My Kitchen Sanctuary, My Kitchen Temple

Why do so many of us spend time in our workshops or craft rooms or gardens or, yes, kitchens? A longing, perhaps even a NEED, to make something physical. Many of us toil in the knowledge economy (as if baking a loaf of bread doesn’t require knowledge). We write papers or grade them, we balance ledgers, we sell stocks or software. So we carve and paint and plant and, yes, cook. Each act of creation turns us into God. We use our hands and transcend our quotidian human existence in the (realized) hopes that we have gone somehow beyond, even just by a nanometer, to bring forth something new in the world. Sure, we may bake that chicken casserole every Thursday, but it’s never really, exactly, the same. The chicken thighs may weigh a little more or a little less than last week’s. The onions might be oblong, where they were nearly spherical the last time we cooked this. Our senses continue to refine and we decide that sprinkling parsley on top will improve the flavor. In that respect, we home cooks have much in common with the wood carver who, using a new, different piece of wood, may carve the “same” spoon or the “same” toy, but (s)he knows it’s not an exact replica of the previous one. A close inspection—maybe not even a close one—reveals differences, however minute. Yes, our creative godliness is in the details.

We all should have places of respite and places that, regardless of religious or spiritual belief or lack thereof, evoke special feelings in us. For me, it is my kitchen. This is where I create, feel gratitude, share, reflect. The act of cooking, however simple or complex, brings me closer to humanity, a feeling of connection with the world and with the universe. It brings me closer to the farmers, the growers, the producers of my food. The acts of chopping, sautéing, scattering of herbs—the use of my hands—underscores what I believe to be a fundamental truth: that we, as humans, long to create objects and things, that are touchable, tangible.

In the sanctity of the kitchen, for those of us who find cooking somewhat of a contemplative practice, we may find, like an odd but welcome bolt of lightning, sudden realized peace and even joy. I recall washing dishes on one of those bitterly cold, windy Indiana nights, wrist-deep in soothingly warm, soapy water while standing in my kitchen, the warmest room in my house, and suddenly feeling an intense wave of happiness and calm. I didn’t know why, then, and it didn’t matter. I still don’t know why and it still doesn’t matter. Perhaps it was just gratitude for what I had—solid indoor plumbing and a shelter from the elements, elusive to some. I don’t know. But I felt peace. This wasn’t the only time I felt such peace in my kitchen, my sanctuary. I’ve felt it tipping and tailing green beans, a tedious task, as I prepared to cook a batch of loubia, sensing connection with the grower of those beans (in this case, organic farmer extraordinaire Wendy Carpenter of Modoc (IN)’s Christopher Farm).

If my kitchen is my sanctuary, my kitchen is also my temple. On Saturday mornings during the summer, I bicycle to my local weekly farmers market (Minnetrista), arriving as close as possible to the opening 8:00 AM bell. I inhale the atmosphere and the activity, perusing the unusual garlic varieties and eggplants and summer squash. I chit chat with the vendors and friends I encounter, buy what appeals to me or inspires me that week, carefully arranging my wares in my backpack (eggs at the bottom, tender greens and fragile tomatoes at the top). Then I cycle off for a post-market cappuccino, either at The Caffeinery (if the morning is leisurely) or Starbucks (if time is tight). Park myself on an outdoor chair, turn my phone off (completely—no vibrate or silent mode), and for the next 20-30 minutes, I watch the world. And then I head back home, putting the bicycle in the garage and walking into that temple of mine, the kitchen. Off comes the backpack and I unpack—and display—everything I bought on my kitchen island, a veritable offering to whatever culinary gods might be watching (of course, being digital times, I dutifully post a picture, with description, on Facebook). What grinning! What happiness! And then, to complete the Saturday circle, I cook.

Market produce inspector

I don’t really have a good conclusion for this post, other than to hope and wish that you all have your own personal sanctuaries and to let you know that I’ll be returning to this blog, albeit not necessarily on a regular basis (generally with posts about interesting food-related topics about the middle of the country, less often with personal essays). In the next few weeks, I’ll post a recipe for my cherry-sage bread, featuring dried Michigan sour cherries and Indiana sage (“Indiana” because it’s from my garden). There is much to know about the Flyover culinary world and so much to discover. Peace.

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And It’s Finally Finished–A New Flyover Kitchen Beckons!

After almost 8 weeks without a working kitchen, my remodeling project is finished! The contractor’s been paid and I’ve placed dishes and spices and measuring tools, etc., in the new cabinets. The place has been dusted and vacuumed (and I’ll have the carpets professionally cleaned shortly)–it got to the point where I was able to write “wash me” on the living room’s coffee table. Initially I tried to keep up with the dusting, but the exposed surfaces got too filthy too fast. So, I’m going to share with you some BEFORE and AFTER pictures.

Where It All Began

Yes, it was dated. Very dated. For all I know, the cabinets were original to the 1961 construction of the house. The range was a cheap electric coil model circa 2003). The dishwasher, also 2003 (before I bought the house and moved in), did a great job of getting dishes wet, though not necessarily clean. The bulkhead lighting was bright and brightly unattractive. The vinyl floor showed every cat hair (and I have a black cat).

That said, I was happy. It was the largest kitchen I’d ever lived in on my own. Many happy times were had in that space, including the preparation of a 4-person Sabayon1. I figured that if I was happy in the OLD kitchen, I’d only be happier in the NEW one!

OldStoveDishwasherCabinets

Old stove, old dishwasher, old cabinets
Bulkhead
Not the most stylish of cabinets!
SinkAndCabinet
Still Life with Old Porcelain Sink and Latex Glove
OldDoor
The door (flimsy and lightweight) from kitchen to garage

And Where It All Wound Up

Gone are the old cabinets, replaced with flat panel maple cabinets extending to the ceiling (which also means the bulkhead lights were replaced with recessed can lights in the ceiling). The old IKEA table (not shown) with its rickety four chairs was bid farewell (in the family for over 20 years!); a hand-me-down from my parents, they’d resided in four states (PA, DE, IA, and IN). In its place, an island was constructed (with pendant lights). The flooring was replaced by porcelain tiles and the doorway between kitchen and dining room was widened by 16 inches (thus opening up the entire area). And a gas line was plumbed so I could get a gas range. This, plus a dishwasher that actually cleans dishes even when you forget to add a detergent pod, was installed. Finishing the look was a glass-tiled backsplash.

WidenedDoorway

The widened doorway replaced the wizened one
AfterAppliances
New appliances, new backsplash (there hadn’t been one previously), new cabinets, new countertop (quartz, replacing laminate), new sink
Range
Check out the semicircular range hood!
island
My desert kitchen island (with pendants!)
PendantsUpClose
Pendants up close
AfterCorner
View from behind the island–note the undercabinet LED lights
Range
Now We’re Cooking with Gas! And a new range hood!

Well, now to relearn cooking. I’m still getting used to power burners, etc., but Flyover Tapas will return to its regularly scheduled programming of the Culinary Geography of the Midwest shortly!

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Kitchen (and Blog) Update

Almost finished! The backsplash goes on this week, and then some final trim, and (hurrah!) the range will be hooked up and I CAN COOK AGAIN!. Alas, that will coincide with some REALLY busy work weeks. So, I’ll be posting sporadically for the next few weeks.

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And It’s Starting to Look Like a Kitchen Again

Unfortunately, it’ll be another few weeks until it’s usable for food preparation! In the meantime, I’ve purchased a new cookbook (New German Cooking, by the wife-and-husband team of Jeremy and Jessica Nolen, of Philadelphia’s Brauhaus Schmitz). That should ensure that I’ll REALLY be ready to cook when all is done!

RebuildingTheWall

Putting the wall back up following some electrical and plumbing work
GasLine
GAS LINE!!! Yes, I’m getting a GAS range to replace the old electric coil stove.
WidenedDoorway_RS
The doorway between the kitchen and living/dining room has been widened by 16 inches–now it looks more open.

The cabinets are now (largely) in place, as is the dishwasher, which you’ll see in the next post.

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Thoughts on a Flyover Kitchen

GUTTED!

Gutted

Those of you who know me, either in person or through my blog, know that I love food—its geography, its history, its culture, its flavors, and, especially, its preparation. And besides, would I really be writing a food blog if I was more interested in, say, Star Trek or collecting Barbies? I really do love to cook. I’m most at home in my kitchen, wherever I happen to be living at the time. Indeed, every kitchen I’ve ever had has been a place of creativity, comfort, and joy. To me, kitchens are welcoming—they embrace me. I’ve had some small galley kitchens with apartment-sized ranges, where I’ve nonetheless held sway over my kitchen-dom, creating sustenance for others and for me.1 When I bought my house about a decade ago, I moved into a very dated kitchen (and rest of house–you should have seen the weird 1970s carpets). But it didn’t matter—I felt at home immediately (no surprise—I always loved every kitchen of mine). I’ve had fun there, I’ve been creative there, I’ve entertained others there (and I’ve certainly entertained myself there). I knew I could live with it for a long time—even forever, if necessary. That said, I also knew that someday I would want to remodel it (okay, have it remodeled—there’s a limit to what I can do with a drill). Well, “someday” is now.

The Before

Let’s begin with some particulars–my house is small (and that’s perfect for me!) The living area is less than 1250 square feet (116 sq. m). It’s technically a 3-bedroom, (but that third bedroom is my home office), with 1.5 baths. The location is in a lovely suburban subdivision with lots of mature trees and activity: walkers, bicyclists, runners, and kids who didn’t get the memo that they are supposed to stay indoors and play video games forever and ever amen. I have a deck, patio, and a fenced-in yard. And I have a kitchen.

I’m sharing this video of the kitchen (it’s 1:17 long [in minutes and seconds, not hours and minutes!]) so you can see the “before”—the old cabinets (for all I know, they are as old as the house, which was built in 1961; they certainly seemed cheap.) You can see the old overhead lights above the counter. You can see the doorway-sans-door between the living/dining room and the kitchen (standard width of about about 32 inches [81 cm]). You can see the old floor and the old door that leads to my two-car garage (which isn’t a Hoosier or a semi-Hoosier garage2).

So, What’s on Deck?

My next few posts will be all about the remodel. It’s been going on for a week now and I have no functioning kitchen—no stove, no cabinets, no counters, so no cooking (see the image at the top of this post). But it’s all short-term pain for a long-term gain. That said, we are expecting up to 6 inches (15 cm) of snow by tomorrow and snowstorms trigger an intense desire—no, NEED—to get busy in the kitchen. But all I have at my disposal right now is a microwave, so I’ll have to console myself by ordering a cookbook as an early “kitchen warming” present for moi.

1You are as important as any guest, so (if you enjoy cooking), take the time to create rich and nourishing meals to feed yourself. You are so worth it.

2A Hoosier garage is a two (or even three)-car garage filled to the ceiling with stuff, including at least one full-sized spare refrigerator (in addition to any freezers) that there isn’t enough room for even one car. A semi-Hoosier garage is also full of junk, but there is just enough room in front of the door for one or two lawn chairs. People then sit in these lawn chairs and watch the street. Not making this up.

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