by John Ryan
I think I've made a couple advances in my skirmishes with reality.
I'm always amazed at how long I can put up with petty irritations. I can walk around all day with a sock riding into my shoe or drive for miles listening to a radio station that is not quite tuned in. It's not that these things don't bother me, they do. In fact, if it goes on long enough I become one of those tightly wound, crazed individuals you've seen pounding on a pay phone or soda machine over a lost dime.
Petty aggravations don't hesitate to follow me into the kitchen. For instance, squeezing a wedge of lemon should be a casual flourish that makes a pedestrian dish sparkle. That's the way it happens on cooking shows. But whenever I raise my lemon—pop, pop, pop, pop, it shoots seeds into my pan like an automatic weapon.
I dealt with this a couple weeks ago when I discovered a roll of cheesecloth in the basement. I don't remember buying it, but I must have. I suspect that I picked it up a decade ago. I probably used it once, then moved it around the kitchen for months or even years. No doubt, when I moved, that box never got unpacked. In fact, that box probably got moved two or three times without being unpacked.
Anyway, when I found the cheesecloth during one of my cleaning binges, I thought of my lemon problem and snipped out a bunch of 6-inch squares and stuffed them into a drawer close to the stove. Now I wrap a lemon half in a cheesecloth square and make the grand gesture without shooting my sauce full of seeds.
Another thing. I like to imagine cooking as poetry in motion. So far though, the mundane clean up that goes with even the simplest dish spoils the poetry.
My favorite work station was in a restaurant. It was a wooden table with a hole in it about the size of a small envelope. A trash can lived under the hole. When onion peels and eggshells piled up, I'd use the back of my knife to gracefully backhand the trash into the hole.
For years I've dreamed of having a kitchen counter at home with a hole in it, but so far it hasn't happened.
My friend Dave has a solution to the inevitable pile of trash that collects. He keeps a large bowl on the counter. As he cooks, he fills it with onion peels, carrot ends, garlic nibs and so on, then pushes it aside. When it's time to clean up, he walks the bowl out to his compost pile. It's a good system, ecological and tidy, but I've yet to embrace it. I suspect it has more to do with personality than anything else. No doubt, Dave pulls up his socks or tunes in his radio station.
My mother-in-law put me onto the system I currently use. She spreads out a section of the newspaper to the side of her cutting board. Everything gets pushed onto the newspaper. When the mess threatens to spill over onto the counter, she folds the page over and throws it out.
I like that. In fact I like it so much I set aside a section the paper for cooking. It's the business section. Now Dow Jones is cleaning up my messes.
Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.
This page created January 1999