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April 4, 2012 |

Archive for » April 4th, 2012«

A playroom in Vienna is ready to grow up

(Leah L. Jones/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST) – Connor Williams, 12, and Paige Williams, 9

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Jane Says: Ditch Your Nonstick Cookware for Cast Iron

I am blown away by the warm welcome I’ve received from the TakePart community—and by all of the smart, savvy questions I’ve received so far. In fact, it really didn’t hit me until this very instant that every week I get to answer…just one. How on earth do I choose? You have to understand that I’m the sort of person who can live with six or seven (okay, eight) swatches of paint on the living room walls for weeks while I make up my mind.

But this decision was actually very simple. I printed out all the questions (quaint, right?), scrambled the order of the pages, and spread them on the floor. Then I shut my eyes really tight and used my grandmother’s oyster knife as a divining rod.

Before I rev up, though, I want to say that for all of you who have medical queries, please, please consult your doctor or, if appropriate, a nutritionist or an authoritative online source such as the Harvard Health Letter. Your questions are absolutely fascinating, and I would love to help—if I could. But I’m just not qualified.

stainless steel kitchenstainless steel kitchenstainless steel kitchenstainless steel kitchen

5 Easy Ways to Detoxify Your KitchenSee Full Gallery

Now, down to business. I was happy to see that the tip of my oyster knife landed on a question that provoked a couple of other comments. It’s from Suzan Gallegos Brumfield, and she asks “What are the best replacement pans for nonstick cookware?” She also wonders if Teflon is bad for you.

The nonstick cookware made years ago was cheap, flimsy, and scratched very easily. The fact that I could inadvertently garnish everything from scrambled eggs to a stir-fry with flakes of the dark coating was enough to turn me—and many other cooks—off big time. For an in-depth-but-not-so-technical-you’ve-lost-me look at the safety issues, check out what Cook’s Illustrated has to say about the matter; this piece is a few years old, but still highly relevant.

Today’s nonstick cookware is worlds better than it was a generation ago, although the rule of thumb is to not spend a great deal of money because the coating gradually wears off. If you, like me, try to limit the disposables in your life, this presents a new set of problems. The so-called “green” nonstick skillets available are terrific in theory…but not in practice. About six months ago, I compounded my disposable dilemma by testing a couple of eco-friendly alternatives, and ended up chucking them—along with dinner—into the trash.

Yes, right, alternatives. In short, I tend to rely on cast iron pans for searing, frying, and making cornbread, and enamel-coated cast iron cookware for things like oatmeal, rice, and braises.

Make Doing Good a Daily Habit With ’30 Ways in 30 Days’

Stuff you should know about cast iron cookware: My pans are old and made by manufacturers such as Lodge, Wagner, and Griswold. They all happen to be so well seasoned they are as slick and impermeable as a politician’s grin. If you want that patina, troll yard sales or online sources until you find the sizes you’re looking for. I’ve only used the “preseasoned” cookware made by Lodge a couple of times, and it seems to work fine. And even though you won’t be able to pretend it’s a family heirloom, it certainly makes the mere idea of cast iron more approachable to someone who’s unsure about how to season a pan properly or who simply wants a frittata for lunch. Today.

There is a real mystique about cleaning cast iron. Personally, I think all that business about wiping it out, then filming it with oil until you use it again is disgusting. Guess what happens? Unless you use that pan all the time, the oil coating is going to turn rancid. Aside from tasting vile, rancid oil forms free radicals in the body, and we all know by now that those are harmful. I’ll take a modern-day nonstick pan over rancid oil any time.

So how do I clean my cast iron? I wash it, very gently, with dish detergent. (I have wanted to confess this unorthodoxy for years.) That said, I don’t use an abrasive scrubby, and would never let cast iron soak or sit in the sink for hours or put it in the dishwasher. After washing, I work it over with a kitchen towel, then put it in the oven to get dry as a bone.

Stuff you should know about enamel-coated cast iron cookware: I try not to name-drop, but it’s no secret I’m a longtime fan of Le Creuset. It’s not nearly as sexy, mysterious, or inexpensive as unadorned cast iron, which is why I’m not giving it the same amount of space. But its signature pale interior allows you to easily gauge the doneness of whatever you’re cooking, and unlike cast iron, it won’t react to an acidic tomato or fruit sauce, giving it an off flavor or unappealing color. And I never ever get tired of how it cleans up like a dream. The only tough part is having to pick a color.

Got questions for Jane? Post them in the comments below and she’ll answer one next week!

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Taking pets to work can reduce stress levels

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By Eryn Brown
/ Los Angeles Times

Published: April 04. 2012 4:00AM PST

LOS ANGELES — If your office seems like it’s going to the dogs, try bringing your dogs to the office.

Researchers reported Friday that bringing Rover to work seems to reduce stress on the job.

“Pet presence potentially can be a low-cost wellness intervention,” said Randolph Barker, a professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University’s business school in Richmond, Va., who led the study in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

Barker and his team conducted their study at Replacements Ltd., which sells china, stoneware, crystal and other dinnerware. The company’s 550 or so employees bring about 20 to 30 dogs with them to the Greensboro, N.C., office each day. Replacements has allowed pets in the office for more than 15 years. Pooches lie quietly at their owners’ feet — in the call center, at reception, in the corporate offices and even in a repair area where workers handle fragile crystal and china.

The VCU researchers divided 76 employees into three groups: those who brought their dogs to work, those who owned dogs but left them home and those who didn’t have pets. For one week, the scientists measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in samples of the workers’ saliva and used surveys to gauge their stress levels four times during a workday.

There was no significant difference in cortisol levels among the study participants. But by the end of the day, the average stress level scores fell about 11 percent among people who had brought their dogs to work, while they rose as much as 70 percent for members of the other groups.

The researchers also observed “unique dog-related communication” in the workplace, Barker said. During the day, people who hadn’t brought pets walked over to colleagues who had and asked whether they could take the four-legged visitors for walks.

“People who typically are not as verbal were more engaged,” he said.

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Jim Hillibish: How to solve ‘pink slime’ burgers

There’s a work around for the “pink slime” exposé on ABC-TV News. Call it a return to a task your grandmother performed decades ago: muscle power.

As the top seller of beef products, commercially ground beef is taken for granted. Decades ago, all kitchens had meat grinders, and cooks ground their own beef, usually from cheap grades of chuck.

Since 2001, meat producers have added all-beef fillers to ground beef, including lean, finely textured beef from fatty beef trimmings. This is the hated “pink slime” labeled by food activists.

Because the fillers are made of salvaged beef, producers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture argue that label warnings are not needed. This has been an ongoing argument, but ABC’s report, which represented the food activists’ side, caused great alarm.

If this bothers you, there’s a way around it. It’s called the meat grinder, and it soon can pay for itself. The advantages are a fresher product without the cartilage and small bone chips in the commercial. And you know exactly what you’re getting.

Lower cost

Commercial ground beef with less than 22 percent fat varies around $3.75 per pound. Homemade ground beef chuck is less than $3 a pound, sometimes way less during sales.

Smart shoppers who grind their own meat seek out discounts. Cheaper cuts of beef, perfect for grinding, are often two-for-one deals, reducing the price to $2.50 or less.

This is one case where the cheaper, lesser-quality beef stars. USDA Select grade is good, as it contains enough fat to make juicy hamburgers and meat loaves without being overly fatty.

Once you get a hang for it, you can choose beef with your preferred amount of fat, or cut some from your purchase to create perfect ground beef. Look for beef well marbled with fat. Avoid lean cuts such as flank steak. A filet mignon burger would be dry and toothy.

The machines

Grinders come in many types and prices, although all include an auger to press the beef into steel-cutting plates. That’s important to extrude the round strands preferred with ground beef. It’s the texture we’re accustomed to, and what we know is what we like. The extruded strands patty up nicely, creating a lighter, more airy burger.

Handle grinders, costing $15 to $30, clamp to a table. Electrical grinders are stand-alone or attachments to multi-mixers, such as the venerable KitchenAid at $65. Electrical stand-alones cost around $125.

You can grind beef with the steel blade in your food processor, pulsing it to the texture you prefer. Be careful, it’s easily overprocessed, resulting in a puree that would pack hard in a patty. You’ll need a meat grinder if you want an extruded product looking like what’s sold in stores.

The drill

For average families, a manual grinder will suffice. Here are the steps to grinding your own:

1. Slice meat into strips that fit the grinder hopper. Cut away all cartilage and gristle.

2. Feed the strips one at a time into the grinder hopper. Don’t jam it in. Allow the motor to recover for a few seconds between strips.

3. Use the separate pusher rod to force the meat into the auger.

4. Some chefs prefer a finer ground beef, and so some double or triple grind their meat. (Store product is ground at the slaughterhouse and is often ground again by the local butcher.)

5. Note that properly ground beef comes out in long strands with white flecks of fat. Store it in the refrigerator for up to three days or for two months in a freezer.

The health thing

An argument could be made that homemade ground beef is safer than commercial. The bane of commercial is that dealing with huge amounts of product presents the highest risk of salmonella and E. coli contamination. This is why makers insist their beef be cooked thoroughly. But if you like medium to rare burgers, grinding your own is the safest way to go.


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Debbie Travis: Make the most of more compact living space

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House to Home

April 4, 2012

Debbie Travis


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The current explosion in condominium development and downsizing to smaller homes has given rise to a huge increase in the number of interior spaces that have fewer walls and dividing lines.

To make the most of a more compact living space, one open area often incorporates three traditional rooms — sitting room, dining room and kitchen. These open-plan designs have proven to work well for the modern family, providing easy access to adults and children sharing routine activities. The cook need no longer be suborned to the kitchen with the stew pot and dirty dishes. Homework, hobbies, reading and watching TV can be shared within the parameters of this more social setting.

Decorating a multi-purpose open space can be a real challenge as we’re accustomed to thinking of separate rooms requiring different materials and design solutions. I have found that this new perspective is invigorating, and it’s not difficult at all once you discover the variety and dimension of materials and tools at your fingertips.

In a new home I designed, the kitchen, home office and family room are one open space. The architecture of the home is classic with a modern twist. Tall walls trimmed with mouldings and deep baseboards make even the small rooms feel luxurious. Working with a palette of black and white with shots of red to surprise and energize, the design is modern and sophisticated with a youthful edge.

I utilized matching colours and materials to create a smooth transition between the kitchen, office and family room. Black porcelain floor tiles laid in a subtle pattern of squares and rectangles run throughout, with an irresistible, shaggy white carpet defining the sitting area. Creamy white cabinets with a pearl finish are flat faced with brushed nickel hardware. The same cabinetry style and handles are used for bookshelves and storage in the office space and continue into the family room on the other side of the fireplace. Matching grey 1-inch glass tiles form the backsplash and make a striking contemporary backdrop for the fireplace and TV.

Using an accent colour or pattern to continue a theme or create flow between spaces is a successful decorating tool. I chose Chinese red as a vivid accent colour on the wall behind the desk and above the kitchen cabinets. Kitchen accessories and small appliances are now available in some funky shades and the red kettle was perfect. Coloured glass bowls sit on the counter and coffee table. Bright metal boxes are an unusual yet practical storage option for games, toys, magazines or work files stacked beside the fireplace.

Other easy connectors are fabrics and linens, lighting choices made from similar materials or complementary styles, a small series of glass or ceramic vases or other artful pieces. Start with a basic theme and your open plan will delight you.

House to Home is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please email your questions to You can follow Debbie on Twitter at @debbie_travis or at

Editor’s picks

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Williams-Sonoma Launches Agrarian

Williams-Sonoma, Inc. today announced the launch of Agrarian, a new
collection of products that supports a lifestyle of healthy living and
brings the virtues of homegrown and homemade into customers’ everyday
lives. Agrarian offers products, resources, and inspiration for
customers who want to go beyond cooking by cultivating a healthy
awareness of where their food comes from.

Agrarian products range from heirloom seeds, live plants and raised beds
to do-it-yourself cheese-making kits, chicken coops, and home canning
preserving supplies. Available in the Williams-Sonoma catalog, online ( )
and in select stores in the U.S. beginning April 5, the wide range of
products provides numerous options for the culinary gardener as well as
for those simply interested in healthier living.

“Agrarian is yet another way for Williams-Sonoma to bring people
together around food,” said Richard Harvey, President, Williams-Sonoma
brand. “We’re excited to provide our customers with a collection of
products that will enrich their culinary experiences, all while helping
them to lead a healthier lifestyle.”

The Agrarian product categories include:

Live Plants

Heirloom Seeds

Garden Tools

Garden Supplies

Raised Beds Planters

Bee Keeping

Chicken Coops

Canning Preserving

DIY Homemade Kits

Healthy Living



“Families are not only eating together — they are collectively making
decisions about what foods they eat and where their food comes from,”
said Allison O’Connor, Vice President of Merchandising, Williams-Sonoma.
“Agrarian will help families who want to embrace this healthy lifestyle.”

Items in the first Agrarian collection include cedar raised beds and
planters from Farmer D based in Atlanta, slate garden markers using
slate from a family owned quarry in upstate New York, Kilner persevering
jars from Europe, and garden tools designed specifically for women’s
hands by Sophie Conran in London. Do-it-yourself products include
cheese-making, kombucha and sprout kits. There also are heirloom
culinary seeds, as well as live fruit trees, organic herbs and heirloom
vegetables that can be delivered to customers’ front doors, ready for

As part of the Agrarian launch, all Williams-Sonoma stores in the U.S.
and Canada will offer an “Intro to Edible Gardening: Seed Starting”
class on Earth Day, April 22. Participants will be provided with
heirloom seeds, starter pots and soil, and will go home with five seed
starts created during the class. The $10.00 class fee will be donated to
the Edible Schoolyard Project ( ).
Interested customers should contact their local store for event times
and reservations.


Williams-Sonoma, Inc. is a specialty retailer of high-quality products
for the home. These products representing seven distinct merchandise
strategies — Williams-Sonoma (cookware
and wedding
registry), Pottery Barn (furniture
and bridal
registry), Pottery Barn Kids (kid’s
furniture and baby
registry), PBteen (girls’
bedding and boys’
bedding), West Elm (modern
furniture and room
decor), Williams-Sonoma Home (luxury
furniture and decorative
accessories) and Rejuvenation (lighting
and hardware)
— are marketed through 576 stores, seven direct mail catalogs and six
e-commerce websites.

SOURCE: Williams-Sonoma, Inc.

        Williams-Sonoma PR 
        Shannon Gomes, 415-616-8343

Copyright Business Wire 2012


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Helsinki is different by design

Helsinki’s Arabia district is a creative community home to 100 public art works and the 130-year-old Arabia porcelain factory, and museum. (Courtesy Visit Finland)

Design, the Finns like to say, is embedded in everyday life. Or at least it is here.

Few would argue the country, with a population of just 5 million, has produced a disproportionately high number of creative professionals who make their living in the design industry (about 1,000). These include Kaj Franck (1911-1989) who designed the undisputed classic Scandinavian dinnerware, Teema, to architects such as Alvar Aalto (Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, Essen Opera House in Germany), and Viljo Revell, who designed Toronto’s City Hall.

For those who appreciate innovative design, Helsinki is a perfect destination. And this year is a particularly good time to visit, as the city has been selected World Design Capital 2012. Many events are planned but whether you visit this year or later, there are lots of design-oriented attractions to explore.

A good introduction is the guided two-hour Design Walks arranged by Helsinki Expert (, or pick up a free Design District Helsinki map from the tourist office and guide yourself to places that interest you most. The map encompasses 25 streets and more than 190 design-focused attractions in categories such as fashion, jewelry, galleries, bars and restaurants, and hotels. Some highlights:

Design museums

With design playing such a prominent role in every aspect of daily life, it’s only natural Helsinki should have museums devoted to the subject. Two good starting points are the Design Forum, a showcase for contemporary Finnish design, and the Design Museum, where you can discover more about the history of Finnish design. Located in a neo-Gothic building dating to 1873, the museum has the country’s largest collections of Finnish glass, ceramics, textiles, jewelry and furniture.

Look for Iittala’s Teema tableware, of which millions were sold, and works by some of the big names in Finnish design: Akseli Gallen-Gallela, Alvar Aalto, Tapio Wirkkala and Timo Sarpaneva. New this year is Design Gallery 12, a series of exhibitions and events on current themes and developments in domestic and international design. Fans of building design, meanwhile, may want to visit the Museum of Finnish Architecture.

For music lovers

The new Helsinki Music Centre, which opened in 2011, is a gorgeous modernist building designed by Finland’s LPR Architects. The exterior compliments, rather than competes with, surrounding landmarks including Parliament House, the National Museum of Finland, and Finlandia Hall, while the interior draws upon nature — stalls in the main concert hall are inspired by logging patterns on Finnish rivers. Particularly appealing is the way the 1,704 seats are arranged nest-like around the stage.

The new home of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the centre fits the “Open Helsinki” theme of the World Design Capital 2012 — glass walls allow passers-by to see in, and long opening hours year-round encourage visitors to wander in anytime, even if not attending a concert.

Arabia district

The Arabia district is a creative community and a “living residential laboratory.” Helsinki’s requirement that new construction also devote 2% towards public art, has resulted in the installation of 100 works, 22 of which are listed on a free map from the tourist office.

“We want to show how art can be part of the everyday living environment,” says Sari Snellman, project manager of Art and Design City Helsinki.

While there, visit the 130-year-old Arabia porcelain factory, museum, gallery and factory outlets.


Though Helsinki is a walkable city, there are two fashionable ways to get around town if you want to give your feet a rest — take a taxi, which is likely to be a Mercedes (not a Finnish car, but an example of the city’s design-centric focus), or hop on a Jopo — the sturdy practical Finnish-designed bicycle. Hotel GLO Helsinki, offers guests free use of these gearless bikes. I rode around the city on one, admiring the architecture of buildings such as the Central Railway Station, a striking Art Nouveau structure, designed by architect Eliel Saarinen in 1919, which includes an arched facade guarded on either side by two lamp-holding granite figures.

See or

Design Year events

Most events take place in June and September in Helsinki and neighbouring cities of Lahti, Vantaa, Kaunianen and Espoo (home to Nokia headquarters). Highlights in Helsinki include:

— Design District Week, which actually only runs June 7-10, kicks off with Late Night Shopping, when stores will be open late, then continues with theme days, guided walking tours, meetings with designers, street events, and ends with a design bazaar on Saturday

— Helsinki Design Week 2012 — international designers gather to explore, among other things, ways in which design can benefit cities and society. Sept. 6-16.

— Kamppi Chapel of Silence — the award winning innovative timber structure will function as a retreat and be open daily from early morning until late at night.

— Made in Helsinki — the exhibition at City Museum, June 12-Sept. 1, will feature Helsinki products and manufacturers from the 1700s to present day.

— A focal point for activities will be a new pavilion designed by Aalto University students, which is being built in the courtyard between the Design Museum and Museum of Finnish Architecture. From May 12 to Sept. 16 it will be the venue for meetings, talks, workshops, dancing, design flea markets, and movie nights.

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