The kitchen that wanted to be nice

Who wants to talk about my very slow motion kitchen renovation?

If you actually saw my house, you’d actually fall into two distinct pieces laughing at the idea of me giving renovation tips. But, as the sea captain said to his wife, you are there and I am here; so off we go.

Background: My kitchen was put together by grade A morons.

Some cabinets were built directly over the heating vent, so in the winter, the meat you set out to defrost at 8 a.m. would still be frozen by dinnertime. The built-in drawers were all broken, but the hardware was impossible to remove, so the remaining gap was almost useless for other things.

In another spot, someone mounted what was meant to be a corner cabinet in the middle of the wall, so there were shelves all the way across, but a door on only one side, hinged in the middle.

All the cabinets were dark and malproportioned, and the doors were always flapping open, because our entire house lists to one side like a sinking ship. The bottoms were falling out of the floor cabinets, and must needs be held up with a can of squash. And so on.

The result? A tiny kitchen with several big windows and lots of sun, that was nevertheless dark and cramped-feeling. I was perpetually losing my pans and pie dishes into the Black Hole of Calcutta, so if I wanted to make muffins, I had to lie down on my side and feel around with my arm, right in there with all the exposed staples and cobwebs and astonishingly bold mice.

Not cool, kitchen. Not cool at all.

We had next to no money to spend, but I felt a powerful urge to Do Something. So here is what we did:

Tore out all the floor cabinets, which formerly held pots and pans, with a reciprocating saw ($40).

Before:

During:

This took a couple of hours. My husband shored up the remaining countertop (which is not beautiful, but it’s functional) with wooden beams (maybe $20). These were supposed to just be temporary until we could decide what kind of open shelving to put in there; but I think I can live with this:

Functionality is beautiful enough, especially when you’ve been working with dysfunction for so long. So I put the three recycling bins under there, and it’s fine. We keep larger bowls and pots on top of the bins sometimes. Not only can we actually see what’s in there, the whole room looks brighter and more open.
To do: Replace the more Dr. Seuss-looking beams, and put in two shelves under the counter, to store flat pans and cutting boards and such.

Took the doors off most of the remaining cabinets ($0. We do own a screwdriver). Now all the food and plates and stuff are exposed, but it’s so much better and brighter and more open than having the doors always swinging open, bonking people in the face, and blocking the light.

Before:

After:

I don’t know if that looks better to you, but I like it! I like knowing what I have and where it is.

To do: paint at least the fronts of the cabinets bright yellow, to match the window frame. I love bright yellow, especially in winter.

Tore the world’s dumbest wall cabinet off, with a screwdriver and my Donkey Kong ambitions ($0). Before (and yes, it was falling off long before I started tearing it down):

I scrubbed the wall, and my husband put up two long shelves ($40 on eBay for a set of six brackets, $15 for lumber). After:

To do: Nothing! I love it! I just need to rearrange stuff so it’s more decorative. But it’s a bazillion times prettier than it was before.

I still have a corner of shame with miscellaneous stuff stored in a laundry basket and a milk crate (which, come to think of it, I stole from the kitchen in my college! More shame!!):

that I need to figure out. Probably I will buy a couple of metal shelving units (maybe $20 each) and keep pans and bowls there. And switch which side of the mini fridge the door opens on.

Things we have already done in the last ten years: moved the washer and dryer out of the kitchen and into the bathroom; replaced the refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove; bought an island with lots of storage space; put in two sets of metal shelves for large appliances and large amounts of fruit; replaced the dreadful tubular fluorescent light fixture with sharp, rusty edges and put in a nice glass fixture that is kind of dangling, but still much better; and replaced the one window that opens. I’m saying this mainly to encourage myself, because sometimes it feels like we’ve been living here forever and haven’t gotten around to anything. But we have!

Still to do: replace this other area of shame,

 

maybe with more wall shelving and hooks, or possibly a baker’s rack. I’m resigned to always having three baskets of laundry there. Notice the tattered label that says “STUFF ONLY.”

There was originally more to that label, making me seem somewhat less crazy, but only marginally.

Replace the floor. The floor is purgatorial. In some places, you can see through the horrible old linoleum to see patches of the even more horrible even older linoleum. Look at this. It’s not even dirty here, it’s just mean.

I feel like I want a tile floor, but that would mean lots of broken glass and lots of concussions, right? Who can recommend flooring that looks clean even when it’s not?

Replace the ceiling. It’s a crappy, acoustic, water-stained tile ceiling that wants to fall down and rain dead mice on our heads while we’re making stir fry.

Guess what’s under it? STAMPED TIN CEILING. No shit. Do you know how expensive that stuff is? But I haven’t worked up the courage to tear down all the tile and see how salvageable the original ceiling is.

Repaint the walls. I adore the walls. They are wide, tongue in groove wooden planks. Exactly what I would have chosen, given the choice. Maybe they just need a good scrubbing

The dishwasher is also a disaster but I don’t want to talk about it. The only good thing about it is it’s not the previous dishwasher:

It always looked like it wanted to see its son with its own eyes one time before it died.

Thing I am resigned to: This windowsill.

Everyone needs to cram random crap on this windowsill, and I accept that. I clear it off every few months, and they load it up again.

I would like to replace the windows themselves, as they currently house many, many spiders that I can’t get at; but it’s not at the top of my list. The porch outside the window makes it dark anyway. Maybe we just need to tear the porch off . . .

And here’s where I practice saying “Baby steps” to myself, even though “cleansing fire” sounds so much better.

What’s for supper? Vol. 76: You say potato, I say tomato

What’s new in my kitchen? WELL, halfway through a week positively bristling with extra activities, I was seized with a terrible compulsion to completely rearrange the room. And I did a good job!

I now have a dedicated potato shelf. Didn’t realize how much I wanted that. And a special bowl just for cabbage and power cords. And you no longer have to take the toaster off the shelf and put it on the stove and plug it in when you need toast forty-six times a day. And the cooking utensils are now next to the stove, in case you want to, like, have them when you’re cooking. And I pulled the sharp, rusty, fluorescent light fixture down, so now instead of getting your scalp sliced open, you’re only in danger of being electrocuted in the head.

My gin collection is no longer constantly tumbling into the sink. The window isn’t blocked with a Basket Full O’ Misc. The most-used pots are sitting on a shelf, instead of endlessly tumbling backward through that black hole where the corner cabinets, which block 85% of the heating vent, were installed to maximize space wastage.

I threw out the giant Sony radio/CD player/cassette player and two enormous speakers that we won in a raffle in 1998 and which hasn’t worked since 2013. Best of all, I kicked the Rubbermaid sock and underwear dresser out of the room. (Yes, I literally kicked it.) It’s my kitchen, dammit.

So, three walls are much, much improved, with future improvement feeling manageable. There is still one Wall of Shame, where I keep three overflowing laundry baskets, several belts, aprons, and fly swatters, two tote bags of tights, dozens of reusable shopping bags, a felt First Communion banner or two, four broken lunch boxes, wrapping paper, eleven cowboy hats, some glow sticks, flags, Christmas decorations, 750 ml of homemade vanilla extract, and misc. And that one movable cabinet is now over the other 15% of the heating vent. And you can’t plug in the microwave anywhere.

As my therapist would say, “Let’s talk about that next time.”

Oh, right, food blog. Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Hamburgers, chips, hummus and carrots, root beer floats

NTR.

***

SUNDAY
One-pan “chicken bruschetta” with parmesan potatoes; garlic bread; salad; rice krispie treats

I love these one-pan meals. Sometimes they come together as astonishing revelations, like the bacon, brussels sprouts, and fried eggs with balsamic, honey, and hot pepper one.

Other times, like with the chicken bruschetta meal, they don’t really meld, and they feel a tiny bit gimmicky, but still: Here is a panful of different kinds of hot food that is yummy. What’s to complain?

(Hey, did you see that map that shows the boundary line between Potato Europe (top) and Tomato Europe (bottom)? (There are other maps, too, but this one went right to my heart.)

Them tomatoes were good, though. I would have been happy with actual bruschetta, skip the chicken.

Oh, dessert. A few weeks ago, I bought a couple of pan for making miniature shaped cakes on clearance, similar to these, but way cheaper. In my head, I had visions of elbowing a startled Nigella Lawson aside in my haste to sift a fine shower of cocoa powder over the tops of these elegantly turned-out confections, or possibly concocting a shimmering lemon-and-rosewater glaze using only my left pinkie.

Well, we made rice krispie treats. They turned out fine, if not completely commensurate with the picture in my head.

And thus the god of low expectations was appeased for another week.

***

MONDAY
Chicken burgers, fruit plate

I do love chicken burgers, especially with a little horseradish sauce. The fruit was cantaloupe, grapes, and strawberries.

Purty. It may be #&*^$*# snowing outside, but strawberries are on sale.

***

TUESDAY
Spaghetti and meat sauce, salad

I fried up a couple of pounds of loose sausage and a couple of pounds of sliced mushrooms, then added them to some jarred sauce. Good enough for a rainy day.

***

WEDNESDAY
Tacos, tortilla chips

Wednesday was the day I went berserk with the kitchen layout, so I have no memory of actual dinner. Just a bunch of running around in little circles, clasping my hands, and mooing throatily, “It just feels like there’s more space! It really does!”

Someone started a rumor that there were avocados, but there weren’t.

***

THURSDAY
Honey mustard lemon chicken, cole slaw, frozen corn

This is a fine, easy recipe, good for potlucks or picnics. Coat some chicken drumsticks or wings in oil with salt and pepper, and roast them until the skin is crisp.
Make a sauce out of honey, mustard, and lemon juice, in whatever proportions seem nice to you, and mix the chicken up with the sauce while it’s still hot. Refrigerate several hours or overnight, and eat it cold. Very tasty, if messy.

I actually made the chicken on Wednesday, hoping to persuade myself that I had value as a human being because I can cook chicken ahead of time. On Thursday, I woke up and went running before I had my coffee, and felt terrible about myself all day, but good about my kitchen. Which just goes to show that you think you know a person, but you don’t. Even if that person is you. Then I got a haircut.

***

FRIDAY
Tuna boats with cheese, maybe risotto, green peppers?

I suppose I will put tuna in hot dog buns, drape them with American cheese, and put them in the oven? Is that how you do that?