Why my heart is happy in my tiny, imperfect kitchen

It’s a place where love, food, and family are the real recipe for wealth.

By Rochelle Barrish

When people ask me how I measure wealth, my weirdly honest answer is always: by the size of a person’s kitchen.

I grew up in my granny’s not-so-big kitchen, even if was big enough for her and her three daughters to cook in at the same time.

And every house I’ve lived in since granny’s house (except for that one commune in Observatory), had small-ish kitchens. Not enough space to swing a stick of celery without hitting someone.

I’ve not had a kitchen I truly love yet, and just as there was a glimmer of me getting a house with my dream kitchen, my husband was diagnosed with a rare lung disease, and we had to downscale because of medical expenses.

I’ve mostly tolerated my kitchens, but I didn’t love any of them. In my head, I cook up a storm in my dream kitchen.

It has an island with a huge counter top stove and a deep, double sink with those fancy taps that look like they come from the ceiling. With bar stools on one side for my guests to sit and chat while I whip up dishes that would leave Nigella shaken.

During the early stages of “flattening the curve” in 2020, my kitchen was the last place I wanted to be. No banana bread and sourdough for me thanks, unless it came from my local bakery.

I dabbled in helping my son with his online learning and spent time pottering in my garden when my workload allowed it.

I’m not sure if it’s my obsession with the Covid dashboard or the RIP mentions on my social media timeline, but somewhere along the line, my resentment of my kitchen turned into gratitude.

And although my bank still has to send me a “low funds” notification on a monthly basis, when I stand in my tiny kitchen these days, I feel wealthy.

Wealthy because I have enough food and access to food to feed my growing teen boy. The one who eats three meals and 4,290 snacks in between those meals. Are their legs hollow or what?

Wealthy because our little family of three has managed to stay safe and untouched by the virus so far, and so has my inner circle.

Wealthy because I can afford a house made of bricks and cement. A house that keeps me sheltered from the weather and safe at night.

Wealthy because I’ve been able to work from home, and earn a salary through this strange and difficult time.

But most of all, kitchen-wealthy, because even though my kitchen does not have all the space and islands and counter tops I would like, I’m grateful I am healthy enough to stand in my kitchen, feed my family and treat my son to whatever he craves.

My son, he of hollow legs, is gearing up for rugby season and follows various sports stars for their nutrition routines, so he’s more invested in what we cook and how we cook it.

No, I don’t have the kitchen accessory of 2020, the air fryer, but we have been learning loads about cooking techniques that are healthier or that “honour the ingredients”, as my son says when he’s hamming it up.

I now get random texts from him about cooking methods that have me running to my Larousse Gastronomique book.

Son: Mama, do you know how to make a galette? Me: Heh?

Or

Son: Mama, have you ever cooked a protein the en papillote way? Me: Sorry, what now?

We read up on the technique or recipe and spend glorious time in the kitchen. Side by side, giggling away, teasing each other. Hamming it up for our for-us-only videos.

Hopefully when my grandchildren see the videos years from now, they will get an idea of what sort of mom I was, and what life during a pandemic was like.

Hopefully one of them uses it as part of an oral for school and I can finally be (in)famous.

Our family’s been making amazing memories, and he’s become way more mindful about what he eats.

He realises that what you put in (food), affects what you get out (performance). It’s funny to hear this strapping lad come through the door after training and boldly declare that the poached chicken noodle and veggie bowl gave him that extra boost when he thought he was going to die from exertion.

I love his curiosity about food and his desire to make healthier choices in order to give his best at his favourite sports.

I love that we get to spend this precious time in our not-so-dreamy-kitchen, learning new things together and poking fun at the pretentious fringes of the foodie world.

And while we sauté, braise, simmer and deglaze our way through these times, I’m grateful that the world has changed so drastically this past year.

Grateful to be on this ride with my son as he explores his way around the kitchen, with me never further than a stick of celery away.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.
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