This post is by contributing writer Lori Hernandez of Third Day Farms.
“The kitchen in the heart of the home.”
Can I get an “Amen!” my real foodie friends?!?
Since making the switch from the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) to preparing and cooking real foods, the kitchen has easily become the most highly trafficked room in our home. It truly has become the heart and soul of our home…and even our whole lives! This is where I spend countless hours with my family, where my friends gather and linger, where everyone feels most comfortable.
When we were searching for new home 6 years ago, a welcoming and functional kitchen was our highest priority. In our previous home, my kitchen was disconnected from the main living areas. It was dark and uninviting, with no windows. It was my least favorite room in the house. I wanted our next home to have a kitchen that could be the central hub of the home.
After looking at countless homes, we finally ended up buying a 1880’s farmhouse that had not been “updated” since the 1940’s. While the kitchen certainly was not my “dream kitchen,” it was spacious, central and had lots of potential. Our home repair budget was tiny, but we have managed to design a kitchen that is highly functional, warm and inviting, and the heart of our home.
One of my favorite things about going to a new friend’s house is exploring their kitchen. You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their kitchen! Did you see Becca’s pantry tour featured recently? I love getting new ideas from fellow foodies!
Today, I invite you into MY kitchen, so you can learn more about us!
When we moved to our “new” 1880’s farmhouse, this is what our kitchen looked like.
Carpet?!? Who puts carpet in a kitchen? I’ve lived in 2 houses my adult life and both had carpeted kitchens and bathrooms. Ick!
With two small kids, two dogs and a cat, the carpet had to go. That was about all our budget allowed, so for a few years we lived with our kitchen looking exactly like this, minus the carpet (there was really old linoleum underneath).
We finally were able to set aside some cash for a low-budget remodel/face-lift about 2 years ago. Unfortunately, as homesteaders with a million other farm projects going at the same time, small children to care for and a husband who works other jobs outside the home, the remodeling was slow going. Our kitchen looked like this for longer than we had hoped!
Trying to process, freeze and can all our garden produce during major kitchen construction was a challenge to say the least, but somehow I even managed to can peaches without having a kitchen sink. Now that is dedication!
Then, after lots of hard work and countless coats of paint, we had the kitchen of our dreams. Ta-da!
As I said, we had a very small budget to work with. Here are a few things we did to save piles of cash:
- We kept the original floor. Underneath layers of carpet and linoleum, we discovered the original wood floor. It was in very rough shape and even had lots of burn marks from where a wood stove must have been at one time, but my husband managed to salvage the floor and refinish it. It looks great in our old home.
- We kept the original cabinets. Because our house is so old and there is no such thing as a straight line in a crooked old home, we decided putting in new cabinets would be disastrous. My husband used wood trim pieces to “dress up” the cabinet fronts. The trim, 5 coats of paint and new knobs made a HUGE difference.
- The counters are actually hardwood flooring, sanded and sealed with water based polyurethane. We bought unfinished wood flooring planks, the most inexpensive kind they sell with lots of streaks and knots that give the woods loads of character.
- My husband shopped at Habitat for Humanity for components to build the island. The dishwasher installed in the island was a steal off Craigslist.
My Favorite Things
Now that our kitchen is (mostly!) finished, let me give you a little tour and show you the features/items I love!
Shelf/Ledge Over the Stove: This has to be one of my favorite features in our new kitchen. It’s so handy to have my frequently used oils/fats (olive oil, coconut oil, butter and beef tallow) and seasonings (sea salt and cracked pepper) easily accessible when I’m cooking. It saves me valuable time when I need to get dinner on the table fast.
Kitchen Scale: I know that all the baking cookbooks recommend digital scales, but after buying two of them and having them be ridiculously imprecise and breaking all the time, I decided to go with an old school kitchen scale.
I love the way it looks sitting on my counter (aesthetics are important!) and it’s great for weighing produce when I’m canning or freezing. It gets used several times a week, so it has earned a home on the counter.
In-Sink Sponge Holder: This handy, dandy little holder neatly contains everything I need to tackle dirty dishes.
I use the Magic Eraser to clean stubborn stains on crockery and to remove Sharpie marker from mason jars (I label jars with marker).
The mesh onion bag works wonders cleaning cast iron pans, which I use almost exclusively for cooking.
Last of all, the Norwex Spirrinet Scrubbers are quite possibly the best kitchen cleaning tool I’ve ever come across. I had a steel pot with burned on applesauce that I simply could not remove. I tried everything and ended up just living with it for 2 years.
A friend recommended I try the Norwex Spirrinet on the spot – it removed it in 2 seconds. I was sold!!! Seriously, I don’t know how I managed without these!
Oh, and I just love having plants by the sink. If I’m going to spend hours at the sink washing dishes, it sure is nice to have something green and growing that makes me smile.
Compost Bucket: We do not have a garbage disposal, and I simply cannot bear to throw food/organic matter in the trash. Composting and feeding scraps to our chickens has been our solution. This compost bucket is attractive and looks nice on the counter.
ALL food scraps go in the buckets and about every other day, the bucket is emptied into the compost pile by the garden. Our free range chickens hop right in the compost pile and eat what they want. During the long Michigan winters, I often dump the contents in the chicken coop if the compost pile is starting to get too high.
Toaster Oven: We had room on the counter for either a microwave or a toaster over. We chose a Kitchen Aid toaster oven and have never looked back.
It’s fantastic for reheating food and I use it often in the summer for baking/cooking when I don’t want to heat up the kitchen with my full size oven. I chose the largest one I could find, so that I could fit a whole plate in it. It easily holds a 1/4 sheet pan for baking.
Farmhouse Sink: Ahhh, the crowning jewel for my kitchen! How I adore this sink! For years, I battled with a small sink that could not accommodate the large pots and pans I used/washed on a daily basis.
When we remodeled the kitchen, we decided that the sink was one area that we would splurge on. On a trip to IKEA, we saw this Double Bowl Apron Front Farmhouse Sink and fell in love immediately – with the sink and the price!
The apron front style looks great in our farmhouse kitchen and the bowls are HUGE. I nearly cried tears of joy when I discovered my large canning pot easily fit in the bowl.
This sink still makes me smile every day, which is a good thing, because I spend hours in front of it washing dishes! Oy. You know what I’m talking about, real foodie friends!
The secret to freezing in mason jars is to ONLY use jars with totally straight sides, no “shoulder” at all. Wide mouth pint jars are perfect, as well as the wide mouth pint-and-a-half jars. Regular mouth jam/jelly jars work too!
We also use mason jars almost exclusively as drinking glasses, since the set of glasses we bought 15 years ago kept breaking. Mason jars are my go-to for storing leftovers and I pack my husband’s lunch in jars day.
They are perfect for storing food in the pantry. Once we open a bag of food (rice, crackers, dried fruit, etc.), I immediately transfer the contents to a mason jar and store it in the pantry. We love mason jars so much we have an entire cupboard dedicated to them.
Spice/Baking Cupboard: I keep my spices, dried herbs (from our garden!) and baking supplies in the cupboard right next to the stove, instead of the pantry, so I’m not wasting any steps in the kitchen. Spices go on a Lazy Susan so I can easily find what I need. Mixing bowls and wooden spoons are right at my fingertips.
Instant Pot: I am not a “gadget-y” person, but the Instant Pot has been worth every penny! Soon after a friend told me about it, Katie here at Kitchen Stewardship started posting all sorts of great Instant Pot recipes. That was all the motivation I needed – I had to have one. You’ve got to love such a multi-purpose kitchen tool!
To be honest, I rarely use mine to cook a whole meal. Instead, I generally use it to cook assorted dry beans, brown rice and steel cut oats. I also love the yogurt making feature.
There are all SORTS of things you can do with an Instant Pot – be sure to check out the recipes Kitchen Stewardship has and maybe even join the Instant Pot Community on Facebook for all kinds of fabulous ideas.
The Instant Pot gets so much use that I’ve never actually put it “away” – I just set it on the floor when I’m done with it for the day!
Storing Real Food
We have several places around the house for storing food, besides the obvious places like a fridge or cupboard.
Pantry: The kitchen came with a pantry, but we expanded it and added shelving. Not only does it store food, but I also use the pantry to house my KitchenAid mixer, food dehydrator and other small kitchen appliances.
Aprons hang on the hook inside the door. A Lazy Susan in the corner makes finding what I need easy.
Freezers: Ummmm…we have 3 freezers and they are all full right now!
First, we have the freezer above our fridge, which is where I keep a small stock of our most commonly used items, like frozen berries for smoothies, frozen chopped veggies, frozen sauces and frozen cooked beans.
We also keep a perpetual bag for veggie scraps/peels (onions, celery, carrots, etc.) that gets used when making chicken stock. Any bread ends/bits are frozen and saved for bread pudding/croutons/bread crumbs.
Our second freezer, the fruit and veggie freezer, is a large upright model. We stock up fruits when they are in season and grow most of our own veggies. In the fall, the freezer is usually stuffed full!
I also store flours, grains and nuts to keep them fresh. In the door are jars of chicken broth, rendered beef tallow and maple syrup (that we boiled down from our trees!).
Our third freezer, the largest chest style model we could find, contains all our meat, along with 50 pound bags of oats and dry beans. It’s not out of the question to have 25 frozen chickens, a whole deer, a 1/2 a hog and 1/4 of beef in the freezer at once.
Freezer Storage Tips – Learn from My Mistake…
If you are considering purchasing an upright or chest freezer, I want to share my story of woe, so you don’t suffer as well!
One day in late summer, I went downstairs to add a few more bags of frozen produce to the upright freezer. I really had to stuff the bags in there. Without my knowledge, one of the bags slipped and fell, causing the freezer door to push open slightly.
I didn’t notice until 2 days later…and by then my entire freezer – my entire year’s worth of food I had worked to so hard to grow, harvest and process was a complete loss.
It was devastating! I took some comfort that our meat was in the chest freezer, so we only lost hundreds of dollars worth of food, not thousands.
After this fiasco, we invested in a freezer alarm and a freezer lock! We also make sure to always keep our meat in the chest freezer – there is no way that door can accidentally open.
Canning Shelves: I do lots of canning in the summer and the canned goods are stored in our cool, dark basement until they are needed upstairs.
Egg Cupboard: We usually keep 15-25 chickens, so we’re often drowning in eggs. It’s not uncommon to have 5-8 dozen eggs in the cupboard at a time! Since we don’t wash the eggs, we can store them safely at room temperature (thank goodness, because I don’t have room for them in the fridge!).
Washing eggs removes their natural protective barrier that keeps out bacteria. Once eggs have been washed and chilled, they should stay that way to keep them safe, since the shells are now permeable.
On top of the cupboard, we keep fruit and veggies. The kids know these are fair game for snacks pretty much any time of day. The cupboard is also a great place to store breads and baked goods.
Our egg cupboard is located right next to the stove, along with cooking fats/spices so whipping up eggs for breakfast is quick and easy. And yes, we have eggs for breakfast pretty much every day!
Keeping it “real”
As most of you know, cooking real food makes a REAL mess! Are you feeling me, real foodie friend?!?
It is a daily struggle to keep my kitchen in a semi-clean state, especially because I’m never “done” in the kitchen. Whether it’s cooking 3 meals a day, packing lunches in the evening, packing lunches in the morning, washing dishes, washing/preserving produce from the garden, cooking broth or yogurt, making kefir, fermenting veggies…there is always a kitchen project in the works, dishes to be washed or drying on the rack, some sort of food on the counter.
This is what my kitchen actually looks like after I get the kids on the bus, after the daily whirl-wind of breakfast, packing lunches and signing school papers (and this was a “good” day – it usually looks worse!).
Often I get frustrated and overwhelmed by the mess, but some days I can see all the blessings contained in this kitchen:
- Farm fresh eggs that make a nourishing breakfast for my kids.
- Kefir fermenting for tasty breakfast smoothies.
- Coffee. The nectar of the gods. Enough said.
- A counter overrun with jars of honey we harvested from our beehives.
- Dishes and pots/pans for cooking healthy food.
- Book Orders and papers from my kids’ awesome school, where they have learned to love reading and seek knowledge.
All these things fill my heart with joy and happiness, and I begin to soften. What a beautiful mess! I’m reminded again that the kitchen truly is the heart of the home.
This is where we come to be nourished in mind, body and soul.
This is where I kiss my husband and children each day.
This is where we laugh, talk and cry. This is where my friends gather around me.
This is where will fill ourselves up before we go out and face the day.
This is our heart.
Take a peek at Katie’s kitchen and get some organizing tips too!