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Nina In New York: Kitchen Nightmares

A young professional's take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

By Nina Pajak

I love to bake. I read recipe books like novels. I don't do it as often as I'd like, but when I do, I go for broke. No M&M cookies for me—I look at each baking opportunity as a challenge, a chance to test myself and, if all goes well, show off my skills. Amazingly, my current apartment has a pretty great kitchen. It's the biggest one I've ever had, it's a whole separate room, and it even has a tiny dishwasher. I certainly can't complain. Anymore.

See Also: NYC's Top 5 Cookies | NYC's Best Bakeries

My last apartment, on the other hand, gave me plenty of cause. The kitchen, which also doubled as the entryway, tripled as the anteroom to the bathroom. It was about twelve square feet, with a half-sized stove, sink and fridge and a tiny butcher-block countertop, which the previous tenants had installed and which we had no choice but to buy off of them when we moved in. To say the least, this was not a "chef's kitchen." There was exactly enough room for each item in there. And by "exactly enough room," I mean I jammed stuff together so that it was extremely precariously positioned. Every time I pulled a spice jar off the rack beneath the counter, a hailstorm of utensils would come down from the shelves above. I lived out that infomercial where a woman opens her cabinet and 500 mismatched plastic containers bury her alive. I didn't use my crock-pot for three years because it was being used to store some very necessary decorative sugars. Each project took three times as long as it needed to, because I had to stop and wash dishes constantly to prevent overcrowding in the sink. I won't lie and say I didn't use the bathroom sink in a pinch. There was no window nearby, so I set off the smoke detector every time I cooked something on the stove-top. And heaven forbid someone actually had to use the toilet while I was in the middle of making something.

By the time we moved, I was tearing my hair out. Many, many tears were shed in moments of total exasperation. I had to learn some new curse words just to keep my angry muttering repertoire fresh. One time, when I reached for the coffeemaker and an avalanche of sea salt came pouring down, I just started screaming. But mostly, I felt a bursting sense of pride when I was able to turn out multi-course meals and pastries and other impressive culinary creations from the mudroom we called our kitchen.

I have many tales of kitchen nightmares, but first I'd love to hear yours. I know you've got 'em. Please share! Unless, of course, you're currently trapped under your Tupperware collection and need someone to come dig you out. Hang tight! We'll try to follow the sounds of your defeated cries.


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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