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Gifts for People Who Like Food and Cooking

7 Dec

Though I know well enough to leave the real gift guides to the professionals, I thought it might be nice to offer a few casual, less formal ideas about gifts that would please any lover of food and cooking.

Extra-long, pocket-less apron

Most people who like to cook are already going to have an apron or two, but if those people are anything like me, they are going to be less than thrilled with the styles of aprons offered by most shops.  I prefer a plain, unfussy apron, which is surprisingly difficult to find.  I also like a long apron when I cook, because I have been known to inexplicably fling food all the way down the front of my pants.  Because of this same propensity for active mess-making, I also prefer an apron without pockets, as the last thing I desire after cooking a meal is the unexpected discovery of a pocketful of flour or a lone, errant prawn.  This apron comes in every color imaginable, and it’s got an adjustable neck for us shorties.

100% organic, fair trade, fresh roasted coffee

Cafe Mam five pound bag

I am fortunate to live in a city that offers many a choice of places to get great coffee, but I know that great coffee is not so readily available everywhere else in the country (or even the state).  Cafe Mam offers totally organic, fair trade Arabica coffee that is roasted to order, which means that when you place your order, your coffee gets roasted right then, just for you.  Impressively, all of the coffee is available to order at a price of under $10 a pound, which is unheard of for such high quality coffee.  I like the tango blend the best, which is half French roast, half Italian roast–two very bold, dark flavors.  The two darker roasts are great together, and they offer a robust and flavorful cup that is never scorched or the least bit bitter.  The flavor grows subtly sweeter as the cup cools–always a good sign.  All roasts are available in 1 pound or 5 pound bags.  Get a 5 pound bag and split it up into 1 pound portions for stocking stuffers for the coffee lovers in your life.

The Tummy Trilogy, by Calvin Trillin

The Tummy Trilogy: American Fried Alice, Let's Eat, Third Helpings Cover

If Ruth Reichl is the mistress of sultry food writing, with her talk of apples and noodles somehow made erotic and otherworldly, Calvin Trillin is your best friend or favorite uncle who likes to sit around with you and chat about what you both like to eat.  Trillin, essentially, is a whole other world of food writer, because he is not technically a food writer at all.  Funny, informative, touching, and clearly in love with his subject of food, food, food, Calvin Trillin is my all time favorite writer who writes about food, which is the only thing I can think to call him without undermining all the great, non-food writing he has also done.

Pie cutter

10 inch Stainless Steel 8 Cut Pie Cutter
I was introduced to these when I worked at the restaurant and bakery that made the drain-clogging fresh fruit pies.  All of the pies were portioned out with this type of cutter, with a 6-slice pie cutter used for baked pies, and a 5-slice cutter used for fresh fruit pies and cream pies (yeah, I remember).  A few years ago, when I made several pies for a party, I splurged on a couple these and, lord, do I love them.  Though the pie cutters are meant more for making even portions than doing all of your slicing for you (you’ll still have to complete each slice with a knife or sharp pie cutter), if you have to serve a lot of people at lot of pie, say, after a holiday dinner, these are a great tool to have.
If you know someone who is enamored with local produce, loves to create meals out of unexpected ingredients, and enjoys being surprised by a new selection of vegetables and fruit inhabiting their house from week to week, consider gifting that person a CSA share from a local farm.  CSA shares are a fantastic way to get to know local farms and farmers, and there is no better way to receive a steady stream of super local, super fresh produce and meats.  That’s right.  I said meats.  Think CSA shares only provide people with boxes of seasonal vegetables?  Not so.  Many farms offer meat shares, and you can sometimes split your share with another family (should the idea of receiving an entire quarter of a pig prove a bit too daunting).  Local Harvest is a great resource for finding local farms in your area that offer CSA shares and meat shares.  Just plug your zip code or state into the CSA farm finder on the right side of the page, and a huge (really huge—the Oregon list was 24 pages long–that’s pages of listings, not just listings themselves–and the New York list topped out at 41 pages) list of farms offering CSA options will appear for your perusal.
Coming soon: a gift list for kids who like being in the kitchen!

Can This Kitchen Be Remodeled for Under $400?

14 Mar

Jay and Krista live in a fantastically charming 1927 bungalow.  Their house has four bedrooms, one palatial chicken coop in the backyard, and a kitchen that holds onto a mishmash of at least one detail from each of the eight decades that have passed since the house was built.

Jay and Krista would love to redo their kitchen but, as is the case with many people, they don’t have the funds available for a major kitchen overhaul.  This, of course, doesn’t mean they have to be stuck with their kitchen as it now exists.  Even with the tiniest of budgets, a lot can be accomplished if you are willing to spend in time what you won’t be spending in money.

Here is Jay and Krista’s kitchen as it now stands:

Pros: the footprint is roomy, the layout is very workable, the appliances are relatively new and very functional, and there is ample room for storage.  Cons: the worn, mismatched cabinets are from three different eras, there is no unifying design to the kitchen, the room lacks the finished character of the rest of the house.

With this kitchen, the most efficient thing to do is work with what the kitchen already has, then build from there.  Painting the cabinets, rather than replacing them, would do wonders for adding a sense of cohesion.  Even if the styles of the cabinets don’t happen to match, Jay and Krista can help integrate the cabinets by painting them a crisp, simple white, then outfitting them with some well designed pulls and knobs.

The simple white cabinets and appliances will be served well with some pulls that make a statement without being garish or out of synch with the rest of the home’s style.  This updated version of a classic bin pull (from Ikea) would be a clean fit:

GREJ Handle  Length: 3 7/16 " Depth: 1 " Hole spacing: 2 1/2 " Package quantity: 2 pack  Length: 88 mm Depth: 25 mm Hole spacing: 64 mm Package quantity: 2 pack

For a hit of Art Deco flavor, Home Depot offers this cabinet knob in a satin nickel finish that could be paired nicely with its drawer pull counterpart:

Or, for a more playful look, mixing and matching the Deco-style bin pulls on the drawers with these vintage-style glass pulls (also from Home Depot) on the cabinets would  create some nice play off of the floor color without being too cloying:

For just about $100, Jay and Krista could replace the length of laminate countertop along their sink wall with a long slab of butcher block.  These butcher block countertops from Ikea are handsome, affordable, and, if treated properly, very durable.
LAGAN Countertop  Length: 49 5/8 " Depth: 25 5/8 " Thickness: 1 1/8 "  Length: 126 cm Depth: 65 cm Thickness: 2.8 cm
The butcher block-topped drawers next to the stove are an invaluable addition of storage and counter space, and by simply extending the length of the countertop all the way to the wall, the counter can be made even more useful, and the drawer unit will instantly look more built-in.  Conveniently, since Jay and Krista would need to buy two slabs of wood to complete the length of the sink wall, they would have enough materials left over to replace this existing butcher block counter.  As for the drawers that sit beneath the counter, I am actually rather fond of the blue/green color they’ve been painted.  If the rest of the cabinets get painted white, that small pop of color will play nicely against the white appliances and blue and green floor.
Jay and Krista’s sink and faucet are in great condition, so there is no need to replace them.  However, to really complete the look of the sink wall, adding a simple backsplash of white subway tile will provide a crisp, finished look for a shockingly small amount of money.  Two boxes of white 6″x3″ subway tile (with plenty leftover) from Home Depot, plus the cost of tiling materials, will set Jay and Krista back just $50.
All that for under $400?  Definitely.  To break it down, here’s a list of what Jay and Krista would need to buy in order to complete this renovation:
Drawer & cabinet pulls: $75-$100
Paint and primer: $50
Tile: $39
Counters: $98
Various tiling, painting, and construction supplies: $50-$75
Final cost: $312-$362
Not bad for a total kitchen overhaul, and definitely doable for Jay and Krista.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting updates on Jay and Krista’s kitchen.  The fun thing about this project is that Jay and Krista are soliciting remodeling ideas from a couple of other people, so I’ll be able to keep track of their ideas and progress as they decide on the best course of action.  Whether they decide to complete a budget DIY remodel or a more intense kitchen overhaul, I can’t wait to see the finished product.

The $700 Kitchen Remodel

23 Feb

A little while ago I documented the remodeling of an entire kitchen for just under $5000, an undertaking that, while done on a budget, was also completed with a small nest egg of money that had been set aside for the sole purpose of putting towards a new kitchen.  But what if your budget for remodeling an entire house fell into the $5000 range?  It is in that type of situation that, once again, the fortitude to commit to hard work (and the temporary loss of your evening and weekend leisure time) will reward you.

This was the kitchen that came with David’s 1926 bungalow.  The kitchen was not original to the house, and, like many other parts of the home, seemed to have undergone a remodel sometime during the 1970s.  The cabinets were heavily lacquered and sticky with years of grease and neglect.  The laminate countertops were peeling up at the corners, and the sharp metal seams that connected the laminate backsplash were viciously rusty.  In addition to featuring several different types of both wallpaper and wood paneling, the kitchen also had a very strange, and very inconvenient, layout.  The refrigerator blocked one half of a large window on the south side of the room, and the stove sat alone along an interior wall.

The first thing David did was swap the locations of the stove and the refrigerator.  The second thing he did was purchase a new refrigerator, on account of the fact that moving the old refrigerator unearthed the long-ago decomposed body of a mouse that was hidden in the refrigerator’s drip pan.  After the appliance swap, attention was focused on the kitchen’s layers of paneling, wallpaper, and acoustic ceiling tiles (the tiles were not dropped down, they were just glued to the plaster ceiling).  It took months of work, but after endless sessions of late-night scraping, peeling, sanding, and patching, the walls and ceiling were ready to be repainted.  Along with the walls being painted, new wainscoting was installed on their lower halves, then painted a crisp white.  The upper cabinets were removed and replaced, and the lower cabinets were then sanded, primed, and painted.  After the kitchen was completed, there wasn’t a single surface in it that hadn’t been replaced or refinished.

The upper cabinets were found at the ReBuilding Center, and all they required was a light coat of paint to brighten them up.  David also added a small perimeter of crown moulding to the tops of the cabinets, just to made them look more finished.  The stove and portable dishwasher were given to him for free by friends who were upgrading to newer appliances.  The sink and faucet were replaced for around $75, and the curtains were handmade from old tablecloths.

The granite tiles for the countertop were found on sale at Home Depot for around $1.50 a square foot.  The slate backsplash tiles were another Home Depot sale find.  David bought three boxes of mixed tiles for under $1 a square foot.

The kitchen’s old eating nook was a sea of wallpaper, faux wood paneling, cheap trim, and one very questionable light fixture.

Once the space was gutted and refreshed, the nook was reborn as a bright and welcoming corner in an equally friendly new kitchen.

The most shocking thing about this entire kitchen remodel (aside from the incredible brightness that was achieved without adding windows or additional lighting), was the fact that the purchase of the new refrigerator accounted for nearly 45% of the total cost.  If you subtract the $300 for the fridge, everything else that was done in the kitchen priced out at around $400.  While it’s true that a great deal of money was saved by not having to pay for the replacement stove and new dishwasher, it must also be noted that by not hiring contractors, painters, and tilers, this kitchen remodel was achieved for 1/10th of what it might have otherwise cost.  Many weekends may have been sacrificed, but I don’t imagine David–or his wallet–ever mourned the loss of those days.

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