Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rainy Sunday

Went to an Open Studio exhibit today. Go to to see Dianne's interesting and layered work. I captured some images outside the studio, and thought this one summarized a rainy, late September Sunday.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Early Autumn in Bedford NY

I hit the road today with Sandy and Christine, and within 45 minutes we were at "Stone Barns" in Bedford, just north of NYC. The leaves haven't started changing yet, so no leaf peeping. But it's nice to see woods and roadside greenery, minutes from the city.

The property is a former Rockefeller dairy that was in use until the 50's. It's had some incarnations since, and now it's an agricultural and educational center. Blue Hill restaurant is a tenant and a big customer of the farm for fresh eggs and produce. It's tres swanky and tres spendy. Christine's had dinner at the Stone Barns locale and said it was an excellent culinary adventure. I was treated to a birthday dinner in the Washington Square, NYC location a few years ago, and it was very special. Thank you to my good friends, Ingrid and Karl! The Bedford restaurant is closed for lunch and they were setting up for a wedding. What a spectacular setting!

We took an "insider's tour" and tromped around with a farmer named Zach for nearly 2 hours.  Afterwards, we drove 10 mins to Tarrytown for a yummy lunch, window shopped, bought mason jars for a near future canning operation, then headed home around 4:30 to beat the afternoon traffic. All in all, a great day out!  I took some snaps and posted them for you below. Can you smell the country air?

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Not-So "Great Wall"

My home was built about 135 years ago, and until 1955 it was rental housing for "LIRR" (railroad) workers. About 12 years ago, developers filled in the 'railroad cut' that ran behind this row of 12 houses. I used to chip golf balls into it from my I was sad to see it filled in. Oh well, progress. They created a 'strip park' that has some lawn, a few trees, bastketball and handball courts and a baby playground. From what the old timers say, rail cars passed behind the houses, and the containers were hoisted on to ferries, down at the East River, for various destinations. Railroad workers were known to toss boxes of toys, destined for Macy's Department Store in midtown Manhattan, up to the children in the yards. (I guess "it fell off the truck" orignated with trains!) The residents might have helped themselves to the piles of coal next to the tracks, to heat these homes. This area was a pretty gritty, industrial/residential mix.

To separate our yards from the strip park, large concrete slabs were dropped in and held together by blue steel I-beams. Not very attractive from my side of the wall! Residents asked that at the very least, the I-beams be painted cement colored, to blend in, and that was done. My weeping cherry tree has grown up to about 20' and is 16' wide, and as you can see in the yards to the left of mine, some creeping vines offer coverage here and there.

I don't want to encourage weeds and vines to grow wild in my yard, so to fill in the bare, unfinished wall that I can see when sitting out back, I bought wrought iron trellises. I planted 4 climbing hydrangeas at the base and they are starting to climb well, in year 3. It's been worth the wait.

I was gung ho to tackle this project, because I knew I'd have to make a really BIG mistake to harm a 2 foot thick cement wall (that's not even mine.) I looked at it as good practice for me to use my hammer drill again. (I used it previously to carefully drill into brick to hang a mailbox and into cinderblock to hang a garden hose caddy.)  A 6 or 12 volt household drill would not have enough torque to handle any of these jobs.

Tools I needed:
Safety glasses
Measuring tape
Hammer Drill with a masonry drill bit
Masonry nails (they are ribbed, so they grab the concrete)
Claw Hammer
Picture wire

It was a very straightforward job. I held up the trellises and marked with pencil where the nails would go. I was essentially hanging the trellises from the nails, not bolting them into the cement. Wearing safety glasses (no sense in taking chances if the cement sharded and flew back at me) I pre-drilled the holes. Holding the drill firm, I leaned in hard as the bit went into the concrete, slowly. All went well with the drilling, so the next step was to tap a masonry nail 3/4 of the way in to each hole, and hang the trellises. I ran a length of picture wire across the bottom, to train the plants as they grew. The space from the ground to the bottom "rung" of the trellis was approximately 2 years of growth and I did not want to plants to grow along the ground! I can take down the wire in a year or so, when the plant fully has the rungs to grab onto. 
The climbing hydrangea will continue to fill in nicely and in a year or two the flowers will give some texture and interest to an otherwise bland and industrial wall.  I'm patient.

Pix below were posted April 2010--it's been 2 years, and the vines are climbing!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Good Manners circa 1929

I picked up a little book called "Good Manners *  Reliable Advice on Etiquette, Clearly Told." It was written in 1929. The brown-edged pages are brittle and the binding is cracked but it's a good read. The content is priceless.

I guess using all caps was not considered SCREAMING back then.

When sipping a liquid such as soup, do it QUIETLY. Do not give anyone the chance to say or think, "I HEAR you like your soup."

Keep your mouth closed when chewing. This will avoid making the disagreeable noise that you hear when people chew with their mouths open. It is simply not DONE.

Fish bones may be taken from the mouth with the fingers...NEVER with the fork.

Even if you are "half starved" DO NOT SHOW IT by eating fast. Well-bred people eat slowly.

A GIRL SHOULD NEVER SEND A MAN A GIFT unless engaged and then ONLY AT CHRISTMAS and on HIS BIRTHDAY. On these occasions it is best not to have the gift be too personal. A book or cigarettes is sufficient.

If you are a woman having luncheon with a man, look over the menu and TELL HIM what you wish to eat. DO NOT tell the waiter or waitress. Your escort should do that. Do not order a meal that is too expensive. Restraint is ALWAYS a sign of good breeding.

NO MAN SHOULD SMOKE in an elevator when women are present. He need not throw away his cigar or cigarette, but should hold it in his hand, taking care NOT TO BURN THE CLOTHING OF THE OTHER PASSENGERS.

And finally....

Women in business should be ready to start their work the moment they arrive at the office. The habit of many girls arriving just before the opening hour and then spending several minutes powdering, rouging and so on IS NOT FAIR TO THE FIRM.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why I Love Where I Live

I love the quiet, the images and the light, and knowing that the hustle/bustle of Manhattan is just 5 minutes away.

I was a Communication Arts/Photojournalism major in college, oh so many years ago. Life seems to get in the way and years have gone by since I've taken any pix. Early this summer, I traded in my film and polaroid cameras and related darkroom equipment and bought a Canon EOS digital SLR...and it's been nice to see images right away and to be able to delete asap; saving room on the card. I warmed up by taking over 500 pix in Italy. I'm not quite a Luddite, but getting the images from the camera to the desktop and beyond is not second nature yet.

I'm a Long Island native and though I lived in Gramercy Park, downtown NYC for a few years, I have been living in Long Island City for 20 years. I like watching the gentrification (from a position of some longevity!) and I appreciate the juxtaposition of the old and the new.

I am drawn to graphics and words, and I love old company slogans that exist "hard by" the new buildings that are springing up. I wonder if the newcomers take that moment to read the signs and if they wonder what this area was like in it's industrial heyday.

This company has been around for decades, before area codes and when garbage and trash were called "refuse." No wonder English must be mindboggling to learn!

Urban prank!

The pix below are the view I have from down the street, at the edge of the East River, overlooking the Manhattan skyline. This morning I saw a seagull fly overhead with a live crab in it's mouth. How very Maryland! (Note added Oct 21...I told my neighbor Vinny about the crab, and he said, "The seagull probably stole it from the Waterfront Crab House." How New Yorky of him ;-)  I still like to think the river's getting cleaner...since I've seen horseshoe crabs and fish while kayaking out there!

The Circle Line tour boat cruised past and I could hear the guide telling the history of the Pepsi Cola sign. The story goes that the president of Coca Cola lived across the river in Manhattan at Sutton Place, and his arch rival made sure that the view out his apartment window was filled with a neon Pepsi sign. The Queens side is finally of some interest, and its in people's vacation photos.
We've come a l-o-n-g way!

Gantry Plaza State Park maintains the piers, open spaces, trees and plantings...and there is no fencing between residents and the river. I volunteer as a Citizen Pruner to weed the flower and tree beds, cut back the growth and prune dead and diseased limbs from the trees. A great excuse for me to wield a 14' pole saw! Roar. If you're interested in pruning in your NYC neighborhood, go to to get information!

I was doing some banking last week and I noticed that next to the parking lot there is a view into the backyard of an apartment house. Laundry lines are fast becoming a thing of the past...but I spied this laundry drying in the sun, and I loved the shadow image. I took many pix of the laundry lines in Italy this summer. There's something homespun about that practice that is endearing to me, and I think the graphic representation is really cool.

LIC "lawnjree line"

Winding Down

How does a Type-A putterer like me wind down? I pack a weekend bag with my favorite duds and flip flops, grab my iPod, camera, a stack of magazines (mine + the ones my cousin Chris has passed along) and drive 95 miles East to the North Fork of Long Island. I either have a friend or two come with me, or power down completely and travel solo. Note regarding traveling solo: have you ever spent 2 days NOT talking?  It's a rare treat, especially for a New Yorker. Yap yap yap.

Weekend plans on the Fork can include vineyard tours and wine tasting, flea marketing (love that!), art galleries, maybe some golf, kayaking in the creeks and Peconic Bay, feeding swans and cygnets, taking long walks, and hitting the farm stands for fresh goat cheese, fruit, pies and produce. The local IGA supermarket feels very far from NYC, suspended in a simpler time.

For dinner one night I made Corn Chowder,  and it was even better for lunch the next day.

6-8 ears of fresh corn, shucked and silk removed
1 medium yellow onion, diced
6 strips of bacon, chopped
4tbs unsalted butter
1tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1.5 lbs medium sized new potatoes, cubed (red or white, scrubbed, skin left on, eyes removed)
1 bay leaf
4-5 cups whole milk (don't skimp here with skim, the soup needs body and flavor!)
Basil, 6-8 leaves, chiffonade (roll leaves into a cigar shape, and cut to make thin strips), for garnish
Sea salt and pepper to taste, after the soup is cooked

  • In the center of a large bowl, hold the cob upright and cut the kernels off the cobs--scraping the juice into the bowl. The pieces can stay in 'slab form' not all the kernels have to be separated. Think hearty, rustic soup.

  • Reserve the scraped cobs, cut them in half lengthwise, and set aside.

  • Spread the kernels onto a cookie sheet, season with salt and roast at 300 degrees for 20 mins. Bring out that sweet flavor!

  • In a dutch oven or other 6 qt. heavy pot with a lid, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp, about 10 minutes.

  • Take about 3 tbs of bacon out to use as garnish. Add butter, herbs, celery, onion and the bay leaf.

  • Cover and cook til the onion and celery are soft, about 6-8 mins.

  • Stir in the corn kernels, potatoes and milk.

  • Cover, bring to a boil (watch that the milk doesn't boil over!) then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 20-25 mins, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are fork tender. Keep the lid a tad off to the side.

  • Throw out the corn cobs and the bay leaf, their jobs are done.

  • This soup is not thickened with cream--here's the trick. Take about 1 1/2 cups of the soup and whiz it in a blender (or use a stick blender in a small bowl), then stir the pureed soup back into the pot.

  • Salt and pepper to taste.

  • Add reserved bacon and basil chiffonade to each bowl, then serve.

  • Yum!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Molding or Moulding?

Moulding (as it's called in Canada, Australia and the UK) or Molding (as it's called in the US) can be made from plaster, marble, wood, laminate, plastic, stone or cement. It's used to cover the seams for walls where they meet the ceiling and floor, and to finish the trim around doors and windows, etc... 
There is an extensive glossary of sexy sounding terms to describe shapes, shadows and angles.. astragal, cavetto, chair rail, cove, crown, egg & dart, picture rail, and many more.

A miter box is used to guide the saw blade to cut the proper angles. Fancier ones than my manual wooden one include a power saw and clamps. Manual miter boxes are used with a hand held backsaw. You're probably most familiar with the big wobbly handsaws you saw as a kid--they have large teeth, and are used for cutting lumber. A backsaw is square in shape, has closely spaced teeth, and a straightener across the top of the blade, so that the teeth don't rip the wood with the push and pull motion.

Well, I don't own a backsaw, and my old miter box (shown at left) is an inexpensive wooden one from the hardware store, with 3 grooves---one for 45 degrees, 90 degrees and for straight cuts. As you can see in the pix, the molding is quite's called convex quarter round, and today I set out to make 45 degree angle cuts.

For this job I used
  • A small handsaw. It's the wrong saw for the job. The teeth are really spaced too far apart, so I just cut carefully and quickly
  • Tape Measure and Pencil
  • Clamps to hold the molding steady inside the box while I cut
  • Sandpaper (100 grade) to smooth any splinters
  • Liquid Nails (I didn't want to split the thin strip of wood by hammering nails into it, or to have to cover countersunk nail holes with wood filler)

My house is old, and is not square...anywhere! So I used a bit of the Liquid Nails to fill in the gap at the joint. In the grand scheme, this was a very, very low end job, and I have no idea why it was on the "punch list" for 8 long years!

But, I've finally crossed it off the list.



Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Found Objects

I'm not ashamed to pick stuff up on street corners, or out of a's sometimes worth that little bit of effort. I don't climb up onto or into tall dumpsters or lift up the tarp! If it's in my line of vision, and it's actually set out as garbage, it's fair game. With a little elbow grease, paint and fabric...I've got a few neat pieces around the house that have elicited "Where'd ya get that? Whaddya mean you found it?" from more than a few people.

1996: 10th Avenue and 57th Street. Armoire.
After checking to see that the legs, 4 small casters and interior rod and shelf were intact, I went through some effort to roll a wooden armoire back up the hill to my office at 59th and 1oth. A family was headed to talk show host Sally Jesse Raphael's studio for a taping, and I guess the husband decided I was just a crazy New Yorker, but not a dangerous one. He helped me push it most of the way! I gave up hailing a cab as numerous taxis whizzed past me, so I stashed the armoire at work and brought my car in the next day. I strapped the armoire to the roof, drove across town and over the 59th St Bridge, inched it down off the car and shimmied it across the sidewalk and into the house. I think my neighbors flee into the safety of their homes when they see me coming.

I don't have the 'before pix' because the word blog was not even a twinkle in my eye, but it was plain, brown wood. Since there's no closet in the living room, I thought it would be perfect for storing winter coats, gloves and scarves. And it is.

How to: I gave the piece a light sanding, and painted just the frame. The doors and side panels are inset, so I cut fabric to size, ran a bead of  Aleene's fabric and craft glue just around the edges, and pressed it in to place. I glued down decorative braided trim called "gimp" (see pic below) but there is a wide array of cording and rick rack from casual to formal that you can choose from to fit your style! I found a color coordinated tassel in the sale bin at a fabric store and just stuck it into the keyhole. With some extra fabric, I covered 2 nearby switchplates. I like that continuity. I didn't bother to paint the inside of the piece--too much work--and you can't see past the coats anyway.

I found a 2nd wooden armoire a few blocks from my house in 2003, and I rolled that puppy right home...screeching down the street at 10am on a Sunday morning. My neighbors are quite used to me and my shenanigans by now! "For the love of God, what is she doing NOW?"
I'm using that armoire as a linen cabinet, upstairs in a teeny former bedroom that is my office/walk in closet. I painted the frame and used gingham contact paper rather than fabric and cut the edges very cleanly so I did not need trim. Using vacuum storage bags to shrink extra pillows, blankets, dust ruffles, a duvet and sheet sets down to mere inches, I can keep them dust free and out of sight.

2002: Greenwich Street, West Village NYC. Star shaped ottoman!
Ok, that was a dicey one. It was about 95 degrees and super humid (my least favorite weather) and I saw an ottoman sticking out of a street corner garbage can. I walked past, but it nagged at me and I went back about 15 minutes later. It was still there, a fact that pleased me, but also gave me reason to pause. This is New York, blink and you miss it! The ottoman looked very sad. It was 3 ft in diameter, covered in dirty pink denim, had pen marks all over it and 3 of the 5 legs were missing.
I thought, "I can save you!!"
I put it on the ground and kicked it to make sure nothing was living inside. No rustling and no skittering. So, I carried this heavy, hot thing that was kinda skeevy all the way to the subway, then home to Long Island City. I know a local upholsterer who does work for magazine shoots and Manhattan residential jobs. She does not mind small side projects. Ileana and her husband took on the job...and rebuilt the bottom, gave it 3 new legs, recovered it in fabric that I provided, and added a nice flowy 6" Bullion fringe. I think they charged me about $125. Well worth the price, for the care they took, and the fact that star shaped pieces are 'more rare.' Oh, and it was free to start with!

So, the next time you see something on the street, don't think twice! Take it home and give quick fixes like these a try. If you screw it up or don't like it after all, you can always put it back out in the garbage.

Chances are, someone like me will come by to nab it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Amsterdam Market NYC Sept 13, 2009

Do the words and ideals surrounding: sustainability, going green, artisinal, locavore, farm to table, hand crafted, unsprayed, reducing the carbon footprint, etc...seem faraway and unattainable for city dwellers? Fear not, there are greenmarkets and events year round in every borough!

My pals Sandy (Kansas native), Molly (Texan) and I ventured to the South Street Seaport this past Sunday and enjoyed perusing, tasting and buying from some of the nearly 80 vendors. Some vendors Sandy and I have met at other other green, slow food events and it's great to see their popularity and businesses growing.
I can't quite commit to a CSA produce share--it's just too much food for one--unless I could do a quarter share. I picked up a postcard (there's a Spiced Apple Cake recipe on the back---yum) at the market for a new service called Sweet Deliverance NYC that offers weekly or biweekly delivery of prepared food using Paisley Farm CSA and Greenmarket finds. For more info and pricing, visit
For now, I am happy to keep learning and tasting and and to support the vendors at the events around town. Cheese, bread, fruit compote, local garlic, wine,'s all good!

I hope these few pix pique your interest and your appetite! There are 3 more dates for the New Amsterdam Market. Check out their site for info.

Behind Closed Doors

I love, love, love my kitchen.

Giving credit where credit is due....props to the ex for transforming the design in 2000 from the 60's brown appliances, and the massive furnace that was in the middle of the room... and well, props to me for painting, decorating and giving the kitchen it's warm spirit and sunny, welcoming demeanor.

Having glass fronted cabinets is a double edged sword. They are mostly great, as I am pretty neat, and I like to see everything in its place. The cookbook cabinet and the one over the stove where the baking stuff is stored are not as pleasing to the I came up with a cool solution I'd like to share!

I'd bought a few french linen tea towels over the years, but never used them because they seemed 'too nice' for every day. What to do? I cut them to fit behind the glass, and asked my sister to serge the edges so they would not fray. She is a whiz with a sewing machine. I used Aleene's craft glue around the edges, and pressed the napkins in to place. The glue dries clear and the books and baking stuff are hidden behind neat graphics. For about $50 total, the look is very clean and the linen breaks up the continuous line of glass fronted cabinets.

I like the texture of the linen and I had the towels hanging around for years, but you can achieve a tailored look for a lot less than 50 bucks! Use wallpaper (check the sale bin at a paint store) or buy sheets of printed paper (Kate's Paperie, Michael's craft store, etc...)  Cut to fit, run a bead of glue around the edges, press into place from inside, and vwha-lah!! A touch of country, whichever country you choose!

$1.20 in paper from Michael's