I exaggerate, a smidge. What she actually did was organize a spice cupboard and matched all the Tupperware containers to their lids, which was really nice, but her actions caused a momentary inconvenience a kind of chaotic tension that has reverberated throughout our household ever since. Whenever I can’t find something, I blame her. Even now. I’m sure anyone who ever had a kitchen can sympathize – including my mother in-law, who still laughs at her own ballsy behavior six years post Operation: Kitchen Reshuffle.
I clearly have issues when it comes to the kitchen.
On Sunday, our exchange student, Hanna, asked if she could have some friends over for a baking demonstration. Hanna loves to cook, and has a fair amount of knowledge about how to prepare things that don’t fit especially well with my resolve to shed the six pounds that have somehow found their way to my midsection since I tumbled off the Weight Watchers wagon.
I’m learning to deal with the situation. We’ll call it strudel acceptance.
I passed Hanna with her arms full of groceries and a gaggle of girlfriends as I was running out on errands. I reminded her that I’d need the kitchen by a certain point to fix dinner.
I came home just as the girls had cleaned up. There were a few perfect, little muffins artfully arranged on a plate. The room had that sugary baked-goods smell and the dog was slobbering.
Hanna had a sour look on her face.
“They’re edible, but, well … I think your flour is old.”
My first thought was flour gets old?
My second was I have actual flour?
Save for the occasional Christmas cookie swap, I don’t bake much. Plus, my cupboards are astonishingly difficult to navigate. This isn’t entirely my fault. Some time ago, I discovered we have one child with an intolerance for wheat, and I went on a pantry-cleaning bender, throwing away any prepared foods, cereals, granola bars, pasta … finding out in the process that everything I was stocking pretty much had some wheat in it.
After that, I experimented, creating substitutes for things we normally ate that would satiate two constantly ravenous, pre-teen boys.
I made my own granola bars using oats, nuts, raisins, brown sugar, molasses. I tested recipes for pizza dough and sandwich bread, using rice flour, almond flour, garbanzo bean flower, soy flour … you name it. I made bread that had no fewer than every single one of the seven thousand ingredients found in the bins at the specialty food store.
Some of it was palatable. Much of it wasn’t. After dinking around for a little while, I found a decent commercially baked gluten-free bread that didn’t cost as much as a car payment. That was the end of my baking.
So, now, I have a bunch of unlabeled bags of stuff in my cupboard, that I somehow thought I’d be able to identify on sight. I do know, as far back as those cupboards go, there isn’t a spec of wheat flour to be found. Nope.
I don’t know what exactly Hanna used in those delicious looking muffins, but by the taste, I’d say soy flour. Or ground-up library books.
Hanna was a good sport about her library book muffins, and shrugged, saying she’d stock flour to have on hand for her baking.
Later, after we’d cleaned up the dinner mess, I was parked in my favorite spot on the sofa, ready for the kids to go to bed so we could fire up Netflix.
Hanna was still in the kitchen, pawing through cupboards full of random, unlabeled bags. She cried out when she found a container with an assortment of nuts I’d stowed since the kids told me they didn’t care for my homemade granola bars.
The things were probably rancid, but I never had the heart to sort through them and toss the really yucky stuff.
But Hanna did. She started sniffing through little bags. I heard her exclaim at regular intervals when she found something that had not yet morphed into something else.
But I was done. It was late. The kitchen was closed. I gave Mike a look that was supposed to say something like take care of this, and wandered out to find my slippers.
I came back to find both Hanna and Mike, buried up to their shoulders in the liquor cabinet, pulling out bottle after half-filled bottle.
“We have Jägermeister,” Mike said, helpfully. He turned to look at me.
“Honey, do we have Marsala?” he asked.
No, we don’t have any freaking Marsala. Besides beer, our booze collection can be divided into three categories: (1) what people have brought us as gifts, (2) the stuff left over from that time we had a mojito party, or (3) Jägermeister, Mike’s go to drink whenever he gets together with college buddies.
So, no. No cooking wine.
Hanna got over the sad state of our liquor cabinet, and last night made us schnitzel. It took a little bit to find some cooking oil that wasn’t rancid and she had to dig out the flour she stocked, but the result was melt-in-your mouth yumminess that made my little crowd of allergy prone people and picky eaters do little food dances.
Or maybe that was just me, scooting around in my chair.
Whatever. It was heaven.
Clearly, Hanna is not deterred by my kitchen anxieties. If I can help it, I’ll tamp those suckers down the entire time she’s here. I do love the schnitzel.
Kitchen anxiety is a real thing, you guys. You can help by voting as often as once a day. Thank you.