What I can’t live without

It is often said that the cultural isolation of international travel teaches a person a lot about herself. It’s taught me something, namely, that I cannot live without a good sharp knife.

In theory, we live in a fully stocked hotel suite.

In fact, something is always lacking, usually a quality butcher’s knife.

Our current suite came equipped with brand new IKEA knives. I love IKEA, I do, but these knives fail to meet  minimum standards. Their blades are not sturdy enough.

I blame my father for this.

When I made my first house purchase, he surveyed my kitchen and said that all a good cook needs is an butcher’s knife and frying pan.  My countertop was choked with small kitchen appliances and there was some evidence I had fallen prey to a convincing Tupperware saleswoman, as revealed by the waterfall of plastics that spilled out when some unaware guest opened a random cabinet door.

Over 20 spatulas reside at my cottage kitchen, which is only a two-month home, but I can defend that on the grounds that it is shared by many guest chefs over the summer. Well, maybe there are 30 spatulas.

In my city home, until I did a little purging before moving to Switzerland, over 60 people could have showed up unannounced for lunch and not one would have eaten off a plastic or paper plate.  That’s how many ceramic dishes I had.

So yes, I overstock. Just a little.

Dad’s subtle point was that I did not need so much, but what do I need? I revisit that question every time we move, which is a lot of times. In some way, he programmed my brain with that comment, because as I look back over the years, in every new allegedly fully stocked kitchen, the first thing I do is add a good-quality butcher’s knife.  I only just realized it today.

But his message to live sparely did not stick: The knife-purchase is only the first sign that the floodgates are about to open. After the knife comes frying pans, bowls, organizers, snap-top plastic bins. I’m trying to not buy such things, and yet, I do.

I admire my friends who live with whatever they can fit into a knapsack as they trudge around Asia for months – or years – at a time. But I do not want to be one of them, so help me Martha Stewart.