Normally, the thought of writing this sort of post would leave me a bit cold, a bit like when you’re asked to introduce yourself with a “fun fact” at workplace events. Especially as, having now cooked in a few different kitchens shared with a variety of different people, it is blindingly apparent that everyone does things very differently. Like farts and children, yours are always acceptable and everyone else’s are nauseating.
Sticking to my nostalgic theme, though, I was actually quite excited to revisit the memory of the kitchen I grew up with. My parents and I lived in the same home until I was about 15, so I spent just enough time experiencing it but also away from it that it has now accrued proper nostalgia status in my mind.
We usually ate in the kitchen at a glass dining table and plastic outdoor chairs. It was probably one of those things that made all my friends think my family were really weird, but to me it was such a cosy kitchen.
When you came through the door, the sink was directly ahead of you, with the oven and hob directly on your left and a decent length of countertop running between them, the width of the room. Behind the door was a floor-to-ceiling cupboard housing the pots and pans, which drove my mum a bit mad for a few years with its cluttering state of disorder (because pots, pans, baking tins and trays, cooling racks, and other kitchen odds and ends are NEVER efficient things to store). Because of where the pots and pans cupboard was, my mum usually ended up cooking with the door shut to be able to leave the cupboard door open, which allowed us to have many moments of family frustration where my dad or I would try to talk to my mum from another room, and she would hear none of it.
Under the countertop was a little half-sized fridge. Thankfully we had a couple normal-sized fridges in the basement for drinks and the majority of the produce, so the kitchen fridge housed more everyday essentials like milk and yoghurts, condiments and stone fruits that were too ripe to live in the fruit bowl. Next to the fridge, taking up the rest of the sub-countertop space, the plastic container cupboard which would start out tidy and get more and more unruly as odd-shaped plastic containers were chucked in, until my mum would cave in frustration and tidy it all up again. These days I am fairly obsessive with the stacks in our Tupperware cupboard, and anything too oddly proportioned gets recycled instead.
Above the counter, affixed to the wall, were three rows of wooden shelves that served as spice racks. How much better is that than having to endlessly open cupboard doors where the little jars are stacked so deep you don’t actually know what is lurking at the back?! I remember cinnamon, a jar of cloves that we used mainly to stick in oranges for decoration come wintertime, a little jar of nutmeg that I would occasionally be instructed to grate with a mini-grater when I was helping out, and some Italian herb mixes that I would experiment with when I first started cooking for myself.
Following the counter round to the right in a U shape, we have the sink and drainage bit on the short end, followed by a breakfast bar that was covered in a marble slab. Two fruit bowls usually lived on the marble slab, but if we were kneading bread or making croissants (or making salt-dough Christmas tree decorations), they would be moved and the marble would come into all its smooth beautiful glory.
Under the breakfast bar was one small cupboard, in which lived the toaster, the bowls my dad would drink tea out of (it’s a French thing), jams, honey for the non-vegan members of the household, and peanut butter for the peanut butter monster. For a while there was also a jar of swirly chocolate spread in there. I can smell the toast just looking in that cupboard! We also had one of those crumb cleaners in there, because breakfast = crumbs.
If you’re foraging around in that cupboard, you’re probably touching both the radiator to your right and the kitchen table behind you. I guess it was a little tight, but the space was efficient for a family of three with only one cook. To your right, above the radiator, was a high window sill – at least, I remember it being high but maybe I was just small? It was definitely higher than the kitchen table, in any case, and on it lived the bread bin, six wooden breakfast slabs hanging on a wooden breakfast slab tree, and the TV on which we would watch the evening news whilst having dinner. I would sit at the end of the table, looking straight at the TV, with a parent to either side so they were facing each other. My mum was closest to the kitchen, my dad had his back to the windowed door which led out onto a little terrace, on which we would leave food out for the stray cats (and the family of crows that lived in our garden). Our own cats had their food bowls on the floor in the corner, next to my dad.
The last remaining wall of the kitchen we haven’t talked about yet was taken up by four built-in cupboards. They were brilliantly vast – or at least they seemed that way to a pre-teen! The end cupboard had no shelves, and housed the potatoes and onions and the spirits used for cooking (my mum always put a glug of rum in our pancake batter). The cupboard next to it had our plates and cutlery, and all things related to beverages hot and cold. Next to that, the baking cupboard with wonderful arrays of sprinkles and chocolate chips and glacé cherries – I’m not sure what else was in there because clearly those captivated all my attention – and finally, the cupboard closest to the door (we’ve panned around my kitchen clockwise, if you’ve been following) was the snack cupboard. I don’t know what was in there except a little ladybird-shaped bowl that had the odds and ends of sweets (and, later, when I was a teenager, fun-size Snickers bars).
Looking back, it was a much smaller kitchen than I remembered it being – but the space was used super efficiently and the room had a real cosy family vibe to it. I’m so grateful to have grown up experiencing such a thoroughly-used and well-oiled kitchen, and I’d like to think that upbringing has contributed to my enthusiasm for preparing food in my own home whenever I can!