I’ve reached my kitchen nirvana. It’s been awhile since I’ve been at this place, so I’ve stopped just inside the doorway to take it all in. In front of me is a display of everything you need to make Easter cupcakes. Silicone cupcake bakers in spring colors – yellow, green, pink, aqua. Jars of colored sugar in every color imaginable. And there’s two kinds of sugar – regular colored sugar and a thicker, sparkly version. There’s a tree to hold the finished cupcakes. There’s a whole set of bunny china complete with rabbit-shaped napkin rings. “I could make Easter cupcakes with two different kinds of colored sugar,” I say to myself. I picture the table set with bunny china, with the sparkling tree of spring-colored cupcakes rising up as the centerpiece. The relatives are sitting around the table, oohing and ahhing at the splendor of it. Suddenly I’m yanked back to reality by the calm voice of reason running almost silently in the back of my mind. Wait a minute – I’m not the kind of person who buys special holiday china. I don’t even have china – our “good” dishes are 35-year-old stoneware, which for the most part except for a few chips, still look pretty good. I don’t make fancy, fussy Easter cupcakes. I make cake in a 9 by 13 pan and spread one color of frosting over it, and never add sparkly colored sugar. So what has come over me? I’m in Williams-Sonoma. And not just any Williams-Sonoma. I’m at 900 North Michigan Avenue, on the second floor of the Bloomingdale building in Chicago. This is where it all began. This is where I first found kitchen nirvana.
It all started with a spatula. My husband and I were shopping in Chicago and had been going up and down Michigan Avenue discovering stores that we’d never seen before and didn’t even know we needed. Then on a whim we stepped inside the Bloomingdale Building. We were drawn in by F. A. O. Schwarz on the ground floor. But wait, there’s more. The Sharper Image. Hammacher-Schlemmer. Here’s a store that only sells expensive cigars, and one that only sells skyline pictures of Chicago. We were captivated by capitalism. And then we stepped inside Williams-Sonoma.
We saw sets of cookware that cost more than our first car; clay roasting pans in an array of sizes; a whole display of pepper grinders, perched upon a bed of peppercorns, begging to be tested. There was solid copper cookware, hand painted china, olive pitters, garlic presses, lemon zesters, lettuce knives, coffee grinders, espresso machines, and kitchen soap with matching colored dish towels. We knew then and there we could no longer settle for just being cooks – this was the store that would make us into chefs.
We knew we had to buy something here – something to begin our transformation. But we had tuition to pay and kids to raise and really couldn’t afford cookware that equaled the cost of a house payment. So we settled for a spatula.
Since then we’ve returned periodically to get back that chef-like feeling. Every time we came we were swept up into a kitchen alternate universe, where gravy separators, olive-wood tasting spoons and flambe ladles suddenly seemed like gadgets we could not live without. We once bought a cookie press, convinced that we would start making different shaped cookies for every holiday. Turns out that all it ever got us was a chance to practice swearing before every holiday, while we produced a collection of unrecognizable cookie blobs. We actually discussed how we could possibly ever roast a chicken again without special linen trussing string that came in an acorn-shaped wooden holder, when just the week before I had announced that I was never going to put myself through the ordeal of roasting a chicken again, and if for some reason we needed a roasted chicken we would buy the rotisserie version. What came over us when we entered the store that changed us from rational, normal humans to kitchen fanatics?
We’ve never found the answer. It must be something piped in through the air ducts, or some spell that the cheery greeters cast on us as we approach the store. We don’t know the cause of our kitchen craziness, but we’ve finally found a solution. Next time we come, we’ll have a code ready to bring us back to reality. Something to jolt us back when one of us starts to get caught up in alternate-universe kitchen obsession. Something to bring us to our senses. Something to remind us that we are practical, every-day people who cook ordinary food, and will never, ever be chefs who can’t get by without a clam knife. “Remember honey, we just came in to buy a spatula.”
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