America 101 — The American Kitchen
Coming Home and Learning How to America, Again
American kitchens are organized, functional and full of wonderful gadgets. Who knew that I needed an avocado slicer scooper thingy? When did that thing become a thing?
The oven works and never runs out of gas. In Cairo, one of my key stipulations for my apartment was that it had to have city gas which was cooking gas piped directly into the house. I didn’t want to deal with buying bottled gas. In Kenya and Singapore, I had to deal with bottled gas. Once I figured out the delivery guy’s number, things became easier. However, running out of gas in the middle of a dinner party was always a possibility if I forgot to lift up the bottle and jiggle it to feel the weight and guess about the remaining gas supply.
American houses, by and large, have a direct, non-stop flow of natural gas (or electricity) for their cooker (oven) and I’ve spent the past 5 days learning how to trust that when I turn on the oven, it’s going to light and work. I’m still not convinced it’s going to work every time even though it does and my pot pie (don’t judge) bakes. The oven also maintains a constant temperature (more or less) and this is a marvel. Every oven I’ve ever had overseas was hot in the back and cold in the front.
When light one of the burners, I do not have to turn on the electricity that allows the lighters to spark. Every kitchen I’ve lived in for the past 12 years has a massive power switch sitting just right of the cooker that must be turned on if you want the electric starter to work. I smile every time I turn the knob and it all just lights up and I have not had to think about the cooking gas bottle or turning on the electricity. I might even start to dance.
In fact, every outlet in this American house is always functional and that’s very different from overseas systems that require you to switch on the outlet before it will work. Why leave the power heaving into the microwave when you’re not using it? Flip off the switch and save a little.
That the electricity works all of the time in every room is a marvel. In Egypt and Kenya, the power went off with great regularity so much so that, in Kenya, I had to either install an inverter system (a system of batteries that would charge and power most of the house if the main power failed) or a generator and change over switch system to counter the weekly power outages. I knew I was a “local” in Kenya when the power went out while I was grocery shopping and I just continued walking the aisles as if nothing had happened. Electricity, whenever you need it or want it, even if it is 110V, is glorious.
And the electricity is a constant current (save for the summer brown outs I’ve heard about). There were times in Egypt and Kenya when the current would exceed 220V and every light bulb in the house would become extremely bright, and in some cases, explode. Thankfully, I was always home when the mega-surges came in Cairo and I raced around the house switching off the plugs for the appliances before they could be destroyed. At some point, I started to invest in power strips and other implements that had built-in surge protectors and that’s when I knew I was getting super fancy.
Water is always flowing and, regardless of what messaging you’ve been sold, is drinkable and is safe (with exceptions like Flynt, etc. of course). Egypt required a ceramic filter installed at the kitchen sink that cleaned every drop of water that was used for cooking and drinking. Kenya required either bottled water (horrible), a countertop filtration system (which work really well) or — if you’re a bit clever — the installation of a $129.00 Amazon under the sink filter that lasts for 3 years. Yep- that was me being clever. It used to alarm some of my guests in Kenya when I would go to the tap (faucet) and pour a glass of water and start to drink. It was voodoo — magic — and I was a domestic goddess that had tamed the cholera highway.
I am attempting to bond with the garbage disposal. This machine does not exist in most countries because the plumbing is a lot older and it cannot handle the mush and sludge that garbage disposals create. So what does one do in lieu of a disposal? You go to the friendly outdoor market or grocery store and buy a simple fine mesh colander that becomes the catch-all for every bit of unwanted food. In Kenya and Singapore, the plumbing was a delicate ecosystem that required gentle coaxing to remain operational. One errant piece of toast, or heaven forbid, a glob of salad, down the plumbing could result in a clog that may or may not resolve well.
When I moved into any house in Nairobi, I brought the best plumber in the world, Gathu, who spent the entire day sorting out whatever was broken, weird, or bizarre in the plumbing installation so that water would flow. Every single house. In America, you move in and it works.
And then it doesn’t.
The flat (sorry, apartment), that I’m staying in right now has a significant leak under the kitchen sink and the garbage disposal stopped working. The handyman is on his way today, but I cannot adequately express my gratitude for my malfunctioning kitchen sink and disposal — I feel at home with the bucket under the sink as I wait for a plumber and my fancy new mesh colander on standby in the sink.