The kitchen demolition at Rosedale started two weeks ago but I wasn’t there to watch since the kitchen really isn’t my territory anymore. Last October Kyle took over the cooking and the result has been more creative meals, experimental dishes, general healthier eating, and happy humming that goes on while the meal is being prepared. I still saunter in to do a little baking when I have time, but we all know who we really want in the kitchen.
My mother taught me to cook when I was in elementary school, so I do have skills and did most of the cooking during our 27 years of marriage. There are two kinds of cooks – those who fearlessly mess around with the recipes, and those who use recipe card holders and never deviate from what is printed on those cards. My mother and I are the latter. Her recipe cards are stained and creased because she never winged it. Like her, in this area of my life I play it safe. My collection of cookbooks and recipes clipped from magazines – and later pulled from the Internet – got me through those 27 years of cooking. No one complained, except Colin, 15 years ago when I tried a new recipe for spinach burritos. He can’t let go of it and reminds us frequently how scarring it was for him. No one else can recall this meal, so I’m not counting it as a fail. But there’s a new chef now and I couldn’t be happier, which means I’m mostly staying out of the kitchen remodel decisions. He knows what kind of cook top and stove he wants, the configuration of countertop space, cabinets that will roll out and hold pots and pans. And on it goes. This is our first kitchen remodel and although we aren’t knocking out walls, it feels like we’re building something from scratch. We are replacing original upper cabinets, and when they were removed we discovered that the wall behind them needed both sheetrock and insulation. An earlier remodel had not properly prepared the walls, and so what we thought would be a simple cabinet installation became major wall prep. And a corner that was angled and held the refrigerator was taking up precious space, so the angle is no more and the refrigerator will move to the opposite wall.
Most of this was discussed and decided after we bought the house. I was content to leave it all strangely angled because it felt safer. But I was overruled and the angle has been replaced with a straight-line corner, which they tell me will open up the space. This kitchen is smaller than our current kitchen and has no room for a breakfast table, but we’re not willing to go big with this remodel. I’ve had moments of wishing for a little more space between the sink and the stove, but then I watched a few HGTV remodel shows and now I feel better about myself. I thought asking for a lazy Susan and a pantry wall was demanding. Not so. Our contractor has shared with us several stories of outrageously expensive kitchen remodels for people who rarely cooked. They mostly ate out and carried in, but paid big money to upgrade their kitchen to chef’s standards. I have no judgement on this (okay, maybe just a little), but it seems the thing that makes the kitchen is the people in it – preparing, anticipating, gathering around, saying grace over, and then, finally, eating the food. This can happen in beautiful ways with or without an island, eat-in bar, granite countertops or a sub-zero refrigerator.
The kitchen has always been the hub of our house for many reasons, but mostly because this is where the real conversations happen. It may not be this way for everyone, but in our family the kitchen is where big announcements have been made, arguments have been started and resolved, major decisions have been discussed (beyond what we’re having for dinner that night), and guests have lingered at the beginning and ending of an evening together – choosing to stand even though we have comfortable chairs in other rooms. When there were five of us living in our house, there were evenings when we stood around in the kitchen during dinner preparation to talk about the day, before we even got to the table.
In many cultures, it seems that the place where life-sustaining food is being prepared is where families gather. In Ghana, outdoor kitchens are common, and older children are often a part of the preparations while younger children play nearby. In many countries, the kitchen is in the center of a compound, and extended family members naturally gravitate to the place where food is being chopped, pounded (as in Ghanaian fufu) or slowly simmering. These kitchens are often nothing more than a wood fire, and yet this is where the action is. Food gives life, and so it makes sense that the space in a home where it is being prepared is where we want to be, even if it is only a subconscious desire.
So I’m looking at the blank walls in our unfinished kitchen and reminding myself that it isn’t islands, big spaces, fancy appliances and granite countertops that matter (we’re sticking with mid-range appliances and butcher block), but the warmth that radiates from a place where the cook hums, guests are welcomed and honest conversation happens. Whether recipes are followed or creativity is flourishing with the food preparation, our little kitchen will still be the most important room in the house. But I’m holding out for that pantry wall.