Willi's kitchen is about 75 square feet. It has a cozy feel perfect for the casual cooking Willi and John like to do on a daily basis. Most of the produce and eggs they use come from their backyard, where they have a wonderful vegetable garden and chicken coop. Willi's an advocate for simple preparation of fresh ingredients and her kitchen reflects this perspective. There aren't a lot of fancy gadgets or perfect pots and pans, just family-given vessels. The exception to this rule is Willi's beloved Vitamix blender, which she uses on an almost daily basis to make fresh smoothies and soups in fall and winter.
The checkerboard floor and original farm house sink is one of the more charming details of the kitchen, along with the weathered old table used to shelve cookbooks and utensils. My favorite part of this space, however, is tucked right outside the kitchen: a small dining area with a round table sits adjacent to Willi's grandmother's birdhouse. She now uses this heirloom to store indoor plants. It's a twist on a terrarium, the perfect sight to gaze upon as I sipped my tea.
9 Questions for Willi (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
I cook almost exclusively vegetarian (even though I eat meat) because my husband, Jon, is a vegetarian. So my vegetable garden and the farmer's market really inspire my cooking. I don't have the patience for cooking elaborate recipes on a regular basis, so I focus on making simple food with the best possible ingredients. You really can't beat a fresh sliced tomato served on garlic-rubbed toast or grilled green beans drizzled with olive oil.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
The cast iron skillet my grandmother gave me. It never leaves our stovetop because I use it at least once a day. I also really love our kitchen's super deep sink, because you can set dishes in the bottom and not see them from our couch (which looks directly into the kitchen). It is very handy for us since we are both kind of lazy about doing dishes.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
When we first moved into our house, we decided to host a very impromptu party. We only had about 2 hours to prepare, so we decided on a serve-yourself taco bar. We bought hard taco shells from Chipotle (not homemade, I know, but they will fry the shells to order and the fresh ones are really good!), corn and flour tortillas. I made a beef filling, a spicy vegetarian bean filling and a cabbage slaw. We set up a buffet in the kitchen with the fillings, bowls of grated cheddar and cotija cheese, avocado, slice of lime, radish wedges, salsa, and scallions. It was super fun!
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
We are renting our 1940s house and the kitchen is original. Somehow it manages to be huge and have no space all at the same time. The shelves inside the cabinets are not adjustable and set at a height that is just slightly too low for bottles of olive oil, vinegar, and cracker boxes, which end up on top of the fridge. Also, the very limited counter space is three steps away from the stove. It makes cooking a bit of a juggling act.
5. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
Cookbooks! Even though I rarely follow recipes to the letter, I love to read cookbooks, especially ones with tons of photos. My favorite time to look through cookbooks is when I'm eating by myself. I'll pick one I haven't cooked from in a while and look for a recipe I want to try.
6. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
I would really love to paint the kitchen, because I can't stand the forest green color and the cabinets and trim are chipped and always look a bit grimy (no matter how much scrubbing I do). But we are renting and I can't quite bring myself to undertake sanding, priming, and painting cabinets. So for now I'm living with it. To help improve the counter space/storage situation, we recently bought a Norden table from Ikea, but I am daunted by putting it together! It is actually sitting in our living room half built at the moment. If I ever manage to construct it, I think the table will really help because it has three drawers and two shelves below the tabletop. We will actually have a spot to put our toaster oven (which is currently sitting in a box in the garage) and room for our juicer, which we have to drag out of the pantry whenever we want to use it.
7. How would you describe your cooking style?
I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of cook. One of my favorite things is to step out into the garden and decide what to make for dinner. When faced with a big harvest of summer squash or a bucket of tomatoes, you have to learn how to improvise!
8. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Never put basil in the refrigerator! The cold temperature inside the fridge ruins basil's beautiful flavor. Instead, just stick the stems into a mason jar full of water and keep the jar out of direct sunlight. If you leave the basil in the jar long enough it will start to grow roots.
9. What are you cooking this week?
We have some beets that are ready to harvest. I'm thinking about roasting the roots and serving them with homemade almond butter.
• Cabinets/counters: Original painted wood cabinets, Formica countertops.
• Farm table: Garage sale find
• Ladderback chair: Free from side of road
• Pots and pans: All-Clad and cast iron
• Dishes: Jasper Conran Wedgwood Dinnerware
We're always looking for real kitchens from real cooks.
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(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)