on cooking in California: part 5

There are also things we’re using or doing differently in California. Our Massachusetts winter staple, Annie’s macaroni and cheese, is still on the menu, and so is our old summer staple, salad. During Boston summers, we would eat a big salad and nothing else for dinner each night until the lettuces from the week’s CSA ran out. We would be sick of salad by September, and pining for it again by January. In San Francisco, fresh, local salad greens are available year-round, and we’re not getting a CSA, so the incentives have shifted. We’re learning the arts of the side salad and the salad course.

In Boston, our kitchen windows were often hung with bunches of drying herbs and chiles. Even though we live in a relatively fog-free part of San Francisco, the air is still usually too damp for that method. We’ve learned instead to spread herbs on cookie sheets in a 100-degree oven to dry. How long do we leave them? As long as it takes to forget them, then sniff the air and realize how odd it is the house smells so strongly of thyme, or sage, or rosemary…

Then there’s the matter of alcohol storage. In Boston, we kept the bottles in a large basket on the kitchen floor. It was known as the “booze bucket.” In San Francisco, we’ve gotten classy. Our living room has a built-in cabinet, and when the realtor showed us the place, J-P and I exclaimed over the “bar.” The realtor demurred, saying it was probably meant as a china cabinet. Whatever. It’s our bar, and all of our alcohol lives there. The former booze bucket now holds the recycling.

Coffee is different, too. Boston’s cold and our building’s poor insulation posed problems for keeping coffee warm. Busy mornings belonged to the old, cheap drip coffee maker, which of course had its own heating element. But for late-in-the-day indulgences, we used the French press, on the grounds that it was smaller and would impose limits on our caffeine intake that we couldn’t trust to our self-control alone. Our first solution to keeping French press coffee warm was to wrap the press in kitchen towels and try to drink the coffee before it got too bitter. Later, we got an insulated carafe, which worked much better on both counts. Right before we moved, John-Paul walked the drip machine down to the trash can for, as he said, “piddling on the counter one too many times.” Since then, we’ve been devoted to the French press and the kettle. Our San Francisco kitchen is often warm enough that it’s feasible to dispense with the carafe for warmth, though I still think it’s worth it for flavor.

Speaking of heating water in a kettle, please don’t get me started on the electric stove. I understand that it’s a practical choice in a city that once burned to the ground when its gas mains burst in a major earthquake. This stove even has a flat top, which means that theoretically it’s easier to cook Spanish rice on it than on our leaning, dented gas stove in Boston. (That’s true in theory only; in practice, it hasn’t worked out so well.) It isn’t even that we’ve burned anything on it, despite my fears in that regard–very well-founded fears based on an embarrassing adolescent incident that started with trying to heat tortillas directly on the heating element of the first electric stove I ever encountered. I had to get over before using the one in this kitchen. My biggest gripes with it are how long it takes to heat up, and the fact that there’s no clear indication (read: fire) of which element I’ve turned on. We’ve been here since last July, and I still sometimes turn on the back burner when the kettle’s on the front.

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