March 25, 2015

Overnight Black Sesame Buttermilk Rolls with Goat Milk Glaze


Before I share today’s recipe, I just wanted to thank everybody who read and commented on my last post containing my thoughts about blogging. Those thoughts have been marinating in my mind for some time now, and I briefly wrote that I was initially hesitant to write about them in the first place. At best, I was worried that some people would think that I was knocking their careers and chosen professions as bloggers. At worst, I feared folks would call me hypocritical (since, after all, I monetize my blog and benefit from all the same sponsorships and networks too). But not publishing the post for fear of upsetting people and losing followers would have been the exact opposite of what I advised people to do, so I took a deep breath and hit “publish”.

Since publishing the post, I’ve received a number of comments and emails from other bloggers sharing their own experiences. It’s been wonderful and eye-opening reading everybody’s take, and it made me realize that what I wrote about was a pretty universal experience for bloggers. If anything, it made me realize that we need more opportunities to talk about the behind-the-scenes stuff and about the doubts and fears we all share. I don’t know exactly how to provide that (and, quite frankly, it’s kind of asking a lot from a food blog), but hopefully taking more risks will eventually pave the way for such opportunities.


Speaking of taking risks, the recipe I’ve got for you guys today is one that I’ve kept near and dear to my chest for fear of alienating some of my audience. Black sesame and goat milk aren’t exactly the most accessible ingredients, although black sesame is a staple in Asian desserts. Usually black sesame appears in subtle desserts like panna cotta or pudding, often accompanied by lots of honey, syrup, or sweetened condensed milk to take its slightly bitter edge off.

My favorite kind of black sesame desserts, however, are ones that are un-subtle and un-delicate in flavor. The kind that, where if you take a bite of it, there’s no hiding that black sesame at ALL. And that’s exactly what’s going on with these rolls; you’re not gonna find a “light, floral touch” here — there’s no mistaking the nutty, toasty and almost woody flavor from the sesame. And that’s because they’re filled with nothing but butter, sugar, and black sesame seeds; there’s nothing there to distract or take the edge off the main star of the dessert.


Well… except maybe the goat milk. Since I’m mildly lactose intolerant (though in severe denial about it), I’ve been playing around with goat milk as a substitute for regular milk. When I bought my first bottle, I’d envisioned it to have a flavor similar to kefir — tart, and almost yogurt-y. My imagination ran away, thinking that using it as a substitute for regular milk in baked goods would give the final product a subtle tangy flavor, similar to using sour cream or yogurt. I was more than disappointed to find that goat milk kinda tasted like... well, regular milk.

But goat cheese? Whole other story. Turns out that you can easily replace cream cheese with goat cheese in almost any recipe, giving you that awesome goaty, farmy taste. This goat milk glaze is more technically a goat cheese glaze, with that unique farmy goat cheese flavor playing very, very well with the black sesame, adding tang to all that toasty goodness.

And of course, if you’ve been sitting there wrinkling your nose this entire time, you can always, always just go with a more traditional cinnamon sugar filling and a cream cheese glaze. Which is always good too.

But I promise you’re missing out.


Some baker's notes:
  • Black sesame seeds are available in the bulk sections of fancy grocery stores like Whole Foods and Asian supermarkets. You can also find them online.

  • I let the dough develop overnight in the fridge because I found that the slower rise brought out more flavors in the bread. I also liked breaking up the work into two portions, so it doesn’t feel like you’re just sitting around waiting for things to happen foreverrr. But if you’d like to just get it all out of the way, no worries! After kneading the dough, allow the dough to proof for about 1 1/2 hours in a lightly greased bowl covered with plastic wrap. During this time, it should double in size — after it's done so, follow the instructions in the recipe to roll out and re-proof the rolls a second time.

  • If you don't have a deep-dish pie pan to bake these rolls in, you can also use a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or sheet — simply lay them out in rows of 3, spacing each about an inch or so apart. They actually bake more evenly and consistently this way (but I liked the look of the rolls baked in a pie pan 'cuz I'm a sucker).

  • The recipe starts by instructing you on how to make black sesame sugar using an oven and a food processor, thanks to this utterly genius recipe by Mandy of Lady and Pups. The recipe will make slightly more than what's needed for the rolls, and you can store whatever's leftover in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month (similarly, you can make the sugar in advanced for up to 1 month). It's important to refrigerate the sugar since black sesame seeds have a ton of oil in them and go rancid fast. However, my leftover sugar never lasts that long — I often find myself reaching for it and stirring it into my green tea or coffee. 

March 18, 2015

Pomegranate Citrus Meringue Cake & Some Thoughts on Blogging


In the last few weeks, I saw several incidents and articles that led me to think about why I blog. First there was the whole Food52 Piglet controversy between two popular bloggers, Mimi Thorrison and Adam Roberts. From that hot mess came several wonderful nuanced and articulate articles from Eater, Lottie + Doof, and Design Sponge that offered differing perspectives on the incident, and each said a lot about the world of blogging and food media.

This post kind of came from me thinking about and digesting all of that. And let me be up front: It’s long and a tad controversial. For a while, I even struggled whether to publish it in the first place. But below are some thoughts about my blog, blogging in general, and the direction I worry it’s headed in the long run (and if you want to skip my rambling and head straight to the recipe, I promise I won’t be offended at all!):


So, first some background: I started this blog back in 2011 as a way to keep up with friends and family, as well as distract myself from a job I hated. Back in 2011, even though it wasn’t all that long ago, Blog Land was an entirely different landscape. Pinterest was just getting started and only accepting new users via email. People still used Instagram in the way they use their personal Facebook profiles today; that is, folks only followed people they knew in real life as Instagram’s content was primarily blurry photos with overwrought filters.

Back in the day, the only way to get your food blog noticed immediately was submitting to content aggregation sites like Foodgawker and Tastespotting. Unlike Pinterest and Instagram, there was actually some sort of quality control — you submitted your picture, and you waited with baited breath to see if your recipe would be published on the site. In the beginning, especially when I was just starting to figure out my DSLR camera, I got a lot of rejections. Rejections often came back with blunt feedback: bad composition, harsh lighting, white balance issues, etc. That feedback, while harsh, was really helpful in helping me figure out how to take good photos! I still remember the butterflies in my stomach when Foodgawker finally accepted and published one of my pictures, a not-that-great, slightly overexposed and underfocused picture of this hazelnut crepe cake (whose pictures are… well...eek!). But still. If I had to point to one thing that put my blog on the map and bring in, you know, readers who weren’t my immediate friends and family, I’d probably have to credit Foodgawker and that picture, which eventually got republished by The Huffington Post.

And this is where my memory starts to get hazy. Because it was around here, sometime between my multiple, frustrated attempts to get published on these sites, that I got bit by The Bug. You know, the feeling of awe that people you don’t know are reading your work and interested in what you are saying; the feeling that your blog could be something MORE… a fully fledged cookbook, a full time job with a steady paycheck, and a stream of sponsorship opportunities with cool companies. You name it, the sky was the limit. Blogging was a new, uncharted world full of financial opportunity and internet fame that I — or anyone, really — could easily tap into. That was The Bug.

I’m not going to lie. I definitely got suckered into all that, especially after Saveur Magazine shortlisted me as one of the Best Baking & Desserts Blogs and the press mentions, sponsorships, and free SWAG came rolling in. I did sponsored posts for the money and wrote nice things about products I was just “meh” on but felt guilty because I’d gotten it for free. These days, I’m extremely picky about the people, companies, and products that I work with. Because after a while of saying “yes” to everything, I started to realize that it just wasn’t my jam. The extra money was nice, sure, but every sponsored post took me further away from why I was blogging in the first place: learning how to cook new baked goods and play with different ingredients. And of course, there was less talking about my life and the things I ate with friends who were far away — instead, I was talking about products and events I attended in a weird overly-smiley, way-too-shilly way. It wasn’t sincere or authentic.

And then there was a whole other gross thing I caught myself doing: pandering. What does that mean, exactly? One of my blogger friends, Kathryn, wrote a thoughtful, articulate post about baking for the sake of blogging that’s worth checking out. As for myself, as recently as a few weeks ago, I noticed that my Instagram follower count would decline as I posted lots of photos of my trip to Singapore and the Philippines. I realized that the majority of my followers only followed me for my dessert pics, and my dessert pics alone. Why else would a picture of a pie recipe of mine have twice as many likes as a picture of some cool architecture in Singapore or dropdead gorgeous ocean views in the Philippines? My initial reaction to the fluctuation was, Oh, shoot! Gotta keep my Instagram followers high; I’ll scale back on my trip pictures and just keep posting pictures of sweets. And I actually freaking restrained myself, holding back photos of mountains and oceans in order not to annoy anybody!

But later, as I was standing watching my old boss dance around in the best Darth Vader costume I have ever seen (complete with a glowing light saber), I realized that there was no way I could NOT take a photo of this for my Instagram feed. There were a handful of old friends and coworkers who I know would just DIE with laughter seeing the photo. It seemed ridiculous to text them all individually, especially since they all followed me on Instagram. Why was I censoring myself, restraining myself from posting and sharing pictures of experiences that I was enjoying? Because a bunch of anonymous followers who I didn’t know personally were unfollowing me?!! Like… really???

Ugh.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, that in the last three and a half years of blogging, I’ve found myself too easily caught up in the “fame and fortune” side of things. And whenever I am in that funk, I always get really depressed and down on my blog — beating myself up for not making more money, not having as many followers, not being re-nominated for that award, etc. And I hate that. Because it’s not why I started blogging in the first place, and perhaps more importantly, it’s not why I continue to blog, and certainly not what I love about it at ALL. But it’s incredibly easy to forget, and I have to take a step back and remind myself of that every so often.

My big concern, however, is that blogging appears to be moving in the opposite direction, especially with the turn of Instagram and Pinterest as legitimate growth tools. It’s a lot easier to share the pretty pictures of your recipes on either medium, and watch the likes, hearts, and ultimately, pageviews to your blog roll in as algorithms serve it to people around the world. It’s much easier to amass a big following fast, as long as you have a decent eye for what’s hot right now and use the right hashtags. The Bug is easier to catch more than ever, as folks become famous practically overnight with one Pin or regram.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with blogging to become rich and famous, the chance to break into a new industry, whatever. Blogging deserves to be recognized as a perfectly legitimate career (we all certainly work hard enough on our blogs for that to continue being unrecognized), and it’s well on its way to becoming one. But I just hope that we also don’t lose sincere, authentic, and heartfelt content in the process. Because if everybody’s trying to get big all the time, everybody’s cooking and presenting recipes that they know are popular, taking and styling photos that are on-trend and everybody else will like… right? Which is… fine. But also, not really.

Because it’s like what Tim was saying in his post: we need less pandering, especially the kind that I’ve been guilty of in the past. That is, a little less blogging for the sake of blogging, press mentions, likes, hearts, and much less of that self-censorship that prevents us from posting the content that we actually want to. We need bloggers who are unafraid to bring new criticisms, ideas, and perspectives to the table. And certainly, we need more bloggers who are unafraid to lose followers while doing so.

So post that picture that has nothing to do with food, or publish that recipe that you know is a little bit off-the-rails.

I promise that I won’t unfollow you.


On that note, after emotionally sorting all my feels, I just wanted to bake something that was pretty, tasty, and time consuming enough to be therapeutic… like this pomegranate citrus meringue cake. Why pomegranate? I’ve been drooling over the pink buttercream cakes on Pinterest lately, but since I’m a hater of artificial food coloring, decided to try and find an ingredient that would provide natural color instead. Pomegranate won the fight (though beet, hibiscus, and red wine (!!!) came close), giving the buttercream a wonderful pale pink tint. From there, lemon curd and crunchy meringue crumbles seemed to pair naturally with the subtle fruit flavor. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • This recipe has a lot of individual components to it: meringues, lemon curd, cake and frosting. I ended up using store bought meringues because I ran out of time, but my Christmas e-book from a few years ago contains my go-to recipe for vanilla meringues. If you're making everything from scratch, I suggest making the meringues first, then the lemon curd (which can be refrigerated up to 1 month), then the cakes and finally the frosting.

  • This recipe actually makes a three-layer cake; I baked mine in three 6-inch pans, divided two of the cakes in half to create four layers and froze one layer for a later recipe that I'm working on. I've included the instructions for three 8-inch pans, so don't be confused if your cake doesn't look exactly like mine.

  • For this recipe, I tried out a neat trick learned from a new cookbook I recently bought: Decorated: Sublimely Crafted Cakes for Every Occasion by April Carter, the extremely talented blogger behind Rhubarb and Rose. In the book, April instructs you to fill cakes with jam by first piping a buttercream border around the edge of the cake to create a "well" for the jam. I used this method (seen in the gif above) to trap in my lemon curd and meringue crumbles.

  • The cake is best the day it's made — the meringue crumbles will loose their crunch fast, especially when sandwiched between cake and lemon curd.

March 14, 2015

Blueberry, Apple, and Caramel Pi Day Slab Pie


Guys.

Do you know what the date is, today?

March 14, 2015.

Or, 3.14.15

Which matches up with Pi and the first four numbers that follow its decimal point:

3.1415

MIND BLOWN.

This is a once in a lifetime coincidence; the next calendar occurrence will be in 100 years in 2115! In order to mark the occasion, I spent last weekend battling intense jetlag (I had just gotten back from Asia) to test and bake a number of recipes to find one worthy of the celebration. I believe this baby is it:


A couple of things:

Yes, yes, I know it's technically not a "pie" but instead a galette. Yes, yes, yes, a truer homage would have been to keep the pie in a circular shape (because Pi, after all, is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter), as opposed to the oval above. But come on, cut me some slack! At this point, I was 3 test pies deep, running on about 5 hours of sleep, and just wanted to find a crust that was a) unfussy, b) allowed me to stamp out such HUGE numbers for Pi, and c) tasted good. Because I'm insistent on using all butter crusts (no shortening allowed in my household, them's the rules), the first two recipes that I tried had illegible numbers since the pie crusts kept shrinking. Oh well.



In the end, I used a heavily adapted version of Martha Stewart's pâte brisée recipe. Pâte brisée is basically French pie crust, but instead of blending the butter in by hand, the French instruct you to use a mixer or food processor to do so. The theory is that a food processor will better distribute the butter throughout the dough, which leads to a flakier, sturdier crust (most French patisserie tends to require a heartier crust to hold all the cream in the pastry). However, with a food processor, it's easy to overmix the dough, often leading to a crust that's dense and flat. I ended up finishing the mixing process by hand in order to avoid this problem. My resulting pie crust had a texture that was in between pâte brisée and traditional pie crust: a stronger, heartier crust that allowed me to stamp out and maintain my shapes, but also stayed true to the texture and flavor of good ol' American pie. Ace.

As for the filling, I was inspired by this blueberry caramel sauce recipe from Bon Appetit that I've had bookmarked for many years now. I worried that it might be too intense on its own, so at the last second I added in some Opalescent apple chunks to add some tart bursts of flavor here and there. My worries were in vain — the caramel flavor chilled out in the baking process and blended in wonderfully with the blueberries and apples. It's definitely a flavor combination I'll be exploring again soon!

Happy 3.1415 Day!!!


Some baker's notes:
  • Not a pie baker? Me either. But I've done it enough times to be able to fake it — check out this salty honey pie recipe for some of my ultimate pie baking tips! Tips for this particular recipe include using the coldest ingredients and equipment possible (I froze my butter overnight before using, as well as stuck my food processor bowl and blade in the fridge overnight because I'm anal like that), flouring your work surface and equipment liberally, and yep, letting the dough rest overnight for a tender crust. Plan ahead for this one!

  • Don't overdo the liquid in the pie crust recipe. When I was testing recipes, I found it difficult to make pie with a food processor because I would overshoot the liquid and end up with a crust was sticky, soggy, gooey and gross. It's hard to see how much you're adding to the crust when you use a food processor — this is why I have you stopping the food processor early and finishing the rest by hand. Use your judgement and add the liquid provided a tablespoon at a time, just until the dough starts to come together. Add only as much as that, and no more — you want to get to the point where it's still a little bit dry and you're having a little bit of difficulty keeping the dough together; it's okay to have a few pea-sized bits of dough fall off here and there as you're patting it together. Less liquid means a flakier, crispier and ultimately more tender crust.

  • A note on the filling — it will seem like there's not enough filling for the pie, especially when you're spreading out the ingredients on the base before covering and baking. That's on purpose; I deliberately skimped on the filling because I wanted a larger crust to filling ratio, ensuring that each bite would have an almost equal amount of crust to filling. I like to think of this pie as a giant pop tart, basically. But if you're a traditionalist and want more filling than pie filling than crust, up the filling quantity by adding half of the amount provided to the filling's ingredients list.

  • To stamp out the numbers, I used these Wilton alphabet and number cookie cutters. For clean, well-defined numbers, dip the sharp edge of each cookie cutter in flour before stamping out the shape.

March 9, 2015

White Chocolate, Raspberry, and Pistachio Cookies


According to food lore, the chocolate chip cookie was an accident. A woman named Ruth Graves Wakefield had set about to make a batch of cookies, when she discovered that she had no more cocoa powder for the chocolate cookies she intended to make. She decided to throw in a handful of chocolate chunks into the dough, with the hopes that the chocolate would melt during the baking process to make chocolate cookies. But nope, they kept their shape and eventually, the recipe became the chocolate chip cookies we all know and love today.

But as much as I love chocolate chip cookies, I can't help but wonder why we only have a handful of drop cookie variations. Off the top of my head, I can think of only the following types: a variation of your standard chocolate chip cookies, a chocolate dough based cookie, an oatmeal variation, and a ginger variation. Sure, you'll get different variations like "chocolate chip cookies with cornflake and mini marshmallows" or "ginger, cardamom, and molasses cookie", but the basic idea stays the same. It's rare that you see drop cookies with fruit in them, or candies that aren't M&Ms — how did we come up with the list of what's standard to put in a cookie, and what's not? Why don't we have candy corn cookies (which, admittedly, sound a little gross but HEY you never know!) or peanut butter and banana chip cookies (which, quite frankly, sound BALLER)?


While I still don't know the answer to that question, I realize that I've been subconsciously trying to break this idea for a few years now — in my archive, I've got recipes for cookies with sprinkles or with chunks of crushed Oreos in place of chocolate chips.

This particular recipe, however, is the first time I've tried to break the barrier with fruit. Well... actually, that's not true. Last summer, I'd tossed a handful of fresh blueberries into this recipe for chocolate cookies in an attempt to make chocolate blueberry cookies. The result was a disaster — the blueberries added way too much liquid into the recipe, and the resulting cookies were a cakey, blobby mass.

This time around, I decided to mess with dehydrated fruits. I started with my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and added an ounce of dehydrated raspberries, as well as swapping out the dark chocolate chips for with white chocolate chips and pistachios. For fun, I also added some fresh orange zest into the dough. The result was a classic, butterscotchy cookie with a series of new flavors: freshness from the orange and raspberries, salt from the pistachios, and richness from the white chocolate. Wonderful.


Some baker's notes:
  • Plan ahead for this one! The recipe requires you to refrigerate the dough overnight to fully infuse the cookie flavors together. You can, of course, skip this step but your cookie will likely not be as intensely flavored, especially with the orange zest. Letting the dough rest overnight also allows the raspberries to rehydrate themselves, adding a cool, unique texture to the cookie.

  • Dehydrated raspberries are also known as "freeze-dried raspberries". They are available online, or specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods. I got my bag at Trader Joe's, which sells a variety of dehydrated berries and stone fruits (I saw blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and peaches available as well). Feel free to mess around and substitute out the raspberries with the fruit of your choice!

March 3, 2015

Hummingbird High's Kitchen Remodel, Pt. III: After

This is the final part of my three-part renovation diary for my kitchen remodel that happened last summer. In this post, I give a tour of my kitchen AFTER the remodel. To see the kitchen before the remodel, check out Part I: Before. To hear more about my kitchen design plans, check out Part II: Inspiration. Thanks for following along!


After half a year, I'm finally revealing my kitchen! A big thanks to my incredibly talented photographer friend Celeste for taking these beautiful photos of my kitchen. For the last few months, I've been sharing bits and pieces on Instagram. But now it's finally time for the official tour! Here we gooooo:

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BEFORE/AFTER: THE SINK AREA
So remember this hot mess? Complete with a sink leaking into the wall of the house, 18-inch depth countertops, a window that I couldn't open since it was painted shut and no dishwasher resulting in a setup of two space-consuming dish racks perpetually full of drying pots and pans?


Well, now it's THIS:


Although I did lose some of the old house charm (in particular, I'm sorry to see the black tile border and the ventilated cabinets under the sink go), the sink area is much more timeless and functional with the white subway tile and neutral rectangular cabinetry.

Can we just take a second to acknowledge the dishwasher next to the sink? Prior to the remodel, I hadn't had a dishwasher in years. And let me tell you something, guys — Erlend and I get in to so many less fights now that we have a dishwasher. It's crazy how many of our fights were related to washing and leaving dirty dishes in the sink.

In the end, despite some initial reservations, I went with the double bowl farmer's sink from Ikea that some of my blogger friends had warned against. It was just too cheap, huge and pretty not to buy. Although I sometimes panic when I wash off things with particularly colorful ingredients like turmeric or beets, staining hasn't been a problem yet — everything can be cleaned off with citrusy soap, salt and elbow grease. Also that faucet deserves some praise: it reaches all corners of the huge sink, and its spraying capacity is out of this world. Washing sheet pans and giant woks has never been easier.


My neighbors used to grow bamboo in their garden, turning their house into some sort of mini bamboo farm in the 70s and 80s. My own house benefits from this funky bit of Southeast Portland history — even though a new set of owners lives there now, they left a lot of the old bamboo farm's greenery and a huge, verdant, blooming wall made of bamboo and other trees divides my house from my neighbor's house. This is what the window looks out onto; the view is nothing but green, green and more green. Also since the window faces west, it lets in a lot of great light in the late afternoon. Considering I live in the heart of the city, this is really the best view I could ask for.


Seen above:
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BEFORE/AFTER: THE RANGE AREA
This is where I used to cook. A dimly lit side of the kitchen with no hood, excessive and oddly sized storage that wasn't actually all that useful leading to tons of clutter:



And this is where I cook now:


Functional storage, perfect with long and tall cabinets perfect for sheet pans, baking trays and bottles containing cooking oils and vinegars. Not to mention multiple drawers perfect for storing cooking utensils. All within an arm's reach from the range and oven, minus any of the ugly clutter from before.

And you guys — I have a double oven. I know what a crazy luxury it is, but again, it's prevented so many fights between me and Erlend. No more accusing each other of hogging the oven! The ability to cook dinner AND dessert at the same time! What a freakin' dream.

Seen above:
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BEFORE/AFTER: THE "FRIDGE" AREA
Remember how I used to have a friggin' HUGE-ass fridge in the middle of my kitchen?!


Well, I turned the area into something glorious. Something I hardly believe I have myself. Something that causes me to pinch myself everyday to make sure that it's real.

I turned it into a baking station:


Seriously. 

A BAKING STATION.

This counter area is specifically designated for my KitchenAid stand mixer. This is the counter where I roll out all my doughs, pastries and pie crusts, where I measure out all my cake and cookie ingredients. The drawers and cupboards below are filled to the brim with measuring utensils, spatulas, cake pans and pie plates. And right above the counter is a glass cabinet full of nothing but baking ingredients: 


Now if you look closely, you can see how nerdy I really am — not only have I used a freakin' professional label maker to label all my jars, I've also included the weight and volume measurements per ingredient. For instance, my giant jar of flour has two stickers: a label declaring it as all-purpose flour and a sticker reminding me that "1 CUP = 5 OUNCES".

BAKE NERD 4 LYFE.


On the wall adjacent to the baking station, I've created a gallery of prints of some of my favorite pictures from recipes on the blog. Featured are the following: a rustic blackberry lime galettesalted chocolate, raspberry and pistachio pots de creme; rhubarb and white chocolate blondies; brownies and cream sandwich cookies; mini lemon sour cream pound cakes with beet glaze; yellow birthday cake and mini strawberry Eton messes.

Seen above:
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BEFORE/AFTER: THE NOOK
Now, this is probably my favorite part of the remodel. Although the old kitchen also had a nook, it was oddly sealed off from the rest of the kitchen because of a decorative arch. Unfortunately, the arch blocked off all the wonderful light from the two windows inside the nook:


During the remodel, I made it a financial priority to knock down this arch and expand one of the windows to try and bring in as much natural light into the kitchen as possible.

This is the result:


With the arch gone, I was able to expand the counters along the sink, giving me more counter and cabinet space than before. It made a world of a difference, really opening up the kitchen and streaming in more natural light than before.

Remember that a goal I had for my remodel was to be able to turn the kitchen into a place where we would actually enjoy lingering. I think this nook does that — the windows let in lots of lovely light, which makes it the perfect place to enjoy breakfast and lunch. Even at dinnertime, one of us is usually hanging out in the nook while the other person is cooking or cleaning in the kitchen.


Another favorite detail of mine are the built-in benches. Having built-in benches saved us a ton of space, especially when compared to having a table and four separate chairs. I made sure that the benches had extra storage space underneath — the end of each bench has a cabinet door that opens to reveal storage space the depth of each bench. Pretty nifty, huh?


Seen above:

And there you have it!

Before I head out, however, I wanted to take some time to reflect. Back in January, Food52 ran an Instagram contest asking folks to share their tidy kitchens. Mine was one of the kitchens regrammed. While most of the comments were overwhelmingly positive, I noticed a handful on my picture and others regrammed that accused Food52 of only picking high-end kitchens that only rich people could afford. Some Instagrammers even left comments that the kitchens looked unlived in, and that many were purely for form and show.

Here's the truth: yes, the remodel was crazy expensive — I'm embarrassed to say that it cost more than half of my annual salary, even despite consciously choosing several lower-end options (stock cabinetry and lots of Ikea, for instance). And here's how I was able to afford it. It's not sexy, but here's my formula:

Lots of saving, sacrifice and help.

What does that mean? Saving high-paying bonuses from stressful, soul-sucking jobs that were so awful that I cried of relief and exhaustion every time I left the office. Living with too many immature and careless roommates who I absolutely hated and treated me disrespectfully for way too long. Guiltily borrowing a little bit of cash from my incredibly generous parents. But these are the sort of things that you don't see on the blog, and it's far too easy to sit back and judge. And even despite it all, I still know how incredibly lucky and privileged I am in the first place to have had all those opportunities, even the ones that left me feeling miserable and racked with guilt.

As for the claims that my kitchen looked unlived in and unused, I actually laughed out loud. Of course my kitchen doesn't look like the picture you saw on Instagram!!! Hell, my kitchen doesn't even really look like the pictures you see above! In reality, there's a large unphotogenic drying rack by the sink, the double oven range is always splattered with grease and, on the counter, there's a massive clear jar of fermenting rice that looks remarkably like vomit that Erlend's studiously trying to coax into wine. There's almost definitely a stack of dirty dishes in the sink and weird sticky puddles on every surface of the kitchen. But who wants to see that?

People come to Blog Land because we like the glimpses into other people's lives; it allows us to quit our jobs and vicariously live in beautifully restored barnhouses in provincial France, wear designer clothing that we can't afford and eat exotic food from far-reaching corners of the world without gaining a single pound. Bloggers are more than happy to provide that escape, but it's important to remember that these are exaggerated moments and that what you're seeing is everything at its best/shiniest/happiest/most Pinterest-worthy. It's a rotten game to start comparing yourself to such unrealistic standards, and it's one that is ultimately impossible to win. Because outside the frame of every shiny, sparkling picture, all of us have dirty dishes, shabby furniture and ugly rooms too.

Hummingbird High's Kitchen Remodel, Pt. II: Inspiration

This is Part II of my three-part renovation diary for my kitchen remodel last summer. I wrote this post while the kitchen was being demo-ed, but never got around to publishing it until now. Oops. In this post, I talk about planning the new kitchen and discuss design ideas. To see pictures of my kitchen before the remodel, check out Part I: Before the Remodel

When I first started thinking about the aesthetic for my new kitchen, I knew that I wanted a design that wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb when compared with the rest of the century-old house (the house was built in 1912). But that was it. Since this was my first house and my first major renovation, I was trying to stay as open-minded and flexible as I could be.

Naturally, I turned to Pinterest and started a board to keep track of the styles I was drawn towards. Pretty soon it became apparent that I was leaning towards a particular look — white cabinets and subway tile, paired with butcher block countertops:

(image source: A Cup of Jo)

My current kitchen, which was last renovated in the 1950s, has tile countertops. The tile is stone-hard and especially awful on our plateware — over the last year, I've had more plates, cups, and glasses broken because of it. I was drawn to butcher block since wood promised to be softer than the tile, and I loved the fact that it could potentially be used as a cutting board. Plus, I could pretend I lived the kind of hipster/prairie farm/matte life that they lived in Kinfolk! Yessss.

However, the more I researched butcher block countertops, the more I realized they were pretty high maintenance for an everyday kitchen. Remodelista warned that butcher block countertops required oiling at least twice a year, while The Kitchn warned of mold problems and water damage. Since both Erlend and I are quite messy in the kitchen, I realized that butcher block would require too much upkeep, one that I would most likely be too lazy or absent-minded to maintain. I sighed and accepted that my dreams of living the Kinfolk life wouldn't be happening with this remodel.

Looking through my Pinterest board, I noticed that the second style I was drawn towards was that of all white everything (cabinets, subway tile, beadboard and walls) paired with marble countertops:

(image source: Apartment Therapy)

Unfortunately, marble countertops are even more high maintenance than butcher block countertops! Marble is notorious for being incredibly porous and absorbing basically anything that spills on it — water, oil, wine, you name it — leading to stains on your countertop. Yikes! It's also not very temperature friendly and has a tendency to crack if a hot pan is placed on it. Sigh.

When I showed my kitchen designer the image above, however, he shrugged. "Why don't you check out quartz? They make some great quartz countertops that look like marble, minus all the fuss." Indeed, the Kitchn confirmed: quartz was environmentally friendly, non-porous, and stain-and-crack resistant. I was sold. He showed me some options for a quartz countertop that would emulate the marble that I admired so much: Caesarstone's Frosty Carrina and London Gray. While the Frosty Carrina was a warm white, London Gray was a cooler, very pale gray.

I couldn't decide between the two colors, my designer suggested that I make the decision based on my cabinet colors. At this point, I was 100% sure that I wanted white cabinets, no matter what. My only hesitation was that I was very drawn to some of the two tone cabinet look that I'd been seeing on Pinterest, where the bottom half of the kitchen is one color, and the upper cabinets are another. I just love, love, love the contrast between the bottom dark cabinets and the lighter upper cabinets:

(image sources: ChatelaineDesire to Inspire)

My big concern, however, was that my kitchen doesn't really get a whole lot of natural light. It's this weird L-shape where the main area with the range and fridge only has one window. Although the window is admittedly large (and thankfully, placed above the kitchen sink), it just does not let enough natural light in. With dark cabinets and a dark doug fir wood floor, I worried that the kitchen was in danger of being a dark cave.

My kitchen designer, however, suggested a great alternative — go lighter. "Two tone cabinets don't necessarily have to be just black and white," he said, placing some light gray paint chips in front of me. "Why don't we consider white cabinets up top with a dove gray at the bottom? The light gray will look great with the London Grey countertops."

Instantly, I fell in love with this idea.  I even found a picture on Pinterest that matched the look he suggested:

(image source: Planete Deco)

Of course, my kitchen is nowhere near as big and airy as that picture, but at the very least, I was going to have that color scheme. SQUEEEEE.

To go with the dove gray and marble look-alike countertops, I decided I wanted a classic white subway tile backsplash and a matching white farmer's sink. Because as I was putting together my Pinterest inspiration board, it quickly became apparent that I was drawn to this sort of look again and again:

(image source: Damernas)

Consciously, I always knew that I also wanted a design that would be timeless enough where, if I sold the house ten years down the road, the prospective buyers wouldn't wrinkle their noses and go, "Ohmagawd, this kitchen is soooo 2014!" As far as backsplashes go, subway tile is pretty timeless and probably one of the least offensive choices I could make.

The farmer's sink, however, is slightly more divisive — it's certainly one of the hippest and hottest kitchen accessories at the moment. More worrisome is that I heard mixed reviews about it from two of my trusted blogger friends. Molly warned me that the pretty white needed a LOT of cleanup since it has a tendency showed every stain and crumb, while Steph emailed that the porcelain material was particularly hard on her plateware. I was heartbroken! I'd lusted after this double bowl farmer's sink from Ikea for so long, that I wasn't sure what to do next. It's still something I'm currently figuring out.

And finally, one of the things I hoped to do with the kitchen remodel was to open it up a little bit. As I mentioned earlier, the kitchen is a bit of an awkward L-shape, with two windows in the nook and one window in the main area. Unfortunately, there's a weird archway between the two, preventing a lot of natural light from coming into the kitchen area. One of my priorities was to knock this wall down and open up the kitchen as much as I could. I would then build a built-in breakfast nook, and the whole kitchen would look something to the effect of this:

(image source: Design Sponge)

I'm especially excited about the nook because it'll create space in the kitchen specifically for lingering and enjoying oneself. Although I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, I usually zip out of there as fast as possible after I've finished my cooking and cleaning because, currently, there isn't really much space to do anything but chores. But the new nook will be perfect for relaxing and just hanging out in the kitchen, which I'm really excited about, especially since I spend so much time there in the first place.

Thanks for listen to me ramble. Next post, I'll be doing THE BIG REVEAL, complete with before/after photos! Stay tuned.

March 2, 2015

Hummingbird High's Kitchen Remodel, Pt. I: Before

So... I remodeled my kitchen last summer and never got around to publishing these posts that I wrote during the remodel back in September. Although the remodel finished around October, I only got around to taking pictures of the end result this past January with my friend Celeste. I'm finally publishing these for you guys to enjoy... welcome to my much delayed renovation diary!


A few months ago, I was at a local Portland bloggers' meetup. One of the attendees came up to me and struck a conversation about my blog. "I love your stuff," she said. "I'd love to see what your kitchen is like. Maybe you could do a tour for your blog or something? I bet you it's beautiful."

It took all my self-restraint not to just spit out my drink and just laugh in her face. Because the fact of the matter is, my kitchen is a nightmare. Cramped, lacking in natural light, work surfaces,and modern amenities (like a hood, as seen above). Not to mention constantly greasy and messy from me and my housemates' never ending kitchen-related projects. Even the storage space is nothing to write home about — if you check out the picture above, you'll notice that many cupboards are either too small to fit anything substantial (hence the pot and microwave rack to the left of the range), and the other cupboards to tall and inaccessible for everyday use (I am only 5"3 after all).


When I purchased the house last summer, I didn't realize just how bad the kitchen actually was. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted a dishwasher, and figured that it would be easy to install enough. So I made that my priority first thing, before even moving into the house. The contractor gave me bad news: a dishwasher installation would be pricey as hell, because I had neither the electrical or plumbing setup to do so. Not to mention that my counters were only 18 inches deep, whereas almost every single standard dishwasher has a depth of 24 inches. To install one, I'd basically need to rip out the side of my kitchen pictured above. So yep, a year later, I've equipped the kitchen with two drying racks that are constantly overflowing. For every recipe you see on this blog, there's probably an hour's worth of cleanup (the majority of it being dishwashing). It's exhausting and, truth be told, sometimes discourages me from cooking and baking.

Now let's talk about space. Although my kitchen is configured to the classic kitchen work triangle (where the sink, fridge and range are in a triangular shape from one another), the fridge literally just SITS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE KITCHEN, eating up a crazy amount of space:


The configuration really doesn't allow for more than one person at a time in the kitchen, since it's so freaking cramped. Luckily, the kitchen has a weird little nook to the right of the fridge that's used as a secondary space for food preparation:


Although I love the nook and the extra space it proves, I wish it were more integrated with the kitchen. Currently, it's just some weird other space that happens to be nearby. The other downside is that the archway, while cute, blocks a lot of natural light coming into the work space of the kitchen. The nook has two windows, one west-facing and the other south-facing, and all that beautiful light is just trapped in there. Ugh!

So, what am I thinking for my kitchen? First, function over form. I'm prioritizing modern amenities like a hood, a dishwasher and a disposal. Second, I want to open it up — knock down that weird archway to bring more light and find a place for the fridge to reclaim more space for counters and cabinetry. Tune in next post to see inspiration ideas for my remodel!