Sentimental Cookware

Stuff in my kitchen that I'm emotionally attached to

My dad was never really good at giving gifts. Come birthdays and holidays he usually just handed me cash or a gift card. On rare occasions he’d give me something that was functional like a new desk for my room or a pencil case for school. Any beautifully wrapped present with a gift tag signed “From Mom & Dad” was usually my mom’s doing.

It’s not that he wasn’t thoughtful. My bedroom workspace needed an upgrade and the pencil case was very useful. It’s just that he was more practical than sentimental, especially when it came to gift giving.

But one of the most thoughtful gifts he’d ever given me was a rice cooker for my 22nd birthday. I was in that awkward stage after college where I was working full time at an entry level marking job but still living at home with my parents. Everyone in my household worked different hours, so every day after work I made myself dinner which was always a meat and vegetable served on a bed of rice. I ate rice every day and I loved it. It never got boring! It went perfectly with every dish, it added bulk to leftovers and best of all, it was fast and easy to make.

On my birthday that year, I woke up to a knock at my bedroom door. When I opened it, there, on the floor in front of my doorway, unwrapped with a bow stuck on top, was a rice cooker. I looked up to see my dad at the end of the hallway peeking out from his bedroom smiling as he watched me excitedly pick up the rice cooker. When he confirmed that I indeed enjoyed the gift, he slowly and sheepishly walked down the hallway while describing all of its little bells and whistles. “There’s a steam tray that goes on top so that when you’re making the rice you can steam vegetables at the same time,” he said. “And it turns off automatically when it knows the rice is perfectly cooked!”

Later on I asked my mom if she had anything to do with the rice cooker and she told me no, she had no idea! He went and did that on his own. I was so struck by this because I didn’t even ask for a rice cooker, nor was it something I was even thinking about getting myself. Plus, the way he had given it to me was so heartwarming — him stepping outside of his comfort zone to give a gift in the best way he knew how, just sitting on the floor wrapped only in a bow and his best intentions.

Yes, the rice cooker was totally a utilitarian gift, but my dad was never into buying gadgets and gizmos to complete tasks you could easily do yourself. I was perfectly capable of boiling water and cooking rice in a pot — I had proven that to him every evening time at dinner. But he went against his frugal nature and bought me a new appliance — one that performed a single function and would take up space in the cabinets, two aspects that were the antithesis of his minimalist beliefs.

It was a great gift that I used for years and one that moved with me five times over the last decade. It’s special to me because of how thoughtful it was, but also because it was also the last gift he’d given to me before he died.

I stopped using the rice cooker a few years ago when my mom got me an InstantPot which my dad would have loved because it performs so many functions. I sometimes feel a little guilty for not using the rice cooker, and though I no longer use it, I can’t part with it. I hear my dad in my head screaming “you’re not using this — get rid of it” but I can’t. So there it stays in my kitchen cabinet, a memento of my father’s unique way of expressing that he loved me.

I’m at the stage in my life where it’s time to switch out my IKEA furniture with more permanent furnishings and upgrade my collection of beer-glasses-used-as-every-day-glasses to a more refined glassware set. In doing so, I’m realizing that so much of my kitchen is sentimental to me, not just because these were the first things I used to feed myself when I set out into the world on my own, but because of the people who gave them to me.

Some people have heirloom cast iron skillets, wooden spoons, priceless china, crystal stemware and fancy silverware that were passed down through the generations. I, on the other hand, have a rice cooker along with a bunch of really weird dishes my grandmother, who passed away from cancer 7 months after my dad died, bought for me as housewarming gifts from the Home Shopping Network.

There are these cow-shaped bowls that might be for french onion soup, I’m not quite sure. They take up an entire shelf on my kitchen island. The set also came with one huge cow bowl that just sits on top of my refrigerator and stares at me while I cook.

There’s also this owl-shaped gravy dish that she gave me because I loved collecting owls — he sits on top of my stove and has become part of the kitchen’s decor.

She also gave me an entire set of fluorescent green dishes (because I loved the color green) complete with plates, bowls, mugs, a spoon rest, and a sugar bowl that I keep by my coffee machine. The plates and bowls are not at all microwave friendly. Every time I use them they become lava hot while the food stays cold. And the sugar bowl by the coffee machine is empty because I don’t put sugar in my coffee.

They’re old. Some of them are broken. They’re not the most stylish, and they take up space. Perhaps I’ll find another use for them. Maybe I can use the gravy dish as a vase or the cow-shaped french onion soup bowls as makeshift planters. But regardless, even if I don’t use them, I absolutely love them, and I’ll never get rid of them.

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Also - it was a crossover episode because I was on Dr. Geo’s podcast Table 86! So go ahead and listen to both! You’ll learn so much, I promise!

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Listening To: This season of the Something Was Wrong podcast follows the absolutely crazy story of a guy who used a fake accent around a woman for like 8 years. More than that, he’s a serial liar, a con man, an abuser and an all around creep. If you’re into true crime podcasts and psycho-thrillers, you’ll like this one.

Appearing: I’ve been working on a really fun beat for The Philadelphia Inquirer lately, going on deep dives to explore the history of iconic Philly foods and building guides on where locals can find the best. My personal favorites so far have been Whoopie Pies, Banana Splits, and Scrapple.

Next Tuesday, September 14th at 4:15pm, I’ll be doing an Inquirer LIVE interview with Deputy Food Editor, Joseph Hernandez about the backstories behind these backstories. I’ll be sharing how I do the research, taking readers through the curiosities that inspire me, and discussing the interesting tidbits that didn’t make it into each article.

Join us by registering for this free event!

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Publishing: I tweeted about my experience dumpster diving with my dad. It resonated so deeply with people that an editor for Food & Wine reached out and asked me to write about it.

Very proud to bring the topic of dumpster diving to such a fancy publication. If there’s anything I’ve learned from the response to this essay, it’s that dumpster diving is way more common than we think it is. Cheers to the divers who are thrivers!

Read: Dumpster Diving for Discount Desserts Behind the Entenmann’s Outlet

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