Saturday, September 30, 2017

Vetrazzo Countertop Installed

The Vetrazzo counter top was recently installed on the wet bar counter top downstairs on our remodel project.

We have been looking at Vetrazzo for a number of years and have hoped for a chance to find a use for it. Once this part of the redesign began to form in our designer's plans, we immediately jumped on the opportunity to use Vetrazzo.

You may or may not have heard of Vetrazzo, but what attracted us was the use of recycled glass and the sustainability of the product. I will let Wikipedia take it from here:
"Vetrazzo recycled glass countertops were invented in Berkeley in 1996. A materials scientist, Don McPherson, pursuing his PhD combined recycled glass and a cement binder to create a sustainable, polished countertop. The company at that time was known as Counter Productions. The production batches were small and handmade, demanding a more streamlined and repeatable process. 
In 2006, a former customer and designer named Olivia Teter was looking for a new project and found the company in financial straits. She, together with James Sheppard and Jeff Gustafson, partnered to raise capital, buy the product formula and assets behind the Vetrazzo countertops, and co-found what is now Vetrazzo LLC. 
The Vetrazzo manufacturing facility was located in Richmond, California in a recycled Ford assembly plant. The plant is on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts the Rosie the Riveter Museum. It utilizes daylight, controls air pollution with a special negative-pressure dust booth, recycles water and hosts a 1 megawatt solar system manufactured by building tenant Sunpower Corporation. 
In June 2010 Polycor acquired Vetrazzo and move the plant back Georgia where it now shares a manufacturing space with the Georgia Marble company."
We were made aware of Vetrazzo soon after it was invented through an article in Sunset Magazine. We were updating a kitchen in our first condo at the time and seriously considered using Vetrazzo on the kitchen counter top. We ended up going with something else but we have always been looking for the opportunity to use it. We ended up going with the Floating Blue color scheme. It's made of recycled glass, concrete, and composite. We are quite happy with the final product.




Monday, September 25, 2017

Creamy Arugula Salad with Pistachios and Olives

During the recent Blue Apron/Hello Fresh epic week, we made a Blue Apron dish that had a very unique and satisfying side salad that caught our attention. It was only a side salad on this particular menu but we thought the salad really upstaged the main dish. The salad was interesting, unique, and a great mix of diverse ingredients. We saved the basic recipe and have made it a few times (both as a side and a dinner salad) since the first time. Personally, I'm still tweaking the recipe to get the right proportions but the basics are there.

One of the ingredients is roasted pistachios. I enjoy roasting my own pistachios. You can buy raw pistachios at higher end supermarkets. Roasting at home means you can control the amount of salt and you know they are freshly roasted. They keep in an airtight container for a good long time. Here are directions for roasting at home.

This salad is served already dressed. Which is a bit of a different approach to a typical weeknight side salad where each person grabs a bottle or carafe and dresses their own. But when serving a dressed salad, I've been learning the importance of getting your hands into the mix. Don't rely on salad tongs. When you use your hands, you are able to coat each leaf with dressing and the result is a more evenly distributed salad that has a consistent taste throughout.

Creamy Arugula Salad with Pistachios and Olives

Serves 2
Ingredients:
  • Arugula - 2 handfuls
  • Creme Fraiche - 2 tablespoons
  • Castelvetrano olives - 10-12 olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • Roasted pistachios - 1/4 cup, roughly chopped
  • White wine vinegar - 1-2 tbsp.
  • Olive oil - to taste and texture
  • Salt and pepper
Directions:
  • Make the dressing in a bowl by combining the creme fraiche and the vinegar with a fork until mixed. 
  • Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir to mix and set aside.
  • With the flat side of a knife, smash the olives and remove the pit. Roughly chop. 
  • Roughly chop the pistachios
  • In a large bowl, combine the arugula, pistachios, and olives and season with salt and pepper.
  • Add enough dressing to coat the salad mixing by hand
  • Let sit for a few minutes before plating the side dish
The pistachios and the olives tend to fall to the bottom, so when mixing by hand be sure to scrape the bottom and pick up the heavier ingredients and get them into the mix.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Cabinets and Wine Fridge

Cabinetry was delivered last week and my contractor got to work right on the northern wall so that all of the cabinetry around the wine fridge would be completed just prior to delivery. For our cabinets, we went with bamboo just like we did for the kitchen. This time, our designer went with a different company from the one we used for the kitchen. Nonetheless, the end result is a very similar look and feel.

The house had a floor to ceiling closet against the eastern wall which was removed during demolition. The plans called for a Murphy wall to be built. A soffit was built out beyond where the old closet doors were. The design called for a portion of the wall to be on a hinge and behind the cabinetry would be a walk-in storage area. The middle portion of the cabinetry will be where we place our TV on top and an electric fireplace below. The idea being that if you just walked into the room you couldn't tell that there something behind the wall. But then the middle portion can swing out. A motion detector turns on the lights as you enter the storage area. The plan is to put shelving on the real wall so that storage boxes can be placed on them.

Another element that we wanted in the redesigned downstairs room was a proper wine fridge. Before, we had an inexpensive wood wine rack held 44 bottles. We quickly outgrew that and it became surrounded with wine boxes. We are club members at three different wineries so we receive regular shipments to our house. Couple that with trips to Sonoma County and the close-by Livermore (and Santa Cruz) wine region, and the boxes of wine were getting higher and higher.

When it came time to clear out the room, I emptied the wine rack into boxes and then temporarily stored the wine in one of the bedrooms. The total was ten cases of wine.

So this week our new wine storage fridge was delivered and set up. It was actually one of the first purchases we made last summer. It was almost literally one year to the day from when we put our down payment to when we paid it off and arranged for delivery. On the recommendation of some friends, we purchased a fridge by the French company Transtherm. Give the amount of wine we wanted to store--and to allow some room for growth--we selected the Prestige Ermitage. Depending on the shelving configuration one can put 182 to 234 bottles of wine in it. At this point, we will go with the 14 individual, pull-out shelves (182 bottles) rather than the maximum configuration of 234 bottles.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Carbon Steel Pans

My workhorse skillet has been a traditional 12" nonstick. But with almost daily usage, I find that they last about one to two years and then they need to be replaced. The nonstick components begin to die off. Scratches and other damage begin to take their toll. There always comes a day when you realize that this pan is done and it's time to order a replacement.

While nonstick skillets are convenient, they are treated with the chemical polytetraflouroethylene (PTFE). This surface, while nonstick, is prone to scratching and erosion over time. Plus you have all of the chemicals, perhaps, leaching into your food.

Cast iron is an excellent alternative that will last a lifetime. When well-seasoned, it can offer a similar nonstick experience. But they are heavy and have more responsibilities in the cleaning and maintaining end of things.

So enter, carbon steel pans. I was reading this article (limited access without a subscription) in a recent edition of Milk Street magazine and it introduced me to carbon steel pans. I've peered into enough restaurant kitchens to know that the stack of pans from which cooks draw from are their workhorse--carbon steel pans.

The article, entitled "Toss Out Your Nonstick Skillet," made the case for using a well-seasoned carbon steel pan instead of nonstick. The article and the video below say that carbon steel can offer a similar experience to PTFE nonstick but it will last a lifetime and skips the chemicals.



So based on the article, the video, and other research, I decided to start with Mafter Bourgeat 11 7/8" pan. Here it is as delivered to me from the factory.


Carbon steel pans need to be seasoned before use. The seasoning process helps to build a natural nonstick patina. From the factory, the skillet will be a metal silver color but the goal is, over time, to get it a brownish-black color. Seasoning directions as provided by the manufacturer (reworded):

  1. Wash the pan in hot water with a mild detergent, using a bristle brush, if necessary (as you can briefly see in the above video), to remove factory protective coating. Be sure to get both sides of the pan.
  2. Dry the pan thoroughly.
  3. Over medium to medium high heat, add 1/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola), 2/3 cup salt, and the skins of 2 potatoes (I used russets).
  4. Sauté, continually swirling the contents around entire pan (including side), for 15 minutes.
  5. After 15 minutes, let the pan cool slightly. Then discard the contents and rinse in hot water (to minimize temperature shock--but still be careful with this step). 
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 with another round of seasoning. 
  7. Let pan cool thoroughly (I did about 30 minutes). 
  8. Rinse the pan under hot water removing all of seasoning ingredients. Dry completely with a towel.
  9. Reheat the pan with a little oil
At around 10 minutes during round one, I noticed that pan began to darken. I don't think you need to be too religious about the 15 minutes, as I was. You can probably do a little longer without any negative impact. Remember that it will continue to darken with ongoing usage, eventually turning black.

Here's the pan after the double-session seasoning.


Like cast-iron, carbon steel pans should never be washed with detergent. Hot water and a gentle brush should be all that is used. Also like cast iron, water/rust is the enemy that can ruin the pan. After the soap free cleaning never air dry these pans. Dry thoroughly and do a quick season with a bit of oil before putting it away.

My pan's maiden voyage was with shrimp and yellow onion. I found the pan to be very nonstick even on its first use. The heavy seasoning that I used created some areas of blackening which I thought would be difficult to clean, but hot water and gentle brush got the pan very clean.

I look forward to continuing to try it out and watching it darken over time--improving the nonstick qualities.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

Paint, Concrete Polishing, and Windows

There has been slow, but steady, progress on the downstairs renovation project.

Painting:

We got a first coat of paint in the room. We are going with two shades of grey. Most of the room is a lighter shade of grey but the wall with the new windows will have a slightly darker shade. This is our "accent wall." After the first coat of paint was applied, the painter was reluctant to paint the second coat until after the concrete polishing was complete. He was concerned that dust and scrapes could occur. We agreed with his assessment and had him stop after the first coat. So he still has to come in for a second coat.





Concrete Polishing:

About a week later, we got the concrete polished. When we bought the place, the downstairs room had some cheap, adhesive tile squares on top of the 1956 concrete slab. As the room got demolished, we had the tiles pulled up since, somewhere in the design process, we decided to go with polished concrete instead of carpeting or tiles. The concrete slab that the downstairs room sits on was very intact for being fifty years old in earthquake-prone California along with being in a house with some creeping down the hill. There were no cracks. But there were some new patches that were part of the recent construction where the future sink needed to connect into the main outgoing water/sewer line which is under the slab.

Once we decided on concrete polishing, we began to notice it and study it everywhere. Look at the floors of Costco, supermarkets, stores like BevMo, and other strip mall drug stores.
And you will often find that polished concrete on most of the industrial floors you walk on. Sometimes you will see cracks or patches but the polishing just equalizes everything so that these imperfections--while still there--do not stand out as much. So after studying industrial flooring for awhile, we sought out a concrete polisher and went with a matte finish with no color. Depending on the company, you can get higher levels of sheen and also color the concrete.

For us, the mostly pristine slab did develop some cracks during renovation. this was probably due to us shifting the weight of the house with the piers or the temporary scaffolding while the wall was removed for the La Cantina door installation. Or both.

But we are very happy with the final product. Because of the previous adhesive tile, the concrete still shows some of the square patterns. But, based on our research, we knew that going in.

Windows
This week, the windows were installed. We had already replaced the windows on the top two floors, but didn't do downstairs, specifically awaiting this project. Unfortunately, we were no longer allowed to install the same double pane aluminum-framed window due to California's ever-evolving the Code of Regulations. The standards are updated periodically by the California Energy Commission to allow consideration and possible incorporation of new energy efficiency technologies and methods. So aluminum window framing is no longer accepted under Title 24 so our choices were fiberglass or vinyl. We thought we may paint the framing to match the upstairs aluminum, so we went with fiberglass (although more expensive) because it can be painted. It was also the better choice since we wanted the smallest framing option.

The new large picture window is now one solid plate of glass (the previous window had framing for two openings). The smaller window (which was where the door used to be) is a casement window that opens outward.






Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hard Steamed Eggs


Hard boiled eggs make for a tasty and a relatively healthy snack. But what if the way you've been preparing hard boiled eggs for all these years was not the best way? We have made the eggs the traditional way--the way our mother's taught us--with boiling water.

Not too long ago, while attending a dinner party where one of the dishes contained a good number of sliced hard eggs in a green salad. The creator of the dish said that he had done some online research and found that it's actually a better practice to hard steam them, which is what he did.

If you research the topic online, you will find a variety of approaches for hard eggs. The most common is to submerge the eggs in water, bring it to a full boil, and then remove from the fire, cover the pan, and let the eggs cook for 10-12 minutes. But sometimes an egg will crack and some of the yolk oozes out creating what looks to be a deformity.


Then you'll find camps that swear that a pressure cooker works best. You will find suggestions that involve baking eggs in an oven. Then, there are whole discussions about the age and temperature of the egg and how that impacts results. There is a lot of thoughts and words online for such a simple thing. But the result that everyone is striving for is a hard-cooked egg that is easy to peel and does not crack during preparation.

So using some of the links below, I gave it a try. Add an inch or so of water to the pan. You don't want water coming over the base of the steaming basket. Over the water, place the steaming basket and add your eggs. Turn on the heat and bring to a boil. Bringing one inch of water takes way less time than the traditional way (saving you on the energy bill). Once boiling, turn down heat, if needed, but keep a boil going. Cover and set a timer for 12 minutes.

At the 10 minute mark, prepare an ice bath. In a large bowl create a mix of water and ice cubes.

After 12 minutes, remove the cover, and take the pot off of the heat. Using tongs, transfer the eggs to the ice bath and let it rest there for 10 minutes. When it's time, use the tongs to remove the eggs and let them dry on a towel.

The result? Same tasty egg as the traditional way, but much easier to peel. No more losing chunks or layers of eggs.

Next, I wondered if I could use an appliance steamer. I have a Black and Decker steamer. Because the eggs are further from boiling water and there's more steam escaping, you need to go 25-30 minutes.

Here are a few resources on the subject:

Fresh Eggs Daily - Shows you how to use the bamboo steamer.

Instructables - Step-by-step guide with photos. Lots of comments to add ideas.

Serious Eats - This person really went to town experimenting with a variety of factors.

Give it a try!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Framing La Cantina

With the foundation work done, the next order of business is to get the La Cantina folding door installed. Over the last few days, the exterior stucco was removed on both sides of the downstairs room. Then the existing window and studs were removed on the west wall and the frame for the 8' x 8' La Cantina door installed.

Even though it's just the framing covered over with plywood, the room already feels transformed. The west wall will be mostly a wall of glass with a ton of natural light. The two hardy panels on either side of the door framing are visible but now seem dwarfed.

On the left wall, you can see the old door frame (covered over with plywood) and the new foundation cutting through the bottom. We are about to order a 4' x 3' casement window that will fit into the existing door framing there.

On the right, the half bath with some new framing since we moved the door frame to the right.