Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Humble Beginning and a Tiny Kitchen

My husband and I got married when we were 24 years old. 24! We were so young. Not out of college for very long, just starting jobs, we were a little naive, and we were still learning who we were as individuals and who we were as a couple. But before we got married I had two goals that I wanted to accomplish. They were to travel and to have my own apartment.

I accomplished my first goal the summer of my junior year in college. I went on one of those trips that if it was Tuesday we must be in Belgium. I went with a group of other college aged kids touring 13 countries in three weeks. It was one of the greatest experiences, and I went by myself, not knowing a single person in the group.  The other goal of mine was reached after I had been out of college for 6 months. This goal was a suggestion, maybe really more of a request, that came from my older sister. Living on her own and a being teacher, she knew the value of being an independent woman, having a career, and how important it was for a woman not to go directly from her parents home to her married home.

My sister and I went apartment hunting soon after I took a job as a recruiter for an temporary consulting firm for engineers.  I found a studio apartment walking distance to my job. It was a four story prewar building in a small downtown area in a suburb of Chicago. It had all the vintage characteristics I had been longing for. It was a stone and brick clad building with 9 ft ceilings and crown molding and the unit had wood floors. The mail boxes in the lobby were brass and in rows all on one wall, and the banisters were large, decoratively carved and stained dark brown, along with doors to each unit. The building was close to a historical movie theater, the train and near shopping.  I had traded convenience and charm for amenities. It wasn't fancy. There was no doorman, air conditioning was from a window unit, it had a radiator (that hissed during the winter), and there was no elevator. I lived on the top floor, and thanks to my two brothers and my brother in law, who schlepped every piece of furniture and every box up the stuffy hot stairway that led to what was to be my home. It was mine. I couldn't have been more proud. My new job didn't pay much, $16,000 (this was 1989), but I had health insurance. I learned to pay my own bills, balance a checkbook, and generally keep things in order. There was no one to do things for me and this was an essential part of growing up and dealing with life after college and learning to be on my own.

Since the apartment was small, and I had no money, it was decorated and supplied with items that were in my parents basement. Hand me down furniture, old dishes that were my sisters, and other odds and ends from apartments that my brothers and sister had that my father kept in the basement. Nothing should go to waste was his motto. All that I could fit in the space was a day bed, two night stands, a TV and stand, and a table that was in front of the day bed. The place was like a large version of a dorm room. However, there was an amazing walk in closet that any woman would have envied, and in it fit this huge, tall dresser that was from my parents first bedroom set.  There was one window in the single room, with the air conditioner unit sticking out, and it over looked the busy street. The apartment decor seemed a little Bohemian in style and even though nothing matched, it didn't matter.

This is very similar to my first kitchen,
except no microwave or dishwasher.
This picture I found even has the
louver doors.
The studio apartment had a pullman kitchen, which was just a refrigerator (no ice maker) to the left, then a sink and a gas stove all in a row on one wall that had some cabinets above. There was no modern conveniences of a microwave or a dishwasher either. There were huge sliding louver doors that would close off the kitchen. I had a small rolling cart that had a top and slide out baskets that served as an extension of the kitchen were I stored utensils and a toaster. It was in this tiny kitchen that I remember making egg rolls from scratch, and a plum tart, and tuna noodle casserole, among many other dishes.  Looking back it would have made an interesting back drop to a cooking blog.  The small kitchen, with no counter space, dated appliances and no eat in area, didn't stop me from wanting to cook. I had a passion to learn, which must have been from all those cooking shows I'd watch with my mother.

Back then I continued to add to my recipe collection that I had started in college, and soon began a small collection of cookbooks. I decided to go down memory lane and brush off the dust of one of my first cookbooks that my mother bought for me. "Make it Easy in Your Kitchen" by Laurie Burrows Grad was a great book that really had easy and quick recipes, perfect for me as I began to experiment in my tiny apartment kitchen. I thought I'd share some favorite recipes from this book with you and I hope they make cooking easy in your kitchen too.

This pancake is great on a lazy Sunday morning. Serves 3 to 4

Dutch Babies

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
Garnish with confectioners sugar and a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Melt butter in a 10 inch skillet.  Using a mixer, beat eggs, gradually adding flour and salt.  Add milk and beat until smooth.  Pour batter in prepared skillet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until pancake is puffy and golden brown.

These grilled swordfish steaks are a favorite of ours. I used to make this all the time, but stopped when I had heard not to buy swordfish due to over fishing.  This is no longer a problem. Serves 4

Grilled Swordfish Steaks

4 swordfish steaks
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste
1/4 white pepper
Pinch of paprika
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh chopped flat leaf parsley

Marinate swordfish steaks in olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, lemon juice and parsley for 30 minutes at room temperature. Grill fish for 6 to 8 minutes on each side, baste with marinade.

These raspberry tea squares were a favorite of my mothers.

Raspberry Tea Squares

1 1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)
3/4 cup raspberry preserves
Confectioners sugar to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 or 9 inch baking pan and lightly dust with flour.  With mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, Add egg and vanilla and continue to beat until smooth.  Add flour. Mix well.  Place half of the batter on the bottom of prepared pan, pressing down.  Add the raspberry preserves, then mix the almonds with the remaining batter and crumble on top of the preserves.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.  Allow to cool for 20 minutes before you cut into squares.










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