Home. It’s the place little boys track mud through after hours of fort building in the yard and the backdrop for watching your daughter pin a corsage on her first prom date. It’s the setting for watching UK vs. UofL basketball games and hosting your best friend’s baby shower. Our home, if we allow it, can provide a source of comfort from a weary day and a hedge of protection from the world. Certain smells remind us of home, both past and present: soup beans simmering on the stove, dad’s after-dinner pipe smoke, or the scent of freshly cut peonies from the garden. How our home looks reflects our personality and over time will read like a life diary of photographs and trinkets reminding us and sharing with others a lifetime of milestones, adventures and experiences. Whether a family of five in Bowling Green, a bachelor in Covington or a grandmother of 12 in the hills of eastern Kentucky, we all have the opportunity in this life to create home.
At the age of 15, I began traveling the world. In fact, over the past two decades I have spanned the globe several times. What I have found in remote tribal villages of Papua New Guinea, the booming metropolis of Beijing, the barren lands of Outer Mongolia and the back roads of Kentucky is this: Home is not four walls and a roof on a piece of real estate in the suburbs. That is but a house. Home should be, for each of us, the place that offers us sanctuary and well-being, even if all we presently call our own is an inexpensive comforter on a twin-size bed in a college dorm room.
Seven years ago, my husband and I tucked away our passports and put down roots in Lexington. From the dining room table of our tiny bungalow, with our second baby underfoot, I started a blog, The Art of Homemaking. What began as a way to journal our daily life and provide a creative outlet to share recipes, decorating ideas and homemaking inspiration has grown over time to an astounding worldwide readership that visits daily for ideas and inspiration.
Whatever version of home we create should provide our family the freedom to truly be ourselves, have confidence to pursue our passions and a place to feel refueled and refreshed. This is the heart of the art of homemaking. For children, this is especially important. Making an effort to create a loving, thriving and comforting space for them is one of the most important things we will ever do. It isn’t the Pottery Barn bedroom set they need. It’s the routine of making Saturday morning pancakes in the kitchen. And it isn’t the once-a-year birthday party extravaganzas that they will remember most, but putting together jigsaw puzzles on a cold, snowy night around the dining room table.
During this season of life, where I have traded in treks through bamboo forests for treks through Red River Gorge, and I have exchanged climbing the Great Wall for climbing the stairs to put my three sons to bed each night, my goal is this: to create our most quintessential version of home imaginable. This is not a perfect home by any means. My walls have pencil drawings, and the stairs are lined with mismatched socks and pajamas from the morning rush to school. On any given day, my kitchen floor is patterned with muddy dog prints, and sometimes we have peanut butter sandwiches and popcorn for dinner. But in a time when life keeps us running in a thousand directions, I believe we can still keep our home the center of everything that is good, simple, thoughtful and comforting.
The beauty of the art of homemaking is that it is uniquely everyone’s own to create.
My version of home won’t line up with yours, and that’s a good thing. The sounds, the traditions and the rhythm of your home have your fingerprints all over it. There isn’t a science to it, and there need not be any previous experience.
In the months and years to come, I will share stories of Kentuckians creating their own quintessential versions of home. I will share what I have learned and continue to learn about everything homemaking—from cooking to baking, to gardening, crafting, homesteading and memory making. Most of all, living a fulfilling and joyful life at home in Kentucky.
Strawberry Buttermilk Cake
A cast iron-baked buttermilk cake is comfort food here at what we call the Smith Homestead. I will often whip up this easy recipe during the nightly dinner cleanup, and before long, the house is filled with a sweet smell and bellies are filled with a simple yet delicious dessert.
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ stick unsalted butter, softened
2⁄3 cup plus 1½ tablespoons sugar, divided
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
½ cup low-fat buttermilk, well shaken
1-2 cups fresh strawberries (any berries will do)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in the middle. Butter a deep cast iron pan (or 9” round cake pan) and cut a parchment paper round to place in the bottom of the pan.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and set aside.
3. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 2⁄3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add egg and beat well.
4. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.
5. Spoon batter into cake pan and smooth the top. Scatter the berries evenly over the cake, and sprinkle the entire cake with the remaining 1½ tablespoons sugar.
6. Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean—20 to 25 minutes.