M. Jane Ross
A lively discussion broke out recently in the New York Times about kitchens and whether size matters. It all started because the food writer for the Times’ Dining section Mark Bittman (author of the award-winning cookbook, How to Cook Everything) had included in his online blog, Bitten, a photo of himself standing at the stove of his tiny NY apartment kitchen. Times readers wanted to know how a well-known food writer could abide a kitchen that was barely big enough to spin a salad without skinning his elbows. And how on earth could he create and test recipes with so little counter space and storage that he stashes his pots and pans in the oven?
In response to all the commiserations from pitying homeowners and cooks, Bittman pointed out that many of our mothers and grandmothers created unforgettable meals in kitchens as small or smaller with nothing but a wood stove and the minimal, simple utensils they could afford. Georgia Hubley proves his point in her story “Making It from Scratch” for Kitchen Table Stories, about the sublime chocolate cakes her mother whipped up by hand and baked in the wood stove of a rustic farmhouse kitchen.
Wide granite counters or the latest food-prep gizmos are no guarantee the food prepared on or with them will be great. In fact such luxuries are as likely to lead to lack-luster food, as they draw our attention away from what really matters—choosing quality ingredients, finding recipes with soul, and understanding and paying attention to the transformative magic of heat and the mysterious alchemy of doughs and batters, soups and stews.
So too with our writing. The discussion of tiny kitchens reminded me, if I’m waiting to throw myself into writing because I have only the tiny kitchen table and a notepad when what I think I need is a large oak desk and a fancy computer, I’m fooling myself. The room of my own that Virginia Woolf told us we need can just as well be a corner of the couch in my hobby room. The spiffy laptop I thought would release my muse didn’t do it and my 8-year-old Alphasmart word-processor remains my trusty workhorse, freeing me from distractions as I capture my stories.
What matters most is paying attention to the alchemy of words—the way my memories are transformed to reveal their deeper meaning as they flow from my mind, through an invisible screen of mindful awareness, to my fingers and onto the Alphasmart’s four-line screen. Welcome to the tiny room of my own. Now, please excuse me while I get cooking.
Note about my Alphasmart: I use an Alphasmart 3000. My friend
Kunzang recently found one on Craigslist for $40! New current
Alphasmart models (the Dana and Neo) are available from Alphasmart.com.
Afterword: A special end-of-year hug and thank you to my dear writing companions. To all the women of the Continuing OWL writing circle (Ann, Carol, Koleta, Kunzang, Linda, Lita, Pat F. and Pat C., Peggy, Rose, Sharon, Teddy, and Vicky), to the Sharing Our Stories writing circle, (Abby, Anne, Christine, Danelle, Judith, Mary, Olga, Sandy, and Sue), to Peggy M. for all she does for SCN, and to my wonderful fellow blog contributors. Happy holidays!