Tag Archive: kitchen


Frost

According to Frost (2011), it is time for new insulative measures.

I moved into my apartment on a swelteringly humid day in August. I walked in expecting it to look like home, but it looked more like a jail cell than anything. Cinder block walls, high school linoleum floors, a bathroom sink outside the actual bathroom, not a lick of carpet in sight. Poorly lit, a wall phone from the eighties hung vacantly on the wall, its cord a twisted parabola that tore my expectations to shreds. The kitchen was nothing but a postage-stamp sized box that was just as sorry as the rest of my lodgings.

My lodgings. That’s right. This would be my home for the next two years.

I found myself suddenly immersed in a conflicted whir of feelings, keeping up the strong front in front of the apartment supervisor Bill and my mother, at least until the sun went down. I complained about the condition of the place. It was filthy when I moved in. Two weeks later, I would get a razor blade from Bill and scrape long, black strands of hair out from beneath the floor wax. At the same time, I was trying to pull up something positive from this experience.

All day on move-in day, my mother peppered me with positives. “This place is nice.”

“You’re joking.”

“No, I’m not. I told you about my first apartment. There were mice in the walls, and the people downstairs always fought, then had really loud make-up sex.”

As comical as it is to think of this now, I found no solace in her comments then. Maybe I was dubious because of my dashed hopes, or maybe I am just cynical enough to be spot on when it comes to knowing when people, particularly people I know well, are putting on a front. She finally caved at 9, after a grueling day of cleaning what was not clean and moving my belongings.

“This place is horrible,” she said. “Why don’t you just get a dorm?”

I couldn’t reply. That was the moment I burst into tears. I would spend much of the next few weeks in a similar condition, trying to wrap my mind around this grotesque transition, because despite my living conditions, I had determined to accept this place as my own. I worked myself ragged the first few weeks of the semester, and by then, I was so worn out that the cheap hotel mattress (which also notably had some long black strands of hair on it) was the farthest thing from my mind.

I’m not sure when I noticed it, but one morning, I woke up and felt as cozy as a cup of chicken noodle soup. “It’s mine,” I thought. “It’s finally mine.”

* * *

I prepared last week’s white chicken chili in the kitchen where I grew up watching my dad cook. Although it is the most frequently used room in the house (except perhaps the restroom), it is by far the most neglected. The appliances have been replaced twice since my family moved there twenty years ago. The walls have been painted “Eggshell White,” which I still insist makes the entire house feel a little more like a hospital since every room is a subtly different tone of white (except the restroom, which is a vibrant mint green, and my bedroom, which I rebelliously painted orange when I was nineteen). Some hardware in the sink has worn out a few times. We’ve had a few new faucets. Other than that, no renovations have been done in the kitchen.

The Lost Window

Farewell, window of my youth! In case anyone is wondering, I am still this random. I just got really good at playing the part of a normal person.

The entire house is now practically Pergo, in slightly varying shades much like the walls. The roof has been done twice. Just before I moved out, my parents decided to do some heavy renovations: they built an addition right behind my bedroom, robbing me of the window of my youth. They re-sided the entire house, put in a new patio. After I left, they even redid the family room, ripping out the faded blue carpet and replacing it with sleek wood. They furnished it with things that are now entirely foreign as a graduate student. Just how can anyone own as many sofas as there are people in the house? With all of my education, I cannot make sense of this point any more than I can make sense of this grotesque neglect of the kitchen, which soundlessly puts up with constant use and abuse.

It bit back, once. I was reaching for the carpet cleaner, and the splintering cabinets lodged one of their deadly harpoons beneath my finger nail, leaving behind a pain so intense that I nearly passed out dislodging it. I was left breathless and nauseated, and I still had a decrepit dog’s mess to clean up, a dog who, much like the kitchen, was neglected for sentimentality’s sake.

It’s strange how you only notice change when you leave a place behind. I might visit home every three months. Life keeps me busy. Maybe I should visit more. Maybe I just don’t want to, because like it or not, I live another life now, one that has changed my flavors and preferences entirely, one that has challenged me academically, professionally, and culinarily. Maybe it’s because that dark and dingy postage stamp of a room is my kitchen, one that, if I had the power, I would remodel faster than compote boils over on high heat.

The house has changed, and so have I. Even in my parents’ kitchen, I feel a longing for my faithful sous chef, who sits on the back of the stove in Mount Pleasant. I feel the blinding light cast my shadow in several directions. I’ve got a little elbow room here, at least, but that’s about all I have going for me. This is not my kitchen; it is their kitchen. My kitchen, at least for the moment, remains up north.

There are only so many beans left in my can of time here in Mount Pleasant, and they are hastily running thin. When the last of them is scraped out, when I return home for two months to steep myself in Japanese language and culture, when I pass on my living quarters to the next eager-eyed aspiring graduate student, and when I take up residence in a land with a 14-hour time difference, will I look back on this time of my life and regret or rejoice? Or will I simply forget as I run the gauntlet of emotions again, then realize again that over time, home, like chili, grows thick and warm in the presence of heat, then cools  and is consumed before a new batch is made?

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Today, I spent two and a half hours shopping for a pair of shoes.

Very soon, I will be going back to Chicago for a second interview that could send me packing my bags and engaging on my first ever international travel, not as a vacationer but as an employee. I took a lot of things away from the first interview in November, the one where I applied too early and was thus simply invited back to an interview without having to reapply. Be as direct as possible. Stand so you possess more authority. Japanese students will generally not question the teacher because they respect you too much to. Speak slowly. Don’t wear a black blazer because every other company in Japan does. Oh, and backless shoes are not part of the dress code.

Damn it.

Since this interview is in two weeks and Monday is the new Sunday, I went on a hunt. Five stores and one-hundred fifty minutes later, I satisfy myself with a pair of heels that have textured bottoms and that are just comfortable enough to get the job done without making me want to tear them off.

I am certain that I was “that” customer today.

For those of you who have never worked in customer service, there are customers who simply have an aura of discontent about them. They think everything is too expensive and that nothing is ever good enough. At Pizza Hut, “that” customer was the guy who, five minutes after placing a counter order on a busy Saturday night when we were understaffed, came back for his food, and when told it would be out in another four to five minutes, said, “Lady, I just want my food.”

“That’s fan-frelling-tastic, asshole. Sit the hell down and I’ll pull it out for you, but you’d better not bitch that it’s undercooked.”

As much as I’d like to say I said this to his face and then stormed back into the kitchen, I shamefully admit that it didn’t, but it would have made for a great story, wouldn’t it have? Instead, I said, in my sweetest voice possible, “I’m sorry, sir, but we’ve got some new people working the kitchen and we’re really busy tonight. It will just be another few minutes.” He shook his head in dismay and disappeared back into his black pick-up. The other customers waiting at the counter stared at me in amazement, and one or two jaws dropped a little. Here I am, a 20-year-old wearing a work shirt with holes down to practically my waist in the arm pits, a hat that looks like it had an unfortunate encounter with a steamroller, and not one ounce of make-up. By that point in my career, used to juggling “that” customer, who thinks everything in the universe should revolve around him, with the more patient and understanding patrons. I’m glad I could demonstrate the fact that despite my minimum-wage, thankless job, I was more than competent enough to put up with “that” customer while maintaining professionalism.

A middle-aged woman approached the counter to pay for her carry-out order. “I’m sorry he was so rude to you.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” I reply. “I deal with people like him a lot in this line of work.”

My journey for the perfect shoes began at Kohl’s. After seeing a rather obnoxious commercial and being cheated out of a pair of sketchers by some rain check error and a lack of communication, I swore I would never go back, but a shoe sale enticed me.

Fact: Shoe sales are terrible ideas. They only occur when the most frequently worn sizes are gone, and for some reason, everyone deems it necessary to bring their screaming kids, which mingle well with neither PMS nor hunger.

Fact: You will inevitably find a pair of shoes you like, only to learn that a) the only pair left is the display pair, which are ALWAYS size 6 to 7.5, b) there is one pair of boots on clearance that, if your foot were only one quarter of an inch thinner, those boots would come home with you, or c) learn that they only come in brown.

There was only one thing to do: pick up and move on to Shoe Sensation, the equivalent of the second circle of Hell. At least here, I found shoes that fit, but they were shoes I could never have… at $70 a pair on clearance. The gentleman who helped me had a lisp like lavender and enough patience to make me regret not buying anything.

Cue stop number 3: JcPenney. I have had good luck with them before, but I neglected to remember that the one in Mount Pleasant, for some unfathomable reason, does not carry wide shoe sizes. Apparently, natives of this town all have skinny feet. But seriously… shoes aren’t like cabbage. They don’t have an expiration date. At the very least, they could carry a couple of pairs in wide for foreigners like me.

On a whim, I stopped into K-Mart. They have nice sandals, so I figured it was worth a shot, but the only pair that fit me was this hideous navy pair that woudln’t really compliment anything I plan on wearing.

By some miracle, I found a sufficient pair at Payless. It is the second time they have saved my ass for an interview of this nature.

Buying shoes is such a damnable task. After spending the day as “that” customer, I sit down to a bowl of the chicken and dumpling soup I cooked yesterday, realizing as I devour the bowl that this soup will always succeed where shoes will fail: it will always be a comfort, and it will always help me stand through any challenge, whether that is a to-do list near completion or an interview that threatens to change my life forever.

Chicken and Dumpling Soup for the Sole

(Based roughly on this stew recipe.)

The Sixth Bowl

Ingredients (S0up)

  • 3 Chicken Tenders, Frozen
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon dried basil
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ cup baby carrots, cut into round discs.
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, diced

Ingredients (Dumplings)

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley

Directions

  1. In a 3-quart sauce pan, combine broth, bay leaves, basil, and thyme.
  2. Add frozen chicken tenders and cook for about 20 minutes.
  3. While chicken is cooking, combine flour, salt, pepper, parsley and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Cut butter through flour with a fork until small lumps form.
  4. Add milk and mix until dough is combined. Set aside.
  5. When chicken is finished cooking, remove from pan. Shred chicken. Add vegetables and chicken back to pan. Cook until veggies are approaching tender (about 15 minutes).
  6. Form ½ inch balls with your hands and a fork/spoon and drop dumplings into broth. Cook uncovered for about 5-10 additional minutes.
  7. Optional: If soup has not thickened to desired consistency, add 1 tablespoon corn starch to cold water. Stir in and cook for an additional two minutes.

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Of Bread and Biscuits: A Slice of Life

My apartment has betrayed me again.

Somehow, it always happens when you least expect it. Your environment reassures you that you are far from harm, then suddenly shifts one element just enough to throw off the balance. There are one too many potatoes in the pot now, just enough to make the soup splatter all over your immaculate stovetop. This shift could be anything, but mark my words, they always happen because of time.

Over the years, I have confronted the notoriously evil Valentine’s Day with viewpoints as numerous in the spices in my cabinet. I have tried to be sagacious about it, maintaining a woody indifference while nurturing hope in silence, the kind of hope that you can only taste once something has stewed for three-hundred sixty four days. As a child, I maintained a bland indifference, took it with a grain of salt. One year, I took a lesson from cinnamon and decided to sweeten things up with a bunch of my single friends. Mainly, I tend to spend the day over-beating myself until I’m too stiff to stand one mention of it. Although I am not qualified to participate in the festivities, I am reminded everywhere I turn that every single human being in a twenty-mile radius is planning on some grandiose gesture of love and affection to what’s-his/her-name. And why shouldn’t they? That is the purpose of Valentine’s Day according to modern America.

Now try being happy when you’re the coconut truffle in a box of cherry cordials. You are blatantly excluded from all their cordial games and banished to the land of the defective conversation hearts.

Of course, on the outside, I am my typical bubbly self. I gratefully accept conciliatory chocolates from janitors and friends. I even laugh as one of my students, single like me but from overseas, wishes me a Happy Valentine’s day in broken English that sounds like the hollow rap of conversation hearts being poured into a glass bowl.

Almond Chicken Ding

Aside from gin, this was my only friend.

Yesterday, I spent Valentine’s Day with a bowl of leftover Chinese take-out and a bottle of gin. I used the same bowl that has housed many leftover bowls of soup, and after taking two straight shots of a liquor that tastes like Christmas or like some uninhabited forest of pines. As always, I had the opportunity to do my drinking among company, but being more salt than sugar, and more orange pith than either, I thought it best to withdraw into the pages of Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley for the evening.

I wanted nothing to do with soup.

Gin makes my clumsily penned handout sound perfect, and even when I get up in the morning to give it one more comb-over before the big presentation only to find that it is anything but perfect, I still appreciate the effort. Soup doesn’t have that kind of power. There could always be more salt, fewer noodles—the potatoes aren’t quite right and the flavor is off just enough for me to know.

Gin makes me forget about all of that.

With Gin, I sigh dragon’s fire after just one sip, and all is made right with the world.

Taking drinks of gin straight from the bottle and devouring a forlorn container of Almond Chicken Ding is a recipe for just one more night alone. The fiery liquor and the take-out make it feel more like an ordinary day despite the fact that I hardly indulge in either. At last, I am as still on the outside as I am on the inside, and both are covered in the mold that will inevitably accrue when one loafs around for too long. It’s a good thing I’m turning pages at a rate of 75 per hour. This motion, the way the text clings to my mind, the scratching of a pencil against the margin of every page… all these things keep me from becoming too stale. Without them, I would absorb too much light and water. A feathery mold would cling to me, delicately eating away at my skin until it reaches my acrid core and dies from the sheer gall of it.

I am a plant killer. My bamboo died this summer. This is why I rely on others to take care of growing the seasonings I use in my soup. No one savors the taste of blighted basil.

Perhaps that is why I shoved soup away on Valentine’s Day. Because even when I eat it alone, even when I swallow it half-chewed while working desperately on my thesis, soup is still a reminder of the inevitable connections I have with the world outside. In a course of study that isolates, soup sustains the body, the sole, and the strings that attach me to the outside world. Every bite is a memory of cooking with a friend or of the feeling that comes after eating the second serving that neither of you needed. It can’t be helped, though, because that soup is just too damn good to leave alone.

That feeling is misery, stewed in groans and laughter.

I’m planning to have a leftover bowl of chowder for dinner, so I opt for a sandwich for lunch. George Foreman will help me transform it into a Panini. I can almost taste it already.

The bread on the table beckons me. I am proud of this bread; I bought the pre-sliced multi-grain loaf for three dollars, never mind the tax. This bread is more than just a sandwich fixing. It shows how grains can work together to create something better than they are when apart. It shows that processing really takes the life out of them.

Chowder and Shirley

In all things, progress tastes of chowder.

I extract the only partly eaten loaf to find all of my hopes in vain. Unable to cling to me, the mold has instead settled on my otherwise in-tact loaf of bread. It still gives under the slight pressure of my hand and springs back instantly. I sigh and throw the loaf in the trash. It ends with a bang, and the cabinet door whimpers as I shut it out of mind.

I glance to the table and find that the biscuits I made two days ago have more than enough of me in them to scare the mold off.

Perhaps a bowl of soup would be nice after all.

I’m eating my last bowl of chicken and red lentil soup in the library coffee shop, a well-lit place crowded with vivid and various people. For once, I’m not eating dinner a la sole but with a friend and colleague who, like me, has a dash of cook in her and who, unlike me, has two roommates to boot. We discuss the ever-important philosophical debate of whether or not a stew constitutes as a soup (and it does in my book, so expect to see some stew in the future).

In the middle of her broccoli salad, Caitlin states, “Soup just isn’t that important to me, you know?”

“Not I,” I respond, swallowing another mouthful of my nightly victuals. “To me, soup is… life.”

But it’s strangely not soup I’m thinking about. No… instead, I’m thinking about the kitchen I left behind four hours ago when I went to work, the dark and cramped little nook of my apartment where I let my culinary muse run wild when it isn’t buried under a stack of Victorian novels. I started thinking about my kitchen two days ago, around the same time I started thinking about that last bowl of soup sitting in my refrigerator, positioned among sandwich fixings, tortillas that will one day be tacos, the basics milk and bread, and a criminal line-up of condiments (the usual culprits). Two days ago (and even two hours ago), I was fully prepared to deep-fry my kitchen in derision. Its Lilliputian size, the hideous linoleum tile that reminds me of pithy high school memories, the bleak cinder-block walls, the abused, scarred countertops, the cabinet whose particle board door is starting to resemble Feta crumbles, and that horrible monster living under the sink that I must pacify with scraps of vegetables or fruit peels mixed with water—none of this appeals to me. I was ready to dislike everything from the dim lighting to the dip in the floor.

Earlier today, I read a blog post by Becoming Madame about French kitchens, and I’m whisked away to Paris on a plane built of words and photographs. Copper pots, a quaint, antiquated feel rather than a tacky, antediluvian atmosphere that could suffocate a technoholic, and well-placed lighting that would secure the functionality of my eyes for years to come. Apparently, French kitchens commonly have windows (a novel concept!) with fresh herbs growing out on the sills (naturally free of charge and full of love!—which, might I add, makes soup taste even better), and sometimes, they have these rustic, knotted pine cabinets (made of genuine wood!). For one brief moment before beginning my three-hour shift, I could almost see myself in a French kitchen, spacious and liberated, waltzing among copper pans and chandeliers, throwing down a hardy bowl of Vichyssoise or French onion and having lunch among my many copper assistants.

And now, only moments after having scarfed a peanut butter and chocolate muffin in front of my computer, I realize that the culprit is not the kitchen itself. That miniscule space is not to blame for its design. I now find myself serving my bitter blame to the table, who obdurately and obstinately refuses to be wieldy, who takes up valuable space that could have been more counter and cabinets.

I never eat at the table. I’m always at my desk laboring away (sometimes more languidly than I should be) on this novel or that paper, or else staring hard into the face of my computer and trying to figure out why the words I’ve put on the screen are not as pungent as they were in my head (perhaps it only lacks a dash of salt). Otherwise, I’m at the coffee table, sitting on the couch and sharing whatever I’m eating with Dickens or Emily Brontë. In the rare event that I dine with company, I kneel at the coffee table after the manner of the Japanese, sitting on one of my orange throw pillows, and my friend either joins me or sits on the couch. The only one who has ever sat in any one of its four chairs is George Foreman, and the only reason he’s there is because there isn’t enough counter space to accommodate him. My sun tea jar occupies another. They sit in limbo, waiting for a meal that will never come. The top is littered with all manner of miscellanea: a steamer I received as a Christmas gift, napkins from chain restaurants I’ve turned to when I haven’t had the appetite for cooking, recipes that haven’t been touched in two months because I hardly ever follow them, or else I keep a permanent copy on my hard drive, recyclable grocery bags, old receipts cataloguing the ghost of goulash past.

I hate my table in silence. I don’t think it knows the truth, that my avoidance of spending time with it is actually my way of expressing revulsion. In its stead, I could have enough counter space for my food processor, which lives in the bottom drawer, and my toaster and coffee pot, which perch on top of my microwave like a mismatched pair of oxpeckers on a rhinoceros. That table and its four chairs mock me. They are five altogether, and I am nothing more than the last bowl of soup in a cold, dark fridge cluttered with the bread of a notion, some pungent crumbles of inspiration, and a smattering of sentiments (the usual culprits), waiting to be warmed.

I can hate that table all I want for spoiling the potential, but it’s still here.

And for the moment, so am I, even if I think I may be going rotten from waiting for so long.