Tag Archives: happiness

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.

No Age Limit

April 9, 2015 by

Originally published in March 2015 HerFamily

I could have worked with Jim Rome, the radio sportscaster. We’re about the same age. We were in college about the same time, studying the same thing. We both started working at small stations before moving up. I produced a number of anchors and reporters “back in the day” who are still on the air at national networks. So, I have some experience working with Rome’s personality type—or at least the type he uses on air. Arrogant, bloated ego. Inflammatory language. 70’s mustache.

Before January 1 of this year, I only had peripheral knowledge of, and no opinion on, Mr. Rome. I’m not a hardcore sports fan, so I couldn’t have picked him out of a lineup any day of the week. But on this particular New Year’s Day, Mr. Rome chose to insult not only my children, but the children of my friends, and, in fact, the children and grandchildren of hundreds of thousands of Americans. In the middle of one of college football’s biggest days, he threw this tweet out there:

“Is there anybody not in a marching band who thinks those dorks running around with their instruments are cool?”

Wow. You can just imagine the firestorm that followed. It didn’t take long for the hashtag #MarchonRome to be trending. To be brief, the answer to Mr. Rome’s question was a resounding, “Yes there are people who think they’re cool.” After a 24-hour blast of more than 8,000 responses (and that was only on Twitter), including everyone from the U.S. Marines to band alums everywhere, he tweeted this:

“Band nation—I hear you. I was out of line. I apologize. I do not condone bullying of any kind and that was not my intent.”

The reason I chose this topic is not so much because I was personally offended by Mr. Rome’s comment, but because I was so saddened that someone my age could intentionally set such a horrible example. If not to be a bully, I can’t comprehend what Mr. Rome’s intent was. I think if it was “to be funny,” then that’s a fail too—because making fun of entire groups of people in this manner is pretty much the textbook definition of bullying.

Mr. Rome (and many others, I think) got a fast education about the athleticism, discipline, and commitment that marching band requires. And I won’t even start on the statistics about the value of arts education. Just last week, a new study from the University of Vermont indicated the measurable impact of music education in developing attention skills, anxiety management, and emotional control.

No, my beef with Mr. Rome is quite simple—he should be old enough to know better. I get that my generation was a little different. We were very cliquish—jocks, potheads, geeks, dorks, blah, blah—but I really thought (hoped) that with all of the current awareness of bullying, a public figure like Mr. Rose would be tuned in enough to choose his words more carefully when referring to hundreds of thousands of hard-working high school and college students.

My hope rests with this next generation, where amid the online furor, those students with highly developed “emotional control” graciously accepted Mr. Rose’s apology, reminding him that this time, he “messed with the wrong dorks.” I’m still holding out hope that he will accept the challenge from many of the band members (many of whom also play sports) to come do what they do—
handle one week of band camp. In the summer. In the South.

Or how about here in Nebraska on all those cold early mornings? Go Band!