Julie vs. Julia: A Well-Outfitted Bachelor Pad
Julia Child once said that the vast majority of “kitchen equipment is bought indiscriminately by people who just go in for men’s underwear.”
My uncle is this kind of minimalist chef who can create small miracles with just a bowl, knife and wooden spoon. I, on the other hand, would consider my OXO lemon zester one of my most prized possessions. My love for my granite mortar and pestle set is exceeded only by its ridiculous weight. As a home economics teacher, I consider it a matter of professional obligation to be aware of what is useful and neccessary among the seemingly endless procession of kitchen gadgets. That, and as I run my fingers over the latest and greatest at my local cook shop, it’s all I can do to repress the inner Julie Andrews who wants to sing out, “…these are a few of my favourite things!”
Paradoxically, I love making bread because it requires so little. A bowl, a wooden spoon and a little muscle for the kneading. I like to measure all the ingredients, wet and dry alike, with a single, banged up tin measuring cup my mother has, calling to mind how recipes used to be, the ones learned by spending an afternoon sitting on the counter making cookies with your aunt, that can’t be pinned down in a recipe book. How hot should the oven be? Hot. How much flour? Enough. How much water? Until it comes together.
Which brings me to the first time I tried to make my boyfriend dinner at his place. I was incredibly frustrated at his complete lack of what I considered ‘the basics.’ I so whole-heartedly assumed these ‘basics’ would be found in even the most well, basic of kitchens that I usually ended up starting a recipe, only to discover at a crucial point that I would have to improvise. Cooking in his kitchen was kind of like the cooking you do when you’re camping.
He had no chef’s knife. He did have a set of serrated steak knives given to him by his mother when he moved out, that he used for everything from chopping vegetables to slicing meat to cutting bread. His frying pan was so old, it was rusty and nearly scratched through. He had a small plastic cutting board, about the size of a paperback novel. I subsequently discovered he had no cheese grater, spatula, sifter, muffin tin, ladle, mixing bowls, measuring cups, whisk, or any of the things I couldn’t believe he had ever done without. If this was the state of his kitchen, I wondered, what had he been eating?
Here’s the thing (and it took me a long time to come to this very humbling conclusion): He was doing fine before I got there.
He had what he needed to make sandwiches to bring for lunch, spaghetti and stir-fry for dinner, and there were plenty of steak knives and beer in the fridge if he wanted to have the guys come over for a bbq. Sub-standard kitchen fare in my snobby home ec trained eyes was a well-outfitted bachelor pad in his. He was content.
After experiencing my boyfriend’s kitchen, I have revised my definition of the ‘basics.’ Gone are the task-specific knives, the double boiler, jelly roll pan and custard cups. While I do use them to prep ingredients in the classroom, I only use custard cups at home when I’m pretending to be on a cooking show – slightly pretentious and definitely unnecessary preparation.
My new *amended* version of the basics:
a large bowl
a cutting board
a knife (maybe it’s a steak knife, maybe it’s a butter knife)
a spoon (could be cutlery, could be wooden)
a frying pan
a sheet of metal (I could specify a cookie sheet or a broiler pan, but I know him better than this now)
a corkscrew (very important when dating)
Think I’m missing something? You’ll make do. Pretend you’re camping.