“Distance means nothing when your kitchen smells like home.”
This quote is from “My Berlin Kitchen”, a memoir, with recipes by Luisa Weiss. (The book is actually subtitled “A love story with recipes.”) Weiss, a formidable cook and a splendid writer, grew up moving constantly, shuttling back and forth, from Berlin to Boston. She found her real home in her passion for cooking and in her various kitchens, the spaces that kept her grounded.
The quotation makes a lot of sense to me — the kitchen is definitely the heart of whatever is meant by “home.” I grew up eating mostly in the kitchen and I recall that it was the central point, from which all disputes were settled and all directives were issued. We did have an ample dining room in our house — but it was used primarily for dinners with “company.” (Perhaps my disagreeable memories of the dining room are colored by the fact that the piano also stood in there and that room was, thus, the site of my dreaded weekly piano lesson.)
Anyway, when I started to write this blog, the title “Kitchen Tales” was foisted on me. I think I resisted at first, because I felt that people would prefer “fine dining” in an atmosphere that was removed far from the kitchen sink. I was completely wrong and now I’ve become very fond of the title. (Thanks, boss!) In fact, I’ve found that the whole Go Cooking dining experience, with chefs whisking and whipping in full view, fat sizzling in the pans and the tempting aromas of the spices drifting across the counter, piques everyone’s appetite and adds a lot to the anticipation of the feast to come. (We do try our best to keep the dirty dishes out of the way.)
The eat-in kitchen, as we know it, is actually a very late development in human history, as I found out from watching a recent TVO series called “If Walls Could Talk.” The television shows outlined the history of various rooms in the house with Dr. Lucy Worsley, chief curator for The Historic Royal Palaces in Britain, as a tour guide. According to Worsley, it was not until Victorian times, when a real middle class evolved, that anyone other than the very poorest of the poor even entered the kitchen. The very earliest kitchens were actually removed from the same building as the living quarters, before the advent of working chimneys.
A painting from 1661 by Adrien van Ostade called “Peasants in an Interior.” I do love the little vignette of the child and the dog in the left corner. (Some things never change.)
Eating in the kitchen, even as late as the 19th century, was only done in the most humble households. This iconic painting by Vincent van Gogh, a group of family members sharing their meager dinner in a circle of light, is always revered for its exhultation of the love and care that permeates even the poorest households. (It was painted in 1885 before Vincent moved to Paris and discovered “COLOUR”.) It’s called “The Potato Eaters” but I can never look at it without thinking of one of my more irreverent art history teachers who always called it “Eat d’em Taters!”
This richly colored “Kitchen Still Life” by Paul Cezanne, painted only a few years later in 1888, celebrates the abundance that had become available to the French middle class.
And this is a light-filled kitchen painting by a 20th century American artist named Fairfield Porter that I wanted to include — well — just because it’s so swooningly beautiful. Porter had the (mis?)fortune of growing up in a very wealthy family and, I believe, never got the respect that he deserved as an artist.
In a previous blog, I mentioned a Nancy Meyers’ kitchen and a few friends have asked me about that. Meyers is an American writer, director and producer of films that are renowned for their exquisitely designed domestic interiors. A couple of the most well-known are in “Something’s gotta’ give” and “It’s Complicated.”
Anyway, I did have a normal kitchen at one time but my current kitchen is the size of a walk-in closet. Still, good things to eat do come out of it occasionally. Besides, when I get really nostalgic for my gas stove, I can always pop into the well-equipped Go Cooking kitchen.
I’ll leave you with a simple and delicious recipe from “My Berlin Kitchen.”
Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs
from Luisa Weisses’ “My Berlin Kitchen”
8 chicken thighs, with skin, pierced all over with a small knife
8 cloves garlic
1 – 2 inch piece ginger root peeled
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded
juice and grated peel of one organic lemon
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the chicken thighs in a bowl. Roughly chop the garlic, ginger and jalapeño and put them in a small food processor with the lemon juice and zest, the tomato paste, salt, cumin and coriander. Process to a paste.
2. Wearing gloves, rub the spice paste all over the chicken thighs.
3. Put the thighs, skin side up in a roasting pan that you’ve rubbed with a drip of vegetable oil. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves four. Weiss suggests couscous or rice as an accompaniment. These roasted thighs are really tender and juicy, with just the right amount of heat for me. Make sure you use the rubber gloves or your fingers will be burning for quite a while.
And here’s a picture of a 1950’s kitchen that I couldn’t resist because it looks so much like the kitchen I grew up in, from the checkered tile floor, to the chrome “dinette” set. Hands up, all who remember this ever-so-stylish decor!