Archive for the ‘Kitchen’ Category

Our essential kitchen: a baker’s rack

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007


Yes, a four foot wide baker’s rack was our kitchen for eighteen months in the Italianate.  It works better than you might think.  This picture is after the full-sized kitchen was finally completed, and the rack in the garage where it was waiting patiently to be called back into service.  (Or moved.  It’s in storage now.)  I couldn’t get far enough away to show the whole kit and caboodle.

Nor do I have a picture of it in its installed glory but here are the key elements for a temporary kitchen:

  1. Lots of electrical appliances that you use one at a time
    1. Coffee pot 
    2. Electric skillet (Don received one as a Christmas present from 1987 that he’d never assembled; it still had the gift receipt on the box)
    3. Hot plate
    4. Microwave (kept elsewhere on a separate circuit)
    5. Slow cookers (two)
    6. Rice cooker
    7. Electric griddle
    8. Toaster oven (oversized for cupcakes and small loaf pans of quick breads)
  2. A electrical strip with surge protector so I don’t have to visit the basement in the middle of fixing dinner
  3. Gigantic cutting board
  4. 365 Easy One Dish Meals 
  5. Plastic, lidded tubs for keeping spices clean during construction
  6. Lidded silverware tub for keeping silverware clean
  7. At least three dish tubs (dirty, clean, in process)
  8. The baker’s rack itself, with two storage shelves beneath and another above, and hooks for hanging measuring cups and pots and corkscrews and a small shelf for frequently used spices (the primary shelf actually had a wood countertop, but it warped so we didn’t keep it after the kitchen was done)
  9. And a fridge.

We bought the rack from the now-defunct Hold Everything! store on North Michigan Avenue when we were newlyweds living on Howe.  (Was it in the Bloomingdale’s building?)  It held our pots and pans and expanded our galley kitchen just enough.  We designed some of our Kensington kitchen around it.  It fit quite nicely on the stair wall. 

Where it really shone in all its glory, however, was during our very long-term kitchen remodel on Ashland.  We had it in the living room in front of the fireplace, and it was our kitchen for most of the time we lived there. 

Its main problem was the size of the working triangle.  Our French door fridge was 10 feet away, our sink was 15 feet away (in the powder room), and our dishwashing sink was a laundry sink in the basement.  (Thank you again, Don — I tried washing dishes in the laundry sink once, and my back was practically destroyed from that one time.  He washed dishes in it the whole time.)  Otherwise, it was a good kitchen.  And we ate much better than we did when we had no kitchen for six months three years earlier — that time, I think I lived on Pop Tarts.  (The Little One was a newborn, so that was part of my excuse.)  (We did have a big pantry/mudroom, and a butler’s pantry, and eventually another pantry cabinet, so our primary storage was elsewhere.) 

We baked cupcakes for the Little One’s 3-year-old birthday in the toaster oven.  (We bought a bakery cake from Kirschbaum’s for her 4-year-old birthday.  By then, I was a month away from moving to Arkansas.)  We fixed a multi-dish Christmas brunch for seven adults and four children on the rack — except Don fried bacon in the basement.  On the same electrical circuit as it turned out.  Lots of one-dish meals due to washing challenges, but lots of good food, too.  We even subscribed to Angelic Organic’s vegetable service* the first summer without a kitchen and ate up most of their vegetables each week.  We made pancakes, rice dishes, cookies, cornbread, cupcakes, casseroles, roasts.  You name it, and it’s possible to do if you think about it.  (Cookies are a pain because I always want to cook more than a handful of cookies.  It turns out that baking cupcakes or quick bread in series is fine.  The leavening doesn’t wear out before the loaf goes in.  Didn’t try yeast breads.)  I thought it was much easier than cooking over an open fire, in any event.  Speaking of which, we did very little grilling.  Not sure why, except that Don is the griller and also the home improver.

I hope to add some of my favorite one-dish recipes over the weekend.

*Angelic Organic is taking subscriptions for next year.  Too far for me – I have a local farmer who keeps me in vegetables, but some of you up in Chicago might like to look into it.

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Projects in a 21st Century Modern House, Ikea Kitchen

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Since we lived with my folks for nearly a year, Don has the endearing habit of making himself useful. Our in-law quarters had a little space for a kitchen (think half a hallway), which featured open shelves my dad put together from one-by-sixes and a laminate countertop, with no storage beneath.

We took a road-trip to Dallas (mostly to see my aunt and uncle and check out their most fabulous, ongoing 4-square renovation) and stopped at Ikea. We bought sufficient RTA cabinets to fill the upper wall, in part to see how hard it would be (but mostly to make that space more useful for us). It turned out pretty well.

I built the carcases one afternoon while Don and the Little One were visiting Chicago, and Don and I hung them. Don then assembled and hung the doors.  We got two kinds of doors: the regular swinging doors plus some garage-style doors that open overhead and stay open until you close them.  This project got the microwave off the countertop, and increased storage space considerably.  Not to mention making it look nice.

It’s hard to get a good picture since the kitchen is essentially a hallway, but I’ll try to get Don to take some so we can post later.  The hardest part for me was translating the pictures in the instructions into words.  I’m a lot better at words than figures, but I guess the instruction writers/illustrators were trying to avoid the hilarities that ensue when you translate one language into another.*

*I have just found a most unusual site while looking for examples of funny translations.  It is called the dialectizer, and will translate any web page into a dialect.  For example, I asked it to translate a recent entry by me into redneck.  An excerpt: 

Packers packed th’ almost-adopped o’phan yessuhterday.  Emppied th’ sto’age unit an’ stopped thet corntrack.  (Or, rather, husbin did, cuss it all t’ tarnation.)  … Movahs is supposed t’load an’ leave today.  Husbin is supposed t’leave Chicago (an’ arrive in Fayetteville!) t’morry.  Closin’ is supposed t’be Friday.  Stuff is supposed to show up hyar on Tuesday.  Still some nigglin’ odds an’ inds, but thet’s whut lawyers an’ Realto’s is fo’.  (An’ husbins.)  Ah hope.

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Our other houses, Part 2A (North Howe Kitchen Storage)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

The townhouse I bought on Howe was intended for just me, but one thing led to another, and I wound up getting married and having a husband and his two cats and his stuff move in with me. Don sold his Cape Cod in Munster 24 hours after it was listed (around Thanksgiving), and his stuff and cats joined me between Christmas and New Year’s. (He stayed with his folks for the most part until we got married President’s Day weekend. Good thing, too. I was in crying hysterics over all his stuff on New Year’s Day. Because we were having the carpet replaced in the basement before installing the Murphy wall bed, I didn’t have a single place to sit that wasn’t covered with his stuff, and he was at work, eating bagels and cream cheese due to the Y2K hullabaloo.)

The marriage resulted in us having even more stuff — Besides doubles of all the usual household goods (two vacuum cleaners, two coffee pots, two blenders, two coffee grinders, two sets of china, two sets of silverware, two sets of pots, four slow cookers, knives by the dozen, four linear feet of cookbooks, and cookie sheets and pie plates galore), we had to go back to register for additional wedding gifts because our friends cleaned out the registry. I think we had sixteen place settings of our everyday china, twenty mugs, twelve sets of crystal, not to mention an entire set of Good Grips from Oxo.  Those Grips may be Good, but they are bulky. This excess of good fortune meant that we had to get clever about storage in the kitchen.

The kitchen itself was a small galley. One long side of the galley looked into the living room and the other was the west wall of our townhouse, shared with our neighbor. The kitchen, powder room, and living room comprised the first floor. (Look-out or English basement with wall bed, fireplace, full bath and laundry down a half flight of stairs; two bedrooms and full bath upstairs. Roof deck on top.)

The south exterior wall of the townhouse was less than three feet from our next door neighbor’s house. (Don did some chimney-style climbing there once.) So, the view to the south was essentially their siding. Ummm, nothing special to say the least, but sunny. So, Don installed shelving in our living room and kitchen windows, thereby stopping the eye before reaching the siding and getting the gigantic Good Grips out of my drawers.

Kitchen window shelvingKitchen window with built-in shelving

Living room window shelvingLiving room window with built-in shelving

He also installed a place to hang our wine glasses above our east-facing cabinets. (Hint: Take the crystal down while demolishing the bathroom upstairs, or the vibrations will jiggle them loose into a zillion pieces.)

Crystal storage and wine rackCrystal rack

He even added kitchen storage to our coat closet. (Hooray for Elfa and the Container Store’s regular sales thereof! We’ve reused some of this Elfa in four houses now.)

Elfa shelving in closet just north of the kitchen.jpgCloset with Elfa storage for kitchen and coats

We also had a four-foot baker’s rack, with a butcher’s block top that kept even more pots and pans, but we don’t have a picture of it from this house. (We used it as our kitchen for eighteen months in the orphan Italianate. You can do a lot with four feet of kitchen if you don’t put your microwave on it.)

We also had a magnetic knife hanger which got the knives off our countertop and out of our drawers. (Loved it, especially after Don took a knives class from The Chopping Block – Valentine’s present from me. He also took a series of Building Block classes there. He came home most every time with a new tool or spice or both. The lemon reamer was a good addition to our tool set.) The Little One might now be old enough we can hang our knives on the wall again.

And a spice rack from Ikea, also shown in the picture below. (Loved it. Tried desperately to find one like it for our Kensington house, but didn’t succeed. It was just the right depth that spices didn’t get lost. I still had another drawer of spices, but this helped so much.)

Knive rack and spice rack (Ikea)Knife rack and spice rack (Ikea)

Getting things out of kitchen cabinets and into spaces that weren’t being used sure made being married easier.


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What to do about the radiator pipe?

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Our entire first floor had 11 foot ceilings, except for the add-on family room area in the rear, and the kitchen / butler’s pantry / powder room in the main part of the house. I knew why the family room ceiling was lower, but the 8 foot ceiling in the kitchen area made no sense. One day I couldn’t stand it any longer. I climbed the ladder with a hammer and a flashlight. Let’s just say there was no reason the ceiling needed to be so low. This action hastened the kitchen remodel, as well.

Kitchen Before (West Radiator Pipe Wall)Kitchen (before)

A short time later I pulled the ceiling down. The original plaster ceiling was in bad shape. It was not clear if it had been covered for that reason, or if decades out of sight had caused the deterioration. The other problem, which we had anticipated, was a distinct difference between the walls below the 8 foot line and those above. The walls had been re-plastered after the ceiling was dropped, so there was a ridge where the newer plaster met the original. We solved this with beadboard and a piece of horizontal trim covering the joint at the 8 foot line. Lisa found some beautiful antique beadboard on Ebay at $5.00 per square foot, which is about the price of new oak beadboard at the big box stores. It was unpainted heart pine, about 100 years old, from a cottage in Georgia (or so we were told… you never really know). It just needed a good cleaning with furniture refinisher and a couple of coats of shellac. We covered the ceiling itself with tin, but that’s another story.

A small section of wall was curved. One winter day (before the ceiling exploration) Lisa leaned up against it and found it to be quite warm – a radiator pipe! Apparently the wall was curved around the pipe after the ceiling was dropped, because there was nothing but a bare pipe sticking out above the 8 foot line. What to do?

We found a piece of antique tin on Ebay just the right size to cover up the pipe. I had several pieces of oak trim left over from the Kensington Avenue remodel. A few cuts with the miter saw, a little spray paint, some stain and shellac, and presto! A decorative feature! I think I spent about 50 dollars on materials, which includes the tin piece. As all renovators know, the homeowner’s labor is free.

Radiator Pipe In ProgressKitchen radiator pipe, beadboard, and decorative tin


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Adventures in Salvaging, Part 1

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

Today is about our very first professional salvaging experience (besides amateur events like salvaging materials from our own remodel).

Over the last four years, we have developed a reputation for having some skills in salvaging materials. Our best score was never-painted oak window and door trim, baseboard, and a beveled glass door that fit our front door space almost perfectly, although I still regret that we couldn’t pull an all-nighter and gotten more trim and Don regrets that we didn’t take the second door. (The house was torn down at 8:30 a.m. the day after we were invited to salvage it.) But, that’s a story for another day — a day when I can find the pictures I took of the house (a Dutch Colonial) before/while it went down.

The first successful salvaging I remember was 400 sq ft of quartersawn oak flooring (and a sink or two). We’d been working our nerve up to do salvage for a while. I’d stalk the Murco web site for good salvage, and I think we’d been to one or two auctions, but hadn’t bid. I guess it was in late summer 2003 — I would have been out of commission in summer 2002, and I was back into it by fall, but it was too hot to be fall 2002.

One Saturday, we drove up to Highland Park, hoping we’d score some bluestone. As it turned out, the bluestone was mortared in place and it bid up too high anyways, so we passed. However, as long as we were in the ritzy suburbs, we thought we’d go through Kenilworth.** While we were there, I saw a house salvage sign. We followed the signs, and found a Queen Anne mansion waiting for us. I went in — we had the baby and didn’t want to take her in so Don stayed with her — and discovered the mother lode of quartersawn oak flooring. We had narrow quartersawn in our Kensington house, and needed more for our addition to flow seamlessly. I asked the price ($1/square foot, cash) and went out to tell Don. (I’d gotten a quote for having it milled new at $9/square foot so we were living on subfloors until we had the money.) He agreed it was a great match.

The challenge, though, would be in removing it. The house was coming down on Monday, we’d never pulled flooring before, and here it was Saturday afternoon already. So, we did what any sensible couple would do. We stopped at HD, found a helpful employee who introduced us to bullnose pliers*, and told us we’d just need prybars to get the flooring out, and then went to visit Don’s folks. His mom agreed to watch the baby on Sunday, and his dad offered to cut church and go with us to pull floor. (He was a trustee of the church — cutting church was not in his nature.) We spent the night, borrowed Don’s brother-in-law’s truck, and drove north Sunday morning, with me hoping all the way that the flooring hadn’t been sold.

Of course, it hadn’t. It was the hottest weekend of the year. The house had no electricity, and had never had air conditioning. (In fact, even if it had had power, central a/c had never been installed. In hindsight, the house was in only moderately worse shape than our orphan Italianate. But the Italianate was a couple of years in our future.) Being near Lake Michigan didn’t help one tiny bit. It was not cooler by the lake that day. The flooring had been under carpet for years, so there was rotting carpet (and rusty tacks) to remove before we could get to the good stuff.

It turns out I am totally lacking in floor pulling skills/muscle, but I can pull nails and organize flooring pretty well. The three of us spent the day pulling flooring or pulling nails. It was early evening, and we still hadn’t pulled all the flooring we’d bought, when Don’s brother showed up. He was fresher, and we got the full four hundred square feet plus we’d bought out of the house and onto the truck.

While the rest of us were collapsed in a heap under a shade tree, Don’s brother was making friends with Frank the salvage guy. (Frank had lent us his specialized floor-pulling tools — prybars that had been bent into an L-shape — so I think he was already fond of us.) He bought the washer and dryer (for a rental apartment), and discussed the fate of the two very early 20th century pedestal sinks in the house. Now, on Saturday, Frank was asking more than a grand each, so I’d put them out of my mind. By Sunday evening, he had no buyers and they were going to be crushed by bulldozers in the morning, so he sold them for all the cash we had left ($100 each). Don’s brother bought one and we bought the other. We haven’t found the right house for ours yet, but my dad saved it from the local contractor recently, who (with good intentions) offered to pitch the sink into the dumpster with the other construction junk. Gack.

I later checked what the Queen Anne had sold for. $1.3 million as a tear-down. The new construction that took its place went for at least triple that or, in local lingo, “upper brackets.”

After we got home, we spent the next week or so pulling nails whenever we had the chance. I sorted the wood by length. I wish I would have further sorted it by whether both ends, the left end, or the right end was missing the tongue or the groove as that would have helped installation go faster, but I was years from installation as it turned out. (Tongue in groove flooring comes with tongue on one long end, groove on the other long end, and a tongue on a short end and a groove on a short end, which makes for an ever tighter installation. However, during installation, one of the ends is cut off when you reach a wall. And, during removal, one of the ends may be damaged and require removal.)

We wound up moving from our Eastlake/Stick house before we installed the flooring in the addition. Instead, we put it into our kitchen and had professionals install it in the front hall in the orphan Italianate. If you click through, you can see that it refinished beautifully. (Dusty, too. Will try to take an undusty picture of it before/if we sell the house.)


I suppose the post on installing it is for another day, but, in brief, we relied heavily on the Taunton Press books and video on wood floors. (The book and video were a Father’s Day present one year.) We had very little waste from our installation. Probably less than 5% (two grocery sacks) for the kitchen, but I took my time to find just the right pieces and we had very long lengths to choose from (up to fourteen feet). I don’t know how it was for the professional installation since I wasn’t there. I would expect more waste, but more haste, too. We didn’t end up doing the refinishing ourselves, due to the rush to get out of the house.

* Well, I’m sure that’s what they were called, but I couldn’t find a good link to illustrate and ours are still at the orphan house. They’re pliers with a rounded bit (like a claw hammer) so you can use some leverage to pull the nail on through the wood and out the back.

** Kenilworth is the ritziest of the ritzy suburbs of Chicago, a small planned community (2500 people, planned in 1889). The median price for houses there has been above a million for years and its median household income is $200,000. (For you non-tech people, that means that more than half the households gross $200k each year.)

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