My Roman Kitchen, and More

15 Oct

I have discovered I will need to imbue my cooking in Rome with a hefty dose of gratitude. When I first saw our kitchen, with its cream cabinets, red shelves and drawers, built-in refrigerator, stove with the perfect size burner for a small espresso maker (it would not be an Italian stove without one, after all) and even a dishwasher, I liked it immediately. It was light-filled, modern, and had the essentials. Plus the colors reminded me of the kitchen I just left. I did make note of the tiny oven and the lack of counter space, but I knew I could find solutions for both those things.

What I did not know was how lucky we were to have any kitchen at all. Turns out that in the world of Roman apartment rentals, “unfurnished” very often means “apartment comes with absolutely nothing but walls and doors–no appliances, no cabinets, no closets–nothing.” Friends of ours who also recently moved here saw an apartment they liked, but the kitchen belongs to the previous renters, who are willing to sell it to them for a hefty price. Otherwise, the appliances and cabinets will be removed. I didn’t ask about the kitchen sink; I’m sure it will go, too.

In the United States, kitchens usually come fully stocked, so to speak. Not in Rome. Upon seeing the kitchen in our new apartment, two different Italian friends asked 1) if we had brought it with us from the United States (ie, dismantled and reassembled from our old house), or 2) how we had managed to buy the appliances and cabinets here–and have them installed–in such a short time. They were quite surprised to discover everything came with the apartment. So whatever differences there may be between this kitchen and our previous one in the United States (and I will list some below)–I am, above all, very happy to have any kitchen at all.

Kitchen

Drying Cabinet
All of the Roman kitchens in which we have lived (four to date) have had drying cabinets, which I love. They are cabinets with internal racks, set over the sinks, and are immensely useful for a quick washing up (especially when there are just a few dishes), for items that can’t go in a dishwasher, and also for storage:

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Aforementioned Oven
I was delusional to think I could fit half-sheet baking pans into a typical Roman oven, but I brought them anyway as they were the only ones I had. Though I knew I probably could not use them, it was still disappointing to have it confirmed: the baking sheets hit the edges of the oven, which is roughly 17.5 inches (44.5 cm) wide on the inside. But then inspiration struck and I discovered if I took out the racks, I could slide the sheets right into the grooves. It’s a tight, slightly warped fit, but it fits. I haven’t actually baked anything this way yet, but for the sake of research, will soon experiment with some cookies.

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Garbage Disposal (or lack thereof)
Ok, I admit I do miss having a garbage disposal just a tiny bit, as I’m not super fond of fishing food out of the sink traps. But of all the things to miss, this really doesn’t rank very highly (unlike, say, Zip-Loc bags). And as I fish things out of the traps, I find myself admiring the rapidity with which calcium makes its presence known here–on the base of the faucet, even in drops of water as they dry in the sink. That is why we use bottled water in the espresso maker and tea kettle, and why I occasionally throw an anti-calcium tablet into the washing machine.

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Washing and Drying Clothes…
I realize this post was meant to be about kitchens, and that kitchens and washing machines don’t always go together (except that I’ve seen and lived in apartments with washing machines in kitchens). But I wanted to mention our washing machine, which is unfortunately located in a closet that is right behind a door in a small room–it’s not possible to open the door to the closet without closing the door to the room, meaning there’s a lot of banging of doors on laundry days.

First, of course, I’m grateful the washing machine came with the apartment. Second, it’s not so much the washing machine that is different (thought it is smaller), but rather, it’s the fact that there is no dryer. While hanging clothes to dry is quite common here and in many, many other parts of the world, it is less common in the United States. But I have always liked it. I don’t experience many Zen moments when it comes to housework, but hanging fresh-smelling, damp clothes to dry is one of the few tasks I actually enjoy–despite not having a yard, terrace, or balcony, and only being able to use a small clothes rack. Part of it is sensory, but part is intellectual (yes, my family thinks I have gone off the deep end): deciding how to arrange the clothes in such a way to optimize the available space while ensuring maximum airflow and minimal wrinkliness….

Perhaps part is also the novelty. This process of working out a new modus vivendi in the house and in Rome is something I quite enjoy. I know the pleasure I currently take in even the smallest of tasks may turn into something else later, but I will appreciate this time while it lasts.

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