Not Your Kitchen

Sal and I have been traveling for five weeks. It’s been fun, and it’s been stressful, but the time is capped off with a week split between our families in two different rental houses. (Obviously, we’re very lucky that this is the case. Not everyone has a chance to do this.)

Even though as a kid the whole Beckhusen clan would spend a week down the shore in Beach Haven, I took one thing for granted: the fun of opening up every cabinet and every drawer in the kitchen. How did the owner decide to organize things? What tools have they put at our disposal? What might be missing? What do these objects tell us about the owners, the region the rental is in, the time of year it’s most used?

Sadly, I didn’t think to take photos of the drawers in the house in Eastham, MA, on the Cape. But, as you might imagine, tossed in next to the forks, knives, spoons, and bottle opener was a whole mess of claw-crackers for lobsters. The crackers were made to resemble the very item they’re intended to crack and were painted bright red. In the cabinet below rested a white-speckled black pot–like a stock pot–but clearly for steaming a heap of shellfish. Its slightly rusty interior prevented me from boiling rotini. Shellfish trumps pasta in New England.

The kitchen in Cape May, New Jersey, offers its guests several large ramekins, which we discover are perfect for holding the mix of grilled mussels and clams Sal’s dad pulls off the grill. There’s also a Brookstone spatula with some kind of calculator or thermometer built into the handle. We don’t use it.

Oddly, neither kitchen has one of those long-handled lighters. The house in Cape Cod has long kitchen matches, and in Cape May, Sal’s mom rummages around until she finds an old Bic lighter with which to light the even older citronella candles lurking under the deck.

Back in Saint Paul, cooking once more in our kitchen, I am, of course, grateful to return to sharp knives (not the strong suit of either kitchen) and a sense of authority. I know where everything is, how much there is of it, and my movements are roughly elegant. But there’s something to be said for cooking in a space someone else has created. You gain a peek into their minds and their values. In a way, they’re cooking alongside you.

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