I’m a pacifist at heart, so I have been greatly saddened by one of the unintended consequences of my kitchen renovation.
All-out war has broken out between the two sides of my split personality.
On one side of my brain (the side that believes it is the “right” one), we have the clutter-hating neatnik who wants the kitchen counter to remain as pristine as the day it was installed. Given that the kitchen is now completely open to the rest of the house (and to the street, and to the world in general, until I figure out window treatments), it considers absolute tidiness to be the only reasonable position.
On the other side of my brain (the one that is “left” after the neatnik goes into a sulk), we have the incorrigible clutterer. My desk, dining table and kitchen counters have served as collectors of mail, newspapers and all kinds of other useful-seeming items since time immemorial. That half thinks this is exactly how life should continue. It reasons that the enhanced size of the counter space was designed to provide more horizontal surfaces for that very purpose.
Despite the oft-repeated (and clearly false) claim that we now live in a paperless, digital world, a huge number of paper items enter my life on a daily basis. Some go directly into recycling and some get filed, but there are always a few (brochures for window treatments, for example) that fall into the category of “I really need to do something about that.” My cluttery side needs them there nagging at me or I’ll forget to deal with them.
I would prefer to be a noncombatant in these skirmishes, but with the battleground firmly located somewhere between my two ears, that’s not possible. I agree with both sides (how could I not?), but some sort of compromise is in order.
On the one hand, when I gaze out over my new kitchen, I want to appreciate its serene beauty. After all the work getting to it, I desire it to look stunning every day, like a magazine spread or an inspiring article in Houzz (which it surely deserves).
When, instead, my eyes encounter two receipts, three bills, several fundraising appeal envelopes, a half-filled mug of cold tea, three screws that look important (though for what purpose is anybody’s guess), warranties that need registering, tax documents, yesterday’s newspaper and brochures about gas fireplace inserts and garage doors (two other urgent needs), I feel stressed and anxious.
On the other hand, that anxiety has an important purpose — to goad me into reading the paper, paying my bills, doing my taxes and actually finishing up all the remaining items in this ongoing renovation project so I can finally relax.
To that argument, of course, the neat freak points out that the newspaper arrives daily, bills come every month, taxes seem to be due every time I turn around, and is a house ever truly finished? If that is the finish line, the clutter could remain in place for years or even decades, forever marring my enjoyment. And don’t forget, she adds, with the lights on, the kitchen looks like a stage set framed by that giant (uncurtained) picture window. Do you really want to advertise your sloppiness to the world?
The parties are strongly entrenched in their respective positions and it hasn’t been easy to get them to the table to iron out their differences. Brokering a deal took all my diplomatic skills, but I think I have finally negotiated a detente.
We’ve split the day into two time periods. The clutterer is allowed to drop the mail and newspaper on the counter in the morning when it arrives. It can sit there for the next several hours while she sorts her way through it. But after that, it needs to go. By dinnertime, the counters must be cleared so that any dog walkers happening by can observe the neatnik cooking in a pristine setting.
It’s an uneasy truce, but I think it will hold for at least six weeks, by which time I should be well entrenched in my new tidiness pattern.
But you may have to take my word for it.
Six weeks should give me just enough time to get some window treatments in place.
Rotini with Spinach and Ricotta Sauce
The unseasonably warm weather we were enjoying a week or two ago left me longing for the more sustained version of spring. To hurry it along, I’ve been thinking green and eating the most spring-like foods I can. Which today means this quick and easy pasta sauce.
Kids who refuse to eat vegetables will turn up their noses at this delightfully green dish, but the rest of us know better and can enjoy it as a harbinger of spring bounty to come.
3-1/2 cups dry rotini or similar pasta (about 3/4 lb.)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
10 ounces baby spinach
1/3 cup whole milk ricotta
1/4 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for serving
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When it is boiling, salt it heavily and cook the pasta.
While the water is heating and the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium to medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook until they begin to soften and turn translucent, then add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, being careful not to burn it.
Add the spinach a couple handfuls at a time, stirring it into the onions, and cook until it is all incorporated and wilted. If your spinach is very dry (mine was), you may need to add a couple tablespoons of water to help it along.
Add the ricotta and stir well to incorporate.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor and process until it is smooth. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Make the flavors strong (especially the nutmeg), bearing in mind that the pasta will dilute them.
Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water. Place the pasta in a bowl and toss with the sauce, adding in a spoonful or two of the pasta water as needed.
Serve topped with fresh-grated Parmesan cheese.
Betty Teller knows she would be really clean if only she weren’t so messy. Explain the paradox to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.