There is a loud, constant, haranguing, banging noise coming from downstairs right now, and it is music to my ears. It is the noise of my kitchen being renovated (woo hoo!). The contractor showed up this morning and by lunchtime, half the room was gutted, the IKEA cabinets were ripped from the walls, the old flooring torn up and tossed, and my dreams of the first ever planned-by-me cooking domain were on their way to being realized. Wow.
Of course, this also means that within a day or two, I am going to be without a stove. I get the shakes just thinking about it. Cooking, like no other activity, makes me deliriously happy. It eases stress, makes me feel grounded, and spurs creativity. It helps me to channel the occasional tirade of rage (pounding cutlets or kneading dough works every time), and lets me express my love to friends and family when I’m at a loss for words. And there is no air freshener better than the smell of sautéing garlic and onions, or a rich stew, or a nearly-done cake, or, I’d imagine (and can’t wait to try on my fabulous new stove that I am hoping to get for a deep discount via Craig’s List), the amazing duck legs that my West Coast cohort Robin posted a recipe for last week. Yum.
The thing is, though, renovating is as terrifying as it is exciting. There are so many details to grapple with, both big (like financing, permits, and making good decisions on appliances) and small (Do I want to hang pots or stash them away? Is a bigger window that lets in more light worth giving up precious inches of wall space that could be used for cabinetry?). Suddenly, having choices feels like both a blessing and curse. We’ve waited nearly a decade to do this, and while I know I’m the only person who knows what kind of kitchen I need (and can afford), I still find myself feeling unsure about my decisions. After all, it’s my favorite room in the house. I really, really want to get it right.
Knowing that all this hullaballoo would begin today, I held back at my local greenmarket this weekend. But I did want to complete one more Produce Challenge in my old kitchen. Inspired by the book The Complete Book of Garlic: A Guide for Gardeners, Growers, and Serious Cooks, I picked up garlic scapes, the green, slender shoots that grow from the top of a head of garlic. Scapes looked, well… fun. They are long and elegant, but with bendy, curlicued nature that makes it kind of impossible to feel intimidated by them if you’ve never cooked with them before (as I hadn’t).
After chatting up the farmer from upstate New York who grew them and hauled them down to NYC at some dark hour of the morning, I learned that, although you can do lots of things with garlic scapes, a simple sauté would do just fine.
Tonight, after the workers leave and I clean up the dusty, residual mess that construction rained upon my almost-dismantled kitchen, I will take down the big pot for boiling water and make the meal that I’m sure I’d ask for if it were my last—pasta with good olive oil, fresh vegetables, maybe a bit of bacon, and a little freshly grated Parmesan.
I will shell the peas that I also picked up at the greenmarket, and enjoy the solitary, repetitive task of snapping off the end, sliding my index finger along its seam, and simultaneously pulling out the fresh, sweet, bright green little balls inside. I’ll take down my 10-inch frying pan, fish out the small hunk of speck—smoked, dried ham from the north of Italy—from my about-to-be-discarded refrigerator, cut it into a dice, and sauté it until its meaty aroma begins to permeate the room.
Then I’ll chop my garlic scapes into one-inch pieces, toss them in for a quick sauté, and take in their gentle garlicky smell as the water starts to boil. I’ll throw in cavatelli—a nice, slenderish-but-stubby pasta that I like with peas—and, when it’s ready, toss it all together with that nice olive oil. A humble last meal? Well, sure. But, to me, comfort is always found in the easiest of places—like a bowl of pasta made in your very own kitchen, construction rubble be damned.