In our household, David is the cook – it is his passion, so I often (happily) let him have at it and enjoy the results. I am a vegan; he is lactose intolerant. We enjoy simple, flavourful foods, especially those with an Indian, Mexican, or Thai bent that can accommodate our dietary preferences. A couple years ago, he headed off to Chiang Mai for a fabulous Thai cooking class to learn the basics properly and came back with a wonderful repertoire; definitely worth the trip!
• Resource: Thai Cookery School
If anyone has any hot tips on the best Indian or Mexican cooking schools, regardless of where they are (I understand some of the tops are not necessarily in their mother country), I’d love to hear about them!
2. What inspires your kitchen?
The environment, which, it seems by default, is also great for our health – another of our primary foci: we tried to look for materials that were less environmentally taxing than what is typically found in a residential kitchen. Stainless steel, for example, does not use the adhesives, nor take (surely non-FSC) lumber, does not have the processing chemicals required to turn it into ply, or off gas as plywood does. We appreciate that the process to make steel isn’t environmentally benign, but then neither is the lumber industry.
Looking at all the options, we felt was the more environmentally sound choice, especially considering it would have been compressed board that would have been what the budget allowed. And living down here in hurricane central, we wanted something that would be able to make it through any flood waters resulting from Hugo, Gerta, or Bess or whatever else might be coming our way.
The counter has a built in recycling bin, so it is super easy to stay dedicated. The countertop, sink, and backsplash are all integrated/made of stainless, so it eliminates the need and cost of other materials. The me half of we is a hard core minimalist, and has an obsessive organizing habit. So, for us, the floating shelf uppers works. It also gives David easy access to the things he needs while plating dinner.
All of that business, including the pantry on the far side of the fridge and the island, was made by our oh-so-wonderful friends at JNC Welding & Fabricating, Inc. Mick Bonifaz is the guy to talk to over there – he happily took my drawings, presented a myriad stainless textures and patterns (from feathering to embossed tiny squares, to reeded or diamond stamped options), then fabbed the whole thing up on a great budget and timeline, both. He’ll work via email, phone, or pop by for a visit. They’ll do the install, but I am thinking they’d ship, too, no problem.
• Resource: JNC Welding & Fabricating, Inc.
On our countertop is a Natura Water ‘System’. This puppy saves us buying water or pop. Not only is this better for the environment, we know we’re drinking more of the H20. It has a triple filtering system, taking the tap water and cleaning it of impurities and bacteria but not the minerals. The spigots offer sparkling chilled (you can regulate the bubbles to your preference and flavour it with all sorts of fun syrups), still chilled, and still room temperature.
• Resource: Natura Water
Our table is a slab of redwood that was salvaged from the forest floor; yanked down way back in the day, but some of them were too much work to pull out so they were left. Now they are valuable enough/limited enough to make the process worthwhile. This one is 3” thick and a real showpiece. We bought it raw, and had a local guy plane it down for a couple hundy. I think the tension between the natural of the table and the industrial of the kitchen itself is appealing.
• Resource: Redwood Burl
The knife blocks are eco-friendly, socially responsible, and add a hit of colour to the room. Ekobo works with artisans in rural communities in Vietnam, supporting and helping to preserve traditional craftsmanship – though in a modern way. The workers don’t need to leave their community to find work, and the raw materials are fast growing and sustainable. Love it.
• Resource: Ekobo
A balanced budget: We felt a mix of up-market and economical meant we were able to get some of the had-to-have pieces like the cutlery David brought back from Chiang Mai, or the Eames chairs, the fridge, the drawer-style microwave, which can be purchased online at shops like AJ Madison.
Where we saved some cashola, without compromising our style one bit, was in things like the super-practical nearing non-breakable everyday dishes by Corelle. Purchased on Amazon, a 16-piece set is going for thirty bucks and change with additional serving pieces available. Glasses came from IKEA where prices range from $1.99 to $3.99 for a set of six. The table legs are extendable, perfect for when I want to get out the sewing machine, and were purchased fairly inexpensively, too.
Flavour: When I say flavour, I mean both in the style of the kitchen, and our reverence for food that makes our tongue smile. In terms of the style, I have this secret longing to tromp off into the woods and set up camp permanently. We wanted to create a space that takes that utilitarian, woodsy vibe and blends it with our desire for clean, modern lines. Again, the tension it creates excites me.
The green is on two of the kitchen walls, and it was pulled from the stalks of the palm trees framed by the window. With the Florida climate as it is, a strong, saturated colour is almost needed. I think if this kitchen were in a Toronto or New York home – a place that has autumn and winter, for example, we might’ve painted in a softer or smokier tone. The colour is Benjamin Moore Grape Green 2027-40.
The floor is 5 ply oak in ebony. It was purchased online from iFloors after receiving samples in the post. The service, price, and quality were all excellent.
In terms of our tongues, we wanted to design a well laid-out kitchen that would inspire healthy cooking. We build smaller floating shelves above the backsplash to house some of our favourite ingredients, like the Artisan Salt Co. salts on the right (the Kala Namak is my top choice; tasting nice and sulfur-y, perfect for vegans that want a richness to their dishes. David’s preferred variety is the Salish Alderwood Smoked.) — or the dried fruits and nuts to the left. I have developed an ongoing hankering for Newman’s Own Organic Prunes. Out of this world gooey goodness with a real molasses flavour, so they fill up at least one of the jars.
David is President of Lucini Italia, so he treats us by making sure the pantry is stocked with the company’s essential oil infused olive oils, and Tuscan Plum Tomatoes – simple, vibrant ingredients that have become can’t-do-without. Beyond that, our diet is primary fresh, organic vegetable-based, with some seafood for David (I am one of those vegan types...)
And to prepare all this tasty goodness, we’re currently using All-Clad’s MC2, Le Creuset in tomato red for anything that stays on the counter, and in Caribbean turquoise for anything that gets tucked away after use — available for purchase online at Williams-Sonoma — and a few old cast iron skillets passed down from my Gramma.
The cutting board is the best we could find – ironwood - and should last for just about ever.
Everything is cooked up on a mid-priced quasi commercial range, and dishes are done in the matching washer. Dry ingredients are stored in vintage-style Anchor Hocking glass cracker jars that I recently found at Bed Bath and Beyond. In the next week or two, I think I’ll transition over our other storage containers to the microwave, oven, and dishwasher-safe Anchor Hocking BPA-free pieces.
3. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
Ha! My favourite kitchen tool is David. He is so cute – he just about sings when he says ‘mise en place’!! He is the best chopping, dicing, all round food prepping machine you’ve ever seen! The only thing he doesn’t do is the dishes (sadly...). David’s two favourite new pieces, though, are the Cuisinart sorbetto maker, so I can make him fresh dark cherry sorbet to cool him off on these oh-so-hot Florida days, and a pasta maker and extruder. I’ve really gotten the knack of the little elbows, and am giving ravoili a go this week...we’ll see how I fare!
4. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
“Step away from the door."
I really shouldn’t need to be told this, of course. I mean, if I were to just follow the recipe, I’d have no problem. But there is always a problem, and it starts with my nose. Whenever my baking gets to the point where the warm, cozy smells start filling the room, my patience goes in the bucket. My head knows the stuff won’t be cooked yet, but my belly can’t help itself and will eat it half raw rather than wait for even five....more....minutes.
5. Biggest challenge in your kitchen:
Passing that glass-door fridge without the maple syrup rendering me completely powerless, luring me in to take a swig (yes, a swig...or two...straight up. Yummy.).
6. Biggest indulgence:
Flying the family down to enjoy some great food and even better company. Simply can’t beat that.
7. Dream tool or splurge:
Ask me next week. I am hoping it’ll be three Norman Cherner ‘Cherner Counter Stools’ in walnut jockeyed up next to the island. Mmmm-Mmmm, she sighs as her chair fetish reveals itself....
8. What are you cooking this week?
David travels an awful lot, so I am often cooking for one. He’ll be landing back in currently soggy FLA on Monday, surely too beat to cook, so he’ll greeted by a happy-to-see-him wife, and a piping hot dinner of the fresh, homemade pasta mentioned above &mdashl probably with shrimp.
Also on this week’s to-make list is dark cherry sorbetto; a pitcher or two of fresh squeezed lemonade; dolmades and Greek potatoes; and Albert cake – simply for nostalgia’s sake (it’s a cake with a thin-ish glaze of white icing, baked in a pieshell that has had raspberry jam spread on it). Haven’t seen one of those in a very long time!
9. What cookbook has inspired you the most?
A cookbook given to me by my mother: Mrs. Minnie Dowie’s Cookery Book and Household Management; printed in 1900, it seems. It has been passed down through her family for generations. Now coverless, with only a few strings of the binding remaining, it still offers inspiration. Not because of the recipes, but because of what it represents: true comfort food. Sure, it is packed to the hilt with recipes that will put you in a full on tryptophan coma; but I am talking about the era in which these recipes were created – a more family focused time.
I love collecting vintage cookbooks: from the local church, the community, and generations-old families. The ones that were truly cultural, rather than those put out by megalithic, multi-national food companies that (I hope inadvertently) wash away our regional food-heritage. These cookbooks tell a story through recipes of the struggles and pleasures of local life.
A few more of my favourites:
• Food That Really Schmecks by Edna Staebler – it focuses on recipes from Mennonite country in Ontario, Canada (that would be the Waterloo region). It is a great read with funny anecdotes peppered throughout.
• Let's Serve Together – compilation from the Melville Presbyterian Church Choir, where my grandparents spend a few Sunday mornings. This book has some great recipes, especially in the dessert section. And a cute cover.
• Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, by Marie Nightingale – with a great preface on the cultural convergence of the Native North American, French, English, German, New England, Irish, Scot, and African American communities, and how that influenced the food over the last two+ centuries.
• WJ Morrish Family Recipes, compiled by Susan Foster and Anne Acland – I love leafing through this, just reading the recipes. Each recipe is like a signature, so it brings back great memories of relatives gone. When my Dad is down, I pull it out and try my hand at one or two, deciphering as I go: quick fire? 7 lbs of rhubarb? (how many people are they feeding??!); A stale sixpenny?
10. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
That’s a tough one in that the kitchen reno is still fairly recent. I’d say we’ll take even a mediocre memory of our new kitchen over the still-vivid one of us perched upon empty paint pails in a completely gutted kitchen with pipes exposed, floor ripped up, walls yanked down, hole in the exterior wall wide open, and just about everything we own mounded atop our two tiny little metro racks as we noshed on barely edible take-away using dishes we washed with the garden hose. Ahh, good times... That said, while the reno took several months, we are sure that there will be years’ worth of memorable meals ahead.
Wow! Thank you so much for such a complete and wonderful tour of your new kitchen, Laura. We hope that we all get to cook in such a well-stocked and lovingly organized kitchen someday.
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