A Tale Of Four Kitchens

It seems like it was just yesterday that we moved in, but hubby and I are about to celebrate our one-year anniversary of living in our house.  I’m still pinching myself just about every day.  It was a long, drawn-out process to even get to moving day, and I still can’t believe that this house is ours.  We started with about a year of researching the market and checking out open houses, cruising real estate websites and keeping up on the real estate news in our area.  After a year of that, we teamed up with the same realtor who had helped us buy our lovely condo and it didn’t take us long to find our dream house.  Sadly for us, the house was a short sale… so even though we put an offer in back in October of 2009, and that offer was accepted the very next day, we didn’t actually turn the key until March of 2010.  Oh, and then we had to sell our condo.  Someday I’ll tell you all about that nightmare over a cocktail or twelve.

Why am I talking about this now?  Well, hubby and I were burnt out on spending money and overwhelmed with our space, and we decided to live in the house for awhile… like, almost a year… before we started decorating, renovating, or anything.  We only broke our rule once – we stained the back deck in early fall.  It needed to be done.  But now we’ve been in the house for awhile and we’re both getting itchy to make it our own.  As you can guess if you know us in person, there’s a lot we want to do, and we have some strong opinions.  Believe it or not, the kitchen is not the top of the list for a major overhaul.  That’s not to say it’s where I want it to be, and it’s not to say there’s nothing I’ll be doing in there (for one thing, the gold-tone cabinet pulls need to go, and they need to go, like, five minutes ago).  But the rest of the house is taking priority at the moment because the kitchen is livable for a few more years.  So as I dive into home renovations, I thought I’d take a little walk back through my kitchen history.  What a long, strange trip it’s been…

Kitchen In A Box

A shoebox, that is.  Because that was about the size of my first big kid apartment.  And by “big kid apartment,” I mean an apartment that I lived in without five roommates.  The first (and last) time I lived on my own, I had a teeny tiny little pad in Foggy Bottom for my first two years of law school.  It was a studio apartment and you could throw a paper airplane from one end to the other, but I still loved it.  Aside from being my very own space (never had that before!) it was where I really came into my own as a home cook.  There was no dishwasher, no counter space to speak of, and if you opened the oven all the way you’d bump your tush into the fridge door.  But I am living, breathing, non-starving proof that you can still make Barefoot Contessa corn chowder in a kitchen with one square foot of counter space.  (Sorry no pic, but this was before I got a digital camera and started taking pictures of my dinner.  I was just a baby!)

Newlyweds: Hubs and Messy

Messy homemade ice cream in Arlington.

Our first couple apartment was a cozy place in Arlington, VA.  Compared to the size of my single girl apartment, it was palatial.  The kitchen was just a little galley, but it felt like heaven to me.  I had four times the cabinets and probably ten times the counter space, so we’re talking huge upgrade here.  And even though the ceiling caved in (twice) I had some good times in this kitchen.  I had a whole cabinet where I kept my shiny wedding gifts.  I made Thanksgiving dinner twice in this kitchen.  I put more dogears in my Barefoot Contessa cookbook, and I got confident enough to start experimenting with dishes and straying from recipes.

Modern Condo Glamor

Condo kitch, all set up for hubby’s surprise 30th birthday party

Ahhhh, my beautiful condo.  There was not one thing I would change about this kitchen.  Everything was new.  Everything was perfect.  It was spacious, elegant, convenient and… well, perfect.  By the time hubby and I moved into our condo, I was quite confident in the kitchen.  I was feeling hemmed in by my apartment galley and looking for a kitchen that would support me as I took on new culinary adventures.  I fell in love with this kitchen immediately – the cool granite, the sleek stainless steel appliances (can we just have a moment of silence for my stainless steel appliances?) and the modern blond wood.  Cooking in this kitchen was a joy.  I had an entire island to spread out on, and it was a fabulous space for entertaining.  I learned so much in this kitchen – how to make pasta, for one thing.  I spent hours standing on those beautiful hardwood floors rolling sheets of pasta.  And the parties we had… such fun.  In 2009 we hosted a chocolate themed party and then didn’t eat chocolate for six months.  Good times.  I didn’t leave this kitchen behind without shedding a few tears. 

The Kitchen Of Today

And here we are.  This is where I mix batter and roast veggies and toss salads these days.  I love this kitchen more and more every day.  And even though there are things I’d change about it (oh, to have stainless steel appliances in my life again! No, seriously, how amazing would that wall oven look in metallics?) it’s my new home and I’m proud to have it.  I love the sleek black granite, the cooktop in the island, the double wall oven and the THREE (count ’em!) pantries.  A girl could get used to this place.  Especially once those gold cabinet pulls turn to brushed stainless.  I’m just sayin’…  So, there you have it.  My kitchen history in pics and prose.  Stay tuned because this space is only going to get better!  And as you can see, I’m starting off in a pretty good place.  And always remembering the kitchens of yore…

TBYT: An Organized Pantry

This post is part of a series on Taking Back Your Time.  TBYT focuses on the little habits we all can cultivate to spare those extra minutes, seconds, and hours in each day, so that we have more time to do the things we really enjoy… like blogging!

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
~Mary Poppins

Call me weird, but few things give me more joy than an organized pantry.

And it’s not just that it gives me joy… keeping an organized pantry really does save time.  And money.  Hear me out.  Knowing exactly what is in your pantry means you can open the door and quickly have dinner options laid out for you on a busy weeknight.  It means you won’t waste money buying eight cans of chickpeas when you already have twelve cans at home (I’ve been there).  It means you have the tools in your arsenal to make a fast lunch for yourself or the kids in the morning without digging around looking for the sandwich baggies.  It means you’ll never be surprised by moldy bread (ew).

Trust me, if you put an hour or so into organizing your pantry (and if you commit to putting things back where you found them!), it will pay you back in minutes saved every day.  And those minutes really do add up.

So, wanna know what’s in my pantry?  Okay, here you go…

Top shelf (L to R): My cereals and oats, dried fruit, whole grains (millet, barley, farro), rice and quinoa.

Upper middle shelf (L to R): Whole grain pastas, sauces, mustards, nut butters, sliced bread, nuts.

Lower middle shelf: seasonings, salts, bread crumbs, oils and vinegars.

Bottom shelf (L to R): Dried beans and legumes, sea vegetables and Asian specialty ingredients, canned beans, canned veg (and some meringue cookies thrown in there for good measure).

And here’s the floor:

Winter squash and potatoes, snacks, hubby’s cereals (yes, we shop at Costco… why do you ask?).

I organize like items with like and group things together in baskets or bowls, or on trays.  For instance, I keep winter squash in a basket from Target, seasonings are in a wooden salad bowl I got for my bridal shower (I like keeping it in the pantry because I get to admire it every day!), and oils and vinegars are on a tray with a picture of Switzerland, which I pilfered from my grandmother’s house (okay, she gave it to me).  Having nice baskets and bowls to keep things in makes it easier for me to remember to put things back where they belong.  But if you’re more mature than me (ha!) then don’t bother.  See if I care.

Now, because I know you all want to see it (is that crickets I hear?), here’s my baking pantry:

There’s a method to this madness, too.  From the bottom to the top, the shelves are organized as follows:

Bottom shelf: sugars (granulated, brown, sucanat, confectioner’s, honey, flavored).

Lower middle: flours.

Middle: baking essentials (extracts, liquers, baking powder/soda, salt, measuring cups, etc.)

Upper middle: mixing bowls.

Top: holiday items and cake/cookie decorating.

Keeping these pantries organized saves me hours in the long run, because I know exactly where to find what I’m looking for.  So call me a dork… whatever, I don’t care.  I know where my lentils are.  Do you?

Old and New

Now that I’ve spilled the beans about my move… and actually gone through with the move… I thought I’d share a few pictures of my old condo kitchen – which I miss SO much – and the kitchen in my new house, which is lovely in its own right (although the condo will always hold a special place in my heart).  As you can see, it was a bit crazy for awhile. Between consummating our sale on Wednesday and moving on the immediately following Saturday, hubby and I were pretty much overwhelmed.  We’re feeling better now.

The condo kitchen on either the night before or the morning of our move… I alternated between packing boxes and lovingly petting my stainless steel appliances, which I loved and which I really, really miss:

The kitchen in the new house, looking tragic with my stuff everywhere and a knee-high pile of newsprint:

The main cooking area after I had cleaned it vigorously and organized it compulsively, looking a lot better:

And finally, a view from the eat-in area, of my tidy and uncluttered kitchen.  Loving, loving, loving:

Of course, being the kitchen-obsessed baker I am, I had to unpack the kitchen first.  The rest of the house still has a long way to go.  We’ll get there eventually, but it’s a long road ahead.  And I’m not planning to keep the kitchen exactly like this.  I have some very specific ideas (yes, I’m a “Monica”, had you not already guessed?) and I’ll definitely be making some changes and adjustments – big and small – to make the kitchen more my style.  But in the meantime, I’m back to happily mixing up batter and tossing salads.  I’ll always miss my condo kitchen, but I’m sure I’ll grow to love this kitchen just as much – maybe more – as I put my own stamp on the decor and crank out some tasty dishes.  Which, of course, I’ll be sure to share with you.