Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I drink instant coffee now.

Out beyond ideas of good kitchens and bad kitchens, there is the yurt kitchen. I will meet you there.

Apologies to Rumi.

The kitchen in the morning. The window overlooks our garden, a field, and the neighbor's kiwi orchard.
Our kitchen is simpler than it's ever been. I'm constantly paring it down, continually letting go of wanting it to be like my old apartment kitchen. Storage consists of a cupboard for food, two small shelves for dishes, and four stacked plastic bins. The bins contain, respectively, tea, spices, office supplies, and miscellaneous items I can't quite toss like old nori and cake frosting. We cook on a single-burner hot plate to save space. The water source is outside, on the other side of the yurt from the kitchen.

I've learned the hard way that our food must be protected from both mice and extreme temperatures. The yurt becomes an oven when the days are above, say, 75 degrees, which is a common occurrence in Ojai. I know it's hot outside when the chocolate has to be kept in the refrigerator. Oil is a challenge, because refrigerating it makes it congeal of course, but keeping it out makes it rancid.

I swooped into the yurt thinking I could continue to cook everything the fancy way. I'm horrible at keeping it simple in the kitchen. Simple equals boring. Or more honestly, simple means I can't follow the guidance of recipes; I have to trust my own instincts. Normally, I even complicate oatmeal, using no less than three pots (one for toasting the oats in butter, one for the actual porridge, and another pot for a stewed fruit topping).  Now I sometimes pour instant oats into a bowl, followed by hot water. And I'm not complaining. It's a relief to learn I can feed myself so simply, without devoting the entire morning to oats.

This morning, I ate a bowl of granola with fresh papaya and maple cream-top yogurt. I only needed a spoon, a bowl, and a cup for my coffee. And it was sinfully, sensually, decadently delicious.

Coffee--there's another area where it's been easier just to let go of all pretension. No more fresh-grinding organic, fair-trade beans and then putting them in the french press. That's too much precious space wasted, too much to wash. Our dishwashing practices deserve their own full post later. I hope you won't judge me, but I'm drinking instant coffee this morning. I console myself with the thought that this is rancher/cowboy style coffee. Cowboys have to start work on the ranch; they have no time for grinding beans...then my coconut milk creamer reminds me who I really am.

Airag, the drink of choice in Mongolia. It is fermented mare's milk. (from Travel + Leisure)
The kitchen is what it is. It simultaneously frees me and limits me. I modify my habits accordingly and take the good with the bad. My friend Uschi tells me about her kitchen on India, where she cooks over a stove that looks like a camping stove, and sits on the floor to do it. I'm pretty sure I'm not exaggerating. If she can do that, I can do this.

I want to find out about cooking in Mongolian yurts. So far, I've learned that yurt roofs are a great place for aging cheese. And Mongolians love to drink airag, a vodka-like substance made from fermented mare's milk. Traditionally, the person who gets the last sip from the shared bowl tosses a few drops into the air to bring good luck to the yurt.

On that note, tulgatsgaaya! Cheers, in Mongolian.

Ben's cowboy hats hanging next to the door somehow lend an air of authenticity to the place.


  1. lol'ed at your quote. your oatmeal regime makes me tired. but also makes me eye my simple bowl with disdain. STEWED FRUIT TOPPINGS?! get out of here. i can barely be bothered to throw in some raisins.

  2. haha come over here and i will make you some real oatmeal