As I was tooling around in my beloved Charleston kitchen the other day preparing tarts and cranberry apple chutney for one of my best friend’s Thanksgiving feast, I couldn’t help reflecting in general on my many blessings, but also, on myriad memories and meals prepared in some of my kitchens past.
Cooking is like that for me, and probably for most people that love to cook. It’s meditative, nurturing, soothing, and frequently evokes warm, loving thoughts and poignant memories. And cooking is what happens in the kitchen.
The space and soul of a kitchen can do much to enhance or detract from the entire cooking experience. Not unlike men, they come in all shapes and sizes and with assorted temperaments. My kitchens past, not unlike lovers past, run the gamut.
The very first after college kitchen, was in my apartment in Chicago. The apartment, in an old brownstone mansion-turned-apartment-building, was huge and beautiful (or at least it seemed so at the time), but the kitchen was literally housed in a closet. It had a tiny, ancient oven that probably dated back to the 1950’s and absolutely didn’t understand the concept of calibration. My work “space” was actually a cutting board placed over the sink and the refrigerator had enough room for a grocery bag full of food and not much more. Yet, like my first true love from college days, Dan Cox, I loved that kitchen with all of my heart. After a stressful day of work and travel, huddling in that kitchen and chopping with my dull, cheap knives and stewing in battered, cheap pots, was like nirvana to me. I felt loved there. I even cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner in that kitchen. Small matter that my friend Chris lost most of it within hours, saying simply, “he ate too much.”
Many more kitchens would follow, like the pink and blue puff cloud kitchen of the early days of my marriage in a Minneapolis duplex, the tiny, pie slice-shaped kitchen of my tiny country house in Chalabre, France with pastoral views that always included sleepy, fat, grazing cattle and a soulful 16th-century church. These were much, much loved, and both so different from each other, but it was the kitchen in my house in Jackson Hole, WY, that stands out the most.
My husband Greg and I moved there after he sold his business. It was a big house with gorgeous, breath-taking, wrap-around views of the Tetons and the sounds of The Snake River babbling through open windows when weather allowed. The counters were black granite with flecks of dark green and the cupboards were pine – so new you could still smell the freshness of the wood. There were two Sub-Zero’s – one fridge and one freezer – and both the size of the moose (I called them “meese” in plural form) that frequently roamed through my back yard. There was even a warming oven, two baking ovens, and, this was the biggest deal of all, a six-burner, gas burning Viking stove.
I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. Greg had selected the house himself (I was still back in Minneapolis). While exquisite on every level, it occurred to me that the reason he had selected this house, sweetly, was for me and the kitchen. Freshly back from France and Le Cordon Bleu, he knew this would be my wonderland, and he was right. Gone were the cheap knives and pots and pans – I had the best of everything. I spent whole days and weeks in that kitchen, cooking and recipe testing. As much as I loved it and still think of it often, though, I must admit, I never felt quite at home in that kitchen. It felt just a tad too fancy, a tad too much, a tad too perfect. A little like a man I once dated who was so beautiful, I felt a little frumpy around him.
I don’t have pictures, at least not literal or digital, of all of these kitchens, but the memories are vivid on all levels – sights, sounds, scents, even meals, all firmly imbedded in my increasingly long memory trail.
I do have a picture of my favorite and most beloved kitchen of all, though.
Here she is, in all her slightly battered, sun-kissed, and ultra-utilitarian glory. I’ve lived, worked and loved in this kitchen for seven years, and these have been some of the happiest years of my life. In this kitchen, I’ve created and tested recipes for many columns and my first three cookbooks. Almost all of that time, either my dog Tann Mann and/or my cat Chutney, have been my constant companions, watching loyally as I worked. Silent and peaceful, cooking here and looking into my neighbors’ garden, where their happy children take turns on the long, rope swing hanging from the Live Oak, almost always with bows in their hair and laughter gurgling from their souls.
My stove is a (relatively) lowly Jenn-Air with a ventilating system that doesn’t work. I’m waiting for the whole thing to break before I buy a new one, but for now, this one works just fine – except when grilling or high heat is involved. It can’t vent (and the fire department and immediate neighbors know this), but it sure can calibrate. My old, time-worn wooden cutting board is situated right beside the stove and right above my trash can. My knives are to my right, and seasonings to the left. Just behind and within easy reach is my General Electric refrigerator, always full of fresh, seasonal food and constant inspiration.
Not too fancy, not too “not,” my Charleston kitchen, like true love, is just right. I am thankful for this kitchen, friends, loves, health and memories, past and present.
Wishing you all a beautiful holiday season.
This lively store is jam packed with golden, gorgeous honey, which is harvested by hand and beautifully packaged. There is honey to go with cheese, honey to go with tea, honey for the grill, black sage honey, peace honey, and, of course, the lovely Tupelo honey. I came home with two bottles and have been loving it ever since.
The mastermind behind the honey is bee keeper/president Ted Dennard, who has been fascinated with bees and keeping them since he was twelve years old. You can truly taste the love and the nuance of the floral bouquets of Savannah where the honey is produced on nearby Wilmington Island. Samples of the sweet, chewy honeycomb are offered to all who enter with a thin, cool slice of a tart Granny Smith apple. Kids can rock and learn in the life-size padded bee hive near the rear of the store, where videos on honey production are shown throughout the day. There is also a beautiful selection of cosmetics and beauty products rife with the luscious healing properties and fragrances of honey nectar. There are three local locations, but the downtown spot is where it all began.
The Savannah Bee Company
104 West Broughton Street, Savannah, GA 31401
A little further down the street, is another sweet spot, especially for Francophiles. The Paris Market is bursting with Parisian charm, from the pretty purr of the French owner’s lilting words, down to the fluffly little white dogs on pretty leashes that pepper the place. Plum full of beautiful brocante, home furnishings, hats, pillows, umbrellas and more, the store also has a wonderful hot and cold tea and coffee counter for light refreshments. Here is where you can also find a selection of Two Smart Cookies celebrated cut out, colorfully iced butter cookies. Started by two gal pals several years back, the cookies are buttery, rich bites of deliciousness that have taken Savannah by storm. Dig in! Look for The Paris Market’s “Writer in the Window” while you’re there. She’s perched in the window with her writing desk, books, and curious on-lookers all-around, watching as she writes and chats.
The Paris Market
36 West Broughton Street, Savannah, GA, 31401
Two Smart Cookies
6512 White Bluff Road, Savannah, GA, 31405
Meanwhile, across town a bit in the hip and upcoming Starland District, awaits one of the sweetest delights Savannah offers – Back in the Day Bakery. Owned and operated for nine
years at the same location by husband and wife team Griff and Cheryl Day, the bakery/cafe focuses on bringing old-fashioned, homespun goodness to the table, and they succeed. Outfitted with all sorts of beautifully arranged retro/antique culinary and bakery curios (as pictured, left), Back in the Day’s glass counter beckons with an array of cupcakes, pies, and cakes including coconut cream pie, cherry cheesecake, and ‘nana pudding! As if that weren’t enough, the shop produces some amazing savory options from quiche to assorted sandwiches, such as the delicate “Jambon Royal” served simply, and most “French-ly” with ham, gruyere and butter. Oui! The day I visited, the bakery was conducting a photo shoot led by photographer Squire Fox and food stylist Cynthia Groseclove for the bakery’s soon to be released cookbook. They were shooting the most beautiful chicken pot pies that I have ever seen. I’ll be returning for that and more of Back in the Day Bakery’s extreme charm and goodness.
Back in the Day Bakery
2403 Bull Street, Savannah, GA 31404