In the morning, when I first wake up, I’m increasingly less eager to leave the bed. Blustery weather, darkness that lingers, and that dratted alarm clock bleating too early—they all make me want to stay under the warm covers. But then I open my eyes, and think, “There’s coffee in the kitchen. All I have to do is go in there and turn on the button, and that warm, dark smell will suffuse the entire house.” So I stumble into the kitchen, and watch that red light turn on, and the gorgeous smell emerges. And I sit down at my little kitchen table, waiting for it to finish brewing, and feel awake.
When I’m at school, deep in the middle of seemingly endless work, one conference after another, wonderful but exhausting connections with adolescent beings filling my day—I flash on an image of being in my kitchen at the end of the day, my bags dropped from my shoulders, and I’m starting to chop some vegetables on my scarred cutting block. I breathe out, and know I can make it through the day, as long as I make it back to the kitchen.
And when I’m sitting here, writing, on the couch, my feet propped up on the blue exercise ball, and I hit a moment of not knowing what words to trust, I look over into the kitchen. And I see flowers on the table, photographs on the refrigerator, and an entire box of organic vegetables waiting to be cooked. And suddenly, I find my words.
So when I was tagged with the latest blogger meme, I was thrilled to see it was Show Us Your Kitchen. Since this is where I spend the best of my time, I’m happy to share these little flashes of images with you.
The photograph above is actually my favorite part of the kitchen. Look at those skylights. Liquid light spills down onto the table and white linoleum floor on sunny Seattle afternoons. This past Saturday, I woke up to a messy kitchen. After the big dinner party on Friday night, I went to bed just after my guests left. Oh, I put away all the perishable items, and scraped the biggest piles of food off the plates, but I was exhausted. I’m not a big stickler for a continuously tidy kitchen. Granted, I like it better when the place is spick and span, but it doesn’t always happen. I use my kitchen. Every day. The dishwasher runs every evening. And I long ago let go of the notion that I couldn’t go to bed until everything is sparkling. Life’s too short.
So when I woke up Saturday morning, I went to make my coffee, curl up with the paper, then set to cleaning. But the light was so achingly gorgeous that I had no choice but to take photographs. One of the questions of this meme goes something like this: tell us what your kitchen says about you. And here’s mine: I notice the light more than the imperfections that need to be changed. Life’s imperfect. That’s why it’s so joyful. If I had started cleaning, instead of picking up the camera, I wouldn’t have swallowed this light, which enflamed everything it touched, including me.
I’m blessed with a big kitchen, spacious and wide. I can fit twenty people in there. At parties, people lounge against the counters, talking and drinking wine. It heartens me to know that people feel comfortable in my home. But I have no dining room, no big table where everyone can fit. If you come over here to eat, you’re going to have to sit on the living room floor, on the worn carpet, and balance the plate on your knees. When I’m by myself, or with one other friend, I’m sitting at this tiny little table in the nook. I prop my feet up on the counter, spread out the newspaper, and let the light fall down upon my head.
And I can look at my small white shelves, stocked with gluten-free staples. Corn meal, arborio rice, teff flour, amaranth, garbanzo beans, tuna, crushed tomatoes, cashews, and tuna—I couldn’t live without them. Two sets of small white shelves encompass my entire pantry. I live alone. I don’t need much. And with four great grocery stores within ten minutes of my house, I don’t need to fill my grocery cart with food every time I shop. But I keep a few small staples, always near me, to spontaneously fill my kitchen with smells of great food.
On the side of the nook? My spice shelf. There’s another one over the counter near the stove, with the ten spices I need most, the ones I use for savory tastes and baking: nutmeg; chili powder; cinnamon; salt, etc. But this one, on the right side of the nook—I reach for it more and more. Coriander. Turmeric. Cumin seeds. And especially, ground ginger. When I cook, I love to lean over and just grab a handful of bottles, then throw handfuls into the pot. Lately, I’ve been buying small clear bottles, then buying organic spices in bulk. It’s cheaper that way, plus it means I always have fresh spices. And if you’re looking closely at this photo, you’ll see—and this is sort of embarrassing—that this spice shelf is actually alphabetized. That’s a recent innovation. We’ll see how long it lasts.
And over here, on the enormous metal shelves I bought in August, are some of my favorite, more exotic spices. The ones that are becoming most essential. Smoked paprika from Spain. Chestnut honey from Tuscany. Herbed sea salt from Venice. Survival Spice. Creole seasoning I made in early September. And Mariebelle hot chocolate, which is quickly becoming a nightly event on these cold autumn nights. And in the late afternoon, when the sun is out, this little shrine just shines.
Over here, the refrigerator. It’s a pretty standard size. It came with the apartment. (Actually, I live in the top half of a house, which I rent, in a beautiful little neighborhood in Seattle, right across the street from a corner grocery store stocked with organic, gourmet items. How lucky am I?) I do love it, though. What’s inside tonight? Greek yogurt, nonfat. Three eggs from my brother’s chickens. String cheese. Leftover polenta. Chicken stock from Sunday. Gruyere cheese. Nonfat milk. Applesauce. Ume plum vinegar and a whole door full of condiments. Green olives. And more. Not as much as normal, because I’m headed on a trip soon. But when I first return home, I love looking in the refrigerator, and thinking, “Hmmmm, what should I eat today?” And on the front, photographs of some of my favorite people. Along with some of the photographs I’ve taken that show up on this website. You might even recognize some from July. I’m actually printing up my favorites, slowly, and mounting them on the kitchen walls. Soon, I’ll be surrounded by food.
Here’s the microwave. I accepted it into my home, reluctantly, after years of not having one. It is handy, I’ll admit it. Melting butter for baking. Re-heating soup the next day. Warming up the last cup of coffee in the afternoon. But that’s about it. Call me an old-fashioned girl. I still like the stove instead.
Sadly, my stove isn’t that great. It works, and I’ve cooked all these meals on its battered burners. It’s an electric stove, and I prefer gas. And in fact, two of the burners barely work. But somehow, I make it work. Someday, however, I want an elegant gas stove, with sturdy burners, ones that always work and flame up immediately. Someday.
And by the way, see the dirty dishes? That’s what comes from cooking full-course meals every day. Sometimes, you just have to mess up the kitchen.
This is the full kitchen shot, through the archway of the living room. It’s a much darker picture, because I took it on Sunday, when the day bloomed grey and gloomy. I had meant to mop the kitchen, have all the surfaces gleaming, before I showed off the entire room. After all, it’s easy to clean off one corner and have it look perfect in close-up. But this is me, imperfect and alive. And sometimes now, I even let friends come over when there are dishes all over the counter.
Last night, my friend Quinn came up the stairs before I’d finished cleaning. Oh well. The stove-top was besmirched with chocolate stains from the chocolate sorbet I’d made the night before. Even six months ago, I would have felt nervous, wanting to apologize for everything not being perfect. I would have been embarrassed. But now? No way. Since I was diagnosed with celiac disease, and I stopped eating gluten, my mind has become more even. And in fact, I now mark my life as pre-gluten and post-gluten. Everything’s a fresh start now. And after near-death car accident and months of painful mystery before I stopped eating gluten, I know, down to the bone, that life’s too short to be embarrassed for no reasons. Besides, Quinn and I were going to make homemade potato chips (per his request), and I knew that oil would spill down on the stove. Why bother cleaning until after that?
We told stories and laughed, laughed so hard my stomach hurt. The chips grew crisper with every batch. We drank wine and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. A clean kitchen couldn’t have made it any better.
But I really do intend to mop the floor one day.
This meme asked us to write about our favorite appliance, and I have to say my KitchenAid. I’ve had this trusty blue machine for ten years, and it shows no signs of slowing. It works so beautifully, so reliably, and it makes all baking spectacular. I love it so much that I dragged it with me on my move to New York City. And then back again, to Seattle. I hope it’s always with me.
But I have to say, that lately, I’ve been enjoying the crock pot almost as much. I don’t have a photograph. But I have a recipe for Provencal beef stew, which I made the other night. Lately, I’ve been sauteeing meat and slicing onions in the morning, before I go to school, and letting the stews slowly simmer while I’m at school. When I walk in the door, the smell makes me run up the stairs. Always, food awakens me.
PROVENCAL BEEF STEW
Sorry guys. Recipe tomorrow.