Floating bar

So this floating cabinet thing in the dining room came with the house:

And for the longest time, I haven’t really been sure what to do with it. It’s a little bit country. And so am I, I suppose, but not quite this much. I had been using it to hold a set of faux-Delftware dishes that came from my grandmother’s house, but they never saw much use and giving them such prime real estate started feeling a little silly. And it contributed to that slightly-too-much-country-oh-my-god-there’s-probably-art-featuring-a-rooster-in-here-somewhere-isn’t-there feeling.

This project started the way many do: I got out of bed one morning, wandered into a room, and decided that I’d had enough of staring at something that’s been bothering me. Out came the hammer and screwdrivers, out came the dish rack. And in went:

The bar! Because let’s be honest: this is what the dining room gets used for. I mean, I eat here… occasionally. When I have company. Otherwise, food tends to travel around the house. The dining room is really where the cocktails live.

So the basic setup is this: standard ingredients in the bottom right (some whiskey, vermouth, bitters, and GIN), sweet stuff up top. The box is where I stash my tea lights and other candles. The cabinet at the far right holds some lesser-used things: rum, tequila, brandy, some really off-brand triple sec that I don’t want you to know I own but WAIT I have Cointreau, too, I promise. Kahlua. Grenadine. Extra tonic water. We’re out of vodka, sorry.

And in the left cabinet, glasses:

THE ROOSTER! Aw, man. Busted. In my defense, he is awesome and he came from Portugal via a coworker who is lucky enough to travel to such places.

There are a few recipe books and bartender’s guides, as well. Plus this awesome thing:

Nature AND booze AND typography, y’all. I couldn’t not own it.

And of course, there’s art:

Photograph of City Hall by John Ingram (taken back in high school, Jesus), who has always kept a wicked awesome liquor cabinet and who kindly provided me a list of things one should always have in stock. Cheers, Ingram.

Tiny kitchen tour

One of the challenges of day-to-day living in the rowhome is cooking. My kitchen is an addition — a 180-ish square-foot cabin-like thing with a sloped roof I can reach up and touch. It’s tight and it’s hot and there are no luxuries. No stacking ovens. No dishwasher. No garbage disposal. No fancy-pants faucety thing that fills your pot with water while it sits on the stove. The sink is so close to the stove that having one of those things would be laughable, anyway.

I could post pictures, but here, let’s try this: a 6-second tour courtesy of Vine.

Tiny, right?

But in spite of it all, I do manage to get quite a bit of cooking done in here:

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Having good equipment certainly helps. My willingness to commit time to cooking for one has undoubtedly increased since the Le Creusets came into my life; I use them all the time, as evidenced above. But this post is not one of those lectures about the importance of investing in bazillion-dollar cookware sets. Come on. You know I’m not like that. We work with what he have.

This post is simply about feeding yourself when what you have is a lack of space. And also time. And probably also money. Recently, my strategy has been to set aside one chunk of one weekend day for shopping and cooking. I’ve found that it’s not as difficult as I thought to make it most of the way through the week on this one solid chunk of effort. Put on some tunes and pour yourself a glass of wine and it’s barely like working at all! (Warning: knives are sharp and the handles of an iron skillet get EXTREMELY EFFING HOT, wino.)

So here’s what I do: grab a protein or two, some salad ( I eat mostly spinach), eggs, lots of fruits and veggies, and some snacks (banana chips and dried cranberries for me). With that basic shopping list in mind, today my prep day yielded:


Not bad for maybe 90 minutes of work! This is a random chicken recipe from the internet, and the makings of Smitten Kitchen’s cumin seed roasted cauliflower with yogurt. And also an eggplant that was on super-sale at the store because it needed to be used today. (I regularly shop the expiring stuff — told you I’m cheap.) And eggs, of course!

I try to combine steps wherever possible; I boiled my potatoes and hard-boiled the eggs in the same pot, for example. I cut up the cauliflower and eggplant at the same time, too, and let them roast while the chicken browned. And then everything finished up in the oven around the same time. I love one-pan recipes, as this chicken dish is (save for the potato boiling bit), because it frees up room in my tiny kitchen and helps keep other dishes moving along.

During the week I’ll take some of the veggies and eggs to work (and maybe a drumstick or two) so I can throw them on a salad. At night I’ll have the chicken/potatoes/mushrooms until I get sick of that, and then maybe I’ll switch to pasta or wraps, again throwing on it whatever’s left in the fridge.

Oh right, the fridge. It is — you guessed it — TINY.


Yeah, that’s a normal Britta pitcher on the top shelf using up, like, a sixth of all of my storage space.

When I bought the house, my sellers decided at the last minute to take their fridge with them — fine by me, since their very standard big black fridge projected way into the middle of the room. I drastically downsized from what they were working with. And I’m not going to lie: I kinda hate this fridge. The condiments and the wine are always fighting for space in the door (the wine wins, natch). It’s really difficult to store raw ingredients in here and find anything later. BUT the prep days have been helping! When everything can be stacked in Tupperware, the storage issue is much more manageable.

So there you have it. Life in a bare-bones 8×10′ kitchen: tolerable. Sometimes even tasty.

Happy 2010, everyone! Hope the first few weeks have shown a lot of improvement over last year.

The New Year’s Eve party held at this old house went off pretty well. I always forget to snap pictures of the people, but at least I have blurry cell phone evidence of just how much we cooked:

And drank?

Missing from these pictures: the giant punch bowl of egg nog, even more spiced nuts, vanilla roasted pears, a veggie platter with homemade dip, and the crazy cannibal gingerbread cookies a guest brought with her.

As a side effect of actually having edible material in the house, I’ve now attracted a mouse. Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably know about my ongoing struggle to catch this fuzzy gray thing. But enough about that! On to some new projects.

The first major goal I’d like to accomplish in 2010 is to pull off some eye-catching DIY shelving for one wall of the living room. I’ve been inspired by Morgan of The Brick House, who is running her own awesome and very thrifty home improvement blog. She spotted some shelving in a hotel made completely of plumbing materials and wood planks, which she adapted for her own home.

The Brick House shelving unit.

Morgan researching the Ace Hotel’s shelves.

Since then, I’ve seen a few other adaptations of the idea spring up:

From Apartment Therapy.

Is this not the best way to create your own customized shelving? A whole wall like Morgan’s cost only $200. I think I’m going to scale it down a bit for this wall in my house:

(Old picture alert. God, was my house ever that bright? I miss summer.)

Now that I no longer have a fish (boo), and since my Ikea bookshelf is just a piece of crap anyway (double boo), why not put that wall to use? If things go well, I’m hoping to incorporate a home for a brand new pet into my design. But nothing is going to happen until February. I’ve vowed not to overspend any of my budgets this month.

Stay tuned…

It’s cold out, yo. Maybe not so much today, but my thermostat told me yesterday that my internal house temperature was 58 degrees (you can tell how much I hate paying for heat). Anyway, it was time to take the garden down, and that’s what I’ve worked on for the last day or two.

I got a few more quirky peppers!

All that’s left now is some lettuce, this crazy mess of sugar snap peas…

…and this one giant tomato vine, which exploded like a plant possessed sometime after the growing season should have ended.

I have suspicions that this one managed to bust a root through the bottom of its pot and through a crack in the concrete below, where it is now feeding on radioactive subterranean Philly waste. I’m leaving it up as a science experiment.

As I was chopping up and composting my dead plants, I kept a careful eye out for mantis egg sacs. Figured I must have one around here, somewhere, considering that I couldn’t pick a veggie all summer long without disturbing a mantis. They’re smarter than to plant their babies-to-be on a flimsy tomato plant, though. I found this thing on my fence:

Looks like the population is secure for next year!

On my last tomato plant, I found the mother mantis herself. She hadn’t really strayed from my backyard all year. And since I’d grown fond of having her around, and it’s getting cold out there (did I mention that?), I did what any true weirdo would do and brought her inside.

I got Carolina some crickets and a black fly, which she caught in about 45 seconds. Damn, these little monsters are quick.

I actually had a pet mantis as a kid for a while. The adults only live about 6 months, and I think my last one made it to January before dying, fat and warm, of old age. Well, I suppose “warm” is a relative concept in this house…

Back from an eight-day stay in Chicago, where I worked at — where else? — Art Chicago. I rarely have time to poke around the city when I’m at fairs like these, but what little I’ve seen of Chicago in the last two years I’ve really loved. The architecture is astounding, and I think Philly could learn a lot from their approach to having art in public spaces.

I took some video footage of Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain. It’s a piece that’s hard to describe unless you can see it in action. One catch: I took the video in a portrait format with my camera and Flickr doesn’t have the capability to rotate it. So here’s one end of the fountain (there are two of these video pillars facing each other), sitting on its side!

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This piece, as well as the other pieces in Millenium Park, all have an element of interactivity that, when presented together in such a great public space, makes for an art exhibit like no other. But you know, whatever. I’m not jealous or anything. We’ve got Rocky.

The rest of the week is too much to recap. I met some lovely people, some famous people, and some real jerks. I got hit on, I got yelled at, I got thanked. My faith in art was dashed and then restored daily. I’m exhausted.

One thing keeping my spirits up right now is that I returned to my house after a week of rain to find that my little container garden has really taken off. Here’s a picture from before I left:

I returned to:

So I had a nice side salad with dinner tonight. Can’t wait for tomatoes!