Thursday, October 28, 2010

Faux Foam Tombstones

I've gotten a lot of requests since the HGTV Halloween Block Party for step-by-step instructions on the tombstones.  I didn't take many photos of the actual process except with the TV cameras, but here's a verbal blow by blow:

Start with a sheet of the hard pink foam insulation that you can get from any Home Depot or Lowe's. It comes in different thickness.  I used the thickest since it resembles the depth of a real tombstone and will hold up better to years of being stored in the basement.  One sheet will get you around 6 stones, which is pretty good.  Warning, it may not fit in your car, so see if they'll cut it in half for you....or you'll end up like me, in the parking lot sawing it in half with a pair of car keys.

Once you get it home, sketch out your tombstones on the foam with a pen.  Mine were of various sizes, but averaged 18" in width and went from 2' to 5' tall for some variety.  For the shapes of the tops I did everything from square, to curved, a cross, a peaked roof.  You really can't go wrong.  Once you're happy with them, cut them out with a small hand saw, don't worry about neat edges, your going to mess them up later anyway.

If you want any inscriptions on the tombstones, have at it.  Play around with fonts and sayings on the computer, print them out, tape them to the foam and trace them with a pen so it leaves an indentation on the foam.  Remove the paper and then carve out the letters with a Dremel tool or file.  They also look good plain, so don't panic if you get lazy half way through.

Now comes the fun part.  Bring the tombstones outside and wet them down with the garden hose.  The water will mostly run right off.  While still wet, use a hand held blow torch (a good investment at $19.00 - you can use it for creme brulee afterwards) and burn the surface of the foam.  Where the foam is dry it will burn more than where it's wet, giving a nice rough finish.  Be sure to get the sides and corners as well to give it a really worn finish.  Don't worry, you really can't over do it.  Just be careful, it is fire after all.

Now let them dry and coat them with some nice grey paint.  If you're feeling really ambitious you can further antique them once they're dry by running the hose over them again and at the same time spraying them with a can of black spray paint.  The paint will run down the tombstone with the water, getting caught in all the nooks and crannies...pretty cool.

To install them, I hammered some pvc tubing into the ground and used duct tape on the back.  If they're going to be seen from both sides you can drill two holes in the bottom and lower them onto rebar in the ground.

A fun project, only takes a couple of hours and the kids will have a blast (oh, and you too.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blood Fondue Recipe

I came up with this recipe for HGTV's Halloween Block Party.  It's super easy and only takes a few minutes:

12 oz white chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
4 tbl butter
Red food coloring
Sponge Cake (cut into cubes)

Combine the heavy cream and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  When warm, add the chocolate chips, stirring constantly until smooth.  Add food coloring several drops at a time until fondue becomes blood red.  Transfer to a serving bowl.  Arrange strawberries, sponge cake and pretzels in serving dishes with toothpicks or bamboo spears.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On the set this Halloween with HGTV

Airing October 16th, 8:00 pm on House and Garden Television

I was fortunate enough to be asked by House and Garden Television to be one of the designers on this year’s Halloween Block Party.  Three designers, three houses, three families and three days to create spooky Halloween masterpieces.  

I worked with the Donovan Family who were up for anything.  Together we turned their house into the ultimate vampire lair – complete with creepy cemetery and chic Blood Bar.  We create an old “wrought iron” fence out of PVC and aging stone tombstones out of insulation foam. I also share entertaining how-to’s like creating blood stained party invitations, bedazzled pumpkins, filigreed candy cones and blood fondue.

  I don’t want to give away too much, so be sure to watch when it airs Saturday, October 16th at 8:00 pm. 

You can also get the step-by-steps at


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Homemade Peach Jam

On our ranch, Roy Ridge, in the Anderson Valley, we planted a small orchard a few years ago.  It has 38 trees and they’ve just started producing.  However, some forward thinking former owner of the property had previously planted a few fruit trees.  One of these being a peach which produces an amazing bounty of the largest, sweetest peaches I think I’ve ever eaten – and that’s saying a lot coming from someone raised in Georgia.  So, in anticipation of having the bounty of an entire orchard to preserve in the coming years, we took it upon ourselves to spend some time making jam.  All in all, it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning as well as having that self-righteous feeling of being the ant instead of the grasshopper. 

Just in case you need it, here’s our step-by-step:

Before starting, get your jars and lids ready.  We had a few hundred mason jars left over from our wedding last year (they served as cocktail glasses) and we had kept all the lids and rims – I’m nothing if not thrifty!  Run the jars through the dishwasher on an extra hot cycle to sterilize them. Once clean, line them up on the counter so they’re ready to go.  Put the flat lids in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil and then turn off the heat.  Keep them in the saucepan until ready to use.  Remember, you can’t reuse the lids for canning – they’re a one time deal.  The rims, however, you can reuse every year.

Next, turn your attention to the peaches.  I blanched the peaches to remove the skin.  Don’t even think of using a paring knife to peel them, it’s waste of time and peach since a good chunk of the fruit goes into the compost with the skin.  Simply get a pot of water to a good boil, drop in a few peaches, pull them out a 30 seconds later and dip them in a bowl of cold water to cool. The skins will just slide right off.  Cut the peaches in half and take out the pit and you’re ready to go. 

Cut the peaches into small pieces.  I like my jam chunky, so I left them about  ½” – ¾” or so.  Mix  4 cups of peaches, 3 cups of sugar, juice from 1 lemon and 1 box of pectin (I use Sure-Jell) into a large stockpot.  That’s less sugar than a lot or recipes call for, but I like to taste the fruit and not the sugar, also, did I tell you how sweet these peaches were! 

Bring to a boil stirring frequently for about 20-25 minutes until the mixture thickens and drips off the spoon in heavy drops. Now ladle this peachy goodness into your sterile jars. Leave around 1/4" at the top. With a pair of tongs, grab a lid, place it on top and screw the rim into place. 

For this project we invested in a canner.  For $19.00 from the local farm supply we got a beautiful black enamel stockpot with a wire canning insert made specifically for holding jars and lowering and raising them out of the boiling water.  Definitely worth it, plus it looks like something my grandmother would have, which I love.  Fill the canner with jars and slide it into the stockpot and boil for 10 minutes.  Remove the canner and carefully move the jars to somewhere to cool.  In a few minutes you’ll hear the re-assuring pop! of the lids as they seal with the cooling of the jam.

Believe it or not, that’s it.  Super easy and works for any fruit.  The next morning (okay, I lied, it was later that day) I made biscuits and we smothered them in jam.  You truly can not get better than that!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Going green the old school way...

Forget about the Prius.  On my last day in India I spied some other options for getting around town without using fossil fuels:
A Delhi school bus with kids in their crisp school uniforms.  They're on their way home from school, Hello Kitty backpacks securely fastened on top.

From what I'm told, the grass bill for a 30 minute commute is astronomical.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Afternoon at the Red Fort

On my recent trip to India I had a free afternoon and decided to tour the Red Fort. Quite a tourist attraction now, the fort originally served as the capital of the Mughals when it was finished in 1648  until 1857.  The fort also served as the home of the ruling family and at its peaked housed over 3000 people.  Quite an impressive group of structures to roam through I can only imagine the grandeur when everything was  clad in marble and bedazzled to the nines. 

There was an extensive network of shallow reflecting channels that connected the buildings.  They flowed from a central fountain and through many of the buildings.  At some points the water poured down walls, through rooms and then dropped down through foundations and out into the gardens again. I was really impressed at the modernity of these channels.  The proportions and angles were great and the white marble in the hot sun conjured images of the water around Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion of 1929...I do wonder if ol' Ludwig ever made it to the Red Fort.


There is a beautiful amount of surface work throughout the fort.  There are lovely floral reliefs carved into the walls that rise several stories high. I think my favorite reliefs, though, were the very detailed and deeply carved filigree designs with lettering framing the work - it somehow looks very graphic today.

 The gardens were all very simple and I'm sure had seen better days. There were a few details that were interesting.  Many paths were lined with the same stone lanterns that we've all seen reproduced in garden and import shops everywhere - great to see the originals.  Another really nice feature were the paving stones that we cut to create beautifully patterned beds down the center of the wide walkways.  Now, barely planted, they added a very nice sculptural element.

 The thing that surprised me the most I saw on the way out.  The beautiful Red Fort, made of red sandstone, was kept red by... buckets of red paint.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Imperial Hotel, Delhi

Some people are plane people and some people are hotel people. I proudly admit to being a hotel person. I will gladly suffer through 24 hours in a middle seat in coach if I can then splurge on the hotel of my dreams. I believe that the right hotel can epitomize a city and it’s people. I can get to know a city by having a drink at it’s hotel bar as much as winding through it’s streets. Now, to do this, it can’t just be a trustworthy Hyatt, hip W, or grandiose Four Seasons. I stayed in a brand new Four Season in Berlin once, for all you knew once you walked through the front doors you were in Cleveland…not that I have anything against Cleveland, but I’m not suffering through a middle seat so I can be in Cleveland. And don’t get me wrong, my chosen hotels are, more often than not, not the nicest, newest, or, usually, not even comfortable, but they are the kind of hotels that for one reason or other are almost indistinguishable from the city itself. I just recently returned from a design trip to India and had the good fortune to stay at just such a hotel. Okay, full disclosure, this wasn’t one of those rough and tumble, seen better days, lumpy mattress places that I just mentioned, but a full blown 5 star goddess of a hotel at which my agent had been able to get me a good deal. So, after 24 hours of travel, all of it in middle seats, I checked in at The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi.

The hotel lobby from above.
Unlike many of the older grand hotels in India that served previous duty as a palace or government building this was built expressly to be India’s first 5 star hotel and opened as such in 1931. From what I've read, it was designed by D.J. Bromfield, an associate of Edwin Lutyens.  However, according to the hotel curator, who was nice enough to give me a guided personal tour, it was designed by Lutyens himself…and since I wasn’t being billed for this private tutelage, I wasn’t going to argue. It was the brainchild of Lady Mountbatton who provided much of the extensive art collection that can be found adorning every inch of the hotel.  It, in fact, is said to have the largest collection of colonial and post-colonial art in Delhi. 

What I liked to call my hallway round-a-bout.
 To walk into the hotel is to walk back in time. Very little has changed – the exact same Persian carpets lay on the exact same Italian marble floors. (I asked how they keep them in such seemingly good shape and I was told that wear is never a problem in high quality carpets…I guess that explains why mine look the way they do.) The same Austrian chandelier hangs from the same gilded dome at the entrance. High Tea is served at 4 sharp in the courtyard and the kitchen staff has kept the English ability to serve a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg at breakfast.
Patalia's Peg
1911 Bar

The hotel’s two original bars still serve Pimm’s Cups. One of the bars, Patiala’s Peg is where Neru and Mahatma Ghandi signed the treaty that formed Pakistan. The other, 1911, celebrates the moving of India’s capital to Delhi. Both look like a page out of a Ralph Lauren Home catalogue, but all original and genuine. As you sink into the leather banquette and sip on a Bombay and tonic after an exhausting day battling Delhi you can feel a little of India’s history seeping into you.

The entrance to 1911 where breakfast was served.

1911 Restaurant

The Pool