Life without kitchen
The kitchen reno is on. Cue call to editor (who has lived through two renovations recently).
Me, panicky: “What do you do? Where do you cook? Where do you wash up?”
Ed, calmly: “Set up a temporary bench somewhere and get an element. Rely on a slow-cooker. Use your rice cooker. Barbecue a lot. Wash up in the laundry tub. ”
I do harbour deep suspicions about slow-cookers, which she knows, but the rest makes perfect sense. Except that the laundry tub is in the back corner of the bathroom, near the toilet, which is really difficult for me to handle, mentally.
It was a blow when the works were delayed from last August to this February. When they started, though, I was glad to be in summer-into-autumn and not late winter. Summer into-autumn allowed for salads until they came out our ears. When that occurred, there were barbecues. Then there were restaurants. Restaurants are far superior to takeaways, because in restaurants they do the dishes for you. That is one of the Key Lessons for Kitchen Renovators (KLKR).
(So is this: don’t rely on barbecuing and then discover that the builders spent all of day one piling up the demolition materials around the barbecue so that you can’t access it.)
Not necessarily the best start: inviting the neighbour to dinner on a busy day, just before demolition, but after nearly everything has been packed away. This neighbour likes proper dinner. Solution? 1. Curse self, and then 2. chop up a chicken and bung it in a tagine. Make couscous and green salad just before serving. Swallow pride and serve bought dessert. KLKR 2: stop inviting people to dinner, from the moment you start packing away your huckery old kitchen.
We set up a very small temporary bench in the living room, near a power point. This housed the rice cooker, and a small electric element, once I tracked one down about three days into the demolition. Until then it was salad all the way. The fridge, rather attractively, nudged up to the sofa that huddled in the far corner of the living room. We put shelves there too for plates, cutlery, pans and a few vital condiments.The breakfast department went into the upstairs study, to get us and the cats out from under the *workers’ feet each morning. A colleague insisted on lending us her toaster-oven. This was very generous but I had nowhere to put it, so it went on the bathroom vanity. We went from having an ergonomic work triangle (sink-oven-fridge) to something resembling String Theory. There is no KLKR to take from this. As far as the inconvenience goes, it is what it is.
KLKR 3: Whatever kit you think you’ll need, halve it. Don’t juggle two pots and two pans in the temporary shelving, when you only have one element. Don’t keep out the round bottomed wok when you are down grading to a flat electric element. A salad bowl is essential. I recommend tongs, a wooden spoon, a serving spoon, a soup ladle. A couple of sharp knives. A bottle opener. What else? A toaster, a kettle, a coffee plunger that we’d almost forgotten we owned. Two chopping boards. Sheets of plastic to drape over everything every day.
KLKR 3.1: regarding plates, glasses and cutlery, go for fewer options with more of each one. In the end, you don’t want choice. You want a clean plate instead of that dirty one waiting in the laundry.
Food became very simple very quickly. There’s no time for planning, or prepping, when running a renovation. A pre-demolition batch of harira packed into two-person servings in the freezer was definitely a good idea. Pasta was an okay idea, except that with only one weak element, once the sauce was made and set aside, the pasta water took about 40 minutes to boil. Still, you might as well sit around waiting for water to boil when the house is a building site. The rice cooker was excellent, and greens cooked on top of the rice quite successfully.
Welcome to our cucumber subsistence diet: cucumber tomato salad for lunch, sliced cucumber on crackers for afternoon tea. Diced cucumber (just for variety!) was the simplest green at dinner, along with lettuce salad. Beans and spinach were almost the only other greens I bothered buying. We barbecued some kumara a couple of times, and potatoes once, and went from enjoying an abundance of vegetables in our diet to a new rota of four or five only. I enjoyed sailing through the green grocer without stopping to look at anything interesting — only because it was novel and temporary, mind.
KLKR 4: you can cast aside any culinary aspirations. Repetition and simplicity turned out to be surprisingly okay. Daily bread presented a dilemma. When we have a kitchen we make our own wholemeal sourdough, which we use for breakfast. Bagged, sliced bread is unspeakable in Australia (I’m convinced that granulated plastic is a key ingredient), and it is scandalously expensive. Artisanal bread is good but still expensive, and we all know that any money will only be going in one direction for the duration. I made a big batch of muesli in advance, and stashed as much homemade sourdough in the freezer as would fit.. A toast to muesli trajectory was fine. Everything was fine in the end. Even the washing up.
If you’re going into construction, don’t specialise in kitchens. On the first morning you demolish the kitchen, and from that moment on your chances of homemade morning tea are nil.