Obligatory autumnal pumpkin recipe

This week was the big Via Corona move.  As of today we have two working toilets, one working shower, curtains up in the guest bedroom…which is currently our bedroom and a WHOLE lot of work to be done.  The only evidence I have to show for all of this is a single blurry picture of the Kitchen God’s current daytime living situation (and evidence that my Spanish is muy malo):

As such, this week’s post is about pumpkin.  Yay.

Let’s get this one out of the way, shall we?  This time of year it seems like you can’t turn a corner without running into something pumpkin flavored.  I’ve always assumed it’s more about what the pumpkin represents–crisp air–falling leaves–blah blah blah–than people truly going gaga over a gourd.

Then again, I definitely missed the squash gene.  So, what do I know?

But, as TD likes to remind me, sometimes it’s a good idea to stick to the fairways and greens and give the people what they want.  This year the Misanthropic Hostess token pumpkin recipe comes in the form of coffee cake.

With a pecan streusel.

I will admit, it smelled pretty delicious cooking.  Which brings me to the other thing I suspect about this pumpkin crazy business–that it’s the spice array that actually gets people going.  What is more lovely that cinnamon, nutmeg and maybe a little allspice and ginger if you’re really into it?  I heard somewhere but am too lazy to actually look it up, that someone  attempted to bring a lawsuit against Starbucks when they found out that pumpkin spice lattes don’t actually have pumpkin in them.

Huh? Doesn’t everyone experience that thing where around Thanksgiving they purchase a little one-ounce McCormick’s tub of pumpkin pie spice just in case only to have it join the three or four other tubs of the same spice in the drawer because they’d done the same the year before…and the year before that?

Nope? Just me?

And besides, who would put pumpkin in a latte?  That’s just weird.

I promise, this coffee cake has pumpkin in it.  Though between us chickens, you could sub-in pureed butternut squash or even yams and no one would be the wiser.

Pumpkin Coffee Cake with Brown Sugar-Pecan Streusel

Slightly adapted from Williams Sonoma who adapted it from Home Baked Comfort by Kim Laidlaw.


For the streusel:

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted (see note below)

For the batter:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup sour cream


  1. Preheat an oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan or a 9-inch cake pan with 3-inch sides or 2 8X5 inch loaf pans.
  2. To make the streusel, in a bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Toss in the butter and, using 2 table knives or a pastry cutter, cut it into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Alternatively, whir the ingredients in a food processor. Stir in the pecans. Set aside.
  3. To make the batter, in a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat together the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the pumpkin puree and sour cream and mix with the spatula. Stir in the flour mixture. The batter will be quite thick.
  4. Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the streusel over the batter. Dollop the remaining batter over the streusel and spread the thick batter as best you can. Top with the remaining streusel. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 15 minutes. Remove the sides from the pan and slide the cake onto the rack.


One of the purposes of this blog is to document the process for perpetuity.  You had to know it wasn’t going to be sexy marble tile and gleaming kitchen appliances all the time over here at Via Corona.  Heck, even the Jackson 5 occasionally let Tito or Randy have a solo.  So, welcome to the master closet.

There is give and take in choosing an older home over new construction.  Older homes often have more character and better bones (though the jury is out if Via Corona is anything more than Eddie Haskell with osteoporosis).  Unfortunately older homes can also mean lower ceilings, narrower hallways and a serious dearth of closet space.  I can’t for the life of me figure out how people in pictures from 50 years ago always look so put together while having teeny tiny closets.

To give credit where it’s due, Via Corona’s reach-in closets were actually quite nice in their original state.  But, there was no walk-in in the master and, in today’s market, a closet the size of a  NYC studio apartment is de rigueur.  That’s why in a decision akin to grabbing a package of peanut M&Ms off the rack at check-out, we decided to add a walk-in closet.

Luckily, the master reach-in and the reach-in in the small bedroom next door shared a wall.  As the smallest bedroom in the house, we knew that would be TD’s office.  Offices don’t really need closets and with three other bedrooms we decided to make the conversion.

We were very proud of ourselves for having done the “demo”  on the wall between the closets (we knocked down some wafer-thin plywood).  Turns out this was gateway destruction followed by the foyer ceiling, culminating in that marathon day with Via Corona’s exterior and a jack hammer.

The only thing we’re destroying now is our retirement.

The existing closet geography wouldn’t have been deep enough to include the “walk” in “walk-in” so we borrowed additional square footage from the office.  This also meant moving the door and the air vent.

As with most things Via Corona related, one thing lead to another.

But, all that trouble did help to create a modest walk-in closet about six feet wide and ten feet deep.

In an attempt to re-coup a little of the dough spent on vent moving, we decided we could install the organizational finishes ourselves.  Oh the hours I spent dreaming and scheming with graph paper and an Ikea Pax catalog.

TD will claim otherwise, but I really did have the best intentions of making this a his and hers closet.  But, when we lost some square footage to a vent that couldn’t be moved, I made my move for a mistress only master closet.

TD here . Dear Reader, please note that the upper right-hand part of the drawing above (the part that looks like an “L”) is where the vent is located.  So, unless I was planning on cramming one consistent Jim Harbaugh-inspired daily outfit into the corner, my threads were never going to see the inside of the walk-in.  I knew this pretty early on — like when we were destroying the wall between the two closets and Shannon lay down in the middle of the space and whispered “precious…precious” in a creepy voice I’d never heard her use.

Like the special place Cardinals Baseball, Rocky movies and the entire Stevie Wonder catalog occupy in my life, this closet (and the D-Day-like planning of same) makes my wife indescribably, incomprehensibly, blissfully happy.  I assume if I can’t find her it’s a safe bet she’ll be found luxuriating in her closet grinning gleefully and whirling daintily like Maria from West Side Story.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 4.43.14 PM

I’m totally cool with that.  Miss America can just resign and all that.

I’m told my clothes will reside down the hall in a Gronkulla or Dagstorp or some other ridiculous sounding, 51% correctly-assembled Ikea furniture.  And just like your fantasy football team, your kids and any hand of Texas Hold ‘Em poker you’ve ever played in your life I’ll pretend like I care if you want me to.

Shannon has also informed me that the “Precious” in the title of this post is in reference to a series of J.R.R. Tolkien books I’ve never read and movies I’ve never seen (as my friend Marv would say, “I have seen the book though”) and not the movie Precious based on the novel Push by Sapphire (which I’ve also never seen nor read).  So there’s that.

Shannon here. Lest anyone think I’ve kicked TD out of the closet without consequence, allow me to show you the price exacted for total closet domination:

The 98 pieces of Ikea closet fixings currently residing in our garage aren’t going to build themselves.  And TD has just informed me that he will be washing his hair in his EIGHT FOOT SHOWER for the next two weeks.  That leaves the kitchen Gods and they refuse to wear safety googles (and don’t have thumbs), so I’m not counting on them either.

It’ll just be me, my Allen wrench, and a power drill. Pretty much exactly how I like things.

Want to read more about our renovation adventures? Go here: Via Corona

Via Corona’s secret weapon

Not to be confused with her super power.  We’re pretty sure that’s making money disappear.

Last week I mentioned our super secret storage weapon: the laundry room/appliance garage.  Today we’ll take a deeper dive.  Warning–this is a post about a laundry room.  This post is ridiculous.  It’s most likely as boring as it sounds.  I won’t be offended if you decide to click away and watch cat videos.

Below is the best picture I could find of the laundry room “before. ” In it I (your friendly photographer) am standing in the entrance to the garage.  Your eyes do not deceive you, the floor to this room used to be about three inches lower than the kitchen.  Apparently, like seat belts and smoke-free environments, level flooring was more of a suggestion than requirement in the 1960s.

In the original layout, the steps to the  doorway  to the garage ran across the entire width of the room (see below).  There was also no security door between the garage and main house…just a flimsy hollow-core door with a privacy lock like you’d find on a bathroom door.  Also in the original, the doorway next to the washer and dryer was the hot water heater and the one opposite was a built-in cabinet.

In the new and improved version, we moved the door leading to the garage to where the cabinet was previously.  We closed up the old entry to the garage along with the door to the hot water heater which now has garage access.  By stacking the washer and dryer, we create about 58 square feet of storage via shelving units.  No detail too small, we’ll also have pet supply storage and feeding space (Kitchen God Command Center).

Alas, there is no design board for this room.  Don’t interpret that as a signal this room isn’t important.  Considering we’ve spent every fourth Friday night since we sold our house at the laundromat, we actively fantasize about when this room will be completed and we can stop scrounging for quarters.  Like jury duty or the DMV, the laundromat is a great equalizer of humanity.  If you need one, you better have quarters and enough laundry soap…doesn’t matter who you are.  We’ve met some very interesting characters along the way.  But, I’m tired of defending my laundry against over-eager wash mistresses (and misters) and stressing about whether there will be enough dryers when the time comes (and yes, I recognize that having anxiety over laundry speaks to an issue greater than not having a laundry room…at this point the laundry is just the tip of the anxiety iceberg).

The washer and dryer we purchased are giant.  Like, could serve the entire Duggar family giant.  Like, we’re kind of embarrassed because there are only two regular members of our household giant. Okay, in reality, they’re just normal large capacity appliances but our recent time at the laundromat has us very motivated to never, ever have to go again.  This meant purchasing something that could do king-sized linens.  I can’t wait to get crazy with a set of sheets and some Oxi Clean in the privacy of my own home.

As for the storage, this is where the small kitchen appliances will live.  It will also serve as a sort of butler’s pantry housing  oversized platters some of my more exotic baking knick knacks.  Oh, and it’ll house my rather large collection of vases, vessels and candlesticks.

I told you this post was ridiculous!

Want to read more about our renovation adventures? Go here: Via Corona

Via Corona floor plans

Lost in the maze of room specific posts?

Want to map out where you’d like to stay when you come visit?

Potential burglar who is trying to figure out the address so you can come over and realize there is nothing but an old bathtub and demolished cabinetry to burgle?

Let us help you understand the lay of the land.

Via Corona, downstairs, at move-in:

Via Corona, upstairs at move in:

Via Corona, downstairs plans:

Via Corona upstairs plans:

Where the magic happens


The kitchen!

You knew I was going to say the kitchen right?

Of all the rooms in Via Corona, the kitchen was the most updated and functional.  We seriously considered simply resurfacing her: changing out the appliances, countertops,  backsplash and calling it a day.

Except.  Except that darn cooktop

If you look closely at the picture below you’ll see that the cooktop is right in the middle of the peninsula.  While the size of the kitchen and the storage were fine, that five burner interruption meant the counter space was terrible.   Making matters worse was the box and exhaust fan the mortgage company required us to install directly above the cooktop before closing on the loan.  Goodbye line of sight if we wanted to keep the smoke detectors from going off every time someone fried an egg.

And then we completely lost our minds and decided that a rational multi-phase project over several years was silly when we could simply drain our savings and have it done all at once.  It didn’t hurt that when we were making this decision, the market was pretty volatile.  We figured Via Corona  was probably as sound of a place to invest as any other.

Unlike the cramped bathrooms and too-small living space, the kitchen already had a lot going for it.  First, the size was right relative to the scale of the house.  As we’ve mentioned, the finished space will be just over 2,000 square feet with only about half of that as living space.  Including the kitchen.  While we’ll steal a little from the powder room, we’re basically keeping it the same size.

Renovated, Via Corona’s dimensions will be about 13 by 12 feet.  Shocked?  Well, you know what they say, it’s not the size of the kitchen, it’s the placement of the spacement.

And to that spacement I said challenge accepted!  First, it meant I could totally ignore the open-shelving and no-uppers trend that’s so popular with kitchens right now.  Please, do any of those people actually ever cook in their kitchens?   With that out of the way I spent hours with my inventory of kitchen items (yep, nerd alert) and my trusty graph paper.  Buckminster Fuller couldn’t have planned that space any more efficiently (well, actually he could and would have but, you know).  By deepening the peninsula, we’ll gain some super sneaky storage–and counter space.  And then there is Via Corona’s secret weapon:  a reconfigured laundry room.  The laundry room will get its own blog post but the outcome will be a 6X8 space with an appliance garage and  butler’s pantry storage–in addition to the laundry.

How. Do. You. Like. Me. Now?

Another thing going for the kitchen space?  The light.  You all know I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  Having natural light is a luxury.  What’s more, because of the angle of the house (and a generally persistent marine layer), the light is diffuse.  There’s lots of it but not a lot of shadows or glare.

And there there’s the view.  Were going to trim that tree. Who doesn’t want to look out over the City of Angeles or catch a glimpse of the Pacific while doing the dishes?

So let’s talk appliances.  Designing my own kitchen is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.  But, because we’re basically replacing everything in the entire house, blowing the kitchen budget could mean we spend the next few years with an unfinished addition or…heaven forbid…no walk-in master closet.  It was clear from the start that my friends Subzero and Wolf would not be playing starring roles in Via Corona’s command center.

Which didn’t bother me a bit.  Know why?  Have you seen the kitchen I worked in for nine years?

The photo above is with the new appliances we had installed right before the mini-renovation, right before we sold the place.  For the first eight of those nine years, I worked with builder’s grade appliances to what I would argue were pretty decent results.

That’s four burners and a single oven (and two turntables and a microphone).

Wolf.  Schmolf.

Knowing that we wouldn’t be going fancy for every appliance, I focused on need and performance.  Here were my parameters:

  • double electric ovens with convection capabilities
  • generous but no larger than 36″ gas cooktop
  • vent hood that does more than push the air around
  • counter-depth fridge, no external water dispenser
  • as deep and as large as we could afford single vessel stainless sink–undermount–not apron
  • pre-wash faucet
  • water efficient dish washer that actually cleans the dishes
  • microwave that will fit in the laundry room

In the name of research, TD and I spent a very enjoyable afternoon at Pirch in Costa Mesa (I may have gone back on my own while TD was traveling just to spend some quality time in shower testing room).  If you are looking for a Japanese ice maker for your shower, this is the place to go.  If you easily suffer from cool stuff you can’t afford envy, it isn’t.

We also took no fewer than half a dozen “scouting” trips to Pacific Sales.  And the internets research?  Have you met me?  I’d start with Consumer Reports and then vet their recommendations against any and all other reviews I could find.   When all was said and done I ended up with the United Colors of Benetton in terms of kitchen appliance brands.  Each one is different. And each one better kick some appliance ass.

Second only to our wedding, ordering those appliances might have been the happiest 20 minutes of my life.  So far.

Now lets talk design.  Via Corona’s kitchen was always going to be white.  In fact, any kitchen  in any house we purchased whether West Mesa Way or Vicksuburg Avenue or 91st Street was going to be white. Don’t get me wrong, I love the painted cabinet look that is so popular right now.  I recently saw a kitchen with kelly green cabinets that made me weak in the knees.  But,  kind of like my secret desire to have a nose ring, while I admire it,  it’s just not me.  So, white cabinets. Appliances in stainless.  White subway back splash in a bisque finish with a light grey grout.  Black hardware.

But, wait.

Before you label Via Corona’s kitchen milquetoast, take a gander at her counter tops.

They’re an Italian slab porcelain in  bianco venato extra.  Really, you should click on the link to get the full effect.  And seriously, who doesn’t want a little Italian in the kitchen?  Before meeting bianco venato extra, I hadn’t considered  porcelain for the countertops.  In fact, I was completely committed to some form of quartz or quartzite or caesarstone before I walked into Cosmos and went all hearty eyes for this Italian stallion (you knew that was coming).  While I’ve always associated porcelain with tile, the slabs measure something like 60X120 inches making the countertops  a continuous surface–no grout (except when joining the slabs–just like granite or marble).  Apparently, porcelain slab is kind of like frosted mini wheats.  On the practical (wheatie) side, it is heat and scratch resistant, more durable than granite and non-porous.  On the delicious icing side, it’s, well, delicious.

At this editing (first weekend in September), Via Corona’s kitchen remains the empty space you see above–minus the toilet.  Or, maybe it’s still there and we’ve just grown accustomed to seeing it.   We’ve finalized the kitchen design and ordered the appliances, tile and counter tops…so rumor has it that some day soon she’ll be a reality.

And then, no pastry will be safe from the Misanthropic Hostess.

Want to read more about our renovation adventures? Go here: Via Corona



Three signatures

I think we’ve been pretty transparent that our renovation expertise level is neophyte at best.  And, if it hasn’t also been abundantly clear, what started out as the senior special at Red Lobster has turned into a multi-course dinner at Trois Mec (the powder room is definitely the amuse buche).  Dear friends, we are way, way out of our depth.

As such, we have taken on projects ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Mostly the latter.  Case in point, our latest adventure with approval of our architectural plans.

TD Here.  I looked up the myriad ways to get city approval on expansion plans here in Torrance-by-the-Sea (I didn’t).  Rather than recount policies and procedures you don’t care about (and I didn’t bother to read), allow me to summarize:

1.)  You submit plans to the city and in six weeks (if you’re lucky), you gain approval and/or notes on what must be changed in order to receive said approval.  I envision these notes are the result of some hybrid of a high-school-with-money popularity contest and a clandestine gathering of the leaders of Torrance’s five families (and yes, I will continue to make Godfather references until my wife sits through at least one of the films).

2.)  Something called over-the-counter.  This is a little more like an American Idol audition.  You show ’em what you have and they tell you on the spot what’s wrong (it was a little pitchy, dawg).  You make the changes and bada-boom-bada-bing, you’re approved.

We (or rather our architect) opted for Door #2.  The verdict from the Torrance elders was, and I swear I’m not making this up, if we could get three of our neighbors (as selected by Tattaglia’s – the man lost a son after all) to sign off on our plans, then (and only then) the groundhog will see his shadow and there will be 8 to 10 more weeks of renovation.

Tangent Alert!  Somewhere in our jam-packed storage unit there’s a photo of 2 or 3-year old me prior to the first time I ever went Trick-or-Treating.   I seem pretty nonplussed by the whole experience.  I’m indoors sitting on my empty Trick or Treat bag, decked out a red windbreaker with the hood up because my costume was . . . wait for it . . . Little Red Riding Hood!  Many years (yet surprisingly no therapists visits) later I asked my Mom why she cast me as the heroine in a fairy tale about a cross-dressing wolf.  She said, “Well, we had the jacket. And you were 2, so you were only going to your grandmother’s house anyway.”

Mom’s meta Halloween story aside, I’m still not entirely convinced the city elders (Hyman Roth, Moe Greene and Fredo, of course) aren’t hazing us.  But, we “had the jacket” so to speak, and, with rolled up plans in hand and limbs akimbo, we set about our task.  We traipsed through our new neighborhood like humble missionaries in search of candy from strangers ranging from practical to complete, knocking on doors prepared to ask,  “Good day, have you heard the good word that we’re remodeling Via Corona?” .


The first autograph sought was that of our next door neighbors – the ones who were so entertained by the mini-jackhammer fiasco.  They are the publishers of School Transportation News (yes, that’s a real thing).  It was a slam dunk.  Good thing too because we had no counter-argument planned if they played hard to get.

Next came our neighbors from across the street.  He does some kind of consulting for Ferrari (again, not making this up).  Once more it was the Chocolate Thunder Flying, Robinzine Crying, Teeth Shaking, Glass Breaking, Rump Roasting, Bun Toasting, Wham Bam I Am Jam.  RIP, Chocolate Thunder.

darrylThird came the neighbor below us and across a street as the crow and/or house flies.  If the big one ever hits, Via Corona will roll off its hillside perch and come to rest in his back yard.  Fortunately, the owner is a surgeon (Shannon stalked him online in case we needed to ambush him in his place of business), so talk about right place, right time, huh?  Anyway, the good doctor lives at the terminus of a winding uphill driveway that I summited once on foot, only to find he wasn’t home.  Probably just as well since I had no sherpa alongside to ask for the goods while I was doubled-over, wheezing from the ascent like an expiring burro.

On a subsequent trip (I drove up the hill this time), he offered little to no resistance to my request.  As I glanced around his Miyagi-esque back yard while mentally prepping for the perfect 97-point turn I was about to execute to begin the descent, he did ask, “If I have plans, will you sign off on them?”  To which I replied, “Dude, I can’t even see your house from mine.  Absolutely.”  Pretty sure that was the only time he’d been called “Dude” that day.  Maybe ever.

We now present the sum total of our expansion plans:  184-square feet of living space, an updated and expanded deck and a Juliet balcony off the master.

That’s it!  That’s the list of permit-required hassle that’s taken far more than the anticipated “couple of weeks!”  Talk about a long run for a short slide.

Thanks to Shannon’s sparkling budgeting skills, we have yet to encounter a major cost overrun on this project.  I fear the micro-expansion may be our Waterloo.  The existing deck must be destroyed to build a foundation for the expansion and the new deck also requires sinking another caisson 18-feet into the Earth’s crust.  Of course, the Juliet balcony requires two Italian teenagers from warring families before the inspector will sign-off, but that’s not important right now.

Destroying stuff is fraught with potholes and obstacles.  This may ultimately be where the other shoe drops, starting with “you’ll never believe what we found under there” and ending with me spending nights on end saying, “Hello, and welcome to Wal Mart” to pay off the debt.  If not, we might just be home free.  And since nothing about this home can be connected in any way to any modern definition of the word free, what I mean is we’ll only have given up the GDP of a small municipality to make Via Corona habitable.

On the plus, side there are some positive developments:

1.)  As of today, we’ve entered our move-in month.   Now, before anyone gets too excited, let’s be clear.  We are moving in to what will presumably be the finished upstairs.  Or, more likely, a bathroom with a flushing toilet and some place to put our bed (we can always shower with the hose in the front yard).  This means we’re about literally to live through the kitchen, room addition and deck construction.  And then there is the exterior work.   We’ll be lucky if the house will be finished by December.  At any rate, prepare your excuses now for the weekend of September 24.  “Gee, I could help, but I don’t want to” is a completely acceptable answer in this case. We feel the same way.

2.)  Presumably because of #1, we are seeing visible progress which we will share with you in the weeks ahead instead of spending 1,000 words talking about 3 people signing their names.  It’s happening people.  It’s actually happening!

Or so we’ve been told.

Want to read more about our renovation adventures? Go here: Via Corona