Hi, gang. You know, like any other cook, I have a dream kitchen floating around in my head. In it, there is a six-burner Viking range with a grill top, an overhead rack for pots , pans and utensils, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for my bazillion cookbooks, a wood-burning oven to make bread and pizza, a Sub-Zero refrigerator, and a large prep island. (My fantasy extends to an outdoor deck area, where there would be a full barbeque grill and cook area for those summer get-togethers. Oh, wait, I have to run out and buy my lotto ticket before the store closes.)
But, like most people I know, these are things that will have to live in my fanstasies until that lotto number hits. In the meantime, I do quite well in my average-sized kitchen with my average counter space, and average everything. When you get a feel for a kitchen (your own or someone else’s), it’s amazing how good your food can be (assuming you can cook ).
BUT…it’s when you’re thrown into a new environment that your skills are tested and can really shine. This past month, I’ve been visiting friends in Colorado. Now, I’ve been there before and it’s a beautiful property, sitting right on the Arkansas River with a view of the the Rocky Mountains. It’s so serene, peaceful, and pure looking that I once described it as “fake.” That is, it’s the kind of view that if you see it in a movie, you’re SURE that it’s a set because no place could possibly look that beautiful or untouched.
On this visit, however, there was the added problem of house renovations. My hosts are doing construction on their house, which means less room, a lot of commotion, and open spaces, where unwelcome critters have made their entrances and left calling cards behind. So, every scrap of food has to go in jars, plastic containers with lids, and metal cans. Bags of food have to go in the refrigerator (whether they should be there or not) or the microwave. We had a close call when someone started the microwave by mistake (intending only to start the timer), not realizing that the toaster was in there (the toaster harbors crumbs, which invites mice). It’s a good thing she realized that the microwave was on or we would have had a very serious situation on our hands.
Anyway, so here I am, a personal chef from Brooklyn, New York, cooking on a gas stove all her life, suddenly finding herself cooking at 7,000 feet above sea level, with electric appliances, no stove, in a house under construction that’s being beseiged with tiny, uninvited guests. Lord have mercy!
I haven’t been able to cook as much as I’d like on this visit, but I have managed a few things. The other night, I made Salade Niçoise, a Provençal specialty salad, consisting of numerous ingredients and usually containing tuna or anchovies, but mine was completely vegetarian. It had hard-boiled eggs, pototoes, green beans, tomatoes, olives, lettuce, red onion, and cubed Swiss cheese. These are all then beautifully arranged on a platter. On the surface, it sounds pretty quick and easy to throw together. But keep in mind that eggs and potatoes have to be boiled, peeled, and sliced; green beans have to be trimmed and boiled or steamed; lettuce has to be washed; and tomatoes and onions must be cut. It’s not complicated but it does take a little time. And try doing all that with electric pots in a tiny kitchen under contruction!
Plus, I also made a Dutch dish called frikandel, a sausage-and-potato log. I made mine with vegetarian sausage and, yup, cooked it up in an electric frying pan. Last night, I made pasta primavera, and I realized that I can adapt quickly to my circumstances.
But, then, I’ve had to adapt to different kitchen configurations many times. As a personal chef, I’ve had the pleasure of cooking in swank, Upper West Side kitchens, but those were rarities. More common were the tiny, little kitchens that Manhattan is known for. We’re talking kitchens the size of closets, with barely enough space for me to stand in, let alone cook a week’s worth of meals for a family. Believe me, it’s not easy. But I had to do what I had to do and I made it work.
In the meatime, I’ll keep my fantasy kitchen alive in my head. Maybe someday…
Photo credits: Viking range and outdoor bbq set: www.vikingrange.com; Sub-zero refrigerator: www.subzero.com; Rocky Mountains: www.parbeszed.com; salade nicoise: www.foodtv.ca; Spanish kitchen: www.yossawat.com.