Saturday, March 7, 2009

Holiday Cooking in a Make-do Kitchen

For years, my line was “I don’t like to cook.” I also didn’t really know how to cook. I was the girl who ducked through the kitchen, hoping I wouldn’t be asked to do something. Somewhere along the line, my dad decided that wasn’t acceptable so as a teenager, I ended up having to make dinner twice a week.
Fast forward to adulthood. The boyfriend who became my husband liked to cook. The food was good too! What luck! I looked forward to growing old and never developing dishpan hands. Well, all good things come to an end and he decided that my complete freeloading wasn’t okay either (notice it’s always the men who punch my ticket?)
I started cooking occasionally. Because I don’t have any real sense of what works with what, I follow recipes. And I have figured out that I do like cooking; I just don’t like cooking on weeknights after work. Weekends are another story. I will make batches of soup or roasts or other hearty family meals.
But the real pleasure for me has become holiday cooking. We’ve lived in our house for 6 years. I think we’ve had Thanksgiving dinner three times (One year I was out of town and my family went out for Chinese food; and my sister-in-law has hosted it twice), we’ve done Easter a few times, we do Christmas Eve annually and of course there are the birthday dinners and desserts.
Maybe I like the holiday meals best because I get to pull out my wedding china, crystal ware and the real silver that was in deep storage from the time I got married until we bought our first house nine years later. Maybe it’s the thrill of hunting for recipes in cookbooks and on-line and from relatives and friends, then putting together a good menu (complete with wine recommendations even though I can’t taste the difference.) I don’t really know why, but I do know I enjoy holiday cooking. Hence the birth of this blog.
Now as to the name, I have a make-do kitchen (don’t we all?) It is as far from a gourmet kitchen as you can get. I think it is the smallest kitchen of any house I’ve ever lived in, measuring 8’ x 12’. The stove is a ‘Murphy-style’ stove in that the stove top can collapse in, thereby leaving more space in the room. But since it is ancient, the delicate wiring won’t put up with all that movement so it has to stay put. The refrigerator and dishwasher compete for space on opposing walls so they can’t both be open at the same time. One of the two counters serves as home to the cereal box collection, and the table (if you have a tiny kitchen you have to cram your kitchen table in there) is the home for the unopened mail. The floor space, after counters, refrigerator, stove, etc, measures around 4ish’ x 7’. That means one cook at a time.
Now let me tell you about the fittings. I already mentioned the old stove. Built in, electric. It is a geriatric piece and we have to be kind to it, because when it goes it will spur the remodel that we can’t afford. Of four burners, one doesn’t work, one only burns on high and one seems to only burn low (it’s okay to laugh; I’m laughing too). My husband doesn’t believe in microwaves, so we don’t have one. We do have an over the hill toaster oven. It makes toast. The oven works and so does the sink. The refrigerator is pretty new so it’s fine. It’s a basic model, no bells or whistles. Most importantly, it fits in the kitchen.
We have pretty decent pots, Le Creuset (I recommend them highly) and many of the gadgets that help move a cooking project along. But you can bet that once each holiday, I have to play MacGyver to make something work. Sometimes it works, sometimes someone gets burned, something falls on the floor or the dish simply fails (which is the nice way of saying the cook fails).
Oh, and one more very helpful bit. My sister was a gourmet magazine junkie. Unfortunately, she moved from her spacious west coast apartment to New York City and she had to sacrifice her magazine collection. So I inherited about 100 pounds of recipes and cooking information from her in the form of a several year collection. We also own a pantry full of cookbooks and I am not beyond calling on my good friends at,, or any of several other cooking and recipes sites to help me out. One of my finer finds recently was a recipe for chip-chopped ham so that I could make a Pittsburgh staple to eat while watching my Steelers win the Superbowl. The dish was good and the game was AWESOME!!! Technically, I guess that counts as a holiday, but I am getting off the point.
So, now that I’ve spilled my guts, let me invite you into my kitchen. I’ll share with you the thrill of victory, and when it happens, the agony of defeat when preparing holiday meals in my make-do kitchen.

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