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Small kitchens mean an economy of movement

March, 2010

Our kitchen is small: 13 feet by nine feet. It is compromised further by a walled-off wedge that takes up a large corner to allow the stairwell to pass between floors.

It was a small room even a hundred years ago, when the duplex was built. This was the add-on between the parlour and the balcony, maybe the third bedroom or the servant’s quarters. Upstairs, Downstairs, perhaps, but on the same level.

The kitchen wasn’t always here. Most older rowhouses in N.D.G. had kitchens in the back. The pattern was simple: You entered from the front and made your way through increasing levels of intimacy: the parlour, dining room, hallway with one room for the toilet and another for washing and bathing.

Finally, you entered the kitchen at the back of the house, overlooking the alley. It was large and big enough for its own table, though one never dined in the kitchen.

If you were a guest and made it to the kitchen, you were kin, or at least a good friend. If there were formalities to observe and you were an insurance salesman, a government official, or perhaps clergy, you probably never left the parlour. You might sit there and look at the dishes on the plate rails, marveling at how well they balanced, while waiting for the person you came to see to leave the kitchen and come out to meet you. But our kitchen was moved to the front. The old kitchen became first a studio and then a bedroom. The house has grown – a back staircase moved and walls slightly shifted – but the kitchen became smaller. I like a small kitchen. I can stand in the middle of the room and touch the stove and the sink, although they are on opposite sides of the room. The fridge is a step away. The microwave and cutlery drawers are a step in the opposite direction. I can practically pirouette, grasp pots and potholders, and move fluidly.

But ours is no longer an eating kitchen, unless you eat standing up. It’s a working kitchen and if you want to talk to the chef you could be asked to spin the salad, stir the soup or get involved in a dozen other ways. There are no friends in the small kitchen, only sous-chefs. And no matter how many people we invite over, they congregate there. This is where the open bottle of wine sits, and the smells rise from the oven, and the appetizers are served. The best appetizer is, of course, an appetite; and if the Flavour Guy can’t get salivation going in the kitchen, I might as well order out.

“There are no friends in the small kitchen, only sous-chefs.”

If you are thinking of downsizing, consider a small kitchen. One where you – the person who will be cooking – takes up more space than the side-by-side icemaker/water dispensing refrigerator or the six-burner range with built in wok and dual ovens. It’s only a theory, but I’ve learned that in a small kitchen, the appliances quickly learn that I am in charge and not the other way around.

Something small but good: home smoked fish.

Take a boned filet of trout or salmon with the skin left on one side. Season it with salt, pepper and juice from a freshly squeezed lemon. Set the fish on a rack with the skin side down.

Take a pan or pot that will hold the rack. Add a quarter-cup of hardwood smoking chips in the centre of the pan. Most hardware and larger food stores carry this – apple or maple chips are best. Put the chips in the pan and cover them loosely with a piece of foil. Put the rack with the fish in the pan over the foil. The foil stops moisture or oil from the fish from “dousing” the smoke. Turn the burner to low. When the chips start smoking, cover the pan with foil. Put a lid or something heavy on top to keep the foil tight and the pan covered. Smoke for 15 minutes per pound of fish. Remove the pan from the burner and let the fish rest for 15 minutes before opening the lid.

Serve this with mayonnaise and whole wheat crackers or fresh bread.



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