Wednesday, September 10, 2014

sweet and hot

The pepper onslaught is in full swing in the garden.  Overnight we went from pounds and pounds of tomatoes to a few dozen peppers each day.  And just like with the tomatoes, I've been really excited about canning and preserving anything we don't eat fresh.  It has most definitiely been a time of experimentation around here and we've had peppers in pretty much every dish, but I have to say that I'm loving the hunt for recipes to try as well as incorporating the offerings of the garden into our family classics.

As soon as we realized how large they would grow to be, we decided to roast our large, sweet peppers and preserve them in olive oil.  This was my first time canning with oil, and I'm happy to report that it is just as simple as canning with brine.
See those big (as my feet) red peppers?  Those are Giant Marconi.  This was our first season growing them and they turned out to be sweet and meaty and perfect for fire-roasting.
The Marconi and a handful of poblano chiles roasted right on the range top.  A cooling rack (we used the rack from inside a large roaster) is the perfect thing to hold the peppers over the flame until the skin is black and blistered.
Here's how they look after the black skin has been removed and peppers have been cut into ribbons and nestled into a jar with a clove of garlic and lots of good olive oil.  So far we've eaten these on sandwiches and they have become my favorite pizza topping with chevre and watercress.  Yum is an understatement.

I have pickled our super-spicy jalapeno and serrano peppers in a really simple brine many, many times before.  This time around I also made some jars of sweet peppers for the people don't love the hot stuff so much.
The jalapeno and serrano are really hot but still have tons of flavor.  The banana and Anaheim are mild and mellow and take really well to the brine.
The sweet peppers are great on sandwiches and pizza of course, but my favorite is diced up into potato hash.  We eat the hot peppers on tacos and all foods Mexican,  pizza (pepperoni and jalapeno is a classic at our house), and especially in scrambled eggs.  Drew dices them fine and puts them in coleslaw, too.

I was excited to give pepper jam another go this year.  I made two batches last year -- one that was pure pepper and one with tiny flecks of diced mango (inspired by the apple-mango pepper jelly from Bramble Basics).  This year I used the same ingredients, but pureed the mango instead of dicing it.  I love what the puree does to the texture of the jam.
Lavender and orange bells, sweet banana, Anaheim, golden cayenne, jalapeno and serrano peppers pre-pulverization.
Five ingredients:  the pepper mix, pectin, apple cider vinegar, sugar and pureed fresh mango.
The mango pepper jam, finished and ready to eat.  Drew eats this stuff on everything, from peanut butter sandwiches to fried chicken.  My fave way to eat it is on crostini or whole wheat crackers with goat cheese.  With cream cheese on saltines works (and is just as delicious) if you want to go white trash with it.
And there you have it.  My three favorite ways with garden peppers -- just in time for the second big harvest.  Hope it will be as sweet and hot as these last days of summer.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

everything is illuminated

It is certainly the case in the dining room at the Hyde Park house.
Here's where we started:  builder's beige walls and a cheap, clunky (and SO bright -- we immediately installed a dimmer) chandelier.  The room isn't particularly large, but the gorgeous floors and the corner windows make up for that.

The first thing to do was paint, and I chose Benjamin Moore stonington gray for the walls.  The color was also used in the adjoining living room and hallway.
Pretty, right?  A little bit taupe and a little blue, too.


The furniture plan for this room was minimal, so I designed draperies to add interest and height to the space and soften the corner without taking up too much floor space.  I selected a really fancy silk in a modern, graphic botanical. 
The drapery silk has fantastic pattern and texture.  Great weight and a slight sheen, too.

A while back, I repaired and re finished six school chairs scored for $2.50 apiece at an LAUSD auction.  They are colorful and eclectic (as this room took shape, it became clear that eclectic would rule here) and absolutely the perfect size.  They also pair well with the super simple dining table planned for the room.

Dining chairs before shot.  Sturdy and comfy, but not looking so good.
Dining chair frames, mid-refurb.  I chose to use a traditional dining room color in a new way.  The wooden seats and backs got a lovely sand and refinish, too.  And we scraped off dozens of pieces of chewing gum!

Sometimes a dining room is all about the chandelier, so it took a bit of time figuring out with what sort of fixture was right here.  Something grand and traditional was considered -- after all,  there is crown molding and silk drapery in this space.  Any number of my modernism faves (like this Nelson Saucer pendant lamp) could have worked, too.  In the end, I settled on the simplest option I could find-- the Finley pendant lamp from Crate & Barrel.  It was the element necessary to get this room just right.
Here's the dining room today:  velvety wall color, dining table that comfortably seats six, refurbed school chairs, luxe draperies, perfect lighting, bold artwork.  So happy and comfortable.

The fab finish on the dining room table (from Urban Home) and Dahlias from the garden.
An heirloom bar cabinet is tucked between windows.  A trio of paintings of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz from Tomata DuPlenty's "Tomata Loves Lucy" series hang above.  The pair of vases are from West Elm.

Alright.  I think its time to bring on the dinner guests.

Friday, August 8, 2014

all over the map


Every Spring, my clients and I do the big build up.  We decide on the projects to tackle, discuss style and color, decide on furniture and art and fabrics and dozens of other details until we put everything together into a design plan.  When summer hits, my clients disappear on various vacations and holidays.  I get down to the work of putting those design plans into action while everybody is away.   Summer is always the busiest season for design, and I am in the thick of it these days.

Two projects are in progress on opposite ends of Los Angeles.
The first is a gorgeous apartment in a historic Spanish-style building in Los Feliz.  There is so much southern California charm here, and I'm doing my best to bring it out with silk and linen draperies, a luxe living room rug and grand chandelier in the dining room. There are also lots of reminders of the client's beloved hometown with some vintage Chicago poster art.  So far, I am absolutely thrilled with how this little gem of a place is turning out.
Perfect Chicago poster art.

High ceilings call for a grand chandelier in the dining room.

Great color in the living room rug.  Perfect with the leather armchairs, too.

Over in Mar Vista, my client has a clean, ultra-modern loft space as her new home.  We are filling it with design classics, great color, quirky vintage finds and modern art.
How can you beat dining chairs with red hairpin legs?  They are from West Elm.  The pedestal table is from CB2.

I've often spoken of my undying love for FLOR carpet tiles -- this mod cow pattern was made for space like this one.
Lots and lots of big white walls in the loft.  This Banksy piece will find a home (and add lots of color) in the living room.
This one is Banksy, too.  For the bedroom.


At the project in Las Vegas, work this year began with furnishings for the patios and poolside.
There are pairs of these Chatham armchairs from Pottery Barn in a few spots around the property.  I love the clean lines and the crisp green of the cushions with all of the desert colors. 

For lounging around the pool,  I designed portable (they have the cutest little handles) cushions in a vibrant Sunbrella stripe that references all of the colors of the pool and garden.  There's also a pretty spectacular view of the The Strip when you're sitting on them.

The patio near the barbeque and bar is shaded with one of the simple umbrellas dotted around the backyard.  These outdoor poufs from Crate & Barrel are super durable, comfy and colorful seating.  A metal basket weave table found on Overstock.com is topped with a glass top from Pier 1.

Inside the house, the design process has just begun to transform a spacious but terribly dated (think gold chrome, glass blocks and terra cotta tile) master bathroom into a super luxe retreat.  I'm sure a handful of things will change before all is said and done, but I'm really excited about what we have so far.
Tile and fixtures and cabinetry, a spectacular bathtub, a glam chandelier and fabulous art.  The things that master bath nirvana is made of.

In June, I took my first trip to Bend, Oregon to visit a family who were among my very first clients when they lived here in Los Angeles.  Bend is a wonderful little city with great energy and my clients have chosen to live in a spot surrounded by so much natural beauty.  It has been great fun designing in a new and inspiring place, and I really love helping my clients settle into their new home. 
The view from the front patio of the Bend house.  Peaceful and beautiful.  And quite a departure from Los Angeles.



All of this travel -- both within my city and without -- has me feeling like I need a serious vacation.  It'll have to be when summer is over and the after photos are posted.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

its a classic for a reason

I mentioned in one of my Instagram/Facebook posts about my desire to eat my weight in tomatoes this year, and I think the garden is going to accommodate my wish.  Summer is only halfway through in Los Angeles (it really doesn't end til after Halloween weather-wise), and I've already got more tomatoes every other day than Drew and I could ever eat.  I have had to get creative so that I am sure that we don't waste a single fruit. 

My go-to right now is classic bruschetta.  It seems like the birthright of any Italian gardener/cook, and Drew and I have been perfecting our version.   I based it on a recipe in one of my fave books about cooking with seasonal foods from the backyard, Vegetables From an Itailan Garden.  I've made it as the first course for two parties so far and we eat it at least once a week.  Rest assured, if you are a dinner guest at my home this summer, you will be served bruschetta.  It is a classic for a reason.

I'm not really a recipe posting sort of girl, but this is more assembling (it is just tomato salad on toast, after all) than cooking, so here goes:

You'll need 10 tomatoes, chopped,  2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil (the best you can get your hands on), salt and black pepper to taste, and a handful of basil leaves, chopped fine (or not, just as good without).  Combine everything in a bowl and refrigerate (I like to make my salad at least 30 minutes before so that the flavors marry nicely) until ready to serve.

A little extra condiment that we have been making for this dish is a simple balsamic syrup for drizzling over the bruschetta just before we serve.  Totally unnecessary, but it makes everything extra delicious.  The whole process is just putting 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and cooking on low until it has reduced by half and is just a bit syrupy -- about 15 minutes or so.

To make your toasts, slice your bread and brush it with olive oil.  We used a bread from Sadie Rose Baking Co. and it was delicious, but you can use any bread you like.  Grill your bread until its nicely marked on both sides.  When cool enough to handle, rub each toast with a clove of raw garlic.  Add a couple of spoonfuls of tomato salad to each toast, arrange on a serving platter or board, drizzle with the balsamic syrup.  Devour.

Our components -- tomato salad, grilled toasts with garlic, balsamic syrup.  Our test toast.  I didn't even have a chance to take a photo of the finished platter of bruschetta because they were so quickly devoured.

My plan B of late is canning my garden tomatoes.  I'd made jam and pickles, but had never canned tomatoes (although I watched my grandmother do it almost every summer of my childhood).   I used the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving as a guideline for the processing of my tomatoes, but it really is as simple as putting a healthy pinch each of salt and sugar  and the juice of a lemon into a (warm -- make sure the jar is warm or it'll break -- I know from experience) quart mason jar and filling the jar with whole, peeled tomatoes.  After the jars are processed, the perfect summer tomato-ness is sealed in.
My first canned tomatoes.  I love opening the pantry and seeing jars that look like these.
Got an awesome tomato recipe?  I'd love to hear all about it.  I'm guessing I'll have plenty of tomatoes to give it a try, too.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

how does your garden grow?

I have discovered, as Drew and I have been working on the studio garden for this past year, that the cycle of of the of the garden has a nice rhythm to it. A period of not much at all is always followed by intense periods of growth and productivity that yield more produce than two people could ever eat.  We find ourselves pickling and preserving and giving a LOT of veggies to friends and neighbors.

Since March of 2013, we've grown many, many pounds of lemon cucumber, eggplant,  beets, crookneck squash, bok choy, carrots, radishes, mirlition, zucchini, bell, cherry, jalapeno, banana and cayenne peppers, parsley, basil, dandelion greens, kale, Swiss chard, strawberries, lettuces, red and Walla Walla onions and endless varieties of tomatoes.  I've made a habit of photographing my hauls each time I harvest anything and posting the photos to Instagram.   I get lots of feedback from people near and far who are amazed that we are able to produce all of this food in the urban crush of Los Angeles  (and also in the midst of a drought -- we use very little water).  But here we are, growing everything you see in the photos here in just two 5'x5' planter boxes.


















Does any of this stuff look good to you?  Then please, pull out that (so not drought tolerant) lawn -- even a little chunk of it -- and grow your own food.  City dwellers without garden space can do it, too.  Just a little planter box or a couple of big pots will do just fine.


Friday, March 7, 2014

on the list



Almost every day of my working life I have made a list.  

When I worked in offices, design or otherwise, I'd start each morning by sitting quietly at my desk with my coffee and my blank page.  I'd list all of the aspirations/tasks of the day ahead in three columns on the page.   Then, with my list from the day before, I'd transfer all of the uncompleted items from that list on to the current day's list. Writing things down made them somehow less scary when everything to to accomplish, handle, absorb was all in front of me on the page.  

I don't remember who taught me to make lists, but I still do it.   I count it as one of those little rituals, this writing down of the contents of my brain, that has sustained me, given my life and work structure.  And I'm more than a little bit results-oriented  so I LOVE that feeling of crossing something, anything, off the list.

In the year or so since I purchased this property and for the 4 years I ran my business from my spare bedroom, "MMD STUDIO" was an item on nearly every list I made.  On February 10, 2014, I finally, happily, got to cross it off.  

If you missed it, you can check out my post about the transformation of the studio exterior here.  

The interior of this space looked like this when the project began:







Scary, dark and hot as the garage was at the outset, only a few elemental changes had to happen to get the ball rolling:
Windows and a door.

Drywall and trim, primer and paint.

Now its my sunny Melissa Mascara Design bubble.
A view of the palm trees and the vegetable garden, my beloved desk, my comfy new (frickin' rotating) desk chair and a pair of classic Nikki McClure prints = awesome place to work. 
The fab fabric on my (frickin' rotating) desk chair.
The homosote pin board - built it, covered it with dressmaker's muslin and hung it over an IKEA Expedit bookshelf.  The printer/scanner lives here, and there is plenty of storage for project binders and catalogs and design magazines.  Good Fucking Design Advice has found its perfect spot, too.
A  little inspiration from the Panyl blog  helped me to IKEA hack a couple of Expedit cubes, a couple of sheets of plywood and  some caster wheels into my (rolling) work table, library and sample storage.
The cord lights brighten the entire space.  They are especially great over the work table.

The lighting was IKEA hack #2 on this project.  I started with 8 Hemma cord sets, added a roll of plastic tarp, 3 cans of high gloss spray paint and lots of patience. I LOVE how they look.
After super-scrubbing the concrete floors, I covered the bulk of the space in a rug made of 2 colors/textures of FLOR carpet tiles (Feelin' Groovy in grass and Reverb in lime).  
Remo is serious about his role as design dog, and spends most of his time (when not in my lap) in this exact spot doing exactly this.
Half of the wall opposite the new windows was tricked out with storage shelving.  The other half became a workbench.


Remember that narrow door from the original garage?  Its been recycled into the tabletop for the workbench.  An old baker's rack provides the base.
Here's the workbench after shot.  And, um, can I mention how much I love pegboard?  I had to hold myself back from putting it EVERYWHERE.  And the fact that all of my tools and paints are visible and organized is nirvana.
IKEA hack #3 transformed Kvartal curtain track, 6 Mariam curtains and lengths of chain into a wall of sky-high orange draperies that slide open wherever I need them to.  Best of all, especially for a neatness nerd like me, they camouflage the storage and the fabulous work bench when closed.  A pair of gorgeous chairs gifted from a dear friend have found a happy home here, too.

I predicted a "build it and work will come" effect about this studio, and so far I've been working at a steady hum since move-in day.  I'm still pinching myself a bit that these are my digs, but I also feel incredibly at home here.  Its been well worth all the work and the wait and it still feels like the best of the year is to come.