Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kitchen contemplations

Spending so much time in the kitchen this week has reminded me of a few beliefs I hold true and dear.

First, I am downright leery of gadgetry, especially in the kitchen. I am all about the elbow grease. I’m not sure why, since I’m a self-admitted lazy person. I just don’t really feel like I’m creating a work of culinary art unless I’m working at stirring or mixing or kneading or breaking up pieces. I even have a few gadgets; I just don’t use them. I either forget to get the thing out until it’s too late, or simply eschew it out of sheer stubbornness (although some would argue stupidity). It’s not just that the gadgets are often out of reach or in a cupboard somewhere—it’s that I simply don’t feel like retrieving them, using and dirtying them, and putting them away again. I’d rather just stiff it out and rinse off the same spoon, dish, cutting board, etc. for reuse in a few minutes.

This might be a bit of a phobia, because I’ve even come to distrust people who love and gushingly profess their affection for kitchen gadgets. I wonder why they’re condoning these items with such tenacity; what are they hiding? Is the person unable to hold his own in the kitchen? Does he rely on these time-savers to cover a cooking shortcoming? Honestly, the folks I know who collect such tools very rarely if ever use them. There the wonder sits, shiny and spotless, untouched but revered. Why bother? Is once a year or so really enough to defend what is frequently a counter- or storage-space hog?

Before I really start to rant about that, I’ll simply say that most people I know who love to cook do so with little pomp and product, and instead with much passion. Big, fancy kitchen? Betcha it doesn’t see much use. Lots of fancy whatchamacallits sitting around? Probably haven’t been exercised in quite some time.

Perhaps I just fear technology and progress, or love tradition. Perhaps.

The other thing that all these hours in the kitchen have brought to the forefront of my mind is that we are really quite spoiled with the appliances that most of us use without thought every day. The stove, the sink with running water, the microwave oven, the dishwasher that many folks enjoy—they’re all incredible time-savers that more than justify themselves. As I baked and cooked endlessly, I kept thinking that if I’d been a pioneer woman, I would have been an advocate of raw food.

A few years back, PBS sponsored a reality show of sorts called Pioneer House, posing the premise that modern families might not have what it took to survive in pioneer times. They sent out some couples, a few singles too I believe, and had them settle on property, build a home, fences, garden and gather and butcher for winter, etc. The gist, if I remember properly, was that at program’s end, it was clear that not one family would have survived the tough mountain winter that likely would have followed all their preparation. But what struck me, as the show was concluding, were the profoundly different ways men and women exited the claim. The men, by and large, left the scene tearfully, looking back longingly at the little homestead they’d constructed. You could see in their faces how much of themselves they identified with the back-breaking work, with that humble dwelling they’d made in the wilderness. The women? Not a glance. All of them commented (and I’m paraphrasing, of course) that they’d spent the vast majority of time cooking and doing laundry, not to mention helping with outside work. They were exhausted and unfulfilled. Those gals could not wait to get back to their old lives. Regrets? Looks back? Heck, NO. They practically scurried toward the end of the experience, dreaming no doubt of their easy kitchens, their labor-saving washers and dryers.

So, I will not fear all technology and progress; sometimes it’s a great thing. No wonder life spans back in those days were so much shorter.

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