Thursday, July 14, 2011

My Favorite Things: Kitchen Edition

Sara at Wife-Mommy-Woman is hosting this week's Round Up on FS kitchens.  A great topic!

So here is a (less-than-erudite) 100th post (woohoo!) on this important topic.

Before coming to post, I bought a lot of kitchen stuff.  A LOT.  Really, I'd been buying kitchen stuff for years and promptly putting it in storage, so I had no idea of what I really had.  That didn't stop me from buying more.  I think cooking is so much more fun when you have really good cookware/bakeware/gadgets with which to do it.  So I set about fully customizing my kitchen to my very own specifications.  I was so, so, so excited.

Then I got to post and met my kitchen.  While the layout is okay, with relatively ample counter space, that's where the positive attributes end.  First of all, it's ugly.  1970s-era peachy-beige and avocado tiling with flower accents.  Brown tile floors.  Horrific wood-laminate cupboards.  Then, the features are problematic.  Electric stove (I hate cooking on anything but gas) and an oven whose door falls apart/off with alarming regularity.  One of the stove burners fell off its moorings the other day.  A dishwasher that may predate civilization.  It certainly predates silverware, as there is no silverware holder in it.  The washer and dryer are underneath kitchen counters, which would be fine if it didn't mean there was little to no storage space.  About half of my pots and pans and all of my food is relegated to the counters because there are only a couple drawers and a couple of cupboards in the entire kitchen.  Most of my kitchen gadgets are also relegated to the counters for the same reason.  I have never seen a kitchen with less storage space.  There are, in fact, precisely six cabinets and six drawers in the entire kitchen.  All of them poorly designed so that you lose a lot of the potential space because of the way the appliances are wedged in.  My sink has one basin.  There is only one overhead cabinet, which means there's all that wasted space in the rest of the kitchen.  Which is why all of my nonperishables live on the counter.  At least I don't forget what I have on hand...

So, instead of whining more about my ridiculously awful kitchen (have I mentioned that housing is a top priority for me in second-tour bidding?), I am going to outline a few of my favorite kitchen tools that I could not live without.

Now, I fully admit that I am a brand snob.  Especially when it comes to my kitchen.  However, I will shop around endlessly and wait years for the right sale.  I refuse to pay more money than I think I have to.  (I stalked my set of KitchenAid cookware for 5 years until it finally fell enough in price for me to justify it.)  If you are in the DC area, I think the Williams Sonoma and Le Creuset outlets in Leesburg are two of the happiest places in the world.  They are awesome for stocking up on high-quality kitchenware at fair (sometimes even low) prices.  I never fail to find awesome deals and surprises there.

-First, high quality cookware.  I really like my assorted Calphalon pots and pans and my KitchenAid hard-anodized nonstick set.  Cooking in them is always easy and even. 

-My favorite all-around pot:  My Le Creuset Round French Oven.  I firmly believe no household should be without one of these versatile enameled cast-iron pieces.  Mine is a 5.5 quart, which is perfect for most things.  I'll continue to build my collection as space and finances allow.

-My Calphalon steamer/sauce pot is pretty awesome too.  I love steamers big enough to accommodate artichokes.

-Microplane cheese graters.  I have a box grater, a rotary grater, and several hand-held models.  They are all awesome. 

-Sharp, high quality knives:  I love my Zwilling J.A. Henckels set for most things but have several Kuhn Rikon paring and utility knives on hand as well.  My Kuhn Rikon auto deluxe safety lid lifter can opener is pretty nifty too.

-Onion chopper.  This has made my life so much easier.  Just cut the onion into large chunks, put it on the chopping platform, and push down on the lid.  Voila.  This has changed my life.  And made my hands smell like onions on a much less frequent basis.  Double win!  (Mine is made by Progressive.)

-Mushroom slice and catch.  Similarly, this is awesome for slicing mushrooms quickly and easily.  Made by Vacu Vin.  And since mushrooms are one of my favorite foods, I use this several times a week.

-For that matter, I have specialized cutters/slicers/tools for most things.  Tomatoes, avocados, mangoes, melons, pineapples, strawberries.  I may use each a couple times a year, but I can't resist them. 

-Wooden spoons.  I love wooden spoons and use them almost exclusively, especially on my high-quality cookware.  I have spoons from the U.S., New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Palestine.  Some are specialized and/or pieces of art, while others are mass-produced and perfect for everyday use. 

-Mezzaluna/Ulu:  Essential gadget.  My parents have an amazing ulu knife they bought in Alaska 30+ years ago, but mine is just an off-the-shelf special until I can get to Alaska for one of my very own.

-Cheese Spreaders:  I have a number of random themed spreaders, perfect for cheese or dips or the like. 

-Pyrex.  Who could live without these amazing glass baking dishes??  I have many in assorted sizes and shapes. 

-ClickClack food storage canisters.  No explanation necessary.  They rock. 

-George Foreman Quesadilla Maker:  A much more versatile appliance than I thought at first, receiving it as a gift.  I make quesadillas, sandwiches, toast, calzones, paninis, and many other things in it.  Because here's a guilty confession:  I do not own a toaster.  Nor do I feel the need to own one.  I just don't eat bread that often in that form. 

-I like the Martha Stewart for Macy's kitchen collection because a lot of it is in a beautiful aquamarine color that appeal to me.  This is the default color for my kitchen tools.  Which, as you can imagine, looks FANTASTIC with the peachy-beige/avocado tiles...

-I could go on forever, but I will leave you with two words:  butter crock.  And two more.  Totally awesome.

And now, my wishlist:

-KitchenAid stand mixer.  I would buy one now, except for the whole lack of storage/counter space issue. 

-More Le Creuset.  I love it.  And those colors!

-I guess at some point I should buy a toaster.  It's just not a priority. 

-I spend hours looking at kitchen gadgets online and in stores.  It's my favorite shopping experience.  So I have a long list of things I will buy if/when they go on sale.

I also have very strong opinions on glassware, flatware, and dinnerware.  But that's another blog for another day.  If you're really curious, feel free to get in touch.  But I can't imagine anyone really is.  (Or at least anytime I get on my soapbox about the ideal heft and rim shape/thickness of a drinking glass or the appropriate number and size of tines on a fork, eyes tend to glaze over.)

So, these are but a few of my favorite kitchen things.  I've tried to include links where possible if anything strikes your fancy.  Let me know if you have questions!

Manaqish, Kittens, and Jambiyas, Oh My!

Blogger says this is my 99th post.  So I might as well get some really silly/boring thoughts down on this one before I feel pressured to be all classy and erudite in my 100th post.

So here's three fairly random and not at all erudite stories.

1. My newest guilty pleasure-

I am not opposed to paying people to do things that make my life easier.  I couldn't live without my housekeeper, as I've come to learn.  But there are some things I just never saw the need to have someone else do.  One of them is having someone take my grocery cart from the store to my car.  That is, until I realized a couple of weeks ago that it's more than just transporting the cart.  In the grocery stores here, there are always men at the checkout (usually store employees) looking to help.  They bag groceries, they take the cart to the car, and, as I recently discovered, they take the items out of the cart and put them on the conveyor belt for you.  All I have to do is wheel my cart to the line, and they'll take care of the rest.  I cannot tell you why all of a sudden this extra service makes me relinquish control of my cart, but it's my newest guilty pleasure, well worth a couple of dollars in tip.  It may indeed be a slippery slope to employing several domestic staff.  But please, stop me if I ever suggest hiring someone to carry my purse for me.  Seriously, that's a job description here. 

(Also related to grocery stores, I recently discovered that the bakery will make fresh manaqish for me.  Cheese manaqish may just be my favorite food, and coming home with a hot plate of it makes the toil of grocery shopping that much more tolerable.)

2. Life With Cats-

My cats are very attached to their schedule, so much so that even the slightest deviation causes great consternation.  In the morning, they like to wake up and cry outside my door until I wake up.  This can go on for hours, and they progressively get louder and whinier until I finally succumb.  At this point I must IMMEDIATELY give them their shared can of Fancy Feast.  If I hesitate even a moment, they will bite my toes. 

I then go about my get-ready-for-work routine, with both cats underfoot.  They are occasionally so curious that one or both will fall into the shower and let out a high-pitched squeal when they get wet.  Then, Griffin will do his level best to make me forget he is hiding in my room and close the door on him.  Having done this a few times and left him accidentally for 9+ hours, I don't know why he continues to insist on trying to get locked in.

I am pretty sure they spend their days sleeping and watching birds on the balcony.  This is based on my observations on the weekends.  I have a cozy setup for them by the balcony door, and this is a favored spot.  They also get extra treats and cuddles twice a week when my housekeeper comes in.  I have to be careful not to let them overeat on these days. 

When I come home, Callaghan is always waiting at the door for me.  I think he hears me coming up the stairs and then fumbling for keys.  Griffin tends to sleep a bit longer, and I'll generally find him curled up in some uncomfortable-looking spot a few minutes later.

As soon as I open my bedroom door, they run in and explore to see what they've been missing all day.  From what I can tell, nothing has changed.  (I have come home a couple times on days my housekeeper was there and found Griffin locked in my room, which means he plays the same game with her.)

Evenings are cuddle time; whenever I'm sitting on the couch with my laptop, Griffin curls up on my right side and Callaghan on my left.  When I cook, they insist on being underfoot.  They are both very good cuddle cats, which I love.

Then it's playtime.  The cats will chase each other around the apartment and play fight and get all their toys out and tear up cardboard boxes and have a grand old time.  Whatever chores I'm working on, they will help with.  Wihtout fail. 

When I start getting ready for bed, they get all excited.  Until recently, they both used to try and hide in my room and make me forget they were in there.  But I found a foolproof cure for this.  Feline Greenies.  Right before I turn off the last of the lights and head to bed, I throw out a handful of Greenies on the other side of the apartment.  This distracts them long enough for me to get into my room.

Then, once they've finished their treats, it's time to spend 40 minutes trying to break into my room.  They succeed on occasion, and it's always startling to have two heavy furballs jump on you just as you've fallen asleep.  (And you wonder why they are not allowed to sleep in my room?)

(About once a month I'll forget how annoying it is to have them sleep with me and will allow them in my room while I take a weekend nap.  Callaghan will sleep on my head, and Griffin will spend the entire time trying to make me pet him, whether I'm willing or conscious or not.)

I have been very proud of myself with the Greenies treat trick, but I am a little afraid they'll start biting my toes if they think I am up past my bedtime and they're hungry for treats... 

The cats sleep in the spare room, usually on the softest box they can find.  This, despite the fact that I have several cat beds/baskets throughout the apartment.  Their newest favorite sleep spot is together on top of a stack of rubbermaid containers. 

See below photos for Griffin's horrific(ally cute and fuzzy) home haircut and Callaghan's odd foot posture when he's stalking a cardboard box.

3. My Jambiya

Courtesy of one of our wonderful drivers, I am now the proud owner of my very own Yemeni jambiya.  He surprised me with it a couple of weeks ago, and I am so excited.  It's beautiful, and I need to figure out how to best display it.  I may have it mounted in a long shadow box that can also accommodate the belt.  See below for pictures of this as well.