QT 81 - My Culinary (And Literary) Fortress

QT 81 -  My Culinary (And Literary) Fortress

Why hello there, and welcome to Kitchen Catastrophes. Today’s post is going to be kind of weird. I’m not going to lie to you: things have been super jumbled. I complained about things going wild on Monday, and the fact is that they only KIND OF stabilized afterward. I mentioned maybe I was going to cover a cooking show today, but I didn’t have time. So instead, I’m jumping into the past, and the present, and opening up to you. Let’s talk about my set-up, and what, exactly, the kitchen for Kitchen Catastrophes is like.

Just a warning, a lot of these photos are going to have weird lighting, as I decided to broaden the scope of the post at like, 9 PM, so I had to take my pictures in the dark. That’s the life I lead now.


The Start of Something Cool

Before we go on, I want to credit my fried Tom Bertapelle with today’s title. It’s a line I think of every now and again, and it always brings a smile to my face. Back in High School, we were discussing some matter, and I expressed shock over one of my friends not having eaten some food. I legitimately don’t remember the context. I think a kind of cheese, or something, but my shock was immediately countered with Tom’s laughing rejoinder “Well, Jon, we don’t all live in a culinary fortress like you do.” And…it’s a valid critique. My house has always had plenty of food in it. My father was a big man, and he raised big, mostly active sons. And my mother came from a long line of farmers. My grandmother’s pantry is a walk-in, and used to be but a fraction of her stored food supplies.

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Listen, I didn’t have pictures of my grandmother’s pantry. And I need some sugar to get through this. Shit’s about to go down.

At the time, I was just getting into cooking as a hobby. Not even really ‘cooking’ at the time. See, it surprises many people who hear this, but I’m…actually something of a coward. And fairly shy. I HATE disappointing or weirding people out, so I tend to spend the first window after I encounter someone new (or a new group) analyzing them, and calibrating my social outputs. How crass is the right amount? What topics are we unified on, and what can I add?  And that’s because I don’t like doing things blind. Which sounds stupid, since I’m an improviser, and well known for ‘winging it’ in many stressful situations, but that’s because I already frontloaded all the calculations. I know the worst case scenario is a I look stupid, and I know how to turn looking stupid into bonding, so that’s fine.

None of which is really relevant to the story, except to explain that starting at around middle school, I didn’t have many extra-curricular activities other than Boy Scouts, so most days I just went home and watched comedy and cooking shows. Which gave me insights into mixing flavors, leading to me “cooking” for my friends in high school. And that’s the important bit: I started that process in middle school, and waited until High School to act on it. And not like, early high school. Mid-to-late. I started mixing up sauces for chicken nuggets, making spice mixes for oven fries, etc. I wasn’t even at a level of confidence to actually HEAT things, I just added flavors to finished things. And it went great, and that created a feedback loop that put us here today.

So where, exactly, is here?


Chaos is a Ladder

A big ol’ mess is the answer. This is a house where the dining table is used as a Shelf, and the floor under it, another shelf.

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No joke, this is our Dining Room table.

It’s understandable, from an objective standpoint: miscommunication, my father’s illness, and new beginnings has forced us to fit a lot of stuff into a house not exactly built for it. Both Nate and I had furniture, kitchen supplies, clothes and the bric-a-brac that builds up in a space, and we had to fit all of it back in the house. At the same time, I started this cooking blog, and before he passed, my father added chickens to the equation, and Stephen brought and left his cat.

The house, in about 2-3 years, went from 2 inhabitants to 4, then to 5, then to 3. And from 0 pets to 6. And those pets have needs, and several of them are also producers.

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I ran out of egg holders a week ago, so this pile is just continuously growing.
It’s cool: unwashed eggs are fine at room temp for around a month.

So, we’re at a premium for space. And we’re constantly adding more stuff. I’ve mentioned before that I’m pretty constantly buying magazines, at least partly for the site, but really think about that. My family subscribes to Cook’s Country, Milk Street, Bon Appetit, and Food Network twice. (We don’t know how that happened, but somehow it did.) My mom subscribes to Pioneer Woman, and I grab Saveurs from the store. The point is we accumulate a LOT of paper over the year.

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You can’t see, but the shortest stack here is 4 inches tall.

That’s a FRACTION of the magazines we’ve built up over the last 3 years, which we’re currently going through, trying to recycle what we don’t want or need anymore to make more room.  We’ve already tossed out at least 20 pounds of magazines, and this isn’t even all of the FOOD ones.

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Here’s another portion of our immense haul of magazines.

This isn’t a post for me complaining, though it may sound like it. This is more…rueful chuckling, as it were. If I wrote a review of every cookbooks we’d picked up since the site started, I’d have…probably at least 4-5 months of content, right there. It’s part of that instinct from earlier: I need to know, I need to analyze. I need to be prepared, so I need materials to study.

And that’s just the LITERARY components! I haven’t even touched on the physical ones! I still haven’t busted out that sous vide machine from the Second State of Catastrophe! Or the mandoline (though, honestly, I COULD have used either of them, I just stored them in a dumb place and keep forgetting they exist.

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In my defense, the sous vide is cloaked in shadow like Strider at the Prancing Pony.
Oh no, I’m reaching “Unprompted Lord of the Rings references” tired.

Then there’s dried ingredients, which are great, because you don’t have to use them right away, and are terrible, because you don’t have to use them right away, so you don’t, and 6 months later you still haven’t made Mapo Tofu, because “hey, there’s no rush”. (Though I do legit need to revisit our crate of Japanese foodstuffs soon…which will be explained at the end of the post.)

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Today’s crate contents: Shrimp Chips and Freeze-Dried Mangoes. Things are fascinating.

I will say, however, that one element of the process has made the biggest impact on me: which is the new Wok we got, because every other time I leave the kitchen I bang my elbow on it.

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Ba Dum tissh.
That’s not a drum sting, that’s the sound it makes every damn time I run into it.

I see my space between pictures is getting tighter and tighter, as I get more and more tired, and my need to complete this post before I go to bed gets more and more difficult. (Oh, yeah, remember how I said things have only KIND of calmed down? I get to drive to a vet appointment AND a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, and I am REALLY HOPING the former is done fast enough that I don’t have to bring the chicken on a multi-hour car ride. So I have NO time to work tomorrow, so It’s all going up right now BABY.


Bless This Mess

I’m not going to lie, I thought I’d pull all this together better. A calm discussion of the process of skimming magazines for details, some fun references to the many weird things we try. Like our deck-top herb garden because we have too many veggies and herbs to keep in the ACTUAL garden.

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Out for a little Night-gardening, O’Guin?

But uh…Look, things got weird on my end. I don’t want to share, because I don’t want it to be too much of a bummer, but in trying to explain why things are so messy, I went into too much detail (which I cut) and made a kinda tragic realization, and it threw off my groove, man.

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I am currently and simultaneously every person in this picture.

The POINT is that…this is a catastrophe. This post, my family’s hoard of magazines, my LIFE: All of it. And yet, things are still okay. I can still make surprisingly good meals (you’ll hear about the latest one in two weeks. Which is to say that I have no idea how next Monday’s will turn out, but I know the Monday AFTER that one’s was surprisingly good. Look, it’ll make sense in the future.) But despite my fears, and the overcrowding, and the chaos, I can cook. And sure, I’ve been reading recipes and doing this for years. But that’s the equalizer. That’s what keeps this site alive, and it’s how you can keep making and trying new foods even when you’re scared: I’m scared too. I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t have enough space, but it still works more often than it doesn’t. We’re stronger than our chaos. We’re going to be okay. So get back in your kitchen, and I’ll get back in mine, and let’s make something people will talk about.

That actually came together better than I thought.