Home’s Where the Kitchen(s) Is

I just bagged my own groceries: Fuyu persimmons, Honeycrisp apples, red-round cranberries. A butternut as big as a newborn.

I just added more salt to the dregs of a much loved celery soup, sopped up the brine with a roll from the Bread Farm, a bakery about ten minutes by car, in Edison, whose chocolate thumbprints make googly eyes at me, and me back at them. If I could, I would play footsies with those thumbprints, but they never last long enough to grow legs and knock toenails under the table.

So it seems that after two months of boxing, driving, organizing, I begin to settle in. A place starts to feel more like a home to me (as much as it can without N) when steam stems from pot lids, the oven swirls hot air and I have dirtied as many bowls and wooden spoons as I can find. (Frequently, I find myself missing N much, much more at the end of such a spin in the kitchen, as he is not only my best sous chef, but also my best—only—cleaner-upper. Sigh.)

I love weekends for their shopping: some girls head to Nordie’s, but I prefer the farms and grocers. During the week I hunt and peck for a new recipe, or dig around to see what’s growing soft fuzz and needs to be eaten yesterday. A shopping list forms with notes of dishes to be made in one corner or on one side: celery soup, LS 234; mushroom casserole, 101; orange glazed tempeh, SNC 75, and so on. The list indicates the meal, the source and the page. Then, to the shopping. Then, to the cooking.

And oh! how I love the cooking. Could it be my last name? The fact that my twelfth birthday was a cooking class? That I was often in charge of the salad at home, and made small villages with broccoli florets for trees, all the while, singing and chopping, singing and chopping on our wooden countertop? I wonder, did I drive my mother absolutely nutty or happily delirious while I sliced and diced? No matter. The importance lingers in my seasoning as a child, and my mother got it right.

When I came home from traveling, I thought my new vegetarian status would char my cooking habits and skills. But just the opposite happened. Armed with a few good websites, a CSA box and nothing but time on my hands before the school year began, I mastered the sometimes bitter tempeh, the always bland tofu. A huge salad always at the ready in the fridge, leftovers in glass Pyrex waiting to be taken to school or N’s office. It all became this wonderful routine, this beautiful dance of food and flavors and fun around the heart of the home: the kitchen. N and I biked to the store(s)

Weekly Shopping Trip

(frequently we’d have to hit TJ’s for the staples, then Henry’s for the randoms and Ralph’s for the batteries, etc.) Then we read recipes and leveled measuring cups, watched onions brown a gazillion times and inhaled the sweet, earthy aroma of beets in the oven. We chopped cups—seriously, cups—of fresh pesto. Among all the things I failed to take with me from San Diego, the pesto is a serious regret.

But now, here I am, starting over again in another galley kitchen. The butternut waits with the pepitas and millet for “Mark Bittman’s Autumn Bake,” 101; the leftovers will make a nice apple and squash soup, OGT; the fish, defrosting, ready for a quick taco night, the spinach, washed, prepped for the weekly salad. Tomorrow, I will cook. The kitchen will smoke and steam, and there’s bound to be bits of sage and cardamom on the tile floor. But who cares? For the rest of the week, I will open my fridge to the bounty of fall.

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