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Retired teacher creates a charming home in 1927 Whitefish Bay farmhouse

Even from the curb, you can tell Ann Gordon’s Whitefish Bay house has personality. While it sits squarely on its lot, a curved sidewalk in front gives the home a storybook feel.

The soft gray of the cedar shake is punctuated by a ground-to-sky white brick chimney, a crisply painted white-screened porch, and for balance, an arched arbor and picket fence to the side.

The effect is straight out of a storybook.

Pass through the screened porch and front door, and you begin to get a sense that this retired schoolteacher has made certain that what you see outside carries on within her three bedroom, one-and-a-half bath retreat.

Wallpaper with red cherries on a yellow background wrap around the foyer and up the staircase; a sweet landing and tree-framing window meets you halfway. The full bath has an older shower and tub, yet Ann’s white shutters, creamy dotted wallpaper and pieces of her bird and clock collections pull it all together and make it seem fresh and fun. On her bedroom walls, Ann created an aged look by washing them with a diluted moss green paint. “It’s very reminiscent of an English garden wall,” she said.

On the main floor, the living and dining rooms flow together. Ann designed the living room bookcases to reflect the profile of the fireplace and painted a concrete table base from a consignment store to look like carved wood for her dining room table.

“I bought Parsons chairs and have several different chair covers so I can change the look with ease,” Ann said.

French doors open from the cozy den to an enclosed stone patio edged with a garden. Birds and birdhouses are in every room. Some immediately catch the eye while others are tucked away like small treasures, further sign that this retired teacher has composed a creative interior that blurs the lines between inside and out.

Q. You moved from the west side to the east side. Why did you decide to live here?

A. I chose it for the location. It was in a walking community. It reminds me of my small-town roots. And I chose it for the size, the fact that it was manageable for me. I like the size of a city lot and the fact that I could make the postage stamp-sized backyard into a patio. I prefer gardening over mowing.

Q. How is it different from your former home?

A. It’s much smaller, but there are similarities. The other house had a patio, a screened porch and a garden. I have those things here, but on a smaller scale. Both houses are cedar shake. The style of my old house was a two story with dormers. It was traditional and wrapped around the corner. It was designed and lived in by an architect, so it had some nice features. When I bought this house, I was told it was a farmhouse built in 1927. A past owner added the screened porch and half bath.

Q. What changes have you made?

A. The very first thing I did was take out a bank of high windows in the den and put in French doors so I could look out on the patio I envisioned. I put in bookcases in the den and the dining room. I redesigned the kitchen; the footprint had to stay the same, but I knew it could be more efficient.

Q. Your kitchen redesign was recognized for best kitchen design by Milwaukee Home and Fine Living Magazine. What did you change?

A. I had a bay window and ledge installed above the sink right after I moved in. It really opened up the area. I knocked out a wall separating the kitchen from the back hall and installed a pantry and cupboard to house my heavy appliances like my KitchenAid mixer. I chose soapstone countertops because my dad was a chemistry teacher, and that’s what they used on chemistry tables; I always loved the way it felt. The farmhouse sink was fabricated out of soapstone, too.

Q. Tell me about your patio.

A. I designed it with the help of landscaper Jim Roberts at JR Landscaping. I loved working with him because he never said anything was impossible. We designed it so I could have a garden and I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn.

Q. You have some collections, don’t you?

A. I collect clocks, and I absolutely love birds and birdhouses. I believe I have a bird-related item in every room of my house.

I have a wrought iron tree on the side of the house that’s decorated with hand-painted wooden birds.

My screen porch has birdhouses and bird-printed pillows to carry on the theme.

I’ve collected small clocks and set them to the time my children and I were born. Now that I have grandchildren, I’m on a quest for more.

I found a clock at a consignment store and realized when I got home that it was missing a hand, so it’s permanently pointing to midnight. I call it my Cinderella clock.

Q. What makes a house a home for you when it comes to decor?

A.The accessories. When I’m on a trip and something draws me to it, I can just picture where I’ll put it in my house.

I do like used furniture over new furniture because it brings a little history from someone else’s life into my home.

Nothing has to be perfect for me to include it in my home. I like that there’s a story about each of the pieces I pick up.

Q. Where do you spend most of your time in the house?

A. During the winter, it’s in the den because I can look out on the patio. In the spring and summer, I love sitting out on the screened porch or on the patio and having coffee.

Q. Where do you find special things for your house?

A. I love a bargain. T.J. Maxx and Marshalls have some really wonderful things. I bought a great bathroom mirror at Sears! I love consignment stores and garage sales.

I can’t tell you the number of things in the house that I’ve found at garage sales. I’d rather buy gently used furniture with history than brand new.

Q. Who has affected your decorating style?

A. My mom was so resourceful, and I think I’ve taken on that trait.

I’m not the greatest seamstress, but I did learn the basics from my mom including how to be creative on a budget.

When I started collecting birdhouses my dad made some for me and then my mom added some whimsical touches. I also look through magazines for ideas. I do a lot of visualization; I can see what will look good where.

Q. What projects do you have planned?

A. I’m going to paint my living room so it looks like sun-drenched Tuscany.

It’s going to be a buttery tone — aged. And I’m going to reupholster a few repurposed pieces of furniture for the room.

Q. You’ve named your house Lille Hus. Is there a story behind it?

A. It’s Norwegian for “little house” Everybody thinks it’s crazy that I named my house, but I think it’s like a cottage.

We have a family cottage in Door County, and we named it Relative Harmony because the relatives came from Harmony, Minnesota.

I think this house does have personality, and that’s one thing I’m not lacking — an outgoing spirit.

Q. This house seems to truly reflect you.

A. I think it’s funny that people have always told me how dramatic and theatrical I am, and then I end up living on a street named “Hollywood.”

Do you, or does someone you know, have a cool, funky or exquisite living space that you’d like to see featured in At Home? Contact Fresh home and garden editor Tina Maples at (414) 223-5500 or email tmaples@journalsentinel.com.

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Pancakes Don’t Have Anything on This Irresistibly…

The following post was written by Valerie Rice, who blogs at Eat Drink Garden With Valerie and is part of POPSUGAR Select Food.

I love bringing these baked pancakes to the table — it makes Saturday morning feel extra-special and it’s easier than standing at the stove flipping rounds of flapjacks. What’s not to love? The eggy batter puffs up light and golden; we squeeze out some sweet Pixie tangerine juice over the top and then give a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar. This is what weekend mornings were made for . . .

At our house these are dubbed Belgian babies because my Flemish mom wouldn’t think of it any other way. Technically, if your pancake is full-size it’s a German pancake and smaller or individual sized are known as Dutch babies — not sure what this says about the Germans?!

Whatever the name or size, these are delicious. The recipe below makes just the right amount for our family of four. It’s my slightly tweaked version of a recipe found in the classic The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham. I like that the only sugar is the sprinkling you give at the very end. Be sure to time the rest of your meal to be ready and on the table when your Belgian/German/Dutch babies come out of the oven — you want to dig in when they are warm and puffy.

Apple variation.

Ready to go in the oven . . .

. . . and you’ve got this beauty 20 minutes later.

Dutch Babies

From Eat Drink Garden With Valerie, modified slightly from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

Dutch Babies

Notes

Apple variation: Since our apple tree is fruiting like crazy, we’ve been using apples in the mixture too. Peel, slice, and sauté two apples — sauté them on the stove with a tablespoon of butter, two teaspoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg. Prepare your batter and pour over the warm and buttery apples and pop in the oven. Do you know how to tell if an apple is ready to be picked? If you swipe your finger over the fruit and it leaves a glossy mark that signals it’s ready. That’s the Belgian way, anyway.

Dutch Babies Breakfast

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for pan prep

3 eggs, at room temperature


1/2 cup milk


1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1/2 cup all-purpose four


1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


Tangerine or lemon juice


Powdered sugar

Directions


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Ptacek Home

May 31, 2015

Craftsmanship in design and construction

By Alison Rooney

Tom Ptacek feels some people have an aptitude for “making stuff.”

“We’re born that way, and there’s a type of intelligence we have in which things like thinking three-dimensionally come much more easily; you envision it and you bring it out — it becomes what you thought it would be.”

Ptacek, a master homebuilder who has a sideline business in furniture and homeware design, doesn’t always follow “the standards,” and that is intentional. “We come up with solutions for building problems; we make little inventions every day, solving and understanding the materials — particularly wood — the give of it, the contraction.”

Tom Ptacek (Photo by A. Rooney)

Tom Ptacek (Photo by A. Rooney)

Bringing craftsmanship into contemporary design is a hallmark of both Ptacek’s general contracting business, which he has operated for over 25 years, and his much newer venture into furniture and home accessories design.

Ptacek, who grew up in the Milwaukee suburbs, one of nine children, calls himself “self-taught, but ‘society-taught.’” He explained: “My grandfather was a builder, but he was too old for me to observe. As a child I made stuff constantly: a lot of crafts, paintings, drawings … I fixed bicycle frames, built a kayak — an endless series of projects. I remember making a large Pabst can out of papier-mâché, which won best in show when I was in seventh grade. With that size family, if you wanted to do something, you had to figure out a way to pay for it.”

Although Ptacek studied wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin, he continued with art classes and, after graduating, went to art school simply to explore, not to earn another degree. Coming east to attend the Rhode Island School of Design one summer, he began working as a carpenter to support himself. Taking to it, he then headed north to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where, for the first time, he met — and learned from — local woodsmen and craftsmen.

Moving to a pre-hipster Williamsburg, Brooklyn, “I immediately had to pay a city rent,” he related, “so I started making stuff like cabinetry right away, with my older brother. We answered ‘We can do that’ to basically any request, whether we knew how to or not! At that point we were just doing strictly what people wanted; I didn’t have ‘a style’ back then. It was usually driven by an architect, the owner or a designer — I just suggested materials … We did theater sets, apartment renovations, anything.”

Kitchen design by Ptacek Homes (Photo by Robert Rodriguez Jr.)

Kitchen design by Ptacek Homes (Photo by Robert Rodriguez Jr.)

Ptacek said he has some regrets over not ever having worked under a master craftsman. “I learned a lot through the school of hard knocks, and I probably could have fast-tracked if I had gone about it a different way. But I used to be too cocky to be an apprentice; now I’m more humble and I would be receptive to it.”

Currently, Ptacek enjoys keeping up with the pace of new technology. “Although I work for clients in many different styles, I’m never a believer in ‘old world is the only way,” he said. “It’s not my goal. I like working with the newest finishes, with different ways of cutting wood, and there’s nothing wrong with being up to speed on the latest techniques.”

Ptacek Homes' stainless table 

Ptacek Homes’ stainless table

Ptacek’s contracting and design work, based in Garrison, has taken him all over the New York metropolitan region, from Westchester to the Catskills, where a recent large-scale project, completely in the contemporary vein, just wrapped after a year and a half. Ptacek has also worked locally — he was the general contractor on the Manitou School, extensively renovating the old National Register of Historic Places–listed Plumbush Inn, built in 1867.

A natural forager for materials to reuse, refurbish and create with, Ptacek Homes has its own tree-milling and molding equipment. With each project, Ptacek directs the job, working with his crew. He described his role as “soup to nuts, which includes the finishes and the interiors but also things like putting in boilers, HVAC, glassware, and I add the craftsmanship that goes along with the project — why not be a builder and direct all that? I like being the lead guy who sees the whole project come together. It’s satisfying; there’s immediate gratification in the form of oohs and ahs. It’s interesting, in interviews and polls of ‘happy careers,’ there’s a lot of contentment in my business.”

Ptacek is cognizant of the responsibility of passing along his expertise to the next generation. “With the guys I work with, I automatically teach them, plus I usually have summer interns, too. I stress that none of us, including me, should shy away from the heavy lifting part of things. We all do it, and then all get to do something interesting as well,” he explained.

Ptacek Home’s expansion into furniture was driven by the stalled economy of not too long ago. “The phone wasn’t ringing much in 2008, ’09, and I thought, ‘Why not make something you like and see how it goes?’” he said. “It’s a recent passion, my own expression and outlet.”

Ptacek Homes' cabinet (Photo by Robert Rodriguez Jr.)

Ptacek Homes’ cabinet
(Photo by Robert Rodriguez Jr.)

The furniture line consists of large and small pieces, including bedroom sets, credenzas, desks, benches, stand-alone cabinets (including a nifty wine-storage unit with pullout drawers for each bottle), countertops, built-ins and both individual and multipart planters.

Ptacek came to this on his own. “I wasn’t steeped in the history of furniture — I was more into architecture. I started out as a naïf in furniture making, then began looking at it a lot and feeling drawn to contemporary furniture, and I would say my style is inspired by international modernism and mid-century modernism. I don’t feel as if certain styles are the only styles that can be done. I respect those who do any particular style well, not which style it is.”

Recently an exhibitor at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, Ptacek Home is gearing up to focus on marketing the furniture line more in the near future.

Ptacek Homes’ designs, in the form of handmade display tables and planters, will be part of the Made in Philipstown event taking place over Labor Day weekend; he will likely be teaching a workshop in conjunction with it as well.

For more information and images of the interior and furniture designs, visit ptacekhome.com or the Facebook page, or phone 845-424-6112.

  • Ptacek Home M.credenza interior_high res
  • Ptacek F3
  • Ptacek Cabinet all burned HR
  • Ptacek B. Stainless Table w Painting
  • Ptacek 2007-10-05 23.29.37

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Staging homes fattens their sale prices

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Priced at just less than $4 million, the English manor-style house with its exemplary country gardens on a wooded half-acre will undoubtedly sell itself in the runaway real estate market here in the Bay Area.

“But just how much can it bring?” asked Robert Graves, the interior designer called in to stage the sale. “Just how much excitement can we bring to it?”

Twenty years ago, in the Pleistocene Era, sellers would pop breads in the oven to create that homey touch for prospective buyers attending an open house. How quaint.

To help speed deals along and incite the inevitable bidding wars, today’s sales are staged by designers like Graves, who calls his company Napoleon at Home and serves up dreams to the house-buying gentry of Silicon Valley.

He does it three times a week, filling empty or nearly empty houses with sofas and throw pillows, with flowers, mirrors and area rugs, with sleek deck furniture and tall lemonade glasses, set just so on the outdoor patio. He watches for spatial flow. He introduces “pops” of color, as he puts it, to catch a buyer’s eye amid the chic taupes, creams and grays that dominate his schemes — the “neutralist” colors of the current market.

“We want people to come in and feel like they should stay awhile,” Graves said, while positioning a large tiered mirror in the manor’s living room so that it would catch the reflection of the garden scene just outside the window. “It’s a mood that we’re creating.”

Staging has “exploded over the last 10 years,” said Billy McNair, the 4,000-square-foot property’s listing agent with Coldwell Banker. McNair tapped Graves for the job and draws on an array of stagers, matching their aesthetics to the architectural styles of houses. “Staging’s not cheap. But would you rather invest $5,000 in staging and sell the house for $30,000 more? I think it’s a good return on investment.”

Mainstream media have helped establish staging in the popular vocabulary. The HGTV series “Flip It to Win It” last year featured Bay Area stager Cathy Lee Cibelli, the California president of the Real Estate Staging Association, a national trade organization with more than 2,000 members. She said a deft staging brings a touch that “stirs the imagination” of buyers.

“What sells a house is an emotional response: ‘I want to live here,'” said Menlo Park interior designer Jo Ann James, who stages high-end homes, mostly in Silicon Valley and often for techies. “The buying public right now is extremely young. And frequently these people have not owned a home and have no furniture. They’ve made millions very young, but without much life experience.”

Via the staging, James gives them a sense of scale and perspective, she said, so the client can gauge whether a sofa will fit here or a queen bed there. James added that “young people today really like contemporary furniture. And they like clean looks. They don’t want a lot of accessories. It should be comfortable, for active lifestyles.”

Generally priced between $3,000 and $20,000 — though the cost can go much higher for estates — staging is now part of an essential marketing package that includes online video tours covering every inch of a property. “The better it’s exposed,” McNair explained, “the sooner the property should sell.”

“If you’re not staged, you’re losing 4 to 5 percent on the selling price, which is a huge difference around here,” said agent Ken DeLeon. “It just keeps on getting more: Furniture isn’t enough. Now you bring in original artworks from local galleries. It’s gotten to the point where some people want to buy the staging. They say, ‘Everything looks perfect. How do I buy the home as is? Maybe give you an extra $70,000?’ “

Whereas most sellers pay for staging, veteran Bay Area agent Bebe McRae, who sells high-end properties for the Grubb Co., pays for it out of her own budget: She is confident of the payback and doesn’t want sellers “to worry about how much it’s going to cost.” Yet there are occasions when a staging strikes too perfect a chord: “I had one seller, who said to me, ‘This is terrible! The staging is just terrible! Now my wife is never going to want to move.’ I was a little panicked.”

The sale went through.

A 2013 study by academics at the College of William Mary, Johns Hopkins University and Old Dominion University found that good staging may influence buyers’ overall impressions of a property, but that staging alone doesn’t convince them to pay more. But a Coldwell Banker survey shows that staged properties sell twice as quickly as unstaged properties. A 2015 survey by the National Association of Realtors reported that buyers often offer a 1 to 5 percent increase on the value of a staged home, with some agents putting the increase as high as 10 percent.

Most agents seem convinced. “Imagine if you were to try to sell your car without having it detailed and washed,” said Casey Sternsmith, a Coldwell Banker agent in the area. “You’re going to do everything you can so it presents well and so people will want to pay top dollar for that commodity. That’s exactly what we’re doing with staging.”

She recently sold a 2,400-square-foot house where Maria Burrington and her late husband, David Burrington, a longtime NBC News foreign correspondent, lived for 30 years and raised their children.

The house — which listed for $2.4 million and is in escrow, having drawn an over-asking price bid — first had to be decluttered: “Opium pipes from David’s travels, a camel saddle, a few rugs from Beirut, even a hand grenade that we think the Viet Cong made,” said Maria Burrington. “I did call the bomb squad.”

David Burrington loved exposed wood, but the stagers went for the neutral look, painting ceiling beams white, and doing the same to the kitchen cabinets. And most of the book collection had to go as well.

“And do you know what?” Maria Burrington asked. “It looks better. It made me see my house as much more marketable, frankly. It brought out the spirit of the home, but without our individual taste of decorating.

“Trying to detach and let go from the house — the staging let me do that more easily in some respect. I’ll still miss the garden.”

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A magical introduction to gardening

Once upon a time, fairy gardens were primitive outdoor digs set up on mossy patches or in hollow logs and appointed with toadstool tables, walnut shell cradles and whatever natural elements were on hand.

“I think the original fairy garden idea is the furniture was all made out of sticks and twigs that you’d make and bend together, and the tables were pieces of bark,” said Julie McIntyre, owner of Summerland Gardens in Colorado Springs. “You build it, and the fairies are supposed to come to the garden.”

Today, luring fairies to your tiny abode doesn’t – necessarily – require a forage of the forest. One can purchase everything from fairy-sized plants, furniture and arbors to miniature barns, greenhouses and butterfly pavilions. You even can buy (a facsimile of) the fairies themselves.

“We get a lot of people in just looking at the furniture,” said McIntyre, who does a brisk business in sales of miniature plants and furnishings at her Cheyenne Road garden center.

Though quietly enjoyed for generations in backyards and woods the world over, fairy gardening is experiencing a comeback, thanks in part to the popularity of container gardening as well as photo sharing sites such as Pinterest.

“It started maybe five years ago with a little bit of the stuff, like miniature furniture. Everybody thought the trend was over, but now it’s more popular than ever,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre has a few pre-made gardens for sale at her store but prefers to encourage customers to construct their own. Like many area nurseries and garden suppliers, Summerland offers fairy gardening classes to help would-be designers get started.

“We’ll give ideas, help people select the right plants and help them work it out, but it’s kind of the process of building it that’s so fun, especially if you’ve got your kids or grandkids involved,” she said. “You say, ‘Oh, let’s have the fairies sit over here … and the path could go here.’ That’s the fun part.”

Modern fairy gardens aren’t only for diminutive players in outdoor settings; you might find a so-called “table top garden” in a man cave or a living room, constructed, say, in a broken pot or milk crate that’s been lined with moss. One of McIntyre’s customers repurposed a vintage suitcase for her miniature garden.

“It’s opened up different creative containers to use that are not what you would normally plant in,” she said. “Kids can keep it in their bedroom. You can keep it on the kitchen table and do something with herbs, so it’s edible as well.”

The process of creating a fairy garden can provide entertainment and a bonding experience. It also can serve as an inspired introduction to hands-on horticulture. “Especially with today’s technology, where we’re more media obsessed, I think it’s a great way to get kids involved in gardening,” McIntyre said. “It’s a really creative way to connect and to just think outside the typical ways of planting.”

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St. Vincent Lied Dining Facility celebrates 50 years of serving meals, dignity – Las Vegas Review

Today’s entree is a broiled salmon fillet served with mustard seed-speckled potato salad, root vegetables braised in red wine, a mixed greens salad with mesclun, fresh fruit and a drink.

Ten or 12 bucks, easy, at your favorite casino coffee shop and that’s without the tip. But at the St. Vincent Lied Dining Facility on a recent midday morning, the meal — served on real dinnerware and artfully arranged in a fashion that makes it look as good as it tastes — cost exactly nothing.

That’s because it was the daily entree — at least for the first 400 diners; after that, it’s chef’s choice — at the dining room’s free daily community meal, where homeless, low-income and just financially strapped Southern Nevadans gather for a nutritious meal, a bit of company and maybe even a lead on an agency or service that might help them get back on their feet.

And along with all of that tasty, imaginatively conceived and well-prepared food, the St. Vincent Lied Dining Facility serves its clients something even more satisfying: Dignity.

This year, the St. Vincent Lied Dining Facility, operated by Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, celebrates 50 years of feeding Southern Nevada’s homeless and hungry in a way that belies, in both philosophy and practice, the stereotypical notion of a “soup kitchen.” The dining room — the current incarnation of which opened in 1998 — is clean and airy, resembling a modernish, slightly retro version of a high school cafeteria, and food is served on real dishes by volunteers working from behind cafeterialike stations.

Granted, it wasn’t always that way. Executive chef Juan Carlos Penate remembers when food was served from a window on plates with TV dinner-type compartments. Entrees also used to tend toward the caloric, based on the not-unreasonable assumption that the meal some clients ate there would be the only one they’d have all day.

Penate came to Catholic Charities with a resume that includes positions in hotels and fine dining establishments back East. When the Italian restaurants in Gloucester, Mass., that he oversaw were closed — a victim, he says, of the owners’ divorce — he set off on a cross-country drive, figuring on returning to California, where he had grown up and where he still has family.

During a stop in Las Vegas, while exploring the city, Penate happened to drive downtown and noticed rows of tents set up on the sidewalk on the streets around Foremaster Lane.

“It was like a tent campground,” Penate says. “I realized they were homeless. I was, like, ‘What is this?’ It affected me so much. The first thing I said, was, ‘I wish there was something I could do to help those people.’ ”

Penate got a job at the Silverton, and when the executive chef’s position at Catholic Charities opened, a fellow chef suggested that Penate apply. He did, and was surprised to see exactly where the St. Vincent Lied Dining Facility was.

“Sure enough, I was in front of the place where I had driven by,” Penate says. “I remembered seeing all those people on the sidewalk, sleeping, and saying those words — ‘I wish there was something I could do’ — and, five years later, here I am.”

The original dining room was opened in 1965 by the Rev. Charles Shallow in a building on E Street. Several moves followed — for a time, the dining room operated out of St. James Catholic Church, then on McWilliams Avenue — before moving to its current location at 1502 N. Main St. on the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada campus.

From 8 to 9 a.m. each morning, the dining room serves a $4 breakfast — on a recent morning, the menu included scrambled eggs, seasoned potatoes, sausage, juice and coffee — and, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., the free community meal (another low-cost lunch/dinner service follows from noon to 4 p.m.). The dining room’s menus are crafted almost entirely on the basis of donations of food the facility receives.

That hotel-quality salmon dinner, for instance? Everything but the salad dressing was donated by the Sands Expo and Convention Center, sous chef Paul Munson says.

Penate says donations come from valley supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and Three Square food bank. Because much of the donated food is perishable, Penate and his staff are adept at making last-minute menu changes and at finding ways to incorporate donated goods into menus in creative ways.

That’s one difference between running the St. Vincent Lied dining room and running a restaurant kitchen, Penate says.

“I cannot afford to buy expensive chocolate for the dessert from Switzerland or Belgium,” he says. “I’ve got to work with what comes though my back door and turn it into a nice luncheon.”

“It is an adjustment, but you’ve got to work with what you have. We’re grateful for the community and such great partners like Three Square food bank.”

Another difference is the lean budget — about $1,200 a week — Penate has to run the dining room. In comparison, he says, a restaurant that serves as many meals as the St. Vincent Lied dining room does would have a budget about 10 times that of his kitchen.

And manpower?

“Here, we serve about 1,200 meals a day with a staff of basically three of us (chefs) and two dishwashers. Everybody else is volunteers,” Penate says. “You go to a hotel that serves that many, they’d have an army.”

Besides serving walk-in diners in the dining facility, Penate’s two kitchens serve clients in Catholic Charity’s residential programs and prepare Meals on Wheels dinners for seniors and meals for women and children at The Shade Tree shelter.

So it’s a function of both philosophy and economics that Penate and his staff make full use of every ingredient they have in ways that aren’t just economical but make for great-tasting dishes, too.

For example, the kitchen makes its own gravies and stock, and ingredients left over from the preparation of today’s dishes will find their way into tomorrow’s. In that way, Munson says, “we’re doing a lot of things fine dining restaurants would do on the Strip. We don’t approach it as just institutional (food).”

On this particular day, for example, behind-the-scenes kitchen activity includes sauce for mac and cheese cooking in a steam kettle, turkey legs being cooked and divided for tomorrow’s meal, tomatoes being sliced for Caprese salad, and hundreds of pecan pies and tarts cooling on racks.

Do clients appreciate the effort? Sometimes. Take the woman (who declines to offer her name) who says she’s been in Las Vegas for about a year and stops in every day for a meal. She judges the day’s salmon entree “all right. Pretty good.”

“Not like a restaurant,” she adds, “but enough to keep somebody alive and going.”

Luis Sanchez would disagree. He’s staying at Catholic Charities’ shelter, dines at the facility every day, and is, he says, proof that “if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody.”

Sanchez says he holds three degrees, including a master’s in business administration, and worked in food safety for a California produce company before moving to Las Vegas, where a dispute with his family left him with no money.

Being able to come to the dining room for a good meal every day “helps my morale,” Sanchez says.

Kandy Miller, the dining room’s manager, says that although some clients are homeless and live on the street, other patrons of the facility include homeless people who are staying with friends and people and seniors who have homes but whose retirement and support checks run out by the end of the month. That, she adds, is why the second half of each month tends to see the arrival of more diners.

But someone’s circumstances don’t matter, Miller says. “There’s acceptance and no judgment.”

John Rose, who says he dines at the facility “pretty often,” rates the day’s salmon dinner as very good.

Rose has diabetes, and complications from the disease have put him in a wheelchair.

“I did get disability from the government,” he says, “but after paying my rent, I’ve got no money left. I mean, I pretty much have no money left.”

Rose notes that the meals served at some shelters don’t always make for a diabetes-healthy diet.

“They feed you way too many starches, mostly potatoes and rice, which I can’t have,” he says. “In fact, I got diabetes being on the street, before I got my disability check. I was on the street 10 years.”

As Rose talks with visitors, Jimmy Rolson, Catholic Charities’ director of client operations, stops by to say hello.

“Where have you been? I haven’t seen you,” says Rolson, shaking Rose’s hand. Rolson explains later that he met Rose when Rose was on the street and Rolson was a case manager at Catholic Charities.

“I’m doing good. Doing good,” Rose tells Rolson. “As I was telling these guys, God is taking good care of me. You can’t ask more than that.”

It’s an illustration of another thing about the St. Vincent Lied Dining Facility: The dining room’s utility goes beyond the food it serves. It also offers Catholic Charities staff members the chance to touch base with clients or prospective clients, and direct newcomers to services they may not even realize are available in the community.

“It really opens the door for more resources for them, because we know what’s out there and they don’t,” Rolson says. “It could be housing. It could be our programs, or our resident work program, or the shelter. People may not even know about the shelter. They could be walking down the street and somebody says, ‘I’m going to eat at Catholic Charities. Do you want to go?’ ‘Yeah.’ And then they come here for the first time.”

Also important, Miller says, is that “this is where (diners) come to socialize. This is where they come and, just, someplace where they can relax and nobody judges them.”

Sure, the whiteboard at the entrance to the St. Vincent Lied Dining Facility lists the day’s menu. But Penate says the dining room serves its clients much more.

“It’s very thrilling to know we are helping our community,” Penate says.

“I’ve always said that if this was a for-profit business, it would be the perfect business, because our clients just keep increasing. I’d be happy to say that I no longer have to work here because we didn’t need it, but that’s almost impossible at the rate we’re going,”

“But,” Penate adds, “that would be nice.”

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280 or follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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Dust Some Sugar on This Dutch Pancake and Dig In

The following post was written by Valerie Rice, who blogs at Eat Drink Garden With Valerie and is part of POPSUGAR Select Food.

I love bringing these baked pancakes to the table — it makes Saturday morning feel extra-special and it’s easier than standing at the stove flipping rounds of flapjacks. What’s not to love? The eggy batter puffs up light and golden; we squeeze out some sweet Pixie tangerine juice over the top and then give a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar. This is what weekend mornings were made for . . .

At our house these are dubbed Belgian babies because my Flemish mom wouldn’t think of it any other way. Technically, if your pancake is full-size it’s a German pancake and smaller or individual sized are known as Dutch babies — not sure what this says about the Germans?!

Whatever the name or size, these are delicious. The recipe below makes just the right amount for our family of four. It’s my slightly tweaked version of a recipe found in the classic The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham. I like that the only sugar is the sprinkling you give at the very end. Be sure to time the rest of your meal to be ready and on the table when your Belgian/German/Dutch babies come out of the oven — you want to dig in when they are warm and puffy.

Apple variation.

Ready to go in the oven . . .

. . . and you’ve got this beauty 20 minutes later.

Dutch Babies

From Eat Drink Garden With Valerie, modified slightly from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

Dutch Babies

Notes

Apple variation: Since our apple tree is fruiting like crazy, we’ve been using apples in the mixture too. Peel, slice, and sauté two apples — sauté them on the stove with a tablespoon of butter, two teaspoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg. Prepare your batter and pour over the warm and buttery apples and pop in the oven. Do you know how to tell if an apple is ready to be picked? If you swipe your finger over the fruit and it leaves a glossy mark that signals it’s ready. That’s the Belgian way, anyway.

Dutch Babies Breakfast

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for pan prep

3 eggs, at room temperature


1/2 cup milk


1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1/2 cup all-purpose four


1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


Tangerine or lemon juice


Powdered sugar

Directions


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