Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Culinary Solitary Confinement

Michael Pollan in his article “Why Cook?” discusses the undeniable trend that Americans are cooking less and buying more prepared meals, freeing housewives from kitchen slavery in order to go out to produce in the work place. I heartily agree with his arguments on the importance of the shared family meal and the power of cooking to transform us from mere consumers into producers.
            I learned to cook from my mother and, later, living on my own, I expanded my culinary skills. Arriving here in Chile, I discovered that most people had maids do their cooking. At first, we hired a daily maid, but after the birth of my second son, I reluctantly gave in to my husband’s pressure to hire a live-in maid. I did the grocery shopping and planned the meals, but the maid did the major cooking. I returned to full time teaching.
            By the time I retired, I’d lost interest in cooking, or, to be honest, I’d become lazy, accustomed to having Carola, our sweet-tempered, part time maid, do it for me. Now multiple other activities vie for my time: gardening, reading, writing, anything that frees me from that kitchen isolation. Because that’s one factor Michael Pollan didn’t take into consideration: the size of the kitchen and its location in the house plan. Most kitchens around the world were not designed as places of social gathering. Chilean kitchens, even in new, modern apartments, are the size of a closet and separated from the other living areas by doors (because originally that was the exclusive domain of the maids). The kitchen in our fifty- year- old house is long and narrow, though the addition of a small breakfast nook by the previous owners makes it more inviting. But, it has doors that cut me off from the activity in the rest of the house when I’m doing last minute preparations and serving meals in the evenings and on weekends. Once kids were older or gone altogether, the kitchen became an even lonelier place. Hubby has zero interest in cooking and only descends from his second floor office when I call out, “Dinner’s ready!”
            As the supply of women willing to work as maids declines, Cocinas americanas, American kitchens, meaning the kitchen is incorporated into the sitting or dining room, is now a big selling point for many new homes here. I’ve fantasized sledge-hammering the wall separating my kitchen from our den, but it would be a giant mess (and where would I put the cabinets from that wall?). The kitchen in my childhood home had a sunny breakfast nook incorporated and, while washing the dishes, we faced a large window that looked out onto a grand old oak. For the past twenty-five years, the wall of our next door neighbors’ has been my kitchen sink view.

 No wonder I’d rather be in the garden.

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