Palate and Other Fatigue

Posted on August 9, 2013

“Drive up to the bank’s ATM on the way home,” I instructed my son late yesterday afternoon.

We were on our way back from a trip to the vet, an emergency stop for dog food. Earlier that afternoon a cement-based leveler had been applied over our kitchen’s subflooring and was still wet, the product’s descriptive words “Quik Dry” being only relative. It would be eight hours at least before the floor was walkable. Of course the two necessities I forgot to remove from the room before the process began were the buckets of dog kibble, something I only realized at 4:30 when both dogs – creatures of routine and slaves to their constant state of hunger – came to sit next to me, two pairs of beseeching eyes trying to catch mine. Their eyes communicate well; I knew immediately they were hungry.

And I also knew in that instant that I couldn’t get to their food.

Ben drove me to the vet and we bought new supplies. On the way home, as I stared out the passenger side window at the many neat houses and yards we drove by, I realized I would have a hard time feeding the humans in the house as well. We had food, but those supplies were in the small fridge in the basement, accessed from the impassable kitchen. But also from the garage, I reminded myself in my interior dialogue. I could go out the front door and around to the side of the house and back again loaded up with yogurts, blueberries, maybe salad ingredients, and some cold cuts for sandwiches. That trip would require no small amount of organization: a list to ensure I got everything in one shot (who wants to go back for the forgotten jar of mustard when someone can’t eat a ham sandwich without?), a tray for carrying the supplies, my key ring in order to unlock doors and lock them up again, and a whole lot more energy than I could muster at the moment.

Add to that the reality of preparing a less-than-satisfying supper on my makeshift workspace in the dining room, one that would then be eaten from paper plates balanced on laps in a room that is still piled high with boxes full of kitchen wares waiting to be stored in their new homes, and my fatigue quickly slid into defeat.

“If we can hit the ATM,” I said to Ben, “I can get a couple of 20s so you and your sister can get some supper.”

“If you knew how many burritos I’ve eaten in the past three weeks, you would be horrified,” he replied.

I probably would be. No, actually, I am horrified, simply because he can make this claim.

Living without a kitchen will be like camping, I told myself way back when we started. I will think of kitchen hacks and recipe hacks and life hacks, shortcuts and menu simplifications that will make this process manageable, if not exactly fun. And maybe there would be some fun along the way, some crazy, creative fun resulting in interesting meal concoctions that would be the stuff of family lore for years to come; who knew?

We have yet to create much lore (except, maybe, the storyline that goes like this: Remember the summer we remodeled the kitchen and I kept paying the kids to go out and forage for their meals, and Ben had too many burritos, and eventually we all got so tired of eating in restaurants? You know, that summer?) and it isn’t much fun, if I’m honest, to live in disarray. I find myself forgetting things, big things like showing up for meetings, or little, annoying things like a necessary condiment from the fridge.

And yet, as I watch the new space transform piece by piece into a room that feels more like me – like us as a family – I know that both the wait and my first world, spoiled girl version of hardship will fade from memory quickly. The difficulty of remodeling might even season future meals with an appreciation for everything we have and are so fortunate to have, those things that are material and also those that are less tangible, like the relationships we can foster within the walls of this room across a counter, over a glass of wine, at the table.

With time, I may even forgive myself for the burritos.

 Garden Salad with Buttermilk Parmesan Dressing and Rice Vermicelli with Chicken and Nuoc Cham

Click the links and follow along with the photos if you’d like to make two meals that are fairly easy to pull together and will tempt even the most sandwich-dulled tastebuds with lots of lively flavor.

The first is a lunchtime salad I made using fresh butter lettuce, shelled peas, scallions, and parsley, and dressed with an old standby: buttermilk parmesan dressing. The peas are eaten raw. In the later summer months, when fresh peas are no longer available, substitute slivers of fennel or chunks of cucumber or zucchini. But don’t leave out the parsley! The dressing’s buttermilk lends a refreshing tang, a perfect foil for mild but juicy vegetables.

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The second recipe is for a dinner dish that used up a good amount of my CSA produce and required no stovetop to prepare. The chicken was left over from weekend grilling (but you could also use a rotisserie chicken) and the rice stick noodles were softened in hot water from an electric kettle.  Rather than boiling the noodles in a pot, place the dried noodle nest in a large bowl and pour boiling water over. Leave them to soak for a couple of minutes before draining and rinsing in cold water. They will be recipe ready. The rest of the work consists of chopping and dressing and tossing together. That’s it. I used all Japanese white turnips because that’s what I had on hand, but I think the heat of the radish called for in Bon Appetit’s original recipe would add a great contrast, so use them if you can. And I found that chopped peanuts sprinkled on top made a nice addition.

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©2013 Jane A. Ward