How to Fall In Love with a Kitchen

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When we first moved in, I used to hate our kitchen. I never said it out loud because I didn’t want it to be true. I took feeling this way to be a sign of failure. Oh goodness, I chose a home with a kitchen I didn’t love. Woe is me. It was as if the kitchen negated all the other good decisions we made about buying a home. For months, I couldn’t separate myself from the idea of wanting to replace everything in that space. “One day”, I kept telling myself.

If you told me to make a list of all the things I disliked about the kitchen, I’d tell you “Easy.”

  • The kitchen faced the alleyway where the garages went, an alleyway leading up to a community trash bin followed by a weekend club called La Santa, from whence loud music always came.
  • The location of the kitchen was tucked away from direct sunlight during most of the day, with a small glimmer of hope shining through a lone window in the wee hours of the morning. If you happened to miss waking up early enough to catch it, then all you get for the day is indirect sun.
  • The counter-tops were of the v. cheap variety (with a capital V.). You know the kind, made of chipboard material covered by a plastic stickered surface in this dark gray speckled color. I disliked it’s darkness, plus the undeniable evidences where the counters have gotten wet (especially around the sink area). Pieces of soaked chipboard are, well, chipping away.
  • The cheap, peeling (also stickered) cabinet fronts with their secondary handles. The previous handles had different screw hole locations, which are accentuated by the white plaster material that the previous owners tried to hide them with.
  • The leak underneath the sink every time we ran the dishwasher, which caused flooding in our cabinets creating soaked cabinets floors. My constant worry over mold growth and wood rot. Oh the joy when we finally solved the issue, after having three handimen look at it.
  • The appliances which are black and silver in color. They looked bulky, outdated, and old. The stove and oven were of the cheaper variety, and the fridge jutted past the counter’s edge.
  • Lastly, the previous owner left a kitchen island that was obviously from Ikea, along with two Ikea stools.

I could have rattled this list out in seconds. But sometime between then and now, I have come to love this kitchen. I love it so much that when my friend offered to have her dad renovate the counter-tops that I “hated” for us this week, I started to fear losing them. Which got me to thinking, when did that transition happen? And I realized that sometime between then and now, I simply stopped focusing on all the bad things and started letting the kitchen be what it was meant to be.

After all, I operated an entire bakery in that kitchen. It was where I spent my days for an entire year. I woke up early every morning to mix bread and that’s when I learned of that precious morning light. I put away dishes from a dishwasher that finally worked and as the dough soaked up the water, I made myself a cup of coffee every day. If I set up the pour over to the right of the sink, the light hits the coffee just right to make it look ruby red. I slaved away over that oven, even in the summer’s heat, trusting it to always make my bread rise. I stood around the island, where I shaped thousands of loaves of dough. I settled into those Ikea stools waiting for the next bread turn, sipping hot coffee and writing on this blog. The kitchen and I became best friends, and now I could spew a list of all the things I love, such as:

  • The little corner specifically for our espresso machine, Fellow Stagg Kettle, coffee pour over options, mugs, and coffee grinder. Essentially, a shrine for my coffee making rituals.
  • The way the light enters through that lone window and hits the fronts of the cabinets, giving them a soft dayglow.
  • The reliability of our oven and the largeness of our fridge, both of which have helped me to host gatherings for twelve or more people throughout the year.
  • The cement floors and their coolness on the feet, plus the ease with which I can clean them.
  • The island, which we all use as a common space to meal prep together. And the fact that it’s mobile and contains plenty of storage space.
  • The stove, with enough burners to allow three of us roomies to cook in the kitchen space at the same time.
  • The corner for toasting our sourdough, and the corner for milling our grain.
  • The sink made of steel, which has saved me from shattering my porcelain wares many times over.
  • The fact that the kitchen now exudes Japanese style elements, as well as vintage vibes. Seems silly to put those two in the same sentence, but from some angles, it looks like it’s made from all bamboo wood. And from other angles, it reminds me of a 1950’s progressive Eichler.
  • The fact that the gloominess in the space actually lends a romantic mood all year long. I just want to make coffee or tea and write all day in a sweater.
  • Lastly, the open layout which makes the kitchen center-stage in our home.

With small spaces, I mean, yeah, there are shortcomings. It’s part of the territory. But if we focus on only the bad parts of our lives and homes, then we tend to miss all the good things that, when considered, could lead to love. Because now, I love the kitchen dearly. It is my favorite part of my home.

Finding joy in small spaces requires embracing what you have to work with. Actively searching for beauty in what you already have is more promising than passively pining for what you don’t have. Where will the latter lead you? Most likely, excess consumption of things that give you brief moments of happiness and eventually leave you back at square one.

Once I realized that the kitchen was “good enough”, I stopped saying to myself, “One day.” I started looking forward to saying “Today”. I started to finally live my life.

Today we decided to buy Mike’s dream espresso machine. Since he got rid of his daily work commute, he sold his motorcycle and de-cluttered a few things in order to make up 85% of the machine’s costs. We hadn’t pulled the trigger prior because we kept saying, “Well, if we are getting an espresso machine then we need nicer counter-tops and if we’re getting new counter-tops we might as well address the cabinets and if we’re sizing cabinets then why don’t we make sure we get appliances that lie flush with the new measurements?” After learning to love the kitchen for all its imperfections (wabi sabi and all that), we were able to move on. We’ll just put the espresso machine in our existing coffee corner. It fits just so with the current counter top actually, even though the white will contrast with the gray. I know we will love it either way.

Café de Olla

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On Sundays, we occasionally indulge by making Tartine’s French toast recipe using our homemade sourdough bread. Despite the clash in cultural origin, nothing goes better with a slice of French toast than a cup of Cafe de Olla, in our opinion. We first tried this sweet coffee drink when we dined at Pujol on our trip to Mexico City. We consumed many cups of coffee but the uniqueness of this traditional drink really stands out to me. The bitterness of coffee and the spiciness of cinnamon marries well with the sweetness of piloncillo. Piloncillo is an un-refined brown sugar that is usually shaped in a cone form. When we don’t have it lying around, we substitute brown sugar, but cut the amount to reduce the sweet factor. This coffee is very easy to make, and is the perfect activity while the French toast souffles in the oven.

It is a very easy recipe and the richness of the drink is lovingly understated. In order to make the drink, we use the following kitchen items:

  • Scale – I own this one, because it weighs heavy-enough things for bread-making as well. I also like this because I can toggle between grams and ounces. Mike has this one that he uses for coffee exclusively, which is what we mostly use when measuring coffee bean and water weight. It is especially useful since it has that timer, essential to latte pulls and drip-coffee!
  • Grinder – The grinder plays a huge role in the quality of your brew (or espresso, or latte, or what-have-you). We used to just live with the results of a sub-par grinder, until last Christmas, when our gift to each other was a high quality grinder that has been spewing out delicious cups of Joe ever since.
  • Chemex – You can use any drip-coffee vessel, but we love our Chemex. We like the style with the glass handle, but there are ones with a wooden middle, if aesthetics are more of a concern.
  • Gooseneck Kettle – Precision is key when making a pour-over cup of coffee. We own the Fellow’s stovetop Stagg Kettle and love its slender gooseneck. It allows us to pour water slowly and with control. Plus there is a thermometer lid which ensures the correct water temperature each time (a must!). I would recommend this brand to anyone who wants to make a good pour-over. If you would like, they have an electric version too!
  • Filter – We used to buy disposable paper filters for our Chemex. Over the holidays, Mike’s sister gifted us a pair of reusable hemp filter, and we have never thrown a filter out since then. Surprisingly, it is such an easy clean up process. You simply wash it like you would a towel and hang to dry.
    A similar one, here.

Ingredients:

  • 1L water
  • 50 g piloncillo (unrefined brown sugar)
  • 1 cinnamon sticks
  • 25 g coarsely ground coffee

Instructions:

  1. Add the water, cinnamon, and piloncillo in a saucepan.
  2. Bring the water to a boil for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Add ground coffee and stir.
  4. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and allow to steep for five minutes.
  5. Filter the liquid using a Chemex.
  6. Pour into a mug and enjoy.

At-Home Cold-Brew

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It’s my favorite season again; cold brew season! Iced coffee in glass cups behind tall windows, as your whole being gets warmed by a magnified sun. It used to be that I would enjoy nothing more than biking to a favorite local coffee spot, ordering a glass of cold brew, and being swallowed by a nook with one of their magazines to peruse. I wouldn’t say “gone were the days”, but I did shift some habits within the last year, and paying $4 a cold brew a few times a week stopped being something I looked forward to. Luckily, I’ve got Mike to guide my hand in creating my own at home. The truth of the matter is, it’s a very simple process that hardly takes time or work at all. It can be steeped overnight as you sleep and dream of coffee things, and then pre-prepared and stored in the fridge in batches of 10-20 cups. According to Mike, it should only last a week in the fridge, but that’s not much of a problem at our house. Plus, I consider less than $1/cup a frugal win. The best part? Accessibility of iced-coffee drinks, at all times.

Tools You Need:

There are a few gadgets that you will need in order to make cold-brew at home. These are some of our gadgets that we are not impartial to.

  • Scale – I own this one, because it weighs heavy-enough things for bread-making as well. I also like this because I can toggle between grams and ounces. Mike has this one that he uses for coffee exclusively, which is what we mostly use when measuring coffee bean and water weight. It is especially useful since it has that timer, essential to latte pulls and drip-coffee!
  • Grinder – The grinder plays a huge role in the quality of your brew (or espresso, or latte, or what-have-you). We used to just live with the results of a sub-par grinder, until last Christmas, when our gift to each other was a high quality grinder that has been spewing out delicious pours ever since.
  • French Press – Mike has owned a French press way before a Chemex or an espresso machine, and this may have been his first introduction to coffee. To be honest, prior to the habit shift of making cold-brews at home, all the French press has done the last couple of years is look pretty on a shelf. I am so glad that I can finally make use of this beauty once again.
  • Chemex – You can use any drip-coffee vessel, but we love our Chemex. We like the style with the glass handle, but there are ones with a wooden middle, if aesthetics are more of a concern. We use it for extracting hot coffee brews as well, but the summer time is going to change that.
  • Gooseneck Kettle – Precision is key when making a pour-over cup of coffee. We own the Fellow’s stovetop Stagg Kettle and love its slender gooseneck. It allows us to pour water slowly and with control. Plus there is a thermometer lid which ensures the correct water temperature each time (a must!). I would recommend this brand to anyone who wants to make a good pour-over. If you would like, they have an electric version too!
  • Filter – We used to buy disposable paper filters for our Chemex. Over the holidays, Mike’s sister gifted us a pair of reusable hemp filter, and we have never thrown a filter out since then. Surprisingly, it is such an easy clean up process. You simply wash it like you would a towel and hang to dry.
    A similar one, here.
  • Fresh, whole coffee beans (To make about 10 cups, use 125 grams of coffee beans to 500 mL of water. For about 20 cups, use 250 grams of coffee beans to 1 L of water.
  • Water
  • Serving vessel or container – To store my cold-brew concentrate, I simply use mason jars (surprise, surprise). We DO have refillable howlers and growlers, wherein Mike likes to store already-diluted cold-brew.

The Process:

  1. Weigh the appropriate amount of coffee beans and grind them at a medium-coarse setting. If you are using the same grinder as us, we usually have the setting around 9E.
  2. Set the French press on top of the scale and add the ground coffee. Tare the scale.
  3. Fill the French press with the proper amount of cold water. Use a spoon to stir the coffee, making sure all the grounds are wet.
  4. Put the lid of the French press into place and press the filter down just enough to submerge the coffee below the water. Let the coffee steep at room temperature for about 12 hours. Usually we prepare this part in the evening around dinner time. We then leave it on the counter overnight and it is ready to be prepared the next morning. You can also make this in the morning before you head off to work, and then in the evening, you can continue the steps and let it cool in the fridge overnight. Really, this is very flexible for multiple schedules.
  5. After 12 hours, slowly plunge the filter to the bottom of the French press.
  6. Place the filter in the Chemex. Pour the cold brew concentrate from the French press through the filter, letting the coffee drip through.
  7. Before drinking, you will need to dilute the cold-brew concentrate using the following ratio: 1 part concentrate to 3 parts water, making sure to use a scale for accuracy. For the non-picky, you can always eyeball it, or decide based on your taste preference. For the especially particular, measuring is the way to go. Pour over ice. This can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week, before it starts to degrade. For me personally, I just store the concentrate and ration it out whenever I am ready to drink. Mikey likes everything pre-prepared for even more accessibility throughout the week. To each their own!