Culture · Kitchen Culture

A few more Come-on-over’s

Tonight, I had to leave work before I got everything I needed to done.  I actually had to bring work home with me–something I NEVER do.  I had to skip my usual trip to the gym to break in brand-spanking-new running shoes.  (Don’t judge me; it is wet outside.  You can’t totally ruin new shoes in the rain the very first time you wear them…)  I cleaned my bathroom.  I washed every dish in the sink.  I dumped the classic “Sour Cream and Onion Soup Mix” dip out of the plastic tub and into an actual bowl.  I even swept my entire apartment.  (I live in a converted Victorian house.  Sweeping is the most hopeless cause since St. Jude took them up–dust literally comes out of the walls…)  I got out a clean dish towel.  I am now writing this blog and I am still wearing real pants, rather than the preferred leggings or pajamas.

I have done all of this because I have friends coming over for dinner tonight.

At moments like this, I hanker to just call everyone and say, “Let’s just meet at the restaurant across the street…”  It would be so much easier.

Long ago (before Christmas), “Kelly,” “Morgan,” and I did this exclusively.  We had a few quiet restaurants that we’d frequent every few weeks when we all could get together.  It was really a very pleasant state of affairs, if you must know.  But then I got the bright idea that we should use our aligning spring breaks to go somewhere on vacation together.  (I believe my exact specifications were: 1. Someplace warm.  2. Someplace where I can those floofy drinks with umbrellas in them.  3.  Someplace where no one will ask me any questions that begin with, “Hey, Miss D, can I…” for five days.  A girl has to have her standards.)

And rather than what usually happens–agreeing it’s a great idea and then doing nothing about it–the two of them came over to my house before the new year and we actually bought the tickets for the Caribbean.  It’s very exciting (especially as we are now in the single digits until we leave…)  However, we’re all teachers.  We’re not exactly made of money.

So we started skipping going out and passing around who hosted dinner.

The hostess is responsible for the entree  and usually one (easy) side.  The other two bring sides or dessert.  It is traditionally BYOB.  Of course, sometimes this division of labor backfires.  Kelly was hosting last time and said she had it all covered.  All we needed to bring was what we wanted to drink, “unless we wanted to bring something else, too.”  We ended up with four bags of chips, a pizza, a batch of cookies, a cake, and ice cream.  Clearly, we struggle with scale.

I actually like this arrangement a lot more than I had originally thought.  We still end up making those things you never make when you’re a one (pizza, burgers–I’ve got pulled pork simmering in my CrockPot as I write this…), plus, you’re in charge.  You don’t like that song that’s playing?  No problem.  It’s my Pandora–it’s gone.  You can literally sit at the table for four hours and not feel guilty.  You don’t have to keep ordering drinks and desserts and things you don’t want just as a way to apologize to your waiter that you’re still at this table on a Friday night.  Falling asleep halfway through the movie is a totally acceptable life choice.

Plus, I like seeing people’s houses.  I like seeing how each house has a personality as unique as its owner.  As an aside, let me here insert I am secretly suspicious of people who don’t decorate their living spaces.  There is no bigger red flag than a bunch of blank walls.  I’m always thinking things like, “What’s wrong with you?”  “Are you a cardboard human?”  “Do you like living in a hotel room?”  Or, when I’m feeling particularly ‘judge-y’, “Are you some sort of sociopath?”

Fortunately, my friends do not fall into this category.  Morgan, for example, has the most coordinated apartment I’ve ever seen.  The beach theme isn’t just in the bathroom–it flows seamlessly through every room in the entire house.  Kelly still has a couch that looks like she got it in college, because she’s been too busy buying the five million books she has in bookshelves all over the place.  My apartment is channeling “found beauty” meets “vintage cornucopia.”  We are all friends, and we all get along, but our houses are all so different.

I may never have known these things about my friends if I’d never gotten around to seeing their apartments or experienced equally sincere but drastically different hospitality around their tables.

I’m beginning to think that maybe this is the way things should be.  I remember my parents and their friends rotating game nights–all the kids played in various basements and the grown-ups played ’80’s favorites like Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit upstairs.  I don’t know many people who do that sort of thing anymore.  But what I know about Kelly and Morgan now makes me think that maybe we lost something when people started closing up their homes from their friends and acquaintances because life wasn’t as shiny as the photos on the wall.

That maybe it’s worth it to let people see your not-quite-clean bathroom rather than opting to meet at a coffee shop.  Maybe it’s worth bringing work home with you once in a while to let people share your actual life.  Maybe we should say fewer Let’s-meet-at-that-Mexican-place’s and a few more Come-on-over’s.  Maybe we should act a little less perfect and be a little more real…

But I have to go.

I just heard the doorbell.

 

 

Kitchen Culture · Kitchenware

Heartbeats and Memories

IMG_0496Kitchens are the heartbeat of any family.  It is where you pour another cup of tea to fend of an impending cold.  It is where you pour another cup of coffee and sit down to listen as the people dearest to you cry at the kitchen table.  It is where Grandmas and Grandpas cement their place as better than parents (because every kid knows there is always dessert at Grandma’s), countless hours of homework are done, important talks happen, grievances are aired, people laugh and cry and fight and make-up.

Show me a family that has issues, and I’ll show you an empty kitchen.

So it is fitting to me that the only memory I have of great-grandparents’ house is of the kitchen.  My great-grandma died when I was a baby, and my Great-Papa died when I was only four.  They lived far away from my family, and so we didn’t often make the trip.  The only memory I have of my Great-Papa is actually a memory of the house.  They had this classic, farmhouse-style white kitchen and there was this plastic, daisy “thing” in the window by the sink.  I believe in my soul it was a sun-catcher, however pictorial evidence proves otherwise.  Most of my memories of my Papa are really my mom’s memories, passed down to me.  But that one memory–that flower thing–is mine.

When I was wandering a vintage shop near my house last winter, I saw a plastic daisy IMG_0499“thing.”  It’s not exactly the same, but I saw it and The Memory summoned itself up.  I remembered that big, airy, white, old-fashioned kitchen.  I remember looking up and seeing my mom and grandma talking about something–I’m sure it was probably the funeral.  I remember the world seeming a lot bigger.

My mom is one of five siblings, four of whom had kids.  I know whatever heirlooms my great-grandparents had, I will not probably inherit any of them.  It is just as well.  For me, most of them would just be “things.”  But those plastic daisies, sitting in that vintage shop was a memory, and one that I wanted to lay claim to.

I bought those daisies, and they had a place of honor in my kitchen.  So when people ask me why I have them, I can show them the picture of four generations of my family–my great-grandfather, my grandmother, my mother, and a tiny, baby me–and say, “Do you see that little orange blurry thing in the background?  It was this daisy thing that’s just like this one, and I remember that…”

Baking · Food · Kitchen Culture

Banana Bread

Yesterday, I made banana bread.

I didn’t wake up planning on it, but little projects like unplanned quick bread tend to crop up when I take an in-house Saturday.  In-house Saturdays are not the norm for me.  They generally involve me not leaving the house before one or two and I’m usually still in my jammies right up until I have to put on real clothes to go somewhere.  It should here be noted that “real clothes” on Saturday are usually leggings and a sweatshirt, only slightly domesticated pajamas in their own right, so I’m not sure why I resist.  I think I do it because, as a teacher who’s generally out the door by five ’til seven, I feel like I’m “stickin’ it to the man” when I lounge around in official P.J.’s until noon.

In-house Saturdays, I usually forget to eat breakfast and sometimes lunch, because I’ll brew a giant pot of coffee and dedicate most of the morning to drinking all of it.  It proves that coffee as an appetite suppressant is a real thing.  Also that I can still function when I am literally bouncing off the walls with caffeine.

You will notice I haven’t labelled in-house Saturdays with the culturally traditional descriptor of “lazy,” and this has been intentional.  They aren’t.  The days I stay home usually involves a whole sea of projects that need to get done–not all of them needed to get done right then, but they needed to happen.

Which brings me back to the banana bread, and how I hadn’t been planning on it when I woke up.  I was sitting at my kitchen table, coffee mug and To-Do List in hand (I am a fiend for lists.  I don’t know how teachers survived in the pre-Post-It age), when my gaze fell on my fruit bowl.

I went on a big banana kick for a few weeks, but in the last couple days it’s kind of fizzled out.  A girl can only eat so many bananas.  And they were starting to get super brown and spotty, and I know there are those purists among you who will tell me that that’s when they’re finally “good,” but I’m persnickety about bananas.  I have a very limited banana-consumption window.  Bananas more brown than yellow do not fit through that window.

So I decided that making banana bread probably should be a “thing.”

This would not always have been the case; I am not a quick bread junkie, and even six months ago, I probably would have just left the bananas in the fruit bowl until they were all brown and I began to wonder if it were possible for bananas to actually mold, then tossed them away just to be on the safe side.

This was before the new year, when I read an article entitled “57 Small Things to Do for Yourself This Year” on the (really fabulous, fancy) food blog website Food52.  (You can read the full article here.)  The article gives lots of great, little ways you can enrich your life, but the one that really stuck out to me–and the only one I remember in mid-March–was #48: “Never throw away edible food.”

I took that to heart.  I was really convicted of how wasteful Americans are (and I am, particularly) when it comes to food.  How many times have I thrown away perfectly good leftovers because I wanted the pan for something else?  How many times have things gone bad in my fridge because I didn’t end up with enough time to make the recipe I bought them for?  How many times have bananas gone bad in my fruit bowl because I just didn’t feel like eating any more bananas?

Lots of people all over the world cannot even fathom the abundance that is at our fingertips whenever we walk into a grocery store.  It just struck me as disrespectful to them not to treat this privilege with the respect it deserves.

So I decided to make banana bread.

It has been my personal resolution in 2016 to try use up what I buy.  It means I’ve had to get creative sometimes, and that I go scouring through my cookbooks and the internet trying to find recipes that call for one green pepper or half a bunch of cilantro.  It also means I’ve actively had to chop up veggies I’m not going to use before they go bad and stick them in my freezer in Ziplock bags so I can use them later.  It means being what my yoga teacher would call “mindful.”  It means being what, to my students, I call “responsible.”

So I made banana bread.

I got out a bunch of cookbooks and hunted up the one that called for the most bananas and I still had all the ingredients for.  I mashed up the bananas.  I mixed everything up.  I put it in the oven, then took the finished product when I went to visit my parents yesterday to see my baby brother who is home from college.  The banana bread was a big hit.  I can’t take a picture of it today because it all got eaten.  You can just thing tasty, banana-bread-y thoughts, though.

I know that not wasting things isn’t a big solution.  I know that sometimes, I do just really muck up a new recipe and have to toss it because when I take it for lunch, I opt instead to eat the candy in my desk because I just can’t stomach the thought.  I know that me using my resources well isn’t suddenly going to keep people from starving in Sudan.  But out of respect for them, I get creative.  I try not to abuse the incredible gifts I’ve been given, to respect the abundance that is at my disposal, to try to be responsible.

And so I make banana bread.

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

Waffles

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.