When interior designer Susan Brunstrum, from Libertyville, decided to downsize last year, one of the major areas of focus was her kitchen. Brunstrum likes to entertain, but she loves to cook. Therefore the design of her kitchen had to be just right.
"I had to make it mine -- even though I had a condensed space, I knew I still wanted an island with seating and a second sink," Susan said. The end result is a roomy kitchen that lures guests into participating in the cooking process.
Susan has been cooking since she was a teenager.
"I've always liked cooking, it's cathartic for me," she said.
You'd find several cookbooks in Susan's new kitchen, many from Ina Garten, TV's Barefoot Contessa, but two volumes are especially precious to her.
The first is a collection of recipes from her grandmother, who Susan lived with while attending graduate school.
"I learned more about cooking from living with her and from her sister who lived next door, than from anything else." When Susan was given her grandmother's recipes she compiled them into a book to give to relatives.
The second cookbook is one that her daughter made for her as a gift. Susan had always talked about collecting the "go-to" recipes that her friends rely on daily to feed their families, but it was her daughter that followed through. These tried-and-true recipes are made often and have expanded Susan's repertoire.
"I like recipes that aren't extremely time-consuming, nor have a thousand ingredients. I believe the less ingredients, the purer the taste," says Susan, a working mother of two. "Every mom gets into a rut of making the same thing, but these are recipes we share and use all the time."
When her children were younger, Susan made an effort to serve family dinners.
"Cooking can be the glue that holds a family together. If I hadn't cooked family meals, we wouldn't have these cherished times together," she says. "If you just pick up something up on the way home, and don't cook, there's a tendency not to sit down and eat together."
With the holidays beckoning, Susan is focusing her attention on the Christmas meal.
"What I make for dinner varies from year to year, depending on the circumstances and how many I'm serving -- I've had as many as 30 people. It could be a ham, filets or tenderloin. And of course we always have to have a little bit of Italian!"
One thing that doesn't vary, however, is the Christmas breakfast.
"We have a set breakfast menu that we have to have: homemade caramel rolls, egg casserole, French toast casserole and believe it or not, salami, thinly sliced and fried until crispy!"
While Susan pays lots of attention to the menu, she never leaves her designer instincts far behind.
"The tablescape is important. A lot of people forget about that. It doesn't have to be crazy. So many people get so overwhelmed that they just do nothing."
"First, make sure that the guests can see each other. Mix and match, use different pieces of china together, or different colored napkins. I do try to use what I have, like a favorite bowl, or flowers in glass vases, but with a few pieces of fruit tucked in."