We like to call him “the wee one.” He’s about six years old and is the son of our next-door neighbors. And he’s quite the precocious child: once he stopped by the sliding glass door to our apartment (we share a common balcony), opened the screen, and threw in a paper airplane. We retrieved and unfolded it, and found an invitation…to meet his baby sitter, who would be watching him the next day while his parents were out of town.
We accepted his invitation, to the puzzlement and delight of his baby sitter (and his parents as well). This young man has quite the outlook and vision on life, as we discovered a few months ago.
Again, he stopped by our sliding glass door and asked Kathy if she would like some “things” he had created. “I’ve made a lot of them,” he said, “and these are the ones left over.” Curious, Kathy said, “Sure, we’ll take them. Thank you!” The wee one excused himself, went back to his home, and returned with a stack of what looked like construction paper. He solemnly gave the stack to Kathy and left.
When we examined what he had brought us, we were shocked and delighted. The stack contained drawings in multiple media and paper assemblages. They are all very clever, creative, and delightful. We knew we had to display this art somewhere, and then the thought came to us: Why not decorate the archway that leads into our kitchen? And that’s what we did.
One of our favorite pieces of kitchenalia isn’t a gadget, or a cute looking creamer, or even the proud and honored whisk. It’s a refrigerator magnet with a very special message.
We bought it at a thrift store. As soon as we saw it, we knew we had to have it. It’s been a feature of our kitchen ever since, and its message is one of the main inspirations behind newdeal kitchen.
We were curious about where the magnet came from, so a brief search of the Interwebs revealed that the magnet (and the message) comes from Penzeys Spices, a retail spice merchant based in Wisconsin.
The message is part of Penzeys Spices’ corporate culture, which emphasizes cooking as an act of love and kindness. The cover of their Thanksgiving 2016 catalog bears the motto: “Heal the world – cook dinner tonight.” Their corporate tagline is “Love to cook – cook to love.” Members of the Penzeys team summed up their philosophy this way:
So much good happens when people cook for each other. We like to encourage everyone who cooks to be happy and comfortable with whatever their cooking interests and experiences might be. So we share a simple, yet important message to love the people in your life by cooking them food just the way they like it. [“Penzeys Spices Sprinkles Kindness with Stickers,” websticker.com, December 13, 2011]
This philosophy is just as we like it. We downloaded the Penzeys Thanksgiving catalog from their website and we were very impressed. A huge assortment of spices and spice blends are available (including “Frozen Pizza Seasoning” – whaaaaaat?). Plus original recipes. Plus stories which emphasize “the goodness of cooking.”
By the way, we don’t have any kind of advertising relationship with Penzeys. We just like putting in a free plug for good people. Check out penzeys.com today!
Some of the most profound things come out of the some of the most simplest things. Take an apron, for example. For some cooks, it’s a necessary piece of equipment. For others, it just gets in the way of what they’re doing.
For us, an apron is a profound symbol of the life Kathy and I chose together, from the very beginning of our marriage. As one of the two wedding shower gifts we received from Kathy’s friends and co-workers almost ten years ago, the apron represents everything that newdeal kitchen stands for: a passion for eating well always, and a desire to share that passion (and our food) with others.
So we believe there is something to an apron…a power, let’s call it, to transform others. The apron is an invitation to work, to join in with others to make things right and share them with others.
This power is not limited to the kitchen. Kathy works part-time for a major retailer, and as part of the job, everyone is required to wear aprons with the retailer’s logo. For some folks, it’s definitely a burden to wear; and for those folks, the power of an apron holds little interest.
But for one of Kathy’s co-workers, the power of an apron was everything. One day Kathy lent an extra apron to this young lady. A couple of weeks later, an envelope was left at Kathy’s work table. Inside it was a card from the co-worker, who had just left the company.
The note in the card began: “Thank you for the apron. It was my most valuable piece of equipment….” And it ended with these words:
One of the questions we’ll be asking in this blog is “Where’s your kitchen?” We want to know where and how you store, prepare, and eat your food, and we’ll share with you how to do that soon. But, to be fair, we felt it necessary to show you our kitchen. It’s a big small…in fact, it’s very small. And there’s virtually no counter space, as you will see. But it’s the laboratory for our food experiments, and the place we display our cool kitchenalia. So without any further ado…here’s our kitchen.
To our eternal chagrin, however, kitchenalia is not among them.
Our humble blog is but five entries deep, but we have already driven the claimstake into the ground. In our second post, “why a kitchen?”, we define kitchenalia as “things designed for use in a kitchen. They can be as mundane as a whisk, as valuable as a Dutch oven, or as whimsical as a vintage Moo-Cow Creamer dispenser.”
We are not the only users of this extraordinary word. Other dictionaries recognize it as well. Dictionary.com defines kitchenalia as “cooking equipment and other things found in a kitchen”. Oxford Dictionaries — yes, that Oxford — defines kitchenalia as “cooking utensils and other items associated with the kitchen.” A quick Google search on “kitchenalia” returns 3,190,000 (or, a veritableplethora of) resources for exploring the meanings of the word and its current use in our culture.
And here’s the final twist of the (chef’s) knife…in the article introducing these new words, Merriam-Webster takes great pride in announcing:
This is a travesty, a sham, and a calumny, and we shall not stand for it. What will it take, Merriam-Webster, for you to see the light and to include kitchenalia in your (up until now) outstanding tool of the English language?
We await your reply with complete, utter, and total aplomb.
So we said in our last (actually first) blog post that we were setting the action of our little love story in the kitchen. Why a kitchen?
A kitchen seemed like the perfect way to describe this enterprise. After all, we’re not talking about restaurants. But, we’re also not talking about yet another food blog with endless recipes blah blah blah. We looked up the dictionary definition of the word “kitchen” and found six different meanings for the word:
A place where you prepare your food (and we’re gonna be asking “Where’s your kitchen?” very soon, so get your answers ready).
A cuisine; for lack of a better name, we’re calling our cuisine “legacy homestyle with a modern twist”. (Yeah, we’ll explain that better, we promise.)
People – both those we serve in a meals and those who may serve us. (Oh, and especially the two people writing this blog.)
The things designed for use in a kitchen. They can be as mundane as a whisk, as valuable as a Dutch oven, or as whimsical as a vintage Moo-Cow Creamer dispenser. We call these things “kitchenalia”, and we’ll be sharing some of ours with you.
Finally and most importantly, a kitchen is about cooking – and we’ll be all about that as well, sharing recipes that we actually don’t call “recipes”. (As well as recipes that we do call “recipes”. Yes, it’s confusing, but hang with us – all will be explained.)
Our philosophy of eating can be summed up in three little words: “Eat. Well. Always.” We’ll talk more about that too. But the kitchen is where we’ll start.
The main characters are interesting: a couple of aging hippies named Michael and Kathy, who meet through online dating. The angle: they live about 350 miles apart and have to drive to see each other on weekends. After a year of dating like this, they decide to get married.
Kathy’s co-workers and friends arrange a wedding shower, to which Michael is also invited. It’s a great party, full of laughter, tears, and (of course) plenty of food – but two of the shower gifts would change Kathy’s and Michael’s lives forever.
The first gift was wonderfully thoughtful: a personalized wooden recipe box filled with recipe cards. Some of the cards were blank while others had been filled in with recipes provided by Kathy’s friends and co-workers.
The second gift was an apron with a customized graphic on the front. Based on the photograph below, Kathy’s and Michael’s reactions to this gift were somewhat different:
But check out the graphic on the apron. The title on the design says it all. (August 3, 2008 was the date of Michael and Kathy’s wedding.)
So how can a box of recipes and an apron with a customized graphic change a couple’s lives? By reminding them of the subject of this love story: their lifelong love of food and how that love has ruled their lives, both separately and together.
Like any love story, there are ups and downs. You’ll hear all about those, and about those still, present moments which happen in between. You’ll also find out how we – Kathy and Michael – will share the gifts we received that day, now so many years ago.
We’re just shortening the title on the apron a little bit, and setting the action in the kitchen.