Powered by Bravenet Bravenet Blog

Tuesday, May 24th 2011

8:00 AM

Grilling Showdown at the Better Homes and Gardens "Chill & Grill" Festival in Chicago!

You know we are big fans of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  Not only do we look to it for inspiration and ideas, how-to, trends, and cooking tips, but, we have been contributors to the magazine as well.  As many of you know, a bathroom renovation that we completed appeared in the September, 2008 issue of the magazine and a spare bedroom that we turned into a crafting studio was in the June, 2010 issue.  So it was a treat to have the magazine actually come to life for me this weekend at the Better Homes and Gardens "Chill & Grill" Festival, getting to meet and interact with several of the familiar names of the folks there that have graced the pages of the magazine for several years!  The elegant, warm, and friendly Editor in Chief Gayle Goodson Butler, Richard Swearinger, Senior Editor, Food and Entertaining, and Nancy Hopkins, Senior Deputy Editor, Food and Entertaining who was a judge at the Grilling Showdown.  

I have said this before and I'll say it again:  The people that I have encountered in the these contests are some of the most amazingly friendly, encouraging, and talented people that I have ever met.  That's not to say that they aren't competitive, they are.  But, most of us show up at these events to have a great time and winning is simply the icing on the cake!  Or, in my case, the pesto on the burger!

This past weekend, I had the privilege of meeting one such person at the Grilling Showdown portion of the Festival. The other finalist and my worthy opponent was Michelle Wiederhold from Phoenix, Arizona.  Although this was her first live competition, she was a pro and poised under the stresses that come with these contests.  Those of you who have competed in these live, timed competitions know what I'm talking about:  Those little unknown things that happen at the last minute and have the potential to throw you off.  She was missing some items as was I, but in the end we laughed, prayed, and, as it usually happens, it all worked out and we were ready about 15 minutes before we hit the stage.  

And, she was so nice!  We only had 30 minutes to prep beforehand and she knew that I had a lot of prep work to do.  (Note:  I seem to create a lot more work for myself in these competitions with the recipes I enter and the fact the everything has to be perfect.  But, it seems to be working for me so far, so I'm going to stick with it!  Call it OCD or ADD--whatever, it is what it is, right?)  Anyway, she was planning to do most all of her prep on stage so she offered to help me with my prep!  While I declined, I was touched by her sincere offer and when I got back to the hotel, I decided I wanted her to win!

I have to say here that the everyone from Better Homes and Gardens was absolutely fantastic!  Everything was so organized, and besides a few catering glitches, one of the best events that I have had the privilege of participating in!  A special thank you to Kristen Suarez, Promotions Director at the magazine who was also the organizer for the contest and our handler--she was absolutely amazing!  And, even with everything else she had to manage and take care of, she babysat my dough, protecting it as if it were one of her children!

There was a lot on the line:  Title of BHG’s Next Great Griller, $5,000, a Weber® Summit® S-670™ gas grill, a mention in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and an appearance on Better TV!

So, the competition started under cloudy skies but the rain held off.  Having grilled in the rain before, I was happy that Mother Nature cut us a break!  We were given 30 minutes to prep before the show in the prep tent behind the stage.

It was a very crowded space...

...but, we managed to have a great time and get the job done!

Next, it was time to meet the emcee Chef Art Smith and our celebrity chef assistants--the host of "Chopped," Ted Allen, and Daisy Martinez of "Viva Daisy!" 

The amazing panel of judges was there too:  Chefs, cookbook authors, and grilling experts, Jamie Purviance and Elizabeth Karmel, and BHG’s Senior Deputy Food and Entertaining Editor, Nancy Hopkins.

We received our last minute instructions from Katherine Lentini of LeadDog Marketing Group who was wonderfully organized and served as stage manager.

Then, it was time for welcome and introductions from Editor in Chief Gayle Goodson Butler.

Chef Art Smith took the stage in beautiful Lincoln Park.

First up was Michelle for a little "grilling" from Chef Smith.

Next, it was my turn!  He did a wonderful job making us feel so relaxed...

Our "assistants" took the stage and it was time to begin!  40 minutes on the clock...  "Start grillin'!!!"

Ted was paired with Michelle for the first 20 minutes...

...and I was paired with Daisy.  She was awesome!  We were required to assign each chef a portion of our recipe and I had her make the sun dried tomato pesto for me.

She got right down to business measuring...

...and seasoning my creation perfectly!

When I practiced the recipe at home, I was able to complete it within the allotted time but having the help was fun and it made the experience a little more relaxed.  During one practice session at home, I had Rich play Daisy for 20 minutes and Ted for the remaining 20 minutes to give me a feel for the time I'd have during the contest and how to pace myself. 

The grills were awesome!  And HOT!  My fear is always serving something burned or under done and since I had never cooked on these grills before, I had to monitor everything carefully.

It's tough to answer questions and cook at the same time!  I am usually focused during these contests, but on stage personality was a scoring criteria, so I managed to utter a few polite things--I think...  I was wondering if anything was burning!

The first 20 minutes flew by and it was time to switch our assistant chefs. 

Michelle got my Daisy...

And I got her Ted...

I had met Ted at the "Taste of Beverly Hills" where he was a judge for the LG contest.  I had him make the herbed oil vinaigrette and herb salad for the burger and he seemed to appreciate the fact that I had laminated his recipe card!  I thought it might be a good idea because of the weather...

While we were grilling, the judges were watching for grilling technique and our proficiency at our grills.  These judges are experts and know their stuff!

I was going to plate early, but Ted reminded me that on "Chopped" it is down to the wire.  Plate too early and the food gets cold; too late and there's a possibility you don't get food on the plate...  This dilemma could cost a finalist the win.

With minutes to go, it was time to plate!

Michelle served her "Ahi Tuna Tacos" first.  She carried all of her plates to the judges all by herself--seriously, I was amazed by how calm and confident she was!

Rich was so enthralled with the fish taco that he failed to get any pictures of me delivering my "Rustic Italian Marketplace Burgers with Sun Dried Tomato Pesto, Herb Salad, and Baked-on-the-Grill Buns."

He had said early on that the fish tacos were his favorite and that I had my work cut out for me!  Seriously, the support I get sometimes!

Both dishes looked great!  The colors and concepts of each were fresh and worthy of the win.  The judges asked a few questions and made their comments...

...and then Michelle and I waited...

...for the judges to taste...


...and score our dishes!

While the judges were scoring and discussing our dishes, the celebrity chefs on stage were joking around and asked if the judges needed a calculator!

Chef Smith asked a few questions but Michelle and I were ready to hear the results!

And it was finally time for the results!  I felt great about what I had accomplished and had already decided that I would be happy with the outcome even if I didn't win.  Not only for the reasons that I had mentioned earlier, but also because I was proud of what I placed in front of the judges.  For me, as long as I'm happy with what I turn it, I can live with the outcome.  There are so many variables in these contests, and just being able to finish and to be pleased with your dish is a huge acheivement. 

The judges were very complimentary about our dishes and seemed impressed with my buns!  I wanted to do as much as possible on the grill since one of the sponsors was Weber so, on the grill, I toasted the pine nuts for the pesto, simmered the herbs to create the infused oil, baked the buns, and grilled those burgers like I had never grilled burgers before!

In the end, I won!!!!

We got to chat a lot before and after the contest. 

And, although I won the Grand Prize, we both walked away a little bit richer in more ways than one.  For Michelle, I hope the experience was fun and one of many more to come!  For me, I grow a little more confident in my abilities every time I have the opportunity to compete.

Afterwards, we took some photos for the magazine.

This was another amazing experience in this adventure that I love.  I was humbled and delighted by the support of friends who came to cheer me on at the event, which made it all that more special!  I thought by now that Rich would be tired of these contests, but he jumped at the chance to come to this one!  My BFF Lynn who lives in Chicago--I was so happy she finally got to see me compete!  She gets to read most of my recipes and is my number one cheerleader!  Debbie and Kristina Vanni were there and I am disappointed that things were so crazy afterwards that I didn't get to properly thank them for coming!  And, my twin from another mother, Julie Beckwith--it was wonderful to spend some time with her afterwards! 

Here's a little video footage that Rich was able to capture.  One of these days, he's going to get to just sit and enjoy a contest!

Video link!
9 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Monday, November 22nd 2010

9:00 PM

The PR Wheels Are Turning Fast!

This will probably be the only time in my life when I'm in 3 different magazines and a TV commercial!  On the newsstands now is my first place win for the Organic Gardening magazine's Holiday Recipe Contest.

The holiday cookbook "Christmas Cookies" from Betty Crocker is at grocery checkouts!  Several of my cooking friends and I have recipes in this special issue...

The biggie is a 2-page spread in the December, 2010 issue of Food & Wine magazine!  On page 50-51 there's a terrific advertorial about the contest I won in Beverly Hills.

LG has also created a page on their website dedicated to the contest.

Here's a link to the commercial that's currently running:

And a link to a video that a friend of mine produced with some scenes from the "Life Tastes Good" Global Championship in Seoul, South Korea:

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Monday, November 22nd 2010

8:30 PM

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall...

The first floor hallway has always seemed a bit dark.  The recent stair project helped that problem by painting the balusters white--it has seriously brightened up the space as we hoped.  To continue bringing in brightness, light, and reflection to this area, we decided to use a collection of mirrors instead of framed artwork on the wall.

We first started visualizing the placement of the mirrors by taping the mirror shapes on the wall.

After placement was decided, it was time to drill in some serious anchors for these heavy mirrors!

One by one, the mirrors were hung until the desired collage was accomplished.

We're happy with the results!  Walking up the stairs, the reflections are ever changing...

After the holidays, will we start the renovation on the two remaining bathrooms?!?  Stay tuned...

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Friday, October 22nd 2010

10:00 AM

"Toto, I Don't Think We're in Seoul Anymore…"

Lions, and tigers, and bears, OH MY!  Actually, there were friendly llamas...

...miniature ponies with the bluest of blue eyes...

...mellow cows...

...and several other farm animals...

...on display at the The National Oyster Festival...

...last weekend in St. Mary's County, Maryland.  The weather was gorgeous and brought out a huge crowd. 

There were also more oysters than I had ever seen before in my life!

I was there for the Cook-Off portion of the weekend's entertainment. 

In my case, it was more like a "Burn-Off" since the oven I had to use was equivalent to an incinerator!!! 

Complete with rusty racks and impossible to regulate oven temperature, the ovens were a nightmare--more scary than when that house came crashing down on the Wicked Witch of the West!

But, I persevered, begging the oven to cooperate, but it just would not happen...

I don't care if I win or lose--ok, that's a little disingenuous; winning is way better!--but I like to be proud of what I send to the judges and this time, since Barbie's Dream Oven didn't cooperate, I was mortified with what I had to submit for judging. 

I was happy with my simple plating...

...oyster shells were used for the balsamic drizzle...

...of my "Rustic Seaside Oyster, Heirloom Tomato, and Goat Cheese Tart."  They were "rustic" alright! 

In the end, my friend Michaela won and deservedly so.  She has been to the cook-off several times and now she is the Oyster Queen!

But, as I reflect on my time at this cook-off, the best part of the weekend was meeting some more of my cooking friends and that's what has made these cook-offs so much fun for me this year.  Like minded people having a great time doing what they love to do:  Cooking…

Michaela battering up...

...and frying her winning creation.

Ronna making her Asian Inspired soup


Barbara and her winning soup with autumn theme

Devon made a delicious Korean dish

Jack was all about oysters and mushrooms

All of the creations looked delicious and I was happy that none of them had to bake their dishes given what I went through--fried, boiled, or raw is definitely to way to go in this contest!

This year of contesting has been an amazing fun time and I have had more good luck than any person deserves!  So what my oven was out of sorts, I still had a blast, made some new friends, learned a lesson, and now I'm looking forward to the next adventure!
3 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Thursday, October 14th 2010

9:00 AM

Vertigo in the Stairway!

One of the first pictures we took when we first saw Kraemer House over 5 years ago was the staircase and front hall as we entered the house.  We saw so much potential!

As we explored up the stairs to the second floor...

...we should have immediately run back down and out the front door.  Funny how with hindsight everything is crystal clear! 

Well, as you know, we didn't run and have tackled this challenge head on for 5 years now.  This current project has see a lot of work over the years.  From the chases that were cut in the wall...

...to run new electrical, cable, and phone lines...

...to the plastering and sanding of late...

...this project is now finished!

While we were in Koreal, Jeff the Floor Guy was hard at work sanding and refinishing hallways...

...and stair treads from the third floor to the first.

It was a treat to come home to newly refinished floors!

But the work wasn't finished just yet.  The following week, the banister and balusters were installed.  First, the newly refinished floors were protected and one by one the pieces of this huge puzzle were brought in.

Next, the balusters were fit into place, one after the other...

...all the way up...

...to the third floor...

...and then the banister was nudged carefully into place.

The newel post was refinished in place and a final coat of polyurethane was applied to banister.

We are thrilled with the end result!  It was a tough decision to paint the balusters white to match the woodwork, but are now convinced that it was the right decision.  The halls can be a bit dark and this was just the thing to brighten the space.  It looks updated and refreshed.

There's still more work to do--nothing ever seems to be truly finished!  The doors to the foyer, closet, and basement have to be sanded and painted--this will be a winter project.  The first priority though will be painting and reinstalling the radiator in the hallway--the weather is cooling quickly and we'll have to turn on the heat soon!

The scope of this project seemed overwhelming at times and this picture from the third floor looking all the way down gives a little idea of the number of steps and obstacles to finish it properly.

3 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Monday, October 4th 2010

9:00 PM

LG Life Tastes Good Championship in Seoul, South Korea

As I organized these pictures and tried to adequately describe my experience at the LG Life Tastes Good Championship in Seoul, South Korea, I realized these images and words simply do not do justice to the memories that I hold in my heart.  And, some things cannot be articulated:  New friendships that were made, personal goals that were met, the thrill and excitement when you hear your name and "representing the United States of America" in the same sentence, feeling the love and excitement of friends and family rooting for you to succeed…

I'll start at the beginning--if you missed the post about the US contest that I won to qualify me for this global event, this link will catch you up to speed!  LG Life Tastes Good US event in Beverly Hills, California.

The LG USA team, Jennifer, Katy, Ellis, and John have all been a fantastic group of people to work with and they worked tirelessly to provide me with a once in a lifetime experience.

From start to finish, here's an actual video link to the event.  It's worth watching the beginning introduction--it made me feel like I was at the Olympics!  LG Life Tastes Good Championship in Seoul, South Korea.  It was an amazing achievement that encompassed 6 continents and 22 countries.  LG put on a wonderful production that was part cooking show, part cooking contest, part promotion, and a whole lot of fun!

Our flight to Seoul was on Korean Air. 

Thanks to LG USA, we flew in Business Class which made the 14 hour flight enjoyable.  Each seat was an individual "pod" that reclined almost totally flat.  The seat in front never moved so personal space wasn't compromised.

We were in the upper deck of a 747 and the service was impeccable!  Two meals and several snacks and movies later, we began our decent into Seoul.

I was struck how clean and new the airport seemed and everyone was helpful and friendly.

I felt like I had stepped into the land of "nice!"  It could have been the jet lag but something told me we weren't in Philadelphia anymore!  And even though I was smuggling in some of the ingredients for my recipe (a friend referred to me as a "culinary mule!"), we made it through customs a little jet lagged but excited to start this amazing adventure.  The exterior looked oddly familiar to me.

After a 45 minute ride to the hotel, we arrived at Grand Hilton Seoul...

...and Convention Center where the contest would be held.

Signs about the event lined the drive--I knew at that moment this was going to be bigger than I had imagined.

After we got settled into the room, I noticed this perfectly raked peaceful rock garden on top of the roof below.

Monday, September 27, 2010.

The first evening, we had the opportunity to see the contest space for the first time.  Though it was a work in progress, it was stunning!  Crisp and high tech!  The thousands and thousands of dollars in Le Creuset colorfully dotting each work space didn't go unnoticed by me.

Also, each work space was designated by each finalist's national flag...

...and additional information.

That night we also had the opportunity to see some of our ingredients for the first time...

...and discuss our needs and concerns with the Chef Judges.

Also, CNN continued their coverage of the event.  They were at the cook-off in Beverly Hills and I was delighted to see some familiar faces--they couldn't have been nicer!  I learned that the event will air in October on CNN International and The Travel Channel.  Tiffany Winter of CNN is here with team USA since the UK didn't send a finalist.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010.

After a good night's sleep, it was time for orientation!  We received our chef's whites--it was the equivalent of cap and gown on graduation day!

Also that day, I was assigned an interpreter!  Sunny Yoo couldn't have been friendlier or more helpful!  She even wrote down notes for me about my oven which was in Korean--sort of important to know how to use your appliances in a cooking contest, don't you think?!?  She was an angel and took great care of me for 2 days.  LG was wonderful to provide this service and even during the dinners, devises were on the tables so guests could listen to the event via live translation.  I felt like I was at the United Nations!

We rehearsed a few things for the evening's event as well as for contest day and had out final ingredient check.

That evening, we were treated to a Gala Dinner.  The feast was the suggested menu for the G20 Summit to be held in Seoul in November.  Chef Edward Kwon's creations were beautiful and tasty!

Sam Gye Tang Ballontine
Jujube, White Cabbage Kimchi, Ginseng Apple Foam, Garlic Tuile, Black Sesame Seeds

New Edge of Hae Mul Naeng Chae
Yabbi, Scallop with Bean Sprouts, Cucumber, Pear, Tangerine, Korean Wasabi Vinaigrette

Soy Braised Beef Short Rib
Forrest Mushroom Ragout, Potato Gnocchi, Spring Onion, Bacon Kimchi Chutney, Puffed Rice

Soo Jung Gua Shooter
Cold Persimmon Ginger Veloute with Candied Pine Nuts and Ginger-Cinnamon/Honey Espuma

Pat Bing Soo
Red Bean Ice Cream, Bok Bun Ja Gelee, Sticky Rice Cake, Milk Granita

The evening also provided us with a glimpse into Korean culture through dance and music.

Before we left, there were a few more interviews.  Here, South African television grabbed me for a few quick questions.

Earlier in the day, 5 of us were selected to represent the group accepting the challenge as Ambassadors to help introduce Korean cuisine to the world.  I was presented the award by the Mayor of Seoul City.  Complete with a bouquet of beautiful flowers and certificate in hand, it was time for bed!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010.

Game day!

The venue was sparkling!  LG had their product line front and center.

And, there was a red carpet!

Team North America was ready for some fun!  The fabulous Bonnie Young of Canada made this event special for me and I couldn't imagine it without her.  The entire Team Canada took me under their wing since the US had no reps there.  A special thank to Frank Lee of LG Canada and Colleen Tully of Canadian Living, the sponsor of the LG Canada event, for being so gracious to this lonely American!

News Flash...  It turns out in the events leading up to this Global Competition, there were different rules for each country:  Some were professionals, some in culinary school, some were teams of 2--but even with these obstacles, I was determined to have a great time and simply do my personal best.  While some may have shown up with more skills and techniques than I have, what they didn't have was my passion and excitement for representing the USA to the best of my abilities and to enjoy each and every moment of this exciting event.

The venue was stunning!

The hosts did a fantastic job--Korea's own pop star and TV personality.

When it was my turn, the American flag flashed across the screen...

...and then my recipe.

I then took my place at my work station...

... to wait for the clock to start!

Next, it was time to cook!  Oddly, I wasn't the least little bit nervous--I was, however, determined to enjoy every moment of this and have no regrets when it was over.  It was a whirlwind from the beginning with all of the media and cameras.  But, I had learned my lesson back at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in April and just blocked everything out.  After all, I had bigger concerns--like figuring out the Korean instructions on the appliances!

I did take a moment to take a picture of the media near my station--it was crazy!

All of the finalists were busy at work.  I have to admit that at one point I really wished I was a team of 2!

Meat grilling...

Salad tossing...

Time to plate!

With 3:30 minutes left on the clock, I was finished!  I had a blast and was happy with the food I produced.  While there were more elaborate dishes, mine was real food--full of flavor and not intimidating.  I was proud that I accomplished what I had set out to do.

Time for judging...

The score sheet:

At each dish, there were setups with utensils and water for the judges.

Then, one by one, the judges stopped by for a sample.  Chef Kwon loved my dish and said he thought I should open my own restaurant!  As head chef of the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai--the world's only "seven star" hotel--I'll take that as a compliment!

Known as Iran's Martha Stewart, Chef Sanaz Manaie has her own television show and magazine, and has published numerous books.

Here, she says to me that she loves it and asks what's in the marinade.  Coming from the land of kabobs, that's a HUGE compliment!  Earlier in the contest, she stopped by and tasted my vinaigrette.

Next to stop by was Guy Martin of France.  Can you say 3 Michelin Stars?!?  He has more than a dozen cookbooks.  He was kind and quiet and difficult to read...

In total, there were 8 LG executives and 4 world renowned chefs who served as judges for this event.  While the score sheets were tallied, time for more interviews!

The media was in place in front of the display dishes and stage awaiting the announcement.

Then, it was time to announce the winners!  I think I was stunned at this point--having seen some amazing creations, I didn't think I stood a chance.  But, when my name was called, I just hoped it wasn't for the "Biggest Loser" award!

It turns out that I had won the "Infinite Taste of Seoul" Award.  Besides the big prize, I would have picked this prize if given the choice.  It encompassed the theme of this experience and was presented by the City of Seoul--it truly has special meaning for me.

After each award was presented, I realized what a lucky guy I am!

After the winners were announced, all of the finalists were invited on stage for a photo op.  I'm in the front row by the LG President.  It's a little too late at that point to ask for my oven to be converted to English, I guess...

My award weighs about 10 pounds! 

I was presented with a set of exquisite fine bone china from the City of Seoul.  From Korea's own Hankook Chinaware, these pieces are beautiful.

Here I am with Chef Franck Bruwier of Le Cordon Bleu.  He told me he thought I had won...  He was amazingly helpful--nice, thoughtful chef.  He fought to get me the best watercress available in Korea!

Chef Gissur Gudmundsson is President of the prestigious World Association of Chefs' Societies.  He was full of helpful info and wanted us all to do our best.

The awesome Chef Edward Kwon!

The wonderful Caroline Boutoille of France, who cooked "Barbecued Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary, Mashed Cauliflower and Broccoli Meal, Frozen Vegetables, Red Pepper Emulsion" won the LG Global Grand Master Chef Prize.  I had the pleasure of spending 2 days with Caroline and I am thrilled that she won this!  A special lady that I am happy to call friend.

Before the evening was over, I had one last interview with the CNN team.  Adam Woods and Tiffany Winter were fantastic and it was a pleasure to meet them both--great ambassadors for journalists worldwide!

My friend Yelena Lim captured photos of many of the finalists and their amazing dishes.  Check them out by clicking here...

When we returned home, I was greeted by an article in my local newspaper, the Reading Eagle.

My mug was on the front page!!

The article was in the Life section--almost a full page...

...and was continued on the next page.  Susan Shelly of the Reading Eagle did a fantastic job and it was a nice homecoming surprise!  Thanks Susan!

Here's a follow-up article that appeared the following week.

The next installment will include a recap of our time in the beautiful City of Seoul.

A special thank you to Rich for taking all of these pictures, for being a sherpa, and an all around great sport as I live this adventure...
12 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Monday, September 20th 2010

1:23 PM

Deadline Met!

It wasn't that long ago that it looked like a nuclear winter around here. 

Countless hours of plastering and sanding were greeted with many more hours of priming and painting, but now, finally, it's starting to feel like a home and not a perpetual work in progress!

We were on a self-imposed deadline to move this project to the "done" column before the end of September so Jeff, The Floor Guy, could come in and work his magic and we could really be done! Then, Brett won the LG "Life Tastes Good" cooking contest and it bumped up our finish date since we leave for Seoul soon for the global competition.  (And, then there are those pesky jobs that get in the way of any possible momentum!)

So, after months and months of work, we met the deadline and are thrilled with the results. (Note to self:  Several doors still need to be painted!)

Walls and woodwork painted, it's looking fresh and rejuvenated!

Details emerged that we didn't even realize were there.

And finally, new lighting...

...that was purchased years ago was hung!

This light in the foyer will be matched by the same on in the first- and second-floor halls.  We're holding off on hanging those until the banister and spindles are reinstalled at the beginning of October.

We're already looking forward to coming home to the newly refinished floors after our trip to South Korea!
2 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Monday, September 13th 2010

8:00 AM

Let's Have a Food Fight!

This weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in the Aetna Healthy Food Fight Contest.  From the qualifying submissions, 48 recipes were chosen for the Philadelphia region based on nutritional value as determined by the Culinary Institute of America for 50% of the score.  For the remaining 50%--15% for presentation and 35% for taste--there were 8 rounds of 6 over 2 days of competition and 1 winner will advance to the finals--results this week!

The event was part of the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival in the beautiful village of Kennett Square.  Rich informed me that the Revolutionary War took place around these parts and I sort of felt like I was taking part in my own little battle! 

The event was "rain or shine" and I wasn't about to let a little rain keep me away!  Besides, each work station was covered!

Each work station was shiny and new--I loved the oven and tried to think of way to take it home with me!

When the clock started, it was time to start chopping!  When I submitted my recipe, I didn't realize that the contest would be held in conjunction with the Mushroom Festival but I hope I got a few points for that!

With things roasting in the oven, I had time to chat with Chef Rudy of the Culinary Institute of America.  Very nice man and interested in all aspects of the recipe.

It was raining on and off, but that didn't deter the Chef Rudy from stopping by to chat.

While the judges were anxiously waiting to sample our creations...

...I was starting to plate my dishes for them.

...then it was time to present my "Asian Marketplace Salad" for judging!  I kept thinking:  Don't trip!!

Time to answer a few questions!


...and Chef Rudy...

...both seemed to like my dish. 

The scores will be tallied and winners notified this week!  Win or lose, it was a lot of fun--and with each of these contests I learn something new, gain more confidence, and become a better cook (and competitor!)  And, I have the opportunity to meet some very interesting characters, like Sunny Anderson!  She was amazingly sweet, engaging, and FUN!  And, the CIA's Chef Rudy--full of interesting information and his love for food was apparent!

There will be 10 regional finalists who will compete for the grand prize in Los Angeles in November.  The Challenge:  Create a healthy Thanksgiving meal!  Each finalist will be presented with identical baskets of ingredients and in the time allotted, will have to come up with a winning dish!  The judges will be Bobby Flay, Cat Cora, Sara Moulton, and Sunny Anderson. 

Should be fun--good luck to all those who make it!
2 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, September 8th 2010

10:00 PM

Just Call Me "America's Top Amateur Chef!!"

First, winning is much better than the alternative!  I had told myself that the real prize for me was Food & Wine's "Taste of Beverly Hills" event.  But, in the days leading up to the event, I began to feel a little more competitive and decided that I was in it to win it!  Having been to 3 different contests recently, I felt I could write a great recipe but what I really wanted to do was actually execute my recipe with a win.  With that goal in mind, I arrived in Los Angeles ready to have a great time and win this one! 

After a comfortable flight in first class, we were met with a car service and whisked to the Beverly Hilton.  Home to red carpet events throughout the year, it was a beautiful property.

When we arrived in the room, a gift bag--swag!--from Food & Wine was waiting for me.

After a quick meeting with the LG and Food & Wine teams to go over the contest day schedule, we were treated to the most amazing meal hosted by the wonderful folks at LG.  It was at The Bazaar at SLS Hotel.  Difficult to articulate, the entire experience--food and setting--was amazing.  And, even with the impending contest looming, we all had a fantastically relaxed time.

When we returned to the hotel, we could see the event going on from our hotel window. 

So, even as tired as we were, Rich and I ventured out to check out the action!

Only in LA:  A red carpet!

Earlier in the evening Larry King and the Kardashians had received keys the city. 

Then, the musical guests entertained throughout the evening.

There was food everywhere from some of LA's top restaurants.  From recipes inspired by molecular gastronomy like this interpretation of bruschetta...

...to the made-to-order sushi bites from the chefs at Katana...

...the dishes were intriguing and begging to be sampled!

Cured barramundi from Tom Colicchio’s Craft was amazing!

Chef Nancy Silverton manned the booth for her Osteria Mozza, offering a creamy cup of perfection disguised as a butterscotch budino.

For breakfast, how about a banana crepe with Nutella foam and a bloody Mary?

Inspiration was all around for this foodie!  The cooking demonstrations were fun and informative.  Chefs Tim Love...

...and Ludo Lefebvre presented demos for the evening, showcasing their respective cooking styles for the happy crowd.

For his demo, the personable Scott Conant presented tips and tricks for making the best pasta and sauce at home, demonstrating the art of handmade noodles with a fresh marinara sauce.

Art Smith was a Southern treat!

And Ted Allen was informative, approachable, and fun to watch.

For the entire weekend, the LG team was incredibly supportive, enthusiastic, and interested in the finalists.  They sincerely wanted us all to have a fantastic time and do the best in the competition that we could possibly do.  And the Food & Wine team pulled off a flawless event that I hope will become an annual affair!

After a good night's sleep, it was show day!  CNN was there filming the event for a special to air in October.  There was really no time to get nervous since we were shuttled from interview to interview.  Then, finally, it was time to prep our dishes!  We were assigned to a space in the bowels of the venue to prep our dishes.  We were also required to prep additional parts of our recipes for live demos during the show.

Then it was SHOW TIME!  The sold-out, standing room only crowd was ready for a contest!

Placed on each seat in the audience, was a description of the event.  Every detail was well thought out...

There were cameras everywhere capturing every moment of the action! 

The clock ticking, it was time to get down to business!

The stage was divided into three kitchens with amazing state of the art, brand new LG appliances.  A major part of making a successful dish is having the right appliances and the LG appliances certainly made it fast and easy.

The judges were on stage with us during the contest and were free to walk around and ask us questions. 

On one side of the stage, there was Chef Tim Love, season two winner of "Iron Chef America" and Ted Allen of Food Network's "Chopped."

On the other side of the stage was "Top Chef Masters" fan favorite, Ludo Lefebvre and Michael Voltaggio, Chef de Cuisine at The Dining Room, Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena and last year's "Top Chef" winner.

Here, Michael asked me about my dish.

Then, Chef Tim Love stopped by to chat. 

These guys were amazing--having been through similar situations, they were respectful and supportive, and FUN!.  The culinary talent that was on the stage that day was mind blowing to this amateur home cook!  Seriously folks, I was cooking a dish that was about to be served to some of this county's most well-known celebrity chefs and <gasp!> I was having a great time!

The relaxed atmosphere allowed the finalists to also have time for some casual chat as well.

Lou Kostura of Belmont, California had a delicious dish of "Crab Stuffed Pork Tenderloin" while...

...Paula Mannino of Spokane, Washington made her "Chicken Cacciatore with Polenta."

And, here I am preparing my "Orange Scented Lamb Skewers Atop Watercress and Roasted Fig Salad with Baked Goat Cheese Crisps."  Yep, I should have won simply for having the longest title!

Time to grill the meat!

I was begging this meat to cook perfectly!

And then, it was time to let it rest...

I had timed the roasted figs and goat cheese crisps to come of the oven just in time for plating.  The LG double wall oven made that a piece of cake!

Next, it was time to plate my dish.

I was happy with the way everything turned out--even with the challenges of cooking in an unfamiliar setting, I was proud of my dish...

...and now, it was in the hands of the judges.

I was relieved that I accomplished what I had set out to do!

We then had to present our dishes to the judges and answer their questions.

LG had installed huge flat screen TVs so the audience could see everything close-up. 

While the judges deliberated, host Sissy Biggers kept the crowd on the edge of their seats.

At first, I thought it was going to be intimidating, but competing in from of an audience was a lot of fun!  Now, as we waited, I started feeling the intensity of this day...

Paula was announced the second runner up so it was down to Lou and me...

Then, I was announced as the winner!


Link: LG "Taste of Something Better"

Time to smile pretty for the camera!

The mayor of Beverly Hills wanted some camera time too!

Team LG:  Ellis and Jennifer.  These guys were awesome and made the event special for me!

LG Exec John and host Sissy Biggers--both fantastic hosts!

Then it was time for more interviews...


Good Day LA...  And several others I can't remember...

I was presented with a beautiful cutting board to commemorate this event.

...and, I was awarded a medal.

I had an amazing time at this event and I'm looking forward to representing the US in Seoul at the Global Competition at the end of the month.  Lots of unknowns about that one, but I plan on approaching it with the same sense of amusement and fun as I did here!  Win, lose, or draw, it will an experience that only comes around once in a lifetime...

Seoul, here I come!  Thank you LG and Food & Wine for a beautifully exciting weekend!!!

*A special thanks to Rich for taking many of these fun pictures for me to be able to share!  Since everything was a blur, it helps to see what actually happened!!

Press Release:

America's Top Amateur Chef Crowned at LG Electronics' 2010 'Taste of Something Better' Cooking Competition


Brett Youmans from Reading, Pa. to Represent United States in 'Life Tastes Good' Global Cooking Competition

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Sept. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- As the heat was rising in the LG Kitchen at the first-ever "Taste of Beverly Hills" wine and food festival presented by FOOD & WINE, a distinguished panel of celebrity chefs proclaimed Brett Youmans from Reading, Pa., America's "Top Amateur Chef" in the second annual LG Electronics USA "Taste of Something Better" cooking competition.

The winner took home an impressive prize package, including a complete LG kitchen makeover and the opportunity to represent the United States in LG's global 2010 "Life Tastes Good" Championship taking place later this month in Seoul, South Korea, with more than 20 representatives from across the world competing for the global title.

With just under an hour on the clock, competition finalists – Youmans, Paula Mannino of Spokane, Wash., and Lou Kostura of Belmont, Calif. – worked furiously in the LG Kitchen to perfect their culinary masterpieces.  Judging the competition was a world-class team of celebrity chefs: Ted Allen, host of the Food Network's hit primetime series "Chopped," Tim Love, season two winner of "Iron Chef America,"  Michael Voltaggio, Chef de Cuisine at The Dining Room, Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena, and "Top Chef Masters" fan favorite, Ludo Lefebvre.

After the judges conferred and deliberated, Youmans was crowned the winner for his orange scented lamb skewers atop watercress and roasted fig salad with baked goat cheese crisps prepared on the LG induction cooktop. Kostura was awarded first runner up for his crab stuffed pork tenderloin cooked to perfection using the LG built-in wall oven, while Mannino took home second runner up for her chicken cacciatore with polenta recipe using the induction cooktop and LG over-the-range microwave with warming lamp technology. Lifestyle expert Sissy Biggers, who has been showcased on Food Network's "Ready, Set, and Cook!" and ABC's "Extreme Makeover," served as emcee for the Beverly Hills cook-off and festivities.  

"It was a great experience to compete in front of an audience, and have my dish judged by such culinary talent. All of the finalists did a fantastic job, and it was exciting to compete against them," said Youmans. "I'm thrilled to be going to Korea to represent the U.S. in LG's global cooking competition."

The three finalists, having traveled from various places across the country to compete in the competition, were chosen from hundreds of submissions in an LG-sponsored recipe contest announced earlier this summer.  

"LG's 'Taste of Something Better' cooking competition is truly a celebration of the home chef and the many creative recipes that are born out of the home kitchen," said Ellis Mass, Brand Director, Home Appliances, LG Electronics USA. "Today, I had the pleasure of presenting the award for America's 'Top Amateur Chef' and seeing the culinary prowess that LG hopes to encourage in the kitchen by providing the tools needed to tackle any cooking challenge - whether entertaining for a group like today or a simple family meal."

Although Youmans took home the grand prize, none of the contestants went home empty-handed.  The three prize packages included:

  • Grand prize:  Youmans earned a trip for two to South Korea to compete in LG's global cooking competition, a premium LG kitchen package, including gas cooktop, double wall oven, 4-door French-door refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave oven.
  • Runner-up: Kostura won a complete LG premium appliance package including gas cooktop, double wall oven and 4-door French-door refrigerator.
  • Second runner-up: Mannino was awarded an LG double wall oven.

About LG Electronics USA

LG Electronics USA, Inc., based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is the North American subsidiary of LG Electronics, Inc., a global force and technology leader in consumer electronics, home appliances and mobile communications. In the United States, LG Electronics sells a range of stylish and innovative home entertainment products, mobile phones, home appliances and business solutions, all under LG's "Life's Good" marketing theme. For more information, please visit www.LG.com.

About Taste of Beverly Hills

The "Taste of Beverly Hills" presented by FOOD & WINE, will benefit the Beverly Hills Education Foundation and will take place across from the Beverly Hilton Hotel September 2-5, 2010. The schedule of activities will include afternoon and evening sessions, and will range from local restaurant tastings, wine and mixology seminars, to cooking demonstrations from the city's most sought-after chefs as well as America's celebrated chefs and personalities, and live entertainment from some of the music world's most respected artists. Tickets will be available starting July 14, 2010 for $125 per person, with advance purchase, for a day session pass; $150 per person, with advance purchase, for an evening session pass; and $500 per person for an all-access weekend packages that will allow guests into afternoon and evening sessions, seminars, how-to's, and chef demos, competitions, and more. Hotel weekend packages will also be available for visitors to the city on Labor Day weekend. For further information on these and other festival news and updates please call 877.434.TOBH (8624) or visit www.thetasteofbeverlyhills.com or find more information on Facebook and Twitter.

SOURCE LG Electronics USA, Inc.

9 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, September 1st 2010

8:00 AM

Color Me Beautiful!

It's been a long time coming but the stairway/hall project is winding down.  There's still lots of woodwork to paint, but the light at the end of the tunnel is shining brighter. 

The woodwork and walls now smooth, it was time to prime! 

Everything--woodwork, walls, and ceiling--received 2 coats.  That was A LOT of paint!

The ceilings were painted with two coats of Sherwin-Williams "Extra White" ceiling paint.

Next, it was time to tape off the woodwork so wall color could be applied.

Finally, it was time to cut in some color! 

When we moved in, most of the walls were white so it was a difficult choice since there is so much wall space.  In the end, we chose a color called "Horn" from Sherwin-Williams.  It's a warm, creamy yellow. 

It should work well with all of the white woodwork and the amber-colored hardwood floors.  (The color may look a little distorted because of the rosin paper on the floor and the brown paper over the woodwork...)

The buzzard that's been hanging out on barn roof has been waiting for one of us to expire.  It's been 5 long years and we never thought it would take us this long!  But, we've said it once and we'll be saying it until we're done:  "we're making progress!" 

So back off Mr. Buzzard!

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Sunday, August 15th 2010

6:00 PM

We've Been As Busy As A Buzzing Bee!

The interior stair project is well underway and pictures will be posted soon.  But before there is once again snow on the ground, we wanted to get some gardening pictures posted!  Even though we scaled back a "little" bit this year, the garden's bounty has been prolific.  That's been helped by...

...our busy buzzing bee friends!  Here, the cucumbers are pollinated by a diligent winged worker.  Soon, a baby cucumber appears...

...and in a few short days, it's time to pick, slice, and enjoy!

Last year we trellised the cucumbers and liked the results so we repeated it again this year.

The vertical growth results in straighter fruit and more space in the garden for the wild vines.

The delicate tendrils are amazingly strong and offer support to the vines and heavy fruit.

The onions--white, red, and yellow--have been dug and are drying for later use.

Green beans have been absolutely amazing this year.  One small row produced a colander-full of perfect pods.

To preserve the flavor for later enjoyment, the beans were blanched and placed into vacuum bags...

...to be processed in the Food Saver...

...where the air is removed from the bags and placed in the freezer to enjoy later.

The carrots had done really well this year early on.  But...

 ...it was hit or miss for awhile after an invader decided to devour the tops of the carrots stunting the growth for awhile.  Although a little Abu Ghraib torture was in order...

....the offending groundhog was relocated to greener pastures to become someone else's problem!

We planted one-third of the tomato plants that we planted last year, but the crop has been amazing.

Brett's friend Beth sent him a Superman T-shirt--we only wish the shirt had come with super powers so we could flash-forward this renovation!

Potatoes have been dug...

The crop was not huge...

...but will provide us with enough potatoes to enjoy well into winter.

In the herb garden, the cilantro has bloomed...

and turned to seed.

The seeds, or fruit, have now dried.  Some will be saved to be planted next year and others will toasted and ground to be used in the kitchen.

Remember the rose garden that was planted a few weeks back? 

Well, it has grown very well, even in this heat, and we're happy to report that each rose plant has bloomed at this point. 

Several of you have asked and soon we'll post the names of the roses we planted.  The first one to bloom was "Sheer Magic."  It's an amazing rose because it opens as one color and slowly morphs into another color as it matures.  Just like magic!

In the cutting garden, the zinnias...

...have flourished in this heat.

And the butterfly bushes have certainly lived up to their name!

2 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Tuesday, August 10th 2010

12:00 PM

Beringer "Great Steak Challenge" in Washington, DC

The Beringer "Great Steak Challenge" in Washington, DC was a blast!  I was so happy to have been selected as a finalist and enjoyed every minute of it.  The event was totally different from the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in a lot of good ways. Since there were only 10 finalists, the event seemed more intimate.  We even had the opportunity to interact with the judges.

The event started with a reception on the evening before the Grill-Off so we could meet the Beringer staff and other contestants.

The next day when we arrived at the venue, the weather didn't look promising--there was a huge storm and we thought we have to grill in the rain!

The event was in a huge air conditioned tent!  Key word is air conditioned--it was about 100 degrees outside and we were prepared to sweat a lot, so this came as a welcomed surprize!  The event was sold out--they were expecting 500 people to attend!  Here's a look before the crowd arrived...

...and after!

My cooking friends Christina Verrelli and Jasmin Baron made the event even more fun!  I was so happy that my buddy Christina was a finalist!  We met at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest and it was more fun to get to do this with friends!  It was a pleasure meeting Jasmin--I'm certain our paths will cross at other contests soon!  I had the honor of taking the "The Runaway Apron" with me to the event.  It has traveled all over and there might just be a book in the making about it!

Paula Deen's progeny, Jamie and Bobby were the emcees at the event. 

They were super nice and very accessible before and after the event.  Bobby looks like my long lost Southern brother!

The event was divided into 2 heats.

Jamie Deen did the introductions...

Then, we took our spots at our prep tables and were all <nervous!> smiles!

When the clock started ticking, it was all business!  We only had 30 minutes to prepare a delicious steak for the judges...

The judges roamed around, asking questions about our recipes and chatting with the finalists... 

...and photographers were everywhere!

There's a fine line between being cordial and saying "Hey, I have some grillin' to do!" 

I kept my cool and had a lot of fun!

It was down to the wire and time to plate my dish!

WHEW!  I finished in the allotted time and presented my dish to the judges!

Then, the judges deliberated on all of the outstanding entries.

Relieved that we were all done, it was time to celebrate our accomplishment!

I won 4th place and bragging rights for being able to cook a Fred Flintstone cut of meat that was 3 times the size I requested and, in the end, impressed the chef judge who wrote on the evaluation form, "Best Steak!"

Deservedly, the "Fillet with Oysters Rockafeller" won.  She had "grill issues" and I shared my grill with her.  After the oven issues I had at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, I was happy to help out! 

The Beringer staff was awesome and I was proud to have been a part of the contest.  Though I wanted to win the trip to Napa, with the way my luck luck has been going lately, I just might make it there one of these days!

You've heard of the saying, "When one door closes, another one opens up..."?  Well, I recently found out that I have been selected as one of 3 finalists competing in the LG/Food & Wine "Taste of Something Better" Contest which will be held as part of the "Taste of Beverly Hills" over Labor Day weekend!  The following illustrations are form the Facebook page of "Taste of Beverly Hills" and it looks like the event will be very exciting!

Well known celebrity chefs will be in attendance with samples and demonstrations and lots of exciting entertainment--it should be quite an event!

I'll have to prepare my entree in front of a live audience...

...and then subject myself to judging by the Food Networks Ted Allen of "Chopped" and "Top Chef Master's" Tim Love!  This should be an awesome event and I'm excited and nervous but have learned something from the events that I have participated in so far and I hope to take that knowledge with me to this one.  The winner of the contest will compete in an international cooking competition in Seoul, South Korea!  I'm just excited to be able to attend the event--anything else is icing!!

Here's a link to this event's highlights:

"Taste of Beverly Hills" schedule

5 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Thursday, July 29th 2010

11:30 PM

Not a One Trick Pony!

Brett here:  I'm not a one trick pony!  After the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest I wondered if I would ever get to compete in another cooking competition.

I was an honorable mention in the "Mix it Up with Betty" Betty Crocker Cookie Contest...

...and, I won Runner-Up in the Grilled Dessert category in the Sur la Table Grilling Contest.

But, I wanted to actually compete!  Well:  I received a call a couple weeks ago that I am one of 10 regional finalists in the Beringer Great Steak Challenge!  There are 10 regionals across the US this summer and the winner from each region will travel to the beautiful Beringer Vineyards in Napa Valley, CA to compete for a cash prize!  But everyone is a winner--I received $1000 for being a finalist!  My region consists of PA, NY, NJ, DE, DC, and MD.  Oh, the kicker--I will have only 30 minutes to grill!

I'm terribly excited to compete again--the event will be held in Washington, DC on Thursday, August 5th.  If I am lucky enough to win, the national challenge will be held in October and filmed by Food Network and The Cooking Channel...  If not, I'm certain it will be a blast!

The Deen Brothers are the hosts, check out this video to see what it's all about!

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Saturday, July 10th 2010

12:00 PM

Stairway to Heaven...

...well, not exactly heaven, but 37 steps to the third floor!  The "heaven" part is that there's a light at the end of the tunnel and it's oh, so bright!  Then, after this never-ending project is completed, we'll only have 2 more bathrooms and some exterior work to finish...

With most of the wall prep completed, it was time to move on to the staircase.

Day one, and Mark, the stair guy, carefully removed the balusters.  While we're almost all of the work around here ourselves, some things you need to leave to the professionals!

Everything fits together like puzzle pieces.  Craftsmanship like this rarely exists these days. 

The balusters--roughly 100 total...

...have chiseled notches on the bottoms...

...that fit into the risers like a glove. 

Next, the handrail was removed.

The newel post will be refinished in place after the floors and stairs are refinished.  It is capped...

...with a beautiful hand-carved rosette.

We always love when we discover messages or writing on things around here as we have renovated.  Here, "Stony Creek" refers to our area and the mill.  On another piece, there was a date written in pencil--October, 1875.  Since the house was built in 1870, they must have been working at the same pace we are!  5 years later and we're still at it!

Jeff, the floor guy, is scheduled for August, 30 so we have our work cut out for us in the meantime! 
1 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, June 30th 2010

12:00 PM

There's A Garlic Festival in the Garden!

The rose garden is now completed!  Well, except for seven roses to be ordered and planted next spring.  Since we got a late start with this project we couldn't find all of the roses we wanted.  The upside is looking through catalogs this winter looking for the perfect ones!

The bare rooted roses that we mentioned in the last post are doing well and have responded favorably to the heat wave that we've been having.

The edging for path through the rose garden was installed.

It's made from recycled milk cartons, making it environmentally friendly!

The installation was simple.

Landscape cloth went down as a weed barrier...

...and gravel was spread for the walk.

Next, drip irrigation was installed to keep the plants well-watered and happy.

The finished project is a welcomed addition to our garden!

The rest of the garden is doing quite well this year too.  The eggplants are blooming and...

...we should have some eggplants to eat soon!  This one is "Ichiban" an Asian variety.

Tomatoes are in full growth mode...

...and hopefully we'll be enjoying some soon!

The potatoes are blooming, which means some fresh ones will soon be ready!

The hot weather has taken it's toll on the cilantro and it went to seed very quickly...

...but, the upside is that we'll have a lot of seeds for next year--or maybe even for the fall.

The onions have grown really well this year and are just starting to swell. 

We've already enjoyed some this spring and are looking forward to a bumper crop!

Green beans and squash are happy in the upper part of the garden.

What's a green bean's best friend?  Dill, of course! 

"Dilly Beans" are just around the corner!

These are the "thinnings" from the carrot row.  These babies were sweet and delicious!

And beets!  Golden and Bull's Blood--tender and delicious!

Raspberries are starting to ripen which will be a nice replacement for the strawberries, which are now, unfortunately, out of season.

The real star of the garden so far this year has been the garlic! 

Planted last Fall, they grew and grew in the richly composted soil.

First, the soil is loosened to make them easier to pull. 

The entire bed was harvested and will dry and cure for the next several days before storing for later use.

Happy farmers, yes we are!

3 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Thursday, June 10th 2010

8:00 AM

Three Coins in a Fountain...

We have been planning for some time to install a rose garden in the center of the garden.  The climbing roses around the garden...

...have done exceptionally well and our hopes are that a more formal rose garden will perform well too.

Initially, we were also going to include a water garden, but have decided against it since, for certain, it would only encourage more unwanted wildlife to the area.  You can see it here in the layout of the garden.

Since we have decided against installing the water garden, the time line was bumped up and we've been working furiously to finish it so the roses will have the remainder of the season to establish themselves.

We'll still get our water feature though!

...it all started with a trip to Italy...

...and throwing those darn coins into the Trevi Fountain!

Seriously, there was a "Going Out of Business" sale and our former real estate agent twisted our arms and insisted we buy one for the new home.  That was 5 years ago and it has been sitting in the garden shed.  Until now...

First, we dug a deep hole...

...and created a base on which the fountain will sit.

Next, concrete blocks go in ensuring the base of the fountain is level.

Once that was accomplished, the fountain was assembled. 

These pictures make it look "Oh, So Easy" but the thing was heavy!  Much heavier than it seemed 5 years ago!

The next step was to install the electrical. 

Some of the work was done two years ago in anticipation of finishing this project.

With that accomplished, it was time to amend the soil.  Compost, sand, and peat for good drainage and moisture retention, were added and tilled in.

A few roses were purchased at local garden centers, but a majority arrived bare root.

Most were excellent quality with strong root systems and were tagged for easy identification.  Hopefully, they'll all survive since we're planting this late in the season!

Before planting, the roots had to be soaked in water for 24 hours.

We had so many that we even had to fill the basement washing machine with water!

After they soaked, holes were dug deep and they were planted.  Now, the waiting begins for them to break dormancy and grow!

So now some roses are in and the fountain up running

But now it's time for the ugly reality of the indoor projects! 

The sanding continues!  Colored line chalk is mixed with the plaster so you can determine easily what needs to be sanded next.

When we moved in, most of the walls in the house were white.  I think we might just have to leave it like this for a while!  What do you think?!?  We'll call it "Picasso Inspired" design!

Espalier update:  The apple trees are doing great!

2 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, June 9th 2010

9:00 AM

You Say Catalpa, I Say Catawba!

Since we moved into Kraemer House 5 years ago, we have been intrigued by the massive Catawba or Catalpa Tree--either spelling is correct--that sits in front of the house. 

It's gnarled branches are incredible. 

Love it or hate it, it's definitely a thing of beauty.  Messy?  It absolutely is, with its bean pods that drop for weeks in the the autumn, and the never ending falling leaves, there's much to make you just want to chop it down.  But in the spring, when the orchid-like flowers appear...

...you forgive all of it's faults!

Check out Wikipedia for more information on the Catalpa, aka Catawba, tree.
1 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Friday, May 28th 2010

7:00 AM

How Does Your Garden Grow?

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

The garden is full of life and armed with a camera, we've tried to capture some images that have inspired us to return back to great indoors to demo, sand, plaster--you name it--so we can eventually spend more time in the garden after the renovation is completed.

It's still strawberry time here! 

We've made jam...

...chocolate covered strawberries...

...and have even used the dehydrator!  The dehydrator concentrates the flavors of spring into little ruby gems to be enjoyed at a later time.  First they are sliced and placed on perforated mats...

...then placed in the dehydrator for about 10 hours. 

The low heat slowly removes most of the moisture, concentrating the flavor.

Soon, we should have blueberries too! 

For the past two years, we've had to pluck the blossoms off to concentrate the growth and have been deprived of enjoying any fruit.  This year, we're excited to be able to enjoy them!

They are just beginning to show some color as the plump.  Hopefully, we'll get to eat them before the birds do!

The peonies have put on an amazing display this year. 

The buds grew fast and slowly began to swell and show color...

...then, like magic...

...they slowly open fully...

...for an amazing display!

Many of the flowers are larger than a dinner plate!

The colors in the garden are inspiring.  From the ruby red of the strawberries to the chartreuse of the lettuces...

...the colors are amazing!

Even the colors in something as simple and honest as a Cardinal's nest in the climbing roses is inspiring! 

The perfect pale blue and brown speckled eggs are simple and amazing--nature always gets it right!

Here are a few more images:  Hosta on a rainy day and climbing roses that cover the garden's fence--you might even spot a garlic just about to bloom.  Textures, colors, tastes, smells--we love spring here at Kraemer House!

3 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Friday, May 14th 2010

7:00 AM

Better Homes and Gardens, Part Deux!

Two years ago, we won a renovation contest with Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  We won for best bathroom renovation and it was featured in the September, 2008 issue of the magazine.  It was a very gratifying win for us because the contest was open to both amateurs and professionals.  

In that same contest, we also had a win in the "organization" category for the third floor craft room.  That picture is on newsstands now in the June, 2010 issue!  So, if you're waiting in line in some check-out line, give it a look!

Here's a preview!  It's featured on the "I Did It!" page--last full page!

The folks at Better Homes and Gardens couldn't have been nicer and the experience was awesome!  

When they were here for the photo shoot, I captured a few shots of the photographer Laura Moss (L) and stylist, Lauren Payne (R) at work.

The amount of work that goes into a photo shoot is amazing and it was a lot of fun to watch these professionals in action.

3 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Sunday, May 9th 2010

8:00 AM

...and a Backache to Show For It!

The garden is continuing to burst at the seams with growth, and it's a struggle to just keep up.  It seems like only a few weeks ago everything was covered in snow, and now that spring is finally here, it's easy to see how fleeting time is.

While this is the year that we decided to pare down our garden planting a bit, by the looks of it, we didn't get the memo...

Onion sets have been planted. 

...120 to be exact!  Red, white and yellow. 

Lined up like little soldiers...

...it's hard to believe that in a few short weeks, these scrawny little things...

...will be the size of baseballs!

Speaking of onions, the alliums are just starting to bloom around here and make for a beautiful show!

Only a true gardener can find beauty in the shriveled up goodness of a humble seed potato!

Looking like some science experiment gone bad...

...the eyes of these seed potatoes will hopefully bring in a nice harvest of Red Norland, Yukon Gold, and Atlantic potatoes. 

75 hills were planted--backache and all to prove it!

And speaking of backaches, it's not just limited to the vegetable garden!  500 bare rooted ivy plants arrived. 

It's part of the landscape project and will help us reduce the need to apply fresh mulch to the flower beds every year.  While the initial investment wasn't cheap, it'll pay for itself in a few years.  They were ordered from a company called Classy Groundcovers.  We got free shipping, paid no sales tax, and a simple Google search for a coupon code saved us 20%!  Ordered on a Sunday, they arrived via UPS on Thursday.  The customer service is outstanding and I'll definitely use them again!  So, if you're in the need, give them a try!  ClassyGroundcovers.com

The plants we received were well rooted...

...and hopefully will grow quickly!  Alas, 500 wasn't enough and 400 more are arriving this Thursday!

1 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Saturday, May 8th 2010

7:00 AM

3 Tons of Fun!

While the house is a wreck with the ongoing hallway project, we decided that it was a great time to finish gutting the second floor bathroom.  A few years back, the third floor bathroom was gutted and when it's time, we'll work on renovating these two bathrooms simultaneously.

To help us with getting all that debris from the second floor down to the first floor so it could be hauled away, Rich built a chute. 

It worked great at getting all the mess...

...from point A to point B!

We had previously used it while working on the master suite

We took it to a facility that specializes in construction and demolition debris.  The employees there run an efficient operation:  You drive in and the truck is weighed.  Dump your stuff.  Drive out and get weighed again.  Pay through a bank-like teller tube, and you’re off.  About 30% of the bulk materials ends up recycled, which is 30% that doesn’t end up in a landfill.  Reduce, Reuse, recycle... 

Who knows what this mess will be turned into or where it will end up but, in the end, we hauled away 4 truck loads totaling almost 3 tons!  And Rich still had the energy to play on his sliding board!

The most difficult parts of this project were navigating through the thick mortar bed of the tile floor...

...and, breaking the cast iron tub into two manageable pieces!

The tub was a Kohler, manufactured 7-20-44. 

There was a major renovation in 1944, so the date makes perfect sense. 

Now, the bathroom is free from the past and ready for the future.  It doesn't look like much at the moment, but give us some time and we'll work some magic on this space!

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, April 28th 2010

8:00 PM

An Unexpected Gift...

Several years ago when we first moved into Kraemer House, the former owner was gracious enough to give us an ink drawing of the house.  The detail is amazing.

Last week, with a knock on the door and something framed in hand, our neighbor at the bottom of our hill who has recently sold his home, presented us with this beautiful water color of our house.

It is amazing and we were stunned.  He's moving to France to enjoy his retirement and hopefully will be painting more beautiful pieces like this. 

Both prints have a special place in our home.
0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, April 28th 2010

5:00 PM

Ahhh--Spring At Last!

Blink and you miss it!  Spring has sprung at Kraemer House! 

Tulips and...

...daffodils are a bloomin'...

...and, ferns are unfurling...  Spring is finally here!

Last fall, garlic and shallots were planted in the garden.  Just a few weeks ago as the ground was thawing, the garlic was finally peeking out.

Today, it is growing strong and healthy.  There are few things better than the fresh, intense flavor that comes from the green shoots of fresh garlic....

...On some fresh lettuce--it is perfect!

Another sure sign of spring is asparagus (there's never enough!!)...

...and rhubarb (there's always too much!!)!

The bees have been buzzing around the blueberry blossoms...

...and the strawberry blooms.  In a few weeks we should have a bunker crop!

The espaliered apple trees that were started last year are growing beautifully.  Unfortunately, the apple blossoms will have to plucked off again, forcing energy to the growth of the trees rather than the production of fruit.

The under planting of peonies will have some amazing blooms this year!

2 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, April 28th 2010

10:00 AM

Whistle While You Work: That's Better Than The Alternative!

We have several projects currently going on that will soon culminate in accomplishment of a few more items into the "finished" column--hopefully sooner than later!  In a previous post, we mentioned that work began on the stairwell and hallways from the 3rd floor down to the first.

All painted surfaces have been sanded smoothly...

...often, down to the bare wood.

Plastering and patching is a huge part of this project as well.  Holes have been cut in the walls...

...to run new water supply lines as part of the second and third floor bathroom renovations.

Several years ago, the third floor bathroom was gutted.  Now, the second floor bathroom is being gutted as well. 

Several issues have slowed this down, not the least of which is the thick mortar bed...

...on which the tile floor sits.  It is being chiseled away, slowly but surely.  A free standing shower will one day be where the closet has stood for years--now you see it...

...now, you don't! 

The bathtub will soon be gone, but for now it serves as as a receptacle for the mess!

And speaking of tubs...  It's amazing what you can purchase on the internet!  We found the perfect claw-footed tub for the 3rd floor from American Bath Factory.  It arrived in perfect shape--with freight included in the price! 

We long for the day when it's installed and ready for use!

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Tuesday, April 20th 2010

8:00 PM

Brett Takes On Oprah's Ali Wentworth!

In case you missed it on Oprah, here you go!! My little cameo is about 3 minutes in--Ali Wentworth and I had a "love/hate" relationship going on since she'd been stalking me all morning! I was having oven problems and she smelled some "drama" but, in the end, there was a hug and a kiss, but you only see what they want you to see...

However, out of 100 finalists, they chose only a few to highlight, so I'll definitely take that!

Here's the 44th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest's "Grand March"--a tradition from the very beginning!  There I am in the yellow Polo...

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment