When Home Is Your Kitchen

Dorothy was right. Did she also cook? (photo: jonfeinstein/Flickr)

For the past four months I have been on the road, traveling with my new book Notes from a Maine Kitchen. I’ve been on airplanes and buses, trains and cars. I’ve seen the West Coast and the East — hiked through the hills of northern California and a park in Seattle with stunning views, and talked about my book in crowded rooms in New York City. I have eaten some extraordinary food along the way in some very talked-about restaurants.

But now I am home.

As I drove north from NYC last week after an intense six days of talking and signing books, and talking and eating in restaurants, I crossed the Piscataqua River into Maine. At that moment I imagined a camera sailing along above the car, focusing first on the blue waters of the river, then the pine trees, then the clean air Maine offers abundantly, but which seems in short supply in other parts of the country. This imaginary camera next zoomed in on the car, and on me. You can see me wiping away a tear (well, maybe more than one), emotional at my homecoming and so deeply grateful to live in such a gorgeous place.

Once I got home and petted my dog for what seemed like hours (I missed that girl a whole lot and needed  to let her know), I unpacked, did laundry and checked up on hundreds on emails. But there was really only one thing I wanted to do: I wanted/needed to get back into my kitchen.

Cooking at home is the single most grounding thing that I know how to do. For some, its yoga or meditation. For others, a trip to the gym. But I needed to get some vegetables and garlic and olive oil and start chopping. The minute I started cooking, I could feel myself settling in. The very definition of “home” became palpable. And once the skillets were sizzling and the heady smell of garlic and onions and olive oil filled the air, I knew I was home. In my kitchen. All the thousands of miles I had traveled suddenly melted away, like a freak New England storm in April.

This past weekend my daughters came home and we made a Passover seder. I simmered chickens into a classic soup and added light, plump matzah balls (made with seltzer and not water, our little secret). We braised brisket with spring root vegetables — parsnips, leeks, carrots and onions — and made a noodle kugel with fat raisins and chewy dried apricots. The kitchen was filled with the sounds and smells of a family cooking — laughing, bickering, chopping. And when we sat around the table Friday night, surrounded by ceremonial foods, I understood that cooking and sharing food is for me the very closest I’ll ever get to true religion.

Kathy Gunst will be reading from her new book, Notes from a Maine Kitchen, at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA, this Wednesday, April 11 at 7 p.m. She will sign books and brings treats based on recipes from the book.

Read Kathy’s previous post on PRK: That Uninvited Dinner Companion: Your Waiter.

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