Fair Haven Fixer Upper – Chapter 3

Rack of Lamb Recipe

As we approach the holidays our neighbors’ homes in the Fair Haven historic district really shine. Meanwhile, at Chez Nelson, the lights are barely on. Just past our first month’s anniversary at 28B Gillespie, an optimist would say wow, we’re nearly there. A pessimist might not.

It took us at least four weeks just to round up Kevin Slavin, the very busy owner of Frontier Tree, who, along with his mighty crew, skillfully removed the gargantuan maple tree that was growing through our roof–and–into the basement. 

But now, with the tree gone* a lot of other tasks are falling into place. We can finally access the basement through our Bilco door (that slanty thing on the back of old houses).  We’re planning on replacing the oil tank and furnace currently residing down there with a natural gas-powered heating and air conditioning system. It gets a little complicated because we have to install all new ductwork and that can be challenging in an older home (I really want to say it isn’t easy getting all our ducks in a row).

Anyway, once we switch out the heating system we won’t need an outside entrance so that wall gets closed up and the dreaded Bilco door removed. Right now it’s sitting outside the great room just where the veranda should, and eventually, will be. By then, all we’ll need to do is upgrade the electric and a bit of plumbing, add some insulation and sheetrock.

Meanwhile, I have been doing the rounds of kitchen cabinet vendors; big box stores, local building centers, and custom cabinet shops have all been on my itinerary. My plan is simple: the core of the kitchen will be on one wall. Eventually, we’ll have a custom island and hutch built at the factory that makes all of our furniture in Hungary. Here’s my inspiration kitchen courtesy of Joanna Gaines.Kitchen by Joanna GainesThis is the core plan.

And this is the reality.Sigh.

Dinner tonight:

Rack of Lamb with Mashed Potatoes–and Brussels Sprouts

Meanwhile, I need to keep Keith’s spirits up–I may be the plotter and planner but he is the guy on the spot: filling the dumpster, peeling old insulation and sheetrock off the ceiling and walls and removing the ten thousand nails used to secure same. Luckily for us, the way to this man’s heart is through his stomach. He needs to be fed and fed well.

I always pick up a rack or two of lamb every time I go to Costco and toss them into the freezer for when I need to up my dinner game.

Pull off most of the fatty bits but don’t worry too much about the gristle. Pour a few glugs of soy sauce and a bit of maple syrup into a shallow bowl and toss in the lamb. You can do this a few hours in advance, or a half hour depending on how organized you are. Turn at least once.

Cook in a preheated 425-degree oven for 20 minutes and then test to see if the lamb is done. The only way I know how to do this is to actually make a small incision. Although I suppose, if I could ever locate the meat thermometer, that would be a less invasive way to test for doneness.  Pink is okay, raw is not. So either take the rack out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes before serving or put it back in the oven for a bit. Keep an eye on it though, because you can get to well done very quickly.

Serve with buttery, piping hot mashed potatoes and some freshly simmered Brussel sprouts. (Keith’s absolute, most favorite vegetable). Just spritz with lemon, add a bit of butter and salt and pepper and forget all about the bacon and cheese that make these hearty little gems injurious to one’s health–and a real pain in the neck to cook.**

Open a lovely bottle of Cote du Rhone, or your favorite red wine, and enjoy.


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Photo courtesy of HealthyRecipesBlogs.com

*In Fair Haven trees don’t just don’t go away. Removal requires a permit application, site visit by the town arborist, a fee, and a commitment to plant replacements for the trees that were removed.

**Note I did not mention mint or mint sauce once.

   RESOURCES

Arborist: Kevin Slavin    http://frontiertree.com/

Fair Haven Fixer Upper – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Lamb Ragu Recipe

This is the darkest hour when renovating a house. You’ve signed off on having any disposable income for the next thirty years and been given the keys to your dream home that is suddenly, woefully less than perfect…On television Chip gleefully bashes in a few walls, finds one problem with a no more than $3000 solution and from then on it is smooth sailing to Joanna’s staged finale.

In reality, demo is a really big, dirty job that uncovers issue after issue. The list is endless in an older home and no matter how prepared you think you are there is always something else to contend with. The good news is under the carpet upstairs we found the original wood floors largely intact. And it looks like we can save the windows.

Then we found what I call shiplap and Keith calls 1 x 6’s on the ceiling in the dining room that I would like to not only keep but extend to the kitchen–seeing as the plan is to combine the two rooms.

When doing a project like this it is really important to get the correct permits from the town. Right now we are working with a non-structural demo permit, which basically means we (by we I mean Keith of course) are removing decades-old sheetrock to see what is there–or not there–in terms of plumbing, heat, and electric. (Spoiler alert–in our case–not much.)

The next step is to have an architect, in this case, our friend and neighbor, Matt Cronin, draw up plans for the structural changes we are making–another step you rarely see on television but essential in real life. We are opening up the foyer, and the dining room to the kitchen (sadly the end to the little hobbit hallway but so much more functional for modern living).

The good news is I get to plan and replan kitchen layouts and ponder all kinds of design elements. Granite or marble? Upper cabinets or open shelves? Tile floors or continue with the wood that is in the dining room? Below is my preliminary sketch.  The kitchen is 19′ wide and just 10′ deep. I’ll enlarge the existing windows so I can peer over my neighbor’s hedge to see the Navesink River and remove the ones looking right into my other neighbor’s kitchen windows. I’d like to put all the appliances on one wall–but that is so subject to change after I visit a number of local kitchen cabinet builders over the next week or so. Once my basic plan is finalized I’ll add a custom island for storage and seating that will come from the factory in Hungary that builds a lot of our furniture and if there is room, a hutch.

Meanwhile, I’ve upped my cooking game. It’s the least I can do for the guy filling the dumpster. Nothing tastes better after a hard day’s work than a plate of pasta with tomato sauce and I think adding lamb takes it to another level. Fortunately, Keith agrees.

Lamb Ragu

Sprinkle with salt and pepper then sear 8 shoulder blade lamb chops in hot olive oil in a large sauce pot. Then chop up one 1/4 inch thick slice of pancetta and toss that in the pot. Add an onion coarsely chopped, a couple of cloves of garlic, a pinch of oregano, 1/2 can of tomato paste and two cans of whole tomatoes that you squish into bits. Let simmer until meat falls off the bone (about 90 minutes).

Take the meat off the bones, chop and return to the sauce. I like to serve this with fettuccine but any pasta works. Top with grated parmesan, add a tossed salad and a nice bottle of plonk and enjoy.

                          RESOURCES

Architect: Matt Cronin http://croninarch.com/

Maine Stay

Maine Home & Design Contest
Martha Stewart
Loi Thai

Skillet Cod with Clams, Corn and Parsley

We barely had time to unpack the New Shipment of antiques and custom furniture from our factory in Hungary in late July, when it was time to whoosh up to our Maine cottage for the best two weeks of the summer.August promises so much: warm water temperatures, delightful breezes, bright skies, and the tastiest fresh food from the farmer’s market and the local lobster and fish co-op. It’s the best time for family visits because the kids, and adults too, can be outside all day running around like lunatics and swimming like fishes–then sleeping like logs at night.

At least we did. A long time ago a customer with a vacation home he inherited from his father told me his dad’s secret to successful hosting: Never give up your own bedroom.  No matter what.

Ours is totally British Cottage Style, albeit with a bit of bling. The chandelier is an antique, and the sconces are from Currey and Company. The vintage white king size bed is by British Cottage, leaving just enough room for one of the robust antique pine chests of drawers we import from Hungary. Comfortable, serene and a perfect refuge for when the going gets tough– or the young ‘uns get going! 

We were also looking for a similar sense of comfort and style in our living room. Below is the photo I entered in the Maine Homes by Down East design contest in May. Judges include Martha Stewart and my Instagram favorite, Loi Thai, owner of Tone on Tone Antiques in D.C. and fellow summer Mainer. You can see all the entries here: Maine Homes Design Contest. (For the record I am not expecting a win–I just wanted to get a little skin in the game!)Our sofa is from Best Slipcover, the first upholstery company we carried. I love the concept of a slipcover,especially when pets and children are involved. Luckily I had a second slipcover made before we parted ways and the sofa got schlepped up to Maine.  When all our young guests departed we tried on the new look and I am happy to report it was an instant success. I’m so over the ruffles (what was I thinking?) and love the waterfall skirt and weltless seams. It looks less cottagey which is not necessarily a bad thing. (Note to self, buy a steamer.)

While some people believe a vacation means no cooking I think meals are much more fun to prepare when there is a crowd to enjoy them and help with all the prep–and clean up.  Al fresco is always the best. Lobster works anytime anywhere. But the best dinner I had all month was from the August  Bon Appetit and is a made for Maine summertime dish. I love clams and almost never cook them but this recipe will change that. Just make sure to double up on the ingredients because everyone will want seconds!

Skillet Cod, Clams, and Corn with Parsley

INGREDIENTS

1¼ lb. skinless cod fillet, cut into 4 pieces, patted dry
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup dry white wine
  • 12 littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • 2 medium ears of corn, kernels cut from cobs (1–1¼ cups)
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • Lemon wedges (for serving)

    • Season cod all over with salt and pepper. (You can skip this step; I find the clams are salty enough.) Sprinkle flour over a large plate and, working one at a time, press side of fillet where skin used to be into flour to thoroughly coat. (Coating the cod with flour before cooking prevents the flaky fillets from tearing; any bits left in the pan will give body to the clam mixture.) Tap off excess and set on a platter, flour side up.

    • When buying a big portion of cod or other skinless fish, you’ll often end up with the skinny tail end. Keep it from overcooking by folding the tail end underneath itself to create a piece that’s closer in thickness to the rest of the fillets. Then proceed to cook it as you would any other piece.                  (This is a really good tip!)

    • Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium. Cook cod, floured side down, shaking skillet occasionally to prevent sticking, until flesh is opaque and starting to flake around the sides and underside is golden brown, 5–7 minutes. Carefully turn cod over and reduce heat to low. Cook until cooked all the way through (flesh should be completely opaque), about 2 minutes (thinner pieces may go more quickly). Place on a platter, golden side up; take care not to break up the delicate fillets.

    • Turn heat back up to medium, pour remaining 2 Tbsp. oil into the skillet, and cook shallot, stirring often, until tender and golden, about 2 minutes. Add wine; cook until almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Add clams and cover skillet. Cook until clams open, about 5 minutes (some clams might take a few minutes longer). Uncover skillet and transfer clams, discarding any that didn’t open, to platter with cod.

    • Reduce heat to low and add corn and butter to skillet. Cook, stirring until butter is melted, the sauce is thick and glossy, and corn is tender about 3 minutes. Spoon corn mixture over fish and clams. Top with parsley; squeeze lemon wedges over. The end.

Chez Bernadette

Roasted Chicken Legs with Potatoes and Kale Recipe

It is amazing how rarely I get to Rumson now that I live in Red Bank (which is sad because it is literally two miles yonder). So it was nice to be invited along on a delivery there the other day; our friend Bernadette got a spring refresh, and I got to visit the old neighborhood.

While you might think  Rumson is just one ritzy mansion after another, once you get off the main drags there are many unique homes on a much smaller, and you could argue more charming scale.  In this case what was once a fairly modest cape has, over the years, sprouted wings and els, and is now quite a robust beauty. I guessed Bernadette’s house was built sometime in the 1040’s but I guessed wrong. Like many homes along the Shrewsbury River shoreline, this house was barged over from Sea Bright over 100 years ago! There are so many things to love about this house but my favorite might be the Dutch door. I have wanted a Dutch door my entire life and Bernadette’s is absolutely the most perfect shade of blue.

  It turns out to be Blue Sea Foam by Benjamin Moore.

Fortunately, Bernadette is a much better housekeeper than I, because her house was camera ready when I ran through at 9:30 in the morning snapping photos of the various British Cottage items she’s purchased over the last couple of decades(!) while Keith did the heavy lifting on the delivery.

I started in the kitchen.  This table from British Cottage is at least 25 years old.  That is the good thing and the bad thing about selling great furniture; it never goes out of style, never breaks, and thus never needs replacing (sad for us, great for our customers). This kitchen has been remodeled two or three times and our classic pine farmhouse table always makes the cut.

In the dining room, I spied a white porcelain bowl from our Chinese export collection under a painting by Barbara Cocker—another former neighbor and longtime West Park resident.  She was quite famous locally and in Nantucket, her summer haunt, for her riveting coastal paintings.  Until I saw Bernadette’s I had forgotten I always wanted a Mrs. Cocker painting. Sigh.

The other thing I would like to point out in the dining room is the gray cabinet.  So often people own a mahogany or cherry breakfront, or china closet, that works like a dream but looks like it belongs at Winterthur—too ponderous and heavy for our laidback coastal décor.  Bernadette had hers painted gray; a brilliant move that keeps the dining room still formal, but not too. (Needless to say, you should NEVER do this to a period antique but it is quite acceptable to repurpose quality machine made pieces from the 20th century).

A quick stop in the living room for a snap of one of our orb chandeliers with the crystal centers. So many people talk about putting a chandelier over a coffee table—but it takes a certain amount of courage to do it.  And look.  What a pay off! Instant architecture with a focal point that literally brings light into play. Brilliant.

Next, I dashed upstairs to see how our paneled bed turned out. We normally only sell the whole bed, but in this case, just a headboard was required.  It’s bolted to a frame so it doesn’t flip or flap. And I must say quells the argument that you can’t but a bed in front of a window–of course you can.

All’s left is to see how the family room revamp worked out.  What do you think?

This is the den that was created when a master bedroom was added to the east side of the house.  We brought in the Gustavian style console table, painted a soft gray, for under the front window, added two square gourd lamps, and a couple of mirrors and side tables to give a little structure and depth to this serene space.

Even the dad corner looks pretty good!

The clock was ticking–we open at ten–but I couldn’t leave Bernadette’s without a recipe in hand.  She promises this is delicious–I haven’t had a chance to get to the kitchen to try it myself.  The kale worries me a bit; I want to embrace it but so far have failed. Bernadette assures me that will all change once I make this fabulous recipe from Food and Wine.

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For this easy one-pan dish, Grace Parisi roasts chicken legs on a bed of potatoes and kale so the meaty juices keep the vegetables moist. Prep takes just 10 minutes and the resulting meal serves eight or makes for excellent leftovers. There’s very little clean-up as everything bakes up together and can be served straight from the pan. It’s super healthy from the kale and lemon, but also hearty because of the roasted potatoes.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds tender, young kale, stems and inner ribs removed

1 1/2 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

8 whole chicken legs (about 10 ounces each)

1 teaspoon paprika

Lemon wedges, for serving

How to Make It:

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 450°. In a very large roasting pan, toss the kale, potatoes, and onion with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread in an even layer.

Step 2

Set the chicken on a cutting board, skin side down. Slice halfway through the joint between the drumsticks and thighs. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the paprika and set on top of the vegetables.

Step 3

Cover the pan with foil. Roast the chicken in the upper third of the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and roast for 30 minutes longer, until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Transfer the chicken to plates and spoon the vegetables alongside. Serve with lemon wedges.

Serve With:

Combining chicken, greens, and potatoes, this one-pan recipe is a meal in itself, but it would also be delicious with homemade hummus or other easy spreads like a cucumber-yogurt dip.

Domestic Arts 101

In the olden days, decorating was the wife’s job; real men played golf, watched sports on the telly and stayed out of the kitchen.  Clearly those days are over.  Real women go to work, real men cook and everybody has a say in decorating.  But he likes mid-century modern and she wants comfort and warmth.  Holy smokes!  What do you do?

You compromise and together you create your own signature look.
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Take, for example, this Rumson carriage house.   When the new owners took possession they brought with them the husband’s significant modern art collection and his design sense which was perhaps a bit formal, while the wife was angling for an up-dated, yet comfortable, elegant, yet child-friendly end of the spectrum.

First thing they did was transform what had been a formal living room into a lively gallery of amazing art, complemented by a modicum of seating.  The idea was to marry comfort with spare and sleek.  They wanted room where the art could shine, adults enjoy a cocktail and their three children to romp–the walled off living room, like husbands who don’t decorate, a thing of the past.

For a while it was perhaps it was a bit too stark but once they replaced a burnished hunk of copper coffee table with this painted wooden table from British Cottage the living room finally came together.
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The modern, copper coffee table that was in the living room happily found a new home in the family room where it compliments the metal work on the fireplace and anchors the massive leather couch.
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(I’m not sure whose idea was the basketball hoop over the fireplace in the family room–we would have loved this when we were kids).  They added a couple of custom Hickory White side chairs in navy plaid from British Cottage that swivel so you can either have a conversation or watch the game on the television on the wall opposite the couch.

Perhaps my favorite room is the dining room.  They kept the previous owner’s chandelier–from the days when the house was decorated in an over-the-top chateau style–and it looks pretty and romantic.  The husband was quite sure how he wanted the custom British Cottage table to look, striking and vibrant in dark oak which works beautifully with the linen-like but really Sunbrella slipcovered sidechairs chosen by his wife. The plain white walls and woodwork were a bold choice in this time of paint the world fifty shades of grey but it really lets the art and the architecture shine.

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We’ve been making house calls to this home for the last couple of years and every time we go it looks better and better.  I think every nook and cranny  has engaged the attention of both spouses and each has allowed the other their vision creating a lovely, family friendly home in the process.  Not easy.