Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dear Kitchen

Dear Kitchen,

You are my haven, my sanctuary, my oasis.  Oh, the SHEER BLISS of being in my kitchen, ALONE, creating healthful nourishment or concocting sinful delight!  It has to be one of my most gratifying pleasures in life.  

The joy I experience in my kitchen is overwhelmingly exuberant, but limited to several factors.  First, cooking in a clean kitchen is an extraordinary feeling.  When there are no dirty dishes in the sink, all clean dishes are already put away, and all countertops are immaculate, the kitchen is just so much more inviting for cooking or baking.  Starting clean also means it's easier to end clean, with a yummy finished product as a bonus. (Have I mentioned my OCD tendencies before?)

Another limiting factor is being alone.  By myself.  Without help.  I would much rather do everything by myself than have extra hands in the kitchen (since I have no control over other people's hands).  I like to do the measuring, pouring, mixing, dicing, peeling, chopping, sauteing, deglazing, and garnishing all by me lonesome self.  It's a control thing.  I'm a freak like that.

Lastly, it's always nice to have sufficient time to do as I please in the kitchen.  Cooking under pressure is no way to cook, since having a time limit is a sure fire way to make a mistake somewhere along the line.  Convection ovens only help so much, and a stovetop setting on high risks boiling over and making more mess to clean up.  All other shortcuts or substitutions will show up in the quality of the food, and is just not worth it. 

Given these factors, you can imagine how often it is that I actually experience the true bliss of cooking in my kitchen.  The kitchen is only ever completely spotless every two weeks, for a mere 12 to 18 hours.  The kids are always home when it's time to cook dinner.  Getting dinner cooked and served on time is definitely a challenge.  On any given day, cooking also means any combination of the following:
  • a very tight race against the clock to get dinner on the table so that there is sufficient time for violin practice, showers, bedtime stories, and an always-later-than-intended bedtime.
  • high-pitched screaming in the background from either child (or, sometimes, both) over a squabble or a toy.  
  • overzealous kids demanding to help, stir, mix, cook, or watch (um, I'm racing against the clock, remember?)
  • washing dirty dishes first in order to have an empty sink for later*.
  • bumping into kids running around the kitchen island or tripping over toys they left whilst doing that.
  • being interrupted with, "Mommy, I need to go potty!"  (The kind that still requires help).  Seriously?
  • spilling, dropping, or smearing food somewhere because of my own clumsiness, followed by under-my-breath cursing while wasting more precious time cleaning up.
  • *piling up more dirty dishes in the sink while making dinner, ones that will probably not get washed until the next day.
  • screaming at the kids about something over the vent hood fan to no avail, since they look at me like I'm a mad woman mouthing words for fun.  
  • "Mommy, I spilled something on the carpet..."  Oh. for. crying. out. loud.
Like I said, normally, cooking is far from pure joy.

But, on Thanksgiving morning, I had my chance to experience absolute exhilaration in my kitchen.  I made Mommy's Mean Apple Pie.  From scratch.  Flying solo.  The kitchen was pretty clean with an empty sink.  Dinner was eight hours away, so no time pressure.  DH was playing with the kids, so I had complete sovereignty in the kitchen.  I was high on joy.  I cut up the butter into the flour with two forks for the pie crust until my thenar eminence hurt on both hands.  But they were pains of delight.  I soaked up the bliss of every little part of baking this pie while I added plenty of Love Sprinkles into it.  While the pie baked, I washed every piece of dish and utensil I used, so even before the pie was done, the kitchen was clean again.  Ahhhhh!   We had apple pie a la mode for dessert that night, and everyone could taste my special Love Sprinkles.  (In case you're not familiar with this special ingredient, it's umami rendered from the chef's TLC since she was able to cook in peace and harmony.)

Before winter break, Dear Kitchen, you will host me and my kiddos again, when we will bake our annual holiday sugar cookies.  Although I won't be able to fly solo for that one, it is another kind of glee that we experience together, although I must first mentally prepare myself well for that occasion.  Because I will then reward myself the time and space to learn how to make a Swiss roll while the kids are in school, at which time I can throw out my arms and declare, "I AM THE KING OF MY KITCHEN!"



  1. My thoughts on kids are older and don't want to cook with me anymore. They would rather not have home made chocolate chip cookies than help me, how sad is that? I think it is partially my fault because as a control freak myself I intimidated my daughter away from the process.

    The trick that I learned working in food establishments is to plan ahead. If your are making a pie, make the dough the day before, so the day of baking you are an hour or two ahead of the game and the kitchen is only half dirty. I cater occasionally and prepping the food the day before is essential, everything is chopped, cut, measured.

    Have fun!

  2. Laura, The only time I actually plan ahead and make parts days ahead is making fondant for the kids' birthday cakes. Otherwise, I'm not put together enough to do that, and I just hope for enough time to do the whole thing in one shot. As for your kids: they are at that age where "cooking together" is more unusual than not, but I'll bet that as they get even older, they'll come full circle and enjoy being in the kitchen with you again. The kitchen is where the home is!

  3. One more thought...double or quadruple the recipe for pie crust, use one and freeze the rest. Defrost overnight and voila' you have a pie crust in no time, and no mess.

    I hope you are right about my kids and cooking, they don't seem to have gotten that gene from me.

  4. Laura, Great tip on making extra pie crust! Suffice it to say, I LOVE to cook and bake, but in my teenage years, there was NO hint of that. It wasn't until I left home and had my own kitchen that I really dabbled in cooking and baking. I think it's still too early to tell!

  5. I so get it. Which is why I'm making dinner in the next hour or so. And then reheating the soup when they get home. And bread is still fresh even a couple hours old, right?

    I actually do like it when the wee ones help me, but I get the clean kitchen thing and the time thing. It'll change - or the potty thing had better at least ;)

    But that Swiss roll? What is it? I must know!

  6. Michelle, The kids and I do spend a lot of time in the kitchen together cooking and baking. I just have to do a lot of mental and physical preparation before that happens =) When I said no help in the kitchen, I actually meant grownups! Relatives, etc. LOL. But that is another cultural divide issue that can fill an entire post...

    Swiss rolls may be better known in the US as 'jelly rolls'. They are light (sponge or chiffon) cakes baked in jelly roll pans and rolled with a layer of filling in them. I'm determined to learn how to make these hopefully in the next few weeks! I've done some research and narrowed down some recipes -- just Google it! They are beautiful and would make great holiday goodie gifts!