Sunday, March 25, 2007

Kitchens I have known

The kitchens of my life have been places of colour, feasts for the eyes as well as the nose and mouth. I think I'm right in saying that my mother's kitchen at first had orange cupboards. I then think they may have been a dark blue. However the colour I most vividly associate with my mother's kitchen is a bright sunflower yellow. Mum has never been afraid of colour, and for many years the kitchen walls were painted a bright, glossy sunflower yellow. This was combined with some wonderful brown and white vinyl wallpaper in a large flowery pattern, and brown patterned vinyl. I don't think many people understood Mum's yellow kitchen, but to me it has always seemed inspired. It was a place of joy and creation - Mum's own happy place.

Eventually the yellow had to go. However my mother has never known how to be meek when it comes to colour. There is a wonderful photo of me standing next to Mum on the morning of my wedding, Mum in lavender mother-of-the-bride slendour, me in bridal cream and lace. The same old scuffed brown vinyl can be seen on the floor, a plate of uneaten cheese and crackers sits on the steel-surfaced kitchen bench. And the walls? A light but somehow still vibrant and in-your-face shade of blue. I can see why our photographer loved that shot so much. It was the very image of the kitschz suburban kitchen.

I moved out of home and in with Hamish in my early twenties. For the first three months we housesat for a friend in nappy-valley suburban nightmaresville. I don't remember the kitchen at all, but I do remember the first meal I cooked. Mum being the domestic goddess she still is, I had never cooked a dinner before in my entire life. I could have gone to the supermarket and bought something processed and packaged, but for some reason I felt an obligation to cook a 'real' meal to commemorate this new life together.

After agonising over my few cookbooks for hours I decided on spaghetti bolognaise, and spent hours cooking the sauce from scratch. The meal was delicious, but it's the one and only time I've ever made a bolognaise sauce. Ever since I've used bottled sauces from the supermarket!

Thankfully over time I lost my kitchen angst. I discovered that I'd absorbed a lot of my mother's culinary wisdom simply from watching her for all those years, and I also discovered that the occasional meal of sizzlers sausages, packet rice and a little tinned pineapple never killed anyone either. The only meal I've ever cooked that was inedible was a beef stirfry, and that only because I accidentally put in several times too much ginger!

After leaving our friend's house (trying not to cry as their cats watched me drive away), Hamish and I rented a small bedsit underneath an old villa in Newmarket. It was ideal - cheap and an easy walk to town. The kitchen however was fairly unsavoury. The vinyl floor was 70s faded, in dirty white and orange. The kitchen bench was covered in small khaki coloured tiles, which were rotting and falling away.

Dad to the rescue. It just so happened that he had an old kitchen bench (maroon coloured formica) hanging around underneath his house. To the consternation of the landlord's brother (who lived upstairs), we spent one afternoon ripping apart the old kitchen bench and replacing it with Dad's hand-me-down. We covered the old formica with vinyl in shades of grey and mauve. It clashed fabulously with the floor.

From that flat we purchased our first home together, our trendy little Ponsonby apartment, with its tiny two-element stovetop, chrome appliances and tame white cabinetry. It all looked good, but it was hopeless for any real cooking. We spent a lot of money on takeaways and cafe meals. All the same, I did manage to cook a wonderful Christmas dinner for Hamish's parents one year.

We lived in Ponsonby for two years before moving to Wellington and renting an old house with a huge kitchen. The floors there covered in squares of black and white vinyl, the wooden cupboards were painted a pleasant blue. I loved the space, but suffered from the lack of a dishwasher. To add to this, the kitchen came equipped with nothing more than a beer fridge. I lived for a year and a half without a freezer. I'm not sure how I coped.

So from there on to our villa in Mornington. And again I'm living in a house with a kitchen that is a riot of colour. Although the kitchen bench is varnished wood, and the cupboards an earthy green, someone saw fit to paint the walls yellow and fire-engine red. I love them, and I love cooking in this kitchen where the french doors open to a courtyard and the sun shines in on long summer afternoons.

I am, it seems, my mother's daughter. When I have the time, Sunday has become cooking day. I love big pots of soup bubbling on the stove, the Moosewood cookbook open on the bench. I love flicking through the Edmonds Cookbook, and claiming the recipes that were my Nana's once, and are now mine. There's nothing like long afternoons spent listening to Americana on the Tivoli, steam billowing up into the ceiling and the aroma of garlic and tomato spreading down the hallway.

More writers talk about their kitchens here


khambagirl said...

Great collage of stories. It all sounds so homey. Thank you!

Eleanora said...

I love kitchen stories, and I reviewed all my kitchens while reading yours. My favorite has to be the kitchen I had when I was first married, and living in Chicago. We lived in a 3rd floor walk up in an old building, and we *loved* it, because, among other things, we had windows on 2 opposite walls, so could get a lovely cross breeze. The kitchen had a back door that led to a small stoop and fire stairs ...but what I truly loved about it was that it had no cabinets up high. (I'm short, and those cabinets above my head are the bane of my existence.) I had *lots* of storage space under the counters, and practically a whole wall of counter space ...and a spacious pantry! I don't think I've ever felt so much at home in any other kitchen, even the fancier ones I've lived with. Thanks for the memory!

Catherine said...

I'll bet my family would have eaten that stir fry with "several times too much ginger". Our motto is that you can never have too much ginger :)

Tori said...

I love that you mentioned the Moosewood cookbook. I went to college in Ithaca where the restaurant is. I ate there often and love using my cookbook to this day!

Kimberley McGill said...

Kitchen history - a colorful one at that. I admire anyone that keeps a yellow and bright red kitchen - color is grand!