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Kitchen satisfactions

"A kitchen is a good place to be, almost always the best place in the house." Michael Ruhlman

This is my kitchen. I love it. It's one of the many dream kitchens I have had in my life - well four, no five I suppose. Each perfect in its own way for the time that I was at in my life. This is my current dream kitchen. Designed by me, after the kitchen experts came up with nothing. So with a bit of arguing and the help of Ikea and my sons' friend and expert builder, Dale we did it. Oh and the plumbers, stone-masons, tilers and even Harvey Norman too. Constructing a kitchen like this takes time, tantrums and organisation.

But this post is not about the satisfaction of having the opportunity, and money let it be said, to build the perfect kitchen. It's not about designing a kitchen. It's about all the many different kinds of satisfaction to be gained in and of the kitchen. As somebody said to me recently it's my happy place. However, I do recognise that it is not everyone's happy place, even if they have a perfectly designed one. In fact people who love kitchens, and cooking can be happy in a very much less than perfect kitchen - like the first one I had as a young married wife.

But it is indeed my happy place - although not the only one. I have many. But it's sort of mine. My place, and I think we all need a place, however tiny, of our own. Besides there was the major satisfaction of completing it, and knowing that it worked. Everything is in the right place, and everything just works - so every time I take out a particular pot from its special place, or a knife or a gadget, I smile inwardly, sometimes outwardly too.

The satisfactions of the kitchen go well beyond the place itself however. Although a secondary, maybe even more important thing about the kitchen's place is that it is inevitably the centre of the home. It's where people gather - sometimes rather annoyingly because sometimes the kitchen is small and sometimes they get in the way. And it was ever thus it seems as this painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder shows. But when your children are growing it's where they gather after school, where they might actually talk to you about this and that, even if they are non communicative teenagers. It's also where people gather at parties - which I always found odd. Or maybe it was just me. Maybe even back when I went to parties I gravitated to the kitchen.

It's where we begin to play is it not? I remember putting aside a cupboard for my first baby that was filled with old saucepans and things he could bang together and put inside each other. And when he was even tinier I would put him in one of those baby bouncers so that he could see what was going on. He would gurgle and smile with complete delight.

"You start out playing in kitchens, and you end up playing in kitchens." Trisha Yearwood

Well I hope I shall end up playing in a kitchen, not senseless in a wheelchair or hospital bed.

Then there are the various satisfactions of actually cooking - so many.

The satisfaction of the process - transforming your beautiful materials into something else. The satisfaction of bashing a piece of meat, chopping herbs so that their scent perfumes the air, stirring a pot, or sizzling something in a pan. All tactile, sensory experiences that we all need.

I don't know about you but I have several different ways of cooking, so let's look at them one by one.

Cooking from a recipe. When I began cooking this is what I did. Well I had to really. It's how I learned. Well that's not quite true. Obviously I had learnt from observation - watching my mother and all of those French cooks, plus a few lessons at school. This is more where I learnt processes, but I also learnt a bit about what goes with what. In my middle years I probably only cooked from recipes for special occasions, but these days I'm trying to open my mind to new possibilities by trying something new every week, even if it's from an 'old' cook - one of my early gurus. And there is a great satisfaction when what you have made almost looks as good as the photograph, like this meringue roulade I made last Christmas. Morale boosted enormously.

Merely heating up leftovers. From the sublime to the ridiculous as it were. Here the satisfaction is in cleaning out the fridge, not wasting anything. The satisfaction is doubled if it tastes even better the second time around, which is not so likely with a pizza but definitely could well be with a stewed kind of dish.

Concocting something from leftovers, because some leftovers just can't be reheated. Steak for example - not that we have that very often, and not that there is often any left over. Leftover roast meat though, or too small an amount of a casserole to eat as is. But it can be turned into soup, or a stir-fry perhaps. Yes, I know the purists would never make a stir-fry with leftovers, but I do. And I do confess that stir fries are not my pièce de résistance. Leftover vegetables make it into omelettes, those stir fries, pies, tarts - endless possibilities really. The top of the tree in satisfaction here is if you devise something so good it becomes a new dish to be tried again, but the satisfaction of 'waste not want not' will do. You can feel sneakily virtuous.

Concocting things from stuff that needs using up. All those dying vegetables in the crisper, the bits of aging cheese, the jars of chutney lurking at the back of the fridge. Tonight's meal is going to be one of these - whatever I concoct with an 'older than it should be' cauliflower and some beans that may well be absolutely past it - although I suppose they could be added to a vegetable stock if they haven't rotted away completely. Not to mention the ricotta that may well be past it. Currently I'm thinking along the lines of a galette of roasted cauliflower. I've checked a few recipes online for ideas, and am pondering on them. Maybe this will be one of those supremely satisfying dishes that are so successful they become part of the repertoire - like the smoked trout and beetroot quiche that I concocted a long time ago because I had leftovers of both. I have, since realised that this is not at all an original idea, but it gave me huge satisfaction at the time.

Cooking something I have cooked so many times I could almost do it with my eyes closed. These are the family favourites - like the spaghetti and meatballs my family always wants me to cook and which we have made together many times. It's a real group cook dish this one because of all the, otherwise, tedious rolling of so many meatballs for a family of eleven hungry people. The satisfaction here is of the enormous pleasure that it gives to others, both in the communal process. the tactile sensation of rolling all those meatballs and the joy of giving I suppose.

Just taking an idea - a quiche, a stew, a soup and making something up. I seem to be falling into a 'quiche on Friday' kind of routine of late. Indeed tonight's meal started out as a quiche idea, but has morphed into galette. Sometimes this merges with the using up stuff that needs using up - like tonight, but sometimes it's just a desire to make a quiche, a soup, a roast, a stew, a sautéed something. I suppose this is the kind of thing that only we old and more experienced cooks can do. But then again, maybe not.

I suppose there is occasional disappointment in what I cook but on the whole the successes outweigh them. Sometimes the disappointment is not my fault - or rather my fault in the sense that I chose a particular recipe to try. But really the fault is the recipe - I remember an Ottolenghi chicken soup which was amazingly bland for he and his crew, and yet not reassuringly comforting, because bland can be good. This was just a bit boring.

Perhaps the greatest satisfaction though is in seeing my grandchildren cook something they can be proud of and I have to say that COVID was a big component of that. I cannot take full credit for my granddaughters' skill in the kitchen - witness my COVID lockdown birthday cake on the right here - such pride - for their parents have always encouraged them and they have also learnt at school. My grandsons however are a different thing. I suspect their parents are not quite as keen cooks but when we had our COVID cooking classes via Zoom during lockdown they were amazingly good and seemed, as you can see from the two photographs below to have gained enormous satisfaction from making, in this case, chocolate mousse, and apple strudel. They were satisfied. I may have been even more satisfied than them. And I should add in another birthday cake from the girls. No input from me here, but great satisfaction for them.

So much satisfaction from one room and one activity.

"Kitchens should be designed around what's truly important-fun, food, and life." Daniel Boulud

So I hope my current kitchen has enough room for that. I think it does.



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