Some of the best dinner parties happened in Sassy J’s small apartment on the third floor of a Rittenhouse brownstone. The kitchen was composed of a refrigerator, an apartment-sized stove, and a sink that stood galley-style against the back wall of the living room. A microwave cart, sans microwave, provided extra counter space, and a few cabinets above the appliances housed the pantry and place settings. Anything not needed on a regular basis was banished to the adjacent “hell closet,” the door to which was opened with extreme caution and only in emergencies.
Shortly before she got married and moved to the ‘burbs, I visited Sassy J’s little urban retreat for the last time. “I won’t miss this kitchen,” she said, pointing out the signs of disrepair: chipped enamel on the stove, sagging cupboards, and rusting hardware. But no one noticed these flaws during the cozy parties; the dinners were perfect, even without comfy chairs, granite countertops, and shiny appliances.
Six or eight of us would arrive and drink wine and smell the sautéing onions and garlic. And then we’d drink more wine and seat ourselves around the folding chairs and the card table borrowed from the downstairs neighbors. And then we’d drink more wine and feast on whatever Sassy had cooked up: shrimp on rosemary sprigs, Moroccan lentils, soups, salads, sometimes a bourbon chocolate pecan pie if it wasn’t Sunday and hard to procure the bourbon. And then we’d drink more wine or coffee and sit around telling stories.
And so I resolve in 2009 to have more people over to our own tiny kitchen. We can’t seat more than six comfortably or spare the counter space for a food processor (although we do have my grandmother’s blender), but we have some wine, good recipes, and Sassy J’s old folding chairs in the basement.