Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our Kitchenless Adventure: The blue of distance

I grew up in a small town nestled in the Hondo Valley in New Mexico. Far away on the western horizon stood El Capitan, in the range of Sierra Blanca, blue, majestic, and serene. Because my family often loaded up the station wagon after church on Sunday and headed up to the mountains for an afternoon of picnicking, I knew at an early age that the mountains were not really blue--it was only the distance that separated us that made them so. But that blue was a very inviting color: "Come to me," it seemed to say each morning.

Rebecca Solnit writes very eloquently about this effect in her essay, "The Blue of Distance." The color, caused by the scattering of light through the atmosphere, creates a longing in us that we can never fully satisfy because it disappears by the time we reach our destination. What Solnit argues, however, is that the desire to reach it--to be in those blue mountains--is as important as the thing itself, and indeed the value of the final experience is lessened without it. I find this notion very compelling. Think of it: Would Christmas morning hold the same thrill for a child were she not impatient for its arrival?

I think about this essay often (and indeed have mentioned it before on this blog) and never more so than in the past couple of weeks or so. For here is what I can tell you my friends: I have been on this road to a functional, efficient kitchen--a cook's kitchen--for eighteen years, and I am ready to reach the destination. I think I have had enough "desire." I am ready for some casseroles.

I am trying to keep all this in perspective, of course. The kitchen we had was adequate. It had a small gas stove, on which three out of four burners worked. It had a double sink that was almost big enough to hold a drainer. It had a space for a refrigerator.

It also had drawers that were difficult to open and close, cupboard shelves that were just this side of too small for today's shelf organizers, and very limited counter space. And did I mention that it was tiny? There was just enough room for one person to fit comfortably--any more than that, say, for example, during a party, and things could get claustrophobic in a hurry.

And the formica counter tops that would stain if you merely thought about pouring a glass of wine. Oy.

But the real reason I wanted a new kitchen was that there simply wasn't anyplace to put a dishwasher in a kitchen that was built in 1942. And this, my friends, was a deal-breaker for me. Now it may seem to some of you that this is not such a big problem. After all, we are only two, and how many dishes can two people generate? The answer is not many, if you confine yourselves to making only one-pot meals. And no parties.

Here is how not having a dishwasher affected my cooking life: I'd read a recipe and get to the part about using a food processor...and that would be the end of that particular recipe. The food processor was, you see, an extra thing to wash. Or I'd consider that the onions, peppers, and garlic didn't really need to be sauteed first...because it created another dirty pan. And don't get me started on the terror I felt at the mountain of dishes created by a dinner party.

(I should mention here that Walu, my hero, washes 75% of the dishes. Whereas I like neatness and cleanliness in general in the household, when it comes to dishes, I hate washing them so much that I will allow them to sit for days on the counter before I'll address them. Into the breach steps Walu...)

So while over the past eighteen years I've gotten very good at creating minimalist fare (at least where the number of cooking vessels used is concerned), I am ready to branch out. I am ready for roux! I am ready for making my own bread crumbs! I am ready for, uh, fancy stuff!

There is some advantage for putting off a kitchen remodel for so many years. I've spent much of that time thinking about exactly what I'd like, so that now that it is underway, there have been very few hesitations about design. It will be open to the dining room, so guests can visit with me (or Walu) while we are in the kitchen without all of us having to crowd in there. It will have a pull-out pantry, so we can see exactly what is stored. It will have shelves that swing out from blind corners so that things don't get hidden from view and forgotten. It will have extra counter space in the form of a peninsula, devoted to meal preparation. And of course, a dishwasher. As I said, this is going to be a cook's kitchen.

This week they are painting and tiling. Next week is plumbing, electrical, and appliance installation. Then one more coat on the floor. And then...I think we are finished.

Oh, and the color of the walls? They will be blue, so that I can always remember what it felt like to wait for this kitchen.


  1. And may it be a wonderful blue kitchen indeed! I think after eighteen years, you're entitled to a great deal of impatience, especially when that cook's kitchen is within sight--if not right nearby, at least closer than the far horizon where it has been for so long. Are we there yet? Now? Now? ;)

  2. I always take special joy at the first glimpse of a mountain when we head inland. They are always blue here as well, hence the name Blue Ridge. When you get in them though, they are a thousand shades of green in the summer.

  3. The blue in the distance is a great visual, love the concept of luring you into the blue. I have had many kitchens over my adult life. I understand the desire for a dishwasher, we had none in our seven years in Germany, the second 3 were with 2 little girls. I was thrilled when we remodeled the kitchen in Seaford, like you 3 out of 4 burners worked, etc. The long haul is almost over...you will love your new space. Enjoy!!

    (did I mention that we had to use pliers to bend the cookie sheet rims so they would fit in my Kenner-Easy Bake oven in Germany? No turkeys would fit.)

  4. Your insights are inspiring - and to enjoy the journey is key. Stay well, and thanks for your words today.

  5. Great post. I always enjoyed reading your story. Loved the beautiful picture. I’m looking forward for your next posts.

  6. Good news that you've almost ascended the mountain of kitchen remodel. As one remodeler (is that a word?) to another, enjoy the mountaintop experience when you get there. It's a good feeling to be at home in your own space.~~Dee


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