Friday, May 26, 2006

How to tile a bathroom

Things we learned the hard way:

1. Remove the toilet before installing the Hardiboard.

2. Paint before putting tile down, especially if you are using a bright green-blue and your tiles are white.

3. The instructions on the box of grout say to let it firm between tiles before wiping off the excess, but this does not mean you have time to go play poker at a friend's house. A delay like this means three very miserable hours crouched on cold, hard tile scrubbing, scraping, and muttering obscenities under your breath while your hands cramp up and your waterlogged skin starts to slough off.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Talking lobster not included

We are tackling our shell of a house one room at a time. There is no money for flooring, so instead, we coat the plywood with red garage paint and call it temporary.

We used to have to climb a ladder that dropped into the middle of the living room to get into our attic bedroom. Peeing in the middle of the night was no joke. So in honor of the unprecedently luxury of being able to drink water with impunity at 1 a.m., we decided to do the upstairs bathroom first.

I had this idea that the bathroom would an antique robin's egg blue with white trim and lots of chocolate brown to match the inexpensive Ikea vanity with a lovely wide sink. I had a perfect palm-sized dish glazed in that exact blue. W. and I took the dish to Lowe's and carefully matched the color.

We pulled everything out of the bathroom, and I spent hours taping and painting. And we have, not antique robin's egg blue, but an aquamarine, a tropical shore turquoise, a sea foam...

The bathroom looks like the Little Mermaid's grotto. We are hoping a white ceiling and tile and molding will cut the oceanic feel.

And for the rest of the house? We are thinking no more fun with color, dreaming of shades of white...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Forget the roses...

I'm not a chocolate and flowers kind of girl, but a surprise gift of my very own toolbox, with my own tools? Makes me melt.

W. knew exactly how much this would mean to me: Now I can find tools were they should be, all the time -- organized in my soon-to-be-shined-up Craftsman box. No more sharing, no more rusty tools left out in the rain, no more searching through the garage for a Phillips.

And no, I didn't like sharing my shovel in the sandbox either...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Why I stayed

Today I was in the front yard building a retaining wall of river rock and broken-up pieces of our old foundation that the contractors left for us--a job that began with a lot of sweat and ended with a brusied hip, several minorly squashed fingers, and impressive biceps.

While I was toiling away, dripping with sweat, a dirt smudge wiped across my cheek, looking totally frightening, no fewer than five people stopped to talk to me.

A couple complimented us on our new house color. One offered to help us fix our car. Another neighbor stopped to throw the ball for the dog, who he has called his girlfriend since he got divorced. His 80-year-old mother, who moved in before Christmas, shuffled by with her growling mop of a dog. The woman who lives at the end of the lane brought us begonias, a housewarming gift. A Jack Russell terrier came by for a sniff and a doggie smile.

This would never happen in Orange County. (Well, with the exception of the surfer neighbor who knocked on our door a couple times a week with Coronas and a smoke. Blaine, we love you and miss you sorely.)

And yes, one woman carried on a conversation with lit cigarette attached precariously to her lower lip. Another is a bit manic and missing some teeth. There is the veteran who saw too much in Vietnam; the one who just got out of jail; the teenager who throws loud parties and rides his Quad up and down the lane, driving us crazy with noise and dust. And, of course, the Bay Area transplants.

But every one of them is looking out for us--bringing over tomatoes; a wheelbarrow; tools to borrow; offers of help on the car, on the plumbing; congratulations, conversation...

There are no Joneses to keep up with, and that would never happen in Orange County.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The best fava bean recipe

Like all great recipes, this one starts at the farmers' market. Go there for fava beans, scoop a generous amount of the pods into a bag.

And it's a Saturday spring morning, so pick up some incidentals: pencil-thin asparagus, a still-warm loaf of bread, Meyer lemons, strawberries you can smell an aisle away, a rubarb kuchen and a cup of coffee. Take the dog to the park; devour your kuchen; sip your coffee; admire the wildflowers; let the dog swim in the lake and shake all over you until you all smell like pond.

Favas are not the kind of thing to tackle alone in the kitchen. You will find yourself hunched over the counter, festering in a stew of resentment as you painstakingly pick apart each infuriating bean as everyone else enjoys a sunny late afternoon.

Instead, get someone you like to chat with to make a couple Southsides. Having an former bartender as a husband helps. We use a modified version of Pete Wells' recipe from an old Food & Wine magazine:


Fill a shaker with ice. Add 6 oz. gin, juice of half a large or one small lemon (Meyer preferred), a spoon or two superfine sugar and two fresh mint sprig. Shake the hell out of it. Strain into two chilled martini glass and garnish with a mint sprig.

The straining is suggested most people don't want to end up with mint in the crevices between their teeth--I personally like my cocktail all rustic and green with bits of mint. But that's me...

Then, on to the favas.

Pile them on a table and get comfy. Split the pods open and strip out the beans. Then take the frosted sheath off each bean. This could be considered tedious and frustrating. Don't go there. Take a slow sip of your Southside and enjoy the chance to slow down.

You'll soon develop a system and the peeling will become a point of pride. Mine involves a thumbnail at the end of a bean and a little squeeze.

When the beans are peeled and the cocktails are sipped, toss a good amount of small-cubed pecorino cheese in with the favas and dress with olive oil and pepper.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

It's sprung