Wednesday, July 31, 2013

(Kitchen) Space Oddities

Before I moved in with future husband, I’d been living alone on a student budget for a while.  In spite of my fiscal constraints I managed, with some pride, to eat well and have an uncomplicated, if well stocked kitchen.  As far as I was concerned, I could spend what I was saving on kitchen gadgets on nice food from the local gourmet grocery store, five minutes’ walk from my flat.  My place was small, but managed to avoid clutter, by virtue of the fact that I did not enough money to clutter it. And I ate well.
Fast forward to a gainfully employed (alleged) adulthood.  I still eat well. Our kitchen is a galley-style number with some standard MDF cabinetry and I find myself with a stunning lack of space to put supplies (edible or functional) anywhere.  Since losing the all-important ‘on top of the microwave’ storage area in an unfortunate rice-cooking incident[i], I’m re-evaluating the usefulness of some of the items around the kitchen.
There’s only two people (plus one dog) living in the house, and the list of things that we use all the time is fairly short:
  • non-stick fry pan
  • saucepan
  • knives (we have a magnetic rack for them, so no need to downsize there)
  • spatula
  • cutting board
  • wooden spoon
  • mixing bowl
  • coffee press
  • coffee mugs
  • electric kettle
  • coffee grinder
  • tea cups (handy one cup volume, so I use them instead of cup measures)
  • wok
  • strainer
  • mortar & pestle
  • salad spinner
  • Kenwood Chef (aka ‘Kenny’)
So why is my kitchen bursting at the seams?  If I’m honest, I can only blame myself.  I'm the one who came home from the supermarket with a bag full of spice containers (although they are really handy and magnetic and attach themselves to the side of the fridge).  I’m the child of a pathological hoarder, and I’m fairly confident that these tendencies can be inherited and might be expressing themselves in my need to have:
  • four other fry pans (stainless steel, ceramic, unknown Aldi material)
  • six wooden spoons
  • five cutting boards
  • four strainers
  • three sets of measuring cups (two metric, one imperial)
  • four spatulas
  • set of four nested mixing bowls (which never get used because they are a pain to get out of the cupboard, and also the lids for them have warped and don’t fit) plus two other regular stainless steel mixing bowls.
  • three woks (all beautifully seasoned, mind you)
  • second Kenny (this is the hand blender Kenwood Tri-blade, AKA ‘Kenny II’)
  • second Mortar & Pestle
Other things I have but never use:
  • 8 L Slow Cooker (not so useful for two)
  • deep fryer
  • second food processor
  • second coffee grinder (for spices, of course)
  • second stick blender
Of course this only scratches the surface, because if we were to get into obscure spices, weird dried beans or strange condiments we would enter my dark world of well meaning, but ultimately unachievable recipe ‘projects’[ii].
So tell me - am I alone in my kitchen hoarding tendencies or do we all share a bit of the pack rat once we settle down?

[i] Mystery best left unsolved
[ii] Like the Eurovision-inspired Moldovan Lamb Stew

Monday, July 29, 2013

Eating for One

“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf.”
Epicurus (341?-270 BC

As soon as I wave goodbye to my significant other I head straight for the market to get supplies for the week ahead.  I’ll be cooking for myself.   

Solo dining is so often shaped in such a miserable context: a broken heart, a lonely soul or a grieving widow; a person so lonely and aching to share with another. Cookbooks are usually for factors of two.  Romantic dinners for two, family meals for four, dinner party dishes for six or eight.  So few recipes tackle the culinary challenge of home cooking for one, almost as though the oven is a cavernous void that will seize up if one tries to tackle a single portion. To dine alone and plan to enjoy it seems so decadent and selfish. 

My journey of solo eaterdom began with “Eating In” by Khym Lam (now lost in an endless cycle of addresses in the late 90’s),  a wonderful recipe book that was published with the purpose of getting the twenty-something eater-outer (like myself) to not be so afraid of pulling a few ingredients together and turning on the stove.  My first attempt was spaghetti with dill and salmon.  It was simple, delicious and made absolutely to my specifications (not too many capers and easy on the cream). Obviously something stuck because by the time the noughties rolled around I was a contented home cook.

Maybe it’s the only child in me, or the solo traveler, but I relish the opportunity to eat alone.  I’m not an epicurean hermit - far from it. Eating with others can and should be wonderful; a meal shared with good friends can be a meal enhanced by the condiment of the social, but I’m unrepentantly, selfishly  joyful when I get a chance to eat what I want and when I want. 

“Do you cook like this every night?” friends will say. “Doesn’t it get lonely on your own like that?”.  Not in the least and I’m surprised that more people don’t see it as an opportunity for culinary exploration.   With a whole week in front of me, with no one to think of but myself, I look on this as the opposite of loneliness.  It’s more like joyful onliness. 

Suddenly a world of opportunity opens before me: I can have breakfast for dinner and popcorn for lunch; I can eat a whole bowl of ramen and not worry about leaving enough for a second helping, or have nothing but risotto for two nights in a row.  I can pick up foods that would never make it onto the table if there were two of us: mysterious Asian foods in banana leaf wrappers; a strange brown paste that makes the clerk laugh and ask if I was sure I wanted it; an exotic condiment with no internet-searchable provenance.  I can do multi-day projects that leave a mess in the kitchen, or teeter on the edge of explosion with my beloved and much-maligned pressure cooker.  I can stock up on stocks or bake a month’s worth of bread.  I can eat the same thing twice in a row, or skip a meal entirely if I just can’t be bothered.

Not that I can’t do any of these things normally, but without telling anyone what I’m doing, or explaining when the kitchen will be free, or what dinner will look like I become an intrepid explorer in my own path of edible wandering.

So I’m embracing my week of solo eating.  I’m giving in to my culinary selfishness and indulging my non-sharing nature.  If it’s really good, I’ll keep it for myself (for who else could I share it with)?  If it’s dreadful I will unashamedly toss it.  If I feel like inviting someone over, or calling someone to see if they want to go out, I will, but I suspect I will spend my week happily eating and indulging myself in the pure and shameless whatever-I-wantfulness of a week on my own in the kitchen.