The Hot Pot Blog


October 11, 2012

Chandni Chowk Market

Chandni Chowk 9am_MG_1249October 10, 2012
There is a taxi stand at the Embassy populated by a half a dozen drivers who have been taking foreigners around Delhi for their entire lives.

I spend a great deal of time with these men as I’m usually in a cab, almost daily, for an hour or more.  I know the villages where most of them grew up and that many of them have been Embassy cabbies since the early 1960’s.

I genuinely like these drivers and I like learning about where they come from and what they think of the city in which we live.  But my daily quality of life also depends a great deal on whether these men like me as well–at least enough to drive a little more carefully with Will in the car, wait for me at the various places I go and, once in awhile, help me with my unruly collection of bags, water bottles and child-containment devices.

So, in addition to finding out about their lives and their families and their favorite places in this fair city, I also tip these cab drivers.  Extravagantly.

As a result, they all have an outsized interest in my personal safety.  The crazy lady with the kid and the camera might not have a lot of sense, but she is going to be paying for the next big celebration at the Singh household, after all.  (Most of the drivers are Sikhs, the reason for which I have not yet asked after.)

Which is why, I think, my favorite driver (two kids in college, grew up in a hill station 600 km away) told me three times today to be careful and to watch out because Chandni Chowk is “not a nice place.”

“Put my number in your phone, ” he said.  “If you have any trouble at all, call me and I will come.”

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People, Chandni Chowk market in Old Delhi is usually crowded, chaotic and a glorious haven for pickpockets and touts alike.  But it certainly shouldn’t be confused with a minefield.  It’s kind of just like the India I used to live in a few years ago.

I’ve been meaning to get to Old Delhi for over a month now, but wasn’t sure I wanted to attempt it alone with Will.  It’s still 95 degrees here everyday and people always talk about the traffic jams in Old Delhi and how pick-pocket-y it is with so many people there, tourists and locals alike, rubbing shoulders as they pass each other on busy streets and in narrow alleyways.

But I wanted to see it and I’m beginning to realize that just because I want to see a place doesn’t mean I have see it all in one go.  So Will and I headed out early this morning for a quick little glimpse of Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk market.

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It sounds so simple to say that you don’t have to attempt a marathon tourist adventure for it to be a worthwhile outing, but it’s been a real hard-won revelation to me.  I’m so used to a “no pain, no gain” philosophy of tourism that says that it’s better to walk 10 long, hungry blocks past the decent-looking restaurant in hopes of finding the really great back-alley pop-up kitchen.  I’ve always thought that the more miles walked, the better the adventure–even if everyone is cranky and tired by the time we reach our destination.

Now though, I think that part of the reason Will and I are able to get out fairly often here (besides the fact that Will still fits in his Ergo) is because we don’t set big goals for any one trip.  We try to only stay out as long as we’re truly enjoying our surroundings and we head home as soon as we aren’t having fun anymore.  It’s much easier to psych myself up to pack the diaper bag for a trip across town when I know the goal is only a quick 45 minute trip.  We go, we get a lay of the land and then we make plans to return again and again, slowly uncovering, over the course of many short trips, everything that a place has to offer.

So yes, that was a lot of words that have nothing to do with Old Delhi.  Except that we went and we enjoyed it.

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Because I’m not that ambitious, we headed to Chandni Chowk before any of the stores opened, while the streets were still crowded not with shoppers and tourists, but with chai-wallas pouring tea, temple-goers pouring in and out of the big beautiful Sikh temple, cooks crouched over huge black woks, frying up puffy balloon-like bhatura (delicious, by the way), laborers breaking down giant blocks of ice bigger than anything I’ve seen since Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, and coolies delivering wholesale bundles of clothes, bangles and plastic junk to the still-closed store fronts up and down the street.

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People stared, they grabbed Will’s justifiably irresistible cheeks, they thought I was nuts.  A few people posed for pictures.  One guy somewhat creepily followed me up and down the street but I wasn’t entirely sure whether he was a very patient tout biding his time or if he was simply bored.  He disappeared after I loudly announced to Will that we were heading back to the cab to go home.  No harm, no foul.

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We’ll go back to Old Delhi many times I’m sure.  There is so much to see there: the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid mosque and so many other interesting places hidden down winding alleyways too narrow for any taxi to travel down.  But for a first visit, our early morning stroll through Chandni Chowk was about as good as we could have hoped for.  And, as I am beginning to understand now, we can always go back for more.

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October 9, 2012

My Annual Fall Nostalgia Post

A pretty DC street
Old photo from Washington D.C. 2009. Kind of amazing to look at my photos from back then–so blurry most of them!

Thank you all so much for the amazing comments, suggestions and feedback on my last post.  It was truly wonderful to hear from people who’ve taken similar social situations and forged their own way.  I think it’s very telling of the character of the commenters on this blog that nearly every one of you spoke of starting your own group in the place you were–so many action-oriented, fun-loving people!  You guys inspire me and I’m happy to say that my ad for a toddler group will be in the next Embassy newsletter and I hosted a play date yesterday for a couple of little boys and their Mamas.  Plans have been in the works for a while now to host a sort of family friendly Happy Hour and brunch pretty much since we got here, but now I’m even more motivated to just make it happen.  All thanks to you.  Now I just wish I could invite you all over for brunch too!

I’ve done this before on this site and if you’ve ever met me in person between the months of September and November, there is an outstanding chance that I’ve made at least one or two comments wistfully romanticizing a good North American autumn.

Right now it’s still close to 100 degrees everyday in New Delhi but the mornings are strangely almost cool.  Until about 7:30am it’s quite comfortable to walk around the grounds sipping a cup of coffee (me) chasing tabby cats (Will) while wearing a pair of sweat pants (me) or a long sleeve shirt and no pants (Will).

And between the sweat pants in the early mornings and Pinterest regurgitating all sorts of seasonal cheer all over my computer screen, it’s time for my annual “I miss Fall!” post.

I love living overseas.  9 months out of the year, I think living overseas is way more fun/interesting/exciting/easier than living in America.

But, in my unbiased, highly expert opinion, the months between the start of the school year and Thanksgiving weekend are more beautiful in American than anywhere else in the entire world.  It’s a fact.  I think most foreigners who’ve ever seen the stunning red and gold speckled mountain ridge lines of the mid-Atlantic or the riots of colors and apple harvests from Maine all the way to Minnesota would completely agree.

Three times now I’ve left America right before my favorite part of the year and every time the nostalgic memories of my North American childhood come back to haunt me just a little.  I think to myself that, if and when we ever live in the United States again, I will live Fall to it’s fullest for as long as we are there.  There will be hay rides and hot apple cider and haunted houses and leaf piles and apple orchard visits and windows thrown wide open to let it in the crisp fall breezes while I sit at a counter huddled up in a huge sweater with my hands wrapped around a mug of something hot and seasonal.  Or maybe just my usual cup of black coffee–but in some sort of fall flavor like pumpkin spice or something else that smells delicious (and likely tastes terrible as flavored coffees are wont to do).

But until then, here’s what I’m dreaming of during my early morning Fall reveries:

The faintly sweet and musty smell of fallen leaves blanketing the sidewalks outside my parents  home and the sounds of school kids and neighbors crunching and swishing their ways through the piles of gold and yellow and red.

Friday night high school football games, decked out in school sweatshirts and hats and mittens that we hoped made us look cute in that “I don’t need to try” way to all of the gorgeous (to our young, impressionable, hormonal minds!) senior guys in the front rows of the stands.

That first morning waking up with a cold nose and warm toes and realizing that it might be time to turn the heat on soon but also that there is nothing quite as cozy as a warm bed in a chilly room with sunlight streaming through an almost frosty window.

No longer having to worry about wardrobe malfunctions associated with swimsuits, tank tops and whether my arms look bad in a cap-sleeve t-shirt because it’s too cold to wear any of those items anymore.

Cozy socks and big boots.  Big soft wool scarves.

Football season.  I haven’t closely followed the games since leaving Wisconsin, but I do miss the comforting ritual of the Sunday afternoon game playing everywhere we went.

The smell of woodsmoke in the air.  Backyard bonfires.  Walking through the woods without a single mosquito bite.

My sister’s Halloween birthday and the parties my mom would put together when we were little kids complete with caldrons of steaming punch and festive graveyard cakes and more Halloween decorations than anyone else on the block.

Pumpkin patches.

The most piercingly blue skies you’ll ever see.

Did I mention the leaves?

Rainy Leaves
Old photo from Washington D.C. 2009

What do you love about Fall?

October 6, 2012

Trying to Find my Tribe-Making Friends with a kid in an adults-only world

Will splash table_MG_1195October 04, 2012
Will is also shocked at the lack of Will-friendly social outlets here…ok fine, actually he finds the crows just out of the frame mildly befuddling

One of the hardest things to me about living overseas is trying to find “a tribe:” a group of people with whom I share relatable interests and a similar thirst for adventure.  Trying to put this group of people together before they leave town for good–or we do–only makes the search for friends feel more urgent.

Sometime I feel like the Embassy newsletters should post personals ads for people to match up with their best chances for best-buddy-ness.  Mine would read:   Wanted: girlfriends who like trying new restaurants, exploring cultural sites, and talking food, photography, current events, books, India issues, work and a little bit of Mamahood.  Should be willing and ready to travel around town with kids in tow.  Parenthood is optional.  “Game for anything-ness” is mandatory. 

Amidst the people who hate India so much that they try their darndest never to see it, and the non-working people who love the 24/7 on call childcare so much that they never see their kids, I know there must be other people like me–people who both love India and who generally love spending time with their kids whenever their work schedule allows.  It’s just sometimes hard to find them.

For reasons I do not yet fully understand, most organized, non-school-related, social activities here in Delhi are surprisingly adults-only–both at night and during the day.  It’s not just that they are events meant primarily for adults–it’s that those of us who cluelessly bring our kids often face a great deal of social pressure to never ever make that kind of mistake again.

Which is really sad.  Most moms who work outside the home don’t want to have to get a babysitter every time they want to socialize after being away from their kids all day.  Most moms who stay home don’t know where to go to meet other moms who also stay home and instead rely on random run-ins with people at the commissary and on the street to insert a little bit of adult conversation into their days.

I don’t understand why this happens.  I’m a mom, yes.  As long as I’m not working, I generally want to be spending time with my son, yes.  I do not want to send him to playgroup or music class with a nanny when I am around to take him myself.

But that doesn’t mean I’m “just” a mom.  I’m also a person who likes good food, good conversations and exploring new places.  I’m interested in what is going on in the city and country we live in.  I want to go to museums and cultural events in any way possible with Will in tow (and perhaps, occasionally, not).  I want to go to brunches and dinner parties and I like talking about things that have nothing to do with my kid–current events, food, even just where to go for a weekend trip in Northern India.

But am I so crazy for wanting the option of doing these things without having to leave my kid at home with a nanny?  I’m not an extremist, I don’t think kids should accompany their parents to every single place or event.  I’m all about awesome, affordable childcare for working parents, for the occasional special event, or even simply for a weekly date night or lunch date with girlfriends.  Still, most days, I’d rather have my conversations interrupted by a diaper change or a toddler meltdown than have to leave Will at home every time I want to socialize.

I think I cannot be the only one, nor is this a problem for people with very young children only.  On the Enclave grounds, all of the daytime loneliness and isolation tends to come to a head as the fiery heat of the sun wanes in the late afternoon and the school day ends.  From about 4:30pm to 6pm, the sidewalks and green spaces comes alive with kids on scooters, Mamas with babies, Mamas with babies all grown up and riding scooters, dog walkers and worker bees coming home after a long day at the office.

We all stroll slowly around the grounds together, people splitting off and joining up here and there, to go home and start dinner or go pick up so-and-so from school.  We follow the random patterns of toddlers toddling and first graders wielding light sabers until darkness falls or daddy comes home from work–usually around the same time, lately.

Talking to these women, so many of them say how lonely they feel, how they wish there were baby activities and playgroups where they could meet other parents.  They talk about how cooped up they feel, how frustrated they feel that so many of the cultural, social and dining activities here are just not conducive to participation from people with kids in tow.  Many of them have school-age kids who are old enough to get something out of exploring, but perhaps still too young to stay out very late or for very long.

And I wonder, why are we settling for this?  Why, in a city full of cultural organizations willing and eager to share their skills, are we not organizing our own showings of classical dance and music and other shows in front of a kid-friendly audience and at a more kid-friendly time of day?  Why aren’t we throwing open our doors to one another to have our own happy hours and brunches and dinner parties in which kids are welcomed to run in and out and babies can be taken upstairs to nurse and toddlers can have meltdowns without anyone freaking out about it?   Why aren’t we organizing monthly “Ladies Night Out” for us to leave the kids at home with Dad for a night in exchange for a “Guy’s Night Out” once in a while?

I’m hoping to work part-time here doing some freelancing mostly from home, but I’m beginning to think I could easily make a second part-time job here as well out of simply organizing things to do for those of us too kid-bound to socialize and explore via the traditional adults-only Delhi channels.

How are you doing making friends where you are?  Do you feel helped or hindered in your quest to find friends by the social norms in the place you live? Are you the ring leader in charge of making things happen?

Will splash table_MG_1190October 04, 2012
yay for options!

October 2, 2012

The Definitive World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Long ago, before India, before China, before Will and all of the hundreds of photos of him, this space used to be something of a food blog, a place for me to post photos and recipes from the our kitchen in Washington, DC.

I cook and bake more than ever now, including at least 2-3 loaves of bread each week, but at some point, I stopped being so religious about photographing our food before we eat it. And what good would a food blog be without great recipes and as gorgeous food photography as the one’s on this blog to oggle over?  It wouldn’t be.

To whit: I actually started drafting this post back in January and I’ve made at least a dozen batches of these cookies since then. This past week is the first time they’ve ever been photographed.

This may not be a real food blog anymore, but these cookies just too good not to share. They are my secret weapon in the quiet little world of coffee socials and play-dates that we inhabit when we aren’t out exploring historic Delhi.

I’ve harbored an obsession with finding the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie recipe since I was about 12 years old, and over the years I’ve tried many recipes. I’ve used the super-secret Nestle Toll-Ause recipe, I’ve tinkered with salt and vanilla levels. I tried the New York Times best chocolate chip cookie recipe, I’ve tried bread flour, cake flour, 1 egg, two eggs, extra yolks, finicky mixing methods, letting the dough “rest and mature” in the fridge, you name it, I’ve tried it.

I thought I had the perfect recipe until last winter when my mother sent me a photocopy of a Cook’s Illustrated recipe that she had recently tried.

The brown butter called for in the recipe was an inspired twist on the usual creamed-versus-melted debate. It added a certain toasty depth and changed the texture a bit, but I couldn’t just leave the recipe as is. I tinkered, and in doing so, I think I may have stumbled upon my best recipe yet.

These cookies aren’t like those super-chewy frisbee-sized cookie disks from the deli that look so good but taste of nothing but sugar and lard. These are not Chips Ahoy style cookies. These aren’t even your Mom’s cookies.

These cookies are crispy around the edges, a bit chewy towards the middle, and finally soft and gooey in the center. Though they have no more butter or sugar or eggs in them than most recipes, they taste richer. The flavors are complex and a little striking for such a humble little cookie. They remind me of caramel and toffee, though the recipe calls for neither of these things. They are slightly saltier than your average cookie–and that’s always a good thing in my book.

The following recipe is essentially a mash-up of the New York Times and the Cook’s Illustrated recipes with a few additions and changes. I’ve outlined some of these changes in the hilariously detailed paragraphs below. Though its probably way too much reading for one simple little recipe, I promise the cookies you will get out of it in the end will be worth your while.

1. Salt. More.

This may go against everything you’ve ever heard about baking but I actually prefer baking with salted butter. I find plain white sugar to be fairly tasteless on it’s own. Add a pinch of salt and all of a sudden you’ve got real flavor. For this recipe I usually use the amount of salt called for plus salted butter plus perhaps an extra pinch if necessary. Land o’ Lakes butter is usually pretty lightly salted. The French butter I’m using here is downright salty and requires that I dial back a bit on any extra salt.

2. Brown Butter.

Brown butter smells like toffee and toasted nuts. It’s rich, it’s dark, it’s nutty. It is completely the opposite of everything you believe butter to be. Butter browns slowly until the the point right before it burns–then it goes very fast. Use a white-enamel lined pot or a light-colored pan when browning the butter and when you see it start to go tan, start watching more closely. Don’t take it off too soon though. Wait until you can really smell the toasted notes and until the butter and solids are a deep brown color. Light brown won’t give you the depth your looking for. If you smell burning, you’ve gone too far, but it’s probably still salvageable if you get it off the heat immediately.

3. Almond Extract.

Browning the butter in this recipe adds some nice toasty notes to the cookies and I find a touch of almond extract only enhances this really wonderful flavor. Sometimes I use a full 2 teaspoons vanilla plus an extra 1/2-1 teaspoon of almond extract but I think nearly the same flavor can be achieved by simply swapping some of the vanilla for some almond. And while we are on the subject: buy good extracts. They really make a difference.

4. “Old” dough is the tastiest dough.

Once you have your finished cookie dough in a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for up to 3 days before de-thawing and shaping into cookie balls. This will do more for the flavor of your cookies than anything else. Even if you don’t want to brown your butter. Even if you are totally loyal to your own cookie recipe, just try letting the dough rest in the fridge for a few days before baking and see what you think.

I’ve actually experimented with making the cookies immediately, letting the dough chill for 1 hour, 1 day, 2 days and 3 days. I’ve tried freezing in individual cookie dough ball form and letting the dough sit in the fridge as a whole. It’s a bit of a pain, but I find that letting the dough sit in a bowl in the fridge for 3 days gives the cookies a much deeper, more complex level of flavor. It may be the eggs (they say custards are best if the eggs are allowed to sit and meld with the flavors in the fridge overnight) or it may just be that the rest lets all of the extracts and sugars really break down and mop up all of the flour. Either way, it’s amazing.

5. Flash freezing = always having freshly baked cookies in the house.

After three days in the fridge, I let my cookie dough come up close to room temperature, I scoop all of the dough into balls (a cookie scoop like this one is priceless) freeze them all briefly on a cookie sheet and then put them in a ziplock bag and store them in the freezer. This way, I never have to make a whole batch of cookies at once unless I want to and so nothing gets wasted and none of the cookies end up sitting on the counter past their prime. Instead, I’ll make 2 or 3 after dinner for dessert for Chris and I or I’ll bake half a dozen if someone stops by for coffee. I try to make sure I always have at least a dozen or two in the freezer at anyone time. That way if some function comes up and I’m too busy to bake, I just throw the whole batch of dough balls in the oven and I’m done! The only dish to wash is the baking sheet.

I think freezing cookie dough also helps maintain the “crispy edges, chewy centers” phenomenon even when you are making 35 little cookies instead of 16 big ones like the recipe calls for. (I’d rather have 3 little cookies than 1 big one but that’s just me?) When it’s time to bake, put your frozen cookie dough on a baking sheet and pre-heat the oven. By the time the oven reaches 375 degrees F (190.5 degrees C) the dough will have de thawed just enough to avoid thick, hockey-puck shaped cookies.

6. Don’t over-bake your cookies.

The only tricky thing about this recipe is that it’s very easy to ruin them by over-baking them. For some reason, just two minutes too long in the over renders these cookies hard, a little gritty and a bit burnt tasting.

So how do you know when to take them out? Set a timer for 10 minutes but also pay attention to their smell. When the kitchen starts to smell delicious, it’s probably time to take them out. As for visuals: I bake these cookies just until the edges look a little browned but the centers still look a little wet. If your worried about taking your cookies out too soon, leave them on the hot baking sheet on top of the stove for a few minutes before moving them to a cooling rack. The residual heat will ensure they are cooked safely through.

Ok (finally) the recipe:

1¾ cups (8¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (1¾ sticks) unsalted or salted butter (see note above)
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
¾ cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)

1. Combine white and dark brown sugar in a large heatproof bowl and set aside. Combine flour and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Heat 14 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 3-5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to the bowl of sugar and stir to combine. Let this mixture cool slightly, 5 minutes or so, to avoid scrambling your eggs when you add them.

3. Once butter sugar mixture has cooled to the point that you can touch it briefly with your finger, add salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and sugar and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whish for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny.

4. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chipsand nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

5. Put dough in the fridge for up to 3 days. Then allow the dough to come to nearly room temperature and divide dough either into 16 portions (for really big gigantic cookies) or into smaller portions if you prefer. I usually get about 30-32 cookies out of one batch which should tell you how big these cookies are if you are only making 16!! Place dough balls on a cookie sheet and freeze for 15 minutes. Once frozen enough to maintain their shape, put all cookie dough balls into a ziplock bag and label with the date.

6. When you want to bake your cookies. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F or 190.5 C. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-12 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

October 1, 2012

Downstairs

living room_MG_1136September 28, 2012

A couple things to keep in mind here:

First, the photos–they are over-exposed and contrast-y which makes our house look a whole lot cleaner and nicer and brighter than it looks in real life.  In real life, our house is a lot darker and I think our unpainted walls look sort of yellow, which drives me nuts.

Second, this is just our living room and dining room–the most public rooms in our home.  I’ll try to do a tour of some of our other rooms later on but know that none of them will be quite as polished or finished-looking as this one.

I do believe that having a home you feel really good about is sort of a hit or miss thing in the Foreign Service.  It’s often less about design chops and more about sheer dumb luck–whether the furnishings are neutral enough to decorate around, what kind of furniture you’re assigned and whether you can send any of it back.

Sometimes you get ratty 17 year old red couches and once in a while you get nice-enough neutral brown ones.  Sometimes you have space to insert a little bit of personal style and sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes you just have to work around a bright blue flowery rug on the floor and sometimes you get the option of something slightly easier on the eyes.

We’ve been on both ends of the spectrum now and while I’m always grateful simply to have a roof over my head and air-conditioning, I’m actually happier with our arrangement here than I’ve been in any of our previous (four) homes overseas.  There are still many, many things I would change about our space if I could, but so far this has been the easiest house/apartment we’ve ever had to decorate.

So was that enough of a disclaimer?  That my house doesn’t actually look exactly like the photos below?  And that I definitely feel very grateful to have lucked out with the house we have?  Ok, good.  Onto the photos:

staircase_MG_1078September 28, 2012

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I have no clue what I’m doing when it comes to setting up a house and there’s still a lot left to do in our living room: some white, semi-sheer drapes for the doors, (I took down the heavy beige ones that came with the place) a few more plants and a few more photos on the wall (we’ve got one wall saved for a framing project we’d like to tackle at some point soon).

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Still, it’s amazing what a different coat of paint, frames up on the walls, greenery and fresh flowers can do for a room.  Rearranging the furniture was also a big game changer and Chris and his mom gets total credit for figuring out the current layout.  It was a mess until they suggested pulling the couches off the wall and angling them diagonally in the middle of the room and putting our largest cabinet (the one pictured directly below) across a corner instead of flush with the wall.  After that, everything else fell into place.

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And since I know you might want to ask:

The couches are GSO-issued couches.  We originally had the standard, euphemistically-termed “mustard” colored couches in our living room and one of these not-really-that-bad brown couches up in our den.  We asked if we could trade the two mustard couches for an additional brown one.  We got very lucky and they said yes.  Mega Posts have lots of things going for them…including gigantic furniture warehouses.

We did get some furniture taken away-though not quite as much as I thought we would.  The only things that left the house entirely were the mustard couches, end tables, lamps and an entertainment console.  We still have a ton of standard-issue furniture upstairs in our house.  The biggest furniture-removal bang for our buck was getting the upper glass cabinet taken off the dining room hutch (good to know: you can technically do that).  The room stopped screaming “GSO!” as soon as that baby went out the door.

The cabinets, alter and black-and-white chair and bar stool are our personal furniture…or more accurately Chris’ mother’s personal furniture.  I am glad though that we thought ahead and brought storage-type pieces because you can never have too much storage.  Also trays and shallow bowls for corralling the clutter of daily life.  They just make it so much easier to keep things looking tidy.

The things stored at Will’s height are all unbreakable items that we don’t mind him playing with.  We hide a stash of Will’s toys in a basket near the cookbook-filled cabinet and the rest of them live upstairs in our den where we make messes and throw toys around the room like everyone else.  It should be said though, Will doesn’t actually play with toys very often so we can get away with not keeping many downstairs.  For better or worse, he’s currently much more interested in nesting mixing bowls, pulling out cutting boards and playing with our garlic press in the kitchen.  And our broom.  Will and the broom.  He takes our dust problem here very seriously.

The dining room table isn’t really pictured in any of these pictures (because it’s covered in the remnants of Will’s breakfast) but it’s your standard-issue table.  When you walk in the front door, the dining room is on the left in front of the staircase, with our personal table and Shanghai map by the back door behind the table.  On the right side of the room we have our two couches facing each other in the middle of the room with an old mahjong table and some layered rugs (not pictured) between them and another back door behind them.

The paint color is a sort of dusky light brown.  We only painted 3 walls and left one white (it was easier with the staircase).  In certain lights, it looks almost the same color as the original paint job, but it’s actually quite a bit darker.

Again, the rest of our house does not look like this.  Far, far, far from it.   Oh, and remember that any house, including ours, looks a whole lot classier in over-exposed photos!

living room_MG_1122September 28, 2012

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