Friday, March 27, 2020

Covid Journal, Day 13: Kitchens

50 this morning, rain threatening. We gloried in the sun and warmth yesterday, putting down the rest of the mulch we bought a couple weeks ago (how will we get more? a dilemma for sure), and generally puttering around.

I have been thinking about kitchens lately. If you've been a reader for very long, you know how my kitchen is. It's old-fashioned, I suppose you could say. There is no granite or brushed stainless steel, the floor is pine and the cabinets are handmade.

My kitchen last fall after apple butter day

My stove is a 1950 model Tappan and just last summer we had to give up our natural gas refrigerator for an electric one (bought used). There is a large antique pantry cupboard,

a Depression-era buffet, a pie cupboard I use to store my "good" china, another large antique storage cabinet for large canning pots and such,

and a small table I use as a desk that came out of a Masonic Lodge in Ohio and is quite old. With the desk is an Eastlake chair given to me by a neighbor, and in the center of the room is a porcelain top table and 4 chairs, only 3 of which match.

 One one wall are three shelves that hold our everyday dishes, bowls, pitchers, etc.

An older photo of the kitchen, with the wall shelves in the background.
Pots, pans, and utensils hang over the stove and over another handmade cabinet. There is also a Hoosier-style cabinet in the kitchen, and from the ceiling beams hang baskets, a scale and my apple butte kettle.

It's not fancy, that's certain. And yet it's the kitchen I want. I have never hankered after a modern, stylish kitchen. I think the reason I am satisfied with my inconvenient kitchen has to do with my childhood.

I grew up on a street lined with Victorian-era homes in Manassas, Virginia. The kitchen in our house was a large, square room with a high ceiling. When we moved in there was an old-fashioned porcelain-over-cast-iron sink on one wall and on another wall a tall, dark brown built-in cabinet. There was a chimney in this kitchen that had been plastered over, the hole for a stovepipe that would have gone to a wood or coal cookstove covered over by a metal flue cover. The flooring was linoleum, the old asphalt kind, and there was a domed Frigidaire refrigerator. One round light fixture in the ceiling was turned on by a round switch on the wall that had to be turned clockwise to turn it on or off.

That's all I remember being in that kitchen when we moved in, in 1956. Mom added a porcelain top table that was there until they moved away, and Dad built a corner cabinet and a spice rack, and somewhere found a butcher-block top cabinet to go beside the stove; the stove and that cabinet sat at right angles to the chimney, making a sort of island. Soon after we moved in Dad tore out the tall, brown, scary cabinets (they were so dark inside, and the bottom smelled like mice) and put in a window with a new sink and cabinet under it. He also built a cabinet on the wall to the left of the sink, and together he and Mom painted the kitchen yellow. I don't remember them ever replacing the old linoleum, although eventually they did get a different refrigerator.

Mom's kitchen was never tidy. The table held a motley collection of bottles, teapot, sugar and creamer, a stand mixer, salt, pepper and other things. The counter beside the stove was often covered with pots, pans, spices, you name it. There just wasn't enough room for all the things it takes to cook for a huge family like ours, and Mom was a comfortably cluttery English woman.

The table was really the heart of the kitchen, actually of the whole house. That was where Mom had her morning tea, where she and Dad ate breakfast. The radio beside it was often on and Dad would listen to the news when he came home from work. The paper and a cup of tea was always ready for him. Mom had her morning coffee break at the table, often with her friend from across the street or someone else who had stopped by. If she had no visitor, she would be on the phone with friends. In the afternoons after school, we had tea with Mom at the table. It was the place where the anyone in the family could stop for a quiet moment if needed. You might have to clear a place for  your teacup or the newspaper, but no one cared about that.

My first kitchen as a young (17 years old, my goodness) wife was in a 1940's apartment built during World War II. The kitchen in this place was small probably about six feet square, just enough room for a sink, small cabinet, apartment sized stove and refrigerator, and a small table and two chairs. There was a window over the table that looked out and down over a tree-lined street that wound up the hill to our building. I loved that little kitchen. It was where I learned how to cook for two people instead of 14 or 15. I could keep it clean and neat, and looking out the window as I drank my instant coffee or tea made me feel like a woman of the world.

In our first real house (I was 18 when we bought it, can you imagine doing that today?), the kitchen was a little larger. This was a log house, and the cabinets were handmade by the original owner. I painted over the dingy white with light yellow and green, hung orange and yellow beads in the window over the sink and made yellow gingham curtains for the other window and the window in the door that led to the back porch. We built two shelves on the wall for my Le Creuset red pots and pans that I'd bought for $20 for the set brand new. The washing machine was in this kitchen, and I put the small table from the apartment in here too. There was a clothesline out back but no dryer, as the house had only a 60-amp service with 4 old glass fuses. We covered the worn tile floor with a green and yellow patterned vinyl flooring. It was bright and pretty in this kitchen, and I dearly loved it. This was where I learned to make bread and noodles, to cook more from scratch and also where I began to can and put up food.

Those three kitchens, I think, are what formed me as a cook, homemaker and lover of all vintage kitchen things. I know that today Keurigs and Instant Pots are all the rage, but I'm content without them. I've seen the "farmhouse" sinks, and spigots that can do more things than I would ever have dreamed of, and I know that for some people these are what they dream of for their kitchens. But for me, my heart will always be about 70 years behind the times when it comes to kitchens.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Covid Jounal, Day 12: Quiet

43 this morning--again!--but the sun is out and it's a beautiful day.

We checked our supplies this morning. So far, so good. We still have a couple gallons of milk in the freezer, a loaf of bread and flour and yeast to make more, the order of big rolls of tp came the other day. I stocked up on apples and oranges, celery and carrots so we're good there. The lettuce may not be good much longer, but the lettuce bed is growing fast so we may have our own homegrown soon.

I wish we could get some garden planted but more rain is in the forecast for the next couple of days. Some of the seed I ordered last week arrived today so I can at least get those started.

Larry is still working on repair jobs, and I have gotten back to some unfinished painting projects, mostly small things. We have three pieces of furniture for the antique mall so we will drop those off soon. Since the mall is closed I feel safe going in, for a short visit anyway. I haven't been out for a good while so we may take a little drive just to see how things are looking. Might head north and see if we can find more creasy greens, or south and see if the ramps and morels are up.

We had a lovely video chat with our son in Miami and his family last night. That was so nice! Seeing their faces and smiles just made my day. Thinking about doing this more often, and maybe posting a few videos online during poetry month of me reading my poetry. That would mean make-up and nice clothes though, wouldn't it? I've been wearing work clothes and no make-up at home, so "dressing up" would be a change!

There are currently four cases of the virus in our county, but I don't know exactly where those are. Feeling for those family. Most people are following the rules and staying home.

Have you noticed how there are no jet trails in the sky now? I admit I love that. When I moved here there was rarely an airplane in the sky, but in recent years there is always a trail in the sky. In the evenings, it is sooooo quiet when we sit outside. There's little traffic here at the busiest of times, but now it's almost non-existent. The mailman, UPS or FedEx, maybe a neighbor on a four-wheeler and that's about it. It's still more than we had when I moved here. Back then, only our neighbor a mile away and our vehicles were the only ones to be seen on our hill, and sometimes weeks could go by without anyone passing. We didn't have mail, the school bus, or the delivery services out here then as the road was often unpassable. I often miss those quiet days. Today is a nice reminder of how it once was.

I think that's about all the news from here!

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Covid Journal Day 11: Book Reviews

43 and wet. Rain overnight, and more predicted for today. So back to paperwork, I think. Larry can work on the bathroom tile re-grout, a painstaking job and one he can only work on in short shifts because getting down on the floor is hard for him. 

So here are the promised book reviews! A motley collection to be sure.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. This novel was a Pulitzer Prize winner by the best-selling Strout. She was born in Portland, Maine and the story of large, strong, tempestuous Olive is set in Strout's home state. It is clear that she knows well both the place and the people of her story. The writing is beautiful, lyrical I would call it, with descriptions that paint places and characters with deftness and sensitivity. I admit I did not like Olive, the main character. I found her selfish and self-centered, and yet kindness and generosity is there too. The novel is actually a series of vignettes, short stories through which Olive meanders like a lumbering moth. I could not put it down, and had to get through each day impatiently until I could sit down in the evening to see what Olive and the people of her homeplace were up to in the next chapter. I understand there is a sequel, titled Olive Again, but I am not sure I want to read it. Still, I am very glad to have read this book.

The 1910 Diary of May Fitzsimmons, by her granddaughter Patricia Beynen, follows a year in the life of a young girl in Orange, New Jersey who works at a hat factory. Her work hours would made us gasp--10 or 12 hour days, 6 days a week. During the year she begins walking home from church with a young man, under the watchful eyes or her parents and the disapproving glare of the local priest. It is a year of changes, of union unrest, family tragedy and joy. This is a short, quick read, printed in a large, double-spaced type. I read it in a couple short sittings. 

Nets to Catch the Wind by Elinor Wylie. Elinor Wylie lived a short life, but she wrote many poems during her short tenure here on earth. Born in 1885 and like May Fitzsommons, a New Jersey native, Wylie did her growing up in Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. Her father was a politician and wealthy, but Wylie rebelled and scandalized the society of her day with her affairs and several marriages. Despite disapproval, broken marriages and poor health, she was a prolific writer, producing four books of poetry and four novels between 1921 and 1928. This one, Nets to catch the Wind, is a slim volume that is considered to contain some of her best work. This is an excerpt from her poem Wild Peaches, my favorite in the collection:

When the world turns completely upside down
You say we’ll emigrate to the Eastern Shore
Aboard a river-boat from Baltimore;
We’ll live among wild peach trees, miles from town,
You’ll wear a coonskin cap, and I a gown
Homespun, dyed butternut’s dark gold color.
Lost, like your lotus-eating ancestor,
We’ll swim in milk and honey till we drown.

Now I'm finally getting to The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, and a couple poetry collections that have been waiting their turn. What have you been reading during these locked-down days?

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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