To Induct or Not to Induct – 18 Years of Cooktops

You would not believe the variety of kitchens I have used in the last 18 years.  I have lived in 8 different homes in 5 different countries since 1990 and have been exposed to a catalog of kitchen styles and appliances.

The first kitchen I had was when I moved to Paris and rented a tiny apartment in the 18th arrondissement while I attended Le Cordon Bleu Ecole de Cuisine. The kitchen was more of a kitchenette and had a dormitory-sized refrigerator and a hotplate as a cooktop, which I rarely used.  To be honest, I was so tired of cooking and tasting all day at school, that by the time I came home the last thing I felt like doing was cooking more food. Besides, if a meal was to be had, there were too many restaurants to explore in the city, and I was on a mission to try as many as possible.  

My first house in Geneva had another tiny kitchen.  It was the size of a closet and had a galley of efficiency appliances with a postage stamp-sized work surface along one wall.  There was just enough space left for a tiny bistro table and 2 café chairs, where I would eat with my boyfriend.  Despite the size, I adjusted and found the efficiency refreshing.  I could literally stand in one place, pivoting left and right, and everything was at my fingertips.  I entertained regularly out of that kitchen and even catered a few dinner parties, while borrowing surface space from the living room around the corner as necessary.  It worked, but I suspect it would be difficult to go back to at this time.

There were several other homes along the way, while I lived for 8 more years in the Geneva countryside before moving to England for 3 years.  Most of our homes were at least 100 years old with lots of character, yet blessed with modern kitchen conveniences and European appliances.  We rented a few, so accepted the varying styles and finishes that came with the rent, and for those we purchased, we tweaked to our taste and learned to use a whole new set of appliances.  
Our biggest coup was when we purchased a renovated barn south of London in 1999.  With the barn we acquired a large rambling country kitchen with a coveted Aga oven.  What a beauty.  It was a cast iron, cobalt-blue enameled fixture the size of a Mini Cooper.  It took up the entire north wall of our kitchen and was truly the heart of the home.  It was always on, emitting warmth (very useful in drafty homes in the English countryside) and the cats and children would curl up in front of it on a cold wintry day.  The kitchen also came equipped with an AEG gas cooktop and convection oven range.  When we first moved in, I was relieved to see the range and assumed I would frequently use it in place of the enigmatic Aga.  Wrong.  I never used the range – not even once in the 2 years we were there. 
 The Aga had 4 ovens with specific temperatures that did not fluctuate.  One was for warming, one for baking and one for roasting.  There were 2 cast iron cooking plates on the top that also did not fluctuate.  One was high temperature (boiling) and the other was medium-low (simmering.)  There was also a warming plate you could place a pot on once removed from the cooking elements.  I quickly learned to manipulate my pots and pans over these surfaces and in the ovens, and the results were phenomenal.  Nothing was impossible – I could even toast bread on the Aga.  Food that came from the ovens seemed to have more flavor.  This was slow cooking at its best.  In fact, our neighbors told us that they would put their Christmas turkey in the warming oven of their Aga the night before eating (this is not a recommendation, but they swore by it!)  According to them, after 24 hours the turkey was finished, succulent and delicious.  The only quibble I can think of regarding our Aga is that since the ovens sealed in all the air and exhausted through a chimney outside, I could not smell my food cooking.  This made me appreciate how much I use my sense of smell to judge when something is done.  (No, I have never developed the habit of using an oven timer.)

When we moved from England to Denmark, our 130 year-old home outside of Copenhagen had a lovely restored kitchen with a minimalist Danish style.  The cooktop was induction.  This was a new one for me, and, at first, I was very dubious, especially since I was still on my Aga-high.  As I got used to this new slick, clean cooking element I was very pleasantly surprised.  It was fast, consistent and, as mentioned, very clean.  I was worried I would have to replace my pots and pans, since induction requires a ferrous metal, such as iron or steel, as a component in the cooking pans to react to the magnetic field, so they will heat.  I was relieved to find that most of my pots and pans already had this. As the heat is inducted in the pan, it’s the pan that becomes the cooking element, so the cooktop surface never becomes too hot, which I appreciated with small children in the kitchen.  And, believe it or not, I found it at times faster and more controllable than gas, as the organic aspect of the gas flame is less predictable.  I loved it.

So, fast forward to our present home in Northern California, where we inherited a 6-burner commercial grade gas cooktop.  Before Denmark, I would have been ecstatic about this.  However, if I had my choice now, I would opt for induction.  Yet, I see none in all the spiffy renovated kitchens I visit.  My question is: Why hasn’t induction caught on here yet?  Does anyone know?

Tea and Pudding

I miss the English language.

In 1999, we moved to London from Geneva due to a corporate relocation. After 9 years in Switzerland, this was a new development in our family saga. Among the mixed emotions, one standout was a relief to live again in an English speaking culture. We could move right in and mix with the locals! We could live anywhere, not dependent on an international community or school to settle in. If we didn’t want to pay a hugely-exorbitant property price in London, we could pay a moderately-exorbitant property price in the countryside. We could move to a charming provincial English village in the hills or downs, find a crumbling stone property or a creaky half-timbered cottage and fit right in. After all, we were fluent in the local language – we only missed a sturdy pair of wellies.

I should have known better. I had plenty of British expat friends back in Geneva. Perhaps I hadn’t paid attention, or perhaps in the expat world, you have your own expat culture and dialect; everyone ends up speaking affected versions of the international language of English, adapted and tweaked to mingle with the myriad mother tongues and language abilities encountered in an enormous international community.

Whatever the case, upon arrival in London and following a brief rental experience in Surrey, we moved to that aforementioned tiny provincial village where we purchased a rambling, L-shaped, feng-shui-challenged barn renovation near the south coast with distant views to the Isle of Wight. Suddenly, I found myself in the thick of all things English and thoroughly in the dark.

While I can write volumes about our bumbling and surprisingly foreign experience settling into U.K. life, I will remain on the topic of language. After all, that was one of the perks of this move for us, and the excuse we used to propel ourselves to a remote corner of Southeast England in our well-intentioned quest to live like a local.

So please reflect upon these images:

Here is a picture of Tea.                 And here is a picture of Tea.
May_08_tea_002_4 May_08_tea_006_3







Explanation: If your child is invited home by a classmate for Tea one day, rest assured your precious 4 year-old will not be served a scalding cup of Earl Grey.  Most likely, he will be supplied with an early supper served to children; beans on toast is a favorite.

Here is a picture of Pudding.         And here is a picture of Pudding.

Chocolate Mousse Brownies







Explanation: If you are invited to a neighbour’s home for dinner and asked to bring a pudding, don’t despair if you are unsure as to whether you can recreate your mother’s Butterscotch Pudding recipe from your childhood. Pudding is a synonym for dessert, so feel free to live on the wild side and whip up a cake or trifle.

Now you have an idea of the linguistic hurdles I faced.  However, with time, and in my eternal pursuit of going native and not blatantly sticking out like the Yankee that I am, I slowly caught on to the English language.  My vocabulary shifted.  I embraced words such as whilst and hence.  I quickly learnt to refer to the car boot and clothing articles such as knickers, jumpers, and trainers.  More importantly, I learnt to never, ever, compliment someone on their pants (blush) – for they are trousers.  My written word adjusted to include u’s and t’s (neighbour, favourite, learnt, burnt.) The letter “z” became “zed” and was often substituted with an “s” as in finalise and realise.  Ever, ever so civilised.

Years later, when we would move on from England to Denmark, and I was straddling the Danish and international communities, British-English remained the English language.  I miss it now and still use it in my writing.  Unfortunately, my very-American computer program is none too pleased, and my text is littered with red lines.