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July, 2018 |

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NJ home makeover: $70K for a new kitchen with mid-century flair

N.J. home makeover is a regular feature on NJ.com that showcases designer, contractor and DIY renovations, large and small. To submit your renovation for consideration, email home@starledger.com with your full name, email address, phone number and town/city. Attach “before” and “after” photos of what you renovated.


Barbara Kaplan and Edward Chestnut had six bedrooms and four bathrooms in a 1911 Montclair Colonial with 4,220 square feet of living space.

It was the house they’d lived in for more than 20 years as their son and daughter grew to adulthood. It was also a house with significant operating and upkeep expenses and a $36,000 tax bill that kept going up.

With their children grown and their own retirement approaching, Kaplan decided that a smaller house would allow them to better use their resources.

“My husband didn’t want to go,” she said.

But she convinced him that it would be better to spend their money on travel and experiences instead of property taxes and maintenance.

They enjoyed their life in Montclair and the town’s proximity to New York and their children and grandchildren. Finding a suitable little house in Montclair wasn’t easy, however, so they looked without luck in neighboring towns. Finally, a 1,800-square-foot Montclair split-level came on the market.

“I loved it the minute I saw it,” Kaplan said. “It was much more livable because it was small enough that we wouldn’t have to spend a lot living here.”

Beyond that, the home’s 1950s construction offered a sun porch, an enormous backyard, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a sizeable play area for their grandchildren.

“It’s a house that is surprisingly large on the inside,” she said. “We had to fight to get it.”

And while they were going against a couple of young buyers in a bidding war, they were planning renovations that would make the house their own. Thanks to advance planning by their interior designer Tracey Stephens once they were under contract, contractors were able to begin gutting the kitchen the day after Kaplan and Chestnut closed on the property.

“I was able to arrange with the attorneys for permission to file for a permit before closing,” said Stephens, who noted that it typically takes about four weeks for building permits to be granted.

She had also measured the kitchen and ordered cabinetry.

“We were doing the planning, the drawing and ordering the cabinets before they closed,” she said. “The cabinetry has an eight-week lead time, so we planned so they would be on site when we were ready.”

The plan was a gut-renovation that would make the most efficient use of the kitchen’s 143 square feet. Kaplan says that was about a third of the size of her old kitchen, but she wanted it to have all the same features and conveniences within the existing footprint.

“I thought there was a way to do it,” she said. “It was just a question of whether we could fit everything.”

Her wish list included a large food pantry and enough space for orderly storage of all the cookware, serving pieces and eating utensils she would bring along.

“I wanted to be able to make food and serve it without feeling I was living in an ant hill,” she said.

They also wanted a kitchen where they could comfortably host their family and friends.

Stephens had a wall removed between the kitchen and dining room that opened up the space and gave the kitchen a bit of breathing room. Where the wall had been she ordered cabinetry for an L-shaped configuration including a 7-1/2-foot-long peninsula of cabinetry with an engineered stone countertop that matches other kitchen counters.

On the dining room side of the peninsula, Stephens made use of what could have been wasted or hard-to-reach space, giving it a stack of four drawers at the end where it flanks another cabinet on the opposite side. She also used four drawers in other areas of the kitchen.

“Sometimes in a base cabinet with three drawers, the drawers tend to be too deep,” she said.

More drawers with less depth can offer a higher level of order.

Kaplan also wanted a dishwasher in drawers. Her previous kitchen had a double-drawer Fisher Paykel dishwasher. Stephens, who specializes eco-friendly kitchen and bathroom design, also liked the dishwasher because it is among the kitchen’s features that use water and energy wisely.

Stephens began the kitchen’s design by devising a plan for the most advantageous placement of the dishwasher and other essential appliances. She then designed the cabinetry layout around them. The kitchen’s plumbing and wiring needed to be upgrades before work began.

“You don’t want to connect new appliances to old work, so we always replace all of that,” she said.

While preparing the house involved fixing surprise defects — including leaks, damaged flooring and a rotting wall — the couple kept kitchen renovation costs in check by going with built-to-order cabinets by Eastman Street Woodworks in Massachusetts. Stephens recommendeds the company for its quality and cost-efficient practices.

“They offer very few modifications and no customizing, with a limited number of stains and door styles,” she said.

But the accessories offered allowed Stephens to maximize storage and organization. They include four roll-out storage shelves in a tall pantry cabinet, a pull-out bin for utensils, and a narrow cabinet made for sheet pans and cutting boards.

The kitchen has mid-century modern influences in its flat, unembellished slab cabinet doors and the use of a cherry-colored stain on the cabinetry, as well as the trim around windows and double glass doors leading to the adjacent sunroom.

With the wider opening, there is enhanced natural light into the kitchen from the sunroom as well as improved flow between the kitchen, sunroom and a newly constructed backyard deck.

Radiant heat installed under the sunroom floor contributes to the home’s overall heating and makes the room more useful in cold weather.

Stephens also outfitted the kitchen with easy-to-maintain surfaces. The engineered stone counters are stain resistant and don’t need to be sealed. For the floors, she chose forgiving texture and color variation in porcelain tiles. (Ceramic tile is not durable enough for flooring, she notes.)

“You are not feeling like you have to clean it every five minutes,” she said.

With the award-winning design and its smart use of limited space, Kaplan says she prefers the new kitchen to her previous larger one.

“Everything fits,” she said. “I have so much storage space.”

There’s also enough room to entertain, with the peninsula’s top used for both food prep and serving.

“I’ve had 10 people to dinner, and it’s been fine,” she said.

What they renovated

The kitchen, one bathroom and the sunroom of a 1950s split-level home in Montclair. A new backyard deck also was installed.

Who did the work

Tracey Stephens Interior Design and Jason Aksman of Fine Custom Carpenty, both in Montclair

How long it took

The kitchen took less than four months; the deck took two months.

What they spent

About $70,000 for the kitchen

Where they splurged

On the dishwasher, French doors to the sunroom and a counters-to-ceiling mosaic of glass tiles in a backsplash above the kitchen sink.

Where they saved

On other kitchen appliances, porcelain floor tiles and cabinets that weren’t custom made.

What they like most

I love the kitchen – and so does everyone who sees it – and the deck.

What they’d have done differently

“The only thing I might have done differently was have a higher quality stove and maybe a larger sink,” Barbara Kaplain said.

Kimberly L. Jackson may be reached at home@starledger.com. Find NJ.com Entertainment on Facebook.

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If You Need New Pots And Pans, Williams-Sonoma Is Having A Major Sale RN

In case you didn’t get your fill during Fourth of July sales or Amazon Prime Day, Williams-Sonoma is giving you another opportunity to upgrade your kitchen supplies for less: Through Sunday, August 5, they’re offering major sales on pots, pans, cutlery, bakeware, and fun appliances like pizza makers and ice cream machines. Some deals are already live, while others start August 1. See below for their best kitchen sales — and get your credit card ready.

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7 Ways to Upgrade Your Car-Camping Cook Kit

Your camp-chef skills are strong, but you’ve been cooking on the same single-burner backpacking stove for the last decade. It’s time to upgrade your camp cooking kit. Here are our favorite picks, from the chef knife it takes to prep your veggies to the plates that will hold your al fresco masterpiece.

Camp Chef Mountaineer 2 ($250)

We’ve written about our love for the Camp Chef Rainier, but the Mountaineer 2 takes Camp Chef’s two-burner platform up a notch by giving it a durable, rust-resistant aluminum body with a superior windscreen and the ability to add legs to make it a stand-alone stove. It even has a five-foot hose and bulk-tank regulator so you can bring a full propane tank to the campsite.

Buy Now

Field Skillet ($100)

(Courtesy The Field Company)

Fried eggs, pork chops, bacon, hot dogs, potatoes, more bacon—the cast-iron skillet is the most versatile tool in your kitchen and it should absolutely be a part of your camping cook kit. We go into great detail about how to care for your cast iron here. As for which skillet to bring with you, we like the Field Skillet because it’s half the weight of most skillets, not too terribly expensive, and equipped with a wonderful nonstick surface that’s easy to use and clean.

Buy Now

Snow Peak Cutting Board and Chef Knife ($56)

Still chopping veggies with your pocket knife? Make the switch to this Japanese-inspired chef knife, which boasts a full-size high-carbon vanadium-steel blade and nests inside a birch cutting board. It’s a prep station fit for a commercial kitchen.

Buy Now

Stanley Classic Vacuum French Press ($48)

The beauty of this French press is that it makes a lot of coffee (48 ounces) and keeps that coffee warm for the whole morning thanks to the double-wall insulation. Plus, it’s stainless steel, so the pot doesn’t adopt odors and won’t rust.

Buy Now

MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set ($50)

There are some wonderful titanium backpacking pots out there, and you absolutely should not use them for car camping. Instead, go with these ultra-durable (and heavier) stainless-steel pots, which are built to take years of abuse and won’t rust when you leave them in your garage for six months at a time. You get a two-liter pot and a 1.5-liter pot that nests inside, and the lids can be used as plates. If you need more pots than that, go with the Alpine 4 Pot Set.

Buy Now

Mountain Summit Gear Roll Top Kitchen ($90)

This aluminum roll-top kitchen sets up fast and gives you a lower shelf for storage and side-by-side countertops so you can spread out all your cooking gear. It’s like your campsite got one of those HGTV renovations.

Buy Now

GSI Pioneer Table Set ($70)

There are fancier plates made with Space Age tech, but this enameled steel set gives a family of four everything necessary for breakfast, lunch, and dinner while providing your campsite with retro summer-camp styling. Bonus: you can throw them in the dishwasher when you get back home. 

Buy Now

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Grim’s Grub: An ode to your grandmas’ heavy metal

Going to college I grabbed a couple dusty pans from a storage shed, removed the cobwebs and rust from them and did what I could to “season” them. I cooked all through college with almost exclusively those two pans, one a skillet with around 2-inch tall rims and a round griddle that has since then been my favorite for cooking eggs and burgers.

I forgot about the skillet until recently when I decided to toss some worn Teflon pans and reseason all the cast iron I have. Somehow I have eight pans. I only know where four or five came from. I could still use a dutch oven and a large, rectangular griddle though.

Some people swear by cast iron for making the best fried chicken, fried potatoes, fried fish or seared steak. Some people even like it for cornbread or white bread. The secret is cast iron’s ability to hold high heat and radiate it long distances better than modern Teflon, steel or copper.

Contrary to popular belief, however, tests with thermal cameras determine cast iron does not heat evenly.

The almost glassy seasoning is also an important part of cast iron cookery, formed by heating oils to the point where they harden into a shellac, or nearly plastic finish, which, contrary to popular belief, is bulletproof even against slight applications of soap, water and metal utensils.

Just don’t soak it, and don’t use steel wool to remove anything but rust (which is what you get if you soak it). Clean it when it is hot and everything will come off easily; a chain mail scrubber or coarse salt can help with tough spots.

Seasoning a cast iron pan

  • 1 tablespoon high smoke-point fat for each layer of seasoning desired

Clean dusty or dirty cast iron. Use hot water and soap to clean very dirty cast iron, but never soak it, then dry it thoroughly with a towel and then by heating on low heat over a stove top.

If there is rust in the pan, remove it with a fine steel wool or coarse salt. As for flaking or damaged seasoning, start new by cleaning with a grill cleaner.

Once the pan is clean and dry, rub your fat evenly all over the pan. Place this pan, upside down, inside an oven and turn the heat on to 350 degrees. Once the oven reaches this temperature, bake it for one hour before turning off heat and allowing to cool completely inside oven. This can be done several times for a thicker, stronger seasoning.

Renew and fortify seasoning after each use by wiping or scrubbing out your pan (a little hot, barely soapy water is fine, but no steel wool this time) before drying then rubbing an even coating of oil on the inside of the pan.

Then heat the pan on the top of the stove until it just barely starts to smoke, turn off the heat, wipe the pan one more time and remove it from the heat to cool.

Gluten Free Southern Cornbread

Courtesy of a southerner from https://www.gritsandpinecones.com/old-fashioned-southern-cornbread/

  • 4 tablespoons fat (preferably bacon fat)
  • 2 cups coarse stone-ground cornmeal (I use half store bought and half home ground)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large beaten eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the fat to a 10-inch skillet before putting skillet in the oven to melt the fat and heat the skillet.

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients (a metal bowl is probably best) while the pan heats, approximately 5-7 minutes or until the skillet is (as one writer said) screaming hot.

Using heat protection, remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the hot fat to coat the skillet before pouring the hot oil into the dry ingredients while stirring. Working quickly so the skillet stays hot, add half the buttermilk, then the eggs. Fold the ingredients together; do not beat. Add more buttermilk to make the batter pourable.

Pour this mixture into the hot skillet and then return skillet to the oven and bake 20-25 minutes. You can try to upend the cornbread onto a plate if you think your pan is non-stick, or simply cut it like pie.

Southern Fried Chicken

Courtesy https://www.southernkitchen.com/recipes/main-dish/southern-cast-iron-fri…

  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • ½ cup hot sauce
  • 1 3 ½-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 8 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • Vegetable shortening or peanut oil for frying

In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk and hot sauce. Add chicken pieces and transfer to the refrigerator to marinate at least 6 hours.

In a large, heavy-duty paper bag combine dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Remove chicken from the buttermilk, allowing the excess to drain off. Add the pieces to the bag and shake vigorously until coated. Remove from the bag and shake off excess coating. Transfer to a wire rack to rest 15 minutes.

Fill a large cast iron skillet one-third of the way with shortening or oil and then place over medium-high heat to bring oil to 325 degrees. Once hot, add the legs and thighs to the outside of the skillet and cook 2-3 minutes before adding the breasts and wings. Cover the skillet with a wire splatter screen to prevent grease from escaping. Flip the chicken once half-done and cook to an internal temperature of about 165 degrees (10-15 minutes).

Allow to rest on wire rack up to 10 minutes before serving.

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Farm to Fork

DANVILLE – Long tables carefully set with vintage dinnerware in the middle of the quad at Danville Area Community College and a delicious meal prepared by culinary arts instructor Dana Wheeler await guests next month at a Farm to Fork dinner.

The dinner on Saturday, Aug. 25, not only will showcase fresh produce and herbs, much of which is grown on the college’s 5.5-acre sustainability farm on North Daisy Lane, but it also will serve as a fundraiser to continue the work being done at the farm.

“It’s a fundraiser to supplement the funds we need for supplies, like seeds or if we need to fix farm equipment,” Wheeler said. “The first year we had the farm, we had a grant.

“They still have more things they want to do at the farm,” she said, adding that apple trees were planted there earlier this year. “They’re putting in a children’s area and garden, a washing station and a bee observation tower.”

Rebecca Doss, administrative assistant for the executive vice president’s office of instruction and student services, said, “The bee observation tower is something that’s been talked about and is in the works. We hope to have it in the near future.”

The property is being leased at no cost to DACC by owners Kristy Herr Bartos and her husband, Jerry Bartos. Herr Bartos, who serves on the DACC Foundation Board, offered the college the use of the property in 2015 as a learning site.

Since then, DACC students in a variety of courses of study as well as younger children and teens from District 118’s schools and community programs have reaped hands-on experience and knowledge from the sustainability farm and student learning land laboratory.

“The farm is used much more than just for culinary arts,” Wheeler said. “Peer Court brings kids to get in some of their service hours, and the horticulture and green programs at the college use it, too.”

The college uses the donated land to grow a wide array of crops and native prairie plants, keep honeybees and maintain bluebird nesting boxes. The vegetables, fruit, herbs and honey produced at the farm are used by DACC’s culinary arts program but also are shared with the community.

“We donate a lot of the produce to DACC students, take it to area food pantries, and community organizations like Community Action, Rescue Mission, the VA and the women’s shelter,” Wheeler said.

The Farm to Fork event, in which guests are asked to dress in casual business attire, will kick off with a social hour starting at 5:30 p.m. with sangria and hors d’oeuvres.

For the 6 p.m. dinner, Wheeler is preparing a menu that includes smoked beef brisket, grilled herb chicken, assorted salads, green beans, potatoes and desserts. Fresh lemonade and raspberry iced tea also will be served.

Wheeler said the ingredients for the meal “have been produced on our (DACC) farm or sourced from local farms.”

“It’ll be all fresh-grown produce,” she said. “We’re going to use it for the sides, salads and desserts.”

For months, Wheeler has been scouring thrift shops and estate sales for enough vintage dinnerware and serving bowls to use for the family-style meal. Community members have helped donate some of the dinnerware. Donations are still being accepted at the Corporate and Community Education office in the Bremer Center.

“I think we’re also going to have some entertainment from a student or staff member,” she said. “Mostly, it’ll be a time for people to get together and get to know one another.”

If it rains, the dinner will be relocated to the Bremer Conference Center, Wheeler said.

Doss, administrative assistant for the executive vice president’s office of instruction, is in charge of taking reservations for the Farm to Fork event.

“This is the first time we’ve done this, so we’re just taking reservations at this time,” Doss said. “They can call or email in the reservation and then pay at the door or send a check made out to DACC with Farm to Fork in the memo so we know where it’s going.

“I’m excited about the event. I hope it will go over really well,” Doss said. “Dana is preparing a real nice meal, and there are a lot of good things happening at the farm.”

To RSVP

To make reservations or for more information about the Farm to Fork event starting at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, on the quad at Danville Area Community College, please contact Rebecca Doss at 443-8770 or email rdoss@dacc.edu or contact Dana Wheeler at 918-0573. Tickets for the event are $75 per person with all proceeds benefiting DACC’s sustainability farm.

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KitchenAid signs up as Vitality Expo sponsor

Kitchen appliance brand KitchenAid is to sponsor the cookery stage at Vitality Expo health and wellbeing event in the RDS on September 8/9. Presented by Health Stores Ireland and INM Events, the expo will feature talks on health, wellbeing, nutrition and skincare, along with 160 exhibitors showcasing relevant products and innovations.

The cookery stage programme includes demos and discussions on wholefood cooking, natural cosmetics, herbal medicines. It will feature speakers including The Happy Pear twins, herbalist Vivienne Campbell, and chef and cookbook author Oliver McCabe. KitchenAid offers countertop appliances, cookware, refrigerators, ovens and wine cellars.

Cliona Carroll, sponsorship and events manager, INM, said Vitality visitors can get tips, tricks and recipe ideas from experts. “Whether you’re a parent looking for natural, wholefood cooking ideas, a gym fanatic looking for the latest nutritional advice, or simply want to learn some new recipes, there’ll be something for you at the expo,” Carroll added.

Tickets are available now at www.vitalityexpo.ie/tickets, under-12s go free.

Pictured at the Vitality Expo launch are BodyByrne founder Paul Byrne, mindfulness expert Alison Canavan, chef and author Oliver McCabe and horticultural therapist Fiann Ó’Nualláin

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Pancake Racing

Every year, in late February in England, the last hurrah before the 40 days of Lent comes in the form of pancakes.

Historically, eggs and milk that wouldn’t keep over Lent had to be used up, so pancakes became the traditional food of the day. According to lore, back in 1445, a baker had to rush to church while her frying pan was still on the stove. She had no choice but to run there, juggling the hot pan and flipping the pancake as she went. This whimsical sprint is now recreated every Shrove Tuesday across England. Pancake races spring up in traditional old towns and central London alike, in backyards and courtyards, and around the college quads at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.

Some races require participants to dress in women’s skirts and blouses, while others demand the runners don chefs’ toques. Some races allow only women to participate, while others allow both men and women (either racing together or in separate heats). Sometimes, high-profile people, such as Members of Parliament, wield skillets to raise money for charity. The rules are simple: Run as fast as you can while flipping your pancake, without falling or dropping either pancake or pan.

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