What not to use in a makeshift kitchen

I wish I could stop counting.

When someone asks the age of a baby, you answer in months for at least a year and a half. Then you start saying, “Nearly 2.”

When it comes to our kitchen redo, I’ve been think in weeks, as in Week 1, Week 2, etc.

Now we’re ending Week 8. Is it time to start thinking in months? God help us.

Much has been done, but some crucial tasks remain, like installation of countertops and hookup of the remaining appliances. So we continue functioning with a makeshift kitchen.

An ongoing struggle is to keep the words “had it” out of my brain. I regularly remind myself of the plight of fellow West Virginians whose homes were flooded this summer.

Still, I now empathize with a friend who had his kitchen redone a few years ago. He said if he had it to do again, he would check into a hotel rather than suffering in place.

For us, a 10-week hotel stay — I’m being optimistic with the timeline — would have increased our project cost by at least 30 percent. That would drop to about 15 percent if we slept at home but ate all our meals in restaurants.

At eight weeks in, this is spilt milk.

I knew my pioneer spirit was flagging when I made an impulse purchase at the grocery store. I spent $4.99 plus tax on a small plastic container for poaching eggs in the microwave.

Would it be easier than boiling eggs on the hot plate? Would cleanup be faster?

I’m ready to pitch the gadget after two tries. It made my house smell like the overcooked eggs we ate grimly after listening to them explode in the tabletop microwave. No, cleanup was not faster.

Before that came the fish smell.

In trying to vary our diet, I sauteed some cod for fish tacos. I kept the skillet covered, and it took only a few minutes. Unlike the nuked eggs, the tacos were delicous. With no exhaust fan, the smell that lingered was not.

But enough whining.

This is the oil-rubbed pull we chose for most of our new cabinets, which are maple in a natural finish.
This is the oil-rubbed pull we chose for most of our new cabinets, which are maple in a natural finish.
We chose the same pulls in a lighter tone for our island cabinets, which are maple in a dark finish.
We chose the same pulls in a lighter tone for our island cabinets, which are maple in a dark finish.

Our project is coming along nicely, even if the pace has slowed. The cabinets are in, complete with pulls in two tones. I spent nearly $100 buying samples before making a choice. Shipping costs shrank the refunds.

The new French-door refrigerator is here and functioning. It’s a marvel and possibly the best choice of the many we have made over the past several months.

The old fridge has been moved from the living room doorway to the garage, giving us room to transfer the makeshift kitchen to the dining room. The breathing room feels great.

We experienced some hiccups with the new gas range and microwave. When relieved of their boxes and wrappings, both revealed dents. They had to be returned and reordered.

We weren’t particularly upset. Glitches can be expected on a project of this scope. But we were startled by the nonchalant attitude of the big-box store where we bought them. We got the feeling this was a common occurrence.

The cabinet installers returned this week to help hook up the replaced stove and microwave. It’s great to have such amenities, but I still yearn for the sink, which will come with the countertops.

Meanwhile, Rod has been working steadily on details like running trim and painting. He has reinstalled our kitchen TV, and it’s a welcome distraction. I often flip on HGTV while I cook.

HGTV's Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathan Scott
HGTV’s Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathan Scott

I wonder if the Property Brothers missed me as much as I missed them. I like them despite their insistence on granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. I stuck to my guns and chose neither.






The plastic habit is hard to kick

This is not the best moment in my life to worry about using disposable items.

My husband and I have launched a kitchen renovation project. The wall between the kitchen and dining room has been torn out. The cabinets, appliances and soffit are all gone. Even the insulation and dry wall are being replaced.

So we’ll be camped out in the living room for several weeks. We’re preparing meals and eating there. To wash dishes, I head to the laundry sink in the basement.

Despite the inconvenience, I can’t quell a recently stoked passion for reducing our use of plastic.

I was inspired by a piece by Ian Frazier in The New Yorker. Here an excerpt:

By some estimates, the world uses and throws away more than a trillion plastic bags a year. “Bag It,” the documentary, describes the plastic bag as the No. 1 consumer item in the world. Immense gyres of trash rotate slowly in the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 2014, plastic grocery bags were the seventh most common item collected during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, behind smaller debris such as cigarette butts, plastic straws, and bottle caps.

I urge you to read the whole piece. It’s a fine piece of journalism made especially powerful by Ian’s first-person account of collecting plastic bags along the streets of Manhattan.

In other words, he got me.

I do the grocery shopping for my family and was bringing home a dozen or more plastic bags each week. I knew better.

A little math gives me the horrifying sum of my thoughtlessness. In nearly 40 years of marriage, I’ve been responsible for at least 25,000 of the bags floating in the oceans right now.

My husband, an avid recycler, doesn’t shop much but consistently has reusable bags on hand when he does.

Years ago my daughter bought me a brightly colored set of ripstop nylon bags. I used them half-heartedly for awhile. Recently, after reading Ian’s piece, I scoured the house and couldn’t even find them.

Shame on me.

I bought two sets of three of these ripstop nylon bags. Choosing them was the easy part. Changing my habits and remembering to use them is proving much harder.
I bought two sets of three of these ripstop nylon bags. Choosing them was the easy part. Changing my habits and remembering to use them is proving much harder.

So I ordered six new ones — two sets of three — and vowed to change my habits. I was excited when they arrived. They’re roomy but easy to fold, and I can throw them in the washer once in awhile.

I put one in my purse and keep the rest in my car. I also bought some nylon net bags for produce.

The idea is to counteract my habit of walking into a store mindlessly bagless.

This is proving difficult.

This week, for example, I headed to a fabric store to buy something for the makeshift kitchen. I was back to my vehicle when I realized the clerk had placed my small, lightweight item in a plastic bag.

I hadn’t thought to stop her. I didn’t need a bag at all, and I had a resuable one in my purse.

Next stop was the grocery store. Alas, I was using my husband’s truck and hadn’t brought my new bags.

Aha. A quick search produced three of his bags. With the one in my purse, that made four, and for this trip that was enough.

However, sometimes I don’t have enough. Guess what happens when you reach the checkout counter and the clerk can’t fit all your items into your reusable bags.

I hope I get better with practice.

Meanwhile, I’m attacking the plastic enemy on other fronts — trying to use fewer Ziploc bags and buying no more plastic leftover containers.  I’ll make do with what I have.

This new mindfulness has spread beyond plastic. I’ve read that Americans waste up to 40 percent of the food they buy, more than 20 pounds of food per person per month.

I’m looking into my fridge and pantry more carefully and focusing on using what’s there before it has to be thrown out.

As I write, I realize many people are way ahead of me. Perhaps I should have entitled this post “Confessions of a Thoughtless Consumer.”

In hopes of a little redemption, let me say that eight days into our project, I have yet to use any disposable plates, cups or utensils.

I’m trying.