3 months without a kitchen: how we ate

Okay, let me just say straight away that that’s a misleading title. We did, in fact, have access to a kitchen during the two months we spent at the Mennonites’ house, but we did not, in fact, have access to:

  • Cooking supplies
  • A surplus of time
  • Cash money
  • A prescription for Lipitor

For twelve straight weeks making “real” meals was out of the question, as was dining out every night. So… what did we do?

Eat our own salty tears, natch.

WHEN WE WEREN’T DOING THAT, we feasted according to a special formula I’ve honed over years of 1) liking food and 2) being lazy. What this formula entails, basically, is putting a bunch of stuff in a bowl, heating it, and eating it with a utensil of your choice.

I prefer a spoon.

It sounds obvious, but I never realized I had an eating system until I grappled with it every day for a quarter of a year. And by sharing it here with you I don’t mean to insinuate it’s the way to eat. It’s just a way to eat, and one that appears to have worked okay for us given the circumstances at the time.

What we always had, even during that dark period when the kitchen was 100% gutted and we were washing dishes in the bathtub, was a rice cooker, a toaster oven, and a microwave. Which isn’t a lot but turns out is just enough to get by — the perfect bisection of home-cooking and convenience, as it were.

I usually try to limit processed foods, but in a situation like ours you can’t really avoid processed foods. In fact, in situations like ours processed foods are a good friend; a gentle blessing, especially when paired with readymade fresh food like pre-washed greens. So every week we’d go out grocery shopping and buy stuff like this:

Protein

Canned beans, precooked lentils, tofu, seitan, precooked rotisserie chicken 

Vegetables

Zucchini, cauliflower, squash, beets, garlic, spinach, kale, spring greens 

Sauce

Enchilada, spaghetti, peanut, salsa, curries, TastyBite Indian pouches

Filler/Extras

Quinoa, avocado, cheese, nuts

And one night a week, we’d ignore house stuff and do food prep. Two pounds of quinoa would go in the rice cooker, and tofu and vegetables would be sliced and roasted in the oven. Then everything would be stored in the refrigerator until they were brought out again, piecemeal, and assembled into an assortment of edible delights.

DELIGHTS.

What does that look like? Well, one night I might throw together some roasted zucchini, spinach, tofu, and peanut sauce, and top it with crushed cashews. The next I might mix some beans and quinoa with salsa and top it with avocado and cheese. The next could be cauliflower, kale, and curry. A little from column A, a little from column B, and so on. The same things, reunited in different ways.

Does everyone eat in a mix-and-match way or am I weird? Basically, my whole approach to food is to make it as hot, melty, and saucy as possible. I also have a high tolerance for eating a lot of variations of the same flavors over and over again, so you know. That helps. 

I realize none of this is groundbreaking, and that to some degree everyone has a system of food prep and cooking. But I spent so long eating in a highly specific way that I couldn’t not talk about it, not after everything we’d been through together. And after having cooked our first real meal last night since the end of July, with pots and pans and everything, I felt this was a fitting tribute. The end of a distinct culinary era.

This isn’t goodbye, though. Over the last three months I’ve learned things I’ll take with me into our new life of normal living. Like making quinoa in a rice cooker instead of on stovetop. That shit is golden!

HAVE YOU EVER learned anything about food in times of duress and if so share with me now your secretssssss.

8 Responses to “3 months without a kitchen: how we ate”

  1. Oooo, I like this strategy. We got in the habit of cooking huge volumes of elaborate one-pot meals that would last us a whole week, and then we got tired of reheating chili. So our food revelation was the good old meat+veg+starch: the seasoned chicken cutlet/pork chop on the skillet + steamed or sauteed fresh veggie + microwaved potato/sweet potato meal. Half hour, fresh & hot to the table.
    That requires a kitchen, though, I think.
    Our other revelation was: convenience food is ok when you require convenience (duh). Too strapped for time or energy to cook? Hey kids, that’s what take-out is FOR. Sometimes.
    Really, these aren’t revelations, but it took some strangely creative thinking for us to arrive at these conclusions. *sigh*

  2. I’m taking notes. Seriously, this sounds so much better than what we did when we were sans kitchen for 3 weeks – a lot of takeout and re-heating frozen things in the floor microwave (much like a regular microwave except on the floor which I especially appreciated!). Think we might copy some of this for when my life is ruled by a 7 lb tyrant.

  3. What does it mean that your no kitchen cooking strategy is better than my fully functional kitchen dinner planning strategy? I often rely on throwing rice & broccoli in the rice cooker and leaving it at that. Protein? Who needs it! I like your mix and match method, though I’m lacking in the microwave department so reheating is a little slower.

  4. Does this mean you are in your house with a kitchen now???

    Things learned about food in times of duress… Well, I didn’t eat much this summer due to the overabundance of duress in my life, but I did learn that I could manage bananas and V8 in the worst weeks. I alternated that with peanut butter toast and hot quinoa flake cereal. That was what a lot of what I ate for a few weeks. I haven’t gotten back to full cooking yet, but I have made a few soups and some meals now and then. And I’ve eaten a lot of sandwiches. And waffles. I have made waffles a lot since this summer. In the near future I need to better figure out some meal plans and balance my diet out better.

    I am super impressed with your cooking in times of duress. It sounds better than me in the best of times. And cooking for one now…..yeah….I’m not doing so good with it yet. But at least my appetite has come back from its hiatus.

  5. I’m a huge fan of the slow cooker, especially if you can cook the whole thing in there – little washing up to do!

    Otherwise my fail safe is a piece of frozen fish and those steamable, already portioned packets of veggies you can buy in the frozen section of your supermarket. Christ, that’s embarrassing. Maybe I need to write a post about healthy eating for one and do some ‘research’…..

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