Hampering with Convenience

“But,” she said, “how can I reheat rice without a microwave?”

Well, for starters, you shouldn’t really be reheating rice unless it has been handled properly, because rice can harbor a little friend called Bacillus cereus, which loves to cause food poisoning. If rice is cooked and left out at room temperature, it acts like a delicious culture dish for this organism, which will be fruitful and multiply, and then make your stomach angry. Rice intended for reheating should be cooled in the fridge immediately, and eaten no more than a day later. The UK’s Food Standards Agency is going to back me up on this one, as is the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. So there.

But that’s not the point.

I was thinking today as I emptied the dishwasher about a statement made about a lot of Americans when it comes to their kitchens. It goes like this: “I can’t live without [expensive electronic device].” I’ve never understood this rationale, and maybe it’s because I am a kitchen puritan, or a food snob, or…something. I can’t live without a cast iron pan and a wooden spoon, but that’s about it. Oh, sure, I like my ricer. I do. But I can deal. I realize that I am accused of being a working class snob, if such a thing is possible, but…damnit…it’s a label I’m kind of proud of. Most of the world, after all, lives at a standard far below my standard of living, and they seem to get by ok without dishwashers. We’re all human, so how can we live such disconnected lives?

Growing up, we had a giant natural gas stove, a woodstove, and a convection oven, because the oven on the gas stove didn’t work. I learned to cook quite effectively using these three heat sources along with a wok, a French enameled pot, and a set of cast iron pans, and most people seem to agree that I am a decent cook. Sometimes, on rare occasions, extraordinary. I can whip up something from nothing, and create wicked mashed potatoes without a masher, blender, or even a ricer. This is apparently beyond the means of many of my fellow Americans, and this fact strikes fear into my heart.

We didn’t have a dishwasher, a microwave, a toaster, a bread machine, or any of the other sundries which people seem to be incapable of living without when I was a wee lass. If we wanted bread, we baked it. If we needed to reheat food, we reheated it on the stove top. And so forth. These things are touted as “labor saving devices,” but they seem more like “food disconnection devices” to me. I want to feel my food and get down and dirty with it, not stick it in a box and push a few buttons. I cannot imagine eating anything that comes out of a microwave…I am not ok with agitating the molecules of my food. I also think home made bread tastes better, that you can wash dishes more effectively by hand, and that in my day kids didn’t do so much damn whining.

Is it a labor saving device when you cannot function without it? I feel like many cooks are hindering themselves with kitchen tools, instead of learning how to do something the hard way. It’s not just that you can be self righteous about your working class snobbery when you make bread from scratch…you can also cook when the power is out, and adapt to a kitchen that is not your own. Labor saving devices stifle creativity, I tell you!

I’ve never had a dishwasher before. I don’t trust it. I caught someone trying to put one of my cast iron pans in it once and about had a conniption fit. I had to explain, painstakingly, the process of caring for cast iron, which is not just a pan…it’s a member of the family. Who the hell wants to use teflon, or thin chintzy tin pans that scorch everything? I only grudgingly gave in to the dishwasher because I decided that sterilizing dishes with water temperatures which are more hot than my hands can handle is a good thing, and also because it is more water efficient than washing dishes by hand. My germaphobic hippie side won out over my working class wooden spoon wielding goddess of kitchen vengeance side.

In a commercial kitchen, I can understand the need for a large sterilizing dishwasher, or the use of a mixer to knead bread dough, because of the large batch issue. But for a home kitchen? Really? Do you need this huge assortment of gadgets and doo dads? I tell you, I am concerned for America when the revolution comes, because most people can’t cope with using cast iron pans, let alone cooking on a wood stove or functioning without a blender. What sort of world do we live in when people do not understand how to make food from scratch, or why it might taste better or be important to learn?

I think that we have become a cake from the box society, and I tell you: I don’t like it one bit. Back in my day, we used to go out and harvest the wheat for our cake flour, toil in the Amazonian jungle for cacao nibs, and milk the cows to churn the butter for our buttercream frosting. Wild chickens roamed the plains, leaving eggs in inconvenient places, protecting them with rabid zorks which tried to bite us when we collected them. We would grow our own baking soda bushes, even through the baking soda blight of 1987, and gather our own salt from the ocean side rocks. After that, where’s the pleasure in Duncan Hines, I ask you?