The Princess and the Plumber (Featuring Carrot Parsnip Nests with Cardamom Salsa)
Author’s Note: I refer to myself as a “weenie” a number of times in this piece. It is simply a descriptor for one weak facet of my personality. I mean no disrespect to any actual weenies; frankfurters or otherwise, all of which I quite enjoy.
I held the two short, rusty pieces of pipe in my left hand and the shiny new, longer pipes in my right.
“So, how would you cut the pipes down to size?” I asked the hardware store owner.
“Well, you’d cut it with a hacksaw,” and he stopped short, “but YOU’re not going to do it. You couldn’t manage it.”
It had been a year of this. A year of, “you don’t know anything, you’re too small, you’re too weak, you’re out of your depths…” and I’d had it.
“Do you sell hacksaws, sir? I’d like to buy one, thank you.”
It all started in the spring of 2014. My personal life was shifting, as was my business. Things were finally moving in positive directions and I decided it might be time for a reward. My small New York kitchen has always served its purpose, but the old, wooden countertops had long overstayed their welcome. What I wanted was something strong and permanent: a quartz or granite– a countertop that would declare to the world that little Alison deserved something real. I knew I didn’t have the funds to leap right into new counters, but I thought I’d start investigating. Little did I know how torturous that process would become.
I started with a few references. My boyfriend’s brother, Tony, recommended I speak with a friend of his who had her kitchen remodeled a few months prior. She gave me the number of her contractor, Tony, a tall African American with dreadlocks and no interest in a job this small. He gave me a stone guy in the Bronx’s number, a skinny Asian man with a lot of energy named, you guessed it, Tony. Stone-guy Tony could cut the stone, but he didn’t have stone to sell me. He said I could order a slab and have it sent to him but he wouldn’t tell me where to order it from. He said I could find the right slab on the internet, though he couldn’t direct me to any websites.
I had the definite feeling that I was not being taken seriously by anyone at this point.
I decided to dip into a few of the bigger stores. Home Depot wouldn’t give me the time of day. I just wanted to talk about the types of countertops they had for sale, but, since I hadn’t brought the exact measurements of my kitchen, they told me they were too busy. The showroom was empty, but… um… ok. The salesman I spoke to suggested I look on their website as he shut his office door in my face.
Next, I went with my mom to another home improvement store in Connecticut, figuring my mom, who isn’t as much of a weenie as I am, would get a little action. Nope. The man on the floor walked us through a few examples, but he couldn’t recommend any one brand or style over another. He seemed to know nothing about what his store sold. He suggested I look online.
I had already looked online, of course, but the information from websites devoted to answering the questions of a kitchen remodel becomes more overwhelming than passing the freakin’ bar exam. I was at my wit’s end.
I took a break and focused on saving the money.
Many months later, I got another recommendation. This was for a stone/ marble place in Brooklyn called Appia Marble and Granite. No one there was named Tony. I took it as a sign. On my next available day, I set out for Bay Ridge, prepared to be overlooked and under-assisted. I walked into their small showroom and touched the samples. I had decided that it was going to be Caesarstone from my hours and hours of research online, but I had a strange sensation when I touched the Caesarstone samples: I felt nothing. I had experienced this feeling before when I had felt the synthetic quartz. Is this the reason the trigger had not yet been pulled on this project? Well, that and my invisibility. The whole experience had left me feeling empty.
A few minutes later, a rep named Marisol walked into the showroom and asked if I needed help. We sat and talked. She made me feel comfortable, not like a weenie, but like a person who had good questions and a serious project. She never pressured me either. She showed me the samples of quartz and then pulled out a slab of granite. It was not anything like what I had been looking for or had imagined for my kitchen… but I felt something. The granite felt real. It felt solid. It felt like it could protect me. I can’t explain it better than that. My heart was racing. This was it. This was what I had been waiting for.
I told Marisol I would call her after I thought about it for a day or two.
I called her when I got home.
It was time. I had been heard and seen and finally felt something.
Later that night, I was telling Francis, my boyfriend, about the leap I had made. He asked what the process was.
“Well, they come, they measure, they cut and then they install the following week. An undermount sink will come with the countertop and then I’ll call a plumber to install a new faucet and hook the pipes up.”
There was a pause.
“You can do it yourself, you know.” Francis said.
I let his words sink in. Francis knows me really well. He sees things in me that I don’t see in myself. I feel myself grow with his faith in me. I hadn’t thought about installing the plumbing before, but maybe I could do it. I had done some plumbing work in my bathroom in Los Angeles years ago. It’s not like I was retooling the gas line. It was a pretty simple hook up. Was this my final, victorious push through the finish line? Me, in a tool belt? Why not? I felt 10 feet tall.
The countertop installation was seamless. They were pros the whole step of the way. It felt like Christmas morning, I was so excited. After the stone guys left, I stood in my kitchen and let a few tears bubble up to the surface. This is who I wanted to be – not who I often tell myself I am (an invisible failure who deserves nothing).
Now, just a quick jaunty over to the hardware store and we’ll be all set.
And suddenly, as I walked down Broadway, it occurred to me that I had no idea what I was doing. I had done some research online so I had a vague plan, but the task ahead of me seemed insurmountable.
I texted Francis, who sent me a small plumbing shopping list (he’s an architect) and said I would be fine. His list was almost identical to mine, but I questioned his faith in me more and more. Why would he think I could do this? He has never seen me fix so much as a blown lightbulb.
I felt my body shrink. I had re-weenied.
The hardware store guys sold me what they thought I needed because I had become timid, unsure, and unclear on my walk there. When I got under the sink and checked it out, it was all wrong. I could see that now. I managed to get the old pipes dislodged and returned to the hardware store. They didn’t have what I needed so I started a search on foot through the hardware stores of Harlem to find my replacement pipes. I texted Francis again full of angst and terror.
“You’ll be fine. You can do this.”
Again, with the trust in my competence. “He’s a fool,” I thought. “I’m going to ruin my kitchen and my relationship.” I was certain he would dump me later that day when he found out I had no idea what I was doing. I convinced myself that he was looking for a soulmate/ plumber, and I was only one of those things.
But then I found my pipes. And I bought a hacksaw to cut the pipes down to size, much to the chagrin of the hardware store owner.
“Guess what??? Your girlfriend owns a hacksaw!” I texted Francis. My heart was racing again.
“Dammit, I was going to buy you a hacksaw for our anniversary,” he teased me. I laughed out loud on Broadway as I skipped home, eager to get under that new sink of mine.
I cut those pipes on my kitchen floor as my little muscles screamed. I thought of all the countertop salesmen who wouldn’t give me the time of day and the skeptic hardware store guys. I thought of all the women everywhere that are belittled and shamed out of being more. I almost gave up a few times. It was too big, I was too weak. But I pulled an angry, powerful strength from the memories of all the rolling eyes that I have encountered, all the shaking heads convincing me I was powerless.
Not. This. Fucking. Time.
When the last pipe was secure, I placed a bucket under the sink and turned on the water.
That bucket is still bone dry.
I did it.
So ladies, just remember, all those people who said you couldn’t do it? They didn’t know anything. You can be a plumber and a princess. Trust me, it’s easier than it seems.
One of the first things that happened in this new kitchen was my desire to cook with vibrant colors. Luckily, that motivation coincided with Spring.
These nests are inspired by a Nigel Slater recipe. I’ve upped the spices because I like a lot of flavor and kick and added some color as well as some homemade oregano oil. They are the perfect spring side- or passed app as I prepare them on the smaller side. See? I’m nesting in many ways. Enjoy!
Carrot Parsnip Nests with Oregano Oil and Cardamom Salsa
Makes about 30 little nests or 10 big ones
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1 large pinch red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon dried mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 red tomato
- 1 yellow tomato
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 parsnips
- 5 carrots (I love to use a mix yellow, purple, and orange carrots this time of year)
- ½ red onion
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons flour
- Salt and pepper
- Fry oil
- Place the cardamom, cumin, coriander, red pepper, and dried mustard into a small bowl.
- Seed and then chop the tomatoes into a small, salsa size.
- Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a small saute pan. Add half the spice blend and let it saute for about 30 seconds. Add the chopped garlic and saute for another 30 seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes and some salt and pepper. Let simmer for a few minutes.
Carrot Parsnip Nests
- Peel and grate the parsnips and carrots in to a bowl. Grate the half onion and stir it into the bowl. Add the other half of the seasoning mix, the egg, and the flour and season lightly.
- Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil (preferably not olive oil because it will become smoky at a high temp which we want to fry these nests quickly). When the oil is hot, drop the carrot/ parsnip/ onion mixture by the heaping teaspoonful into the oil. Let cook for a minute or two each side or until light brown. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Serve with cardamom salsa on top and a drizzle of oregano oil.
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano
- 2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Bring a cup of water to a boil and blanch the oregano and parsley in it for 20 seconds. Drain and place into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Set herbs with olive oil into a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.