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Other People’s Kitchens

August 8, 2013

One of the stories from the old days involved Raf house sitting for the parents of ADS. While he was cooking dinner in their kitchen, he happened to notice that several of the spices were past their prime.

So, to be helpful, he pulled them out of the cabinet and left them on the counter with a note.

There is a thin line between being helpful and obnoxious. And I try to be careful not to cross it. That said, if Mrs. Fussy is cooking in our kitchen, we’ve found that everyone is happier when I occupy myself in some other room of the house. Apparently my helpful tips aren’t always so warmly received.

Well, I think I’ve finally come to the point where Raf was so many years ago. Because for the past couple of days I’ve found myself in the kitchen at my Aunt’s house in East Hampton. But it’s not just the expired ingredients that are throwing me for a loop.

Cooking in a strange kitchen is hard.

The tools aren’t in the places where you expect them. Different pots and stoves conduct and retain heat differently, which affect times and technique. Those staple ingredients you take for granted may be nowhere to be found. The easy access from the stove to the sink may be blocked by an island.

Pots are put away in cabinets beyond arm’s reach of the stove. And they are stacked precariously on top of each other, making the retrieval of the one you want an even more time intensive process.

And even well stocked kitchens may not have all the tools you usually use.

Still, when you are traveling, it’s great if you can find a way to enjoy a home cooked meal. It’s even better if that meal is one of your staple dishes that provides a real taste of home.

For me it was poached eggs at breakfast. And for dinner it was my fake puttanesca over whole wheat spaghetti. Since I was cooking for the kids, and I’ve totally abandoned the notion of not cooking them separate meals, Young Master Fussy got plain red-sauce and Little Miss Fussy got butter and parm-reg.

My kingdom for an anchovy.

The only substitute was a tube of anchovy paste. And it was old. On the plus side, it was unopened. But at least I had the presence of mind to taste it. The problem was that without anchovy the dish would lack depth. But with the less than desirable flavor of the paste, the dish could fall into ruin.

So I used just a little bit. Then I corrected for flavor with a tube of tomato paste, which checked some of the sourness and bitterness of the anchovy paste.

To be fair, the problem could be anchovy paste in general rather than this one in particular. It’s not an ingredient that I usually use. Instead I keep of jar of anchovies in oil in the fridge. Or at least I did in Albany.

When I get to Princeton, that will be one of the first things on my list.

In the meantime, if it rains later today and I’m stuck at home. It’s very possible that I’ll pull out all of the old and outdated ingredients from the pantry and refrigerator. If I had more time I might try to reorganize the entire room.

Luckily my Aunt who has known me since the moment I was born thinks this all sounds wonderful and not obnoxious. I made sure to check.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2013 2:12 pm

    I’d say that if you’re gonna criticize someone’s pantry, at least be constructive — like, if you’re gonna pull out all of their old spices, replace them with new ones.

  2. August 8, 2013 2:15 pm

    When guests cook in my house I always appreciate it. They make things I don’t and I get a chance to relax, not always easy when there’s company. RANT: But note, guest chef: When you are putting things away – if you don’t know where it goes – ask! Months later I find things in the wrong drawer or cabinet, or NOT In the fridge. Figuring it lost, I might even have replaced it – now I have two! (and I don’t mean a lost bottle of wine – that I can find, and two is fine)

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