I recently read an article in Saveur’s December 2010 issue entitled “Personal Space: an Editor’s Kitchen Reflects a Lifetime.” The piece is about Judith Jones (the accomplished cookbook editor famous for editing Julia Child), her kitchen and recent publications, and about how one’s kitchen can be a telling reflection of the style and personality of the cook who spends time there. This was a thoughtful article, but what struck me most were the pictures of Judith in her little kitchen and apartment, as well as the mention of her latest cookbook, The Pleasures of Cooking for One.
Judith talks lovingly about the design of her kitchen and living space, thoughtfully created and conceived with her beloved husband. Every detail held special meaning to them, even down to the nostalgic garde manger they created during renovation, reminding them of the years they lived in Paris. The pictures in the magazine spread show a tiny and elegant elderly woman. She stands in her beloved kitchen, carefully cutting chicken; she sits alone in her cherished dining space, her beautifully lined face illuminated by candlelight, gourmet meal before her (silver platter included) and a glass of red wine in hand. Her smile conveys the anticipation of sharing her personal space with such an audience and a youthful giddiness radiates through her expression. So much like me, she is surrounded by books in every room. As I continued to read I thought, Where is this husband of hers? My eyes read ahead to the title of her cookbook and I realized with sadness that he, of course, had passed away in 1996.
I know that the author probably intended for me to be impressed with Judith’s quaint and thoughtful kitchen, to consider the message that my own kitchen may send to its guests, but instead I was instantly struck with the sadness of Judith’s solitude at her dinner table. My mind wandered through a multitude of memories filled with laughter, love, meals, and people. I have shared countless days and evenings eating the best meals of my life with people whom I love indescribably. I pictured Judith’s life similar to my own, filled with these same common experiences. Perhaps her kitchen and her home itself remain unchanged and are host to many lively dinners with friends, but some things in her life have definitely changed. The realization that everyone will not always sit at the table and stand in my kitchen hit me with immediate force; it literally brought me to tears. I cannot imagine not sharing my kitchen, my cooking, the experience of eating, the joy of a lazy evening, with the people who are dear to me. Not one single person could go missing without drastically altering the fabric of my life; especially my husband, my one true love. To me, the table is such a sacramental place. How enormously blessed am I that I don’t sit at it alone?
One of the most memorable (albeit simple) moments of my life was a time when Jon and I had just finished a delightful, weeknight meal. Our home smelled delicious, candles were lit, music drifted through the house, my belly was full, and I was sitting next to the man I feel honored to share life with. I specifically remember that my feet were stretched out and resting on the empty chair that sits across from me at our table, glass in hand, mind at rest. I was struck at that moment with the sheer joy of being exactly where I was (a very rare moment for me and my chaotic mind).
Since reading about Judith, I have considered in depth that these meals and experiences are even more of a treasure that I realized. Of course they are some of the best times of my life, but also ones that are not always guaranteed. I’ve experienced the truth of this in the painful knowledge that I will never eat another meal at 421 South Euclid Street, surrounded by my Grandma and Grandpa in what was one of my favorite kitchens. I will never be able to pick another avocado or lemon out of their backyard.
The knowledge of Judith and her kitchen has caused me to recognize the fleeting nature of our lives with a more poignant immediacy, and moves me to gratitude. I would like to thank everyone who shares these times with me; everyone who allows me to cook for them; everyone who has fed me well; everyone who sits around the table with me and hangs out in my kitchen; everyone who has shed a tear with me across the table; everyone who has squealed with delight over the perfect bite; everyone who has poured me a drink and danced with me while we cooked; everyone who has allowed me to gracefully unbutton my pants due to an overstuffed belly; everyone who has shared their dreams and listened to mine as we rested from our dining. These are the best times and you all are a gift and a blessing to me, a beautiful part of my life that I cherish and appreciate.
And even though I am nearly certain that she will never see this, I would also like to thank Judith. She’s helped me to think about how blessed we are to share these times with one another. I hope she really has found pleasure in cooking for one, and that her kitchen is still crowded at times with friends and loved ones who fill her heart with joy. And most of all, I am so thankful for Jon, who shares the table with me night after night and graciously receives my successes and failures in the kitchen. While my love of food has been with me since childhood, he was part and parcel to the beginning of my culinary exploration in the kitchen. I hope to never sit at the table without him.