A History of Kitchens Part Three

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The kitchen, it’s my job. I want this role. I’ve earned this role. I wear aprons. If Steve did these things too it wouldn’t be my role. I might be demoted to just bathroom cleanup or worse, yard work. So I just shut up and say Bring it On, the dishes, the unbelievable messes Steve makes when doing anything in the kitchen but just sitting there on the counter. I mop up after the dog and Steve-boots multiple times on a good day. I wipe the coffee grinds from the counter top night and morning. I recycle the green and yellow sponge from dish sponge to chicken-egg sponge and I decide when we start a brand new one fresh from the threepack. I even get to feed and water the chickens, collect eggs, and harvest the fruit of nine apple trees. I have been blessed with a kitchen to call my own. And because Steve works on a farm, once a week he plops a dirty plastic tote up on the countertop and I smile warmly in return and start unpacking the goods. That plastic tote makes all the difference…our lives revolve around that tote, that kitchen.

I imagine I will dominate many more kitchens in my day. I have a dream to even design one. It will have a window above the sink, for gazing dumbly out onto while washing the dishes, an “island”, and one of those overhead hangy-things for pots and pans. Maybe I am asking too much. I probably am. Perhaps someday I will sit quietly in the kitchen of my daughter-in-law, watching her take control of the stove settings and the manner in which dinner is served all on her own, as I once did, eager to show her skills to her in-laws, eager to be grown up and woman and to have the gift of addressing each and every need of her guest. Water, tea, and fabric napkins. Beers, tops already popped.

I imagine I will die in a kitchen, upright, moving my hips and fingers to the beat of the radio…static, old classic country. I imagine the kitchen will be sunny, not gray or brown or fabric-y, a pot on the stove containing saucy stewing yummy things and the conversation always intimate and trying. I imagine I will die trying…to feed my family.

A History of Kitchens Part Two

I had a boyfriend in college who barked at me for washing his fancy wine glasses, his most valued possessions, with soap. Frankly he was much more sophisticated than I was [in the kitchen] and knew things like to wash with only hot water (I still don’t get it?)…and how to actually cook duck (I once ruined some very expensive meat), how to really tell when a steak is done (or perfectly undone), to buy unsalted butter, to always salt water, how to season fish Cajun style…we shared a kitchen which he absolutely dominated and filled with all sorts of fancy things like meat tenderizers and food processors and a whole set of knives it was understood I could. not. touch. ever.  I learned to fill a small porcelain saucer with salt for easy access, placing it near the cooking stove, something I still do today. I learned to defrost meat in warm water and how to make lemon vinaigrette in a processor. I couldn’t tell you what hung on the wall in the kitchen. Or what was on the fridge. I think the kitchen was a male.

orangesMy kitchen now didn’t always belong to me. Less than one year ago I was timidly tiptoeing around it, washing dishes quietly and obediently as my lover fell to sleep. Not wanting to boast my kitchen management skills, I cleaned the counters and the cooking pots in-between-time, quickly and nonchalantly. I picked things up off (bits of bark and mud from boots) the floor when no one was looking and I began grooming the kitchen to be mine, talking to her and showing her counters and cabinets Who Is Boss and where things belong.

In August, after I officially moved in with Steve, I painted the kitchen windowsills bright yellow and after dusting the kitchen head-to-toe I hung a large sun/moon artwork in the corner by the window, reorganized the spice rack, moved in my toaster oven (boyfriend loves), hung a colorful and funky coffee mug rack above the stovetop, put a simple beige rug underneath the sink where your barefeet go in the morning, and retrieved every mason jar I could for easy drinking, canning, and snack packing.OldDesignShop_AluminumCoffeePotBW

My boyfriend destroys the kitchen every single morning. Although he always always always unloads the dry dishes from the strainer and puts them away (it’s like a ritual) he also always always always always cracks three eggs, cuts one potato, dirties one chef’s knife, one plate, one fork, one coffeepot, two cups—and the egg yolk and dishes remain there on the counter until I get home from work in the afternoon. Then it’s: clean up the breakfast mess and start to make another mess for dinner. I tell my boyfriend, clean as you go, like I do. I try to demonstrate how perfect and polished the kitchen can remain even as you bake bread, pan-fry pork, handbrew a pot of coffee…if you just clean as you go! It’s brilliant! I chirp and hum along with the radio.

A History of Kitchens Part One

rebecca sittler

Photography credit: Rebecca Sittler

These are the kitchens of my past. Some of the kitchens were females and some were males. Some of them had dining tables and some did not. I remember the worst of the kitchens, the friends or neighbor’s kitchens in college—I was afraid to eat a thing strait from the waterlogged counter, there were hotpink Las Vegas shot glasses and sticky empty liquor bottles on their sides and who knows whose ass had been sitting up there. I remember the food bank finds, the cardboard microbrew beerbottle canisters with a banana inside, a serrated knife, and a days old spoon with yogurt-tongue markings still on it…a bag of Western Family wheat bread always almost out and wanting so badly to be the lucky roommate to eat the last sandwich, with cheese.

I cleaned kitchens in exchange for cigarettes for a woman I can’t remember the name of now but I can see her plain as day in front of a sepia television, blinds closed, sitting on her long black hair on a tan couch in a house down Modoc Lane. I was fourteen. She didn’t have a table in her kitchen. I used yellow Sun soap and an inefficient wide-pored plastic green scrubby from the dollarstore to wash dried Top Ramen noodles from indian boybowls on foggy, windy days, my kid-hands enjoying the hot soapy water and subsequent Marlboro 100’s plus four to go in the pocket of my jean jacket.

Personal | Becky Luigart-Stayner--Food & Lifestyle Photographer

Photography credit: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Kitchens with no power. A solar pushlamp dim as a candle. Kerosene lanterns and a generic plastic red and white checkered tablecloth my Dad picked up at Shop Smart. My Dad, just twenty-four but playing Mom with our square, aluminum-legged kitchen table, checkered cloth and candlelight, for both practical and spiritual purposes. Two dinner plates and forks. Papertowels folded in half for napkins. The days when things were real good for us both. A father, a daughter, and a kitchen. Propane gas stove and long-handled lighters—big boxes of matches my Dad would strike on his pants zipper if I asked him to. Matches that struck on the pavement of the platform outside our trailer, the concrete foundation that would be our home. A home that never really got to happen.

It was a small father-daughter kitchen, with one window above the sink which in the daytime looked out to a lush green lot, with rabbits in cages, wild doves in the Myrtlewood trees, and geese and ducks and things. The window fogged at night and I would write things on it to entertain myself, smiling faces, peace signs, my name, mad, antsy scribbles, spirals and hearts. There were no refrigerator magnets and the walls were bare. In the living room was a framed school photo of me that would eventually burn and in the bathroom, the Lord’s Prayer hanging on the wall, a wooden vintage piece: Our father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name... In the kitchen cupboards: white sheaths of premium saltine crackers, cans of “ABC” soup, a bag of popcorn kernals, white rice, apricot jam, and on the counter, carrots, potatoes, cumin and mint tea.

What Katie Ate » Happy Easter 2013 (!) and a few Gluten-Free Desserts :)

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A boy cousin is over for dinner. We’d come by some sort of green squeaky toy—a frog—my dad requests that we bow our heads to pray before eating which I obediently do. My boy cousin squeaks the toy and giggles. Maybe he did this twice. My Dad says firmly (to us both, as to not even call my cousin out), “Humble yourselves.” My boy cousin squeaks the toy again and my Dad immediately smacks the toy from my boycousins hand, looking serious for once and shocking us both to the core as it was one of the few times we’d seen my Dad genuinely pissed. We both bowed our heads as my Dad gave a shaky, but always sincere prayer starting with Dear Heavenly Father and ending with the three of us saying Amen.

Nag champa incense and me knee-sitting on a simple wooden chair washing dishes, often my designated chore, with large yellow rubber gloves (you know the kind) complete the memory of my most cherished kitchen—the one dad and I shared in Rock Creek. Sometimes I would be asked to come play, but my Dad made me do dishes instead. However if the dishes got done, I could go play. But if they didn’t it was me in the kitchen crying and alone.

Thank You Reader, You’re Sweet!

Free Printable Vintage Thank You cardsFirst things first…today, I am full of gratitude for you, the reader (you know who you are!) I want you to know that I understand the patience it takes you to read through my offerings of words and paragraphs. I see it as a gift from you to me when you read my blog posts, and I am thankful! Everytime you take the time to comment (and you always do) whether through the blog, personal email, or even text, I am deeply affected at the core of me. I want you to understand that. Thank you. Thank you, thank you. It would be the biggest blessing in the world to always have you reading. Sincerely.

Eastbound to Malta

Drunks and writers ride Amtrak. Classy drunks (the kind who don’t drive) and amateur writers. The type of drunks who don’t mind spending six dollars on cans of Budlight to wash down the flask of whisky they tucked into the inside of their winter ski jacket.

The writers are young and hopeful. We all gather up in the observation car sitting with our paper notebooks, ink pens, and hardback novels spread across the dining tables like sentence physicians—our vintage leather suitcases claiming the seats in front and to the side of us, lest some fool should try to join us, interrupt us; so our orange peels, Nalgene waterbottles, and of course our papercups of black Amtrak coffee crown our paperstuff, nudging us on and warding off talkers.

The young writer (actually he is a graphic novelist) behind me is passionate and excited in his seat. His shoulders are jumping and he has a faraway look as he fishes for inspiration. The train engine revs and be begin our travel from Portland, Oregon to Malta, Montana (me). As the train moves down down down the tracks, the jumpy novelist turns to me, “Excuse me.” he asks, “Do you know it it’s always this bumpy?”

Personally, I’d never much noticed the bumps. But I guess we were kind of bumping along. “Bumpy?” I respond, looking up from my poem.

“Yeah, bumpy.”

“I don’t know, I’m sorry.” I tell him. Poor guy. Thinks he’s going to be the next Art Speigelman beginning with an epic trainride across the west, where ideas will come to him just like Christmas gifts from lonely, wealthy, overzealous relatives and he will lay them down onto the page like Jack Kerouac did, his words timely and brilliant and bold. How sad, I think, as the young artists puts his pencil to paper and the train jerks and shudders. I look at my own paper and there are circle scribbles and big black holes and lines, missing letters and arrows.

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In the front of me is a poor sap whose head I keep looking above and all around. He’s a pretty boy and so he probably thinks I am admiring him, although he seems to be a writer too (pens, a wallet size notebook, a crown of snacks) so he just might know what I’m doing staring off like this. Thinking. Fishing.

He’s a bouncy fellow (maybe I think they’re all so bouncy because we’re on a train?) and for a spell he stares back at me and out the boxcar window, scribbling words or pictures, I don’t know. We begin to roll along side the navyblue Columbia, a river I have never truly rolled alongside before. Soon the jumpy fellow (pretty boy) is distracted by his cellphone—poking at it—and then he gets or makes two phonecalls and as I cannot help but eavesdrop I find that he has a “crazy” ex-girlfriend which reminds me, aren’t they all? Men use crazy to describe “unideal” or  “just didn’t work out” like we women use “lazy” to describe men who ignore us or have too many indoor hobbies and “cheater” to describe men who lie or have pretty friends.

He eyes me back but I am not eyeing him, just eavesdropping and fishing. There’s a more handsome man with a big smile and a greasy cowlick sipping a cocktail from a tiny plastic cup in a seat to the right and up a few. And beyond that there is my very own boyfriend who is waiting for my arrival way down the tracks in frozen Malta, Montana. And it is him who I set my sights on.

It is Christmastime. There is a man who stops at every chance to smoke and drags into the freeze his oxygen tank and Camels. Back at my assigned seat is a large man in cowboy boots and hat, nice enough guy, rank breath, offered to buy me a beer, likes to show you things on his phone. I politely excused myself to the obs car. Pretty boy and cowlick have struck a conversation and the graphic novelist behind me converses with a gang of old folks—and they all cheers to the grand Columbia.

Love – Blues – Balance Debuts!

Beloved readers, friends, and stranger-angels:

I am beyond words thrilled to introduce to a collection of my poetry:  Love Blues Balance  which is now available for just for you! Recollecting moments of love and attachment I humbly reveal my truths unto you. Thank you for reading, thank you for being there, thank you for seducing me, thank you for supporting me. Enjoy my little ditty about love will ya!  Your support is valued, click on image below or title above to purchase the book!  *Hard-copy only* CoverFinalFinalFinal

Between The Lines

It’s been a good hard rain for two, maybe three days. The sun still sets at five and the glorious Oregon landscape, such a popular destination these days, is all lost on us locals, given the rain, given the dark. Out back behind the bar we all stand together on a wooden picnic table underneath a white tent cover too small for all of the smoking people, and drinking people, and people trying so hard to get along (this is a good thing) all so we can share our misery together. Misery likes company, which is just another cliché but there is a reason why clichés are catchy, I figure. I sit at the end of the table, on the damp picnic table bench in my red vintage overcoat, the one people always call me Red Riding hood when I wear, but I laugh inside because it doesn’t have a hood, the jacket. A young man tells me, “You’re gonna get your jacket all wet” and reply that this is my Party Jacket.

photograph by Kirsten Lara Valenzuela

photograph by Kirsten Lara Valenzuela

Looking up at all the party people—the ponytailed women and ballcapped men with logos from their respective logging companies (there are two in town) silhouetted against the snowwhite tarp like the people are all on stage, I watch and I write sentences in my mind. My most gregarious local friend (the girl I came here to meet) is spouting off about NOTHING and we are all entranced, absolutely spellbound, or at least we are pretending to be. Some people know how to keep an audience, they’re comfortable with it. I am not one of those people. Which  is  why I write. I  watch  Becky  and  I  vow  to   write   about her—silhouetted  and  spouting  words and  beer fumes in the rain in winter.

My boyfriend would no doubt say that this is not miserable and that no one, or maybe not everyone, is experiencing misery as they inhale and sip inhale and sip and who knows what else. My boyfriend and I, although we are at the same place now, come from different sides of the partying spectrum. He, raised in perhaps the most wholesome home environment I have ever witnessed, no smoking, no drinking, no cursing, is a rebel against stability. Where I was exposed to, most likely, all-of-it, and so have a deep-rooted attachment to the life. Which is something that I regret most of the time but fall back into it like a comfort blanket…still young, still free (see unattached, no babies, no nothin’) I may as well “live it up” while I can. We are at the same place now but he has not seen the end result, I have. I say let’s get out while we still can he says let’s stay for another beer. I say Okay, for now.

But my boyfriend isn’t with me tonight. (The question begs, then why am I even out?) My girlfriends and I had a quick and serious discussion at the beginning of the night—at the Mexican restaurant that serves marguerites where we were seated by the restroom, which I always hate…saw as a bad omen, but vowed to let it not ruin my night. I choked down an enchilada regrettably ignoring (not so much) the scent of artificial bathroom cleaner and Mexican food shit. Anyways, we discussed and decided that we wouldn’t let any men buy us drinks…cause if we did we might actually have to talk to them. One older local gentleman (who always sends a shiver through me no matter what) had swooped in and paid for our Mexican dinner. Then he left but we wondered, what would he someday want in return? I personally would regret even having to speak with him again. But this is all beside the point now as he is inside the bar, and I am safe outside in the rain with the chubby, domesticated late-thirty-something logger men and my expressive Aries girlfriend who is making animated moves with her naturally tanned mexican hands and her golden beer is sloshing out of its glass in the streetlamp—like lightning.

A woman next to her begins to tell a love story…about how she and her husband met in California in 1974, they had a child after a year or two, they were young, he was wild, so she had to set him loose (this was her talking, not me) and after 5 years they reconciled and have been together ever since. Nobody says anything in response, she starts to go on, and I’m thinking of saying “And it’s been sweet love ever since!” I want to validate her, I like her love story, I want one too, I want good love karma, I enjoyed her story (she actually had something to say) and I want her to know but as I am thinking, the moment passes, it’s a little too loud, the jukebox speakers, the rain, the conversations happening to my right, to my left, she is at the end of the table and so I do not shout it out, though I nod vigorously and smile her way as she finishes saying “I have never loved a man so much, never wanted to. He is my soulmate.”

Maybe tonight I came to the bar solely for this message. It certainly wasn’t for the beer, the music, or the food. This is a unique message because while I have heard soulmate, I have rarely heard soulmate plus forty some odd years. I hear soulmate then I see a breakup and I hear soulmate again and so on. I am thirsty for the truth of soulmate and long lasting intimacy. I think I am capable of this but alas my track record does not reveal such.

The bar is not a highly inspiring place. But in-between the lines there is a surprising lot of beauty. Awkward conversations between strangers, tonight: a girl from Houston who just flew in yesterday and hasn’t even SEEN Oregon yet, given the rain, given the dark, but keeps saying how she loves it here, how pretty it is, and how she might move here someday. I am getting to know a little better the freckled girl from the mini-market, who I see on Saturday’s when I deliver the mail, when usually it’s just a passing quick hello.

Ultimately, I am scared off by the man who sends a shiver through me every time as I approach the bar for water and he comes in close, tells me I am special, and I stumble backward, afraid. My eyes dart around for my friends and they are lost in conversations with other locals they know so well. I eye the clock and its 11:30. “I have to go,” I tell the man. He fiends concern asking me if I am okay to drive and I hastily reply that I have been drinking shirley temples and  cokes all night, as to say, what a joke you are, you don’t even know me. And I’d like to keep it that way.

The moment underneath the glowing white tarp is gone. It is time for me to take what I have gotten, the sentences gathered in my mind like supplies with which to paint the blank pages back home, and leave. “Do you live close?” The man asks me. His shitick is that he used to be a correctional officer, which makes him kind of like a cop, which makes him good, which is not at all true. I shiver and stagger out of the bar, waving quickly to my friends, maybe looking scared as this man has resurrected the flight response inside of me.

Outside I am walking on the gravel driveway and alone, I look back at the bar to make sure no one has followed me. I climb into my car, and lock my doors. I am shivering and who knows if it’s the man or the Oregon chill. As I pull out of the lot I look at the bar again and in the faint yellow-lighted doorway is a man—a silhouette. I gun it all the way home. I take the night for what is was, not good, not bad. Just life. I vow to write. It’s all I have. I am a woman who speaks very little. You talk, you act…I will read between-the-lines and write about the night.