Just when the "Third Places" urban panning concept became the norm the whole world broke. The fantastic little coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and public squares where people meet to exchange ideas, have a good time, and solidify relationships shut down. All the people packed up their backpacks and man bags and retreated home to their first places.
That was a year ago.
At first it was nice, right? Soft clothes, relaxed grooming habits and timelines, no commutes, more time with the family, pets, and houseplants was all right. With exception of the virtual school part that many of you have endured, there wasn't much to complain about in those first months, especially for us introverts.
Don't get me wrong-- my home is very, very nice. But as they say, familiarity breeds contempt. After 12 months of being trapped in it, there's a growing sense of malaise with my first space. So, I say to myself, what am I going to do about it? Whining isn't helping, sister, so get off your tuckus and figure this one out. It is novelty you're missing, I tell myself. If I look around, I might find some variety right here at home without spending any of the dimes that are lost under my sofa cushions.
Here are five no and low-cost ways to inject novelty into our home spaces right now.
Go through your cupboards and pantry and find all the fancy foodstuff you've been hoarding. That jar of homemade fig jam the neighbor gave you, the cute jar of honey with the chunk of honeycomb in it, and the fancy package of crackers? What are you waiting for? Get a nice cheese and give yourself an special little appetizer experience this weekend. That expensive box of Maldon salt hidden on the back of the shelf? Pour some into a pinch bowl and keep it out to fancify your finished dishes. Now is the time to drink the good wine and use the truffle oil, even if it's just on mac and cheese or frozen French fries.
Do the same thing with bath products you've squirreled away. Glitz up your day-to-day routine by digging out these bougie things you've been saving. If a worldwide pandemic isn't a special occasion, I don't know what is. Smell nice. Use a new soap or soak and call it a fake-ation spa experience.
Switch up your bedding. Rustle through your linen closet for stashed sheets, comforters, blankets, and bedspreads and exchange them for your day-to-day ones. What is old is new again. Go crazy mixing patterns and colors. Making things different is what this is all about. For that matter, why not sleep in the guest room for a week, just to shake up the routine? Almost anything divergent is helpful about now. It's only a temporary commitment meant to lift your spirits and see things anew.
Do the spiff-and-swap throughout your space. Channel your inner Leanne Ford and snip some branches from your yard and put them on your table in the biggest jar you can find. If you've got your grandma's china or an unused set of dishes or top-shelf glassware, use them now. Would it make your space more alive to paint those shelves bright blue like you've always wanted? Channel your inner Rayman Boozer and do it. I recently swapped the art pieces around in our house, an easy ennui-busting solution with the cheer-rising effect I'd hoped for.
Now that you've lifted your first space from the doldrums, what is the one aspirational thing you'd like to incorporate into your cooking cred, something that challenges your skills? Clear the deck this weekend, make a shopping list, and get ready to blow your own mind. How about adding the perfect European café steak-frites to your repertoire? Learn to sous vide a steak-- Lana at Lana Under Pressure is a great teacher. I do not typically make fried foods at home, so I also challenged myself to make perfect hand-cut French fries to replace the baked ones I usually do, and I can't wait to do this for friends once we become vaccine-worthy. It was fun, and gave me a new skill.
1. Slicing and soaking; 2. Drying; 3. After the first fry cycle; 4. The finishing frying cycle; 5. Viola! Perfection!
Scrub and peel the potatoes. To cut them into perfect French fries, square them up by trimming of the top, bottom and four sides of the potato to start with a block. Then, slice the potatoes into approximate 1/3 inch (less than 1/2 centimeter) slabs, and then cut the slabs into approximate 1/3 inch strips.
Place the cut potatoes into a large bowl of cold water. Leave for 15 minutes. This removes excess starch from the potatoes that would cause them to stick together when cooked, and helps them be extra crispy.
While the potatoes are soaking, pour the oil into a deep pot, at least 5 inches deep. Begin to heat the oil on medium heat.
After 15 minutes, drain and thoroughly rinse the potatoes. Lay them out in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel. Dab them dry with another clean towel to remove all water from all sides of the cut potatoes.
Raise the heat under the pot to medium high. Bring the canola or peanut oil to 270°F (130°C) when measured with an instant-read thermometer.
First fry: Working in batches, place the dried cut potatoes into the hot oil. You may use a fry basket or mesh strainer to lower them into the oil, and to remove them from the oil. Blanch them for 8 minutes. They will look pale and flabby. That's OK! Lay them out on a baking sheet to cool, separating them with tongs.
Second fry: Raise the oil to 350°F (180°C.) Mind your temperature. When the oil is at temperature (use your instant-read thermometer again) place some of the blanched potatoes into the hot oil, being sure not to overcrowd them. You'll be doing this step in batches unless you're only cooking a few potatoes. Cook the potatoes until they are a nice medium-golden color, or to your liking.
Remove the potatoes with a strainer (or fry basket if you're using one) and put them into a large bowl.
Toss with a generous amount of your favorite salt, and serve while hot with excellent ketchup.
Make It Your Own:Add pepper, red chili flakes or paprika, garlic powder, or minced rosemary to the salt, or any combination of them to suit your tastes.Sprinkle with truffle oil. If you do this, be sure to stand over it and inhale the beautiful scent that will waft up when the oil hits the hot French fries. Tip:Mind your temperature along the way. If you're using a heavy pot as you should be, the temperature will want to climb and drop. You'll likely need to continuously keep an eye and make adjustments throughout the process. This is a hands-on, eyes-on process. To stay focused, don't attempt to multi-task!
You’re in the right place! I’m Pam Spettel, home cooking expert and guide, and I’m here to show you how to break up with cooking and hospitality anxiety, learn how to use recipes as guides rather than strict rules, and let your cooking intuition and confidence soar.
Superpower: Dreaming up recipes that work, serving them to my friends and family, and writing little stories about how cooking them well is the same as loving well.
Inspiration: Ingredients! The fresh, colorful, fragrant, local, seasonal ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest are my creative medium.
Heroes: Local food and wine producers– the people who keep me, my family, and our community nourished and happy.