Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hey avid readers,

(But not you automated Spambot creators...)

I've moved over to where you can find all the old content and comments but also some new blogs I'm writing...  Check it out, update your links, and enjoy!

I'm also turning off commenting here, but please feel free to find the post over there at and let me know what you're thinking!

Friday, July 15, 2011

How to make Croutons (In this weather*?)

The House Rules, as you well know if you’ve read any of the rest of the posts, covers a vast array of topics. I often worry that the focus of the blog is too widely spread over home repair, architecture snobbery, political and religious musings, and recipes for your new favorite cocktails. I’ve been told so much by well meaning friends. To you folks, I apologize. But I love to write about all of the above and can’t be tethered by rules when so much of the rest of my life is mired in “what I’m supposed to do.” I write because it pleasures me (No, not like that.) and hopefully the wide range of topics will find their intended audience.

I’m not sure who that intended audience is, but if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll leave a comment telling us about yourself and why you enjoy it. Unless of course you are already a personal friend or relative, in which case, please make up an identity and tell me how wonderful I am just to boost my ego.

Anyways, housing is obviously about so much more than the bricks and sticks that we turn into a building. It covers so many things, not least among them, food. Here at our house, I love a good meal, and it must always include a protein, a starch, and two vegetables.

I’ve had some discussion with other family members on this and it’s a weird phobia several of us have of too few things on the plate at dinner time. Even if I make a killer stir fry using all of the above, I still have to round it out with two side dishes, minimum, and preferably at least one condiment or sauce. I’m not sure where this comes from, but I assume it has something to do with a father who grew up in an orphanage and was constantly begging for more gruel.

Now we have a decent budget for food between my wife and I, as my rapidly growing paunch can testify. But if we’re ever going to afford to replace the windows, replace the sidewalk, or pay our mortgage on time, we have to resort to cost cutting measures.

To that end, we make croutons.

If done correctly, croutons are more than a salad or soup topper. We eat homemade croutons as snacks on the couch whilst discussing the fate of the revolution or watching One Tree Hill. (I don’t ACTUALLY watch One Tree Hill so much as roll my eyes in derision towards the horrible plotting and dialogue. Which isn’t to say I can’t enjoy a good teen soap opera… Buffy the Vampire Slayer is probably the best show of all time.)

To make truly good, pop ‘em like mood stabilizers, croutons, you need nothing other than butter, oil, salt & pepper, spices if you like, and copious amounts of bread odds & ends. Every time we have a left over knob of stale Italian bread, Naan from a dinner party, old hot dog buns, English muffins, or the heel of the sandwich bread no one wants, it gets tossed into a bag in the freezer. When the bag is close to bursting, I pull it out to make croutons. They last for a long time once prepared, so producing in volume is the key to time effectiveness.



Odds and Ends of Bread, approx 1 – 1 ½ pounds

1 cup of butter (2 sticks), melted*

Salt and Pepper

Diced Herbs, Spices, Garlic, etc. as desired.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.


For this round I’m using up all the extra hot dog and hamburger buns from the last family picnic. This is the ONLY boon to stupid bread vendors selling their buns in packs of 8 while they sell hot dogs in packs of 5 or 10.



Dice up all your bread components to an equal “cooking” size. If this is your first go at croutons, either cook identical bread types together or cut moister breads to a smaller size than your dry and flat breads. I like a 5/8” dice, but you may want something less anal. Use your own judgement.


Melt butter in the microwave or stovetop. *If you’re “health” inclined, you can halve the butter in the recipe and use ¼ cup of olive oil instead of the second stick of butter. For the love all that is good and holy, don’t use any of these tubs of substitute butter products made from some combination of oil, vegetable bits, and whale semen. Despite what “nutrition experts” might tell you, that crap just isn’t natural and I’m confident that in 10 years it will be linked to CP (Cerebral Palsy), SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and AWD (Acute Whininess Disorder).


In a large bowl, toss bread and melted butter. We at The House Rules like to use our hands for this step which can lead to some third degree burns. It’s a small price to pay for the joy of croutons.


Spread the bread bits on a flat cookie sheet in a single layer. You’ll have to use multiple sheets for a pound and a half of bread.


Salt and Pepper to taste. This is also the opportunity to try some different herbs and spices that you may wish to add for additional specificity of flavor. For this round, I made a chili chive crouton with a ½ tsp of onion powder, 1 tbs of ancho chili powder, and 1 tbs of garlic chives.

Put in the oven and bake, flipping once or twice until no sponginess remains and they are crispy crunchy crack-like goodness. I usually assume about 30 minutes, but time will vary based on the bread makeup.


Pull out of the oven and allow to cool before putting in Ziploc bags for future (or immediate) enjoyment.

*I wrote this post a while ago.  The Mrs. would very definitely advise you against trying to make croutons when its 95 degrees out such as now.  She can tell you that it makes a lot of heat in the summer.  Of course, she knows this because when I wrote this post, it was also 95 degrees out, so much consumption of icy alcoholic beverages was a necessary conjunctive activity.  Do as you wish.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Comma Workshop Quilts

So this is going to be my first post using Windows Live as my new blog post editor.  I got so unbelievably tired of the format of blogging directly in Blogger (Y’all are part of Google, damn it.  If anyone should have the resources to make a good user interface, you should be all over that.)
So don’t be alarmed if things are a bit wonky whilst I work out the kinks.
Speaking of other things that are firsts, my friend Kerry wrote me for the first time in a long time.  She was in Architecture school with me and has an excellent eye for modern design, interwoven with a passion for vernacular and craft and time-honored traditions of yore.  I really respect so much how she’s been able to coalesce these ideas, especially in a way that is innovative when it is somewhat of a trend right now.
Her newest venture is a design studio that she runs out of Colorado called comma workshop.Comma Workship Quilt Courtesy Comma Workshop
Comma Workshop Qulit Courtesy Comma WorkshopThey handcraft really beautiful quilt designs that feature cursive text in modern graphic ways all over the field of quilting.  Now, my mom always loved quilts, especially of the Amish variety, but these definitely aren’t your mother’s quilt.
Personally I always thought quilts were weird and tacky unless they had some sentimental connection.  (You know, like they’re made entirely from your Great Grandfather’s used and discarded underwear… Wait, that’s still weird.  Really weird.  Just threw up a little in my mouth.)  But these are pieces of art and distinctly modern ones that marry a warmth of sentiment and words and history while making total sense in a downtown loft.
Comma Workshop Quilt Courtesy Comma WorkshopThis just makes me incredibly envious of Kerry’s talent.  In fact, I should probably end this post before I start swearing at her online.  I wonder if Windows Live has a “search for regrettable comments” feature near the spell check.  I should look into that.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Refinishing- How to strip off old paint

Continuing in the current trend on this blog of pushing everybody’s race buttons as a means to celebrate the 4th of July, the Mrs and I started a project on the 3rd and continued on the 4th that set out to obliterate the self image of a young African American girl in our neighborhood.

No, not really.  Well, kinda, but we didn’t do anything wrong.

We did, several months ago, find a dresser piece abandoned on the side of the road in our neighborhood.  We took a quick look, and discovering it to be mostly solid wood, decided to take it home for refinishing.

What made it unique is that a woman we can only assume is named Deidre Hicks, based on the label inside, had decoupaged the entire surface of the thing with cutouts of African-American women from fashion magazines.  But Miss Deidre obviously no longer wanted to hold on to it, so we don’t feel particularly bad about scraping it all off.  Not that it wasn’t beautiful in its own personally significant way, but I’m not sure how we’d design a room around it.

Anyways, the biggest hurdle in the refinishing process is getting the old stuff off.

First, remove all the hardware.  There’s no reason to make the job harder for yourself by having to work around tiny pieces. 

Second, remove all the doors and drawers.  Again, the more you can eliminate the joints and crevasses where paint is inclined to be un-removable, the better.  Its easier to put it back together than to dig out all those tiny bits.

Third, apply a coat of chemical stripper with a paintbrush.  In our experience, the best practice here is to only tackle two 2’x2’ areas at a time.  Apply stripper to the first area and then let it sit while applying it to the second.  Go back to the first and it should be ready for the first scraping. It'll get all bubbly like a toxic apple pie when it's ready.

Sidenote:  I’m not a fan of safety but I can agree that rubber gloves are helpful here for the average user.  There’s a slight burn if you get it on your skin.  I would recommend the thin medical rubber gloves though.  You are going to be applying in small doses and doing a lot of scraping, so cumbersome dishwashing type rubber gloves get in the way.  None of the pictures shown illustrate the usage of rubber gloves because I'm really macho... when I'm doing a refinishing/decorating project.

Fourth, using a plastic or metal scraper, apply pressure to the bubbly mass of paint.  One long continuous motion is usually the best to get the whole way down to the wood, or as far as you can get in one stripping.  If the paint on the piece is especially soft, you may find that you can simply wipe it off with a rag.  Good on you.  It definitely keeps you from gouging the wood with a scraper, which you otherwise should wield with caution.

Fifth, repeat as necessary.  Then repeat again.  And again.  And again.  Until you get to this:
LOOK! Pretty solid oak.  Well, mostly solid.

In our case, we’re still debating what kind of finish we’d like this to have.  The more transparent finish you desire, the more paint you’ll need to get off of the bare wood.  Clear coats and transparent stains really require you to have every last speck of paint off, while fully opaque latex really only require that you create a smooth substrate for the new coat.

We’re leaning toward a semi-transparent stain, possibly in white or a colorful hue, which will still allow the wood grain to show through.  Although as I do the research, I might be interested in trying out some combination of  milk paint and chalkboard paint. Check out these shots:

Photo via Design Sponge
Photo via Casasugar

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Clayhaus Ceramics

I want to live in a house where this would make sense.

Unfortunately, our house is not mid-century modern.  But someone out there has got to find a place for this tile in their house.  It's from Clayhaus Ceramics and like most cool tile, I'm sure it's hella expensive.

The thing with stuff that I should be able to afford but can't is that it brings out my intense stealing temptation.  It's like there's a little dude whispering in my ear, "See that cool wooden carved entablature on the porch of that antique store for $230 dollars?"

I respond, "Yeah, sigh.  It's really cool."

Little dude whispers conspiratorially, "It could be yours for only $80." 

"Huh?  How does that work?", I question. 

Dude smugly replies,  "That's the cost of the counseling session you'll need if you actually go through with stealing it... and let's be frank, you're really only seconds away from doing that whether I'm here or not."

Total depravity, kids.  That's why I believe in it.  Even though I'm well off enough to save for stupid things I really don't need, I am almost constantly overcome with the urge to steal them instead.  My wife knows about this. When we pass a landscaping/garden center with all those delectable shrubs and perrenials just sitting there unguarded at twilight, she usually whispers, "Eyes Front.  Pay attention to the Road."  Stupid moral code.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rednecks or Urban Sophisticates... Who's more Racist?

Going to a high school graduation can bring up so many sentimental memories, even for the most jaded and snarky of bloggers.  I attended Abington High School’s class of 2011 graduation a few weeks ago for my eldest nephew.   Seeing that bunch of kids move on from high school to college, and the requisite sappy speeches by valedictorians and salutatorians, reminded me of the lessons I learned in high school and how they prepared me for the big bad world.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one thing I’m extremely happy about is the diversity in my hometown and in the high school from which I graduated. 

Living in the city, especially in Philadelphia where racial tensions seem to infuse every conversation, every election, every poop scooping* with unnecessary meaning, I feel it necessary to temper my blog with a comment on where I grew up.

Oxford, Pennsylvania and the neighboring town on Nottingham where I actually lived are about an hour and a half south of Philadelphia.  Rolling green hills, the wafting aroma of manure and Herr’s potato chips, and the jangle of Amish horse and buggies rolling down the shoulder of the interstate all paint a picture in the mind of Norman Rockwell, Wonderbread, and Country Time lemonade, I’m sure.  But the other two things we had in Oxford were Lincoln University, the oldest black university in the country, and a booming mushroom growing business which brought a substantial number of agricultural workers, mostly Hispanic, to our town to stay.

As a result, my high school was surprisingly diverse for a redneck farm town.  And for many reasons, many of the normal race/class associations that might happen in other small towns didn’t happen there.  If you were poor, you were just as likely to be white or black or Hispanic.  If you were wealthy or popular or smart, you were just as likely to be white or black or Hispanic.  I’m not saying it was the perfect Gap advertisement or anything.  There were still issues, no doubt.  But coming from that environment, I never felt like it mattered that much what color one was.  And that even applied to races that we didn’t have in attendance.  I had no clue that there was anything bad to be said about Asians, Jews, Indians, or Eskimos.

But then I went to college.  One of my first friends at Syracuse University, was a young woman named Melissa.  As winter break approached, she mentioned the ski trip her family was taking and I innocently asked, “Oh, is that your Christmas tradition?”  She replied, and I paraphrase, “Hello?  Curly hair?  Big Nose?  Last Name, Silverman?  We don’t celebrate Christmas, you insensitive adolescent prick.”  While you can debate whether I should ever be allowed to mention the “C-Word” in casual conversation, what was so surprising to me was that she actually expected me to know all the markers of being Jewish-American.  As if I had been sat down in pre-school with a bunch of felt board characters and played “Spot the Jew”. 

The same kind of experiences followed me to Penn State and now to Philadelphia.  We live in Mt. Airy which is widely considered one of the most integrated neighborhoods in the country.  Not the most diverse**, as other Philadelphia neighborhoods have more equal distribution between races asseen in the latest Census, but the most integrated.  I don’t know how they quantify such a thing, but from the neighborhoods my wife and I have lived in, we can testify that there seems to be far less racial tension here than in any other place we’ve been in the city. 

But the assumption of racism still applies.  People assume that because I am Caucasian, I mean horrible racist things when I complain about loud neighbors, turn up my nose at grungy taquerias with litter all over the corners, cross the street to avoid dudes walking pittbulls with weights chained to their collars, or refuse to stop saying Merry “C-Word” to other dogwalkers in the woods.  I don’t mean horrible racist things.   I do mean that I don’t like what you’re doing and I think it is bad for society and you should stop.  I don’t care what culture you came from and whether it’s the norm.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t struggle with racism.  I think anyone who says they don’t, no matter what walk of life they come from, is pretending.  I have to check myself and my actions to see what part of my heart is motivating them.  I think, in fact, that moving to the city, despite “the value of racial diversity” has actually made me more inclined towards inaccurate judgments based on race.  But that’s the benefit of integration in our neighborhood, rather than diversity.  It breaks down the normative race/class associations and actually allows us all to judge actions rather than color.

So, all this is to say that I don’t apologize for my attitude in my blog.  I won’t pussyfoot around your oversensitivity and assumptions of my racism.  That fact that I’m ignorant of all the crap I’m putting out there is exactly what we ought to all aspire to. 

*The poop scooping incident refers to the time that the mean old lady down at the end of our block belligerently yelled at the Mrs. for “allowing our dog to poop in the strip of grass between her sidewalk and curb”.  My wife patiently and quietly protested multiple times that we in fact haven’t walked our dog that way in months and furthermore, on the off chance he did poop there months ago, we always carry plastic bags for pickup.  Madame Crustacean replied, “Well, my friend said it was white people let their dogs do that.  You white?”  When I do my yearly climb onto the roof to sweep the acorns off the roofs of everyone on the block, I admit that I don’t do hers.  Partly because she was mean to my wife.  Partly because anyone that nasty is likely to sue me or call the cops on me for doing her a favor.

**I have this debate online with Mt Airy message board posters all the time about the difference between Diversity and Integration.  People don’t think it makes a difference, but as long as diversity, not integration is your end goal, your perpetrating racism by evaluating success based on color alone.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dental Hygiene Tips

I'm not much of one for dental care.  I despise it.

This mostly comes from my father repeatedly telling me the story of how, at 25 years old, his dentist told him he had horrible teeth and would lose them all by the time he was 30.  But he was super-committed and vigilant and would not have that gummy destiny forced upon him by some jerk with a supposed "medical degree".  So he brushed 7 times a day, flossed by the hour, bought every new waterpik technology as soon as it emerged on the market, and used mouthwash like other people use gin.  I swear he kept a flask in his back pocket and the aroma of minty freshness clung to him like cheap cologne on a Jersey Shore dude.

So, being a contrary soul, even to the point of stupidity, I refuse to do more than brush my teeth two or three times a day.  I never go to the dentist if I can help it.

But there was a brief period about 5 years ago where I decided to reform my ways and get my teeth checked out.  Being low on cash, especially with impending nuptials approaching, I began attending the University of Pennsylvania Dental Clinic.  It is run for the education of the dental students and the care is... reflective of that.

Anyways, I could go through the litany of dental students who reviewed my teeth with pimply faced excitement, recommending more complex procedures to carve, cut and clean each time, but that would take years of explanation.

My final procedure there took place when I received the recommendation of a graduating senior to have a gum retraction.  I won't gross you out with the grizzly details, but it involved showing up for a surgery where they would cut the roof of my mouth open while I was awake and graft some pig bone to my jawline.  No joke. 

I replied that there was no way I could afford it, even at the clinic's reduced rates, as I was getting married in a few months and was saving for the honeymoon.  Neema, my "dentist" thought for a moment and then replied, "Ok, well, I'll give it to you as a wedding present.  You just have to let me photograph the procedure for my thesis project."  We had tried putting something similar on our wedding registry at Bed Bath and Your Mom but were stymied by the comparative shipping costs, so I took him up on his offer.

Sufficed to say, it was an experience.  In a particularly shady abandoned cubicle farm in a basement of an unfindable academic building, Neema and his two assistants prepped me for surgery.  So, to do the math, that's six hands working on my mouth.  But was it enough?  No, Neema stops at one point and says, "Dave, I can't really get a good photo with one hand.  Would you mind holding your own gum retractors?"  I obliged, only to begin cracking up at the ridonkulousness of my situation, chortling with laughter, high as a kite on pain killers.

This may be part of the reason why my stitches started coming out later that night.  Still doped up beyond sanity, the tickling in the back of my throat drove me to madness.  I proceeded to find some scissors and a butter knife to cut the offending strands out myself.  Fortunately, my long suffering fiancee (now the Mrs) and her two roommates thought this unwise.  None of them particularly medically inclined nor happy about icky stuff, they jumped me.  While my wife pinned me down by sitting on my chest, her sister held the flashlight, and her roommate reached in and cut my stitches for me.  I could only assume that she has had some similar experiences growing up in Uganda and handled herself with aplomb.

All this is to say, if you can avoid such an experience through proper dental maintenance and if you're less rigidly contrary than I, it is well worth your effort.  That's why this cool set of a year's worth of toothbrushes from Anthropologie, while silly, still grabbed my eye and deserved a blog post:

They're marked with the three month time limit for which you're supposed to use them prior to discarding.  If like me, you're inclined to keep a toothbrush until it is no longer useful for anything but grout cleaning, this could be beneficial.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Porch Design Tips

It’s been about a month since I posted last.  In my defense, I was struggling with how to write the promised post that focused scathing reviews of the horrible things people do when putting a front porch** on their house. 

Wait, that’s a lie.  Okay, honesty time… I’ve been drafted into a secretive government group that monitors cultural trends and reports back to our superiors so they can enact more legislation that takes the fun out of life. 

Wait, still a lie… I was far too busy at my boring Architecture job. 

Nope, not quite there yet… it was hot out and that makes me lazy and cranky.

There we go.  And it really makes me wonder how we’d ever move to the beautiful south where the front porch is a staple of humid weather living.  I mean, I’d never use mine because I’d be sequestered and naked in an ice filled bathtub in a womb-like air conditioned environment.  Just to protect the world from my crankiness induced fury.

But for most people, the porch is a necessity in the hot summer.  But friends, necessity should never trump taste.  If you can’t figure out how to make a porch on your house which is architecturally pleasing, you shouldn’t be allowed to have one.

That’s where I come in.  As a self declared arbiter of taste and style, I would be happy to give a no holds barred, crotchety review of your existing porch or porch plans.  Just upload a pic in the comments or send me a link and I’ll rip you a new one.

Doesn’t sound appealing?  Okay, here’s a review of some horrible things you should NOT do, courtesy of the nameless residents of Beaufort, SC and a few others.  To be fair, there were far more beautiful examples of what you should do, and we’ll touch on those at the bottom.
Not Proportional to the House
Your porch should be proportional to the house, not the front door.  If its only serving the purpose of keeping people dry whilst they ring the bell, you’ve wasted an opportunity.  Especially if your house is as ugly as this one in which we stayed.

Not Structurally Proportional
Your porch should LOOK structurally proportional.  This pink monstrosity appears to be supported by toothpick posts which I almost sawed off in the middle of the night just to teach them a lesson.  Additionally, there’s no sense of hierarchy.  Either the two outermost posts or the two posts that frame the entry should have been larger.  Of course, that would have led to some weird balance and symmetry issues on this famous inn, but I can’t comment on all the things wrong here.  This deserves a full razing of the building anyways.

Column Style not conducive to residential Style
The scale and proportion and order of your columns especially speak to the importance of your building.  This is the JohnMark Verdier house and museum.  And it seems to imply that Jesus lives here.  I can accept that Verdier was some kind of local historic figure, so I’ll give him a pass.

On a related note, unless you're the President of the United States, you never have the right to have double height columns on your ordinary abode.  (Double height columns being the ones that support a two story porch with no intermediate balcony.


Never Double Height Columns
There's no compromising on this one folks.  If your house has double height columns like the one above  in our neighborhood in Philadelphia, stop reading.  Go outside.  Saw, chew, or burn them off now.  This is a massive monstrous FAIL.

Unnecessary Columns

Admittedly, sometimes people are poor.  We feel bad for them and but for the grace of God would be in the same boat.  But while I can support many social reform initiatives and even some softening of judgmentalism based on cultural factors, it doesn’t take more money to have good taste.  In this case, less would have been more.  Take out those center two most columns, moron.  They don’t match, they serve no structural purpose, and they’re proportionally stupid in their placement.

Unnecessary Everything...

But more commonly, it’s too much money that goes with bad taste.  A porch is still a porch and if you dump so much detailing into the front of your house as to be ostentatious or gaudy, you deserve to be taxed incessantly to teach you a lesson about not being a moron.  This example from Savannah, is just fugly .  And oddly enough, it is  sexy, but in a hooker-y kind of way.

But lest you think I’m all diatribe and no love, here’s a few examples of some graceful, practical, and understated porches to which you can aspire when planning your next project.

**Lastly, it should be noted to the extremely sensitive, that yes, I am a white man.  But once again, I have discovered by going to urban dictionary that I was more ignorant of the extent of racism/classism attached to the idea of a porch than one might expect.  I grew up in a surprisingly diverse farm town and I guess no one ever sat me down and taught me all the racist jokes or ways to identify people I’m supposed to hate.  So, if you’re about to spout off in the comments, do yourself a favor, and consider whether being someone who bitches about people’s dumb choices regardless of their race or economic status isn’t the goal we should all aspire to anyways.