Small Kitchens by Sanae 01/17/2013


We say that New York kitchens are small. They require gymnastics of the body, elbows tucked-in, and backside bumping is inevitable when there are two cooks. True, they are often these narrow, somber, rectangular spaces that look more like hallways for minuscule people than actual feeding grounds. In Philadelphia I was spoiled, like a queen in my kitchen overlooking a vast green garden (not mine, but still) I could juggle many pots and roll out the largest and thinnest piecrusts on the massive counter space. My roommates and I would cook three at a time without stepping on one another’s territory. Fried eggs with toast, walnut tomato pesto, apple-cheddar pies. Last year was a little harder, but there was enough room and even a window overlooking New York rooftops. We had a somewhat functioning oven, a sizeable fridge, and four efficient burners. It got cozy and we took turns, like going to the bathroom. Then I moved to Brooklyn, and I found myself breathing again, twirling in the kitchen, walking with actual strides rather than the one-step forward shuffling I did in Chelsea, my hips hitting the counter by accident, my shirt always splashed wet from the sink.

When I entered this tiny but beautiful apartment in Paris I noticed the bedroom, the bathroom, and the glass doors opening onto the courtyard. Kitchen? I didn’t see the kitchen at first, or should I say, the two hot plates, the microwave, the squat fridge and the washing machine hidden beneath? The sink belongs in a bathroom and every time I wash dishes they clang loudly against the white porcelain. The counter is the size of my fist, there is no food storage space, and there is no oven. Oh well, I thought. But after a few days of baguette with cheese, heating soup on the stove and making rice, I caved in. The other night I cooked for two friends, and it was somewhat crazy, but mostly glorious. I stored food in the sliver of space between the sink and the fridge, I chopped sitting at the wooden table (folded-out in the living room) and I tried to plan a menu with more assembling than actual hot cooking. I bought chocolate and pear-almond tartelettes for dessert.
I sat at the table on the low stool patiently cutting fennel and apples into paper-thin slices for a salad. There was one cutting board, which I washed after each use and dried instantly, as there is no drying rack, of course. I prepped all the ingredients and placed them in small bowls, feeling organized and professional. My Japanese-half twitched with pride.
My friends arrived carrying two bottles of wine and observed as I boiled water and prepared the sauce with mushrooms, leeks, lardons (bacon) and cream. I had no spices, as I wanted to avoid buying a new set for my short stay, so everything was sparsely seasoned. Thankfully there was salt from Brittany, olive oil, lemons…
The meal was ready by eight, the table set, a few candles lit, the wine poured. We dug into raw milk goat cheese from the corner shop and these delicious tins of mackerel marinated in lemon and herbs that I found in Saint-Malo. We kept cutting slices of bread. Then there was the spaghetti with a light cream sauce, the apple and fennel salad, and a green salad with artichokes, sundried tomatoes, and shaved Parmesan. As we ate, snow fell in the dark courtyard and later we opened the windows, letting in the winter air. We felt invigorated, pleasantly full, and we paused for a moment, before launching into a choreographed dance of dishwashing.

Apple and Fennel Salad
This recipe is so simple and fresh. The sweet and anise-y flavors combine for a perfect appetizer or side. I love the crunch of the apples and fennel.
One fennel bulb
One yellow apple, peeled
Extra virgin olive oil (use a good kind, you can splurge here)
A few pinches of salt
Juice of half a lemon
Cut the green fronds from the fennel, wash, and slice the bulb into very thin slices. Cut the apple into eight pieces and slice thinly as well. In a mixing bowl, stir the apple, fennel, salt, lemon, and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Set aside for an hour.
When ready to serve, stir the salad and taste. If it needs more salt or olive oil, add, and continue to taste until the flavor seems right to you. I like to add a last dash of salt and oil just before serving.


One Response to “Small Kitchens”

  1. Akiko says:

    A tiny kitchen makes you organize better, become more attentive to your surrounding and have more precise movements. A challenging situation makes you become more creative and waste less time and energy. You develop concentration. In other words, you are practicing mindfulness. Cooking in a tiny kitchen can become a spiritual experience.