Tag Archives: kitchen

Setting the Table

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Let’s face it, there isn’t much enthusiasm for Grandma’s china these days. Fine chinaware is a forgotten treasure for many families.

Too many Generation Xers and baby boomers are content to treat their kitchen islands like buffet troughs (or they just eat out). Hardly anyone wants to whip out the fancy stuff these days. 

I’m guilty, too. I have neglected my grandmother’s rose-patterned china for 15 years. But with my children grown, I’m discovering an appreciation for old heirlooms and how they can be incorporated in fresh ways to enliven my own home.

And what better occasion to try than the holidays? In this DIY article, I demonstrate a proper holiday table setting while incorporating the china that I have inherited from the family.

But who says chinaware is only for the fanciest of occasions? For this issue’s DIY, I present a less formalistic table setting for four people.

First impressions begin with the table setting (also known as “place setting” or “laying the table”).

Making certain the eating utensils are located in just the right spot can be tricky. The precise arrangement of tableware has varied across cultures and historical periods.

As I did my research, I found that there is a whole sector devoted to churning out new ideas for table setting.

The Western craze for dressing the table seems to have taken hold in the late-18th century, when European aristocracy turned table setting into a form of artistic expression. 

As dinner party fashions trickled down to the middle class—especially in the 19th century—women began to use the table setting as a way to express their own creativity and personal taste.

Follow along to serve a dinner consisting of salad, bread, beverage, and the main course.

Have fun and don’t forget: No matter how beautiful or antique the china, a dinner party should be more about the people gathered around the table than the table setting.

Instructions

1. Dust Off the China

I was fortunate to have cherished family dishware passed down, but you can find affordable china easily. Just check garage sales, estate sales, auctions, or local thrift stores. Don’t be afraid to mix and match.

2. Plates

Place dinner plates approximately 2 inches from the table’s edge. Center them squarely in front of each chair. I also chose to incorporate gold chargers to bring out the gold in this beautiful china (also called service plates, chargers go under your dinner plates). 

 3. Bowls, Salad Plates, & Bread Plates

Soup bowls typically sit atop the dinner plate; salad plates go above the forks (on the left side of the dinner plate); and bread plates belong slightly above the salad plate, closer to the dessert fork/spoon. I modified the typical arrangement, placing the salad plate on the main dinner plate and altogether skipping the soup bowl. 

4. Utensils 

Flatware should be laid out in the order that the guest will use it. Work your way from the outside in. Forks belong on the left of the dinner plate; table knives and spoons go to the right. Knife edges should always face the dinner plate. Butter knives should be laid flat on the bread plate with the cutting edge, again, facing in the direction of the dinner plate. Dessert forks/spoons can be placed horizontally at the top of the dinner plate.

5. Drinks

Place water glasses above the dinner knife. Optional red and white wine glasses or champagne flutes should be staggered around the water glasses.

6. Napkins

There are options here. Napkins go to the left side of the plate, inside the drinking glass, or folded in the center of the plate.

7. Assigned Seating

(Optional) Write guest names on place cards. They work best placed above the dessert utensil, centered with the plate.

8. Table Decorations

Do not forget to dress the table with flowers and lots of candles. The ambiance makes a difference. At the end of the day, however, dining is about getting people together. And there is nothing cozier than entertaining at home.


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

A Real-Life Fairy Tale

July 11, 2018 by
Photography by Joshua Redwine

Once upon a time, in an outdated suburban kitchen, there was a newly empty-nester mother who dreamed of the most amazing La Cornue range with a large multifunction oven, seven unique cooking modes, and five powerful brass gas burners. As in every fairy tale, one quick phone call to her fairy godmother (at Fritz + Lloyd Interiors) and that new range became the leading design detail in the story of a “down-to-the-studs” whole home renovation. 

Leaving the land of golden oak (floors, trim, and cabinets), with separate living areas and very few windows, the design team set out to open and brighten the space as much as possible. Windows were added for more natural light, walls were painted light neutrals, white cabinets were installed, and the beautiful oak flooring was refinished and stained darker to add a pop of contrast. The design team worked with Nate’s Custom Renovations as the general contractor on the project.

Before

The kitchen working area was doubled by repurposing the dinette space, which was no longer in use with the children out of the home. Full-height, painted Shaker-style cabinets now line the perimeter of the room to hold all the dream appliances, including a Miele glass-front speed oven that doubles as a microwave. The dark cherry island more than doubled in size and allows for two counter-height stools, a perfect perch for weekday evening dinners as well as great storage. 

Over the gorgeous French range (the homeowners’ dream come true) is a custom metallic finished hood. The diamond-shaped mosaic backsplash with raised edges makes for a regal but classic look in white.  

Adding final touches of satin nickel hardware and mercury-glass pendants make this cook’s kitchen shine as the heart of the home. 

Through the now-opened walls, one easily feels part of the dining, living, and sitting spaces—perfect for entertaining friends and large family gatherings. Two windows were added to match an existing window to give the appearance that this was the original design of this 1980s house. The dining room, originally cramped, was relocated closer to the kitchen and fireplace to make a lovely setting for dinner parties and family occasions. Thin-cut ledgestone repeats itself on the fireplace and in the kitchen to add texture and a little sparkle with the quartzite composites.  

The guest powder room made a dramatic change, like donning a formal ballgown, with new large-scale patterned wallpaper to make a bold statement for a small space. The entry closet lost the standard bifold doors of yesteryear in exchange for an open bench design with coat hooks, cubbies, and velvet monogrammed pillows. 

If a kitchen overhaul and first floor renovation weren’t enough, this princess tackled her master suite and guest bath, making a grand reveal on the second story. The master bath was fitted with a furniture style vanity, decorative framed mirror and sconces, and a clawfoot tub for the nightly bather. The full-height bath surround was custom designed, and tiles were laid one by one. The neighboring guest bath turned into an updated modern bath with a dark-stained vanity, gray stone-look tile, a 1/2-by-12-inch pencil mosaic shower floor sloping to a custom-fit linear drain, and pinstripes in the shower wall. 

And so, after four months of living in the dungeon (OK, the finished basement), this couple’s pumpkin became a shiny new carriage and there was rejoicing in all the lands. Fritz + Lloyd Interiors was happy to help them work through revamping their dream home, updating it with all of the best finishes, making it uniquely them, and giving them everything they needed to live happily ever after


MEET THE DESIGNER

Becky Rea Fritz + Lloyd Interiors NCIDQ, ASID

Becky Rea, of Fritz + Lloyd Interiors, creates sleek and sophisticated modern looks across the Midwest. With 18 years of experience, she and her team will help in any stage of a project—new build or renovation.


Visit fritzandlloyd.com for more information about the interior designer’s firm.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome. 

A Cathedral for Cooking

June 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Most first-time attendees at Crème de la Crème instructional cooking events enter chef Paula Dreesen’s home as if they are crossing the threshold of a church. Perhaps overly aware of their guest status, they edge in on padded feet and speak in hushed whispers, the kind usually reserved for the gentle echoes of a house of worship.

“They may enter as strangers,” the gregarious Dreesen says with a broad smile, “but they leave as friends. That’s what good food and good conversation does. It draws people together.” 

But the night I became a parishioner at Crème de la Crème was different. And loud.

It was Dreesen’s 150th event, and all the other cooks-in-waiting were repeat guests, longtime disciples with as many as five previous evenings under the belts of their aprons. The only icebreaking required this time around involved that which was needed for a decidedly less than pious procession of mojitos which ushered in the evening.

Teaching, now so seemingly natural for the outgoing Dreesen, was an evolutionary process paralleling the arc of her life in food.

“My mom started me in the kitchen when I was a little girl,” the chef says, “and I worked in and around the restaurant industry for 35 years. Cooking has always meant so much more to me; so much more than just food.” 

After years of being asked by friends for help or advice in the kitchen, she began informal instructional sessions in her previous home, then launched her Crème de la Crème business plan three years ago in the sprawling 1,000-square-foot kitchen of a new home that was designed specifically for such group culinary gatherings.

“People always ask me why I never opened a restaurant of my own,” the chef says, “but I don’t think I have that in me, the seven-day commitment and endless hours that go into making a restaurant work. What I do have is a husband [Dr. Adrian Dreesen], five kids, and a dog. Crème de la Crème is the perfect fit…the perfect way to find and express my creativity and share it with others in a fun, social environment.”

Several globetrotting themes are available for Crème de la Crème soirees and, taking the farm-to-table philosophy to its logical extreme, Dreesen rotates her menus based on the availability of bounty from her expansive backyard vegetable gardens and fruit orchards perched high on a hill overlooking the Elkhorn River in West Omaha.

Crowd favorites include such Mexican menus as “Casa de Crème” and “A Tale of Two Tacos.” Italian is also popular with her “Pizza Party” and “Cozy Italian” evenings. 

And, in tribute to Dreesen’s culinary idol, Julia Child, there’s even a more highbrow “French Crème Countryside” menu for pilgrims in search of new frontiers.

Dreesen also offers the “Crème Conquest,” a hit with corporate clients that use the experience as a team-building exercise. Groups are split into teams and given a set of selected ingredients, but no recipe. The challenge is to guess the secret recipe from which the ingredients are derived. Even if the food sleuths fail to solve the underlying mystery, they get to battle it out, Iron Chef-style, in devising and preparing a delicious meal to be shared by their co-workers.

But it was the “Grillin’ Cuban Style” menu on tap for the night I attended, where anxious students took turns in preparing pineapple mojitos, mojo-grilled chicken with black beans and crispy sweet plantains, all followed by a decadent tres leches cake.

Although I was present as a journalistic observer—and my culinary prowess is pretty much limited to melting Velveeta—I was also invited to participate.

My assigned task, perhaps mercifully, was to blend the tres leches ingredients into a velvety symphony of num-num-numiness ready for the oven. Based on the baking, cooling, and refrigeration time called for in the recipe, I had accurately surmised that Dreesen had prepared a cake, the one we would later be eating, a day in advance, but I was still resolved to approach my job as if I were engaged in the sacramental rite of turning flour and eggs into manna from heaven. My apron, not to mention my nascent reputation as a capable hand in the kitchen, emerged unscathed. High fives all around.

Dreesen is often asked to take her show into other people’s homes, but now it’s her turn to speak in hushed, reverent tones.

“It’s doing it here that makes it meaningful for me,” she explains. “Cooking right here. Cooking with family helping me. Not just in any kitchen but in my kitchen. It just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else.”


Visit cremedelacremeomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome. 

Radiant Replacements

October 2, 2017 by
Photography by Tom Grady

The goal of this remodeling project was to transform a dark and narrow basement with separate rooms into an open and bright space with multiple functions. The improved lower level is now inviting and provides a theater area, bar, conversation/sleeping area, and a sound-proof space for the clients’ teenage son’s drumming practice. 

Exterior alterations by Stan Construction included changing the small sliding door to a larger door and adding a sidelight for increased natural light. Elite Landscaping created the stone wall, steps, and gate for an easy, private approach for guests.

Inside, the previous solid stair wall was changed and improved with an open railing to allow for additional light and better connection to the main level. Two existing bedrooms were reconfigured to become the theater area and drum room. The theater space was kept open, allowing the homeowners to use a large projection screen for crowds while visually widening the space. Ambience and comfort in the theater space was achieved through the leather reclining theater seats and surround sound, along with picture and baseboard pin dot lighting. The lights, sound system, and blackout shades are all controlled though use of mobile phones or iPads. A communications system with the front door allows the family to easily answer the door to guests while enjoying the basement.

Insulation made of sound board with acoustical covering provides essential sound-proofing in the basement’s drum room. Quality sound levels in the space allow an optimum recording environment for the aspiring musician.   

In the bathroom, a small acrylic shower was replaced—the shower now takes the whole width of the bathroom. Frameless glass doors visually enlarge the space, displaying the limestone-look tile with pebble accents. The open vanity adds to the visually spacious feel. 

The bar area contains the game and shuffleboard tables. The bar is set off with an arched soffit and accented with a large granite top and ledger stone side wall displaying floating wine bottles. The amenities include a large granite sink, a pop-up outlet to allow for serving hot dishes, a dishwasher, and an ice maker. The back bar includes a Wolf microwave, double sets of sub-zero refrigerator drawers and a sub-zero glass-front wine refrigerator. Cabinet storage and floating shelves with backlit LED lighting adorn a plate glass mirror. 

Finishes reflect the feeling of Montana, the family’s second home. The wood-look tile is durable and easy to care for at the patio entrance, around the bar, and in the bath. 

Warm granite colors were used as well as a dark stain on the cabinets. Furnishings were selected for their timeless appeal. The larger pieces are mostly in neutrals, with pops of turquoise and orange in the accessories and artwork. Furniture selected for the conversation area can be transformed into sleepers since the sectioned-off bedrooms were eliminated. The sofa becomes a queen-sized bed, and the oversized chair turns into a twin-sized bed.

The lower level is used by the whole family. The teenage son loves to entertain here while the parents enjoy having their friends over for a glass of wine, a movie, or a friendly game of shuffleboard. The couple’s adult sons and their families, who live out of state, feel comfortable inviting old friends over for fun-filled parties. It’s inviting, functional, and captures the needs of every age group that uses the space.

Visit idgomaha.com/designers to learn more about Wiechman’s work.

This article appears in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Old School Social Media

August 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Today, social media is brimming with food photos. But a pre-digital form of social media has been sharing favorite dishes since the 19th century. It’s probably the only “published” book containing your grandmother’s beloved gingerbread recipe. It’s the church cookbook—a repository of traditional American wisdom, which often comes complete with six variations of the same recipe (for example: lime gelatin salad with pineapple, walnuts, cottage cheese, and maraschino cherries or mandarin oranges).

Long before the invention of the computer, religious and social groups created cookbooks, often as a fundraising tool to pay for upgrades and maintenance on buildings. The first charity cookbook is believed to have been printed in 1864 as a way to subsidize medical costs for Union soldiers. The idea took the country by storm, especially with religious groups. When a church needed to replace the steeple or build an addition, the minister came to the ladies’ auxiliaries, which created cookbooks. Morris Press Cookbooks in Kearney is one of many companies that was created solely for the printing of cookbooks. They have not only printed hundreds of thousands of cookbooks for churches and social groups, but also specialty cookbooks for singer Donny Osmond, Chiquita bananas, Heinz, and others.

Brian Moffatt of Omaha has collected these cookbooks for several years, mostly church cookbooks. He finds them at estate sales and some thrift stores, and his collection includes books from local churches of nearly every denomination.

“Estate sales are huge,” Moffatt says. “I just like to look at all these and see the way people used to cook.”

Estate sales are huge because many of the people who collected—and contributed to—these community cookbooks are dying. Today’s generation shares recipes and photos of dishes on modern social media, often Pinterest.

Moffatt’s collection at one time extended to hundreds of books, which he recently whittled down to the ones he enjoys the most, such as a cookbook produced by the ladies of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church. The charm of this book, for him, is that it features several recipes from an old neighbor, Caren Guillaume.

“The older ones have some odd information in them,” Moffatt says. “A lot of them use lard, and sometimes you run across an ingredient that you just can’t find anymore.”

Other ingredients are vastly different from today’s definition. Gelatin, for example, is today often thought of as a fruit-flavored ingredient packed in school lunches and used in molded salads. Originally, however, gelatin (which was also spelled gelatine) was a jelly obtained by boiling meat on the bone until the collagen coagulated.

There are still church cookbooks being sold, but not nearly as many. While researching for this article, Omaha Magazine reached out to several area churches; none had produced a cookbook in the last five years.

Read on for several classic church cookbook recipes culled from Moffatt’s collection.”

Excerpted from Brian Moffatt’s Collection

Local Church Cookbook Recipes

Delmonico Potatoes

Submitted by Mrs. Carl Swanson for 50th Anniversary Cookbook, printed by Trinity Lutheran Church in 1965.

Dice two potatoes, boiled until just tender. Make 2 cups rich cream sauce seasoned with salt, pepper, and celery salt. Arrange a layer of potatoes in a buttered casserole, pour on half the sauce and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Add another layer of potatoes, the rest of the sauce, and about 1/4 cup more Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with paprika and top generously with buttered bread crumbs. Bake at 400 degrees until sauce bubbles and crumbs are brown.

Party Snack Weenies

Submitted by Mrs. Carl Swanson for 50th Anniversary Cookbook, printed by Trinity Lutheran Church in 1965.

6-ounce jar of yellow mustard

10 ounces currant (or grape) jelly

1/2 package whole weenies, cut up, or 1 package of small (cocktail) weenies.

Heat and serve in chafing dish.

Cherry Fluff Salad

Submitted by Karen Hauranek for My Favorite Recipes, printed by St. Mark Baptist Church in 1984.

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

1 large carton (8 ounces) whipped topping

1 can (21 ounces) cherry pie filling

1 large can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained

1 cup miniature marshmallows

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Beat sweetened condensed milk and whipped topping with mixer. Fold in remaining ingredients. Refrigerate. Salad is ready to serve in 30 minutes.

Dill Dip*

Submitted by Joyce Stranglen for From Thy Bounty, printed by St. Bernadette Catholic Church. No publication date noted.

1 1/3 cups sour cream

1 1/3 cups mayonnaise

2 tablespoons parsley

2 tablespoons minced onion

2 teaspoons dill weed

2 teaspoons Beau Monde seasoning

Mix all ingredients together several hours before serving.

*Editor’s note: Three variations of this recipe (from three different women) appear in From Thy Bounty. Mary Olson’s dip omits the parsley; Connie Gauthier’s recipe omits the onion and parsley.

Kahlua Cake

Submitted by Shirley Mackie for A Potpourri of Culinary Masterpieces, printed by Presbyterian Church of the Master in 1983.

4 eggs

1 package (15 ounces) devil’s food cake mix

1 small package (3 ounces) instant chocolate pudding mix

1 pint sour cream

3/4 cup oil*

3/4 cup Kahlua liqueur

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup chopped nutmeats

Glaze:

2 tablespoons cocoa

3 tablespoons Kahlua liqueur

1 teaspoon water

1 tablespoon oil*

1 tablespoon corn syrup

1 cup powdered sugar

Beat eggs. Beat in cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, oil*, and liqueur. Stir in chocolate chips and nutmeats. Mix well. Bake in greased bundt pan at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until cake tests done.

For the glaze: In a small saucepan, combine cocoa, Kahlua, water, oil*, and corn syrup. Cook and stir over low heat until smooth. Remove from heat; immediately beat in powdered sugar. Drizzle over cake.

*Editor’s note: the recipe does not specify what is meant by oil; vegetable oil or canola oil is the likely ingredient.

Joan’s Nutritious Cookies

Submitted by Peg Russell for A Potpourri of Culinary Masterpieces, printed by Presbyterian Church of the Master in 1983.

1 cup shortening—“vegetable shortening and margarine makes it good.”

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1/4 cup wheat germ

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 1/4 cup quick oatmeal

dash each of cinnamon and nutmeg

3/4 cup raisins, plumped

nuts, if you want them

Mix shortening and sugars. Add sifted flour, salt, soda, and vanilla. Blend in oatmeal and other spices (blending in raisins and nuts last). Make into balls, then flatten a little. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Makes about three dozen.

Coconut Fruit Salad

Submitted by Caren Guillaume for Heartwarmers, printed by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. James Churches in 1994.

1 No. 2 can (2 1/2 cups) pineapple tidbits

1 11-ounce can (1 1/3 cups) mandarin oranges, drained

1 cup mini marshmallows

1 cup Thompson seedless grapes

1 can (3 1/2 ounces) flaked coconut

2 cups sour cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine the first five ingredients. Stir in sour cream and salt. Chill overnight. Serves eight.

Broccoli-Rice Casserole

Submitted by Barbara Kelley for Through These Red Doors, printed by All Saints Episcopal Church in 2003.

1 package (10 ounces) frozen, chopped broccoli, thawed

1 cup cooked rice

4 ounces American cheese sauce

1 onion, chopped

4 stalks celery, chopped

butter*

1 can cream of chicken soup

Sauté onion and celery in butter. Add cream of chicken soup. Mix remaining ingredients together and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

*Editor’s note: The recipe does not specify an amount of butter. Two tablespoons should work.

Scripture Cake

Submitted by Martha Dus for Kountze Kitchens, printed by Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church in 1983. The name of the cake refers to noted Bible verses featuring ingredients.

1/2 cup butter (Judges 5:25)

2 cups flour (I Kings 4:22)

1/2 teaspoon salt (Leviticus 2:13)

1 cup figs (I Samuel 30:12)

1 1/2 cups sugar (Jeremiah 6:20)

2 teaspoons baking powder (Luke 13:21)

1/2 cup water (Genesis 24:11)

1 cup raisins (1 Samuel 30:12)

3 eggs (Isaiah 10:14)

1/2 teaspoon of each: cinnamon, mace, cloves (I Kings 10:10)

1 tablespoon honey (Proverbs 24:13)

1/2 cup almonds (Genesis 43:11)

Blend butter, sugar, spices, and salt. Beat egg yolks and add to mixture. Sift in baking powder and flour, then add water and honey. Put fruit and nuts through food chopper and flour well. Add and beat. (Follow Solomon’s advice in the first clause of Proverbs 23:14—“Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”) Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Bake for one hour at 375 degrees.

Refrigerator Shake Pickles

Submitted by Ruth Hickman for Kountze Kitchens, printed by Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church in 1983.

2 quarts sliced cucumbers

2 cups sugar

2 cups vinegar

1/4 cup pickling salt

3/4 teaspoon celery seed

3/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seed

3/4 teaspoon turmeric

Combine sugar, vinegar, and spices. Pour over thinly sliced cucumbers. Refrigerate and shake every day for five days. These keep “indefinitely” in the refrigerator.

Rockbrook’s Hot Chicken Salad

Submitted by Iris Clark for Recipes and Remembrances, printed by Rockbrook United Methodist Church in 1999.

4 cups cooked, cubed chicken

2 cups thinly sliced celery

2 cups bread cubes

1 cup toasted chopped or slivered almonds

1 teaspoon salt plus 1 teaspoon MSG

1 tablespoon minced or chopped onion

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup mayonnaise (“NOT salad dressing”)

2 cans cream of chicken soup

1 cup grated sharp cheese

2 cups crushed potato chips

Combine chicken, celery, bread cubes, almonds, salt, MSG, onion, lemon juice, mayonnaise, and soup. Pile lightly into “Pam’d” 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Top with cheese, onion, and chips. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

Green Vegetable Salad (Pictured above)

Submitted by Kathy Jones for My Favorite Recipes, printed by St. Mark Baptist Church in 1984.

1 head cauliflower

2 heads broccoli

1 container cherry tomatoes, cut in halves

1 jar sliced mushrooms, drained

1 jar green olives, stuffed with pimentos.

Mix the vegetables together in a large bowl. For dressing, combine red wine vinegar, 2 packets Italian dressing seasoning, and 1 bottle of oil/vinegar Italian dressing. Pour over the vegetables.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of 60Plus.

Living Large in the Backyard

July 31, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If there were but one thing to consider before building your very own epic backyard party central, equipped with all the essential grilling and barbecue fixtures, it is this: Your guests don’t have to live with whatever outdoor Franken-kitchen you cobble together from your inner Cro-Magnon desire for fired meats.

No, they rub their bellies, hopefully thank their gracious hosts, and go home. It’s you who must live with what remains.

The better approach, it appears, is the path Stephen and Joy Abels took on their West Omaha home.

From left: Stephen, Joy, and Chelsea Abels

“Be patient,” Joy says. “The best design is probably not going to be your first or second design.”

The Abels thought long and hard about what they wanted their backyard to be. They hosted regular gatherings, a tradition they knew would continue. They like pizza about as much as anyone else, but not so much that an outdoor pizza oven made a lot of sense.

And they knew they enjoyed hosting friends and family, but that didn’t mean they wanted to be a caterer—just grill some fine meats, maybe smoke the occasional brisket or prime rib roast. That would be sufficient.

From a practical design perspective, they most desired a space to spend comfortably warm afternoons and evenings with their guests.

But the Abels also knew their kitchen table overlooked the backyard from large facing windows. They didn’t want an expansive gray slab of concrete (with a few deck chairs anchored together by some sort of monstrous outdoor fire pit) to mar their daily view.

So they saved. They scratched out ideas on napkins and random scraps of paper. And they spent countless hours stalking the internet for other inspirations on websites like houzz.com.

They began planning three years ago, when Stephen went for an evening stroll through the neighborhood.

A few doors down, he noticed a neighbor’s impressive backyard fireplace. Stephen had no idea who the neighbor was, but in that moment, he turned up the driveway and knocked on the door.

“I introduced myself, said, ‘Love your fireplace, tell me about it.’ He said, ‘Come on in.’ And he gave me Hugh’s name,” Stephen says, referring to Hugh Morton, co-owner of Sun Valley Landscaping, the company that would eventually redevelop the Abels’ backyard.

The Abels wanted to create a space that felt “like Nebraska.” Morton was happy to listen and accommodate their wishes. The finished product fits perfectly in place.

Morton’s design includes native trees and bushes in the landscaping, brickwork resembling quarried limestone from Ashland, and even the calming white noise of a stepped water feature. Everything seems a natural fit.

Perhaps the neater trick is the elegant flow into the style of the house. Although built years apart, the outside living area transitions seamlessly with the style of the indoors.

“The challenge for Hugh was I wanted it to feel comfortable for four people or 40,” Stephen says. “And I think he did a good job.”

There’s plenty room for the epic backyard barbecue, if the mood strikes; or a tranquil afternoon of quiet study for the family’s four home-schooled children; or just another one of their weekly church group nights of about two dozen people.

It’s exactly what they need it to be, when they need it. As it should be.

They put in the time, making sure the space was just right.

“And whatever you think it’s going to cost,” Stephen says, “round up.”

Visit sunvalleyomaha.com for more information about the company responsible for the Abels’ backyard space.

From left: Christian, Cameron, Stephen, Chelsea, and Joy Abels

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

Home Is Where the Oven Is

July 18, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Nicola Shartrand decides to spend a lazy summer morning with her two young children in their home near Lake Manawa, odds favor the happy trio baking sheets of cookies before noon in their newly renovated kitchen.

When she drives deeper into Council Bluffs to the family’s bakery, often with kids in tow, she makes hand-painted macarons, tortes, breads, cookies, and dozens of cupcakes, which then fill space in the display case, ready for public consumption.

And when John Shartrand takes the family across the Missouri to their restaurant that bears Nicola’s name, they no doubt top off the meal with Nicola’s award-winning Italian lemon cream cake.

The Shartrands’ life revolves around the food created in three different kitchens. The family travels back and forth along the routes that connect the points in their life: Nicola’s Italian Wine and Fare at 13th and Jackson streets in Omaha’s historic Old Market; Stay Sweet, Nicola’s—their bakery at 805 S. Main St. in Council Bluffs; and their gracious home in hues of gray on a quiet cul-de-sac.

The restaurant represents 15 years of ambition, hard work, and faith rewarded; the bakery, which opened in December, symbolizes dreams fulfilled; the new home kitchen has its own story, one with deep meaning for the family.

“John knew I had been putting in all these hours all these years at the restaurant, and he said, ‘You’re going to wake up one day and the kids will have graduated high school, and you will have missed the whole thing,’” Nicola recounts. “He said, ‘You love baking, you’re really good at it, why don’t you practice while you’re at home? Let me run the restaurant at night.’”

And so the original home kitchen became a laboratory for perfecting and tweaking popular dishes served at Nicola’s Italian Wine and Fare, creating new dishes, and developing recipes for baked goods. Nicola experimented for six months on the lemon cake “because Martha Stewart said every restaurant should offer something lemony.” Once perfected, the light, moist, not-too-sweet lemon cake exploded on the scene. As a result, demand for all her baked goods exploded.

So did the family kitchen.

“I pretty much destroyed it from overuse,” Nicola says, laughing as she proceeds to list a litany of problems. “We went through every single major appliance. The cabinet doors fell off from constant opening and closing. The stove went out. We needed a bigger refrigerator. And it was a really cramped working space.”

For Nicola’s birthday two years ago, John announced he would build her a new kitchen. “I wear many belts,” he quips.

The couple used a computer program offered by an assemble-it-yourself home furnishings store to measure, design, and order the materials for the new kitchen. The transaction could have gone better.

“They told us our plans were too ambitious, that we were out of our league,” John says. And when it came time to lug 279 flat boxes out of the store, “they said they wouldn’t help me.”

Undeterred, John loaded a U-Haul truck by himself, drove home, and emptied every little chrome knob and handle, every shelf, drawer, door, and cabinet from the containers. It only took a month to transform the culinary space.

They painted the new cabinetry gray to match the wall coloring. The cabinetry—above and below the long kitchen counter—helps provide 50 percent more storage space than before.

A narrow floor-to-ceiling pantry pulls out shelves and drawers to hold foodstuffs categorized by cans, bottles, and paper, “so nothing gets lost inside it,” Nicola says. Two bottles of industrial-size Worcestershire sauce appear prominently in front, as does a gallon of olive oil, which she affectionately refers to as “the best stuff on earth.”

A backsplash made of off-white, 3-by-6-inch glazed subway tiles provides a simple, clean, classic look.

The couple complemented the backsplash tile by placing an off-white, solid slab of quartz on top of the kitchen island, located in the middle of the open floor plan.

Underneath, a cabinet with 20 drawers of different depths neatly holds everything from dozens of spatulas (Nicola keeps breaking them) and half-used bags of fennel seeds to large pots and pans.

A two-door stainless steel KitchenAid refrigerator shares the kitchen’s color scheme with its gray interior, and the double-oven stove “makes cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the family really easy,” Nicola says.

The doting husband’s wish for his wife, to spend more time with Stavros, 9, and Gigi, 7, has resulted in personal growth for Nicola. Her stay-at-home baking experiments proved so popular she now supplies other restaurants and coffee shops with her sweets. She also takes special orders.

The extra income enabled John and Nicola, who both grew up in Omaha, to purchase a brick-and-mortar commercial space in Council Bluffs last November, which handyman John transformed into a full-service coffee bar and bakery. With its commercial-grade mixers and appliances, Stay Sweet, Nicola’s has taken over as the primary baking site.

John now works 14-hour days. He opens the bakery to start the espresso machine and bake muffins, intersects with Nicola and the kids in the afternoon, then crosses the bridge to oversee the restaurant.

The reward for all this hard work: a happy family.

Visit nicolasintheoldmarket.com and staysweetnicolas.com for more information about Nicola Shartrand’s culinary enterprises.

From left: Stavros, Nicola, and Gigi Shartrand.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

René Orduña

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

According to René Orduña, a restaurant’s dishwasher is as key as its chef. “He knows what’s coming back,” says the head chef of Dixie Quicks in Council Bluffs. “What people aren’t eating. So if I wanted to work for a restaurant, I’d get a job as a dishwasher and see what’s coming back. And if they’re not enjoying the food, then I wouldn’t stay there very long.”The good chefs, he says, will always check the plates coming back. To this day, a half-empty plate prompts Orduña to ask the waiter if a guest disliked a meal.

Orduña co-owns the Southern-style diner known as Dixie Quicks with his husband, Robert Gilmer. The restaurant has been open in one location or another since 1995. So if Orduña says it’s important to check the plates, he knows what he’s talking about.

20140205_bs_6100

While the chef has worked in a variety of restaurants across the country (New Orleans. Atlanta. San Francisco. New York City), it’s fair to say he’s been in kitchens his entire life.

Orduña was 1 year old when his mother opened Howard’s Charro in South Omaha. He started making tamales on Wednesdays when he was 6. “Spreading the masa, putting the meat in them, putting them in boxes to freeze,” he recalls. As a young adult, he waited tables around town and cooked in a few kitchens as well. “The Golden Apple, worked at M’s,” he recites. From 1971 to 1973, he worked at the French Café in Downtown Omaha before he began traveling.

Today, both he and Gilmer are elbows deep in Dixie Quicks from dawn till dusk. Orduña cooks, serves, buses tables, washes dishes, and Gilmer handles the art of the attached RNG Gallery (“That’s Robert Newton Gilmer,” Orduña clarifies) and the restaurant’s books. “You don’t want him cooking, and you don’t want me doing books,” Orduña says with an emphatic wave of his hand.

Patrons of Dixie Quicks are probably okay with that arrangement. After taking their seats, guests walk over to the gigantic chalkboard menu to decide among Cajun, Southern, and Southwestern options. Orduña says he’s careful about revamping the menu. “Every time I take something off that board, somebody gets …” upset, he says. “It’s almost like I have to open another restaurant to try another menu.”

Do tell?

“Maybe someday,” he dodges coyly. He’s chalking it up to a dream right now, his desire to open several restaurants in one. “A Cajun restaurant. And a barbecue restaurant. And a pizza place. Kind of like a food court.” A place like that, Orduña thinks, would get freshly graduated culinary students used to working in a professional setting. “You can have fine dining anywhere, at any kind of place,” he insists.

20140205_bs_6097_2

Personally, he favors what he calls the Iron Chef method. “I like going to my refrigerator, seeing what I have, and figuring it out. That’s what I do most days when I go shopping at the grocery store. That’s what usually makes up the menu.”

Has anything new and exciting come out of this experimentation?

“Oh gosh. Just about everything,” he says. “I start playing back there with spices and flavors and textures…” It’s handy that he and Gilmer live just above the restaurant. He could be tinkering in the kitchen at any time of day.

Today, it’s a broccoli cheese soup. “The cheese just looked good,” Orduña says. “And the broccoli was plentiful and gorgeous, and I thought, you know, it’s the perfect day
for soup.”

Article originally published in March/April 2014 in Omaha Magazine.

Update 11/18/2016: After a short battle with Stage 4 cancer, Rene passed away in November 2016. A celebration of Rene Orduna’s Life will b held this Sunday 11/20 at The Max from 4-8 pm

Colonial Expansion in Loveland

October 1, 2016 by
Photography by Dana Damewood

On the edge of the Loveland neighborhood stood a modest colonial house. When it was built in 1940, the home had a mere 1,320 square feet. When the Ahlers family bought the home in 2009, they made big plans to overhaul the colonial beauty.

transformations7The Ahlers underwent a 2,600-square-foot addition to make space for their growing family. They enlisted my help with the renovations.

In the Ahlers’ home, it was important to keep the charm of the original colonial style while subtly incorporating modern amenities. I began the four-year renovation process with one goal in mind: “Make the spaces usable, livable, comfortable, and beautiful to the unique needs of the family using this home.” Striving to keep the home’s original design in line with the new addition resulted in some uniquely shaped spaces that were unlike modern counterparts of contemporary construction. My expertise in space planning and construction would bring sense and structure to furnishing otherwise awkward spaces. As a result, I custom-designed many of the furniture pieces exclusively for these rooms.

transformations6

One of these challenging spaces was affectionately nicknamed the “big empty room.” In the beginning, there was literally nothing in the space other than two dog beds and a child’s trike with plenty of room to ride. Our goal for the space was to create an area where the family could read books together, watch a movie, work from home, or gather with friends and family. I got to work designing the multi-functional space—beginning with wall-to-wall bookshelves nodding to the colonial feel of a traditional home library. The bookshelves were painted dark gray to keep the look updated. Natural grass cloth wallpaper softens the walls, bringing texture and warmth, while bold patterns mix with a contemporary color palette of navy and tangerine to keep the room fresh and modern. The custom draperies diffuse the bright afternoon light, and the wool carpet tiles (perfect for pets) bring cohesiveness to the room. The various furniture groupings allow for many different activities to take place in this versatile space, and now their young son enjoys reading in the room and saves the trike riding for outdoors.

transformations8In the master bedroom, the look is traditional with a fresh color palette. Neutral linen fabrics with a soft damask pattern adorn the bed, while custom draperies in a bright grass-green color, along with black-and-white accents, liven the neutral color palette. I created a small seating area for watching morning cartoons and designed a custom kennel table for the unique use of the space for the family. Finally, what traditional master bedroom would be complete without an en suite bathroom boasting a custom claw-footed bathtub, crystal chandelier, classic black-and-white plaid wallpaper, and puddling green linen drapes?

The kitchen plays center field with honed marble countertops, custom white cabinetry, and an intimate fireplace. A challenge in the kitchen was where to share meals. The narrow footprint was another area where I customized the space for the needs of the family. The light in the morning is truly fantastic in this room. To capture that light and inspire family meals, I designed a narrow dining table stained in a deep black hue, which could take a beating and accommodate the dinette area. The result is a family-style area with room for eight.

There is a cohesiveness in this house that is anchored by the family’s deep-rooted East Coast ties, flair for subtle modernity, and interest in creating family tradition. This house reflects those qualities for this family, and I couldn’t be happier to help create this way of living for them.

Visit asid-neia.org for more information. OmahaHome

*Correction: The printed version incorrectly identified Paul Pikorski of Amoura Productions as the photographer.

 

Clean, Classic Design with a Contemporary Twist

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The style of this newly constructed home reflects the clean, classic taste of the homeowners with a contemporary twist. The homeowners’ main issue was a strong preference for neutral colors. Whenever they previously tried to inject color into their décor, they quickly grew tired of it.

ASID3

I chose to embrace their love of neutrals and add interest with contrast and texture. For example, I chose a soft gray on the walls, but a dark, rich, wide-plank floor to add warmth. The fireplace remains neutral in color but adds interest with its stacked and staggered rough stone pattern. The light stone next to the dark floating wood shelves adds crispness to the space.

Color was strategically placed in the intricate great room’s ceiling to accentuate the architecture. The same deep blue-gray color was added to the dropped ceiling above the pendant lights in the kitchen.  The kitchen is spacious enough to house a 10-foot island. To add a splash of contemporary design to a classic white kitchen, the cooktop tile was laid vertically in a herringbone pattern.

ASID1

The same concept was used on the exterior: crisp white and gray stacked stone, bright white trim, and a smoky gray vertical siding.

All the design elements came together using timeless, classic neutrals, and a few splashes of soft cool colors. The homeowners couldn’t be happier with their new home! OmahaHome

ASID2