Cooking In Other People’s Kitchens

There I was, newly arrived in Australia, standing in my friend Chris’ kitchen at 3 o’clock in the morning, spinning in slow circles, every nerve quivering, my ear cocked trying desperately to figure out which of his uber-sleek modern appliances was ceaselessly pinging at that ungodly hour. Ahhh, other people’s kitchen.

Usually, I’m a good invader, swooping in armed with the short hand to the innate logic that rules the room that feeds us all. But Chris’ kitchen had none of the familiar benchmarks, even so, earlier that evening I went blindly forth figuring any woman with a knife can make friends with a stove.

First though the fridge. The beachhead to conquering a kitchen. Give me a fridge over a medicine cabinet to snoop through any day. The choice of cheeses, the fat content of the milk, how leftovers are stored, what’s marinating, what’s not. Oh and the condiments! A world is revealed in chillies, pickles, ketchups and pastes. I have been known to lose all respect for a person at the mere sight of a sickly sweet bottle of salad dressing and if the fridge is nothing but a sea of mysterious cartons of take-out containers, well then, their soul is truly lost.

I opened Chris’ fridge. Not bad. Good cheeses. A bin filled with vegetables and, most heartening, a bottle of vintage champagne. But then I spotted something off in the corner. A small dish. I pulled it towards me. Ummm, a withered heel of bread, a dried lemon rind and a half eaten piece of chocolate. Before I could try and glean what it all might mean the fridge beeped at me. I jumped back. It beeped again. Now had I been rooting through the damn thing for half an hour I would expect to be reprimanded but I had only been there a few minutes! Had I any balls I would have left the door gaping but I didn’t want to make enemies so early in our relationship.

Then it came time for me to cook. The stove was a technical marvel, flat-topped, heatless, speaking — I was told by Chris when he had given me the twenty minute tutorial needed to learn to turn it on—in a magnetic whisper. I will admit at first I was dazzled. Vats of water set to a boil in seconds. A cyclonic weather system of air conjured up in the oven that whipped meat into a frenzy.

I had chopped, prepped and marinated, and was now ready to take the stove on. I laid the tip of my finger down, the sensor board lit up. My oil immediately started to hiss, my water to boil. But then came the true dance. I needed with one quick spin to simmer, to braise, to Flambé. The sensors panicked as my fingers, wet, oily, covered in flour, made demands its puny brain couldn’t possibly fathom. As I jabbed ineffectually trying to sooth the blinking board I thought of my stove. She may be a rump old lady, her dials rubbed smooth, but ignite her flames and she’ll leap to the occasion or lower her passion to a barely there heat. Moreover, open her oven and she’ll nestle your roast paying no mind as fat hisses and spits blackening her darkened interior.

But I was far from home and there was a meal to be made. Fight on you coward, I screamed, still jabbing away. Fight on!

I think I hurt its feelings. Or rather pissed it off. Once the meal was over (not bad, not great) and the kitchen cleaned, I’m convinced that the stove sent to his pals the microwave, the fridge and yes, even the washing machine in the next room, a binary call to arms. Wake the bitch up.

So there I was at three in the morning being driven mad by a constant beep. MeMeMe! MeMeMe! And I also got the distinct impression that I was being laughed at as I pressed my ear up against each cold metal appliance a second to late. Finally, though the dishwater screwed up. MeMeMe it bleeped. I turned on it violently hitting the off button. There wasn’t even a death rattle.

It’s a week later and there’s been an uneasy truce. I need them, after all, more than they need me. But as I carefully wipe my finger before giving a reasoned demand for more heat, I find myself looking wistfully at the toaster. No lights. No sensors. No desire to wake me up in the middle of night, except of course, if I’m already up still strung out with jet lag, then it will take my bread, warmly crisp it up, and pop it out, a simple gift waiting for butter.