Monday, February 17, 2014

Two-Point Conversion

My rescue kitty, Ember, "helps" me stem
cilantro leaves for a batch of Superbowl salsa
The big game was drawing near, but I was not inclined to spend the famous four quarters in a public place this time.  For many years I enjoyed watching the Superbowl with my Baltimore amigos in their rented warehouse flat.  In that vast industrial space, 50 to 100 friends and acquaintances gathered on sofas and folding chairs before a giant projection screen.  In one corner of the concrete floor, folding tables were erected to hold everyone's favorite potluck offerings. During half time we took turns batting a homemade piƱata strung from the ceiling, out of which candy and other treats eventually spilled.  The party was very laid back but always a ball of fun.  I relished our annual Superbowl get together.   

Over the years, the friends who rented the warehouse space graduated from college, married and bought homes of their own.  No one needed the flat anymore.  We held our annual Superbowl party in assorted public venues for a time, with varying degrees of satisfaction.  Eventually the gang started renting out the Ottobar for their yearly event, a Baltimore city live-music venue whose dark and primitive interior echoed the industrial vibe of the old warehouse space.

Organizing the food for
a large Superbowl party
was fun for me until last
year, when the event grew
to overwhelming proportions
For years I had been in charge of setting up and organizing the potluck food at our Superbowl party. I enjoyed my role in the annual fete.  But last year was different. Maybe it was the fact that our Baltimore Ravens football team was a contestant in the Superbowl which drew such an overwhelming crowd.  Maybe it was because the Ottobar inadvertently advertised our private party as a public event and allowed all comers entry at the door without question.  But last year’s Superbowl party was more work than fun for me.  I did a lot of baking and cooking leading up to the event, and then set up all the tables and supplies and ran wiring for hot plates and microwave ovens at the tavern before the game started, followed by organizing the offerings as they arrived and monitoring emptying crockpots and other serving vessels as the game progressed.  Hundreds of strangers showed up, most without any food offerings at all, devouring our culinary goods like so many locusts. There were even a few groups who brought their own food and kept it to themselves.

I recognized hardly any of the faces last year.  My friends were lost amid throngs of outsiders.  Our gathering had lost it’s intimacy.  I didn’t enjoy myself nearly as much as I have in the past, despite the Ravens’ ultimate victory over the San Francisco 49ers. To make matters worse, I contracted a terrible cold from a wayward germ at the event and was sick for the entire month of February, barely recovering in time to attend my annual ski trip to Utah with my best Friend, Kari, and her parents in early March.

There were hundreds of people last
year, most of whom were not part of
our core group of friends. I only knew
three people in this photograph
I longed for the intimacy of the old days, when our Superbowl party was held among familiar folks with a shared history in the time-honored warehouse tradition, but was resigned to the fact that such a gala would never be possible again. I just didn’t feel like attending a mega-party with so many outliers this year.

My next door neighbor in Baltimore County graciously invited me to watch the Superbowl on his giant screen.  But he and his wife and their two little girls caught nasty colds a few days before the game.  It wouldn’t do to burden them with company when they were so miserable.

What to do?  Watch the game on my old fashioned cathode-ray tube television set?  I pondered the purchase of a new flat screen TV.  It seemed an extravagance for someone who watches almost no television, yet I felt as though I should make some sort of effort to join the 21st century, technologically speaking.  A smallish television I could hang on the wall sounded like just the kind of baby step I could handle.

Now you see my new
flat screen television...
...And now you don't
Then there was a question of where to put the beast.  I don’t like television.  I certainly didn’t want to have to look at such a monstrosity (smallish or not) hanging on my wall when I wasn’t watching it, which would be most of the time. And, finally, there was the issue of enticing my frequent companion, Jesse Turner, to watch the Superbowl with me at my home when I knew he would much prefer to enjoy the fabled contest with his friends at the Ottobar, intimate vibe or not.

My cunning strategy was ultimately successful.  I became the owner of a new flat screen television. I bribed Jesse with a promise of a juicy game-day ribeye steak, grilled just the way he likes it, along with a fully-loaded baked potato, his favorite vegetable and a special salad of field greens, caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, crumbled blue cheese and my signature vinaigrette. I further enticed my dear friend by proposing a project.  The talented woodworker, construction manager, interior designer and architectural model maker can’t resist a project.  Instead of hanging my new television on a wall, how about mounting it in my window, up high where I could hide it behind my mini blinds when it wasn’t on?  Jesse was intrigued by the challenge of installing a television in a window.

As with most of my projects, I started
with a rough sketch and some
A quick trip to Home Depot produced a length of flat, aluminum bar stock, which Jesse promptly cut into two pieces and clamped into my grandfather’s old bench vise.  Once bent to conform to the contour of my window frame, the metal pieces morphed into mounting brackets.  A few drilled holes later and my new flat screen TV took its place, positioned squarely in the upper half of a double-hung wood-sash window in my circa 1862 farmhouse.

Elfie, left, and Ember wondered what
was to become of my old media cabinet
Now… what to do with my old media cabinet?  Made of honey-stained oak with Tambour doors concealing the cavernous space which used to hold my 25-inch dinosaur, the old hutch wasn’t ready for the scrap heap just yet. Besides its sentimental value, it was an attractive piece of furniture. The lower cabinet still housed my stereo equipment.  Surely there was a purpose the old TV shelf could serve.  An idea came to me in the dead of night a few days before the game. For years I have kept my liquor bottles down in an unheated, unfinished basement.  Over the  decades I have amassed quite an inventory of elixirs, some dating back to the Reagan administration, when my siblings and I cleaned out my deceased father’s condominium in California and divvied up the contents of his bar.  Not being much of an imbiber of mixed drinks until recently, the colorful bottles mostly gathered dust on an old wooden stand in my cellar.  But recently I have enjoyed experimenting with craft cocktails I read about in newspapers and the foodie magazines I so enjoy.  What if I converted the TV shelf in my media cabinet to a bar?

First, an interior
shelf and mirrored
backing were  installed
Then, strips of LED lights were
fastened to the back of the new
Poor Jesse couldn’t help himself when he heard my idea.  An innovative plan for such a project began to form in his head before I even got all the words out.  Another trip to Home Depot was made for an in-line switch and mounting hardware. There was a sojourn to Lowe’s for mirror glass, and a quick drive to Jesse’s studio for ingenious malleable strips of LED lighting (did I mention he is also a lighting contractor?).  Jesse made short work of sawing and staining pine boards for shelving, creating braces for a mirrored bar-back, and wiring interior lighting to a hidden switch I could press to illuminate the contents of my new bar.

A hidden switch allows me to
illuminate the pretty bottles
from behind
The 81 bottles of liquor
in my collection stay
out of sight behind
Tambour doors when
not in use
By kickoff on game day we were ready.  I made homemade salsa to serve with tortilla chips.  I found a recipe for “apple-coladas”, a delicious cocktail of warm spiced cider, coconut rum and sour apple schnapps, reveling in the luxury of seeing all my inventory before me in my new, beautifully back-lit bar.  We watched the big game on a state-of-the-art flat screen television as we reclined comfortably on chairs set before a crackling fire, and dropped wooden blinds to conceal the monitor once the Superbowl was over.  I didn’t miss the madding crowd at all.


  1. Very nice conversions and innovations. Glad you enjoyed your Super Bowl this year.

  2. Extremely informative. I wanted to thank you for this excellent post.