A kitchen without a window

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I wish I had a kitchen window.

I’d do the dishes and they wouldn’t even feel like a chore with the sun slanting in. I’d keep one eye on the kids up to mischief in the garden, instead of half-dreading what sort of mud-filled situation I might find them in once I emerge from where the kitchen is, down in the basement. If I had that window, I’d sure as rain take my time, sip my tea, maybe even water a planter of herbs that might sit there right on my sill, alive, in the glory that is natural daylight.

Alas; I do not have a kitchen window.

I have an off-kilter skylight which filters light cleverly down the stairwell and just about spreads it into our below-ground basement kitchen but it’s not at all the same. Kitchen windows seem to be a curse that follows me around. One time, when I lived alone in, my kitchen was literally an alcove (no window here either). As newlyweds, we did indeed acquire a kitchen window only this one looked out over the ugly construction sites of King’s Cross (one of the first things I did, then, was to put up window film).

I have written about our small, 70 square foot kitchen before mostly because it is both curiously and delightfully different (a little rabbit’s hole of a space below stairs) but also because it is a challenge to me most days. There are steep, angular stairs to brave, while carrying trays laden with little people’s dinners up to our dining table. There’s the problem of our incredibly tiny fridge which at full capacity, has strawberries and blueberries rolling right out of it like overflowing marbles. There’s the larder, into which you have to side-step to see anything at all. It’s a tricksy little space.

I have learnt, however, that while it is a pleasant distraction, there is little purpose in daydreaming about bigger, light-filled kitchen spaces as seen in magazines or moodboarded all over the place. So instead, I turn to like-for-like and look for practical ways to make the most of our dark little space. I find this way of thinking immensely useful; it serves to make the most of what we have instead of hankering over something imaginary. It’s a way of thinking that may even extend beyond comparing kitchens. I am reminded that while our kitchen is tiny, it somehow has just the right space for what we need. This too, a note to self: more only begets more.

My kitchen does not let me down aesthetically. A scheme of white, wood and little flashes of copper, it is to my taste for we were fortunate enough to replace it when we first moved in. But there were a few little things I had not thought of yet and would like to include, the most pleasing of all being the idea of adding a mirror into this windowless room. A mirror, in a kitchen; I sort of like the exuberance of it.

It helps that I have just the thing already; a bevelled, angular mirror hanging from a chain which we bought as newly-weds from a vintage market in Camden Passage. This mirror has been passed around from room to room, but had not yet found a place in our home. It is one of the few pieces that I have kept, wrapped up carefully in my wardrobe, wishing I wouldn’t have to let it go. It makes sense to me, now, to hang it in the kitchen and I only wonder why I never thought of it before.

Also in the spirit of an on-going spring clean, I am finding small and simple ways to freshen the kitchen up. A basket of bright tough-skinned lemons sits atop the counter, to descale the kettle and scrub the sink (and also, for this sort of thing). A few drops of eucalyptus oil clear out the drain. We’ve been juicing big, fat oranges rather a lot lately, and that sweet smell alone brings the sunshine in. Elsewhere, a dredger of baking soda and lavender oil keeps our fridge fresh. Last summer, while on holiday in a sleepy village on the Danish coast, I brought home kitchen linens from an architect’s home-turned-museum at the bottom of our lane and I hope to add a few more too to this collection, the sort I would not mind to fold over the oven door (which also reminds me, it’s been four years since we’ve lived here and we still don’t have oven gloves). A few rounds of clumsiness and several broken mugs and plates later, there are gaps in our crockery that shall slowly be refilled. These are on my mind.

With all of this to think about, I suppose that I should count myself lucky, then, that I don’t even have a water-stained window behind the sink demanding, of all things, to be cleaned.

ps it perhaps goes without saying that the photo up above of our nook of kitchen shelves is completely un-styled. The motley crew of our everyday.

Elsewhere:

On Spring Cleaning

A dream kitchen nevertheless

Speckled plates

Flecked cups

On Spring Cleaning

Flowers on a mantlepiece. Spring vignette. Spring cleaning. An essay on tidying up and tips to make spring cleaning easy. Decluttering practical life hacks. More on OurStoryTime.co.uk

I am a tidy person. It’s just the way I am. Being tidy clears both the air and my head. Even if I may achieve nothing else in a day, then at least I know the toys will be packed away, the cushions will be straightened, the counters wiped clean and the throws folded before bed. My home offers me the chance to feel orderly even if my thoughts are far from it.

I am fascinated in a strange, curious sort of way, by everyone else’s tidying up habits. I have read Marie Kondo but I don’t prescribe to the all-at-once, intensive clear out she advocates because, honestly, it feels a little overwhelming. Also, I suppose our general tidiness - which is not too austere - does not yet require such a dramatic overhaul.  So I prefer, instead, to tidy up steadily, little and often, following the seasons. A change of weather reminds me that, as ever, there is work to be done.

This year’s spring cleaning has been tapping on my shoulder since sometime in early February, when a chilly spot of sunlight found its way through our windows again. The crispness caused me to reconsider the household jobs that desperately needed to be dealt with but which I had deliberately overlooked, pushed aside into dark corners under gloomy skies. And so, with the arrival of a new spring, I have been quietly productive. I have worked through drawers, packing clothes up to pass along, and I have fixed loose buttons on small people’s pyjamas and sewn flailing pockets back on. I have left books out by the gate for my neighbours to help themselves and I have moved baskets and boxes and picture frames that were never quite in the right place. I have felt useful, working through the things on my to-do list.

Sometime before Christmas, I had misguidedly turned my hand to some do-it-myself. I am notoriously not good at this, and so it follows that I left a trail of small badly drilled holes in a wall in my children’s bedroom while attempting to put up some book shelves. At the time, disheartened by my defeat with the drill, I could not contemplate doing anything about them and so merely masked them over with white washi tape instead. I am ashamed of this. But not so long ago, I forced myself to set aside a few minutes to fill them up. They still need painting over, but this small lesson served as a handy reminder that almost always, the satisfaction of a task completed in merely a handful of minutes far outweighs leaving it neglected for so long in the first place.

The promise of spring cleaning also, I find, offers a way to consider our everyday surroundings with fresh eyes, almost as if coming home after a long spell away. Last year, I took down at least nine wall prints which made my head ache from their busyness. For over a year now we have had mostly blank walls but this spring I am itching to breathe some life into them again, without resorting to filling gaps for just the sake of it. We happen to keep a small box of our favourite photos printed in miniature and it occurred to me that there is more joy for those photos to be seen than to be boxed up on a shelf. And so up they have gone, cheering up a blank corner in their wake.

Cheer; that’s the word! That’s what the start of spring reminds me of. Cheer, yes, as I step out with my ankle hems rolled just a little higher (all the easier to roll back down when the chill strikes). Cheer, too, as we see in the evenings with lit candles that make our home smell like almonds and oranges. Cheer, then, in the satisfaction of washed-down windows. Spring then, to me, is these little scraps of cheer, holding up hope and brightness like umbrellas in between the showers of rain.

Small, easy ways to spring clean

Blitz the little jobs that have been in the background for months. Hang up those hooks, fix the broken chair, clear out the paperwork bulging out of your box file. It’s surprising how quickly you can work through the jobs you loathe, but which really take no time at all. We all need reminding of this from time to time!

Shuffle things around The open shelves in our living space were, as ever, starting to give me a headache, a sure sign something in the organising of them had gone wrong, again. I used to toss all office supplies with the kids’ craft supplies - tapes, glue, my pens, their pens, string - in one basket upon a shelf and it was a silly way to store it all. A simple solution, one basket for my desk supplies, another for their craft ones, and the hassle has quickly and significantly reduced.  Store like with like and switch and shuffle things around - it’s productive and little tweaks here and there can suddenly set your home to rights again.

Natural cleaning products I’ve been using castile soap to wash down toddler smudges on walls and floors and even to wash our clothes (it works a treat; pour a capful or two straight into the drum with a full load). Almond is my favourite, eucalyptus a close second too.

An easy way to clear your wardrobe I am in the habit of frequently donating clothes the kids have outgrown to our local charity shops but with my own wardrobe, it’s been a little trickier. Since having my third child eighteen-months ago, I’m still discovering pieces I thought would last forever but don’t fit me the way they ought to. I’ve been sending parcels of the clothes that no longer work for me to Manifesto Woman, an online sustainable fashion store which sells clothes on one’s behalf, taking the headache of packaging and posting out of my hands in one clean swoop.

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My Picky Eater

An essay on a little boy who doesn’t like to eat very much. Picky eaters. Fussy eaters. Small people. OurStoryTime.co.uk

I have a small three-year-old shaped person in my life who loves carrots. This is great, for he does not like many things when it comes to food. So carrots are what we do.

I slice them up in fingers, knowing that if his main meal is simply pushed about his plate as it so often is, the carrots at least will find a way into his mouth. Sometimes I roast them, drizzled with a drop of honey. He declares these delicious. Let’s build on this, I think to myself, and so we bake muffins together, healthy ones with Greek yoghurt and carrot and the juice of a big, fat orange and then we bake yet more. He helps me peel the carrots, my breath half-held for fear of a slip, and then I hold the grater still for him so he can shred his carrot, his little voice offering a running commentary as we go.

Carrots, carrots, carrots, he sings.

He sits in front of the oven, waiting for the batch of muffins to be done. He plays with his baby brother’s toy kitchen, making me a pie from a wooden aubergine and half a wooden fish. I pretend to eat it.

Yum! I say. I will eat anything you make for me!

I tell him this, hoping my little promise might slip into his own tiny subconscious.

The muffins are done; he jumps for glee, his fingers twitching like a live wire (a habit of his when he is having fun). I make tea while he blows all over them to cool them quickly. We sit down, a muffin on a plate for each of us, and just as I’m taking a poignant polaroid in my mind of how lovely this moment has been, just me and him, he tucks in.

But Mama.

(I should have known)

But.

(Here it comes)

But Mama, it’s got carrots in it!

(Accompanied with an adorable but still testing look of sheer disgust).

Well, yes, I say. Remember, you grated the carrots for me? You mixed them in?

But Mama, I don’t like carrots!

And so I am flummoxed, once again.

Perhaps I pushed the carrots too much. Yes, I probably pushed the carrots too much. But what else do you do, when some days your child won’t even look at his plate? With just one tricky eater out of three and an overall healthy approach, I tell myself I’m not doing too badly. But then I also know it’s just him, this little guy, figuring things out, learning to say no. I know he’ll get there eventually. He will, won’t he?

Still, though. I’d like him to eat.

All three of my boys fell in love with food from the moment they tried apple puree and mashed bananas and avocados as gummy babies weaning. My eldest and my youngest still eat pretty much everything. My middle one, this little one, used to until about a year ago. I never followed any particular rules when it came to weaning, choosing instead to introduce them in a common sense, simple way to the food we liked to eat as grown-ups too. He used to love avocados and hummus and tomatoes and cucumbers and olives; lunch was almost always meze. Tofu and rice was his favourite meal. Slithers of halloumi, a treat. Now, he won’t touch any of it. He tells me breakfast is his favourite meal, and I concede, this he will eat: boiled eggs or big bowls of cinnamon porridge or yoghurt with granola or pancakes on Sundays. But breakfast is not dinner (unless, of course, it could be).

The title of this blog post is a little misleading not least because I don’t intend to label him as a picky or fussy eater and forever think of him like this. Still, it’s a title. I am reminding myself if he ate well once, he will eat well again. It is hard to not feel glum, but he is happy with the choices he makes at mealtimes and I suppose that is what counts. Meanwhile, I am investigating nicer ways to deal with this all, ways that don’t include bribes of pudding or raising my voice or tears at the table. Here’s what has been helping me even when it feels like all we’re taking is the tiniest of baby steps:

  • Claire at Today We Cooked inspires me daily with her Stories of her kids helping her cook and of course, the most amazing vegetarian repertoire of dinners. She sort of throws everything together, and cooks the way I’d love to cook. Here’s hoping.

  • Claire also introduced me to Ciara’s account and cookbook, My Fussy Eater, which has given me hope to find ways to expand my own fussy eater’s tastebuds. Her pizza rolls are a hit with all three kids, made with her hidden vegetable sauce, which I had my own variation of before. Her healthier take on baked goods (almost always using a modest amount of honey over sugar) has also helped endlessly with snack boxes for school - her wholemeal oaty digestive biscuits and raspberry chia crumble slices have been a particular hit with the whole family.

  • I really appreciate nutritionist Laura Thomas’s perspective on encouraging intuitive eating for kids from a small age. You can listen to her talking about intuitive eating for kids in her podcast. I don’t (yet) have a success story to share, but the mood of mealtimes has vastly improved when I remind myself it’s not my place to force him into eating what he doesn’t want to. It’s hard not to feel defeated, but on we go.

I’d love to hear your experiences of this; let me know over on my Instagram or in the messages below. How do you deal with little people that don’t like to eat?