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RISMEDIA, September 8, 2010—(MCT)—We bought our house almost 30 years ago, but even then the real estate agent was selling us on the big kitchen—relatively speaking.

The dining room and the living room were no bigger than sandboxes, but she made the point that families never spend much time in those formal rooms anyway.

So the builder had devoted most of the first-floor space to the kitchen, with room for a table and chairs, a highchair and a toddler’s playthings.

All these years later, the kitchen—the heart of the home, I think—has officially morphed into an entertainment area, where friends and family gather while the cook cooks. Seems we were ahead of the curve.

In The New York Times, Alexandra Lange writes about how we have traded efficiency in the kitchen for this communal atmosphere.

She describes an exhibit that will soon open at the Museum of Modern Art in New York of a 1920s “Frankfurt kitchen,” which featured a long, narrow galley of fitted appliances and cabinets. It allowed the housewife to turn easily from one side to the other—from preparation to cleanup. There also might be pocket doors or swinging doors in that kitchen so that family and guests never had to see the mess.

Today, not only has the shotgun kitchen gone away, but the walls between the kitchen and the family room have disappeared in home design so that it is hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. In some homes, there are fireplaces and comfy seating just across the counter from where meals are being cooked.

And all these years later, the kitchen remains the heart of my house. Friends, neighbors and family sit in my kitchen even though they would be much more comfortable on the living room couch or, on a cool evening, on the deck’s chairs. We use the dining room only for Thanksgiving, Christmas and piling stuff that we don’t know what to do with.

My husband sits at the kitchen table like a potentate while my daughter and I dodge each other in the “Dance of the Seven Veils” in front of the stove, chopping and sautéing and serving up dinner. My son sits at the counter and argues politics with me as I slide food under his nose. Tough news has been delivered with hands clasped earnestly on top of my kitchen table.

Pictures have been colored, homework has been done, bills have been paid—and now e-mail is read—at my kitchen table. If you want me, you can find me in the kitchen—cooking, cleaning up or writing a blog post. I even record my favorite shows on the kitchen television because I know I will never make it to the family room to watch them.

This recession has everybody talking about the cocooning of the American family. About how we are all returning home, making our own popcorn and playing board games instead of going out for fast food and a movie. About how we are cooking with friends in our kitchens rather than paying a premium for a night out at a restaurant.

This doesn’t seem like news to me. It is the way it has always been in my kitchen. And there’s no place I—or my family and friends—would rather be.

(c) 2010, The Baltimore Sun.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.