where the magic happens

In honor of the thirtieth and final day of NaBloPoMo, I dialed up something a little extra-special for you. What, don’t I deserve a break?

Yet, I’ve made it to the finish line and even enjoyed it plus or minus a day or two, but I won’t tell you which ones. Furthermore, I’m exactly the sort of person who likes to pretend that she did this, you know, because she was going to do it anyway and not, perhaps, because she saw an exhausting and difficult challenge, thus I technically started my daily posting a full two days early. God, I’m such a show-off, aren’t I? It also means that I’ve got something on tap for tomorrow and even… well, let’s only plan a day at a time, m’kay? [Did I say that? Just kidding!]

But, I won’t just leave you with just a picture of my dumplings (which were awesome) or my pad thai (which was less so); nope, I’m leaving you with some pictures of my filthy kitchen, with an attempt to class them up in black and white. I actually meant to do this earlier this month, but the level of scrub-down this kitchen will require before being publicly viewable by my obsessive standards really just made me want to take a nap. Today I’ve just given up and you’re going to see it in all of its grimy glory.

We start the tour with my OCD spice rack which, despite the fact that it causes verbalized concern over my mental stability from everyone who steps into the kitchen, I love more than I should. I adore having my spices readily accessible, and the tins protect them from both the bright sunlight and my cleaning wrath, as they all look so nice out there together. I promise, this is the end of the Martha Stewart part of the tour.

my ocd spice rack

Next, the pot rack we nabbed from our former apartment, another thing that makes an 80-square foot kitchen oh so usable; no noisy clunking around in cabinets to find what we need. If only we could hang the cocotte from there… (You’ll see why it’s so empty when we get to the dish rack. Ooh, the suspense!)

mostly empty pot rack

Um, the stove, kept barely on this side of unstained by the glory and goodness that is the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Seriously, I want to buy stock in this stuff, hoard it by the crate and barrel. It’s a cleaning miracle. On top of the stove is the batch of dukkah I toasted and ground up last night for no apparent reason, and haven’t figured out what to do with it yet. Also, it needs a labeled tin, of course.

stove, duh

The clock, a wedding present from Ms. Pixxiestails, clearly way too stylish for us to have picked out on our own. Please don’t ask how many weeks (cough, months) it has rested at this exact time. We are abominably lazy, I know.


This is it: the one counter. And we had to buy it ourselves.

the sole counter

The skylight; though black and white, an approximate rendering of the color this bleak morning. Still, a fantastic amount of light and one of the biggest reasons I’m glad we don’t have to move just yet. Let’s hear it for rent stabilization!


I confess to having a garbage bowl, though technically that non-functional flower pot (it has no drainage underneath) was in exactly that spot when we moved in almost two years ago. It’s bright green and stands out awesomely in our stark, white kitchen, so we kept it.


The dish rack, most mornings. Can you see it groaning under the weight of my cooking habit? Yes, I’m looking for something stronger.

most mornings

The collage of shame: the four biggest messes in the kitchen. Top-Left: Bread class goods-stuffed freezer. Extra cupcakes for… I don’t know. Blondies that didn’t make it to Jocelyn’s last weekend. Strawberry sorbet from the summer (!) which I refuse to part with because I love it so. Top-Right: The pantry. Such a mess. I made a deal with Alex I’d clean it this weekend if he cleaned up the bookshelves. Let you know how that one works out. Lower-Left: Plant, waiting nearly a month for me to pot it. Roots over a foot long. Lower-Right: Fridge. Well, it could be worse; at least it’s not the pantry.

collage of shame

Despite the fact our building was constructed in the 1870s, little evidence of its history remains. These bits are two of the few, the peephole on the back of the front door and the radiator cover next to the oven. Well, I think it was once a radiator. I’m actually too afraid to look.

rare hint of old
rare hint of old

Oh looky here what appeared on the counter. You see, taking pictures is exhausting and one may need to refuel. These are the final, de-salted chocolate caramel product, too soft at room temperature but somehow abundantly lovable just the same.

oh, looky here

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44 comments on where the magic happens

  1. As much as I love reading about (and drooling over) your culinary experiments, I think this was my favorite post yet.

    Love the kitchen tour, especially in black and white.

    I can only imagine how cool the rest of your apartment is!

  2. Congratulations! Making it to thirty days feels like a herculean feat, doesn’t it? You should be proud; you did most of this with your arm in a sling. Brava.

    I love the kitchen tour. We have our spices in little glass jars, but we actually bought a label maker solely for the purpose of labeling them all in neat black and white letters. That shelf is also alphabetized. Hm.

    So happy to see your link to Regional Thai, as that was absolutely my favorite Thai place the years I lived in New York. But my goodness, what has gone wrong with the Phad Thai? It used to be spectacular.

  3. Congratulations on finishing NaBloPoMo, and on a high note indeed!!!

    I love this post, though it kind of makes me feel bad about the messy state of my own tiny kitchen. I mean, I´m also orderly about my spices (though I don´t have as many just yet), but if you think that´s a mess, you have no idea. I´ll have to consider a pot holding thingy myself to save up some space… good idea there.

    And as I commented on Flickr, I hear you about the period features, they are lovely… even if they have no purpose whatsoever anymore. My apartment (which is not technically an apartment, but I won´t get too technical here) has some period features, and I feel those little details are what make some spaces feel more special.

  4. I am so with you on those magic erasers. My favorite kind is the one with the ridges on one side. They do some serious damage on soap scum! Okay, now I’ve gone too far.
    I love seeing your updates! I have almost all of your entries “saved” in bloglines.

  5. laura

    Deb, please please tell me where you got your spice tins! We have recently moved house and I am in desperate need of a new way to store our spices. Like you, I have A LOT of them and have been looking for tins just like this for weeks. Actually searched your past blogs trying to find the one when you first got them but no luck. Please, my spices need your help! ~L.

  6. I love you. I just love you. Your writing is fun, your photos are gorgeous. You live in NY, my hometown which I miss with every fiber of my being. I’m so glad I found you, through NaBloPoMo. Btw, I think you should get a special award for posting while injured. I fizzled out mid-month due to mama business.

    I made the pumpkin muffins and also the colossal cubes of cheer last night. The muffins are for the kids, which they love. The cake I’m taking to a meeting today. It is delicious, although the chocolate chips on top got a bit messy during slicing. Even though I waited for it to cool- any thoughts on that?

    You are truly my favorite thing in my feed reader these days!

  7. You did it! Also, I love your little kitchen and now am in more awe of you because you cook on such a small stove! Yes, Magic Eraser is a must for every kitchen.

    I can totally relate to saving stuff in the freezer and not wanting to eat it, just to know that’s it there to eat!

  8. Congrats from me too….it has been thoroughly enjoyable reading your blog every day, and an extra pat on the back for pushing through with an injury.

    My keen eye spotted the Stoli, and then rejoiced at the sight of the Pouilly-Fume, with it’s label artfully turned ‘just so’. Not only are you funny, you have great taste in wine. Keep up the good work!

  9. Big virtual high five! You did it! And with your arm in a sling, no less.

    Great kitchen tour and how wonderful is that skylight? I love a kitchen drenched in sunlight. Bet that helps with picture taking too.

  10. Jo

    I usually never comment but I had to today, because at 80 square feet, your kitchen is bigger than my bedroom. Ah, the joys of New York.

    Love th pictures and the blog!

  11. Hooray for kitchen shots! And hooray for the end of NaBloPoMo! We did it! And you did it effortlessly, or so it seemed, and with only one good arm. Amazing! I love your spice collection – so beautiful – and your caramels look absolutely beautiful. Magazine-worthy! Anyway, congratulations on a month very well done ;)

  12. Cris

    I will miss the daily postings – I loved having something new to read everyday.

    Made the lentil/tomato stuff from your Ina recipe last night and really liked it. Just one question – the lentils never really softened as much as I thought they should. I ended up simmering them for two hours before giving up. Were they pretty firm for you also?

    Cute kitchen. The sky light is great!

  13. deb

    Browneyedgirlie – Thank you. I can assure you that although our apartment is well-loved, it is not cool. I’m no decorator. I lack flair. I’ve never once looked at an antique milk can and known exactly how it could pull a room together and I am highly envious of my many friends who can. I’m more the “I’d like the living room on Pottery Barn page 33”-type. “Now let’s go rob a bank!”

    shauna – If you look closely, I typed cream of “tartbar” by accident, which quickly became Alex and my favorite kitchen insult. I left it, though, because it’s kinda funny. As for Regional Thai, it’s exactly their pad thai that I like, except the fact that they always batter and deep fry the tofu instead of just cubing it up fresh and it gets soggy, ech. Something was off last night, but I’m sure it was just a fluke. Those veg. dumplings are amazing, btw. One day I’ll try my hand at them.

    Marce – If you do the pot holder hook, don’t just stick any old hook in. I did, it fell out and now we have two unsightly holes. Tsk tsk. One of those ones that spring open inside the wall would be better (their technical term, indeed). We used some very strong ones on the pot rack, and (crosses fingers) it’s great.

    Neil – Ha! You know, most of the Russians I meet just buy Absolut — by the handle, of course. We don’t fit in, anyway, we’ve had that thing forever. Shameful!

    Sara – Of course, I had to go look it up and OMG, ridges! We must buy stock in those too. I had no idea a cleaning implement could so delightfully transform my existence. I also had no idea my existence was so lame, it could be transformed by a sponge. Ah well, now that NaBloPoMo is over, perhaps I’ll have time to leave the apartment again. :)

    bawdy penguin – Thanky.

    Laura – I bought the spice tins at the Container Store after spending months — months! — pricing them elsewhere. They are much cheaper there ($1.49 but I think I paid $1.30 at the time). Other places that sell similar tins – like wedding favor places and gift shops – charge at least two-four times as much, as well as kitchen supply places.

    Most spices fit into the 2 oz. size. I used the 4 oz for one or two. Buy a few extras when you get them because no matter how many spices you have, you’ll always get one more and kick yourself for having to run back to the store for one tin!

    Finally, I used basic Avery mailing labels on them. I should have put some sort of clear sealant over them, a couple have peeling corners, but they’re 99% just fine. The best thing about the Averys is that they’re inexpensive and your MS Word program already has their print template installed. Super-easy.

    Jennifer – I think mama bidness is a much better excuse than a sling, especially since I’ve been typing two-handed again for a while now, but, shh. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to. Glad you like the recipes. I think chocolate chips stay soft long past the time the cake is cooled, so I’m not surprised. All the better for (careful) knife-licking when you’re done!

    Jenifer from Memphis – Every time my mother walks in my kitchen she says “I can’t believe the things you cook in here.” But, what do you really, really need besides one counter at time? Well, two if you are assembling things. And also, space for storage before dinner parties. Hm. Well, we make do!

    Kate – I did turn it just so! I was like, what kind is that? I couldn’t remember. It was a little heavy on the pear, but still good. We’ve had others we like better. Maybe, maybe now that it is December the temperature will go below 65 degrees and we can break into the reds.

    Jessie – Almost satisfaction. Sniffle. I had wanted to make them as a small gift for a friend’s birthday on Saturday (Alex’s crazy idea) but they’re too sticky to give away. I might try another batch tomorrow, though I’m exhausted at the thought of it.

    Tammi – Thank you.

    Erika – Thank you! Isn’t it funny that you hear of something only once, and then you start to see it everywhere? (I’m starting to feel this way about candied ginger in baked goods, as well as other food trends.) That recipe sounds really good and I see us trying it very soon. Thanks again!

    Julie – The sunlight-drenching (plus, we have fairly low buildings across the street so our living room gets really washed in brightness, too) is fantastic for pictures. Any evening pictures, like the Thai food and others from this week, are noticeably different. We’ve been spoiled.

    Jo – At first I was appalled, and then I realized how many people I know that have bedrooms that size. Without the cabinets, it might even work! We’re pretty lucky with space here, I think it’s 660 but it’s really well laid out, so all the space is usable. We’ve had 15 people in the living room before and it wasn’t even that bad! Though, the wine may have aided their comfort level.

    Luisa – Congrats to you, too. I believe we owe ourselves that drink now!

    Cris – I’ll do my best to keep them up, or almost. I’ll enjoy having more time to edit before posting so I don’t wake up the next morning to realize I chopped off two sentences but didn’t notice! (It’s happened, a lot.) The lentils did soften for me but now that I remember it, I don’t think I used authentic French lentils, just some brown green ones I had around. Perhaps that contributed? I’ve had that problem many times in the past when cooking with lentils, and it’s actually why I loathed them growing up!

    Marty52 – It’s from a brand called Umbra (which has a lot of other cute clocks, too) and it’s called the Ribbon Clock. I swear, we didn’t plan this but it even kinda goes with the pot rack. Perhaps there is hope for my decorating skills after all.

  14. Erica

    Congratulations on posting every day! I have enjoyed reading all of them.

    I think I am off to buy some tins myself… A great idea. My spices are getting a bit out of control.

    I am trying your granola recipe tonight (a gift for someone for the holidays). I can’t wait to taste test – I will let you know how it turns out.

    Thank you for all the recipes, stories & pictures.

  15. Congrats on posting everyday! I want to thank you for inspiring me to start cooking again. I hit a slump a while back and we ended up in the quick dinner/eat out 2 or 3 days a week mode and I never could get out of it. Your beautiful pictures, recipes, and stories seems to have jump started me out of that slump this month. I love those spice tins! It looks like I may be redoing the spices sometime in the next month or so.

  16. Deb, You are just too cool for school! Thanks for inspiring even the worst cooks to try just a bit harder to not suck quite so bad! (Did I give too much info away there?) You’re awesome! With one hand or two, you are great!

  17. You better go out right now and buy batteries for that clock. No excuses. OOo that makes me angry.

    There were left over Blondies? You’re just asking for trouble today!

  18. S

    I was wondering what the heck “NaMoBloPo” was and I finally figured it out the day after it was all over! I loved that you posted everyday (wondering how you had so much time to post so often)…will it continue?

  19. The best part of your kitchen is that it looks used! And used daily! And I love kitchens like that! love it! The best thing I did for my kitchen and most recently was buy those airtight containers; one each for my flour, whole wheat flour, sugar and brown sugar. It took me years to get to this point but it motivates me to bake more and I HATE cleaning up flour spills!
    I’m so grateful that I find your site. If only, I had time to make all this stuff!

  20. I’m going to have to join your OCD compulsion and buy myself some of those spice tins. That is a fantastic idea.
    Love your kitchen, love the clock and love your blog!

    Congrats on making it to the 30 mark. I’m sad that I just happened upon your blog today. I look forward to reading backwards and to future posts from you!

  21. deb

    Jocelyn – I just changed the battery in the clock. I hope you’re happy now.

    S – No, I don’t think it will continue daily. I think I’ll go back to posting just when I have something to say — what a novel concept! — and not trying to find a new recipe every day. Fun for a month, especially with my injury I haven’t wanted to go out as much, but not indefinitely! Or, not until this is my day job.

    Yvo – No idea where it came from, well, except our last apartment. We stole it. But, if you Google, a lot of places sell them.

    Beckik – You’re going to love this: I just bought those airtight containers, too! Well, a while ago. One for sugar, one for AP flour, one for self-rising. But then I got whole wheat flour, pastry flour, rye flour, cake flour, bread additive, etc. and I need like a dozen more. I can never stay ahead of the mess. Oh, but I do clean up flour spills with the vacuum attachment. It’s very satisfying. SLUUURP!

    Cupcakes – You have no idea how fast I just ordered an assortment of tins and bottles. Those prices are incredible. I think it was less than $20 with shipping. Hooray for infused oils and well-packaged baked goods!

  22. Congratulations on finishing the month!
    I get magnetic metallic containers similar to yours and they are on the side of the fridge (B. can’t stand having anything on he front), very practical. Specialty bottle is THE place to go, much cheaper than anywhere else!
    Great looking kitchen!

  23. Ahem…

    I think i deserve said mentioned infused oils and/ or well packaged baked goods.. ya know, since i hooked you up and all…


    A drunken slutty pic of tim ?

    You’re call.

    (but i digress… that site is totally cool.. I have lots more like them.. since I decided to bake commercially, i get TONS AND TONS of catalogs/websites for all the trinkets/gadgets you’d ever need.. let me know.)

  24. Hi. Just got turned on to your site via a friend, and wanted to let you know that I am big-time lusting after that spice jar setup. I use Penzeys (no ‘) spices nearly exclusively, and like their jars, but the metal tins? Mwah! (Kissing fingers)

    No flair? Only to non OCD types I guess. :-)

  25. Maytal

    Hi Deb,

    Where did you get the counter with the stainless steel top? We’re looking for an extra counter space for our kitchen.


  26. Per my blog, I’m now sending my husband on a quest to buy me those containers and spices to fill them up. He’s been bugging me for months about what I want for Christmas. Your spice container idea is the first and only suggestion he’s listened to! :)
    I’m sure they won’t look nearly as cool in my kitchen as they do in yours, but I can’t wait to find out.

  27. deb

    Maytal – We bought the counter/cart with the metal top at the now-defunct Hold Everything store where it was less than $200, I think, on sale. I’m so crushed they went out of business, though the thing really is a piece of ahem. It never came together cleanly and the shelves inside kept crashing so we’ve just given up and keep really light, unbreakable things on them. We picked up two matching stools with it, but they really don’t fit in the teensy kitchen.

    Kristen – You are a much better person than I. I like to direct the husband here for the holidays.

  28. Tan

    I would chew off my right arm to have access to Container Store :) The only thing in Australia I can find that is remotely similar is Howard’s Storage World but whenever I’m bored at work I browse the CS website fantasizing about how organised my life could be :) The spice containers are gorgeous, the black and white photography also…I love the cookie cutter perched on top :)

  29. deb

    Tan – That’s what they sell, the Promise of being a more organized, regimented human. I think most people get home with piles of containers and don’t even know where to put them in their tiny spaces, which is the real reason for the clutter. Still, I’m a sucker for it every time.

  30. I love this! I must have missed this post somehow. I Am such a nosy person so this really hit the spot. That skylight must be an absolute blogging lifesaver! Ah, to have such natural light…..

  31. What a beautiful kitchen You’ve got. I absolutely love your spice rack and pot rack. I also have a small kitchen (even smaller than You do) and trying to make myself confortable there :) Thanks for this article- it’s been very pleasant to read :) By the way- I absolutely love your blog- it’s so full of warmth and love :)

  32. Hi Deb! I’m cooking a dinner for my sister and her family this weekend. I was scanning your dessert recipes and link link linked onto this post. You’ve convinced me to get a pot rack. I’m always complaining that my cabinets are overstuffed, and it never dawned on me until today it’s what I need. Love your pics!

  33. Maria

    Love the spices…I also have mine in tins, labeled the same way and added velcro to the backs. I attached them to the inside of my pantry door (in alphabetical order, of course.) It’s a great space saver! Love this post. Keeping it real:)