She’s the one, the only one, built like an Amazon

The kitchen will be done today, except for the stained glass window. It’s been a long, slow process, three months of hard, painstaking work for our contractors, three months without a kitchen for us. Everyone has been remarkably patient and cool-headed throughout, maybe because we all knew we were creating something beautiful, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Most of the materials we used were old, “repurposed,” they call it – the 1880s ceiling tin Brendan found for sale in Ohio and had shipped here, the first-growth pine floorboards from an old 1770s barn wall we bought from an old-wood guy in Cape Elizabeth, the maple the contractors used to build the kitchen cabinets and the wainscoting in the dining room, which came from a 100-year-old mill floor in Biddeford. We bought our appliances second-hand, cheap and in excellent shape, from a guy up in Poland Spring who has a barn full of barely-used, traded-in stuff.

The contractors never once quailed at these materials, never complained about the unorthodoxies of using them. They rose to every challenge, scraped and sanded and then painted the ornate old squares of ceiling tin they’d carefully jiggered into place and cut to accommodate the overhead lights, planed and sanded and endlessly poly’ed the rough, weatherbeaten dimensional countertop planks into smooth, richly golden expanses. The patinaed copper from the 1902 bathtub Brendan bought from a guy north of Waterville has been siliconed to the bartop with sandbags and clamps. The old copper was curved; they’ve subdued it and wrested it into place.

As of yesterday, the wavy sort-of-opaque glass is in the upper cabinet doors.  The (new) porcelain sink has been set into the countertop and hooked up. The tall wooden door with beveled glass and carved details that used to hang in the front entryway is now a swinging door between the kitchen and the foyer. Right now, they’re downstairs, grouting the Mexican tile backsplash, replacing the glass in the door to the mudroom, shaping the copper edges around the bartop, and then, I think, they’ll be done.

Later this afternoon, when they pack up their tools and drive away, we’ll wander around the big, cavernous-feeling, dazzling room, slightly befuddled, dazed with the joy of having our kitchen and dining room, which were so ugly before, be so beautiful now, all one big room instead of divided, with two more windows and the brick chimney exposed, freshly painted a warm neutral buttery color, everything gleaming and rich with history, every detail exactly what we’d wanted all along.

The kitchen feels as if it’s been in the house forever; our aim was to have people walk in and assume that, feel it instinctively. Our house is old and tall and beautiful, and it wants to feel comfortable and attractive in its outfit; it also wants an outfit befitting its dignified  age. Before, the kitchen was all pink granite and white melamine, white appliances and a hideous Brazilian cherry floor. The dining room was no great shakes, either. The walls were painted a cold sky blue. The huge side window was Sheetrocked over. The house chafed and protested against this bullshit with every joist and beam; we could almost hear it. Ridiculous as it sounds, I can’t help thinking that it’s rejoicing in its new duds, even preening a little, and I don’t blame it.

Tomorrow, we’ll unpack the boxes of cooking utensils and pots and bowls, baking pans and cookie sheets and wooden spoons, glasses, cups, plates, and the bags of staples, rice and lentils and pasta. We can slot the spices into the indented maple ledge built into the back of the island, empty the corner of the living room where all the kitchen stuff has been stored since February, move the table and chairs back into the dining room, rearrange the couch and armchairs around the fireplace in the living room, vacuum and mop and dust and hang pictures.

Once that’s all done, the inevitable question is sure to arise. What should we cook to inaugurate our new kitchen? What should its first meal be?

Our friend Rosie will be visiting this weekend. She is a brilliant, accomplished, knowledgeable cook, a famous bartender and inventor of cocktails, but despite that, she’s never intimidating to cook for or to mix drinks for, because she is impeccably philosophical. She wants to be pleased; she wants to enjoy our hospitality. A couple of years ago, I forgot to trim the strings off some sugar-snap peas I had sautéed with green beans to go alongside Brendan’s roast. And my Dauphinoise was too dry, because I hadn’t used enough cream. We ate our meal, picking peapod strings out of our teeth, putting away plenty of Dauphinoise despite its flaws.

Mid-meal, I broke down and apologized.

Rosie shot back, “Julia Child said, ‘Never apologize at the table.’ I never do. You shouldn’t either.”

And that was that.

Therefore, I know that whatever we make, Rosie will not complain; she will eat enthusiastically and without criticism. Even so, I’m not going to try anything new or complicated. I’m superstitious. It’s the First Supper. It has to be good. My mind keeps drifting to my current favorite standby, which is foolproof, easy, fast, no-fuss, comforting, and delicious: Haddock filets cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated in lemon juice and harissa spices, then added to a skillet in which chopped chorizo and leeks have been sautéed in olive oil and white wine. The fish is poached till it’s tender and cooked through, then this smoky, spicy stew is served over wild rice cooked in chicken broth, with garlicky steamed red chard alongside.

I’m already drooling at the thought of digging into a plateful tomorrow night; we’ll light candles, open the windows, dim the chandelier.

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About Kate Christensen

eater, citizen, enthusiast, curmudgeon
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8 Responses to She’s the one, the only one, built like an Amazon

  1. Meredith says:

    Congratulations!! I am so excited for you after all of this time!!!

  2. Janet Osmond says:

    How wonderful! Please post pics . Congratulations.

  3. Larry says:

    I’ve been a fan of this blog since the beginning and a fan of the four novels I’ve read by you—still got some catching up to do on that front.

    I’m a freelance writer who lives in Covington, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati. Two plus years, ago, I moved into a cheap apartment to save money. Saving money meant having a cheap and horrible kitchen. Only two of the burners on the stove worked, I was always afraid the oven was going to blow up and the refrigerator snapped, crackled and popped like a box of Rice Krispies. It wasn’t a good time living or cooking there.

    Move up to February of this year and my move to a highrise apartment a few blocks away. My apartment is small and so is the kitchen, but it has a brand new stove with four burners that work, a self-cleaning oven and a refrigerator that’s nice and quiet.

    You know, everything is relative. I’m never going to have a kitchen like the one you soon will have, but what a pleasure it is to enter a space where everything works and you can have some fun in preparing meals. Your post reminded me of that fact.

    I follow you on Facebook too. I hope you post some photos of your new kitchen.

  4. Evy says:

    Congrats! Selfishly I hope this means more cooking and more posts from you. I like the writing as much as the easy way you describe the recipes. Looking forward to your book Blue Plate Special coming out soon (July!)

  5. guess who says:

    LOVED this post and can NOT WAIT to see this gorgeous, gorgeously and carefully thought-out kitchen. Just love that you found all those materials from near and far. The earth thanks you as do your guests, of which i hope to be one sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, overnight me some of that haddock, would you please? My mother is watering.

  6. Leah says:

    Well it’s not a meal but something local–like rhubarb cake or muffins. :) Our first meal in our new kitchen was actually homemade pizza (just switched to a gas stove–came out great!)

  7. Wendy Gee says:

    How do you make fried farina? I’m reading your latest book. Thanks.

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