Sometimes you go along without any apprehension that the world has left you behind and then you are reminded that your values are kind of old-fashioned. This morning I was looking for something on my computer and in my recipe files I found one for the cassoulet I last made a few years ago when a friend was here for dinner. Oh, I thought, that’s what I’ll make for the birthday dinner we’re hosting for another friend next month. There will be 10 of us in total, if you count two of my grandsons (and yes, let’s count them in). I love cassoulet but there’s no point in making it for only two people. You want a crowd. It’s a party dish.
When the friend was here for that last cassoulet, he looked around the kitchen (and it was untidy, dishes unwashed, the detritus of the meal still on the table) and asked me why John wouldn’t give me a new kitchen. I was surprised. I could see beyond the untidiness and anyway, I thought, I have a kitchen. I don’t need a new kitchen, and if I did want one, I wouldn’t wait for my husband to give it to me. I know that kitchens are fetish rooms for many people. In the decorating magazines, there are pages of fancy appliances, floors laid with huge slates, cabinets made of rare beautiful woods, and counters of stones from the mountains of China or Italy.
Ours isn’t like that. The cabinets were built by a friend from yellow cedar—a lovely wood that bruises easily. The counters are tiles, yes, from a batch we got cheaply because we bought the end of a line and so we have them on the floors, the counters, the bathroom floors…There’s no dishwasher. The appliances are whatever Sears had that would fit the space.
Recently we had this piece of furniture made for a corner of the kitchen. I wrote about it a few weeks ago, before John tiled its surface, using beautiful rustic tiles from Mexico, given us by friends Joe and Amy who had a box of them leftover from their own kitchen at Halfmoon Bay. The day before yesterday, the grout had set and I put things on top. This morning I measured chick peas into the slow-cooker so now the new sideboard is officially in use. That little oven is a convection oven and it’s perfect for roasting a small chicken, baking a pizza, a pie, a cake. The deep cupboards below are for all my big casserole dishes, including the clay baker I’ll use for the cassoulet in a few weeks.
It’s obvious these are not staged photographs. Sometimes the kitchen is tidy but it’s never posh. We live here, we use it, and we are firmly planted in the last century when we built a house and were grateful for every new thing, the work of our hands. Hot water! A bathroom! Tiles laid carefully over plywood sub-floor. I wrote an essay about our kitchen, why I never want it to change. This is the last paragraph:
It could be made new. It could be made sleek and clean. But there were cats, there were dogs sleeping by the sliding doors, there were toys left around, there were books on the low blue table. There were sunsets that filled the room with golden-pink light. Cookies cooling on racks wherever I could find room. Jars of jams waiting for their labels. A big bowl with bread rising under a clean towel. A boy drawing cartoons in a large pad of paper, another boy building with Lego, a girl playing with a cat. There are days when every meal I ever prepared comes to me in scents and textures, arrangements on platters, compositions in deep casseroles—salads cut from the garden, salmon with lemons and branches of thyme tucked into an empty cavity, turkeys for Christmas celebrations, stews of beef and red wine, lamb legs stuffed with rosemary and olives, blackberry pies and apple crumbles, platters of cheese, long loaves fresh from the oven—and everyone I’ve ever loved sits around the table, waiting for their glasses to be filled, for thanks to be said, for the sound of forks and laughter, for smoke from the candles in their silver holders to rise to the ceiling like ghosts.