Sunday, October 30, 2016

Phase II of the Kitchen - COMPLETE!!!

Coming back from summer "hiatus". . .

If you have been following my kitchen makeover journey, you may know that I wanted to convert my kitchen from it's previous adobe look, to a more rustic farm kitchen. Phase I started with a new color of paint for the walls. I started the cabinet makeover in Phase II, in April, when the weather was still a bit chilly and definitely dreary. Once summer hit I could not justify spending time indoors while the sun was shining. I resorted to projects that could be one outside. Don't worry, I had plenty to do. I improved my front garden, and put in some flowerbeds in the backyard, with assorted perennials. I also worked on some furniture as I have a covered porch, including some chairs and a hall tree.

Well the weather officially turned last weekend and I couldn't delay the kitchen any longer. I finished this up last  to Saturday and Sunday but had to wait for some drawer pulls that I ordered on Amazon.

Here is the final result:

The bottom cupboards went very quickly but that might be because at this point, I'm almost a master at this. Between the kitchen cabinets and assorted smaller projects I have been using a lot of chalk paint. I do have some tips that might be helpful:

1. There are many recommended ways to clean or prepare the surface before you paint kitchen cabinets. For kitchen cabinets specifically, there is the issue of grease and other substances that do make their way on to the surface. I recommend using a cleaner like 409. I just sprayed it on and then wiped off and let them thoroughly dry before continuing.

Even the cat's stool got refinished!
2. I had pulls on all my doors and drawers. I decided that for the doors, a know would do. I just used regular Spackle or patch to fill the extra holes. A light sand was important to blend textures. I didn't overdo it as the chalk paint hides minor imperfections.

3. Three coats of paint is much better than two for the doors and drawer faces. While two coats was plenty for the frames, I found that for a deep color the faces just needed more paint.

4. Don't be alarmed if the color seems "off" while you are painting. . . I found that Empress Silk looked significantly different between coats (think really kind of pink first coat) and the colors really evolved into the  multi-dimensional effect that chalk paint is known for.

5. Wax not only protects the surfaces (especially important in a kitchen) but really adds to the look of the cabinets. I used both dark and clear soft waxes, getting the dark wax in all the nooks and crannies to add depth.

6. Hardware was just as important as the change in color. I tried to use the old existing hardware for the drawers but it just didn't work. I found some really nice birdcage pulls on Amazon that weren't too pricey. The pulls oiled bronze finish complimented the glass knobs well. 

This kitchen is finally coming together with the completion of Phase II.

There is a "Phase III" but it will have to wait a little bit. . . Phase 3 is replacing the counter-tops and the sink and that involves a little bit more technical skill than I have, especially with the way the sink is placed within the intersection of two counter-tops. I was originally thinking that we would go with a wood counter like a butcher block but I think a white granite type material (I don't care if it's synthetic) with green and gray veins might be a nice touch. I'm contemplating a copper sink rather than the white enamel I have because it's very difficult to keep clean but I might be dreaming in both these cases. I would really like a sink with an apron but I don't think it can work with this space unless we go much smaller.
I really can see how far we've come when I look back at a picture from the previous owner's listing. I forgot how this place looked when it had white appliances. That was an easy way to update rather quickly as we already owned black and stainless steel appliances that we moved right in. We also replaced that metal vent under the kitchen cupboard to the right (on the floor) with a wooden version that we were able to also refinish with the chalk paint.

Accessories really became important too. I have moved vintage martini shakers and old milk bottles up into the open spaces above the cupboards. Gone are the wine bottles and decorative olive oil container that had colorful peppers and spices.

Since I have to wait for Phase III I"m going to move on to some other room's walls and perhaps update our trim throughout the house. I'm also contemplating a glass tile project for the staircase. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Restaurant Review: Tacopocalypse in Des Moines, Iowa

Fusion Tacos = Yummy Tacos

This is one of those places we discovered because Guy Fieri featured it on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. What we also discovered was a super cool neighborhood called East Historic Village in Des Moines. What a neat town!

Tacopocalypse is a cool place. I'm not sure why the people here are so into zombie references but there is also a Zombie Burger down the street which we didn't get a chance to try. What is is about death and gloom? The town itself is picturesque and colorful. I would definteily recommend this as a road stop. There is a cute little store called Raygun which was Iowa's version of our "Made in Detroit" kind of branding but their version is more humorous. There are also colorfully painted old buildings in the shadow of the capital's gold dome and a piano right on the street corner.

Tacos have a lot of options. You start with the meats which range from braised pork, bacon chorizo, chicken, wasabi brisket, and vegan options, and then you add delicious toppings. You can customize but they had some good combinations right out of the gate. I chose a Bulgogi (Korean Beef) with spicy mayo and kimchi, and a Sesame Pork with spicy mayo and slaw. I liked them both but that kimchi was memorable and I wish I could have one again. the pork was also very flavorful, with a red curry. This wasn't just some carved up meat with topping for flavor. Every component brought taste to this adventure.

This place also serves burritos and quessidiallas of couse, with many of the same options. Where they stand out is their Masa Fries. These fries are a combination of potatos and corn that are deepfried sticks of goodness. We ordered it with a poutine of bacon chorizo. This is not your standard chorizo which I do not really like but bacon that has been made into a sausage like texture.

There is a lot of swag to buy to commemorate this experience. I will proudly say that I now own a t-shirt from this place. My kids preferred souvenirs from the Raygun next door but I'm happy to own my cool new shirt that I had to order online (they were out of a lot of stock) but it beat me home and was waiting for me when we got back to town.

Restaurant Review: Beau Jo's in Idaho Springs, Colorado

Rocky Mountain Pizza Set in an Old Mining Town


Picturesque Views and Delicious Food


I've been a little disconnected from blogging for a few weeks. We went on a road trip from Detroit Michigan (more specifically Royal Oak) to an ultimate destination of Utah. I say that broadly because we explored so many areas of that massive state and we also had many targeted stops both on the way there and on the way home. We did all of this in a Jeep Wrangler and it wasn't for the faint of heart.

One of the benefits of a road trip, as opposed to flying, was getting to try new restaurants along the way. We always have a goal of hitting at least one of the joints featured on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives but often this can be challenging with timing and traffic. We had an app this time called TV Food Maps which was really helpful but because we were out so far west our phones and internet were often unavailable to use this as a reference. There was also the consideration that our Jeep was not really the most secure vehicle to leave with all our items in it for long periods of time so often restaurants had to be picked on how close we could park and what our vantage point would be from our table.

We had stopped in Denver first as there was a slew of restaurants to choose from that had been visited by Guy Fieri but it just wouldn't work. . . There was a lot of traffic due to a baseball game the streets were teeming with people. We couldn't find secure parking easily so we decided to continue to head west. The app told us about a restaurant specializing in Colorado called Beau Jo's. I wasn't exactly thrilled by the notion of pizza. We have a ton of pizza places locally including our own Detroit version with Buddy's and Loui's Deep Dish and Chicago interpretations with Uno and Pizzapapalis. What could Colorado truly offer?

The whole town was a lot of fun, set in the mountains. The decor and the whole town played to the tourist's notion of an old abandoned mining town. There were plenty of the typical tourist traps with places to buy t-shirts (I may have bought a few especially since Jeeps were featured), postcards and bumper stickers. The restaurant itself showcased mining history, sometimes a little tucked out of obvious sight as you can see from this man that was down a little shaft that caught your eye if you were at the right angle.

While pizza is obviously the mainstay here, there were plenty of other items on their extensive menu, including cocktails. I chose a Mountain Sunset, which featured Amaretto, Vanilla Vodka, and banana liquor with a little bit of orange juice. At this time it was raining and this really did brighten up my day.

There were also plenty of appetizers to choose from but we started with Honey Cheese Bread. It started with the pizza dough as a base, with Rocky Mountain Honey and cheddar cheese. Definitely worth the extra calories. You might ask how we could do this AND pizza but it wasn't a problem.

Well they offered up this pizza and it was good. That kind of sounds biblical. . . Beau Jo's Mountain Pie pizza is thick dough that they describe as a deep dish but it's nothing like a Chicago or Detroit style. It's round and it's thick but it's more of a bowl to hold in the goodness of the fillings. We tried two different combinations, both with the standard honey white crust. One was a traditional pepperoni because that's how some of us in the family are but the other was chicken, mushrooms and pineapple and Alfredo sauce. The people there dip their crust in pure Colorado honey and that was good too! Pizzas take a little while to make but they are worth it.

We also did dessert. . . With the drive ahead and the time we had already spent in the car, stalling was probably a motivation. . . But we ordered two. The first was a cobbler, again with a pie dough base (lots of carbs that day) basted with butter and topped with cherry  pie filling and a sweetened rolled oats topping. The cookies, baked on a pizza stone were really very good, with that salty taste that resembled homemade.

This restaurant did not disappoint. This pizza was very different and worthy of a road trip destination. I would definitely visit again if we end up in Colorado. They have several locations in their chain but this definitely would be the one to visit for the ambiance of the small mining town.

Restaurant Review: Dangerously Delicious Pie Washington DC

Yes, I visited it in DC but it's here in Detroit too!

Dangerously Delicious Pie was located a couple of blocks away from the hotel I was staying in for a conference recently. This was right on the edges of Chinatown and if someone hadn't literally pointed me to this place I would have missed it.

What's funny about this is that this same restaurant has a location in Wyandotte, Michigan after a guest stint at a Detroit bar. No, I hadn't tried it back home. I was a little leery of the whole pie concept. . . I like quiche on occasion and I do love a good dessert pie, but I don't think I could have imagined all the varieties that this place had to offer.

The older I get the less dessert is important and often I find that after eating a meal I'm satisified, or just need a little bit of chocolate rather than a whole dish of sugar. However, I'm going to let you know how serious I am about this particular pie by showcasing the dessert first. Yep, this pie is the bomb! I wrote that, just now, before I even realized that this pie is indeed called the Bomb. The Baltimore Bomb. A special Baltimore cookie called the Berger, is combined into a chess filling. The results are spectacular.

Savory pies are also pretty damn good. I had the SMOG (Steak, Mushroom, Onion and Gruyere. Yes, it's as good as it sounds. Don't mistake this for quiche because it's not although they do offer a few of those. . . This is a flaky pie crust, covered with more pie crust, with a combination of all those yummy ingredients in between. There's gravy and there's no egg consistency.

Savories come with a side of salad that was fresh and a variety of dressings. This place is tiny and I imagine they do a lot of carry out rather than sit down, but the countertop by the window was excellent for people watching.

There are plenty of pies to choose from. . . Savory offerings of vegan, chicken, seafood and of course beef and sausage. The sweet stuff includes traditional and seasonal favorites with fruits, cream and of course chocolate.

You really can't go wrong and yes, I will try the local one! Yum.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Restaurant Review: Pho 88 Noodles and Grill - Washington DC

Pho is One of my Favorite Foods


It's true. Pho is a bowl of everything good as long as I order it my way. Locally, I like the fact that when it comes to the table it's the broth and noodles and can basically customize it to your liking. I skip the onions and lemongrass, or cilantro, and just stick to broth, noodles, meats and a little lime, along with a healthy squirt of hoisin and Siracha. Of course in writing this article I realized I have NEVER reviewed my most favorite Pho joint and I will have to rectify that very soon. Sneak preview or spoiler alert. . . It's Que Huong in Madison Heights.

When we found a Pho place in DC in Chinatown, it seemed like a good idea for a quick lunch. Due to the time of day, between sessions at the conference, it was really empty, with only a couple of other patrons sitting for lunch. This was not a reflection on the food, however, as it was tasty and fresh.

Because I have Pho on a regular basis, I tried something new which consisted of skewers of shrimp, with cold rice noodles and a salad, that could be topped with crushed peanuts. The spicy fish sauce was a pleasant balance between hot and sweet, and the seafood was very fresh and crisp. I really couldn't go wrong with this as a light lunch offering.

One of my friends ordered a chicken noodle soup dish. I wouldn't really descibe this as pho as it was more of a noodle soup without the spice but she said it was very good. My other friend ordered tiger wrapped shrimp that consisted of a wonton sort of wrapper fried around the shrimp with a dipping sauce which she enjoyed. As she never had Vietnamese food before this was an adventure for her and she was surprised at how good it was.

Eating anywhere in Chinatown in DC is a fun experience but this was a cut above some of the other place with a little more variety and lighter options than traditional Chinese. If you are in DC definitely stop here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Restaurant Review: The Dubliner - Washington DC

Excellent Irish Pub

Atmosphere, Music, Food and Drinks all Fit the Bill

This was on the "list" of places to visit during my short trip to DC for work but we didn’t think we would make it because it was a little bit out of the central area where we were all congregated for a conference so we settled for some other food for dinner one night and planned to try and hit this one another time. Sometimes fate intervenes; maybe in this situation we call it “Irish luck” and realize that someone or something was smiling upon us?

We had decided to take the Night Bus Tour to get to see the monuments and learn about some of the history of the capital on our last night in DC. While we had trudged around on our own exploring this city, and had walked about 16 miles our first day there, we thought it might be relaxing and fun to try seeing more of the landmarks from the comfort of the top level of a double decker bus.
Irish Stew with Rolls and Kerrygold Butter
The tour began and ended at Union Station. While it was after ten thirty, we walked a couple of blocks away from the station so that we could pick up a taxi or uber without a crowd. And there it stood like a shiny beacon across the street. The Dubliner. You couldn’t miss it as it seemed illuminated from the patio lights next door (at another Irish place) that shone upon the sign. . . Yes, there was definitely some smiling going on.

Did I mention it was late? Well, by the time we got there it was closer to eleven, but the three piece band was still belting out Irish song. We were quickly seated and greeted by our authentically Irish waiter, who has been in the states for about three years, and still says “feck”. He had a biting sense of humor but lamented that we were too late to enjoy the regular menu and were redirected to the “late night menu” with items such as potato skins. I guess we looked pitiful because we had admired a nearby table’s bowls of Irish stew and he was able to rescue some from the kitchen and bring it out to us, along with white bread rolls and Kerrygold butter.

Old Fashioned and Irish Catholic
Soon after we arrived, the band was done and they switched to old classic rock that didn’t damper our Irish spirit. Maybe the drinks helped? There was an Irish Catholic involved which included Irish whiskey, ginger syrup, lime and fizz. I really do think that they are on to something with this name. I want drinks for every nationality. . . English Jew, German Lutheran, and American Buddhist should all be created! But I digress. . . There was also a couple of Old Fashioneds involved, featuring Woodford Reserve bourbon, simple syrup, Angostura, and brandied cherries. Now I have had some Old Fashioneds in my time but never with brandied cherries. These are on my list of items to purchase because I’m not going back to maraschinos after these!

Now the pictures aren’t pretty and I’m not doing it justice but this is what happens when your phone’s battery is dead after a bus tour with monuments, and it’s late at night, and you are relying on friends who are enjoying liquid refreshments for pictures. This stew was hearty and full of tender chunks of beef, so hearty that you could eat this with a fork as the broth was so thick. 

Potato Skins
It should also be noted, that while we did get the stew we did partake in some of the late night menu too. The potato skins were good and should not just be relegated to late night bar food fare. These were really good and I would have enjoyed them just as much in the daylight. Nice crispy potatoes generously laden with good cheddar and nice crispy bacon. You couldn’t go wrong with this!
This is a fun place but more than that it was an experience. I’m glad Irish luck was on our side and we ended up getting to enjoy this place.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Restaurant Review: Reren Laman and Bar - Washington DC

D.C.'s Chinatown Offers More than Chinese Food

Think everything Asian?

Jumbo Pineapple Shrimp

It turned out that Chinatown was about two blocks from my hotel in DC this past week. Now I imagined rows of restaurants serving chow mein and sweet and sour chicken. When I imagined it a little more, I thought I might get some more authentic or exotic dishes that were still Chinese, like a spicy beef or fried tofu. What I learned quickly was that Chinatown has much more than just Chinese food. Thai, Vietnamese, Ramen, Dim Sum, and even a few American places, are scattered throughout this section of town and there is a lot to pick from.

General Tso's Bourbon

For lunch we tried Reren, which is described as Asian Fusion cuisine. There was an assortment of entrees, noodle bowls and small plates to choose from that really could satisfy even those who might not really like Asian food as a first choice. My friend ordered Pineapple Jumbo Shrimp, which featured a nice selection of vegetables and pineapple that my friend really enjoyed. This also came with white rice. The shrimp were rather large and cooked without overcooking. My other friend ordered General Tso’s Bourbon Chicken which she also thought was quite good. 

Seaweed Salad

For my lunch, I chose a seaweed salad and an order of the Reren Signature Lamen. The seaweed salad was similar to others I have had, featuring a nice sesame dressing and some seeds scattered on top. It was fresh and nicely chilled. The Lamen was a fun dish. Usually I describe a menu item in my own words, but I can’t beat how they have it on their menu as “rich creamy Reren broth, melt taste pork belly, tea egg and season greens.” Of course it was the pork belly that had me and I needed to know what “melt taste” was, and it was delicious! These were huge slabs of pork belly nestled in noodles, that were a wonderful fatty texture that demonstrates good cooking, and they had that salty undertone of bacon. The dish was a delightful mix of flavors that really melded with the salty pork, the creaminess of the egg, and the brine of the greens. 
Reren Signature Lamen

The service here was very friendly and they were accommodating to the fact that our time for lunch would be brief as we had to return to the conference. The chef even came by to check and see how we liked our dishes. The atmosphere was also warm and cozy. I would be remiss if I didn't mention how good their Thai Iced Tea was, and I have had a lot of Thai Iced Tea.

I would recommend this for both a quick or leisurely lunch if you find yourself in Chinatown.

Restaurant Review: Chercher Ethiopian Restaurant - Washington DC

Work Travels made Fun

A couple of sites along the way. . .

This past week I attended a conference in Washington DC and had come to terms that most of the trip would be spent in lectures and workshops in a hotel. I was pleasantly surprised that the conference was set up in such a way that there was ample opportunity to also see some of the sites in the area, as well as time to experience some of the local restaurants.

Thanks to a friend, who is a real foodie, who provided me with recommendations for what we should try. Sometimes, when you share a blog you let others know how passionate you are about food. This friend was interested in the OWL and had read my review which lead to a conversation about his upcoming trip to NYC, and my plans in DC. As he had recently been in DC earlier this year, he was able to provide me with a list, as well as some detailed impressions of his experiences, which guided me in what to pick with limited time.

Our first real stop, as a group was Chercher, an Ethiopian restaurant that was about six blocks from my hotel but across the street from where my friend was staying. Washington DC apparently has a large Ethiopian community, and many restaurants, as one of the people in my group has actually dined by herself at another Ethiopian restaurant the night before. Additionally this restaurant was next to another Ethiopian restaurant located on the corner. 

I had been warned that we would be traveling to a basement that was more of a café than a restaurant but upon arriving, we noticed you had the option to go down, or up, and we chose up. It seems that maybe this was a recent addition to the space as the website boasts about the new bar, complete with liquor? In any event, we went early and were able to get a seat right away.

The menu has many options but we decided to order the vegetarian deluxe platter, with ten of the eleven items listed in the vegetarian portion of the menu. We also added the two meat specials of Kifto and Beef Tips. The prices here are extremely reasonable. The platters are one fixed price, and served the four of us generously. The kifto was a puree of finely chopped sirloin that was almost a chili without beans, with lot of spicy chili powder, served with homemade cheese and sauces. The beef tips were reminiscent of fajita style beef, with jalapenos and onions. 

While the meats were good, the vegetables were what really shined. The Fosolia Be Carote featured fried green beans and carrots that were flavored with tomato, garlic, ginger and peppers and was commented on by our entire group. The Qey Sir was cooked beets that had been diced and were naturally sweet with a bit of savory flavor, and they were also quite good. We also especially liked the two different lentil varieties served, along with the yellow peas. The salad was a little disappointing, as it seemed to be like any run of the mill salad, but there was plenty to eat so we just moved around it. 

All of the items were placed on one platter, lined with the special Ethiopian bread, called Injera. This is similar to the Blue Nile located in Ferndale, Michigan so this wasn’t a surprise to some of our group who are veteran Ethiopian diners. However, this bread was darker than we were used to, but just as delicious. It should be noted that eating with your hands can be fun! Here there were chairs to sit close to the table, rather than the stools we were used to, as well as the basket table locally.

We also ordered an appetizer of Samboosas, which were similar to Samosas from Indian restaurant visits. The dough surrounding the spicy lentils was flaky, like a phyllo, and there was a substantial amount of filling. I would be fine with being a vegetarian if I always had such hearty delicious options to eat.

To me, the sign of a good restaurant is to see diners visiting that I assume are also from the same region of the world as the food. While it’s an assumption, I think that many of those around us were of Ethiopian descent and the table next to us received a platter that was definitely not on the menu. When we asked what it was, they rambled off some names of dishes I had not heard of before and explained that they were made of raw meat. They offered to share but I have to admit I was a little hesitant to try them with already having a full stomach of delicious food.

This is a great place. I would definitely visit again on another trip to DC. Warm wait staff, hearty portions, and reasonable prices.