Food I Made in the Kitchen

Once a year, I make something in my kitchen to eat.

(Last year I cooked chicken in red wine, once.)

Since many of you enjoy reading my annual forays into That Remote World of Actually Cooking, I thought I would share with you this year’s Food I Made in the Kitchen.

This year I baked Christmas Morning scones. In October. Because I’m really bad (LIKE REALLY BAD) at occasions and birthdays and all that, so I normally plan celebrations way in advance. The more frequent tendency, though, is to pretend to mindlessly float past friends’ birthdays, anniversaries, and baby showers, when in reality I’m nearly choking on poison guilt (much like the time I accidentally bought pumpkin gnocchi instead of regular, and cooked it with a red sauce anyway, and tried to eat it). The simple truth: if I don’t plan for a holiday three months ahead of time, Christmas and birthdays more often than not come out looking a little like this:

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I found the recipe for Christmas Morning scones from anediblemosaic.com and was simply captivated, despite the fact that nearly all the ingredients were things I do NOT have in my cupboards. (Don’t you hate that?) Things like flour, sugar, and baking powder. Anyway, I bit the bullet and bought the ingredients.

Actually, the only ingredient that was a splurge to buy was fresh rosemary. Wal-Mart only had organic, so I picked some up and then lingered over the gluten-free brown rice flower but finally put it back because I wanted to make something where I actually follow the recipe for once.

Was really confused that the recipe said to preheat the oven to 450 and to use parchment paper, since parchment paper ACCORDING TO THE BOX is only safe to 420.

Aaaaaaanyway, I prepared the dough, a most amusing experience, since I’ve never worked with dough as an adult, and was a little confused when the “dough” I made had the irregular consistency of old makeup, like really powdery Play-doh, with globs of dry flour on top. Instead of whisking it more, I got out a hand-mixer, but nothing I did really made the dough come together as such, so I just balled it all up into a sort of big Play-doh ball and shoved it in the freezer, before and after which I furiously googled and image-searched “scone dough consistency” to no avail. I was really giggling at this point. But maybe that was because of the fumes. Chopping up so many bits of rosemary, leaves quite the trance-inducing aroma.

When I removed the chilled dough from the freezer, I discovered that I own no rolling pin, so I decided to mash my Play-doh ball into a round disk with my hands. I cut the circle into eight pie-shaped pieces and plopped them on the parchment paper. I turned down my oven because ACCORDING TO THE BOX parchment paper is only safe to 420!

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I spent the next 14 minutes nervously dancing around the oven door opening, closing, and re-opening it multiple times (til it spoke to me, “Nevermore!”). The little bits of butter in the batter sizzled a bit. My parchment paper turned a little brown in spots and started to smell like almost-burnt popcorn. The scones didn’t hardly rise, but I was a little proud of the life-giving aroma (minus the hint of almost-burnt popcorn) coming forth from my oven and apartment, so that when I passed my neighbor in the hallway while taking out my trash, I smiled inwardly to myself at all the good I was unleashing on the world.

Moment of truth: pulling my scones out, I had no idea how to tell if they were done. A little jello-y in the middle, but are they supposed to be like chocolate chip cookies? The best chocolate chip cookies are a little moist in the middle when you pull them out of the oven, sort of underbaked. Is this how I should treat scones? I was a little disappointed to find that the flour I had sprinkled down before “rolling out” my scones caused the bottoms to burn. But I picked up a piping hot, slightly moist half-scone, tossing it back and forth like the hot potato is was, until I could hold it enough to taste the moist dough, where nutmeg, rosemary, and vanilla were all vying for my attention. The first taste confirmed it. THESE SCONES ARE MOST DELICIOUS.

The thing I like best about these savory and sweet scones is that the flavors are so present that a single scone is very satisfying. For example, I had just one scone after an 8 mile run on Satuday, and combined with two eggs soft-boiled to perfection (for a little protein), I felt perfectly full.

Make these scones. Offer me scone-baking tips.

You’re welcome for this post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Avoid Cooking

I made this, and I didn’t throw it away.

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My apologies, readers. You know I do my best to avoid cooking! And I’ll be doing so for the rest of time…‘til the cows come home… or Jesus comes back.

We might as well say, “That’ll never happen til Esther cooks.” It’s the same thing.

Some people always feel sorry for me that I can’t cook. When they find out, there’s this moment of death that comes over their faces. “But don’t you live by yourself?” they say. Then a look of unquestionable pity. Me over here? I’m like:

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It doesn’t bother me. But it bothers you.

I guess I feel the same way when I find out people don’t like running or reading books. I feel sorry for them.

Why don’t I cook?

  1. Because: time. Just like you, I’m really busy. And I fill my life with things that intrigue me a whole lot more than cooking does. Like fitness. And reading. Or sleeping. Add to that my (more than) full-time job, and when I get home from a 12 hour work day, cooking is the last activity in the world that I could ever be prevailed upon to… er, start.
  1. Because: money. I just moved into my own apartment, and my cupboards are still a little bare. Instead of spending money on like 17 organic spices, Le Creuset cookware, and shallots, I saved up and bought a microwave! Bacon, anyone? …And even then, you can live without a microwave. I did for two months. I’m amazed at the things I haven’t managed to buy yet. I’ve lived without flour or oil since I moved. Four months ago. #nonbaker
  1. Because: single. Cooking for one person is the worst. I mean, it’s great that it’s low-stakes (if I mess up, peanut butter and jelly is my favorite) but if something actually succeeds, meaning it’s not inedibly raw, it’s going to last for at least four meals. And I. Hate. Leftovers. Eating the same thing four days in a row makes me sad. Especially because I can guarantee you that it was pretty bland in the first place. Also, it’s sometimes hard to buy ingredients for just one person. Ingredients don’t stay fresh, and I end up having to throw away much more food than I intended. Therefore, I don’t “cook” in that traditional sense because it’s hard to keep everything fresh.
  1. Because: food allergies. Like some of the rest of you over-25ers, in the past couple of years, my digestive system went on strike, and I’m still in the aftermath of trying to figure out what my body will tolerate. Most of the time when I eat, I’m anxious to see that my body accepts it (instead of violently reacting, sending me to the floor in agony), rather than being anxious to see if it tastes good or not. So I find it hard to get excited about food-related activities.

Another cooking problem I have is that as a runner, I think of food as fuel, which doesn’t necessarily relate to fine dining experiences. I recognize that my main thought during the week is, “Did I eat enough protein today?” rather than, “Did I sit down and enjoy a good meal today?” Right now I’m content just knowing that I ingested a decent blend of lean proteins and carbs for the week, rather than figuring out how to plate them with any sort of culinary intelligence. When I fix my cooking problem (right before pigs fly and right after the fat lady sings), I’ll have to address the issue of food as fuel. Because sucking an energy gel on mile 10 while wiping your runny nose and mopping sweat is not the road to fine dining. No, it’s more the road to: how many pieces of pizza should I eat during carb-loading? Food as fuel is spoonfuls of peanut butter, forkfuls of beef, and handfuls of guilt-less bread indulgence. Two hours spent running on Saturday mornings is two hours not spent planning meals, organizing ingredients, and making a dish that tastes mediocre instead of terrible.

But this week I ran out of excuses of not cooking. Namely, I had nary food in the house. So I decided to go buy a bunch of meat and some general ingredients for cooking it in. One of my roommates in Indiana is famous for cooking chicken in red wine, so I decided to try this.

It was a surprise for me to find no alcohol at Walmart. Apparently Wal-marts in Pennsylvania don’t sell alchohol. But they do sell one kind of cooking wine. (I later found out that one NEVER EVER cooks with cooking wine. You should only cook with wine you would drink. Sigh. Nobody told ME.) I snatched up a cheap bottle. Returning home with my salmon, lemon juice, and spices, I turned to the chicken and red wine.

I lightly browned two chicken breasts in… blast, I had no oil. Butter would have to do. Removing the chicken, I sautéed mushrooms, then poured in about a cup of red wine, waiting patiently for it to “reduce,” whatever that meant. Basically, I just got bored watching the wine cook, so I just moved on to the next step. (The wine, cooking, had by now made my apartment smell like a back-country Kentucky still.) Next I added the chicken back into the wine and then scoured my cupboards for something besides salt and pepper to flavor it. I came up with garlic. And a bit of parmesan.

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(I would have added brown sugar, but again, I’m staple-less.) After a very long time, my chicken came out looking decent.

 

It had a nice flavor when paired with the mushrooms (ridiculously rich from the butter and wine), but the meat was dry and my mushrooms a little burnt.

I also had cooked some sweet potatoes and topped them with a special sweet sauce (otherwise known as pancake syrup).

Successes: Two meals—one fresh, and one for the fridge. The perfect amount for one person!
Failures: Dry chicken, no brown sugar, lame sweet potatoes.

But lest you think that I’m about to announce my resolve to learn to cook, here is a week’s worth of meal-planning options with NO COOKING INVOLVED!

Here are some ways that may help you get out of cooking:

  1. Eat out.
  2. Eat leftovers from eating out.
  3. Eat breakfast for dinner.
  4. Eat sandwiches for dinner.
  5. Eat salad.
  6. Eat a German bread dinner.
  7. Repeat #5, but add croutons.

Okay, I think I’m done. Now I look forward to reading all the comments about how “this would NEVER work in my family with my husband/kids.. blah blah.” Yeah, well, guess what? There are a ton of cooking blogs out there for people like you, serves six. But not a ton for single people. Get it?
#minority

 

America vs. France: Cooking Edition

I cooked dinner tonight.

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I was tempted to call it “Zucchini et por la Fwench”, which means, “Zucchini, eaten by the French” in some local, organic, low French dialect. Or something.

But I caught myself. It’s really just called, “Zucchini Eggs.”

I was talking to a friend about this dish that my mom makes a lot in the summer.

“You sauté shredded garden-fresh zucchini and peppers in oil. Then stir in eggs and scramble everything together. Sprinkle with browned sausage and cheese. Voila. Zucchini Eggs.”

“Don’t you mean an “omelet”?

No. I mean zucchini eggs.

Does anyone else feel the pressure to change “everyday” things to obscure, “exciting,” foreign things so that we can accept them? My question is: why can’t we just eat zucchini eggs? Why must we name it something else? And if it has to be something else, why does it always have to be French?

Really now. It’s just eggs and zucchini. Why does it have to be French? In fact, why do we give a ______ about the French at all? We all pretend to love the French. Rather, we love the stereotype of the French. And what is their stereotype? That they are cultured and snobby. Why would we celebrate snobbishness? Why wouldn’t we instead want to celebrate the dozens of loving, faithful cooks who have cooked for us over the years? Our mothers and grandmothers, never snobby, and certainly not French.

Why don’t we celebrate the thousands of meals prepared for our own tired bodies by cooks who would also like to be sitting down to their favorite Netflix— Oh wait, I forgot. Our parents didn’t watch Netflix. They selflessly slaved away in the kitchen.

My own mother felt the pressure. When she served leftovers, she began Naming Things. We were too small to know what “Comment allez-vous” meant. All we knew was that it meant all the leftovers in the frigerator were fried up in a skillet and served with a big bottle of ketchup. My mom alternated between “Comment allez-vous” and “Romaine Hash.” As young children, we began to disdain the French, the Romanians, and their ketchup. I think it would have been just as well if my mother had chosen more local dishes. “Midwestern Mixed Meats”, for example. Or “Vittles in the Valley”. A rose, after all, as the poet says, by any other name would smell as sweet. With or without ketchup.

All I’m saying is that we don’t have to stamp Eiffel Towers on everything to make it more “cultured”. (Besides, the French don’t even like the Eiffel Tower. “That ugly thing?” they say. … … … They would.) So instead of implanting foreign names and silly stereotypes on our own local dishes, let’s call them what they are: good home-cooked food.

As much as I love trying ethnic foods, even French foods (if you live in central Ohio, you simply must visit La Chatelaine), I’m realizing that my body does best with the food I’ve grown up with. Homegrown vegetables. Simple meat and potatoes meals. But I’m not allowed to say that. I can’t celebrate Amish and Mennonite foods because “they’re fattening.” Yeah, they are if you eat too much of them. Simply: don’t. We should celebrate the healthy foods our mothers and grandmothers have fixed for us for years. And we should celebrate the culture that has produced these foods. No matter if that culture is “down-home”, “countrified”, or even cooked up in an iron skillet.

(I made zucchini eggs in an iron skillet.) Yeah, move over, Le Creuset, “circa 1925”. (Do the French think they own everything?) Lodge has 30 years of experience on you. Since 1896, Lodge Cast Iron has been helping out American pioneer families. Thank you very much, Le Creuset, my grandmother and my mother have always cooked in cast iron, and I’ll probably do the same. You know, my mom bought me a Lodge cast iron skillet from Lehmen’s Hardware (what do you think of that?) before I moved this summer.

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And I really really like my cast iron skillet. In which I cook “boring” American dishes like… zucchini eggs. So eat that.

Homemade Christmas

To whomever decided that we should do “Homemade Christmas” for this year’s family gift exchange, I’d like to say a big fat hairy, “Thank you.”

At least that’s what I was saying, through gritted teeth, as I was finishing up my gift on Christmas Eve. Not to mention that I had known for a year that I was supposed to make my gift. And I only started making it the week before Christmas.

Whose idea was this anyway?

Oh yeah, that’s right. Mine. Heh heh.

It wasn’t SO bad. Last week we all began to encouraging each other, desperately… with old Christmas adages. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (RIGHT?!!) “It’s the thought that counts.” (RIGHT?!!)

I loved the responses I got when I told people my family was gonna do Homemade Christmas. An older couple who came into the restaurant declared, “That’s a WONderful idea! What are you going to make?” They were clearly enamored with the idea of a young person bothering to make something with their hands.

A young coworker of mine heard about our idea, and he asked what I was going to make for my sister. I tried to play it cool, “Oh, you know, well, my sister’s married now, so… you know, I thought I’d make her some pillows for her couch. Yeah, I wasn’t really sure what to make… you know.”

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I walked back out to the dining room, and I heard him exclaim to the servers around him, “Dude! That would SUCK!!!” (I think he meant that he couldn’t imagine having to make a gift. Or having to receive a home-made gift.)

But you know what? Who really needs another gift card, you know? Do you ACTUALLY need that new Hollister hoodie? And a new video game? Really? Little children are starving in India. If we raised money to send them money for food, they couldn’t even keep it down because dysentery plagues them because of the dirty water they drink due to bad sanitation. But, yeah, I mean, I want a new membership to Urban Active, too. Really?

So, I whipped out the (quite hidden) Pinterest-y me, bought some pillow forms, and ransacked some local thrift stores for some cool material.

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For this one, I sewed up an old pillowcase and then printed a giant Times New Roman initial. Next, I raided my vintage button collection for old red buttons and sewed them on in the shape of an “M” for several hours. (I made it through THAT monotony by listening to Father Gilbert.)

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I created this pillow from a refurbished extra-large Old Navy polka-dot top.

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Abigail had passed on this awesome skirt to me several years ago, but it never quite fit me, so I cut it up and sewed it into strips. Once I had one long strip of fabric, I sewed up the pillowcase. (This is SO hilarious, because I cannot sew at all!)
My *favorite pillow is: the sweater pillow. I took a second-hand Lands’ End sweater, hacked off the sleeves, buttoned it up, flipped it inside out, took in the sides, measured the pillow, and sewed up the top and bottom. Then I unbuttoned it, flipped it inside out, and covered the pillow. Viola!

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After I finished making it, Mom was flipping through the January issue of Good Housekeeping and found the exact same pillow (well, one that was designed by Laura Ashley anyway) and it was listed for $74. I think they copied me. I should probably sue.

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Not only was I wielding a needle and thread this Christmas, but someone actually caught me in the kitchen. (Shocker, I know).
A highly inaccurate domesticated image of myself: here I am making scrambled eggs for Christmas brunch. Oh… what? Egg shells?

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These next photographs demonstrate the healthy holiday eating habits of our family. (You ARE ignoring the piles of Christmas cookie containers, there, aren’t you?)

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After brunch, carols, the Christmas story, and sharing together, we came to the revealing of The Gifts, Which I Made Everyone Pose Awkwardly With.
1) From Abigail to Mama: a Precious Moments counted cross-stitch.

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2) From Mama to Papa: a denim blanket (made from his old jeans), and framed photographs of The Ancestors.

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3) From me to Abigail: couch pillows!

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4) From Josh to Rachel: a wedding website! Cool.

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5) From Jeremy to Josh: eight hours of manual labor on “The Man Cave.”

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6) From Rachel to me: a sister bag! (She chose some of my favorite pics and then used iron-on transfers.) (I also got an iTunes gift card for the win!)

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7) From Papa to Jeremy: a hand-made wooden shelf (classically wrapped in a sort of hipster, masculine design with newspaper, electrical tape, and yellow ratchet straps). Thanks, Dad-in-law-to-be.

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And that, folks, was my family’s Homemade Christmas gift exchange.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!