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Kitchen Envy

by Jo Page on March 20, 2013


Watch carefully because I’m about accomplish this fancy, journalistic sleight of hand in which I start this column in a curmudgeonly vein and, by sheer dint of willpower, end up with a column that will make you say “Ahhh” or is it “Awwww!” and put it up on your refrigerator with magnets, assuming you don’t have a snobby stainless steel fridge that magnets can’t stick to.

I mean, anyway, that’s Plan A. Plan B is that I’m still in a bad mood when I finish.

The bad mood is partially caused by The Snowstorm, by which you can tell I am writing this on Tuesday night after eating bad leftovers and drinking some kind of Chardonnay the color of watery chicken stock.

But the other reason is reading Jane Kramer’s New Yorker review of Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat.

(Confession: I have just let my New Yorker subscription expire after over a decade. Frankly, I just got fed up with all the Tessa Hadley short stories. Really, editors, find some new authors whose characters don’t wear such dull hairshirts!)

But back to my bad mood. Jane Kramer writes in her review of Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat that she—Jane Kramer—has two kitchens.

Two kitchens.

Well, la-de-dah.

The first one, the inferior one because it is so small, is in an upper West Side apartment Kramer moved into during the nineteen-seventies. It is so small and incommodious she has to use a stepstool to reach her paella pan. Quelle dommage.

Her other kitchen, the one by which she is “consoled” as she puts it, is in her farmhouse in Umbria (that’s, as in Italy). Her kitchen there is an old cattle stall, large enough that after adding her fridge, stove and dishwasher, she also put in “an eleven-foot table, ten chairs, a pair of outsized armchairs, and an old stone fireplace wide enough for a side of pork.”

(Look, I haven’t accomplished the journalistic sleight of hand by which I turn this into a not curmudgeonly feel-good piece yet. And I’m at the losing end of the word count. Bear with me!)

Anyway, Kramer begins to discuss favorite kitchen items: her own mother’s large turkey platter, the bottle of Barolo that fell on her foot (honestly, for Barolo, I’d have been on the floor with a dripper siphoning off the dregs), Bee Wilson’s ten-pound granite stone mortar-and-pestle from Thailand and her presidential faces mug given to her by her husband.

OK, I tried. I tried to find the common ground between these two women and their kitchens and their favorite kitchen items and my own kitchen and my favorite kitchen items. Especially since I have a lot of nice kitchen things. Dishes I got at Stickley when they had that big sale last spring. Gold-leaf edged plates that must be hand-washed and dried and make me worry about that little boy who was dipped in gold-leaf for that Medici pope and who died from poisoning and whether the same thing might happen to my guests and me if I’m not careful.

But I do. I have nice things. A five-pound mortar and pestle from Williams-Sonoma. An Emile Henri pot a boyfriend got me at Different Drummer’s Kitchen some years ago. French dish towels that the last owners of this house left behind before they moved to France.

But what do I use most? What do I love?

Nothing special, let me tell you. Or maybe. You tell me.

I love the little butter melter my mother bought in Provincetown when I was little. It’s got a long black handle and a tiny little body, ideal for fixing butter for popcorn. And I’d probably eat less popcorn if I didn’t have it.

I love the Mickey Mouse spoon that was my daughters’ when they were babies. It’s the perfect size for spooning out capers from those narrow jars.

I reach time and again for morning coffee in one of the two Italian mugs I bought at Starbucks in the ’90s when I thought my life was going to take a turn that it didn’t.

And I swear by all my beautifully misshapen Bennington thirds pottery that I bought years ago when it didn’t seem unthinkable to buy something so imperfect. It was cheap and it’s been tough, and I like to believe the hands that formed that clay also serve to shape me and keep me grounded.

(Which does not mean I would say no to a kitchen on either the upper West Side or Umbria. Or the south of France. With a vineyard and an olive grove. I’m just saying.)