As part of our yearlong European adventure, Tony and I always planned to do a fair bit of cooking. It’s too expensive (and fattening) to eat out three meals a day. But we didn’t plan for an extensive quarantine in which we have to prepare all food at home-away-from-home.
The lockdown in Spain is, for now, more rigorous than in those US locations that have imposed stay-at-home rules. All restaurants and cafes are closed, although they may be willing to deliver food. For us, in an unfamiliar town, this means preparing all our meals.
Everyone under lockdown is looking for activities to amuse. For me, figuring out the food thing is a fun puzzle. Luckily, I enjoy cooking and am reasonably competent at it. However, I’m accustomed to a very well equipped American kitchen: large, modern, lots of counter space and electric outlets. Making do with the tools and space available is the greatest challenge.
Tools and staples
A few days before quarantine began on 15-March, we decided to hunker down in Spain. At that time, we were in southwestern France, and quarantine had not yet been announced. We spent a day thinking about where we wanted to go and characteristics of places we could rent. So it’s no surprise that we landed in an apartment with a decent kitchen, in a town with good food options. But a decent kitchen isn’t a great kitchen!
Our apartment kitchen is supplied with:
- Tiny refrigerator
- 3-burner induction stove
- 3 pots (none huge), 2 frypans
- 2 cutting boards
- Grater, two colanders, a strainer. Potato ricer! Citrus juicer.
- The usual collection of spoons and spatulas; knives that are actually pretty sharp
- Electric kettle, toaster, espresso machine (uses pods, boo)
Our apartment kitchen does not contain:
- real oven (see photo below for what we have, which does work)
- stock pot
- mixer, blender, or food processor of any sort beyond a knife
None of these lacks is a dealbreaker. I’d like a real oven. I’d really like a big pot. This countertop oven actually works; we used it to bake a pizza-like thing.
We always travel with a french press coffee maker, a knife, a corkscrew, and an insulated lunch bag. We usually carry a small cutting board but it seems to have gone missing. I also brought our sous vide device, but it doesn’t work on European voltage. I hope I didn’t kill it during our quick test! Quick tip: Sous vide is a great technique in a poorly equipped kitchen.
Shopping for ingredients
The supermarket is a few minutes away by car, or 20 minutes on foot. The walk is nice, but I’m too spoiled to enjoy walking with groceries. The supermarket, tiny by American standards, has good produce and more or less everything else you’d expect (including toilet paper). The produce is as good or better than we could get at a supermarket in CA or OR. There are plenty of choices, but usually only one kind of each thing, for example one variety of eggplant or lettuce. Under normal circumstances I’d get most produce at the farmer’s market.
The frozen food section is far smaller than I expected. There are very few prepared frozen foods, some varieties of frozen seafood (including cleaned calamari!), one kind of ice cream bars. The cheese section is similarly tiny, and that surprised me as, you know, cheese. Spain. And no meat section at all, beyond what’s in the frozen case. Huh.
Our second shopping trip was two days after the first (tiny refrigerator). That day we discovered the butcher shop next door. Aha! This is a wonder: lovely meat, excellent charcuterie including 17 varieties of jamón ibérico, and a good selection of cheese. The wall opposite the display case is filled with fun pastas, sauces, saffron, … the little luxuries I so love.
We’ve located a bakery and cheese shop next door to the butcher, and a fishmonger beyond that. We haven’t figured out when they’re open. It’s only been a week!
Breakfast is almost always yogurt with some granola. Sometimes we fix oatmeal but we can’t find steel cut so it’s not the same.
For lunch we have leftovers, or tuna sandwiches/salad. Or a ploughman’s lunch (cheese, crackers, charcuterie). Tony finally found some peanut butter, which made him happy.
We eat dinner shockingly early for Spain: usually before 8p. (Restaurants in Barcelona often don’t open until 9p.) I’ve cooked:
- Omelet with leftover ratatouille
- Pan roasted calamari with chorizo (this was delicious)
- Pan seared fish
- Chicken “osso bucco”
- Rice with a bunch of leftover vegetables
- Pasta with pesto
Successes and challenges
I don’t mind going shopping every other day. I wish I could make stock, but canned stock from the supermarket is OK. I use the oven a lot at home, for roasting vegetables and finishing meat after pan searing. But sauteed vegetables are good too, and just turning the pan down after searing is fine.
I’ve been planning to replace my stove/oven at home when we return. I was considering induction but a bit of experience has convinced me to stick with gas, despite the energy efficiency of induction. I don’t abhor induction, but I don’t love it either.
I’m most pleased by the reduction in food waste. I know it’s only been a week, but we’ve thrown out one pear and a few tomatoes (which we acquired in France a while ago). It’s so easy, with our huge refrigerators and pantries, to lose track of what food we have.
I’m glad there are more successes than failures, as we’ll be at this for at least 2-6 weeks more. I’m looking forward to trying more Spanish cooking, especially as spring progresses. I’m going to use the potato ricer at least once.
I hope you readers are finding something useful to entertain yourself with during long days at home, and are enjoying delicious things to eat at home. Take good care of yourselves, and each other.