How a disaster gave an island kitchen new sparkle
Galveston author and historian Gini Brown would be the first to admit that cooking is not among her favorite activities. But when a faulty interior water line resulted in a flood that required tearing out most of the main floor of her Offatts Bayou condominium, Brown found herself knee-deep in a major kitchen remodel.
“I didn’t want a new kitchen, however,” Brown said. “And up until the day I found myself wading through my house, I didn’t need a new kitchen. I had spent years cooking for a husband and three growing sons, so I felt I had done my share of meal preparation — except for party food, of course — that’s different.”
Today, Brown is back to her entertaining lifestyle in a newly remodeled Goldilocks kitchen that’s not too big, not too serious, but just right for her needs, wants and love of a relaxed island lifestyle.
The kitchen, with seashells and shimmer mixed with family treasures and a touch of whimsy, is a far cry from the scene that greeted Brown early one morning last year when an urgent phone call from a neighbor alerted her that water was flowing out from under her garage door.
“As I stepped off the stairs from my bedroom into the hallway on the main floor, water came flowing up and over my feet,” she said. “This was no small leak, but a flood.”
An urgent call to longtime friends Rusty and Danna Peele brought much-needed help almost immediately. A water-damage remediation team quickly took over the home’s first floor, removing living and dining room furnishings and pulling out water-soaked carpet, padding, insulation, Sheetrock and other structural materials. The Peeles helped Brown rescue what they could of the existing kitchen.
Later, as giant fans whirred in the gutted area below, Brown set up temporary living arrangements in her upper floor bedroom and pondered what to do next. Did she just replace what she had before or try something different?
Tapping into the expertise of the Peeles, who own Galveston’s R & D Renovations, Brown began researching possibilities online as well as shopping local stores to search for samples of possible replacement materials. Soon, inspiration began to replace despair as the Peeles came up with a plan that not only opened the area up to become a more integral part of the home’s living and dining areas, but provided 30 percent more storage space. They also adapted the height of cabinets and appliances to better fit Brown’s diminutive frame.
Brown also was inspired by many of the new products she was discovering.
“I have always been attracted to things that sparkled, but until recently, it never occurred to me to incorporate ‘sparkles’ into a kitchen,” said Brown, as she stood recently amid newly installed gold-veined countertops, gold glass wall tile, off-white cabinetry featuring gold detailing and sparkling crystal hardware.
A series of crystal chandeliers — Brown calls them her “cocktail lights” — delineate the kitchen perimeter, and pinpoint dots of gold glitter like stars against a ceiling painted the color of a midnight sky. Wide plank flooring in a deep charcoal brown ties together the dining and kitchen areas and anchors a color palette of blue and cream set off by rich wood tones.
For her bar area, Brown has repurposed a teller’s stand, complete with a brass coin holder, that was part of the original furnishings used in the island’s historic 1881 Trueheart-Adriance Building that housed a 19th century land company. The stand also holds a miniature casting of Charles Parks’ “High Tide” sculpture, part of a limited edition of 100 commissioned by the late George Mitchell. The original full-size sculpture was installed at Galveston’s Pier 21 as part of Mitchell’s revitalization of the island’s Harborside complex.
Other treasures throughout Brown’s dining area include an extensive collection of cut-glass crystal and delicate bone china inherited from her grandmother and an unusual 1920s glass cocktail shaker that belonged to her parents. Two vintage cloisonné lamps brought back from Asia by her grandfather are today positioned on either side of a painting by Larry Anschutz, also titled “High Tide.” A nearby convex mirror framed in heavy gold leaf once hung in an aunt’s Pennsylvania country house, where the next door neighbors were Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower.
Antique silver hollowware includes finger bowls and an ornately embossed tray is used today to hold lemons and limes. A small, well-worn kitchen tool that Brown remembers seeing her grandmother use for chopping nuts and other items, bears the inscription G.M. Thurnauer Co. Inc., France. A collection of wooden cooking tools is housed in a vintage glass container once used to hold a car battery, and an oversized oyster shell serves as a stove-side spoon rest.
“Shells have always held a special fascination for me, and you could say I am a lifelong island aficionado,” Brown said. “I grew up on the Atlantic coast, and as a child loved my family’s frequent trips to Long Island, N.Y., where later, as a teen, I learned to dance under the stars. One of my first real jobs was on an island known as Manhattan, and today I am living on — and loving — Galveston Island.
“This may not be the largest, fanciest or most high-tech kitchen in the county, but it fits my needs perfectly — and even better, it fits me,” Brown said. “And although I assure you I’m not going to be enrolling in cooking classes anytime soon, I am once again considering dancing under the stars — except now they are scattered across my kitchen ceiling.”
Brown recommends serving this eye-catching hors d’oeuvre with sparkling or still wine. It’s important to use real cream cheese, not low-fat, and chop only the leaves of the parsley, not the stems, she said.
3 to 4 ounces red or black caviar
8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
Worcestershire and soy sauce, to taste
½ teaspoon celery seed
1⁄3 cup finely chopped onion
1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
2 cups finely chopped parsley leaves (leaves only — no stems)
Crackers or Melba toast squares
If caviar is extremely salty, place it in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse gently under a slow stream of cold, running water to remove excess salt. Set sieve containing rinsed caviar on top of several layers of paper towels and allow to drain thoroughly. As much moisture as possible must be removed from the caviar, so you may need to replace wet paper towels with dry ones several times.
Blend cream cheese, mayonnaise, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in celery seed, onion and egg.
Place a small amount of cream cheese mixture on a small plate and spread into a 3-inch diameter circle, similar to a pancake. Carefully build a shallow “retaining wall” around the perimeter of the circle, then gently spoon drained caviar into the center of the circle until it mounds up slightly in the center.
Gently cover the caviar with remaining cream cheese mixture to form a cupcake shape. Chill for about an hour, then pat chopped parsley over entire surface until thoroughly covered. Serve with crackers or Melba toast.