On Moving and My Kitchen

Over 6 months after my last post, and just over a year since I started this blog, I find myself on a new continent halfway across the world. No better time than now, while I am not working and have absolutely no obligations, to revive this blog and start chronicling my new life here in Africa.

Long story short: in autumn of last year, due to both work and personal reasons, my husband and I decided to call it quits in NYC, pack up our lives, and move to his hometown of Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Johannesburg?? South Africa??? But aren’t there lions roaming the streets and giraffes sticking their heads through your second story window? Sadly, no, my friends (wink). To those who have visited this country or have read up on it, you know that Joburg is a large city, with lots of highways, malls (so many malls), and plenty of restaurants and modern amenities.
It is not a wild world of grasslands and animals, like a scene out of ‘The Lion King”. There are cars and paved roads, and the only “wild” animals you’ll really be able to see up close are at the Lion Park, where you can pet lion cubs and have your own “safari” as you drive through zebras and impalas and past lions dozing in the afternoon sun.

(I hope to do a separate post on South Africa, the preconceived notions of this country, and how it is adjusting to life here after being born and raised in the US.)

It’s been a smooth transition over here. My husband has a large family in Joburg and everyone has been nothing short of welcoming and supportive. We immediately had a place to live in a cottage just off of his mother’s house; it was furnished and stocked with plates, silverware, pots and pans and cooking utensils generously donated by family members to get us started on our new lives here. We are very, very lucky.

I moved here with whatever could fit into 3 suitcases and a carry-on. I didn’t bother spending the money to ship items over, since it’s exorbitantly expensive, and quite honestly, there was a chance that the package may never arrive (it’s kind of a thing here in South Africa that, depending on the contents of your packages, they may or may not get to their final destinations).
I became cutthroat when culling my closet – bags of clothes that I hadn’t worn in a while, or didn’t really care for anymore, were left in the basement of our apartment building for anyone who wanted to take them. Shoes were carefully evaluated and the ones that pinched or hurt, needed to be reheeled or simply weren’t worn often enough were left behind. I ONLY BROUGHT ONE PAIR OF RUNNING SHOES (which I now deeply regret). But my closet was one of the easier tasks.

My beloved kitchen was one of the hardest places to pack up. For a short while, I had a dream that I would be able to take my Kitchen-Aid mixer. That dream quickly dissolved as I came to my senses and realized how impractical it all was. So I lovingly packed my mixer up in its box, sealed it, and drove it up to my mother’s house for safekeeping, along with my cookbooks and vintage Fireking collection.
I figured, though, that I would at least fit into my luggage the following: a handmixer, my measuring cups and spoons, electronic scale, sieve, whisk, spatulas, spices, and a few other “I need these!” items.
You know what actually made the cut and found a space in my suitcase? The mixer, measuring cups and spoons, scale, and spatulas.

In my frazzled mind (as the clock rapidly counted down the hours I had to completely clean out the apartment and get my luggage together), I assumed that I could quickly and easily get my hands on new versions of the things I left behind. However, I’m over a month into my life here in SA, and I am still without a whisk, a rolling pin, mixing bowls, and a variety of bakeware and ingredients. I am far from ungrateful, though, as my mother-in-law graciously took me shopping right away and I was able to stock the kitchen with butter, sugar, flour, and start the beginnings of a well-stocked pantry. My husband’s aunt, another avid baker, very kindly gifted me with a loaf pan, a small brownie pan, and a couple of muffin tins. (They have pretty much all been put to use already).

What prompted me to write this entry, though, was when I was recapping in my head my experiences thus far baking and cooking in this new kitchen, culminating in making calzones the other night.

I mentioned that I don’t have mixing bowls yet. Instead, I’ve been doing almost all of my mixing (from cookie dough to cake batter to bread dough) in a large, round pink tupperware. When I need more than one bowl? I’ve used large mugs, soup plates, and various pots.

Instead of using a sifter or even a whisk to mix my dry ingredients, I use a fork and just hope that there aren’t large clumps of flour or baking soda floating around. That handmixer that I brought? Well, it’s made for 120V but SA is wired for 240V. The answer is to use the lone step-down transformer that we have, which has already found its place in a corner of the living room to accommodate for the husband’s laptop and game consoles that he brought over. So whenever I have to mix something, I walk across the room, sit on the floor in front of the TV, plug the mixer into the one place that won’t fry the motor, and start mixing whatever needs mixing. The coffee table holds whatever ingredients I may need to add during the mixing process.

Oh, and when I was making calzones and needed to roll out the dough? I found an empty sour cream container and used that. I have also used a small drinking glass (when I made cinnamon rolls), but I have a fear of putting too much pressure on the glass and having it shatter all over the place. This was the point where I realized how comical this all was, and decided to write about it.

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Moving here has certainly humbled me and made me realize that it is completely possible to make delicious things happen in your kitchen without the use of fancy equipment or what some would consider kitchen staples (like a whisk). My New York kitchen had everything I needed when I left, but I didn’t have all of those things when I first moved to the city. My collection grew little by little over 6 years of cooking and baking and browsing the home goods section of Marshall’s and TJ Maxx (don’t knock the stores, guys – some pretty awesome stuff can be found at decent prices if you have the patience to look!).

It’s hard to go back to a bare bones kitchen after getting used to having everything I needed, but I know that little by little, I’ll start building up my kitchen again, and when we move again someday, I’ll have the same debates with myself over what to keep and what to let go.

Check in every once in a while, won’t you, and see how I deal with adapting recipes to new types of ingredients and high altitude baking. I’ve already churned out cookies, cupcakes, gnocchi, bread and focaccia, and a couple of loaf cakes. They weren’t all fantastic, but the challenge of adapting to a new working environment is part of the fun and I am definitely constantly learning.

Oh, and occasionally I may mention the (again, humbling) experience of acclimating to high altitude running. It is tough. Really tough.

Cheers, everyone.

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