Cold weather and I don’t mix. So my sister Janet and I spend half the year in Oaxaca, Mexico, and the other half at our home in Callicoon. It makes sense to spend the finest months of summer …
Cold weather and I don’t mix. So my sister Janet and I spend half the year in Oaxaca, Mexico, and the other half at our home in Callicoon. It makes sense to spend the finest months of summer upstate and the cold, snowy ones in Mexico.
This past October, when we arrived at the Hotel Mariposas, the first three months of our six-month stay was in a small studio. Like all the hotel’s studio kitchens, this one was equipped with a full-size fridge, coffeemaker, blender, pots and pans, a two-burner stove top, silverware and dishes. But the silverware was bendably lightweight and the few kitchen tools, such as strainers, spoons and ladles, were made of dingy plastic which had seen more than a few years of use.
As an avid cook, I felt this just wouldn’t do. To my sister’s consternation, I insisted we make several trips to a housewares store to pick up a spatula, measuring spoons, a whisk, mixing bowls, a funnel and various other implements I felt were necessary for me to be able to prepare food with ease. “I don’t want to replicate our entire kitchen here in Mexico,” Janet complained, worried about the cost and how much we could store at the hotel upon departing. “We’re living here half a year!” I countered. We made so many trips to the housewares store that many of the staff would exclaim, “¡Hola Juju and Janet!” when we entered. Janet would roll her eyes.
The hotel’s communal kitchen, where sweet breads and bitter coffee are served to guests in the morning, was the only place in the hotel with an oven. Well, there was an oven, but it was filled with pots and pans and plastic bags. And I am used to baking enchiladas, gratins, tuna melts and such. So, we purchased a toaster oven big enough to sleep in and I used it often. Another rolling of eyes.
The hotel was in the process of converting all the stovetops to electric, having found gas to be too expensive. I was more than disappointed. I like to see a flame when I’m cooking, and I don’t enjoy the fact that in order to go from boiling to a simmer, I would have to move the pot or pan to another burner. And all the pots I had purchased wouldn’t work on the new electric stovetop.
A hotel employee came to our studio to explain how to use the new stovetop. He pressed buttons on and off and various temperatures showed up digitally. They made no sense to me. More troublesome, my “instructor” spoke no English and my meager Spanish didn’t cover almost any of the words he was using. I thanked him and knew I would be winging it henceforth.
The first dish I attempted on my little electric stovetop was an omelet. I poured the whisked eggs into the skillet. The middle burnt quickly and stuck to the bottom of the pan. And the two or so inches of loose egg that went up to the sides of the pan remained liquid. That got tossed, needless to say. My second breakfast was quesadillas filled with cheese, cilantro, and tomato salsa. I spread the filling on the bottom of one tortilla and topped it with another. I made two of these. I placed a tortilla in each of two skillets, one for Janet and the other for me. A moment later the bottoms had blackened and charred, and it seemed futile to flip them over to burn the other side. We had breakfast out.
After a few weeks I got somewhat used to cooking on the stovetop, but I picked and chose what to prepare and I kept changing the temperature dials as I cooked, when I thought it proper to do so. We ate breakfast out in restaurants less often.
I rarely prepared lunch, except for the once-a-week roasted rotisserie chicken we would purchase from a vendor a few blocks from the hotel. I cut up the chicken and made a large mixed salad to accompany the meal, along with a glass of wine.
After three months, when we moved to a second, larger studio (which will be our home for the six months we spend in Oaxaca moving forward), I was surprised to see that the stovetop had not been converted to electric. I was informed that this studio, for some mechanical reason I don’t understand, could never be converted and would remain a gas stove. Now, back at my comfort level, I began to cook more often, usually breakfast, but sometimes lunch if I had bought the fixings for enchiladas or queso fundido (melted, gooey cheese over ground, cooked chorizo sausage or sauteed mushrooms, scraped into and eaten in warm, rolled tortillas). Restaurants are so inexpensive in Oaxaca that I could choose to cook when I wanted to and eat out as often as we pleased.
When we returned home to Callicoon, it took awhile to acclimate to being back in the Catskills; some of that was due to the cold, rainy and cloudy days of late April. But, more importantly, I wasn’t used to cooking every meal we ate.
Plus, initially, I was so discombobulated being back that I couldn’t recall where I kept such items as serving dishes, sieves, tongs and my lemon zester. More than once I tried to return a roll of Saran Wrap to the fridge.
I also cooked a couple of bomb meals, feeling disconnected from the foods I normally prepare. At least at home I have a four-burner gas stove, and I was soon pleased to be back in my usual role as chef of the house.
We had a shopping spree after a couple of days home, and I picked up a pair of wild salmon filets. The weather warmed up the day I decided to prepare them, so they were poached and served cold with sliced cucumber, avocado and a sauce I developed that I thought would add a sprightly, cooling, herbal note. Guess what? It did!
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