By far, my favorite room in my tiny apartment is my kitchen. I’ve been slightly obsessed with it even before I arrived, because Mr. Mostafa put in a convection oven.
A convection oven!
Now, to be fair, I only started lusting after a convection oven a little over a year ago. And to be honest, although I had read the phrase in cookbooks now and again, I didn’t even really know what a convection oven was until I went to France. Not because I did something amazing in France like go to pastry school (a girl can dream, right?), but because when I visited France with my mommy, I tasted the holy grail of baked sweets, the pinnacle of convection oven confection perfection: the macaron.
This beautiful, perfect dainty should not be mistaken for the coconut macaroon, a common confusion that led me astray because I hate that boring, forgettable cookie. However, one could never forget the macaron. One cannot even really give it the comforting but somehow insufficient larger title of “cookie.” It’s in a class by itself. And in France, they’re everywhere. One morning, I ventured into the coffee shop in the lobby of the hotel in Paris where we were staying, in search of a sweet coffee drink for my morning caffeine fix. Behind the bar, there was literally a wall of macarons, in every color you can imagine. Dazzled, I heard the words of Lumiere the candelabra in the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast: “After all, miss, this is France!” Seriously, dude. “I’m in France,” I thought. “I can’t imagine that the French would associate with a boring cookie. There has to be something I’m missing here, and I’m going to find out.” And with that, I ordered two macarons: a raspberry and a vanilla.
With my first bite, I was in love. I bought macarons in every place I found them; in coffee shops, in grocery stores, and at the place that any true macaron lover must make a pilgrimage to at some time or another: Laduree. And as the plane that would carry us away from Paris backed out of the gate, my mom and I feverishly consumed macarons purchased at the Laduree kiosk in the airport.
As soon as I left France, learning to make my own macarons became something of an obsession. I read about them, and I found that they are extremely difficult to create (as, I would think, anything worth making is). According to pretty much everyone who has written about the topic, even with all the correct tools, getting the procedure perfected enough to create a macaron that even begins to approach Laduree quality is a struggle.
I would guess that this is true. When Saleh and I were in Washington, D.C. this summer, I insisted that we go looking for macarons; they’re becoming somewhat trendy, the way cupcakes have been in recent years, and I predict that macarons will become the Next Big Baked Good. And even if they don’t, I’m going to guess that it’s only because they’re so darn difficult to make. We ended up at The Sweet Lobby, which won the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars competition. Their cupcakes were outstanding. Their macarons were just sufficient to make me recall the perfection of Laduree’s, and thus make me depressed because I wasn’t in Paris. So if that’s all that one of the best bakeries in D.C. can turn out, how did I stand a chance in my own kitchen?
Well, one thing is for certain: I didn’t stand a chance in my own kitchen without a convection oven. But now I have one. So I have no excuse not to try to make my own macarons. But luckily for me, there is a branch of Laduree right here in Riyadh. So maybe I can’t drive here, but I can call my husband and order him to bring home a box of the world’s best macarons. It’s currently a very small consolation, but will probably seem a much larger one the first time I actually attempt to make my own macarons and end up crying in the middle of the disaster.
My kitchen is teeny-tiny, but that’s okay. It works for just the two of us. Sure, I hope to someday have a dream kitchen, huge, full of sunlight. And that’s pretty much the opposite of my kitchen now (which makes taking pictures in it quite tricky). But still, I’m so happy with this little cooking space. Especially since Mr. Mostafa designed and helped build the whole thing. There was no kitchen at all in this little space when he started; no plumbing, no electrical outlets. In fact, I remember that when he was first putting the apartment together, he sent me a picture of the bare bones walls that had been put up, and he said, “You see that hole next to the bathroom? That will be the kitchen.”
And truly, it’s a lovely kitchen.
I love the little refrigerator. I was a bit skeptical about it when I first saw it, but as it turns out…when it’s just two people, you don’t really need a big refrigerator! Who’d have thought it!
I love the little two-burner stove. We agreed that we only need two burners for now, because one, there’s definitely a premium on counter space in this kitchen, and two, who actually uses more than two burners most of the time? Especially, again, when there are only two people living in the apartment?
I love the shelves, the sticky hooks on the wall that I brought from China (I bought them just because they were cute; who knew they would fit so perfectly and be so helpful in my Saudi kitchen?), my aprons.
I love my toaster, and my electric kettle that I use to make tea every morning. I love my fried egg clock. And see the round thing with a handle that hangs on the green sticky hook on the wall (along with my beloved KitchenAid kitchen shears)? That’s a nifty little device that you put between a pot of rice and the stove, so your rice doesn’t burn. As you can see by the scruffy condition it’s in, it’s already had a pretty rough life in the two months since I’ve had it. But it keeps on doing its job. I salute it!
I love the little LG combination washer/dryer (which I was fascinated by when I first got here–a washer and dryer in the same machine? What wonder is this?).
I love my shelves, which Mr. Mostafa installed on his own. I love my simple green Pier 1 canisters, which came all the way around the world to make it to this little kitchen.
I love the little spice organizing system I’ve devised, which lives in the adorable abou riyalin-sourced blue bow-handled drawers on top of our washer/dryer.
I love this particularly brilliant design idea that Saleh came up with. See, there really isn’t counter space for a dish strainer, and of course, we don’t have a dishwasher. So he decided to install dish racks as shelves in the cupboard above the sink, so that the newly washed dishes drip right into the sink as they dry.
And I love my oven. Oh, how I love my oven.
I love everything about my kitchen. I love every pie, cupcake, and disastrous kabsa that I’ve created in it so far. And maybe, just maybe, someday soon, it will produce macarons.