An Intimate Space: The Kitchen and Southern Luck

We have done a lot of traveling over the last two years. Since moving to London, it’s been a whirlwind of adventures to places I never thought I would see in my lifetime. The trip to Morocco stands out as one of those places that only teased my imagination as a child. I distinctly remember waking up at 3am the night we stayed in the Sahara Desert and walking out of the wool tent. It was freezing outside in March, but the earth was so still. No birds, crickets, or wind could be heard, and the full moon illuminated the orange sand in a grey and hazy light that could only remind me of images of far off planets.

Iceland is another example of somewhere I only dreamed about as a place covered in ice and snow. Little did I know waterfalls that competed for the world’s most beautiful flowed there and that elves lived in little rocks on the mountainsides. The terrain of this country is so unpolluted and underpopulated, it ranks high in the dream-home scenarios.

But on each of our trips, we have relied on using AirBnB to find places entrenched in the local scene. We have no interest in staying in impersonal hotels or feeling like we’re just living out of a suitcase. We have really enjoyed being welcomed into people’s homes and spaces and asking ourselves, “Can we see ourselves living here?”

There have been some negative experiences along the way, but mostly, we discuss what we would do in the event that we were transferred to Munich or Spain or wherever. Which city would suit us best? Do you like this floorplan? The train is easy to grab from this location. Could we handle the outside noise?

When searching for the perfect place to stay in during our travels (I promise, this post is in no way sponsored by AirBnB, and is not an advert), we always look for a kitchen. We have saved so much money by cooking meals at the flat, but we have also eaten much healthier this way, too. When we check-in, we do a quick recon and see if we have coffee, sugar, and milk. (Check.) Do we have a skillet and olive oil? (Check.) Now, we need the local supermarket, and what are the hours of operation? Or at the very least, do they have an egg vending machine like the market in Dubrovnik?

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One thing that I have always tripped up on when traveling is the intimate space of the kitchen. When you’re at home, you have your tools where you like them. Your trusty kitchen knife sits on the cutting board, clean and ready for use. Your coffee beans sit in their container waiting to be ground and brewed. Your favorite veggies sit in the fridge ready to be cooked.

When you’re traveling, you have none of those comforts. The knife is often dull or tiny, the skillet is really just a saucepan, and the olive oil is in the fridge. (That one threw me. I didn’t think to look for oil in the fridge.) However, when you can get a place that resembles a home rather than a B&B or kitchenette, you spend the morning searching for sugar for your coffee by opening drawers and cabinet doors to be surprised with half eaten peanut butter jars and cans of beans. Even though I’m a guest, it feels very intrusive to be rifling through nooks and crannies.

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It’s especially interesting when traveling over the holidays. For Christmas dinner, we spent countless minutes googling how to use a Spanish oven trying to decipher what each symbol means and why the numbers go from 1-12 instead of 9 like the forums tell us. Will our chicken be over or under cooked? No matter! Feliz Navidad!

It’s always an experience cooking in someone else’s kitchen, and you find some real gems and sometimes new ideas. For example, if it’s freezing outside, and you have limited space in your fridge, a bottle of white wine on the front porch will chill very quickly. You can usually get two cups-worth of coffee from one Nespresso cup to economize, and an electric milk-frother is an ingenious invention. Also, a percolator is not as complicated as they seem.

An Ikea kitchen will astound you with their ability to soften any slammed doors, but it may also not keep things securely inside (baggage may be shifted during the flight…or coffee mugs). A wood-burning oven or chiminea will make perfect s’mores after scouring the only market in a three-mile radius for marshmallows in their American aisle. But the most important lesson was previously brushed-on: you can scramble eggs in a saucepan using a wooden spoon and spray olive oil. Just don’t turn your back on it!

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Most people think the bedroom is the most intimate space in a person’s home or the bathroom with the full medicine cabinet. But I fully believe that those rooms can be completely sanitized and made for anyone in mind. It’s the kitchen that can throw anyone for a loop without their basic comforts and tastes gone, but it’s a perfect way to get to know your host!

Don’t let cooking in someone else’s kitchen scare you. It can be a fun adventure and your foray into the next Iron Chef America competition.

* * * * *

We are wishing you a very Happy New Year from Penzance today. And in honor of being in an unfamiliar kitchen, here is a quick recipe we whipped up with what I had at my fingertips. Easy, brimming with Southern luck, and delicious.

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Black Eyed Peas with Chorizo
makes 3-4 servings

Ingredients:
1 tsp coconut oil
1 cup dried black eyed peas
1/2 onion, diced
1 whole red bell pepper, diced
1 garlic glove, minced
5-6 rashers of chorizo, diced (or pancetta, bacon, or ham hock)

Directions:
1) Overnight, soak the beans in a dutch oven or bowl. They should be softer by morning. 2016-01-01 17.48.49(Alternatively, you can get canned black-eyed peas. They just aren’t an option over here in Cornwall.)
2) In a saucepan, sautee the onion in coconut oil until translucent. Add the bell pepper and garlic and cook for another couple minutes. Add the beans and chopped choirzo. Cover with water and let it simmer away for 60 minutes. (If using a can, it will only need 10-15 minutes.)
3) Check for done-ness. If the beans are tender, then serve up with your favorite garnish. If they are not fork-tender, then cook for another 7-10 minutes.

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* * * * *

My favorite garnish with black-eyed peas is dill pickle or pickle relish. My mom’s favorite is Mrs. Renfro’s Hot Chow Chow and a little ketchup, but I could never get used to the ketchup, myself. I could only find something called Branston’s Original Pickle, which, in a pinch, did okay as a substitute.

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Having black-eyed peas on the first day of the new year is a guarantee for luck and prosperity in the new year, so don’t let this Southern, Jewish, and Babylonian tradition go undone.

Happy 2016!!

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