Our Kitchen: Cooking Under Construction

Last year we moved into a historic 1920s building in Chicago. The apartment had been empty for nearly a decade and was previously decorated in the popular styles of bygone eras — color and accessory choices from the 80s being the predominant style for the elderly couple who lived there before us.

I have grown to love all the kitchens I have had in my lifetime, from the spartan European kitchen I had in Frankfurt, with its tiny fridge and Ikea table where the kids would color, to my beloved Spanish-style kitchen in Casa del Lobos, with its red clay tiles and beautiful backsplash. (I cried when saying goodbye to that kitchen.)

Trillian Stars with the kids in Casa del Lobos. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

I understand that the kitchen is ultimately a container. It’s what we fill that space with that matters: the joyful celebrations and thoughtful conversations, as well as the architectural details, furniture, photographs, and art. I knew the style of this kitchen needed to be different, to denote a new chapter in our life, to complement the deco sensibility of the apartment, and also to deal with the challenges of a narrow cooking space that had to accommodate the daily maneuvering of two adults, three rapidly growing children, and two cats.

We tried to return the aesthetic of our apartment as close to the Art Deco style of the time when it was built.

However, the kitchen had already been “renovated” before and needed new cabinets and appliances. We kept it simple and clean; and because there was an impending massive building-wide plumbing renovation that was set to start soon after we moved in, we decided we’d wait to do things like backsplash tile.

As soon as the appliances were installed, pots and dishes were in their places, the pantry was full of food, and the ancestral altar was set up, I fell in love with our galley kitchen.

Even working full-time, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, not just cooking but chatting (in person, on the phone, on the computer) and writing. This is why I made sure to allow for a little counter space where I could sit on a stool and use my laptop; it’s also where Lana often sits to help me or keep me company while I’m cooking.

We mounted a radio under the cabinet so that we can play music (in case of spontaneous kitchen dancing), and when I feel stressed or overwhelmed, you can find me sitting on the stool by the window to see the sliver of lake in the distance or sitting on the floor beside the stove, with my back to the dishwasher. It’s usually the warmest spot in the apartment, and sitting there helps me to feel better, to feel grounded.

So as soon as the kitchen was ready, we settled in and started cooking and writing in a philosophical pun-filled frenzy to create the manuscript for Forking Good. 

Testing recipes for Forking Good, 2019.

When that was done and the manuscript sent off to our editor, it was time to pack everything back up into boxes, cover it all with dropcloths, and effectively stop using the kitchen for a few months while the plumbing work got underway. Goodbye to our lovely kitchen and hello to crockpot recipes in the dining room, barbecue in the garden, and the occasional takeaway Thai or pizza. Not to mention dishes washed in the small powder-room sink.

Kitchen plumbing construction, 2019.

Our building is massive, and the carpenters, plumbers, and crew have been working from the top down, riser-by-riser to replace all the pipes (often encased in concrete) in the walls. There have been days when the only disruption has been the thundering  wall-shaking from above or below, and other days when they are in the apartment opening up plaster walls and replacing massive pipes. Most days we come home to a layer of dust that has crept around drop cloths or was shed from the ceilings and walls with all the vibrations.

It has been… a challenge. I have moved enough times to have developed a true dislike of boxes cluttering my home, and I need to feel like there is a certain semblance of order before I can relax. This means the past few months I have been more tightly wound than usual and waiting for the work to be done so that our home can go back to curated creative chaos, not the messy disruption of construction.

Thankfully, it’s summer now, and that means a greater use of outside spaces and brainstorming about picnic ideas and grilling. It’s a little easier to not feel trapped by clutter when you can walk down to the beach in five minutes.

Mid-afternoon clouds over the beach.

The good news is, we are in the final month’s countdown until all the major work should be completed. We have just gotten back into the kitchen, so we should be able to post from there more regularly leading up to the book launch. We’re trying to figure out now which Forking Good recipes everyone might be curious to see behind the scenes, or maybe a few that we chose not to use.  Would you like to see videos, as well as photographs of food and process?

 

Night of the Deadlines

Forking Good at the Quirk Books Booth at BookExpo!

A dear friend met me for coffee a month ago and gifted me with the mug pictured below; when I opened the box, I laughed long and hard in the cafe where we were enjoying breakfast–it was perfect.

When we started working on FORKING GOOD, I knew the deadline was going to be tight. I write pretty well under pressure, although it’s often at the expense of things like sleep, socialization, and self-care. What I was not prepared for was *cooking* under pressure—because this cookbook manuscript wasn’t just an exercise in writing clever philosophy lessons related to the sitcom The Good Place. It also required creating 30 tasty recipes that tied into those lessons.

As I have written before, I love to cook, and serving a meal to be enjoyed with people I love is one of my favorite things in the world. Most of the time, however, I’m a largely improvisational cook. I start with a recipe that’s new or familiar, and I adapt based on what’s in the pantry, what we have a taste for, who’s coming to dinner. I love that moment of adding new herbs and spices, and changing things up a little. I rarely note my changes, except in the general sense on a recipe card or page of a cookbook.

Playing with chives.

It will come as no surprise that this is not the way one creates a recipe to be shared in a cookbook. One must measure and record with precision and accuracy to be able to recreate a dish exactly. This was perhaps my greatest personal challenge in the process, making sure that I recorded and measured every pinch and dash and time change.

Most of the time we tried to make recipes in time for dinner to be shared with the kids (or a few guests) for taste-testing. They were amenable to the experiments; and for a few weeks, it solved the never-ending question of “What’s for dinner tonight, Mom?”  However, time constraints due to the dayjob and deadlines meant that we spent many nights making versions 2 or 3 (or 4) of a recipe at 1am (which then were frozen for future leftovers).

Long days of working, cooking, cleaning up, and writing meant that I was certainly grateful for the cocktail taste-testing required by Stephen’s drink recipe cultivation, and by the time we turned in the draft of the cookbook to our wonderful editor, Jhanteigh Kupihea, I was ready to order Thai takeaway and have a glass of wine. For a week.

Enough time has passed that I’m back to cooking enthusiastically, and we’re so excited about sharing the book when it comes out in October!  In the meantime, we’ve got photos and sneak-peeks to share along the way, and I’ll do that here and especially on our Instagram feed(s):

In the meantime, you can pre-order Forking Good or request it from your local indie bookshop!

Last week at Book Expo, our publisher had a table and was giving away promotional BLADs (stands for Book Layout and Design, these paperback excerpts from the book are given to publishers and readers to promote advance sales.) Danielle Zimmerman of Hypable was there and got a copy:

Forking Good at BookExpo!