An Alaskan in Alabama (continued…)

May continued…
I hate my kitchen here in Alabama. It is small, it has very little storage, and it drives me crazy every time I try to cook on the 2 foot by 2.5 foot of counter space. I often watch those home programs in which people shop for new homes and rentals, often exclaiming in horror at the tiny, outdated kitchens, kitchens for which I would get down on my cranky old bony knees in glad celebration. If there is any reality to these home programs, it shows that Americans are obsessed with kitchens: the bigger, the more granite, the more stainless, the more everything the better. I would just be happy to have more counter space and, all holy things be praised, a dishwasher. Once, years ago, I had a place with a dishwasher. It was an old, rather creaky, certainly rather eccentric dishwasher, but it was a dishwasher, and I miss it every day. My parents did not have a dishwasher, so we washed plates by hand, though I’m afraid to say that task usually fell to my mother, in addition to the cooking, the cleaning, repairing the chicken coop, etc. I’ve already mentioned the late Victorian nature of my Granny’s household—so no dishwasher there. Granny being Granny—i.e. not yielding—she insisted that we dry: we did a lot of drying.

I try to do my dishes every night, not because I want to or because I’m a person who requires everything to be clean and neat, quite the contrary, but because they oppress me every time I walk through the kitchen and I see them lying haphazardly in the sink, reproaching me. I do them really so I don’t have to wake, stumble out to the kitchen to feed the cats, try to get that first oh-so-needed cup of tea of the day and see them there—not reproachful anymore, but angry, very, very angry: these are evil dishes. And since I have only a few cups, plates, etc., if I don’t do the dishes there’s nothing to eat/drink from, which is a real barrier to a nice, relaxing breakfast.

However, I find even doing dishes a challenge in the kitchen. For one, the kitchen makes me feel rather claustrophobic. It’s 14 feet long if you go all the way from one side to the other, but that’s taking in the feet claimed by the fridge and the cat’s chow area, which is not part of the kitchen proper. The actual kitchen is about 8.5 feet long and 2.5 feet wide—hence the claustrophobia. The best things about the kitchen include the fridge, much newer than my broken-down old fridge, the stove, which has gauges I can actually read and not layers of grime dating back to the Pleistocene, and the window, which lets me peek at a slice of the patio and out into the trees, where I can sometimes see birds alighting, ready to torment the cats with their cheerful song. The kitchen reminds me of a ship’s galley kitchen, although the crucial difference is that while both are tight spaces, being in one you get to go to exotic points of call; in the other, not so much, though I do get to hear my neighbors making drunken bets and the roar of their AC unit, so there’s some drama there, though sadly not the kind that involve handsome barkeeps and drinks the color of the Caribbean.

I am, I must confess, not a very good cook, though I’m not sure that matters in my kitchen, in which anyone of any level would be challenged to perform well. I’d like to see a reality show in which famous chefs have to cook in my kitchen with my assembly of mismatched ancient pots and with a distinct lack of any groovy gadgets. I miss the few I had—all given away in the move or in storage—and I refuse to buy duplicates, hoping that somehow a perfectly good microwave, mixer, and zester will just show up on my doorstep: no so luck yet. I’m a stress baker, yet trying to bake in my kitchen just causes more, not less, stress, and the results have been very variable, though given the lack of bakeries in town I’m pretty happy to eat anything as long as it’s not (unintentionally) blackened and stoneish. My favorite time for baking is winter, when my body begs for butter (so badly, and so bad for me) and I can justify firing up the oven on the grounds that the apartment is freezing. The same was the case for my old apartment, in which I’d sometimes dry clothes and bake simultaneously just to make the kitchen a little less Siberian.

As I may have mentioned, while I am an Alaskan, though sadly displaced, I am not overly fond of cold weather—though I am certainly not fond of hot weather. As I fan myself and pant like a husky in a heat wave after a walk to the store or the bank, the Alabamans look at me with concern and try to give me water. When I complain that it’s too hot, they look at me and smile, then gently correct me: wait for June, oh, and wait for July, this is nothing. I sense that I will be a shut-in through those months, emerging only for the mail and the basic necessities (bagels, pasta, cheese of many kinds, and limes to go with tonic water and a splash of gin), then disappearing back into my slightly air-conditioned, still very sweaty, apartment. Ah, so much to which to look forward…

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