Between lockdown, quarantine, and just plain corona, I have been spending an inordinate amount of time at home. I’m not complaining - I love my home. Also, the people in it. But sometimes I get the feeling that I’m not just quarantined at home - I’m actually quarantined in my kitchen. For years, my family has been saying that no matter what time Shabbos starts, no matter who is coming for Shabbos, I am glued to my kitchen on Friday. But it’s not true! I usually take a few laundry breaks outside of the kitchen. Does that not count? I also always aim to have a relaxing cup of coffee before Shabbos. And even if I do that in my kitchen, I think it should count as an activity outside my kitchen. But I typically run out of time before Shabbos and the coffee just doesn’t happen. If we go away for Shabbos and I’m off from cooking, my family members ask me what I will do with myself on Friday, as though I don’t have the capability of engaging in activities outside the kitchen. They say this as though it’s an oddity. But I’m wondering where else should I be? Am I missing out on something of great importance? I don’t know. But I definitely spend a lot of time in my kitchen, and not just on Fridays. And especially now, with several family members quarantining at home, I am beginning to wonder if life actually does exist outside my kitchen. Besides the general food preparation in quantities of which I am no longer used to cooking, there are also other reasons I don’t seem to manage to get out that much.
For one thing, even though we are all at home, everyone seems to be on a different schedule. Since I like to savor the time my grown children spend at home, I like to sit with them as they eat. And if they often eat at different times, that’s a lot of sitting time. Then there’s the incredible phenomenon that no matter how many times I wash the dishes, the sink keeps replenishing itself with more of the same. It’s as though my sink is on an automatic setting that can’t be changed. I have no clue why that is. Long ago I made a rule in my house that if the sink is empty, it must stay that way. I don’t mind if there’s a full sink and someone wants to throw in a fork or a spoon. But if it’s empty, I honestly don’t want to hear that clink in the sink. Nobody in my family seems to have understood this rule, so in order to make it crystal clear, I hung a sign in both English and Hebrew requesting that the empty sink remain that way. Apparently, those signs were also not enough to get the message across. My next strategy was to hang a sign in Aramaic. I thought that would finally drive the point home, but unfortunately, Google Translate does not list Aramaic as one of its languages and I couldn’t find anyone to help me with the translation. And don’t think I didn’t try. I recently had an idea that since Zoom is so helpful these days, maybe I can use it to wash my dishes. Regrettably, I haven’t found that setting option. But I’m throwing it out as an idea for a new startup for all you entrepreneurs out there. It could be worth millions one day. Mark my words. But until then, I’ll keep on with my continuous washing cycle.
But there’s some really good news coming out of my kitchen these days. The house we live in came with two standard size (another way of saying tiny) European ovens, which I have been complaining about since we moved in. I have a beautiful full-size American oven sitting forlorn in my garage because I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. But it doesn’t fit in our kitchen. We finally replaced our ovens, and while my ovens are still tiny, at least they work. But then my electric cooktop broke. I never got along that well with my cooktop either, as I still prefer a gas stove with a nice amount of space in between each burner. But when it broke, it wouldn’t shut off and would have continued burning forever had we not replaced it. I am convinced that all of these problems were a direct result of all the lashon harah I spoke about my appliances over the years. But those days are over. And if I need to quarantine in my kitchen, at least I now have working equipment. I no longer have anything or anyone to blame but myself if my food doesn’t come out well, but I can certainly live with that.
Even during quarantine, I do get out of the kitchen on rare occasions. This allows me to do other things - like write, for example. Our computer is not situated in the most comfortable spot in the house. The A/C doesn’t reach this area, and my comfortable chair that was once next to my computer was stolen relocated to a different computer, which is being used for Zoom learning. I’m very in favor of learning, but that leaves me without a comfortable setup for writing. My husband graciously offered to put together a makeshift office in my married son’s old room. I seriously considered the offer but then realized I would have a new problem on my hands. My son’s old room has officially become my laundry folding room. If that room becomes my office, where will I dump all my clean laundry? Maybe I should plunk it into the kitchen sink. Then there will be no room for dirty dishes. Hmmm…an interesting possibility.
I very much look forward to the time when lockdowns and quarantines are behind us. We will be free to come and go as we please. But I have the sneaky suspicion that I’ll still be hanging out quite a bit in my kitchen.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.