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26 October 2005

in the kitchen, all is well


skylight kitchen, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

In the morning, when I first wake up, I’m increasingly less eager to leave the bed. Blustery weather, darkness that lingers, and that dratted alarm clock bleating too early—they all make me want to stay under the warm covers. But then I open my eyes, and think, “There’s coffee in the kitchen. All I have to do is go in there and turn on the button, and that warm, dark smell will suffuse the entire house.” So I stumble into the kitchen, and watch that red light turn on, and the gorgeous smell emerges. And I sit down at my little kitchen table, waiting for it to finish brewing, and feel awake.

When I’m at school, deep in the middle of seemingly endless work, one conference after another, wonderful but exhausting connections with adolescent beings filling my day—I flash on an image of being in my kitchen at the end of the day, my bags dropped from my shoulders, and I’m starting to chop some vegetables on my scarred cutting block. I breathe out, and know I can make it through the day, as long as I make it back to the kitchen.

And when I’m sitting here, writing, on the couch, my feet propped up on the blue exercise ball, and I hit a moment of not knowing what words to trust, I look over into the kitchen. And I see flowers on the table, photographs on the refrigerator, and an entire box of organic vegetables waiting to be cooked. And suddenly, I find my words.

So when I was tagged with the latest blogger meme, I was thrilled to see it was Show Us Your Kitchen. Since this is where I spend the best of my time, I’m happy to share these little flashes of images with you.

The photograph above is actually my favorite part of the kitchen. Look at those skylights. Liquid light spills down onto the table and white linoleum floor on sunny Seattle afternoons. This past Saturday, I woke up to a messy kitchen. After the big dinner party on Friday night, I went to bed just after my guests left. Oh, I put away all the perishable items, and scraped the biggest piles of food off the plates, but I was exhausted. I’m not a big stickler for a continuously tidy kitchen. Granted, I like it better when the place is spick and span, but it doesn’t always happen. I use my kitchen. Every day. The dishwasher runs every evening. And I long ago let go of the notion that I couldn’t go to bed until everything is sparkling. Life’s too short.

So when I woke up Saturday morning, I went to make my coffee, curl up with the paper, then set to cleaning. But the light was so achingly gorgeous that I had no choice but to take photographs. One of the questions of this meme goes something like this: tell us what your kitchen says about you. And here’s mine: I notice the light more than the imperfections that need to be changed. Life’s imperfect. That’s why it’s so joyful. If I had started cleaning, instead of picking up the camera, I wouldn’t have swallowed this light, which enflamed everything it touched, including me.

red teapot

I’m blessed with a big kitchen, spacious and wide. I can fit twenty people in there. At parties, people lounge against the counters, talking and drinking wine. It heartens me to know that people feel comfortable in my home. But I have no dining room, no big table where everyone can fit. If you come over here to eat, you’re going to have to sit on the living room floor, on the worn carpet, and balance the plate on your knees. When I’m by myself, or with one other friend, I’m sitting at this tiny little table in the nook. I prop my feet up on the counter, spread out the newspaper, and let the light fall down upon my head.

pantry shelves

And I can look at my small white shelves, stocked with gluten-free staples. Corn meal, arborio rice, teff flour, amaranth, garbanzo beans, tuna, crushed tomatoes, cashews, and tuna—I couldn’t live without them. Two sets of small white shelves encompass my entire pantry. I live alone. I don’t need much. And with four great grocery stores within ten minutes of my house, I don’t need to fill my grocery cart with food every time I shop. But I keep a few small staples, always near me, to spontaneously fill my kitchen with smells of great food.

spice shelf

On the side of the nook? My spice shelf. There’s another one over the counter near the stove, with the ten spices I need most, the ones I use for savory tastes and baking: nutmeg; chili powder; cinnamon; salt, etc. But this one, on the right side of the nook—I reach for it more and more. Coriander. Turmeric. Cumin seeds. And especially, ground ginger. When I cook, I love to lean over and just grab a handful of bottles, then throw handfuls into the pot. Lately, I’ve been buying small clear bottles, then buying organic spices in bulk. It’s cheaper that way, plus it means I always have fresh spices. And if you’re looking closely at this photo, you’ll see—and this is sort of embarrassing—that this spice shelf is actually alphabetized. That’s a recent innovation. We’ll see how long it lasts.

essentials on the kitchen shelves

And over here, on the enormous metal shelves I bought in August, are some of my favorite, more exotic spices. The ones that are becoming most essential. Smoked paprika from Spain. Chestnut honey from Tuscany. Herbed sea salt from Venice. Survival Spice. Creole seasoning I made in early September. And Mariebelle hot chocolate, which is quickly becoming a nightly event on these cold autumn nights. And in the late afternoon, when the sun is out, this little shrine just shines.

refrigerator

Over here, the refrigerator. It’s a pretty standard size. It came with the apartment. (Actually, I live in the top half of a house, which I rent, in a beautiful little neighborhood in Seattle, right across the street from a corner grocery store stocked with organic, gourmet items. How lucky am I?) I do love it, though. What’s inside tonight? Greek yogurt, nonfat. Three eggs from my brother’s chickens. String cheese. Leftover polenta. Chicken stock from Sunday. Gruyere cheese. Nonfat milk. Applesauce. Ume plum vinegar and a whole door full of condiments. Green olives. And more. Not as much as normal, because I’m headed on a trip soon. But when I first return home, I love looking in the refrigerator, and thinking, “Hmmmm, what should I eat today?” And on the front, photographs of some of my favorite people. Along with some of the photographs I’ve taken that show up on this website. You might even recognize some from July. I’m actually printing up my favorites, slowly, and mounting them on the kitchen walls. Soon, I’ll be surrounded by food.

over the microwave

Here’s the microwave. I accepted it into my home, reluctantly, after years of not having one. It is handy, I’ll admit it. Melting butter for baking. Re-heating soup the next day. Warming up the last cup of coffee in the afternoon. But that’s about it. Call me an old-fashioned girl. I still like the stove instead.

Sadly, my stove isn’t that great. It works, and I’ve cooked all these meals on its battered burners. It’s an electric stove, and I prefer gas. And in fact, two of the burners barely work. But somehow, I make it work. Someday, however, I want an elegant gas stove, with sturdy burners, ones that always work and flame up immediately. Someday.

And by the way, see the dirty dishes? That’s what comes from cooking full-course meals every day. Sometimes, you just have to mess up the kitchen.

full kitchen shot

This is the full kitchen shot, through the archway of the living room. It’s a much darker picture, because I took it on Sunday, when the day bloomed grey and gloomy. I had meant to mop the kitchen, have all the surfaces gleaming, before I showed off the entire room. After all, it’s easy to clean off one corner and have it look perfect in close-up. But this is me, imperfect and alive. And sometimes now, I even let friends come over when there are dishes all over the counter.

Last night, my friend Quinn came up the stairs before I’d finished cleaning. Oh well. The stove-top was besmirched with chocolate stains from the chocolate sorbet I’d made the night before. Even six months ago, I would have felt nervous, wanting to apologize for everything not being perfect. I would have been embarrassed. But now? No way. Since I was diagnosed with celiac disease, and I stopped eating gluten, my mind has become more even. And in fact, I now mark my life as pre-gluten and post-gluten. Everything’s a fresh start now. And after near-death car accident and months of painful mystery before I stopped eating gluten, I know, down to the bone, that life’s too short to be embarrassed for no reasons. Besides, Quinn and I were going to make homemade potato chips (per his request), and I knew that oil would spill down on the stove. Why bother cleaning until after that?

We told stories and laughed, laughed so hard my stomach hurt. The chips grew crisper with every batch. We drank wine and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. A clean kitchen couldn’t have made it any better.

But I really do intend to mop the floor one day.

KitchenAid reflection


This meme asked us to write about our favorite appliance, and I have to say my KitchenAid. I’ve had this trusty blue machine for ten years, and it shows no signs of slowing. It works so beautifully, so reliably, and it makes all baking spectacular. I love it so much that I dragged it with me on my move to New York City. And then back again, to Seattle. I hope it’s always with me.

But I have to say, that lately, I’ve been enjoying the crock pot almost as much. I don’t have a photograph. But I have a recipe for Provencal beef stew, which I made the other night. Lately, I’ve been sauteeing meat and slicing onions in the morning, before I go to school, and letting the stews slowly simmer while I’m at school. When I walk in the door, the smell makes me run up the stairs. Always, food awakens me.

I’m here.


beef stew

PROVENCAL BEEF STEW

Sorry guys. Recipe tomorrow.

17 Comments:

At 1:49 AM, Blogger J said...

hi shauna, lovely lovely post...how i envy your wonderfully spacious and airy kitchen (mine's a real galley - turn too quickly and you'll bump into a wall)...

 
At 2:49 AM, Blogger kitchenmage said...

That long shot through the arch is lovely, dirty floors and all. And for some reason--although I am not at all clear why--I would have picked this kitchen out of a lineup as yours.

btw, I am almost firm on my travel plans. Give me another day or two and we can see about scheduling tea/lunch/something.

 
At 3:21 AM, Anonymous Julie said...

Hi Shauna -- I love your kitchen reverie. BTW, I emailed you on 10/23...did you receive it?

 
At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Beastmomma said...

I love the light and the roominesss. I like the mess and the creation. I like your getting comfortable with sharing the unclean parts and instead being present in the moment to make chips and enjoy the company of good friends and to take the time to post all of this with the web world.

 
At 9:48 AM, Anonymous Hannah said...

When I have opened your blog, first that I have seen the photos before beginning to read. I watch the photo, I watch and I see ¡¡¡Vera´s pimentón!!! ¡¡spanish's pimentón in an American kitchen! When you want more .. you do not have more to say it to me.

Best regards from Spain (Madrid)

sin.hannah@gmail.com

 
At 1:09 PM, Blogger Freckle Face Girl said...

Thanks for the reminder about the simple joys in life. I like to tell my self that a non-perfect house has more character. Your kitchen is very charming.

 
At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Erika said...

What a nice airy space... thanks so much for the wonderful (as always) photos.

W/re: your nonfunctioning burners-- I know on some older electric stoves, like my dad's, the burner elements come out and can actually be replaced, because they're attached to the electrical current via two contacts at the end of prongs that lie underneath and then beyond the heating element. The ones on my dad's Westinghouse cost $25 each to replace, but it was worth it. Sometimes the contacts just get old. Good luck!

 
At 4:15 PM, Anonymous the pragmatic chef™ said...

What a great kitchen, Shauna. I can see how it makes you feel like cooking every night, lots of room to throw food around.

 
At 4:17 PM, Blogger michelle said...

I know what you mean about getting out of bed...it gets harder and harder each day that it gets darker and darker! I wish I had the smell of brewing coffee to wake me up instead of puppy breath!

Thank you for sharing your kitchen...it suits exactly who I imagine you to be, complete with natural light and house-warming, comforting, full-of-life clutter (like me!). Although I did giggle a little when you admitted you alphabetized your spices - good for you!

ps. Would you like me to copy those pages for you?

 
At 4:58 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

J--

If you have a galley of a kitchen, then your gorgeous food concoctions are even more astonishing than I thought before!

Kitchenmage--

I'm actually really pleased that you feel you could have picked this kitchen out as mine. I want my kitchen to feel like me. It certainly feels like home to me. And I can't wait to meet you! I'm busy on the 13th, but other than that, I'm free. Come on up!

Julie--

Thank you. And I emailed you back! Did it get lost in the ether? I'll send you another one tonight.

Beastmomma--

Thanks so much. Thanks for recognizing all that, all that's important to me. Creation always comes from chaos anyway.

Hannah!

I'm so excited that I could make you feel the connection when you saw the pimento in my kitchen. I adore that smoked paprika. I can buy some in Seattle pretty easily. But if I ever do come to Spain, I'd love to meet you and share a meal in your kitchen!

Steph--

Thank you. I have to say that I would feel uncomfortable in an always-impeccable kitchen. It would feel sterile to me. Life's imperfect anyway.

Erika--

Thanks for the tip. I'm going to tackle the burners when I return from my trip to New York. You've inspired me!

PG--

Oh, and throw around food I do. LIfe's always messy and unxpected. I like life better when I can accept that.

Michelle--

Thank you. I do so love that space. And you should come up to Seattle and hang out in the kitchen with me! (Oh, and I'm going to splurge and just buy that copy of Gourmet. How can I not own it?)

 
At 1:56 AM, Anonymous Hannah said...

This way I felt, I have made a lot of illusion see a Spanish product in your kitchen. If you come to Spain some day I prepare a stew of meat for you. Gluten free, of course.

Certainly, our Celiacs's Associations us have limited the consumption of paprika to certain brands(marks) because some cases of pollution have been detected, but do not worry for yours. The marks contaminated with gluten are some specific of supermarkets.

 
At 12:23 PM, Blogger tschoerda said...

i just LOVE to see how other people live!! the pictures are great and the post is as well. i check by your foodblog daily. it's become one of my favorites!!

 
At 1:41 PM, Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

yeah Tea Cozies!! (strange as I am-- I knit them...)

this is really beautiful, thank you.

 
At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Beth said...

I love seeing your kitchen because you've told so many stories about your adventures there. :) The skylights are great!

 
At 2:23 PM, Blogger Ruth said...

What a wonderful post. I always enjoy my visits with you. Now I get to put an image to my visits as well.

Today I had 17 people over for brunch and no more than 4 could ever squeeze into the kitchen at any given time. I used to have a wonderful huge kitchen when I lived in Montreal and can't wait to have one again. It too would have a gas stove.

Thanks for sharing.

 
At 7:38 AM, Anonymous keiko said...

Hi Shauna - I looove your kitchen, especially the dining area - it's so warm and inviting (I've got the ikea stools too and I love them ;)) Thanks so much for the lovely post.

 
At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I what you're using for a spice rack. Where did you get it?

 

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