Avery's Small & Soulful Pickling Wonderland

Kitchen Tour

Avery creates luxurious meals and loads of homemade pickles in this 6x5-foot space with just two stove burners. What Avery lacks in square footage, however, she makes up for in tight organization and inventive recipes such as watercress salad with jicama and citronette and venison tenderloin with chimichurri. She's an inspiration to all of us cooking in small kitchens.

Avery is an artist in many respects. (We featured her eco wallpaper and studio visit on Apartment Therapy last summer.) While I was taken with her design process those months ago, I was absolutely enamored with her cooking and pickling powers during our kitchen visit.

Avery is a pickle whisperer! She pulled out several large jars of assorted vegetables in various stages of fermentation. From turnips to cabbage to carrots to green tomatoes from the garden, Avery knows just the right temperature, seasonings and ways to incorporate the plucky vegetables into her meals. From a certain smell or shade of purple, Avery knows when the pickle is at its peak in terms of flavor and texture. I left our tour wishing for a plate of deviled eggs or cheese sandwich to put the sour, crunchy edibles atop.

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As I mentioned before, Avery is very organized in her tiny kitchen. She has to be! With a former closet acting as a pantry and bookshelf as perch for her toaster oven (which she frequently uses to roast chicken), no inch of space is left to chance. There are an assortment of items hanging from hooks and only prized cooking utensils are used. Lack of space makes for a discerning cook, Avery only has what she needs and she loves each and every item she brings into her kitchen.

10 Questions for Avery (and Her Kitchen)

1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
My mother was an incredible cook, so we ate great food growing up, but we were rarely allowed to set foot in the kitchen while my mother cooked. As a result, my brother and I became obsessed with cooking! I would say that my biggest inspirations for cooking are bygone and mysterious dishes from my childhood or from what I have gathered from my parents' and grandparents' childhood. My Italian grandfather can tell me how to harvest and prepare just about any weed or flower growing in my backyard. Meals made in that way are by far the most memorable and fun. Fermenting is also a hobby. 

2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
Probably my mandoline. You can raid the fridge and make a perfect salad out of just about any vegetables that you have laying around when they are sliced paper thin.  

3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
I have a very small kitchen — it's about 6 ft. by 5 ft. all told, and in a pretty tiny apartment. Once I threw myself a birthday party and made some dishes to snack on that were some of my favorites from childhood. I made what my Ukranian grandmother had said that her grandfather had called machonka — melted sharp cheese, white wine, and black pepper, poured over a big bowl of ripped pieces of crusty bread and eaten with a spoon while piping hot. I have found no trace of this version of machonka on the web, so it remains in the family lore category.

I also made chicken hearts sauteed with shallots, butter, and vermouth, and endive with hot bacon dressing. The chicken hearts gave everyone the creeps, which wasn't much of a surprise. Then we drank wine and all of my friends surprised me by singing Ripple (that's a Grateful Dead song). They had prepared it ahead of time! A dance party followed — what a great birthday.

4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
I have a 1960s compact, pink, all–in&ndashone motor home kitchen that serves as my stove, sink, and fridge. The stove has two burners, and one of them only has two settings: OFF and OMG!!!!! It cracked a Le Creuset Dutch oven in half in about 10 minutes when I left a dish on it on high. It sure does boil water fast, though. I also have a decent convection toaster oven that is big enough to hold my (new) Dutch oven or a whole chicken. I love it, actually.

You know the feeling that you have when you return from a backpacking trip, and think, "All I really need is what I have in this backpack, why do I have so much stuff?" Well, my kitchen is like the backpack. Regan, the woman who owns the house that my apartment is in, has a bohemian spirit that shines through in all of the spaces that she creates. She recently built a log cabin into the basement of the house!

5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I could see a bit more counter space in my future. 

6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
Practical indulgence? A nice chef's knife and lots of cast-iron cookware. 

7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
I am happy with the kitchen that I have, but I would like to find some old vessels in great condition for my fermenting projects. 

8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Interesting ingredients, simply prepared. I have always loved out of the ordinary ingredients, but I tend to cook them in simple ways — sauteed in butter, shallot, and wine, slow cooked in a dutch oven, or dressed with herbs, oil and lemon. 

9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Spend the extra money on excellent olive oil. Thanks, Becky.

10. What are you cooking this week?
Giardiniera — You can get a very spicy vegetable pickle in Italian delis in the area of New Jersey that I am from that is addictive, and seemingly impossible to recreate. It is commonly called "Hot Pepper Mix" or "Hot Vegetable Mix". It usually has carrots, cauliflower, jalapeno and cherry peppers, celery, and occasionally olives, chopped into large chunks. It's painfully spicy, oily, and salty, with lots of oregano. My brother and I have both been trying, without success, to recreate it for years. We both experiment with hot vegetable pickle recipes in order to gain clues as to the possible pickling process. Right now I am trying a Chicago–style hot giardiniera recipe. I suspect that in the New Jersey pickle recipe there is some sort of pressure-cooking process that I am missing.  Anyone with any ideas or clues should feel free to share!

Also...
• Fava bean stew.
• Fermented turnips and preserved lemons with coriander.
• Watercress salad with jicama and citronette.
• Venison tenderloin with chimichurri.

Featured Resources

• Pots and pans: some Le Creuset, some hand–me–downs
• Dishes: Estate sales
• Artwork: David Shirley
• Tea towel hanging in front of pantry: JuJu Papers, my wallpaper/design company

• See Avery's eco wallpaper: JUJU Papers

Thank you so much for letting us peek into your kitchen!
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Related: Clara's Sweet and Stylish Rental Kitchen

(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)