Hanna and John live in a bungalow in SE Portland with several cats and a few constantly-escaping chickens. They cook and eat outdoors in their abundant garden whenever weather permits, and their kitchen and cooking philosophy are full of ingenuity, warmth, collaboration and laughter. Join us for a tour with this food writer and second grade teacher.
Hanna and John met shortly after college and quickly embarked on a six-month road trip odyssey through the National Parks of North America. While on the road they really got to know each other, and each other's cooking style. They prepared most of their meals on a camp stove and fire, living simply and well. This "make-it-work" and "relish in the simple stuff" attitude still permeates their life seven years later. They grow most of their food in a jolly garden rich with kale, tomatoes and fruit trees, and cook outside on a small grill. (John built a counter this year from reclaimed wood which makes this scenario even easier for prep, cooking and clean up.) It's pretty wonderful to enjoy a meal with these two, accompanied by eggs from their two chickens, chard and garlic from the garden, and a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, expertly prepared by Hanna.
Their kitchen is nothing out of the ordinary. It's got fine bones, but at 80 square feet, it doesn't fit much more than the essentials and two people. However, the couple's enjoyment and zest for cooking for others is extraordinary. Hanna is a food writer (she focuses on coffee). In fact, she just wrote a book about the West Coast coffee scene in the US. It's a fabulous, informative read coffee aficionados will definitely want to check out. In fact, I would love to use Hanna's guide to coffee as a map for a future, very caffeinated road trip of my own!
• Check out Hanna's new book: Left Coast Roast: A Guide to the Best Coffee & Roasters from San Francisco to Seattle
9 Questions for Hanna (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
Intimacy. We live in a small house, with a kitchen about the size of most apartment kitchens. Cooking in it is a little like dancing. We've evolved a code for how to move around each other. (Cooking with a new partner—say, a friend from out of town, is super awkward—you're constantly bumping into one another.) We cook as much as we can from our garden and eat out there in the summer. This year we built an outdoor space so that we can prep and cook outside as well. It's very intimate to pull a carrot from the ground, walk ten feet, chop it, put it in a pan and watch it sizzle, then walk ten more feet to the table. Our garden and our kitchen keep us close to each other.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
We have a steam juicer that we share with my mom, which just looks like a really big set of stacking pots. It uses steam to break down the cell structure soft foods and then collects the juice they release. We use the juice as the base for sorbets or sodas or soups. You can make rhubarb juice, tomato juice, apple juice, you name it. We have a bunch of weird fruit in our yard and it's a fun way to process it. You barely have to prep at all—for apples, you just slice them in halves or quarters (no peeling, no coring, and it doesn't really matter if they are bruised or wormy).
I also have a new found love of my kitchen scale. I've been using it to make coffee in the morning. It's 5:30-am-stupid-proof.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
Every year for New Year's we cook a seven or eight course meal for our friends and family. It became a tradition after a family member died a few years ago—it gave us something to look forward to during a sad time of year, and it was a reason to bring the people we love together. We eat for about five hours, with crystal and china from my grandmother. We cook the whole thing in our 80-square-foot kitchen, on our tiny stove; it usually takes 3-4 days to pull it together, and we tear the whole house apart to do it. It's about as much fun cooking as it's possible to have, I think
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
The kitchen only really fits two people. It's not easy to stand around and chat with friends while you cook without bumping into each other. It's one of the things that inspired us to create a space to cook outside, where we have much more room.
5. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
As a wedding gift, I bought John a Shun carving set. It's by far the most expensive, least used item in our kitchen. But it was worth it—it's a thing of beauty and every time we pull it out I think about the day we got married.
6. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
Inside, we'd love to upgrade to a gas stove. I have a long-term idea about tearing down walls and expanding the space to include more counters and full sized appliances (everything we have is apartment sized). But I secretly I love our tiny kitchen and I don't know that I'd be able to change it.
Outside, we want a sink and better lighting, but are holding out to see if Portland changes it greywater laws so we wouldn't have to plumb the drainage back into the house.
7. How would you describe your cooking style?
Simple. We mostly make stews in the winter, and cook from the garden in the summer. There are weeks in July and August and September where we don't have to go to the grocery store at all. Watching Kevin Gibson of Evoe (a restaurant in Portland) run his open kitchen, changed how I think about making food. Much of what he does barely qualifies as "cooking" -- he might take paper-thin shavings of raw Delicata squash and toss them with good olive oil, almonds and goat cheese. That's it—but it's astounding. If you start with good ingredients and use your palette and your brain, it's hard to go wrong.
8. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Marry someone who loves food and is vocal about it. Who growls with pleasure over a milkshake or a tomato. We all become better cooks because we feel appreciated.
9. What are you cooking this week?
It's September, which is the best time of year in our garden. This time of year we can make dinner by talking a walk through the garden and just seeing what takes our fancy. Maybe we'll have maple-baked squash with tomatoes and chard; or roasted beets with apple and rosemary; or onion frittatta; or green salad with grapes and tarragon; or grilled chicken with Sun gold-ginger chutney. Maybe we'll just have grilled bread and fatty tomato slices with salt and pepper. I could probably live on that for a year and never get sick of it.
*note: We have possibly the most generic kitchen appliances of all time, but they do the trick
• Oven: Hotpoint (apartment-size)
• Fridge: E-Wave (apartment-size)
• Dishwasher: GE (apartment-size)
• Dishes: I use passed down dishes that my mom bought in college. They're sturdy Noritake stonewear.
• China: my grandmother's
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(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)