The Way We Eat: Michelle Beamer, Interior Designer in Santa Barbara
Name: Michelle Beamer
Location: Santa Barbara, CA
How many people regularly eat together? 5 (my three boys, my husband, and myself).
Avoidances? I can’t eat gluten and my youngest son is vegetarian.
Michelle Beamer is an interior designer, mom to three growing boys, and an owner of pet chickens in sunny Santa Barbara, CA. We got a chance to chat with her (in the kitchen she designed herself!) about how she feeds her family, her favorite gluten-free go-tos, and how she keeps her cool in the coop.
Your kitchen is gorgeous, and you designed it yourself! Can you tell us a little bit about that process?
My old kitchen was a disaster — green formica, pine cabinets. But kitchens are so expensive so it took a while to really feel like we had enough equity in the house to be able to do it the way we wanted to. So yes, when we eventually did it, it was great. My husband is really handy too, so we weren’t afraid to get our hands dirty.
What was your secret to renovating on a budget?
If you are very specific about your materials, and build it in the right way, it can end up looking high-end even if it isn’t fancy. In terms of picking certain things, my husband was super passionate about this marble from the stone yard. He fell in love, so I was like I guess we’re getting the marble. But on the other hand, we got really inexpensive tile and were just really specific about the pattern and the way we wanted it to be installed. I got down, rolled up my sleeves, and literally placed it on the floor. The installers don’t care — then they have less thinking to do. I used to think that directing people in a very specific way was bossy, but it actually frees you up to do their work.
Speaking of that marble, your island isn’t an island — it’s, as you say, “a continent.”
We do not have a dining room table, but at the island we can seat eight people. We used to live on the east coast, in Washingont, D.C., and I think people were a bit more formal about entertaining. The thought of a sit-down dinner used to stress me out. Here everybody just comes over. I wanted to make my house a place where you want to hang out. We have happy hour hors d’eouvres parties. People bring whatever they want and we just lay them all over the counter — for the kids, too.
- Biggest challenge in eating? Keeping up with what we need and planning!
- Percentage of meals you cook at home every week? 80 percent.
- 5 things on your grocery list every week? Milk, bread, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, lettuce, meat, snacks.
- Where do you shop, primarily? Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Vons.
- What’s the last food thing you splurged on? New York strip steak.
- Top 3 default dinners? Tacos, grilled meat or fish, baked or boiled pasta w/semi-homemade sauce, waffles, baked manicotti, beef bourguignon, homemade pizza, crepes. That’s more than three!
- Favorite tea? Earl grey, fruit/herbal teas.
- Best underrated snack? Rice cakes with seaweed.
- Favorite thing to eat while watching TV? Popcorn.
- Default kid snack? Pretzels/chips.
- Best tip anyone ever taught you in cooking? How to properly chop an onion — I took a cooking class and it changed my life.
- Favorite kitchen tool? Good sharp knives in different sizes.
- Best cookie of all time? Toll House chocolate chip.
- Cookbook you actually cook out of? Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings, Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy or It’s all Good.
- Who does the dishes in your home? My husband does a ton of dishes! My teenage son unloads the dishwasher. I’m the messy cook.
Walk us through what a typical day looks like for you right now, including meals.
We are a big cereal family. I like muesli and yogurt with tons of fruit, and my kids like super-sugary cereal (but they can survive on the less sugary stuff). We are always running out of milk! My husband love peanut butter, so he eats that every morning on toast.
Both my husband and I work from home, so he makes sandwiches for lunch. I’m usually running around, so I will just eat whatever I can find! I love leftovers (he doesn’t), so I’m perfectly happy to scrounge the fridge for what we ate last night. I save everything: leftover hamburgers, veggies, rice. I will often just throw stuff on a bed of romaine and toss with avocado and Trader Joe’s yuzu hot sauce.
My husband and I trade off cooking when we are busy with work, but we also love to cook together — it’s relaxing. Plus, I like to drink wine, which is my incentive to cook a decent meal when I’m feeling really tired or lazy! We love to do all kinds of fish, either grilled or baked, and our whole family also likes hamburgers, sausage, and steak. One of our sons is vegetarian so we are constantly exploring the realm of vegetarian items! He likes Gardein chicken tenders.
Do you meal plan?
Planning ahead is key, but I often don’t have time to do it. Having the basics on hand is important: tuna, pasta, meat, fruit, veggies, bread, milk, and condiments. I find that if I can plan ahead on three dinners, we will be fine with leftovers and can get takeout one night per week.
What’s the biggest challenge of cooking for three pre/teenage boys?
I’m gluten-free, my youngest doesn’t like to eat meat for ethical reasons (and he’s picky), my middle son doesn’t like fish, my older son hates beans … you get the idea. I find that the constant criticism from children can be tough — it makes meal planning stressful because I really want a standing ovation at mealtime. But maybe that’s too much to ask!
It seems like your approach to mealtimes is super relaxed.
With anything, if you don’t do it often, you can get nervous. I’m all about making things easier on myself. If I make a big pot of stew, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be turned into nachos the next day, or become part of a lunch box. It’s about lowering expectations. As I said about meal planning, I have found that if I have at least three solid dinner options planned on Sunday, the rest of the week can come together without too much struggle. There’s always a takeout night, leftover night, or a “breakfast for dinner” night (we make crepes), and those fill in the gaps.
Please tell me more about crepe night.
It’s like a riff on a taco bar, but it feels fancier. Crepes are actually really easy to make; you don’t even need a crepe pan. I just use a small nonstick pan. (I make a gluten-free recipe.) The best part is that you can fill them with anything, sweet or savory. I had ham, vegetables, cheese, avocado, mushrooms, scallions, raspberry jam. Mix-and-match!
Okay, can we please talk about your pet chickens? Is that a Cali thing?
I think we are the only ones on the block, but it’s not unheard of. Once they get past the chick stage, they are quite easy to take care of. My mother-in-law grew up in Nebraska on a farm where they had chickens. They’re pretty tough. We only have three and they lay in total 21 eggs per week. When that started happening it was really exciting!
What has it taught your kids?
At first it was a way for them to have another pet, but it’s become more about the experience of raising them. People are so disconnected from the idea of how eggs are even produced in the first place, and this has helped my sons learn more about that process.
The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.