I never realized how much I relied on my freezer until I lost it. When I moved to Germany a couple months ago, I was prepared for life with a small, European-style refrigerator. Visions of farmers' markets and straw baskets and homemade ice cream danced through my jet-lag-addled brain, and I was convinced I could cook just like Julia Child. But then I saw the freezer. Somehow I had not made the connection that a miniature refrigerator would of course have only a tiny, baby-sized, vestigial freezer. My ice cream dreams melted.
My refrigerator is a few feet tall and would be a relatively luxurious appliance in a freshman dorm. The freezer is four inches tall by 14 inches wide, and it gets smaller when the frost builds up. While I'm sure many people deal with much smaller freezers than mine, it was a bit of a culture shock. My old freezer could easily have held a grown man, and I never realized how much that freezer affected the way I cook until I was confronted with one that could hold maybe a large-sized foot, tops.
The biggest hit was definitely to my cocktail program. My American freezer used to house trays and trays of ice, enough to make plenty of cocktails for any visitors who happened to drop by. I kept spherical ice cubes around in case anyone wanted ice with their scotch or bourbon, and I had a grand old time making hollow ice balls to serve cocktails in.
Now all ice must be rationed because only two small ice cube trays fit in my freezer, four if I forgo fitting anything else. I stopped using ice in my water or iced tea, and I've become a real ice miser. To shake a cocktail in a full shaker then strain it over fresh ice would use up every last cube in the house. When I shake a cocktail now, there's a significant chance I'll pour it over its own, shaken ice. (The chance increases dramatically if nobody else is watching me.)
If I need to rapidly chill a bottle of Champagne, I have to take almost everything out of the freezer, squeeze the bottle in at an awkward angle, then cross my fingers that the bottle chills before everything else melts.
While my cocktail making has definitely suffered, my cooking has just changed character. Without a sizable freezer, everything requires more thoughtful planning. I used to cook whatever inspired me at a given moment, then freeze any extra ingredients for later. Now whenever I cook dinner I have to stop and think, "What needs to be used quickly?" And I find myself planning several meals at once lest the spare ingredients go bad.
On the plus side, though, my cooking has evolved to become a much more sociable endeavor. Where I once relied on a freezer to let me turn one big meal into dozens of little ones, I now just have a party. I adore dumplings and lasagna, but making them for one or two is kind of a mess. They're fantastic in the freezer, where you can just cook them up for a later dinner or midnight snack. Without a freezer, though, they become party food. Instead of pinching a hundred dumplings by myself I can just declare a dumpling party, and all my friends will come help me make and eat them.
The tiny freezer has required a lot of adjustment, but I think it's working out now. Though I do have pages of freezers bookmarked on my computer in case I ever find myself with a chunk of spare cash burning a hole in my pocket. I really do miss those cocktails.
Do you have any suggestions for dealing with a tiny freezer? Let us know in the comments.
(Image: Elizabeth Licata)