Last July I gave up on the kitchen garden, dumped an inch-thick layer of complete OG fertilizer onto the sunny compost heap, and shucked several root-bound six-packs of greens into the mound. We’ve been eating the results all winter. A few warm days have propelled the now-lengthy stalks of chard and spinach into even healthier production.
I credit the mulch, which was excessive and conceived of as waste disposal. I watered nothing, weeded nothing, and have grazed on everything.
If I were setting up again and had the same freedom to disregard the resale market for the building, I’d have a kitchen with nothing in it, just one empty space with a good floor and splashboards that was plumbed and wired to a fare thee well. Power, water, and drains at three or four-foot intervals would make questions of placement meaningless. Back in the low-tech day, arrangements were infinitely flexible.
I’d cook in a small separate space, as I usually do on the back porch, to reduce the cost of ventilation and prevent housecleaning. A chemist’s laboratory hood would be a good substitute for a separate room and would probably permit safe indoor grilling over solid fuel.
I’d have a generous pantry on the coldest corner of the space (in Seattle, that’s the northeast), the room would have good security, and there’d be HEPA filtration to keep things immaculate.
Technology is changing so quickly that it makes no sense lock in expensive design solutions to problems that may not even exist in a month or two. The fitted kitchen evolved from the butler’s pantry of long ago. An unfitted kitchen is flexible and a cinch to clean.
I can remodel my kitchen single-handed in ten minutes.
A dear classmate from art school told me about her parents’ Eastern Washington wedding. She had described her father as “a beat-up old cowboy” and said her mother insisted he buy himself a proper suit for the ceremony. So he did, because his lady love would not accept the cowboy suit he’d had tailored on Saville Row.
An equally dear new acquaintance told me she’d been married in white cowboy boots, white jeans with a silk train, and that the ceremony had been conducted by a justice of the peace in her tiny nail salon. She failed to mention the spectacular jeweled bustier I later noticed in a wedding photo.
The first special-purpose white dress was worn by Queen Victoria, I have read. Before her wedding, the bride wore something she could use later.
Custom work of the highest quality, authentic values, and respect for family resources are raiment worth respecting.
I love the way that grass grows as its new shoots crowd out worn leaves. Household systems can evolve the same way, if you know their origins and respect the three basics of decency, safety, and sanitation.
Yesterday’s comments about the combination of cast iron wok and induction hot plate reminded me of an experimental moment ten years ago when I threw away the stove. The oven had just died and for several years I’d been visualizing a substitute high-tech wire rack with small appliances. It helps to have an empty nest, no female elders, and an archaeologist to share quarters:a person who can fashion a knife out of two rocks from the back yard is not going to shy away from an idea that goes back to basics.
The wok/hot plate arrangement is campfire brought into the twenty-first century. Other household systems can be engineered the same way.
A solar-powered reading light displaces wired electric lamps with the high-tech version of kerosene or candlestick. Those lights lived in the pantry and were carried where they were wanted, then maintained every day. Central storage reduces the number of lights needed and reinforces reliance on daylight.
Refrigeration becomes small and simple when one maintains an old-fashioned pantry stocked with oils, dry stores, and canned goods. Back up the pantry with an electronic pressure cooker, and there will be no need for fast food: that stuff was fast food, back in the day.
Sanitation can easily be managed with a simple earth closet system (see Index “Earth Closet”), although the challenges to custom and public health mean that at the moment it only makes sense for emergencies.
Way back in the day, when there were only 30,000 books in all of Europe, a household of privilege kept half a dozen manuscripts in a small chest. A laptop computer stores nearly all written information in even less space.
I glanced over last week’s post “Kitchen Haiku” and realized the high-tech hot plate/cast iron wok combination that has proved so effective is the result of two housekeeping forces: semi-early adoption of a luxury and merciless editing.
I picked up the hot plate after the price had just fallen by a factor of ten. Seattle enjoys several kitchen boutiques, and the one at the Market is the grandmother of them all. I took the clerk’s word about the hot plate, and it has revolutionized our cuisine. My brief exposure to zen Buddhism taught me that the cook is the most important member of the community and that buying new vessels for the kitchen is a wise use of resources. I have not found reason to disagree with this assertion.
From time to time, I wander into the Market to see if I’m missing anything. I ran across the wok shortly after I had learned that cast iron and wok are a very good combination: thick metal holds heat and improves searing. I pounced on the wok the minute I laid eyes on it. One good pot is all it takes to manage a kitchen, that and a sharp knife. The pricey enameled cast iron vessels that come here from France (and Finland if you’re lucky-the Finns even dedicated a stamp to one design) more than pay for themselves in the quality of the food they produce from simple ingredients.
Though I keep a very lean inventory, there’s still a little redundancy on the kitchen shelves. Rooting around in the back of a storage area often turns up something quite fine that I tucked away to use for special occasions. The wok was one of those things, and it displaced several mediocre substitutes when the old hot plate died, thereby producing one killer solution to turning out three squares.
Five generations' keeping house in Western Washington know how to get the job done. Deft Home is the fruit of thirty years’ independent research with casual scholarship, deep-time experience, and no ties to commerce.
Deft home is about doing things the easy way, doing things you won’t get tired of, doing things in little specks of time, and doing things effectively so you won’t have to do them again. It’s also about working with things you already have or have scrounged, about respecting tradition and family legacies, and about making time to enjoy your living quarters. It’s about dignity, self-reliance, and innovation. Especially, Deft Home is about respecting the basics and the labor it takes to keep them right. Hope you enjoy the site as much as I enjoy developing the material.