Kitchen Tour: Ashley's Bright and Efficient Kitchen

Ashley and Stephen of the blog (Never Home)Maker aren't home much, but when they are, they love spending time in their little kitchen. They moved into their house about a year and a half ago, and when they moved in the kitchen had orange sunflower wallpaper on the walls and carpet on the floors. They have been slowly working on the kitchen, moving it towards bright functionality, but on their own budget. Here's how it looks now, and how Ashley likes to cook there. From Ashley: I absolutely love vegan and vegetarian food, and I run a blog that focuses on food probably 90% of the time. So, I'm in our kitchen a TON. Our small space is a great example of doing more with less.

When we moved into our first place a little over a year and a half ago, the kitchen had bright yellow and orange sunflower wallpaper all around. That was the first thing in the entire house I just completely ripped down. In addition, the floors were CARPETED. (Imagine dropping an egg on THAT! I've lived it!) And there wasn't a single area I'd consider efficient to prepare meals.

We don't have a ton of cash floating around, so we improvised — adding some workspace and a shelf here and there. Most importantly, we've had to get organized with our ingredients (many of which are bulk foods because we try to eat as few processed snacks as possible). To be honest, our kitchen reminds me of Julia Child's, just smaller. There's stuff hanging everywhere, but everything has a purpose: To create great food. And I think we've made some smart updates on our small budget.

We don't have a dishwasher either — so that's another challenge that only exacerbates the small space problem. But we more than manage. Some amazing stuff has come out of this kitchen, and I hope you enjoy the tour!

1. What's your cooking style?
I became vegetarian at age of 12. So, at age 26, I’ve never put steak to flame before. On one wild occasion, I made shrimp with red curry for my husband (a Moosewood recipe), and it was a complete disaster. Really, coming from a meat-eating family in North Central PA (not exactly a vegetarian Mecca) — most of my cooking and baking has been shaped by my own experimentation, mistakes, and successes.

With baking, I’m amazed at what I can create without butter, eggs, milk, and the typical staples many consider necessary for “good” cookies, cakes, and pies. I’ve actually played a game with my friends and family – serving them my goods and not telling them what they are eating is – GASP – vegan.

So far, no one has caught on (well, until they read this post – sorry, Mom!)

With cooking, I love using fresh, whole ingredients. I’m not one to shake and bake. And give me a vegetable with a weird name (rutabaga, anyone?), and I’ll find a use for it. It’s all a game to me. A delicious game.

2. What inspires your kitchen?
What has inspired our kitchen most has been efficiency. We’ve made some sacrifices (as you’ll notice in the photos, we have little access to our bottom cabinets to make room for our “island” that we’ve placed against the wall). But where there’s space, there’s a way to fit in a shelf or storage piece that will make our lives easier. May not always be pretty, but we have a lot of gadgets to stow.

As well, when we moved into our home a little over year and a half ago, the kitchen walls were covered in yellow and orange sunflower wallpaper. The floors were covered with industrial, low-pile carpet. There was little counter space. So, from a design standpoint, we went with basic, neutral colors to make the space appear as large as it can appear (we used no-VOC FreshAire paint in Arbor Vine, more about it here). We kept our appliances white to keep with this look (despite our lust for stainless steel). And we found a cheap flooring solution to get rid of the carpet – Trafficmaster vinyl plank flooring in Hickory for $1.99 a square foot.

For fun, we LOVE Fiestaware – I collect the pitchers – so that’s where the color comes in. Kind of retro. Kind of modern. Kind of exactly how we love it.

3. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
Hands down, my favorite kitchen tool is my pistachio-colored KitchenAid stand mixer. I use her for everything from creaming together sugar and Earth Balance to kneading bread dough. And she never complains! I couldn’t imagine life without her.

4. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Ignore the rules. My mother-in-law is a huge fan of improvisation in the kitchen. If she doesn’t have a particular ingredient, she throws in something similar. Sometimes not too similar. It’s rubbed off on me. The bottom line is: you must have fun and make it yours. And I haven’t created all my tasty (and sometimes admittedly strange, but very flavorful) combinations by sticking strictly to the recipes and methods of others.

5. Biggest challenge in your kitchen:
SPACE. Our house was built in 1948 – in the time when kitchens weren’t the heart of the home. My mother has this gorgeous open kitchen with an island, tons of storage/counter space, and a pantry – I’m green with envy. We have a couple cabinets, maybe 4 good feet of prep space, and a pantry with no shelves in it. Actually, I think that area is intended to be the coat closet. We’ve had to simplify our ingredients, keep it organized, and be patient with each other as a result. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have literally bumped into each other – smack in the face – while holding a scalding hot tea pot or cookie sheet. Ouch! And speaking of my husband, the other main issue we have is NO DISHWASHER! No fun. But we’re working on that one . . .

6. Biggest indulgence:
We invested in a new stove (a Whirlpool) and refrigerator (a GM) last spring. I love the pull-out freezer and added space the fridge gives us. And the oven keeps its temperature now – definitely important with all the baking we do!

7. Dream tool or splurge:
A dishwasher that isn’t my husband. A dream that’s a reality for most others – but, hey, I’m easy to please. My dad is planning to help us install one this spring. Can’t wait!

8. What are you cooking this week?
We’ve been on a super healthy, non-processed foods kick lately – so we’ve been making our own energy chunks, hummus, crackers, and other everyday items from scratch. I also want to experiment with some vegan, gluten-free recipes in my new Babycakes cookbook. And we’re also a bit obsessed with Adam Richman’s Man vs. Food – so I imagine a vegetarian behemoth is in our future (we’ve already documented the creation of our very own El Chubacabra – an omelet inside a burrito: http://vimeo.com/7714163).

9. What cookbook has inspired you the most?
Perhaps this cookbook hasn’t inspired me as much as the fabulous man who wrote this cookbook has inspired others. During Christmas, I picked up a gently used copy of the Richard Simmons Private Collection of Dazzling Desserts. All funny business and short sequined shorts aside, he’s got some great stuff in there. Stuff I’ve chosen to spin off into some of my own delish desserts. Like this vegan coconut-carob pie.

10. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
I made homemade bagels once. I think they were my most memorable kitchen creation because I never thought I could make something like a bagel myself and actually have it turn out like the “real” thing. Ever since, I’ve been a daredevil. No meal is above me. I try it all!

Thank you so much for sharing your kitchen with us, Ashley and Stephen!

• Visit Ashley's cooking blog: (Never Home)Maker

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(Images: Ashley of (Never Home)Maker)

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