We bought our house in Northwestern Connecticut on the cusp of the new millenium. At the time, there was a housing shortage that left the pickings slim and prices high. We considered waiting it out, but once we made the decision to move there was no turning back. We listed and sold our first house and moved into the second within 28 days. It all happened so fast.
Even before moving in we had a five year plan— part and parcel when you buy a house that's considerably older than you. Being intrepid do-it-yourselfers, my husband and I were prepared to do as much of the work as our skill set allowed. The plan was to start with the kitchen which had not been updated since the 50's, but other things took priority. There was a quirky bathroom to expand and modernize. There were drafty windows and a leaky roof to replace. There was a porch to rebuild from the ground up and rooms to turn inside out. There was plumbing to upgrade and electricity to put in where there was none. There was a relic of a furnace to replace— and while we were at it— central air to install. Outside, there were gardens to build and plant, a driveway to blast and resurface, a massive stone wall to dry stack, and an old leaning potting shed (with too much character to take down) that I fought to rescue. It's only when I look back at everything that we've accomplished that I can cut myself some slack for having let ten years pass before getting around to my kitchen.
Early on, when the projects grew out of control and funds were stretched thin, I accepted that the kitchen would have to wait. I consoled myself by painting words of inspiration on my cabinets. Mostly, they were strung-together bits of poetry and proverbs that were meaningful to me. I think I did it as an act of defiance— if I couldn't make a new kitchen, I could at least make it different. I thought I would soon grow tired of the word-filled room, but instead it grew on me, embracing me like a warm, cozy blanket of complacency.
I firmly believe in blooming where you are planted. Life doesn't always present us with perfect circumstances and I try to never use that as an excuse for not fulfilling a potential. Shouldn't a good cook be able to produce good food under any conditions? As a caterer, that's an idea that I've had to uphold every time I walk into an unfamiliar space, whether it's a magnificent state-of-the-art kitchen or a makeshift cook tent in the middle of a field. But gardening has taught me that organisms thrive under ideal conditions— I am no different. Being a visually susceptible kind of organism, I draw inspiration from environments and stimulation from space, color, light, texture, design.
Like gardening and parenthood, my kitchen taught me patience. Every morning, when I reached for the coffee, I would stop and read these words: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven". I don't think that wiser words have ever been written.
Kitchen season began abruptly after Thanksgiving. Cabinets, ceilings and walls were torn down until all that remained of two small rooms was one large empty shell. This, I thought, is my ideal condition where creativity thrives: a blank canvas and a flexible plan.
The new kitchen is still taking shape. My intention is to make it more streamlined and modern, while honoring the old character of the house. Though it will be another month or two before it's complete, I hope to have a sink by the weekend so that I can cook Christmas dinner for my family (I know they'll forgive my disheveled house). In the meantime, when I can't bear to look at another pizza or carton of Chinese food, I've been utilizing some seldom-used small appliances. My crock pot has become a good friend.
The Autumn joy kimchi has also been a good friend. It transformed leftover take-out rice, re-fried in an electric skillet into something exotic and delicious.
A practically effortless meal came from slow cooking pork belly in chicken stock, kimchi, and sliced kieffer lime, served with sweet potato spaetzle and crispy fried kale. Prepared in my dim, dusty cellar, using a crock pot, electric skillet, and deep-fryer propped up on a washing machine and dryer with a laundry sink nearby, it was the most un-ideal of conditions in which to produce such a luxurious meal.