Women are still stuck in the kitchen. According to The Economist (via Salon), in their fascinating dissection of the modern kitchen and its historical role in the household, some of us hate it and some of us love it. Men just bring their laptops with them.
For the armchair environmentalist/cook—in other words, those of us with good intentions who need a little reading material to truly inspire the lazy right out of us, Michael Pollan’s exceptionally lucid book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (featuring Virginia’s own Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm), has become the gold standard of references about current thinking in organic farming and localism, besides being a great read.
Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappé and Bryant Terry (Tarcher/Penguin), is even better, because while it dissects commercial and organic farming practices as it makes its argument for localism, it also goes into effects on our health, and has a nice section on practical steps to go green. Lappé (daughter of Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet) and Terry deconstruct the hidden costs of cheap food ("The Six Illusions") and the dominance of the organic market by major corporations like Heinz (Hain Celestial), M & M Mars (Seeds of Change), and General Mills (Cascadian Farm). Best of all, their book’s got a whole bunch of great recipes with printable shopping lists for each on Lappé and Terry’s website, Eat Grub. Try the flavor-packed shrimp and veggie kabobs (p.167) or the fresh beans with garlicky citrus vinaigrette (p. 169) for an easy blast of organic eating.
To read more about cooking and eating green, follow this link to HomeStyle (the issue with the fabulous cover), and this one if you're thinking about a greener kitchen.
I felt the floor rock beneath my feet when my husband said that he thought, upon reflection, that we might be able to shoehorn a Wolf cook top and oven into our kitchen renovation budget. Some women get diamonds, and others (the luckier ones) find husbands who understand the greater value of a high-end appliance.
And yet, I miss my old kitchen. When we first moved into our house ten years ago, nothing had been updated, except for the furnace. Remarkable really for a house built in 1916--the power ran on the original wiring, the floors had never been refinished, and the lack of outlets meant we had extension cords wrapping every room. The kitchen was a history lesson in interior design. There were no fixtures at all; the estate’s inheritors had removed freestanding cupboards and tables and all that was left was a Magic Chef stove from the sixties, the hot water heater in the corner, and a sink.
With pressing matters like electricity, insulation, and plumbing to deal with, we didn’t have a lot of money left over for luxuries like cabinets, so for $100, we bought a set of metal cabinets, a chest of drawers, and a table dating from the fifties at a mid-century antiques store. They fit in seamlessly. We painted and added a counter leftover from a contracting job, and we stuck cleaner-looking flooring tiles of top of the truly nasty linoleum. Finally, we had the hot water heater moved to the basement so that my daughter, who was a toddler at the time, wouldn’t scald herself to death in a tragic household accident.
Over the years, the knickknacks and children’s projects accumulated on the shelves, and my passion for small appliances became unwise for someone with so little storage. The stove was temperamental and even an oven thermometer failed to compensate for all of the cold and hot spots too numerous to map inside of the oven. Charming as it appeared on the outside, that range had to go.
At first I just wanted to update the kitchen’s infrastructure while preserving the vintage feel of its look. Then I stopped by a European kitchen design store and fell for all of its clean lines and smooth wood and brushed steel and, and, and . . . you could pull the drawers in and out smoothly, and when you opened a cabinet door, it actually opened instead of sticking shut. Everything was so very, very clean. There weren’t any cracks or crevices to catch dirt or dust; there was no rust and no ancient grease build-up.
I was forty and I wanted something new—not “new to me,” but a brand-new space designed with only me in mind. When you write and think and read about food as much as I do, your kitchen becomes the equivalent of a studio in the same way a converted garage or attic functions for a painter or sculptor. Cooking meals for your family is a lowly, domestic task most of the time, but over the years I spent in my kitchen, it had transformed into my primary creative outlet and pushed me back to writing where I’d originally started out.
I wanted a grown-up kitchen instead of the ad hoc, post-adolescent (think of your college kitchen and add babies to it) place that had sprung up around me. I spent more hours than I liked to count there every day of my life and I wanted the new one to be a real kitchen like my mother’s was (or how I felt it was as a child), instead of the shabby, velveteen rabbit of room it actually was. I was the mother now and I, at forty, was undeniably an adult as well. The velveteen rabbit in the story is transformed by love into a real one, but I couldn’t muster that kind of affection for a kitchen bursting at the seams and malevolently dominated by an ancient, cranky stove.
So after ripping out all the walls and the windows, and then putting it back together again, and cooking in the back room and gaining unnecessary weight from take-out, AND surviving marital disagreements over highly charged design points (trim can be crucial), I find myself . . . nostalgic? For the stove we couldn’t use for two weeks prior to the start of renovation because a large, wily family of mice had move in underneath? For the rusty cabinets? Or the grease-enrobed tchotchkes? Or was it the horrifically large beehive we found when we took down the pantry ceiling?
Now that I had my new and beautiful kitchen, I realized I’d let go of that whole part of my life that existed in between high school and well, forty. Now I really was an adult. Like most people my age, despite marriage and children and even the death of my parents, I carefully nurtured the illusion that I wasn’t entirely, completely grown-up yet. Of course, this past year, another much more significant event challenged that well-protected myth. When the Harvey family died on New Year’s day, my last little shred of childhood innocence was permanently ripped away. When I saw their faces in the paper the next morning, reflected back was a picture of my family--and me. Mortality. I saw either Katherine or Bryan most days since our children started elementary school, and before that, I saw them most days when we all were younger, waiting tables or ordering coffee, before and after college. Just people I knew and liked, in the wider circle of our mutual friends and acquaintances.
When all of us are children, we believe in monsters because we can’t articulate our fear. And it’s a relief to be reassured by our parents that monsters don’t exist, couldn’t exist, and we grow up fervently believing both in our parents and monsters’ non-existence. Adolescence usually diminishes our view of our parents so that we can take those first steps towards independence, but it isn’t until mortality smacks us in the face that we realize that those monsters under the bed are just our fear of death—and that we will die, someday.
When my parents died, I felt like an orphan (a very old orphan) but when the Harveys died, my younger self died along with them. As I mourned them, I also wept for that illusory safety in which I once so deeply believed. My new kitchen is still alien to me, just like my newly acquired adulthood—a little colder, and a little darker than my old one, and not yet entirely familiar. I long for the old comforts of the place I had before, even though I’m forgetting the sheer frustration and extra work it engendered at every step. Soon, after a break and a rest from the work of the renovation, we’ll add another window to let in a little more light, and perhaps I’ll allow my Wolf range to complete the seduction it so passionately wages every time I turn it on. Although finally growing up is a relief in many ways, and I can save the knickknacks on the top shelves of my many cupboards, I’ll have to learn to love the new kitchen I chose, just as I’ll have to try to love this less familiar world of adulthood.
What is happening to my Calphalon pans? Never abused, treated gently, hung deliberately on a pot rack, they are falling apart before my very eyes. Fortunately, they have a lifetime guarantee, and I plan on sending these frickin' ingrates back immediately. In fact, this will be the second time I've done this and frankly, I think I'm going to head over to the hardware store and pick up another cast-iron skillet or two. The 10-inch we've had for years and years is the only truly non-stick pan we have. The pans above are only about five years old and look at them! Time for the trash heap of discarded pans and broken promises.
Of course, I've been uneasily wondering about all of the Teflon (updated link) we must have been ingesting in our dimly lit old kitchen and shudder at my bravado in posts past (here's a link). I am now truly humbled and hope the Teflon won't actually be the end of me--literally.
For those contemplating the switch to non-non-stick, here's a link to a great article on that very subject written by Marion Burros of the New York Times.