Sometimes my kitchen felt like the epicentre of the cosmos. Other times, it felt like a desert island. I sold my house and while sorting my belongings into boxes labelled A (for sale), B (for transfer) and C (for indefinite storage), I had unearthed a decade's worth of rumpled pieces of history. It was hard to stomach the amount of stuff I'd accumulated, especially as a religious anti-hoarder who donates out of habit, not martyrdom, and who finds the act of taking out the rubbish cathartic. I have no idea why I owned two tea tongs - implements only marginally more cumbersome to say than they are to store.
And I was thrilled to discover a drawer containing a canvas bag wrapped around a mallet large enough to harvest timber, but it took me three days to remember that those tools were meant to crush ice. Considering my principled stance on the redundancy of stand mixers, I don't know how I justified the acquisition of a food processor, a miniature food processor and a stick blender - three non-essential tools that essentially get the same job done.
There were pots and pans to consider and an unglazed terracotta pizza stone too heavy to take along, never mind take seriously. There was also an outdated ice cream maker so loud it made conversation difficult, unless you were willing to wait outside while your ice cream churned itself. Gone and almost forgotten was a cast iron grill - the most faithful, silent and sturdiest of the arsenal - which stayed put in the oven for six and a half years, just in case I needed an extra cooking surface in a red-hot emergency. That happened all of two times, which meant I didn't really need it.
Whether my next kitchen is better or worse, I am starting out differently this time.
This is downsizing. Generally, unitasking, single-function fad items don't faze me - the ramen burgers and cronuts of the kitchen. Mobility is worth more than a melon baller and all its overpaid friends. Alton Brown has maligned the single-purpose kitchen tool and, for the most part, I agree that there are things such as can openers, pastry brushes and dish towels for which there really are no substitutes, however rarely or regularly you use them.
My real desert island list exists only for my gratification.
I'm glad for the change of scenery. But if I plan to cook productively any time soon, these are the 12 things I would like most to take with me:
- DeBuyer Mineral B Element Iron frying pan
- A Victorinox (reasonable) or Global (mid-range) chef's knife
- A Le Creuset Stoneware 20 ounce mortar and pestle
- An Epicurean recycled paper or natural wood fibre chopping board
- A Cuisinart stick blender with whisk and chopper attachments
- Stainless steel mixing bowls, because they're durable and lightweight and because my tactile preference, vintage Pyrex, is heavy, clunky and not dishwasher safe
- A spatula
- A large mixing spoon
- A Pyrex measuring cup
- A fine mesh strainer or sieve
- A pair of tongs
- Silicone ice trays
And that's it. Everything else - meat thermometer, digital scale, baking sheets, aluminium foil, you name it - are conveniences I rely on because I have access to them, but they aren't crucial. Good thing I love an education almost as much as I love an empty drawer.
Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who lives and cooks in New Mexico
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