Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Strange Case of Kosher Kitchens

I've been browsing lately through house for sale sites in a particular out of town location. Usually the real estate sites will give you a picture or video tour of the property. Inevitably they show the kitchens and also inevitably they describe these kitchens as "well appointed" and "chock full of all the storage you could need." Just as clearly the people selling these homes are not frum Jews keeping a strictly kosher kitchen. Their idea of "well appointed" and "all the storage you could need" and mine are very different.

Take the most dedicated and creative non-Jewish cook you know. Give her a yen for kitchen doodads. Give her one of every labor saving device for the kitchen known to man. Maybe, just maybe those advertised kitchens would give her enough room for everything. Now, make that cook someone who is frum and you might get an idea as to why some people are remodeling whole areas of their homes to get gargantuan kitchens. Everything that I own that could properly relate to the kitchen and to eating cannot possibly be stored in the kitchen I have now, and it's not a tiny kitchen. I have things in the dining room, in closets all over the house, in the attic, in downstairs cabinets. I am hardly unique.

Think of everything that is of use in a kitchen, and now double the number to account for milchig and fleishig versions of each. You'll need twice as much storage space as someone non-Jewish would need. Now add in pareve items, like tea kettles and egg pots and fish pots. But I'm hardly done counting up. Now add in those items that are "shabbosdik/yom tovdik" as opposed to "vochendik," like silverware and dishes and glasses. Now add in items that are used only l'kovod Shabbos or yom tov, like honey dishes or chrain holders or challah boards. Oh, but we aren't finished yet. Let's look at Pesach. Try outfitting that same kitchen with all the necessities but for Pesach only.

And then there is that "well appointed" kitchen. The one that has only one sink, one oven, one dishwasher and one microwave. The one with all that counter space, if only you only prepared either fleishigs or milchigs. Add in appliances to keep straight the milchig/fleishigs divide and your kitchen is growing larger and larger. Yes, it's possible to use only one sink--many of us started out our married lives that way. And yes, lots of us with only one oven even now. But microwaves? And mixers? And food processors? And toaster ovens? And yes even toasters? The more m'dakdek you are trying to be in your kashrut, the more multiple appliances help to prevent mistakes. Take a look at lots of frum houses and they are "just making it" with two refrigerators when it comes to a yom tov or Pesach.

A few years ago someone remodeled their home in our neighborhood. In the new configuration the kitchen and dining room took up more than half the downstairs of the house. The living room was only about half the size of the kitchen. A few people wondered why someone would do this--it was not any women who were wondering. Any woman who has had to find space in her kitchen for one more item of odd shape and size gave a little sigh of envy when seeing that kitchen. And yet this woman, too, has cabinets in the laundry room and basement to store the overflow.

Kosher kitchens and their appointments are some kind of strange organic matter; the larger they grow the more there is to put into them. Someday I'd like to meet a frum woman who can straight-facedly and truthfully say: "My kitchen holds everything." As soon as she says that her kitchen atoms are going to divide and divide and divide and suddenly she will be eyeing shelves in a closet or garage or basement for needed storage.

Just a little note here. A gentleman of my acquaintance asked why women don't just get rid of some of the things in their kitchens that aren't of any use any more or that haven't been used this past year. Ladies, why did you never give away your maternity clothes until you were long past the age of bearing children? Because you knew that as soon as you gave them away you were going to be spending your mornings with your head buried in a toilet bowl--it was inevitable. Ditto with kitchen items. My friend got rid of all the cute little ices molds that she had used when here kids were little, as well as all the specialty cookie cutters for various holidays and other "kiddie" pleasers. Apparently that was a segulah for having lots of grandchildren. And off she went to buy these same items once again because they were needed once again. The first rule is that things come into a kitchen, they don't go out.


G said...

The more m'dakdek you are trying to be in your kashrut, the more multiple appliances help to prevent mistakes.

Exactly...people do it to themselves.
Sorry, but this falls squarely under the entitlement/"two Lexus' in the driveway" category of modern judaism

Anonymous said...

Sorry G, I don't agree at all. While there may be some who go overboard, as in any aspect of life, like those 2 Lexus cars, having two stoves and two dishwashers and two of lots of things in the kitchen is not entitlement Judaism. When you are trying to feed 7 people both milchigs and fleishigs every day and go to work and have other responsibilities as well then a fully operational kitchen are your business tools. I would gauruntee that you don't use Word 98 on your TI computer from 20 years ago. And I bet you have a cell phone. And I bet that cell phone isn't plain vanilla either. And I'll bet that you don't have a rotary dial black phone in your home either. No one questions your updating all your electronics. Now why would you need to have Internet on your computer and on your Ipod and on your phone? Isn't that entitlement living? One would do. None might do also.

A kitchen is not like those duplicated electronics. Kashrus is a real question. And the more people who use that kitchen in a house the more chance of a major slip up. Can a woman do with less appliances and items in the kitchen? Sure, just like their grandmothers did. And clothes still got washed even if you had to use a washboard and a stream. And using a block of ice instead of a freezer could work if you were careful. And milking a cow was lots of fun. But if you're going to send the women back to the dark ages then the men will have to come too. Leave all your electronics at the door and come on in. But first please take a bucket and go out to the well and bring me some water. And the outhouse could use some digging out while you are there.

Anonymous said...

For 11 years of marriage I worked in small cramped kitchens with nowhere to store anything at all and with almost no counters. Yeah, I managed. I managed by staying up most of the night before a yom tov or shabbos because you can only cook so much in one oven at one time. I grated 100 pounds of potatoes by hand on Pesach because I had nowhere to store a food processor. Yeah, that was lots of fun. I was just so entitled that I had to have that food processor. What a little JAP I was.

When we bought our house it was in okay condition but the kitchen was again small and cramped. And we remodeled it and yes I put in every labor saving device I could find. And yes it also meant that my kitchen was a lot more kosher then it was before. No more mothers little helpers who made something treif on a regular basis.

Anonymous said...

Can someone try and be neutral here? When we bought our house the only improvement we made was putting in a new kitchen. The previous owners weren't Jewish and the counters and sinks were treif. The oven was 20 years old and not self cleaning. The refrigerator was too small. You get the picture. So yes we put in two of everything that we figured would help make the kitchen an easier place to work in and to keep kosher. But I also understand some of where G's comment might be coming from. We didn't put in Viking stoves and SubZero refrigerators. We didn't put in $400 a square foot granite or custom made Italian tiles on the walls. The cabinets weren't custom made and the handles didn't cost $100 a piece. We got a great working kitchen and a better kosher kitchen but not at Lexus prices. Luckily for us few people in our new neighborhood play the comparison competition game when it comes to things like fixing up a kitchen.

I will ask this though. How does a family that only drinks the kind of wine that has a screw off cap on it end up with three corkscrews?

miriamp said...

My kitchen is just so small that it is only fleishig! I have one (treife -- it's porcelain!) sink. I have one oven (fleishig, although it is self-cleaning). I have 1 dishwasher (fleishig). I even have only one set of "china" (fleishig -- it's Corelle) for year round. I don't have anything that is officially parve, because I know better -- it wouldn't stay that way. I do treat the food processor as parve, but wouldn't swear to it. I don't have nearly enough counter space, although the cabinets are actually quite spacious for such a small kitchen, if you don't mind constantly climbing up and down a small (2 step) step stool to reach the top shelf of the 8 or 9 foot tall cabinets.

Actually, the kitchen is so small that the refrigerator(s) don't even fit in the actual alcove that serves as my kitchen. One, plus a separate freezer and a metal cabinet that is our food pantry, is in the "outer kitchen," an adjacent room that is obviously meant as part of the kitchen area, but has no shelves or counters built in. The other fridge is in the basement, and spends most of the year unplugged, being pressed into service for Rosh Hashanah through Simchas Torah and then again just before Pesach. I have 1 milchig microwave that never made it out of the box in this house, and 1 milchig 6 slice toaster in the basement that gets almost constant use, because most of the kids do eat milchigs, (save 1 who is lactose intolerant) but not the husband (ditto on the lactose issues).

I am so adverse to having milchigs and fleishigs both in this teeny tiny kitchen that we only use disposables with milchigs, and serve them in the basement. Much safer that way, since I have 8 little helpers. And since there's no proper sink in the basement, there's no place to wash the milchig dishes, so there aren't any to wash.

And no danger of us redoing the kitchen any time soon, because we're managing just fine, and I'd rather save the money for tuition.

Anonymous said...

Miriamp--I bet though that if money wasn't an issue that you wouldn't mind having a kitchen tht had space for fleishigs and milchigs, since most of your family eat both. Your solution wouldn't work for me since we don't have a basement. What we did was decide that a separate living room and dining room was not going to be necessary when I had a kitchen that measured about 7x11 feet including a table for us to eat on. We made a combination living and dining room out of the living room and broke through to make the dining room as part of the kitchen. We use the kitchen a lot more then we use the living room, for homework, for eating and cooking, to use the computer which is in it, the kids play games in it etc. And we saved a lot of money on the kitchen by doing the demolition ourselves,the painting ourselves, not buying custom anything, shopping Home Depot and places like that and not getting what was "in". We also bought used whenever it was a good value. Our second fridge cost us $30, the first only $145. The total to do over the kitchen was $9,000.

Anonymous said...

I can answer Tuvi's question about the corkscrews. We also have 3 of them. We got a gift from someone who came for a meal of a bottle of wine that needed a corkscrew. So I bought a corkscrew. Since I knew I wasn't going to use it all that often I put it somewhere in the kitchen where it wouldn't get in the way of every day preparation. Then we got gifted in shalach monos with another one of those corked bottles and we couldn't find the corkscrew no matter how we looked. So we bought another one. Our first friends knew that we hadn't had a corkscrew when they gave us the first bottle so when they came again they brought wine and a corkscrew. When we moved we found all three. Now I keep them stored by the liquor and I can't wait for my sisters to get married so I can give them the extras.

Orthonomics said...

I believe in having a functional kosher kitchen if possible! Functional being the key word here. Functional does not have to mean super fancy. In fact, some of the fancy appliances I find aren't very functional. For example, the built-in-refrigerators with the side-by-side freezer in panneling of your choice has shelves that are far too narrow to store anything. For the price of a sub-zero you can buy two mid-range dishwashers with adjustable racks, a double oven, and a refrigerator, plus stand up freezer.

I find smaller (not small) kitchens are more functional than large kitchens. I've been in some very large kitchens that lack good space for appliances (I prefer to keep mine at eye level in a closet) and lack pantries (where do you put 40 cans of tomato sauce bought for a low, low price?).

I think a good key to knowing if you are going overboard is to see what goes unused for a year. In my case, all of my appliances are used regularly with rare exceptions.

Anonymous said...

The posting points out something true about kitchens and keeping kosher. If you want to have both meat and dairy and anything that is parve, if you are going to be at home for Pesach, then the regular kitchens that most houses come with aren't set up to make that easy. And the longer you are married the more stuff that gets collected. Sure I know some people who poured money into their kitchens to get the right 'look' and to have the types of things they could show off with. But I think for most of us the desire for a bigger kitchen and for double appliances really is about making it easier and simpler to keep kosher and about saving ourselves some time and work.

Anonymous said...

My husband runs a business out of his office in our home. When we bought the house we are in now the space where that office would go was not large enough for what needed to be in there. There was no storage space. It got enlarged and remodeled. It contains multiple phone lines and printers and copiers and fax machines and computers and all kinds of other equipment. I also have an office at home that I run a business out of. My office is called the kitchen. I feed 6 people with varying requirements on a daily basis and lots of extra people on shabbos and at other times during the year. I need to keep supplies and equipment on hand. I run a kosher catering business so I need duplicates of most of what I use. I do my own cooking and baking and we eat out so rarely that we don't know what restaurants if any are actually in our neighborhood. When we moved in we could see that my office also needed to be remodeled. And though my husband's office may produce the parnose that supports us financially he says that the kitchen is the heart of our family. We both deserved well thought out and planned working spaces.

Anonymous said...

A little honesty here. We have all probably seen those incredibly large kitchens that are up to the minute stylish. They have 12 of everything. And the hostess is quick to tell you about her super expensive granite counters that were worth every penny spent on them because they can be kashered for Pesach and you don't have to ruin the kitchen with those awful plastic counter covers. And a lot of those kitchens are in homes where take home food is the rule not the exception and where eating out is a regular happening. And they are in homes where the people go away for Pesach, so why worry about the counters? Those kitchens aren't there because someone is worried about kashrus or because someone does a lot of work in them. Those kitchens are there so that the neighbors can turn green with envy.

We also remodeled our kitchen a few years ago but it won't make the pages of some fancy decorating magazine. Our concern was kashrus and workability.

Anonymous said...

When my then choson and I were going to look at apartments he was looking that the bedrooms should be big. I was looking at the kitchen and the closets. He couldnt' understand then why I was measuring all the cabinets and counters and not being happy. After living in those apartments with their small kitchens for 6 years we went to buy a house. This time my husband understood why lots of storage space was necessary. We'd been living with all those things I had for the kitchen being stored everywhere in the apartment. Maybe other women drool over jewelry or clothes, but I get all teared up when I see a full walk in pantry in a kitchen.