Foodie Tuesday: What’s *Not* in My Kitchen

I don’t mind simple foods, simply prepared, and I’ve had plenty of pit-roasted and wood-stove cooking that was far better than merely edible. Sometimes there is nothing more delicious than the freshly caught fish grilled over an open fire or fried at lakeside in a worn and well-seasoned cast iron skillet. The smoky goodness of things cooked with live coals is sometimes so far superior to what I could conjure out of a high-tech kitchen with the pallid assistance of bottled liquid smoke (no matter how genuine and unprocessed that might be) that I would rather wait months for the proper weather and occasion to arise.
Photo: Chuckwagon Cookery

But I ain’t no chuckwagon Cookie, if you know what I mean. I was never fond of ‘roughing it’ in the sense of being outdoorsy and happy to labor over the building of my kitchen kit before I can even bother to lug buckets of water up from the stream to have on hand for stifling the coals at need. I haven’t the skills or the desire to do my own butchering, and I barely know a chanterelle from an Amanita, if left to forage anywhere wilder than my own pantry and the grocery aisles.
Photo: Chuckwagon Cookery 2

So my kitchen doesn’t sport the assortment of enameled camp cookware and the range of well-weathered cast iron pots and dutch ovens required for real down-to-earth preparation of meals. I don’t even have a clue what I’d do, short of going out in the backyard and having a go at such prairie wizardry, if I were faced with any of the old-school stoves and ovens that my ancestors and predecessors considered modern conveniences in their day. To cook with a wood stove, no matter how much I may have admired others’ mastery of it and the fantastic foods they’ve produced from such contraptions, is beyond my ken and requires subtleties of understanding how recipes and food science converge that I never learned. Even the electric ranges of earlier days have mystical mystery about them that would scare me right off to the local fast food joint for succor. And yes, I’d want fries with that.
Digital illustration from a photo: The Old Swedish Stove

In truth, I am a very limited and unskilled preparer of foods. I have a small palette of familiar ingredients upon which I rely, because I don’t have a clue what to do with many others that will make them safe for human consumption, let alone palatable. I have little patience for the suave or the grandiose in recipes, those techniques and tricks that require grace and keen senses and molecular understanding of the ingredients at play. I’m a reasonably willing eater of new foods and preparations, but not much for trying to make them myself, especially if I think anyone smarter and more experienced is available and willing to fix said dishes in my stead. The exception is mainly to be found in instances when real cooks let me play at being their sous chef without requiring better brains, knowledge of ingredients, or knife skills than I can offer.
Photo: Vintage Cooker

What I do have in my kitchen, most of the time, is fun, and enough decent eating to keep me (and anyone else on hand) from going hungry for long. Thankfully, I do live in a place with good grocery stores close at hand, family and friends to share meals and their preparation, and a kitchen full of my idea of modern conveniences. And if the ovens I got with the purchase of the house have outlived their peak performance by a fair distance and the only mixer I’ve owned for the last couple of decades is a wire whisk or fork, it sure isn’t the same as having to shovel up hard Texas clay to make room for my hand-split mesquite hardwood or having to figure out if those fruits gleaming at me from over there are the euphoniously named Farkleberry or are the similar looking but highly toxic Chinese Privet, so I don’t have to dig a privy, too, in a hurry.

What is Essential

How the concept of “necessary” tools changes! I can hardly remember how I managed to survive a full day without my laptop, despite the fact that when I was young, personal computers were strictly the stuff of fantasy, and most computers were, in fact, whole rooms full of refrigerated, card-punching machinery. And no, whatever anyone may tell you, I am not a million years old.

Yet here I am, forgetting how to send letters via snail mail when I can email them; wondering how I can Get a Signal in some remote place so I can wirelessly post my daily blog missive off to readers from India to Ireland, from Kansas to Katmandu. All of this, I expect to happen in the blink of an eye—and mostly, it does.

Strange that things so recently thought utter luxuries become so quickly apparent necessities for survival. So quickly we think the newly acquired stuff can no longer be done without. How do we get so spoiled by our wealth that it seems as important as life itself?

It’s not that I lack appropriate appreciation for my many privileges. It’s not even that I don’t think I could keep living a happy and healthy and contented life if I had to give them all up suddenly, let alone that I’d think myself suffering upon losing my high-powered towns and tools for a short while. I will recover, and probably even rediscover some good things about myself and my world if I am smart enough to pay attention.

In the meantime, I am ever so happy to have a clothes washing machine and dryer, running water, a houseful of LED light, flush toilets, central heating, and yes, all of the little electronic goodies that make it possible for me to blog and email, not to mention talk to family and friends overseas, make artworks in space that are able to be brought into the real world as physical entities, and keep other parts of my life in a semblance of order. I do enjoy the privileges of my office!

digital illustration

The original desktop.

Arithmetic, Thou art No Friend of Mine

photoAnd lo, how my thoughts go round and round upon the subject.

It must come as no surprise whatsoever that I am among the multitudinous math-phobes peopling (pimpling?) the world of the creative soul. Why do you think we really all took those arty, wondrous, supposedly “Easy-A” classes, eh? Escape Route, we thought, freedom from the horrors that lie between the covers of every arithmetic text known to humankind. Only to find out we’d been hoodwinked and were expected to know how to disassemble and reassemble an ellipsoidal reflector in under ten minutes and with fewer than two “nonessential” parts left over after completion (what is this word “two”?), or whether one could type 200 words of dazzling script per minute while trying not to be hopelessly hypnotized by Mr. Young’s* blindingly mustard-colored toupee. I was able to accomplish the former task, by the way, but the latter, not quite so fully. However, I only lost consciousness for a split second and did not actually fall off of my chair.

*Name has been changed to protect someone vain’s glabrous secret.

In fact, by taking uni-approved ‘alternative’ courses (“I’ll take the class behind Door Number, uhhh, B, Dave!”) I managed to go all the way from 9th grade algebra, passed mainly by babysitting for the teacher’s kids on the weekends, to grad school without having taken a single other mathematics class. Then I got stuck: first those lousy entrance exams, which are now a blissful blank in my memory bank, followed by Graduate Statistics for Pedagogy, or whatever they called it. Hell, I tells ya! The only thing that saved me was that my older sister had survived the same course with the same prof a year earlier and coached me every cotton picking minute of the way through it. While I wept copious and bitter tears. I squeeeeeeeaked by with the B grade needed to pass the course and ran screaming all the way to graduation. Which commencement ceremony I skipped to go to Mt. Rainier with friends from Australia, because once you’ve paraded down the catwalk in those hot mortarboard and gown get-ups, never mind adding a hotter yet academic hood, on a sweltering summer day, in an auditorium full of people you don’t care to know, to grip that rolled-up piece of parchment that says “Redeem for Actual Diploma at Registrar‘s Office on Tuesday after 4 pm or for a Free Pizza at Gianni’s on Main after 5 pm”–well, once you’ve gone that route there’s really no need for a repeat, is there.

Although come to think of it, skipping The Forced March may mean that I didn’t in fact officially graduate and so taught college for two decades under false pretenses, and what’s not to like about that! In any event, I did finally, truly knock down that last class on the looming list, if without particular distinction or panache.photoMath, though, remained a bane. It was hideously disappointing to realize that a grasp of basic functional math was the only thing that stood between me and, say, a growling, slavering pack of credit card representatives or perhaps the growling stomach of starvation after having demolished the pantry stores by reversing the quantities of salt and sugar in yet another foolproof recipe. On the other hand, it was something of a relief when I finally realized that I was worrying needlessly about something I could never, ever fix. Between my dyslexia (or more accurately in this instance, dysnumerica) and my utter disinterest in getting better at math for the sheer unfathomable pleasure of it, I could see that this was something I should learn to put aside and compartmentalize safely to keep it away from unnecessarily pestering me in my everyday Happy Place.

Not to say that I didn’t have to find some truly inventive ways to do a (cough!) number of things. Balance my bank accounts. Figure out the current time/date in another time zone. Calculate the distance and ETA to work locations. Without GPS and Google Maps, because I do predate plenty of Modern Miracles by a significant margin. Teach drawing students how to draw in two-point perspective. Memorize ridiculous chains of randomly generated numbers to have even the remote hope of regaining access to umpteen kinds of personal accounts, not least of all ones containing personal information or money.

That is where you find me today, where numbers serve only the most rudimentary decorative purposes in my quotidian existence, for the most part (some of them being visually pleasing as abstract shapes, at least), but still occasionally rising up to help me remember my home telephone number so that I can call my more numerically astute husband to solve all of my more knotty mathematical problems. Because no matter how crummy my skills and how limited my knowledge when it comes to things numerical, I have what is for me a far more useful piece of wisdom, which is: one should always have great resource persons to call upon when one lacks the required smarts, information and/or tool handling artistry to accomplish the task of the moment. Stand ready, y’all.photoThe only sort of geometry at which I am expert, apparently, is circular thinking. But look where it’s gotten me thus far!