Everything Matters

By | May 7, 2014

half chicken on rack
I get it. I get why people don’t like to cook.

First real meal in the new digs. Broiled chicken. Pretty simple, right?

No broiler pan. Don’t they come with the stove? Ok, so I jerry-rigged a new one out of a jellyroll pan (one of those cookie sheet with a lip around the sides). Covered it with heavy duty aluminum foil. Put a little rack on top. Perched a half of a stark naked chicken on the rack. There it is in the picture. Poor thing.

Ok, this is gonna work.

Right.

I put the chicken on a low rack in the oven with the broiler on. Everything seems perfectly copasetic. Just broiling a simple chicken in a simple oven.

Then the smoke alarm goes off. Screechscreechscreech. I turn on the vent. Open the windows. Screechschreechschreech. Thank goodness it’s not hooked up to the fire department. The alarm finally decides it’s had enough screeching. But this happens three times. Three. Screechschreechschreech. I’m just broiling a damn chicken. No grease fire. No noticeable smoke. Screechschreechschreech. God forbid I decide to boil water and produce real steam.

The stove “works.” At least the burners go on, but the burners are not what I am accustomed to. They range from 5,000 BTUs to 17,000 BTUs. Not bad, right? Except that 5000 BTUs is like lighting a match under your pot. It just doesn’t go out as quickly. The commercial-type range in my old house started at 8,000 BTUs and went up to 19,000 BTUs.

The dishwasher washes the dishes. Sort of. Except when it doesn’t (coffee stain on a “clean” saucer) or the soap packet just doesn’t dissolve.

No wonder people don’t like to cook. If you don’t have the right tools, it’s not only difficult to cook well, but the result is disappointing and probably not worth the effort. You simply can’t recreate the result you want. May as well order a pizza. Reheat something in the microwave for pete’s sake.

The knives matter. How they are sharpened matters. The cutting board matters. The tongs and the spatula and the wooden spoons matter. The quality of the pans matter. The stove matters. The freshness of the spices matter. The quality of the food certainly matters.

All that “stuff” I brought with me is nothing more than the tools required to master a particular art form. Yes, you can cook with a small aluminum pot with a burner under it. It may well be edible and keep you alive and nourished. Just don’t expect it to be noteworthy. Or satisfying. Certainly not art.

A stove that doesn’t cook well or a dishwasher that doesn’t clean well is hardly worth having. Just because it’s new and has an esthetically acceptable stainless steel front doesn’t mean it is any good. Give me an old ugly stove that does it’s job every time. Cooking is a self-expression for me. It’s a kind of consumable art form. And the equipment matters.

Mr. FB is a photographer and for him certain lenses or tripods or light configurations are essential to producing the result he wants to produce. To me, as a non-photographer, much of that occurs as ridiculous and self-indulgent when I can just pick up my iphone and snap a photo.

But here’s the thing. This is a lovely apartment. The stove is perfectly adequate. You can make scrambled eggs here. You can heat up a can of soup. You can steam broccoli and brew a pot of coffee. It’s just that I have become accustomed to and expect to be able to create something above that basic level of food prep and for a while it’s going to be a lot more difficult.

What I’m discovering is that there is a distinction between what I’ve called “stuff” – the three ladles; the different sized pots and pans; the right knives and zesters and wisks and bowls and mixers and spoons – and “junk” – the stuff I don’t need and never needed that got collected over the years.

Junk includes those hundreds of plastic containers that I got from the grocery store filled with coleslaw or hummus that washed and kept forever. It includes the collection of dish towels beyond what I could use and wash. It includes broken corn holders and measuring spoons that are no longer attached to each other and plastic measuring cups that can’t be read because the markings have washed off them. It even includes that circular contraption with the perpendicular handle that allegedly makes “perfect” pancakes.

Separating, as it were, the wheat from the chaff. Working with what works and eliminating the crap.

Game on.



7 Comments

Seamus on May 8, 2014 at 8:07 am.

My favorite column to date. :)

Reply

Patti on May 8, 2014 at 8:14 am.

This all sounds so familiar! The first two meals in the new house set off the smoke alarm and it took two meals to realize it was hooked into the electric system like my old alarm and I could take out the batteries.

Also found a lot of creative storage spaces like the slots between stove and fridge, but heaven help the person who doesn’t stack the pots and pans exactly right, because then the door doesn’t close!

But I didn’t open a box where something didn’t go to the ebay or Salvation Army pile and the next move will be that much easier. Good luck!

Reply

Robin on May 8, 2014 at 8:42 am.

sounds horrible! and I can relate, having just made a big move cross country. When do you move into your permanent residence and do you have the kind of kitchen that will allow you back to making food art or do you have to redo the kitchen?

Reply

FoodBeest on May 8, 2014 at 9:10 am.

The new kitchen is both high end and totally customizable. It should be easier, but we shall see.

Reply

Sara on May 8, 2014 at 9:19 am.

I’m getting ready to move into another new home and you’re inspiring a good inventory. xoxox

Reply

Peggy on May 8, 2014 at 10:16 am.

FoodBeest — I think it is time to work on all those soups and top-of-stove recipes.
Maybe re-working some oven recipes on the stove. My friend makes stuffed cabbage on the stove lighter and quicker, where I have mine baking for hours in an oven. I do prefer mine, but appreciate her recipe.
Too bad those food are not the choices to do in a hot Evanston/Chicago summer.

My “new” renovated NYC apartment kitchen also has a GE gas oven that really doesn’t broil and a smoke alarm that also goes off when cooking something that produces a bit of smoke. Still learning the limitations of my new stainless steel appliances and longing for my 20 year old black and white appliances that I could depend on for results I knew.

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Jen on September 26, 2014 at 1:05 pm.

I have had similiar experiences now in two continents. When we moved to China six years ago, I had to learn how to cook on a two burner gas stove, no available oven, and adapt recipes to available ingredients and utensils. Over the years there I did get a portable electric oven and brought spatulas, whisks and garlic presses from the US. But now that I am back “home” I miss my electric rice steamer, my vegetable knife (which looks like a meat cleaver) and my easy access to the gluten free grains that I used to substitute 1:1 in baking. The process while frustrating at times has been a great experience for discerning what is really essential in cooking. Thanks for the opportunity to reflect.

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