Home for the Holidays

Thanksgiving was a few days ago and we’re just now waking up from our turkey-induced food comas. You have to love a tradition that encourages third helpings and nodding off on the couch while guests are still eating. But most importantly, Thanksgiving is a day to express gratitude.

Many of us take the preparation of this annual feast for granted. Sure, we might help a bit by opening a few jars and carving the bird, but big deal. We’re far-removed from the front lines of feast prep, and we kind of like it that way.

We want to thank the remarkable cooks who shop for, prepare and host incredible Thanksgiving meals for gatherings of friends and family – especially those cooks who pull it off under less-than-perfect conditions.

We’re talking about cooks with kitchens so cramped they have to go outside to change their minds, and using appliances so old you swear they came over with the pilgrims.

These are conditions that cause the best, most patient cooks to shake their fists in the air and cry out in frustration, “I can’t make another Thanksgiving dinner in this blankety-blank kitchen!”

A poor kitchen layout can turn making a simple meal into a dreaded ordeal for the beleaguered cook. Bad lighting and unpredictable appliances can turn Grandma’s trusted recipe into a culinary disaster. Poor traffic flow creates log jams at the sink and turns cleanup into a tedious, isolating chore. Inadequate pantry and refrigerator storage means more last-minute trips to the store for a busy chef. Lack of counter space makes it hard to perform simple tasks like rolling a pie crust. It doesn’t matter how you slice it, cramped kitchens make grumpy cooks (and we argue lumpier gravy).

More often than not, kitchens that feel cramped and dated have adequate square footage and simply suffer from a case of poor layout. This can often be resolved with a minor remodel.

According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2011-12 “Cost vs. Value” report, the average return on a major kitchen remodel in the Mountain Regions of the United States is nearly 66 percent, and a minor kitchen remodel will recoup 72 percent of your costs. When you invest in making your kitchen nicer for your favorite cook, it increases your re-sale value as it earns you brownie points. Score.

When considering a kitchen remodel, look for underutilized space, such as a breakfast nook, blank wall or adjoining closet. You might remove a wall to combine the kitchen and dining room in one open, larger entertaining area. If you have space, add an island with bar stools, beverage sink and storage. Rearrange existing cabinetry and appliances to make efficient work triangles that facilitate flow. Think about purchasing energy star appliances, proper task lighting, and natural flooring and countertops to address health, safety and comfort issues.

So go ahead and put your money where your mouth is. The smile on your favorite cook’s face is worth the investment.