Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Little Love Letter...

Hello, Chickens!

I know you are all waiting on house updates, and I promise there is so much coming down the pike your heads will spin... but today I want to talk about the most important thing I've ever done to my house.

I moved this guy into it.

Charming Suitor and me at his niece's high school graduation party 2010
Now you all know how I feel about this house, but let me tell you, after 20 years of living in it, it never looked so good or felt more like home than when my Charming Suitor moved in.  And let me be clear, this was a big deal.  At the time, I was still renting.  CS owned a lovely arts and crafts bungalow in a beautiful and coveted neighborhood.  He loved his house.  Lucky for me, he loved me more.  Or as he will tell you, "I knew that you and that house were a package deal.".

Five years ago today, this happened.



I can tell you that it has felt like five minutes and five lifetimes in all of the best possible ways.  Not only do I love this amazing man more every day, but I LIKE him more every day, and that is the coolest thing ever.

In the past five years we bought our Chateau and sold his bungalow, and completed two and a half years of renovations.  We have had travel adventures galore, both domestic and abroad, and special family memories and visits with friends.  We have cooked a lot together, for each other and for loved ones.  We've gained a brother, a niece and two nephews.  We became dance school dropouts.  We've seen great art and great theater and heard great music, and also the opposite.  Our families have become family to each other seamlessly and effortlessly.  We've eaten a lot of great food and have drunk a lot of great wine.

We have purchased an inordinate amount of kitchen appliances.

Nothing is easier, more comfortable, or more fun than us.  Just ask us.  We're cute as flipping bunnies.

One of the best gifts my CS gives me everyday is his support of my work.  He is so proud of me, my biggest cheerleader, my personal PR department.  And more importantly, he is enormously respectful...of my process, of my schedule, of the endless quirks that go along with being married to any full time artist.  And he never thinks of it as not a "real" job.  Being with him, having him in my life has made me a better writer.

So on this, the five year anniversary of our I Do's, it seemed only appropriate to take this brief moment to do two things.

First, and foremost, to publicly acknowledge the extraordinary man I was lucky enough to marry five years ago today and to thank him for still being my Charming Suitor.  For being as demonstrative and romantic today as he was when we were courting.  For being my rock, and letting me be his.  I am without doubt the most blessed woman there is, and I am truly grateful everyday.

Secondly, since he would literally be annoyed if I didn't...

On May 3, my newest book WEDDING GIRL will be released.


What is more appropriate to promote on my wedding anniversary?  I'm really proud of it, and I think you will love it, so I hope you will pre-order it.

But I also want to mention that if you have never had a chance to read my book OFF THE MENU, it is a love letter to my Charming Suitor, and was inspired by our real life romance.  Essentially, I took about 80% of our courtship, including some of our actual email correspondance, and plunked it into a fictional story.  So if you want to take a trip down memory lane with me and CS, it might be a good time to revisit this one.


Think of it as an anniversary present to us!

A very happy May Day to one and all...and a very happy anniversary to my Charming Suitor.  I can't wait to see what the next five years bring!


Yours in Good Taste, (and madly in love)
Stacey

Thursday, April 14, 2016

It Spins Me Right Round

Chickens-

Remember how I'm always telling you to make your lists of your need to haves, nice to haves, and would be like a little miracle to haves?  Well I'm here to report that miracles do happen.

You might also remember that I was fortunate enough to have an odometer birthday right when we were finalizing appliance selection, and Charming Suitor gifted me with my miracle item.

The La Cornue Flamberge Rotisserie was our major splurge for this kitchen.  A completely extraneous luxury, and would have been the first thing to get cut if we had needed to make cuts.  But boy am I glad we did it.

Our Cosentino and Stone Masters team clad the tower in the same Dekton as the countertops, to make sure that nothing flammable was in the way.  Our amazing contractors converted our old vintage freestanding butcher block to a fabulous rolling one with the help of some industrial casters, and an antique brass towel bar that poor CS had to strip 100 years of paint off of.  Install was a breeze, and we decided that for our first dinner in the new kitchen, we would make a chicken.



Whee!!!

We decided for our first meal in the new kitchen, we would make a chicken.

Dancing chicken!

It comes with this porcelain tray to catch the drippings...you can also cook veggies and things in it.
Oh my.


People?  I did not do anything special to make this chicken.  I did not brine or dry brine or make a rub or baste it.  I took it out of the fridge, tied the legs and wings down so they wouldn't burn, sprayed it with a bit of grapeseed oil and sprinkled with salt.  An hour later, this thing was done, skin fully rendered and crispy, meat so juicy that the breast meat was the same moistness as the dark meat.  It was one of the best chickens we have ever eaten, and the perfect way to christen the kitchen.

Since then we have done several more chickens and one leg of lamb.  Everything comes out perfectly, and it is the easiest thing in the world to use.  We had friends over for dinner on a weeknight, and it made our lives so easy, just pulled two chickens out and set them up right before they arrived, and by the time we had finished our cocktails and nibbles, they were done.  Our pals agreed it was one of the best chickens they had ever had.

One knob turns on the flame and adjusts the temp, the other turns the spits.  The front shifts out for larger items, so next on the agenda is a prime rib.  It can hold up to 12 pounds of meat at one time.  The spits and tray can all go into the dishwasher.  And since the wicks are made of ceramic fibers, they never need to be replaced!  As long as we keep it clean, this thing should be making us chickens and other delicious dinners for the rest of our lives.

And the bonus part?  Now that we have the magical Marvel fridge, there is actually room in the freezer for a stock pot scrap bag, so I've been saving all the carcasses of our lovely chickens and bits and bits of veggies so that I can make a big batch of stock...to store in the freezer!  You wouldn't think this would make me so excited, but it is the little things.

I'll keep you posted as we try more different foods in it.  I can't tell you how tempted I am to make a S'more...

More updates soon!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Chill is in the Air

Chickens-

So I figured the best way to handle the kitchen reno reveals, is to just remind you of the previous posts and then update you on how the choices are working out so far!

So today, we can revisit refrigeration!  Remember the fridge post?  Well all three of the Marvel fridges are installed and loaded and ready for a full report.  And the report?  Is awesome!

First, the big boy...


We decided to inset the fridge between the food pantry and the kitchen library, so that it would not stick out into the room, much as you might do if you were installing it within your cabinetry.  We trimmed out the space with woodwork that matches the original woodwork from the house, so that it would integrate well.  And we chose the glass door on the fridge so that it would break up the look, and not create a wall of stainless steel.


Here is the fridge side, opened.  And yes, that awesome blue light is standard, and I just love it!  Ditto the stainless steel interior, which is both easy to clean and looks terrific.  You'll notice that there are four deep drawers at the bottom, we have designated one of these for vegetables, one for deli meats and other easy lunch items, one for raw meats, and one for fruit.  The rest of the space is just open shelving, so I invested heavily in plastic trays and bins and organizers so that we could corral the rest of our stuff.  We bought this fridge because it is very deep, so it holds a great deal, and is amazing for large entertaining platters and such, but it does require some forethought on the organization side, especially when you have a small condiment hoarding problem as we do.  I have a tray for Asian ingredients, one for other condiments, one for salad dressings, one for pickles, one for jams and jellies.  We've got the whole top shelf for beverages, the second one down for dairy, and we keep the bottom shelf fairly open for leftovers or other prepped items.  I have to say, it has been a really amazing shift from our old small fridge to this one...everything has a place, and I don't have to completely pull everything out of a shelf to add or remove an item.  Glorious!

If you thought the fridge was changing our life?  Then the freezer is the Amen corner.  Remember our other freezer?

AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!
Hello, gorgeous....

can you hear angels singing?
Because this door isn't glass, it gets these five great door bins.  Four mesh drawers, and four perforated adjustable shelves make sure that air flow is keeping everything at the right temperature.  More plastic bins and trays help again with organization, but I finally have room for all my baking supplies that can spoil or go rancid if left at room temp, frozen meats and vegetables, plenty of room for ice and everything easily accessible.  I fairly well mist up everytime I open the door.  Nothing hard and frozen has fallen on my toes since it arrived!

This model comes with an ice maker, but we removed it.  We don't use ice in our everyday drinks, just for cocktails, and for those we like inch square clear ice cubes that we buy in bags.  And we all know what happens if you don't use up your ice on a regular basis, it picks up off flavors and leaves little floaters in your drinks.  It would have been difficult and expensive to get plumbing to this area of the room, and we decided that we would rather have the extra room in the freezer and continue to purchase our ice as we need it, but most of you would probably choose to keep it in and use it.  Luckily, there is plenty of room for ice bags!

You might remember that we also were installing an undercounter wine fridge.  This means that Charming Suitor can keep it stocked with the stuff that is perfect for everyday drinking, and the bottles that I can feel free to open when my girlfriends come over without worrying that I'm accidentally opening something really expensive!



I love the sleek look of this thing!  The glass door again serves to break up the look of solid cabinetry, and echoes the look of the big fridge.


The drawers are super sturdy and edged in real wood, each one holds 9 bottles, so there are 54 bottles stored in here!  It is dual zone, so you can keep your whites and bubbles slightly cooler than your reds. We are keeping the top drawer for vermouth and Lillet and port, and anything we need for cocktails so that they no longer take up room in the big fridge.

Now for the real kicker.  The cheese fridge!  I know, I know, the very idea of a cheese fridge is beyond luxurious.  But we love our cheeses!  Can't be helped.  And perfect cheese storage is both warmer and more humid than your regular fridge.  For most people, we recommend you simply buy cheeses as you need them, and eat them within a week or so.  I also highly recommend you remove them from the fridge about 2 hours before you want to serve them, for optimal texture and flavor.  For us, with the amount of entertaining we do, and the fact that we nearly always do a cheese course with our dinners, we thought it would be a really fun indulgence to have a special storage set up just for that purpose in the kitchen library, so we got the small 15" wine fridge.


Now, a wine fridge is the optimal temperature for long term cheese storage, but not the right humidity.  To fix that required a little MacGuyvering.

First, I bought a little travel humidifier.


This takes regular bottles of water, and is a fairly small scale.  The AC power cord is thin enough that you can snake it through the door of the wine fridge without affecting it's ability to close properly.  I refill the bottle about once a week to keep things the proper level of humidity.  We also had to alter the bottom three drawers by removing essentially one sixth of the back of those drawers so that they would slide around the humidifier, which is very small, but a bit tall.  Our contractors did this with a small hacksaw, and we lost very little capacity, without losing any functionality of the drawers themselves.  We then lined the drawers in black plastic mesh, the kind they use in bars to protect glasses, easy to cut to fit and make sure none of our precious little packages fall thru the openings.


Cheese and sausage are great friends, and they like the same sort of storage!


Hello yummies!

All three of our fridge choices are absolutely working the way we wanted them to, and making life so much more delicious.  I continue to recommend Marvel products wholeheartedly, and hope you will check them out when you are doing your own kitchens, they are not the most famous name, but I really believe they are the best!

Stay tuned, much more to come :)

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Tale of Two Countertops

Chickens-

Hope that Spring is springing where you are, Chicago is experiencing days of 70 degrees with a chance of snow, and I wish that weren't true.  The weather here is like watching time lapse video of the seasons.  Its a bit unsettling, but we are taking the good with the weird and pressing onward.

Today it is time to share some exciting news...the countertops are IN!  They are glorious, they are everything we ever wanted and then some.  They are perfect.  But it was a long haul and required the support of many extraordinary people along the way.

You know how I have been waxing poetical about our countertop folks, the amazing designers at Cosentino and the artisan fabricators at Stone Masters?  I'm about to take that up several notches, because in the land of renovations, the only thing you can count on is that stuff is going to go wrong.  Sometimes EPICALLY wrong.  (See Moat post here.)  And when the shit hits the proverbial fan, this is where you really find out whether your partners are the real deal.  Any idiot can take credit when stuff goes perfectly.  "Here is this thing that I recommended you purchase from me, and I have delivered it and installed it and it works the way it was supposed to, without any issues...you're welcome."

But I don't care about those guys.  What I care about?  Are the people who take as much pride and concern in customer service as they do in the products they sell.  Whose level of commitment and care is as strong if not stronger at the back end as it is on the front.  THOSE are the people you want to do business with.

If you missed the original countertop post, you can catch up HERE.

Our kitchen counters were, to say the least, complex.  We were asking a lot of them.

As you may remember, the kitchen is divided into two sections:



There is the L shaped section on the left, which has a cutout for a sink.  And then the U shaped section on the right, which has cutouts for the sink, induction cooktop, and steamer, and also needs to create the breakfast bar and slides INTO the window wells to become the sills for the windows for a truly seamless look and ease of cleaning and function.  Not to mention that the scale of it is pretty large, so you are looking at long runs of counter.  Plus all of the edges are beveled, which is to say that they have to apply a 2 inch section of the material around the edge so that it looks like the counters are 2 inches thick.  (You don't want your counters to actually be 2 inches thick, the weight would make your cabinets collapse.)  Then you add in the backsplashes, and the fact that the material we chose has a veining pattern that needs to be matched up both on the backsplashes and the edging...I believe it is probably one of the hardest countertop projects anyone could have designed.

One of the reasons we have been working with Stone Masters is that they are expert at this kind of complicated detailed work.  And they are the only ones who have been working with Dekton, the material we chose.  Dekton is a pretty amazing product, but it is brand new, and so very few fabricators have been working with it, and we, unbeknownst to us, were about to push it to its limits.

Cosentino sent the slabs over to Stone Masters and they got to work.  We set an install date, and hired a scissor lift to get the countertops up to the second floor.  Little did we know that we set the date for a day that would be 4 degrees with -12  wind chill factor.  The guys loaded the truck.  They arrived onsite.  The L shaped piece and the small pieces for the island and the little niche between the gas cooktop and the oven tower came up and were installed easy peasy.  Then they brought up the big boy, the piece that covers the back wall, creates the windowsills and makes the corner up to the gas cooktop.  They rested it in place and brought up the peninsula piece.  As they were sliding the peninsula into place, the worst.  POP.  A crack.  Then a louder POP, and the other slab cracked.

So sad :(


You cannot imagine the devastation.  I felt helpless, looking at these terrific guys who had taken such care to make the perfect counters, so many man hours, just destroyed.  And of course, sad for us, because the day was supposed to be joyous, almost anyone will tell you that the kitchen renovation doesn't really start to feel like a kitchen till the counters go in, it is a magical moment, and now, after all that anticipation, we were going to have to start all over.

I did the only thing I could think to do, ran out to go get some pizzas, so that I could feed the guys and we could all regroup.  And here?  Right here?  Is where the amazing happened.

By the time I got home with pizza and pop for everyone, the kitchen was bustling.  The owner of Stone Masters and his right hand man were there, along with their best fabricators.  The general manager of Cosentino was there with his team.  Everyone had dropped everything to come to the house to see what had happened and to brainstorm together how to fix it.

You guys?  I cried.  Not because my beautiful countertops were ruined and the kitchen project stalled.  But because the moment things went sideways, everyone came rushing in to figure it out.  No one laid blame or cast aspersions.  No one got angry or snarky or poked fingers.  They just all came together in an extraordinary show of professionalism to support each other and find a way to make things happen.   Cosentino put a rush on to get new slabs over to Stone Masters.  Stone Masters started calling the Dekton guys in Spain where it is manufactured to talk to their experts about what might have happened.  They all treated it like a teachable moment, and wanted to learn as much as possible from what had happened, while still figuring out how to get us countertops ASAP.  It was one of the most amazing things I had ever witnessed.

Those are the people you want in your corner.  The ones who step up when stuff doesn't go as planned to create a fix.

And then?  It got even more incredible.

Within a week?  Two representatives from Cosentino headquarters from SPAIN were in my kitchen to look at what had happened, and to visit with Stone Masters to advise on the project.  What the WHAT?  Our project was so unique and the cracking was so surprising, that they felt the need to really come see what was going on.  It made me happy to know that everyone was so invested.  We knew when we agreed to use a really cutting edge brand new product for this project that it was a risk, and they had assured us that it was a risk worth taking, and now that the risk had turned out to be an issue, everyone was really on top of learning what they could learn.

Here is what the team figured out.  If possible?  Do not take a high tension product with a lot of cutouts and inside corners and complicated edges out of a 65 degree shop into a van and then exposed into 4 degree cold and then into a 70 degree kitchen.  It don't like it.  POP.

We all decided to go for it with the Dekton one more time.  As a backup plan, we still had the pure white Silestone that had been in our original plan before Dekton came on the scene, and Cosentino said they would send enough slabs of that material to Stone Masters when they sent the new Dekton so that if things went wrong again, they could immediately change gears and not lose any more time.

Cosentino had the new Dekton slabs (specifically from a different production batch, just in case) and the backup plan Silestone slabs to Stone Masters in record time.  Stone Masters worked practically round the clock to remake the two counters that had cracked.  We all watched the calendar and the weather.  And then, a gift.  A rare 60 degree day was going to hit Chicago.  They set the shop temp for 65 degrees.  We set the house temp to 65 degrees.  We rented the lift again.  The Cosentino team and the Stone Masters team all came over on install day, there were literally eight people here in addition to the install team.  They loaded up the counters and brought them in.  My blood pressure was through the roof, I could barely watch.  But Stone Masters were cool as cucumbers.  The counters were set into place. Leveled.  An invisible seam connected the two.  The sinks were mounted and faucets installed. The cooktops were set into place.  We all sat and watched the artists at work.


Deep breath, here we go...

I made the Cosentino people take these pics, I couldn't watch...

Do you see that incredible matching of the veining on the edge?  So talented.

Ugh, my heart could not take this one.


There is the L counter, perfect from day one.

All getting settled into place.



Starting to work on seams.



Induction cooktop and steamer in place safely!

Sink mounted!

Gas rangetop installed...can't wait to use this baby!

Island, just waiting for the butcher block.


I had vodka in the freezer and Champagne in the fridge and the pizza place on speed dial, so we were set for either celebration or commiseration.

We popped the Champagne.

Today, I tell you that we could not be more delighted with our choice.  Yes, it was a long and frustrating process, mostly because we felt so terrible for the men who had worked so hard to make us perfect counters only to have them become garbage and have to start all over.  But everyone kept such good spirits about the whole thing.  Cosentino got new product without issue, and Stone Masters just kept assuring us that it was important to have this opportunity to find out the best way to work with a new product, and that it was, in the long run, a very good thing for everyone involved to have this kind of project as sort of a little Dekton master class.  They all made us feel special, like our kitchen was part of something bigger, and never once asked us to make design changes to make the fabrication less complicated or to immediately shift to the backup plan.  They all wanted the challenge, and I know that everyone is really proud of how it turned out.

We've been slowly beginning to use the new kitchen, it is still not 100% complete, but it is complete enough to play, and I have to say, for all the stress, these counters are incredible.  The matte finish is easy to clean, and is a dream for thing like kneading bread, practically no extra flour needed.  We can take things out of the oven and put them right onto the counters with no worry of scorching, so the endless search for trivets is over.  We have officially spilled red wine, coffee, and even dropped a cooked beet onto the surface, and not a stain to be seen.  Apparently, once you actually have them in place and installed is when the whole indestructible thing kicks in.  And the fact that they are freaking gorgeous doesn't exactly hurt my feelings.

As you can see, I am even more in love with both Cosentino and Stone Masters after this harrowing project.  If you are doing anything involving countertops, these are your guys.

Do I still recommend Dekton as a material?  Yes, absolutely, but with some caveats:

If you have super complicated counters, as we did, you might want to work with a different material.  We stretched this stuff to its limits, and saw the consequences.  We got very lucky, but it was literally 50/50 that the second install would go well.   So while I would absolutely suggest it for simpler designs, the first easy three pieces that came in were solid as rocks from the get go, I would hesitate if you have a lot of cutouts, or inside corners to deal with.

I would not recommend it if you are on a very tight timeline, since obviously, stuff can happen, so if you have a calendar without any cushion in it?  Might not be for you.  We were lucky that we had enough other stuff happening in the house that it didn't hold us up too badly, our guys just shifted gears and focused elsewhere, and we still had a full kitchen functioning downstairs to use.  But if you have scheduled a month for kitchen reno and are staying with your in-laws with your three kids while the kitchen is demolished?  Perhaps Silestone will be a safer choice, just in case.

I would also say that I would especially recommend it if you are not doing beveled edging, but just letting the edge of the material be the edge.  This is starting to be the trend in kitchen design, and I really like the look, the only reason we didn't shift to that after the first install was because the cabinets had been designed around the beveled edge, and there would have been no way to alter that.

If you are in the greater Chicagoland Area, I would not work with any fabricator other than Stone Masters, the guys who came from Spain said that they had never seen anyone else who could do with Dekton what our guys did, not anyone anywhere in the world.  If you are not in Chicago, be sure of a few things with your fabricators...make sure they do all the underside laminations with Dekton, and not quartz or other products and make sure that you arrange installation when you can really control temperature variations.

Stay tuned, the kitchen and other spaces are really coming together over here, and there are going to be some finished pics in this space very soon!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath





Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Counter Intuitive: Part 2

Chickens-

Damn its cold outside.  Sorry, just needed to clarify that.

But it's warm here inside the Chateau, and it is time to revisit countertops!  Remember way back when, when we talked about countertops?  And I extolled the virtues of Cosentinomaterials and the extraordinary craftsmanship of Stone Masters?  Well we have now lived with the products and installation for nine months with nothing but joy and no problems, so of course when it came time to look at countertops for the second phase of the project, we wouldn't go anywhere else!

The countertop project for the second phase breaks down like this:

Kitchen:  A U-shaped section that contains two cooktops, one drop-in appliance, and a sink.  A small island.  An L-shaped section that contains one sink.

We needed this material to be more than just durable, we needed it to be indestructible. The kind of surface that is impossible to damage with heat or scratching or staining, but is also easy to maintain.

Kitchen pantry:  small shelves for spices, one shelving unit insert.

The pantry has a nook where we will have 13 (yes, lucky number 13) little shelves where all the spices will live.  It also is wall to wall wire metro-shelving, and we needed one shelf liner that could also serve as a little countertop if necessary. 

Kitchen Library:

If you don't know about my kitchen library, you can check it out here.  This is essentially moving upstairs almost wholesale, but with a couple additions.  We are not bringing up the two antique cabinets, since they are gorgeous but we lose storage because they are short.  So we are replacing them with two new metro shelving units, one of which will have a countertop insert where the microwave will live.  We are also adding a buffet to this space, which needs a countertop as well.

Bathrooms:

There are actually two bathrooms in this phase, one on the second floor, off of the kitchen, one on the first floor through the library.  They will be getting their own design posts soon, but in terms of stonework, the upstairs bathroom needed ledges and sills for the shower, and the downstairs bathroom needed those plus a vanity top.  (we'll go into details there when I talk about bathroom design and install!)

So we took what we knew about our design, grabbed our amazing Poggenpohl cabinet designer Marcy, and headed for the Cosentino showroom.  Now, you know us, we have some clear ideas and opinions about design, and always head into a project with a lot of research under our belts.  And we had already chosen (we thought) a lovely quartz product that Cosentino carries for the kitchen countertop.  The quartz we used in the basement in the media room and laundry room were functioning beautifully and looking amazing, and we had been very impressed with the product, so we were certain we would use that material again.

Cosentino?  Had other ideas.  They had just released a brand new product that they were very excited to show us, because they knew that we were in the market for something that would look terrific, timeless, and also last forever.  This is when we were introduced to Dekton.  (can you hear angels singing?  I can...)

Dekton is the newest available countertop material, and it is a product made of a combination of quartz, porcelain, and glass, compressed under extreme pressure to make a surface that is damn near impossible to damage in normal usage.  And I'm not just talking in countertops.  You can use this stuff indoors AND outdoors, as flooring, wall covering, anywhere you could use tile or stone, you can use Dekton.  You know how diamonds are the hardest material on earth, because they are created in high pressure?  Same principal.  You get the hardness and durability of quartz, intensified by the glass fusing the material, and the gorgeous look from the inclusion of the porcelain.  It's truly amazing.

The lovely folks at Cosentino were once again honest with us about why they thought this material was a good match.  While they certainly agreed that quartz would work wonderfully well for us, the Dekton is just a slight step up in the durability factor, and they know that this is a kitchen that will be getting an enormous amount of use, so they thought we would want that extra layer of protection.  It also came in a wonderful matte finish, and they knew I was concerned about the look of so much shiny countertop.

They had heard me say I loved the look of white marble, but would never use it in a kitchen for myself because it is so difficult to maintain.  We had been toying with the idea of white quartz, but had abandoned it because we felt it would be too stark and sterile looking at the scale of countertops we have in the space.  Dekton has a couple of versions that have the look of white marble with lovely veining, so that we could achieve the look we preferred, but without the maintenance.

Charming Suitor and I were tentatively sold, but we needed to see the slabs, because the whole "fake" marble veining thing can go sideways really quickly.

But not at Cosentino.  And not with Dekton.

They took us into the slab room to check it out.

Trust me, in person?  Flawless.  This is one with subtle brownish gray veining... This is more veined, and slightly more gold toned to the veining. And this is the more dramatic gray veining.And these were just our options in the white marble family!  They had a dozen different marble looks, solid colors, some that looked like wood.  There was the classic matte finish, which felt lovely to the touch and was just what CS and I had envisioned.  (yes, we fondled the slabs with abandon, and no, we are not ashamed.)  But they could also do amazing high gloss for people who like that look. 

For the kitchen we decided on Kairos, the most subtly veined of the three.  Marcy had brought a sample of our cabinet material with her, and the brown-gray veining in the Kairos was a terrific match to the color of the lava teak.  She recommended a mitered edge of five centimeters, so the counters would essentially look like a two-inch thick slab of marble. 

It came as no surprise to discover that our friends at Stone Masters are the single top fabrication house for Dekton, not just in the greater Chicagoland area, but pretty much in the whole country!  Because the one thing about this stuff?  It is complicated to fabricate.  The very reasons it is so indestructible make it a really hard material to work with, especially for fine edges and complex patterns.  Tom at StoneMasters spent months developing his proprietary methods for working with this stuff, till he found the perfect way to make the material really sing. 

We had been concerned, because there are a lot of difficult things the countertops needed to do, in addition to more cutouts than for a usual kitchen, and long expanses, we were also requesting that the countertop extend into both windows and become a seamless windowsill behind the main sink.  So there weren't a lot of just straight lines to cut!  We wanted as few seams as possible, which is another reason Dekton was great for us, because the slabs are oversized, 56" wide and 126" long!  That is over ten feet before you need a seam. 

Tom and Robert at Stone Masters assured us that they could do the kitchen in Dekton no problem, not that we had any doubt, and we were so excited to be working with them again.

Then it came time to talk about the little bits for the pantry and the kitchen library.  Again, CS and I thought we would just do more of the Dekton, to keep everything cohesive, but the Cosentino team had another thought.  They knew we were doing the BlueStar ovens in deep orange to have that pop of color in the kitchen.  Then they took us over to see another slab.

And it was orange.

Not just any orange, the EXACT ORANGE OF THE OVENS.  Not kidding:

Color sample for ovens on the left, orange Silestone Quartz on the right.  I mean, right????We couldn't believe what a perfect color match it was, especially since orange is notoriously hard to match under the best circumstances.  Since the Cosentino designers knew that the pantry and kitchen library were both being painted a deep brownish gray, with just steel and wood, the orange wouldn't be too much, and it would nod to the ovens in a cool way.

We were sold.  Dekton Kairos for the kitchen counters and Silestone Orange for the pantry and kitchen library bits and pieces.

We also went with Silestone for the two bathrooms, more on that next week when we chat bathroom design.

Your takeaways for countertops?  The usual Stacey Commandment about knowing both how you plan to use a product and what your budget is...but also, I cannot stress enough how much easier your life will be if you spend some time researching the best showrooms and fabricators in your area.  Once you trust the people on your team, you can have confidence in their guidance.  We knew from our first experience with both Costentino and Stone Masters that when they all said that Dekton would be a great fit for us and how we planned to use the kitchen, we knew we could absolutely count on that being a great decision.  And with Marcy there to help us keep a keen eye on the design elements, we also knew that all the products would work beautifully together from an aesthetic perspective.

Stay tuned, because believe it or not, there is still one appliance to discuss, and those gorgeous countertops are getting installed very soon! 

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Cherry on Top!

Chickens-

Welcome to the FINAL appliance reveal for the new kitchen!  I know, I know, you are all thinking...they have put every appliance known to MAN in that kitchen, what could be left?

And I'm here to say that  1) no, shockingly we did avoid some of the appliance options available to us, including a built in deep fryer, indoor grill, and teppanyaki griddle, to name but a few.  And B) the one thing left was the one thing your Polymath wanted like it was her job.

I won't bang the travel gong too much more, but I will say that one of our favorite things about visiting other places is visiting markets.  Open air markets, enclosed marketplaces, watching the locals buy ingredients, haggle over prices, kibitz and joke and share the news of the day with the vendors is always a treat for us.  Exploring the delicacies, usually wishing we had access to a kitchen, and always picking up some of the prepared foods to eat on the go.

And pretty much everywhere we go? We are instinctively drawn to the rotisseries.  Usually large versions on trucks, laden with chickens, rolled sausages, pork roasts.  The good ones?  Have small new potatoes cooking in the meat drippings in a trough on the bottom.  You order your protein of choice and you get a hefty portion of the crispy fatty potatoes with your selection on top.  All you need is a stack of napkins, your handy pocketknife slash wine opener, and a park bench and you will feast like a king.

There is something about meat on a spit that just hits us where we live in a primal way.  And while we love pretty much any hunk of animal that has been spinning in its own juices for a period of time, the thing we dream of?



Chicken.

Yep, the perfect roasted bird is like our holy grail.  A good one is great, and a great one is transcendent.  Even a mediocre one from the grocery store still makes for a satisfying weeknight dinner.  Sure, an oven does a fine roasting job, but roasted chicken is different than rotisserie chicken.  Rotisserie chicken gets a skin that is both extra crisp and slightly sticky, naturally glazed in its own juices.  The meat is beyond moist, the seasoning manages to make it all the way through even without brining or marinating.  The fat renders out (making those amazing potatoes) but keeps the chicken constantly basted, so even the breast meat is succulent and perfect, and won't even dry out on a quick reheat for lunch the next day.  It is better cold than some chickens are hot.  We have at least one a week.

Since we both love it so much, and it actually is healthy for us, we have the rotisserie attachment for the Weber grill for outdoor cookery, and Charming Suitor supported my acquisition of not one, but TWO ancient Roto-Broil 400 machines from the mid 1950s for inside jobs.  If you really want to know why in a meaningful way, read THIS ARTICLE by Mark Bittman.  The short of it is, these machines quite simply make amazing rotisserie chicken.  And provided you don't get third degree burns from how hot the outside of the unit gets (likely why they were discontinued), you can get some terrific meals out of them.



But there is a small problem with the Roto-Broils.  Chickens were different in the 1950s, smaller.  So while these things will rotisserie the heck out of one small 2-3 lb chicken, or two cornish hens, you cannot fit two chickens in it, nor a larger roaster.  So perfect for just me and CS, but not so great for dinner parties.  And while you can par cook potatoes and put them under the chicken, they just sort of get greasy, and not crispy, because the heat element is on the top.

When we did our original list of the must haves, nice to haves, and splurges for the kitchen, the last thing I put on the bottom of the list?  A La Cornue Flamberge Rotisserie.  I know I don't have to explain La Cornue to any of you, the brand has been the dream of cooks for over 100 years.  If we had an unlimited budget, we'd have gotten one of their amazing stoves, however, they cost more than a fully loaded BMW, although the mileage is much better.  But they make the only home rotisserie on the market, and boy are they amazing. These built-in units are the size of a small oven, and are gas controlled.  A wall of wicks on the back of the unit flames to life, and the generous capacity can accommodate up to four chickens at once!  It can also do a leg of lamb, or a porchetta roast or a turkey or prime rib or several fish...it is glorious.









Are you starting to feel me?  Think about a whole pork belly, cooking low and slow all day to juicy perfection.  Or even a couple of whole pineapples, getting caramelized on the outside, to be sliced and served with thick vanilla Greek yogurt and some toasted almonds for a healthy but still decadent feeling dessert?

Yeah.  From the moment I saw this baby it was deep down in my heart in a serious way.

This is when it is a really nice thing to turn 45 in the middle of a kitchen renovation, because when your amazing hubby asks you if you would like to add in the rotisserie as your birthday present?  You say yes really fast!

I cannot tell you how excited we are to start using this baby!  From a design perspective, we are giving it it's own tower of glory, next to one of the ovens, clad in the same Dekton material as the countertops.  Many of the installations we saw while researching, showed a slide-in butcher block of some sort below the unit.



We loved the potential functionality of a setup like this, and especially loved that it would give us a use for the vintage butcher block we have in our current kitchen.  The rotisserie tower will have a nook like the one above, and we are adding casters and a handle to our butcher block, and it will slide in and out of the way, but be right there when it is time for carving!

Some things to note if you are thinking about one of these for yourself:

They will tell you that they take 14 weeks to build, since they are all custom.  And by 14 weeks they mean 26 weeks because, you know, France, and also, math is hard.

They put out some serious heat, since there are no doors on the front of the unit, so you need a 5 foot clearance in front of it with nothing flammable.  I would say definitively that if you have small children?  Wait till they leave for college before installing, there are no child locks on the controls, and when you turn it on you create a wall of open flame that could spell disaster without adult supervision. You will also want to be sure there is plenty of good ventilation in the room, or you will need an extra venting system.  Ours is in a location that is pretty open, and is right next to the door to the back porch, and on the same wall as our massive powerful hood, so we didn't need to do special venting for it, but you will want to err on the side of caution.

Stay tuned for some upcoming installation posts on all of the appliances, things are really heating up, pun intended, and we may be getting close to some glamor shots in the next couple of weeks!

What would be the one thing that would be your fantasy splurge item in your dream kitchen?

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Winner announced!

Congrats, "fgirl" you have won the big Valentine's giveaway!

Please send your shipping address to me at staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com and I will get the team on sending all of your prizes!

In the meantime, stay tuned, this week there are some big house updates coming!