dazzling and interesting on a shoestring
It’s hellish, but when it means having a place to call your own, it’s worth it. We went from co-habitation with my parents and sharing a zip code with the likes of Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, rapper E-40, NFL general guru and hardware store spokesman John Madden, and author Terry McMillan, to our own teeny apartment within walking distance of a brand-new Nieman Marcus (or did I mean Needless Mark-up?) and Tiffany’s. I can’t even afford to window shop in my new neighborhood, but the up side is the totally beautiful and completely free library and park nearby. Even my pre-schooler can walk there, although not without Mama.
The first night, it was a bit like camping out in chaos—the dresser piled high with clothes, but empty, the kitchen outfitted with boxes, some dishes, a few borrowed pans, but no cutting board, and no silverware tray– it’s kind of amazing how necessary those suckers are. My 8 spoons, 4 knives and 3 forks are nestled in a plastic bag.
We would be the well-furnished owners of a broad, Japanese-style coffee table, a vintage-looking turntable, most of my dance costumes and my seven-volume collection of signed Salman Rushdie’s, except they’re on a boat coming from New Zealand. So when I talk about my ship coming in, I mean it literally.
Discoveries I made the first morning:
*we left the coffee at my parents’ house
*we have to heat water in a saucepan because we don’t own either a kettle or an electric jug, either here or on the boat
*there was not a rubber band or a pen in sight, both of which I suddenly discovered that I needed—desperately.
Example of good timing:
*while we have no internet, simultaneously, my phone had run out of minutes. We’ll find out if pre-paid is a better way to go with no land-line.
Because of the status of the majority of our possessions, we have had to rely heavily on our friends for kitchen items.
On loan, currently:
*3 teflon frying pans from Natasha
*dishes and dish rack, bike and vacuum from Anne-Marie
*toaster from Kimberly (which may be the exact model that we have floating across the Pacific at press time)
*casserole dish and saucepan from Grey
Most of these items are on loan, but some of them are gifts, things passed on to us in our time of need. I never would have thought to long for a vacuum until I didn’t have one and the rice I spilled in the kitchen was sticking to my feet. It’s a gift from heaven, really. And a woman entrusting a Le Crueset dish to another has an enormous amount of faith. I believe I did her proud last night when used it to cook up and serve Tamale Pie (see recipe below) to my family.
Do I still feel destitute? You betcha– our rent is astronomical for the country’s average. But I have a place of my own and I am blessed.
And that, my friends, is richness.
This recipe is originally from the Joy of Cooking is a ground beef extravaganza but upon inspection, it appears to be nothing but chili with cornbread on top, in the true spirit of one-dish casserole meals. Here’s my vegetarian version of it:
1 Tbsp. cooking oil (canola or olive, whatever you got that’s mild in flavor)
1/2 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup frozen corn
1 can kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 14oz. canned chopped tomatoes (not the kind with the basil and garlic)
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
Sautee the onion until translucent on medium heat, then add the garlic, stir and cook for another minute. Add the corn and stir around until its not quite so frozen, then add both cans of beans and the tomatoes with their juice. Simmer for 5-10 minutes on low, until hot and a little bubbly. Stir in the cumin and the chili powder. Pour into a casserole dish and then mix up the following for the cornbread:
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
Mix dry ingredients above and then mix and add, until just combined:
1/3 cup milk
add 1 Tsp. oil and pour evenly over the top of the chili mixture.
Bake at 400 degrees (whatever that may actually be on my new oven, I do not know– it seems to run a bit hot) for 15 minutes or until the cornbread is lightly browned. Savor and enjoy, especially when the weather cools down.