Thursday, April 14, 2011

The joy of cooking in Arabia

I was going to save this for tomorrow's Outsourced post, but it's too good to wait: The Joy of Not Cooking, by Megan McCardle. She talks about how we are cooking less and less even as we spend more on our (bigger) kitchens and kitchen gadgets. The most interesting part of the article is the accompanying video, where McCardle demonstrates what it was like to bake a cake the old-fashioned way.

The labor intensiveness of cooking has been on my mind lately. Last week, I made, from scratch, flour tortillas, pie crust, and pizza crust. I also made pizza sauce from scratch, including mixing up the Italian seasoning. I also made my own cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups, as well as combining my own poultry seasoning.

I've been making these items on my own since we moved to the UAE, but making them all in one week was when it hit me that this has become a regular thing. In other words, I have fewer kitchen gadgets than ever before, and I am spending more time in the kitchen.

Now, maybe this is no big deal for some of you. Maybe you can whip up two entirely homemade pizzas in fifteen minutes. But for me, this is the first time I've stopped accepting the excuse that we live in a foreign country, so I don't have to go all out in the kitchen (this excuse actually has a lot of merit). This was true even from the beginning of our marriage - I once packed a lunch for Jeremy to take to work in Moscow that consisted of one (1) small tupperware filled with plain white rice. It was just about all I could manage at that point in a strange land.

As a result of disqualifying my favorite excuse, I spend more time in the kitchen now than I ever have. Not having access to lots of pre-made ingredients has made me a better cook.

So when I watched the video of Megan McCardle making a cake the old-fashioned way, I was fascinated. Not only because some of the methods were so ridiculous (measuring butter by dropping it into a cup to displace the water, for example), but because they were so familiar. It turns out that cooking in a foreign country today is, in some ways, like cooking in the US fifty years ago. Mixing cake batter in a bowl, with a spoon, by hand? How novel! It's what I do all the time. Making your own powdered sugar by refining regular sugar via a mallet or rolling pin? Sounds about right. The list goes on - I've had to resort to these in some place or another: whipping cream with a fork (check), self-regulating the temperature of an oven (check), buttering and flouring a pan (check), smashing up cloves because you can't get ground cloves here (not included in that video, but yep, CHECK).

Preparing food for my family here in the UAE is definitely more labor intensive than it's ever been in the US. But you know what? It's how I've finally learned to cook with an appreciable degree of proficiency. It had to happen sooner or later. And it turns out I did it without ever having owned a stand mixer.


Yvonne Anderson said...

Hey, I think I am going to need a tutorial from you about making the pizza sauce, cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups. Carrefour does sell the cream soups but they are kind of pricey

Melody said...

I actually enjoy making things from scratch. I usually don't even consider a recipe if it calls for say a jar of spaghetti sauce. There are a few exceptions of course (mostly the recipes mom used to make when I was little that call for cream of... soup), and I'm sure I don't cook from scratch nearly as much as you do. I do make my own pizza sauce, pizza crust, pie crust... And I can my own jams among other things. Right now in my cupboard I have several jars of Apple Butter, Blackberry jam, and Chokecherry syrup that I canned myself. I have a wonderful recipe for HOT water pie crust, instead of cold water. In my opinion it is much easier and SO FAR has never failed. But as the video would suggest, it is MUCH easier for me to cook from scratch than it would have been 50 years ago.

Amanda said...

I also love cooking from scratch. The first time I made a cake for Tyler, he looked on in wonder. I asked what he was looking at, and he said he didn't even realize you COULD make cakes without a box.

I used to make all our bread until I got lazy, but I still make our jams and pizza/pie crusts. That's awesome about the cream of mushroom soup, I bet it's not as hard as I think it is.

AmandaStretch said...

Cooking in my current apartment is remarkably similar to cooking a few decades ago. I don't have stand mixer; I don't even have an egg beater. I just have a whisk that's seen much better days. I do, however, have an incredible set of knives. I also only have a toaster/convection oven and a two-burner stove. And I LOVE to cook. Unfortunately, because of a lack of time and a lack of people to cook for (it's really hard to convince myself to make fabulous meals for just me), I make a lot of really fast, easy things, and save the time-consuming stuff for when there is someone to impress. Fortunately, there are some really tasty easy things out there and I've learned a LOT about kitchen efficiency and mise en place in the last two years. However, I AM considering getting a stand mixer with my Christmas money and some of my tax refund.

Loved this article and your post!

Liz Johnson said...

That article was really interesting. I've found a lot of couples without kids cook together as a date night... they just enjoy the preparation and gadgetry involved. I think there's a reason that the Food Network is so freaking popular - it's like the new big thing to be a gourmet chef if your own house. Which is why everybody needs 18 different whisks.

That said, I cannot LIVE without my flat whisk. I love it so much.

I admit that I am a kitchen gadget hoarder. I love them! But I also cook mostly from scratch 6-7 nights per week, so I literally use everything I have all the time. And I was just thinking the other day about how awful it would be to whip cream without a hand mixer (I do not envy you there). And I am borderline obsessed with cookbooks... I have two full shelves of them in my book case, and that's only because I recently started checking them out from the library.

Do you have a tortilla press? Or did you roll them out with a rolling pin?

Do you use recipes from cookbooks? Food blogs? Family recipes?

(this is a favorite topic of mine... can you tell?)

The Ensign's said...

I HATE to cook and after reading your post I'm not sure I'd survive outside the US. I don't even like making PB and honey sandwiches for my kids. Luckily, Shay's mastered them.

Shannan said...

You need to watch "julie and julia" about Julia Child's start in cooking in the 50's. It was so retro.

I, too, am experiencing a call to olden times simply because it is the more "green" way to live - hanging laundry on clothesline, making everything from whole ingredients from scratch (I have a killer chocolate syrup recipe for chocolate milk if you ever want it), and growing my own food and canning it. I absolutely love it so enjoy this time!!

Kathy Haynie said...

Haha - when I was in 8th grade home ec class (required for all girls in 1967) they taught us how to measure shortening by displacing water in a glass measuring cup. I haven't run into very many people who know how to do that! A few years ago one of my daughters taught me a better trick: measure it into a plastic measuring cup lined with Saran wrap. Ta-da! No more gooey shortening to clean up.

Many years ago we were staying at a beach house with limited kitchen gadgetry, and someone started a batch of tapioca pudding without considering how were going to whip the egg whites. No mixer. I was surprised at how quickly they whipped up in a bowl, stirred vigorously with a fork.

Have fun cooking! Homemade food tastes better and it's healthier. Your girls will have so much fun helping you.

Bridget said...

I'm so excited that I'm not the only one doing it the "hard" way! Here are some of the recipes for the things I mentioned making from scratch.

Cream of chicken soup
Pie crust
Cream of mushroom soup
Pizza sauce
Pizza crust
Italian seasoning
Poultry seasoning

Liz, I do not have a tortilla press, which means I am limited to making only flour tortillas (I understand a tortilla press is a MUST for corn tortillas). However, corn tortillas are out anyway because I cannot for the life of me find masa harina here.

Katie said...

I am so not there yet. Maybe someday I'll move far away and learn these skills. Maybe?


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