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I like kitchens. So do lots of people, by the way. Ever notice how, at a party or a gathering, almost everyone ends up there? In the kitchen, there are fewer rules and easier access to food. It’s a relaxed kind of atmosphere; you can strike up a conversation or flirt or even hide out. There’s work to do in the kitchen, of course: stirring and mixing and slicing and dicing. But what I like most about a kitchen (besides the access to food) is it’s the place where, literally and figuratively, something’s always cooking.
My husband Jim came from a close-knit Italian-American family. Everyone helped make dinner and that meant that everyone hung out in their tiny kitchen. The Potorti/Saccuci clan was big into the whole ritual of preparing and presenting meals. Jim, who was a good cook, kept that tradition going even in our two-person household. The action always centered in the kitchen, which, although in need of updating, was a nice enough space. It was where we cooked up our schemes and hashed out our differences. It was where he taught me to rock the knife back and forth to chop more effectively and I showed him how to make a great chocolate chip cookie. We loved Sunday mornings in the kitchen because we had time to make real breakfast – omelets or French toast and Jim’s version of a cappuccino that was so perfect I called him “Foam Guy.” But even during our stressful work weeks, he’d do something to make mealtime special – candles or a sprig of rosemary or a glass of wine. Any ordinary, slightly irritating day could be made so much better by coming home to those rituals and that time in the kitchen.
Jim was killed on 9/11/01. Immediately after that and for the first time in my life, I lost interest in food. For the next year or more, if I remembered to eat at all, I ate on the fly or I sat in front of my computer with a jar of peanut butter. No ritual, no presentation, no joy. I passed through the kitchen but I wasn’t in it to stay.
Eventually the grief eased, the immediate pain receded. I went from needing to be away from my home to wanting to spend more time there, especially in the kitchen. I shopped for food and sharpened the knives. I cleaned up the garden and used the mint instead of tossing it. Then I renovated the kitchen and had a few friends over for dinner. Finally, I dusted off the cappuccino machine and made a cup. Not up to “Foam Guy” standards but not bad either.
The kitchen is a great place to be now – cozy and light. It’s my new puppy’s favorite room; we hang out there a lot, as do people who come to visit. The refrigerator is stocked with real food and not one jar is expired. I’ve got some decent bottles in the wine rack and cookies in the cookie jar. Something is missing, some special someone I can cook with. That may come. At the moment, I’m comforted and comfortable in my newly renovated kitchen, getting a handle on my newly renovated life.
A Great Chocolate Chip Cookie
1 ¼ c all-purpose flour
½ t baking soda
½ c unsalted butter (sweet cream)
¾ c brown sugar (light or dark)
1 large egg
1 t vanilla (or 1 t dark rum)
1 t maple syrup
Dash of allspice
1-12 oz package of semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ c crushed walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350*. Combine butter and sugar until smooth, add egg; beat until creamy. Add flour and baking soda and a dash of allspice; mix well. Add vanilla or rum and maple syrup. Fold in chocolate chips. Drop by rounded tablespoonful onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 9-11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool thoroughly on wire rack.