Come see Lilian's sunlit family kitchen, and take a peek at the terrific lunch she fed me — arugula salad with quinoa and a perfect vinaigrette, roasted cauliflower with green olives, and blueberry cream scones.
I met Lilian through The Kitchn; she is a regular reader and a food blogger herself. I realized that she lived near me in central Ohio, and we made plans to meet. I pulled up to her house out in the country, surrounded by farms and forest, on a gorgeous early fall day. The sun was bright after days of rain; the leaves were just beginning to turn bronze. I couldn't have chosen a more beautiful day to step into Lilian's sunlit kitchen.
When she and her husband built their "forever" house they chose a barn style, with vaulted ceilings of rough timber, and a whitewashed exterior with windows soaring up to the ceiling. It isn't a huge house, but it feels incredibly expansive, given the high ceilings. The kitchen looks out the back of the house to the kids' play area, and standing there you can turn around and see through the front windows as well, looking out at Ohio farmland. It is open to the dining area, living area, and a side room — all full of sunlight. Sunlight streamed in through the banks of windows, warm and thick.
Lilian herself is sunny and warm too — she pulled me right into her family kitchen (unnaturally quiet, since the kids were elsewhere!) and made me feel immediately at home. She was just about to roast two big pans of cauliflower when I arrived, and I sipped minty lemonade as she put pans in the oven and started a batch of little blueberry cream scones.
Lilian and I talked about Ohio, kids, food — we ranged far and wide until I remembered the first reason I came and turned to the topic of this kitchen. Lilian's expansive kitchen was designed to feed crowds of people; her husband's extended family lives all around them and they host many meals throughout the week. It's a regular gathering place for several generations of family, and the patina of these meals is apparent in the kitchen; it feels warm, easy to settle into. It also feels smart and well-arranged for an active cook.
Lilian showed me some of her favorite features (and mine!) — soft soapstone countertops, smart cabinetry with pull-out drawers for trash and for dishes, a double oven with temperatures that go low enough to proof bread and incubate yogurt, and — my favorite! — a simple foot pedal to control the water faucet. This saves water, with instant off and on, and is more hygienic. (How have I never thought of this?)
More than ever, I was happy for a peek into someone else's dream kitchen — it gave me ideas and hopes for my own someday-forever kitchen.
This truly is a dream kitchen in many ways, and one that has produced a lot of good food — read on for a little more about Lilian's design process, and for her recipes for the lunch she fed me. Vegetable-focused, fresh — it was seriously the best meal I had all week. And sitting there in that warm, sunlit kitchen — how could that not have made it even better?
10 Questions for Lilian (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
My mom, who is an amazing cook and gardener. Also my good friend and college boyfriend, who was from Rome — he didn't cook, and his fantastic parents didn't cook much either, but their Italian approach to food — the best ingredients, simply prepared — really resonated with me. In Italy you almost don't have to cook — buy some gorgeous fruits and vegetables, great cheese, bread, olive oil, salumi, wine — and you'll never have a better meal.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
i love my cast iron pans — timeless, practical and proof that quality cookware doesn't have to cost a fortune.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
We had an epic Thanksgiving here two years ago when my parents, brothers and sister-in-law all came out from California. We had dinner for 30 but cooked for 50, at least. It was an excuse to make everything that I ever wanted to, and it was awesome.
4. The biggest challenge for cooking in your kitchen:
I was crazy detailed about planning the kitchen, so it's pretty much perfect for me. But the island lighting could be better. I wanted pendant lighting, but with the double-high ceiling it just didn't work. So we have a high chandelier, and it's not the best task lighting at night. Fortunately it's rarely a problem, since during the day I have an incredible amount of light pouring in the windows, even on a dark day.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I have this nifty dustbin in my island kickboard that hooks into my central vacuum system. So I sweep the crumbs over and they get magically whooshed away. But I should have put it on the other side of the island, where my four kids sit. The mess I make cooking is nothing compared to the mess they make eating.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
The soapstone counters, which are so fantastically durable to use but soft to touch. Soapstone isn't common here, so I had to make an effort to get it and it really was against my practical nature to make a splurge like that. But in the end I just went for it and every day I just love the feel of it. I want to sleep on the island.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
Thankfully no. Once and done for me — this is my forever kitchen, and it's built to age.
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Fresh, generous, unfussy.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received?
Focus on ingredients.
10. What are you cooking this week?
As always, a huge salad and something to go with it. Tonight was ground turkey tacos with guacamole. Tomorrow, maybe a stir fry to go with broccoli I have in the fridge or salmon teriyaki, which my three-year-old asks for pretty much every day.
• BlueStar Range — the second big splurge in the kitchen —no one has it here, but I love it. Totally practical — open burners with a simple pull-out drip tray beneath. Cast iron stovetop — easy to clean, indestructible, ages well.
• Fisher & Paykel Ovens — love the super-low temperature options (80 degrees perfect for proofing bread, 100 degrees for yogurt, 125 for dehydrating).
• Floors — wide plank pine from Carlisle (http://www.wideplankflooring.com/). They are new but look old. Pine is soft, but it ages well. With any other wood floors dings look like dings. With pine they add character, and with four kids we have a lot of character.
• Countertops — Strata Marble and Granite out of North Canton (http://www.stratagranite.com/). Great to work with, helped me find the dark gray soapstone I wanted (a lot of soapstone is green).
• Cabinetry — Cooley Custom Cabinetry in Plain City (http://www.cooleycc.com/). So lucky to have so many fantastic Amish/Mennonite craftsmen in Ohio. Stan Cooley owns this shop and a is great guy with, as you would expect, a gorgeous kitchen of his own.
• Foot control for sink — love my Tapmaster! (http://www.tapmaster.ca/)
• Never-MT Soap dispenser - Forgot to show you my Never-MT. It's a cool extension tube so that you can hook your dish soap dispenser directly into the soap container (instead of having to refill the small one under the countertop). Mine goes into a huge bottle from Costco, and i never have to think about it. (Never-MT doesn't seem to have a site, but you can buy it at http://custominserts-store.stores.yahoo.net/nevsoapandlo.html).
Lunch with Lilian
Get the Recipes
These recipes are all on Lilian's own blog, Chinese Grandma — a beautifully written set of recipes and meditations on food, cooking, motherhood, and life. (I especially like this post on growing up and getting domestic in ways you never imagined would actually happen to you!)
• Balsamic vinaigrette - I have a big jar of this in my own fridge at all times now too.
• Quinoa arugula salad - A filling and delicious salad.
• Roasted cauliflower with parmesan and olives - A really satisfying main dish for lunch.
• Cream scones - Lilian made these with fresh blueberries for me, which I loved, but she says she prefers dried fruit for texture.
• Minty lemonade - Fresh and not too sweet.
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Related: Amanda's Smart, Renovated Kitchen
(Images: Faith Durand)