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?


Doorways and jackhammers

Remember the mysterious hole in our basement that I wrote about last year? (No? Read  about it here.)

A few weeks ago, the heavy Chicago storms resulted in flooding in our basement. When we decided to finally get drainage tiles put in, we also decided to cut into the wall and excavate the dirt so we can use the space.

So the morning began with jackhammers and ended with cutting into the wall. Tomorrow they remove the dirt. There is a lot of it.

Tonight I’ll go to sleep dreaming about what could possibly be buried underneath.

Sweet dreams.


Meeting Neil

Conclave: A Journal of Character is printed and available on Amazon.com; the kitchen at Casa del Lobos is finished; I’ve finalized the plans for the Conclave Release Party (see next post); the kids performed in their first Ukrainian dancing performance; we found a mysterious hole in our basement that we thought was a crawlspace but is much deeper and has a ladder leading down into it, and I met Neil Gaiman.

I didn’t meet Neil in the hole in the basement, although wouldn’t that have been perfect in its own way?

I first “met” Neil thanks to the magic of twitter. Both of us are late-night writers online at the wee hours. This is one of the remarkable things about Twitter, that you can be in contact with other creative people whom you might otherwise not meet, and Neil is among a group of well-known writers, musicians, and artists who dip into twitter to communicate with fans and peers, and also to disseminate information. We had tried to orchestrate prior meetings, but tight schedules and other commitments made it impossible. The meet and greet at C2E2 was our only window this time. (Thank you, Cat and Lorraine.)

On Saturday, April 17, C2E2 hosted an Evening With Neil Gaiman at the Arie Crown Theater to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). A colorful crowd for the Dream Experience held bags or stacks of Neil’s books, some toting small rolling suitcases filled with massive Absolute Sandman collections, waiting to be signed.

As we waited, we mingled; and my neighbors were the tall and cheeky Dr. Ross of Electrical Engineering at Purdue, the sweet and self-proclaimed shy Katie Barista from Terra Haute (see photo above), as well as a few others who floated in and out of our lively conversation that ranged from the need to supply scotch in waiting lines to coffee beans from Alabama to ex-lovers scarred by Billy Joel music.

Soon it was my turn, and after I introduced myself, Neil scooped me up in a hug that lifted me off the ground! (Those of you who know me well know that I am a hugger. I hug with ferocity the people dear to me, and I value a strong hug. This was a strong hug.)

He was sweet and sincere, and he made me feel as if we were old friends reunited. We spoke quickly about our tables by designed Kwak Chulan, the fascinating (albeit frustrating) phenomenon of the ashcloud, and how grand it would be to hear Gene Wolfe read again. Cat took a photo that she promised to send (I’ll post it when I get it), and I stepped aside to give the next person their opportunity.

After meeting Tony Harris, whose beautiful Art Nouveau-style artwork illustrates Neil’s poem about Sts. Oran and Columba, In Relig Oran, on a print that we were given at the event (signed by both men), I took my seat in the front row, next to Katie Barista and Dr. Ross.

We watched as the remaining fans had items signed and posed for photographs while engaging in surreal conversations with nearby folks about vampirism, the ability of human eggs to select their sperm, and the relative sex appeal of people in different professions.

Then Neil and Cat thanked everyone and went offstage to dine, while the rest of the ticket holders filed into the theater for the “Evening With…” event that began at 7pm.

Acclaimed comic book illustrator Jim Lee graciously introduced Neil, who then began reading: some new poems and stories, and some older pieces that he hadn’t read aloud in nearly ten years. He is a master storyteller, and his words come alive when spoken by the author himself.

From the beginning, Neil was conversational on the stage and seemed to genuinely enjoy himself, more freely sporting his puckish grin as the evening went on. After a brief intermission, he returned to answer questions collected from the crowd that included: how to get a publisher’s attention, subtle rebellion against a grammar school teacher, his upcoming Dr. Who episode, and his writing process. Walking around the stage, Neil would frequently look around and make eye contact with the audience. It’s one of his gifts, this ability to make people feel included.

The event ran late, much to the delight of his fans, and after sincere thanks for attending and supporting the CBLDF, Neil made a gracious exit.

Neil secured a special place in my family’s heart when he named one of his characters in The Graveyard Book Miss Lupescu (since that is the name of the family I married into. I go by Valya Dudycz Lupescu). My children adore his books and audiobooks, and they loved the film adaptation of Coraline. We have had lively family discussions about the differences between the two media. I treasure books and films that encourage a discourse between parents and children about things like making hard choices, fear, bravery, and fairies (my daughter missed the little fairy ghost girl from the book Coraline).

This is one of the things I admire about Neil’s writing—that it can bridge generations and entertain children, parents, and grandparents. He has books that would not be of interest to kids, but there are others that appeal to both. Certainly adults can appreciate allusions in them that may be lost on children, and kids can appreciate with a childlike wonder the absolute adventure of his words.

On Sunday morning, when I told my oldest daughter about the CBLDF event and showed her photographs on my phone, she was impressed. My photo with Neil gained me points in the cool-meter of my almost seven-year-old. This is no small feat and is probably my favorite part of the Dream Experience.

“Can he come to our house someday, Mama?” she asked. “So I can meet him and show him our Coraline door?”

Maybe. I have a lot of tea.

As Neil says, “Dream dangerously.”

***  Edited to add the link to Cat’s Chicago/Stillwater photographs: http://picasaweb.google.com/furrytiger/CHiStill?feat=email# ***