Sunday, October 23, 2011

Boiling Water

When moving to a new home, particularly one in a different country, it always takes a little time to settle in. For me, at least, it seems especially awkward to cook in a new kitchen. We always end up ordering or going out for dinner for the first several days. Eventually, I do some grocery shopping and start the process of learning to cook in my new kitchen. The first few meals are easy ones, tried and true, difficult to get wrong, yet they always seem to yield less than stellar results all the same.

My first meal in my new kitchen (other than toasted bagels with peanut butter for breakfast) was chicken, rice, and green beans. At least it was supposed to be rice. I couldn’t find the instructions for the rice cooker that was included in our welcome kit, and I’ve never used one before, so I didn’t quite do it right. I put in too much rice, so when it swelled as it cooked, it overflowed a bit. And it didn’t all cook before I realized I had to take it out in order to avoid an explosion of rice all over my counter top and floor. And it was taking forever and a day anyway, so the baked chicken and canned green beans were getting cold. So we ended up with easy mac’n’cheese instead—the kind that cooks in the microwave.

My second dinner in my new kitchen was spaghetti, salad, and toasted French bread. First compromise: untoasted French bread, because the bread slices were small enough that I feared they’d get lost in the toaster and I really didn’t want to fire up the gas oven just to toast the bread. No problem; it was good untoasted. Salad was no problem—I used vegetable wash and the big knife from the welcome kit to clean and chop the fresh veggies, then threw them into a bowl. The spaghetti … it was supposed to be easy. I mean, really, what’s difficult about spaghetti? You boil some water, throw some noodles in it, brown some meat, drain the meat, add a jar of commercial spaghetti sauce, heat it up, drain the noodles, and combine everything. No problem, right? Easy peasy, even on a gas range (I’ve never used a gas range before, and the prospect of open flames on my stove still makes me nervous).

The problem came in the first step. You know the saying “She’s such a lousy cook she can’t even boil water”? I always thought that was such an extreme exaggeration that it didn’t actually apply to anyone. Until now. Because apparently it applies to me.

I took out the big welcome kit pot and filled it with water from the distiller. I placed it on the burner. I fiddled with the controls until I figured out how to make the burner start generating heat. The flames made me nervous, so I left the heat on medium, assuming that the water would just take a little longer to boil. Meanwhile I started browning the meat. When the meat was all brown and the water wasn’t even simmering, I turned the heat up to medium high. I added the sauce to the meat and kept stirring it so it wouldn’t stick. Twenty minutes later I turned the heat under the meat sauce off so it wouldn’t burn or stick too badly. The water had a few tiny bubbles forming around the edges, but no real sign of an impending boil. I turned the heat up again.

Twenty minutes after that, the water looked the same. I checked the burner—it was on high, and the flames underneath it matched that description. Jeff came in, following Alexa, who was toddling in to point at the refrigerator, her way of saying "I'm hungry; give me some food." I gave Alexa a piece of bread and told Jeff what was happening. He fiddled with the controls. He announced that the pot was cheap and was radiating heat in all directions, not just concentrating it inside like it should. We turned off the air conditioner in the kitchen, which blows the cold air directly onto the range. We waited. The water sort of simmered. Not really.

Jeff moved the pot to a different burner, after getting the new flames going nice and hot. The water seemed to heat a little more. Not much. We got tired of waiting. We put the noodles into the water anyway, assuming they would cook, just more slowly than they would if the water was boiling. We gave Alexa another piece of bread. The water started boiling. Jeff announced that the cheap pot probably didn’t have enough thermal mass to contain enough heat to boil the water on its own; the addition of the noodles gave it enough substance to heat the water. Eight minutes later, our spaghetti noodles were ready.

Total time elapsed … it think it was a little over an hour. To boil a not-very-big pot of water. *Sigh.*

On the bright side, our air freight—which has my good, heavy pots and pans—is in the country. We’re hoping it will clear customs within the next couple of weeks and will be at our house by the end of the month. Maybe then I’ll be able to boil water again.


  1. I am so sorry...

    Dumb question, but did you add salt to the water? Even with a bad pan it shouldn't take too long if you do. Heat on high from the start though ;-) We have a gas stove now too and I love it. But I grew up with one at one of my houses and couldn't wait to have one for myself. It has taken some getting used to though lol.

  2. I didn't add salt--probably I should have! It didn't occur to me because I rarely add salt to anything; half the time I don't even use all the salt a recipe calls for. If I have to boil water again before my good pots get here, I'll definitely try it!


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