"The Art of Living," Originally posted July 12, 2014
Why do they say that the kitchen is "the center of the home?" Because it is. Thinking back on all the kitchens in my life, they don't stand as monuments of design, they stand as the vortex of my life. When I see myself, in my mind's eye, standing in them once again, I can feel the energy created there, food and beyond, laughter, difficulties, the auras of living.
I have cooked in everything from our lovely kitchen in Baltimore that I designed, to the hotplate in the dorm kitchen at college. I think particularly of the two kitchens in Italy where dining around the table in the kitchen was the central activity of the day, I basked in my kitchen in West Virginia, the first home I ever made for myself and remember well buying my Revere pots and hanging them, just as my mother had. I loved my kitchen in my apartment in New York City on Lexington Avenue where I could look out the window next to the stove and see the entire skyline of the Chrysler Building or watch the people pass down on the street 10 stories below, wondering where they were going to or coming from, as I stirred the soup. But the one that really stands out in my memory was uptown a bit further in an "up and coming" area that had NOT come. Certainly by all standards, way, way less appealing in all ways.
It was an ugly kitchen, in a dark, dingy basement apartment, in a crumbling townhouse, in a terrible, unsafe area of the Upper West Side, way before that area became, "oh so fashionable." One had to walk down steps from the street, open a gate with a key, and making sure the gate closed behind you, walk down a narrow, damp corridor to the door at the back. Opening it, you squeezed directly into the "kitchen," an old refrigerator, sink and stove. The oven was iffy, at best. I tried hard to give it some touches that made it sing, but it wasn't until i started to create in that space that it became the "center of that home."
It was July 4, 1976, the Bi-Centennial which, if one remembers was when the Tall Ships sailed majestically down the Hudson River from the George Washington Bridge to the Statue of Liberty. Fireworks in the harbor were on deck for that night, My family was coming in, to meet me at the apartment so we could find a place to watch the ships on the banks of the river.
And so, in characteristic style, I determined that what we needed was a picnic, a grand picnic, to spread on a blanket, to savor as we took in the grand sights. The clunky, iffy stove was being called into action. It needed to produce the most scrumptious fried chicken ever to go with the cheeses and grapes, the wonderful french bread from the local bakery. (That, the Upper West Side had then...not like the fancy ones of today, but a REAL corner bakery). Iced tea and a bottle of white wine completed the menu. And so I set off, juggling the pans on the little stove, trying to not "smoke up" the apartment so that the firemen didn't come and generally having the time of my life.
I don't remember how delicious the chicken was, but I do remember the satisfaction of packing the wonderful basket with it and all the goodies. My old, crummy stove had become the little "engine that could!" I loved that kitchen. it was the center of "my home."