Seasons by the Sea: A Skillet, a Kettle, a Bowl

Slowly but surely, I am getting the hang of cooking without my usual cooking equipment.
Skillet cornbread, Vietnamese chicken, and fresh corn salad on a dainty plate is one way of “roughing it” in a house devoid of kitchen supplies. Laura Donnelly

    I moved recently from East Hampton Village to Sag Harbor. All of my friends think I should miss my oceanfront childhood home but I really don’t. I now have my dream kitchen. It’s big enough for a table that will seat six, it has a fireplace, and there’s a six-burner Garland stove, a dishwasher (a small luxury I have been living without for two years), and windows galore.
    For various reasons, I have been living out of a suitcase for six weeks. This has not been a trial. What has been a trial is the fact that my friends insisted I repaint the entire interior of the new house before I bring in my furniture, cooking equipment, clothes, cookbooks, etc. In the last stages of the move out of East Hampton, I packed up some fancy, frilly dessert plates, etched wine glasses and other glamorous flotsam and jetsam that belonged to my grandparents and great-grandparents. This is all I have to work with. Oh, and one tea kettle, one Griswold cast iron skillet, a Pyrex baking dish, and a bowl.
    For the first couple of nights I lived on pizza and salad from Espresso in Sag Harbor. A small pizza lasted three days. Smothered with fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic, it was awesome the first two nights, not so hot by the third. I would fry the slices in the skillet and eat them off one of the fancy dessert plates.
    But my desire to cook a proper meal, despite the lack of equipment, got the better of me. I bought some chicken and threw together a Vietnamese marinade. I managed to concoct a cornbread without measuring cups and spoons. At least my moderate skills as a pastry chef come in handy when eyeballing and guessing measurements. A salad of raw corn cut off the cob mixed with red peppers and parsley rounded out my first meal. Served, yet again, on one of the dainty dessert plates.
    On my first evening in the house, my friends and I broke out the etched wine glasses to celebrate. Sure enough, I broke mine within 10 minutes. Sorry, Grandma!
    I have borrowed a pot to boil water and a spatula. Now I can make pasta with cherry tomatoes and bread crumbs. I attempted the breadcrumbs in the cast iron skillet and set off the fire alarm. Slowly but surely, I am getting the hang of cooking without my usual cooking equipment.
    I’ve probably got another two weeks before I can retrieve my belongings out of storage. I have begun to see this as more like camping, or college boy bachelor life, than a nuisance. When I get takeout from Espresso, I grab as many plastic forks and napkins as good manners will allow. I tip heavily for this pilfering. I ask for extra dressing that comes with every delicious rosemary focaccia bread sandwich. This I stockpile for later use. For those who have been dying to know how they make this creamy, addictive sauce, I think I have been able to deconstruct it. I’m guessing, but I think it is a little bit of cream or mayo, balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and black pepper.
    Cooking pasta in larger than necessary amounts has also helped. Each batch can be tailored to suit whatever vegetables I have purchased that day. Roast cauliflower with onions and curry one day, fontina cheese with fennel and peppers the next. I have also been consulting Web sites tailored to dorm cooking. They all seem to rely on canned condensed cream of mushroom soup, hamburger meat, and microwave ovens. Blech.
    I fantasize about my first dinner party. I will have my beloved well-seasoned wooden salad bowl with utensils to toss oily leaves of arugula. We shall dine on my plain white plates with no fear of breakage. My Le Creuset casserole will be put to good use with a quickie duck cassoulet. Wine shall be drunk out of bistro-style Duralex glasses.
    I don’t mind that I am still wearing my summer whites, layered with a sweatshirt I found in the trunk of my car. And until I get all of my cookbooks and cooking equipment, I don’t even mind my limited abilities to prepare a balanced meal. If I can do it, you can too. Here are some recipes I have managed to throw together quite successfully.

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