Jessie Raymond: Kitchen finally seeing the light
“Bake fish until it begins to turn from translucent to opaque.”
This is the kind of cooking direction that was lost on me until last week, when we finally got some decent lighting in our kitchen. At last, I can see.
You’d be surprised at how convenient that is.
Having lived in a series of old farmhouses, I’ve had only brief stints where our kitchen was properly lighted. And by “properly,” I mean where I didn’t have to play salmonella roulette every time I roasted a chicken.
When we moved into this house, the kitchen had one underwhelming ceiling light. In the first few months, during the long days of summer, I got by OK. But as the days grew shorter, my ability to see what I was cooking was reduced to mere guesswork.
Mark suggested a temporary solution, just until we redid the kitchen. Of course, when a contractor refers to a project in his own house as “temporary,” he means it will be there between 10 years and forever. He wasn’t fooling me. But “temporary” was better than nothing.
He bought a six-foot length of track lighting and mounted it over the island. It wasn’t terrible. The four lights could be positioned to shine on whatever areas of the kitchen I chose. My head cast a shadow in certain areas, but through acrobatic leaning or ducking, I could generally get light where I needed it.
That was in 2006. We still have not remodeled the kitchen.
I muddled along with the track lights. But in the course of changing bulbs over the years, I somehow broke the rotating joints, leaving three of the four fixtures just kind of hanging there. Then, in the past few months, two of the lights stopped working altogether.
What remained were two spotlights: one pointing to the ceiling over the refrigerator, the other in the vague direction of Fort Ticonderoga. I couldn’t see inside the cupboards. I couldn’t see what I was prepping. I had to label all my spices in Braille.
What we needed, I said, was a whole new kitchen. Or, Mark countered, we could save $50,000 to $100,000 and install new lights instead.
He kept putting even that off, though, claiming he was “too busy.” Yet he had found the time and energy to light his workshop like a Super Bowl halftime show. Because his only connection to the kitchen was eating the food that came out of it, he didn’t feel the same urgency I did.
But the kitchen was growing darker than ever, and once Daylight Saving Time ended, I could barely make out the outlines of the appliances. The room was good for ghost hunting or spelunking, but not cooking.
By Thanksgiving, I had begun — partly in silent protest but also out of necessity — to wear a headlamp while making dinner.
Mark didn’t notice for a few weeks. Then one night I served rare pork, suggesting that for Christmas maybe I could give everyone the gift of trichinosis.
Soon after, he came home with a half dozen “razor” lights, thin recessed fixtures perfect for retrofitting. But installing anything new in an old house is never as easy as one hopes, and these lights were no exception.
Through a cloud of plaster dust and expletives, Mark managed to drill the holes and get the wires run. I helped until he told me to stick my whole arm up into the ceiling to feel around for a wire. The potential for incidental spider contact was just too great, so I switched to providing moral support from the doorway.
Finally, he called in an electrician for the hookup, and soon the kitchen was flooded in light.
To celebrate, I cooked a pork roast to full USDA food-safety standards.
Good lighting means I can now distinguish an apple from an onion at 10 paces. I can find the vegetable peeler without having to touch every utensil in the drawer. I can tell when cookies are done by looking for browned edges instead of waiting for a burnt smell.
And, thanks to a dimmer switch, I can turn the lights down whenever I miss the old days or feel like doing a little ghost hunting.
I’m happy with the new lights, but Mark might be even happier. He knows the longer I can put up with the kitchen the way it is, the longer he can put off redoing the whole thing.
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