Wednesday, March 24, 2010



Fifteen minutes of fame can come from almost anywhere - mine came from an old linoleum floor!

Well, not exactly...

For quite a few years, I had a run as an  "on-air, guest design consultant and/or decorative artist" (the producers never could make up their mind what I was) on HGTV, appearing mostly on "Your Home With Kitty Bartholomew."  I had met Kitty some years before when she was the designer on ABC's "Home Show" show (the predecessor of "The View") where my husband was the head writer and where I also made a couple of on-air 'design' appearances.  So,when she moved to HGTV after the "Home Show" was canceled, I followed. 

Most designers on HGTV are unpaid, the network argument being that the publicity is payment enough, but since I also structured and wrote my segments, I got a pittance.  And I mean pittance... barely enough to buy a pair of shoes at Payless.  But, it was fun and I loved doing it, especially if one of my TV/film writing projects ended up in 'turn-around' (translation: rejected after a long option period).  I liked being on location, staging the set for my 'shoot' and mixing it up w/ my producer, Kitty and  the crew.  My least favorite thing was the 'on-camera' part... I was nervous and often felt inarticulate.  But as I got more comfortable talking to the camera, the more I was on.

I even ended up getting fan mail.  Really.  Me!  Fan mail!  (Well, actually, it was mostly Fan Email.)  Even from guys in prison!  Though they never asked me for advice re: decorating their cells which was sad because there are so many things one can do w/ a one room apartment, even a teeny, tiny one.

But there was more...

One time I was in LAX picking up a friend flying in from New York and a woman came over to me and asked me for my autograph.  I thought she had mistaken me for someone else, but when I asked her who she thought I was, she answered w/o hesitation, "Ilona from HGTV."  She was from Cleveland!  What a hoot.  Another time I was by myself having a hot dog at one of those picnic tables in Costco, when a family of four sat down at a neighboring table and just stared at me... the whole time I was eating my dog.  It was rather disconcerting, so when I was finished I went over to them and asked, "Can I help you?"  The woman was so embarrassed, she turned away, but her husband asked me if I was on TV.  My immediate reply, of course, was no.  I really wasn't "on" TV.  But he continued...  "Don't you paint and decorate rooms?" It was then I realized that this family had recognized me from HGTV.

Kitty's show was eventually canceled a few years ago and along w/ it my fifteen minutes of fame.  I don't regret those fifteen minutes, but I'm glad it never grew to a half-hour.  I don't like people watching me eat.

However, because some of my segments lingered on the HGTV website, I continued to get emails long after my shows stopped running on the network.  One frequent request my 'fans' asked was the step-by-step directions for painting an old linoleum/vinyl floor... something I had demonstated on Kitty's show (this segment may still be up on the HGTV website w/ pix).

Sadly, I have no 'still' pictures to include... but for those who want a DIY way to redo an old and dated kitchen or bathroom linoleum/vinyl floor w/o breaking the bank .. here goes:

1.  After cleaning your floor's surface, paint one or two coats of water-based Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Zinser, interior/exterior Primer Sealer, Stain Killer paint (or other primer your paint store recommends). I recommend this product because I've gotten great results.  It’s an incredible primer that makes the surface porous, allowing paint to adhere to it - just follow the easy directions.

2. Choose the color you want to paint the floor, then go for it using any brand of indoor/outdoor water-based flat paint. Use flat paint to keep the floor porous for your design. Wait 24 hours.  If you aren't painting a design on your floor, any good deck/cement paint will work as well.

3. Paint your design or picture onto the floor. Some simple ways to create a design are with stencils, stencil stamps, dripping different color paints on the floor a la Jackson Pollock, have the kids do drawings (or hand and footprints), stamp or print your favorite sayings or poems, etc. I use my artist water-based acrylic paint, but if you have old indoor and/or outdoor water-based paint you want to use up, by all means. I also use permanent pens.

4. After the design is dry (I’d wait another 24 hours), you need to seal it with polyurethane or varathane. I prefer Varathane Elite Diamond Finish as it is water-based, doesn’t really smell, doesn’t yellow and dries fast. Do at least 3 to 4 coats initially, then once a year or so, touch it up with another coat. Whether you choose a satin, semi-gloss or high-gloss finish doesn’t matter.

FYI:  If you use oil-based paint, you must continue to use oil-based paint for you design and chose a polyurethane or varathane that can be used over oil-based paint.

And two little hints... always work toward a doorway (so you can get out of the room) and if your floor is big or you need to use it daily like I did my kitchen, do a section at a time, if possible.

The most important thing is to use your imagination and have fun.

I'm not going to be painting a floor in the next week or so, but I will be having fun.   Richard and I are off to Sonoma/Napa wine country.  I'll tell you all about it when I return.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010



Wanna be in a movie?    Or at least be on a movie "set?"

I loved the movie "Sideways."  I know, I know... many thought it was too clever by half, even pretentious - but I thought it was a hoot.  Even when the characters trashed merlot, I still loved it (and merlot).

A few years ago friends in Ojai took us on the "Sideways" tour where we found some lovely wineries and had lunch in the charming town of Los Olivos.  So, when we were invited up on Oscar Sunday to other friends' weekend home in Arroyo Grande to watch the show and stay for a 'sleep over' - we decided to stop for lunch again in Los Olivos since it was on the way "sideways" through the mountains.

The last time we were there the Wine Merchant Cafe where Paul Giamatti tasted and kvelled was closed for renovations, so that was where we wanted to lunch.   I wanted to kvell.

In front of the restaurant is a lovely vine-covered eating patio.  The inside is a large room that's a combination wine shop and cafe with a horseshoe bar in the middle.  Hanging above the 'host/hostess' area as you walk in is a huge '50's' gilt leaf/crystal chandelier... to the left are ceiling-to-floor shelves stocked with some of the great California wines... chardonnary from Cakebread Cellars, one of my favorites -  pinot from Byron, a favorite of Richard's... Also on the shelves were a few wines we really enjoy from the Carr Santa Ynez/Santa Barbara winery owned by other other friends' son, Ryan Carr... there were cabs from Turnbull and Caymus (can we say 'very yum')... and wines from Au Bon Climat, Foley, Opus and Chateau St. Jean, plus many, many others -- most of which you can also find on the Cafe's menu.  Not surprisingly, the wine menu is short of merlots.  Giamatti's character must have been very happy.

The restaurant is decorated with an eclectic flair - part Moroccan, part French bistro (French-Moroccan?).  Some of the walls are paneled w/ distressed, rusted metal siding above butter color painted 'wainscoting.'  The artwork is French 'bistro'-style prints of people drinking wine and Giclee prints on canvas.  Hanging between the tented white muslin above our heads was an array of different Moroccan-style chandeliers of dark metal and colored glass.  It was a little chilly, so we opted to eat inside.

The menu has something for everybody... starters, salads, sandwiches and burgers... a few dinner entrees and brick oven pizzas, even a 'The Bambini' Menu.

I was torn between having a chicken caesar (one of my favorite lunch fares)... or a grilled skirt steak salad made from natural angus beef w/ jacob's baby lettuce, red onion, radishes, beets and dressed in a horse-radish-herb vinaigrette... or maybe the 'Arugula and Apple' salad made w/ wild arugula, granny smith apples, pomegranate, marcona almonds, shallots and dressed in a red wine winaigrette.  What really made my mouth water, though, was when I saw the baked brie starter made w/ honey roasted hazelnuts in a cinnamon puff pastry and aged port syrup delivered to a neighboring table. Be still my heart.  But I was diet AND heart friendly and opted for the chicken caesar (I'm such a creature of habit). It was delicious. The dressing was just creamy and garlic-y enough and the grilled chicken was warm and moist.

Richard on the other hand was torn between the pulled lamb 'dip' sandwich w/ herbed caramelized onions and spinach on a brioche bun au jus, and, of course, a side of steak fries... or the Toscano pizza w/ mushrooms, ricotta, truffle oil, chives and four cheeses... or the Mykonos pizza w/ oven dried tomato, basil pesto, tapenade, feta, garlic and four cheeses.  He went for the lamb 'dip' and loved every morsel (well, except those bites that I insisted on having - delicious!).  And, the steak fries were perfect.  So many places serve them way too mushy.  These were crispy, crunchy on the outside and wonderfully mushy on the inside.

Because we still had about a 40 minute drive, we passed on having wine... but we didn't feel deprived - we knew we were going wine tasting in Arroyo Grande (see my blog from last week).  ;o)

So, if you ever find yourself driving 'sideways' through St. Ynez, California - take a moment to walk the quaint streets of Los Olivos and duck into the Wine Merchant Cafe for a bite to eat and drink.  The food is excellent, the ambience eye-catching, and you'll feel like you've been in a movie.

Wine Merchant Cafe
2879 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA.
Phone: 805-688-7265

Thursday, March 11, 2010



I've loved the Oscars since I was a child and not just because my parents let me stay up late to watch them. And in Bayside, Queens, Long Island, New York, that meant staying up til one a.m. on a school night (back in the day when the Oscars aired on a Monday).  The glitter and glamour of Hollywood reached all the way across the continent and left me wide-eyed in front of our TV.  The movie star pictures I had taped on my bedroom wall came to life.  I couldn't wait until Natalie and RJ came out to present an award or to see what garish jewelry Liz would be wearing (I knew even back then that Liz wasn't the fountain of 'taste' - but I loved her anyway).  I'd stare at Paul Newman and wish his face would never leave my screen and wonder why I couldn't be Audrey Hepburn.  That childhood love for the show has never left me and for years, starting in Manhattan where Richard and I met and married, we gave a big Oscar party with the requisite Oscar pool.  Sometimes as many as 50 people would be there, making the pool a nice chunk of change.

We don't give our party anymore, but always enjoy it when we're invited to share the evening with friends.  And since most of our friends, like us, are in 'show biz' - they usually make an 'event' of the evening.  This year our friends Candace & Craig invited us to their weekend home in Arroyo Grande in central California wine country... about three hours north of Los Angeles. 

We left Sunday morning and drove thru the mountains to the charming town of Los Olivos of  "Sideways" fame where we stopped for lunch (I'll be blogging about that lunch in the next day or two), then continued on to Arroyo Grande, an adorable, tiny town about ten/fifteen minutes from the beach, nestled among some great wineries. 

Our pre-show consisted of wandering the two block 'main' street, stopping in a couple of antique shops, then driving to two wineries (Wolff and Sextant) for a bit of 'tasting.'  Both wines were good, but the Sextant chardonnays and zins were really, really, really delicious.  We bought some.  We drank some.

Back 'home' Craig got the fireplace blazing and, as we watched the opening of the show, an abundance of food (and that Sextant wine) magically appeared.  Among the appetizers was fresh guacamole made with avocados from their backyard - (forget the earthquakes -there are some great perks living in California) and chips galore...  I know, I know my South Beach Watchers' diet... but, hey, I'd already fallen off the calorie-counting wagon at the 'tastings.'   And dinner was a delicious blend of scallops, veggies and rice.  But my favorite new food 'tasting' experience was a sort of salmon 'pizza' appetizer.  There's no recipe really -- just three ingredients.  An appetizer so easy and so good, I can't believe I'd never had it before, though Richard reminded me that he had this 'pizza' for lunch not too long ago when we went to see the Renoir exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum, but I digress...

Here are those three ingredients:

Heated Naan - that wonderful Indian bread (you can get it at Trader Joe's, pop it in the oven for a minute and it's done!)

Creme Fraiche
Smoked Salmon (nova or lox)

That's it.  So simple.  Sooooooooo good.

When Richard had it at the museum cafe the 'pizza' also came w/ capers and, at his request, caramelized onions instead of the chopped red onions offered.  But, I liked it just the way I had it Oscar night.

Before returning to LA the next day, we went for a walk thru the dunes at their local beach.  The sun was brilliant, the smell of the ocean air invigorating and the expansive ocean views - breathtaking.

We may not have been dripping in diamonds or rubies or wearing designer gowns or an Armani tux, but our Oscar celebration in wine country couldn't have been written, directed or produced any better. And that appetizer?  Best Picture.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010



Y'all know how I've been trying to stay true to my diet -- Well, we had a fellow calorie/carb counter and her husband over the other night and tho Richard made an amazing "low-cal" dinner (the halibut in garam masala I blogged about in October), it was a challenge to do a "diet" dessert.

He rose to the challenge.  Strawberries.  But not just plain strawberries --  Italian Peppered Strawberries.  For those of you South Beach Watcher-ing w/ me, you know that strawberries have little to no points -- so when you add liqueur and sugar, points will be added, but compared to a slice of cheesecake, a plate of cookies or a bowl of chocolate mousse, the points are minimal.  Not to mention, the few points it adds to the strawberries are sooooooooo worth every mouth-watering taste.

When I was a kid one of my favorite desserts was frozen strawberries (thawed, of course) dripping with all that the sugar-y 'syrup' on top of vanilla ice cream (Breyers is my all-time favorite).  Well, these peppered strawberries on vanilla ice cream take that childhood dessert to the next food level.  Gourmet.  But, there's that damn diet.  So Richard, 'my food hero' found a "Watch'n Carbs!' ice cream sweetened w/ Splenda... a Safeway "in-store" product.  Would I have preferred a rich, creamy non-diet ice cream?  Yup.  But this was still damn fine and our guests agreed. 

BTW - the strawberries are damn fine sans the ice cream.  Just thought I'd mention that.

Italian Peppered Strawberries
(Los Angeles Times Magazine, June 12, l988)


1 quart fresh strawberries (about 3 cups sliced)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup sambuca or other anise-flavored Italian liqueur
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
Fresh black peppercorns in grinder (set on 'coarse' grind)
3 cups vanilla ice cream (optional)


Wash, drain and hull strawberries.
Cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices.
Place in large glass bowl.

Ten minutes before serving, mix in sugar, liqueurs and 10 grinds of black pepper.
Spoon ice cream into chilled bowls.
Spoon strawberry mixture over ice cream.
Gind a little more fresh pepper on top and serve at once.

Makes 6 servings

Friday, March 5, 2010



As some of you may have read here last week, a broken sidewalk jumped up and attacked me on my way home from the track where I go for my daily (well, every other daily) power walk, leaving me splat on the pavement w/ a scraped, bloody knee and a dislocated shoulder (OK, I'm exaggerating about my shoulder). 

Well, not only are the potholes and broken sidewalks a challenge to maneuver, now I need to develop eyes in the back of my head.  Why?  IPods!

Yesterday I took a detour along some side streets (most w/o sidewalks) that I haven't walked in awhile, just to check out my 'hood.'  I was happily dueting "Country Roads" w/ John Denver (I know, I know - so shoot me - I still like him) when a car came up behind me and ran me down.  (OK, I'm exaggerating again - but it was close).  I had no idea the car was there.  I hadn't heard it approach since my ears were plugged w/ the lyric "... West Virginia, Mountain Mama, take me home country roads."   My heart raced as I narrowly escaped death, but then I got pissed.  The road was not narrow, I wasn't walking in the middle, and no other cars or pedestrians were in sight (the streets in my neighborhood are sort of quiet, "suburban-country" roads).  There was absolutely no reason for him (and it was a "him") to drive up right behind me, scaring me to death and forcing me off the road in some sick game of "chicken" --- his car vs. me.  As I watched him drive by he was talking on his cell and totally ignored me, oblivious to the fact that if I hadn't jumped out of his way, I'd be roadkill.   Soooooooo, not only did he almost kill me, or at the very least, cause me bodily harm, he was arrogantly breaking the law.  I flipped him "the bird" but it didn't make me feel better (I really wanted to punch his face - a lot). 

I love my IPod and really don't want to stop listening to music on my long walks on quiet, 'little-trafficked' neighborhood streets, so I'm going to have to be more alert, grow those eyes in the back of my head or walk backwards.

Living w/ modern technology can be hazardous to your health.  So can living w/ arrogant cell abusers.

Monday, March 1, 2010



It's the challenges in life that makes us stronger.  Right?  Well, in my case, I hope the challenges in life make me thinner.  Well, "challenge" singular, anyway.

What's the challenge?  Having wonderful meals while dieting that will inspire me to keep on keeping on.  So when I become cooking 'diet challenged' as I'm wont (love that word) to do two - three - four nights a week, Richard meets that challenge and restores my commitment to calorie/point counting.

One of my favorite Ca del Sole dishes (from a restaurant I reviewed here  some months ago) is a pounded, sauteed chicken salad.  It's light, low in calories/points and is delicious.  Richard has since created his own version of that salad and made it for me the other night.  And, the icing on the cake:  it's really, really cheap.  Less than $5.00 a person and in these economic times - cheap and delicious AND healthful is a very good thing.

Below are Richard's sauteed chicken salad instructions.


Pound a skinless boneless chicken breast to app. 1/4" thickness (Richard uses one half breast for two people) -  usually the chicken breasts we use are the frozen ones you get at Costco - which amounts to pennies  a breast.

Heat oil in skillet
Bread the chicken, or panko them, or flour them, (or not... don't really have to if you don't want.)
Crack a couple of eggs into a shallow pan (Richard uses only egg whites, fewer calories and cholesterol)...
Season the egg whites w/salt, pepper and any herb you like (rosemary, thyme, etc) - then dip the breaded or floured chicken into the egg whites.

Note:  This is different from the traditional way to "bread" things.  Traditionally, there are three steps:
1) Flour. Shake off excess. This helps the egg hold on.
2) Egg wash.  Again, shake off excess.
3) Breading

Richard, taking a cue from the Tyler Florence sole almondine recipe (which I also blogged about)... eliminated one of the carb steps.  He didn't flour, then egg wash, then bread.  He breaded first, then egg washed, then continued.

Sautee the pounded chicken breast for about three minutes per side until golden brown on outside...
should be moist on the inside.

Arrange a bed of lettuce or arugula or watercress or mache... or just about any greens on a plate...

Add any other steamed or sauteed veggie you like (He sauteed some leftover string beans with shallots, added a few toasted slivered almonds)

You can also add some sliced tomatoes, olives, whatever...

Place chicken on top.

Don't need any dressing, but if you must, a nice balsamic vinaigrette would be tasty.