Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Rising Moon

It's always a challenge to capture with simple cameras the beauty of a rising moon over the city. I was headed out somewhere as the February 27th moon was emerging out in the east, so I snapped a quick shot of it with my Droid, looking through the trees that the movie screen frame backs up to. You might have to click on the picture to get a bigger version of it to open.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Repairing the Master Bathroom Floor

Since the floor tile in the master bathroom was cracked and separating, this was one of the jobs for Peter LaRoque of LaRoque Construction of Mocksville, NC, to attend to on his second trip back to the house in the last week. Pete and his crew member Robert pulled up the broken tile and cut away the grouting that had cracked. This time, he's using a silicone-based grout and he reset the compromised tile.

I've been given the instruction to stay off of it until mid-day Monday, so that's meant a lot of leaping into and out of the bathroom closet.

Friday, February 26, 2010

That Hole's Supposed to Be There, Sort Of

Since the addition and renovation project also involved installation of a completely new HVAC system, the opportunity was there to get this old house to feel more comfortable and for it to feel more consistent throughout the house. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that the design of the downstairs system successfully accounted for the different heating and cooling needs in the kitchen, and I ended up having a separate zone system installed to separate it from the rest of the downstairs.

But before taking that costly step, the HVAC installer wanted to try some other remedies first. One of those was to relocate the downstairs thermostat from the front entry hallway and to put it between the old and new parts of the downstairs, in a transition area that has been named the "anteroom." This didn't solve the problem, so the thermostat was relocated to its original location and the kitchen got its own zoned thermostat. That means a brand new wall outside the butler's pantry was left with an unnecessary hole. This shot is of the beginning stages of repair.

Update [March 15]: Pete LaRoque, the general contractor, has now finished filling this hole and it has been painted over.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cut Corners in the Van Gogh Bathroom

In the roughly eight months since the substantial completion of the renovation and addition project, it seems that there has been a slight sinking of foundational support, and this has led to a number of visible fractures and problems. For instance, in one of the new upstairs bathrooms (added to a rear guestroom), a rather nasty crack has appeared in the rear corner behind the toilet.

[You should definitely click this photo
for a larger size.]

I'm also concerned that some of the floor tile in this bathroom is giving off a gritty sound when you step on them, which means they are not as solidly secure in their place as I would want them to be.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Grout in the Van Gogh Bathroom

There is plenty to show you, dear blog readers, regarding the problems with the grout in the tile in all of the bathrooms (except the powder room; the problems there are with the flooring and the drywall). On the list of items to be addressed by Peter LaRoque of LaRoque Construction in Mocksville, NC, is the matter of disintegrating or cracking grout in the showers, in the floor tile, and around the tub (in one of the new upstairs bathrooms).

The picture here gives a small taste of the grout issue. I believe Pete erred in choosing the grout he did, especially in a project involving so much new lumber. I am assuming he agrees to an extent, because he is using a silicone-infused grout to make repairs to the showers and floor tile.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Loss of a Crew Member

Over the weekend, when Pete LaRoque was back at the house to work on some of the outstanding issues, he also brought with him the sad news that one of the guys who'd been here working was killed recently. While Joe was no longer employed with LaRoque Construction, he is certainly remembered here for being a part of the project almost all the way through, and for being a pretty genuinely nice and interesting guy. The one feature of the house that is most his is the arch over the tub area in the master bathroom.

As I understand it, Joe was up in Maryland on a site where a tree was being cut or trimmed, and a limb came down on him. He leaves behind a wife and two small children, I believe.

Monday, February 22, 2010

We've Got a Low Beam Under the House

By the time I came in off the road for the Christmas holiday, it was really becoming obvious that the addition I'd had put on the house was showing more than just some isolated cracking from settling. I think I'll always remember distinctly the feeling I got on December 23rd, when I took pad and pen in hand so that I could catalogue all the places that the house was potentially revealing a lack of structural integrity; I ended up being physically ill by the time I'd inspected all the new spaces that were added in this past year's project. I'll be doing some blog posts to highlight these over the coming days and weeks; I also included a description of these in my letter to Peter LaRoque of LaRoque Construction of Mocksville, NC, the general contractor for the project.

When Pete and his crew member Robert came to review the list of items I'd written about, they checked the floors and also the main support piers under the house. Most of the problems seemed to be falling along a consistent line, and sure enough, Pete found that the flooring was no longer level and that the support beam had dropped by perhaps as much as a quarter of an inch. The plan is to jack the house up by that diminished amount and to secure it with steel shims. In this picture, it's pretty clear how much the floor has dropped since the baseboard was installed; this is from the powder room.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Grilling on a Beautiful Day

This was one of those days that living in North Carolina can offer you in the winter...a high in the low 60s and bright, bright sunshine. The morning started out with coffee out in the parking area, along with a bit of reading. Then it was off to the Harris Teeter to grab provisions for grilling out tonight.

So here's the run-down on Meal No. 77 in the newly-constructed kitchen of the Roediger House, enjoyed by a partial gathering of the usual suspects: Southwestern dip with tortilla chips for appetizer; a spiced pecan and blue cheese salad with homemade sweet-and-sour vinaigrette; grilled margarita pork tenderloin; cheddar potatoes faux gratin; blue cheese slaw; fresh-made brioche bread with honey butter; and lemon chess pie for dessert along with some just-ground Daily Grind decaf coffee and Bailey's.

Some of tonight's meal was a rip-off from a dinner party last night with friends from Virginia who were down this way. Meal No. 76 also started with Southwestern dip and tortilla chips, followed by pork tenderloin in that amazing ginger shiitake mushroom cream sauce. The salad was that same spiced pecan and blue cheese salad with the homemade sweet-and-sour vinaigrette. Accompaniments included cheddar potatoes faux gratin and layered green bean casserole, and some fresh-made potato bread with honey butter. Lemon chess pie and Daily Grind decaf were the pleasant meal-enders.

I'm full.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Repairing the Chimney - Again

The multiple leaks around the chimney for the new fireplace in the kitchen are getting their much overdue attention on this beautiful Saturday. Just now I snapped this shot of Peter LaRoque of LaRoque Construction in Mocksville, NC, who was general contractor for this project, working with one of his crew to once again address the problems with water coming into the house.

Friday, February 19, 2010

February Skyline

From time to time, I like to toss a picture up here on the blog of the skyline as seen from the upstairs balcony. After so many days of rain and cold and gray, it was nice to see recently some color in the late afternoon/early evening sky.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I like my birds. As of this writing, I'm looking at a female cardinal sitting at the sunflower seed feeder that is positioned in my line of view when I'm sitting at the fireside. Back when I still had the old/original kitchen, I remember looking out one of the windows and seeing that a hawk had captured a mourning dove and then he spent about three hours feasting on it in the backyard. It was very cool, especially for a downtown city sight.

Occasionally I'll still see a hawk hereabouts, but not all that often. One afternoon not long ago, a hawk swooped down and alighted on the top of the fence just outside the big bay windows in the kitchen, giving me a great view of it from the fireside. I jumped up to get the camera and I guess those eagle/hawk eyes spotted the movement, because he took off like a flash. So here's the picture of where he'd been.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Drawer Malfunction at Wetbar

I think the kitchen cabinets turned out pretty cool. They really look good to me, and there's no doubt I have plenty of space for storage, and ample countertop space for prep and for serving. This is a long way from that 12' x 12' kitchen that's been demolished and rebuilt.

Oh, but there are always small things here and there. One thing I'll need to get Tim Stevenson from KitchenVision to come out and address is the soft-closing mechanism of one of the drawers in the wetbar. As the video below shows, it's not really doing like it's supposed to.

The pull-out trashcan near the sink is also giving me a wee bit of trouble, but I've got a feeling that the Rev-A-Shelf holder is just not well-enough-secured in the base of that cabinet. Bigger deeper screws will probably get that little problem clarified.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Post-Valentine's Day Break-Up

As mentioned in my Valentine's Day blog entry, a number of issues have emerged since the substantial completion of the renovation and addition project on my house, undertaken by LaRoque Construction of Mocksville, NC. One of those can be seen here, in this photo taken of the floor tile in the newly-built master bathroom. This example shows where the cracking of the grout is the worst; you might even be able to see that the tile on the left itself has cracked.

It is not surprising to find that minor cracks might appear in newly-constructed areas as the new lumber and materials go through the seasons, with the house being heated and cooled. But the number of cracks in the grout used in tiling the floors and showers of the four bathrooms that LaRoque Construction has built for me leave me feeling a mistake was made in using such rigid material as this kind of grout. Simply re-grouting the areas that have cracked will not pass muster with me, nor is it likely to stand the test of time. So a better solution will have to be found.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Monday Monday Meals

The winter weather continues to muck around with my colleagues in Virginia, so instead of hitting the road this afternoon to head up to Winchester, I got an extra day this week in this wonderful old Roediger House. It was cold and rainy and miserable here. so what better way to kick-start the morning than some lemon-buttermilk pancakes (Meal No. 74, for those who like when I keep track of this)?

But that wasn't it for kitchen duty today. With an eye to getting some of the fellas together for a late-night supper, and wanting to try out a recipe from good friends in Princeton, I turned my labors to putting together a hearty concoction known to some of you as Country Captain Chicken. It's a crockpot thing but there's cooking that's preliminary to that, so the mid-day breakfast was quickly cleared away and preparation tackled.

The result was, quite simply, amazing. Here's a shot of the steaming finished product (Meal No. 75) on some brown basmati with some french-cut green beans and fresh-made heartland sunflower bread.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Letter to LaRoque Construction

One of my tasks this past week before I felt ready to hit the road to work was a letter to Peter "Pete" LaRoque of LaRoque Construction of Mocksville, NC, the general contractor on my renovation and addition project for my house. Since the substantial completion of most of the work on the house occurred back in the summer, the list of undone items as well as problems that have emerged has become quite substantial. It seemed best to catalogue it all to the best of my ability, with the proviso that who knows what further might emerge as the weeks and months pass. The letter ran to four pages.

Upcoming blog entries will highlight some of these issues more specifically; others have already been chronicled. For instance, it remains a mystery why the roof around the chimney continues to leak after Pete LaRoque and his crew have repaired the flashing three times. I've also already written about problems with doors, leak damage where the ceiling meets the brick of the chimney, a window that must be replaced, cracked and problematic caulking of a porch rail post, and spreading of hardwood flooring planks.

After receiving my letter, Pete called me up and promised that LaRoque Construction will stand behind its work. We're scheduled for him to review all the pending and problematic items at the end of the week.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cellar Flooding Remains

Any time there's a heavy rain or a lot of precipitation outside, the south side of the cellar floods. This is the area that's basically under the master bedroom. The north side (under the dining room) used to flood, too, before the old kitchen was torn down and the addition put on. But there's been enough rain and snow and stuff coming down that the north side got flooded too, as documented last week.

As of this morning, the south side of the cellar has just about dried out:

But not the north side:

So I'm back to thinking I probably need to invest in a shop vac. It's not good for this stuff to just sit there.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snow on the Tundra

Well, darned if it's not snowing again in Winston-Salem. We're not scheduled to get all that much, but it is a pretty sight all over again.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Christian Burris, Well-Suited

This is Christian Burris, a great guy I met in 1989 when he was a freshman at Wake Forest and I was the hall director in Kitchin House, to which he had been assigned. Consider him one of the regulars at Roediger House events, as was the case when this picture of him was taken. It was the night of the 2010 Chili Cook-Off, and he was coming from other social and civic gatherings. Hence, the suit.

But you gotta give him this: he's cutting rather a sharp figure standing in the entry foyer of the house, with the warm glow and cozy setting of the South Parlour behind him.

Take your lead from Chris: If you've not been finding your way to the Roediger House for movie nights and chili cook-offs and Halloween bashes and basketball tourneys and other sordid and sundry affairs, you should reconsider how you arrange your social calendar. Seriously.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rat Trap Claptrap

A few months before the demolition of the rear of the house signaled the beginning of the Roediger House makeover project, an uninvited guest took up residence in my home. He first made his presence known when I woke one night to the sound of him chewing through some wrapped-up homemade cookies I was going to take with me on a flight to Maine the next morning. The cookies were in my backpack on the floor at the foot of my bed. In my bedroom.

The theory is that there was a great scattering of rats into the Holly Avenue and West Salem neighborhoods when the downtown baseball park project got started. The land that the new stadium is being built on was already in a marvelous bowl shape, but it was also an area with a lot of run-down and abandoned properties. In other words, it was a true rat haven. And once the structures down there started getting demolished and the clearing and grading of the land commenced, well, those rats had to go somewheres.

I'm not sure what you know about city rats, or how they differ from mice. Mice are easy. It's why there's no need to "build a better mousetrap." The design that's been around forever works elegantly because mice are naturally curious little creatures and don't stray much from a localized area, which they constantly roam and investigate and nose around in. New things drive them nuts with wondering and they'll get all up into them, which leads quickly to their demise when that new thing is a simple spring-loaded mousetrap.

Rats are sly, smart, cautious buggers. I learned with the first one to invade the house back in 2008 that they can actually feast on the peanut butter or granola bars on the rat trap without ever setting it off. I even wrapped a chunk of peanut-y granola in Saran Wrap so that he'd have to dig around in it to dislodge it...and he still got away with the morsels without springing the trap. I finally went with poison although I hated losing the opportunity to see with my own eyes that he had been defeated. Then the demolition came at about that same time, and that first invader was heard or seen no more.

Ah, but then came the harsh cold of this current winter, and I have a new visitor. The first notice I took of him was hearing scratching in the ceiling directly above my bedroom. He may have gotten into the house the same way the squirrel invader did about a year ago, through a gable vent at the end of the porch. Or not. Who knows? [If you click on that post, you'll see mention of a screen that Peter LaRoque of LaRoque Construction of Mocksville was going to put over that vent, but he never did.] So far, I can't see what he's going after for food, and I've got no signs of him except what I'm hearing in the ceiling. Oh, I wish it were just a squirrel, but I don't think I'm going to be so lucky.

Especially since he's already started eating peanut butter off the rat trap. Without springing it.

It's going to be time to call in my pest control folks. Can't keep having sleep interrupted.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Return to Center

Eventually I'll get around to doing a full blog post about one significant but under-reported element of the renovation project: the HVAC system. I had the entire heating and cooling operation for the house replaced, which was badly needed. There are still some kinks to be worked out, and one of those was the problem of the master bedroom getting chillingly cold (in summer) and scorchingly hot (in winter) while the rest of the downstairs was maintaining the temperature I'd set the thermostat to.

For instance, back in July, when the house was set at 74° F, here's what the master bathroom was:

And in December, when the rest of the house was set at 69° F, it was a bit warmer in the master suite:

Greg Barnette of Barnette Heating & A/C of Mocksville thought one solution would be to install a return in the master bedroom. So we located a spot between the bathroom door and the dresser, and that's where he cut one in and installed a decorative grate over it:

Of course, I'd love to assure my faithful blog readers that all was well after this return was installed, but check out this reading in the bathroom on Saturday, January 30, when the bedroom and bathroom had been unused/empty for a couple of hours and the rest of the downstairs was 69° F:

Yes. It actually was 92° F in the bathroom.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Meal No. 73: Oregano Chicken Stir-Fry

You know, it doesn't always have to be a wok that makes a stir-fry meal happen. This evening's fare was based on a simple family weeknight meal recipe magazine, and it was called Oregano Chicken Stir-Fry. I was in a hurry to eat it once it was prepared so I didn't take the time to get a good focus with the camera. Still, it's a colorful dish, ain't it?

After the involved meals I've made over the last few days, I think I'm A-OK with something easy and straight-forward. And while I did not expect it to measure up to the rich flavors of the Asian meals I've been making in my wok, I will hereby confess to going back for a full bowl of seconds.

And to now feeling somewhat miserable. It's going to make it hard to reach for a piece of chocolate eclair cake. Or maybe a slice of Boston Cream Pie.

Turns out the last of the chocolate eclair cake won out, with a cold glass of Vitamin D whole milk. Now I'm properly fatted.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cellar Flooding

With all the snow, sleet, ice, and especially rain we've had, it shouldn't be too big a surprise that the normal south-side flooding in my cellar is now wide-spread to the whole cellar. The only dry spot is at the bottom of the stairs coming down in the middle. Otherwise, you're headed into a couple of inches of clay-muddy water.

And it's standing between me and the extra rolls of toilet paper, which I store down there.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Meal No. 72: Beef Tenderloin

With food as a primary occupation of late, let's continue the theme. Tonight was a postponement of last night's intended "big dinner," which was completely messed up by the winter weather we got. But by pushing it to this evening, I lost a couple of guests who had to work. Still, it was a great evening for food and friends, and as I write this the clock approaches midnight and dishes are piled high by the sink, and I'm nonetheless quite content to simply head to bed.

When Harris Teeter puts their beef tenderloin on a good enough sale, I'm all set for preparing what some might term a "feast." That's what I was shooting for tonight, albeit a fairly low-key feast. And with a whole beef tenderloin, there is some prep-work to be done in advance: trimming down the tenderloin, salting it for a spell, and tying it up.

I grew up eating a lot of steak, and I still love a good piece of beef. This was a tender cut with a great flavor. The recipe I followed called for a slow roasting followed by pan-searing on the cooktop. I liked the results although I did let it cook just a bit too long...not bloody enough for my tastes. I tried out a new potatoes au gratin recipe that ran a little on the runny side but I think I'll know how to fix that. Add to it a spicy horseradish sauce I made this afternoon and some fresh potato bread from the bread machine, and the Abita Amber next to it is one happy beer.

The picture in the Hershey's cookbook looked too good, so I thought I'd give their Boston Cream Pie recipe a trial. I'd made it before and thought the cake was a bit dry. This time, it came out pretty, and pretty good.

Now, once again, I find myself full as a tick but one contented fellow living happily in the Roediger House.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Meal No. 71: Indoor Pulled Pork Barbecue

Born and raised south of Raleigh in the quiet college hamlet of Buies Creek, I grew up eating Eastern North Carolina-style barbecue. It means that today, I'm always happy when work or travels allow me to pass within striking distance of a Smithfield's Chicken 'N Bar-B-Q place, like the one in Richmond County, NC, where I often consult. Living in Winston-Salem now for almost a decade and a half, I've also developed an additional (but not replacement) taste for Lexington-style barbecue. More recently, I've had the chance to enjoy another animal altogether: Bib's Downtown, with its "smoked meats" (don't call it 'barbeque,' they insist). Bib's is especially handy because it's a block north of the house. In fact, right now, looking out from my old man's chair in front of the fireplace, I can even see its "OPEN" sign is lighted.

Among the many things I'd like to try making in the awesome new kitchen I've got, I can't say that barbeque was jumping out at me as all that high on the list. But when the forecast for the weekend was for more winter weather, and especially the likelihood of a significant ice storm, and I planned out some menus and did the grocery shopping, I went ahead and put a Boston Butt pork shoulder on the list. A fairly straight-forward recipe in my Cook's Illustrated magazine made my mouth water and I figured I'd give it a try. And I was darned happy with the results. Although the kaiser rolls I got from Harris Teeter ended up being a tad stale (should've stuck with my trusty Martin's potato buns), the barbeque sandwiches were well worth the efforts. [Sorry this picture is a bit blurry; when I used the flash it tended to wash out the slaw.]

So, here's how it went down: it started out with a 2-hour salt-and-liquid-smoke brining of the pork shoulder, followed by coating it with a mustard mixture.

Then, the mustard-based coating was covered with a pretty zippy and zesty spice rub.

All that got sealed up on a roasting rack, using heavy duty foil. It roasted at 325° F for three hours and came out smelling incredible.

After that, it went back into the oven for another hour-and-a-half to get a good cooking on the outer skin, with all those good spices. Meanwhile, I tackled the other major element of this good southern concoction: my first ever experience of making coleslaw.

The outstanding chef at 6th & Vine Wine Bar and Cafe, Monica Alonso, turned me on to blue cheese coleslaw. A web search led me to Ina Garten's recipe from the Food Network. This first batch, pictured here, is a bit heavy-handed with the creaminess, in part because I upped the blue cheese by a third, so I think I'll cut more cabbage into it to get a better balance. Still, it was an excellent accompaniment to the barbecue sandwiches.

Chimney Leak Persists

Tonight represents the sixth time that the roof around the fireplace chimney has leaked in the addition to my house done by Peter "Pete" LaRoque of LaRoque Construction in Mocksville, NC. This is the third leak since the last time it was supposedly repaired.

I'd love to be able to leave the beautiful quilt I've got hanging up on the fireplace, but who knows when water will come dribbling down the chimney onto it?

As the evening wore on, the leak worked its way further down the face of the fireplace on the right side, and in this picture you can probably see that another trail of water has begun up near the top on the left side: