Saturday, March 19, 2011

2011: A BATHROOM ODYSSEY or HOW TO REMODEL YOUR BATHROOM FOR UNDER $1,000 w/ Lunch for 2 for 2 Bucks!

FOR UNDER $1,000
w/ Lunch for 2 for 2 Bucks!

OK, I lied.  I didn’t really ‘remodel’ our bathroom for under $1,000, but I did ‘reface’ it for $750 making the bathroom look like a million.

We have an old house.  Well, old by LA standards.  Built in 1941, very little was done to ‘update’ this ‘bungalow/cottage home after about 1962.  When we bought it twenty years ago, it was a sea of tired linoleum and formica in the kitchen, some 50’s aluminum windows and layers of linoleum and 50’s/60’s vinyl flooring in the master bath.   Home prices being what they were (and still are in LA even in today’s housing recession), we didn’t have extra cash after slapping down our down payment.  No remodeling for us.  But, paint’s cheap, so I had fun creating our rooms in various ‘decors’ and showing them off as a design consultant on HGTV.  But over the years we did make some bigger changes.  I designed the long add-on room into a home library.  We had decks built, and eventually replaced the aluminum windows and redid the kitchen.

But... back to the master bath. 

It’s a quirky bathroom, consisting of three small rooms. 

The ‘main’ room holds the washer/dryer, has a walk-in closet (which we had built years ago), a built-in vanity and a French door (which we also installed when we first moved in, replacing an old composite 50’s door) which leads out to the garden and pool. 

The second room has a walk-in shower and holds a wonderful old cast iron, claw foot tub that I’ve painted various colors over the years.  Once I even painted a desert scene on the tub (I was in my Sante Fe, Georgia O’Keefe period)… another time I painted it green w/ gilt ivy vines climbing up the tub (my Italian ‘old world’ period) – now it’s painted espresso brown to match the color I painted the old vanity. 

The third room in our ‘en-suite’ bath, is the water closet (WC).

The floor connecting all three rooms was covered in dated and tired vinyl.  Underneath were layers of even more dated and tired vinyl/linoleum.  To remove it all, rebuild the sub floor and put in new, ‘today’ flooring would cost thousands.  So over the years I’ve painted the floor along w/ the tub.  Once w/ splashes of color a la Jackson Pollack, another time those gilt ivy vines and until this most recent redo, a solid gray (the bathroom made many guest star appearances on HGTV’s “Your Home w/ Kitty Bartholomew”).

But no matter what I did, the bathroom still didn’t look ‘polished.’  Finished.  I wanted to really love it.  I wanted to smile when I looked at it.  I wanted it bright and cheerful.  Don’t get me wrong, I did love my funky designs of the past and they brought me a lot of attention… but that was then.   Now I wanted something that would be pleasing not only to us, but to potential buyers in case we wanted to sell. 

Remember I told you we have a kind of bungalow/cottage-y house?  Well, that’s where I decided to go, design-wise.  And, what’s more ‘today’ for that style house?  Wainscoting.  Wide crown molding.  Check out the Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware catalogs and the recent bathroom design books and you’ll know what I mean.  Wainscoting and crown molding are sweeping the nation along w/ those little ‘vintage’ octagon white floor tiles (some w/ decorative black or brown designs and borders).

But, here’s that but, again.  Cost.  Out of work writers don’t have large cash flows, so the floor was out of the question.  But talking w/ my wonderful, fabulous, fantastic painter (who can do anything), he told me he could install the wainscoting and crown molding, paint everything, even the floor w/ my latest “simple” border design (I can’t be on my hands and knees for hours anymore – hell, not even for 5 minutes) for $750.00.  Sold!

Oh, and that two buck lunch?  While carousing around Ikea in search of some brushed nickel accessories (didn’t find anything we liked), we had lunch at the little counter by the check-out.  Two hot dogs, one diet coke and a bag of potato chips:  $2.00.  The hot dogs were all-beef ‘Hebrew National-y’, steamed the way I like them, and the potato chips were Swedish “Original Lantchips, Scandinavian Style” – delicious.

So, a new bathroom:  $752.00 (including lunch).  A new look:  Priceless. 

Here are a few ‘before’ and various ‘after’ shots of our ‘remodeled’ bathroom.







THE TUB/SHOWER ROOM - Because of the tub and mirror, we were unable to put in wainscoting, so a chair rail defines the walls instead.

All after shots: 

VANITY - Before:



Niche above vanity:


Our room w/ a view.  I love our 'new' bathroom.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

LAVENDER - (In Chicken?!?!)

(In Chicken?!)

We all know that lavender smells great.  We buy lavender soap, lavender sachets and pillows and, some of us (me), dream of walking through lavender fields in Provence.
But lavender in food?   Who knew?

Dear friends, Stu and Kyle, live in Ojai, California and one of our greatest pleasures is visiting them for dinner and a sleepover.  Ojai is famous for its ‘pink moments’ at sunset,  the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa where I spent a glorious birthday a couple of years ago:

...and its yearly lavender festival.  Kyle has a booth at the festival and one year she asked me to submit designs (I did about three/four watercolors) for the annual Lavender Festival poster contest.  I lost.  Last year I painted a couple of children’s stools w/ a lavender theme to be sold at her booth.  And this year, she’s involved in putting together a lavender cookbook.

Of course, she didn’t ask me to participate. Why would she?  I wouldn't ask me either, when Richard is available.  His assignment if he chose to accept it (he did) was to test a recipe, make comments and advise her if the dish should be included in the cookbook.  He chose stir-fry chicken.   


1/2 cup lavender/rosemary oil (see recipe, below) 
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed or cut in strips,
5 cups chunked summer vegetables (squash, sweet onion, red peppers, small red potatoes, mushroom caps).


1/2 cup olive oil
5 sprigs rosemary
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp. dried culinary lavender buds

Warm in a saucepan for five minutes.  Steep three hours.

Strain, pour into bottle, stir in cool, dry place


  1. Mix together oil, lemon and orange juice, and honey and marinate chicken for 3 hours.
  2. Place chicken in a saucepan with marinade and cook until browned, stirring constantly. See Richard's comments below.

     3.  Add the vegetables and cook until tender.    

    Makes 4 servings


    Richard felt the chicken should be seared at high heat, then removed.  Stagger the addition of the veggies – potatoes first since they take a bit longer to cook – then add the chicken again at the end to cook it through… that way, the chicken doesn’t dry out.

    And, since he loves lavender, he would up the amount of lavender in the oil.


    Richard made it again w/ his enhancement suggestions.  Lavender in chicken stir fry takes this traditional, easy, healthful dish to a delicious new level.

    Did we like it? Whadda ya think?

    ;o) - Two thumbs up.  This dish should definitely be included in the cookbook.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011



    I love to go out to dinner and a show, or in our case this past Saturday, a show and dinner.

    Since it opened on Broadway, Richard’s been waiting to see “33 Variations” a play featuring Beethoven and starring Jane Fonda.  He loves Beethoven.  He relates to Beethoven.  They have the same birthday and, as many of you know, both have ‘hearing loss.’  Over the years we’ve amassed an amazing collection of Beethoven records and dvds, books, busts and paintings displayed throughout our library and on the bookcase in our dining room.  So… when the play came to the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center (LA’s Lincoln center complex), Richard was thrilled.  I was thrilled for him and looking forward to seeing Jane’s Tony nominated performance.

    Just one snag – unless we’re in the first 5 rows, Richard misses too much of the dialogue – which makes the whole theater experience frustrating and a waste of money.  During the show’s limited run, he searched and searched for tickets, but came up empty handed.  Not a ticket was to be had in the first 5 rows and the show was closing over the weekend.  But Richard refused to give up and gave it one last shot.  Voila – two tickets in the 4th row for the very last Saturday matinee!  Score!

    To stay on budget, we decided we’d come home for dinner after the show.  But you know that old saying… “the best laid plans…”

    Though the show got decent, but not great, reviews in New York, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  Jane was very good as a music professor suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease and Zach Grenier (‘The Good Wife’) was excellent as Beethoven.  The play darts back and forth between the present and the past w/ great ease as Fonda’s dying character tries to solve the mystery of why Beethoven spent his dying years working on what are now known as the Diabelli Variations (33 of them!) for a mere 80 ducats.  The set, made up of moveable panels of sheet music, was incredible, and for the record, Ms. Fonda has the perkiest breasts of any woman alive over 70 which she heartbreakingly bared during a scene where she’s being x-rayed and MRI’d.  Weird reference, I know, but it was rather startling and almost took me out of the play which was funny, emotional and poignant.  The applause was thunderous. 

    We left the theater exhilarated.  I didn’t want to ‘just go home.’  On the Music Center’s plaza by its ‘dancing waters’ fountain is the Pinot Grill, a wonderful open air, fine-dining restaurant and bar.  It was almost 5:00, the cocktail hour, and a martini seemed just the thing.  We sat at the oval bar and chatted w/ some other theater goers as I sipped my very dry (is there any other kind?) vodka martini w/ two olives.  Richard had a glass of 2008 Mas Carlot, Rhone from France.  My martini was ‘mighty fine,’ though Richard thought the Rhone was just OK.

    It was a beautiful evening and as the sun began to set and I finished my drink, I did not want to go home.  So as the Music Center/restaurant’s twinkling lights were turned on, we took a table in the restaurant.  There goes the budget.

    I switched to chardonnay and ordered a glass of Napa 2009 Rutherford Ranch.  Buttery w/o being too heavy.  Perfect.  Richard tried the France 2009 Tortoise Creek “Les Oliviers”, Pinot Noir.  He liked it.  We decided to share the beef carpaccio salad made up of thinly sliced beef, capers, quail eggs (they’re so adorable), red onions, crostini olive tapenade (loved every bite) and the ‘Speck & Arugula’ wood oven-fired pizza made w/ Buffalo mozzarella, smoked prosciutto and baby arugula.  To quote my mom, “Divine!”

    It was dark when we left sated and happy.  Yes, our budget was in shambles, but our spirits were soaring.  Beethoven and Jane Fonda were worth every ducat.

    Sunday, March 6, 2011



    Many of you who have been reading me for a while know I love burgers.  In fact, I’m forever questing for the perfect burger. 

    Remember my friend Cindra and our semi-annual birthday lunches often in “in,” chic-chic, celeb & “industry”-riddled restaurants like The Ivy…

    … or Thomas Keller’s Bouchon?

    Well, Cindra loves burgers as much as I do (neither of us could resist the burgers at Bouchon).  We’ve been comparing notes on burgers for years.  I discovered the drippy, juicy experience of fast food Fat Burgers because of her – she discovered the savory burger w/ special relish at The Village Idiot because of me.

    So when she suggested she wanted a ‘burger birthday’ lunch, I was all over it like melted cheese on a perfectly grilled, medium-rare patty.  But, where to go for this ‘burger birthday’- that was the question?  For a while, she has wanted me to try the 8 ounce burger at – where else?   8oz Burger Bar on famed Melrose Avenue.  So, the 8oz Burger Bar it was.

    The restaurant itself has a pub-y, saloon-y, bar-ish vibe, with some tables outside on the sidewalk.  We ate inside by sliding French doors and, instead of ordering one of the featured shakes, malts or floats (they also have sundaes and banana splits – but this is no malt shoppe), we ordered Bloody Marys (it’s been our tradition to start our b’day lunches w/ a Bloody Mary) – and ‘perused’ the menu which proudly states on its cover:

    “Menu items are made in-house utilizing the season’s finest local produce and hormone free, humanely raised meats, reflecting our commitment to quality and sustainability.”

    It then went on to list sandwiches which included a short rib grilled cheese sandwich and a tuna melt, and small snacks including mini Kobe corndogs (really, Kobe? – yes, really!) w/ purple mustard, fried olives stuffed w/ chorizo and Buffalo drumettes w/ a blue cheese sauce and celery.  Also on the menu was an arugula & endive salad w/ seasonal citrus, avocado, radish, walnuts and a champagne vinaigrette, an escarole Caesar, and a 8oz iceberg lettuce wedge w/ blue cheese, garlic roasted tomato, balsamic grilled onion, house cured bacon and blue cheese dressing (be still my heart!) – but the ½ pound we wanted was the 8 ounce burger…

    But which one?  There was a turkey burger, a Niman Ranch lamb burger, a pork blend burger called “Three Little Pigs” – a veggie burger and a fillet of fish burger – all w/ a variety of delicious sounding toppings... but we wanted a real old-fashioned burger, burger – and that means ground beef.  We decided on the classic 8oz ‘house-blend’ burger that included iceberg lettuce, tomato, white onion and a special sauce.  Cindra had the works w/ melted white cheddar (there are seven cheeses to choose from).  I chose the white cheddar, too, but asked for everything, except the patty and the melted cheese, “on the side.”   I’ve never really understood why one would want anything encumbering the flavors of grilled burger and cheese on a roll, but the special sauce made a nice salad dressing for the lettuce, tomato and onion.

    From the sides which included roasted baby broccoli, fried pickles, truffled potato skins and chorizo mac and cheese, we opted for the Kennebec fries.  Kennebec, I discovered is a type of potato.

    The potatoes were good – the Bloody Mary wasn’t too spicey (which is how I like them)… but the burger was the best… grilled to a perfect medium rare w/ no skimping on the cheese which oozed like molten lava over the patty.  A very HAPPY BURGER BIRTHDAY! 

    8 oz Burger Bar
    7661 Melrose Avenue
    Los Angeles, California 90046