You know how when you’ve decided to buy a new car then the old one starts falling apart? Like it’s pissed off and seeking attention? That’s what’s happening in our kitchen.
A new kitchen has been on the cards for years, 6 years to be exact, but finally I can actually see it happening in a few months time. And so all of our appliances are failing. The bedroom (the space that will liberate the living room, the same floor on which the kitchen will sprout) is taking about a month or three longer than expected, but that’s to be expected. I will continue to be vague about when the kitchen will happen given that the following has to be completed first:
Buy cupboard-build cupboard-install cupboard
Something about the steps and hole in the floor
Clear living room
Fix walls (multiple things there) and limewash
Paint fireplace and woodstore
Stain floor, varnish floor
And then get kitchen
Back to the appliances. First the microwave developed an unhealthy hole in its bottom and has been delivered to the recyclers. The fridge’s thermostat is buggered – ice cream melts and lettuce freezes – and the door falls off every time you use it. The small food processor that’s good for pastes and pesto decided to eat itself and vomit into a lovely batch of hummus last week. And our master appliance, the pizza pan, has an anomaly in its electrical parts and is held together with tape.
It may not sound like much but believe me, this is a threat to our survival. I have been cooking dinner every night for the last two years exclusively using this pan. That’s right. We have no cooktop, no oven, no other electric whatsamitoosis. This is it. This is the end.
Is there anyone out there who remembers when I cooked all my meals over a fire in the old kitchen? Those were the days. Unadulterated interior camping. Now we have the infinitely less bragworthy circumstance called “making do”.
Looking back I wonder what the hell I was cooking all those non-lonely nights. Spaghetti, I expect. That fireplace had two burners and that’s one more than I have now. Bloody luxury having two burners, mate. So what the hell could I be cooking now? Beans on toast?
The One – “We have a variety of very nice things. We enjoy many cuisines from around the globe. Sometimes it’s simple, done very well and sometimes it’s very exotic. My favourite thing? That would be like naming my favourite child. Purdy, for example.”
Simple? With one pan, it’s never that simple. But they do say that creative people need boundaries to excel themselves. Or maybe that’s advertising bullshit, I can’t remember. One thing’s for sure, we eat damn well in this house especially considering I keep us to a €20 a week meat budget because The One has never eaten a vegetarian meal in his life.There are many things that can be done with one pan. The trick is to have many many things so you can keep eating from one pan day after day after bloody day. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to bake. (no wait… lasagne!… roast lamb!… lemon delicious pudding!).
Some of our simpler regulars include stir fried salt and pepper cuttlefish (just add a pile of lettuce), hamburgers, and… um… steak and egg. (I never imagined I’d marry someone who got excited about having steak and egg, but there you are. Why bother with lamb tagine if he’s that easily pleased.)
These fall into the simple range because the pan is used in only one sitting. However, The One is also a carbohydrate queen I mean king and potatoes and rice make my life complex. We eat chips about 20 times a week, and these have to be done in a separate pan-sitting, take ages and can only really be successfully served with something that cooks very quickly so they don’t get cold. Tragic. Slivers of fish for instance, but never salmon. Steaks, but never a chunky t-bone.
Clever types will be thinking BBQ. And I do, but I’m shit at it. I blame the equipment, which is a stack of bricks with a flat top and a pile of charcoal. I might be alright with a decent weber or gas, but you need time and attention for a real barbie, neither of which I have on an empty stomach. And others will be thinking ‘stir-fries!’, that one-wok wonder at the fundament of every Sydney professional’s cooking repertoire. But, the pizza pan is not a wok and I’m shit at stir fries too. There’s another pretty good one-panner, risotto, but The One With The Food Habits doesn’t like risotto much and anyway my favourite is with roasted pumpkin.
With our rice-cooking microwave gone, so has our main staple, curry. There’s the thai green chicken, the massaman beef, the lime and coconut fish curry, the prawn kurma, red soupy pork curry, and the multi-veg yellow curry. Sometimes I do like a pretend wet tandoori, which is a yoghurt and spices trip, with fillets instead of boned pieces. Now if I’m doing rice I have to cook it first and like pasta it really doesn’t go so well in a frypan.
Instead I’m making a lot more larb. Thai salads. Pork mince makes for a great larb and my new favourite butcher is the first I’ve met here who will mince turkey and chicken – the supermarkets don’t produce it packaged and usually butchers don’t want to foul their mincers. So, quite a pile of finely chopped lettuce and cabbage, shredded red pepper and carrot, onion, cherry tomatoes and cucumber topped with lashing of spicy mince, fried with heaps of garlic, dried chilli, fish sauce when I’ve got it and soy and vinegar when I don’t (it’s a trip to the big city for fish sauce as with oyster, and sweet chilli is a rarer treat, this bloody monoculture) and a lot of lime, juice and zest. Thank god for limes, chilli and coriander, and the coconut milk, which surely must have come from African and Indian adventures. But nothing from Macau except soy? Certainly the Portuguese learnt nothing culinary from Indonesia either, and were arrogant enough to say they brought tempura to Japan, but brought nothing back. Their loss.
This limited kitchen makes me invent stuff. Lately we’ve got this salad going with chicken livers and bacon, served with beetroot and spinach leaves and a balsamic dressing. The bacon – from the Saturday market, superb stuff – also embellishes a potato gratin, with onions, cooked first in wine or stock and then cream and cheese with a nice acidicly-dressed salad. Gorgeous. Big fat quality potatoes from our neighbours at €10 a sack which I consider a very fair trade. They make chips (The One’s job, by the way) that are worth waiting for. Then there was the warm rabbit salad we had the other day. A little hopper from the neighbours, trimmed and marinated in vinegar and oregano for a day and then panned with big cepas mushrooms and rosemary and a few caramelised sweet potato rounds. Adorable. I’ve got my eye on the neighbour’s ducks too, for my list of things called first thing I’m putting in the oven when it comes. After cannelloni. And chocolate pudding.
And so the hardworking pan. I didn’t think anything was made so durable anymore. But it has made a thousand meals, and yet never a pizza, which apparently it was designed for. Perhaps I should try it, before the poor thing dies of jealousy.