‘And it’s true that I am a person of enthusiasms,’ writes Nigella Lawson in the introduction to her book, Simply Nigella.* I, also, am a person of enthusiasms. Some people may call them obsessions; some passions; some fixations, but I like ‘enthusiasms.’
Some of these enthusiasms are short lived but intense: I don’t seem to have picked up a piece of embroidery for some months, yet for a while it was all I could do, and I had such plans; my screenplay, which kept me awake at night for weeks, lies abandoned; and I can’t remember when I used my actual camera even though I have declared myself a photographer on more than one occasion. But I can think of a few that have been with me all my life: the rhythm of language; fashion and design; art and all things kitchen, from layout and decor, through equipment, to growing, prepping, and cooking food. I love spending time in a kitchen. So much so, my first blog was called The Kitchen Bitch Ponders (this link will take you to a post from 16 July 2012, where I state I’ll give trying to enjoy vegetarian food ten years), and for the last ten years I’ve been pondering how to turn the room given for cooking and eating in this house into a proper kitchen. Which I’ve now, finally, managed
While it’s not quite the marvel of the photo on the right, I’m pretty damn thrilled.
The Labour in Photos
I have a very distinct memory of my aunt Eileen and uncle Neville’s kitchen from when they lived in Thornton Heath, south London. I remember walking into it and being overwhelmed with a feeling of comfort and happiness. It was huge, had a central island, a black and white checked floor, and a massive Dualit toaster. The cooking area was distinguished from the eating area by being one step higher. I loved that room and whenever my parents told me we were going to visit aunt Eileen and uncle Nev, and as much as I loved my older cousins, it was the kitchen I most looked forward to seeing again. They moved from that house in 1970, when I was nine. I’m still faintly disturbed by the fact I’ll never see that kitchen again. One of my fondest memories is of running into it in the morning and being allowed to make my own toast in that splendid toaster. If I remember rightly, they had very interesting bread products.
My second kitchen of influence is from the same time and belonged to my aunts Elsa and Marge. They were my dad’s sisters, both of whom lost the men they loved in the Second World War, so they shared a flat in Kensington and, as far as I could tell, never much bothered with men again. But they made up for it by having a kitchen with a balcony and blue formica furniture. It was a long, narrow room into which they just managed to squeeze their drop-leaf formica topped table and four chairs, but it had a breakfast bar with tall stools at the window end. I have a fond memory of my mother sitting at that breakfast bar, backlit by the London morning, veiled in the smoke of her cigarette, smilingly accepting a cup if coffee from my father who’d just made a pot. That floor was black and white checked, too, if my memory isn’t playing with me.
All I really wanted was a kitchen I could play freely in. But with this room being 90% carpeted dining room and 10% tiled working space, I felt too constrained to do much more than knock up the odd pot of daal. Whenever I tried to bake or make pastry I fell foul of the carpet which, as it got grubbier and grubbier, became too disturbing for doing things with flour and sugar. There simply wasn’t enough work space. I knew we couldn’t afford to gut it and start again, so I lost interest and stayed out of it as much as possible. And I felt sad.
Then our freezer stopped working and we went looking for a new one. Do you know it’s almost impossible to buy and undercounted freezer that self-defrosts? Defrosting the freezer had been one of the banes of my life. I hated it. Squatting on a cold floor chiselling ice off its walls and shelves was a hideous job. If we were getting a new one, and we were, we were going to get one that defrosted itself. I’m not one for insisting, but insist I did. As we made to leave the store, we stopped to have a look at the fridge-freezers, almost all of them were self defrosting and they weren’t that much more expensive than a single freezer. Could we fit one in? We went home to measure.
After looking at our options we decided we could fit one in, but we’d need to make some big changes. In the battle for more storage I had, over the years, installed a number of Ikea shelf units. We decided that the new appliance would have to go in the space where the biggest one lived. Talking about this with our friend, Jamie, who happens to be a much in demand freelance builder, he said he’d be able to ‘retro fit’ the shelf unit into the spaces left by the old fridge and freezer to make shelves. We engaged him on the spot and I spent the next couple of days looking online for ff bargains and, voila, found the very thing. It’s refurbished and has a huge dent in one side, but it’s orange, how could I resist?
The story of its deliver is too agonising to tell, but it did eventually arrive, and Jamie did chop up the old Liatorp and turn it into shelves. Blighted by the carpet-tile threshold, though, we couldn’t get the appliance into a good position. I reached the fuck it stage and ordered a roll of black and white checked vinyl and the rest can be seen in the photos above.
I’m still working out the best places to store everything and have made changes since taking these photos on Monday. But I have already cooked several new dishes from Simply Nigella,** experimented with hot broad bean paste and, Tuesday, I finally got round to decanting the sloe gin I made last year.
I finally have a kitchen, and I’m not afraid to use it!
* This book was given to me when I visited the Eskdalemuir Hub a couple of months ago. They have a swap shop, but as I didn’t have anything to swap I offered to pay for it. ‘You are welcome to it,’ said the woman behind the counter, ‘my ex-husband gave it to me because he fancies Nigella!’
**I heartily recommend the cauliflower and cashew curry.