"I feel like I’m on a boat." These are the words I found escaping my mouth while spending time with Becca Piastrelli in her narrow Oakland, CA kitchen. She laughed and agreed her tiny kitchen is reminiscent of a ship’s galley — cozy, bright, and a bit quirky!
Becca and her husband Tim moved into their current apartment after occupying a much larger home in Sonoma County. They welcomed the change and the vastly shorter commute into San Francisco for work. However, Becca found downsizing to be tricky, especially as a lot of her hobbies center around the kitchen. By day, you can find Becca kicking butt in corporate America. But come Saturday, she becomes The Dabblist. That means this girl is in the kitchen, simultaneously making her own sunscreen and whipping up some chicken stock from scratch — all while planning out her next beekeeping class.
Since I came to tour her kitchen on a Saturday, I witnessed a little of her dabbling magic. I watched in amazement as she took over her tiny space with purpose and organization, preparing to create and shoot a blog post for her site. She pulled a menagerie of herbs and dried flowers out of her built-in cupboards, and whipped together some Herbal Witch Hazel in what seemed like minutes. I watched as she climbed the benches of her built-in kitchen table to get the perfect shot. I asked her if the space constraints proved difficult when trying to put together a blog post. She seemed relatively unphased, stating matter of factly, "I will ban my husband from the kitchen when I need to get to make my creations. The biggest burden is all the dishes we need to do afterwards. But we have accepted our non-dishwasher life and can get into a meditative state when there are pots to be cleaned."
When I asked if she had any unique storage solutions I was directed to her wall of cabinets. She opened one and out came an ironing board. She opened another and it revealed a hidden recycling bin. She went over to the cabinetry by the window and pulled out a sizeable cutting board. It was like watching an episode of Inspector Gadget unfold before my eyes. For extra storage space she purchased a hutch from a local flea market that resides in the living room. Here she’s able to stash a well-stocked bar and a bunch of pretty cookbooks. Since they’re renting their space they can’t make any structural renovations, but the bright decor and personal touches definitely show off their personality. Above the sink sits the tiny Star Wars action figures that adorned their wedding cake. Plants line the windowsills, and colorful bowls of citrus sit on the shelves.
As we sat there, windows open, sun streaming in, eating a salad topped with edible flowers, Becca spilled her fantasies of a future where she has the space to keep her own bees and harvest her own honey, grow a large vegetable garden and maybe keep some laying hens. But for now, she occupies this charming kitchen filled with love, personality and just enough space to dabble.
Thank you, Becca, for letting us peek inside your kitchen! You are a most gracious hostess.
10 Questions for Becca (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
I'm inspired by the natural world and simple ingredients. We live in a world where we have immediate access to all these fancy ingredients, but most of my best dishes involve simple, seasonal ingredients that really speak for themselves. Every week, I so look forward to taking the produce out of my weekly CSA box and displaying them on my kitchen table and shelf. It's almost like art, really. For me, it's my way of strengthening our tie to the land and appreciating its bounty.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
My current favorite is my immersion blender. That puppy can create just about anything from morning smoothies to salad dressings and soups. It's so mobile, too. I have a tiny kitchen, so breaking out the big appliances can be a bit of a chore. The little immersion blender is just perfect for our current living situation.
I also really love the fact that our kitchen still has the original ice box. We use it to store wine and wine glasses now, but I get such of a tingle of delight every time I open the door to grab some glasses.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
For my birthday last year, my husband fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams and took me to dinner at Alice Waters' Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. When the check came, so did a signed copy of Alice Waters' book The Art of Simple Food. In that book, there is a recipe for a simple roast chicken that has very little ingredients but outlines a process of bringing the bird to room temperature and massaging it with salt and pepper before cooking, almost like a ritual. The first night we made that chicken, we couldn't believe how moist and tasty it was…and with so few ingredients! We try to roast a chicken once a week now using that recipe.
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
Our kitchen is tiny and narrow, it reminds me of a ship's galley. Its charms notwithstanding, our kitchen can get quite cramped. After over 2 years of living here, my husband and I are just now figuring out the perfect dance of having two people cooking in the kitchen together.
I will say, we've made the space work for us. My husband installed an IKEA dish drying rack over the sink that folds up, and we keep our toaster oven, utensils, and plastic bag dryer on top of the fridge.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish we had more counter-space. We use our little table for prepping, drying dishes, displaying and storing food - all in addition to eating at it. If we had just a bit more counter space I think it would really help.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
Definitely our recently purchased VitaMix. There's nothing that blender can't handle. And, since I make a lot of nut milks and butters, it really comes in handy. I had a bad habit of burning out the gears on our old, cheaper blenders before the VitaMix came into our life.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
I've flirted with embracing the open shelving movement and taking the doors off our shelves. It's a bit dangerous, though, because then we would need to be tidier than we are now.
We also plan on getting a dehydrator this summer. I can't wait to make fruit leather and cheesy kale chips!
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
I'm inspired by seasonal ingredients, usually from what I find in my weekly CSA box. I'm definitely not a meal planner (though I think I should try that someday soon!) so nearly all of my dishes are spontaneous. I keep an iPad in a magnetic holder on the fridge so I can look up recipes based on my ingredients and rock out to some tunes at the same time.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Save the salt until the very end before serving the dish.
Don't use olive oil for sautéing - it will burn off all it's beneficial properties. Cook with ghee or coconut oil instead.
Mise en place. Learn it, live it, love it.
10. What are you cooking this week?
Well, I'm very excited to prepare a vegan take on crab cakes with hearts of palm, and my husband is pumped on making a veggie-heavy chili with buffalo meat. I also expect to get a bunch of asparagus in my CSA box this week that I plan make into asparagus ribbon salad.
Resources of Note:
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(Images: Gina Biancaniello)