"I've always wanted a desk in my kitchen," says writer Tara Austen Weaver. "I like the idea of being able to pop up and stir the soup as I work." Instead of putting a table in her eat-in Seattle kitchen, she refinished a small student desk where she could write, cook food from her garden, and photograph the result for her blog, Tea & Cookies.
"I am a sucker for old buildings," Tara says of the 1910 brick apartment building she moved into a year ago. "Give me a little vintage charm and I will overlook a multitude of sins." The apartment has charm to spare: French doors leading into the kitchen, black and white checkerboard floors, and the original insulated "icebox," which now serves as her baking pantry. "The tradeoff is less counter space than I've ever had in my life," she says. "But cooking in such a small space has taught me some good lessons."
Tara's kitchen works hard. "Besides the prints on the wall, everything is functional," she says. A "pie basket" under the mixer holds picnic supplies, culinary herbs sit on a bookshelf repurposed to store jars of grains, mixing bowls, and cookbooks, and a basket under the desk holds canning supplies. There's an old Singer sewing machine inside the small side table topped with a marble pastry slab, and the gauze curtains on the windows are used to diffuse light for photography. "This is the smallest kitchen I've ever had," she says, "but it's taught me to be more organized and efficient. I'm really glad of that."
10 Questions for Tara (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
These days it's a cliché to say you're inspired by local and seasonal produce, but I have a half-acre garden so it really is true. There are berries in the summer, pears and apples in the fall, and kale all winter long. When you harvest six heads of cauliflower in one week you have to get inventive (pickles!). I'm also inspired by the time I've spent living and traveling overseas--both in Europe and Asia. I have a bin in my pantry with twelve different types of noodles.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
I love my uber-organized spice collection (a birthday gift I gave myself a few years ago). In this particular kitchen I love the insulated icebox with chalkboard paint on the cover (my nieces leave drawings for me every time they visit). I also like the small tea shelf over the sink.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
The most epic meal in this kitchen was one I didn't eat. I spent a whirlwind of a Sunday making food for friends who just had a new baby. In one day I made a soup, a sorrel quiche, a batch of cookies, a batch of waffles, lemon curd, fresh pesto, and two loaves of bread. By the end I was exhausted and the kitchen was a wreck. I dropped the food off and went out for pizza!
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
Because the space is small and work areas are limited, I have to be much more organized and clean as I go. This is something I've managed to avoid for years. Also, because the drawers are large and deep, I've learned to store less-used items in Ziplock bags, as things could easily get out of control in there.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
This kitchen is a little too matchy-matchy for me. My natural style is more spare and neutral (with pops of color). I owned most of these things before I moved here, but in a small space with a busy checkerboard floor it looks a little kitschy. But it is cheerful--and in the long, grey Seattle winters, bright colors and cheer are helpful. My next kitchen can be pale colors, natural wood, and countertops for miles.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
My kitchen is such a workhorse, I don't think of anything as a splurge. The Le Crueset and Staub pots were bought on sale and get used so often they're so worth it. The more indulgent items were either gifted or thrifted: the Kitchen Aid and marble pastry slab were presents; my ice cream maker was $20 at a yard sale (in a box that had never been opened). Certainly nobody needs seven teapots, but many of those were gifts as well.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
My tea cupboard is a mess and needs an organization system, and the calking around the sink was poorly done and looks grotty. I am trying to screw up my courage to replace it.
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Improvisational, seasonal, rustic, with international influences. And also: lemons.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
I didn't get any cooking advice growing up--I taught myself out of books. But the thing I tell other people is to taste as you go along and make it the way you like it. Cooking is both a generous and selfish act.
10. What are you cooking this week?
Marmalade! It's citrus season and it makes me miss my native state very much (thus the homage to California lemons on my wall). I'm also making a roasted red pepper soup, black bean burritos, and I'm attempting an old fashioned Charlotte Russe for a Downton Abbey finale party.
Resources of Note
Pots and pans: Staub and Le Creuset purchased on sale, Calphalon thrifted by a friend.
Dishes: mostly Pottery Barn (Summertime and Sausalito lines), Cost Plus World Market, others bought on travels, given as gifts, or thrifted.
Glass storage containers: Ikea and Mason Jars.
Glass spice containers: Sunburst Bottle Company (cosmetic salve jars).
Marble slab: Crate & Barrel.
Teapots: Bee House, London Pottery, others thrifted.
Desk: University of Washington Surplus Department
Chairs: Design Within Reach
Thank you so much for letting us peek into your kitchen!
Share your own kitchen renovation or improvement!
We're always looking for real kitchens from real cooks.
Show us your kitchen here!
Related: Lola's Homemade Orange Kitchen
(Images: Tara Austen Weaver)