In recent months and recenter days my monthly writing workshop has given prompts that refer to the kitchen. Well, let me correct that. The November prompt was about the kitchen and how it was different and/or similar to the one we had growing up. The March prompt was zest, which I took to mean the kitchen item, so for me the two prompts were about the kitchen. By way of this introduction, I hope that I succeed in blending the two into a competent essay (is there another word for essay – that sounds very middle school-y. Also article makes it sound dull and informative. Everything around me speaks to my writing, my words and the use of them. Including this whatever it is about kitchens.)
My kitchen growing up was already pretty modern albeit with the avocado and mustard colors of the seventies. I. understand that these are coming back in a retro look. One word: why? Lord, please no. Not that my current black and white cow kitchen is all that special, but seriously, just no.
In our house, we complained constantly about loading and emptying the dishwasher. We don’t have a dishwasher. I would love a dishwasher even if my husband does do most of the dishes.
My parents always had a coffee maker. My Dad drank coffee every day, throughout the day. He would often make a full pot as if company were coming and still go out to the local deli for a Styrofoam cup there too. In my house now, we only recently got a coffee maker because my son asked for it as a Christmas present for his father with the half wink that he wouldn’t mind using it as well. I know for a fact that if I was a coffee drinker we’d have one of those machines that does everything from grinding the beans to foaming the milk. I’m a tea drinker. The most complicated device for making my tea is the loose tea strainer that must be emptied and rinsed. It is the only thing I wash immediately upon finishing its use.
In my parents’ house, we had a clear glass pot. It must have had a lid at some point, but I never remember it. We never had a kettle. This was the pot we’d boil water in for tea or hot chocolate. More often than not, I’d boil eggs for my father for him to enjoy hard-boiled eggs. Ironically that along with not drinking coffee, hard-boiled eggs repulse me. My grandmother had one of those metal percolators. To me that will always be the three-dimensional puzzle that I played with on her kitchen floor. Fitting all the pieces together in the right way was how I spent much of my toddlerhood and preschool life.
Our kitchen looks modern with an electric stove and a microwave that is twenty-one years old, but doesn’t look a day over ten. Our counters are Formica or some other kind of plastic, very similar to my family’s old kitchen table. The sink leaks although we’ve changed out the faucet and now it’s much better. The fridge is a testament to American craftsmanship, and hopefully will continue on until we have the money to replace it, millions of years in the future.
The one thing my kitchen has that my house didn’t is a window over the sink that looks out over the backyard. I actually enjoy doing the dishes if I can look out of a window to the world outside. Depression killed that small pleasure.
My mother had a toaster and a toaster oven. We have both in one appliance. It was a gift from my brother and it is probably the most useful thing that we have in our kitchen. Also the most used.
I have about a thousand spices more than my mother’s kitchen. She had four – black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and onion powder. Salt didn’t count as a spice but she had that as well. Morton’s, of course. When I was married and moved into my first apartment, my mother gave us a container of Morton’s salt (it’s a Jewish tradition to give bread and salt for a new house, although I’m sure it’s not limited to only that culture). We had that same original container of salt when we moved, had our first child and moved again. My spices come from Penzeys or the Spanish section in my local supermarket. My friend also sent me spice samples from California – one month Indian, one Asian, one Hispanic, and soon I was hooked into playing around in the kitchen with a variety of tastes and flavors, mixing cultures and flavors and loving it.
My mother was not much of a cook. She had one or two things that she did and she did them really well. The smell of meatloaf baking or a roast beef just come out of the oven take me back to the couple of the things my family actually cooked. My mother made roasts all the time – regular roast beef from an eye round or top round, and pot roast in a Ziploc oven bag from a bottom round. I was the meatball and meatloaf maker and mixer. My Dad loved it and so it was my job to make it every couple of weeks. My kids finally like the meatloaf, so it will become a staple in our kitchen again. Instead of ketchup, try it with some HP Sauce. Check the international aisle – it’s from Great Britain and it’s fantastic.
For a long time during my childhood, my grandmother (or her sister, my aunt) lived with us, practically the whole time, so she did all the cooking since my parents both worked. Nothing really stands out which is sad. I’m sure she must have made some good meals. What’s really sad is that I would probably remember them more if they were terrible. After she went into a nursing home, it fell to my parents. I was often asked by my father to make those meatballs or a meatloaf or even to boil the eggs for him. We never ate chicken unless it was fried chicken from a take-out place. Best. Fried. Chicken. Ever. My mother had a real aversion to raw chicken.
When I got married and started cooking real food, I cooked everything. I called it “from scratch” but I didn’t bake bread or mix my own icing or anything like that. I’d buy the boneless chicken, put a sauce on it, bake it and make the rice and some kind of frozen vegetable boiled on the stove top. At least I stopped eating canned except for green bean casserole or what cans we get generously from the church. I actually never used my microwave except as a timer that first year and probably not even until after my son was born. As I mentioned above, we still use that same microwave today. Popcorn, leftovers, frozen burritos.
The reason I’m reminded of this is that simple word, the prompt – zest. I had no idea what it was, what it meant. There was a soap called Zest; somewhat reminiscent or similar to Irish Spring, but putting that in an ingredient for cake didn’t make much sense at all. Even to a novice in the kitchen like me.
Having quite the Tupperware collection, I definitely had a zester; it was one of those freebies you got for attending a party or playing a game. I still didn’t know what it did.
Was the zest the same as the rind? What was the rind anyway? Do you mean the skin off the lemon? Orange? Limes? People use limes?Why? Do they mean the part that gets peeled off and thrown away? The garbage? You want to put the garbage in the cake or the pie or the syrup? I just don’t understand.
And I wouldn’t for many years. If it called for zest or rind, I left it out or added a tiny bit more extra juice – same thing, right?
Finally, a close friend took pity on me. He taught me how to bake bread over the phone. Caramel, too. And how to zest an orange. Or a lemon. It’s pretty much universal, I think. He is why I have a small jar of dried orange peels in my refrigerator at this very moment.
I still don’t understand what difference it makes.
All I know is that my children will never know this intellectual emptiness of wondering and being embarrassed with their lack of zesty intelligentsia. Fortunately for them, when I’m cooking or baking or experimenting in the kitchen I have my trusty tablet, one screen opened to my cookbook, one opened to the Google home page for any questions that might arise. like that loaf of fresh bread under the tea towel. Why they’re called tea towels is another mystery to my pre-cooking self; one that will undoubtedly be rehashed here in future days.