"I feel a connection to my mother when I am in the kitchen and when I cook," says Lisa. The memories are supplemented by the physical presence of utensils and appliances which are in turn infused with associations from her youth.
For Lisa, recreating the 1950's kitchen goes beyond an aesthetic preference or nostalgia for an era long passed. Lisa didn't grow up in the 50's nor does the rest of her house carry out a mid-century theme. Rather, her kitchen design and her passion for mining flea markets is emotionally driven. Many people connect to loved ones through food. Lisa takes that one step further by connecting through delicious food and the tools used to create it.
10 Questions for Lisa (and Her Kitchen)
What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
My mother's kitchen in our house in South Philly was an inspiration. We moved from there when I was 6 but I remember that it was a true 1950's wonder. I've spent a lot of time on eBay trying to replicate that kitchen. My grandmother immigrated from Italy as an adult, and the cooking style she passed down to my mother and my mother passed down to me has been my biggest influence. There were never any recipes involved; it was all learned through watching and then experimenting.
What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
That is a tough question. I have several of my mother's vintage appliances which mean a lot to me but it is probably something more humble like her aluminum measuring cups and spoons. There is nothing remarkable about them except that she used them so often and I feel so close to her whenever I use them myself.
What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
One that stands out was a birthday dinner for a dear friend. I cooked for six guests and made pork bracciole just like my Mom used to make on Sundays — when the house would be filled with the aroma of garlic and provolone cheese filled pork slowly cooking into the tomato sauce. I served it over a bed of pappardelle with a side of sautèed spinach. For dessert I made a ricotta cheesecake with a cooked raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries on the side. I served that with an after dinner glass of limoncello.
Biggest challenge in your kitchen?
Space! I have a fairly large kitchen by New York standards but no real counter space so I have to do all of my preparation on the kitchen table.
Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen?
That would probably be my red kitchen chairs. The table was from the 1940's and came with a set of old green vinyl chairs that over the years fell to pieces. When I painted the walls pistachio, I knew I wanted red chairs. I found these beautiful retro ones online at Richardsonseating.com.
Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
I would love to have a new stove — something much more vintage looking. Big Chill makes a gorgeous one that even comes in red but I may have to wait until I have a house to put it in.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I try to keep things as simple as possible. I don't like too many flavors going on at once. It is nice to be able to break down the different tastes that make up a dish. I lived with a family in France for a year when I was quite young and one of the things that impressed me most was how simple and clean family French cooking was. Not at all like the complicated recipes I always associated with French restaurant cooking.
Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
I remember my mother telling me to cook with love. In fact she even wrote that on the flap of a cookbook she gave me when I first moved out on my own. If you don't love what you are doing it will never turn out quite right!
What is your favorite cookbook?
I'm almost embarrassed to admit it but I alway find myself going back to my Joy Of Cooking. It has all the basics and gives you so much general information. I also consult my La Varenne when I need more sophisticated advice. I also go to Epicurious.com all the time as it is a bottomless resource of recipes and ideas.
What are you cooking this week?
I may do one last roasted pork loin before the weather gets too warm to use the oven. I may also do a batch of pistachio biscotti for the same reason. They are as close to my grandmother's that I could find; made with oil so they are crumbly and more moist than traditional biscotti.
• eBay and flea markets for nearly everything
• Richardson Seating for the kitchen chairs
Visit Lisa's Pet Portrait Site:
• Kitchen Tour Archive: Check out past kitchen tours here
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(Images: Jill Slater)