My Gripe with Granite

Granite countertop

I’ve spent far too many hours of my life watching House Hunters. And I’ve heard too many folks complain they “were really hoping for modern upgrades, like granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.” Frequently, I end up yelling at the television with granite-plus-expletive.

There’s a troubling homogeneity to their expectations, especially since they don’t seem based on any practical considerations: the ability to rest a hot pot directly on granite, say, or stainless steel’s vulnerability to fingerprints. Instead, they speak to a consumerist notion of appropriately nice, an interior design version of keeping up with the Joneses. I don’t like the Joneses. Or the way they indirectly dictate my options.

They may not mean to, bless them, but they do.

Our loft is basically a new build in an old building, which means it’s a modern condo with a grand, historic lobby. And as a modern condo, it’s full of builder grade choices with a few high-value additions. You can imagine where I’m going here: We have stainless steel and granite.

But I hate the splotchy beige granite in our kitchen and the way it’s carried over into massive vanity cabinets in the bathrooms. It plays nicely with the ceramic floor tile there — also beige — but I don’t want those folks in my friend group. They’re occasional acquaintances, at best.

But changing those things is daunting.

I can budget for up-front time and labor, but what about the hidden costs? If I ditched the granite for a charming butcher block kitchen and wall-mount bathroom sinks, it could be an affordable shift. Until I consider that I’ve just chucked fancy granite slabs for humble wood, effectively decreasing our home’s value. So I hold off, but I constantly wonder about the real value equation.

At what point does distinct style outweigh popular materials?

Mandi at Vintage Revivals put together a great post highlighting the absurdity of trying to divine future resale appeal. (It also offers a spot-on rebuttal of beige walls and “boob lights” that helped shape the anti-beige rant in my last post.) But it doesn’t exactly solve my granite dilemma.

How much faith should we have that a home we’ve poured our hearts into can mean a decent return on our investment? Or, how do we find a balance between what we love and what’s likely to sell?

Unfortunately, I think the short answer is this: Leave the granite. Style the hell out of the rest.

What the white?!

Our loft is full of lovely modern amenities in a historic building, but it was also full of beige. Many shades of beige. They were artfully applied and hinting at historic, but they were still beige.

I don’t do beige.

There’s something maddeningly non-committal about it. It forgoes a look that’s interesting by trying to work with everything. I’ll go on record preferring mint green-tiled fifties bathrooms to modern tan porcelain. It’s just the way I’m wired. But there are certain realities we had to consider. There’s the open-plan living area that needs to be a single color palette, for one. Then there’s the reality that we’ll probably sell in a few years, which nixes anything distractingly crazy. Creamy white seemed like the simple way to go. FullSizeRender White, it turns out, is complicated. There are a million subtle variations and undertones the untrained eye scarcely sees in a sample coat. And there was a white in my head I could never seem to match to a color card. What I didn’t want was an art gallery. No stark, sterile whites or overly crisp edges. I wanted a white we could actually live in. A white that was less magazine photo and more casual dinner party. A white that said, “Come, settle in,” and not, “Please don’t touch the art.” I wanted two parts Design Sponge, one part Tennessee Williams, whatever that even means. With six sample pots and this living room post as a reference guide, I finally chose a shade. I’ve spent every moment since doing whole-apartment painting. Stay tuned for the (eventual) after.

Ice Cream for Hackers

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You know how you go into Williams Sonoma and see the perfect gadget for every kitchen scenario? If I just bought this boiled egg slicer, you think, my lunches would be perfectly elegant, and my life would be infinitely better. What you don’t think about is how one organizes all those things — outside a dedicated retail display — nor the perennial question: is my cooking life improved more by a collection of perfect tools or by the organizational simplicity of a multi-tasking kitchen?

A couple years ago, I borrowed my grandmother’s ice cream maker. It had been living in a cabinet for some time, and I thought it deserved liberation. The thing was compact, as small kitchen appliances go, but it took up space in both the cabinet and the freezer. Those are hints of high-maintenance already, but I’ll put up with a lot for great ice cream.

On our first attempt, the ice cream never really froze. This worked out fine, since we’d made a mudslide-inspired flavor. Still, I don’t need large equipment to make slushy shots. On take two I chilled the ice cream bucket for a solid 24 hours before ice cream prep, and it still didn’t freeze. I’ll put up with a lot, but not a wasted ice cream base. At that point, I called uncle.

But the question remained: What’s a girl to do when she wants quality ice cream outside the Ben & Jerry’s flavor spectrum?

Nigella Lawson had the answer. Her magical formula needs just two key ingredients: condensed milk and heavy cream. After that, it’s mostly a matter of elbow grease and a standard household freezer. Her recipe calls for coffee flavoring, and I think that’s how we made it initially. Lawson offers coffee flavoring alternatives, but cautions, “This works so perfectly for me that I have no desire to meddle.”

H and I, however, can’t resist a good meddle. After all, the whole point of a home ice cream base is to experiment with new flavors (cardamom and black pepper being our most exotic to date). But this month we had girl scout cookies on hand, and the only thing better than a samoa is samoa ice cream.

To make it, we used Nigella’s base formula of two parts cream to 1 part condensed milk. We also use about ¼ teaspoon of vanilla per batch as our standard. We doubled the recipe, crumbled up a box of samoas — minus a few tasting casualties — in our hot little hands, and mixed it all together. Then we layered it in mason jars with swirls of caramel sauce in a procedure that’s roughly one regular spoonful of caramel sauce atop every one or two serving spoonfuls of ice cream. Freeze overnight and enjoy at will. Personally, I think ice cream tastes best straight from the jar while curled up on the couch, but use your best judgment.

Happy weekend!

On Valentine’s: A Plea for the Gifting DTR

I get really rant-y for major gift-giving occasions, because there’s always some variation on the same piece: Your wife may say she doesn’t want a present, but don’t fall for it. And the maddening things is that in many relationships, that’s probably accurate advice.

After all, AL.com just ran this gem in a piece on Valentine’s gift ideas:

“When your significant other tells you that they don’t want anything and that your love is enough – take it from a woman – they probably aren’t being completely honest.”

Which, to me, begs the question: Why aren’t we being completely honest? If 35% of us want jewelry for our romantic gifts, why can’t we tell our partners that?

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Samples from the Sojourns card collection

“While she may not want you to go overboard with the gifts,” the AL.com piece offers, “she does want to know that she was thought about and that you care.” But why can’t she say that either?

I think we’re doing ourselves and our relationships a disservice to go through this “oh, you shouldn’t have” charade. Besides disingenuous, it’s also deeply disempowering to tell your partner one thing and hope he or she is smart enough to ignore you.

So go ahead and talk about how you’d like to mark occasions as a couple — whether that means gifts or other rituals — and then honor those decisions. Maybe it means you trade years planning a special date night. Maybe it means you write each other funny haikus. Maybe you buy adorable handmade cards from Sojourns. Or maybe it really is jewelry.

The details are up to you, but set honest ground rules together.

It’s Paper Day!

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One year ago today, H* and I showed up at the Madison County Courthouse and got ourselves hitched. There were no witnesses, no chapel, just a small conference room and a court-appointed stranger to pronounce us husband and wife. It was over in five minutes.

Afterwards, all I could think was, “huh, we’re married.” We gave each other dopey smiles and stared down at our shiny new rings then set off to find food, in accordance with our tradition.

A couple of very delicious po-boys later, we drove back to Birmingham to finish prepping for our two religious ceremonies and a large influx of friends and family. It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year, which I’m taking as a good sign.

I married hot guy who makes me laugh a lot, offers spontaneous foot rubs, and marks minor anniversaries — Six months married! Three years since our first date! — with Dairy Queen Blizzards of the Month. He roasts lamb like a boss, has only once let me win at Scrabble, and rarely complains about my clutter habit, even when it’s clearly making him itchy. In short, I married well.

Happy anniversary to us!

*H stands for husband. I’m very creative like that.

Webspiration: Sentimental Style

When Lonny Magazine tweeted this image, I was instantly intrigued by the dark walls, faux taxidermy, and cheery secretary desk. Then I clicked through, and they had me at Ruthie Lindsey’s wish to have her house “feel like a big ‘ol hug.”

I mean, gosh darn, y’all.

And of course the secret to that warm, fuzzy feeling is a house full of things you really love – that you’ve collected over time, or made yourself, or gotten from family and friends. For a house to look cozy and lived-in, you need at least some pieces that have lived a bit.


“I don’t buy things just to buy things,” she says. “In every corner of my house there are stories involved.”


The downtown loft I share with my husband looks nothing like Lindsey’s home. We have way too many lingering Ikea pieces, for starters, and far fewer pillows. But there are lots of sentimental moments tucked into things mass-produced: shelf brackets and industrial lights from my grandfather’s workroom, a groovy afghan throw crocheted by my great-grandmother, the green-framed leopard my husband’s dad bought when he moved to America, and my uncle’s old record player. Some day soon, there will be an epic gallery wall culled from souvenir ephemera. It’ll be the scrapbook wall that makes me point to something with an exaggerated “awwww” most days, while my husband rolls his eyes in fake annoyance. (He’ll only grudgingly admit it, but he’s sentimental too.)

I’m really proud of the way we’re piecing together a very personal home, and it’s clear Ruthie Lindsey feels the same way about her house. That makes me think we should be friends. Also, I really want to borrow her kitchen owl.

Unlikely, I know, but it’s nice to have a dream. And since Lindsey’s clearly got style for days, I’ve put together a primer for myself when I want to change something but can’t think what:

1) Photo bowl. Conversation piece, memories within reach, great fodder for a story session.

2) Bright but patchy painted furniture. Not even being sarcastic. Her red secretary looks vaguely distressed, but more like a single coat of paint than an Annie Sloan treatment.

3) Lambswool throw on vintage wood. It hints at modern updates but stays very, very soft.

4) DIY art installations. In truth, I’m on the fence about the feathers, but they make me want to experiment.

Pinterest review: coconut milk baked chicken

Chicken plus coconut milk equals yum, so I pinned this recipe. For the most part, I followed it as directed. But I do have a (semi)pro tip: Skip the can opener. It’s for chumps.

(Also, your husband took it to work to open his canned tuna lunch, and you don’t have a spare. Vow to get one next time you’re at Target.)

The recipe clearly advocates for early marination, so you can’t wait for the can opener to come home with the hubs. Instead, grab a medium sized phillips head screwdriver and a hammer; use them to make two holes in the can of coconut milk. Attempt to pour it into your spice mix and realize it doesn’t want to be poured.

Curse in frustration as you retrieve a large-ish flat head screwdriver. Hammer it along the sides of your can top to slowly (so. slowly.) open it. When the suspense becomes unbearable, jimmy the can open as much as possible with a table knife, being careful not to slice open your hand. Feel smug and superior when your improvised system mostly works. You are an urban cooking legend.

Substitute fresh ginger and garlic for the powdered amounts, and replace the dried basil with a teaspoon-ish of chili powder. Whisk your mixture like a champ, then move on to butchering your chicken.

(You’ve watched Mark Bittman’s instructional video, so you vaguely know what this butchering business is about. Oddly, you realize that butchering a raw chicken is easier than carving a roasted one.)

Pull your chicken out of the fridge, only to realize it’s still partially frozen. Sigh. Then laugh. Then put your chicken back in the fridge, along with your currently useless marinade.

Try again with the chicken on day 2. Roast as directed, then run it under the broiler for five minutes or so (for extra crisping). Save all of your coconut-infused pan leavings, and pour them over your side of rice. Congratulate yourself on being a perfect partner, then stuff your face.

Repeat as needed.