“Ask anyone who has ever tackled a home renovation project – no matter how big or small, it always takes twice as long, costs twice as much and sucks 8 times as much as you thought it would.” –Melissa Terzis, D.C. realtor
Remember me kvetching about how my flooded basement necessitated a full-on rehab, like, SIX weeks ago? I’m sure you’ve thought of little since and have remained on the edge of your seats with baited breath, agonizing over when it would reach its conclusion. No? That was just me? Well, it’s done now. I had to tell you.
We are quite pleased with its new, updated look, and we are so relieved to have the whole process and mess be over. I know how I sound, whining about the most first world problem that ever first world problemed and literally no one should spare an ounce of sympathy. But despite the lack of logic, does anyone else experience what I can only term psychological disarray when dealing with crap like this? I expected to not enjoy it, but toward the end I suspect I had more in common with psychotic zombies than human beings. In case this should ever happen to you, I’d like to walk you through a partial home remodel and tell you all the things HGTV will not.
First: the displacement. We keep our cat’s litter in the basement, so that had to be moved to the master bathroom. So we had to move our bathroom stuff into the guest bathroom which hasn’t so much as gotten a fresh touch of paint since 1986. It probably shouldn’t feel like a thing – a bathroom is a bathroom, right? – but I found it so grating.
Second: the disruptions. I work from home, and the NOISE! Dear lord, the noise! Even when they weren’t cutting through metal and jackhammering tiles, there was always the audible treat of animated talk radio or music. I didn’t mind Bob Marley Day. But then there was that other day, the one where they had “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on repeat for over an hour. I shit you not.
Third: the dust and mold that gets kicked up. None of the people on the HGTV shows talk about what happens to your nostrils and skin when you are living with construction dust for weeks on end. Let’s just say I’m not going to discuss it any further on a food blog.
Fourth: the literal mess that gets left behind. in the real world, construction crews don’t clean up the messes they made very well. That’s on you. We have almost ten trash bags – some of which are even tied off! – and pieces of random doors and leftover foamy ceiling tiles and sheet rock sitting outside our house. It’s lovely because a) we live in a rainy area of the world; and b) our little suburb’s waste management company will only take so many items on trash days without you paying extra charges. Also, when the final construction is done in the real world, you find out just how depressingly anticlimactic it really is. There’s no Chip and Joanna to lovingly place our furniture in exacting, Instagrammable feng shui arrangements and hang pictures and artwork for us while we enter the room blindfolded and then gasp with delight. There’s no gasping, people. We gotta do all that shit ourselves, without fanfare.
Fifth: budget and time frame overrun. HGTV gives lip service to this major reality, but they make sure to reassure you it’s always worth it in the end! And no one has any regrets, ever! In other words, they downplay those effects on your real life, and for that, they can all go fornicate themselves with rusted-out andirons. Our rehab only went $1,000 over budget, which all things considered I’ll happily take, but we went easily two and a half weeks over the time frame originally stated. What shiny, happy, fakery like HGTV doesn’t tell you is WHY it runs over. At least in our case, it’s because construction crews work full days for a couple weeks, then they drag out the project in a maddening series of half and quarter-work days, and some days they don’t come in at all. They tell you they’ve painted surfaces they clearly haven’t, they don’t premeasure your new sink and thus don’t have the correct pipe fittings it needs, they put the wrong door back on Narnia (that’s what we call the little room under the stairs), and the entire project finally ends with you telling your husband that he needs to text the general contractor to let him know we have officially run out of patience, and it must be him because he’s… well, because he’s a nicer person than you.
All that to say, partial home rehabs aren’t the least bit romantic or enjoyable, and I felt like I sort of checked out on much of life the entire time it was happening. Not by intention, mind you, but my internal dialogue kept oscillating between “Stop complaining about this, you brat! Don’t you realize how much worse it could be?” and “Oh god, I can’t cope, I’m sure it’s fine to just hide under a rock and do nothing until it’s over.” It wasn’t constructive. But it’s done now! We’re back to our regularly scheduled programming, and I’d like to request unto the universe that it be at least a year until the next homeowner’s insurance claim.
Basic Focaccia with Dried Herb Oil
- 2 ¾ cups bread flour
- 1 cup semolina flour
- 2 cups warm water (105 F to 110 F)
- 2 packets active dry yeast
- 1 ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
- Sea salt, such as fleur de sel, for sprinkling
DRIED HERB OIL:
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 dried bay leaves, crumbled and minced
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, beat bread flour, semolina flour, and 2 cups water at low speed until just combined, about 1 minute. Sprinkle yeast on top of dough and let it sit for 10 minutes.
- Add salt, and beat on low speed until combined. Increase mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until dough becomes smooth and elastic, anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes. The dough should be smooth and uniform, but it will be sticky. Now reduce mixer speed to low, and with the mixer running, add the olive oil in a slow steady stream. Beat until incorporated, 2 minutes or a little longer. It will not look “right” to you, but it’s fine. Just make sure the oil is not pooling at the bottom of the mixing bowl. The dough will look wet and not totally uniform. That’s okay.
- Now spray a large mixing bowl with cooking spray and tip the dough into the bowl. Cover the top and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 1 ½ to 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a jelly-roll pan (10” by 15”) with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto the prepared pan and use your fingers to stretch it evenly to the edges. Dimple the dough liberally with your fingertips. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Immediately brush with olive oil when it comes out of the oven. Let cool at least until you can comfortably handle it with your bare hands, or all the way to room temperature.
DRIED HERB OIL:
- In a small jar or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid, combine the olive oil, bay leaves, oregano, rosemary, and red pepper flakes. Shake well. Season generously with salt and black pepper, and shake again. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.
- Pour some dried herb oil into small, shallow bowls or ramekins. Tear off chunks of focaccia and drag it through/liberally dunk it into the herb oil.