Thursday, December 17, 2009

Renovation Week 2 - Deep Breaths Help

Well, now that we got that first week out of the way, everything is running smoothly and our job will be done before we even know it. Not so fast, friends. Because, as I'm quickly learning (and I think I learned in college about this, too), if anything can go wrong, it will. Oh right, that's called Murphy's Law, and Murph, you are (were?) one smart dude.

You see, the demo went fine...I mean, what can possibly go wrong when you're smashing stuff up with sledgehammers and ripping stuff out with crowbars? I even got involved, demo-ing the closets before the contractors even showed up...what better way to get rid of a bunch of stress than ripping shelves and hooks and other bits out of plaster walls!

Well, lemme tell you what can go wrong. Once the bathroom walls were torn down, my guy noticed a "bit of a leak" behind one of the walls. At that point, I was taking pictures and writing emails to our new board of directors and management company (that's me, always making friends). In a condo, you own "walls in," meaning anything that's taking place behind the walls or above the ceiling is the condo responsibility. A day later, the plumbers had pulled this out of the ceiling/wall, and our "bit of a leak" was repaired...

There was also some water damage coming from our chimney, behind the fireplace mantle...yes, we have a working fireplace! Same m.o. as above, and a day or to later, our roof leak was repaired and our fireplace started to look somewhat normal, though I have absolutely no idea what a normal fireplace looks like...

Our contractor dealt with these "discoveries" with aplomb, even offering solutions to our management company. Our new bedroom floor is installed and the whole place has been skim-coated, sanded and primed. By the way, can anything make more of a mess than sanding? Yes, but only if you count cutting stone for a fireplace. Our IKEA kitchen was delivered (on time and perfectly as ordered)'s my job to build all the cabinets, and even though I don't like long nights, sometimes I wish I was Swedish. As we enter into our third week of renovation, things appear to be running smoothly...but I don't want to jinx it, so keeping my fingers crossed.

Oh, one more thing. Home inspections are friggin' useless. Oh, I know they're "necessary" in order to secure the mortgage. Actually, they're just another way for someone to take your money and run, imo. Did they find the leak in my bathroom? No. How about that chimney problem? No. It did tell me that my dishwasher was working - which was just great, considering that it was being ripped out and hauled to the dump. And by the way, not all the windows in the apartment lock properly...thanks so much. Ahhhh well, live and learn.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sous Vide Supreme, Tasty Travails and The Grey Lady

Forgive me from breaking away from the fascinating story of our DC renovation, but something happened last week and yesterday that is very exciting to a food nerd like me.

You see, last week I got a call from Julia Moskin of The NY Times, who wanted to interview me about a new sous vide machine I recently purchased. A while ago, I had seen an ad about the new Sous Vide Supreme becoming available, and in addition to placing an order for one, I started a thread on eGullet at the same time. That's where Julia, one of the Times' best food writers, got my name.

So she called, we spoke, and of course, due to the fact that 90% of my time is being spent in DC with the renovation of our new apartment, I haven't had much of a chance to play with my new toy. She's such a good reporter that she figured that out without me saying it! I was able to drop a cranky bon mot or two (see below), one of which made the final cut, though she didn't mention Tasty Travails. And I figure anytime a food nerd like me can get mentioned in the same article as Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, Joël Robuchon and Ferran Adrià, it's a good day.

Sous Vide Moves From Avant-Garde to the Countertop

“You do have to ask,” said Mitch Weinstein, a moderator on eGullet who was among the first to buy a SousVide Supreme, “if sous vide is so great, how come I have to cook the food again?”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Renovation Week One - Refill Xanax Prescription

Okay, so Significant Eater's and my first week's nightmares are over. And yes, I realize Tasty Travails has taken a back seat to the new apartment in DC. But, there are priorities. And every day I thank the gods, or whoever it was that invented alprazolam.

A couple of weeks ago, SE and I retained the services of a duly licensed and insured contractor here in Washington, DC, as we prepared to renovate our little pied-à-terre in the Washington Heights Historic District. Of course, who the hell even knew that our building was in the WHHD? I only found out when I was applying for the needed permit, and was so told by the permit clerk. Oh well, we're not renovating the outside of the building, so all's well in permit land.

Our reno (a gut, basically), started last Monday. By Tuesday, the place had been demolished...these guys work fast, I tell ya. Which is a good thing (so I'm told) in contractor land. Of course, everything that was taken out of the kitchen is still in the middle of the living room, and driving me crazy - don't you want to remove the trash as soon as you can? And maybe use one of those cool Shop Vacs, or whatever they're called. To kinda keep the dust down. It's in the contract...

Contractors don't work like chefs, that's for sure. A chef, or at least the chefs I worked for, likes everything clean and neat. They don't want to come in the next morning and see some shit lying all around. Nor do they want to see dirty stations during service. They're always wiping up. Same with me when I cook; oh, by the way, I haven't cooked a decent meal in a month, but that's another story. I want to wake up and see my kitchen all clean and spotless. You don't want to be having to poke around in a sink full of dirty dishes to make your coffee, do you?

I've tried to be the perfect new neighbor during this time...I know how disruptive a reno can be in a small apartment building. I've slipped notes under the doors of my neighbors so they knew what was coming. Knocked on their doors to introduce ourselves and pre-apologize (must be the jewish guilt). Got the required permits, insurance and approval from the board of directors for the work we're doing. I'm at the building every morning and evening to make sure the hall carpet is covered and, at the end of the day, to get my bottle of windex out and clean the elevator of whatever hand prints the workers have kindly left - you wouldn't want them to do have to clean up after themselves after all - they've just worked hard all day.

Anyway, at the rate our contractor is moving along, they might well be done in another two weeks. Which would be great, if the work is of the quality I've been told it will be. And then, sometime right after the new year, Significant Eater and I will be able to settle in, light a fire, cook a meal, and enjoy our second home. After all, the view from our living room window is pretty nice...that's Kalorama Park right across the street, and the Washington Cathedral is visible in the distance.