Saturday, February 12, 2011

On how I survive in a slightly antiquated kitchen...

I subscribe to many food and home interior magazines (yes, I read them all).  I especially love looking at photos of other people's kitchens and years ago, began tearing out pages to store in a "vision folder."  The pages essentially represent the things I'd like to be surrounded with in my Dream Kitchen: acres of space, a great sound system, countertops that are uncluttered (and not made of 35 year old Formica), roomy, plentiful cabinets, three sinks (and two dishwashers), a walk-in refrigerator, a huge temperature-zoned wine room (yes, I said "wine room"), a butler's pantry (because I have this problem with hoarding food), two wall ovens and of course, the Viking 8-burner free-standing gas range with grill options.  To my professor friend who once said after dinner (and much too much wine) that if he ever won the lottery he would give me $20,000 to start my own cooking show: what I really need the 20K for is to put a down payment on that Viking range and those double wall ovens!

But the most coveted thing in my Dream Kitchen?  A dish pantry.  I collect all kinds of stemware, serving items, tableware, cookware and linens.  Presently, most of what I use for parties and larger gatherings is stored in plastic boxes in my garage and spare bedroom, which makes it really inconvient to organize table settings and service items.  Not to mention that the garage and spare bedroom are pathetically cluttered (which on some dark, Freudian level probably indicates the true nature of my inner world).  My Dream Kitchen dish pantry would have enormous floor to ceiling cabinets, plenty of counter space, great lighting, and a center island area to stage table settings and presentation ideas.  Think of it as sort of a culinary and decorator's playroom with lots of toys.  Got the picture?

But let's get back to reality.  In my actual, slightly antiquated kitchen, what I really don't like is the range.  I don't think I've had the pleasure of using a gas range for my own cooking for about 20 years.  Somehow, in all the places I've lived, there were always electric ranges.  My parents bought me a sleek, black flat top range for a housewarming present when I bought my house in 1999.  Since my only option was an electric appliance, I thought that I would at least enjoy the design features of a flat top range, and I have.  Sort of.  After all, the working stove that came with the house was circa 1970's.  You know the kind--actual coil burners with aluminum drip pans (that some of us used to line with foil to cut down on clean-up time).  However, the real charm of that original stove was its color (avocado green) and the patina of baked-on grease from former residents.  Don't laugh.  That stove harmonized beautifully with the scarred, dingy avocado green linoleum and the matching stove hood (all of which have since been removed).  That stove also got relegated to the garage for a short time (where my cat had her five kittens in the bottom drawer) before traveling on to Old Appliance Purgatory.  Nice.

Oh, how I long to own an 8-burner capacity gas range with grill plates and double ovens.  I would caress her every morning, whisper sweet nothings in her ear all day long, and kiss her tenderly good night.  No more juggling hot plates and electric skillets when giving a big party!  No more portable ovens, using electric and propane outdoor grills for makeshift ovens, digging a pit in the back yard and waiting 12 hours for the right coals!  No more running across the street to use a neighbor's oven and cooktop!  Cooking two 20 lb. turkeys, oyster dressing and vegetable gratins for Thanksgiving dinner all at once?  No problem!  Shrimp brochette in 20-degree February weather?  No problem!  Paella pan too big for one burner?  No problem!  Actually being able to stir-fry, sear properly and control the heat with hair-trigger precision?  Priceless.

There are, however, actually some good features about my slightly antiquated kitchen.  It's an open-ended galley design that flows into an adjoining living room/den area with a fireplace.  The design concept itself is ingenious and I think it's the best feature of the whole house.  During parties and gatherings, people congregate near the kitchen and in the den area, where moving around comfortably and talking with each other is possible and quite pleasant.  It can be very cozy and intimate no matter how many people are there.  I also like that that here's enough space for two people to work together (except my cooking friends would say NOT!) and the "kitchen work triangle" (how the stove, sink/dishwasher and refrigerator are positioned) feels about right.  The other feature that I really like about my kitchen is that there is a rectangular opening in the wall behind and just above the range that allows me to talk with people seated in the dining room adjoining the kitchen, and more importantly, to pass plates of food through without having to walk around.  I also like that there is plenty of natural light in my kitchen from a set of double lateral sliding windows above the sink and nearer the den area, a set of French doors.  Never mind that those windows and French doors are looking for a place to die a quick and painless death.

Sadly, I absolutely loathe my sink, a porcelain and cast iron number that requires owning stock in Proctor & Gamble in order to keep it looking halfway clean.  It has a sprayer that is tempermental and the faucet, which has been replaced in the last five years, is a single handle design that now leaks.  We also have exceptionally hard water, so the calcification residue is quite impressive.  In my Dream Kitchen, I have a large, deep double stainless steel sink (integrated with the countertops, of course) in the main work area near the dishwasher, and another standard sized stainless steel sink on a separate work island nearby.  In my Dream Kitchen, both sinks have those fabulous faucets that will turn on and off if they're touched (very handy if you've got marinade or raw meatloaf clinging to your hands).  Oh, and one more thing: I also have a maid.  In my Dream Kitchen.

Reality bites.  I can't really say that having a slightly antiquated kitchen significantly impacts my ability to turn out great food, but I can say that the psychological benefit of having beautiful, modern, expertly-functioning equipment and design features certainly would.  I once lamented to a friend that I really wished for a nicer, more modern kitchen, admitting that I really didn't need it to cook well.  "No, but you deserve it," he said, with a sweet smile.

Yes, I do.   Guess I'll start buying lottery tickets because that pickle jar at the corner store isn't working yet...


  1. Sinks are easy! I did mine in 20 easy steps

  2. Two Steve C's posting on here. Aaagh. Anyway, Candra, great job! I love your site. I look forward to cooking with you here!!