Thursday, November 14, 2019

my new kitchen: the refrigerator

A few months back, my fridge developed an alarming and persistent rattle. It might last another five years, or another five days, but after seventeen years of reliable service, the end was clearly drawing nigh. My husband bought a replacement part to forstall the inevitable, and we began to research fridges. We had a few ideas, but still, we couldn't bring ourselves to act. The fridge was working, after all.

And then the island happened. Standing on the far side of my now expansive workspace, I realized that, in order for the island to be fully useable and for the kitchen to feel balanced, I needed to turn the entire kitchen into, well, a kitchen. The desk needed to go, and —

Hey, wait! Would it work to put the fridge in that spot? In the old fridge’s space, we could put a small desk of some sort, and — be still my beating heart, o! — a coffee station.

Once I had a plan, things happened. First, lots more research. Second, a trip to a couple big box stores to see the actual fridge I'd chosen.

The one at Home Depot was on sale for $1,300, but the sales rep said that another sale was coming up in several days and it’d probably drop more. So we poked around in a second-hand appliance store and then, on a whim, popped into Ollie’s — my husband said they had a scratch-and-dent section. Lo and behold, they had the exact fridge we were looking for, brand new but with a few small dents, for just $900. We decided to think it over — the Home Depot sale was coming — and drove off. But we only got a couple miles down the road before turning around. There was no way Home Depot was going to shave 400 dollars off that fridge (and we were right — it only dropped a hundred). 

Despite my push for this fridge, I was rather ambivalent about it at first. Perhaps it was the hefty pricetag? Or maybe the niggling worry that we hadn’t made the best possible choice? Or just, the seismic shifts in my kitchen caused me to feel out of sorts?

Whatever the reason, I felt discombobulated and unsure. Was it too big? Too dark? Too out of the way? (We briefly — very briefly — considered recessing it into the side of the house). Also, for all it’s hugeness, I didn’t feel like it had a ton ton of room. Would it provide adequate storage for all my gallon jars and bulky pans and trays? And the freezer felt clunky. I could pile the drawers full when they were open, but if I went overboard, they wouldn’t close. (As opposed to my former top freezer which I could stuff and jam with impunity.)

But I persevered and, within a couple days, I was head over heels again.

Now whenever anyone walks in the house I drag them over to the fridge and make them stand there while I pull out the deep crispers (that I can see into!) and the huge cheese-meat drawer (that I stuff with eggs and cream cheese and butter, along with meats and cheeses) and the water dispenser (that we don’t use) and my leftovers shelf and pint jar shelf and quart jar shelf and the couple shelves I keep mostly empty so they’re always at the ready for a casserole dish or a few loaves of bread dough that need to proof.

I even yank open the freezer to proudly flaunt my ice maker — an ice maker! — and collection of quart jars, newly labeled on the lid for easy identification.

Oh, it’s glorious!

Bonus: now there’s a huge, empty, clean fridge in the basement, just waiting to back me up. (Except now it’s half full since just this morning I made a run to the orchard for lots of apples and cider because cold storage!!!)

Temporarily, we’ve set up the office corner and coffee station.

I stole the little round table from my older daughter’s room (it is my table, after all!) and for now that’s my desk.

Then I crept into my father’s shop and, with my mother’s blessing, stole his rolly table.

Tucked next to the fridge, it makes a perfect station for everything coffee and tea. I even got an electric water pot so I don’t have to run across town (ha!) to the stove.

test run  schnazzy!

And then I stocked one of the island drawers with teas (and cereal bowls and spoons since, for easy breakfastry, the cereal drawer is right below the tea drawer, and directly opposite the fridge).

Finding a place for the coffee pot has always been a bit of a scramble, especially whenever we've had company. Even for everyday, I stored the coffee pot in the back hall, just to get it off my counter. To have a spot specifically for coffee (and hot beverages and other drinks) feels utterly luxurious, like I've finally arrived

A basket on the rolly table's middle shelf holds all my mugs (which means I now have a freed-up kitchen counter above which the mugs used to dangle  Hm, how to best utilize that corner?), and the bottom shelf hold the tins for oats and bread flour.

People keep saying I should clean up the rolly table — paint it, maybe — but I kind of like the artsy paint splotches and stains.

Besides, my dad’s probably going to steal it back sooner or later….

This same time, years previous: smoking food, Thai chicken curry, lessons from a shopping trip, the wiggles, why I'm glad we don't have guns in our house, chicken salad, Chinese cabbage and apple salad.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

study stills

My older daughter took a timelapse of herself studying because why not. Here are a few of the screenshots…

And that, my friends, is what learning quadratic equations looks like.

This same time, years previous: Shakespeare behind bars, I will never be good at sales, gravity, refrigerator bran muffins, sparkle blondies, the greats, my apple lineup, the first step.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

my new kitchen: the island

Ever since we bought this house fourteen years ago, the plan was to put a large island in the kitchen. Just, we never got around to it. There were other, more pressing things to tend to, and I wasn't in any rush, really. My kitchen was fully functional. We had a makeshift island (the table that my husband had built for our previous house's kitchen), plus I had the back hall pantry for all my extra kitchen appliances and groceries, and the hutch for dishes and canned food. If I never got the island, so what.

Then three years ago, my husband started to build the island. It was supposed to be a surprise for my birthday (I learned later), but when I wandered into the barn one day and asked him what he was working on, instead of stalling or lying, he told me the truth, and, once I knew what he was doing, it took all the fun out of the making (or so he claimed) and he stopped working on it. For the next three years, the frame of the island sat in his barn, taking up space.

And then late summer, he started to work on it again. I pretended it wasn't happening but, out of the corner of my skeptical eye, I watched as he made drawers, painted, and then began to build the island top. I'd decided on a butcher block top, so he painstakingly stripped the wooden planks (cherry boards he'd gotten years ago from a science professor at the university where he'd been working at the time, plus a few boards that he had to buy) and then stood them on their sides and glued them together in sections — a ridiculously time-consuming, laborious process.

A week ago Saturday, my husband finally installed the island and countertop AND WE WERE SO HAPPY.

But then the next morning we discovered — o horrors! — that the sealer didn’t work properly: when the surface got wet, it became rough. My husband suffered an immediate existential crisis so severe that the rest of us promptly split for church, leaving him to wallow in lakes of self pity and misery alone. (He later told me that, in a fit of frustration, he hauled the entire top back out to the barn by himself, never mind his recent hernia surgery, because he couldn't stand to have it in his kitchen for one more second.)

temp top

He temporarily installed one of the tops of the tables we use for making doughnuts so I’d have a place to work, and all last week was spent re-sanding and re-sealing the top (thank goodness for wood-working friends who know about miracle products).

Then this past Saturday, he re-installed the finished countertop. This time, for real.

It is absolutely stunning, silky smooth, richly colored, and, what with all the different wood grains and colors, interesting to look at.

For now, I’m not chopping on it directly, but maybe, over time, as the shiny newness fades, I will. 

We’ll see.

The island itself is utterly massive, a true workhorse. It’s not completely done yet — the electricity isn’t hooked up and it’s missing two doors and a couple hooks (for towels, my cooling rack, etc), and outlet covers — but it’s getting there!

All week long, I slowly, slowly, slooooowly worked at filling my island drawers. Mostly, this involves lots of thinking. I ask myself, What are the things that I most often leave the kitchen for? and then I rack my brain, trying to dredge up every situation in which I step off the tiled floor for something — the little white dishes in the hutch, the bags of rice and jugs of oil in the back hall, the popcorn maker and food processor, etc — and where, in my new kitchen, they logically belong. 

pie and cake baking

starch drawer: bread, crackers, pasta, beans

water bottles

all thing for chopping, blending, mixing, ricing

Now that I have space, I’m trying to spread out the work stations so we’re not always jammed into the same corner. Mostly, this means moving the cereal, bread, and lunch fixings closer to the fridge area and clearing out the drawers by the stove for all baking and cooking.

A couple other island highlights:

A cabinet for my kitchen aid, with a pull-out shelf!

The soft-close mechanism allows me to just pull two levers and the whole thing glides gently back into the cupboard, suh-wheet!

A bottle opener! It’s totally unnecessary but it does add a delightful touch of whimsy.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.12.18), unleashing the curls!, George Washington Carver sweet potato soup with peanut butter and ginger, butternut squash galette with caramelized onions and goat cheese, maple roasted squash, pumpkin cranberry cream cheese muffins, mashed sweet potatoes.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

what we ate

Here’s a glimpse, once again, at what we’ve been eating over the last week or two...

After watching this You Suck At Cooking video, I developed a major hankering for ramen. I made my husband stop by the store to pick some up, plus some green onions and broccoli. I like the hot sauce and peanut butter version, and I added a spoonful of thai curry to the latest batch. (I have no idea what version’s in the photo, but it’s packed full of veggies: collards, peas, and the like. So, so yummy.)

In a similar vein: what are your thoughts on MSG? I’ve always avoided MSG (and thus the reason that I rarely bought ramen), but I recently read that MSG is not bad for us like we were led to believe and that it’s perfectly fine to use it on occasion and now I’m considering buying some. Should I?

One day for lunch — perhaps this was a post-church, empty-out-the-fridge affair? — this is what I served up for a couple of the kids: potato salad, leftover peas, hotdogs. It looks more planned than it was. 

Leftover apple crisp and vanilla ice cream. We eat soooooo many leftovers. I’ve read about people who don’t eat leftovers — like ever — and I simply don’t get it. Often leftovers taste as good, or better, than they do the first time around, and it’s lovely to not have to cook and clean out the fridge at the same time. Two bird, one stone, bam.

Speaking of leftovers, this was the plate I fixed for my older son when he arrived home after a day of classes: leftover butter chicken (that was mostly sauce) with some leftover cooked ground beef thrown in to bulk it up, with leftover brown rice.

I learned how to make real burritos! Turns out, it’s all about the tortilla, and I've been buying the wrong kind all along. You want the large, thin ones that are full of fat, not the Mission kind — I found some at a local Latin grocery. (Also, the cheese tip — sprinkle cheese over the entire tortilla and let it melt before stuffing and wrapping — is brilliant.)

Friday night, our friends came out and cooked us supper: chicken and beef empanadillas, rice and beans, and mayo-ketchup sauce — the stuff is dangerously addictive — and, my contribution, a Costco salad. (We’d dropped off the raw meat at their house a couple days before so they could cook the meat and assemble the empanadillas, and then, since I avoid frying food in the house at all costs, I made them fry them outside in the cold. Poor things thought they were dying.)

I picked up this book at the library and have been dreaming, scheming, and eating all things breakfast ever since. Case in point, this meal: black pepper biscuits (they spread too much), saucy black beans, and garlicky cheesy grits. Also, since I was also processing a big bowl of peppers from the garden, I rough-chopped a bunch and threw them on a baking pan, along with a couple onions and some sausages, and roasted the whole mess in the oven.

And then here was my lunch a day or two later: the leftover grits (made from yellow popcorn that I little-red-hen milled myself) and sausage and veggies, plus some sauteed mushrooms, a bit of cheese, and a fried egg. I did not grow up with grits, but even so, they strike me as comfort food.

This same time, years previous: of mice and men and other matters, the quotidian (11.6.17), cinnamon pretzels, musings from the coffee shop, awkward, bierocks: meat and cabbage rolls, crispy cinnamon cookies.

Monday, November 4, 2019

the quotidian (11.4.19)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

For a minute there, I lost my head and made my own sprinkles.

They were pretty, though.

Sweet rolls for the chickens, sigh. 
(My kid told me they were underbaked but I didn't listen.)

Gardening: a job she's enjoying.



Tick extraction (and then, not shown, the preventative antibiotics to go with).

She wanted to go to Chincoteague so she reserved a hotel room and went.

The neighbor kid takes up wrestling.

I bet my kitchen screen is dirtier than your kitchen screen!

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.5.18), old-fashioned apple roll-ups, meatloaf, the quotidian (11.4.13), cheesy broccoli potato soup, sweet and sour lentils.