Seven Things I Love About Our Kitchen

In my lifetime, I have cooked in countless kitchens—both my own and others’—and through it all, I kept a running inventory of design features I liked and didn’t like. So, when we moved into this house in 2016, I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted. I had do to a bit of tweaking to deal with our space and budget, but overall the kitchen you see now is the kitchen I saw in my head the first time we looked at the house.

Over the past year, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about various choices I made from people wanting to know if they should make them in their own kitchens. Not being able to see the kitchens or know how the questioners use their kitchens, the only thing I can really do is say why I chose something and if we’re happy with it.

Here are my answers to the features I get asked about most often.

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8 Ways to Make Your Kitchen Work Better Today—No Renovations Required

If yesterday’s post about kitchen renovations left you feeling like you’ll be stuck with the same dysfunctional kitchen forever and ever and ever, amen…today’s post is for you.

The truth is, you don’t have to knock down walls and buy new cabinets to make your kitchen more functional. You might need to do that to make it prettier, but pretty is a nice secondary. The most important thing about a kitchen is that it works. And almost any kitchen can be made to work better. Not necessarily well…but better.

That’s a lesson I’ve learned in every home I’ve lived in as an adult, none of which has boasted anything close to a dream kitchen from the start. This Hawthorne House Renovation is the first time a real, genuine kitchen renovation has been in the cards for me, so for 20 years before that, my cooking, hosting, large-crowd loving self had to figure out how to make the best of what had been handed to me. And what had been handed was never good.

Here’s what I learned.

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7 Questions to Ask Before You Renovate Your Kitchen

Are you thinking about a kitchen renovation? Do you have visions of subway tile and quartz countertops dancing in your head? Or are you still steeling your nerves at the thought of kitchen upgrades before you try to sell your house? Before you start calling contractors, stop, make yourself some coffee, and ask yourself the following questions.

(Really. Make some coffee. This is going to take a while. I’ve written book chapters shorter than this blog post.)

Okay. Ready? Here we go.

1.) How long will I be in this house?

Why? Because how you answer this question helps you determine three things: Your budget. Your style choices. The quality of materials used.

If you’re only looking at staying in your house for a few more months or few more years, your kitchen renovation is really about re-sale. Which means you can keep your budget small, limiting it to essential visual upgrades. It also means you can paint your cabinets that trendy dark blue or choose that floor tile that’s all over Pinterest; you won’t be around in five years, when all those choices look oh so 2019. They’ll look good now, which is all that matters. You also don’t have to invest in furniture-grade cabinetry…or even mid-grade cabinetry; if doors are falling off their hinges in 10 years and laminate finishes are peeling off, you’re not the one who will have to deal with it.

If, however, you plan to be in your house for another decade (or two or three), you have a vested interest in a renovation that lasts (because, trust me, you don’t want to do this again for a long, long time). You also have a vested interest in a renovation that doesn’t look dated five years down the line (unless, of course, you can afford to shell out big bucks every time backsplash trends change). The longer you’re going to be in your house, the more important it is to invest in quality materials that last and classic design choices that work with the rest of your house. If you can’t afford to do that now (or if a house full of destructive littles makes you leery of having nice things), it’s better to either live with what you have until you can afford it/the time is right OR make a few cheap upgrades now and save the major work for later.

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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About My Kitchen…

…Is coming up on the blog (and Instagram) this week. I know: It’s not the most Lenten-themed series imaginable. Regardless, I’m talking about kitchens this week because, well, I want to talk about kitchens. I like kitchens. I like spending time in kitchens. I like looking at kitchens. And I like what kitchens make possible: delicious food and happy evenings enjoying that delicious food with people I love.

Also, after creating this kitchen…

           …where this duplex dining room…

…and duplex bathroom used to be…

 …I have some thoughts to share on the whole topic of kitchen renovations. Fancy that.

Creating our kitchen was a stressful, grueling, dirty, exhausting, expensive, and yet, still, somehow, totally fun experience. I learned so much during the year—yes, year—that we worked on it, and if all I learned through that process can save you some stress when you get around to renovating (or even just reorganizing) your own kitchen, that will make all the headaches it gave me a little more worth it.

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Fried Gnocchi Aglio e Olio

The calendar tells me that Lent starts tomorrow. Which is odd because I’m pretty sure it started almost three weeks ago here, when the Black Death first descended on our household. We’ve been battling one health issue after another ever since then, including issues I won’t mention on the same page with food. Regardless, I’m all tuckered out and having a hard time settling on my various Lenten penances. Isn’t sleeping only a few hours a night penance enough?

All this is to say that while tomorrow I might come up with something eloquent to say about fasting, today I’ve got nothing. Except for a recipe that you can cook on days of fasting and abstinence.

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The Gift of the Body

This is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. On Instagram, I’ve been talking about how, after a six-year struggle with anorexia, the Eucharist transformed my understanding of food (I’m also giving away five copies of The Catholic Table over there this week). But it wasn’t just the Eucharist that helped me. Just as the Eucharist transformed my understanding of food, the theology of the body transformed my understanding of my body.

For most of the first 25 years of my life I equated my body’s value with a number on the scale. I thought it’s worth could be measured and weighed. It was a perpetual problem for me, something I needed to control.

Then, when I was 25, I read Pope St. John Paul II’s theology of the body. It taught me that my body wasn’t a problem to be controlled; it was a gift to be cared for. It was me—as much a part of who I was as my soul and as much a gift as my soul.

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Rosemary Almond Chicken Salad

February is always hard for me here in the land of eternal grey. Writing is work. Cleaning is work. Cooking is work. In years past, I’ve been able to escape for a week or so to more southern and sunnier climes. This year, with the baby, I’m lucky to escape to the bathroom for a nice long soak (still a February goal). So, since I can’t fly away, I’m trying a trick from my poverty-stricken grad school days, and acting like it’s spring inside my house.

This week, we cranked up the heat a bit, I pulled out a “transitional” clothing items (aka not wool), and we dined on one of our favorite summer dishes: Rosemary Almond Chicken Salad.

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Practical Hospitality: How Clean is Clean Enough?

Let’s talk housekeeping. Not ordinary housekeeping. Not “Do the Laundry on Wednesday and Clean the Bathrooms on Fridays” housekeeping. But, rather, “Friends are Coming Over Tonight, and We Need to Get the House Ready” housekeeping. What exactly, in that scenario does “get the house ready” mean?

This is an important question, because how you answer it determines: 1) How free you feel to have people over; and 2) How crazy you make yourself and everyone in your household prior to your guests’ arrival.

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Herb-Crusted Pork Loin

How do you do so much hosting with a new baby? That’s a question I’ve been getting a lot these days. The answer is mostly that Toby is a super-pleasant, super-easy baby…and there is only one of him. Turn Toby into a toddler or add another baby into the mix, and having friends over will most likely mean ordering a lot more pizza.

Until then, I’ll keep cooking as much as I can, although most of what I cook are dishes that don’t require a lot of time in the kitchen. Like the Baked Pesto Tortellini dish I cooked for Chris’ office Christmas party. And like the Herb-Crusted Pork loin I served along with it.

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