Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. – A. A. Milne
Our apartment takes up about a third of the hotel’s first floor (one flight up, overlooking the courtyard garden on one side of the building, street level on the other). Our kitchen is not a bad size although the dining table sitting in the center takes up quite a bit of floor space. We are still living with half a kitchen counter, a temporary situation (since at least 6 months) until we can find the time to order an entire countertop, and although we have installed our beautiful double cooker, our old one is perched atop what should be counter space, sitting on a slab of wood, leaving me nowhere at all to work. You should see how I maneuver just to make jam.
And because the kitchen renovation is not yet complete, because I know that installing the countertop will mean emptying some of my cabinets, I haven’t really organized nor have I even put everything away: there is a chaotic confusion of pots and pans, drying racks and spice racks, small appliances, and odds and ends pushed into one corner (okay, two) of the first living room. On hold. Crates of spices, oils and vinegars join the merry mayhem.
Our bedroom, at the far end of the apartment, is tiny, just large enough to squeeze our double bed, two bedside tables, a bookshelf, and, facing the foot of the bed, a row of Ikea armoires stuffed to the gills.
And in between the kitchen and the bedroom are two very large salons, livingrooms. Very large. Sofas and armchairs, yes, but also loaded with bookshelves loaded with books and notebooks, papers and objects, file folders and photo albums. An assortment of tables and worktables, desks and coffee tables piled dizzingly high with what can simply be referred to as stuff. And these two large rooms, while being our personal living space, are also an extension of our workspace. Husband has file folders and papers, tax and accounting information, baskets overflowing with receipts not to mention lampshades and lightbulbs, odd cords and plugs stacked up and lined up on every available surface in both rooms. The floor is littered with tools, not that there isn’t also a tool box and plastic crates gaping, spilling out more tools and cords and lightbulbs and bits and pieces of lamps and faucets and door locks. Dozens of framed images, posters, photos, once hotel decoration, are stacked ten deep against every available wall space and pushed in the gaps between bookshelves and walls, commodes and fireplaces. Sewing machine, ironing board, and sewing chores still to do for the hotel join the fray. Computers live in a sea of pens and pencils, staplers and shreds of paper lying around in case someone needs to mark something down, random business cards and scissors and magazines and books, headsets and eyeglass cases.
So when son #1 comes to visit and, after spending his first morning alone upstairs as husband mans reception and I have prepped, served, and cleaned up breakfast, things happen. Things change. And a lot can be accomplished in 6 hours.
I climbed the stairs and walked into the apartment and my older son had very kindly cleaned the apartment. Reorganized the kitchen. Put everything that was on the floor or on the countertops away. Straightened tools and spices, and pots and pans. I stood there mouth open, in shock. Where did everything go? Where were the bottles and the lids of the pots? Will I have to just drag everything out of its newfound spaces again once the countertop is ready to be laid? My heart thudded in my chest and I bit back my cries of disbelief… well, actually, no I didn’t. I shrieked.
He stood in the middle of the organized and cleaned kitchen and proudly crowed “look what I did for you!” When I explained, as patiently as I could, why the place was messy, why what was piled around the apartment was piled around the apartment, he wouldn’t understand. “The place was a mess and not very clean. I’ve taken care of everything! Look how clean it all is now! A real home!” I had to agree – as I took in the kitchen and the 2 living areas – that it was very pleasant having the floor space reclaimed, having the tools back in the tool boxes, seeing the floor and the surfaces. And having a clean kitchen. But visions of having to search for things that I need, images of having to pull everything out again when the counter guy comes had me just a little bit nuts.
And when he said “now I’ll take care of straightening all of the papers that are lying around everywhere.” That’s when I panicked. That’s when I bellowed! “No! Don’t touch anything! Your father knows where every single thing is, what is hotel and what is personal, where our tax papers are and where the accounting is, where to find the receipts to be paid! It may look like a disaster but it really is organized!” But as usual when speaking with our son, he continues to talk as if no words are coming out of my mouth. I begin laughing hysterically while trying to get a word in edgewise and protect him from his father’s wrath and my own madness. And to stop him from touching all of the paperwork.
Sigh. It was done with the best of intentions, I know, but to have someone waltz into your home and rearrange, reorganize, shuffle and shift, make decisions as to what stays and what goes is simply maddening.
It’s always wonderful when son comes to visit but he has a way of driving us insane.
And then son number 2 arrived for a long weekend, accompanied by his Munich friends Thomas and Pablo. They toured the Loire Valley, visited the châteaux, and kept us company when we were upstairs. And they cooked for us. Not that Clem didn’t – he’s an excellent and an enthusiastic cook and always prepares us astonishingly delicious meals. But one tends to forget the loving attention when one has spent several days defending one’s territory, alarmed and distracted by the sudden confusion in my apartment of missing objects.
But food was promised to us when Simon asked if he and his pals could visit. Pablo, you see, went through the rigorous selection process of Top Chef España and made it to the final 50. Apparently, Pabla keeps the young men eating properly when in Munich, Thomas and Simon acting as sous-chef, peeling, chopping, washing up.
On the menu was lamb tagine with prunes and almonds, a favorite dish of mine, and gaspacho. Pablo explained to me that he learned to make gaspacho from his mother and this was her traditional recipe, the only difference is that she filters the ice cubes out before serving and he does not. But, then, he’s a casual kind of guy.
Pablo’s gaspacho is so simple to make, just coarsely chop the ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour into a glass bowl and chill until serving, keeping the soup cold with the addition of ice cubes. I had the recipe – which Pablo generously shared with me – tucked away in a corner of my kitchen waiting for the right moment to make it. And then Michael Procopio, astounding writer behind the blog Food for the Thoughtless, came to visit. After a day spent visiting the sites of Chinon, most notably the Fortress, we decided to make gaspacho together. And we did and we enjoyed it very much.
A little afterthought: Clem returned for another visit, this time bringing with him my future daughter-in-law (which is very weird to say). The visit was calm and without incident – the kind of incident that usually attends a visit by Clem. They went sightseeing and returned to join us for meals. And they cooked for us, a big, fresh salad, ravioli with mushroom cream sauce. Perfect. She is perfect, too.
- 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) large, ripe tomatoes
- 1 cucumber
- 1 fresh, large, mild green pepper such as a Guindilla Verde, Basque Fryer, Guernica, Anaheim
- 1 small red pepper, my addition, optional
- Olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
- Fresh coriander or cilantro
- Black pepper
- Feta cheese
- Cut the tomatoes in 4 pieces each.
- Peel the cucumber, leaving about half of the green skin on. Cut into large chunks.
- Trim the fresh green pepper and remove the seeds. Prepare the red pepper, if using, in the same manner.
- Place the prepared vegetables together in a blender and purée until smooth; this should only take 30 to 60 seconds.
- Add salt, a few tablespoons olive oil, a couple of tablespoons red wine vinegar. Blend, taste, and add more of any that you want to increase until flavored to your taste.
- Whiz in a couple of tablespoons of fresh coriander, reserving most of the bouquet for garnish.
- Place in a large bowl and refrigerate to chill. Add ice cubes before serving to keep it very cold.
- Ladle into bowls and serve topped with a swirl of olive oil and a grinding of black pepper.
- Pass around bowls of chopped fresh coriander and crumbled feta cheese for topping. If you like, you can also serve it with small cubes of cucumber, as well.