Real Kitchens Don’t Look Like the Pictures (#AtoZChallenge)

May 13, 2021 | No-Niche Posts

I was making breakfast when the idea for “K” came to me. I opened the drawer underneath the oven to take out a small skillet. As I plunked it onto the burner, something jumped. I looked down and stifled a small scream as my brain turned this into a cockroach. Caterpillar? Bug.

My brain started going, “Eww, eww, gross – eww!” and as it sloooowly dawned on me what the thing actually was, I flashed back on “things found in other people’s kitchens” that had caused the same visceral disgust. Crumbs from the toaster, perhaps. A bit of thread mistaken for a hair. A bit of hair – my own – mistaken for the cook’s. Had it been so plainly written on my face as it was, this morning, in my own kitchen? I hope not.

In fairness, it could have been a cockroach. We do have an exterminator service quarterly, and they will re-treat, at no charge, if we see a bug in between their visits. A roach might have crawled into the drawer to die, I suppose, but it would be more logical to assume that a dying roach could not have made the climb, and would have died under the drawer. I’ve only seen about a dozen roaches in this house over two decades, despite living in the tropics where cockroaches grow big enough to saddle and ride.

My kitchen is clean. It’s not “Howard Hughes clean,” but neither is yours. It is probably cleaner than yours, in some ways; in others, you might find something – like this – that causes your brain to moan, “Ewwww!” But we clean after meals and we have a cleaning service weekly. I’d bet it’s cleaner than most commercial kitchens on inspection day, and we rarely ask for the “kitchen tour” when we visit our favorite restaurants or insist on seeing the inspector’s report. Maybe we shouldn’t think too hard on this when visiting friends and family.

Julia Child was famous for being messy in the kitchen. I found these photos, and the second one cracks me up. I’ll bet she found…things…in her oven drawer, from time to time.

So what was this…thing? (“Eww, don’t examine it, just squish it and throw it down the disposal!” urged my brain, in horror.) In spite of my brain’s recoiling till it had to be peeled off the back of my skull with a spatula, I leaned in and peered closely at “the thing.”

You see? It really is a matter of perspective and good lighting.

We had steak with mushrooms, last night. The “cockroach” was a bit of grilled, baby Portobello mushroom that must have fallen into the oven drawer and onto the tiny skillet while my husband cooked dinner. No big deal. I rinsed out the skillet and made breakfast, while singing Mrs. Crandall’s Boardinghouse, by The Irish Rovers.

I imagine my children, all grown, cooking us dinner in our own kitchen when we’re old and recoiling in horror at a glimpse of dehydrated Portobello mushroom in the oven drawer. It saddens me a little. Makes me laugh a little, too. I get it. We’ll see which wins out when I’m 90.

I did not add the mushroom to breakfast. I put that into the compost bin for Herman. Those little black specks? Freshly-ground black pepper, you heathens.

That said, I hear insects are an excellent source of protein. Which is good, because there seem to be plenty of them in the vegetable garden.

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.


  1. Bob Jasper

    I Gotta admit that you had me wondering about that bit of crinkled stuff that turned out to be just a harmless bit of fungus, er-r mushroom. . .

    Having lived in the Florida panhandle for a couple of years, I know all about roaches. Turn the light on in the kitchen and watch those little black turds scramble in every direction. We kept a supply of roach hotels on hand to make sure they were well fed and cared for. The theory was they would crawl into the box after their favorite food, eat it and die there. Back then, we didn’t have an exterminator service; I don’t know if they even existed, as I don’t recall seeing any ads or trucks around town.

    Here in MN all we have to contend with are ants, spiders, the occasional house fly, and those thousand-legged critters that eat spiders. Outside, our main pest is the much-berated mosquito. When I learned that dragonflies eat them, I began to appreciate dragonflies even more.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      Dragonflies are amazing! I watched a swarm of them dancing overhead, from our back yard, one day. You have “ants.” We have “FIRE ants.” You know what fire ants are good for? NOTHING. Unless it’s one of those aluminum sculptures made by pouring 2000 degree aluminum into the mound… (Seriously, if you haven’t seen those, Google them. And if PETA complains, tell ’em go go stand near a fire ant mound barefoot in the hot sun. They’ll be singing a different tune by dinner time.) I’m pretty sure no self-respecting predator even considers fire ants “food.” Useless little monsters. Mosquitos are annoying, but during their peak we have trucks that spray throughout the neighborhoods. (This, according to beekeepers, is fine; the bees are safely tucked into the hive and unharmed by the chemicals at that point.) We have the angry hell hornets, colorful assassin bugs (these are very beneficial, just avoid touching them – they’re not aggressive, but they sting painfully).

  2. The JC H2 Chemistry tutor

    Hi Holly, thanks for sharing this post!
    This reminds of the Chinese idiom 杯弓蛇影 which describes a story occurring in the Han Dynasty where a person “mistook the reflection of a bow in the cup for a snake” and had countless sleepless night. We now use it to describe someone who is very suspicious.
    Please allow me to share your experience with my students

    • Holly Jahangiri

      That’s fascinating! Thank you for the language lesson, Ingel – of course you may share this post with your students. I enjoyed our chat this morning, and I think that may illustrate the idiom, as well!


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