After learning today was National Kitchen Klutzes of America Day, I thought I should share some stories for my fellow klutzes. Too many of us work in silence and embarrassment trying to hide our natural tendencies. Whether due to inattention, physical awkwardness or lack of know-how, I’ve done some damage to food, property and myself.
Let’s begin with a definition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines klutz as “a clumsy person” with one synonym listed as “butterfingers.”
My first job at a doughnut shop in 1985 brought some issues to my attention. When a customer yelled for more coffee from down the long counter where they sat, I was a little too enthusiastic taking the glass pot off the burner and doing a pivot. Know that people in need of coffee in the morning before work are not patient and I was a people-pleaser. More than once the pot slammed against the counter when my pivot ended and shattered onto the floor with me left holding the plastic handle. “Be more careful,” the supervisor instructed as she handed me the broom.
Then, my lack of understanding of gravity contributed to some doughnut damage. When boxing a dozen doughnuts, I always took from the front of the tray. The trays were held in place on shelves at an angle with the front of the tray being lower. As I was closing the box to a dozen doughnuts I had just packaged, I heard an unfamiliar sound and saw the long, rectangular metal tray slowly lift up, slide out and down the shelf structure and onto the floor. I was stunned. Powdered jelly doughnuts lay bleeding everywhere.
“You made it back-heavy,” my supervisor said. “Always take from the back.” I blamed the lack of on-the-job training on how to remove doughnuts from a tray for this. I expected to be yelled at and have my pay docked. Instead, the baker-owner in the kitchen told me to collect all the doughnuts and someone would powder them again and put them out. And be more careful, I heard again, as I was reassigned to run the cash register.
Jumping to more recent times, I’ve learned at home that using large, oscillating fans near the smoke detector with open windows will push the smoke out and not activate the piercing smoke alarm each time food cooking on the stove spills onto the burners. I keep the fans stored there just in case. Thankfully, I’ve never had to use the fire extinguisher I keep in the kitchen.
I won’t talk about times that I used salt instead of sugar or tablespoons of baking soda instead of teaspoons. Or what strange science led to my chocolate chip banana bread growing a beer belly. My enthusiasm for cooking and baking is in the process, inattentive as that process is, and not the outcome. It has to be. The end product is usually a bit startling.
Thankfully, I have never been severely injured in the kitchen, but each near miss makes me question my enthusiasm and perseverance in trying. Home-baked goods are fresher, tastier, I tell myself. But are mine really?
My kitchen is filled with memories of my klutziness. The whisk attachment to my stand-mixer I keep as a memento of my short-comings. The instruction manual, which I had read, said to unplug the mixer before sticking my spatula in there. But I thought just turning it off was enough.
Somehow the mixer turned itself on while I was scraping the sides of the bowl. The heavy-duty plastic spatula was grabbed by the stainless steel wire whisk. So naturally I ran from the kitchen. I expected the spatula to be expelled, but it stayed in the battle and did all the damage to the whisk as they spun in circles together. I stood out of range until I figured out how to turn off and unplug the stand mixer without the spatula impaling me. Protective eye goggles and a large box repurposed as a shield were involved.
As I sit here, I can see the two-inch burn fading from my right wrist, a consequence of reaching into the toaster oven without using an oven mitt. I think about all the unbreakable plates that have slipped from my fingers and shattered on the kitchen linoleum. I think about my Italian-American mother and how graceful and knowledgeable she was in the kitchen and how everything she made tasted so good. Perhaps some skills can’t be passed down genetically or learned with instruction or practice.
Who would have guessed in 1985 that there would be a day to recognize people like me? An unofficial holiday, unpublicized, and uncelebrated that I only discovered by accident when looking up the dates for some real and treasured national holidays.