Sunday, April 25, 2010

The “right” place to put stuff in the kitchen

by Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard

This morning I was searching for a cutting board. I have two; they both seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. The frustrating thing was that I knew they were somewhere within the small compass of the kitchen because I knew what had happened.

The kitchen had undergone a womanly visitation.

Being wifeless in Port Moresby (that’s my wife, Gabriela, with her picture up in the followers panel, the lady with glasses. She’s in Timor-Leste -- hello darling!) I am finding that there are even more places in the kitchen to put stuff that a woman will consider logical and correct than I had dreamed of.
On each womanly visit to my house I am gently but firmly driven out of the kitchen and next day spend time searching for stuff -- stuff which has been moved to someone else’s idea of the “right” place. Sometimes -- well, pretty often -- they have a point, like the case that had me searching around this morning.

If that sounds prima facie sexist it's not meant to be. It's simply a fact. Blokes don't re-arrange kitchens in my experience.

Now I’ve always been aware, of course, that people’s right places for stuff, particularly kitchen stuff, can vary widely. For instance, Gabriela has spent a lot of time in Timor-Leste, her mother country, in the past decade or so, helping the place get on its feet. Returning home to Melbourne for a visit, she would pretty soon re-arrange the kitchen stuff her way from the consensus by default reached by our growing daughter, Jessica, and me.

At end of her stay, Jessica and I would put her on the plane, drive home and without need of a word or a wink, head straight into the kitchen to put all the stuff back into its right place ... according to us!

I have also noticed what amounts to a feminine conspiracy about this. My sisters or sisters-in-law, older daughter or nieces visiting my home in Australia would consult my wife about the right place to put things; they would never ask me.

Now I’m not a total dummy in the kitchen. Let it not be forgotten that at the age of 13 I won fame and glory by taking out first prize in the decorated sponge competition, open class, beating all he big girls and the mothers, at the Mordialloc-Chelsea High School fete. Not quite the Iron Chef, I admit, but not too shabby either.

So back to Port Moresby.

Several times now we have had a barbecue (there’s a open barbecue in the backyard and for K4.00 the Goilala firewood sellers at Malaoro market provide enough first class firewood for at least two barbecues) with people from the organization I work for.

The barbies bring women into the house, staff and distaff (ho, ho, ho -- I just realized I have been waiting decades to write that phrase!). Inevitably, they take over the joint and do stuff ranging from all the cooking (except the barbie) to virtually cleaning the house from top to bottom -- totally disregarding my pleas and protests along the lines of “but I just did it this morning” or “I’ll do that in a minute”. Obviously what I did was insufficient or lacked staying power and minutes count.

And they rearrange the storage as they go.

Sometimes they “consult” me. “I’ll put the Italian Herbs in that cupboard with the salt and pepper, it’s better to keep them together, don’t you think?” they’ll say.
I've typed a question mark there but the way they ask it, it isn’t really a question. Sometimes they will have a discussion among themselves about it leaving me to be a mere spectator. Mostly they simply relocate stuff without saying anything.

We had a barbie last night, the take-over occurred, and this morning I couldn’t find either of the two chopping boards when I wanted to prepare the ultimate breakfast -- a slice of pawpaw from the fridge (papaya to the great unwashed residing in the place of the outer darkness and gnashing of teeth), lime juice (about half a juicy lime) and a sprinkling of raw sugar.

(I would like to pause at this point to offer belated but heartfelt thanks to Mrs Dorothy Stewart, of the Ascot Hotel, Rabaul, for introducing me to this delight when I first arrived in Papua New Guinea in 1963. I was a bit dubious at first, never having seen this extravagantly luscious tropical fruit in the flesh until that moment but Mrs Stewart informed me firmly and finally that pawpaw was *the* breakfast in the tropics and showed me the proper way to prepare and eat it. I’ve never looked at any other breakfast in quite the same way since.)

So this morning I sliced the pawpaw and lime on a plate instead of the cutting board. After eating it with appropriate reverence I moved on to the second course, two slices of excellent wholemeal toast, one with Vegemite the other with marmalade, and a cup of tea.

And I started typing this story with the laptop on the dining table.

Seeking inspiration, my eye wandering to the serving space between the bench and the upper cupboards and fastened on to an unaccustomed shape.

Ha! The truant cutting boards! Hung on the wall! I had been standing right in front of them and never raised my eyes above bench level. And you’re right, Dorcas (head lady last night), that *is* the perfect place for them. I had forgotten those hooks even existed. Thank you.

Thanks are also due to Amy, Jacqueline and Liz for their major contributions at the outset and over succeeding weeks, and to various others for lesser, but nevertheless valuable input that has helped turn this house into “my” home.

I would put up a plaque listing you all but I’m sure it would be in the wrong place.


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

Geoffrey Heard worked in media in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s and has just returned to that country as an Australian Volunteer supported by AusAID working with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea. The opinions and comments in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Media Council of PNG, Australian Volunteers International, or AusAID.

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