After we moved into our 1920s-era apartment in Portland last fall, I described the place to my friend Leah during a skype tour: “Hardwood floors,” I said. “French doors leading to a little balcony. Clawfoot tub.”
“Cute!” she said.
“The kitchen’s really small, though,” I said. “Like, really small.”
Leah wasn’t surprised. “That’s a bit of a theme with you,” she said.
“You always have small kitchens.”
A flashback of cooking spaces in the last decade ran through my mind. There was the half wall connected to the living room in my one-bedroom suite on St. Charles in Victoria, with just enough space for a mini-fridge. There was the galley kitchen in my next apartment, still on St. Charles, the one I nearly burned down, forgetting I had cranked up the heat on a pot of something on the stove. In Edmonton I lived in two different condo-style pads—one was a narrow pass-through I shared with my roommate Rosie, the other a u-shaped area filled with my cousin Heather’s cookware. It had a double sink and my second-ever dishwasher. Progress! Until I moved to Korea. I’m not sure if what I had there to cook in classifies as a kitchen. Beneath the two-burner stovetop, where the oven would normally go, was a washing machine. The child-size sink could hold approximately two plates and a bread knife before appearing full. I pan-fried a lot of frozen Asian dumplings in that space.
“I guess you’re right,” I said to Leah.
Reflecting on tiny kitchens has led me to thinking about other recurring themes in my life. Three that spring to mind:
* Shoes that don’t fit right. When I was 12 my brand-new pair of black lace-ups were squashing my toes. My dad took them in to be placed on a shoe-stretching machine. Soon after, when it became clear the stretcher didn’t fix the issue, my dad pulled the entire inner soles out. Problem solved. But the other shoes I’ve returned, exchanged, or given to a friend because one-size-up felt too big, but the size I bought turned out to be too small, could definitely fill a few racks.
* People telling me their secrets. Relationship confessions, looming breakups, proposals, attractions—there’s a book’s worth of divulgences in the vault. That’s where they’ll stay.
* Crushes on guys who are younger than me. This hasn’t been the case every time, but often enough that it deserves noting. Joe, who I married in September (and who wooed me by cooking excellent omelettes in my tiny non-kitchen in Korea) is the most extreme example: he was born in 1986, the year I entered grade three.
Whenever I think the lack of counter space in our kitchen is a decent reason to feel annoyed, I think of Mr. Patel, the rickshaw driver who picked Joe and I up from the train station in Khajuraho, India a year and a half ago, and invited us for dinner at his home.
Mr. Patel lives with his wife and two kids in a single cement room with a bed, closet, and a couple of chairs. His wife cooked dinner for all of us as well as the two boys who live next door, squatting over a hot plate and two iron pots, one for rice and one for curry.
Essentially her kitchen was the floor at the end of this bed we’re sitting on.
I really wish I could return the gesture, beam the whole family here, and have them to dinner at our home. We had hoped to keep in touch, and tried to email Mr. Patel a few months after we met, but the address didn’t work. He was such a sweet guy.
Tiny kitchens may not be a life theme forever (unlike my shoe neurosis, which I’m convinced is destined to last), but in the meantime, I’m curious what others have done with small cooking spaces. Here are a few that inspire me…
Who needs fancy stuff like an island, a dishwasher, or anything to chop on other than a single countertop that doubles as a butcher block? Not me. At least, not now.
Except as I’m writing this, I’m cooking dinner, too, and had the cookbook open on the stove (there is no place else to put it that I can read it and cook at the same time.) I just turned on the wrong burner by accident, and lit the book cover on fire. Seriously!?
Recurring life themes. We’ve all got them, right? What are yours? Please tell me I’m not the only one with a pair of shoes boxed up in the hallway right now, ready to send back. (Too big, and no ankle support.)
I would love to hear what keeps appearing in your world over the years—good stuff, weird stuff, funny stuff—let me know :) And if you’ve got a tiny kitchen, any tips on making it work are appreciated!
Off to finish dinner…