Thursday, August 13, 2020
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Shopaholics Anonymous

Sofia Panuelos | Staff Photographer—Shopaholism is a universal affliction.

It’s 2 a.m., and I’m still awake. The only light in the room is the faint glow from the computer screen. Firefox is open and I’m switching between five different tabs. It’s like a scene out of a movie; am I hacking the CIA? Doing research for a paper? Flaming people on the Internet? No, I’m “window-shopping”: switching between five different websites trying to find the best price for a Kitchen Aid mixer.
The lowest price I can find is $180. Sure, it’s expensive, but I have to spend my money on something, right? And I need this stand mixer.
That’s what I always tell myself. I need that stand mixer just like I needed that Japanese chef’s knife or those four USDA prime rib-eye steaks. I need to spend $100 on dinner for myself every once in awhile.
Sitting in front of the computer screen, forgoing sleep for baking, I came to a sudden realization: I might be a shopaholic. The thought had crossed my mind several times before, but I’d always dismissed it.
Everyone, my name is Charles and I’m a shopaholic. My mistress is the kitchen, and I don’t think I’m ever going to give her up.
When people spend money on food, they usually do it by eating out. On my last trip away from the OC, I ate at Bouchon, one of the best restaurants in Vegas. It was a two-hour experience and involved some of the best food I have ever eaten. It was also very expensive. Compared to the money I’ve spent on my kitchen, the $100 was barely a drop in the bucket. Well-stocked kitchens are expensive to maintain.
First off, I had to make sure I was properly equipped. I needed mixing bowls, measuring cups, cutting boards, about a dozen different kinds of spoons and spatulas and much more miscellaneous gear. In total, it cost around $300 for all the basics.
After the basics, there’s the single most important tool in the kitchen. I had to buy a chef’s knife. Most people’s kitchens have a “college knife set” from some big-box store that costs $20 for 20 different knives. Needless to say, these knives suck. Cheap knives universally have a serrated edge; the blade looks like a saw when examined closely. These knives don’t cut; they tear. They also get dull and worthless extremely quickly.
This called for a trip to my favorite kitchen supply store, where window-shopping is taken to an entirely different level. It’s really hard to say no when they let you try out six different knives, each made with different steel and with different shaped handles.
I may have spent $200 on a Japanese chef’s knife, but it’s been two years and I can still accidentally cut my finger off pretty easily. Dicing carrots is nothing.
With your kit down, you finally need to buy things to cook. Eating in is supposed to be cheaper than eating out. However, once you branch out of the realm of spaghetti and ramen every other day, you need some spending money.
Produce is pretty cheap. You can find great deals on good quality fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets, like the one that takes place in University Town Center. Meat, on the other hand, can be a little more expensive.
Supermarkets will have weekly sales, but those cuts are usually lower quality USDA-Select grade beef. This doesn’t matter if you’re making a soup or curry but if you want a steak, it’s very important. Select steaks are less flavorful, less tender and are much less forgiving when overcooked. USDA prime steaks can be bought from Costco at the kind-of-but-not-really-cheap price of $12 per pound. This sounds like a lot, but the flavor difference is well worth it.
You also need to add certain condiments to make the food taste good. My salt and pepper quickly became overwhelmed when I wanted to make Thai or French food. Slowly, the iodized salt and pre-ground pepper disappeared and was replaced by sea salt and a peppercorn grinder. Herbs like rosemary, dill and bay leaves started showing up around the kitchen. Eventually, I kicked my housemates out of the cabinet so I could fill it with truffle oil, paprika and a dozen other tiny vials. They didn’t mind at all.
Is it worth it? The most expensive meal I’ve ever made was a three-course dinner for two. The salad was slightly wilted spinach with bacon, a subtle oyster-lemon vinaigrette and topped with fried oysters. The entrée was a seared-to-medium-rare USDA prime rib-eye steak with a side of truffle-oil French fries. Dessert was a molten chocolate cake.
I did the math. I’ve made about $15,000 in the past three years of working. I didn’t save a single cent. But the amazing flavors I was able to taste out of spending that much money was all worth it.
I’m sitting there in front of my computer; the stand mixer is only a click away.
I guess I’m going to be having some awesome baguettes next week.

The week in photos by the New University staff photographers.