Jack and Jill United

I recently had a great design question from a client of mine, S. Ryan from Cincinnati. She writes: “We are emptying our nest and I want to redecorate two bedrooms that have a bath in between, Jack and Jill style. Any ideas for a calm look with a little snap?”

I am very familiar with the spaces in question, as I was the designer for 3 of the Ryan Family's homes. When I worked with her she had a young family and now the two oldest are on their own. I called S. and asked her two main questions—what will the spaces be used for (bedrooms, craft room, exercise area, etc.) and what is the budget?

S. elected to use both rooms as guest bedrooms for their frequent visitors. Our budget fits the economic times and is “moderate” and to a designer this means using ready-made bedding although I always try to add some custom touches so our end result doesn’t look like it just walked out of Macy's. Ready-made choices are limiting and a lot has to do with how you combine elements and what unusual touches you can add to the accessories.

I began my research exploring both department and linen stores as well as the discount types like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. S. loves color. Her first floor features French country blues and yellows, but upstairs in the private areas, the rooms can be decorated individually and not necessarily in a flow. In my research I was stimulated by the bright combinations of turquoise blue and medium lime greens, with white as the background. This color scheme goes well with any type of bedroom furniture -light or dark woods, painted or rattan.

I was happy to find a quilt/sham combination at one of the discount stores. These are bright colors, but with the correct choice of paint color you can achieve a degree of sophistication and calm. It is important not to select a paint that exactly matches a bright color in the fabrics. Unless it is a child’s room, use a paint color that has been “greyed down” so the color is a background, contributing to the overall effect and not overwhelming it.

The turquoise and green combination will work for the Ryan Family and I suggest we do one room in the brighter, happier scheme and the other in a more subdued tone with the interconnecting bath painted a periwinkle blue. We are using the “watercolors” which are so soothing, yet clean looking with the white background.

In the second room, instead of putting the aqua with the green, put it with cream and use more sophisticated furniture styles. One bedding idea for this room is from Pottery Barn. The Sausalito Stripe Organic Duvet Cover & Sham is a pretty aqua with cream in a nice stripe.

The paint samples I suggest we look at are provided courtesy of Sherwin Williams. Hazel (SW6471) is a beautiful, soothing green. Majolica Green (SW0013) goes to the lime tones and a pretty, sophisticated periwinkle is Celestial (SW6808).

We will use the existing beds in each room, but S. was willing to add a few new pieces. I found a beautiful French dresser in a painted, distressed blue and an unusual table for a nightstand. Headboards are optional, but there are many types to use. If you have an older looking bedroom set, just losing the headboard can update the look. And please, if you have those big double mirrors that match everything else, donate those to Goodwill and replace with a pretty framed one. Later this week we will concentrate on accessories for the rooms.


Take Me To Your Party Appetizer Ideas

Here are are two quick, easy recipes you can take to any party.

Tortilla Roll-Ups

1 pkg. medium soft tortillas
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 tsb. ranch dressing mix
3 tsb. chopped jalapeno peppers
Small can sliced black olives
6-7 slices ham, sliced but not tooooo thin

Mix cream cheese, ranch dressing mix, peppers and olives together. Spread on tortillas, top with ham slice. Roll up, using more of the cheese mixture as “glue” if needed. Chill. Cut into 4-6 pieces. These are a nice party food since they can be made early in the day and never get soggy or weird. I have had quite a few versions of these, but the addition of the jalapeno’s and black olives make these very nice.

Isn't Bacon the Best Food Ever Dip

18 oz. pkg cream cheese
2 jars Old English Cheese Spread (not refrigerated but in that same area of the store)

1/4 c. bleu cheese, crumbled

1/4 c. milk
1 clove minced garlic
2 tsb. chopped fresh parsley
3 green onions chopped, with green parts too
1/4 c. smoked almonds, ground in your mini chopper. (If you don’t have one of these, go out and get one right now. It chops nuts, parsley, celery, etc. It's a thrill!)
5 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled – fry on the stove or bake (it gets too hard in the microwave)

In a saucepan heat cream cheese, bleu cheese, cheddar spread, milk and garlic until cheeses are blended and melted. Make sure the heat is set to medium and watch this closely - the cheese will melt pretty quickly. Once it's blended, stir in onions, parsley, almonds and bacon.

Serve with sliced French bread or crackers. I like this recipe so much – you can put it in a pretty casserole dish and reheat in the micro just until it is warmed through.

Hmmmmm....Bacon Dip


Please Bring an Appetizer

We were invited to a Memorial Day cook-out and I was asked to bring an appetizer. I am always happy to do this. I have a lot of recipes and am always willing to try a new one.

When bringing an appetizer to another home, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Try to be on time. Since you are bringing the first course, everyone will be waiting for you and your hostess will be wishing she had asked someone else to do this task if you are late.

2. Give some thought to the food preparation. Can you heat your dish at home and reheat it in the microwave at the party or should you just stick to a cold snack? Remember, there isn’t always room in the oven, nor will the temperature be correct if the hostess is preparing the main dishes.

3. Bring your own serving platter, small spreading knife, toothpicks or whatever you need. A busy hostess should not have to stop and find things for you – after all you’re trying to help out.

4. If you are invited for dinner, bring something lighter or that will compliment the menu. Your dish is adding to the dining experience, it is not the focal point. I once had a guest bring baked stuffed shells, covered in marinara sauce and cheese as an appetizer. She served it on my dinner plates. Next time she came to my house I asked her to bring wine.

5. Be gracious and ask the hostess if she would like to keep any leftovers – yes, even if you were planning on serving them for your husband’s lunch the next day.

6. Check out upcoming blogs for easy to make and take appetizers.


A Faux Filet

I know I told you I was recently in the Cleveland area (OK, OK, its not really Cleveland-my mom lives in Lorain, I just think Cleveland sounds better) and on Saturday night we went out to the fanciest place around, Chez Francois for dinner. You know, in English that's Frank's House. Now you can trust me, Chez Francois is in Vermillion, OH - down the road from Lorain and it is quite amazing it's there at all. It is open for a very short season, and is on the Vermillion lagoons catering to a wealthy boat clientele and people like my mom who love to eat and don’t mind spending $36 on a steak. In the dining room men have to wear a coat and tie and of course my mom LOVES this.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you about the menu. The server brings you an “amuse bouche” to tempt your palate (in our case it was a smoky asparagus soup served in a shot glass so when you drank it, it created a lovely green moustache) and since we had 5 people in our group we ordered a couple of appetizers. We shared the artichokes stuffed with herb cheese and a gigantic scallop that certainly never came from any water anywhere near Ohio.

But, I need to get to the filet. All five of us ordered the same thing, the tenderloin topped with bleu cheese. The menu reads "center-cut filet mignon, grilled, topped with aged English Stilton cheese, garnished with a cheese crisp and baked polenta, served with a Ruby Port wine sauce." Yum, except what is the big woo about polenta? I was surprised everyone got the same thing, since the menu is varied and my sister and daughter are far more adventuresome than me, but there you go. EVERYONE HAD A BETTER LOOKING STEAK THAN ME. Mine had what looked like two huge meatballs of bleu cheese on top and when you scraped all that off, it looked like a skinny sirloin. They apparently tried to make my presentation look good, but I wasn’t fooled. I am not sure why I am telling you all of this, but I am still mad about it - although the food was great and I could not have eaten much more, except of course we shared dessert. Chocolate mousse and something else I cannot remember. Anyway, I guess sometimes it is your turn to get the best steak and sometimes it is someone else’s turn, but why does my sister always get the best one?

Us Girls at Frank's House


Finds at a Discount

Hi everyone. Last weekend I made a trip to the Cleveland area to visit my mom. My daughter came in from Boston and my sister from San Francisco and on Saturday we went on a treasure hunt. Our version of treasures, of course.

Have any of you been to the new combination stores - T.J. Maxx combined with Home Goods? In Cincinnati these were two separate stores, but apparently the trend is to combine them into a SUPERSTORE full of all the regular apparel, shoes etc. (including the men’s department, but who cares about that?) and TONS OF FURNITURE AND HOME FURNISHINGS LIKE TOWELS AND LAMPS AND CHAIRS AND CHESTS AND TABLES AND ALL THAT GOOD STUFF. It's like heaven for us houseware types.

My daughter was looking for a cool bedside table that would eventually work with a walnut stained chest and we found the prettiest table ever. It is painted wood (love this type of finish) in a deep green with a glass top and inlaid pattern. It was only $129 and is beautifully detailed. Looks way pricier than $129 and even has a drawer to hide stuff in. Remember Sex and the City? Some REALLY interesting stuff in those bedside table drawers, Miranda. Anyway, get on the internet and find out if you have one of these stores close by, since it is well worth the trip. Look how pretty the little table is!


Sue's Sweet and Sour Slaw

This sure is an excellent side dish for Becky's BBQ Ribs. This takes about 5 minutes to make and everyone just wants to gobble it up. Sweet and delicious.

Sue's Sweet and Sour Slaw

One package shredded cabbage mix (remember when we had to grate all this by hand?)
One large carrot, chopped finely or grated
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
1 c. mayonnaise (if you are using anything but Hellman’s you need to stop)
Salt and pepper

Mix the sauce ingredients together. Pour on slaw/carrot mix. It will not look like enough but it is - the slaw will soak it all up. Serve with the delicious ribs you just made.

*Becky Knows Everything: This dressing is so simple and so much better than any other purchased slaw dressing I have tried.


Finger Lickin Good

Becky's Basic Pork Ribs

All you need to make this recipe is one slab of baby back pork ribs (try to find ones that look lean since there is plenty of flavorful fat hidden) and your favorite bottle of BBQ sauce.

Talk about simple - all I do is generously salt (I use garlic salt) and pepper the ribs. Be sure to do both sides. I put them on a rack in a pan (no rack, no worry), add ½ c. water and cover it tightly with foil and bake at 300 degrees for 3 hours. I use my broiler pan but you may have a nice pan with its own lid, so use that. If anyone wants to buy me a nice rectangular pan with its own lid, feel free to do so.

At the end of the 3 hours (try not to peek since you will never really get that foil back on) I drain the liquid, remove the rack and flip the ribs over so the leaner bony side is on top. Preheat the broiler, spread sauce on the meat and broil until very dark and sauce is thick and sticky. Flip and repeat on top side. Of course, these can be done on an outdoor grill too after you have baked them in your oven.

*Becky Knows Everything: Many people use a rub on the meat and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Frankly, I don’t do this because it never tasted any different to me after the sauce went on. But if you want a rub, there are many available out there.

*Becky Knows Everything DOUBLETIME: My favorite sauce is a Cincinnati special - Montgomery Inn BBQ Sauce. You can order it from their website.


Afterprom, Oh What a Night!

Did you ever think about how the weather affects your mood and your thought process? It is mid May and today in upstate New York we are having a clear, pretty day. We have had a tough winter and are eagerly anticipating the warm weather.

When I think of spring, my mind often goes to my kids’ high school years and the work the parents did on “afterprom.” Each year there would be a different theme and our high school would be transformed. It was an event designed to provide a fun place for the students to come after the prom – you know instead of going to a hotel room and drinking alcohol supplied by someone’s older sibling.

The first year our theme was old movies and we were assigned “Blazing Saddles.” I collected my friends and we gathered everything we could think of to transform our small classroom into a western diner. Hosting a “food room” was the most fun since the kids were always hungry which meant we were busy all night – and I mean all night since the event ran from midnight until 5:00 a.m.

With my design background and my love of telling other people what to do, I always was the room leader. We decorated the entire lower half of the room with cardboard drapery tubes to simulate logs. On the top half, we hung western artifacts, including a map of the West my friend Sue and I made in my garage. We burned the edges to make it look authentic (like the opening of that old show Bonanza) and both my garage and Wyoming almost went up in smoke.

Our tablecloths were white sheets painted to look like “cow hide” with black splotches of paint we applied using a potato dipped in paint. I made us aprons with stenciled horses and we all wore cowboy hats and kerchiefs too.

The following years included rooms done up like Italy (countries theme) and a wedding reception (special days theme). I think the concept of “afterprom” still exists and I am sure the parents still enjoy it even more than the kids.I know it is prom season - so if you are in the mood for reminiscing, send your prom stories to beckybarras@hotmail.com or leave a comment on the blog.

*Becky Knows Everything: Our menu included pork spareribs and coleslaw. Find the recipes in an upcoming blogs.


Send Me Your Photos

Adam from New Hampshire recently sent in a question I'd like to share with you. He says, "I would find it helpful to upload a photo of a room in my house and get your style comments. Is this something that you do?"

Adam, the answer is yes! I would love to see your photos and share some design advice. And this goes for all of my readers. Please send your photos to beckybarras@hotmail.com and I will offer up some excellent tips. I look forward to hearing from you. Happy styling!

Cookbook Collection

Over the last 35 years I have collected a wide variety of cookbooks. I am constantly tearing recipes out of magazines and newspapers, but there are a few cookbooks I use repeatedly and I know you will love them too – they are all available on Amazon.

1. “I’ll Cook When Pigs Fly” a cookbook by the Junior League of Cincinnati, May 1998. This is a regional cookbook (my favorite kind) and the collection of appetizers in particular is great. I have gifted this book to my friends over the years and it is an especially good hostess gift for someone that is a cook. My favorite appetizer recipe is on page 21, “Gorgonzola Almond Spread”. It is a delicious, creamy spread topped with almonds (chop these).

2. “Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics” by Ina Garten of The Food Network. I watch her regularly and she uses seasonal ingredients with a little fun fat thrown in. Try her “Shrimp Scampi” on page 128.

3. “A Cooking Affaire” by Jan Bertoglio and JoLe Hudson (1984 & 1987). The “Creamy Potato Soup” on page 79 will rival any you have ever tasted. I use 7 or 8 potatoes and when it is all done, I use my mixer to lightly blend, leaving chunks, not puree. Top with bacon, shredded cheddar and chopped green onions.

4. “Cincinnati Celebrates” another offering from the Junior League of Cincinnati. A great collection, especially the poultry section, which actually has great chicken recipes you’ve probably never tried. Try “Sue’s Chicken” on page 179. A wonderful family or company dish. I have used this cookbook so many times it no longer has a cover.

5. “San Francisco A La Carte” by the Junior League of San Francisco. Try page 178, the “Asparagus Wrapped Prosciutto.” This recipe from 1979, calls for baking the asparagus, long before it became popular to “grill” veggies. Very pretty presentation and a nice side dish. My sister gave me this cookbook about 25 years ago and I still use it often.


Knee High Heaven

I have had a few readers write in and request a new story about my 84 year old mom. I can only assume it’s because we all have someone like her in our lives and frankly, she is quite entertaining and since it is Mother’s Day, here goes:

My mom has a few things she LOVES to do. One is to go to Las Vegas or any other casino for that matter, and the other is to go to bingo. (See a theme here? I believe it’s called gambling). She loves warm weather, “Grey’s Anatomy” and pork chops. She also loves knee high hose. Don’t bother trying to figure out if these topics are related because they’re not. Other than that she always has on knee highs, in Vegas or just walking around town.

Last week she told me she was going to clean out her bedroom dresser. This dresser contains about 50 years worth of old makeup samples, costume jewelry, bobby pins and hankies. It was also her favorite place to hide candy from us kids when we were young and I suspect there may still be a box of Russell Stover’s chocolates living there. Her bottom drawer holds her vast pantyhose/knee high collection. And I do mean vast. When she is finished reorganizing the knee highs by color (cream, white, tan, black and grey) and throwing out the ones with “runners,” she calls me. She wants me to guess how many pairs of knee high hose she owns – and she is careful to mention the count does not include the new, unopened pairs. I guess 30 pair and my sister guesses 20. Boy, were we ever wrong.

MY MOM HAS 135 PAIRS OF KNEE HIGH’S. So, if any of you are going to be traveling to Northern Ohio in the near future and you wear knee high’s, bring your own, since all the local ones are in my mom’s bottom drawer.

*Becky Knows Everything: To all the mom’s out there, have a wonderful day and remember to treasure the mom you have.


Becky's Great Greek Salad

Here is one more delicious recipe with feta - Becky's Great Greek Salad. It's healthy and crunchy! This is so pretty and delicious you will be dancing like Zorba - you know smashing plates and all that.

Becky's Great Greek Salad

One bunch romaine lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
One bunch red leaf lettuce, also torn into bite size pieces
One small red onion, sliced very thinly
½ half seedless cucumber, sliced thinly
Grape tomatoes (they are so sweet and yummy and don’t burst in your mouth like those cherry ones)
Two hard boiled eggs, chopped
12-15 pitted kalamata olives or most of one jar

Combine all the above in a large bowl. Just before serving, toss with dressing and sprinkle generously with feta cheese. This recipe makes a lot and will fill a big bowl. You can keep it fresh if you only put the dressing on the portion you are eating and refrigerate the rest until tomorrow.

Dressing: combine 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar, 1/2 c. olive oil, salt and pepper, ½ tsp. oregano, ½ tsp. basil, ½ tsp sugar. Mix all until well blended.


Fun with Feta

Hey all you feta lovers - here are two new recipes featuring that hilarious feta cheese. Just look how funny feta can be.

Feta Bruschetta

One fresh baguette, sliced
Fresh feta cheese, about 1/3 c. crumbled
One jar of sundried tomato tapenade or sliced vine-ripened tomatoes
Parsley, oregano and fresh basil leaves
Olive oil and garlic salt

Brush each baguette slice with olive oil on both sides. Place on cookie sheet and run under the broiler until golden brown. This only takes a couple of minutes. Flip and do the same for the reverse side.

Spread each slice with the tapenade or two fresh tomato slices. Top with chopped parsley, a basil leaf and a sprinkle of oregano and garlic salt. Top with the crumbled feta. Broil until cheese is brown and serve.

*Becky Knows Everything: Broiling both sides of the baguette to start really keeps the bread from getting mushy. I use this technique on all my party breads. Also, if you are using fresh tomato slices, a thin coating of mayonnaise on the bread first is yummy. You can also substitute fresh mozzarella for the feta.

Feta, Artichokes, and Pepperoni (a threesome for sure)

½ c. feta cheese, crumbled
1 jar marinated artichokes, drained and chopped
10 slices pepperoni, chopped
2 fresh tomatoes, sliced
Butter, garlic and garlic salt
English muffins (this recipe makes about 4 english muffins, split or 8 pieces)

Spread softened butter on muffin halves. Sprinkle on garlic salt. Put under broiler for a few minutes until crisp and golden. Top with one/two slices tomato, chopped, drained artichoke pieces and pepperoni. Sprinkle on the feta cheese. Broil about 4 minutes until brown and warmed through. Cut each muffin half into quarters.

*Becky Knows Everything: The marinated artichokes add a bit more flavor but the regular canned ones work just as well. The only messy thing about this is the final cutting into quarters but I know you can do it!