Jay Johnson -- Tough economy = more cooking at home. Have you found that to be true? Here in Manhattan, we used to eat out practically every night, and it wasn't uncommon to have bills in excess of $100, particularly with wine added to the cost of the meal. We once received a note from our natural gas company asking us if everything was okay -- we hadn't been using any gas! The oven was spotless and the kitchen was a place where we would only gobble down breakfast, then scoot off to start the day.
Ouch. Reality set in. Now we go out to eat only on special occasions, and cook in our kitchen most nights. That's a reversal that's making me feel sorry for restaurants in our neighborhood, those we used to keep quite busy. But the kitchen really is the heart of any home, and our apartment's heart was just not beating very strongly for years. It's making up for lost time.
Here are the elements of our apartment kitchen that we now cherish. At the end of the list are videos that give you The Quick Tour.
- Our Premiere oven. We have a small 20-inch range, which is a real space saver in a tight apartment kitchen. By shrinking the footprint of the oven, we were able to squeeze out more counterspace and that's been helpful for meal prep.
- An antique corner hutch. Four generous shelves store everything from extra sets of dishes and trivets to a collection of antique tea pots and Victorian punch bowls. The bowls are great for punch, but we serve big salads in them, too.
- Ceramic tile flooring. The mustard and tan checkerboard pattern is cheery and adds color to the room. We picked up on the floor by painting the walls a tan to match the lighter squares with a barely-there stencilled pattern border on top, just underneath chair rail molding which we added about a third of the way down from the ceiling. A lighter off-white paint above the chair rail covers the top of the walls and ceiling and gives the room a lighter, airier feeling. A lighter paint shade on top adds visual height to the room.
- White subway tile backsplashes. We added old-fashioned tile behind the sink, counter prep area, and oven and it's been both a great look and a boon to cleaning. Splatters wipe off easily.
- Our 1940s white and red metal hutch. Three shelves hold cookbooks, china, and crystal behind glass doors. The base has a slide-out top that's great for serving meals, and below are four small drawers which hold everything from junk to plastic garbage bags. The bottom features a large storage section for paper products and laundry items.
- Speaking of cookbooks, may I recommend our lifesaver in these altered economic times: Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. We love it. If you have chicken or tofu that you'd like to cook, the index guides you to basic recipes, then riffs on them and you can really jazz them up. The recipes are simple and fun to make. I'm not a natural chef and need some very basic recipes to get me started. I like cookbooks to order me around -- do this; now do this; add this; reserve this; serve immediately.
- Kitchen cabinets. For everyday dish sets, glassware, utensils, silverware, pots, pantry storage for food, spices, and so on.
- A reusable shopping bag. We have a small canvas tote hanging on a hook by our refrigerator along with cooking aprons. It reminds us to avoid using plastic bags at the grocery store and we can easily go out and shop for the coming meal plus a few added items we might need. This is a visual reminder for us to be more eco minded, marketing for fresh local produce, grass-fed beef, and other items from local shops and farmers markets. We don't buy too much and risk spoilage.
- A pot rack. Hanging pots and a strainer makes the kitchen look homey, and reaching for the right pot or pan is so handy.
- A table and chairs. Using the kitchen table for multiple uses is great for any home: serve buffet suppers, have a sit-down meal, play board games, do homework, balance the checkbook, type on the computer, enjoy a leisurely cup of tea or coffee.
- Artwork. Kitchens should be as beautifully decorated as any room in the house or apartment. I count 7paintings and 16 mounted plates on our kitchen walls. Layers of accessories and art on the walls make the room more pleasant to work and eat in. Strong decor also links the kitchen to the rest of our apartment.
- A French door. The 15 panes of glass in our wood-framed French door opens up the kitchen to the entry hall of our apartment. The door is usually open, allowing for easy passage to the rest of the apartment and a great view from the kitchen of the artwork, rugs, and decorative moldings in the front entryway. You don't feel isolated in the kitchen, which is wonderful. The door to the kitchen, however, is great when we're cooking. We close the door, open up the kitchen window and keep the cooking smells out of the rest of the apartment. None of the apartments in our building have exhaust fans. It's hard to go to sleep at night in a small apartment if you keep smelling onions and pimenton. (Say, is pimenton new to you? It was new to us, too, but now we use it practically every day!)
- Our Bosch dishwasher. It's quiet and we load it up regularly now that we're cooking more. We plan to keep that puppy running a lot since we're using our great kitchen more often these days. And you know what? We're eating better, feeling healthier, and meal prep and dinnertime conversations are both intimate and priceless.