Monthly Archives: October 2007

Pick My Project

This week I’m taking suggestions. What project are you interested to know more about? There are plenty of home improvement blogs and shows, but just one that lets you be the general contractor of my house … without doing any work at all!

Here are the three options for this week’s “Pick My Project.” Whichever option receives the most votes via the comments box at the bottom of this post wins. I will complete the winner and report the results as well as any additional research both in a blog post and on next week’s Home Improvement Zone radio show.

Remember, to vote, enter a comment at the bottom of the post to let me know which project to take on!

Ceiling fan installation/replacement.


Outdoor concrete repair.


New door deadbolt.


DMN Kitchens Feature: 3 Renos, 3 POVs; Plus the Tips that Didn’t Make Print


From the Dallas Morning News.

I wrote the piece in Friday’s Home section about kitchen remodels. It features three Dallas-area gut kitchen renovations and how the homeowners accomplished them. I talked to a lot of people while researching this piece and three items I found interesting that didn’t end up fitting into the story are…

If you are handy and like to hang onto your money, do IKEA cabinets. Consumer Reports rated them pretty highly, and you can even order custom doors to go on your IKEA boxes. No one will ever know those boxes came out of a flat pack with the fancy African zebrawood fronts. Check out one blogger’s example hereLinks to more IKEA kitchen photos, real world examples.

The microwave drawer is the next big thing. Or at least it should be. For those of us who cook a lot, the microhood over the range just doesn’t work well enough. And yet the microwave on the counter takes up so much space. The microwave drawer solves both issues and is apparently safer because you can’t spill hot liquid onto yourself as easily and you have somewhere to set hot items. Sharp makes one, and I believe so does Miele.

Most worthwhile advice… when I asked this question of anyone who knew anything, the most common response was to invest time on and seek professional input for the plan. More crazy mistakes happen because of poor planning up front than anything else. I don’t think this was a self-serving answer from designers either. The budget kitchen couple found input by posting and reposting their proposed floorplan online at for a long time before starting.

Biggest mistake people make… after bad planning, one thing Redstone Kitchens owner Rex DeWald said was not following the architectural tone of the house. He offered the example of putting an Tuscan villa kitchen in a midcentury ranch. They just don’t go. Well put.

Returning to rural has its ups and downs, read my story in Friday’s Dallas Morning News

Red sunflower at Lavender Ridge Farm, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

I wrote a piece that appears on the cover of this week’s DMN Home section about a family that left their corporate lives to return to their family’s land. They set up a lavender farm for people to visit and pick their own flowers. The story is about their experience and how their new lives have been more challenging than they thought, but also more rewarding.

Here are some links to finding more pick-your-own trails in Texas:

Pick your own: includes pumpkin patch and Christmas tree listings.
Go Texan: the marketing group for Texas grown produce and other farm products.

Sweet Berry Farms around Marble Falls TX looks like a good one to visit. Check out this maze!! It says 2003 on the photo but they have the same deal going now. Visit their site for details.


And here’s an interesting maze in the Panhandle that is shaped like a West Texas A&M Buffalo:


What chefs’ last meals say about taste


Mario Batali, from My Last Supper. has posted a slide show essay featuring excerpts from a new book called My Last Supper. The author of the book interviewed famous chefs about what they would choose as a final meal.

Surprisingly, I found Gordon Ramsay’s choice of roast beef to be the most appealing. Heaven forbid my last bite be duck liver or sea urchin, which were both among the excerpted menus. I need some time to think on what my last meal would be, but I know it would include the broccoli rice casserole from the Black Eyed Pea. And maybe one of their dinner rolls. Or four. Haute cuisine not moi.

These days I’m liking Gordon Ramsay a lot. I never got into Hell’s Kitchen but give Kitchen Nightmares two big thumbs up. A lot more skeptical about restaurant food now. Has anyone gone to that Indian place in NYC he turned around?!!? Purnima a.k.a. Dillon’s?

Real World Kitchen and Dining Room Inspiration


Domino, which I believe is the “Lucky” of the shelter mags, has posted a slide show of reader submitted kitchen and dining areas. It’s refreshing to see what real people have done.

Toasting Gramercy Tavern on National Meatloaf Day

Fancy meatball, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

A few weeks ago when Michael and I were visiting New York, we splurged one evening and ate at Gramercy Tavern. It’s consistently on all the top restaurant lists and is my all time favorite.

Michael ordered the world’s poshest meatball. This lone giant comes stuffed with fontina cheese, perched atop pureed potatoes. I must admit it was really, really tasty.

What I found funny was that he swears to hate meatloaf, and yet that’s what this dish suggested to me. A diner dinner done fancy. I left thinking I would attempt my own interpretation of a giant meatball (mini-meatloaf) when I returned home.

What better time to fulfill that promise to myself than now, in honor of National Meatloaf Appreciation Day!

Tonight I put together a homier version of the dish that was not quite as fine, but almost! And for a lot less than $20 per meatball. 😉

I started with a basic recipe for meatloaf that used one pound of ground beef. This is enough for four large meatballs. I cut a hunk of fontina cheese into four 3/4 inch cubes. To avoid having the cheese seep out, I wrapped each cube in a clean, dry spinach leaf. At the restaurant there was some sort of green used for this purpose, but theirs was much neater. Looking back, maybe cooking the spinach a bit could have made this go smoother. And don’t use the baby kind, it’s not large enough. People eat too much of that bagged baby spinach, but that’s another topic…

I wrapped the meatloaf around the cheesy package and created four balls, somewhere in between a golf ball and a baseball. I sauteed them on all sides in a pan and finished them in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. I used that time to sautee some onions in the same pan and reduce some beef stock for the gravy.

Voila! Fontina-stuffed giant meatball, or mini-meatloaf, depending on who you’re trying to please.

If I were to do this again I think I might try smaller meatballs and not worry about the spinach. Perhaps someone whose done stuffed meatballs before could tell me whether the cheese seeps out?

Build your own green bulletin board

bulletin bd

In the past couple weeks I’ve been hard at work on the home office. It’s just about done and today we put up an artistic and productive creation — a green bulletin board!

It’s made of homasote, a construction material made of compressed recycled paper. It’s also used in walls and underneath floors to dampen sound. I covered the board in some cool graphical Marimekko fabric I picked up at the CB2 outlet on Inwood.

Homasote is tough to find. There’s only one place I found in the Dallas area I found that carries it in stock — Ivey lumber on Plano Road at 635. I had them cut it into a 4 ft. by 6 ft. piece. It comes in sheets of 4 ft. by 8 ft., just like plywood and sheet rock.

I used a staple gun to affix the fabric to the backside of the board. It’s sort of heavy, so I screwed it directly into wall studs in four places, using aluminum finishing washers on the facing side so it would look nice.


Minimalist mod birdhouse


From Two Straight Lines.

Continuing with this week’s theme of green home crafts, check out this mod DIY birdhouse. Any hip chickadee would love to make (or live in) this creation. Designed by the Two Straight Lines blogger. Enjoy!

Renewing wood floors, fighting the floor buffer

Michael demonstrates the floor buffer and describes why he thinks it’s fun.

I get a surprising number of search hits on this site from people researching how to take care of wood floors.

That’s because awhile back, I wrote about hiring a floor cleaning expert to remove glue, buff and apply a protective resin finish to the wood floors in my living room that had been covered over with carpet.

This was after having three or four different contractors tell me there was no other option than to spend thousands of dollars (and tons of trouble) sanding them down to bare wood.

The cleaned and buffed floors looked great, and after making careful notes about what the floor cleaning guy did, I attempted a DIY version of this on a small bedroom, soon to be our home office.

My mom is an ever-willing DIY project partner, so she and I pulled up the carpet, removed the tack strip and carefully scraped the glue off. I couldn’t find the exact floor cleaner the guy used, so I substituted a concentrated wood floor cleaner I found at Elliot’s Hardware that said it was suitable for poly finishes and that seemed fine. That’s also where I found the Bruce Light ‘n Natural liquid wax that I’m pretty sure my contractor used. Not sure why he called it resin.

We rented an electric floor “polisher” at Home Depot. This is no doubt the most trying part of doing a floor project yourself. The guy at the tool rental counter said it was difficult to maneuver, but I brushed that off. Not wise. We also bought the white buffing pad.

Once we got it set up inside, and calling the tool rental guy to ask how to turn it on, I attempted a couple passes. I could never figure out how to keep the thing from veering left.

I recruited my husband Michael to see if he could manhandle the monster. After a few minutes he figured out that it was all about balance. Pushing up or down even a hair would make the thing move. Even then, this was no easy task.

End result looks great, and while I wouldn’t avoid doing this again, I intend to research where I can find a more easily managed floor machine.

DIY cardboard furniture



Check out these cool DIY cardboard furniture plans by Swiss artist Nicola Enrico Stäubli. The pieces are kid-sized. A story about the artist is in this week’s NYT.