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03 August 2005

loving the kitchen

summer lunch, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I'm loving my kitchen lately.

For the past couple of years, I've neglected my poor kitchen. I let dishes pile up in the sink. The countertops were perpetually ringed in coffee stains. Splatters stayed near the burners after I had made pasta sauce. It wasn't that I didn't care. It's that I didn't have the energy to keep it clean. Three year of physical suffering left their mark on me, and the kitchen reflected the way I barely grazed the top of my own life.

Now, I'm healthy again. And now, I'm always moving around the kitchen. The other night, I made Jamaican jerk chicken for the first time, pulling down spices from the metal shelves that had grown dusty from disuse. Spontaneously, I also threw together a black bean salad with mango salsa and avocado. Fantastic. (See recipes below.) In fact, I could tell in the making that they were going to be good, so I called a friend of mine who lives in the neighborhood. "Do you want to come over for dinner?" I described the menu to her and fifteen minutes later I was laying a plate before her at my kitchen table.

As I've been spending more time cooking, I've been spending more time cleaning as well. There's something wonderfully meditative about being in the kitchen. As geeky as this sounds, in some ways nothing makes me feel better than to walk into my kitchen and see everything gleaming clean. Counters wiped clean, open space for me to make another fruit salad. Just doing the dishes--music blaring in from the living room and my hips swaying to it as I swish the hot water underneath my hands--makes me feel good. And the grapefruit scent of this cleanser makes everything smell fresh in there.

I have an enormous kitchen in this wonderful place of mine. Everywhere I've lived, I've had a big kitchen. I insist. You know it's a good party when everyone's in the kitchen, leaning against the countertops with a wine glass dangling from the fingertips, talking and laughing. I've always had a good party kitchen. My place in New York City was in an old, pre-WWII building, with high ceilings and an enormous kitchen, by Manhattan standards. I threw dinner parties and pot lucks all the time, and everyone was amazed by the space. Lord knows I love eating out, but there's something infinitely comforting about making food for hours, then watching everyone sigh with pleasure at the first bites.

Sunlight is flooding my kitchen as I write. I'm lucky. Not only is the kitchen big, but there's a recessed nook at the end of it, with two skylights above it. When I first walked into the apartment, wondering if I should rent it, I stepped into the open kitchen, the warm tile floor, and spotted the light filling the space. I said yes before I had seen the rest of the apartment. I've never regretted that spontaneous decision.

So, in the nook, I put little shelves for the pantry, photographs I have taken of food over the years, and a small pine table with stools. At the Central Market, I found a green placemat, discloths the color of the Magnolia pool in sunlight, and spring-green coasters that match the green in the rest of my apartment. Last week, I found an old wooden chair, made from one piece of wood, in my parents' studio, and my mother gave it to me for the nook. I'm making my space.

A few weeks ago, I decided to eat everything at that little table. It's too damned easy to eat in front of the television, to eat as I stand in front of the refrigerator, or as I'm talking on the phone. We Americans--we don't always know how to live. We don't really know how to slow down and taste our food. I've been as guilty of that as anyone else in the past. But after all this time of slowing down, I know how much I love my food. Eat it fully, and I eat less. And enjoy it more.

So yesterday, I ate a lovely lunch in my kitchen. The summer I was sixteen, after morning hours in the pool, I ate nearly the same meal every day for lunch: egg salad sandwich; iced tea; and a mound of bing cherries. Yesterday's lunch was slightly different. Gluten-free bread from Kaili's, toasted. Tuna made with wasabi mayonnaise. On ice, vanilla-black tea from France. And fresh blueberries. (And a fat book, this time Harry Potter, propped up on the table before me. Some things never change.) Sun coming through the skylights. And nowhere to be for hours.

From structure comes freedom. If I hadn't been handed this celiac diagnosis, I never would have found myself so firmly planted in my kitchen. And now, all is right with the world in my kitchen.

JERK CHICKEN WITH CILANTRO MANGO SALSA (from Karen Robertson's always-great Cooking Gluten-free!, p. 59):

2 whole chicken breasts
1/ 2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed

Pound the chicken to within an inch of its life. (Quite fun, actually, if you can stand that sort of thing. Good place to put the day's frustration, into that little metal hammer.) Combine all the spices. Coat the chicken breasts in the spices. Ideally, you should grill them. But since I don't have a barbeque, or a place to keep it, I sauteed them in the pan with good olive oil. Damned juicy. Especially good if you top it with the cilantro/mango salsa:

2 cups peeled, chopped mango (good for summer with the slipperiness)
1/4 cup chopped red onion (I used more, about half a small onion)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (again, I used more, about half a bunch. I like cilantro.)
juice from 1 lime.


2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
4 scallions, finely chopped (those are green onions, in case you are confused)
1 cup red and green peppers, finely chopped
1 cup of corn kernels (I used fresh, of course, since it's August. But I think frozen would work.)
4 tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro (again, I used more)
2 jalapeno peppers, finely minced
juice of 2 limes
2 avocadoes, chopped (I like big pieces)

Mix it all together. Salt and pepper to taste. That's it.

Hint: the next day, throw the leftover mango salsa into the black bean salad. Yum.


At 3:21 PM, Blogger naiah said...

Ha! I knew we were kindred spirits the second me met! There is *nothing* like the sense of just-plain-rightness that comes from having your kitchen in order. I am so there with you. Ah, and the pleasures of slowing down and enjoying not just good food, but a good space to eat that food! I try, but most meals these days are spent juggling the kids and leave little room for that well-remembered oft-ached-for pleasure.

I have a Levenger book rack that holds my volume while I eat.

Siiiigh, thanks for writing this. It is so good to be alive! Yay!

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Ruth said...

I can't wait to have a nook in my kitchen - will definitely have to move first.

And yes it is too bad we North Americans don't take time to smell the roses - or savor the food and flavor it with conversation.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Gemma said...

Hi Shauna,

Just wanted to say that I made a variation on this tonight so thanks for the recipe. I've posted my version on my site with links back to you.

Gemma x

At 10:43 AM, Blogger sacha said...

Oh... perfect! I plan to make a large jar of jerk spice to give my mother this Christmas (it is her latest culinary obsession). Is the '1/2 tsp ground cloves' repeat a mistake? Or is the recipe missing an ingredient? I've been dissecting a few recipes to make a winning combination!

Thanks for the help!

At 9:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This recipe is absolutely a wonderful delicious, I can't say enough good things about how much my family loves the jamaican jerk chicken! Thanks

At 12:02 AM, Anonymous bed frames said...

Thanks for sharing the recipe of the black bean salad. This is so delicious. I just finished making it.

At 10:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of our families all time favorite recipes. Thanks so much for sharing it - we love it and since you posted it have made it many times. Friends rave about it too, and I'm always asked for the recipe!

At 12:24 AM, Blogger Blooming Tea said...

I love jerk chicken, but what I'm interested is your black bean salad recipe, I never had one before. Thanks having this on your post. The beginning of your post is inspiring and motivational. Thanks a lot. Cindy@ blooming tea


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