Much like the kitchen I grew up in, my Wisconsin kitchen is small. My mise en place (calling it this makes me feel better about the lack of counter space) is to the right of an electric stove–my first one, not including the coil-topped monsters we burned chocolate chip cookies in throughout Junior High School Home Economics class. Although my new 1970s oven is off by at least 100-degrees, the good news is now I can deglaze a hot, crusted pan with wine while still on the burner without setting the house on fire.
I prepare every part of every meal in this 19″ x 22″ space (yes, I measured) and keep three mason jars at the back of the counter filled with cinnamon sticks, dried anise flowers and whole nutmeg. This DIY aromatherapy display reminds me of my family’s Christmas cookies and keeps me grounded.
My recipe box (gifted to me at my bridal shower) sits on the counter among these jars and is stuffed with hand-written recipes from my grandmother and aunts as well as with ones I’ve clipped from magazines, some I secretly swiped while in the waiting room waiting for a mammogram.
I always have at least one bulb of garlic, next to a bottle of olive oil (the best I can afford, depending on the month) balsamic vinegar imported from Italy and delivered to me by mail from my mother-in-law, a bowl of Kosher salt and a pepper grinder (another shower gift).
The centerpiece of our kitchen is Great Grandma Jenny’s wooden table. A relic from Italy, brought to America in the early 1900s, this table, my husband likes to say, survived Mussolini. I say you know it’s an Italian workhorse because of its rounded edges– perfect for draping fresh pasta over to dry without the risk of breaking tender strands.
The counters flanking both sides of the double, stainless sink are cluttered with a small toaster oven–necessary for a quick grilled cheese sandwich, dormitory-sized microwave oven–for after school or late-night nachos, a bread basket and too many sport water bottles that always need a good brushing.
Expensive china and crystal (wedding gifts) sit in storage while Pyrex casserole dishes passed down from our grandmothers fill the small cabinets and my parents’ gray rose patterned wedding china gets pulled out for Sunday suppers. We have downsized our living space and lost some elbow room at the dinner table and yet our life together has gotten much bigger.