Chapter 5: Timing is Everything
I had assumed that the gas shut-off would continue for a few days. Boy, was I ever wrong! Days gradually turned into weeks, and then I found myself at the one-month anniversary of the gas leak. I began to be paranoid. A friend who was a corporate chef called to remind me that the gas in his East Village co-op had remained shut off for seven years, making the place impossible to sell, since it could garner no Certificate of Occupancy in the gas-less condition. About the same time, an article appeared in New York magazine telling how, when the gas is shut-off, the intricate ballet of Con Ed employees, housing department inspectors, and repairmen (so far, no repairwomen), can take months to complete.
But did I freak out? No, I hunkered down. I began to crave the popping and clicking of the hot plate first thing in the morning, signaling the start of my morning tea. I routed the white cord so that it didn’t sprawl over the counter, making the hot plate more attractive. I even tried to clean the little bugger, though the snake-like element barely lifted off its shiny aluminum splash-plate, and the shininess was soon a thing of the past. Anyone who cooks with electricity soon learns to almost savor the smell of the random splatter on the heating element, leading to a wisp of white smoke like the one when a pope is finally elected. The smell is a pungent merging of cold nasal electricity and charred food.
I continued cooking my one-pot meals, but they became more elaborate. I bought a chicken, and made a broth out of the neck, wings, and back, and set it aside. Next, I browned the cut-up chicken in my non-stick skillet. Then I poured the broth over the chicken, and added rice. I covered the skillet and cooked it for 30 minutes–and I had the Spanish classic arroz con pollo. At the last minute I stirred some Spanish chick peas from D’Espana into the rice, which gave it a creamier texture.
I learned to create culinary elisions, grafting hash browns onto scrambled eggs for a one-dish breakfast as follows:
Fry local Long Island potatoes
Add free-range eggs from Hoosick Falls, NY
Garnish with cucumber slices–Voila!
Gradually, one-pot meals turned into more elaborate presentations. If I wanted to make a Thai stir-fry, for example, I’d cook the rice first, knowing that if you let the rice sit covered after it cooks, it becomes plumper and absorbs the excess moisture. When the stir-fry is done, the rice is at the proper temperature and moistness for serving.
If I wanted a haricot vert side dish, I salted and steamed the beans first, then arranged them on the serving platter. Just before serving at room temperature, I drizzled on some EVOL, as Rachel Ray would say. I learned that, in cooking as in life, timing is everything, and I was soon making meals nearly as elaborate as when I had my four-burner stove.
Next: The Conclusion
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 16, 2009