It won’t come as a big shock to anyone who knows me, but I’ve been in a bit of slump this year, and it has extended to my cooking.
Living in the U.K. has taken its toll, but not in the way most people would assume. England, historically, has not had a positive reputation for its food. The country has had some culinary high points: a resurgence of traditional foods, a mission to reinvent those traditional foods, driven by a number of highly notable chefs; a pop culture awareness of food issues from obesity to free range chicken farming to the harmful nature of some additives; a frenzy of television, books, and magazines dedicated to food and cooking. But on the whole, England isn't best known for its food.
My slump, however, is the direct result of my living here for only a temporary period. When I moved, I didn’t bring any electrical cooking tools because I didn’t want to risk blowing up my Cusinart food processor with a faulty converter. I brought only one pan initially, thought I desperately crammed a second one into my suitcase on my way back to England after spending the holidays in the U.S.
My goal was to have nothing in our flat that wasn’t absolutely essential. I'm so tired of schlepping heavy "things" around in suitcases. But what is "essential" changes when you're talking about a two-week period, a one-month period, or an eight-month period.
When he first arrived in the U.K., Boyfriend bought a small pot, which we use for everything from steaming frozen spinach to boiling water for tea. Surely, a pot is an "essential." But having only one pot was problematic. For example, I can make rice with peas, but not rice and peas. You can make rice and peas, but not simultaneously. I can boil potatoes for nicoise salad, but I have to wait until the potatoes are done (then wash the pot quickly) before steaming the string beans. What happens is you end up with small piles of no-longer-hot food all over your cutting board ... because of course you only have two plates and two small bowls, so everything gets stacked in piles on the cutting board.
We ran into the same problem with our one big mixing bowl, which doubles as a salad bowl. If I prep a big salad for dinner, then I can't make cookie dough until all the salad is gone. If you don't eat your salad, you can't have any cookies -- for real!
About a month into my living here, I broke down and bought a second pot, an 8-quart vat, mostly to make soups, but also because I was beyond frustrated at cooking so minimally.
We’ve done all right on these bare essentials, but I’ve certainly come to realize just how often I used to use my favorite cooking tools. The Cuisinart food processor (the one I didn't want to risk blowing up here) can be converted into a blender, which I used at least three times a week for breakfast yogurt drinks and maybe once a month for creamy soups. The food processor has a mandoline-like attachment, which I relied on to make potatoes au gratin and to shred fennel, carrots, and cabbage.
A very heavy Le Creuset Dutch oven was never going to make the trip across the Atlantic, much to Boyfriend’s dismay, as it’s an un-substitutable tool for making Italian-style braised short ribs.
Nothing browns chicken, pork, or lamb quite as nicely as my range-top, dual-sided, cast-iron grill pan (a gift from a friend). It weighs in at about 10 pounds and thus doesn’t travel easily in suitcases.
Though I’m heading back to the Land of Plenty soon, there is one minor problem: I’m going to New York and half my tools are still in San Francisco, where I lived previously. It’ll be another month or two of long-haul flights and digging through boxes that I left in friends’ garages and basements before I’m completely reunited with my kitchen essentials, but I’m looking forward to it!