As I renovated my kitchen over the past few months, a lot of people asked me how I managed to survive without a kitchen for so long. So for my inaugural post, I decided to answer this question (spoiler alert: living without a kitchen isn’t as bad as it sounds).
I began renovating my kitchen this past summer. Now, six months later, the kitchen has only just returned to a usable state with running water and a working stove. In the intervening months, I washed dishes in the bathroom sink and prepared countless meals using only a toaster, a microwave, and a George Foreman Grill. It was challenging at first, but I quickly adapted to life without a kitchen, and I’d like to think that I’m a better cook for the experience.
Before demolition began on my old kitchen, I set up a little temporary kitchen in my living room. It consisted of a small table for food prep and eating, an old mini-fridge, a toaster, a microwave, and a George Foreman Grill. It looked a lot like something you might find in a college dorm room. In fact, as I thought about preparing food using this temporary set up, it felt like a chance to redo my college culinary experience. Only this time I would rely less on macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, and pop-tarts and would focus on using fresh ingredients.
It was late summer when the renovation began, and it was too hot to do much cooking anyway. So I started out making a lot of cold meals. Salads with fresh produce, nuts, and cheese were an early mainstay of my kitchenless diet. Stuffed avocados were another favorite – tuna salad prepared with mayonnaise, lime juice, and bell pepper, spooned over half of a pitted and pealed avocado made for a quick, satisfying meal. Adding cilantro, green onion, dried chile, or whatever else I happened to have on hand provided some interesting variation on this basic recipe.
Without a kitchen sink or a dishwasher, I had to wash all of my dirty dishes in the bathroom sink or the bathtub. This was inconvenient to say the least. So I quickly found myself planning out meals around the amount of dirty dishes they would create. Do I really need a separate bowl for that side salad, I would ask myself. Why not just finish my bowl of rice and beans first and then use the same bowl for the salad?
As winter approached, I began to crave hot, hearty meals, and this was when the George Foreman Grill became indispensable. For a quick lunch, I often used the grill to make grilled cheese sandwiches – cheddar and sweet pickle and cheddar and apple became two of my favorite variations. And for dinners, grilled asparagus or eggplant were simple but delicious side dishes. It was around this time that I began to realize that it’s important, even without a kitchen, to dedicate time to preparing a meal. At least once or twice a week, I spent extra time putting together a meal that required multiple components. I found that the prep work and wait time involved in putting together a complex meal is almost as important as actually eating the food. Rather than just throwing something into the microwave, the extra time required to season and grill vegetables, or to put together a plate of smoked salmon, bread, and cheese, makes it feel like a proper meal. And I’ve found that when I put extra time and effort into a meal, I also take extra time to sit down with my girlfriend to enjoy the food and each other’s company.
On the other hand, when you’re living without a kitchen, there’s the constant temptation to eat out or order in, and I gave into this temptation more than a few times. Eating out is convenient, but it’s also expensive, and eating lots of rich, restaurant food gets old fast. So I made a real effort to prepare my own meals as often as possible. But let’s be honest, not having a kitchen is a great excuse to indulge in some guilty pleasures, and there was a definite uptick in the amount of pizza, potato chips, store-bought cookies, and other junk food I consumed over the past few months.
Living without a kitchen for so long has made me more conscious of the complexity of a meal and the number of ingredients I use. For the past few months I’ve focused on preparing efficient, simple, satisfying meals. And even now that I have access to a brand new, well-equipped kitchen, I plan to continue this focus on simplicity in my cooking. Of course, it will be fun to make some more complicated meals. But there’s a lot to be said for being able to quickly put together a meal after a long day at work using just a few ingredients.