Hey! It’s Crowded in the Kitchen

You’re not in a rush. But you want to get things done.

And then you notice: there’s a crowd in the kitchen.

You can’t see them but they are there: floating above you, sitting on your shoulder, leaning against the counter. And the murmuring! It just goes on and on.

But would you have it any other way? I don’t think so.

So (for the realists and the sane out there), just who is this crowd in the kitchen?

All the friends, family, mere acquaintances, the lady in the shoe store, George at the pharmacy  – anyone and everyone who has ever given you a recipe or showed you how to cook something. 

A few years back, I wrote this on Facebook:

The kitchen is crowded  and never lonely when I bake a lemon pie. I feel close to my dear friend Valerie whose blackberry sauce I attempted to recreate. As well as my wonderful friend (and mentor) Monna who showed me how to paint the bottom of the crust with a bit of orange marmalade before pouring in the filling. The Meyer lemons came from our dear daughter’s tree and my sweet husband picked the blackberries.

As the pandemic rolls on, home cooking is de rigueur or at least the norm in many households. And as night after night of cooking continues, many of us have dug out old boxes filled with recipes and cookbooks gathering dust. Mostly we get our ideas online and our phone provides all the instructions. And that’s okay.

Siri, I have 2 onions, 1 avocado, cream cheese (pretty moldy) and some salami. What can I make?

Here’s what I found on the web!

But if we have more time on our hands – and many of us do – digging through our archives can be rewarding. And funny.

Here in Oregon, grape leaves are easy to come by in the summer and stuffed grape leaves  are a treat. My mother and grandmother both made dolmas or dolmades (which I just learned is the plural of dolmas) and used basically the same recipe. However, my grandmother’s instruction is more creative.

Fold the right and left flaps over paste & then roll to the narrow tip to form a cartouche with the same sort of motion as when rolling a cigarette.  Be sure the shiny surface is on the outside.  

Here’s my friend Monna’s method for what I call Puffed Baked Potatoes:

“Now for the cookery:  No, no, no,   you do not put any olive oil on the tats. Scrub them with their skins. O.K. Cut them in two, length-wise, yes,  then baking tray with foil. O.K. then dust over the lot with salt. It is better if they are still slightly wet as the salt sticks better. I can’t remember whether I put salt on both sides; well, of course, when you have finished sprinkling the salt, some goes underneath and of course jiggling them about gently will do the trick et ça suffit. Voilà! 

As my friend is both French and English, her writing is often (shall we say) a mélange.

But some of her recipes  get right to the point. Such as:

Monna’s Fast Raspberry Meringue Dessert

In these proportions…. (that is going from top to bottom)

Find a meringue base

Good vanilla ice cream


Cream (crème fraîche)

Place ice cream by the spoonfuls on base, then add raspberries. A few more spoonfuls of ice cream then pour cream over all. Add a dusting of vanilla sugar. Serve immediately.

Around 7:30 most mornings, I amble into the kitchen. Turn on the coffee maker (from my friend Janine); find my cup (my son James), heat some milk in a little pitcher (trip to Egypt – from Shepherd’s hotel), shuffle over to get a bowl and spoon (dislodging a crowd of familiars perched on the shelves) and so it goes…

In a tumultuous time, a little focus on the familiar can be soothing. Even rousing. My friend Miriam and I can go on and on about how we ate artichokes as children, always put peanut butter on vanilla ice cream, and how her method of making spinach can’t really be made anymore. Or rarely.

Miriam’s Spinach

Find your stock pot (about 8 quarts). Put a few tablespoons of water in it. Same amount of olive oil. One garlic clove crushed. Stuff as much spinach* (3 – 4 pounds) as you can in the pot and turn on the heat.

Wait about a minute.

Then with a fork & spoon or tongs, start turning the spinach. Fairly quickly, it will start to wilt. When it’s nearly completely wilted, turn off the heat. Pour the whole thing into a sieve or colander. Mash it a bit to get rid of the water. Done.

You can make it in advance and then reheat it in a bowl or smaller pan very briefly. Add some salt & pepper. Taste. Serve. About 3 cups cooked spinach.

*So what’s the problem? Why can’t you make this anymore? Because most spinach sold is baby spinach. Large dark green curly veiny leaves? Very hard to find. So you grow it yourself or go to a market in France or Italy (when that becomes possible). If you do find it, strip off the stems, fill your sink with water, soak the spinach. Change the water 5 times, lifting the spinach out each time. Sand should drop to the bottom. After 4 or 5 changes, the water should be clear. Shake off some water from spinach. Then proceed with Miriam’s method.

Holidays certainly contribute to time in the kitchen and digging around for family recipes. It’s not Christmas if we don’t have _______ (fill in the blank). Cookie baking, fruitcake battles (love/hate), gingerbread houses… there’s a bit more time for those things.

Recently, I’ve had a correspondance with two Swedish brothers about Julglogg. This fiery hot wine Christmas drink is full of spices and orange peel but aquavit is key. And you’re supposed to light the whole thing on fire. Hmm.

Julglogg #1 (from my grandfather)

Julglogg #2 (from my father – nearly undecipherable)

page 1
page 2

If you do decide to try this out, I urge you to learn the following song:

Sing it!!

Actually, just raise a glass – any glass (even the special one from Aunt Ethel) – and belt out a tune!

With that, happy holidays, everyone & to ’21!!

10 comments on “Hey! It’s Crowded in the Kitchen

  1. toumai says:

    Aquavit . . . on the menu now for Yule Glogg. Thanks!

  2. love this. specially the glogg! Merry Christmas, Mary!

  3. slowfoodcorvallis says:

    That’s a sweet bunch of memories, Mary.

  4. linda sawaya says:

    hi dear mary,

    i enjoyed your crowded kitchen post, and the stories and recipes you’ve shared!

    thought your father’s handwritten recipe not terribly indecipherable, and somehow got a glimpse into his personality seeing his writing.

    blessings, joy, and health to you and yours this holiday season! linda


  5. Thank you Linda and all the very best to you too!

  6. Maria Sundy says:

    Finally had a chance to read your blog and I love it! It’s filled with love and FUN!
    Good Memories are the best way to kill an hour !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s