Monday, March 12, 2018

In My Kitchen

My kitchen.

Lately, it is the only place I want to be.

It almost never looks like this, though. That photo up top is an older one, "showing the house for the blog" clean, and well, we definitely don't live like that. Ever. 

It often looks more like this, when I'm in the throes of some manic baking (that's a thing, here.)

Women aren't supposed to cook the way I do, any more. We aren't supposed to have the time. I don't either. And yet, I still shove little bits and pieces of my schedule aside, put in some prep hours on Sundays, cook two meals on a free night to have a hot meal on the busy one, anything I can do to elbow other priorities out of the way so that I can cook.

I don't always want to. I cook regularly for five, all with different tastes and preferences, some of them finicky. Some (most) days I come home tired from work, and I get out of patience for everyone's delicate sensibilities when it comes to casseroles and vegetables and whatever else. Fine. Eat a sandwich for all I care. There's a local breakfast cafe that has its cheeky motto painted on the wall: "Just like home, you can't always get what you want." True that. There's not a lot of romance to the day in, day out aspect of cooking.

When the entire crew visits, which is my kids plus Tom's kids (eight of them), I cook for armies-- grandparents and significant others and friends. We budge around the edges of rooms crowded by expanded tables and cook extra potatoes in big pots and take out the trash, hourly it seems.

The kitchen is not only hard-used, it's showing it. When we moved into this house I had installed new Formica counters and a stainless steel sink on the early 70s-era birch cabinets, refinished those, and painted. I never got to the floor, which is fake vinyl parquet, with broken corners and permanently ground-in dirt.

There's almost always flour  spilled on it; it's ugly and dirty and mopping seems to make no difference.

The dishwasher keeps chugging along, but it is more than 10 years old and I fear every day might be its last. The refrigerator drawers make me cuss.

But I want to be here. In my kitchen. Even when it's a mess, even when it's just hot dogs, even when it's crammed to bursting with people and pots, even when I think for the billionth time that those janky casement windows are going to be the reason we freeze (winter) or roast (summer).

Why do I want to be here? It's too easy to simply say I like to cook, because there's more to it than that. There's something more essential going on. I know this because especially now, with the world gone mad and work gone dull and schedule so full, I find myself, every weekend, up in my own kitchen, scrubbing the counters and making grocery lists, chopping vegetables and inventing bread recipes.

Cherry-almond bread. It wasn't a failure, but the experiment needs further research.

Some of it is in the genetics. The women who raised me cooked because they had to, but also to sustain family labor, to celebrate milestones and endure griefs, to show love. I know there are dietary experts out there who decry the use of food as way to show love, but I feel they are dead wrong, feel it so strongly that it's probably worth an entirely separate piece of journal writing.

There's an old relationship self-help book called the Five Love Languages, and it names "acts of devotion" as one of those languages. Cooking and baking are my act of devotion. That's why, when people ask me "why are you going to that much trouble?" when I've dirtied every bowl in the house making a particularly difficult cake recipe, or decide that homemade tomato soup really is better than canned, I blink at them. The word "trouble" never entered my mind while I was doing it. It is why, even though I am an introvert and am sometimes overwhelmed by a packed household, I will gladly plan meals for as many as 15-20 people at a time, populate my kitchen with volunteer (or not so volunteer) potato peelers and dish washers, and siblings being silly. I may be on the sofa with a cup of coffee and a book the next day, restoring my introvert equilibrium. But I will never regret the act of devotion inherent in those meals, those cakes, those occasions.

It's not just the cooking, either. Acts of devotion have taken a lot of forms in this room.

Like flirting with the resident handyman as he passes in and out, working on his own acts.

And represented in items from others, like this pie plate from my sister and quilted runner made by my mother. I love all the warm colors.

 Celebrations of all sorts:

Ben and Joe are 14 now. That was fast, wasn't it? They still like as much candy and frosting on the cake as I can manage, though.

Spending time together, doing whatever:

Let me introduce you to Eli, Tom's son, who was teaching himself how to knit two Thanksgivings ago.

I'll also freely admit to some pretty low-rent drinking in this kitchen. Maybe not an act of devotion exactly, but there it is, part of the mix. Some of the best times I've ever had with friends have been drinking at my kitchen table with a bowl of chips in the middle, card game optional.

That goes for the refrigerator magnets of questionable humor, as well. We have questionable humor in this house as a general rule, though, and it gets us through a lot of days where the acts of devotion are harder to manage with grace.

It's been a trite turn of phrase forever that the kitchen is the heart of the home. I think it's probably actually the hands, because I keep returning to the idea of those acts of devotion. Those acts. Just like the cooking and baking, it must be practiced daily to keep getting better at it--not just the glory and pride of serving up some beautiful thing to others, but also the time, the preparation, the work, the attention to detail, the correction of errors, the cleaning up of the daily living of life afterwards. There must be rhythm, ritual, regularity, and maintenance. Sometimes there are messes to clean up. It can't be done any other way than getting your hands on it, and getting to work.

I seem to need that part of my kitchen right now, and it's why I want to so fully inhabit it. I've got things I need to get my hands on. I can start, at least, with making dinner for the people I love. What comes next, I'll learn by practicing daily. 

1 comment:

  1. Laura, I haven't read your blog since 2017, so I'm enjoying catching up. Love this heartwarming post. Number one, it gave me a chance to see your green canister turntable again. The last time you posted that top picture, I commented that I had one just like it tucked away in a closet and perhaps I should get it out of hiding and put it on my minuscule kitchen counter. I am happy to report that I did so. Unlike you, I rarely bake anymore, so I have used it to corral a host of small kitchen items that I reach for often. I'm so glad I was inspired by your post of several years ago to put mine where I could see and use it as a happy reminder of my mother's kitchen from long ago (I think the 60s).

    Smiled at your mention of The Five Love Languages. That book is still in print, and I have recently gifted two as wedding presents.

    Enjoyed the picture of the twins. I remember the post you did about them several years ago, with that sweet photo of them being such big buddies, then you posed a couple of their action figures to depict how they actually acted toward one another sometimes. I think I commented on that one too, because our family had recently been blessed with twin boys (my great-grandsons), and we were already beginning to find out what interesting creatures they were. I laughed over that post, and forwarded it to my granddaughter, who got a kick out of it also. Your boys are 14 now, and our boys are about to be five, I believe.

    It was fun to see the picture of Tom's son Eli learning to knit (way to go, Eli!), but the thing that most struck me is that it has been more than two years since you two reconnected, because it seems like no time since you were somewhat bashfully revealing this new relationship.

    Okay, back to see what else you have penned. Knew if I didn't comment right now, I would probably forget to come back and do so. You are a gifted writer and I enjoy your lovely house and garden, so I'm glad to see you post again. Miriam