neighborly decorations

neighborly decorations

If you may recall, we gave you a tour of our very small kitchen. We can now announce that we have an update to the decorations of our kitchen, courtesy of one of our very special neighbors.

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.

Check it out: artwork by “the wee one”.



A beautiful rainbow over our eternal mistletoe.




This is the most amazing piece of all: a 3D paper flower mounted on construction paper. I took the photo from underneath the kitchen archway.

a free plug for good people

a free plug for good people

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,”, 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 today!

the power of an apron

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:

“[A]n apron is essential and you are very kind.”

In nine words: the power of an apron.

the best-ever chili!

You think we’re about to drop a recipe on you? Not really.

The best-ever chili has no recipe. You have to be willing to put just about anything in your chili without much regard for measuring it. So this is more of a laundry list of ingredients and techniques than an actual recipe.

Let’s be clear, however: the only ingredient that we believe is mandatory in any chili is some form of chile pepper—fresh, dried, powdered, it doesn’t matter. Texas chili has no beans; vegan chili has no meat; Cincinnati-style chili contains cinnamon. Those are all fine examples of chili, but the best-ever chili must at minimum contain at least one form of chile pepper, in whatever form you can find.

Beyond this one requirement (and perhaps the inclusion of a little cumin) the ingredient list is yours alone. Ours always includes some form of an allium, whether it’s the old standby onion, or shallots, or garlic, or a combination. A mirepoix including celery, carrots, or bell pepper is great as well. Start by sautéing these chopped veggies (or others) in oil, stock, wine, beer, or some other liquid.

Once your veggies are transparent and soft, start adding any dry seasonings you may want to use: basil (!), dried coriander, and Mexican oregano are great standbys. Let those seasonings marry into your sautéed vegetables.

Then you can add wetter vegetables like tomatoes, as well as tomato sauce or paste, as well as any pre-cooked meat and any other liquids. (If you have dried chiles, this would be the perfect time to drop them in to reconstitute.) Add salt and black pepper to taste. We’ve also added tomato juice, tomato soup, and even leftover chili into ours.

Finally, just add love and a little time. It’s done when it smells like chili.

here’s our kitchen

here’s our kitchen

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.

Behind this door is…our furnace. And some extra storage.
Sometimes our refrigerator has more magnets than food…
That box on top of the refrigerator to the right? That’s the original recipe box Kathy and Michael received as a wedding gift.
One-third of our available counter space. This is our “spice corner”.
Our gas stove, all gussied up and looking pretty. (That didn’t last long.)
The other one-third of our counter space.
There’s always room in our kitchen for faraway places.
One-third of our available counter space. This is next to the sink.
Our DIY backsplash. (We’d show you the sink, but there were dishes in it. There are always dishes in our sink.)
We extend our very limited counter space by using this butcher block, which was built specifically for Kathy many years ago.

beginner’s mind, ordinary time

We start each day by cleaning the kitchen.

This is not just ancient wisdom passed down from the first Zen cooks. It is very practical and aesthetic advice as well. A clean kitchen clears the mind, refreshes the palette, ensures that all kitchen resources are available for the day’s work.

The act of cleaning the kitchen clears the mind. The first Zen cooks (along with other Zen practitioners) called this state “beginner’s mind”. It’s a great way to start the day. You start by looking at the mess left behind from the night before, and you despair how you are going to get this all cleaned up.

Then you determine to make a start…somewhere, anywhere. And you work your way through the mess at that point. You concentrate at the task at hand, making sure every dish, every bowl, every serving utensil is clean, refreshed, ready to work again.

This whole process is necessary to bring about beginner’s mind. But once you’re there, anything is possible in the kitchen.

The other thing to understand about cleaning the kitchen at the start of each day is that it is the unglamorous portion of the cook’s life. It’s messy, it’s hot, and sometimes you wonder just how the hell this stuff got caked on this spoon in the first place.

We call that “ordinary time”. (It’s named after the Christian observance of the weeks between Epiphany, Pentecost, and Advent, but our use is based on the meaning of “ordinary” as “everyday”.)  But it’s just as necessary as the “extraordinary time” of the cook’s life: the creativity, tension, and joy in the act of cooking food for others.

A beginner’s mind in ordinary time. It’s how we start each day.

By cleaning the kitchen.

kathy’s phat life

By the time I was in kindergarten, I weighed 60 pounds. I was 5 years old.

My earliest memories of being “fat” were of being taken to my pediatrician. As a young girl entering first grade, my parents were worried about my accumulating poundage. I will never forget that visit because Dr. Hannah said to me, “You need to take better care of yourself, because how was any boy going to want to look at you or be your friend?”

To help me take better care of myself, Dr. Hannah started me on a regime of amphetamines (“Black Beauties” ring anyone’s bells?). I hated chewing up those bitter pills. My mom would put them in jam on toast to help conceal the flavor.

By the time I was in the 4th grade, I weighed 104 pounds. I was 9 years old.

After a while, it was determined that the prescription drugs weren’t going to work, since as soon as I stopped taking them, you all know what happened—the pounds came flying back. My mom tried the grapefruit diet, chicken soup powdered mix, Weight Watchers foods. I appreciated everything she tried.

By the year 2002 my weight had ballooned up to 375 pounds on a 5’3″ frame. Get the picture?

I sought out weight-loss surgery and found a bariatric surgeon whom I really liked, trusted and believed in. I was 42 years old by then; he was concerned that I wouldn’t make it to 50. He went on to explain that I had as much hope of losing the weight with diet and exercise as I had of making the Olympic ski team.

As of this date I weigh 127 pounds. Fat no more, but just phat.

What is phat? What is the secret to my extreme weight loss? And what does Michael have to do with all this?