Every now and then I come across a kitchen that perfectly personifies the person that uses it. Norman’s kitchen is one of them.
It sits in blackwood, outside of Melbourne. Norman’s kitchen is as much a vault of the antique, otherworldly, and authentic as the rest of Norman’s house; as Norman himself for that matter. Norman collects. He collects artifacts and friends, stories, half-true and otherwise, experiences. And both himself and his house seem to be as a beacon for the good things in life; a beacon for the exorcising of bullshit. The structure itself isn’t that old, he renovated a few years ago. But, in the vein of a good renovation, all that needed to be kept was kept.
The kitchen is overflowing. I go to make breakfast. I made a simple poached eggs with hollandaise on toast, bacon, roasted tomatoes, and a bit of avocado salsa to cut all the weight. It’s not the most cohesive breakfast in terms of cuisine but it will satisfy everyone on a Sunday morning after drinking all night .
When I work, my station is kept as clean and as uncluttered as it should be, both for function and because it’s beat into most people who work in a kitchen. In Norman’s kitchen, I feel so outnumbered by the things around me that I can barely find a place to prepare breakfast. But unlike my normal reaction to that clutter, there is a comfort in it. Everyone who wants to cook in Normans’ kitchen is welcome to do so. The clutter is a good metaphor for all the people who have cooked in this kitchen and will cook after.
It is that nod to a lineage and a continuum that is too often referenced and has been relegated to the realm of cliche. Only this time, this kitchen is anything but that.
Most people keep too many things in their kitchen. The ever-prevalent egg slicer, the once used citrus juicer, and the olive pitter all seem to work their way into drawers to hibernate for eternity. Norman keeps things in his kitchen but not too many things.
Usually when people write about kitchen tools, they do so from the perspective of a consumer getting the worth out of a tool and not being too hasty or not being tricked into buying something completely useless. Occasionally a writer will ruminate about the gadgets they have and how they enjoy their function or kitsch value. But these are not the only way to talk about value.
Everything in Norman’s kitchen has value. Most of the items have one function and rarely realize it. They hang there over the range. That’s what their job is and that’s where their value comes from. Though from one angle they seem like a museum piece, they are not cornered off. They are not displayed in any museum like white box, but every item seems to be given the same respect of space that the white box of a museum is intended to give. You are welcome to touch them and use them. Most of them have uses that are outdated enough that it would be surprising to actually know how to use them, but you are still welcome to. If you want to churn your own butter, the tools are there for you.
All of this amounts to a space that is imbued with history and use. It feels as the cabinets of people like Peter the Great that preceded the modern museum. Though it is smaller in both scale and scope, it has the touch of antiquated personal museums where a curious object seems displayed both formally and casually and is intended to tell you as much about the owner of the object as the object itself. Where it differs the most is not in it’s look or in what it contains, but in its context. The mixture of objects would not lead one to believe that any of them particularly belong in a museum, but you will have to ask Norman about that, some of them very well may. Instead, my focus was continually drawn away from each individual object towards the kitchen as a whole. The objects did not seem drenched in any sense of inherent exoticism, but most objects don’t anymore. Things like places and objects rarely seem exotic, the constant prevalence of them in contemporary society degrading them to commonplace or at least familiar.
What did seem exotic was the kitchen itself in context. This place that tied in history and use at the same time. It was a museum where I could touch the artifacts. I could use them even. Mostly I just touched them and left them hanging, wondering if anyone else used them. And that is the point of Norman’s kitchen. It’s not so much about what’s hanging in it. It’s about everything else.
– Recipe –
Poached Eggs with Hollandaise, Roasted Tomato, Bacon, and Avocado Salsa
/ eggs / butter / vinegar / roma tomatoes / bacon / avocado / black beans / corn / cilantro / lime / lemon / olive oil / butter / sea salt / fresh cracked pepper / herbs – thyme, rosemary, etc.
The tomatoes can go in the oven straight away, they will take the longest. Halve the roma tomatoes lengthwise and season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Drizzle over olive oil and herbs. Whatever you have around will work on some level, but a nice combination is dried thyme and rosemary with a little fennel seed. Pre-heat the broiler. The tomatoes will take 15 to 20 minutes to shrivel and slightly blacken. That’s when they’re done.
Cube the avocado and place in a mixing bowl. Immediately cover with lemon and lime juice to stop the oxidation process. Add drained and rinsed black beans, cooked corn, coarsely chopped cilantro and a little vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well and gently so not to damage the avocado.
2 – 3 egg yolks / vinegar / 2 – 3 sticks of melted clarified butter / salt / lemon
There are a few ways to make this sauce and many shy away from it because it seems a little too formal in cooking technique to approach, but actually it’s fairly simple. The whole process that’s tricky is based around having the egg and butter emulsify. Just add the butter slowly and stir constantly and everything will work out. The best bet is to set yourself up for success.
First, melt your butter. I do so in a plastic tub in the microwave. You can use a bain marie and a slotted spoon or mesh to melt the butter and then scoop out the white solids, but that is time consuming and annoying. This is where microwaves are good. The butter solids, the white part, will separate from the yellow and rest at the bottom of the plastic tub. The remaining yellow is clarified butter. Set this somewhere warm while preparing the rest of the sauce. When you are ready to add the butter, simply don’t pour in the white solid part.
Many people use a bain marie, or hot water bath, to cook the egg yolks. If you like this method, separate your eggs and place the egg yolks into a shiny metal mixing bowl with a splash of vinegar. Shiny metal heats up fast and cools down fast and is easier to work with when making egg based sauces. Being able to control how much heat touches the egg yolks is the key, and a bain marie softens the heat cooking the egg. Likewise, the metal bowl allows the egg to be cooled down quickly simply by removing it from the heat. The shiny metal has low heat retention in comparison to something like copper or cast iron.
Eggs are tempermental and getting them to the glue like consistency necessary for this sauce can take some practice. Place the metal bowl with egg yolks and the splash of vinegar over the boiling water you will use for poaching. Begin cooking and stirring.
If you feel confident, I do not even use a bain marie and prefer this method instead. You can place the metal bowl directly over the burner on the stove. Stir fast though and take the bowl on and off the heat until the eggs start to thicken as a whole, not like scrambled eggs but more like a sauce. The longer you can push this initial heating of the egg yolks, the thicker your hollandaise will be at the end.
Stir with a whisk, keep stirring, stir all the time, never stop stirring. The reason for this is that if you do not stir the egg yolks will set into a thing that looks like half scrambled eggs. This is not good.
When the eggs have reached a puffy consistency and are fairly thick, slowly add the clarified melted butter. Keep stirring, this is emulisification. If you add the butter too fast, the sauce will “break,” similar to when oil is added too fast to egg yolks when making mayonnaise. Add the butter slowly, stir constantly. Keep going until a thick rich sauce is formed. Add salt and lemon or lime juice. The addition of lime will tie the hollandaise to the avocado salsa a little more so that the meal isn’t quite so sporadic. Keep in a warm place while the remainder of the breakfast is prepared.
Poached Eggs, Bacon, and Toast
Bring a good amount of water to a boil in a large pot. Add vinegar. Stir the water to create a vortex and crack the egg directly into the water. The stirring action of the water and the vinegar will hold the egg together with a more uniform shape. Repeat for all the eggs, but do not damage any that you have previously put in.
Try to get complete bacon rashers. That means that what is normally thought of as bacon in the States has not been separated from what is commonly called canadian bacon or ham. The butcher can get you this complete “side” of bacon. This is what is commonly sold as bacon in Australia and the States should get on it, because as a general pork and bacon lover, this is a far superior way to have the sweet breakfast meat.
And finally, make nice toast. You’ve done all this work so why not make it look nice. Slice a decent bread round into long diagonal cuts. Toast in broiler if they are too large for your toaster and cut them again on an angle to form a triangle.
Stack a few bits of toast with butter, stack the bacon next to it. Drain the poached eggs with a slotted spoon and towel and place on the toast. Cover slightly with hollandaise, arrange tomato and avocado salsa.