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Monday, November 24, 2008

Tuscan Kitchen

After a few years of agonizing indecision, we redid out kitchen last summer. Very modestly. And with no regrets or cognitive dissonance, even though the remodel antedated the dreadful economic downturn of Fall 2008.

We walked the frugal path with the remodel, though it was hard, with numerous examples of “kitchen porn” available in books, magazines, and on such websites as Gardenweb, where the TKO (Technically [or is it Totally?] Kitchen Obsessed) assure each other that high five to six figure remodels are the norm.

How did we keep to the frugal path? We kept thinking of our wonderful trip to Italy, which was special in many ways. It was my first (and so far only) trip there. My husband and I were thinking of attending a conference in Prato, but were hesitant because of the cost. I mentioned this to a former student who was teaching Spanish part-time that semester, She said, “But I am moving near there this summer, to take care of some elderly people who helped me during a hard time of my life. Stay with us.”

So we went. We stayed in Orsigna, a tiny village at the top of a mountain. We took the bus, which ran twice a day, down to the train station, from which we would go to Prato, or Florence. These bigger cities were great, but Italy is so hot in summer! It was wonderful to return to Orsigna every afternoon and take our first breath of cool air!

We stayed with C (my former student) and J (her new husband). C had returned to Italy to care for an elderly couple who had served as her surrogate parents when she was in Italy many years before. Their only daughter had recently died.

While we were there, I got to do what I REALLY wanted to do, which was to look into private houses. These people were, I suppose, working class. But they lived in amazing beauty—in old stone buildings. In their small homes, along with the futon couch and little tv, were beautiful pieces of wooden furniture, made as wedding gifts from the local chestnut trees.

When agonizing over my kitchen choices, I came upon frequent pictures of so-called Tuscan kitchens. These consisted of loads of custom cabinetry (distressed) with loads of pottery. Lavish marble counterops. Enormous stoves.

Then I thought of the real thing: tiny spaces, a few cabinets (flat front laminate), countertops of formica. At the center of each kitchen was a smallish worktable with a worn marble top. Tiny stove (often 2 burner), tiny sink.

Favorite detail: over the sink is a drainer (sometimes with a cabinet front). You would wash the dish and then put it in drainer—it would drip into the sink. This is a lot less work than the American way: putting dishes in dishwasher, running cycle, putting away. Needless to say, this wonderful device does not exist in the US.

From these tiny and minimal kitchens came wonderful food, with little work. There was one store in the village, which carried local cheeses, good pasta. This was a life with few choices.

C told us that one of the few youngish inhabitants of Orsigna was a 40-ish fellow with a doctorate, who—Italian-style—lived with his mother and made money every now and then by foraging for mushrooms in the woods.

All so different from the “Under the Tuscan Sun” image of Italian life!


SLF said...
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SLF said...

I really liked this post mama! It sounds like something straight out of Saveur! Is this a two part piece? You never really talked about how you remodeled the kitchen frugally and I think your loyal following would like to hear about it. Plus, maybe you could add some pictures.

Frugal Scholar said...

Thanks! That is certainly high praise. I think I will take your advice.

Chance said...

I love this post! The anthropology of food -- a reminder that you don't need shiny new stuff for good food. Thanks for the post

Frugal Scholar said...

Thanks as always. I didn't know this was the anthropology of food! I am honored!