21 June 2012


My neighbor's house burned the other night.

I live in a historic neighborhood. All of the homes here are at least 100 years old and all of them are wood-framed. Because this neighborhood was platted out in a time before such things as zoning, all of our houses sit very close to one another. The roof lines of two of my neighbors are separated by around three inches in fact.

We tend to be pretty paranoid when it comes to fire around here. All of us on this block have been particularly vigilant about fire safety because we know that if one house goes up, we'd lose the whole block.

Well, my neighbor's house burned the other night and mercifully, there was no wind blowing. The lack of wind and the fast response of the St. Pete Fire Department kept the fire contained. Had it been a windy night I'd be writing this from a Red Cross shelter.

Even so, the 20 minutes that the fire burned destroyed his home and left him with nothing but the clothes on his back.

He's a disagreeable guy. He's alienated all of us over the years but even so, my heart goes out to him.

I cannot imagine what it's like to lose everything in a fire. Despite his losses, he's fortunate to have made it out the back door before he lost his life to smoke inhalation. As it is, he and his dog made it to safety but his cat didn't.

Fire's not something that occurs to most people as a viable threat but it is. Do yourself a favor and guard yourself against it. Get at least two fire extinguishers. Keep one in your bedroom and one in your kitchen. Install and maintain smoke detectors. Put one outside of your bedroom and another one in your kitchen.

Think through an escape plan. If your house were on fire how would you make it out?

My neighbor was lucky, blessed even. He had no extinguishers or smoke alarms and that he survived that fire is something that borders on the miraculous.

Despite his suffering, this event has proved itself to be a cautionary tale to all of us on Seventh Avenue. It ought to be a cautionary tale to people everywhere. Fire extinguishers and smoke detectors will save your property and may very well save your life.

20 June 2012

Trading palm trees for corn fields

I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And no, I'm not Amish.


Lancaster's about an hour west of Philly but it's a world away. As you drive west from The City of Brotherly Love, the clock seems to work backwards. The urban congestion gives way to the gently rolling farmland of Chester and Lancaster Counties. This is the place where the American Revolution played out and Lancaster is the oldest inland city in the US. My ancestors settled there in 1740 and those rolling hills are encoded in my DNA.

When I was younger and living there I felt the place to be a prison. Getting to Philly or Baltimore was a pain and I always felt like I was missing out on something because I lived in a small town. I longed for a change of venue, some kind of different scenery.

What I couldn't see back then was how beautiful an area it is and how fortunate I was to live just a bit removed from the harried nature of life in a major metro. I left the area for good in the early '90s and sought my fortune elsewhere.

A funny thing has happened here in the last couple of years though. The housing collapse reaped a pretty grim harvest in Florida and one by one, most of my friends left the area in search of greener pastures. As they left, I started traveling for work a lot. While this was going on I've found myself looking for an anchor time and again. I needed something to tie me to Florida, to home.

That anchor never materialized however. In fact, as people continue to move away I'm less tied to this place than I ever have been. Part of me knows that I could go out and make new friends, but another part of me doesn't want to put forth the effort.

While all of this has been playing out, I've begun to see the appeal of the land where I was born and raised. I've been back for short visits in the last few years and my beloved brother Steve's been offering me his guest room for a longer stay.

So I'm going to do it. I'm going back to Pennsylvania for the entire month of July. I'll stay with Steve, work from his home and get a first hand look at what life's like in Lancaster now. I can take the train to New York from there without any trouble and I'll have ready access to just about anywhere in the northeast, thanks to Amtrack.

Because it's farm country, the local produce I'll have access to is already making my mouth water. I'm looking forward to baking bread with my nieces and catching up with my nephews and siblings. I have an enormous family and our get togethers are as loud as they are legendary. It'll be great to cook for an army without the stress of having to leave right away.

Truth be told, I'm staying for a month as a test of sorts. I want to see if I can handle living there again. I want to see if I can handle trading palm trees for corn fields. I'm going into this with my eyes wide open and had someone told me five years ago that I would consider moving back to PA someday I'd have laughed hysterically.

July will be an interesting month, that's for sure. As I mentioned in a Let's Blog Off post last fall, my life in Florida has always felt like borrowed time, even after 20+ years. I'm a Yankee's Yankee as hard as I try to ignore that.

As much as I love walking down the sidewalk to the beach, it doesn't really feel real. People in the Northeast think faster, understand things better and forge deeper bonds than they do here. Pennsylvania has a sense of place I miss. Leaving when I did was difficult, I felt that I was severing ties that were supposed to last a lifetime. I hope to reconnect some of those ties next month.

So I'll be blogging like a madman while I'm up there. I'll be experiencing things and places I know already but it'll feel like it's the first time. I love living where I do, but something's missing. Maybe I'll find the missing piece next month. And maybe I won't but it never hurts to look.

19 June 2012

My carpet arrived!

Here it is in situ.

I wrote about this originally a couple of weeks ago. I'm thrilled with my Novica experience and if you're in the market for handmade goods from around the world, check out their site.

I was worried about ordering something as complicated as a carpet over the internet but this thing has exceeded every expectation I had. The colors are more subtle than I was anticipating and it works like a charm in my living room.

I came into this carpet with the help of a $200 credit from Novica, a website that allows craftspeople from the developing world to sell their wares to westerners directly. As you go through the ordering process from Novica, you get a glimpse into the life of the person who made whatever you order.

In my case, my carpet was made by a man in India named Kahlil Ahmed. Kahlil sent me a note along with his carpet and the money he made from the carpet I bought will go to feed his family and help him to keep working as a carpet weaver. Not only did I get an item to make my living room look better, I got a story and the opportunity to make someone's life better.

I ordered my carpet on 6 June and it shipped from India the following day. It arrived here on Saturday the 16th and the shipping charges were negligible when I think about how far this carpet came.

Novica provides a forum for direct interaction between westerners and the developing world and that's really cool. The carpet in my living room just made the world a smaller place. Thank you Kahlil for making my home a more welcoming place and thank you Novica for the opportunity to make the connection with Kahlil. I have a handmade living room carpet!

Novica is promoting a couple of products lines in particular now. Check out these links.

Women's shawls from Peru
Men's silver cufflinks from Indonesia
Leather belts
Women's accessories from Mexico
Men's clothing from Peru
Silver floral bracelets

17 June 2012

Check out this great method to peel garlic

I love garlic and I cook with it all the time. I swear I go through two full bulbs a week and I live alone.


I usually peel it by flattening a clove with the flat side of my chef's knife and peel from there. However, if I need a lot of it I have another method to peel it that I got from Saveur.com. People don't believe me when I describe this way to deal with fresh garlic and this morning, my good friend Nancie Mills-Pipgras (editor of Mosaic Art Now) posted the video that got me started on this whole thing on her Facebook page.

It reminded me that this is something that needs to be spread around. Check it out.

How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less Than 10 Seconds from SAVEUR.com on Vimeo.

How cool is that? I can tell you from first hand experience that it works every bit as well as it does in the video above.

It's Father's Day today, a day set aside specifically to be grateful for fathers. I'm endlessly grateful for mine and I'll be telling him that in a few hours when I call him. If you're close enough geographically to see a father today, make him something garlicky for supper. If you don't cook don't sweat it, just let him know you're glad he's in your life.

15 June 2012

¡Adios mosquitos!

See this?

It may be the thing that saves my summer.

That's an InaTrap, a mosquito trap that's actually attractive.

Most mosquito traps and bug zappers are an eyesore, but the InaTrap turns all of that on its head.

I have a big table on my patio and as often as not, I use it as a dining table. When I have people over, that's where we eat. Not only that, my next door neighbors and I tend to sit out there and talk long into the night. This set up works out perfectly for most of the year. However, when the rainy season kicks in every May, the mosquitoes come with it. The rains continue through the end of September and during the wet months, lingering at my patio table becomes an exercise in mosquito evasion.

I've thought about mosquito traps before but they're always such an eyesore. Not so the InaTrap.

The InaTrap is the result of the collaboration of Acase, a manufacturer of acessories and cases for iPhones, iPads and the rest, and the design house Inadays. The InaTrap won the 2012 Taiwan design excellence award and I can see why.

Its compact design uses just five watts of power and how it works is pretty ingenious. Here's a diagram:

The device uses a combination of UV light and a photocatalytic reaction that produces low levels of CO2. The CO2 convinces the little monsters that there's a tasty human being at the source of that gas. Once the mosquito enters the trap, it gets caught up in a nearly silent downdraft and it lands in a chamber that's out of sight. Oh, and they don't survive the trip across the fan blades. Boo hoo.

Here's the whole collection:

The InaTrap measures 215 x 215 x 315 mm (or 8.46 x 8.46 x 12.4 inches) and weighs 1.2 kg (2.64 lbs.), its lamp has an 18,000 hour lifespan and it carries a one year warranty.

The InaTrap is available in North America now on Amazon. I know I don't live in the only part of the world where mosquitoes descend en masse every summer evening.

So what do you guys think? What's the best way do deal with mosquitoes?

14 June 2012

Architecture Thursday: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall

Two weeks ago, I was treated to a tour of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. There are few things I appreciate about a city more than an obvious commitment to the arts, and Costa Mesa has that commitment in spades.

The Segerstom Center for the Arts is a campus of buildings dedicated to the best humanity has to offer. The theater and original hall were spectacular of course, but it was the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall that impressed me the most.

©RMA Photography Inc. - 714.259.1332

Lord knows I love a curtain wall, but to see a glass curtain wall made from undulating glass was something I never thought was possible.

The concert hall opened on September 15, 2006 and the architect was Cesar Pelli from Pelli, Clark, Pelli and Associates in New Haven, CT.

Once inside, the building continued to amaze. Here are some photos from the lobby and grand staircase.

©RMA Photography Inc. - 714.259.1332

Looking up at the lobby ceiling. 
©RMA Photography Inc. - 714.259.1332

The docents who led the tour kept saying that the acoustics inside the auditorium were spectacular and part of me thought that no building this grand could have as great a concert hall in it as the docents claimed. I was wrong. Here's looking at the main stage.

©RMA Photography Inc. - 714.259.1332

And here's the view from the stage toward the back of the house.

©Doug Gifford Photography

When we were touring the Concert Hall, we were fortunate to stumble upon a children's concert being performed by the Pacific Symphony and yes, the acoustics are every bit as perfect as the docents claimed.

Our small group stood in one of the upper tiers and just let the music wash over us. Nothing affects me the way a symphony orchestra does. Nothing. Standing in a truly grand concert hall while that orchestra's performing is my idea of heaven on earth.

If you live in Orange County, consider yourself to be fortunate indeed. In a time when arts organizations all over the world are facing threats like extinction, it was beyond affirming to see that the opposite is happening in Costa Mesa.

Thank you again goes to Blanco and Bosch, you sure know how to show a guy a good time, especially when my definition of a good time revolves around classical music.

If you live anywhere near Costa Mesa, buy tickets and go see some performances. Here's the link to the Segerstom Center for the Arts website. Go!

13 June 2012

SieMatic introduces the latest from Beaux Arts and FloatingSpaces

EuroCucina takes place in Milan every other year as part of the Salone Internazionale del Mobile. EuroCucina is Europe's largest kitchen trade show and it's attended by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the globe who descend on Milan to see the latest in kitchen design and innovation.

SieMatic Möbelwerke took the opportunity provided by EuroCucina to debut the latest iterations of its BeauxArts.02 and FloatingSpaces collections.

BeauxArts.02 is the result of a collaboration between US designer Mick De Giulio and I saw its first series at IMM in Cologne last year. I was blown away by it and the latest additions to the collection are even more impressive. What follow are some highlights from BeauxArts.02.

The first BeauxArts.02 kitchen shows SieMatic's Lotus Gloss Lacquer finish.

The second BeauxArts.02 kitchen shows SieMatic's Sterling Gray Lacquer with stainless accents.

The third BeauxArts.02 kitchen shows a custom Lacquer color with stainless base cabinets.

In addition to the newest additions to the BeauxArts.02 Collection, SieMatic dedicated a fair amount of its booth space to FloatingSpaces. FloatingSpaces is a variable panel system that speaks directly to the growing trend of an open kitchen. Here's an example of FloatingSpaces in Graphite Oak Matte Veneer.

The European version of an open kitchen is far more open than the North American idea of open kitchen. I think a better description would be to call it and integrated kitchen. The idea is to dispense with the idea of a kitchen as a separate, utilitarian space and instead, integrate it into the rest of the house.

The next FloatingSpaces example demonstrates that idea even better. This is FloatingSpaces in Lotus White Gloss Lacquer and Stone Beech Veneer. Where does the kitchen stop and the rest of the house start? Exactly.

Since its beginnings in the early 1930s, SieMatic has remained at the forefront of design innovation as a privately-held, family-owned company. Their products are now available 62 countries across five continents and you can learn more about these collections as well as the rest of their offerings on SieMatic's website.

Blanco and Bosch make a great pair

As I mentioned a couple of times last week, Blanco and Bosch flew me and a bunch of great people I know to Costa Mesa two weeks ago. We were there to tour Bosch's new training center and showroom, ask pointed questions to the Bosch industrial designers, shoot hours of video and of course, cook. Bosch's new facility is amazing and every sink and faucet in the place was made by Blanco, hence the joint venture.

It's the perfect marriage of brands. Their design philosophies match the commitments to quality and innovation perfectly.

Lori Dolnick from the Blanco PR team photgraphed the entire event and put everything together in a video.

The people in that video are a who's who of the Kitchen and Bath Industry and I consider them to be not only my peers, but also my friends. It's always an honor to be included with such an august group and I can't thank the marketing teams at Blanco and Bosch enough.

08 June 2012

Thermador's Freedom Induction

Last February, I wrote a post about an induction cooktop from Gaggenau I'd seen in Germany the previous month. Gaggenau calls it Full Surface Induction and I was completely blown away by it when I saw it for the first time. Full Surface Induction dispensed with the idea of burners all together and turned the entire cooktop surface into a cooking zone. The appliance could sense the size of the pot resting on it and only activated the induction coils beneath that particular pot.

I wouldn't have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. When I wrote that post almost a year-and-a-half ago I summed it all up with a lament about how that technology wasn't heading across the Atlantic any time soon.

It turns out I was wrong about that, Gaggenau's Full Surface Induction will be available in North America in August of this year.

In the meantime, last January, my friend and colleague Susan Serra wrote a post about Thermador's new Freedom Induction cooktop. Thermador is a sister brand to Gaggenau and next month, the Thermador Freedom Induction will make its North American debut.

When I was at Bosch/ Thermador/ Gaggenau's new facility in Irvine, CA last week I saw the prototype of this Thermador cooktop and I met the man who designed it. I admit it, I'm a geek when it comes to appliances, induction cooktops particularly. As amazing as Gaggenau's Full Surface Induction is, Thermador's Freedom Induction is even more so. Thermador's Freedom Induction has a 6.5" full-color screen that will teach you how to use the appliance essentially.

Here's a video showing the man behind this innovation, Malte Peters, and an early version of this appliance. The cooktop he's describing has a clear glass surface, so that you can see the many, many induction coils that live underneath it. These smaller coils are how Freedom Induction works.

All contemporary induction coils activate when they sense ferrous metal. Ordinarily, these coils are the size and shape of a conventional, round burner. Freedom Induction allows a user to place odd-sized pots and pans anywhere on its surface and it'll accommodate up to five pots at a time and a user can control each of those pots individually.

What's more is that somebody can move a pot to another position and transfer the cooking settings to the new position. It's revolutionary and this video of the original Gaggenau Full Surface Induction explains how this technology works better than I can.

Induction cooktops make so much sense I can barely stand it. They are significantly more efficient than any other cooking technology out there. They have the same level of control that gas does but without the radiant heat and wasted energy that accompanies gas. And unlike a traditional electric cooktop, the burners and cooking surface never get hot, so they're infinitely safer in homes with children or the elderly.

So if you're on the fence about induction, buy yourself a set of All-Clad cookware and go for it. I have never met anyone who'd made the switch to induction who regretted it. There are a wide variety of models available from Bosch, Thermador and Gaggenau and if you have any questions about this technology, please shoot me an e-mail. I'm somewhat a zealot when it comes to this stuff and I'll answer all questions gladly.

07 June 2012

Meet my new living room carpet

I just ordered this carpet the other day. I've been in the market for a handmade carpet for years and finally, I chanced upon an opportunity to take care of the glaring hole in my living room decor.

I've been coveting handmade carpets for years but I've always been concerned about the conditions under which they're made. Enter Novica, a world marketplace that operates in association with National Geographic. Novica gave me a $200 credit that I used toward my carpet.

Novica is sort of like a developing world Etsy in that that site connects artisans from all over the world and allows them the opportunity to sell their wares directly to end users. In my case, my carpet was woven by a man in India named Khalil Ahmed. Here's his statement from Novica's website:

I come from a long lineage of carpet weavers. My ancestors have been in this field for more than centuries now. We are five brothers and two sisters, and we grew up as witnesses to the craft of weaving at home. I remember how enthralled we would be every time we saw varied colors merging into different weaves.

I was just in school when I began to learn this art. I was taught by my father and older brothers, and at the time it was like a game that offered moments of great fun. As I grew up I took the loom and began to weave my own pieces. It felt so amazing when I finished my first piece!

It took me almost three years to learn the fine art of weaving. At first my designs were simple and now, as I've gained mastery, they are more intricate. It also has to do with what people want. Before they wanted simple and elegant designs, but nowadays they are more demanding, not only in design, but also in terms of quality and price. It is therefore my responsibility to update my designs and work with quality materials to fulfill people's expectations and requirements.

As a family, we have seen some hard times. I remember a period during my childhood when the situation was so bad I had to work at a tobacco company all day for only a couple of Rupees. I still to cringe to remember those days, but I do not blame my parents. I know they were extremely difficult times, and that was the only option.

I have seen really bad days in my time, but they have given me the strength and determination to do well in life. For example, I had always dreamt of going abroad, so I worked hard and I realize my dreams. In 1992, I went to London for an exhibition. I also got the opportunity to go to Turkistan and Brazil. They were all wonderful experiences.

Before there were only a few families who designed and wove rugs, and people would have to come to our homes to buy them. Nowadays there are more opportunities for us weavers to sell our rugs and carpets with exhibitions happening every now and then. They offer us to show our products to more people rather than relying only with visitors coming to our homes.

It fills me with great pride to tell you that in 2002, I won National Award for one of my hand-woven dhurrie rugs.

It's a great feeling to be in this field, carrying on such a precious family legacy. I only wish that my children will take forward this art.
I'll write more about my purchase and Novica in the coming weeks after my carpet arrives. It shipped from Khalil's studio this morning and I ought to have it in two weeks. In the meantime, take a look through Novica's offerings. They're providing a forum where the developing world and the West can interact directly. This allows anybody to impact developing world lives personally.

It's precisely these kinds of direct interactions that make the world a smaller and better place. Thank you Novica.

06 June 2012

Sprayer faucets

Many people think they need a professional sprayer faucet, even if they don't cook. In most cases, the sprayer they think they need hangs slack after around six months of use.

Sure, they look good but really, how much value do they add when they're hanging in the middle of your sink?

Enter Blanco's Culina. The Culina combines a resilient faucet with a magnet and the result is amazing. Here's a video of me putting a Culina through its paces in Germany last year. In that video too you'll see my pals Susan Serra and Leslie Clagett. Those two women who have seen it all and aren't easily snowed by glossy PR. I think they'll back me in my endorsement of this faucet.

05 June 2012

Think about Silgranit

I've spent my whole professional life specifying stainless steel sinks but in the last few years something else has shown up on my radar.

Namely the Silgranit sink from Blanco.

Anybody who's had a stainless sink knows that having one involves ignoring scratches or buffing them out regularly. Who needs that added aggravation?

Silgranit gets rid of that hassle and gives you a stain and scratch resistant sink that you can also coordinate with your counters.

Silgranit sinks can be undermounted or dropped in and using one ensures a lifetime of trouble-free use. If you're in the market for a new kitchen sink, consider a Silgranit.

03 June 2012

Sunday night traveler's tale

I spent the shank of last week in Costa Mesa, CA and my journey home started yesterday morning. I flew from John Wayne Airport in Irvine to Chicago for the first leg of my trip home.

Once in Chicago, I changed planes and flew home to Tampa/ St. Pete. On that second flight I met a man whose name I don't know. However what I do know was that he'd started his day in Beijing.

If you spend any time in airports, it's obvious that a lot of people fly between the US and China. This guy was different in that Beijing was his home and always had been.


He was a businessman in his 50s and he was on the flight to Tampa so that he could go on vacation for five days in Sand Key, a beach area just south of Clearwater. Clearwater's a dump but I didn't come out and say that to him. However, Sand Key is one of the loveliest spots along this coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches of Sand Key are broad and wide and the water is the emerald-clear I equate with the Florida I know and call home.


Anyhow, I asked how someone from Beijing could decide that Sand Key was the perfect spot for some R&R and he told me that when he was young he saw a movie in China and he was completely taken with the surroundings where the movie was filmed. I have no idea which movie he was talking about but through years of research he'd figured out that it had been filmed on Sand Key.

As he navigated the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution and the upheavals attendant to China's rise to its current status, one vision guided him through it -- the beach at Sand Key. As his peers, professors and parents were "re-educated" and persecuted through the years, the idea of a white sand beach on the Gulf of Mexico was something that never left him.

Now that he'd made it in a newly ascendant China he was headed to the place that guided him like a beacon through the trials of his life.

My seatmate has no intention of leaving his homeland, he just needed to touch the place that had brought him so much solace.

I hope he finds there what he was looking for.

I'm used to seeing Chinese tourists in places like Rome, London and New York but I've never met someone who was heading to a place so close to home.

When I was a kid, we used to pray for the starving people in Red China. Over the course of the last 30 years things have changed a bit.

It's easy to rail against Chinese usurping the world stage, but it's the US's consumerist culture, one that demands forever cheaper goods, that brought modern China into being. China's willingness to buy US debt has allowed the US to engage in its constant state of low-level warfare without feeling the financial strain that normally accompanies military ventures.

The Chinese government is a human rights nightmare but how has the US fared with all of the "free" money China bankrolls? When US drones wipe out civilian populations abroad how are we any better off? The US's "War on Terror[ism]" has had us abandon the moral upper hand in the interest of national security and we've done it with Chinese money.

However, none of that matters when it comes down to having a conversation (let alone a two-and-a-half hour one) with someone who's actually Chinese.

Governments and how they behave are different from the people they purport to represent. All it takes sometimes is a flight from ORD to TPA to make that clear. My seatmate's not so different from me, as wildly different as our life stories are. But at the end of the day, the two of us want to make a buck, want to enjoy some R&R sometimes and we want to leave a legacy so our descendants will remember us once we're gone.

I used to fantasize about Pompeii and I saw it in person four years ago. My seatmate used to fantasize about Sand Key and he's seeing it in person right now.

Despite political differences, he and I are the same person and I'm a better man for having met him.