I cook a lot here. Not just because I’m trying to use up all the stuff in the cupboard, or because it’s cheaper, or because I am an eager-to-please newlywed, but because I genuinely enjoy it. My mother was a great creator of food – I can’t call her just a cook, since most of her dishes started with a seed catalog. I have always been inspired to cook well because of her, and to start every dish as far back as possible: it’s better to make a pizza at home on purchased dough than to buy a pizza ready-made; it’s better to make the dough from flour than to buy dough; it’s better to have grown the toppings in your garden than to use storebought; it’s better to have milled the wheat yourself than to buy flour; it’s better to have grown the wheat than to have bought it… you can keep this game going for a long time.
I have no hopes of actually growing and milling wheat, but I would like, at least, to make the dough and grow the toppings, at some point in my life. For now, since I don’t have a garden of my own, I have to be satisfied with making the dough.
Just in the past week, I’ve made the following completely from scratch:
– thyme-scented French bread
– chocolate chip cookies
– basil-infused orzo pasta
– basil-infused castellane pasta
– whole wheat fettucine
– whole wheat w/ honey pizza dough
– Mexican rice
– Chinese egg-fried whole grain rice
– feta-sesame saganaki
– black-eyed pea salad
– hummus from dried chickpeas
… and more. It may not sound that impressive, and maybe it isn’t, but I’m impressed with myself for doing it for two reasons:
1) This whole year, since September, I didn’t have a kitchen. I didn’t even have a microwave. I had a sink, a knife, and a cutting board, but no source of heat.
2) The kitchen that I cook in is small. Most people claim to have small kitchens, even people who manifestly do not. But I do, honestly. Today when I made the chocolate chip cookies, I didn’t have enough space to put the cookie sheet down, so I had to do it on the bed. My refrigerator is so small that it doesn’t have a freezer. My oven is so small that its stovetop only has two burners and the oven part is not much larger than an American toaster-oven.
I have a double sink for some reason, whoever designed the kitchen thought it made sense, but it doesn’t, because there’s no counter space as a result. Everything I do in the kitchen (unless I do it in the bed, which is not rare), I do by balancing a cutting board on the divider that separates the two sink sections, and working on the cutting board. The cutting board regularly flips to one side or the other, very often sending my food flying into the sink.
As for cupboard space… I store the water on the living room floor, and most of the dried goods like beans, rice, sugar are in jars lined up here and there.
What about equipment, you ask? Aside from the aforementioned refrigerator-sans-freezer, glorified toaster-oven / hot plate, and cutting board, I have one functional knife, a digital kitchen scale (one of my prized possessions), a Zyliss garlic press (another prized poss.), a colander, a large pot, a 9″ frying pan, and a tea kettle / hotpot.
There is no coffee maker, no food processor or blender, no microwave, no freezer (I just have to bring that up again), no garbage disposal, no toaster, no grill, no dishwasher (ha!).
The entire counter space consists of 3″ of space between the sink and the oven on the right, and 3″ of space between the sink and the wall on the other side. That’s it. So I work by balancing my cutting board on the sink divider, and with this setup, I cook two meals from scratch every day.
I do sometimes need some flat space, so I have a table that I temporarily steal when I need to roll out pasta dough or knead bread dough.
My mother has complained for decades about her kitchen: too small, bad appliances, not enough light, not enough air, old countertops, etc. But the truth is that you don’t need space or equipment to cook from scratch. In fact, I think that’s the real secret: the REAL “from scratch” stuff doesn’t call for equipment at all. If your great-grandmother made it, think about what she would have used. And the results are astounding. Everything I cook makes my husband very, very happy. I started a notebook to write down recipes that he loves, and I’ve been writing them at a rate of two per day for a while now.
It’s not all rosy, though. Almost my most common expression is “I want a kitchen!” Because the oven is balanced on top of the mini-fridge and the air vent is positioned directly above the oven, there’s so little space between the stove top and the air vent thingy that I can barely fit my pot on the stove. Stirring with a wooden spoon is tough, and forget about pouring anything into the pot. If I have beans ready to go into the pot, for example, instead of pouring them in with the pot on the stove, I remove the pot from the stove, balance it precariously on the sink divider, pour the beans in, and transfer it back to the stove.
My mother would say that I’m lucky because a small kitchen is easier to keep clean. I think this is true, but I really wouldn’t mind cleaning a massive kitchen – that would be a trade-off I’d be willing to make.
One of our closest friend-couples on the island own a gorgeous little house in the capital village (heh) of the island, which they renovated themselves. Their kitchen is gorgeous. We went there for dinner tonight (I brought the chocolate chip cookies) and when I came in, I just stood in the kitchen and watched her cook. She asked me what I was doing, and I said “I’m enjoying my jealousy.”
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