There is a battle royale being waged for my waistline. I live on a sixth floor walk up, so every day I walk up and down, up and down, until I think I’d cry if I see just one more step in my life. But I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now, all the up and downing, so I think I must be getting in shape. And then I come home and I make things like potatoes with cheese sauce, thereby undoing all the good work I’ve done.
After a long day of translating, I walk up my six flights of stairs and into the apartment I’m calling home. It’s easy to step inside and hang a quick right to the kitchen, turn on the stove, and throw some olive oil in a pot, since everything I cook seems to start that way. I turn on the light, there’s only one small light in the kitchen and the large, orange shade around it keeps the ambiance dim. Which is alright, I guess, since it gives my neighbors in the building across the way less of a reason to look in my window. Although I know their lives well, by now, so I’m sure they know mine too. And yet it feels a little Hitchcock to do too much looking – besides, living in New York cured me of all my voyeurism anyway.
The kitchen is a small space, not even the most economical. The stove is wedged between the broken washing machine and the shower and across the countertops are splayed half-full boxes of tea bags, postcards, a potted plant, stacks of books, cutting boards, empty cardboard packages, jars of honey and nutella, small stacks of coins, receipts, ticket stubs, and a plastic placemat with a picture of a palm tree. But it’s a comfortable kitchen. And I like it here.
I slice potatoes with one of the kitchen’s two knives – a bread knife and a paring knife. I won’t lie and say I don’t miss my chef’s knife – I do – but these are sharp and haven’t left me cold just yet. I chop onions and sauté them in the olive oil. I think this is usually also how my recipes proceed.
The potatoes sizzle as they hit the oil and by now there is the wonderful smell of cooking onions which fills up the small kitchen. I add chopped red pepper and garlic, a few pieces of basil torn from the dying basil plant on the windowsill, salt, pepper.
But my great experiment of the night is this: cheese sauce. My dear Sylvia, she’d cooked me dinner, done my laundry, told me stories, and sent me home hands full of chocolates and cheese.
I’d never made a cheese sauce, but I figured that all good things in one pot on low heat would turn out alright. Butter and Luzerner rahmkäse melting into cream. If I’d thought of it then, I would have added just a splash of the Bayreuther organic hefeweissen I was drinking. Even without, the sauce was decadent, drizzled over my Eintopf of potatoes, pepper, and onion. I whipped up a quick salad of tomatoes, avocado, onion with rice wine vinegar, and olive oil and after I had eaten dinner, realized I’d have to run a few more errands up and down and up and down those stairs to atone for the cheese sauce sin. But it was so good.