Recreating my comfort zone: Kitchen updates

For me, food is love. It is self-love through giving your body wonderful tasting food that nourishes body and soul, as well as for loved ones as you show those close to you that you love them enough to do the same for them. Your body will only feel good, physically and mentally, if you put good food into it; and hence, eating is an almost spiritual practice. And my kitchen is meant to be a reflection of that ideal.

_MG_1096Where does the time go? It’s rather sad that it’s been almost two months since I’ve graced my blog with my presence.

But fear not, reader for I have been far from idle! In fact, I’ve been busy whipping my kitchen into shape the last couple of months.

The kitchen is the heart of my home. For me, it represents a place for families to get together around a table, break bread, and discuss their day, their hopes, and their dreams. It is filled with nutritious meals, fine smells, and exotic textures and tastes for adults to take pride and pleasure in, and for children to experience as they learn about the world around them. It is a place centered around the pleasure of the taste buds, and the enjoyment of good company sharing in that moment and those culinary adventures.

For me, food is love. It is self-love through giving your body wonderful tasting food that nourishes body and soul, as well as for loved ones as you show those close to you that you love them enough to do the same for them. Your body will only feel good, physically and mentally, if you put good food into it; and hence, eating is an almost spiritual practice. And my kitchen is meant to be a reflection of that ideal.

In essence, it is an extension of myself as I create and prepare tangible and tasty “love” for family and friends.

While my partner jokes that so many families have exchanged family for their alters dedicated to the big glowing box in the living room these days, the kitchen was once the center of activity in the American home.

And yes, many Americans have lost their way from the traditional family Mecca that is the kitchen. They’ve forgotten the art of passing down family recipes and even the art of how to boil water, never mind combining spices, flavors, and foods before broiling, baking, or stewing. We as a culture have become such an on-the-go, throwaway culture that the stove top has practically become a vestigial appliance. An antique that smacks of the days of Norman Rockwell. An anachronism.

So how do we fix it? We start small.

But what a true kitchen novice needs to do before he or she even puts knife to food is to create an environment that they feel comfortable in. If done right, cooking can be time consuming. From the preparation to the actual cooking, to the post-cooking cleanup, we have to commit to being in the kitchen for blocks of time in our day. So why even try cooking in a room that does not appeal to you? If it isn’t pleasing or comfortable, or doesn’t reflect your personality, your interest will fade fast.

Even slapping some nice paint on the walls is a great start to developing a little creative culinary corner. It’s amazing how a little paint can completely transform a room. My partner and I finally got around to sponge painting our kitchen this past spring. It has given the room an entirely different cozy look. The change has even brightened my attitude about the dark color scheme I had chosen several years ago.

old kitchen
The messy, old, less than efficient kitchen space.
New kitchen look
While it’s nothing earth-shattering, for me the new paint job and neatened counters and decorated shelves do just enough to dress the kitchen and make it cozy and fun to cook in!
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I’d been unhappy with the army green I’d mistakenly chosen, and wanted to touch up the paint for years. While sponge painting was labor intensive and took two of us five hours to complete, it gives the room a new dimension – and made it brighter and more cheery in general.

Next, why not add some themed towels? I like coffee and herbs, and my first purchases for my kitchen were towels and hot mitts that reflect these interests. Over time I’ve added little figurines, food related calendars, and even art to hang on the walls.

Only recently, I’ve started to decorate the blank space on top of my cabinets. Due to having three adventurous cats, I’ve been cautious about what I put up there. But by blocking up the open end of the cupboard top with a basket and decorative silk flowers, we were able to solve that problem

IMG_2068And so, my partner and I began to adorn the space with the easiest and most applicable kitchen accessories possible: Food, and the tools that help us prepare it. Or as he puts it, “functional art.” We’ve put dry food items like beans and chili peppers in glass jars all along the top to dress up the empty space. Even added a decorative set of measuring spoons to dangle from a hook, beside a traditional looking tea set we no longer use.

And since we’d moved in together and had two of nearly everything, we’ve stored some of the doubles, such as a French press and knife block, up there, too. On our counters, we have artful, yet perfectly serviceable, food tools on display such as a molcajete (large mortar and pestle), a Japanese cast iron tea set, a class cutting board decorated with drawings of herbs.

jarsAnd most recently, we’ve changed over all the messy bags of foods to storage in glass jars. I am much happier with my pantry and cupboards, which are neatly arranged with dry food goods that I can readily ID at a glance. This was essential for the bag of flour I had, which spewed white fluff every time you went anywhere near it. And I’ve recently started investigating crochet and macrame that can dress the glass jars up, too.

The possibilities are endless.

Like any room of the house, our kitchen continues to be a work in progress. It will constantly reflect our personalities. Our ideals. Our spirit. Our love.

What have you done with your kitchen that makes cooking just a little more cozy and fulfilling?

My top 10 kitchen prep essentials

While perusing a book I’d recently acquired on food and cooking (totally out of character for me, right, to pick up yet another cookbook? You can all laugh now), a section in it got me to thinking. The book proposed 12 essential tools for the kitchen. While I had everything except two (though both were on my list of things to get!), I started wandering through my own kitchen for my personal cooking “must-haves.”

Besides the usual suspects (pots, pans, wooden spoon, etc.), I came up with 10 very essential kitchen/cooking tools I could not live without:

1)

Besides salt and salsa, this is a culinary essential that I put on nearly everything. I use it daily. It’s a healthier alternative to butter when cooking, and just plain delicious in salads, pastas, etc. So yes, you can say it’s a dangerous thing to take me into a specialty olive oil store with flavored olive oils…it’s better than going to a wine tasting! 😉

2)

This is NOT just another pretty light fixture. These under-the-cupboard lights have made my small kitchen a nighttime cooking utopia. Besides adding a nice touch of mood lighting, they supplement light right above where I need it – my work area on my counters. Until I installed these, I was always working under my own shadow cast from my kitchen lights above/behind me. Wouldn’t prep a single meal without these beautiful lights, now!

3)

Pretty, and purposeful! Bought this heavy-duty, wrought-iron decorative cookbook holder on a whim one day, and boy, I’ve never regretted it. I had no idea how much I was suffering without a place to put my magazine/cookbook/or what-have-you recipe source. It used to flop all over the place, was always in the way, or way the heck out of the way while I prepared foods. Now it sits right above my sink, near where I prepare most of my ingredients, and was worth every penny. Don’t get anywhere near as much food splatter and stains on my cookbooks now!

4)

The ever holy dishwasher….no more needs be said 😀 Course, the nasty unavoidable hard water stains are an unfortunate side effect, but it’s something I live with for the convenience.

5)

Everyday tools of the trade – and I mean, every day. I use at least two of this knife set every single day, and two to three of these cutting boards a week. It’s crazy, but these culinary weapons are the most powerful of them all. Try doing a thing in the kitchen without them. While I don’t have different colors, as suggested by many sources so you can differentiate between your meat and your veggie cutting boards when prepping a meal, I do have different sizes instead, and helps me keep track. And of course, need the knife sharpener. When you use two of the knives out of this set as much as I do, and suddenly one day you discover that you can’t even cut through a tomato, it’s a handy thing to have. The sharpening stick that comes with the block can only do so much.

6)

Once a week, I oil my babies up. In this picture, I have both a bottle of mineral oil (food safe variety) and mineral oil wipes. I like the wipes SO much more. It’s less messy, and keeps both you and the counter a whole lot less greasy when you’re done. On the other hand, there is one board I have that is not quite as polished and sanded as I’d like, and tends to shred the wipes – and so, I have to resort to the oil and a rag. I detest that job, and hence don’t use that board much/don’t wipe it down as much as I should. But it keeps your boards happy and hydrated, and they last much longer.

7)

Sorry for the unsightly hard water stains, folks. Fact of life out here in the desert. But here is one of my major must haves…doubles! I hate to wash dishes, and often enough had found myself in the past lacking in required measuring ware because it was in the dishwasher. Now, even if I end up using one of these sets, I have an extra one just in case I don’t get a chance to throw the dishwasher on before I need it again. Sometimes I’ve even needed to measure out the same measurement, but for two different items within one recipe…one liquid, and one solid. It’s great to know you don’t have to stop in the middle of everything to wash, rinse, and thoroughly dry a measuring cup in the middle of a baking mess.

8)

As any single person, I cook enough to produce enough leftovers to carry me throughout the week. And so what is especially important…see-through storage containers! I have a bachelor friend that boasts that he simply takes the pot off the stove, throws a cover over it, and into the fridge it goes. Sure, saves on some extra steps and dishes, but…makes it hard to stack things, you lose your pot for an indeterminable amount of time, and depending on what’s in it, can stain or adversely affect the pot. And yes, you can store your foodstuffs in old butter and yogurt containers, but if they’re at all perishable, you’ll quickly forget what’s in what in your fridge, and eventually lose a clear inventory of what should be eaten first! I’m not that much of an enterprising person who will label all of her food containers. With see through tupperware, it’s as easy as just looking in my fridge. Good for bringing salad to work or other non-microwave-required cooking. Microwaving just unleashes a whole mess of toxins in your food that you could do without.

9)

Let’s just say that one Thanksgiving, I found myself grievously deficient in mixing bowls. They’re something you scoff at buying until you find yourself in that position. I know my little soup bowls don’t do it for me. You may not use them often, but they’ll save your butt when you find the need to!

10)

Mmmm, yummy. Yup, it’s what it looks like – kitchen scraps. Mine is a very compost-friendly kitchen. While I have yet to successfully keep a garden, I do compost regularly, and like my leftovers to be able to recycle organically for the benefit of other living things (especially something as beneficial as living things you can eat!). Anything from egg shells to banana peels and potato shavings…it’s a go. I tend to use the plastic containers my salad greens come in rather than my own tupperware, but, somehow, I ended up using that just past week. I wouldn’t suggest using something you want to use again for your kitchen compost-bound ingredients.

And those are the Holy Ten in my kitchen! What are yours?

ADDENDUM

These three are essential for any numbers-challenged person. My father used to cut out pieces of paper with this information, and tape it to the inside of cupboard doors.  These are much more handy as fridge magnets 😀 I use them wisely, and I use them well.