A family congregates in a kitchen filled with love and sweet memories
Michelle Milton-McDonald is getting assistance from a few sous chefs in her Santa Fe kitchen these days.
Her three young daughters, ages 3, 6 and 8, love to get their hands messy while mixing cookie dough or meatloaf, but they also like to measure ingredients.
“They love to bake, especially cookies,” Milton-McDonald said.
Her husband, Danny McDonald, is a fixture in the kitchen when it comes to lasagna and eggplant Parmesan, but his talents shine when barbecuing on the outdoor grill.
“We all like to participate with making healthy family meals, and like traditional comfort foods,” said Milton-McDonald, whose kitchen is her new happy place. “I learned a lot about cooking from my mom and two grandmothers, plus I get fresh vegetables from friends and mom, who have gardens.”
The kitchen underwent many changes after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, so she has a more spacious working area, and a place where the family can congregate.
In 2013, the family bought the house, built in the 1970s. Previous owners had done some remodeling in the 1990s. The yellow wallpaper, vinyl flooring and Formica countertops in the kitchen didn’t survive the storm, so that paved the way for some modern updates.
“We started over basically, but were able to keep the kitchen cabinets, removing the upper ones over the bar area that blocked our view of the breakfast area, family room and outdoors,” Milton-McDonald said. “Since the oak cabinets had been custom-built by the previous owners, we just painted them white and added new bronze hardware.”
All new stainless appliances, except the dishwasher, are Kenmore Elite brands. The Formica has been replaced with ganache granite, which is a mix of mid-tone grays, white veins and dark charcoal flecks. The backsplash of glossy ceramic subway tiles adds a nice sheen.
The family had AquaGuard laminate floors installed in the kitchen and most of the other rooms in the house.
A new picture window and two side windows over the window seat provide a perfect view of the outdoors and pastureland.
“I grew up around horses, and as a practicing veterinarian with horses of my own, I wanted to bring the outside in, so the view is probably the best thing I like about my new kitchen,” Milton-McDonald said.
The dining table in the breakfast room miraculously survived and, for that, Milton-McDonald is thankful, she said.
“It’s the first piece of furniture I owned while living in College Station,” she said. “It was distressed to begin with, had bumps and bruises from wear and tear, plus the construction crew used it for their equipment. Also, my youngest daughter spent a lot of time banging it with her shoes, so the table is a survivor and has stories to tell.”
A popcorn machine is nearby and gets used often. A giant wooden breadboard that spells EAT hangs on the wall. Animal magnets cover the refrigerator and the youngest daughter likes to sit on a stool nearby and “pretend cook” with items from a drawer. A rolling pen collection in an apothecary jar has an interesting story.
“When my grandmother passed away recently, I brought things of hers into my home that reminded me of her,” Milton-McDonald said. “I already had some rolling pins, but the smallest one in the jar was hers. As a young bride, she’d gone next door to borrow a rolling pin and the neighbor said, ‘I have the perfect one for your tiny hands.’”
There are sentimental pieces here and there, like a turtle pot filled with ivy that belonged to her paternal grandmother and a ceramic snail that was her maternal grandmother’s, as well as a spoon collection.
An antique scale from Wimberley, ceramic cow creamer, plates encased in a chicken feeder and a bucket full of fall flowers all add homey touches.
When the oldest daughter isn’t stirring her special queso recipe, she and her sisters are lending a hand in the kitchen whenever possible, especially when it comes to baking their favorite cookies.
“They are affectionately known as ‘My Elizabeth’ cookies — it’s what we called the lady who took care of my mother when my mother was small,” she said. “We all thought she was our grandmother, but she wasn’t. We just loved her, and she’d send us these cookies in Pringle cans on our birthdays. Every time we make them, we think of her.”
Kitchen items she can’t do without: Small Teflon one-egg pan, Sunbeam mixer and triple loaf pan
Heirlooms: Both grandmothers’ china tea sets and rose-colored glassware from maternal grandmother
Favorite spices: Cumin, garlic powder, lemon pepper and Corky’s Cookout Seasoning
My Elizabeth Chocolate Chip Cookies
½ cup salted butter
1¼ cup white sugar
1¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
24 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
Mix all ingredients and drop on cookie sheet with a rounded tablespoon 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes until light brown.
Note: If you make them in large sizes, cook for 13 minutes. They will be soft in the middle.