Of all the items in my kitchen, the stove was the thing I felt most excited about upon our initial viewing of the apartment. I have always preferred cooking with gas to electric, and with six burners (twice the number of burners on my previous stove!) I felt sure of my ability to create many grand meals.
The first spark of doubt set in when I set out to make tea. Turns out the smallest burner only has one heat: on. Adjusting the knob does nothing. Okay, not a big deal—boiling water really only needs one level of heat.
However, this quickly led to the discovery that all the other burners are similarly lacking in subtlety, having only two levels of flame each, and none of the levels being particularly low. If I am using only one burner, I can adjust the flame lower by closing off the gas bottle*, but this requires near-constant supervision and minute adjustments to make sure that the gas remains low without completely running out.
The oven also has only two options: flames on top or flames on bottom. Flames on top (or the broiler, as I call it in moments of condescension) does a sufficient job of browning things, but since the flames are all concentrated in the center the dish must be moved around regularly to prevent burning. Flames on bottom (the “bake” function) is weak and doesn’t seem to heat the oven up above about 350 degrees, no matter how long it is lit.
These limitations have forced me into a cooking attitude of experimentation, as normal instructions calling for variations in heat just don’t work. Take, for instance, how I now cook rice: I bring the rice and water to a boil over high heat, then cover it and turn the heat down; after a minute the steam builds up and the lid starts rattling; when the lid stops rattling (which depends on the quantity of rice) I turn the heat off and leave the rice to sit covered for 10 minutes. And it turns out perfectly. Another example is the cobbler (see previous two posts), which in a normal oven is supposed to bake for 45 minutes and pop out springy and golden; I baked it 1 hour and then, because the top was still a lavender color, stuck it under the “broiler” for 5 minutes to brown it. And it was still not entirely cooked in the middle.
Working with this stove is teaching me to have grace for myself, as no matter how I anticipate and adjust things inevitably end up burned, or undercooked, or unevenly cooked. And those feasts I imagined? I still have the menus planned, but motivation was put to flight by the realization of how much attention would be needed by every burner and every pot on the stove.
*We do not have piped gas in our building. As far as I know, there is no piped gas in this entire country. I don’t have any statistics about proportions of piped gas to bottled gas through the Middle East/North Africa, but having lived in six different apartments in three different countries, my experience is that bottled gas is more widespread.