the sink cabinet because the pipes that come out for the water and drain. He had to saw the cabinet around the pipes with a saw we use on tree limbs, it's all we have especially with no electricity. It took forever and I couldn't help him because bugs were everywhere.

Behind the sink cabinet is a huge hole, like huge, you can see the pipes running up the wall and the dry wall is broken and falling everywhere. There were holes behind all the cabinets. It just seems so easy to patch all your walls and then install cabinets. I mean, of course you would get bugs there, it's completely open. All the cabinets came out on Saturday and we ended up using the entire bug spray can in the kitchen.

On Sunday we went back over to take out the hot water heater cabinet and start ripping up the floor. I only had a can of Raid now and some Boric Acid powder I bought earlier in the day at Lowes. First we had to move the appliances into the living room. The stove was easy enough. Under the refrigerator there was still a little bit of water and some bugs were there. I sprayed with Raid and it made the floor slippery. Brian almost fell. I had to use another towel to wipe up the Raid and throw that towel away too. He ended up having to take off the doors to get it through the door way. I had a hard time just standing there trying to help him hold the doors. There were a couple little ones from time to time that were running around. I mean, WTF, does the spray not do anything. The little guys are out running around??? Finally the refrigerator and the stove were in the dining room. I took the roach powder and made a circle of powder around the appliances, it looks like a witch's circle.

Then Brian went to take out the water heater cabinet and it started back up again, bugs everywhere. He had to hammer apart the cabinet because I couldn't bring myself to touch it. Bugs were running around the wood while he was beating it apart with the hammer. Once it was out I squirted the powder around the hot water heater and again, in the big hole behind the hot water heater.

Brian then started on the floor and it's taking a lot of energy to get the tile to come up. We found under the cabinets a layer of wood that we knew about under the tile, then a layer of vinyl sheet, then more wood. I really want everything up from the vinyl up and then put down new flooring. Heck, at this point I'd love to go down to the floor frame and put down all new subfloor. If the ground was exposed we could really spray. I also really want the dry wall to come down on the kitchen cabinet side of the wall. At least to the window. It doesn't have to be neat or perfect because cabinets will cover it but at least it will be solid and new and we can get behind the walls to see what's back there and resolve it.

I'm so troubled by this I can't even tell you. I don't even want to be there. I didn't even go over today. Brian couldn't finish the floor because it was too much work. I ended up using the entire bottle of boric acid in the dining room and kitchen. I put out the Gentrol tabs that make the bugs infertile. I should have put them throughout the house but I was really troubled by the kitchen. It's all very troubling. I just don't know how to express what I'm going through.

I've used:

1 gallon of Demon spray, highly rated stuff
A few beads of gel on the underside of the refrigerator
1 entire can of the bug spray Terminex uses
1 entire bottle of Boric acid.

Last night I ordered 2 cans of bug spray and some sort of powder that's supposed to be better than boric acid, another $75.

We also called the bug guy today and he's coming over tomorrow. I really want him to spray under the house, like crazy spray under there and whatever he wants to do in the house, I mean, my god, how much more can you do in the kitchen???

Today we didn't go over to the house at all. I spend the day working and then we went to Best Buy to price appliances. I don't even want to keep the dishwasher anymore, I want all the appliances gone. Brian still wants to use the refrigerator at the office. I think he's crazy. The plan has always been to take the office refrigerator to the blue house because it has an icemaker.

So new expenses are:

Rip up the floor, please god

Remove dry wall on the cabinet side at least to the window

Beg the bug guy to do whatever it takes, tent the fucking house and bomb it, I don't care at this point, it's the #1 priority at this point.

Get the floor leveled so I'm open to more and easier flooring options, I just don't see myself laying 150 square feet of tile in that room, at this point.

New stove, new dishwasher (dishwasher was always a maybe because I'm not sure if you can hardwire the portable dishwasher). We decided for the stove to buy Brian's parents a new, cheaper stove, and move our stove over to the blue house. This will save about $250 plus tax.

I also want all the air conditioning duct work to be replaced. I have to get the handy man to give me a quote for that. This is something I've been wanting to do since we bought the house.

Tomorrow morning the bug guy is coming over and the handy man starts tomorrow as well. He's supposed to take down the wall between the kitchen and dining room first. I think removing that old chimney will help too. I think water is getting in there through the roof.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Let's see on first quick glance after tenants moved today.

Broken fence picket (pre-hurricane), piece of screen door gingerbreading trim came off, guess I should be grateful to have the part, screen is done, has to be replaced, the expensive Rejuvenation light fixture in the living room, giant thing, is on the ground in the living room, I didn't even check to see if it was broken.

House is smelly, kitchen almost as dirty as when last tenants left and I only mention it because the tenant so wanted to assure me how much of a clean freak she is. Broken tile, lots of it, like something large fell on the ground in front of sink, okay because we are replacing the tile but my god, what if we weren't. This is the worst I've ever seen. Tile hasn't been cleaned in forever, surprise, surprise. Everything is dirty in here.

Stove atrocious, I can barely stand to look at it. Tried taking kitchen measurements for cabinets, bug ran out against wall behind the stove while we were there, yes, the bug problem is real and I'm so glad the kitchen is going, I can't wait. Need to spray right away. Need to spray right away.

Of course now it's Friday and I have to work. We plan on some demolition this weekend, hopefully the entire kitchen. Handyman starts on Tuesday.

Oh, I can't lock the deadbolt, the key won't go in. I didn't even go in the bathroom or bedrooms.

House overall feels dark, uninviting, creepy, dirty. I hope I can change all of that in the next month.

What have I gotten myself into?

Friday, August 26, 2011


Wow, I really don't tend to take these hurricane predictions seriously until it's most certain something is going to happen. We went to the grocery store on Wednesday and I went to find some bread and I thought it was the oddest thing that almost every bread of every kind was gone. Don't they stagger these bread delivery trucks. And then it hit me, "oh yeah, crazy hurricane people getting their bread and milk."

Looks like it's not going to hit us direct so I figured we'd just get some rain. My mom removed all the patio furniture at her house yesterday. I thought, "what a waste of time." But I was just sitting here watching television and all hell broke loose outside. What the heck? I could hear the wind and rain and the birdhouse was knocking so loud against the house I thought it would dent it. I threw on some flip flops to try to at least take the hanging stuff down.

By the time I got out there the rain band had past. I put all the hanging stuff on the patio floor anyway along with all the pots. People must be driving by thinking I'm the biggest moron, I had the US flag still out!

Now the question is how far to go, do I leave the furniture on the porches? What the heck can I do about the standard rose (rose tree). I can't really do anything about it, it's already leaning over from all the rain. I'm sad that I might lose that tree. If we had more regular storms it would just be known, hey you can't have a rose tree here, crazy person. We haven't had a real storm since a few months before we were married, that was in 2005. I remember crying while watching a wall of rain pour down the wall in the downstairs bathroom. It looked like a water feature just pouring flat down the wall about 8 feet wide for the whole freaking day.

I guess our trip to Ikea is cancelled. Bummer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Full Sized

I've been known to DIY my own headboard and let me be the first to tell you, it's difficult, time sucking, and more expensive than you think it would be.  This bed started out as a $10 bed I found at a thrift store.  I removed everything down to the wood, which gave me blisters, and then realized it was old school 70s and too short for todays thick mattresses.  In came the handy man who added height and legs.  I ordered foam over the internet and it was exorbitant in price!  I took over a week to get here and then I had to let it "rest" for 48 hours to expand to it's full sized.  I had to cut it to match my frame with the wrong tools, I wasn't buying anything else darnit, I had to get batting, more money, and fabric, more money, and an electric stapler, more money.  I took a 100 years to put it together and I didn't pull the fabric tight enough, which is unfortunate with 1000 staples, I'm not pulling all those out, and I realized it would look better with buttons but I didn't save enough fabic to make buttons, once again I didn't save any remnants, sure to be my downfall.  Save your tile, save your fabric, save your eggs.

Still, I can't remember what it cost me, $150 or so, cheaper than you can find anywhere else, and I'm ALWAYS on a budget so a girl does what she has to do.  All in all, I really like it, I was so tired of the iron headboard.

Before this whole switching houses business one of my main goals this fall, around my 40th birthday, was to exchange the french daybed that I bought in my mid 20s for my future toddler, to a full size, ready for guests and putting the past behind me bed.  I've been keeping my eyes open, believe it or not, looking for an iron headboard or one of those swirly wood headboards I could paint an interesting color.  I was messing around on the internet and found this bed on Pottery Barn Teen.

The full size is on sale for $250 and I have a 10% off coupon.  I just don't think anything like this is going to come around this cheap.  The office chair we use in the same room is chocolate brown and I could keep my lilac and white striped curtains (I love brown and lilac together).

I'm going to think hard on this one. I don't want to pass up the right bed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Blue House Budget

I put together the budget for the blue house the best I can with the information I have.

The weirdest part of the budget are where I have *. These are items not on the estimate given to me by the handy man. For light fixtures I just used the price for other light fixtures. To move electricity I really just pulled that number out of a hat keeping in mind how much I'm usually charged for things like this. I think he left off countertop installation and water line for refrigerator on accident. Countertops are related to the kitchen cabinet install and he'll already be doing a water line for the dishwasher. I could be wrong though.

I told Brian right off I thought I would need about $10,000 for renovations. He wanted it more like $7500. I cut some things we can do later like the front porch and a shed but I was still at my original budget. I also wanted to go with nicer cabinets but it's just not in the cards. This will be difficult to pull off as it is. We settled our debts with more money than we thought we would but wanted to pay down as much as possible to put us in the best shape. I've been trying to store extra money because I only have about $8000 left. The good news is a lot of this stuff has already been bought so I am probably right where I need to be for money. But things always change and budgets aren't rigid so it's good to have extra padding. Worst case we wait on buying a washer/dryer. That will be the last thing we buy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hurry Up, and Wait

Geez, talk about your hurry up and wait, the tenants will be moving on the 1st so we won't get in the house until the 2nd.  Originally the tenants said out the weekend of the 25th, funny because the 25th is on a Wednesday but now, moving on the 1st, that makes sense.  We're just kind of in a holding pattern here, ready to wield a sledgehammer.

I've been trying to settle on fabric for the living room curtains.  I think I've ordered like 20 samples and I don't like any of them.  I mean they are okay but not good enough to entice me to sew 4 panels.  That's a lot of sewing.  I just ordered something else today, hopefully *fingers crossed* this is the one.

I've also been thinking about a color palette for painting the blue house.  I'm unsettled and really want to see the rooms after the wall is down and the sliders are in.  The house, from what I recall, is painfully dark, and I really want to paint a room, preferably the dining room, a dark color, like navy blue, but I'm on the fence about it since the room is so dark.  I'm hoping with the wall coming down that will bring much needed natural light and I also lose a wall when the wall comes down, the other wall across is a big arch wall into the living room, one wall has double windows that take up most of the wall and the other wall leads into the hallway, so there's a lot of space that won't be painted so maybe I can get away with it, I don't know.  I like a moody dining room, the idea of painting it some light color, I can't picture it.  I also am not lost on the fact that I'll be painting a middle open area a dark color and that might not work either.  I might have to go dark in the living room and match the dining room and kitchen or go neutral in the dining room to ease the transition.  So much to think about without having anything to look at.

Friday, August 12, 2011

TCB - "Taking Care of Business"

Not everything is about pretty things and decorating when it comes to moving. 

We have 2 major issues to deal with when it comes to moving.  a) Bugs and b) Asshole cats and electrical cords

Bugs are just an issue here.  It's the south and the air is thick like cream.  You can talk to anyone rich or poor, city or county, clean or dirty and they all know about the giant cockroaches.  I myself, have a disorder, a phobia, and I don't even like to go outside at night in the summertime.  They are hanging out on the sidewalks and decks and anywhere else I might be walking or standing.  And I just can't deal.  It's just a fact.

I pretty much take care of the bugs DIY.  At the office we have an exterminator come out every 3 months.  They have a jumping spider problem at work and I really can't deal with flying bugs or jumping bugs.  But at home and even when we were at the big house I use this stuff my mom gets from her exterminator.  If you are under contract you can call them whenever you see a bug problem even if it's between the 3 months.  I guess she called so much he started giving her her own cans of what we call "the good stuff." 

I don't really go crazy with the stuff.  There's too many cats in a small amount of space so I stick with corners and thresholds and near the a/c vents, under cabinets, appliances, anywhere plumbing comes out, and big cracks.  I spray the front and back porch really well.  When we bought the yellow house it had a termite problem and the bug guys came out and went under the house and sprayed every part of under the house.  It took them all day and I had to be there.   The entire bathroom flooring was removed and you could see the ground.  Never saw a bug in the house.  Of course as time has past we've had some bugs but it doesn't feel like it was anything like the old house.  We had a spider problem two years ago and I read everything I could and everything said you had to spray directly on the spiders, residual spray doesn't work like it does on other bugs.  So I went around with a caulk gun and caulked any place that had a crack I could caulk.  And it really seemed to work. I also kept things active, I vacuumed regularly and dusted, moved things so spiders couldn't really settle in.

The blue house has had problems since the first tenants.  I remember while the yellow house was being sprayed underneath I walked in the blue house the first time since we bought they house and there were spiders everywhere.  I ended up having them go in to spray for spiders because I was too scared to go halfway into the living room.  And during renovations I didn't have any problems.  But the first tenants had problems and it looked like a real bug problem, not an occasional giant cockroach problem.  I had someone come out and use gel and other bullshit and the tenants never really brought it up again or asked for them to come back but if you asked them they'd be like, yeah they are still around.  But they didn't want the bug guy to come back.  And all the tenants have been like that.  No one wants an exterminator.  Crazy people.

The last tenants brought it up and we offered to have someone come out but she was worried about her baby.  They did want us to seal a hole behind the stove, which the handyman pretty much thought was a joke and not going to do anything, but we did it anyway.  So now that we are moving in there, the crazy bug house, I'm really worried. 

I spent about an hour yesterday researching options and ended up buying some kit for a DIY pest place.  The funny thing is last night while I was reading in bed on the ipad I looked over to see Zimmy and Fox staring intently at a spot near my shoulder.  I flipped out and was out of the bed in like 1/2 a second.  I found a spider in the bed and killed it and spent the next 3 hours with the lights on thinking for sure something was on me.  And of course, we had to shake out and inspect all the covers.  It was just great irony to be searching for a bug solution for next door and find something IN THE BED.  I haven't found a bug in my bed since the centipede of '93.  I don't think I ever recovered from that experience.

My plan is once the tenants are out, go batshit with "the good stuff" and when my other stuff comes in the mail hit it all again a week or so later.  I also wanted outdoor stuff to get between the house and the house on the other side really well.  I don't know how affective this will be but it's worth a shot.  I used to use granules outside at the old house all the time and I don't think it did anything.  I have this gel stuff the exterminator used and I also have this stuff that's supposed to make them infertile.  Oh the irony continues.

The cord issue drives me crazy.  Crazy crazy.  I bought some bitter apple spray and hit every cord in the house I could find.  I put some cords in covers but the ones I bought from Lowes were really big and expensive so I used them behind the television and in our bedroom (the bedroom is a big problem).  I thought the apple spray was working.  I would spray it on a papertowel and then wipe the cords with the wet towel.  The spray seeps into my skin and doesn't wash off and I taste bitter apple for a few hours on my skin even after washing my hands really really good.  A couple weeks ago I hit the cord to a radio outside.  And then about a week ago I noticed someone was chewing the cord.  It's one of the tiny cords, the cats favorite.  I rubbed my hand on the cord to feel for cat bites and then noticed I had the bitter apple on my hands.  So I know it's still on the cord but whoever it was didn't care about the spray the cord was far too important. 

Then the other night the ipad was low on battery and the only place in the bedroom to plug in is the other side of the room but I have a long cord so I plugged it in.  I noticed Andy down there and called for him to leave the cord alone and he walked away.  About 10 minutes later I felt a tug on the cord and Andy was down there secretly chewing the cord, he was almost through the damn $30 cord (I know how much they are because I've replaced them 3 times!).  I yelled at him and unplugged the ipad.  We have a charging station on the bookcase where the cord is protected so I just put it back there.  I was so mad!

A couple days ago someone had a post about cats and cords and linked to a place where you can get flex tubing all sizes and colors and I bought a lot of it, 30 feet I think in white in a small size.  I also ordered some white electric tape.  I'm going to try taping cords to the wall and baseboards and see if that works.  From the earthquake putty that stops the cats from knocking down nick nacks and lamps to the electrical tape, nothing is going to move in the house, it's going to be like living on a sailboat.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wish List: Kitchen Island

One of the things I'm in search of for the new house is a kitchen island or something that can be transformed into a kitchen island.  I haven't had much luck.  I don't think a readily available wood island cart would work because the cabinet style would be different and I think stand out too much.  I was thinking of a butcher block island but they are very expensive.  I was looking at some stainless steel islands, which I like but I don't think they are pretty enough in a room that will been seen from the front door to the back door.

Then I came across this from Crate and Barrel:

It's bigger than I was originally looking for, almost 5 feet long, but hey I'm going to need the prep space.  But with a price tag topping $1400 with shipping and tax, I don't think I'm going to be able to buy it.  I've been looking for a cheaper version and haven't come up with anything.  Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Meet the Cats Series - Aidan

I thought I'd start a series of introductions to the cats.  Aidan is the oldest so I'll start with him.

A long long time ago I lived in my mom's garage apartment and had a Himalayan cat named Ally.  Ally was not what you'd call an affectionate cat and I really wanted a lap cat so I went to the pound to find a kitten.

The crates were all lined up on one wall, I think there was 16 of them and in one of the center crates was this little gray kitten all by himself howling to the top of his lungs.  I took him out and cuddled him and he stopped howling.  When I put him back in the crate he started howling again.  I figured no one was going to pick him because he was so loud so I choose him.

I don't have many kitten photos because these were the days before digital cameras.  But you could tell right away he loved the outdoors.

And he loved to terrorize other cats:

Aidan's first nick name was Boogie.  I have no idea why but the term "Boogie in a Box" is very popular around these parts as well as "Boogie in a Basket."

Actually, finding Aidan sleeping anywhere is a treat.  He'll sleep almost anywhere:

He spends most of his time outside on the screened porch, looking like this:

Sometimes, on hot days like this:

And in the winter, like this:

He also likes high places:

Nope, Higher than that:

Nicknames: Boogie, Boogie Shorts, Boogie Monster, Monster Brains, Boo Bear, Mr Pants

Claim to Fame:

Now he is the oldest cat however he holds the record for breaking the most items in the house.  One infamous night he pulled the vanity mirror out of the holder and it fell on the floor waking us from sleep, certain from a nuclear bomb.   The mirror was broken and I was reduced into tears, my favorite piece of furniture ruined.  Brian had the mirror replaced, which I didn't even realize was an option.  Needless to say it's more secure on the wall now.

And of course the mysterious howl.  It comes out of nowhere some nights like he's lost us.  We wave at him and flick the lights on and off and then he realizes, oh right, you guys are sleeping now and comes to cuddle and sleep.

My Favorite Photograph: