Tuesday, 29 May 2012

My Kitchen in the Tropics

I’ve had a home on the small Dutch island of St. Eustatius (Statia) for forty years. It is the setting for my novel, Delighting In Your Company.

When my husband and I built our house here, there was no power and no water on or even near the property. We had to build a working cistern to have water for construction and we used a small generator on those few occasions when  electricity was needed. This was not often since the local workers were accustomed to building without power. Electricity was available in the town only from 6 pm to 10 pm and wasn’t anyplace else on the island except in the town.  We were building “way out in de bush.”

Blair's house on Statia
I built my house in the style of old Caribbean houses, with no glass anyplace. We have walls of seven foot windows, all framed in wood louvers that let the trade winds enter my house year round. And there are louvered doors to the veranda from every room. 

But my favorite room is the kitchen. It isn’t in the main house at all. It’s a separate building across the veranda from the rest of the house, as it was in Caribbean houses of the eighteenth century.

Last year we realized that we needed to replace the kitchen roof.  My nephew Dan and niece Amy were deeply involved in the project since after my husband’s death some years ago I made them co-owners of the property with me. This was a piece of marvelous luck or foresight on my part. Dan’s a civil engineer who knows EVERYTHING about cement construction and Amy’s an architect. 

Blair in her tropical kitchen
What was to have been a simple roof replacement suffered almost immediately from the “MAHSWELLS”.  Of course all new plumbing and wiring were an obvious necessity.  But the rest was a case of the mahswells. “While we’re putting on a new roof we ‘mahswell’ raise the ceiling 10 feet or so and put on and old fashioned Caribbean hip roof. We ‘mahswell’ move the utility room around to the back of the house and thereby enlarge the kitchen. We ‘mahswell’ get some beautiful custom-made cherry cabinets and a marble topped pastry table. And an old fashioned cast iron porcelain sink with beautiful pewter fixtures. And maybe we could fix up Amy’s father’s old gun cabinet with the pressed tin front as a broom closet. And wouldn’t it be nice to have a ceiling fan in there? And  special lighting fixtures? Italian ceramic tile floors and counters are a must, of course.  And windows. With all the extra wall space we “mahswell” put in some more. Where there were once two, there are now four, all with wooden shutters custom made and exact copies of ones on old Caribbean houses, right down to their custom made wrought-iron closures.

The realization of all these flights of fancy was left to our wonderful Dutch builder, Wim and his long-time partner in construction, Statian, Rusty. What they came up with working with engineer, Dan, and architect, Amy, wasn’t a building, it was a work of art.

Amy and I often joke about the difference in our tastes. Hers, while     impeccable, is definitely of the twenty-first century, while mine, in both architecture and music is firmly rooted in the eighteenth.  Somehow, in our kitchen, this works. Things look old fashioned, but they work with twenty-first century efficiency.

It’s no accident that in all my books, kitchens and food preparation play a large part. In The Memory of Roses, Brit thinks the kitchen in the house on Corfu is the most beautiful she’s ever seen. In Delighting in your Company, Elvirna, Josephina’s cook, whips up Caribbean specialties, and in Sonata, my police detective, Michael Donovan, is a master chef who delights in cooking unusual dishes for his sweetheart, Sayuri, in the unusual kitchen he himself designed.
For my part, there is nothing like the pleasure of whipping up a guava pie, using fruit off our own trees, in our glorious new kitchen.

Purchase Blair's books today by clicking on the covers below.  You can then select the vendor of your choice.

The Memory of RosesDelighting In Your Company
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Blair McDowell