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Kitchen Confidential

Damn this kitchen and its quarantineer demeanor

By Cynthia Adams

In 2020, we learned the new kitchen requisites: expansive, slick, lit like a Hollywood set for a Nancy Meyers flick, and/or the perfect set for your Zoom conference.

While most of us are scrounging around for whatever can be created with the random remains in the cupboards, writers at Fast Company breezily forecast the brave new world of future kitchens. Some boast smart fridges that sense what needs restocking — even possessing UPC barcode scanners that can transmit item info to your shopping list — and even order, if so desired. Extensive dry and wet food storage, cold storage that goes far beyond mere wine fridges, and specialized exhaust systems for both odor and virus removal, will be de rigueur.

But not for everyone.

We’re the fourth owners of a century-old house built by Ralph Lewis that has charm in spades. It also took an actual spade to chisel away four layers of kitchen flooring affixed with black tar, when we bought the place. An old photo shows me scraping madly with garden tools, including a weed claw.

We hauled away mismatched cabinets from a cheap reno.

Our vintage kitchen is still tiny. Most would have banged out more walls — at least two were previously removed in order to remove the butler’s pantry.

Allow that to sink in: a butler’s pantry. File that feature under “delusional thinking.”

There has never, ever, been a butler in residence. Sorry, Lord and Lady Carnarvon fans, to disappoint. (Although a Swedish chap at a Key West B&B offered to come be our “house man.” We had to decline, given the absence of downstairs quarters, no wages, not to mention our bewilderment concerning what a house man would even do.)

Ugliness slowly yielded to eccentric charm.

My brawny partner manhandled the stove from its dangerous location by a doorway. He installed tiles and created a cooking alcove, now one of the room’s best features.

Later I insisted upon industrial appliances. I envisioned a range like ones you see in celebrity kitchens, with names that sound like stealth weaponry: Viking, Vulcan, Wolf or Aga.

We wound up with what we could afford — a Frigidaire, unsuited to wartime maneuvers. “It looks pretty good,” I agreed, with indifference to actual performance.

We sold off stock to bankroll modest cabinetry and said appliances; the market value immediately skyrocketed.

“Enjoy your $100,000 kitchen,” Don groused. “Our retirement.”

But now clean, with the underlying wood floor refinished, it felt refreshed.

Just having a deep kitchen sink and a sexy range to twiddle with after months spent microwaving meals on the porch and washing dishes over the bathroom sink — positively made me want to get into that kitchen! And cook!

Mainly, we enjoyed having coffee in said improved kitchen. Also, pouring wine, and reading newspapers upon the retiled island.

And now?

“Now that people are in lockdown, there’s all this joy of cooking going on,” says designer Kim Colin. “People are rediscovering sourdough and learning how to grow useful kitchen herbs.”

What people? Those would not be my people.

A functional kitchen does not make me a cook, to paraphrase the joke, any more than standing in a garage makes me a mechanic. I have not, even once, produced a meal approaching ones enjoyed at (insert restaurant name here: ___________). 

Not at Print Works Bistro, Green Valley Grill, Pastabilities, Melt, Mythos, Osteria, 1618, Undercurrent, Fleming’s, Cugino Forno or even, God help me, Dunkin’ Donuts.

Miss Colin, it appears that I alone among quarantineers did not learn to bake sourdough. Nor master the art of martini-making, dehydrated snacks, or homemade dressings. But I did just coin a new word: quarantineer!

Oh, food pornographers. You are a fraudulent bunch.

I am talking to you, Giada De Laurentiis! Giada, of darling platform shoes, bohemian tops, cinched-waisted jeans, tooth veneers and dangly earrings. Star of Food Network’s Giada at Home 2.0.

“Worth the effort!” “So much better homemade!” “Easy as pie!”

Pie-making, for the record, is not easy. Who coined that phrase? Pie crust dough sticks to a rolling pin like dog poop sticks to white sneakers.

Also, I can spell the word umami but I have no idea how to deploy it. What is it, exactly? The “fifth sense?” Say what?

Food pornographers like Ms. De Laurentiis got me good: I’ve labored long, even risked Covid over chasing down odd-ball ingredients, only to find the outcome revolting. My fig jelly looked like pancake syrup. Thai Cooking for Dummies is not to be trusted. And don’t get me started on the inedible eggplant fiascos.

My partner became a studied liar.

Watching Don picking at the result disguised with cilantro (or basil; bigger camouflage and easier to keep alive in our quarantine herb garden) hiding the burned bits, he remains sturdily positive.

“Well, hey! It’s pretty good!”

I growl like a mean dog with range rage; a flour and grease splattered one. (A positive pandemic note: I don’t yet have Covid because I can taste and smell how revolting my concoctions are.)

When he commandeers the kitchen, wrecking every countertop and space, leaving the gas range (why, oh why, did I insist upon that?) blotched with more oil than the Exxon Valdez disaster — I survey the carnage from frying calamari in a too-small pot.

The calamari actually tastes good.

Grabbing the Windex and paper towel — there’s an upcoming Zoom wine tasting and this mess simply will not do — I disassemble the frigging oil-slicked range to scrub, blot and spray.

On second thought, just don’t Zoom me till the vaccine is ready.  PS

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to PineStraw and O.Henry.

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