The size of things

My kitchen is small. Somehow, we’ve all — all five of us plus the two dogs — managed to be and get fed out of it for the last seven or so years including coming up on two years of almost every meal, every day for all of us. OK, yes, we got take out some of the time.

Last night, I made one of my favorite meals to cook: chicken katsu. It involves much handling of raw chicken. It needs to be cut and pounded out before being seasoned a dredged, in turn, through flour, egg, and panko bread crumbs. But, I have it down to a system now. There’s the parchment lined baking sheet for the coated breasts to rest and even a spot (over the edge of the kitchen sink, raw meat side up) where I place the plastic wrap after each filet is pounded out. Last night, Ms11yo came into the kitchen to wash her hands and I warned her, sharply, to watch out for all the raw chicken hot spots and snapped at her that maybe she should wash her hands in the bathroom. Not my proudest moment.

It’s time for a change.

This fall we stayed for a few days in a rental house for a family gathering. It was a moderately sized place but it had a more average-sized kitchen than our own and, let me tell you, it was lovely. Amongst other things, we made pie. I rolled out crusts on one counter whilst Ms8yo peeled apples on another and my husband sliced them in yet another spot. Later on, Ms11yo, who usually doesn’t partake in much baking at home, made some lovely lemon poppy seed quick breads. Turns out, it’s probably not that she doesn’t like to cook and bake, it’s just that we don’t have enough room for all of our culinary ambitions.

This is more or less the extent of my counter space. I enjoy laminating dough for croissants but it is perhaps one of the more challenging things to do in a small space. Our contractor gave us this tape measure the first time we met him. I now use it to measure out dough when I’m rolling it out. It serves as a reminder of the bigger things to come.

We have been planning our kitchen remodel for a while now. We have an architect and contractor picked out and we’ve been going through rounds of design options. It’s a slow process, made slower, it seems by the pandemic.

It’s a strange quirk of the human brain, I think, that creates a narrative around ways to acceptable certain, unchangeable conditions. “This small space is fine. It challenges me to be innovative in how I use it.” To the point where I almost convince myself that I’m a better cook because of the small space rather than in spite of it. I’ve come to think of it as my little space of refuge in our house at the end of the day. Of course, the underlying subtext is that I, as the mother, am seeking some sort of refuge from my kids and family at the end of the day. Plug my headphones in, focus in on cooking in this small space, my kids and husband just beyond the walls doing their own things. Staying in a rental for a few nights reminded me that this is, in fact, not how I truly think about myself and my kids and family. I don’t want to escape away from them into this small space and activity. This was the narrative that I had made to make the situation acceptable.

Seems unjust that a mushroom could grow so large in the space outside my kitchen. But perhaps it’s an apt metaphor for what can happen with more space? More growth?

Of course, now I wish I could snap my fingers and it would be done. I know that one day, I’ll look back at this time which feels glacial right now and in my retrospective timeline it will feel like the change from small to big was a blink, nothing more than a closing of eyelids and a re-opening. Mr3yo will likely not even remember “small kitchen”.

I think of our house and even the kitchen as “cozy” right now. And it calls to mind a sort of closeness between family members within that coziness. Is it possible that having more space will mean greater closeness within our family? It remains to be seen. I’ll post here once it happens.

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