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Posts Tagged ‘kitchen’

It seemed such a good idea at the time. Hey, I said, let’s not go to a pub for lunch to mark the end of our exercise class for the summer. I’ve got a better idea: come to my place.

Now that would have been OK if I had been addressing, say, a couple of friends. But no, I was rashly issuing this invitation to my entire class. That’s all my exercise mat-mates and our Great Leader. Oh yes please, they all said, with an equally rash enthusiasm.

No relaxing lunch in a pub garden, no kitchen staff taking responsibility for feeding 15 of us and clearing up afterwards. Everything is down to me, the daft one who’d opened her mouth and let something oddballish tumble out.

In fact I don’t regret offering to host the lunch. It’s going to be a pleasure to have everyone here as they are all such dear and good friends.

Typically of me, I am going into this great event – and, as I write, it is less than 24 hours until lift-off – with an absolute mountain of tasks to be completed. I know this because I have made lists, dozens of them, which flutter like over-sized confetti out of pockets and bags, off worktops and tables, whenever I move. They instruct me to do such things as ‘Get spare plates from cellar’ and ‘Dust top of grandfather clock’ (some of my friends are tall).

However, totally against the odds, and in a wholly uncharacteristic way, I’ve cleaned the house and done the shopping. My reward should be a long lie-down, for at least six months, but there are lists to be checked, tasks to be ticked off and added to, and panic stations to be manned.

I’ve changed my mind 28 times on what we’re going to eat. Summery stuff, obviously, so no nice comforting (and straightforward) vat of something stewy that would just need a bit of bread for mopping.

Summery food tends to be a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Mine is to be a multiple choice menu – or at least that’s how it appears in my head. Time will tell.

First off the production line was a delicious salad dressing. Get the basics out of the way, I told myself, as I stowed it in the fridge. Unfortunately, within an hour Geoff and I had consumed half of it without thinking when we had salad for lunch.

Already in the fridge were about a dozen avocado pears, irresistibly reduced in price because they were verging on the squidgy side of ripe. It seemed such a good idea to get loads of them,  but now I can’t think of a good reason for having done so. The same with a small van-load of cherry tomatoes, which will almost certainly be mush by morning. They looked so full of promise when I impulsively decided to give them a home.

I’ve made caponata, all dense and delicious, the product of only about six hours’ chopping and stirring, flavouring and praying over. The big question is, will I remember I’ve got it? Will it remain in the fridge, buried under a mountain of avocados and mushy tomatoes, or will I be alert enough to check one of my lists and bring it out for its hour of glory?

Since it’s the only thing on the menu so far that’s ready, there is every chance I will remember it and it will be the star of the show. The only, lonely, star, but a star all of my own making.

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A man whose job it is to sell kitchens to mugs like me, told me that the natural life of a kitchen is 10 years. Funny that I’d mentioned about a minute earlier that ours is coming up to its 15th summer.

But can he be serious? Can a kitchen – and he assured me he meant all the appliances and the sink and the units and other bits and bobs – be doomed for the tip after a mere 10 years of life? I find that a shocking statistic – if it is true.

Little wonder the world has a rubbish disposal problem.

I had found myself in this most unlikely conversation with the kitchen salesman after our cutlery drawer suffered a malfunction. Its untimely collapse prompted Geoff to spend four days bent over its carcass with a squirty thing of wood glue in the futile expectation that it would somehow heal itself. My efforts to help were also in vain, and we came to the reluctant conclusion that we would have to buy a new drawer.

This would have the dual purpose of plugging the gap, like a missing tooth, in the kitchen units, and stopping Geoff and me habitually plunging our hands into the gap to reach a piece of cutlery, only to realise the cutlery tray was now occupying a worktop area at the other end of the kitchen.

It was a long, steep learning curve, retraining ourselves out of one habit and into another.

In search of the new drawer, and with measurements noted, we head to a store where we find displays of kitchens that make our own seem like something out of the 1950s decade of Back in Time for Dinner. I am staggered by how smart and conveniently designed everything is, with such clever storage ideas. Envy takes a grip and I ramp up the level of my wistful sighs.

When we find someone to help us our problems increase. Modern kitchen units don’t have drawers like ours, we learn, so no, it isn’t possible to buy a replacement drawer.

Cue the salesman’s obvious next line: “Have you thought about replacing your kitchen?”

That’s when he starts on about the 10-year lifespan of a kitchen, by which time Geoff’s eyebrows are arched up above the roof and my brain freezes at the thought of the inconvenience of builders and dust and having to make a thousand decisions. But then again, if not now, when?

We go home with brochures and graph paper after giving assurances we’ll be back if we do decide to go ahead. Then the utter madness of it all strikes us. Here we are in our perfectly good 15-year-old kitchen, whose only fault is to have lost a tooth, and we’re thinking about ripping it all out? Our new drawer for about £25 is in danger of becoming an unnecessary new kitchen costing something astronomical.

The decision is made for us as Geoff comes up with a brilliant solution.

We substitute the broken drawer for the one next to it, whose random contents are stuffed into a carrier bag “for sorting one day”. This enables us to reinstate the cutlery tray in its former position, and boy, what a great feeling it is to have it back where it belongs, even if it is taking us a long time to retrain ourselves.

There’s now a gap next to it, where the donor drawer was, but Geoff says he can deal with that. He may need a block of wood and couple of six-inch nails to cover the gap, but to us it’ll be as good as new.

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I HAVE made an astonishing discovery. I now know the purpose of instruction manuals, those annoying booklets translated into multiple languages that one casts aside (well, this one does) in the excitement of unveiling a new possession.

This can be anything from a pedometer to a smartphone, or a food processor to a car. With the built-in obsolescence of so many gadgets and gizmos nowadays, acquisitions can come thick and fast, leaving the problem of what to do with all the literature that accompanies them.

The receipt and guarantee need filing, but the rest of it, well, it gets shoved into a drawer until the day, years hence, when the once-new item to which it relates has bitten the dust and a newcomer has taken its place.

At least this is the situation at Hill Towers, and this is why occasional scrabblings in the dresser drawer reveal booklets that get me reminiscing.

“Do you remember that ghetto blaster that we thought was the trendiest thing alive?” I ask Geoff. “Well, here’s the instruction manual that would have told us how to record from tape to tape. That was the clever feature that made us buy it in the first place. I know it defeated us, but if only we’d looked at the manual.”

Out of sight it goes and very much out of mind, so instead of consulting something authoritative we think we know best and blunder our way into a barely adequate knowledge of pieces of machinery that can blitz half-a-pound of almonds into dust in four seconds or lop six feet off a conifer hedge.

It’s wrong, we know it is, but we are never likely to need to know more than where the On and Off switches are.

Or are we? Take the fridge, for example. For the past four months it has been regularly wetting itself, like a frightened puppy, causing puddles that lap at my feet and need mopping two or three times a day.

I hoped it would carry on doing its fridgey business long enough to get us through Christmas. This it duly did, while I duly mopped, which is not easy to do with crossed fingers.

Its Christmas duties done, I knew that the only way to learn what was ailing Stamford (Stamford Fridge, to give it its full name) was to look behind and underneath.

This would mean a wholesale emptying of contents and, unfortunately, the revelation of what I feared would be knee-deep dust around Stamford’s nethers. Quite possibly, dust would turn out to be the culprit, so I started working up a few excuses, not one of them plausible.

Geoff and I set to the task, starting by removing the first tranche of food from inside. “Hang on,” he said, “don’t we have an instruction manual for Stamford?”

I burrowed into the middle drawer of the dresser and retrieved it, untouched since the day it had been consigned there.

Geoff leafed through the instructions in Mongolian for changing the light bulb and got to the Troubleshooting section where there was a line that precisely described Stamford’s problem: a blocked tear duct, or something.

Geoff unblocked it and the weeping immediately ceased. With Stamford no longer wetting himself I was able to stop mopping.

This miraculous triumph, hitherto unknown at Hill Towers unless a crack team of mechanical engineers has been present, has encouraged me to seek out the oven manual so I can learn how to silence its mysterious beeping habit without turning it off at the wall.

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I REALLY shouldn’t be writing this. I should be staying focused on the task in hand and not allow myself to be sidetracked on to the much more pleasurable task of maintaining my journal.

Up to now I’ve spent the day rationalising the kitchen. ‘Rationalising’ is a word beloved of my mother which she uses in place of a more prosaic word such as ‘tidying’. So I’m rationalising and, in doing so, I’m not only creating space but putting a little much-needed gleam on my tarnished halo.

The need for this attention to the kitchen became uncomfortably apparent over Christmas when, for days at a time, there was not a spare inch of space to be had anywhere, not in a drawer, a cupboard or on any worktops. Even the table, so large it goes by the big-boy name of Tyrone, has half of its expanse taken up with stuff for which no home seems able to be found elsewhere.

I have finally tumbled to the fact there are two solutions to this bulging kitchen syndrome: rationalise or move house. We couldn’t countenance the latter, so rationalise it must be, and I’m the only one who can do it, unfortunately. Geoff takes on the role of inspector and maker of encouraging noises. We’re quite a team.

So far, after several concerted hours of application, punctuated only by the irresistible urge to sit and concentrate on reading the newspaper and listening to no more than two or three radio programmes, I have cleaned the sink, created several inches of space on two worktops (mainly by squashing stuff together) and, triumphantly, cleaned out the bulging drawer of spices so comprehensively that I can now close it without shouting at the cardamom pods.

That was the savoury spices drawer. Tomorrow I’ll tackle its next-door neighbour in which there are such aromatic beauties as cinnamon, vanilla pods, saffron, nutmeg and star anise to set my nose twitching and my imagination racing.

After that, after I’ve chucked out the oldies and made a note of what needs replacing, I will bend myself double and tackle the pulses and the nuts and the oddities in one of the base-unit cupboards where I know I’ll encounter some ancient, some modern and some that make me wonder what on earth I was thinking about when I bought them.

Geoff has a theory about what lies at the root of my bulging kitchen syndrome. He suggests it’s because I shop as though I am not only expecting a siege but I’m also convinced I am still catering for the whole family, even though the children haven’t lived at home for 20 years.

He’s right, I’m afraid. The stuffed-full cupboards are clearly a sign of some kind of middle-aged crisis being experienced by someone who needs a break. I fancy this means a break in a hotel with a spa and a pool and compulsory pampering several hours a day. Yes, that’s how to overcome bulging kitchen syndrome.

Oh, sorry, correction. I seem to have crossed my wires. The state of the kitchen is clearly a metaphor and I actually mean post-Christmas bulging body syndrome. Now it all begins to make sense.

Happy New Year to you all.

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A BIRTHDAY tea without cake is like Wimbledon without tennis. It was therefore vital that cake should be on the menu for grandson Joe’s sixth birthday – and preferably a cake that was ready for devouring the very second he arrived home from school in his usual state of near-starvation.

My daughter, who makes every scrap of her family’s food from scratch, had embarked on the cake-making part of the tea preparations as soon as she’d cleared away the chaos of toddler Zach’s lunch.

All seemed to be in good time, then, for the return of the hungriest small boy in the world. Joe is having his official party in the woods in a fortnight’s time so this tea, on his actual birthday, was just for selected guests: his mummy, daddy, little brother and Geoff and me.

The table was laid and looked so tempting and lovely with toothsome things to eat by the time we arrived after our two-hour journey.

However, crashings and bangings from the kitchen, interspersed with a few cries of woe, indicated all was not well in the bakery department. “I’ll have to throw this one away and start again,” said my daughter, normally so tense you could use her stress levels to power the National Grid, but now at absolute pinging point.

I asked what the problem was and learnt that the oven was too small to accommodate two layers of sponge cake so she was having to bake one at a time. The first one had come out at the due time with its top burnt and its inside still liquid.

“It’s OK, you’ve got time,” I lied, in a calming voice. Unfortunately, not only does my daughter currently struggle with a temporary dolls-house sized oven but her kitchen is on the less-than-grand size, too, so cannot comfortably accommodate two cooks while they spoil the broth, or in this case the cake. I had no choice but to follow orders and get out. My task then was to try and mask the sounds of exasperation and frustration coming from the kitchen and occasionally to put my hands over Zach’s ears.

Soon the birthday boy came bursting through the door, home from school with Daddy, and in a high state of excitement.

Naturally, the first thing he asked Mummy was if she had put the candles on the cake yet. Her “No, not quite yet,” came out a little strangulated.

Feeling brave, I peeped into the kitchen and saw that one cake half was successfully baked and the other was about to be mixed.

As the two boys, and we adults, too, grew increasingly hangry (hunger-induced anger) we decided to launch into the spread of food and hope the cake would make an appearance before bedtime.

We ate well and then my poor frazzled daughter eventually appeared from the kitchen bearing a prize-winning cake sandwiched with strawberry jam and topped with a translucent layer of icing, as per Joe’s specific request. The candles were lit, Joe puffed them out, Happy Birthday was sung, and at last everyone had a slice of cake on their respective plates.

“I’m sorry, Mum. I just can’t eat any more,” said Joe, who looked forlornly at his still-complete slice. We adults divvied it up between us. His small brother licked the icing off his piece before announcing that he couldn’t eat any either. “The jam is too strawberry-y,” he declared.

That’s the trouble with birthdays and cakes – you just can’t please everyone. Except greedy grown-ups.

 

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SOMETIMES I ask Geoff if he’d like to dance. To dance with me, I mean, not a solo effort in the style of Gene Kelly or Michael Jackson.

When he declines, which he always does, accompanied by a withering look, I point out that if he tried it he might like it “and anyway, no-one’s watching”. I try to keep the spoilt-girl whine out of my voice.

Geoff responds by telling me I’m daft. He really doesn’t need to remind me, but I cannot see what is wrong with a quick twirl around the kitchen, just for the sheer hell of it.

Geoff doesn’t do anything for that reason, which presumably goes some way to explaining why we are well suited. His Captain Sensible keeps Miss Giddy’s impetuous feet on the ground.

So we don’t dance, even in the privacy of the kitchen with the blinds down and the lights down low. I live with the disappointment because, stupidly I know, I harbour the hope that one day he might give in. We could whirl about and tangle our feet and shimmy past the fridge, glide past the dresser and round the table, moving to the rhythm of our beating hearts (actually, it would probably be the six o’clock news on Radio 4, but it wouldn’t matter).

Men don’t much like dancing, do they? I mean your Average Joe type of men, not men who dance naturally with elegance and passion, heads flung back like exotic, strutting birds, their partners held in a featherlight touch.

“I love a man who can dance, don’t you?” a friend asked me the other day, and I heartily agreed. Our respective husbands are both resolute non-dancers but we decided that what they lacked in their willingness to make us Ginger Rogers to their nimble-footed Fred Astaire, they more than made up for in so many other way. Yes, yes, most definitely. So very many ways. We were sure about that.

It’s true there was a long-ago occasion when Geoff took to a dance floor, but it wasn’t with me in his arms. It was that awkward shifting from foot to foot type of dance with a few wildly swinging arm accompaniments and an ‘I’m not really here’ look in the eyes that, in those days at least, cut the mustard when grooving it in a club. When the floor is heaving with these strangely hypnotic humans shifting their shapes there is a reassuring safety in numbers.

Exchange that frenetic scenario for the formality of the ballroom dance floor and the exposure is too much for him contemplate. That is why I think the kitchen is the ideal studio for us to master at least the waltz to give him confidence, but he’s having none of it.

My father, despite having two left feet and both of them flat at that, was an enthusiastic dancer, regularly impaling my mother’s shins with his shiny shoes as he whirled her about, a beaming smile across his face. I know because I would watch through the banisters when my parents had friends over, having rolled up the sitting-room carpet and scattered French chalk.

That was the era that led on to the dinner-and-dance phenomenon which in turn became eclipsed by the sort of wild jigging about to unfeasibly loud music for which a partner was optional.

I wonder if we’ve come full-circle now, with the glamour and romance of proper partnered-up ballroom dancing having become a fixture in the nation’s popular culture, thanks to Strictly. There’s no point asking Geoff what he thinks. He’s sitting this one out.

 

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The dilemma I faced was this: to clean or not to clean my ancient oven before it was taken away to be dumped.

It wasn’t as straightforward as you might think. Of course, the obvious answer was just to let it go in any old state to meet its fate on a slow boat to China or in a recycling centre devoted to dysfunctional ovens, but before being removed it had to meet the chaps who were coming to take it away.

They’d be sure to look and, oh dear, notice that it wasn’t in the best of condition. Not filthy, not even properly dirty, just well worn. I would say pre-loved, except I never loved it.

It was a poor performer and for 12 years it has ritually slaughtered everything I’ve shoved into its inefficient maw. All the numbers on its dials wore off years ago so temperature control has been more of a guess than a precise art, and what it hasn’t undercooked it has overcooked, while always leaving most things pale and near-raw in the middle.

Enough became enough around Christmas-time when grim disappointments emerging from the oven at an alarming rate prompted Geoff and me to decide that once we’d got over the excitement (and expense) of Stamford Fridge coming new to the Hill Towers kitchen scene, we’d start thinking about an oven.

Start thinking, you note. Nothing too rash here. We drifted off-topic and settled in a few lay-bys along the way, but eventually, after more than four months of dither and debate, we are finally welcoming The Oven into our lives.

It is a mighty fine machine that will, I am sure, bake every culinary aspect of our lives to perfection. It should. It cost slightly more than my grandparents’ first house.

However, in advance of The Oven’s arrival ceremony, there is still the question of whether I should spruce up the old one in time for its removal.

Cleaning anything, other than a horse in preparation for meeting its public, is a tedious and largely time-wasting effort as far as I’m concerned.

Take brass candlesticks. You get your hands all black and gunky, they (the candlesticks, not the hands) shine prettily for a brief few weeks, then they forget what they’re meant to do and subside into a murky dullness. So where’s the point?

I know, I know, I really do, there is a sort of a point, it’s just that reading a book or going for a walk has a very sharper point about it.

Of course you will have guessed that I didn’t clean the oven. What kind of fool would engage in such a grim activity a few hours before the object found itself handle to handle with its distant relatives on the back of a lorry to oven hell?

I flinched when the nice removal/delivery chaps opened its doors to start unscrewing it from its mooring points.

I blathered on about not having cleaned it because it seemed a bit silly under the circumstances, hoping that my non-stop drivel would distract them and perhaps cause temporary blindness to strike.

It didn’t, but then one of them smiled at me and said: “Really, don’t worry. This is absolutely fine. We’ve seen an awful lot worse, I assure you.”

I grew several feet taller and made them both a cup of tea. I’m going to ask Geoff what he thinks about adoption. They’d be so lovely to have around.

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