A Texas Rose in a Spanish Garden

Doing Double Duty to Save Space

Most people in Spain are not able to rent or buy excess space. Apartments in particular are small. Mine is no exception. You don’t get a big American kitchen in any case, even in a pretty nice place. Students make do with what they have and are grateful to get a small stove and budget refrigerator. You learn to shop often for fresh produce and milk. There is no such thing as storage!

Part of the fun of living here is the shopping for groceries and other necessities of life. It is an almost daily activity to visit your favorites and pick up some bread, cheese, wine, and olives. The simplest things become a feast when you are in new surroundings.

When you live in diminutive abodes, you can’t put everything on the counter, whatever there is of it. You learn to put a cutting board over the sink or stove for prep work. You don’t indulge in just any appliance and limit yourself to a coffee pot and maybe a toaster. An electric stand mixer with attachments: don’t even think about it – you’ll need to get by with a cheap hand mixer instead. Some people can’t do without their microwaves but they don’t come with the rent, so try to find the smallest one available.

I remember trying to make a meal in my wee cocina for a few friends. I virtually had to use everything including the floor. I had to do a lot of work by hand not having a food processor. The ingredients for the entrée were strewn everywhere. Having only enough refrigerator space for a few yogurts, I had the fresh items in the sink. There is no garbage disposal so I only had to move them during cooking. I would then pile the used pots and pans in their place. It was a comedy of errors that with some practice could actually become a real skill.

So everything was coming and going in a kind of culinary blur as I managed to prepare an appetizer, a main dish, and dessert—a golden egg flan. Any leftovers would have to be stored in the oven, already doing double duty as a kitchen cabinet. I would have to plan when I was going to use any remaining items not consumed by guests.

You get handy at saving space when abroad and faced with less than spacious circumstances. You hesitate about offering dinner to friends, however, given the shenanigans it takes to do everything well and on time. You wish you had more utensils and food preparation gear, but at least now you know how to literally cook from scratch.

There is nothing like sitting in the patio under a shady orange tree eating a fine array of local fare. You learn about seafood, and what goes in paella along with the saffron rice. You also learn to ask a lot of questions at the market and ply neighbors for the secrets of the cuisine trade. You buy recipe books for southern Spain and mark the ones that look easy. If you are smart, you adapt.

I have a friend who shares an apartment in the center of Seville that has a real kitchen. I am so jealous of the fridge, which is half the size of a normal one. It is bigger than mine! He also has one entire stretch of tile counter which is a real luxury in these parts. Since his wife likes to cook, they have placed there a small toaster oven so they can make two dishes at once. You learn to appreciate simple appliances when they are few and far between. Cramped space means developing a bit of ingenuity, and we all do it in different ways. In the winter, I place butter and fruit outside my window sill when it is cold enough to keep things fresh. You don’t want freezing temperatures, however, as you can imagine the results.

Doing double duty means using your kitchen table as your office. It also means dining outside when you can and storing things under wraps beneath the table. It means stacking dishes tightly in a hall or bedroom closet and story tablecloths in your desk. Whatever you can do creatively to make the space work is admirable. Students can give lessons in living with less, that’s for sure. They have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves. I have friends who use the fireplace, the back of their bicycles, under the bed, and in the bathroom for storage of any and all kinds.