Monday, June 8, 2009

Rebuilding a Kitchen

In case you hadn't heard, our house caught fire on April 6, so blogging has fallen by the wayside. We're now somewhat settled in our rental house and making decisions about what to do (rebuild the old house the way it was and sell it or rebuild it so it meets our needs.) I have now truly come to appreciate what I need to have around in order to cook and what I can do without.

I can do without clutter. There are a number of items which were packed out of the fire-damaged house that I don't need again. There were other things we simply said "don't bother" at the time, so they were trashed. I don't need Tupperware or a lot of space-hogging plastic anymore, thank you very much. I am still trying to find nice ceramic or glass canisters for storing flour and sugar, but I really don't want plastic, which seems to attract grease and then refuses to ever get really clean again.

I do need a good selection of glasses. Most of my glassware is still at the packers because two of the boxes I expected to bring home with me got left behind. I had no stemware until yesterday, when I scored 8 Libby champagne flutes in cobalt at the $.99 Store. When we had the party to thank everyone who helped us through the fire, we had to use plastic cups for the margaritas my friend Michael whipped up. I don't think it changed the taste, but there's something really nice about having the correctly shaped glassware on hand.

As I've long thought, I need to have my Cuisinart to feel that I'm in a useful kitchen. I also want to keep my Kitchen Aid Mixer close by. Surprisingly, the first electric tool I really needed was the blender. All of them got a great cleaning at the company that packed out the house.

We went out and bought a couple of good knives right away. And we bought a new storage system for our spices, since we no longer have the beautiful shelf unit which was built for our kitchen less than three years ago. Sniff. We also had to buy new cutting boards and a number of kitchen implements. I'm still looking for a good can opener because the one Len bought is awful.

I discovered it is good to have several sets of dishes, because I managed to stop the packers from taking my Stangl Country Garden stuff with them. I washed that myself, and some of it was quite close to the source of the fire. The packers took the Correlle, which Len was desperate to get back (he's got it now), the Sun and Moon informal stoneware, and the Noritake Adagio fine china for cleaning. The Stangl, made back in the 1950s and 1960s with different flowers on different pieces, was incredibly cheerful to use and put on display. I really needed cheerful during the first part of this disaster.

Good stainless beats the hell out of cheap stainless. I discovered that Oneida has discontinued the Act I pattern I've used for 25 years and we only got part of the set before the packers got the rest. I think I've now got most of it, but trying to buy more is problematic. I've seen prices high enough to put it in the range of my sterling pieces. Act I is a particularly nice, heavy stainless pattern, with a certain heft to it, which balances nicely in the hand. When I was young an foolish, I almost picked out a sterling pattern because there was a coordinating stainless pattern. I've held pieces of it and thank my lucky stars I didn't go that way--it's really uncomfortable to use.

Speaking of the sterling, it was a good thing it wasn't stored in the bedroom any longer. I got all of it out and with me unscathed. It could have wound up like my silver jewelery: in free-form puddles. I am going to make sure I've got an insurance floater on it now.

Good pots and pans are an absolute necessity. We finally got back most of the pieces of the Analon I bought for Len for Christmas and such, but before they came home I picked up a couple more pieces to carry us through. We cook a lot of pasta, and having big pots is critical. Good thing Sur La Table was having a sale. I also bought an enamel-coated cast-iron dutch oven, which is great for making sauce. I love cast iron. Len doesn't.

I miss my own range, which is sitting in a warehouse in Glendale along with our refrigerator. We hate the frige that the rental place sent. Neither Len nor I find it convenient to get to the lower shelves after several years of having a freezer in the bottom set up with our Maytag. On top of that, the rental unit is about 10 c.f. smaller than ours and, strangely, I haven't had my calls about this returned.

We're still waiting to hear how much it will cost to fix the dining room table leaves. The table itself is not a big deal, but the leaves (all six of them) were in my closet and half of them looked pretty bad when I saw them in the trash heap.

Since we entertain almost every Sunday, the first few weeks without appropriate serving dishes and utinsels were tough. It's much better now. I got some of my Nambe back and I picked up two new pieces at the Pasadena City College flea market yesterday. Nambe does not melt in fire or break in earthquakes, making it an ideal artform to have in Los Angeles. Things seem to be going for less on E-bay these days, so I got a few serving pieces, including a huge bowl, in Country Garden. Shipping is still a killer.

A really big inconvenience is the loss of the use of my cookbooks. They too have been taken away and I don't yet know if I'll be getting them back. I ordered a few necessities from Jessica's Biscuit, such as Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian omnibus (can't live without it), the most recent Joy of Cooking (although I really prefer the edition from the 1970s), the 25th Anniversary Silver Palate Cookbook, Mark Bittman's updated How to Cook Everything and Food Matters, and thought I'd give Julia Child a try. I miss my artisan bread book and Len misses all of his Rachael Ray books. I did pull out my little blue notebook with a few of my favorite recipes in it, but it is woefully inadequate. Len did not get his notebooks out, so he's struggling to remember a couple of his favorite recipes.

We're still missing most of my baking pans, but I think I could do a sit-down dinner with no trouble. The Belmont tea would have been a bit problematic, since my tea trays will be in storage until we have a new permanent home. Holding a barbecue is no issue, since we've got a really nice built-in grill and we brought our big grill down from the house to keep it safe. The 30 people who came for the thank you party seemed to enjoy themselves a lot, so I expect we'll be doing a lot of grilling this summer.

One item that is a new edition to the kitchen is a butter bell. I'd never heard of one before we stayed at our friend Gillian's during the days after the fire until we could move into the rental. It keeps a quarter pound of butter spreadable and safe by using water to form a barrier. They are available for under $10 at Ross and similar stores (more at places like Le Creuset, Sur La Table, or Williams Sonoma) and I can't recommend one enough. Try it, you'll like it.

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