I’ve been using a humongous plastic storage bin as my bedroom nightstand for six months — it’s standing in for the old ratty one which I sold on Craigs List because I thought this act might force me to actually make the effort to, you know, find something nicer to replace it with. There’s a table in the TV room that Andy and I have been meaning to upgrade since 1996, when we moved into our first apartment together. There’s the Tintin mural I keep promising I’ll finish for Phoebe, and the corkboard wall I promise I’ll look into for Abby so she has a place in her room to pin photos of Drogba, and her pals, and the US Women’s Olympic soccer team. But the kitchen…oh the kitchen! That’s another story entirely! It’s my office. It’s command central. It’s homework station. It’s where school backpacks explode their bulletins and artwork and worksheets and where fights explode over who packed lunch last night. It’s where all the chaos — I mean — magic happens! And as such, there is no decorative detail to small to obsess over to make sure it’s exactly the way I want it. I thought I’d give you a recap of my favorites.
The Red Chairs. My feeling has always been: If you have a chance to add color, why wouldn’t you? The dining chairs above are from the DWR Warehouse (and hard to find online), but Ikea has an affordable knockoff called the Bojnes that can be painted any old color you’d like. Some other options: My sister bought one of these Jake Chairs from Room & Board for a pop of color at her kitchen desk, and I love them. (I keep meaning to buy one for Abby’s bedroom desk.) One of these from hivemodern is bound to work. (Warning: Do not click that link if you plan on being productive in the next few hours.)
The Fairy Lights. A lot of you asked about those lights hanging over the patio doors after watching the Dinner: A Love Story video. They’re just your standard issue fairy lights purchased at holiday time for about $3.99 at our local hardware store. I meant to take them down after the holidays were over…but that was three years ago. Now they get illuminated for special occasions — like half birthdays, student government triumphs, soccer game victories, the first juicy apricot of the season. You know, the real family holidays.
The Cabinet Dollhouse. As you may or may not know by now, my 8-year-old is obsessed with dollhouses. There is literally nothing she can’t turn into characters to create an imaginary world — binder clips, restaurant sugar packets, sprinkle jars. When she was younger, I started making these makeshift dollhouses for her inside the kitchen cabinets so she could be underfoot while I cooked dinner. She picked photographs of rooms she found in shelter and design magazines, then we created a composite house out of these pictures, using blue tape around each room to give it some structure. My favorite thing about it? No clean up required: You shut the door and it’s gone. One warning: Putting them together, though, is always a little bit crushing: All I can ever think about is the day when she grows out of it and I’m going to have to take it down. OK, woo boy….onward.
The Family Chalkboard. I started this calendar so the girls could have a handle on their schedules — it took them a long time to remember things like pottery’s on Wednesday and ballet’s on Thursday — but now, when we write up the week’s lineup it’s more like a reminder of how freaking fun it is to be a kid. Andy and I are constantly looking at the schedule saying How lucky are you? Class trip to the Bronx Zoo? Pottery camp? Playdate with Jenna? You can imagine how sick of this routine they get. My chalkboard decal is no longer available but I like the look of this if you are in the market for one.
The Recipe Door. I think the best feedback from the book so far has been from new mothers, along these lines: “It just helps to know that I’m going through this with someone who understands.” It does, doesn’t it? I’m not just appreciative that Andy is my partner in this whole family dinner enterprise, I’m grateful that we’re making dishes our grandparents made for our parents at their family dinner tables which makes it feel like they’re in it with us, too. This is part of the reason I had an artist paint some old family recipes into the cabinet door. It instantly made the kitchen personal — and made us feel like our extended family was eating and cooking right along with us. I had access to the masterful Gina Triplett (whose work you no doubt know even if you think you don’t) because I was working at a magazine at the time it was commissioned, but if I were to do it again, I’d go through Etsy or ask the director of our local arts program to recommend the school’s top student.
The Mason Jars. I spent more time at Real Simple than I did at college. That means, among other things, that I am at all times walking around with a catalog of time-saving, money-saving, energy-saving tips; that I have an unhealthy expectation of the promise of order a three-ringed binder can deliver; and it means I love mason jars. What doesn’t look organized and calming when decanted into these things? To take it to the next level — it’s my kitchen! why not? — I personalized jars for the girls to give them some investment in the spice mixtures I was sprinkling on their dinners. This is a smoked-paprika/cinnamon/ cumin spice combo I used for Phoebe’s favorite shrimp and yogurt dinner. (See page 130 of the book for the recipe.)
Command Central. Last year, I went into great detail about my kitchen desk — aka Command Central — and how just standing in front of it makes me feel as though I’m in control, even when this is decidedly not the case. Then again, I am the one who writes down every dinner I make in a diary (there it is on the desk) because I like to find ways to trick myself into feeling like I have a handle on things. Everything happens at Kitchen Command Central: class lists, calendars, babysitter numbers, emergency numbers, photos of the nieces and nephews, and, of course, takeout menus for those nights I just can’t get my act together to even put together the most basic skillet dinner.
The Cookbook Shelf. See above, re: not feeling so alone. In my book, there’s a whole chapter about the cookbooks I’ve learned from and continue to draw inspiration from. And not just for recipes. I’ve never once made a recipe from Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book, but it’s done more to inform this blog than probably any other book you see up there, including Bittman and maybe Marcella. Maybe. I’m always collecting new books, so the top shelf is usually in flux — but the bottom row is like playing This is Your Life: The Family Dinner Version. I go back to them again and again for instruction and reference.
The Boston Terrier. Poor Iris. She never gets her 15 minutes of fame on this blog or in the book. It’s not that I don’t love her — Andy has probably said “I think you love Iris more than me” once a day for three years — it’s that once I go down the Iris road, I fear I won’t come back. And then I’m a blogger who writes about her dog. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing — what I’m saying is that I’d most likely be reduced to speaking in babytalk and using words like smoochie poochie. And that is not a good place to be. What I will say, though, is that the energy she brings to the kitchen is infectious and even though she wants to play fetch with everything — socks, new sandals, tennis balls, Lego figurines — all day long, especially during dinner prep remarkably like a toddler might, I can’t imagine my family kitchen without her.