Uncategorized

Backsplashing

We sure know how to stretch out a renovation!  As some may or may not remember, we started working on the kitchen at the end of January 2016.  We had so many delays with the countertops, the kitchen wasn’t usable until May 2016.  By then, we were busy with the garden, the spring raking and burning of pine needles, and all the other maintenance jobs involved with a three-acre property with lots of trees and old buildings on it.  (Dennis and Joel put a metal roof on the old house we call the barn last fall.)  So the kitchen went on hold as soon as it was usable, and the backsplash tile, mastic, and grout sat in a corner for the rest of the summer, the fall, and the winter.  I really thought we’d get to it before Spring 2017, but best-laid plans and all that.

Just after Easter, Dennis finished laying the backsplash tile.  I wanted to share what we learned about laying backsplash with the kind of tile we used.

The only tiling Dennis has ever done was on our hearth a decade or more ago.  He used big slate tiles on that job, and it came out quite nicely. He was nervous about tiling such a large area in the kitchen:  two long walls and two short end walls.  I don’t have pictures of all of it because I can’t keep it all clean enough at the same time to take a picture, but I will when the entire project is finally finished.  (We still have to finish the pass-through slab and install it, and repair the wall where we cut it.) This is what I call my baking station.  All my flours, sugars, and other baking paraphernalia are stored in the cabinets above and below, and my vintage canisters, bread board, and stand mixer can stay here on the counter.  I love my baking counter!

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Because Dennis was nervous about the tile job, he thought using those 12’X12’ mosaic squares, with the tiles attached to a web backing, would be easier than laying the subway tile I wanted.  He thought it would be less work and there’d be less chance of messing up the lines.  Just the opposite turned out to be true. This is the small subway tile I liked.

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We talked it over and decided that the best approach would be to tackle one section at a time, get the tile up and grouted, before moving on to the next section.  That way, not all the counter space would be out of commission at the same time, and it would help to avoid having all the kitchen counter paraphernalia (canisters, toaster, bread board, coffee maker—you know, all that stuff you keep on your counters) in a pile in the living room.  (The living room has enough piles already.)

So Dennis started on my baking station.  It’s about a six-foot long section of counter.  He covered the counter top and started applying mastic to a small section.  We’d been advised to use mastic rather than thin-set because we were going over a painted surface instead of tile board.  Mastic dries out faster than thin-set, so you have to work quickly or work in small sections.  Dennis soon found out he wasn’t going to be working quickly.

The tile we chose, once subway tiles were off the board, was a 12’X12’ mat of small 2” square tiles. They were reasonably priced at Floor and Décor, and they looked good with the granite countertop, a classic, plain backdrop for a rather busy stone counter.

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Dennis was happy. He thought he could put up a mat, put the tile spacers at each corner of the mat, and then put up another mat, and so on, keeping the lines straight with the spacers around the mats. He thought it would go pretty fast.  He got all that first section up, painstakingly slowly (a whole day of labor), trying to get it right, let it dry the required time, and then grouted it.  And that’s when all the mistakes showed up.

Lines between mats were crooked, lines within the mats were differing widths.  There were places so bad, he had to remove tiles and mats and redo it.  He re-tiled about a third of that first section. He learned that when working with mats of tiles that will eventually have grout lines between them, you have to put a spacer in between every single tile.  You can’t depend on the mat to space the tiles evenly.  (It might be different with glass strip mosaic tiles.  I don’t know.  I didn’t like any of those with my busy countertops.)  As you can see in the picture above of the mat, the tiles are not necessarily perfectly applied to the mat.  Each mat contains 36 tiles.  I can’t even remember how many bags of spacers he went through before, near the end, our son came over and said, “Oh, Dad, you’re supposed to take those out. They make a little hook thingy to pull them with.”  By that time, all but the section behind the stove and the short wall under the pass-through were done.  Grouted over.  I said, “Heck with it.  Leave them in.  You have enough to finish, and they are small enough to grout over.”  We couldn’t see them at all after the grout was applied. Here is the worst part of the baking station after the repairs were made and the tile grouted. I’m happy with it.

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Dennis finally admitted that laying subway tile would probably have been easier and less time-consuming.  I think it took him two weeks to completely finish the job with caulk in the seam between the tile and the edge finishing product we used.  (It’s nice that all this stuff, grout and caulk, comes color-matched.) The edging strip is made of PVC and creates a finished edge for tiles which don’t come with bullnose or tapered edge pieces.  (We thought of edging after we’d purchased ten boxes of tiles for which bullnose was not available!)  This edging is made by Schluter Systems, and it was fairly easy to use, Dennis said.  It gives a finished look to the backsplash and was inexpensive compared to bullnose tile.  The edging goes up on the mastic and the last row of tiles goes over the bottom of the edging.

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In general, I really like the way the backsplash tile and dark grout look against the granite countertops and the light oak cabinets with their dark hardware.  The tile job isn’t perfect, but the tile in my daughter’s brand-new house, which was laid by professionals, isn’t perfect either.  In the end, Dennis took the time to fix his worst mistakes, and the kitchen walls look very nice.  More importantly, when I start making jam this summer, I’m going to be able to clean that backsplash easily instead of scrubbing paint (along with jam) off the walls.

Next, we have to start cutting and finishing the pass-through countertop and shelves.  That’s going to be a big job, because it’s a big juniper slab.  We may be working on that for several months. Wish us luck!

 

 

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Uncategorized

Combating Arthritis

It has been some time since I’ve written a post for this blog.  That’s partly because winter is hard on my body, and partly because again this year, I was hit by the flu, and it took me down pretty hard for more than a month.  The flu and other logistical problems wreaked havoc with my plan to have my daughter give me a series of laser bio-stimulation treatments on my arthritic joints.  I have only been able to have four treatments starting in February, two in the week before I got sick, and two in the last two weeks since I’ve been well enough to go to Reno for them.

For those who are interested in alternative treatments to arthritis, I’m going to go into more detail about how these laser bio-stim treatments have worked for me, and I’ll end with an account of the dietary things I’ve been doing to reduce inflammation.

First, a bit more about the laser itself.  It is a garnet laser made by Periolase, used primarily for micro-surgery in my daughter’s periodontal practice.  But with the proper settings and held at the right distance, the laser is capable of stimulating tissue.  “Low level laser therapy (LLLT) is typically used for therapeutic and/or stimulating skin treatments and involves lower laser power doses than those generally used in surgical operations. In surgery, lasers are used to cut, coagulate and vaporize. Various types of lasers and pulse energies are used based on the absorption properties of the target tissue” (https://www.modulight.com/applications-medical).  My daughter has been carefully monitoring the amount of energy, measured in joules, which the laser puts into my joints.  She’s been putting about 2000 joules into my larger joints, like my neck, shoulder, elbow, and knee, and between 750 and 1000 joules into my thumb, finger, and toe joints, and the area around my heel affected by plantar fasciitis.

I noticed that after the first two treatments, done with a day’s rest in between, my hands were very sore for two days.  Then, after two days of rest, they improved quite dramatically.  The joints that are already badly damaged did not feel much different, but the joints in my index fingers that had just begun to show inflammatory changes over the winter were pain-free for two weeks following the first two treatments.  This confirmed my hunch that the laser bio-stim treatment would be most effective at stopping or retarding the inflammatory process at the beginning, before it had a chance to do much damage.  (Once the joint has developed bone spurs and the cartilage has broken down, I don’t think anything can restore it.) The same was true for my big toe joints, which had just begun to hurt this winter. They felt much better after the two day rest period.  As for my neck and shoulder, there was quite a bit of improvement almost immediately, and neither neck nor shoulder has been as painful since the treatment.  My elbow has been painful since my right shoulder surgery three years ago.  Having to keep my arm bent in a sling for 8 weeks post-surgery caused inflammation to set into my elbow.  My knowledge of anatomy is insufficient to name the joint, but it is the lower or inside joint that is painful, and the inflammation sometimes spreads along the tendons and muscles for an inch or more.  The laser treatment each time has made this joint significantly more tender at first, but then has provided significant relief after the rest period.  While the treatment also seems to relieve some pain in my knee, my heel did not respond as well to the laser bio-stim.  By that, I mean I saw little difference in pain levels after the treatment.  Whether this is because inflammation is of long standing there (going on ten years now) and has already done its damage, or for some other reason, I don’t know.  I expected it to help more than it did, because as I believe I reported before, the moxa treatment my massage therapist gave me a few months ago helped tremendously for quite a while. I think it might be time for another moxa treatment.

The plan now is for me to try to get in at least one laser treatment a week, if possible.  We’ll see if a long-term approach has more cumulative effect.  But for now, I feel hopeful that the laser offers a chance to stop inflammation from damaging more of my joints, particularly in my hands and feet.  It’s very frightening to contemplate more loss of movement in my hands.  It also seems to provide some pain relief and greater ease of movement in the larger joints, so maybe in time, I’ll see more improvement there also.

I’ve also been doing some dietary things to counter inflammation.  Last fall, I had an EGD (Esophagogastroduodenoscopy) to see why I had so much acid reflux and stomach spasms, even while taking Nexium to counter the symptoms of GERD.  The doctor said that Nexium was keeping me from developing ulcers again, but that my stomach was very inflamed.  He said it would be best for my stomach to stop taking all anti-inflammatory drugs.  I was at that time on a low dose of Celebrex, but I could only take it once or twice a week because of how much it bothered my stomach.  I didn’t think I’d be able to stand the increased arthritis pain, but I decided I had to try stopping Celebrex. It’s been years since I’ve been able to take ibuprofen or any other anti-inflammatory medication (after taking them all for decades), and I thought Celebrex was my last stop-gap measure to keep all my joints from breaking down completely from inflammation, the resulting bones spurs, and the subsequent tearing and breakdown of cartilage. But I thought I had to try for my stomach’s sake, so I did stop taking Celebrex completely in late December or January.

At the same time, I decided to start drinking tart red cherry juice daily.  It’s good for gout, and while I don’t have it, gout is an inflammatory condition similar to arthritis.  (By the way, after extensive testing, my rheumatologist called what I have erosive osteoarthritis because it is eroding my joints all over my body at the same time the way rheumatoid arthritis does.) I really didn’t know if cherry juice would help, but I knew it wouldn’t hurt.  And to my surprise, it does help.  I drink at least ½ cup of tart red cherry juice every day, and it really helps my knee and shoulder.  I am able to move these joints better and with less pain.  If I run out of juice or skip a couple of days, I can really tell the difference, especially in my knee.

Lots of people swear by turmeric.  A couple of years back, I tried some caplets from Costco with curcumin and black pepper extract (which activates the curcumin extracted from turmeric), but they bothered my stomach, so I stopped taking them.  I try to include turmeric in my diet whenever possible, although it is hard to say whether those small amounts help.  Golden milk, a hot drink made with the milk of your choice, turmeric, honey, and other spices, is one way to get turmeric daily, but I don’t do it daily.  I usually don’t want to drink something hot and sweet before bed.  However, my stomach has improved so much in the past four months without anti-inflammatory drugs, I am about ready to try the curcumin compound again and see if I have better luck with it this time.

I have also started taking collagen in powdered and tablet form.  Cartilage is composed of several types of collagen.  Some folks believe that ingesting collagen can help strengthen cartilage.  (Some don’t—there are believers and non-believers for everything!)  Some people regularly make and drink bone broths for the collagen component.  (That meat jelly you get after you’ve cooked down a chicken carcass for soup or boiled any kind of bones or meat with cartilage, then cooled it, is gelatin, which is cooked collagen. And if chicken soup is curative, gelatin/collagen is probably the reason.)  Collagen is also supposed to improve the condition of skin, hair, and nails.  In addition, according to some doctors, ingesting collagen can help with “leaky gut syndrome.”  Yep, that’s exactly what it sounds like, and I can only be grateful I don’t have those symptoms!  I have only been taking collagen for a couple of weeks, so I can’t say whether or not it has helped my joints.  My guess is that if it does, it’ll take some time.  But again, taking collagen won’t hurt, so why not try it?  If I lose a few wrinkles in the trying, I won’t complain about that!  I found powdered collagen at our health food store, the Health Nut in Susanville, and I found collagen tablets at Costco in Reno.

The other thing I have done is to start drinking an anti-inflammatory tea every night.  The arthritis tea contains nettle, alfalfa, horsetail, and gotu kola. I get these herbs in bulk at our health food store (and boy, am I grateful we have such a good store in our little town), and mix equal parts with a pinch or two of mint to offset the grass-flavor.  You can drink 3-4 cups a day of this mix for a month, according to my nurse/herbalist friend who gave me the ingredients list, then evaluate progress. I can’t drink that much of anything a day except water, so I have started adding a tea ball full of this mix with the sage tea mix I use to keep those nasty hot flashes and night sweats manageable. I brew up a big pot of this menopause/anti-inflammatory tea each week and keep it in a glass jug in the fridge.  I like to drink it cold just before bed.

I cannot tell if this tea mix helps anything but hot flashes (and it does help with those if anyone is interested in learning more about sage for hot flashes), but it cannot hurt, and maybe, in addition to the laser treatments, the cherry juice, the curcumin compound, and the collagen, it will be another weapon in my fight against arthritic inflammation.

Although it has been about 4 months since I last took a Celebrex, I can say, and this is a biggie, that my arthritic pain and inflammation is no worse than it was while I was taking Celebrex, and at times, it is better than it was when I was on Celebrex.  And my stomach is so much better now, I can even drink a glass of wine in the evenings now if I want to, without ill effect.  So overall, I feel better.  I hope this recounting helps those of you who also want to try alternative methods of combating arthritis.  If you have questions or if there are other things you’ve tried that help, please do leave a comment.

 

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Uncategorized

Not Gone Fishing

I wish I could say I haven’t been writing because I’ve been gone fishing, but that’s not the case.  I haven’t been writing because winter is so hard on my arthritic hands.  I got through Christmas, but I’ve been in a lot of pain since.  I kneaded a batch of sourdough bread last week, and my hands were numb for hours afterwards.

I’m going to be trying a new treatment on my hands pretty soon, so hopefully it’ll help, and I’ll be able to post a positive report for those who also suffer such problems.  The treatment is a laser bio-stimulation, and my daughter, the periodontist, will be doing it for me.  She uses a laser in her practice for gum surgery, but it also has bio-stimulation applications.  Recently, I had an experience that made me even more eager to try an extended bio-stim treatment program.

I’ve been getting regular medical massages for a couple of months from a therapeutic masseur, Bob Tripp, in my hometown, and these treatments have helped tremendously with my TMJ and head pain from clenching because of all the other pain.  Jaw, head, shoulders, and heel pain is all much, much better.  Interestingly, the treatment that helped the most on my heel pain was moxa.  Moxa is a method or technique of heating the tissue to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself.  I don’t know much about it other than what Bob told me.  He said it is used with acupuncture sometimes, but he does it with a small butane or propane applicance that heats up the tissue as he works it.  I was in such pain in my feet after Christmas, I could barely walk, and I couldn’t put any weight on my right heel. One moxa treatment, and my heel was so much better I really was astounded.  I had been considering seeing a podiatrist, but now I feel no need!

The laser Amy, my daughter, uses does something similar in the bio-stim application.  It heats the tissue deep down, and the heat continues to radiate for hours, even as much as day, after treatment.  Amy has done it for me a few times before, but we’ve never done an extended period of treatment as we intend to start at the end of the month.  I have hopes it will help my hands and other joints that are being affected by chronic and systemic erosive arthritis.

In the meantime, even writing these few short paragraphs has my thumb joints protesting and my little fingers going numb.  Here’s hoping I have something positive to report the next time I check in.  Later, friends.

 

 

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Fermenting, Uncategorized

Kombucha for Chickens

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Some of you will think I’m crazy.  But I’ve tested my theory several times, and each time I’ve found it to be true.  When I give my chickens a little kombucha several times a week, their eggs are almost completely clean. When the kombucha is withheld for several days, the eggs get poopy.

First off, some folks might not know what kombucha is.  Kombucha is fermented tea.  It’s fermented with some particular strains of bacteria.  You can make kombucha at home using raw, unflavored kombucha purchased in a health food store or obtained from someone who makes her own kombucha.  If you are interested in doing that, here’s the link I used to start my kombucha and SCOBY.  (The SCOBY is what grows in the kombucha.  The kombucha is the fermented tea that you drink.)  Kombucha is probiotic, very good for your gut.  And presumably, for a chicken’s gut.  Did you know they actually make probiotics for chickens? Yeah, that’s a thing. Some people buy probiotics for their chickens.  Some people feed them yogurt regularly.  I feed mine a little kombucha several times a week. And they love it.

I make my kombucha with green or white tea, mostly.  I have not ever given my chickens any kombucha made with black tea, because I want to keep the caffeine levels as low as possible.  Kombucha generally contains about a third of the caffeine in the tea it’s made from. Green or white tea contains less caffeine than black tea, thus the kombucha made from green or white tea contains less caffeine too.

Now, I’ve done a little research, and caffeine is apparently toxic to chickens (as it is to dogs). You’re not supposed to give them chocolate, tea bags, or coffee beans (I don’t know why anybody would, but nevertheless, you shouldn’t.)  However, many people do allow their chickens access to freshly brewed coffee grounds dumped in the compost pile, and these folks report no ill effects from the chickens eating the coffee grounds.  From what I understand from my reading, minute amounts of caffeine in things like spent coffee grounds doesn’t seem to hurt them.  I think small amounts of kombucha is probably the same. (You’re also not supposed to let chickens eat apple seeds, but mine ate windfall apples in the orchard all last fall. And when they eat an apple, they don’t leave anything but the stem.) So I think we can use an ounce of common sense here along with the kombucha.

I don’t give my four chickens a lot of kombucha at any one time, and I give it to them mixed with some scratch grains.  I put the scratch, about 1/3 cup or so, in an old pan, and pour on about a tablespoon of kombucha, or enough to just moisten the scratch.  I swirl and toss that around to coat all the scratch in the kombucha, and I let it sit for a minute to absorb the kombucha while I’m getting out their laying pellets.  I feed those separately.  They get the scratch/kombucha supplement about every other day.

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How was it that I began giving kombucha to my chickens in the first place?  In the summer of 2015, I was trying fermented feed for the chickens, for the probiotic effect, and I was using kombucha as a starter, mixing it in with their pellets and scratch and letting it ferment for 3 or 4 days before I gave it to them.  But with colder fall temps, fermenting the feed in the unheated pumphouse wasn’t working.  And it was another task when I really didn’t need another task. Then I thought, why bother with all that?  I have lots of kombucha, and it is easy to make more if I need it.  I could just keep a jar of it with their feed to mix with their scratch.

I did a little reading, noticing that many people reported giving their excess kombucha SCOBYs to their chickens, and I’ve done that too.  The chickens eat them like worms. No one reported any problems, and the SCOBYs retain quite a bit of kombucha in their layers. So I figured, why not?

I started noticing, a week or so after I began the kombucha regimen, that the eggs were clean.  Not just cleaner, but clean.  Rarely did I even get a little streak or smear of poop on an egg.  The majority of my eggs were pristine, like they’d been washed.  The change was noticeable, because they were pretty poopy before.  So I had nice, clean eggs all fall and into the winter.

In late winter, I came down with a bad case of influenza.  The old-fashioned stuff.  I was sick, really sick, for over a month.  During that time, Dennis took over feeding the chickens, and I hadn’t told him about the kombucha.  Didn’t even think about it until I was well enough to scramble myself an egg.  And then I noticed that the eggs were poopy again.

I told Dennis about the kombucha/scratch combo, and he started doing it.  Within a couple of days, the eggs were clean again.  No fooling.

Since then, we’ve had chicken minders for a week or so, at least three times, while we were gone on vacation.  I never tell them about the kombucha or ask them to do it because I don’t want the chickens getting too much kombucha. You never know how well people are actually listening when you tell them how to do something. Each time when we’ve returned, the eggs are poopy.  And each time, after a few days back on the booch, the eggs are clean again when I gather them.

The last time we left, the neighbor boy who was minding the chickens put a half-pan of dry scratch in the run for the hens so they had 24/7 access to it, something I never do, but it proved one thing to me.  It’s definitely the kombucha, not the scratch, that’s keeping those eggs clean.  I’d had a slight, niggling doubt about that, but this time was the clincher. I had poopy eggs for two days after we got back, until those chickens got some kombucha back in their systems.

In the first picture below, you can see that the eggs are very clean.  I don’t wash my eggs until I use them, if I need to wash them.  (If you have backyard chickens, you know why, but for those who don’t:  the reason you don’t wash eggs until you want to use them is that when the chicken lays the egg, it comes out with a protective coating that seals the shell and prolongs the life of the egg inside.  Store-bought eggs are washed, and they have shorter shelf lives than unwashed backyard eggs.) In the second photo, I’ve tried to take a close-up of the only egg in this carton (gathered over about a week’s time) that has any sign of poop on it.  It’s just a faint dark smear (not the reddish speckles–that is just pigment in the shell), and might not even be poop.  It could just be a smear of dirt from a chicken foot.  This is typical for my eggs when the chickens are getting kombucha at least three times a week.

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Kombucha for chickens makes cleaner eggs.  I don’t know why.  I could speculate, but I don’t know enough about the anatomy or digestive system of a chicken.  I just know it works.

 

 

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Main dishes, Recipes, Side dishes, Uncategorized

Mediterranean Farro Salad

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Farro, also known as emmer wheat, is an ancient grain.  I bought some organic farro a while back, and have been developing the recipe for this salad through trial but not error—all iterations were delicious. Farro is high in fiber, protein, some minerals, and B vitamins. While it is lower in gluten than other types of wheat, it does still contain some gluten. (If you want to try a gluten-free version, I think quinoa would work nicely with the salad ingredients. Brown rice would probably also be delicious.)  Farro is nutty, with a firm, slightly chewy texture. For more about farro’s nutritional value, here’s a link:  https://draxe.com/farro.

I really like this salad for several reasons.  It’s one of those dishes that’s really versatile and can be served cold or at room temperature, so it’s perfect for potlucks and outdoor summer  suppers. The recipe below has Greek influences, but I’ve also made it with Italian flavors, and it’s equally delicious that way.  I also like the fact that it is can be a cold, main vegetarian dish or a side dish.  This variation is meatless, but it would be easy to add some cold roasted chicken or lamb, or even a bit of grilled flank steak to increase the protein (in which case you’d want to chill it and keep it cold until serving).  Add some baby spinach for more veggie content.  Or how about some grilled or roasted marinated eggplant?  Fresh zucchini cubes or slices?  Grilled zucchini planks, ribboned? So many possibilities!

And now, to the recipe/s!

Mediterranean Farro Salad

3-4 cups cooked farro (approximately)

1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced

1 red, yellow, or orange pepper, diced (or a combination of all three colors is pretty)

¼ cup red onion, diced

½ cup sliced Kalamata olives

½ cup diced sun-dried tomatoes (or fresh grape tomatoes, halved, or diced Romas)

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (optional)

1/3 cup Greek salad dressing (see link below)

First, cook the farro.  What follows are the package directions for the farro I bought.  There are different varieties of farro, so be sure to follow the directions on your package if they are different than these.

1 cup farro grains (makes 3-4 cups of cooked farro)

3 cups lightly salted water (1/2 teaspoon sea salt is what I used)

Bring water to a boil, add the farro, bring back to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and partially cover with a lid.  Cook farro, stirring frequently, for approximately 30 minutes, or until all water has been absorbed.  (At my altitude, it takes 40 minutes.) Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Stir occasionally while cooling.  While the farro is cooling, prepare salad dressing and salad vegetables.

I used this simple recipe for Greek salad dressing, and I really liked it:  http://www.simplyscratch.com/2010/11/my-big-fat-greek-dressing.html. You’ll probably have all the ingredients you need already in your pantry.  A garlic clove, dried oregano, salt, pepper, lemon juice, olive oil.  Delicious!

Combine the cooled farro (it doesn’t have to be completely cool, just cool enough to avoid wilting or cooking the veggies), vegetables, feta, herbs, and salad dressing.  Mix thoroughly, cover, and cool completely in fridge.

Before serving, stir salad up from bottom to redistribute any dressing that might have drained to the bottom of the bowl and taste.  If you want, you can add more salad dressing, but you don’t want your salad to be oily, so don’t go overboard.

For an Italian variation:

*Omit cucumber.  Add a cup of roasted or grilled eggplant cubes.  (This can be marinated in Italian salad dressing after cooking for more flavor.)

*Omit feta cheese.  Substitute cubed fresh mozzarella.

*Omit mint.  Add a bit of fresh snipped basil instead.

*Omit Greek salad dressing.  Use Italian salad dressing instead.  My Italian dressing is essentially the same as the Greek dressing, except for acid I use red wine vinegar instead of lemon juice, and I use dried basil along with the oregano, and pinch of dried thyme.

*Omit sun-dried tomatoes and use fresh grape or cherry tomatoes, halved, or seeded and diced Roma or Italian tomatoes. Any fresh tomato would be fine.

*Omit Kalamata olives.  Substitute sliced or halved ripe black olives.

*Add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese for that quintessentially Italian flavor.

Happy summertime eating!  If you come up with any variations of your own, I would love to hear about them.

 

 

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Countertop Resolution

As you may know if you read my last kitchen renovation update, we asked The Home Depot for a partial refund on our countertops, because of all the mistakes made by U.S. Granite, the company contracted with Home Depot to cut and install the countertops.  I asked for a 50% refund.  I didn’t think I’d get that much, but I didn’t figure they’d give me what I asked for, no matter what the amount was.

My letter to The Home Depot detailing all the mistakes and delays in the installation process went first to the customer complaints person at the Northtowne Home Depot in Reno.  She forwarded it to her store manager, who didn’t have the authority to grant such a large refund.  (The refund would have amounted to about $1900 if they had given us 50%.)  She had to bump it up to the district office.

At that point, everybody went on vacation.  And after we got home from vacation, the district manager went on vacation.   We finally called after two more weeks and were told we should have an answer in a few days.

It was pretty plain they were stringing the thing out, hoping we’d get tired of it and settle.  And that’s what basically happened.  After a month of waiting, the district office manager said she’d refund us $1000.  If we refused that offer, we’d have to deal with corporate.

Dennis didn’t want to deal with corporate.  I didn’t want to deal with corporate.  Neither of us wanted to bring a small claims court case.  We just wanted to be done.  And they knew it.

We decided to accept the refund offer of $1000.  It’s a little less than 30%, if my math is correct, which is unlikely.  But it’s enough.

I have to add that all the people we actually spoke to at the Northtowne Home Depot were polite and sympathetic and took our complaint seriously.  Nobody tried to brush us off or deny what happened to us.  I appreciate that.

That concludes the Home Depot/U.S. Granite ordeal.  The kitchen renovation isn’t finished yet.  Because of the months of delay, we weren’t able to move on to installing the microwave or backsplash or finishing the wall in our proposed timeline.  All that stuff was supposed to be done by spring, so we could move on to other things that need doing outside. And now it’s summer, and we’re involved in all the big summertime projects that have to get done outside in dry weather, like renovating the old house on our property that we call “the barn.” It has to be re-roofed and re-sided and critter-proofed this summer.  But we’ll get back to the kitchen in the fall.

There’s nothing quite like DIY, is there?  But at least when you do it yourself, you know the quality of your own work, and if it’s not right, you’ve got nobody else to blame, and nobody else to resent.  I’d rather be in that situation than fighting with so-called professionals to do a job right after I’ve already paid them.

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Letter to The Home Depot

The following is our letter to The Home Depot requesting a refund. I know it’s long, and I don’t care.  We lived through three months of chaos and stress, so they can darn well read about it.  

After all the problems we’ve had the with the countertops we purchased from Home Depot more than 3 months ago, we really thought somebody would call, either from U.S. Granite, who was contracted with Home Depot to fabricate and install the granite countertops, or from Home Depot, who took our money (almost $4000) and contracted to provide the countertops we purchased.  But it’s been over a week now since the third set of countertops was finally installed, and no one has called to find out if we are satisfied with a job that went wrong so many times, we’ve almost lost count. We are not satisfied, and we are requesting a partial refund.

So, let’s run it down.

We sat down with a salesperson and our measurements at the Northtowne Home Depot in Reno in early March to work up a plan for the countertops.  We found some granite samples we liked and were advised to go to the granite supplier, Dal-Tile, and choose a particular slab of granite from which our countertops would be cut.  We did that the following week and chose a slab that Jeanie loved.  We then called Home Depot and sealed the deal with credit card information.  Within a few days, the company who would do the fabrication and installation of the countertops, U.S. Granite, called us to set up a templating appointment. The templater would digitally measure our space and encode it in a program that would then be fed to the cutting machine.

March 29, 2016: Templating proceeded with no problems.  The cabinets were brand new and newly installed, with no old countertops or anything to get in the way.  We were supposed to have countertops within a couple of weeks.

April 15, 2016:  Our countertops were supposed to be installed.  The appointed time came and went.  Jeanie finally received a call from the installer who said he would be there late in the afternoon. He never showed up, after we’d gone to the effort of moving the stove, the cutting boards that were our makeshift counters, and the essentials that we needed for cooking, and we’d covered the floor with heavy paper again to protect it from the workboots that tend to pick up gravel and mud outside and bring it in.  The installation was rescheduled for the following Monday after we called U.S. Granite’s manager to tell him that his installer never showed.

April 18, 2016:  The installer showed up bright and early and installed the countertops.  Not only did he not bring the brackets to secure the dishwasher to the countertops, he also did not adequately prepare to contain the dust produced when he cut the stone so that the sink could be set in the sink base counter.  Because he didn’t use any kind of containment procedure (like tarping) and because all he had to remove the dust was a wimpy shop-vac, we had rock dust throughout the entire house! Even worse, stone chips and rock dust coated our brand-new cabinets and all the contents inside. We spent hours on a step-ladder cleaning the cabinets and removing the contents, which all had to be washed before they (dishes, etc.) could be used.  The installers were wearing dust masks.  We, the homeowners, had no protection whatsoever from that dust, and we are still breathing it because it permeated every nook and cranny in the house.

But Jeanie loved the granite of the countertops.  This is a quote from her blog, written the next day:  “I got so excited when I saw the first top in place, and that was before the dust was cleaned off.  I love the granite I chose with its beige and gray background, black veining, and dark red flecks.” We were so happy with the granite choice.

However, after the installers had left and we tried to put the stove back in its space, it wouldn’t fit.  That was when we discovered that the countertops had been improperly installed, with one countertop overhanging the stove space by about 3/8”, which threw off that entire side of the kitchen.

After repeating ad nauseum to the manager of U.S. Granite what was wrong and what needed to happen next (either moving the countertops or recutting them), we were told another set of installers would come and look at the problem.  In the meantime, during all his measuring to figure out what went wrong and how it might be fixed, Dennis discovered that the bullnose overhang was different on all five pieces of granite.  None of them were uniform.

April 25:  A new set of installers showed up to move the countertops so that the stove would fit.  The countertops were moved, and the stove still did not fit.  Moving the countertop didn’t solve the problems.

The following week, the templater returned to check his program and discovered that the fabrication shop had miscut the bullnose depth on the slabs, and that was why they didn’t fit.  At least 3 of them would have to be recut, but U.S. Granite was hoping to get off cheap by not recutting all 5 of the pieces.

May 13: We drove back to Reno and looked at another granite slab, the second slab.  We didn’t like it as much as the original slab we’d chosen, and we were worried about the color, but we were told that because it had been raining, the stone had darkened, and that it would lighten up as it dried out.  It should match up, they said, when it dried out, with the pieces that were being left in place.  (One of those pieces was also miscut, but U.S. Granite  thought they could move it out away from the wall enough to leave it in place, although that would have made it difficult for us to properly set the backsplash tile.)

May 20:  The installers returned with three new pieces, the sink base countertop, the piece that abutted both the sink base and the stove, and the piece on the other side of the kitchen to the right of the fridge.  They installed the piece to the right of the fridge, and our concerns about color were immediately reawakened.  The new piece was substantially darker and browner than the original piece on the left side of the fridge, and it was very noticeable.   “It’s been raining,” the installers said.  “It’ll lighten up when it dries out.”  However, the new sink base piece and the piece next to the stove still did not fit.  The installers took the new pieces out, and we were left again without countertops on that side of the kitchen.  Dennis had to put our old laminate countertop back on so that he could hook the sink up again, so we would have water.

Within a week, the new countertop had dried out and was obviously not a match to the two original pieces that had been left in place.

May 28:  The templater returned to check the measurements once again and brought template cutouts to put down and try to determine the source of the problems with fit.  One of the problems was that U.S. Granite had not cut the sink base and stove section in one piece as had been originally laid out; rather, they’d cut them in two pieces (probably trying to save money), creating the necessity for a seam, and they simply couldn’t get edges and cuts to match up that way.

June 3:  We drove back down to Reno to see another new slab, the third.  This time, the slab had been set up in the fabrication shop at U.S. Granite.  It was dimly lit, and when we compared the piece of the original slab that we’d chosen back in March with the newest slab, we couldn’t tell if it was much darker than the piece that we loved and that we’d planned as the crowning glory of the new kitchen, or if the lighting was so bad, we just couldn’t see it clearly.  But what could we do?  Because of repeated mistakes by U.S. Granite, the countertop installation had been delayed for 3 months!  We told them to go ahead and cut new countertops.

June 6:  The countertops were installed and finally fit.  But to our dismay, the color was much darker than the original slab we’d chosen, with far more brown and beige in the background than the white and gray that Jeanie loved.  We had chosen the backsplash tile based on the original slab with more white and gray tones.  And now the backsplash tile does not coordinate nearly as well with the new countertops as it would have with the first slab we chose and paid for.

During this process, Dennis had to take out and then put back in and replumb the kitchen sink four times.  The dishwasher had to be taken out twice, and it marred the brand new wood floor we’d just installed.  The brand new cabinets were damaged on the top edges where the countertops were pried up twice!  We had to move kitchen paraphernalia so many times, we lost count.  And we are still trying to get the rock dust from cutting two sink holes cleaned up.

Dennis missed 5 days of work to be in the house when the installers and templater were here.  That is a significant loss of income.  We had to make two extra trips to Reno to look at slabs after our original choice was mis-cut and improperly installed.

Jeanie is disabled, and the stone dust mess in the house created by the first botched installation is more than she can cope with and clean up, not to mention the fact that it created breathing problems for days.  We need a professional cleaner to come in and thoroughly clean the house and carpets to remove the rock dust, which will be expensive.

For all of the above reasons, we are asking for significant refund from The Home Depot for our countertops.   This is to compensate us for the excess work, cost, time delays, and stress of this job which was botched not once, but twice.  So much for the dream kitchen; so much for the gorgeous countertops and coordinating backsplash.  We didn’t get what we paid for, and we feel cheated.

We trusted The Home Depot to contract with competent, reputable dealers and installers; in fact, that was exactly why we chose The Home Depot for this job.  We have been sadly disappointed.  Jeanie has chronicled this whole process on her blog (www.gardenforestfield.com), and we hope to be able to report that The Home Depot did the right thing and compensated us for what their contractor put us through for the past three months.  If The Home Depot does not do the right thing, that’ll be reported too, and not only on the blog, but on every review site online.

We hope to hear from someone at The Home Depot shortly about our refund.

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