Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Here we are in my new little section of cyberspace, now what's the big idea?

I was reading an article by Michael Pollan a few days ago, in which he quoted Harry Balzer as saying "I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself".

Shockingly simple but the idea has stuck with me since, unwilling to stop gnawing at me.

A host of different reasons immediately start springing up as to why this is a bad idea. The time involved, the effort, the expense (I'm assuming, but would it be that much more expensive really? Once you factor in the things you're not spending on?), and indeed my own all-encompassing laziness. And yet, I can't stop thinking about it. I love food and cooking. I love the satisfaction I get from gathering up the raw ingredients and turning them into something (hopefully) delicious.

But oh, how I envy other food bloggers! I read of your trips to farmers markets, bags of seasonal fresh produce, organic delivery boxes, ingredients from specialty stores, and your cute yet functional kitchen appliances. I drool over the truly spectacular photography with a deep burning jealousy banked low in the pit of my stomach. If that what you're expecting from this blog, dear reader, then we should probably take this moment to guide you gentle closer to reality.

Aside from the reasons I mentioned above, I have one big challenge to face in my quest for culinary paradise that can be summarized in one word: Location.

I am currently working as an ALT in Japan. And I'm not talking the center of Tokyo here. I live on the edge of a middling-rural city. My closest farmers market is in the next town over and is nowhere near a train station; as I don't drive, it's not an option. I have one supermarket I shop from, it's of reasonable size and is a few minutes from my house. Being a Japanese supermarket, all but basic ingredients come in small (50-70g) packets (this is especially true of things like baking ingredients!). Flour (while available in quantity) comes in two main types: plain white and bread white. On special occasions I may be lucky enough to head to Nagoya and hit up the foreign food store, or to pass by a Brazilian store, but neither of those options are easily accessible so they're rare. As I came over here with a 20kg limit to my suitcase and will have the same limit when I eventually return home, I've had to forgo cookbooks in favour of the Internet. I find a recipe I like the look of, I then see what ingredients I can get, what I can substitute (it's not just a name, it's a way of life) and what I can forget altogether.

Inside my place, as with many apartments in Japan, space is very much a premium (I prefer to think of my home as 'smaller and more efficient') and as with many apartments in Japan, I lack both counter space, and an oven. It's enough to bring a small tear to an apprentice chef's eye. I've done what I can to make it more workable though.

Here is my kitchen (click to enlarge):

It contains a two burner gas stove top, a sink, a microwave oven, and a refrigerator. It does not contain counter space, the day after I moved in I put that table in there so I'd have somewhere to chop food that didn't involve balancing the board on the corner of the sink.

Until recently my refrigerator was a sad old green thing. It was missing a shelf so the person who lived here before me moved the only remaining shelf to cover the produce drawer, in order to have somewhere to pile the food (and it did end up being a squished pile of anything we could cram in). I couldn't prepare anything that might need space in the fridge because there was none, and the freezer was at the top not the bottom, so I had to crouch to the floor to get into it (a habit I hated and that never quite struck me as sanitary having the food so close to the lino). But last week - after two years of making do and the single remaining shelf beginning to crack - my BOE bought me the shiny new grey one you see in the picture.

It has the fridge at the top. It has a pull out freezer. It has two shelves. With a fridge like that I can do anything.

With a fridge like that I can take on the culinary world!

So there you have it. Just me with half a kitchen and a crazy idea to do what generations before me did without thinking twice about; be totally responsible for preparing (rather than simply acquiring/assembling) my own food.

The Substitute Chef: No oven, no counters, no ingredients, and no real clue. No problem.

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