Tuesday, September 18, 2012

International Squash Fever

Every Autumn I'm overcome by the desire to bring home as many varieties of pumpkins, squashes and gourds as I can find to celebrate the season in the most colorful way, and to create opportunities for new recipes, both sweet and savory.

Marina di Chioggia
Today's finds included these heirloom varieties from Italy, France and New Zealand:

Marina di Chioggia

Also know as the "Sea Pumpkin from Chioggia", this Italian variety is from a seaport town by the Venetian lagoon that was once part of the Byzantine Empire. A member of the Cucurbita maxima family, it's a turban squash with dry, sweet flesh that keeps well. I think the dark blue green color is beautiful, and I love the bumpy texture. Chioggia is also the home of the beautiful, delicious red and white striped Chioggia beet, which I grew in our last garden and loved roasted and marinated in rice wine vinegar.

Amy Goldman in her wonderful book, "The Compleat Squash", says Marina di Chioggia was born to be gnocchi or ravioli. She's given us her delicious recipe for gnocchi with walnut sage pesto, but in addition to the recipes, I treasure the book as a reference when I want to identify something, and so that I don't wind up trying to cook with purely decorative varieties, and for the pure pleasure of looking at the pictures.

Galeux D'Eysines

Brode Galeux D'Eysines (aka Galeuse D'Eysines)

The name of this unusual pumpkin translates loosely as "embroidered with warts from Eysines", a small town in the Bordeaux region of France. It may not be beautiful to everyone, but it is to me.

What looks like peanuts or warts are the result of a build up of sugar under the skin. The flesh is fragrant and sweet, somewhere between a pumpkin and a sweet potato, depending on the point at which it was harvested and how long it sits before use.
When cooked, the flesh is very smooth, and it's often used for soups, sauces and pumpkin butter.


This lovely blue-gray pumpkin with stringless bright orange flesh is from Jarrahdale, New Zealand, and is said to be very similar to Queensland Blue. With a dry but creamy texture and rich flavor, it's used for both sweet and savory dishes and can be substituted for pumpkin. 

A designer's friend, I can picture Jarrahdale in an industrial chic setting, or in a farmhouse kitchen.

The island's inhabitants today.
At the moment the pumpkins are sitting on the island in the kitchen as part of a shape-shifting assemblage of decorative and edible items, but who knows where they'll wind up as the new treasures arrive and take center stage. Next I'll be looking for orange pumpkins, squashes and gourds to add vibrant color, and white ones for a ghostly note, and, well anything that catches my eye...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Consider New Ways to Balance

Balance is a fascinating concept because we think of it in terms of design and also in terms of living. Both suggest a psychological sense of equilibrium, or evenly weighted tension.  When it comes to design, balance is a concept that isn't as well understood and applied as it deserves to be, and when it's missing, a room will look wrong, although you may not know why.

Types of Balance in Design

Symmetrical balance


Most used in traditional design, symmetrical balance is formal and intentional, based on repetition of elements, as in this picture, and therefore more predictable. If you're not careful, symmetry can be boring, like the ubiquitous pair of candlesticks on either side of the mantle. 

Asymmetrical balance 

Achieved through using items of similar weight without repetition, asymmetrical balance is more informal, modern, dynamic and interesting. Here you see the weight of the couch balanced by two chairs instead of using a pair of couches as in the picture above.

Radial balance

With radial balance there's a center point and items radiate around it, or from it. Look at all the curving elements in this picture, from the rug to the carpet to the windows which all appear to radiate from the visual center of the room.

Ways to Create Balance

You can use the things you already have to create new ways to balance. First decide if the impression you want, is formal or informal, traditional or modern. If you want to be formal, make conscious use of repetition by working with one or more pairs of accessories, such as by placing a red cushion on either end of the couch, or hanging a pair of paintings on each side of a doorway. Informal balance is trickier since you have to achieve equivalent weight with dissimilar objects, as with the couch and pair of chairs in the example. If you want to create radial balance, you can do it either formally or informally.

Here are a few factors to consider when evaluating visual weight to create asymmetrical or radial balance:

  • size - large is heavier than small
  • color - dark is heavier than light
  • quantity  - one large can be balanced by two or more small, and so forth
  • placement - foreground looks heavier than background
  • texture - coarse or complex looks heavier than little or no texture
  • pattern - detailed looks heavier than simple
  • shape - irregular shapes appear heavier than regular ones
  • orientation - vertical is heavier than horizontal
  • density - solid is heavier than open
  • preconceived idea - a plate looks heavier than a fork 

Experimentation is the best way to come up with a new arrangement, and the most fun. When I do a redesign or staging consultation, working with balance is one of the tools I use to give a home a fresh new look without spending a penny. Try it!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sandy in Wonderland

The White Rabbit from "Alice"
When I'm doing the laundry I often think of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass", but I'm not as crazy as that statement might lead you to think.

The reason the books come to mind is that behind the laundry room sink hang four ceramic tiles taken from the famous drawings by Sir John Tenniel that illustrated the books. I bought the tiles when I visited Oxford, home of the original Alice, whose father Henry Liddel was Dean of Christ Church, and of Charles Dodson, aka Lewis Carroll, who made her a superstar. When I got home from my trip, I found some wood blocks, stained them, painted the edges green and mounted the tiles. Wherever Roger and I have lived, the Alice tiles have always had a place.

The Caterpillar from "Alice"
Like many of you, I have wonderful childhood memories of both books, including being taught by my father to memorize, "The Jaberwocky" and "Father William" when I was very young. He loved the stories too, and this appeal to children of all ages is one of the reasons they endure.

And then there are the intriguing references to mathematics, history and politics, and the parodies of popular songs and poems. I had little idea of how complex the books really are until I bought "The Annotated Alice" and read the stories from an adult perspective, guided by an explanation of references that previously had sailed right over my head.With these new insights, I appreciated the stories even more.

In addition to a combined edition of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass", my Alice library also includes, "Alice's Adventures Underground", a facsimile of the original manuscript with thirty-seven illustrations by Dodson, that later morphed into the Alice story the world loves. I also bought a little Pitikin guide, "Alice's Adventures at Oxford", that tells how the books came to be written, and how they affected the lives of the shy mathematics professor and the little girl who inspired the stories.
The Walrus and the Carpenter from "Looking Glass

Dodson is such a multi-talented man, clearly brilliant, but I've never known quite what to make of his interest in photographing little girls in costumes and artistic poses, sometimes in the nude (with their parents present). For the sake of the children involved, and because of my great affection for his works, I hope it was an innocent hobby...

Tweedledum and Tweedledee from "Looking Glass"

When I'm in the laundry room doing mundane chores, it makes me smile to look up from the sink and see these quirky, beloved old friends and think of glorious, historic Oxford and those happy times with my father who inspired my love of words with stories and poems.

The Little Alice Sink in the Laundry Room

Friday, September 7, 2012

Home Staging: What's In A Name?

Recently I had coffee with a highly regarded local REALTOR who told me she often sees an immediate negative reaction from sellers when she uses the word, "staging".  I've seen it too, from both sellers and REALTORs. Maybe a seller's negative response is due to the false impression of staging they've gotten from television, or the fear that staging is expensive, or that a stager will come into the house and find fault. Perhaps some REALTORs are averse to staging because they fear offending their clients, or because they think clients expect them to provide this service, and they don't want to appear lacking. Whatever the reasons, there's no question that staging has gotten a bad rap, despite a 45 year track record of success in all market conditions.

Because she needs seller cooperation in preparing the house for sale, my REALTOR friend has experimented with using the term, "detailing", instead of staging. Everyone understands that when you sell your car you need to clean it inside and out, and make every detail shine. Selling a house is no different, and she's found that when she describes the preparation as "detailing", there are fewer objections.

Whether it's called staging or detailing, the process of creating cosmetic appeal is more important than ever because of the crucial role of internet photos in marketing a house. To sell successfully, it's essential to have attractive, compelling pictures that make prospective buyers want to visit in person.

Staging may not be well understood, or have the respect and appreciation it deserves, but I'm still proud to be a professional stager, though I may take a page from my friend's book and use the word "detailing" now and then when I encounter resistance.