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.

The Nina Archives:

Home Sweet JFK

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Rites Of Spring

Art Is In The Air

Get Out Of My Way… Please

Tales From The Dog Run

  • sally rogers

    I’m sure all who only leave positive comments here are Nina’s friends. What useless musings. Who cares? And yeah, they pretty much censor all negative feedback so I’ll surprised to see this post. Nina, go back to wherever you came from.

  • Schlomo Horowitzz

    I think people are tired of the mindless TV pollution they are faced with every day. Jersey SHore, NJ house bimbos (housewives), Jerseylicious….etc.

    THey are angry and will hate on anyone they can. Smile Nina, god loves you though. CAN YOU DO AN ARTICLE ON MY TOPIC..?? You can call it the pollution of NYers minds through horribble TV or something

  • SM

    Omar, you are so transparently mentally ill that I almost feel sorry for you. Almost.

  • Smile, God Loves You

    All CAPS! Wow…really? That passionate about hating on this “Nina character?”

    Perhaps you should stop reading the column? Its just a suggestion. Instead maybe you could take a stroll, get some sun, have a glass of vino…just relax…you know, for ALL CAPS sake.

  • supporter

    why keep reading then? the web’s a big place, with plenty of bridges to live under. pick another one to pollute.

  • Arietty

    What’s the easiest thing to cook in a tiny NY kitchen?

    • Nina in New York

      Soup, definitely! Or a stew. One cutting board, one pot is the easiest way to go. The Barefoot Contessa has a delicious recipe for lentil and sausage soup. I also just tried cooking fish in steaming packets — take pieces of nonstick foil, put a serving of fish and whatever vegetables and herbs you want in each, wrap them up so they’re sealed and put them on a baking sheet in the oven. It was incredibly tidy (and delicious) and wouldn’t require much of a workspace at all.

  • Sioux

    I give a lot of credit to anyone who can turn out great cooking and baking in a tiny NYC kitchen. I have a large suburban kitchen so I have no excuses.

    • slz

      Yes! And I know Nina personally so I can attest to the fact that she really did make some incredible baked goods in what was a ridiculously teensy kitchen. What she didn’t say is that she also managed to throw an amazing Super Bowl party complete with wings, nachos and all. I seriously don’t know how she did it in such a small space!

  • CPO

    I had a roommate once who regardless of the fact that we had 2 giant kitchens when we shared one, she always found a way to turn it in to a catastrophe.

  • AmericanCabbie

    It’s all downhill from here. Start the clock. 100 days from now this will all be forgotten.

  • Megs

    Kitchen space is a shock when moving from outside of NYC. It takes a lot of downsizing but in return it enhances your organizational skills! My biggest ongoing challenge is the Tupperware section as I’m constantly trying to find a method to the plastic madness! Let me know if hear of good solutions.

  • Jacob

    Not interesting topic at all.

  • Diane

    I had a teensy kitchen once–I ended up keeping all of my kitchen stuff on a utility shelf in the living room, where I arranged them to look like they were the height of fashionable decorating. I don’t think it worked, but if anyone asked, I just said, “Well, they do add a bit of color, don’t they?”

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