Culture · Kitchen Culture

Kitchen Flowers

FullSizeRender (2)I love flowers.  I fantasize about having a big garden where I can just walk out into the yard in the summertime and cut a giant bowl of hydrangea or peonies or daisies–like you always see on the covers of those “Home and Life” style magazines in the grocery store line.

This will never happen to me, of course, because I have a Black Thumb and all those plants would be dead long before they get to the “masses of flowers” stage.  For those unfamiliar with Black Thumb, it is a disease for which there is no known cure or vaccine.  As opposed to the more widely recognized “Green Thumb,” sufferers of Black Thumb have a natural, God-given knack for killing any and all plant life in their vicinities.

I have this disease.  It’s a real thing.  You can go ahead and laugh, but I swear to you, I’ve got it.  I once killed a cactus.  A cactus.

My current roommate loves plants and has them everywhere, but when I moved in, I told her that if she wanted to keep them alive, I was going to have nothing to do with them. I wasn’t going to fertilize them or water them or even touch them.  She was going to have to find someone else to take care of them when she went on vacation.  (I never touch those plants and, yes, as a consequence they are still alive and well.)

I do have an aloe vera plant that I have managed to keep alive since November.  This is a record for me.  I feel like it kind of hovers around the brink of death a lot, but I don’t want to do anything other than water it once a week.  It might make it worse.  I think pretty soon I’m going to have to get it a bigger pot, and I fully intend to go to a garden center and pay them to re-pot it for me.  I’m not taking any chances.

Anyway, so when it comes to flowers and having them grace my kitchen table “airily and casually, like they don’t care,” (that’s the kind of thing those magazines always say about flowers,) I have to buy bouquets at the grocery store.

I know that the flower enthusiasts out there just cringed.  But orchids and roses and “serious flowers,” the kind you pay for at a florist, are too stuffy for a kitchen–or, in any event, any kitchen that ever gets used as an actual kitchen.  When I say this, I mean a place whose events history includes (but is not limited to):

  1. Someone adding three cups of flour to the cookie batter and turning the standing mixer without realizing the thing is still set on “high.”
  2. A casserole overflowing all over the bottom of the oven so the whole place is full of smoke and a lot of people are running around like idiots trying to open windows in the middle of January while the smoke detector wails in the background.
  3. The location of any meal involving a three year old ever.

Orchid would never go in for that sort of thing.  Far too disorganized and “bourgeois.”  You could just feel them judging you the first time you got halfway through a recipe and realized you were out of a key ingredient.

Nope, a kitchen calls for “cheap” flowers–daisies and daffodils and carnations.  These kinds of flowers, in my mind, seem a little more forgiving when I forgot the oven was on and pull out a dozen charred dinner rolls or realize that I turned on my CrockPot on my way out the door that morning but forgot to plug it in.  I always feel like these kinds of flowers have been there.  Like a floral support group.

So, yesterday at the grocery store, I bought myself a little bouquet on the way to the checkout.  I’ve been meaning to for a while, because I just got this little milk pitcher at the Goodwill and was dying to put flowers into it. (I will never use a milk pitcher as such in my life.)  So I got my flowers home, hacked off the stems and put them into my new find.

The effect is exactly what I hoped it would be, and it makes me smile every time I look at them.  I think that’s why I like flowers.  They’re just happy things.  They don’t really do much, per se, but God put them in the world to make it beautiful, and I like it that way.

I don’t think we always give beauty its credence in our culture.  Things like art and music and flowers only matter if they can be instantly understood and consumed.  If a thing takes time to process, appreciate, or enjoy, we skip it.  That saddens me.  It is part of the reason I intentionally slow down sometimes.  I just turn on some music instead of the television.  I purposefully leave my phone plugged into the wall in another room.  It is important to remember that some of the best things take time.

And so I do my bit to fight against the tide of the instantaneous:   I put flowers on my table.

Cooking · Food · Kitchen Culture · Recipes


I am not much of a breakfast person.  I manage a piece of peanut butter toast every morning, only because I know that “it’s good for me.”  I don’t go in for eggs (I can’t get over the smell), I don’t much care about sugar, so things like French toast and pancakes don’t faze me, and being extremely finicky about how I like my bacon means I almost never make it.  (Plus, it takes a solid week for the lingering aroma of stale bacon grease to clear out of my apartment.)

For my breakfast-loving father, who would eat eggs and bacon three times a day if you’d let him, my “just coffee for me, thanks” proclivities are a source of unending disappointment.

But I do make a few exceptions.

When I was a little girl, Saturday was “waffle day” at our house.  My father found my parents’ waffle iron at a flea market in like 1978, and the thing was already ancient then.  It had one of those old-fashioned electrical cords that were covered in fabric, and it weighed about a ton.  As far as I was concerned, the waffles it produced were the best.  It made a thinner, crisper waffle with about a million tiny waffle squares, each and every one of which designed be filled to the brim with syrup.  (Every child knows that the whole point of a waffle is just to be the vehicle for as much maple syrup as possible.)  I grew up in a house where we had to have “good-for-you” cereals, which excluded the much sought-after kid varietals like Lucky Charms and Froot Loops, so waffles were as close as I ever came to candy for breakfast (another life ambition of the average five year old.)

Every Saturday in my early childhood, I remember my dad getting up and making waffles in our kitchen.  I have a lot of great memories of those Saturdays, standing on a kitchen chair in my jammies next to my father and “helping.”

I’m sure I caused way more trouble than I was worth, but to my four-year-old self, it was a great privilege to mix the batter still in the bowl.  Sometimes, my dad would even let me pour the batter onto the waffle iron.  I can still remember that distinctive, sizzling sound the batter made when it hit the hot iron, and the pretty golden color of the waffles when my dad would peel them off the dark metal and onto the serving dish.

As I got older, more babies came, life got busier, my dad’s job changed to include a lot more business trips, I was busy with school and clubs and friends and “being mature” (a hilarious illusion held by thousands of teenagers all over America), and Waffle Day went the way of the dodo.

I am a “real” adult now, with a career and place of my own, my own hobbies and friends and responsibilities.  I have lived on the other side of the world and back again.  I have developed my own rituals and personal traditions, but sometimes, I still miss those days when I was little and life was simple and Waffle Day was still a thing.

So I called my father up the other day and asked, “Dad, do you remember how you always used to make waffles when I was little on that really old waffle iron?  Do you guys still have it?”

My parents do still have that waffle iron.  It is still ancient.  It still weighs about a ton.  The old cloth cord didn’t work anymore, but my dad hunted all over the city and managed to find a replacement, so I could go over to my parents’ house and make waffles again.

We’re a little out of practice, my dad and I–the first few tries got stuck to the iron for reasons we couldn’t figure out–but that didn’t matter.

Some things are different.  I am an adult now, older than my father was when we first did this.  I don’t need to stand on a chair to see what’s going on on top of the counter.  I don’t need someone else to make sure I don’t burn myself or tell me not to put so much batter on the iron.

But some things are still the same.  It still feels like an honor to pour the batter.  The waffle iron still makes that sizzling noise when you close it.  It is still reassuring to know that if you get burned, someone’s going to be there to tell you it’ll be okay.  It still seems to take forever for the steam to stop hissing out of the sides of the closed iron.  It is still exciting to make waffles.  It is still a privilege to stand next to my daddy.

You can check out my family’s waffle recipe on the drop down menu under “Recipes.”  (It’s really not that much harder than a box mix.  I promise.)  

Kitchen Culture

Dishwater Zen

FullSizeRender (1)It is 6.22 a.m.  My alarm went off this morning and I woke up mad.  Yesterday was an eternally long day that saw me getting home after ten last night to a jury summons that is supposed to be the first two days when I am out of the country on vacation. (What a great birthday present from my beloved city.)  And today is going to be just as long, just as busy, and leave me just as frazzled.  I am exhausted just thinking about it.

“So,” you may ask, “if you really are this much of a hot mess, why on earth are you posting at 6.30 in the morning?”

I am posting because I just had a five-minute centering moment.

I washed my dishes.

I know some of you busy career women-and-moms just re-read that sentence to check for typos.  There aren’t any.  I love washing dishes.

I grew up like most kids in the suburbs with the standard dishwasher and siblings who argued over who had to load or unload it, and parents who nagged at us to “rinse the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher!  Look at this!  Now there’s food stuck to this that will never come off!”  My first apartment senza dishwasher was like kitchen purgatory.  I was absolutely horrified.

But over the years, I’ve made my peace with the dishes, and I’ve even come to love the process.  (Now, I’m sure if I had three kids under five like some of my friends, I would be willing to kill people for a dishwasher, but I’ll ride this wave while I can…)

I think what I really like about washing dishes is that, for a few minutes anyway, it forces life to slow down.  You can’t really multitask washing dishes.  You can only wash one at a time.

I like the feeling of the warm water.  I like that I feel like I’m accomplishing things as the dishes pile up in the drying rack.   I even like the Tetris-style puzzle that drying rack becomes as I try to stack just one more pan, because I staunchly refuse to get out a towel and dry it when the air can do just as good a job.  If I have a lot of dishes to wash (this happens when I get really ambitious and suddenly realize I’ve got three projects going–one in the oven, one on the range, and one in the CrockPot), I’ll even turn on my Nat King Cole Pandora station and have a ’50’s jam session.

Washing dishes makes me thankful.  Because my kitchen came to be over a series of small purchases, I always find myself thinking about how much I like this pan, that spoon, “Wow, Teflon really is an incredible invention,” what an awesome find those silly “Twelve Days of Christmas” glasses were.  I take the time to love the objects in my life–even though they are just objects–and be thankful that I have them to make my life easier.  It gives me a moment to collect my thoughts and find my footing.

It gives me a moment to remember that my life is actually pretty great–how many great things, activities, and people are in it.  (I mean, how many people can say they actually like their job?)  It reminds me that my current crisis really isn’t one.  That I will survive, and the sun will still be rising in the east when it’s over.

Then I turn off the water and dry my hands.

I have reached Dishwater Zen.


China · Cooking · Kitchen Culture · Kitchenware

Rock the Retro

FullSizeRenderWhen I moved back to the United States three years ago, I had to make some tough choices about what was going to go into the three suitcases I got to bring with me.  Though I love cooking and the “food” experience, very few of my kitchen items made the cut.  I left behind, among others, my Aeropress coffeemaker and beloved immersion blender.  Only four cookbooks made it back Stateside intact.  The rest were ruthlessly rooted through by my roommate and I as we cut out any recipes we thought we may ever make and tossed the dross.  (When you’re trying to get four profoundly formative years of your life down to 150 pounds, you can’t afford to be kind.)

An often overlooked side effect of spending your late twenties having this life-changing experience in the developing world is that you get back to the U.S. with like $600 in your bank account–a bunch of money for China, not a bunch of money for the States.  So I had to go about rebuilding my life on a shoestring.

You don’t think about how all the stuff you’ve amassed in your kitchen cost an accumulative bundle because most people’s kitchens are slowly populated with every spoon on the planet over a course of months or years.  (Lots of people also get cool things called “wedding showers,” of which I didn’t have the benefit, but I digress…)

So what does a poor, at the time only partially-employed teacher do?  She becomes best friends with her friendly neighborhood Goodwill, that’s what.

This is the way I got my dishes, silverware, mixing bowls, casserole dishes, pans, pots, mixing spoons, storage containers and measuring spoons–in fact, as I catalogue my kitchen in my head, I can think of only three or four things that were actually new when I bought them.

It means I saved a bunch of money.

It also means my kitchen paraphernalia has a strongly ’70’s gold vibe about it.

I’m now in a much more stable financial place, and could probably afford to upgrade a lot of my Poor Girl Kitchen.  I could replace my mismatched kitsch-fest with something chic.  But I realize I’ve grown attached.

Nobody else has my old, white-with-royal-blue-trim Correllware.  I never have to worry about anyone “accidentally” taking my aqua-blue Pyrex bowl home from a potluck by mistake.  I am the only person I know under 60 who can claim her kitchen counter is graced by a vintage, 1980 CrockPot with orange flowers on it and a bread making canister.  (Yes.  I can, in fact, make bread from scratch in my CrockPot.  You can be jealous.  It’s okay. I understand.)  I also don’t know anyone else who can claim her salt and pepper shakers were made in West Germany (back when West Germany was still a thing…)

My kitchen has history.  Generations of cooks and bakers are represented in my kitchenware–my 1950’s Pyrex, my 1960’s flour and sugar canisters, my 1970’s Tupperware, my 1980’s CrockPot, my 1990’s lemon-shaped egg timer–all the cooking fads, all the kitchen disasters, all the families who gathered around tables and stood around  while people washed dishes, are all represented and remembered my little kitchen.  I like the one-of-a-kind uniqueness of it.  My kitchen has the “be your own person” personality we always tell kids is important but so often shy away from in our adult lives.  And I think that counts for something.

So you can keep your fancy-shmancy, polished silver coffee storage containers.  I like the green pepper and squash design on my old glass one just fine.