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.



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