The Best of Chopstick Cinema: Welcome to My Little Kitchen
So...Welcome to my little kitchen...
The image in the photo above is the noren hanging in my kitchen doorway. Noren are a Japanese tradition and may be seen hanging in the doorways of both home kitchens and restaurants. The image on my noren is the Takarabune, a legendary Japanese treasure boat bearing the Shichifuku-jin, the Seven Gods of Good Fortune: Daikokuten, variously regarded as the guardian of monasteries, the kitchen god, and god of the harvest; Ebisu, the god of fishermen in Japanese mythology; Bishamonten, the Japanese god of war, regarded as one of the four Buddhist gods of the horizons and protector of the north; Fukurokuju, the Japanese god of wealth; Juronin, the Japanese god of longevity; Hotei, the god of happiness and contentment; and Benzaiten, goddess of music, eloquence and wisdom. The Takarabune bearing the Shichifuku-jin is believed to sail on New Year's Day, and the tradition is to place a picture of the Takarabune under one's pillow to ensure that the year's first dream will bring good fortune.
And speaking of good fortune...I just recently moved into this lovely apartment in downtown Napa. It borders a wooded ravine with a tributary of the Napa River running right under my balcony, and my kitchen window looks right at it. The 'lucky bamboo' on the table is a [thankfully still thriving] gift from my friend Alice Jackson.
My little kitchen is a walk-through efficiency that opens into the foyer on one end, and into a dining area on the other. The passageway between the two parallel countertops is only 36"wide. My grandmother, bless her soul, would have called mine a 'one-butt kitchen'. The up-side is that no matter where I'm standing, whatever I need to lay my hands on is within arm's reach. The downside...my tush is tattooed with bruises from bumping into the sharp edges of the oven door handle.
I have all the cupboards organized according to where their contents are most often used. The pots and pans are on either side of the stove, as are all the storage containers and food wrap. Dishes and glassware are right over the dishwasher for efficiency in putting them away [my son Will's job, so he's thankful for that].
I store my Asian tableware in baskets. That way, when time comes to plate up and take pictures, I can haul them all out at once and choose those that best accentuate the aesthetics of the dish.
At the far end of my kitchen, at the end of the walk-through, I have placed a tall set of shelves that I call 'my pantry'. There I store canned and dry goods, and my cat Mochi eats her meals from a little tray right in front of it. My laundry is right next to it. The washer rolls up to my kitchen sink, and the 110v dryer works on regular household current. Pretty nifty, eh? And on the other side is a little breakfast table that also serves as an extension of my countertop when things really get cookin'.
Above the washer is my spice rack. Nothing fancy, just something I hammered together one afternoon. But I've sure made some tasty food with the contents of those hand-labeled jars.
The most frequently visited shelf in my kitchen is the one at eye level in my 'pantry'. There I store everyday chopsticks, the basics like soy sauce [oops, looks like I'd better put that on my shopping list], salt & pepper, tabasco, basil, toothpicks and a fire extinguisher that, thankfully, I have never had to use.
My favorite part of the kitchen is the artwork. Across from the entryway is a very large closet that houses, among a miscellany of other things, Mochi's catbox [well...where else was I going to put the dang thing?]. So for her convenience, I leave one of the sliding doors open, and camouflage it with a set of hanging bamboo curtains bearing an image of Hokusai's classic ukiyo-e woodblock print 'Beneath the Waves off Kanagawa' from the series '36 Views of Mt. Fuji'.
Hanging over my kitchen sink is a series of seasonal photographs taken many years ago by my dear friend Mark Peterson, a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin West Bend. I've never had a kitchen with a window over the sink, so that's where those photographs always hang. And just for the record, this is my kitchen sink on one of its better days. Even with a dishwasher just a few inches away, I still have a hard time keeping it emptied of all the dishes that accumulate over the course of each day.
And right next to the kitchen doorway is one of my very favorite pieces of art in all the world. It's an original silk screen print created in 1973 by my elder brother R. Steven Heiter, birdwatcher and artist extraordinaire. It's titled 'Up the Country'. And no matter where I go or how foreign the kitchen may feel, once I hang that on the wall, I'm home.
Mine is a humble kitchen. I don't have a lot of fancy gadgets, shiny pots & pans or sleek knives. The most treasured things in my kitchen are the well-worn ones that bear the scars of a thousand memorable meals. And as I told my friend Guy over at Meathenge, they say that the best things come in small packages, so perhaps the best food comes from tiny kitchens.
En Mi Cocina… (May, 2006)
My son Will is studying Spanish II in high school and was recently assigned to write a paragraph about our kitchen. Here’s what he wrote...
En mi cocina
En mi casa, no hay una cocina grande. Hay una cocino poquito. Siempre hay muchas frutas y legumbres exóticos. Mi madre prepara muchas tipos de comidas de Asia. Mi madre algunos asar mucho pollo y papas, pero casi nunca freir los comidas. Es una cocina moderna. Nos estufa tiene hornillos eléctricos. No nos gustan los hornillos eléctricos.
Precious don’t you think?
The Changing Face of My Spice Rack (October, 2004)
Last week, before my Taiwanese Dinner & a Movie, I gave my kitchen a very thorough cleaning, which included wiping all the jars in my spice rack. I couldn't help noticing how it has changed over the past few months as I have added new spices for each Asian cuisine. Where I used to stock only salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil, cumin, paprika, bay leaves, cinnamon, nutmeg, a generic curry powder, cayenne pepper, Chinese mustard and powdered ginger, I have now added such exotica as garam masala, sumac, cardamom, turmeric, coriander, Chinese five-spice powder, whole cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon sticks. And with trying a new Asian cuisine every month, I don't know that I will ever go back and use them all up, however many Asian cuisines have spices and other ingredients in common, so my array of exotic new spices may do double duty in many meals yet to come.
Food Blogger Versus the Grain Moths (March, 2007)
I have a dirty little secret. One that I can finally confess, now that the ordeal is over.
For weeks, I have been battling an infestation of grain moths in my kitchen. For those of you who have never had the experience, grain moths, aka Indian Meal Moths (Plodia interpunctella), are among the most insidious and destructive little pests on the planet. Oh, they may look harmless enough, as they flutter about on dusty wings like so many kitchen faeries. But don't be fooled, they will worm their way into every cereal, grain, meal, flour, noodle, chip, and cookie in your pantry. They even get into paper products, tea bags, and believe it or not...powdered wasabi! They can get into tightly sealed jars, heavy plastic bags, and unopened boxes lined with airtight envelopes. No form of packaging, no matter how invincible, can stop these relentless creatures.
They infiltrate your kitchen by hitching a ride as larvae, somewhere among your groceries, in some seemingly innocent bag of granola, cornmeal, or ramen. And before you know it, they're everywhere. At first, all you may notice is one or two, hovering about your kitchen. Next, you might notice them in tiny swarms, taking flight as you disturb the air in your kitchen when you get up in the morning to make breakfast.
But by then, it's too late. Although you may not see them yet, they're already everywhere. Canoodling in your kashi, romancing in your rice, cocooning in your cornmeal, nesting in your Nabiscos, and hatching in your hibiscus tea. They multiply like mice on Viagra, and I swear the little buggers must be born pregnant, although they can be seen doing the wild thing on your kitchen walls and countertops during their brief mating season.
You can also recognize their presence by the microscopic holes in the packaging of your carbohydrate products, and the dainty little webs they weave once they're inside. The good news is: they're mostly harmless. They don't bite or sting, they're relatively easy to catch and kill, and their life cycle is very short. The bad news is: you're gonna have to GET RID of every box, bag, jar, and cannister of carbohydrates in your kitchen, and possibly all your tea bags and paper products too. And don't forget to check your dry pet foods.
Once that's done, and you've replaced all your carbohydrate products (flour, cereal, crackers, cookies, noodles, etc.), you're going to have to store them in the refrigerator or freezer until you're certain that you're rid of all the undiscovered progeny they left behind. In other words, once you suddenly notice that you haven't seen a single grain moth or any sign of them for weeks. After that, whether you choose to store your carbs in your cupboards and pantry is up to you. But do so at the peril of reinfestation the next time you bring home a box of that bargain granola or a bag of exotic flour from the Asian or Mexican market.
Pesticides are not recommended for treatment of grain moths, however, one highly effective weapon is an ordinary strip of fly paper, the kind that comes in spiral rolls and can be thumbtacked to your kitchen ceiling. You will be amazed at how quickly it fills up with the little devils.
And one last word to the wise: DON'T LIVE IN DENIAL. If you see even a single grain moth, as heartbreaking and inconvenient as it may be, go through your pantry, look for signs of them in your carbohydrate products and get rid of anything that shows any sign of them. And if you begin to see more than just a few, bite the bullet and get rid of all your carbs immediately, before Plodia interpunctella takes over your kitchen and your life.