I don’t have a television might seem like the vainglorious boast of a pedantic bookworm. I confess it was twenty years ago. Today, however, this detail about the choices I’ve made does not say very much, considering all the time I spend on the internet.
Apparently, television has gotten better since I was a kid watching stupid sitcoms in the 80s and 90s. But what hasn’t improved are cooking tools – something I’m reminded of while cooking for myself under quarantine every day for over two months now. Yes, cast iron is heavy. But, impractical? That is a question of perspective. Insipid food is much more of a nuisance to me than having to dry and oil iron on the flame. I can’t imagine cooking without them. Actually, my ironware makes cooking well easier, since there are some methods and details of flavors I simply cannot reach without them—especially my staple of beans.
I do have one piece of Teflon, but quarantine has revealed that I don’t even need it, just as it has made me review many things in my life. Things that will soon be discarded, leaving me freer.
Thankfully, I had already done enough homework years ago that most of what needs to be shed is not in my kitchen, which follows a minimalist, ecological and health logic whereby there are just a few items of ceramic, stainless steel and glass. There is not much plastic to be found and no paper. Neither is there a microwave or a dishwasher. After the irritating realization that toasters were obviously manufactured to be disposable, I saw my own stupidity: I have an iron comal. Like many chefs, I pitched the food processor when I realized it was more work than it was worth. I can cut most anything the way I want with a knife and I have my molcajete to smash and smooth the way that I cannot with one of the only modernities in my kitchen: a simple, glass blender.
I confess I surrendered to Kindle some years ago, but it was a natural reflex to review my bookshelf and return to paper for the quarantine. A month before the pandemic, however, a good friend tired of me not being able to participate in conversation about all the insightful documentaries and movies produced for television; he grabbed my phone, gracefully installing and ceding his streaming app. I did catch up on some films I had wanted to see. The first was Roma. Many might be shocked to discover that the documentary I’d chosen to see was The Last Dance, the story of Michael Jordan.
Almost a thirty-year habit of literary and not visual entertainment is hard to break, but I have an even heftier one that already occupies more time than it should. Between the cast iron, my baking stone, and the molcajete, the kitchen will unfortunately always be the heaviest part of my world, but the old-school choices have proven to be some of the most rewarding during this period of isolation, whether lightly roasting seeds for a salad, toasting spices before crushing them into a masala, grilling vegetables, or slowly melting them into soups.
Besides, there is no choice: cooking is the work that must be done before I can dedicate the luxury of free time to read, write, or watch anything. It might as well bring us back to our roots: