Monday, November 24, 2008

All about the dishwasher

As a grad student, it would seem that the new trend in cutting back would suit me perfectly. At last, five nights of home-cooked pasta is in! There is now pride in wearing headphones till they're merely decorative! But... no. To participate in the cutting-back trend, one has to sacrifice, to make a change from the lifestyle to which they've grown accustomed to one 'times like these' demand. I could certainly stand to spend less (starting with seven nights a week of pasta, hmm) but to be part of the frugal-chic movement, you have to come down from on high, to switch not from buying two GAP t-shirts to one, but from haute couture to overindulging at J.Crew.

Praising those who 'make do with less' can be a bit much when the less is, well, more. At the NYT 'Well' blog, Tara Parker-Pope and her commenters just can't get over how noble food writer Mark Bittman is to stick with his "bad kitchen." Now, I don't begrudge someone who's both in the culinary field and a Real Grown-Up a kitchen better than my own--for him to work with one like mine would be a shame.

But what, precisely, is supposed to make Bittman's kitchen "bad"? Have a look. First, he's got a huge window next to the cooking area. (I'd settle for a vent above the stove.) Then there's the build-in microwave. Then there's Bittman's complaint that makes me less pro-Bittman than I was going into this: "I bump my shins on the dishwasher." Who cares if "[i]t’s a terrible dishwasher." (You know what's an even less efficient dishwasher? The kind that worked all day and, at 11 PM, notices dishes and puts on the gloves.) Knowing full well that my own kitchen problems are first-world, I'm finding it truly difficult to see what about Bittman's kitchen, save the lack of uniformed butler, reveals his willingness to lead a humble life.

And, a commenter makes a good point:

Obviously, as betrayed by the comment “I don’t have a food processor in Manhattan”, Bittman does have one in another kitchen elsewhere. I would bet with his level of success and true to his type, he owns a country house–upstate or the Hamptons most likely–with a huge, wonderfully appointed kitchen that he visits and cooks in on most weekends. He’s pretending to slum it in his Manhattan pied a terre.


PG said...

1) I think this is a difference in perception based partly on geographic origins. I didn't know anyone middle class or above in Texas who has as little counter space as Bittman has. Anywhere else in the country, someone who makes Mark Bittman's money has granite countertops and a center isle. Even the apartment I shared in Northern Virginia after college had a more spread out kitchen design, with sink, dishwasher and refrigerator running along one wall, and the oven with counter space on either side on the opposite wall. (This was a 3 bedroom apartment with $1300 monthly rent.) Ditto for my Morningside Heights and Spanish Harlem grad school apartments. To people who didn't grow up in the most gentrified and thus highly-priced square footage parts of Manhattan, this is a small kitchen. The apartment I have now in midtown has a kitchen that looks very much like Bittman's, except with a smaller window and possibly a nicer stove.

2) Bittman's other home is in Connecticut, not upstate or in the Hamptons, and reportedly it has a bad kitchen too:

From his favorite lunch (a simple skirt steak, cooked by his own hand) to the "awful" kitchen in his Connecticut home, Bittman practices what he preaches in the minimalist department. "I have an electric stove, Formica counters, I have a Magic Chef refrigerator and a really old dishwasher. It doesn't matter. I have good knives. I have good cutting boards. I have decent skillets, but not great. It's bullshit. When people say to me: how can you cook in that kitchen? I say: it's heat. If you can't cook with heat, you can't cook."

Again, by Manhattan standards, this is fine. By the standards of upper-middle to upper class people in the rest of America, this is lousy.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"To people who didn't grow up in the most gentrified and thus highly-priced square footage parts of Manhattan, this is a small kitchen."

I get that from outside NYC, even nice NYC kitchens seem minute. But the audience for this 'Well' blog is presumably NYC-heavy. (For the record, I did not grow up in a "gentrified" neighborhood--the UES has been gentry for too long to qualify. My very presence on this earth is just that embarrassing. But, having seen kitchens in other parts of the city, my sense is apart from the more suburban bits of Queens, a Bittman kitchen is still above-average)

Wherever it is, and however old the dishwasher, Bittman is not a good example of 'making do with less' if he has a country house. The commenter may have overshot the mark, but the overall point holds.

Anonymous said...

"Wherever it is, and however old the dishwasher, Bittman is not a good example of 'making do with less' if he has a country house."

Dunno if you've been catching the excellent Batali/Bittman Spain show on PBS Sunday afternoons, but watching Bittman palling around with Gwyneth and Michael Stipe should prevent any possible thoughts of Bittman as an everyman...

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

For once, Petey and I agree. (I'll have to check out this show next Sunday!)

PG said...

I didn't get the impression that TPP's post (which is in the Health, not Money section) was about economic hard times and making do with less in that sense, but more about how she shouldn't make excuses not to cook based on her kitchen's being small. Where does she frame it as a matter of making do with less?

The people in my family who cook have nicer kitchens than Bittman's (in the U.S.) or servants (in India, and even then the kitchen is bigger, it just won't have reliable refrigeration or the stove is actually outside).

The post came across to me as "if you think your kitchen is too small to cook in, see what Mark Bittman accomplishes in his!"

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I may have been overly influenced by the first comment to the post. But I did get the sense that the post itself was part of the fighting-excesses 'given the times' trend, at least implicitly.

Anonymous said...

I think the point of the article was, as PG says, "if you think your kitchen is too small to cook in, see what Mark Bittman accomplishes in his." However, the comments were definitely suffused with much self-righteousness regarding small kitchens. It was as if to declare that New Yorkers had chosen small kitchens out of concern for the earth or the starving, rather than the actual truth which is that we can't all afford a Classic Six or Harlem brownstone, so we take what we can get.

This subject is fascinating to me right now as I'm remodeling my tiny galley kitchen, and hanging out on kitchen forums has shown me what the rest of America considers a small kitchen: one the size of my entire apartment.

But along the way, I've looked through hundreds of Manhattan real estate listings of apartments at around the price mine is worth now (on the low end of UWS 1 bedrooms) and I would say Bittman's is average, perhaps even below average for space, appliances, and overall condition. Yes, some had been spruced up for resale, but a surprising number weren't.

I admit, a dishwasher is a fine thing and I'll be having one for the first time shortly, but a window, to me, is useless. Give me counter space! All-in-all, I'd expect a cookbook author who both cooks for a living and hopefully makes more than I do to have a nicer kitchen than I do. And he doesn't.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

The window--ideally a window plus a vent--helps a) if you dare to cook fish, or b) if you've had enough of the smoke detector going off every time you cook an omelet.

As for the Bittman kitchen and its status on the scale of minifridge-in-studio to suburban wonderland, it's unclear from the photo how wide the space is, and what's on the other side. Verdict thus pending. (As for counter space, this can be achieved via island for I believe $40 at Target. Highly recommended!)

kei said...

I think the window is necessary as well, for practical reasons Phoebe mentions, and also because it's just nice to have a place for natural light to come in or a scene to watch (even if it's half of an alley). This might only matter to those who wash dishes by hand though, who get bored of staring at a plaster wall.

I also agree that the photo is missing information. How many is he cooking for? What is he cooking? That's a lot of food in that photo, taking up all that counter space. I'd say I cook that much food in 3-4 months.

And finally, that shirt! He's looking kinda dowdy there. I thought it was an elderly former coworker from when I worked at the Reg.

P.S. Thanks for linking to a Gawker post in which they express sincere anger! I didn't know Gawker writers genuinely emote.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

To Anonymous whose comment I deleted:

a) I never claimed poverty. Note where I called my own kitchen woes "first-world."

b) There's nothing bizarre or hard to believe about a reasonably well-funded grad student paying bills and the rent for half of a tiny apartment. If you have it in for 25-year-olds still receiving money from their parents, that's your choice, but you'll have to find one elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I demand to know why Phoebe hasn't written aboutMotorino.

I've already made the trip out there to check it out, and it's as good as reported, but now I find out the pieman has a Belgian-French Accent, and I wonder why I bother to read Phoebe's blog if she's not going to uncover this stuff before I do.

(Also, I believe proper bloggy etiquette calls for either answering or deleting unwelcome comments, but not both...)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

1) That pizza looks excellent. But North Brooklyn is a faraway land, not worth the trip only for pizza.

2) True, the delete-and-respond has its problems. But here, it was justified. I deleted and responded because... deleted because what I didn't respond to in the comment was the I-have-something-against-you-personally angle, responded to preempt similar but (ideally) less hate-filled comments.

Anonymous said...

"That pizza looks excellent. But North Brooklyn is a faraway land, not worth the trip only for pizza."

Meh. Long Island is Long Island. Once you're over the East River, it's all kinda the same, no?

And besides, you just hop on the L train and you're there. All parts of Brooklyn are essentially equidistant - it's just a matter of which train to catch.

It'd only be if you actually lived in Brooklyn that the G train wilderness would become an issue...

...uh, never mind. But on general principles, the wonderfulness of good pie is still more than "only for pizza".

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I live in Manhattan?