Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shake Your Tassels

Graduation is in the air!  Whether you are graduating from high school, and ready to embark on college, or graduating from college  and moving on to, dun dun dun...THE REAL WORLD (ahhh), Congratulations!! I've been there, and I know you are feeling all kinds of emotions, but above all you should feel very proud for getting to this point.

With that being said, I want to put on my Yoda hat and give you a little advice, some words of wisdom if you will. 

Life is very much like a game of dominoes. One move can significantly affect the rest of your life. I know this from experience. Here's a little bit about the story of me, Courtney Foster, Kitchen & Bath Designer.....

I graduated from high school in 2004 and went to college at The University of Georgia. I applied to the University of Georgia with a declared major of pre-pharmacy. I know what you're thinking... YOU, a pharmacist?? But let me just tell you, I was pretty good at chemistry in high school, so I thought why not!? Well, lesson #1, high school is completely different than college (in the best ways possible, but different, nonetheless). I arrived at orientation the summer before my freshman year and promptly changed my major to Interior Design. Today, I can't honestly tell you why I decided to do this, but at the time it just felt right and I'm SO glad I went with that gut feeling. Little did I know this was the first domino that set the path for my entire career.

I enjoyed college, made some great friends and learned a lot over the course of those four years. I was accepted into the Interior Design program and began my first semester of interior design classes my Junior year. Starting this program changed college for me. Suddenly I went from being mildly interested in my classes to truly enjoying what I was learning. And even better, I was surrounded by about 27 people who felt the same way and shared the same passion. Now, don't get me wrong, my classes were challenging and I practically lived at school along with several of my classmates . I put in more all nighters than I care to remember and my junior and senior years in college were extremely stressful. My work was a reflection of me, and I was in the presence of so much talent, I couldn't afford to skimp on my projects.

For the first year in the program we were all taking the same classes, learning the same material and doing the same projects. But our senior year was different. While most of our classes were the same, there were two classes offered that were optional - Advanced CAD and Kitchen & Bath Design. For me, the decision to take both of these classes was a no-brainer. Not trying to sound like Sheldon Cooper (BAZINGA!), but we are in college to learn; why wouldn't you take every class you could get your hands on, in the field that you hoped to get a job in?! Helloooooo obvious!!! Well, thank God I chose this path, because this decision was the next domino that shaped my future.

Fast forward to the end of my senior year, projects were in full swing, resumes were sent out, our senior show was on the horizon and I hear of the opportunity (offered only to those of us who took the Kitchen & Bath class) to go to Chicago and and attend the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS). Hello, another no-brainer, of course I wanted to go! I needed a job after college!  But there were two obstacles.

  1. We had to pay our own way to Chicago, including air far, hotel, etc...
  2. this trip was right smack at the end of our senior year, during crunch time, not only for finals and final projects but for a big senior show we would put on for our friends and family to see our work.

Who am I kidding, even with these obstacles I still knew I wanted to go. I'm a sucker for cities I've never been to and a little work overload never hurt anyone, right?! So, my grandparents generously offered to sponsor my trip, and BOOM, it was a done deal, I was going to Chicago.

Again, this was one of those domino moves, except this was the MAC DADDY of domino moves for me. This trip completely changed my life.

A handful of us ended up going on the trip, including my good friends, Courtney R & Holly. Upon registering for KBIS we were invited to a slew of parties and events, one of which was the Atlanta Party. The Atlanta party was the day before the KBIS show started and the evening of our arrival to Chicago.

Side note: The day we arrived in Chicago was lucky from the beginning. Somehow our groups ended up going in different directions and I was left to explore Chicago with Courtney R. and Holly. As we were roaming the city, we came upon a theatre and saw that WICKED was playing. We went inside to see how much tickets were, just for the fun of it, and found out that they were actually doing a drawing for people to win FREE tickets to the show. So we entered. And, we won. Not only did we win tickets to Wicked but we won FRONT ROW CENTER TICKETS TO WICKED!

After the show (which was awesome by the way) we headed towards the Atlanta Party. The idea of going to this party sounded a lot better as were planning the trip, but it dawned on us as we were approaching the location that we knew no one. We walk into the location and see the party is upstairs, there were a lot of people and to say we were intimidated was an understatement. After several pep talks among the three of us we decided to go up... and the next domino fell.

So, There we were, standing among all of these Atlanta based designers, knowing no one, feeling completely out of place. And then everything changed... Out of nowhere came, who I now refer to as The Glue of Atlanta. Having heard we were "bulldogs" he instantly started talking to us and found out we had paid our own way to come to this show and that Courtney R. and I were going to be graduating in a few weeks and were looking for a job. One thing led to another and he introduced us to a respected Atlanta based Kitchen & Bath designer, who, little did we know at the time, would soon become our first employer. We didn't get job offers that evening but, not long after graduation we were BOTH hired and started our Kitchen & Bath design careers.

Here we are, taking on Chicago, changing our lives without even knowing it.
This story happened about 4 years ago. Since then I have changed companies (still in the Kitchen & Bath Industry) won the 2011 Calla Award for Large Kitchen and started this design blog. But it all happened because of several key decisions I made along the way.

In the words of Zac Brown, "You only get one chance at life to leave your mark upon it, and when a pony, he comes riding by you better sit your sweet ass on it." Pardon my French (I'm quoting), but this verse is so true.  In today's economy everybody is hungry and looking for opportunities. If you don't pounce on opportunities when they present themselves there will be 10 people waiting to take your place.

Network, network, network. This is easily THE most important advice I can give you. No matter where you are, who you're with or what you're doing, be aware that the key to your future could be right under your nose.

Congrats Class of 2012!!!!!!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ice: A Cocktails Best Friend

Let's talk ice!

Noun: the solid form of water, produced by freezing; frozen water.

While the topic of ice may be a seemingly boring subject, ice is actually pretty interesting, versatile and maybe a little more important to you than you think. Without ice, cocktails and mixed drinks would be nowhere. Ice not only chills drinks , but as it melts or is shaken it becomes a part of the mix and because of this, the frozen water deserves more than a little attention.

There are four basic types of ice, and all of them are used in different ways accordingly.

Ice Cubes:

Ice cubes are probably the most popular type of ice, the general rule of thumb: the larger the ice cubes, the better.  Ice cubes are good for almost all mixing, shaking, stirring, drinks on the rocks, or with juices and sodas. Large ice cubes keep your drink colder longer, and melt slower, resulting in less dilution. Less dilution means your drink will maintain its flavor longer and will not become watered down as quickly.

Ice trays may be a pain to dump and refill, but they make a lovely sized ice cube.

 Shaved Ice:

Shaved ice is a great way to cool down a product quickly. This ice is great for molding, packing and shaping around the item you are trying to cool down. It is used frequently for therapeutic applications, to quickly cool meats and sea foods and of course it is perfect for snow cones. Shaved ice is soft so it will not damage your teeth like cubed ice will. The downside to shaved ice is that it melts quickly and can dilute the tastes of beverages if the ice melts before the drink is finished.

Nugget Ice:

Nugget ice may be more commonly known as Sonic ice or Zaxbys ice. Nugget ice is shaved ice that has been moulded into compact, random sized nuggets. This ice is of course, fun to chew, cools drinks quickly and does not stick together.

Cracked Ice:

Cracked ice is smaller than cubed ice and melts faster, adding more water to a drink. This ice is perfect for M A R G A R I T A S, daiquiris and other frozen beverages. Cubes are so large they can clog the blender blades and be inconsistent, cracked ice is small enough to avoid this problem.  Typically, the bagged ice you buy at the store or gas station is cracked ice.

Like all things, the more attention you pay to detail the better the results. So, as far as ice goes, here are some general guidelines to ensure your drinks turn out their best.

  • Don't use ice cubes that have been sitting in your freezer for a month, or even a week. Fresh ice is the best. Ice will pick up all the flavors floating around your refrigerator/freezer and transfer those flavors to your drink  - think frozen pizza or fish.. eww!
  • The colder the ice, the better. The whole point of ice is to cool off your drink. If you are drinking a cocktail, the colder the ice the more "heat" it will pull from the warm spirits and mixers. Cocktails have a high percentage of alcohol so they need to be much cooler to avoid the hot alcohol sensation.
  • Do not put liquor in the freezer. While, this seems like a good idea to increase the coldness of the drink it fails in one very important area: dilution. The liquor needs to be warm enough to melt the ice, and dilute the alcohol, softening the edge a little.

*You walk a fine line with dilution. Dilution is very important to the taste of your drink. Too much dilution (caused by ice melting too fast) is bad because it will water down your drink. However, as I mentioned above you need a little dilution especially for drinks with gin, vodka or other strong tasting liquors because it softens the strong, hot taste of the alcohol.

Scotsman, one of the leading ice maker manufacturers, has recently introduced an ice maker that makes pellet ice. Ice makers are a popular addition to many kitchens, butler's pantries, outside kitchens and basement bar designs today. Companies like Scotsman offer ice makers that make all types of ice. Consumers today find that having an ice maker inside their home is very convenient, not only for entertaining but also for everyday living.

It has been said that ice is to a bartender what a stove is to a chef. It is one of the most important ingredients in a good drink, so familiarize yourself  with the rules above and make your next cocktail drinking experience that much better. Cheers!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Luxury Living Show 2012

Happy Mother's Day WEEK! That's right, our Moms, Grandmothers, Grandmas, Nanas, Dandys, Mimis, Grammys and Grandmamas are special enough to get a WEEK in their honor! If you're in the Atlanta area and are looking for a fun outing for a Mom in your life, I would suggest taking her to the Luxury Living Show at Phipps Plaza this Saturday.

For the third year in a row Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles has partnered with Phipps Plaza to host Atlanta's only Luxury Living Show. The show is Thursday, May 10th through Saturday May 12th and is anchored by a full sized living kitchen, built and co-designed by the company I work for, Inspirations Design Studio and Fernandez and True Interiors. The kitchen incorporates cabinetry from Bell Cabinets, Cambria counter tops, Thermador appliances, Richelieu hardware and Tile from Traditions in Tile.

We met down at Phipps Tuesday morning for our weekly sales meeting where many of us from Inspirations were able to see the kitchen for the first time. It's beautiful and very different from the last two, pictured below.

Luxury Living Show 2010

Luxury Living Show 2011

I don't want to give too much away, but I will say this years kitchen is smaller in scale than years past and shows dark wood cabinetry with a really cool finish. If you get the chance to come by, notice the counter tops. They look a lot like white marble but are actually Cambria, the color is Torquay. The kitchen will be on display at Phipps for the month of May and will be moved to our showroom in Alpharetta in June, where it will be our Thermador vignette.

Saturday will be a fun filled day where you can enjoy presentations by Chef Art Smith (former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey) and Chef Anthony Gray of Atlanta's SOUTHERN ART from 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. and celebrated landscaper, floral and interior designer James T. Farmer III from 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. followed by book signings.

It's going to be a great day, so come down with the mom in your life, enjoy the sights, presentations and prepare to be inspired!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Steamy Love

So, I've held out on you, Cow Spot Friends. In my last post I covered the highlights from my trip to the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Chicago, but I left out my favorite discovery. The truth is, this item was not forgotten, it was left out intentionally. I knew it was too cool to just include among the other items from the show, this item and topic deserved a post all its own.

The item: The Wolf Convection Steam Oven. The topic: Steam Cooking.

THIS is Wolf's Convection Steam Oven.

Oh.My.Gosh. This appliance is TOO cool. I had heard about steam cooking, but really didn't know a lot about it. Thankfully we were lucky enough to get a pretty thorough tutorial about this product and I was blown away by all it could do. To begin, steam cooking is quick, healthy and versatile. When cooking with this steam oven, foods maintain many nutrients that are lost by other cooking methods.

Take broccoli for example, if you boil broccoli you will notice the water begin to get a green tint.

Like this....

The green tint  you see above are the nutrients that have actually left the broccoli due to the cooking process. Most of us eat vegetables like broccoli to maintain a healthy lifestyle. By cooking the broccoli in a steam unit, you will increase the amount of nutrients your body receives, compared to boiling the broccoli, where a large amount of important enzymes wind up getting poured down the drain.

As cool as this information is, I was still hesitant. For most of us, it would be a stretch to buy an appliance solely for its ability to steam veggies. Especially when you can buy a steam appliance that sits on your counter for the times you plan to steam rice, veggies or other grains. The information I found out next took this appliance to a whole new level of cool and relevant.  The bottom line...this convection steam unit can do SO MUCH MORE...

 Because this is a convection steam oven you can also bake cookies and slow roast meats. You can even place a carton of eggs inside and WAH-LAH, hard boiled eggs.

Another great way to utilize this appliance is to cook frozen foods. Frozen foods?? Yep, the appliance adds moisture then bakes the moisture off, leaving you with the perfect crispness for chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, fried shrimp, etc..

Pretty cool, right? I was intrigued and I love the fact that this appliance can literally be used in place of a second oven due to its versatile nature.

If you are familiar with steam cooking and have looked at or own a steam appliances of your own, you will be interested to know this steam oven is bigger than most. The water reservoir that is usually located within the unit to one side, is actually located at the top. 

See the seam right beside the control panel? That's where the water reservoir is housed, leaving the whole cavity of this unit open for use.

Because I design kitchens, I have acquired a deep interest and appreciation for appliances, despite my limited cooking skills.  For me, boiling rice a is a great culinary fete.  Oh gosh... I better stop, I can feel you losing respect for me as we speak :)  In my job I have had to familiarize myself with the various brands and styles of products along with their pros and cons.  Over the last few years I have heard various clients talking about the characteristics of specific appliances and how they use them for various dishes. I now understand cooking is more than just something people do, it's an art. And like any art, one must have the right tools to produce the desired results. Right now everyone is about "right sizing" and I think this appliance is a perfect fit for that mindset. You get all the perks of a convection oven with the bonus of steam capabilities.

Wow, this post is making me hungry! With all this talk of food, not to mention the pictures, it's no wonder my stomach is roaring at me! I Hope you enjoyed this post and if you have any recipes involving steam cooking please share!

All photos are from google search.