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Posts Tagged ‘kitchen’

radishes-strawberries

I’ve lived in my little studio in Eastie for a year now, and for most of that time, I’ve been chucking my fruit pits, veggie peels, eggshells and tea leaves (so many tea leaves) into a countertop compost bin I bought from Target. (No perks or affiliate links here; I just did some searching for sleek, easy-to-clean countertop bins, and I like this one.)

I don’t have space (or need) for a big compost bin of my own, but the City of Boston’s pilot compost project, charmingly named Project Oscar, includes a couple of bins down the hill from my house. Every few days, I tie up the green compostable bag filled with flower stems, orange peels and zucchini ends, and carry it down the hill, where I dump it into the bigger compost bin and hope whoever picks it up is hauling it away to some good purpose.

Sometimes, I think about Natalie Goldberg’s chapter on “Composting” in Writing Down the Bones, where she compares writing (and mulling over your lived experiences) to composting our kitchen scraps. “Our bodies are garbage heaps,” she says, “and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. […] But this does not come all at once. It takes time.”

I like the notion that I’m diverting some of my kitchen leavings away from the landfill, and sending them where they can do some good. Sometimes I wonder who else is tossing their kitchen scraps into the bins over by Maverick Square, and what they will eventually become, and what they will feed. (Sometimes, I simply hold the bag at arm’s length – even pre-compost starts to smell – and promise myself to bring it down to the bins sooner next time.)

I’ve found it difficult, these last months, to create anything of substance, other than book reviews, the occasional meal, and countless cups of tea. I tend to beat myself up about this, but then (sometimes) I remember Natalie and her advice: “Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.”

I’ll keep doing that. And I’ll keep composting my apple cores and bell pepper stems and those tea leaves, hoping they contribute to a richness I can’t yet see.

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red-kettle-stoveIn these strange stay-at-home days, I’m spending (even) more time in my kitchen than ever before.

In my little studio, the kitchen area (read: stove, oven, sink, cabinets, fridge) is ranged along one wall of the apartment, close to the table where I spend my workdays. As I try to settle into some sort of a rhythm, I’ve been noticing how my kitchen routines have changed.

kitchen-eastie-morning

My red teakettle is getting a lot of use: I fill it up to half a dozen times a day. Instead of walking over to the shared kitchen in my office building, I’m getting my constant water refills from the kitchen sink. I am eating a lot fewer granola bars for snacks, and more yogurt with granola, or slices of toast with fruit or cheddar or avocado. And while I like to cook normally, now I’m cooking (and/or reheating leftovers) for almost every meal. My Tupperware containers are not getting their usual workout, but my pots and pans are getting washed more often, and my countertop compost bin is filling up much faster.

I’m still using my travel mugs sometimes for my morning walks, and I’m baking a batch of scones or superhero muffins nearly every week. I’ve been cooking mostly soups, stews and other hearty dishes that will last me for several meals, though occasionally I’ll fry up a couple of eggs or make some pasta. I’m also trying to plan ahead for my weekly shopping trips to Trader Joe’s, though I can also get some essentials at the bodega if I run out.

Mostly, it’s a mindset shift: I can’t count on popping in somewhere to grab an ingredient or a meal on the go (not that I’m on the go, much). It’s learning to be here now, as frustrating as that sometimes is (and washing so many more dishes). It’s giving thanks for the sunlight that often streams in the kitchen windows. And it’s reminding myself (again) to fill up that water glass.

How have your kitchen rhythms changed in these times?

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Now more than ever, I enjoy cooking, especially in the colder months: hearty soups, crumbly scones, buttery scrambled eggs (with endless cups of tea). Last July, though, I moved into a studio apartment during an unusually hot Boston summer. After weeks of takeout, stovetop huevos rancheros and ready meals from Trader Joe’s, I needed some new kitchen inspiration.

Enter Cooking Solo, Klancy Miller’s brilliant, colorful cookbook about not only feeding yourself, but enjoying it. I’ve made her risotto, her lemon pancakes, her spicy coconut-sweet potato soup… the list goes on. But more than her recipes, I love Miller’s approach: she insists, as a longtime single person, that investing the time and effort to feed oneself well is worth it. As a recent divorcée, I need that reminder on the regular.

My success with Miller’s recipes inspired me to flip back through some perennial favorites, like Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. I bake Wizenberg’s Scottish scones at least twice a month, but recently made her ratatouille for the first (and second, and third) time in years. Like Wizenberg, when I am dining alone on something that delicious, “I lick my knife until it sparkles, because there’s no one there to catch me.”

For a broader perspective on solo cooking, I turn to Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, an eclectic essay collection edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Inspired by Laurie Colwin’s eponymous essay (which kicks off the anthology), these pieces, some with recipes, recount the delightful, the depressing and the quirkily indulgent aspects of setting a solo table. Many of the contributors recall solitary meals (or seasons) with deep fondness, even nostalgia. Cooking for one can feel like a depressing prospect, but these books help remind me that there’s a wealth of flavor, adventure and–yes–true sustenance to be found at a table for one.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran at the end of March. I submitted it before the virus hit, but it’s more applicable in some ways now than ever.  

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kitchen red kettle stove

We moved last weekend, as I may have mentioned. So Friday’s August Break prompt – “where I live” – was perfect.

oxford mystery bookshelf books

It’s not really home until (some of) the books are shelved. That top shelf is Oxford and Dorothy Sayers (there is some overlap, in the form of Gaudy Night). The second shelf is more mysteries, including Mary Russell and a hefty dose of Agatha Christie.

morning light treetops

I already love the morning light out these windows. These maple trees are going to be a riot of color in the fall.

back porch geraniums

The hubs and I are both beyond thrilled to have a back porch again. We’ve been eating dinner out here every chance we get and it is glorious.

In case you missed it: I’m participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break this month.

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kitchen shelves red

It’s no secret that I love red, and my new kitchen shelves bear witness to the fact. That tiny espresso cup is from the Ground Floor, long ago, and it (and everything on these shelves) makes me smile.

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katie baking apple crisp kitchen

I am usually a by-the-recipe kind of cook.

I learned to bake before I learned to cook, helping Mom mix up brownies or scooping chocolate chip cookie dough onto baking sheets in Neno’s (my grandmother’s) farmhouse kitchen. Baking often requires precise measurements, specific steps, double-checking the recipe to make sure you’ve done everything right. Too much flour, too little butter, and your cake will fall flat, or your cookies will remain gooey lumps.

There are a few discrete kitchen tasks I learned early on: chopping vegetables, peeling potatoes, sprinkling brown sugar on a pink slab of ham. But for years, I checked and double-checked the recipe every time I made a dish. I lacked confidence in my own ability to improvise, faith in the muscle memory of my hands and arms.

During these years, I marveled at a few college girlfriends who could whip up a stir-fry or a soup – sometimes fairly complicated ones – without so much as glancing at a cookbook. (Especially in Oxford, this creativity was often born out of necessity, if we found ourselves low on grocery money or newly back from a weekend jaunt and forced to make a meal out of odds and ends in the cupboards.)

But after more than a decade in my own kitchen, I’ve become more confident, more sure. I still use recipes frequently, but by now, there are a slew of tasks and a few dishes my hands know by heart.

Rachel’s tomato soup, studded with garlic and butter and sprinkled with fresh basil (if I can find it). The creamy jalapeño soup passed on to us by my mom’s friend Connie. My version of guacamole, which is less recipe than assemblage: avocado, lemon juice, green tomatillo salsa, red tomato salsa. Chop, mash, mix, taste. Repeat the last two steps if necessary. I stop when the texture and the taste feel just right – but it’s a knowledge born of practice, not anything written down.

More recently, I’ve memorized Molly’s scones, making a batch almost weekly in my orange mixing bowl, dry ingredients whisked together before I fold in dried cranberries and stir in the liquid. I know exactly how they should look (dry-ish, but not falling apart). I’ve made them so many times that while I can see the printed text of the recipe in my mind, I don’t have to flip the book (A Homemade Life) open any more. Instead, I let my hands take over: whisk and measure, stir and fold. Knead and press and cut into eight wedges.

There’s a deep satisfaction in this simple knowledge, especially for me, since I spend my time (and make my living by) moving words and pixels around on a screen. Sometimes I hold a pen, which is more tactile, but it’s a different kind of productivity to take raw physical ingredients and transform them into something nourishing. It’s even better when I don’t have to fuss over measurements and spices, and can simply get on with the work of making dinner. (Or scones.) I like knowing that this knowledge is stored somewhere in my body, that my senses and sinews know things my conscious mind can only guess at.

What recipes do your hands know by heart?

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