Susan Giambalvo chats about the importance of food as a healing tool as she mixes up a batch of her mother’s oatmeal cookies in the 1921 vintage kitchen of a mansion on the Western Promenade.
From the moment a family steps into the Center for Grieving Children on Forest Avenue to the time they leave, food is used to make them feel cared for and to help them spiritually reconnect with the loved one they’ve lost.
Children may bring in food or a recipe that was a favorite of the person who died as a way of honoring them. Or they may gather in the center’s kitchen to make pizza or decorate cupcakes to celebrate a birthday or send off a friend whose time at the center is done, recognition of the fact that life goes on.
“Because they feel isolated, a big part of what we’re trying to do is create that sense of community and belonging,” said Giambalvo, program director for the organization. “When you come to the center, this is your space and people are here for you. There’s other people who understand you. There’s other people who get it.”
Why is Giambalvo explaining all this while she makes cookies in a stranger’s kitchen? This particular kitchen is one of five that will be part of the Portland Kitchen Tour, a self-guided excursion that takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Friday and Saturday. The Center for Grieving Children is the beneficiary this year and will receive a portion of the proceeds. Tickets are $25 ($30 at the door) and include presentations by a chef and cookbook author, a cooking demonstration and a tasting at each stop.
Most of the homes on the tour are being kept under wraps this year until guests pick up their guide, so there aren’t too many surprises given away in advance, but event planner Marcy Boynton hints that there will be a brand new kitchen as well as one in a just-renovated, century-old home recently featured in a local Super Bowl commercial for CU Promise Loans. Another kitchen is in one of the homes off Washington Avenue with long, narrow backyards, known as the “spaghetti farms.”
Volunteers from the Center for Grieving Children will be on hand at each stop to stamp admission books and share stories about the property.
The four-bedroom, 5,715-square-foot Western Prom mansion where Giambalvo baked her cookies is known as Manderley – after the estate in Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” perhaps? – and is for sale for $1.5 million.
Modeled after an English manor house, the home was designed by architect William Lawrence Bottomley (1883-1951) for Walter Davis and his mother, who died four months before it was finished. The kitchen has been updated for modern living, but with a nod to the past. The original stove was a coal-and-gas range. In its place now is a cobalt blue Heartland Retro-style six-burner gas cooktop with an electric convection oven. A pot filler faucet has been added to the stove wall. There are also modern double ovens in the room.
The baker’s table is new, but when the owners excavated the flooring to uncover the blue-and-ivory checkerboard linoleum, they found indentations corresponding to where the feet of the island and the gas range stand now. The current owners have placed an antique butter churn at one end of the baker’s table; a roll of paper towels sits on the handle of the wooden paddle.
All the cabinets have been restored and placed in their original positions. The countertops are slate. Copperware and cookbooks line the shelves.
The main kitchen opens into a small eat-in area with cabinetry and a chandelier that was once the “servants’ dining room.” There’s also a butler’s pantry with marble countertops and a “steaming and beverage station” with a pass-through to the sunroom. The pantry includes a wine refrigerator, a prep sink, a hot water dispenser, an under-counter refrigerator, a second dishwasher, and – so convenient for a Maine home – a Kohler CookSink for lobster or pasta.
The main kitchen and the smaller rooms that extend from it provide a lot of space without making the kitchen, as a whole, feel too large. There’s plenty of room for several people to prep dinner, yet it is cozy enough that Susan Giambalvo seems right at home making her cookies.
The big difference between this elegant kitchen and the one at the Center for Grieving Children? The center’s cupboards are filled with sprinkles.