A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at my friend Ashley’s home frazzled. I had promised her a pasta-making tutorial: butternut squash ravioli. Ashley would supply porcini sauce. I came with the pasta dough in hand, ensuring the dough was relaxed and hydrated before it was rolled into submission.
What I didn’t have was my pasta roller attachment for the Kitchen Aid, which I promised Ashley I would bring. It would make the rolling part easy so we could have fun shaping (and eating) ravioli. But after ripping through drawers and boxes in my Oakland apartment and coming up empty, I resigned myself to the possibility that the attachment never made the journey to California from Chicago. Ashley also had bad news: she couldn’t find dried porcini for her sauce.
Fortunately, we are both pretty adaptable folks. She pulled out a large wooden board and a rolling pin and we got to work rolling out dough as thin as we could without a machine. She had a roasted butternut squash ready, which we mixed with Parmesan, a spoonful of honey, and salt and pepper for the filling. Then she removed a frozen pint of pasta sauce and started thawing it on the counter.
The resulting ravioli weren’t the stuff of magazines, but their floppy demeanor were edible results of home-cooking efforts. Since we weren’t concerned with appearances, we had fun with shapes, making rounds, squares, and a few obese tortellini. Her fiancé, Drew, poured drafts of his latest home brew, and we soon settled into a satisfying dinner.
My dad once described my kitchen as a “one butt” kitchen, implying that it is big enough to allow one person to cook comfortably. Ashley and Drew have a two-butt kitchen, still not big by modern home standards. We both live in older buildings with tiled kitchen counters. Their tile is this fantastic minty green color, which is all the rage this year. Mine sports maroon accents. We are fortunate to both have gas stoves. Neither of us owns a microwave, although we both agree it would be useful for heating up those lavender neck pillows that are supposed to relax tense shoulders. And for melting chocolate.
But our limited kitchens are by no means limiting. Most everything I want to cook I can manage in my home kitchen. I do wish for more space, but a smaller kitchen means less to clean. And it’s configured for my needs. I have salt and pepper within easy reach on the counter next to the stove. The pot and pan I use most often hang on hooks over the stove. Meanwhile, an open-air shelving unit that separates the living room from the kitchen houses plates, bowls, a Dutch oven, and my tea pot. One day I will have a larger kitchen. For now, this is a perfectly fine place holder.
Friends of mine are in the process of moving workspaces from a 2-butt test kitchen to an expansive 10+ butt space clad in white marble. There are four ranges, two or three refrigerators, and an enormous freezer. It’s gorgeous and inspiring, but I can sense that there’s also an uneasiness in wondering how simple tasks, like baking Bundt cakes, will be carried out efficiently. After having to make do with limited storage and cooking space, will they spend more time walking from one side of the room to the other than actually getting down to business? And what about cleaning up at the end of the day? Knowing this crew, my guess is they’ll have it down in a matter of days, but my hunch is that they’ll miss some aspects of their old, broken-in space.
Katherine Sacks, a fellow food writer, moved from New York to Berlin a couple of months ago. On Sunday, I spoke with her about the transition. She’s not sure if her Kitchen Aid can make the transition to Europe, but my guess is she’ll find plenty of new ways to think about food and cooking by living in a new place with new limitations–and options.
Sometimes, smaller is better. I love my tiny tablespoon liquid measuring cup, for example. Andrea Nguyen wrote up a list of tiny kitchen tools (including said liquid measuring cup) that are more valuable than the space they take up.
Maybe it’s all about expectations. If my kitchen is too perfect, will I still be able to enjoy a bowl of imperfect ravioli? Will I ever want to muck up its shiny exterior?
PS: If you like snooping into other folks’ kitchen spaces, take a peak at Pantry Confidential, a blog that does just that. It’s put together by Hana Choi, a friend of mine from Medill, and her photographer friend Christine Han.