You Can Still Travel - With your Instant Pot

Apr 9, 2020 / The Twelve Mysteries / artist dates / recipes

Collaged pictures of Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Buenos Aires Obelisk, Paris Eiffel Tower
Under the Same Blue Sky. Collaged Cyanotype on paper, 2020. 4x8 inches (variable). © Jonah Calinawan

I hope everyone’s staying home and being a good global citizen. We can do this!

Since traveling is out for now, I wanted to write about a practice that might help a little. It’s called the artist date.

What is an Artist Date?

Julia Margaret Cameron invented this term 28 years ago in her book the Artist’s Way to help with creative stumbling blocks like negative thinking and procrastination. One of the tools she recommends is an artist date.

An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a. your creative child. That means no lovers, friends, spouses, children—no taggers-on of any stripe.

Julia Margaret Cameron, the Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Creativity p.18

We definitely can use a dose of self-nurturing, inspiration, and recharging right now.

An artist date doesn’t have to be artsy. It’s whatever your inner kid wants to do. For example, I used to take myself out to a restaurant and pretend I was in a faraway country.

But how could you do an artist date now during the coronavirus pandemic?

Enter the Instant Pot.

Go Ahead, Travel During the Pandemic

An Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, and rice cooker all rolled into one. It’s fast, easy, and perfect during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Over the past 12 months, I’ve just been working my way through two Instant Pot cookbooks. The first is Dinner in an Instant by Melissa Clark, whose food column in the New York Times is a must-read. The second is Indian Instant Pot Cookbook by Urvashi Pitre, whose book is free if you subscribe to Amazon Kindle Unlimited. These are fantastic cookbooks. Here’s the first one. Anything highlighted in yellow, I’ve already cooked. The ones with red dots are superb!

table of contents of instant pot cookbook
Dinner in an Instant Table of Contents. by Melissa Clark

Here’s the table of contents for the second book.

Indian Instant Pot cookbook table of contents
Indian Instant Pot Cookbok TOC. by Urvashi Pitre

Here are my favorite recipes that transport me to a different country whenever I eat them in my studio.

To Argentina with Dulce de leche

This thick caramel goodness is shockingly easy to make in the Instant Pot.

Open a can of sweetened condensed milk and peel off the label (so that it doesn’t make a mess later). Cover the top of the can with tin foil, and then place it on a steamer basket inside the Instant Pot filled with enough water such that the water goes halfway up the can. Steam for 40 minutes at high pressure. That’s it! Sure, you can add a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt as Melissa Clark says, but it’s perfect as-is.

One gooey scoop of dulce de leche instantly transports me to the sunny streets of Buenos Aires. No air travel required—perfect during this coronavirus pandemic.

Come to think of it, my partner and I were in Argentina in August 2018 for an Intensive Care conference he was speaking at. The Instant Pot not only transports you to another place but to another time. It’s a time machine!

Spread dulce de leche on any crumbly shortbread cookie, and you get instant Alfajores (AL-fa-HO-res), my favorite Argentinian cookie. Better yet, make homemade dulce de leche ice cream. Let yourself be comforted in these trying times.

Except for the Asado barbecue, no other food epitomizes Argentina for me. A perfect artist date is dulce de leche with an Argentinian movie of your choice. Plan B and Hawaii from Argentinian director Marco Berger are works of art. If I could create cyanotype photographs that elicit the longing and hopeful feel of these films, I’d consider myself a successful artist.

I realized I started with dessert! But you know what? That’s what we need right now: some sweetness. Dulce de leche reminds us of what is was like BC (Before coronavirus). A tweeter posted about how we’ll prefix time with BC and AC from now on. “Do you remember what it was like BC?” I can’t wait until we get to AC.

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To India with Beef Curry

This Instant Pot recipe is like a beef stew but with a kick.

Puree in a blender: tomatoes,Actually, instead of tomatoes, I’ve found canned crushed tomato purée is much better, the curry comes out thicker and less watery.  onion, garlic, cilantro, cumin, coriander, garam masala, cayenne, and salt. Pour on top of one-inch cubes of beef chuck roast. Lock the lid and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. I found Urvashi Pitre’s recipe posted online here.

When this curry is on top of steamed rice, I’m transported to my favorite Baltimore City Indian restaurant around the corner. As Melissa Clark notes,

The key to successful pressure cooking is choosing recipes in which softness and succulence is the goal, and which traditionally take hours to get there.

This beef curry is soft and saucy. It’s comfort food for this trying time. Eating this curry reminds me that we are all in this together. We are one with our Indian brethren.

This recipe is so versatile that it works with chicken, lamb, or pork. I’m surprised there is no butter or oil in it. No sautéing or mixing. No babysitting required. I could be in the studio editing pictures, while dinner is cooking in the kitchen. Clean-up is so easy too, because it’s a one-pot operation. That’s why the Instant Pot is totally worth it.

Banish Cooking Smells with the Instant Pot

Before we travel to the last country, I have to tell you another reason why I love the Instant Pot.

Cooking smells.

I hate them. It’s ok while I’m preparing food because I’m looking forward to eating it. But afterward, with the smell lingering in the air? No thanks.

Unfortunately, our condo unit is open-concept and has a recycling rangehood (useless!). Whoever invented this recycling stupidity has never cooked in real life. All the rangehood does is recirculate my growing frustration while I’m cooking. To reduce food smells, I open a window and use an industrial fan(!) that sucks the kitchen air out. I’ve had mine since 2012. Also, I find this Air Sponge product works. It will eat up any odor(e.g., food, pet, paint, cigarettes, etc.). I leave this product out on the kitchen counter overnight, and there are no residual odors the following morning.

The Instant Pot shines with cooking odors. Once it achieves pressure, nothing comes out of that thing.

To France with French Onion Soup

This soup is to die for. It’s so easy with the Instant Pot that it feels like I got away with cheating on an exam.

You brown three 1/4-inch sliced onions in butter, then add a bit of flour to make a roux, then add a quart of vegetable stock and a sprig of thyme. Cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. Separately, toast French bread slices topped with Gruyeré cheese (important!). Add salt and pepper to the soup when done. Melissa Clarke’s recipe is more nuanced. Mine’s simple but still tasty.

Once I ladle the soup and float the toasted bread with cheese, I’m teleported to a corner bistro in Paris.

This soup reminds me of a video I shot while I was in Paris in 2018. I wrote about this artist date! Watching the people in the courtyard and the gallery rooms of the Louvre makes me long for that future time, AC, when people will walk these gallery rooms again. 

I have another fun one, during the same trip. Actually, the last scene in this video generated the idea for the collaged cyanotype print above!

Dating Options During the Pandemic

I realize my home situation may be different from yours. There’s only two of us. When my partner goes to work at the hospital, I’m in the den doing photography or writing. I can go on an artist date any time and pretend I’m somewhere else.

With larger families 24x7, it’s not convenient to go on an artist date by yourself. But you could still take advantage of the time at home.

  • Date night after the kids go to bed. Artist Date.
  • Or bend the rules a little. We’ve earned that right. Use the Instant Pot to teach kids (and your spouse?) about a foreign country and share memories.

If there is anything this virus teaches us, it is this: we are not separate from one another. Despite the borders delineating countries on a map, the coronavirus doesn’t see any that. It doesn’t discriminate. We are global citizens, and we should act as one people.

Have fun “traveling” with the artist date idea and your Instant Pot! If you’re interested in buying one, please consider purchasing it through the links in this article. I may receive a small commission from Amazon at no additional cost to you. The same goes for the books, the industrial fan, and the Air Sponge (it really works!). Starting this year, I want to figure out how to earn a living online as an artist.

Stay safe.

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