Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Cooking in someone else's kitchen


Recommended Posts

Last weekend I spent three days at my parents' house, mainly in their kitchen. They have become elderly and frail, and I was there to do as much cooking as possible, and get as many meals into the freezer as possible.

There were moments I thought I would have a nervous breakdown. Even though I'm pretty laid back and don't get excited easily.

Like many of today's elderly, my mother was a child during the depression, and the whole deprivation thing did a number on her. To her credit, she doesn't have stacks of plastic margarine tubs, etc. (a friend's mother had 566!). But she does have a lot of stuff I'd call "useless crap" and I can't imagine she's actually had any good use out of some of those things, ever. And since all of this "useless crap" takes up so much room, the cabinets are crammed full, and the overflow sits on the counters, yielding about 2 square feet of available counter space.

My friends tell stories about their parents that are as bad, if not worse. When all of these depression babies are finally gone and their boomer children clean out their houses, I fear we're going to have a landfill crisis. But that's another thread.

I knew she didn't have good knives, so I took my own, and that was a big help.

Have you had to do a lot of cooking in someone else's kitchen? Did you come up with any strategies for coping? There's another cooking trip coming up in the near future. :blink: I could use some ideas!

Edited by jgm (log)
Link to post
Share on other sites

Deep breath. I feel you.

A year ago I cooked through the last three months of my mother's life, in my parent's house. Three meals a day for five people, and I'd run lunch and dinner to the hospice before Mummy came home to die. (Don't mean to be depressing. Those were the circumstances.) Thank God she hung in there.

My biggest adjustment was moving from gas to electric and I have the scars to prove it. I hadn't packed knives because I was on an "International" flight from Chicago to Ottawa, and the dealio was simply to get there before Mummy died. Thank God she hung in there, but I had to buy a knife. I had to remember the exact positions of her pots and pans, learn her (non-Cuiz) food processor, remember where the spatulas and wooden spoons were housed, even the cabinet drawer where she kept the foil and plastic wrap. It wasn't easy.

Could you be more specific about "useless crap?" Coffeemaker? Mixmaster? Citrus juicer?

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

Link to post
Share on other sites
When all of these depression babies are finally gone and their boomer children clean out their houses, I fear we're going to have a landfill crisis.  But that's another thread.

Or, someone will start another phase of Retro, incorporating margarine tubs and repurposed produce/bread bags...

When I am cooking at my parents' place, I take an apron, a knife, and sometimes, a roll of parchment paper. Oh, and rubber gloves, cos' mom's hands are smaller than mine. I miss my dishwasher (oh, and my fully functioning oven) when I'm at their place.

At other people's houses (other than my parents') I usually just "make do" in the short term. Or take my own knives for anything more complicated than helping with dinner.

Karen Dar Woon

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think kitchens can house alot of emotional baggage. I just find the few things in a kitchen that work for me and proceed, ignoring the rest. Sometimes this means cutting on a countertop cuz there is no cutting board. I have done this mostly for my ex-MIL and even though she was a licensed dietician, she could not cook. I focused on what she needed and tried to keep an open mind. Those serrated knives they sell on line that you find in granny's cupboard can be a great tool. I never discuss the state of the kitchen with the ones I am trying to help.

Link to post
Share on other sites
. I never discuss the state of the kitchen with the ones I am trying to help.

Perfect. You pitch in and help and don't bitch about the conditions except to your eGullet buddies.

But I get jgm's frustration.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

Link to post
Share on other sites

I frequently "cater" meals at my daughter's home for her, her hubby and a few of their friends. Her kitchen DRIVES ME NUTS! She has a glass-top - HATE IT. Her cupboards are crammed to the gills too. I have now set up a large tackle box and filled it with my own knives, peelers, spatulas, thermometer, etc. etc.

I have a second box ready with empty jars and bottles and fill these with the things I just KNOW should be there but usually are not- kosher salt, a lemon, a head of garlic, a wine vinegar or two. You get the idea. Makes life much, much simpler.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

Link to post
Share on other sites

In a previous life (BC before children) I was a housekeeper/cook. This was done for 3 or 4 weeks at a time, during the grain harvesting period. By definition this work was for single farmers (why else would they need a cook?) who would be away from home from 7am to 8pm at least.

I would take my own box of tea towels, knives, bowls, small mixer, yeast, spices, cook books etc. There was no way of knowing what I would find on arrival and I usually had to shop on the way (prior to finding out like, dislikes etc.) as these farms were usually a round trip of an hour or two from the nearest (VERY SMALL) town. I certainly did a lot of improvisation when it came to cooking a roast when no roasting dish was to be found, or when several people turned up to stay when there was literally nothing edible in the house and the farmer had cancelled the food order I had made without telling me :angry: . (We've only got two more days of harvest left) Yes, but what am I supposed to feed 6 people in the mean time??

Edited to add that this particular kitchen involved working with a slow combustion (wood) stove which had to remain alight all day, every day through the middle of summer as it was also the hot water heating system.

Edited by Cadbury (log)
Link to post
Share on other sites

When I've cooked at my mothers house the only really frustrating issue was her very dull (thus dangerous) knives. Other than that I found the precious few (and old) spices, thin aluminum pans and unfamiliar range an interesting...challenge. It was actually sort of fun to see what I could come up with that tasted and looked good. :rolleyes:

edited to (hopefully) correct a sentence

Edited by petite tête de chou (log)

Shelley: Would you like some pie?

Gordon: MASSIVE, MASSIVE QUANTITIES AND A GLASS OF WATER, SWEETHEART. MY SOCKS ARE ON FIRE.

Twin Peaks

Link to post
Share on other sites
When I've cooked at my mothers house the only really frustrating issue were her very dull (thus dangerous) knives.

I've lost count of the number of times I've explained to people that their knives a) occasionally need to be sharpened and b) really shouldn't be thrown in a drawer.

The best knife at my parent's house is a very dull Henckels with a bent tip from where one of them used it as a pry bar. I no longer say anything.

The best knife at my brother's place is a Victorinox paring knife that I think I gave him years ago. He refuses to use it. He says it's too sharp and dangerous, and keeps it safely tucked away. So if I'm cooking there, there's always one decent knife I can use.

I feel pretentious if I take my knife kit when I'm cooking at someone's place (unless it's a paid gig where I'm supposed to look cheffy), but I like to sneak in one of those great $4 Victorinox paring knives. I've got a box of them at home. Other than one sharp knife, I don't really care; I'll cook with whatever they've got.

I'm humbled when I go into kitchens - even restaurant kitchens - in much of the world and see what they're capable of doing with one wok, one cheap knife, no fridge and a one-hole cold-water sink. It reminds me that I need skills and experience to be good at this game, not tools.

Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

Link to post
Share on other sites

. . .

I feel pretentious if I take my knife kit when I'm cooking at someone's place (unless it's a paid gig where I'm supposed to look cheffy), but I like to sneak in one of those great $4 Victorinox paring knives. I've got a box of them at home. Other than one sharp knife, I don't really care; I'll cook with whatever they've got.

I'm humbled when I go into kitchens - even restaurant kitchens - in much of the world and see what they're capable of doing with one wok, one cheap knife, no fridge and a one-hole cold-water sink. It reminds me that I need skills and experience to be good at this game, not tools.

I think we need to separate the idea of cooking in someone else's kitchen into those occasions when we must make do and when whining about the equipment is absolutely not appropriate and other occasions when we are attempting something cheffy either for pay or not at the request of the kitchen owner.

I would think that most of us can be very adaptable when circumstances require it but I also think we can lessen frustration if we take our own tools when that is possible.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

Link to post
Share on other sites

I cooked mostly out of my brother's house when he was dying. I did take my own knives, but otherwise, used what was there. The biggest thing for me when using someone else's kitchen is remembering or finding where everything is. For the first while, my timing is completely off in someone else's kitchen until I get that down.

If I'm only cooking in someone else's house once or so, I try to allow myself extra time to compensate.

Even in my own kitchens, I find it takes a while to readjust to my home kitchen after spending a couple of months at the cottage.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Like others on this thread, I've cooked for my elderly parents in their home. Luckily their kitchen was always well equipped and their knives kept sharp.

When I cook in my daughter's house, that's another story. I look at it as a wonderful opportunity to work on the discipline of keeping the mouth closed.

Miriam Kresh

blog:[blog=www.israelikitchen.com][/blog]

Link to post
Share on other sites

I hated cooking at my mother's house. She had the stove rewired from 220 VAC to 110 VAC because she was convinced she'd save 1/2 the money on her electric bill.

I gave her a food processor, a smaller one, since she lived alone. She never used it. It was sitting on the counter with 20 years of oily gook collected on it, and the attachements we found in a plastic sack in the cupboard.

Her jars of spices were still the same ones when I was in 6th grade.

I gave her a small 3-piece set of Wusthof-Trident knives. They were still wrapped in the box I gave her, with a "dying note" that they were to go back to me when she passed.

I spent 3-4 hours making Julia Child's "Chicken Melon". She ate exactly 1/2 tsp of it, and broke out a can of Muscleman's Apple sauce and toasted 2 pieces of bread and ate that instead, stating "She couldn't say if she liked the Chicken Melon because I've never eaten anything like it before". (Isn't that true for everything we ever ate?)

Did I mention that as a kid, we weren't allowed to toast only 1 piece of bread. "Same amount of electricity to toast 2 pieces, so don't waste it" was her constant reminder. Ah, the physics of it!

When she did pass, you wouldn't believe what we found. Her refrigerator had a 6-pack of eggs that were so old, they had turned completely black, and were completely hollow. She had cheese in there that I still remember seeing when I was in 7th grade.

I could go on and on, but then I'd be going off-topic. Let it be said, I hated eating there as much as I hated cooking there.

doc

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm constantly amazed that the smartest, most capable, self-sufficient, resourceful people I know live their lives with kitchens that seem to have been stocked by a roomfull of monkeys at computers, typing randomly and furiously on the Williams Sonoma website.

There are typically dozens and dozens of pans, mostly nonstick and in bizarre shapes, none of them oven safe. If there's one decent pan it's under a mounain of useless ones. Every inch of counterspace is occupied by salad spinners, salad shooters, cookbooks, magazines, microwaves, t.v. sets, decorative knicknacks. There's a garlic press but no tongs. A George Foreman grill but no wooden spatula. A giant refrigerator, but a cutting board the size of a cocktail napkin.

And the knives. I know you already know about the knives. But I'll continue: they are either from the salvation army, or they are a complete set of the department store's most expensive German or Japanese brand. In either case they have been in the sink and drawers and the dishwasher enough that that they are no sharper than the wooden spoons.

You know the whole story.

But I like cooking at other people's kitchens. So the question is, do people think it's rude or pretentious if you show up with a knife roll? I don't mean a giant tool kit full of everything. But I've taken to bringing a few knives, a whisk, tongs, a thermometer, a spatula, etc., all in a roll that can slip into a backpack or messenger bag. I'd hide it from them if I could. But I want cooking to be fun, and value my sanity.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

Link to post
Share on other sites

I occasionally cook outside of my kitchen, be it at various friends' or family member's homes, and when doing a private chef or catering gig.

When my dad was around, it was a challenge cooking in their kitchen, as he liked to clean up while I was still cooking. And he used to like to say things like, "don't use too much salt," which I would ignore - strangely enough, he liked my food more than any other he ate.

I seem to always be able to deal with the challenge of cooking outside of my well-equipped kitchen. Sure, knives can suck, cookware can suck, spices might not be the best, but, the bottom line is I'm nourishing people's souls and stomachs, and that really is the most important thing.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

Link to post
Share on other sites

My friends know me well enough that if I bring my own knives it's no offence. And anyone else, well I couldn't care that much about offending them. But the biggest ones for me are obviously knives, then chopping boards and pans followed by stirring implements. All my friends have cheap plastic stirring things that are all part melted on the end. Where, I ask you, did the rest of that melted plastic go? The worst are glass chopping boards, in conjunction with $2 serated knives, you get this horrid high pitched grateing noise that goes down my spine. I went to cook at a friends house, her parents, who she lived with, were filthy rich. They had an epic kitchen with a walk in, yes, walk in refrigerator.

"Oh, thats cool. Where's your vegetable grater?

Oh, um, don't have one.

Peeler?

Yeah don't think we got that either"

and so on.

"Alternatively, marry a good man or woman, have plenty of children, and train them to do it while you drink a glass of wine and grow a moustache." -Moby Pomerance

Link to post
Share on other sites

A good friend, who loves to cook, used to regularly invite me to Thanksgiving dinner at her house. For exactly that reason, I purchased a Hocho knife to bring with me. My friend REFUSED to have a sharp knife in her kitchen! (A hocho is a Japanese made folding knife in a typical Japanese cooking knife shape) I'd hone the knife before I left the house, and could go thru hours of prep work on the veggies and potatoes with no problem. I liked it so well that when my house burned down, I specifically went shopping for another at the first possible moment! Now, the cutting boards she had are a whole 'nother story... :wacko:

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

Link to post
Share on other sites

My parents are divorced. I like to cook for my father; it's good for both of us. He has absolutely nothing in his kitchen to work with. The freezer is empty except for ice and some Klondike bars. He doesn't keep milk or eggs. He uses a plastic spread instead of butter. His salt and pepper (his only spices) come in paper tubes.

When I cook for him, I have to buy everything I'm going to use and I have to keep it simple because there is no equipment beyond a few pans. His knives are in one of those block things, plastic handles, all of them with micro serrations.

I try to buy him things for the kitchen (a toaster, dish towels, manly cocktail glasses) whenever I can.

One year, I was in the kitchen cooking and I needed a bowl. I went in the living room, grabbed one of his Christmas presents, and asked him to open it. It was a set of graduated Pyrex bowls. We both laughed.

I have brought a trunkful of equipment (mixer, cookie sheets, cooling racks, vanilla, etc.) so that I could make cookies for him and fill the house with the smell of hot cookies.

My mother, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. Kitchen a dumping ground for stuff she doesn't know where to put, overloaded fridge I can't even put anything away in. I let her cook for me because it's good for her psychologically.

Parenting my parents is an experience I know I will look back on with fondness when they are gone.

But I'm with the person who mentioned the dichotomy between the depression and the boom. Once, during an argument, my mother summed it up by saying, "I'm a child of the thirties and you're a child of the sixties."

In the here and now, it's exhausting.

I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I gave my mom a knife for christmas a few years ago. I also gave her a lesson in how to use it. But the real present was hidden in the fine print of the card, and she didn't like it: a promise to throw out all the knives currently clogging her knife drawer.

Notes from the underbelly

Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm humbled when I go into kitchens - even restaurant kitchens - in much of the world and see what they're capable of doing with one wok, one cheap knife, no fridge and a one-hole cold-water sink. It reminds me that I need skills and experience to be good at this game, not tools.

Yeah, I realize that's the flipside to all my pissing and moaning.

Talk about humbling ... check out this article from 2001 on small restaurant kitchens in NYC:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html...kitchens&st=cse

Notes from the underbelly

Link to post
Share on other sites

Its always a little harder.. But as long as you can size up the situation before you start, its alot easier..

The best way to not be frustrated is to go in knowing the limitations of a kitchen.. Then plan a realistic menu. Or if you need to make certain dishes, bring all the supplies yourself..

But as someone who cooks multi-course menus for 30 people at a time in a small new york kitchen, with the right planning and prep. anything can be done.

Edited by Daniel (log)
Link to post
Share on other sites

This thread brought a tear to my eye thinking about cleaning out my mom's house and my mother-in-law's.

When we would go to my mom's for Christmas eve we would call it a Mrs. Flax Christmas. It would be all appetizers. We would be driving around later in the evening looking for anyplace we could get a bite to eat.

When you discover something lacking in a loved one's kitchen it becomes an opportunity for a gift.

We did this for my wife's uncle. The first time we visited we snuck out to Menards and bought him a grill. We used it whenever we visited but each time it became apparent that he didn't maintain it and it became a chore to use the thing. He claimed he cooked and he had a lot of gear in the kitchen but we could tell that he really didn't cook much. I do not care for his cooking or for his sanitation. He tends to leave things on the stove overnight and expects to serve it the next day. We tend now to treat him to meals out and take out.

My brother-in-law bought a new grill prior to our visit this summer. He knows we like to grill and he wanted to entertain us. If I had known what he was getting I would have told him to wait for me and we would pick one out and gift it to him. He bought a cheap little gas grill that had the flame inches below the cooking grid. It was horrible to work with. We made spiedini. They turned out good. You have to constantly watch food on that grill or you will have a crispy dinner. My son and I snuck out and bought him a set of grilling tools. Between the flame-ups and his repurposing his short kitchen tongs I didn't have muck hair left on my arms. I would have bought him a real grill if I wasn't leary of insulting him.

We went up to Finn & Feather on Lake Andrusia near Cass Lake, MN this summer. We stayed in Cabin 1. Apart from reaquainting myself with an electric stove the kitchen was tiny. It was pretty well equipped. I am glad we overpacked. There was nobody to insult so I brought along some non-stick pans, my knives, splatter screen (we fried a lot of fish), and various assorted spoons, spatulas, and turners. I wish we had brought along a few bowls. The hardest part was doing dishes manually. I was longing for a dishwasher. A single sink right next to the fridge made cleanup a bit annoying.

Up at Camp Croix near Danbury, WI they have an interesting situation. They have a big, cluttered kitchen with four stoves and a bunch of gear. It is all donated so only a two of the stoves work and only one of the ovens. I am glad I packed my two burner Coleman. We had a bunch of people to feed and we needed the extra burners.

Edited by Hard H2O (log)
Link to post
Share on other sites

I, too, feel your pain. And moreso Maggie because she had to fly. I spent ~6 months in Wichita during my mother's decline. Everything you've all said: thin pans, smooth-top electric range, several thousand pieces of tupperware and not a sharp knife to be found.

I drove home for a couple of days every other weekend to try to save what little sanity I had left (under the circumstances, it was hardly worth saving) and would take another few creature comforts with me each time. By the time she succumbed, I essentially had everything down there and nothing up here. What can I say? The only solace was going back to her house after visiting hours were over and cooking.

My car looked like the chuck wagon from a cattle drive on the long, sad trip home (well, a high-tech version).

Hang in there, jgm. As awful as it is, you'll never regret it and will someday find a way to look back fondly upon this time.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

Link to post
Share on other sites

My two big issues I have in other people's kitchens are the lack of a non-stick frying pan, and that whatever method they use for washing their dishes always seems really messed up to me (usually involving mouldy dishcloths).

Link to post
Share on other sites
Could you be more specific about "useless crap?" Coffeemaker? Mixmaster? Citrus juicer?

"Useless crap" is some of the stuff you've seen in infomercials. Flimsy tongs. Stuff to make garnishes with, which she has never done. 30-year-old serrated paring knives that were dull after 6 months.

Full disclosure: I gave some of it to her, years ago, before I knew better.

It's mainly miscellaneous stuff she keeps because she's sure she'll need it someday. The entire house is crammed full with stuff like that, although you'd never know it until you opened a drawer or a closet.

"Useless crap" is also the odd container that sits on the counter, because there's no other place for it to live since every last cubic inch of the cabinets is full. But there is something - I don't remember what - that Mom and Dad use that container for from time to time, so it has to stay. Plus, in my opinion, it's theirs, and their kitchen, so even if they never use it, it stays because they want it there.

I think what drives me nuts is just that the kitchen, for all of its overflowingness, simply doesn't contain the things I'm used to having: good sturdy tongs; silicone spatulas, small and large; small bowls and plates for prep, and a good sized cutting board. And since every cabinet and drawer is full, things live where there's room for them, not where it makes sense. Hence, pancake-flipper type spatulas, flimsy tongs, a rolling pin, and a citrus squeezer are all together in the same drawer. Her largest glass measuring cup is 2 cups. I have a couple of 4-cup measures and an 8-cup.

What's also had to happen, is that I've started going through their freezers (three, two of which have refrigerators alongside or underneath) and pulling out freezer-burned food. Dressing from 2003. An unidentifiable meal in a divided Tupperware container from 2007. On and on and on - and very little of it labeled; if it is, it's month and day only.

I'm not expressing criticism of what my Mom has, as much as I'm expressing the pain of trying to cook in unfamiliar circumstances with unfamiliar equipment. One person's trash is another's treasure, and my mom treasures her "stuff". And that's okay. My kitchen would probably make her nuts, too.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...