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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Unfamiliar Kitchens

It's a no-brainer. Someone in San Francisco offers you a six-week project...beginning in January and stretching through the worst of a Chicago winter and you say yes. Enthusiastically. Eagerly. You pack all your normal person clothes, oh and maybe a raincoat. No parkas. No long underwear. No ten-pound snow boots and big, silly-looking hats. You leave those behind. Give the husband and dog a kiss. Then zip out to the airport and get on that plane--fast. Before the next snow storm rolls in.

So there you have it. I'm in San Francisco for the next month or so. Living in a short-term rental and you all probably know what that means. Most people have experienced The Unfamiliar Kitchen at one time or another. It could be a beach house, a cabin in the woods or even the home of a friend or family member. You open drawer after drawer, hunting for utensils. You wish the cheese grater was more like the one you have at home. You use a wine glass as a measuring cup
(a trick I saw once on Naked Chef).

The kitchen here is, umm, let's say it's interesting. Kind of vintage. A linoleum floor and an old kitchen sink unit, like maybe from the 50s, with built-in metal drawers and cabinets on one side of the room. On the other, a gigantic Viking range, with an enormous hood. I can grill french toast for twelve, if I should feel the need to do so. The pots are in sad shape. The largest (missing a handle) and a smallish, sort-of-non-stick omelette pan are the ones I am using the most.

Which brings me to the sort of cooking one does in situations such as this. It requires, an adjustment. Omelettes. Yes. Pastas, yes. Salads. Yes. Easy sautes. Yes. Baking? Not gonna happen. (No mixer! No Silpats!)
Soups. Eh, I'm guessing no. Now, grilling would be a big yes, but, alas, I have no grill.

There's something freeing in a way about all this. I don't have my bookshelves full of cookbooks to cling to, so it's really about the ingredients. Eating at home has been simplified. (And for balance, I have all those amazing San Francisco restaurants out there, waiting to be experienced!)

So, the plan? Ask myself, "What do you feel like eating?" Then, cook it and embellish very little.

I feel more confident saying all this now that I stopped at Bed, Bath & Beyond last night and bought:

two Riedel "O" glasses (The wineglasses in the cupboard here bear winery logos. Call me weird, but I find this cheesy.)
a bamboo cutting board
a serrated, no-sharpening-required knife
a set of my favorite OXO tongs. (Quite possibly the most useful tool in any kitchen.)

I plan to make an egg salad one evening and I'll let you know when I do. It's an underrated meal.

Tonight, I made one of my favorite salads ever. And it's mainly because I stumbled across some pre-cooked, peeled beets at Trader Joe's. When I make this at home, I wrap fresh beets in foil, and then roast for an hour or so, before cooling and peeling and tossing with the rest of the ingredients. But here were some beets, ready to go! (Why are the Trader Joe's out here SO much better than at home? A mystery...) Combined with some crumbled goat cheese and toasted walnuts tossed with a mix of arugula and spinach in a balsamic vinaigrette-- this made me feel pretty happy after a long day. And, it was an absolute snap to put together. There's nothing like the nutty, toasty fragrance of walnuts in the oven to make one feel at home.

Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad
serves 1

2-3 tiny beets, sliced or diced
3 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese
1, or 2 handfuls toasted walnuts (toast in oven for 10 minutes or so at 375 degrees)
large handful of washed baby arugula
large handful of washed baby spinach

Balsamic vinaigrette--your favorite brand

Arrange greens on a plate. Sprinkle with walnuts, goat cheese and beets.
Dress with the vinaigrette.

1 comment:

Jane said...

It's as if you're camping, indoors: limited equipment and conveniences. This is classic Laurie Colwin; your post reminds me of her essays in which she describes her first, tiny kitchen in NY. I hope you'll write more about this kind of cooking, when you're displaced.