Fair Haven Fixer Upper–Chapter 9

It’s over when it’s over

Recipe for Maangchi’s Cheese Buldak (Fire Chicken)

Unlike what you see on the  TV show Fixer Upper, an actual home is never done–it is forever a work in progress. There is always something that needs fixing or tweaking, day after day, month after month, year after year. But the time has come to wrap up this Fair Haven Fixer Upper blog and get back to showcasing all the wonderful Two River homes we’ve been lucky enough to help decorate this year.

Chip and Joanna always start the reveal with a before–And then an after shot:
While we have yet to do much landscaping you can see we made some big changes to the property. The old driveway was demolished; it was a shared driveway from the main road for three homes and we were the guys in the middle. Now there is direct access to the new street in front of the house. That, combined with the removal of the monster maple tree growing into the basement, and all the overgrown shrubbery along with the rotten deck, really opened up the yard.

Here is Keith admiring the large bluestone patio that Mike Papa, our mason from heaven made us. Mike painstakingly handpicked every stone and then arranged it all just so. I was like hurry up already, but there is no rushing Mike. Fortunately it is lovely and just what we wanted after six years of living in an upstairs apartment–a nice wide open space to wine and dine and relax–outside.

When we were looking at the house the main attraction for me was always the great room.  But you might agree with Keith that it looked a bit too churchy, what with the stained glass window and fixtures straight out of the Spanish Inquisition era.

Keith prefers a more secular decor and I think we achieved that. I found a big mirror to hide the window and took away as much of the wrought iron as I could without having the ceiling cave in.

We had the floors stained white. (It was the only way to have the five different woods that were used on the various floors installed in the house over the last nine decades look relatively and I mean relatively, the same).  And honestly I would have painted all the woodwork white too but, because we are the painters and I don’t do ladders, for now, I am willing to leave well enough alone–as clearly so is Keith.

All the upholstery in the living room is by Hickory White, the higher end division of Sherrill Furniture. Originally I planned for a blue and white scheme and had a large navy blue sofa and four contrasting armchairs custom made for this space. The problem is they came in in April and we weren’t anywhere near ready so they got put in the store and guess what? They got sold.
Fortunately later that spring we were able to buy the pieces you see in the photos from the Hickory White Showroom during the High Point Furniture Market.  I’ve wanted a Chesterfield sofa for years and it was serendipitous that the interior design team at Hickory White had put this collection together–seemingly just for us.  Leather is perfect for day to day use in what is also our TV room and the velvet and the wicker chair add some texture and style. The coffee table came from the depths of our warehouse, as did the antique Biedermeier secretary.

The sea grass rug is from Safavieh. For years I’ve been telling everyone just get a natural fiber rug and call it a day but this is the first time I’ve actually practiced what I preach. Now I can’t figure out why I waited so long. I love the way it looks, feels and even the smell–it has a slightly grassy odor–like you just mowed the lawn.   

By and large most of my design thoughts over the past year went to figuring out how to create a new kitchen and dining area. We finally decided to eliminate the back stairs. Even though I love a back stairway this served no real purpose and the extra doorway just mucked up the kitchen cabinet layout. Next we removed all the walls between the dining room, kitchen area and foyer to create one open space.That meant the original built-in cabinet in the kitchen (which I had hoped to save) had to go.

As did the fun foyer with all the hobbit doors, and the crazy ceiling, which I had no interest in keeping.

Didn’t exactly love it in the dining room either!Now we have one room with our British Cottage trestle table front and center. Keith stained it white mainly because we thought we had enough stained wood action going on in the great room and couldn’t figure out what color would work with the island.

Originally I planned on a built in island with a microwave drawer but in the end thought not seeing a microwave on the kitchen counter was a lame reason to build an eight foot island–for $7500. This island, from a company out of Austin Texas called Four Hands, was a third the price, adds a kind of rustic, urban chic, works as a server, has some storage and gives me just the right mount of separation from the kitchen work area.

We removed half of the  kitchen windows so we could fit the refrigerator along the back wall, and avoid looking straight into our neighbor’s kitchen windows. The good news is the replacement windows we installed are quite large and let in plenty of light, and, even better, offer prime views of the other neighbor’s lavish gardens!

In the end, and a long story involving Community Appliance and a year’s interest free line of credit, we went with the most deluxe appliances we could possibly never afford, quartz countertops that happily look like marble to me, white subway tile, and white Shaker style cabinets. (I can’t believe that I just wrote in one sentence what took me ten months to decide and execute!)

Renovating the entire upstairs was a ton of work. We (that means Keith) had to remove all the sheetrock, so we could insulate, rewire, replumb, and reconfigure the closets. Our first job was to come up to code and the second was to make it all flow. We painted all the walls and ceilings with BM China White, and the trim in Decorator’s White. Floors are bare and will stay that way for a while. We had the 90 year old fir sanded and then applied a white oil-based stain and three coats of poly. Our floor guys were concerned because the color is not even and they still show a lot of wear– but that is exactly what we were hoping for.

Providentially we had a British Cottage kingsize bed in antique black, normally a color we do not stock, in our warehouse. I pondered white or pine–but think that black adds the pop we need. Window treatments on hand included toile sheers with a charcoal vignette and they seem to work just fine for now.

What was used as a third bedroom has become our closet/dressing room. I had a dressing room growing up and it makes a small bedroom seem a lot bigger once you remove the clutter that comes with clothing and putting the wash away. Which also just got a whole lot easier because we squeezed (literally) a washer/dryer into the room too.

The other bedroom also got taken down to the studs and the closet moved to another wall.

But once painted all that it needed (and could fit) was a pair of twin beds (by British Cottage of course) and an antique pine table to get us up and running for guests. Although the ancient Laura Ashley comforters from the old, old house might not be what my rough tough cowboy grandsons are expecting, they work just fine for now.

That leaves just one room to reveal. The former garage off the kitchen that the previous owner used as an office.

We made it into more of a sunroom, replacing the engineered wood floor with a concrete-like mix that Mike created so it looks and feels like stone.

Then we put a laundry sink in the adjacent bathroom. I agonized over this decision mainly because the darn sink cost a fortune–or nearly–and it certainly isn’t at all what you would expect to see in your normal suburban powder room. But this is right by my back door and I am a very sloppy gardener. Now I don’t need to sully my brand new white ceramic farm sink, white kitchen floor, or whatever else I can get my dirty hands on!

So that wraps up our  Fair Haven Fixer Upper saga. Would we do it again? Hell yes! Next time we will be a bit smarter about reading contracts. Who knew that the fine print really does matter? And I will try to think a bit harder about where outlets and lights should go. A lot of this is required by code but it it so frustrating to have switches and outlets not exactly where you want them. Same thing with plumbing fixtures; what seems okay in the rough may not be what you want in the end. But that is for next time; tomorrow, after all, is another day!

And right now I want to share my favorite new recipe of the summer: Maangchi’s Cheese Buldak or Fire Chicken from the NY Times Magazine;  although I have never made the recipe the way it is written. I use whole bone-in chicken thighs that I marinate in a mixture of whatever bottled barbecue sauce is languishing in the fridge, along with a ton of hot sauce, brown sugar, garlic, soy sauce and a little rice wine vinegar.                          Then I saute a chopped up onion in olive oil, add the chicken with the marinade, a splash of water and let that cook for about a half hour. Add the cheese and broil then top  with diced scallions. I’ve served this with leftover corn cut off the cob (amazing), basmati rice and stir-fry rice noodles.  Anything goes. So whether you follow the recipe or my way–try this dish if you, like most of us I expect, need a new fabulous chicken recipe.

INGREDIENTS

  • ¼ cup gochugaru (Korean red-pepper flakes)
  • 2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red-pepper paste)
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into ¾-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or peanut
  • 4 ounces sliced Korean rice cakes (optional)
  • 6 to 8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 2 scallions, sliced, for garnish
    •  

PREPARATION

  1. Combine the gochugaru, gochujang, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and black pepper in a medium bowl and mix well. Add the chicken and stir until it is well coated.
  2. If you’re using the rice cakes, swirl the oil into a large, oven-safe skillet set over medium-high heat and wait for it to shimmer. Add the rice cakes and cook, turning the cakes often, until they are a little crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the rice cakes to a small bowl and set aside. If you’re not using rice cakes, simply swirl the oil into the pan and move along to the next step.
  3. Add the chicken mixture to the pan along with ¼ cup water. Cover and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring in the rice cakes halfway through, if using. Meanwhile, heat the broiler in your oven.
  4. Remove the chicken from the heat. Cover the pan with the sliced mozzarella, then slide the pan under the broiler. Cook until the cheese has melted and browned in spots, about 2 minutes. Remove from the oven, and sprinkle with scallions. Serve immediately, with rice.

The End

Fair Haven Fixer Upper – Chapter 8

It’s not over until they take the Porta John away

Recipe for Pastitsio

The dream….

So finally we are nearing the end of our ninth month working on our Fair Haven Fixer Upper. It all started on a whim–which led to a project that has ever since consumed most of our free time and energy–even invading our sleeping–or rather not–sleeping anymore hours. The good news is I can safely say, as we head into the final stretch, it has all been worth it. (Keith’s perspective might be a little less sanguine…)

The reality…

Often when remodeling things seem to drag on and on and then, all of a sudden, you jump into warp speed. In the last month or so we’ve gotten new front and back steps, tiled, sheetrocked, painted inside and half of out. The new flooring was installed and the old flooring repaired. Then, when that combo effect looked terrible in the wide open kitchen/dining area, we went with all new hardwood. More time, more money, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet.

Fabulous Antonio tiled the bathrooms, all in subway tile. I pondered other options but in the end went with the super plain vanilla kind. It just made life easier not to have to think about all the millions of other options.

Alth0ugh, to be honest, I still spent a crazy amount of hours considering which of a half dozen different brands of white subway tile I liked best. I went with the one priced in the middle–which looked just like all the others. Here it is in the new master bath. (For those of you familiar with the house–this is where the door to the second floor balcony used to be).

The Red Bank Cabinet Co , (who are actually down the street from the store in Tinton Falls) made and installed the kitchen cabinets. Like many of you I imagine, I fretted and pondered and poured over images from Houzz and Pinterest for hours and hours and then opted for shaker style cabinets in white…which is all I ever wanted from the beginning. When will I ever learn to stop second guessing myself? Cliche, overdone, so what, who besides me really cares? (Certainly not Keith, he is like, just pick the cabinets already). Anyway they look fresh, crisp, clean and classic. Perfect.

I selected quartz countertops at Bedrock Granite–also just down the street from British Cottage at 803 Shrewsbury Avenue. All my life I wanted marble countertops and now, when I finally had the chance, I choked. The fact is while I love cooking, I am not so devoted to the clean up part…How could I possibly rationalize paying more for marble when I knew I wouldn’t lift a finger to maintain it? Sometimes you just have to be honest with yourself. So quartz it is.

Meanwhile we pondered about what to do about the outside. We had hills of weeds too deep-rooted to pull, patches of poison ivy and a lumpy landscape draining every which way but out. So after calling numerous excavators, and not getting a call back, (or if we did, an estimate we could live with); Keith and I, along with our fearless mason, Mike Papa, who channeling his inner Zeitgeist as the Master of the Machine Universe, dug, crunched, dragged, scraped and basically moved tons of dirt while we raked up and discarded all the brush. It was a long day but between the three of us we managed to get the whole property graded.

Actually it was an exhausting bone-crushing day but well worth it to have a whole yard unchoked by weeds, bermless and relatively level. And then, after many truckloads from the fab folks at Rysers, gravel instead of mud in our driveway; sheer bliss.

Last week most of the interior trim and doors were installed. This week brings more trim, the kitchen countertop, overhead lighting, appliance and plumbing fixture installations. After that the floors get sanded and finished and we’re in. Let’s hope.

Meanwhile, after all this digging, raking, and wheelbarreling we were starving. No matter that salad season is upon us, all anybody wanted was a hungry man kind of dinner. This recipe from Ina, the wiz, Garten was perfect. It is enough for two meals–possibly three–and well worth the effort. (Needless to say I have tweaked this quite a bit mainly because I never have all the correct ingredients, (like heavy cream or whole milk, so I just add a bit more butter)… but clearly Ina’s way is the very best).

Pastitsio

Tomato Meat Sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil 
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion  (1 large)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound lean ground lamb 
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic  (3 large cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano 
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves 
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed toma-toes in puree  
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground 
  • black  pepper 

BECHAMEL:

  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk 
  • 1 cup heavy cream 
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalt-ed butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour   
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nut-meg 
  • Salt and freshly ground black 
  • pepper 
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated 
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 cup Greek-style yogurt, such as Fage Total
  • 3/4 pound small shells

Directions

1.
For the sauce, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot.
Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes.
Add the beef and lamb, and saute over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until it’s no longer pink, crumbling it with the back of a wooden spoon.
Drain off any excess liquid, add the wine, and cook for 2 more minutes.
Add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cayenne, and continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes. Set aside.

2.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

3.
For the bechamel, heat the milk and cream together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until simmering.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter.
Add the flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for 2 minutes.
Pour the warm milk and cream mixture into the butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth and thick.
Add the nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Stir in 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the tomato and meat sauce, and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs and yogurt and set aside.

4.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente.
Don’t over-cook because the pasta will later be baked.
Drain and set aside.

5.
Add the pasta to the meat and tomato sauce, and pour the mixture into a baking dish.
Spread the bechamel evenly to cover the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown and bubbly.
Set aside for 10 minutes and serve hot.

Serve with a green salad and a nice bottle of something red and enjoy!

Fair Haven Fixer Upper – Chapter 7

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Potato Tart with Mustard Greens and Lemon Thyme

T. S. Eliot may have said it but I am feeling it. April is the cruellest month. We are so close to finishing up at 28B, but the fates seem like they are conspiring to thwart us. The window that arrived broken in chapter 3, was returned a month later–still broken–so there went another three weeks. The HVAC guys who were going to finish up a month ago are at the house now hopefully finishing up this weekend. Then the estimate for the front steps came in at, make sure you are sitting down, $8000.00! The list is endless. Our house is on a private road; the owners are unhappy because we have tracked some mud on it. Really? Nonetheless we are striving to be good neighbors and basically power washed the street and then barricaded our driveway so no one can accuse us of spreading any more dirt!

Last Sunday I made Keith go to Monmouth Building Center and buy five gallons of Benjamin Moore eggshell paint in White Dove so we could paint the great room and I could feel like we were making progress somehow, somewhere. I spent a total of five minutes prior deciding on the color, not obsessing for days–as I have in the past–over which white was best and trust that sometime, in the last forty years, that I had visited this all before. China White, which I love is too grey for this house, Linen White too beige, hence White Dove it was meant to be. The trim will be a semi-gloss Decorator White for a hint of contrast and a bit of shine–where it is not already black or brown wood.

For a while I toyed with the idea of painting all the woodwork white–yes really. But I was never 100% sure that was my best idea, so we won’t. I might have painted all the wood trim you see see in the photo below.

The great room

But I am not convinced the balcony area would look so great. And I can always change my mind and paint it white in the future but right now it is going to stay the way it is.

The balcony

Anyway, we painted the great room. The week before we removed all the wooden storm windows from the ten casement windows, and were happily surprised that they are in pretty good shape. We will try to get those painted this Sunday.

Right now Keith is meant to be hanging a 48″ round mirror over the stained glass window above the back door. (I have nothing against stained glass but this is a rather dorky looking guy with a flute.) I’m hoping the mirror will add some depth to the rather vertical elements in the room and reflect the light. (Success! See photo below.) Also today they are putting in an arched door on the left that will match the door on the right in the great room. Symmetry is a good thing.

Then, assuming the HVAC gets done we can schedule inspections for next week and then, finally, get the rest of the house insulated and sheetrocked. That leaves installing the kitchen, which after much soul searching and pricing and pondering, I ordered from Red Bank Cabinet down the street from us on Shrewsbury Avenue.

This is the master bedroom and new master bath.
Guest room looking through to what will be the laundry room/master bedroom closet.

I thought I thought up the idea to combine a closet for the master bedroom with a laundry room, but then on Wednesday I went to see a delightful house down the street from us and voila–

Master bedroom closet/laundry room

Actually the owner of this house looked at ours–twice–but wisely shied away when she realized the scope of the work required…You can see how lovely her new home looks at Cinda Brown Interiors . The Austin based designer masterminded the transformation of a totally traditional suburban ranch style home into a chic transitional living space. It is really beautiful. A bit more modern in scope than we are used to but perfect for the almost art deco style sofa we purchased from Hickory White at the last High Point Furniture Market.

Speaking of High Point, we were there last week for the Spring High Point Furniture Market. It was inspiring to see so much fabulous furniture and we bought a fair amount. But that will be for future blogs. I am so hoping to wrap up our Fair Haven Fixer Upper in June and then we can get back to focusing on the myriad homes we help furnish in our unique and beautiful neck of the woods, or shore, I could say.

Although the weather in April is unpredictable, and things don’t always go my way, I can’t help but get excited that spring is finally here. And what says spring more than an incredibly delicious and mostly healthy vegetable tart? Try this recipe from Epicurious–you won’t be sorry!

Potato Tart with Mustard Greens and Lemon Thyme

  • 4 sheets whole wheat phyllo dough
  • 1 large Yukon Gold potato, sliced paper thin
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cups chopped mustard greens
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 2 teaspoons lemon thyme leaves
  • 2 ounces soft goat cheese (about 4 tablespoons)

PREPARATION

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a 10-inch tart pan with the whole wheat phyllo dough. Leave a 1/2-inch overhang and trim any excess. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet. In a medium mixing bowl, toss the potato slices with the buttermilk and season with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan, heat the canola oil over medium heat and add the onions. Cook the onions for 2 minutes over medium-high heat. Add the mustard greens to the pan and cook for 5 minutes or until they are wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Shingle half the potato slices on the bottom of the phyllo-lined tart pan. Sprinkle with half of the mustard greens. Repeat the process with the remaining potatoes and mustard greens. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, egg whites, and skim milk for 1 minute or until combined. Add the lemon thyme and season with salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the potatoes. Drop teaspoons of the goat cheese around the tart. Bake the tart for 45 to 60 minutes or until it is just set and the potatoes are cooked. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes before cutting. Cut the tart into 6 pieces and place on a serving plate.

Spring, in between showers, can also be a good time for weddings. Laird McConnell Bohn, whose grandmother once lived in our house, sent me this photo of her aunt. Now we know what the balcony was meant to be used for!

Fair Haven Fixer Upper – Chapter 6

Chapter Six

Corned Beef and Cabbage

When we started this journey I imagined being finished and in the house by March 1. Needless to say that didn’t happen. However, we have made significant progress. Let’s begin with the basement:

Or let’s just cut to the chase and say four and a half months later the basement is a work of art–even though it killed me to have to pay for it. We have new beams, sills, lally columns (don’t get me started), and stairs. The leaky bilco door is gone and french drains were installed thanks to Mike Papa, mason extraordinaire, and a genius when it comes to stemming the tides that afflict aged foundations. They definitely need him in Venice.

While he was poodling around in the basement The wizards at Whizzer Construction LLC were shoring up the remaining floors. Literally. The kitchen floor was completely rotten, as was the floor in the bathroom upstairs.

Meanwhile the electricians were busy rewiring the entire house! And the HVAC (Heating Ventilation & Air Conditioning) team was on the job, while our intrepid plumber and his tireless helper (Keith) installed all new plumbing throughout the entire house.

Most people would have a GC or General Contractor on the payroll to oversee the machinations of all these sub-contractors, but not me. Maybe I could with a new house, because you would know where things are going to go right from the start. But with a renovation like this it is hard to foresee what will be required on any given day. And I want to make all those decisions myself. Which means I can change the layout of the upstairs laundry–and change it back again without it being such a big deal.

Of course there is a lot of eye rolling and it has been duly noted that Keith has the patience of a saint, but I think it has generally gone well. The carpenter and the plumber did join forces and gang up against me on my plan to use a tile floor in the downstairs shower. I’ve done it in other houses. You place a waterproof mat down, then tile over it, but my plumber was convinced it would leak eventually so he found another couple of inches so we could use a manufactured shower pan.

Anyway, I’ll keep this short because unless you are in the thick of it, this part isn’t the most interesting. In the upcoming weeks we will sheetrock the walls, and then tile, install the kitchen and then the real fun begins–decorating!

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Meanwhile the hero of this renovating saga needs to be fed so in honor of our beloved St. Patrick, I will share with you a delicious new twist on that annual culinary ritual, Corned Beef and Cabbage.

Fair Haven Fixer Upper – Chapter 5

Almost homemade Pizza

The dream:
The reality:We’re about 14 weeks and four dumpsters into our project. My original plan was to be finished by March 1–not going to happen. Right now, as I type, there is a crew in the basement installing internal french drains. Who knew Fair Haven was built over a series of underground streams? And who believed their seller when he said all the wet basement issues were resolved when new drains were installed in the road a couple of years ago?

So unlike the tv Fixer Upper where whole homes are renovated in what seems minutes, we are well into our 280th hour of hard labor.  And boy have we’ve learned a lot along the way. You know how in Fixer Upper Joanna says to Chip let’s take the wall down between the kitchen and the dining room, and it happens lickety split?

That’s so not true. Besides all the architectural drawings and building permits required, in order to take a load bearing wall down first you have to build a wall–in fact two walls–one upstairs and one downstairs in the basement to support the wall being removed! Who knew that?

And then you need to round up at least four really strong guys to wrestle the new beam–called a microllam–into place. Voila.Ironically once we got the new beam in, and replaced the rotten sub flooring in the kitchen so we could set the headers (wooden things that support walls) for the new windows just in time for their delivery date… The truck, delivering the new windows,  rear-ended someone en route to our job and one of our kitchen windows got broken–oops–too bad. So not only do we have to wait another month for the replacement window…we will have to pay our guys to come back and do the install. Oy vey already.

The good news is the rough plumbing is done–inspection on Thursday. The bad news is the inspector is coming between 8 and 2. No heads up phone call which means yours truly will have to sit there and freeze to death because clever Keith has scheduled deliveries for himself that day. We added a master bath; a bold move seeing as we are now losing access to the balcony overlooking the great room. But I decided, knowing my family,  someone would probably end up falling from it at a possibly alcohol fueled moment anyway, so safety and a bathtub trumped moonlight serenades.

That is part of the struggle when wrestling an 89 year old house into modernity. Some character is invariably lost along the way. Hopefully we will be able to make up for it when we get to the decor.Fortunately the great room will be a breeze to decorate and certainly something I have been looking forward to. So many decisions to ponder: tv over fireplace or on sidewall, ceiling fans or chandeliers, whether to open up the arched back door, sectional or a grouping of sofas, the list is endless.

One thing we do know is we are restoring the hardwood floors throughout the house. And have hired Beaton Brothers in Lakewood to do the job… My maiden name is Beaton (I like to think I am getting the family pricing and they do nothing to disillusion me). Dave Senior was the mastermind behind the floors in our first store at 126 Shrewsbury Avenue in 1989, the 2004 renovation, the 130 Shrewsbury Avenue remake and any number of our Rumson homes. This is Dave Jr measuring up the great room.So along with progress comes an appetite. All anyone (in our case usually Keith) cares after working in a freezing cold house all day is a hot meal and a beer. And what goes better with beer then pizza?

Almost homemade Pizza

In order to make great homemade pizza, you need the right equipment–not a pizza oven but a good pizza stone is key. First cut some parchment paper into the shape of your pizza stone–then put the stone into your oven and turn the heat up to to 425 degrees.

Next sprinkle the parchment paper with a dusting of cornmeal (key) then roll out your dough*, I buy it fresh from Trader Joe’s ,  (try to remember to take it out of the fridge 20 minutes or so before you are ready to roll).

You just need to schmear the dough with tomato sauce–another key thing to remember is not to over-sauce–add a ton of grated cheese, and whatever  you like in the way of toppings: crumbled hot or sweet sausage (cook this first), shrimp (toss a dish of raw shrimp in a bath of butter, garlic and hot pepper flakes in the oven while it is heating until they are slightly pink and you will thank me forever), broccoli (I put this in the microwave for about a minute first), red pepper, green pepper, onions, olives–basically whatever you have in the fridge.

Now here comes the tricky part. You have to get the pizza, on the parchment paper, onto the burning hot pizza stone. I usually let Keith handle this–then cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. That’s it. Slice it up, pour some more beer and enjoy–simple as pie.

*  There is no point debating whether truly fresh homemade dough is better–of course it is.

Fair Haven Fixer Upper – Chapter 4

All it Takes is Time–and then–More Time

Shepherd’s Pie Recipe

After two months we have accomplished nearly all of what Chip and Joanna Gaines do in the first five minutes of their TV show Fixer Upper. What you don’t see on television but face in a real-life renovation is mountains of paperwork and red tape. Nothing happens in the town of Fair Haven New Jersey that does not require an application, an inspection, a fee–and, in all probability, another inspection.

We started with the tree growing through the basement wall. In order to remove it we had to submit a request to Bill Brooks, the Town Arborist,  and once that was approved, get his okay on the required replacement. (Bill is practically a walking encyclopedia when it comes to trees and an absolute delight to talk to.) After Bill came the permit for non-structural demo–all that old sheetrock and cabinetry tossed in the dumpster had to be accounted for.

Next, because our cottage lies in Fair Haven’s designated historical district, came the application to replace the rotting windows upstairs.  That was most involved, requiring an actual in the flesh presentation to the board members of the Historic Preservation Commission so they could make sure we were not wreaking havoc upon the unique character of the neighborhood.

While you really have to admire their efforts, the selfless donation of time and energy in order to preserve what little is left of New Jersey’s unique past, it was still a wee bit frustrating to add another week–or two–to our project. The good news is our new windows passed muster and are on order–and should come in–in three to four weeks…darn.

After that came the building permit required to replace the totally missing metal support columns in the basement that were naively removed–in the days of yore–when homeowners were trusted to make and live with, their own really bad decisions.  You have to admire the way a structure stays up when logic would decree collapse was imminent. How did this not all come tumbling down? 

Right now we are waiting for a permit to do further structural work–remove the wall between the kitchen and dining room. (Sadly the little hobbit hallway had to go.)  Then we need to frame in a second bathroom in the master bedroom and rework the windows in the kitchen area.

And let’s not forget the permits for all the new plumbing, electrical and HVAC work.  We inherited a potentially lethal combination of systems dating back to 1930 that include lead piping and a heating ventilation system for the upstairs bath that was duct taped into place.

The most amazing thing is that the house did not burn down years ago: there were live wires in the walls, the ceiling, even outside the back door! So the good news is we will be able to sleep soundly when we finally move in. The bad news is that all these updates take time, more time, and of course,  more money. 

Fortunately, Keith is crazy about Shepherd’s Pie because it’s hamburger for dinner chez Nelson these days!

Shepherd’s Pie

First peel five or six good-sized potatoes, quarter and bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 or 20 minutes until fork tender.

Meanwhile, saute a chopped up onion in a splash of olive oil for a few minutes in an oven-ready pot.  Add the beef; use at least a pound and a half because this is a dish that is even better the next night. (You can go pretty lean with your hamburger because there is a lot of added seasoning.)

Toss in a clove or two of minced garlic and, although I am not a huge fan of cooked carrots, Keith is, so I grate a couple of raw carrots into the mixture so they essentially dissolve–and I might add some diced mushrooms if there are any moldering away in the fridge.

Then stir in a couple of teaspoons of tomato paste, a healthy dash of Worcestershire, and if you like some rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper–how much is up to you really. Err on the side of flavor.

Cook on low heat until your potatoes are ready to mash. Spoon mashed potatoes over top and then a couple of cups of grated cheddar cheese–the more the better. Bake 20-25 minutes in a 400-degree oven until bubbly.

Ignore all those people who say you need to add peas or corn to this dish. Totally unnecessary because if you are British that means you are having peas as a side dish anyway.  (Nobody else likes peas). And there is no justification for having corn–with potatoes–no matter how good it tastes.

Let cool because the potatoes are really, really hot when they come out of the oven. Serve with a green veg or a tossed salad–and a pint of course.

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 ducts 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. After that 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 largish splash 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.**

Then open a lovely bottle of Cote du Rhone and enjoy.


Image result for rack of lamb photos

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/