Thursday, August 8, 2013

A New Kitchen- Fresh out of the Oven

Part 2 of our Kitchen Renovation is upon us... or upon you... you're the one reading this, after all.

Here are our previous renovation posts:

And now for a couple of scrumptious finishing touches to our lovely kitchen.  Now, remember, both Andy and I are renovating a kitchen for the first time.  We've never done any of this before.  We scratched our heads over what pendant light to choose, cabinet hardware, flooring, and [ahem] the stuff in this post because we had no idea what the design "best practices" were.  I liked to use to scroll through hundreds of pictures of purple kitchens. That helped a lot.  I say all of this to remind you that you too could renovate something yourself. Don't be afraid!

Ok, now, where we left off:

Our one big splurge was to replace those nasty, discolored, beigy, falling-apart countertops. Can you tell I hated them?  Initially we went to Home Depot to get a quote. We could not believe how much granite counters cost.  But then, we decided to try a local company, and their quote, for the exact same product, including installation, was about half of what Home Depot quoted us.  Can you believe that?  Moral of the story:  Support a local business, and DO NOT BUY COUNTERS AT HOME DEPOT.

Our local company was a total pleasure to work with.  They sent us out to New Jersey to pick out our stone, and we had an adventure at this huge warehouse full of gorgeous granites you didn't even know existed. We didn't want to "overbuild" the apartment, so we went with your basic, sparkly Black Galaxy color. They added a bullnose edge in for free (many dollars per foot at Home Depot).  The same day, they sent a guy to create a template.  He even came on a weekend. I offered him a Coke while he worked. Mom always did that when someone like a plumber or electrician would come over to the house- she'd offer him a Coke. 

We decided to extend the counter peninsula over the half wall a few inches to break up the "we tore down a wall" look.   

Then a week later, also on a weekend, they came over and installed the new granite!  
Oh, and we got a new under-mount sink (which was also included in the countertop price) and a new faucet. Don't you love my little attempt at home-staging here? A little plate of tomato slices, a white mixer, a random potato on the cook top...?

The final, finishing touch was a tile backsplash. Again, we were first-timers. What kind of tile would go well with both a dark countertop and light cabinets? Had we locked ourselves out of any good options? Since there was glitter in the counters we didn't want glittery tile in the backsplash too... oh, decisions, decisions.  There were too many options at the local tile shop, so we ended up going...duh da duh... back to Home Depot.

We ended up with a smoky blue glass subway tile and a travertine mosaic border.  I actually turned out to be pretty good at tiling!
Here's our tile up close with the spacers.  You can see that the travertine channels the light cabinets and the purple tiles hint at the wall color. Perfect!

 We had quite a time cutting down the glass tiles for the corners and around the outlets.  We tried everything we could until we resigned ourselves to renting a wet saw.
Just kidding. We borrowed one from Home Depot.  My parents were in town so Dad helped out with the tile trimming.

At long last, we were able to grout and seal the tiles, and our kitchen was complete.  But before the big reveal, let's remember the raw material we had to work with. The previous owner's take on "kitchen":

And now for the big reveal!

There are a couple of items on the counters now- my iron skillet, mixer, coffee maker, knife block, etc. This is the place where I cook things now- lovely, right?  It feels so much cleaner and ergonomic than before.  I've been known to hug the countertop and stroke the tiles.  That's okay, right?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

I Didn't Know a Half-Finished Kitchen Could Look This Good

It's been a while since I posted about our home renovation- really- a long time.  But there's still more to show off!

In case you missed it, here are the previous posts:
Master Bedroom 
Living Room

Now for the room I'm most proud of- our kitchen. When we viewed the apartment for the first time, it was a total wreck: full of junk, part of the floor ripped out, and very dirty.

So you might look at this picture:

And wonder, "wait, where's the kitchen?" Well, it's through the saloon doors of course.  As you cowboy your way in, this is what would greet you.

We came to the conclusion that our seller really liked "holders." That is, anything from a Skymall catalog that would hold something else. A pan holder. A cake holder. A combination plastic wrap, tin foil, and wax paper holder conveniently located on the wall. Over the cabinet towel holder. A counter-top rotisserie oven. That's not a holder, but that's what was there, and it is probably in the Skymall catalog too.

On our first day of renovating, I spent most of the day scrubbing that kitchen with industrial-strength cleaner.  You can only imagine what kind of grime was hiding in every nook and cranny of this kitchen.  I lifted the face off of the stove top and scraped up a layer of cooked-together crumbs. After scrubbing away the caked grease and gray finger prints, the cabinets turned out to be about 2 shades lighter.  

Then we painted the walls a nice purple color. 

We decided, daringly, to tear down a wall. By ourselves. Thankfully, Andy works in architecture so he can tell a load-bearing wall from a regular one, and this was the latter. Goodbye, saloon doors, goodbye, wall!

Tearing down the wall opened up the space so much that we couldn't understand why there was a wall designed there in the first place.  Maybe it's just because "pass-throughs" were so cool in the 90's, when the building was built.  People thought the "pass-through" would be as enduring as big flannel shirts. 

Back in the 90's, you didn't want your dinner guests to watch you cook dinner - it had to be done, ready to serve, and perfectly warm when your guests rang the doorbell.  Nowadays, food is cool. Cooking is cool. People love to help and/or watch the cook finish cooking and plate the food.

Also, natural light in the kitchen is cool. That is, I think it is!

As you can see, there was quite a bit of electrical stuff in the wall we tore out.  We also took out the icky vinyl tile in the kitchen and added hardware to the cabinets.

After a lot of electrical work, Andy added the pendant lights and installed can lights across the ceiling where an old fluorescent light fixture was before.  The outlets were so grubby they were almost green, so Andy replaced them with bright white ones.

I worked on patching the wall where we  had torn it out- up on the ceiling and in the gap by the fridge.
 I also did a little arranging over the microwave.  Open shelves are "in" these days, I think!  We ran the wood flooring from the rest of the house into the kitchen too.

This is only Part 1 of the kitchen renovation. Part 2 will show off our one big splurge and another major detail that tied the whole room together.
Part of the way there!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Grave Situation

Have you ever been to Green-Wood Cemetery?  Well, let me tell ya- it's beautiful and, for a cemetery, surprisingly fun.

Our friend Sharon invited us to see the play "Spoon River Project" in the graveyard. We got to ride the Green-Wood trolley through the grounds.  The time and care that went into these grave stones, tombs, and vaults was astonishing. Some of the tombs were bigger than some NYC apartments.  Green-Wood is a National Historic Landmark and they have an impressive array of programs and tours- you kind of feel like a cemetery isn't supposed to be this fun!

So forget the Rain Room at the MoMA.  Do what Victorian New Yorkers did for fun and take a stroll through the cemetery this weekend. Hopefully the photos below will convince you.

The stunning entrance designed by Richard Upjohn (he did Trinity Church Wall Street).

The trolley ride.

3 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath?

 The beautiful chapel.
 The chapel on the inside, looking up.

The Spoon River Project was a selection of monologues from the Spoon River Anthology, by Edward Lee Masters.  The free-verse monologues are delivered by residents of an imaginary Illinois town in the 1890s (or so) as if they could speak beyond the grave.  It's an American literature classic, so despite how depressing it was, we felt a little more cultured for it.


From the introduction to the Spoon River Anthology:
Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.
One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife—
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?—
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

Monday, July 29, 2013

What to do with Your CSA Veggies: Part 3

We're toward the end of our series on using up leftover or mystery veggies you might get in your CSA/farm share box.  My farm share is called Corbin Hill Food Project, and it's marvelous.  If you live in upper Manhattan or the Bronx, you should consider joining!  Just $18/week, and you can pay weekly or up front.  We pay a few dollars more for a fruit share too!

I've been trolling the blogosphere for good ideas for my new friends like swiss chard, mustard greens, collards, and kohlrabi.  I've also been given a whole lot of radishes over the past few weeks.  Previous posts:
Anything can go in a quiche.
Anything can go in a dumpling.

For today's installment, we're going to talk pasta.  We're going to talk meatballs. 

Anything can go in pasta.  A LOT of things can go in meatballs.
One of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen, features this recipe and this recipe that I used as a model. Dinner: A Love Story featured another pasta concoction that I modified a bit.

There's no one way to incorporate seasonal vegetables into pasta.  Here are some principles to remember:

For extra greens, like collards or chard, saute with garlic and olive oil until they wilt, then stir them in to the rest of the dish.

For veggies like summer squash, zucchini or snap peas, you can chop them up and throw them into the pot of cooking pasta for the final two minutes of cooking.

I haven't tried this yet, but someday I want to make ravioli with my extra vegetables.  You could also fold any number of veggies into a lasagna.

Chopped snow peas and crumbled bacon
Now for sauce options (sauptions?). I picked up a tub of ricotta cheese and using it to make a variety of pasta dishes.  You can use butter, heavy cream and parmesan reggiano for a make-shift alfredo.  You can open a can of peeled whole tomatoes, squash them with your hands in a bowl and season it for your own red sauce.  If you make your own sauce, especially for cheesy sauce, reserve a cup or so of the pasta cooking water to pour in as needed- just so the pasta doesn't stick together.  No shame in using canned white or red sauce! 

To add protein to your veggie pasta, here are some simple options, then we'll get to the meatballs:
> Cook up a sweet Italian sausage then slice it and put it on top when you serve.
> Crumble up a few cooked bacon slices (above).
> Ground sausage is nice for making a meat sauce
> Pan sear a chicken breast.

For meatballs, I used the New York Times recipe for lamb meatballs and used ground beef instead.  The main thing is to season them enough.  I like the combination of seasonings they suggested, though cut back a little on the cumin.  I included garlic scapes and fresh parsley in my meatball mixture (which came in my farm share).  I rolled them into ball shapes and used my cast iron skillet to broil them for a few minutes. Voila!  

Swiss chard pasta with ricotta and meatballs.
Enjoy your week of veggies.  Comment with your other ideas!