Cooking 101…Do You Know the Basics?

One of our more typical basic meals

I recently came across a post (I wish I could find it to share, but I cannot seem to locate it) regarding how our country eats poorly. What specifically caught my attention was not the article itself, but rather an answer to a follow-up comment, questioning why we don’t take time to prepare healthy meals for our families in this country. The person who replied was from a European country and offered up several observations, including how our heavy work habits and priorities play a significant role. But what really caught my attention – and what I’m focusing on in today’s post – was something I had not considered. Namely, that what we see on TV and in magazines and via online food blogs shows glamorous, time-intensive meals. They are made by chefs or people who are heavily into cooking. Rarely are simple, easy-to-prepare meals shown. It all looks beautiful and difficult. Who has time for that after an often long day at work? This commenter mentioned that we don’t seem to know the basics of cooking. We often require recipes and seemingly have not been taught simple techniques.

This part of her response has sat with me for the past few days. Typically, my posts here talk about some fabulous meal I’ve eaten or prepared. I don’t usually post about the average, everyday food our family normally eats.  I have also thought about how we don’t often pass along basic cooking skills to our younger generations. When I was in middle school I took home-ec courses. We made basic things like pizza (from those canned rolls that pop when you open them…LOL) and apple crisp and a few other basics. They were not gourmet, but we used a stove and oven and measuring cups. My kids did not have home-ec in school. Fortunately for them, they did have a mom who loved to cook and so they did learn a few things. That is not the case in many households.

Perhaps it has been made to look too difficult. When did a simple meal become something shameful to offer our loved ones? On any given night, my husband and I eat very basically. It is simple yet healthy and from generally from scratch. Tonight we had broiled salmon, quinoa, peas (cooked from frozen), and a leafy green salad. I make my own salad dressing (olive oil, lemon juice, thyme, salt). From start to finish it took me as long as it took the quinoa to cook: approximately 20 minutes. I even had time to clean up the kitchen and set the table as I waited for the quinoa to finish.

It was all very basic. I did nothing to the salmon before or after putting it under the broiler. The natural fats kept it moist; I broiled it for 8 minutes. The quinoa and peas were also plain, though I did add some of my salad dressing to them on my plate. The salad consisted of leafy green lettuce, sliced bell peppers, radishes, avocado, and cucumbers. Sometimes I also add carrots or olives, maybe some cheese. That’s it. Very easy, very quick. It was tasty; however, I doubt anyone would classify it as gourmet.

I have over-simplified the comment from the aforementioned article I read. It went into much more detail about the differences between how we live vs. how her country lives, and how that is reflected in our eating habits. How part of the reason we don’t cook has to do with being tired after long work days. Part has to do with an unbalanced workload for women (in general) at home. Part has to do with how easy it is to pick up take-out food or pre-made meals from the grocery store, often made up of over-processed foods. There are many factors at play here.

In all of my pondering of this topic it got me to wondering what a typical dinner scene looks like for many of you? Do you tend to rely on ordering out, eating in restaurants, or perhaps buy pre-made grocery meals? Maybe you’ve subscribed to companies like Blue Apron? I am further curious about how (or if) you learned to cook. Was it in school? At home? By sheer trial and error…?

 

 

Tuesdays with Frank

It’s my favorite day of the week, Tuesday. For the past few years most of my Tuesdays have included going to a nearby retirement center to visit Frank. Well, not only Frank. He was the beginning. But just for him, I’ll be making these Lemon Bars today, via a recipe from Ina Garten: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/lemon-bars-recipe-1941483.  The coconut cake I baked for Easter used mainly egg whites, so I have several beautiful yolks I don’t want to go to waste…the lemon curd for these bar cookies are a perfect way to use them!!

Just who is Frank? Frank is the father-in-law of one of my best friends. He moved to this center several years ago. Wanting to make sure he was not lonely and doing okay, my friend gathered a group of us together to visit him every so often. This place happens to have a happy hour every day but Sunday from 3:30 to 4:30 (dinner is served in the dining area directly following!). The finest Cardboard-eaux (boxed wine)is served, along with a selection of beer and soda…water, too. The idea is to get people to gather, to meet…to socialize.

Somehow it worked out that Tuesday was the best day for us to visit. As time went on our group expanded. It began with a few of us girlfriends and Frank. We even had T-shirts made up, reading, “Frank Happy Hour…Old Folks, Old Jokes, New Wine!” Trust me, there really are a lot of old jokes floating around…oft repeated ones. Ha!

Patrick – another resident – soon joined us, followed by a few others. There are Merle, Marie and Mario. Bea and Ethyl are amazing! Ages 99 and 102 respectively…both dress to the nines every day, with make-up and jewelry to complete their look. Bill is an ex-Marine who became an author at age 63…to date he has 7 published book and is working on a new one. Some have moved to other places: Norm and Elaine (very recently…we miss them!); Betty, and John.

Patrick’s daughter and three granddaughters began to join us, along with his great-grandchildren. He only had 2 when we began, now he has 5 great-grandkids with a 6th due any day now! Each Tuesday is filled with a mix of generations spending time together and sharing stories.

Our group continues to grow. When we walk in we are often greeted with, “The girls are here. It must be Tuesday!” The past two Christmases we have caroled there. We celebrate birthdays, holidays…everything we can think of. There are beads given out for Mardi Gras, Valentines in February, and lots of green in March.

Today is even more special for me. I am heading over there early to help another resident, Loretta, with a book project she is working on. I have always been fascinated by people’s life stories, and hers is a deep and rich tale that I am so vey honored to be able to help her with it. Since it is her story to tell I will not give out any details, but I will certainly let you know when it is ready to read! She is an amazing woman with many adventures under her belt…and she paints, too!

It’s funny, many of the residents tell us how nice it is of us to come by each week, how much they look forward to our visits. What they do not realize is that we get so much more from this time. They are treasures. The stories they have lived are simply amazing. I have been astounded at what they have lived through, how they did so, and the adventures they have had in their time on earth so far. They are inspiring, and it encourages me to get out there and live my life to the fullest. Most of all, I see souls who are the same as you and me. Souls who want to be loved and remembered and validated.

I turned 50 this past October. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I know who think that is old, that life is ending. I could not disagree more. These people I see on Tuesdays, they are as alive as any kid I know. Youth is not held in a number. It is how you feel, how you act, how you live. I know a few folks younger in age than me who are practically dead inside. That’s not for me! I plan to be young to the end, not matter how old I grow.

 

Migraines and Other Life Journeys

Migraines…ugh!

Today is one of my migraine days. I am fortunate that they are far less severe in the past couple of years than they used to be. Past migraines have had me in bed for three days at a time as I struggled simply to breathe without inducing pain. Nowadays, I can function through them much of the time. Today is one of those [better] days. On days like today, my food choices involve eating healthy. Bananas and other fresh fruit seem to be things my body craves. And water, lots of water. I  also drink Hibiscus tea, which is filled with Vitamin C and antioxidants…and it’s supposed to be helpful in reducing blood pressure. That can’t hurt a migraine, eh? (I write all of this as I absent-mindedly shove handfuls of Boom Chicka Pop Cheddar Cheese Popcorn in my face…sigh…I really have had a lot of fruit and tea and water today. I swear!)

Writing and Perfectionism

It is late in the day and I am finally feeling up to writing. I’ve had trouble posting here for months. Why? I imagine it boils down to perfection. Either I do not feel as if I have things worthy enough to post, or I feel as if they are not “just right” so I chose not to post anything.

Perfectionism is a bitch. It seems I’ve made her my bitch.

I have a friend who makes a career writing. She blogs, she writes articles for both local and national venues, and she travels for much of the material in her pieces. I have been living vicariously through her for years. All of this is because I don’t trust that what I have to offer is something others are remotely interested in reading. Who am I to post drivel about my food experiences – my life experiences – when there are others out there far more knowledgeable and interesting and adept at doing so? So I silently follow her, imagining myself doing the things she does. I realize the writing world involves very little “J.K. Rowling” and much more “everyday Joe Schmo” but that makes me no less eager to be a part of it. There is a bit of glamor to the everydayness of it.

The past 2-3 years I have battled to get my work on paper. How hard can it be to put a few [thousand] words on the page? Have you ever read an article or a book and thought, “Wow, I could have written that! And better.”?? I’ve had that thought during many a reading. Guess what? It’s not so simple, and certainly not as easy as it often seems. I’ve come to admire those ‘terrible’ writers. They have something I still seek: courage. They put their work out there despite their self doubt, which I am certain they have. I am positive it is what lies behind my perfectionism.

Self-doubt can be crippling. Paralyzing. To my right is this voice telling me to “Go for it, Life is short…Post. Write. Live your dreams!” Then a voice to my left whispers, “You are not good enough. You need to do this more, make that better. Wait a while. Give up.” Why does the whispering voice seem to be the louder of the two? What will it take to stand up to it and listen the other one?

I suppose it comes down to jumping in; trusting – mainly myself. Trust is difficult for me. So here is where I am today: I have been back at work on a novel I began two years ago. I even enrolled in a writing course downtown. I’ve been cooking more. This has also been an area of slowness for me; hence another reason [excuse] for not posting. Anyone out there reading this, bear with me. I have no idea what will come out during this next month of daily postings.

 

 

Happy Easter!

Just a few bites from our Easter Brunch this morning. I’ve been slow to get back to my posting, something I have been working through in my head. This past week I made the decision to post every day in April, no matter how short the post or how irrelevant the topic may seem to the blog. So here I am, posting – a bit late in the day mind you, yet posting nonetheless.

Our boys are not here with us this year, so we planned on spending the day just the two of us…not a bad thing mind you! However, I do miss the days when our kids were young and awoke Easter morning eager to find their baskets and hunt for eggs. Many happy memories from that time.

Good friends invited us to celebrate with them. I brought a salad to share, as well as the traditional Coconut Cake I make each year. The food was – as usual – amazing. Beef tenderloin and roasted vegetables were included in the feast.  For me the conversation and togetherness were the real icing on the cake. It was a beautiful day.

I hope that whatever your beliefs may be that you had a happy day spent with loved ones. I wish that for all of you, every day.

 

 

Which Cookbooks Are Best? Some of my Favorites

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!!

As a writer, books are a passion. As a writer AND a food geek, cookbooks are an even bigger passion. I have an entire section of my kitchen devoted to cookbooks. At last count I own over 150. I often read a cookbook cover-to-cover, as I would a novel. And just as in some books when the plot takes a sudden twist and you think, “No, that can’t be happening!” I have read recipes and thought, “That could not possibly work.” Or “Wow, that sounds amazing! I never thought of trying those flavors together!!”

You might see why I label myself a food geek…

I use the internet as a source for many of my recipes, and it often inspires my creations. But there is nothing like holding a [cook] book in hand, scrolling through recipe after recipe and  drooling over colorful, well-staged photos, to get me in the mood for cooking.

*Note: I don’t drool ON the photos, just over them. 🙂

How did I get so MANY??

Yes, I have a lot. More than most I suspect. Some were given to me. Many have been written by favorite chefs, signed if I’ve had the chance to meet them in person (and many I have). I have a coveted copy of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” autographed shorty before her death in August 2004. And I have several signed books by my favorite local celebrity chef, Stephan Pyles.

One of my treasures is this signed edition of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child. I bought it 2 days before her death. I am honored to have this in my collection.

Most of my cookbooks I bought myself. In fact, I recently acquired two new cookbooks so I might, ideally, perfect a dish or two for my new daughter-in-law. She is from China, and it is a goal of mine to offer her a meal that in some way brings her homeland here to her. She has become a loved and treasured addition to our family!

Two new editions. As of this posting I have not yet attempted any of the recipes, but I have read that the author, Fuchsia Dunlop, uses authentic recipes based on her extensive training in China. I hope to recreate a few of these for my daughter-in-law.

Admittedly, many of my cookbooks are no more than eye candy that sit idle on my shelf or are rarely opened. Then there are others I do use on a regular basis, my go-to cookbooks that help me out in a pinch.

The Sweet…

Rose Levy Beranbaum is one of my cooking idols. I began with “The Cake Bible” and now own most of her cookbooks (not all in my collection are pictured). The brownie recipe in “Rose’s Christmas Cookies” is my go-to recipe, and is one of my most requested. Amazing!

For many of my pies, I use Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Pie and Pastry Bible”. I love her books. She takes time to explain not only the “how” of a recipe, but also the “why.” I use a scale to measure ingredients, so I appreciate that she includes measurements both in volume AND weight. This book in particular details the various crusts you might want to use and with which pies. While the recipes may appear complicated, if you follow carefully they provide a step-by-step method to achieve the best crusts. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to up their pie-baking skills.

Rose’s “The Cake Bible” was on my wish list way back in 1988. I was a mere college student at the time, not yet realizing the depth of my culinary passion. But I should have known from the reaction I had to the cover. I was instantly drawn to its luscious cake draped in a sheet of chocolate(a sheet, I say!) …sigh! Leafing through the bookstore copy had me dreaming of possibilities. I don’t know if I thought I would ever attempt any of the recipes, but they entranced me. Thankfully, I received a copy that Christmas. The pages began falling out from so much use, so I recently acquired a second copy.

…The Savory

Of course I don’t only bake. Some of my favorite savory regulars include Molly Stevens’ “All About Braising,” Adam Perry Lang’s “Serious Barbecue,” and Cook’s Illustrated’s “The Best Recipe.” When I was first learning to cook, I found Irma Rombauer’s “Joy of Cooking” to be invaluable. It provides basic information and hundreds of recipes. As my skills expanded and I grew more comfortable, I experimented with modifications to suit our family’s tastes, branching out to more complicated cookbooks and techniques over time. Practice, practice, practice!!

So many cookbooks, so little time

I’d like to use more of my collection; therefore, I will pick one cookbook to feature in my kitchen each week. One night that week would be devoted to creating a menu from the chosen cookbook, fulfilling a couple of purposes. One, my cookbooks  get more use, collecting food stains and post-it notes to mark favorite recipes rather than merely collecting dust. Two, my repertoire of menu offerings increases as I no doubt branch out into new territory. Sounds like a win-win!

A Few More…

*If you click on the highlighted titles in this post they link to where you can buy them on Amazon.com. I get zero (nada, zilch, none) profit from any links. The links are to help you find them should you so desire. 

This list is a sampling of the more used volumes in my collection. Stay tuned as I work through some of my lesser used cookbooks!!

Okay, I’ve shared some of my favorites. What are yours?