People say that a kitchen is the heart of the home. But I think it is also the head.
Sure, the warmth of the oven, the smells of good things bubbling and baking, the tug of good memories of conversations around a table are an umbilical cord to the past. Here nurturing happens. But in the act of nurturing, our brain grows, too. In my father’s kitchen, I learned why bread dough rises. In my mother’s kitchen I learned why onions caramelize. The heart, the head.
Oh, yes, and the hands. In my seventh kitchen (1015 Harrison), I almost sliced my finger off while chopping basil, and still have the dead nerve cells to prove it. But I also made semi-successful gnocchi for the first time in my fourth kitchen (555 1st North), awkwardly forming – with my fingers and a fork – sticky little dumplings into globby, messy balls that, nevertheless, rose to the top of the boiling pot when done and held a sauce well.
The heart, the head, the hands. Trace the history of your kitchens, and you will find the thread that sews your life together, or pulls it apart. When I started remembering the details of these places, really remembering, I felt as if I were remembering not for only myself, but for a whole generation of women – and men, for that matter – who were born after World War II, and grew up during and after the Viet Nam War. I may well be one of the last Baby Boomers – I was born December 31, 1964, the last day of the last year of the Baby Boom. My mother grew up in an old house in a small town in Utah, which may as well have been in the 19th century.
But my oldest sister, Susan – born in the early years of the Baby Boom, 1948 – was on the cusp of Future Shock. In the ’50s and early ’60s, food was all about convenience. The kitchen seemed more like a laboratory for new ways of cooking – or not cooking – than a place where soups simmered slowly. Still, while the crazy political and economic change happening in the United States swirled outside, the kitchen was still a haven. And I realized that as I wrote about each one, that they have more than a sink, a stove and a table in common. The kitchen is the place where all our senses are involved in the construction of our truest self.
Some people keep a list of boyfriends. I keep a list of kitchens.
So I counted them up. The number of kitchens in which I’ve lived. And I thought about each one, each address where a kitchen was the center of the house and of my life. Each has its own story, its own memories and its own food.
As I talked to my girlfriends – and boyfriends – about the kitchens they’ve lived in, everyone was so willing to talk about their first loves, their first kitchens – what they cooked and what they learned there. I realized that this experiment isn’t just about myself, my memories and the way my history fits into the cultural history of America, but it is about all of us that are attempting to navigate a culture that is obsessed with cooking shows yet never cooks; a food system that is overproductive and under-nutritious; a world that is losing its battle with both obesity and hunger. I felt that somehow the trajectory of the marks I’d made on the world, the emotional and culinary archaology of where I’d been might help me figure some things out. Or at least connect with others who are mulling over the same ideas.
So I started to catalogue all my kitchens. I started by listing the addresses, and writing a short memory of each place. They came out either fully formed and surprisingly complete, or totally stilted and chunky and boring. Still, the stock pot boiled.
But after I had written several kitchens, my computer got stolen, and the first few kitchens are now floating out there, in the hands of a heroin addict or an identity thief. So here I am. A blog seems like the best place to keep the kitchens safe, to keep them all together, and to let them languish until my memory can do its thing and something bubbles to the top.
So this is my plan, to write as honestly as I can about each of my kitchens and see what happens. I hope someday I can share all of these with you…and that you will share your kitchens with me.
by Shannon Borg