February 11, 2007

Cooking without a Kitchen

They say there's no accounting for taste, and "they" must be right. Of the many differences between America and Germany, the one that I'll never be able to explain is why German apartments don't come with ovens. Many don't even come with kitchens, but that's a post for another day. For now, let me just address the oven thing.

What I don't understand (but there is so much I don't understand, really), is why German landlords will go to all the trouble to install sinks and refrigerators and cabinets and a hotplate (not a real stove top, mind you), but then leave out the kitchen's most essential element: the oven. Without an oven what can you actually cook? Not much. Just pasta and omelets if, like us, you're not a regular meat eater. OK, so you can also "cook" canned tomato soup and grilled-cheese sandwiches, which, I admit, can be really satisfying on a cold, rainy winter's day (and in
Germany that's the only kind they have). But that's about it. No casseroles, no quiches, no pizzas, no baked chicken, no baked goods of any kind -- not even chocolate chip cookies from the tube!

"And how do the Germans make do without ovens?" you might ask. They eat fruit and yogurt, mostly. No, really. There are whole aisles of nothing but yogurt at the supermarket, and that's all I see in anyone's basket at the check-out line. This must be how the Germans stay so thin, despite their national dish being baby sausages (Würstchen) and butter-fried potato dumplings (Kartoffelklöse) coated in a thick, sweet gravy (Jägersoße). Since this meal can actually be cooked on a hotplate, I gave it a try ("When in Rome...," right?). And while it was pretty tasty, not five miutes later Kevin and I were plunged into a deep food coma from which we did not emerge until the next morning.

Of course, the real answer is that not all Germans lack ovens. Our friends Carsten and Regina and the Fakhers all have ovens in their apartments, which they installed themselves and at their own expense. Even Elizabeth and Sanders have an oven. But my sense is that German landlords don't believe their tenants deserve ovens unless they have children or are middleaged and intent on enjoying the fruits of the 30+ years of labor. Young people like us, with few attachments or responsibilities, who move every couple of years, can just do without.

But I can't.

Today marks the beginning of Week #5 sans oven, and if I never open another jar of marinara or can of tomato soup it will be too soon. And since we've got at least -- at least! -- three more weeks in this ill-equipped kitchen, I implore you, my friends and family, to send me recipes and ideas for how to vary our diet. You can send them to me via e-mail or you can type them into the nifty little "comments" section at the bottom of this post. I'm sure my problem is just that I lack creativity in the kitchen.

But please, if you send suggestions, keep in mind that I have at my disposal only the items you see in the photo at right (the fridge is hiding beneath the hotplate there). That means no microwave, no toaster, no blender, and precious little square footage (or Quadratmeter, as they say here). Actually, this isn't even a picture of my current kitchen but of the one at the Gästehaus -- I can't fit our current kitchen in the frame while standing inside it.

Also, keep in mind that not all ingredients available in Boston or Little Rock can be found in a German supermarket. Mexican food items, like chili peppers, red and black beans, and Tabasco sauce, remain elusive. Although I'm happy to report that yesterday I discovered a stash of sandwich wraps in my neighborhood Kupsch (TM) -- a workable substitute for flour tortillas -- and I bought them all. Now Kevin and I can have chicken fajitas every night this week ... until we grow sick of them, too.

1 comment:

The Essentialist said...

So I had this really funny thing where I was going to link to a McDonald's finder - the McFinder for the uninitiated. Unfortunately, the site is all in German. As it turns out that was not the biggest obstacle. I was able to find a nice zoom of a few McCafes in Wurzberg. However, there was no way that I could see to link directly to those McDonalds. Ergo, I am typing out here what it would have been like and you can use your imagination when it comes to the inevitable hilarity that would have ensued.

On a more serious note, I would suggest becoming familiar with all manner of sautéed. Chicken and sausage mixed with any combination and variety of vegetables always works. Throw in some rice or noodles and you got yourself a decent meal.

The other suggestion would be to see about getting a slow cooker. While they do tend to cook everything in a similar manner, they are diverse in what they can cook. Although, if this issue will be resolved in a matter of weeks, it may not be worth the investment.