Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dishwashing by hand: a masterclass. When I was a kid, dinners at my grandmother's place would always be followed by a dishwashing session. Dishes were handwashed, dried by tea towel, and immediately put away.

At my parents' place, dishes were mainly left to drain dry. Then when we got a dishwasher, it was my chore to load and unload it. This required its own specialised skill, because every dishwasher and set of dishes are different, and only someone who regularly uses a given machine knows its capacity and the best spots to put particular objects.

Dishwashing is a classic share-house bone of contention. I'll never forget the dishwashing stand-off in the early days of Wetburgh Street, which I finally broke after there was no clean crockery or cutlery, and no dishwashing detergent. I cleaned the dishes with liquid hand soap, retching at the mould that had developed between the plates. In the same house, the absolute nutcase Jacinta had a real problem with dirty dishes being left in the sink.

The other frustrating thing about share-house living is that your housemates will inevitably break your stuff. I feel lucky that my glassware is only from Ikea, because otherwise I'd get really mad at the way it regularly turns up broken in the recycling bin, as if a surreptitious Jewish wedding had taken place in my house while I was out.

As it is, my grandmother's Blue Nordic dinner set has become more and more depleted over the years, to the point where I now have four dinner plates and side plates, but only two cereal bowls. I used to have four green pasta plates, only one of which remains. And I once owned a set of four white pasta bowls with a larger serving bowl, none of which are extant.

Lately I have been very frustrated about the dishwashing in my current house. I'll get a fork out of the cutlery drawer and notice it has dried food on it, or a plate or glass will be all greasy and smeary. I was furious the other day when I saw that a bowl, obviously crusted with dried yoghurt, had been put back in the cupboard. There's just no way you could pretend this bowl was clean. I could drive myself mad imagining what bizarre impulse had led either Paul or Dan to replace it in the cupboard.

My mother takes this as her cue to suggest I move out by myself, despite the fact that I like my current house and it suits both the way I live and my budget. So, mainly to soothe myself, I have decided to set out precisely the way I like to wash dishes.

First, rinse any dishes that have a lot of grease or food debris on them. You don't want to be adding this stuff to your clean dishwashing water. Next, clean the sink. If it's anything like mine, it will probably have bits of scummy food clinging to the plughole, and a ring of grime.

Then squirt some dishwashing liquid into the sink and fill with hot water. I like to make it as hot as I can bear to put my hands in. We currently use that bullshit Earth Choice dishwashing liquid, which may be good for the environment but doesn't clean dishes very well, so I use a lot of it. Morning Fresh has taught a generation of handwashers that a little bit of liquid goes a long way, but this just isn't true about Earth Choice.

The first things you should wash are the glasses, as you don't want them to be smeared with grease from other dirty dishes. Using a long-handled brush or an abrasive sponge, clean right inside the glass to reach any dried wine or fruit juice. Don't forget to clean the outside of the glass too, to remove greasy fingerprints.

Glasses also benefit from a rinse in cold water after being washed to remove detergent residue. If I have a lot of glassware to wash, I like to set up a tea towel on the bench and put the glasses on it to dry, rather than wasting space in the drainer.

Then I move onto the plates, getting the food off with a brush or abrasive sponge. A regular sponge just won't remove crusted-on dirt. I use my fingertips to feel across the surface for any crusted-on food I might have missed. Then I turn the plate over and clean the back, because food can be transferred there when dirty plates are stacked.

After the plates I move on to the bowls. I basically wash the crockery in order of size, so I can stack the drainer from largest in the back to smallest in the front. The spaces down the side of the drainer I fill with mugs. My tea mug is the most challenging, because it's stained brown with the amount of tea I drink. It needs to be scrubbed hard, but it does return to white inside eventually.

Then I wash the utensils and cutlery – starting with the chopping knives, so I don't cut myself on them by fishing around in the water. I clean each item individually, front and back, making sure to work the bristles of my brush between the tines of the forks.

Last, I wash the large and dirty pots and pans. When I cook, I usually rinse the pan immediately or put it to soak, so that I won't have to do as much work when I wash it later. For non-stick pans I used a brush, but for others I like to use something more abrasive, like steel wool.

When all the dishes are clean, I let the water out and then wipe the sink and surrounds clean again with a sponge, and fish out any bits of food from the drain. At this point I let the dishes air-dry and consider my work done, dude.

As I'm putting the dishes away, I polish the glasses and silverware on a tea towel to remove any last bits of residue. This is especially important for spoons, which may have watermarks if they've dried facing up. My favourite sort of tea towel is the waffle-weave cotton variety you can get very cheaply in multi-packs. They seem to soak up water better than the flat weave, but don't leave fluff on the dishes as the towelling-fabric ones can.

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