Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Real Food in the Ill-Equipped Kitchen

Mom's kitchen
I am in Seattle for three weeks helping my mother in her recovery from open heart surgery. We got her home from the hospital Monday afternoon, and I knew the main thing she needed was uninterrupted sleep and good food. Eating at this point was/is still exercise, so things that are chewy, like meats, were out the question. Even pasta was too much work and then she wouldn't eat enough to get any calories. So, soup it was. My cookbooks are all at home, of course, but I figured that if I googled a recipe with a book title someone, somewhere would have posted it online. Sure enough. Yesterday I went seeking this wonderful squash soup made simply with squash, apples, onions, and a hearty amount of ginger from Simply in Season. I found it on The Local Cook, a blog I already read.

My mother lives alone in a vibrant city. She loves good high quality food, Real Food we might say, but being alone and in a tiny place, her own cooking is simple and she often eats out. In Seattle, eating out doesn't mean Applebees, though I'm sure they exist here. She eats very well at family owned businesses normally, but now she's not able to do that for some time. Preparing to come out here, I figured I could make her a lot of great food, store stuff for when I'm gone and she still can't do much by herself. I knew her kitchen was tiny, but I had no idea how limited her basic kitchen tools were. In all the times I've visited her over eight years or so, I'm not sure we've cooked in the kitchen.

I'm used to a fairly large kitchen. Her entire home is less than 800 sq feet, so the kitchen is more like a NYC galley kitchen. I remember in graduate school visiting someone in the city and finding that their kitchen was this remarkable sliding door, fold-out contraption that was literally in the entry hall. In my mom's home, the entire workspace is this two feet long piece of counter next to the sink. 

In any case, I set about preparing the squash soup yesterday. A large butternut, two large onions, ginger, and two apples. You also need chicken broth, which I had made in her one large pot a few nights before. I discovered she has no large bowls. No mixing bowls, nothing, at least that I could find. And just the one gallon pot. So I set about this elaborate maneuver of straining the broth using a colander that had too many holes over a variety of small bowls. At least half the broth made it to the floor, I think, but eventually I had a pot for the soup and enough broth to make it.

Then the fun really started. There are a multitude of very small, very cheap (meaning high-likelihood of cutting yourself) knives, but not much else. No chef's knife. She has her father's carving knife and bread knife. he died in 1952. A paring knife, and a short-bladed serrated knife. At first I found no peeler, later I found a peeler that was too dull to peel. This recipe requires peeling and cubing the squash. Joys. And I thought chopping the onion and apple were going to be hard. they were. Having hacked all the skin off the squash with a paring knife, I was left perplexed about how to cut this huge thing. The only option was the bread knife. Hey, it worked, and, surprisingly, it actually worked well.

These were the knives I had to work with

An hour later, we had supper and, in spite of all the limitations, it still tasted great. I topped it with a big dollop of chevre cheese to add creaminess and extra calories for her. Fabulous. Having said that, I think I'm likely to buy a chef's knife during my stay.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday and Simple Lives Thursday - two great sources for other blogs on related topics.


  1. How blessed your mother is to have you to cook for her. The internet certainly is a great blessing! I think you should buy a knife and maybe a big glass bowl from the Goodwill or somewhere.

  2. Yes, she is blessed! And I've love to meet up while you are here. Maybe we could meet at the UW Farmer's market next Sat? Thanks so much for caring for her - she is a precious gem!