Archive for the 'renovation' Category

Party Day!!!

AKA “We’re Having a Party, Part 4″

table 4

At last here it was – Party Day!!!! I was up very early. I hadn’t really slept very much the night before – between the pain in my legs (long-standing issue – hah hah – did you GET that???) and my whirling brain, I was lucky I got any sleep. What was the first thing I did? I fed the cats, of course. 🙂 I know what is important in this house and so do they. When I walked out to get the newspaper (yes, I am old-fashioned enough to receive a PAPER newspaper daily) I saw that someone had parked their car in front of my driveway. Although the car was about 3 feet from the apron, it still didn’t leave me room to drive on the grass to get out and get bagels. table 2 Normally this is the kind of thing in the past that would have had me calling the police hysterically demanding that the car be towed but I’ve mellowed a lot over the years. I wasn’t thrilled, because I was hoping to use my driveway for parking guests’ cars, but I wasn’t as freaked out as I might have been because my husband’s car was at the curb and driveable. But still – a bad omen or something getting rid of any last bad karma by having an inconvenience that wasn’t a show-stopper? I decided to consider it a clearing.

At this distance from the day, I have to confess that I don’t remember a lot clearly. My husband went out to get the bagels (stopping at the most likely neighbor to own the offending car). My sister showed up early to help put together the things that couldn’t be assembled the previous day – the Asian Salad Wonton Cups. There was more. I know there was. Because we were setting the table, arranging the drinks, and cleaning every utensil as it was used and putting it away. You see, I had one march of the cruditemore major request of my staff, um, I mean my family. I told them that I wanted the house to look as if I simply waved my magic wand and all the food appeared. The guest of honor at this party was the renovated kitchen, and NOTHING could be out to mar the look and beauty of the counters, cabinets, floor, and appliances. That is a big ask when you consider my menu and the work involved.

We had to cook the hot food – the quiche and the mushrooms. The turkey had to be sliced. The condiments, liquors, drink add-ons and utensils all had to be laid out. I had to make the mulled cider and assemble the cocktail punch. My husband had to run out for more sugar (we had none for coffee & tea) and beer. My brother-in-law showed up with his home-baked pretzels and salt-sticks (the most fantabulous rolls you will ever have) plus a tray of his spinach & cheese (maybe it was broccoli??) rolls he’d made for the prior night’s party. We did it all. Arranging trays and platters and drinks and paper plates and plastic utensils and vacuuming and sweeping and wiping surfaces and putting everything away.
stuffed mushrooms
We were so efficient and so on-top of everything that I even had 45 minutes to go upstairs, change into my party outfit, apply make-up (I was pretending to be a grown-up) and spray glitter in my hair (not too grown-up). My sister and her husband had everything cleaned and put away by the time I came back down. The kitchen was immaculate (except for the cider pot on the stove, where it belonged for that day). It looked as if I had waved my magic wand and all the food simply appeared!!!
walkin cooler
EVERYTHING was in place and party ready. Or was it? WHITE CAT!!!!! That cat. I wasn’t going to put this in but I changed my mind. BC and GC very quickly grasped that there was a LOT happening on the first floor and they headed upstairs (despite their memories of The Great Incarceration, I’m sure) and there they stayed – out of the way. Not so WC. She was not pleased and she was very happy to let me know that. First, she – sigh, what is the delicate way to put this??? She left a DEPOSIT in the front hall. That was still fairly early on in the morning so I removed it, washed the floor, told her that she exhibited poor behavior and carried on with what I had to do.
skewer city
On my check list for Tuesday, and you can see this in the photos, I had “take off red couch cover”. I’ve posted pictures of WC in what she considers to be her boudoir – the back of the red couch in the sun room. I keep that couch covered with a matching cover in the vain attempt to protect it from stains and non-removable cat fur. WC has the silkiest, finest fur you will ever encounter. She was ensconced on the couch. We would be in the sun room because the TV is in the sun room and people would be watching the football games. cat fur on couchMy sister went to dislodge her. Now you need to know that for 16+ years my sister has attempted to make nice to WC and for 16+ years WC laughs in my sister’s face and runs away. We all figured this was a piece of cake – my sister would walk in there and look at WC and talk to her and WC would take off, as she has done REPEATEDLY in the past. It didn’t happen that way. WC simply glared and did not move. We must have gone through this routine 3 times and each time I said, fine, leave her be, we still have time. We ran out of time. WC finally headed up the stairs when the first guests arrived. I threw my big, grand, celebration party with white cat fur matted all-over the back of my red couch. I didn’t mention it and neither did the folks watching TV. But other than that, I think the house looked great and the party was quite a success.
table 1

Menu:

My brother-in-law baked the salt sticks, the pretzels and the spinach/cheese rolls. No recipe available from me.
I made the quiche, and I made several changes to it, including making it gluten-free (but not nightshade free *grin*). This is a good recipe for getting started on a 13×9 quiche (my pan is 14×10).
I made the marinated (fake) crab meat – *laughing* – the fake part means that the fish is really pollock, not shell fish. The original recipe is Zesty Marinated Shrimp. I probably did not do justice to this recipe as we found it too citrusy for our tastes, but to be fair I did not keep the proportions as I found them. So I still like the recipe and will do it in less of a “factory production” moment.
I mulled the cider and I do that by looking at a variety of recipes and then gathering up whatever I have and wrapping it in cheese cloth. I put the cider on a low flame and let it seep for a few hours.
The cocktail punch was delicious, simple and kept me going all party. 🙂
I considered also making several Champagne Mules but decided that even for me that might a bit much. So I left all the ingredients and the instructions out with the prosecco and other cold drinks and desserts.
I made the fruit skewers and again, they were simply what I thought might work, no specific recipe.
I also made the tahini cookies and the shortbread – I don’t have any links for those. If you are interested, leave a comment and I’ll post them.
I also made (or assembled) a sugar-free strawberry shortcake. I bought a sugar-free angel food cake and cut it in half on the y axis. The day of the party I used whipped cream and strawberries, put the top layer back on, then used whipped cream and strawberries on top. In the interest of speed, I used the canned whipped cream, which does not hold up as well as hand-made whipped cream. But it sufficed for this purpose and was eaten. 🙂
My guests also brought cookies and cakes and other very tasty desserts, so that table was much fuller than the picture shows.
My sister made the crudite cups, as I’ve mentioned. I saw a picture online and it made me think of doing something similar. We ended up using 2 oz cups, and a few 3 oz cups. 2 oz cups are more than sufficient. Next time I might not make the cups pretty, because people wouldn’t take a cup because they didn’t like EVERYTHING in it. Oy. So eat what you like and subtly ditch the rest. We did have a lot left over but they did NOT go to waste. I rinsed off the dressing from and my husband made a fantastic vegetable soup.
My sister also did the cheese skewers, which were our own creation with what we had, and she assembled the caprese skewers, which were beautiful and tasty. The only tricky part to that was adding the balsamic glaze at the last moment.
My sister assembled the Asian Salad Wonton Cups which were gorgeous and delicious but again needed to be assembled the day-of, although I had prepared everything in advance.
My husband prepared the marinade, cooked and sliced the turkey.
I made the stuffed mushrooms, and made them gluten free (yes, Virginia, there ARE gluten free bread crumbs). They were very good and there weren’t many left over at all.
My husband made the mini BLTs. We used turkey bacon and party rye bread. These were a mistake – one of my “we didn’t need so much food” mistakes. They tasted fine, but with all the other dishes, they just weren’t that popular. My b-i-l ended up taking them home, ditching everything but the bacon and used that in a different dish. It’s a shame, really. They were so cute.
Little preparation, only presentation:
Bagels, lox, cream cheese. I believe it was my husband who prepared the tomatoes, lettuce and sliced onion for the lox. (Correction – it was my b-i-l, with cleanup by my sister. 🙂 )
Store-bought cheese cake slices. Again, an unnecessary item given all the other desserts that did arrive. But I can’t count on food that I don’t know is coming (which will be the subject of another post one day). The cheesecake made my office mates very happy. 🙂

Collaboration Pie

img_0022There are many good things about posting about food and cooking. Even if people disagree about my recipes, my tastes, my process, the comments and reactions tend not to get personal or nasty. 🙂 If I’m thinking about food, I’m NOT thinking about other aspects of reality. On many days that is the REAL reason I write about food. I like creating things and cooking and baking are creative. My friend Honour talks about the difference between cooks and bakers, that one has more leeway and room for error than the other. I’m still not sure I’m convinced about that, but again, it doesn’t (usually) get personal when we discuss it. *grin*

Today I want to write about leftovers and collaborating and when cooks and bakers work together. img_0023My husband does not bake – he cooks. Oh wow, he is SUCH a great creative cook. I love to bake and while I enjoy cooking now in my new kitchen, I’m nowhere near as innovative as he is. I’m getting better, but I’m not at his level by any means. I mentioned he brought home a store-cooked chicken the other night. That meant we had leftovers. We also had rainy cold weather all day Sunday, as well as other annoying reality. 🙂 I started thinking about cooking. I decided that a chicken pot pie would be perfect for dinner. I mentioned that to my husband and he agreed.

Now *I* was thinking more of the kind of pot pie I had growing up – basically a white creamy inside. I found a picture of one online to show you what I mean but we grew up on frozen pot pies, not home-made. It was something my father would make for us for dinner when my mother was at rehearsal. img_0024As we don’t mix meat and dairy, we use coconut milk to get our “creaminess”. I also thought I’d take my leftover steamed vegetables and throw them in too – sort of a vegetable chicken pot pie. I’d already decided to use the coconut oil for that hint of flavor while making the pastry crust. I was browsing recipes online and thinking about concocting when my husband came down with a piece of paper and said “This is what I plan to make for the pie.”. *grin* Of course his recipe looked nothing like mine (his had curry and more asian flavors) and he had no intention of putting in the leftover vegetables, only the leftover chicken. I told him his concoction sounded great to me and I’d make him a crust.

That’s what we did. I made up my pie crust using margarine and coconut oil (remember, no dairy). It was a beautiful flaky crust. It’s interesting – I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem making pie crusts (except for 2 crusts for our New Year’s Day party, but that’s a different story) since I first began. I use the recipe in The Settlement Cookbook. img_0025It says that the key to a good crust is very cold ingredients and as little water and handling as possible. That very morning as I listened to the radio talk show host, she was talking about making pies and bemoaning how difficult it is to make a good crust and how it took her so long to learn. I’ve just never had that particular problem and I know people love the pie crusts I make. Thank you Lizzie Black Kander and your fantastic cookbook (which is, as I’ve mentioned before, my #1 go-to cookbook).

The new kitchen gets another rave review here because while my husband was working on the stove, there was room for me to be rolling out the top crust. That NEVER would have been possible before the renovation. 🙂 I probably should have ‘over-ruled’ him about temperature and time (I’d have picked the higher temperature and the shorter time, which is more typical for pies) but dinner was delicious. Yay us!!
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The Pie Lady

It has happened – we handed over the final payment check. The kitchen ceiling was repaired after the pipe leak (yes, the pipe was repaired also). The floor was pulled up and redone in the doorway and the breakfast room. The kitchen is gorgeous and functional and I love every moment I spend there. I have been cooking and baking and trying out new recipes. I may have done more cooking in the last few weeks than I have done in the last few years. Okay, that WAS an exaggeration, but you understand the emotion there. 🙂

I’m not a vegetarian, I do eat meat, but I eat a lot less meat than I did in years past. That’s partly age/digestion and partly diet/weight. 🙂 Now you know all my secrets. kale pie openAlthough Thanksgiving dinner is not at my house (except for the fun of hosting it last year), I do contribute a vegetable side dish and sugar free desserts. This year I wanted to find something exciting and interesting, something that would ‘represent’ my gorgeous new kitchen. A FB friend posted a link to LiveKindly’s article “12 Meat-Free Mains for the Ultimate Vegan Thanksgiving”. The picture looked so yummy I had to click through. The pictures of the entrees were GORGEOUS and nearly all the dishes sounded delicious. Some of them even looked as if they would not be too difficult to make.

There were still 2 weeks to go before T-day, so I decided to test out some of the recipes and decide which I should make. I got ambitious and made both the Kale Almond Butternut Squash pie and a no-sugar apple pie. I was in a hurry and multi-tasking, so I did not chop the kale as finely as it needs. cooked kale pieMy other take on this recipe, and I thought this while I was making it and after eating it, is that it needs liquid. Next time I will either puree some of the squash before adding it to the pie, or mix in some squash soup. The crust, however, is phenomenal. I’ve not cooked with coconut oil before (I’ve used coconut milk) and the particular brand I used was very solid (I gather some brands are not as thick). I foolishly put the dough for the top crust into the refrigerator while I was working and it was so thick/dry that it was very difficult to work it. That’s on me, however, not the recipe. The crust is delicious. My husband said it was like eating scones. He broke off edge pieces and munched on them. 🙂 I have to agree. Using the coconut oil for the crust added a dimension to the pie I’d never have imagined. Fantastic recipe (but add some liquid).

The apple pie was also an experiment. I used to make my sugar-free apple pie filling by pureeing raisins with some juice. There is a LOT of sugar in raisins. I had 2 ideas for this year. apple pie closeupI used dried apricots, which have a lot less sugar than raisins, pureed with cranberries and cranberry juice (diet). I misjudged that as it was my first time working with the apricots, and I did not have enough liquid there. I layer the apples, then spread some of the pureed mixture, then sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg, and do the layers again. On the top I put fresh orange zest. It tasted fine, but it needed more moisture. It also was not going to be sweet enough for my brother-in-law, who likes things much sweeter than we do (my husband and I). But we had a great dinner that night – pie for dinner and pie for dessert.

I’ll tell you about the other dishes and the apple-pie remake in another post. 🙂 I’m including the obligatory cat photo. I apologize for the horrible quality but I took it with my incredibly old iPad2 (7 years old already). Had I gotten up to get my camera, WC would have moved and I would not have this picture of her. She’s so cute when she is sleeping. Also QUIET. 🙂
wc sleeping

Dressing the Walls

IMG_8035One of a homeowner’s great pleasures, and often greatest frustrations, is decorating the walls of the house. Some people like a stark look, almost nothing on clean walls. Others hang zillions of photos – family, or vacation, or nature, or animals. Others hang artwork (however you choose to define it). My old kitchen had walls with LOTS of pictures and art and photos, because I had a lot of wall space and LOTS of chachkes.

My new kitchen has cabinets and brick, not exactly conducive to attachments. It also has a very clean, spare look, also not exactly welcoming to chachkes. I had a lot of chachkes hanging on the old cabinets, from the windows, on the refrigerator. I didn’t want to repeat that in the new kitchen. But there was a wall that cried out for artwork. I knew from the design stage that there was a wall that would need something.

I thought I’d found the perfect picture to hang on the wall between the basement door and the doorway to the front hall, above the new radiator. I’d found it in July at a street fair, when I bought another picture from the artist, Linda McAdams.IMG_9532 As I realized when I started looking for dish towels and oven mitts, there is no way that RED will work in this kitchen, and the “perfect picture” had a big red and white striped beach umbrella (that’s why it was perfect and I loved it *grin*). I was a bit bummed, to tell the truth. My friend and I started idly perusing Linda’s website via my phone and discovered that besides her beach/ocean series, she had an Italy portfolio as well. So many of the colors were the same colors as the brick backsplash in the kitchen – warm, rustic, brick. My friend was clicking through the mini pictures when I stopped her. “That looks like Castel Sant’Angelo”, I said. We enlarged the photo and sure enough – it was Castel Sant’Angelo.

I LOVE Castel Sant’Angelo. When my son and I were in Italy a few years ago, one of our best experiences was touring Castel Sant’Angelo. IMG_9531We spent so much time there, loving every floor, taking a zillion photos, staring out at the bridges across the Tiber. Originally Hadrian’s tomb, various popes turned it into a fortress, attached to St. Peter’s Basilica. We both took panoramic shots of the river and Pons Aelius (sorry – we switch to Latin for this *grin*) and the 10 angel statues decorating the bridge. We spent our whole time there exclaiming how much my husband would love to see it – structures, architecture, archaeology, history. All 3 of us adore those fields. *grin* And for B, who I know reads this blog – we love talking about Hannibal and elephants, too. *grin*

Once I saw that photo I knew I had THE picture for my kitchen. 3 of my friends had seen photos of the kitchen with the back splash and said it reminded them of Tuscany/Italy. I’d felt that way also. IMG_9538 Here was a picture that was the right color, the right mood, and a reminder of an extremely happy time. I had to have it. I contacted Linda McAdams, gave her the measurements for that space, gave her my credit card and within 2 weeks – there it was. I also learned a lot about how to hang artwork on a drywall (not plaster wall) that was hollow – the pocket door is behind the wall – no long strong nails could be used. A friend had recommended Command hangers (I’d never heard of this fantastic product before) but although I DID buy various packs of Command hangers for future use, we ended up using High and Mighty hangers, which are designed specifically for drywall.

My sister “discovered” the art for the doorway between the breakfast room and the kitchen. It was in my dining room. I’d bought it many years ago with a bonus check I’d received, due in part to the work I’d done in virtual worlds. The piece was mounted on a dark wall. IMG_9537It SHOULD have been on a lighter wall but we never did get around to repainting that wall for that purpose. The piece, therefore, has probably been overlooked by most visitors for years. Now it has a place of honor over the new doorway, with lots of light from the skylight and a clean white wall behind. I can enjoy it every day when I sit at the bistro table.

I will probably put back at least one of the pieces that used to be in the breakfast room on the driveway-side wall above the table, and very possibly put them both back. I’ll have to get that done before the “come see my new kitchen party”. 🙂

Beauty and Function

My husband will say it’s Function and Beauty. Every time he does something in the kitchen (cooks, cleans, preps) he comes over to me and says “As beautiful as it is, it’s even more functional than it is beautiful.” I always reply “it’s equally beautiful and functional.” It really is. IMG_9479 We are both amazed and delighted each and every time we are in the kitchen. I’m not sure but I think the sink might actually be the best single improvement in the room.

Our contractor did not think we had sufficient cabinets and counters. We kept assuring him that we thought we were okay with the new plan and that for us it was so much more than we’d ever had. He (and most everyone else) told us to think ahead, that just because it was better didn’t mean we’d achieved best. We think we achieved best. I cannot believe how simple it has become to prepare a meal. It’s so easy, and such a pleasure, that I’m cooking again, not just baking. *laughing* Sometimes we both say “I thought I’d make this for dinner tonight” and one of us will give way and let the other have the fun. I love how I can have my measures right at hand along with the compost bin, and my knives within reach if I need a new one. IMG_9474When I work there at the counter the stove is just to my right, easy reach to go from cutting board to pot.

Today we passed the last of the official township inspections: electrical, building (fire), and plumbing (note the Oxford comma). (By the way, every inspector commented on how beautiful they found the new kitchen.) That does NOT mean, however, that we have actually finished this renovation. We still have a final payment reckoning. There were MANY add-ons, and those costs need to be tallied. In addition, the floor is still not right. They are coming on Thursday to try to fix it. I’ve been promised deck lights and we’ve actually agreed on what kind and how many and where. And the kitchen ceiling still needs to be sanded and painted after the plumbing leak. We’re close, but we are NOT there yet.

I WAS going to throw a party in November, a “come see my beautiful new kitchen” party. That is not going to happen, at least not in November. It will happen on New Year’s day. Now that we moved our New Year’s Eve party to New Year’s Day, we’ll invite the world to THAT party to see the gorgeous kitchen. In the meantime we have cooked meals for a few people already. I had the ladies over for Sukkot, we had another friend over for Sukkot, and friends over last weekend for a soup-to-nuts dinner – cocktails through to dessert. IMG_9520My husband and I were able to do that dinner without any bumping into each other, or needing to time counter space or any other “right of way” issues. It was great. I made bread (from scratch, no bread machine), Turkish coffee brownies, salad, yogurt pie, and roasted broccoli & cauliflower. My husband did his wonderful hand-made pasta, and a tagine chicken dish that is sensational. I also had time to make all the accoutrements for the cocktails: allspice dram and a cranberry syrup. It was all so much fun!!!!! The leftovers are pretty yummy also. 🙂

Morning Mystery

It’s a beautiful bright sunny day today! When I was opening the blinds in the breakfast room I noticed a big something on the deck. It is a piece of siding. I turned and looked at the house but….. I’m not seeing any missing pieces. A long piece of siding is a bit heavy to have traveled very far by wind. I backed up and backed up and craned my neck to see. Hmmm. Perhaps under one of the windows on the 2nd floor, above the breakfast room roof? IMG_9527But how did it get where it is without damaging the skylight? My husband came and looked also and that’s our best guess. Neither of us remembers if there was a piece of siding there or not, or if it was all flashing where the breakfast room joined the original house. There’s an UP side to it all, however!

We made an executive decision last week. We need (oh we DESPERATELY need) all new windows upstairs. It has always been ‘the next thing’ after the kitchen. I’ve been dreading getting quotes and setting up appointments and making decisions. And more contractors. I finally began researching the topic last week and what I found played right to my preferences. Most of the articles said pick your contractor first, not the window. Work with someone you trust. We have someone we trust, who does great work. We asked Don to give us a quote to put in new windows and a front door. 🙂 Done. And since Don is already used to how much scope-creep we have he will not be surprised when we ask him to put back the siding as well. 🙂

The other exciting news for me this morning is that all of my new appliances set themselves to the correct time this morning!!!!! I was dreading trying to figure out how to reset the thermostat and the kitchen stove. The microwave is easy-peasy but I still have not figured out the complexities of the stove digital controls. Yay for things that solve themselves!!!

April Showers

bring May Flowers. Which means, of course, that even if something seems awful and gloomy you might end up with cheerful happiness afterwards. Or as my grandmother might have said “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

The Great Incarceration has brought us flowers: GC and BC have decided that they are great friends. Not only has there been a huge reduction in little spats at meal time but now they even cuddle. (GC and WC are sisters – they’ve always been BFFs.)

IMG_0148

(apologies for the terrible quality of the photo. they very carefully waited to get cute together while my phone was being backed up. i had to use my incredibly ancient iPad to take the picture.)


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